More than 20 years ago I took my first grandchild to Cardiff Castle. We enjoyed walking in the grounds, Carys loved the peacocks showing off their beautiful feathers. As we went home on the bus I felt pleased and satisfied to have shown her something lovely she’d never seen before but when we got home she unsettled me by showing me a snail through her baby eyes, which were naturally still unclouded by conventional judgements.
Isn’t He Lovely She was almost three but she’d never seen a peacock spread out his shimmering tail ‘Isn’t he lovely’ I said. At home in the garden she echoed my words, the exact tone of voice - ‘Isn’t he lovely’, she said. So I gazed at the snail as he flowed along on a trail of slime with his horns pointing up and his horns pointing down and his shell on his back all spiralled and etched. Should I say he’s disgusting I hate him to bits for the way that he munches my lettuce and beans? I looked at the child. Should I tell her the facts? Could I tell her the truth? ‘Isn’t he lovely’ I said.
A snail or slug isn’t simply a slump of shapeless flesh encased in slime, these animals have needs and desires. There’s a short video of two hermaphrodite leopard slugs following each other and then coiling themselves together in a glowing sexual encounter at https://www.dailymotion.com/video/xdxbx. You may feel you’d really rather not watch slugs having sex just now but don’t be afraid, the narration is provided by David Attenborough, whose soothing voice never says it’s bizarre or weird, his expert narration isn’t disturbed by such judgements Maybe he’s so old and has seen so much that he’s gone beyond bothering with conventional responses.
There are around 85,000 species of molluscs; many of them with shells, but some, like octopus, without. They are found on land, in the sea and in intertidal zones all over the world. More at http://www.molluscs.at/mollusca/index.html?/mollusca/main.html
I belong to the Cardiff Museum Writers; we meet at the museum (online since lockdown) to look at objects or exhibitions that might spark our imagination. Cardiff Museum has the second largest collection of molluscs in the UK and in 2016 we were lucky enough to be taken behind the scenes by Curator Harriet Wood and shown some of the museum’s awesome collection of molluscs. Harriet put up a blog which recorded our visit and the work it inspired which you can find at https://museum.wales/blog/1728/A-Place-of-Awe-and-Inspiration/
In our lovely writers group there are no prescriptions or rules, we are free to respond in any way that comes into our head. I enjoyed making an absurd attempt to gather the immense diversity of molluscs into the 14 lines of a sonnet.
MOLLUSCAN SONNET I shall not praise a single slug or snail, this is a poem for molluscs of all sorts: for those on land that glide on slimy trails and those that live on sea beds, mud or rocks; molluscs with shells that twirl to left or right, that feed with toothsome tongues or kill their prey with poison darts. I praise all molluscs bright as butterflies or coloured ghastly grey, sweet juicy mussels, cockles hard as stones, cowries, colossal squid and octopus, winkles, limpets, argonauts and tritons, all charm me with their fearful otherness. No net of words can capture them, I found, before, in undiscovered seas, I drowned. Anne Bryan