Ants, slugs, and bankers: snippets from the British news

Ants: Flying ants swarmed the Wimbledon tennis tournament on July 5. It’s called Flying Ant Day—the day the young queens, followed by swarms of over-amped males, leave the nest to mate, say wheeee, and start new colonies.

And pester tennis players at Wimbledon, which adds a certain spice to it all. If you’re (a) an ant and (b) into that.

The British press thinks this is a natural phenomenon, but it’s actually one of the ways Americans celebrate Independence Day, and it takes a lot of planning to nudge nature this delicately. For years we’ve been trying to get swarms of flying ants to disrupt British tennis, but it depends on Wimbledon getting warm at just the right time, so most years it doesn’t work. Warm weather’s hard to predict in Britain, and even harder to control.

This year we were only a day late–we were aiming, of course, for July 4. Still, that’s not bad, considering the variables involved.

You’d think that 241 years after we declared independence we’d be over it enough to stop playing pranks on Britain, but some things are hard to give up.

Semi-relevant photo: our pansies, which the slugs and snails just love

A week or two after they disrupted Wimbledon, ants went airborne in the Westcountry and our local paper reported that seagulls were getting drunk on them. The ants contain formic acid, which “disrupts the birds’ cognitive ability.” They’ve been reported flying into cars and buildings. (“Hello, emergency services? I just saw a seagull flying recklessly, and I think it was drunk. Could send someone to investigate?”)

(Sorry–I don’t write British dialogue well and normally I don’t try. I’m sure I should probably work a please in there somewhere.)

Anyway, one expert says they’re under the influence. Another says the problem was the heat. And the ants? “They are a good source of nourishment.”

I don’t normally go expert-shopping, but since almost everything I know about flying ants–actually, considerably more than I know about flying ants–is already contained in the few paragraphs you either just read or skipped over (thought no one would notice, didn’t you?), the best I can do is relay both opinions. So if you plan on eating many flying ants, you’re on your own, because I’m not sure which expert to trust.

Slugs: Naturalist and BBC presenter Chris Packham has asked gardeners to end their war on slugs. And although he doesn’t mention them, presumably on snails, which are nothing but slugs who live in fancy houses and—the world being what it is—get better press and less grief than their lower-rent relatives.

I understand Packham’s argument: Hedgehogs eat slugs. Slow worms eat slugs. So—apparently—do song thrushes.

So what? Well, Britain without hedgehogs would be like Britain without castles, except that castles don’t eat slugs so what use are they, really, in this age of nuclear weapons? Hedgehogs, on the other hand, are cute—and they eat slugs. Which is a circular argument. We need the slugs to preserve the hedgehogs and we like the hedgehogs because they eat the slugs. But we do get a bit of Olde English charm in the middle of the circle, so it’s all okay.

And slow worms? They’re not as central as castles and hedgehogs, but they are part of the British countryside. And even though they look like snakes, they’re not—they’re legless lizards.

What’s the difference between a legless lizard and a snake? No idea, but shouldn’t we keep them around anyway, what with them being part of the British countryside and all? Besides, Britain doesn’t have many snakes. We need slow worms to remind us how few snakes we have.

Okay, I’m bullshitting here, looking for something that sounds like an explanation. As far as I’ve been able to tell, the British are fond of slow worms. I’m sure they have a reason, but it’s not like this stuff is entirely rational.

As for the song thrush, I don’t think I’ve ever heard one but Wild Thing has and says their song is sublime. She was an avid birdwatcher before she lost part of her sight. She’s a somewhat less avid bird listener, not because she doesn’t love their songs but because she doesn’t have a gift for memorizing them.

So there we are. If you want humans to protect something in nature, you have to convince them it’s cute, cuddly, essential to the nation’s self-image, or a good singer. And if it isn’t? You find a way to link it to the cute, cuddly, etc. Which is how you go about protecting the slugs of this world, even though they’re slimy and slithery, eat our flowers and lettuces, and can burrow a full three feet into the earth. We need to protect them because our hedgehogs need them. Our castles need them.

So, if you kill slugs and you’re attacking Wind in the Willows and—oh, I don’t know, Winnie the Pooh (admittedly, those were stuffed animals, but that’s okay, they were very British and very cute) or whatever other stories formed our vision of the British countryside.

I agree with Packham about the need for slugs, but I’m not sure what to do about it. I’m a vegetarian, so you could be forgiven for imagining me as one of those gentle, do-no-harm people who go skipping through fields of wildflowers while taking care not to trample the bugs.

Bullshit. On most summer nights, I go out and slaughter slugs. And their upmarket cousins the snails. When I skipped a few nights recently, they ate so much of my lettuce bed that one head looked like umbrella ribs after the fabric had been ripped away.

So I’m not sure where to go with this. Buy supermarket lettuce? That only outsources the slaughter. Even our most innocent food comes at a cost. But as long as some other category of creature’s paying that cost, we do, as a species, have a tendency to ignore it.

