150 snails and one suicidal slug are saved
The other day I was trying to mow the lawn during the five minute window between intense thunderstorms when I heard a scrape on the mower’s blades. I stopped and looked down to see a small snail that had dislodged from the earth. I picked it up and noticed it was in fact two snails, each attached to the other. One of them seemed to be oozing a white rubbery goo into the other.
My first reaction was that I had disturbed a VERY intimate moment that I oughtn’t to be privy to – maybe it was a first date (I remember how embarrassing it was when my father took me on my first date to the cinema and sat between me and Pippa Russel during a screening of Breakdance 2 whilst I tried to offer her fruit gums over his lap) – but then I considered that the fast moving blade may well have done some damage. I gently prized them apart to see that the first snail had a bit of it’s head coming out. Yuk!! My next reaction was to put them out of their misery…fast. But just as I was about to bring my foot down upon them I questioned myself: was I doing this to help or because I was trying to not feel bad about what I had done?
I went to the web and looked up ‘snail anatomy’. I found a complex diagram and immediately noticed that the penis came out of the head. Amazing. Snails are actually dick heads – scientifically speaking. They can probably think with their heads AND their penises at the same time – and yet we think we are more evolved.
So my first instinct was right: the snails were getting down to some serious slime time and I had no reason to squash them at all. And something else occurred to me… As I poured over all the details on the diagram – the foot coming out of the backside, the arse by the shoulders, the stomach, the heart….the heart?… I considered for the first time a snail as a proper living, complex, creature. I always realised snails were alive, but they were just those horrible gooey things on the ground. ‘They all look the same to me mate’ But now there was something strangely touching to see that even this tiny snail had an intestine, it had an anus, it had a heart. And by God was it’s heart probably beating while it was getting down to some fun times whilst I was hammering it’s shell with a vibrating blade.
What else didn’t I know about this snail. Did it care about things? Did it enjoy the sex? Was it any good at it? What was it’s favourite hobby?
I’m only half-joking on this. I know that snails are ugly, gooey and I don’t want to touch them. And yet, when you look at something a bit more closely it becomes more real. And when something is more real you can’t help but feel a slight sense of responsibility towards its well being. A chunk of meat in an air-tight pack in the supermarket is easy to eat. Doris the lamb in the back garden is harder.
I told Ann about my new snail excitement and she had little sympathy.
‘There’s thousands in the garden and they’re killing the plants.’
She was right. Half the leaves were eaten.
‘But they have arseholes. Can’t we keep them?’ I said in the same sort of way a young child says to his parents when he’s found a baby fox in the park.
‘Why should we save the snails instead of the plants. Plants are living too’
I briefly considered getting into a very tiresome debate about the nature of consciousness and whether plants could feel pain and whether saving a snails life is more worthy than saving a plants but I figured that wasn’t the point of this whole experiment – I wasn’t meant to think I was meant to act. It’s not about logic it’s about feelings. And here I was feeling for these sexy snails.
‘We need to get rid of all the snails. If you don’t then I will’ Ann said. And I knew she wasn’t joking. She had some poison in the cupboard and she wasn’t afraid to use it. And it’s not that Ann is callous. She’s just…normal. We all want rid of ‘pests’. The only problem I was beginning to name these snails…
There was no option but to ‘rescue’ them, whatever that meant. I wanted to have both my plants AND for the snails to live, dammit.
So I found a box, put a load of (organic, washed, waitrose) lettuce and spinach salad in the bottom along with some apple slices and proceeded to dive into the garden and scrabble around on my hands and knees, backside sticking out from amongst the Japanese Anemone, looking for snails. Soon I had found well over a hundred.
One thing I can tell you about snails: they are bloody fast. As soon as I had dropped them on the lush leaves within a minute a few of them were on the escape, near the very top of the cardboard walls.
After I had got all that I could I packed up the box and set off for Hackney Marshes in the car. I briefly stopped off at the studio before feeling decidedly uncomfortable about leaving over 100 snails on the front seat (snails in cars – now there’s a photo shoot idea) and so continued onwards.
I found a small location hidden away from the marshes, very much like a back garden, and, underneath an apple tree with lots of foiliage around, I let them out.
FREEDOM!!!! They literally charged out…a couple rode on each other’s backs, like ‘wahey!’ and then they were off. Probably to have sex.
When I returned to the car I saw a whole load of slugs that were trying to cross the road. That’s the thing about this compassion business – it’s like the tip of a thread sticking out of a jumper, you pull it a little bit and everything else is comes with it. When do you stop? Do I really have to save these slugs as well? But I couldn’t help noticing that one slug was already about two feet across the road and was hell bent on getting to the other side just as a car was coming. And for some reason I thought it was called ‘Troy”. I have no idea why, it just popped up into my head. Did you hear that one about the slug that crosses the road? No? That’s because it ain’t no joke, it’s a bloody mess. I sprung into action, and almost as if I was in slow motion, or maybe the slug was in slow motion I’m not sure, I lunged to the floor and took the slug from imminent squashage. Not before taking these pictures of course.
150 snails saved. And one suicidal slug. A good day’s work I think.