I was at
Limassol Marina with a charming Anglo-Cypriot
woman called Johanna, sipping mineral water in
the winter sun, when I asked her if she had any
pets. What a menagerie! A French bulldog, a
chihuahua, 3 cats. 2 tortoises and a gecko. She
said her son was fascinated with lizards.
Suddenly I was reminded of an old
Portobello Road market colleague cum 'friend'
called John who I had come across in the 80s.
John, who was Jewish but never knew his birth
parents, bred and trained green iguanas and,
according to him, was the UK and French authority
on this species having vets and custom officers
seeking his advice in the South of France where
His dream was to be the official consultant
for Monaco's Marine land but it was not to be.
John stubbornly refused to get his official
working papers in order to do his real
professional work and be paid properly or
even be an iguana consultant. He could not afford
the official bureaucratic licence for the Carte
de Sejour so he was part of the cash 'black'
economy. Instead of renting, John had stupidly
bought a small house in the hinterland of Nice
and somehow got behind with mortgage payments so
the bank had a lean on his property.
He was not well organised when it came to money
matters. In fact his real profession was that of
a hotel, shipping and yacht carpet fitter. Top of
his profession, so he claimed, in London which
was how he got to working with the jet set at
marinas in Nice, Cannes and Antibes.
How he got into lizards and reptiles I know not.
I recall he came to our Notting Hill house, a
stone's through from where he stalled out,
bringing his star possession and best friend -
Iggy. I took photos of this curious green member
of the lizard family with a very long stripy tail
and a complicated sex mating life. A shame I
never asked his weight and the length of his tail
from his snout which would have determined his
I still have the photo today of John and Iggy.
He travelled with him from England to France and
knew all the customs officers in Nice as Iggy had
to be declared like a cat or a dog. Maybe Iggy
had a passport. I forgot to ask! John was
training Iggy to be in movies. He had other green
iguanas but Ziggy was his 'bed' companion,
sleeping on a special ledge which John had built
above his bed. I am sure he wished Iggy sweet
dreams every night.
When magical Martin and I finally got to Nice and
Menton for a winter sun holiday one New Year,
John welcomed us to his home. Along with other
green iguanas and stick figure Mantis in glass
tanks, I recall the clawing odour of his home.
Thank God we were not staying with him. John
showed us around Nice and I recall we spent New
Year in a cafeteria as everywhere was booked and
he had not got it together to think of reserving
Then disaster struck! Iggy died. John went
into chronic depression and bereavement. He
really loved Iggy. He had no wife or girlfriend
or much to offer a woman at the age of 40 except
other green iguanas and Praying Mantis. Iggy was
his entire life and I am sure John kissed him
every night but Iggy went to Iggylandia and that
on the balcony in the winter sun at the Curium
Palace Hotel, Limassol on 11/1/17.
Melissa Kaplan updated 2014
For age/size norms
Effects of diet and care on growth
Stick Mantis with 6 legs.