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There was not a sign of him at either end of the trail.


' THERE'S a slug in here," bellowed my wife, as she advanced into ourdinette in her fluffy pink dressing-gown, pausing for a moment in the dawn gloom, while, with an expression of the utmost consternation, her eyes followed the meandering glow of a silver trail running between the conservatory door and the sagging frame of our wine-rack. I creaked on to my feet from the chair in the corner and stretched up to steady the trembles of a painting on the wall, thus exposing the pale flesh between my bed-socks and pyjama bottoms. In this way, she would see at once that I was not in the habit of creeping through life on my belly, lubricated by a lather of slime. "I am declaring war on all insects and gastropods," she announced, gazing at me in a firm-chinned way, before treating our neighbours to a vigorous chorus of the Marseillaise, delivered with Napoleonic passion and Gallic flourishes. "I think it must be Sidney," I said when she had finished and the birds had returned to their roosts and the sun had resumed its slow climb over the weeping blue slates on the houses opposite, to shine its pale warmth over the sodden golden leaves of the gardens.

"Sidney?" she said. "Sidney? "People have names, dogs have names, trams and trains once had names, husbands have names and sometimes numbers as well, the houses of the socially ambitious have names, cats have names, referees have names which are never heard in polite society, rabbits have names, rashes have names, politicians and spin-doctors have names which would blush the ears of a priest at confession, goldfish have names, even some cows have names, but slugs are strictly anonymous. Remove it, now." An easy enough instruction, but where was the fellow? I stepped gingerly over the room, so as to avoid any unpleasant and unequal meetings between heel and slug. But there was not a sign of him to be found at either end of the trail. Had he dematerialised or cunningly camouflaged himself against the wallpaper? Surely though, I mused, a sensitive, dreamy slug is more likely to reveal himself if addressed with respect and by name. Would he not slither across the carpet at full throttle in response to a kindly voice I decided to lower myself on to all-fours, so as not to givehim an inferiority complex. It was at that very moment that I experienced a cold, damp sensationunder my left hand. Now then, some of you older readers will remember how, at school, tweedy teachers with sweet tea on their breath, biscuit crumbs on their chins, pay rises on their minds and chalk dust growing out of their nostrils, derived terrific pleasure from slipping the word "onomatopoeia" into spelling tests for eight-year-olds."

Their fingers would sweep across the classroom offering such challenging words as "boat, coat, cricket and pocket," to all their favourite pupils, before fixing the rebel at the back with a spear-like stare. "Well, David - onomatopoeia." Then, when he had failed hopelessly to progress beyond the third letter, and it had been been written on the board for the benefit of all those paying attention, the teacher would ask what it meant. "Miss, Miss, please Miss," everyone shouted as fists soared into the air. "It's a word which sounds like a noise, Miss, like boom, zoom, zonk, splat, thwack, (no, not raspberry, David), yes thud is good, crunch, too." And, in the case of poor Sidney, "squelch". Scraping him off my hand in the garden, I shivered at the slight chill in the air. Autumn is all around us. In the pinewoods, spiders weave their treacherous threads into sparkling cities of the night, strung from tree to tree and hung with crystal drops. The rough-skinned pippins sit sweetly in their barrels outside the shop. Soon some will be secured to sticks and soaked in toffee for the celebrations of Hallowe'en and Bonfire Night. In the fields beyond, the blackberries are already withering on their stalks. But in the gardens, the slugs and snails are in frolicsome mood, a little too venturesome in the case of poor Sidney. Pumpkins swell the earth. The year is panting into its final quarter. It is the time of rheumatism and harvest festival services, when the churches and school halls are decorated with sheaves of corn, jars of home-made jam, cheeses, fruits, pickles and loaves of bread kneaded into many different shapes, often symbolising fertility rites from ancient times. These days, of course, bottles and cans from the supermarkets are added to the piles, but the message is the same, even if the delivery is different.

At their service, the boys and girls at our nine-year-old son's school said that we should thank everyone involved in food production, all the way up to God. A simple sentiment for these weeks when we raise our collars in gratitude to the changing seasons
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Title Annotation:Business
Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Date:Oct 11, 2005
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