Christmas decorations, if they smell of anything, should fill the house with the delicate of pine, maybe a hint of orange and cinnamon if you’re feeling sophisticated. But they absolutely should not smell of is the fishy odour of decomposing snake.
But the Gaskell family, from Castletown on the Isle of Man, got an unexpectedly scaly yuletide gift when they bought a seasonal wreath for their front door.
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Karl Gaskell and his wife Nicki bought the natural decoration – made from branches and tightly bound straw – from a supermarket to hang on their front door.
They noticed a fishy smell and when they looked at the back of the decoration, they found scaly lumps popping out from the bound straw frame.
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Dad-of-two Karl snipped open the string holding it together and pulled out a dead grass snake which had been caught inside the straw body of the wreath.
It is thought the snake crawled into the straw to hibernate before the stalks were collected and squashed up to make into the £12 decoration.
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Industrial chemist Karl, 43, said: "The smell was so bad. The smell lingered for days!
"I don't know what compelled me to put my nose up to the wreath after I spotted these strange grey scales, but I did.
"You could tell it was some kind of dead animal – a reptile, not a mammal.
"And for a moment, I panicked because I thought – 'what if it was from China?'.
"I suddenly thought if it had come from Asia somehow, poisonous snakes remain poisonous long after they've died.
"So I had it checked out by the Natural History Museum, who got straight back to me.
"We were just super unlucky I think, because it was the first wreath we'd bought ever!
"It's really put us off getting one again this Christmas!"
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Nicki, 40, picked up the £12 wreath from the family’s local Co-op in Castletown.
He said it smelled like "really pungent, rotten fish".
Karl, Nicki, and their daughters Aemilia, 11, and Claudia, eight, have vowed never to get another Christmas wreath again.
Karl's email to the Natural History Museum, dated December 12, says: "The specimen in your photos is a dead grass snake, Natrix natrix.
"They do hibernate in straw piles and I see fresh cereal straw in your photo.
"You may find sources calling the British grass snakes Natrix helvetica, after a recent split."
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He complained to the Co-op, where he bought the item, and the company apologised via email.
The reply read: "We take any complaints like this very seriously and will be talking to our supplier to find out how this has happened.
"I can only imagine how upset you must have felt and I really am sorry.
"We want our products to be the best they can be and for you to find what you did is not good enough.
"We will refer this to our suppliers and also make our technical team aware.
"However can I ask if you still have any packaging the receipt for this item. We need some product details.
"Once again, I am so sorry for what happened, in the meantime, if I can do anything else to help, please let me know."
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A spokesman for Co-op said: "We would like to offer our apologies to our customer who, like ourselves, will have been shocked.
We go to great lengths to ensure the quality and safety of our products, and this is not something we have previously experienced.
"We are keen for our customer to get in touch so that we can say sorry, and fully investigate this with our supplier."
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