Just a footnote on my morning walks.
You get to notice all kinds of things that you'd never see if driving around. For instance, all the slugs on the pavements. At 8.00am the pavements are covered with them, and you have to tread carefully in order not to step on one. So many! My village might as well be called Slug City. It's probably a feature of dewy dawns, this early-morning massing of soft slimy creatures. They all seem to be heading in the same direction. Maybe they know a garden where the lettuce is delicious. Maybe they are chasing each other - they are hermaphrodites - and it must be mating season!
I have always tried to think well of slugs, but it's very hard. I can think kindly about snails, and surely a slug is merely a snail without a shell. But not having that curly-whorly shell somehow makes the slug seem not only obscenely nude, but sleekly sinister. I suppose being shell-less allows a slug to move really fast. And to get itself through holes and cracks that a snail just can't. But it makes them horribly unattractive, like maggots are; whereas snails don't make me recoil at all. I suppose that's because snails generally have a nicer, friendlier image, despite being garden pests just the same. Slugs, fairly or not, seem malevolent, greedy and disgusting.
Both slugs and snails exude mucus to glide around on, but the slug's seems slimier, and its movements more stealthy and menacing. When together, slugs seem to have a common purpose, as if hunting something in a pack.
I'm no naturalist, and all this negativity about slugs is no more than popular perception, something I've let myself swallow whole since childhood - like some people have developed a long-standing irrational fear of mice and spiders. But whether the victim of myth or not, the slug is not a creature I enjoy the company of. It can't be a coincidence that the evil and repulsive arch-criminal Jabba the Hutt in the Star Wars films is essentially a slug.
And I have to admit my view of slugs has been heavily influenced by another work of fiction, a horror book I half-read in the 1980s, and which I have lately discovered was Slugs, by Shaun Hutson. I was living in a part of South London called Merton Park at the time, and the story is set in a place called Merton. Yikes! Too close to home! It's about an out-of-control colony of carnivorous slugs, who attack Merton en masse, looking for meat to eat and blood to drink. They attack like piranha fish, in a feeding frenzy. No animal is safe. Pets are taken down and stripped to the bone in seconds. Then the humans.
The first bloody contact with humans is a horrible read. The slugs are everywhere, nobody can shut them out. They ooze in through floorboard and window cracks. And once inside the home, they wait in ambush, hiding in clothing and shoes. I seem to remember one brave man getting ready to have a go at them. Putting on thick rubber gloves, he discovers a hungry slug lurking up each finger of these gloves, jaws gaping. His fingertips go straight into these open jaws. Each slug immediately begins to devour his fingers, voraciously, bones and all. In desperation, he has to hack off what is left of his hand. I stopped reading at that point. This was way too much. It was a total nightmare that haunted me for a long while afterwards. I'm afraid it's still in the back of my mind as I contemplate any gardening.
So you'll understand that I step very carefully over these creatures, as I do my brisk morning walk around Slug City. Keep moving. Don't let them notice you. And don't tread on them, don't give them a reason to get angry. It's all too easy to imagine them rearing up, and going for the throat.
And they really do have teeth.