Insects, lizards, frogs, snakes and snails online for our enjoyment

Wayne Hull and Racquel
Wayne Hull and Racquel

At the start of this month, marking World Mental Health Day, there was a reference here to Action Mental Health’s special public event in Belfast City Hall.

A.M.H premièred a film entitled ‘One Thing’, highlighting the organisation’s chosen theme for the day.

Developed, scripted and performed by users of A.M.H’s province-wide resources, the movie focused on some of the positive experiences from which folk who live with mental health issues can benefit.

The ‘one thing’ can be a friend, a place, an activity or a daily routine “which helps them to push forward, that they can focus on, that makes a not-so-good day brighter and enables recovery.”

A.M.H’s profound and far-reaching message is very useful advice for anyone facing problems or difficulties, whether physical, mental or emotional.

On many occasions, and in a variety of circumstances, I’ve had different kinds of ‘one thing’ that helped me to keep going, or that made the going easier.

These were often extremely straightforward and even mundane ‘things to do’ or ‘places to be’ but they helped.

When I was an asthmatic child, apart from the many soothing medicines that were injected, ingested and inhaled, sitting upright in bed with three or four pillows at my back always eased my difficult breathing.

Curiously, I still employ a substantial shoulder-pad of pillows and cushions to promote a good night’s sleep, even though my asthma departed in early adulthood!

Drawing pictures (badly!) has always offered me a reprieve from angst; my radio provides easily-accessed escapism from doom and gloom; books and newspapers are a vital ‘uplift’ when I’m ‘down’ and being at, or near to, the sea, has been one of my most enduring pick-me-ups.

During the worst years of pressurised night shifts in my chosen profession, I tried jogging, swimming, walking and reading to calm me down when my shift ended.

But an unexpected and easily-available resource was to become my regular relaxation after the long, dark hours of preparing the morning’s news and current affairs – reptiles!

While some folk, particularly city dwellers, don’t like frogs, lizards, insects and snakes, I found them to be quite engrossing after a demanding night-shift.

I found them in a shop called City Reptiles in Belfast’s Hope Street, and after a few minutes perusing the many exotic beasties I could go home and sleep soundly, dreaming of prettily-coloured geckos and slumbering snails quietly munching locusts and lettuce in their warm, cosy cages.

The muted lighting was soothing and there wasn’t a lot of noise or movement, just the odd ‘splat’ or ‘splodge’ as an enormous frog catapulted its sticky tongue around an unsuspecting cricket, or the muffled scuffle of a lizard’s scales scratching against the entrance to its nest.

More recently, with night shifts a distant memory, I still returned regularly to reacquaint myself with the reptiles.

I haven’t been there for several years, and just when I was thinking that a visit was overdue, I was saddened to be told last week that the shop was shut.

Fortunately I was badly misinformed, and though changes are due, I called in yesterday to meet owner Wayne Hull and his expansive family of four and six legged (or no legs at all!) friends.

“We are still here,” he announced “and we are expanding to an online shop by the end of October.”

City Reptiles was established in 1988 by Victor Crothers, and 45-year-old Wayne from Lisburn has been “with it” since the year 2000.

Wayne’s Hope Street premises is his ‘public image’!

His private collection at home consists of all sorts of little animals and “about three or four hundred snakes”!

At one time he had over 1,000 snakes, which he says never bothered his wife Melissa or his two children.

“Melissa is OK with them,” smiled Wayne.

“When she married me she married what I have.”

He’s had a lot!

“By the time I was 11 or 12 years old I’d about 30 snakes and lizards,” he admitted, adding “I grew up around animals.”

His pet-shop owner Uncle gave Wayne his first snake when he was two years old “and then more snakes every birthday and every Christmas.”

He got his first crocodile when he was 17!

There was a Hognose snake and a Boa amongst the frogs, geckos, tortoises and lizards in his shop.

“What’s your favourite?” I wondered.

“That’s my pet,” Wayne admitted, pointing towards what can only be described as “a wee house” in the corner.

“That’s Raquel” he added lovingly.

A beautiful, sharp-nosed racoon with vivid grey and black stripes on its bushy tail tip-toed nimbly down the tree in its multi-storey abode, and pattered across the shop floor to Wayne.

“Not for sale!” he announced at several customers who were gazing indulgently while Raquel perused her lunch.

“Fruit, nuts, bread and insects,” said Wayne, “her favourite snacks.”

35-year-old Craig arrived to chat about his Ridge-Tailed lizard called Hyper.

Another man brought in his Bearded Dragon for a manicure.

Wayne gently cut its long, sharp toe-nails.

“Never buy a gecko with a skinny tail,” he told one of the constant flow of customers requesting advice.

He’s also an official advisor about dangerous wild animals, an expert on crocodiles, a much sought-after ‘school lecturer’ and he retrieves “venomous snakes that are kept illegally.”

“I attract animals,” he smiled as I left the shop.

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