There I am, a nonchalant morning bike ride along the lanes and through the fields behind my house. Pushing sedately on the pedals, admiring the scenery and running new writing ideas through my brain – I’m so lost in thought, that I almost run over this little guy.
A humble snail crossing the road. I brake just in time. Phew! I’d hate to have a dead snail on my conscience. Lucky too for this fella that I’m a Brit on a bike and not a hungry Frenchman, who might have scoped up the snail, then plopped it in a pot on arriving home and cooked him up for lunch. Yes, the French still do eat snails, and very tasty they are too – served up with freshly chopped parsley and a spot of warm garlic butter. I’m going to leave this little guy though. He’s like me – out on a leisurely morning stroll. Mind you; nothing can be « leisurely » when you’ve got to carry your home on your back.
Snails always remind me of that species of summer wanderer – the caravaner. Those who like nothing more than to hook their home from home to the back of their car and then drive round France at a snail’s pace. I’ve always wondered why anyone can be bothered with the hassle of a caravan. Towing it around is just the half of it. First off, there is the water tank, you want showers, you need to do the washing up – so you have to fill the on board tank before you go. Caravan water tanks range from 40 litre (11,5 gallons) up to 127 litre (28 gallons) in size. It must take ages to fill up a 28-gallon tank, and just how many decent showers can you get out of 28 gallons? And what about the shower? It’s in the toilet. You’ve got a Lilliputian sized-loo and right next to it a shower tray, the size of a small birdbath. You might indeed have a shower curtain, but water goes everywhere. As for the toilet, it’s chemical and you have to empty it and that just seems pretty disgusting. I know. I used to work on campsites in France, and one of my tasks was to empty the loos of the on site caravans. (Yuck)
Other drawbacks of caravans – their size. It might say « six Berth » on the advertising, but unless you are anorexic or a dwarf or an anorexic dwarf or a contortionist, you are never realistically going to sleep six people in a six berth caravan. YES YOU CAN! Scream caravan enthusiast. The main dining table converts into a double bed. Oh great. Who wants to convert the dining table into a bed every night? And what about early risers who might just want to have their breakfast sitting at a proper table?
I am not quite sure if your average snail has these problems. I am not an expert on snail shells, but they are strictly single berth and I don’t think that there is any room inside for a dining table, a toilet or even a water tank.
Whilst we are on the subject of these itinerant gastropods, the life span of a land snail can range between five and seven years, which is probably as long as you are going to keep the caravan.
To the subject then of gastropod gastronomy. Talking to those more senior neighbours and family members – (i.e. those of our elders born in or around the Second World War,), back in the mid twentieth century, snails were not « the delicacy » they are nowadays, like hares and rabbits (of which there are far fewer nowadays); the humble snail was just a part of the rural diet. Listen to or elders and they’ll tell you about rising with the dawn to go gathering snails in ditches and hedgerows to return before breakfast with a bucketful for lunch – It is clear that there were more snails back then.
It was in the 1950’s, that many farmers were encouraged to rip out their hedgerows, to destroy ancestral fields and meadows and woods, to lay the countryside bare, all in the name of progress. France needed feeding, so agriculture went industrial. Until World War Two, French farming had been a subsistence level family affair with farmers producing enough to feed themselves and then selling off the surplus at local markets. Probably enough to feed the locals but not the nation, so the Government of the day got farmers to rip up the countryside and go industrial with tractors and fields the size of several football fields. No place for snails.
I am mostly ignorant about nature and subjects of the ilk (I possibly know more about caravans than the natural world – the other night, I fell asleep in front of a nature programme and on waking up, zapped on to a cable channel showing a very interesting documentary about the history of British caravans.) However, tending my garden, I have tended to notice that snails like damp places – weeding my strawberry patch the other day, ripping one unwanted plant out after another, I found several snails, out of their shells, extended on ivy leaves and doing what snails do when in each other’s company – possibly about this oaf who was busy ripping up their world. So, I put back the leaves and left the snails. This is not the first time I have done this. Recently I have left many snails in peace, promising to return and cut back the ever-encroaching weeds and ivy when aforementioned snails have done their doings.
There actually seem to be quite a few snails about – possibly even enough to consider a snail starter for dinner, but I won’t do this simply because I have become snail friendly and, as I have been informed, we don’t eat commonal garden snails. Besides I can buy a bag of frozen snails from the local supermarket just as I can buy a bag of frozen frogs legs – nowadays though the frogs come from China and the snails come from Eastern Europe.
So, after my brief gastropod encounter, I left my snail friend to cross the road and pedalled on my way, admiring the poppies that are popping up everywhere at this time of year.