A Snail Tale

We raided The Whistler archives for this tale
Even in these days of space, sputniks, strong telescope lenses and great human endeavour, there are no snails on the moon, but then, in a highly embarrassing incident, NASA equipment in an orbiting space probe above us failed to detect “any signs of life on Earth”. So, you never know.

But there are too many snails in my garden. How about yours? A friend of mine tells me that he regularly smites them into orbit, not caring where they land. Another friend calls from time to time and, while we chat, she picks up snails like cherries off the trees, plants and walls and pops them into plastic bags, which she nonchalantly slings into my bin. “But, but but!” I say, and she says, “Never mind!”

A neighbour says, “I just stamp on ’em” and I say, “But, but, but!” and she says, “I know, I know, but never mind!” Recently, I talked with someone who throws them hard against her wall. The shells break and the birds have a picnic. This, I suppose, is the most natural way; that is if the snails have not been poisoned with pellets which could poison the birds in turn.
Dr Mayern, physician-in-chief to King James I, believed that the bitterest medicines work the best. For breathing difficulties he prescribed a syrup made with the flesh of snails, frogs, crayfish, tortoise, and the lungs of various animals, all boiled in coltsfoot water, “with sugar candy added at the last.”
In Springtime, when the well-adjusted snail lightly turns to thoughts of love and reproduction, pairing starts in April, when the preliminary blandishments are followed by the usual courtship. “The eggs are laid soon afterwards in holes dug by the animal in the soil, and hatch in 30 days,” I learn from ‘British Snails’ (Ellis 1926). “When protected from the vicissitudes of life” they have been known to reach the age of 10 years. Over half the year is spent in hibernation, when they start to congregate in nooks and crannies. In some limestone districts, deep holes are worn into the rocks, due to the animals constantly perching there over thousands of years. The Romans are credited with having introduced snails to Britain, but according to Ellis, Helix Aspersa is native. It also inhabits hedges, quarries, cliffs, banks and old walls, amongst evergreen shrubs, especially ivy. It is particularly abundant near the sea.

Helix Aspersa is edible, Booth Museum confirms, and, according to Masefield, ‘Economic Use of Some British Mollusca’ (Journ.Conch.1899), has been eaten in many parts of this country. It is sold in Bristol markets and elsewhere as “wall-fish”. Escoffier has at least three popular recipes, Escargots à la Bourgogne being the most favoured. We are told that what the birds of the air can safely eat, human beings can also safely eat. So, in the interests of the economy and the eco-system, we should really be eating our snails. You first.

Hilary Gilmore, August 1997 edition

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