One of the major breakthroughs of this book is the abandonment of the theory that everything in nature is nice.
Now, to the specialist everything is fascinating. The flea expert is as keen on fleas as the elephantologist is on elephants. Wild flower books never ever use the word ‘weed’, and no nature book ever refers to anything as a ‘pest’, That is why naturalists are the total opposite of farmers, who regard almost the whole of nature as a personal enemy, and sometimes seem hell-bent on stamping it out.
Like most people’s, my position is somewhere between the two. I regard nature as fascinating, if confusing, but I draw the line at slimy things, which I regard as slimy. So I have to admit that I wrote this section feeling slightly ill throughout. I hope it doesn’t show too much, because I am sure there are people who find slugs friendly little creatures, and they are welcome.
Also known as slugs, these friendly little creatures are so embarrassed by their revolting appearance and abominable texture that they like to hide in dark corners or in the middle of old tree stumps where nobody can see them. The only thing that makes them different at all from half-chewed liquorice is the presence of tiny antennae which wave about like someone trying to get Channel 4. They have many enemies in nature, among whom I am proud to number myself.
If I ever get into Who’s Who, I will list slug-culling as my hobby.
These are generally known as snails when creeping wild and as escargots when lying still in a restaurant. Their sense of camouflage is so uniquely bad in nature that they leave long silvery trails behind them, which thrushes can walk along till they find the snails at the end and eat them.
The theory behind their presence in restaurants is that they have a lovely delicate flavour of butter garlic and parsley, but in my experience this comes simply from adding parsley, garlic and butter. If you eat snails without the added delicacies, you are in for a nasty shock. That is why I admire thrushes so much.
Their natural enemy is the angler, who calls them maggots. He exterminates them by putting a hook through them and dangling them in a river until a fish comes along and finishes them off. It may seem cruel to disembowel, drown and eat alive a living creature, and it is, so I can only assume that the angler hates them very much indeed. Certainly, he never pretends that the maggot secretly enjoys the whole thing.
Sometimes the fish gets caught on the hook as well, in which case the angler will extricate him and return him to the water as quickly as possible. It is the maggot he hates, not the fish. Well, I know how he feels.
It is sometimes assumed that Charles Darwin spent his whole life studying evolution, but in fact he spent many long years studying worms and coming to the conclusion that the action of worms on the soil was the best possible thing that could happen to it. This being so, I shall say nothing against them for the time being.
However, Darwin’s theories are coming in for a lot of questioning and readjustment these days (something to do with his centenary celebrations, I think), so I reserve the right to dislike worms just in case they turn out to be anti-social after all.
Snakes are not in fact slimy, as anyone who has ever dandled a snake on his knee will testify, and this once happened to me in Whipsnade Junior Zoo, an experience which I never thought would come in useful. Most sensible people, however, would rather run a mile than do something as crazy as dandle a snake upon their knee.
That, actually, is how you recognise these charming, friendly creatures – through your impulse to run a mile, an instinct as deep-seated as our urge to feel pleasure at the sight of a rainbow or to turn round and stare when someone shouts ‘Duck!’. Don’t forget, though, that all snakes have an impulse to get as far away as possible when they see human beings, having a deep-seated instinctive loathing of large, non-slimy, two-legged things.
This seems a satisfactory arrangement all round, and dandling on knees by either side can only serve to damage our mutual respectful distrust.
If you find any otherwise unidentifiable squashy object on the ground, rest assured it is merely awaiting the moment to get its legs and wings and fly away. This is sometimes described as the miracle of nature, and if by this is meant that it is miraculous they are not stepped on before take-off, then I suppose this is true.
This transition from total dormancy to complete airborneness may seem a strange way of developing a flying object but after all humans do it exactly the same way. Our flying objects can lie around at the developmental stage for years on end, then very often get totally cancelled. However, the reasons for this are beyond the scope of this little book.
It was from Kenneth Allsop. The late lamented, that I learnt about the bug that lives only in the back of colour TV sets in New York, living on the juice from transistors or something like that. Apparently it could not live anywhere else. Where it had been living until John Logie Baird came along, I have no idea. But by extension there must be organisms that live only in transistor radios (stone deaf), in electric toasters (immune to heat) and hair dryers (able to hang on in very high winds). More research needs to be done, though not by me.
Observant readers may notice that this section, unlike all the others, contains only seven basic species. I am sorry. I was feeling rather nauseous by the end. I had to stop short. I hope readers will understand.
Nature Made Ridiculously Simple 1983