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A Shout From The Attic: Snail Salad

Ronnie Bray gives a "tasty'' account of how he dexterously dealt with an unusual mealtime problem.

To read earlier episodes of Ronnie's wonderful autobiography please click on http://www.openwriting.com/archives/a_shout_from_the_attic/

As a young soldier stationed in Borden, I took a trip to London on a rare thirty-six hour pass, and went to Church at 149 Nightingale Lane, Balham, which was a large Victorian detached house used as a meeting place and also as the headquarters of the British Mission, then the only mission for the whole of the British Isles.

Attending the branch meetings that day was the Greenwood family, who lived at nearby Bolingbroke Bungalows at the edge of Wandsworth Common. Roger Greenwood and his wife invited me to eat tea at their home and to spend my time with their family until it was time for me to travel back to camp. The Greenwoods, who had been members of the Church for a few years, were getting ready to respond to their urge to emigrate to Utah to be near the main body of Church members.

Our tea meal, a very British institution, was ham salad. At that time I had not yet developed my dislike of ham, so I enjoyed the repast, even though I did encounter a problem with my salad at one point. Conversation flowed freely; the children were as loquacious and pleasant as their parents were, so the meal went slowly. Then, to my surprise and consternation, I lifted a piece of lettuce leaf and found a little stranger - a slug!

It was not one of the huge slugs that carry away whole gardens of produce in a single night, but a smaller cousin of the species that eats away slowly. It did not appear to be eating when I discovered it, so although it did not constitute competition for my feast, it nonetheless presented me with a formidable dilemma.

Basic etiquette prescribes that a guest does not embarrass his host. I did not know but that snails were customarily served with salads in London, for they were not like us Northern folk and had some strange habits, customs, and victuals, some of which were laughable, but others that seemed grim and unnatural, such as their fondness for jellied eels. Perhaps snails were a source of nutrition to them, but I dared not ask, just in case they would have been as discomfited as our more cultured race from the higher latitudes.

I decided not to risk exposure, nor to simulate disgust and make them feel guilty. They would not thank me for that, and they were gracious, kind, and warm. Besides, it was only a snail, not some gross creature, so I decided on Plan ‘B’. I was amazed at my own dexterity and panache as I deftly rolled the little blighter into a large piece of lettuce and swallowed it whole with a smile on my face.

The operation was a great success because my hosts were spared embarrassment, and I suffered no ill effects. The remainder of the time I had with them passed merrily, and I left their home with my secret to return to camp where I impressed my comrades with the true story of a ‘man eating snail.’ The Greenwood family moved to America some months later, and I never heard of them more, and, which is more important, I think they never heard of my escapade with extra meat in my ham salad in their home at Bolingbroke Bungalows one Sunday late in 1952, when they had compassion on a young soldier who was far from home, our of his element, somewhat lonely, and decidedly hungry.

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