The pinchers squeezed down to grab something in the long wet dewy grass, what in hell is she doing, I wondered. Dressed in fatigues and clutching a wire basket, the woman appeared in the early morning mist almost as a hunter, but of what?
It dawned on me, as I continued my run around the fields, and kept leaping out of the way of the fat, juicy snails that were taking a cooling, slither along the damp paths: a snail hunter – she was a bloody snail hunter!
Didn’t Elvis eat squirrels? So where do you draw the line, personally my line is drawn well above snails, although as a child my father educated me in winkles, whelks, cockles, mussels, I adored all things crustacean.
On a Saturday afternoon, when the fishmonger was still an integral part of the high street, my pops and I would wander in and buy a big paper wrapped packet of vinegar soaked cockles and a sack of tiny black winkles glistening in their briny shells.
We would be salivating as we drove home thinking about pulling out those tiny, curly globules of salty matter with our pins and chewing them greedily, possibly with a thin slice of bread and butter on the side.
Ageing is a strange process isn’t it? Your taste-buds change and develop into new directions. Suddenly sugar-coated coca-cola bottles aren’t nearly so desirable nor are sour balls the size of snooker balls in the least appealing. Although twenty years ago you would have seen me, grasping in my hot sweaty adolescent hand 20p and intent on getting my moneys worth, buying a three-pack of sour balls, enough to last an entire school day and possibly the bus journey home as well.
Yet twenty years on the idea of drawing out that globlet of winkle with the tip of a pin, or chewing on a garlic infused fat French snail leaves me with a slight shudder. A large glass of very dry, cold white wine is appealing, long salty anchovies, hairy and covered in vinegar sing out to me, but sour balls, escargot…non, non, non – no thank you.
But hunting snails – it’s no different to hunting deer, rabbits or wood-grouse or fishing for trout is it? I have great admiration for that snail hunter, she was resourcefully scouring the countryside for a free lunch, she didn’t offer to share it with me and nor would I have joined her but those well-tuned French taste-buds had sent her, on that dewy morning, into the world to forage for a great delicacy.