My compromise, at the moment, is to pretend I don’t see the slugs and snails in most of the garden, focusing my slaughter on the veggies and a few flowers where they do the most damage. We have a hedgehog in the neighborhood, and every so often I wonder if it considers the slugs I’ve cut in half edible or if it needs them to be alive and slithering and in pain.

It’s a lovely world we live in. In spite of which, the hedgehog, when we saw it, really was cute. It made me want to go read Wind in the Willows, even though I never liked it and never finished it and it doesn’t (as far as I know) have a hedgehog in it.

Bankers: The tenth anniversary of the last financial crash is coming up and Mark Carney, the governor of the bank of England, wants us to know that the financial system is safer, fairer, and simpler.

Safer, fairer, and simpler than what? Presumably than it was before the crash, but the article I read didn’t actually name the point of comparison, so for all I know he’s comparing it to a WWF wrestling match. (No, I’m not sure what WWF stands for. It’s not the World Wildlife Fund. Let’s go with World Wrestling Foolishness. Or something else with an F. Foam, maybe. Filosophy. Farce. Fixative. Facial Tics. Let it go, people. We’re talking about banking. This is a digression.)

“We have fixed the issues that caused the last crisis,” Carney said. “They were fundamental and deep-seated, which is why it was such a major job.”

Before his reassurance, I was wondering when the next crash would come. And now? I figure it’s coming that much sooner. When they tell you it’s all okay, that’s when you need to worry.

In an earlier article, which presumably we’ve all forgotten by now, Carney said the U.K.’s borrowing binge was worrying him. And the day after he announced that everything was all fine, the morning paper said the Bank of England was worried that credit cards, personal loans, and car loans “could rebound on the banking system.”

I’ve been noticing articles about how shaky the economy is ever since.

So keep one hand on your wallet, folks. The banking system is stronger, softer, and safer than ever.

Or was that fairer, not softer? There’s a toilet paper ad I keep getting it mixed up with.

67 thoughts on “Ants, slugs, and bankers: snippets from the British news

  1. A thought to maybe help on Wild Thing’s bird sound identification. The RSPB website has a great resource for bird ID and most of the species pages have sound files.
    Just have the volume reasonable otherwise the cat will get excited and possibly a little confused.

    I don’t know if playing a Song Thrush song on a loop in the greenhouse works on making slugs get the hell out, I don’t even know if slugs have ears, but it might be worth a try to increase the household whole lettuce yield.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. I’m sure there’s something significant about an article combining slugs and bankers. And, ok, ants. Btw, the 13 colonies were far too difficult, no one really wanted an expensive war over them and you all seem to be getting on just fine without us. Do we/you need some closure on this? :-)

    Liked by 3 people

    • I don’t, but an American friend recently told me that since the last election she’s come around to thinking that we should’ve just paid King George the damn tax and stayed with the crown. Think of the trouble we’d have saved ourselves.

      Liked by 3 people

  3. > Mark Carney, the governor of the bank of England, wants us to know that the financial system is safer, fairer, and simpler.
    It’s safe until the next black swan that nobody thought existed arrives. When will that be? Nobody knows (as Stephen Fry used to say in QI).
    Or as Sam Goldwyn said (referring to the movie business): “Nobody knows anything.”

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Slugs: Here in the southeast, the slugs don’t seem to eat our pansies. But they love cosmos though. Obviously a more sophisticated foodie culture around the slug community in this part of the world. Probably the slugs in Shoreditch won’t eat anything at all unless it’s on a spade or a piece of slate.

    Liked by 3 people

  5. In the good old US of A we go after slugs by leaving a saucer of beer out. I’m not a conniseour (sp?) of lettuce, but I like beer even less, so that would work for me. The hedgehogs (we have skunks, possums and raccoons which might eat them – though I doubt it) might appreciate it too.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. I pour coffee grounds and broken eggshells all around my hydrangeas and the slugs can have the rest (and they do.) Unfortunately, they also somehow get into the house and worry my pets, so most evenings, someone here has to rescue the worrisome pets by tossing a surrounded slug out of the house. Nine times out of ten, I am that person. My husband, who knows nothing of nature, believes that it’s the same slug over and over, but I know they are legion.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Slugs have come as far as the conservatory (translation: enclosed porch with a fancy name) and we occasionally find a snail marooned halfway up a wall, but they’ve never come in the house. Yuck. Pushy little things.

      The idea that it’s the same one over and over tickles me. Maybe it’s trying to deliver a message.

      Liked by 2 people

  7. I’d never heard of cutting slugs in half! Ew! The most common tactic I’ve used in the past is salting them, and once I had good success with the saucer of beer trick. (Set a saucer of cheap beer into the ground, the slugs crawl in, get too drunk to remember to crawl out, and drown.) Since I’m in the States where there’s no hedgehogs to eat the slugs, I consider the slugs fair game. At this point, in the spring I sprinkle slug bait right at the base of my hostas when they are coming up in the spring, and otherwise I let the slugs have at the violets, since I don’t want to poison my whole yard.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Cutting them in half is disgusting but effective–and (I hope) a kinder death than salting them. I did the beer thing back in Minnesota and, briefly, here. Some drowned, but then I had the disgusting sluggy beer to pour out and that got to me. Besides, it never seemed to make much of a dent in the beer population. Plus, since Wild Thing and I are known as non-drinkers, I was starting to get funny looks at the village store.

