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Sunday, 15 September 2013


See all that stuff about a problem shared being a problem halved? Not in my experience, it isn't. More like a problem shared is a good laugh for your mates.

"So you don't have mice now but you do have slugs?" Rachel says, over a pizza in Gambrino's.

"Maybe just one," I say. "Found it on the kitchen floor a coupla times when I came down in the night for a glass of water. I think it lives under the sink. Leopard slug. Quite pretty when you look close."

"If it's only one that's not so bad," she says. "But if you've an infestation you should get rid of them. Your visitors won't think they're pretty."

"I know how to tell if there's more than one," my son says, lifting a floppy wedge of pizza and lowering it into his mouth."

I give him a moment to chew then ask him how. "Write a name on its shell one night," he says. "Like 'Bob'."

"Slugs don't have shells," I say. "You're thinking of snails."

"Use post-it notes then," he says. "Point is if it says 'Alice' the next night, you've more than one slug. Then you can start to worry."

"I'd be more worried about the psycho who lives under your sink and writes "Alice" on slugs," Rachel says. "I take it you're not going to kill them?"

"I am not," I say. "Why would I?"

"Some people think they're disgusting," she says. 

"I think some people are disgusting," I say.

"What are you going to do with them?" my son says.

"Same as I did with the mice and the fruit flies," I say. "Satyagraha."

"Passive resistance?" Rachel says. "Sounds wimpy and pathetic."

"That's not satyagraha," says my son, ever the expert on Eastern philosophy.

"No?" Rachel says.

"No," he says. "Passive resistance is a weapon of the weak, Gandhi said. It could be violent and didn't always stick with truth. Satyagraha is only for the strong. It insists on truth and never uses violence. Big difference."

"What did Gandhi say about slugs in your kitchen?" Rachel asks him. But his mouth is full of chilli-topped pizza, so he gestures at me and they both wait for my words of wisdom.

"Not much, obviously," I say. "But we're talking principles here. If you understand those you can apply satyagraha to anything. It's about truth, firmness and non-violence."

"So you're going to take the slugs outside, like you did with the mice?" my son says. "And as soon as you turn round they'll be back in the house again."

"And I'll put them out again," I say. "And again. In the end I'll win, because I understand the principles of satyagraha. So I'm strong. I'm persistent."

"Remind me how long it took to get the mice to stay outside," he says.

"Five years," I say. "But in the end they got the message."

The two of them nibble their thin pizzas thoughtfully and sip their coffees, and I begin to think I might have convinced them. "There's a fatal flaw in your plan," Rachel finally says, and my stomach sinks. 

"I was afraid there might be," I say.

"It works only if the slugs don't understand satyagraha too," she says. "If they do they'll be as persistent as you are. It'll be a standoff. You'll never get rid of them."

My son is nodding. "She's right," he says. "Which means it's more important than ever to check their name-tags. If one of your slugs is called Mahatma, you're screwed."

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