Column September 22, 2010: The snail who came out of his shell

ZOOLOGY was never my strong suit. Actually, I don’t even have a strong suit, nor do I have any idea what one is. All I know is that I know little about animals and their ways.

Either way, I don’t believe I actually saw a snail until I was in my twenties. I was aware of what they looked like, of course. I’d seen pictures. But I could say that about a hippopotamus or a unicorn or a Conservative voter. I was a city boy, with a yard, not a garden.

My life these days is very different with regard to snail exposure. Only the other night, I was dragging out the wheelie bin ready for the morning’s collection, when I found one of the little fellows sitting upon the lid.

Many of his comrades- in-shells have met a premature end at my hands, or, to be strictly accurate, feet. There’s little more unexpectedly unpleasant then hearing a crunch under foot as one dashes out late at night to take out the rubbish. Especially if one is wearing slippers.

It was clear, then, that Bin-lid Snail was one of the lucky ones. I looked him in the eye, regarded the twitch of his horns, the patina of his shell, and I told him: “Get your skates on, pal. The binmen are coming in eight hours.”

Perhaps it’s the cuteness of the snail’s shell, but I would never have extended the same courtesy to a slug. This is odd. Were I to meet identical twins, one of whom had erected a tent on his back, he would be the one I would shun.

However, of course, there were slugs around when I was a boy, so I look upon them with the contempt of familiarity. Also, they are abominable. I don’t want to say what they look like, but you know what they look like and that’s what they look like.

Only the slugs of today are different to the ones of my youth, at least as far as I can remember. For a start there are more of them. And the slugs themselves seem roughly twice the size.

But the biggest innovation I have noticed is the luminous orange slug. I’m sure they are new, though I am willing to accept this is a misconception.

I wonder how the rest of the slug community responded to this development.

And here I am, wondering . . . 


BROWN SLUG: Now, Torquil, your mother and I have had a long discussion about this, but the fact is you can’t go around like, y’know, that.

ORANGE SLUG: Like what? You are repressing my inner nature. I must be free to express myself.

BROWN SLUG: Codswallop. All right, what about a nice dark brown?

ORANGE SLUG: ”Skunkweed” was right. Typical bourgeois slug parents.

BROWN SLUG: That’s not what slugs are. We’re brown, slimy, very slow, sluggish, even. We don’t like to be seen. Leave the glamour to the snails.

ORANGE SLUG: Why must we apologise for who we are? Just because we do not carry our homes upon our backs, can we not be beautiful? I must be bright, shining, flamboyant.

BROWN SLUG: You’ve given me food for thought. Come on, let’s go down for tea, Torquil. Your mother’s got . . . 

ORANGE SLUG: Let me guess . . . lettuce?


BROWN SLUG: What about black? Your cousin Terry’s black.

ORANGE SLUG: He’s a Goth!

I bet that’s exactly what happened. Although, as I said, zoology is not my strong suit.

PS: I was challenged to get the word “dodecahedrons” into this week’s column. I have clearly failed. Actually, wait a minute. Surely that counts.

Column September 8, 2010: The doors of lack of perception

I HAVE difficulty judging how quickly people are walking. This is possibly why I was never very good at football or three-legged races.

I think the first time I realised my limitation in this department was when I was assaulted by an elderly blind woman.

I was walking along a road, with a pavement of decent width, when the little old lady hoved into view, swinging her long white stick. As a result, I went into full blind-person-coming-readiness.

Now, as I walked I noticed there was a lamp-post ahead, and a car illegally parked with its nearside wheels on the pavement, leaving a very small gap. I’ve a certain degree of sympathy with the driver, as it was a narrow road, and I absolve him of blame for the incident which was to occur.

The blind old lady was approaching at, I assumed, normal blind old lady speed, sweeping her cane ahead of her. I was confident that I would reach the lamp-post before her and could nip around it, enabling both of us to go on our way. After all, I’m reasonably spry, and, crucially, sighted.

How wrong I was. The little old blind lady was walking at least as fast as me. She reached the lamp-post before me, blocking my path with the sweep of her cane and I had to fling myself into the small gap between the parked car and the post, grazing my elbow on it.

She, of course, was unaware of the distress she had caused and continued on her speedy way, scattering chickens and small children who ventured into her path.

But my inability to judge the velocity of pedestrians is now seriously inconveniencing other people. And I have now reached the nadir in my relationship with the rest of the human race as a result of it.

I held a door open for a lady. I often do this, I do it for gentlemen as well. I am an equal-opportunity door-holder, well brought up. Occasionally people even thank me for performing this task. This lady did not.

You see, when I opened the door, the lady (we’ll call her Lady A) was marginally in The Zone. That’s the area around the door within which one can expect the person by the door to keep it open until one arrives.

She was a middle-aged lady, and it’s usually fun holding a door for middle-aged ladies as they feel obliged to run in that way that only middle-aged ladies run – biceps pressed against their sides, forearms flailing, a face which says: “No, I am not running. Stop looking at me.”

But what I hadn’t noticed was that Lady A was walking very slowly indeed – limping, in fact. And now she felt obliged to pick up the pace because I was holding the door for her. Very, and obviously, painfully, she sped up, a brave smile on her face, flickering into a grimace every time she put her left foot on the ground. I could tell she hated me.

And I hated her a little bit, too, because the door was alarmed. We had around 30 seconds’ grace before the alarm sounded. “Come on, you slow moo,” I thought in my head.

Then she dropped a folder, and bent agonisingly slowly to pick it up. A dilemma – should I help her, or stay holding the door? I made a judgment call and stayed with the door – we’d both been through too much to throw it away.

Finally, Lady A came within range of the door, and I stepped back into the office. We were home and dry.

Except . . . the thing about doors is they have two sides. And if they have two sides, they have two Zones.

Behind me, rushing for the door was another woman, Lady B, fleeter of foot, who assumed I was holding the door open for her.

She dashed past me. I couldn’t stop her. I even heard her say, “Thank you.”

She crashed right into Lady A, almost knocking her on to her backside. And so, a sadder and wiser man, to the sound of the alarm, I walked away.

I couldn’t tell you how quickly, though.