      Not that that would stop me if I really wanted to do it. I’m used to funny looks.

      The thing about poison is that it’s not just the hedgehogs, but also the birds (or so they say) that eat the slugs. And I don’t entirely trust that the organic stuff is safe. I’ve asked any number of people who might (emphasis on might) know whether it is, and they all tend to shrug and say they hope so.

      Liked by 2 people

  8. I am pretty much crap at gardening anyway so I just let the slugs and other critters do their thing. We can share the ecosystem because they are probably doing more of the cultivation work than I am. My paternal grandmother, however, was vicious when it came to slugs. She would collect them up, gather them into a tea towel, and then pulverise them with a hammer.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Interesting stuff. No, there aren’t any hedgehogs in The Wind in the Willows (which I loved, btw). And Mark Carney is Canadian. He was our national banker (or whatever the title is) during the 2008 crisis, which we congratulated ourselves on weathering splendidly. It’s hard to believe he (or anyone) could have made any significant changes to Britain’s banking system in just a few years. I would expect it to be pretty much mired in time and tradition. Maybe Mark was talking about t.p. after all?

    Liked by 2 people

    • I don’t know that he really has the power to change the banking system. I can’t swear to this, but I’d assume regulation lies in the hands of Parliament. I’m not sure what that leaves the Banker-in-Chief doing. Tearing his hair and talking trash, maybe, or using his little bucket to bail out the lower decks on the Titanic. I’m convinced we’re heading for another crash, regardless of who’s got the bailing can.

      Liked by 2 people

  10. Hello!
    Janice’s Blog Party lead me here.
    Heres an idea for you: plate a salad for the slugs, with a pinch of salt for taste and a mug of beer. Charge them high per plate. After, advertise it for the hedgehogs too. Slug salad, yum? Also charge them. Won’t keep them out of your garden, but at least you earn some, hehehehe. :D

    Liked by 2 people

    • Great idea, and I’ll call it the Canadian special. It was in Canada that I was introduced to the idea of putting a bit of salt into beer. I don’t really know if it improved the taste, but it made is fizz nicely and I had probably put too much in because I was having fun.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Here’s what we have to contend with (from Wikipedia): “The Pacific banana slug is the second-largest species of terrestrial slug in the world, growing up to 25 centimetres (9.8 in) long,[5] and weights of 115 grams (4.1 ounces).[6] (The largest slug species is Limax cinereoniger of Europe, which can reach 30 centimetres (12 in) in length.) ”

    The first time I saw one of these critters climbing the front door, it totally freaked me out. Then you sort of get used to them, just keeping an eye out to avoid stepping on the slime covered things. Luckily they seemed to do far less damage than the snails I had to contend with in the previous house. Perhaps it’s because they tend to prefer forested areas with plenty to feast on besides veggie gardens.

    Liked by 1 person

      • So sorry about the nightmares, but amazingly enough you get used to the slimy creatures as long as you’re awake enough to avoid stepping on them. They’re quite harmless actually.

        Liked by 1 person

        • I was about to ask you to explain that to my lettuces, then I remembered that you said yours don’t eat lettuce. Or–was it don’t do much damage? Or hold out for arugula with raspberry vinaigrette? Whatever. They still creep me out, and I’m not going to claim that makes any sense at all. It’s like a fear of heights–it just is.

          Liked by 1 person

  12. I am an organic Gardener so I am actually nicer to slugs – I go around at night with my torch pick them of my veggies and put them on a piece of waste ground behind my shed so I am doing my bit :)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, and I’m flattered, but I don’t do awards. Sorry–I really should make that more prominent but haven’t figured out how to do it–or to be more accurate, I haven’t taken the time to figure it out. I try to keep a tight focus here, and awards pull a blog in all sorts of directions that have nothing to do with where I’m going. But all the same, I’m flattered. Many thanks.


  13. I had a quick look at the comments but didn’t see anybody demanding candy or ice-cream for error-spotting. It’s a double “that” in the first line of a paragraph in the last third. That will be a lime and mango pie slice, thank you!

    And I know exactly what you mean by the umbrella leftovers. The wind does that with mine. And snails used to do it with my lettuce and cabbage and the like when I still lived in Slovenia. So I stopped growing them. The snails, that is.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’ll fax you the pie. With cream. Hope you find a way to clean the fax machine after it gets there. And then–maybe–I’ll fix the error. I’m short on time this morning, so it depends on me getting back to it. Thanks, though.

      You grew snails? That’d be so easy. I should try.

      Liked by 1 person

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