The snails live on the walls of my garden, hiding under the shrubs, or clustered together in the evenings on the living room window, where they gather under the edge of the sash frame. Are they watching the TV? On wet nights they can be found idly perambulating across the path, and in the morning as I go to work I see their silvery trails across the doormat, or on a plant pot or two. I don’t begrudge them the small amount of damage they do; for some reason I find snails quite appealing. Slugs, on the other hand, have little to recommend them; they lurk under the rims of the plant pots, lumps of slime and gristle that surprise your fingers when you go to move the pot. I find it odd that I regard them so differently. What difference does a shell make? The snails, I will admit, are great performers when, on occasion, I take them to schools. Set on the back of my hand, they soon come out of their shells and extend their long eyestalks, peering myopically at the children as if to say ‘What’s this? Who are you?’ The children, for their part, seem equally fascinated by their small alien visitors, and talk back to them.
Snails in this part of the world are usually found at the seaside. Most of the underlying native rock is granite, which doesn’t provide sufficient calcium for them to grow their shells; by the sea, they take advantage of the crushed shell in the sandy soil, taken up by the plants that they eat, and they grow to the size of golf balls. It must be a precarious existence in some ways, being close to the sea. After all, how many of us have gone out with the salt pot at night to put an end to crawling lettuce lovers?
The warm, damp weather has spiced up the lives of the snails on the walls. Yesterday Mum caught several of them flagrantly mating, moistly entwined amid the foliage. Snails love-lives are complex; they are hermaphrodite, so each fertilises the other. In courtship - for snails do choose their partners - they fire small ‘arrows’ at each other, reeling each other in on thin white thread until their bodies are pressed together. D-I-Y Cupid? Or have they been watching old westerns on the TV, in the evenings? Whichever, I wait for the eggs to appear, and a new generation of snails to make their slow way to the window pane.