I don't often laugh out loud early in the morning, but today was an exception.
A radio presenter, outlining the contents of the morning newspapers, discussed new strategies for gardeners to get rid of unwelcome snails which eat their way through delicate plants and leave slimy trails across herbaceous borders. The latest recommended strategy is based on the idea of throwing the offending molluscs over the fence into next door's garden. Gardeners are being advised to develop a better throwing arm in order to defeat the intense homing instinct of the snails: it seems that snails which are relocated by 20 metres or more are less likely to return.
The mental image was delightful: gardeners throughout the UK limbering up and getting into practice for the Mollusc Projectile Olympics, aiming to fling all unwelcome invaders as far away as possible. In the surreal landscape of early morning exhaustion, I could see the result. It won't rain cats and dogs this summer: it'll be raining snails, as garden pests are lobbed from one end of every suburban street to the other. You think you've got rid of your snails? Think again. The snails from two doors down are due to land any moment now. Enjoying a barbecue or a quiet coffee in your garden? You might not have planned to include escargot jardinière volant on your menu, but your neighbour might be about to fly some in. Surely it's a Health and Safety thing? Will a snail-lob ban have to follow the annual hose-pipe ban, as gardeners get their throwing arms in shape and personal injury claims begin? Will this lead to infuriated gardeners giving unwelcome snails a lift to local wasteground, as some councils suggest, creating a mollusc trailer park?
Maybe it's not just about snails. Maybe it's about those things we don't like, and how to deal with them. The bad weather. Ill health. That person nearby who smells or has no manners. Are we meant just to push them well away from us, imposing their toxicity on someone else? Maybe it really is that simple. The French writer and philosopher Voltaire concluded his novel Candide with the much-quoted phrase: 'Il faut cultiver notre jardin' - we should tend to our garden, often interpreted as 'we should look after our own affairs'. I suppose what this really means is that, if we try to solve problems on the grand scale, or concern ourselves with things beyond our scope, we'll succeed only in driving ourselves quietly mad. But could this have a more sinister intent: look after yourself, let others look after themselves? Don't worry about your neighbour: fling those marauding snails into his garden if they're making a mess of yours?
I've never been very good at gardening. When I had the class geranium for a fortnight's holiday, back when I was 9, I watered it either too little or too much. I'm good at admiring the garden when it looks beautiful, and even better at reminding my husband that the grass needs cut. I'm not much good at looking after the affairs of the moment either, and am expert in the perhaps, what if or but. Aged 13, the first time I tried the shot putt in PE, I managed to drop it squarely on my foot. Maybe it's time to work on my throwing arm. Maybe it's time to lob those things that make me miserable at least 20 metres away, into someone else's life. Let's call it delegation.
I would fling all bad weather to somewhere in the middle of the Atlantic ocean. Wasps and flies and daddy-long-legs wouldn't just fly anymore: they'd be thrown. They're light: they'd travel far. People dressed in fashions I despise would be astonished as their unsavoury garments suddenly left their bodies and flew into a neighbouring town, where they'd alight on people whom I'd never have to see. Inconsiderate drivers - from the tailgaters to the rush hour tractors - would take wing. The illnesses of my friends and family, and any I might suffer from myself, would be flung aside as well, along with the injustices or things which make the people I care about sad or angry. I'd throw away the people who don't say thanks, the people who delegate only to offload or dump, the people who undermine with cruel words, and the people who cut to the quick by saying nothing.
But most of all, drawing my arm back for the best trajectory of all, I'd fling away from my garden and my life those people who just impose their share of inevitable misery on others, in the hope of giving themselves an easier life. The competitive gardener who relocates his snails onto your plants. That person who discharges the toxic disappointment of their own life on the indifferent garden you're doing your best to maintain.
I would throw that way of solving things so far away that the homing instinct of such people would be in vain, and they'd never come back to haunt my life with a silvery trail of slime and misery.