Tomato Plants on the agenda again
Tomato plants? Well, spring in France this year was the worst I can remember, and so far summer has not been much better. By this time I should be on first-name terms with the community of lizards that live in my courtyard, but this year, hardly a hello. They’re all still hiding.
Mind you, it’s not been so bad for all the critters in the yard. My pet hate, les limaces, our delightful Burgundian slugs, are positively thriving. I mean, these ones are not shy, they don’t even try to hide, and they’re bright orange anyway. Maybe it’s a warning that they taste disgusting. I’ll let someone else find out. What I do know is they like my tomato plants.
The slugs are my enemies because there is historic bad blood between me and their accursed phylum, which dates to when I was much younger. I was still a teenager, and was hitch-hiking through Europe. I got picked up by an English trucker, who was a really nice guy and introduced me to Les Routiers, where at the time you could get a full meal for 10 francs, or a quid as it was then. (God I’m old.)
I remember him leaning forward on the steering wheel and explaining. ‘If you see a place with a Routiers sign and a load of lorries outside, you know it’ll be good.’
Since at that precise moment I was starving, this was little help and I wondered when lunch was going to happen. Then I saw something and my heart dropped. We were on a very straight stretch of road and ahead of me I could see at least a hundred trucks, big ones, in a queue. I thought we were going to be made to wait while they did Customs or something, but our man was chuckling. ‘See?’ h said, ‘That’s gotta be one hell of a restaurant.’
Indeed he was right. Right in the middle of this ruck of trucks was the restaurant, and it was rammed. But the service was great and we were soon at a long table with a couple of dozen other truckers, from everywhere it seemed. Lots of them were known to my driver, and it was my first introduction to the strange camaraderie of the road. Truckers are an interesting breed, to say the least.
Anyway, after lunch, we very nearly turned the driver of a Renault 4 into garlic-flavoured raspberry jam. He insisted on his ‘droit’ to enter the main road from the right, immediately in front of an artic belting along at 80 kph—of which more elsewhere. We crossed into Italy via the Mont Blanc Tunnel, and dropped down towards Lombardy.
My driver was going to Livorno and I was heading for Venice, so it was time to part; by that time it was getting dark. He pulled over at the side of the autostrada and said ‘Passed a couple of Bulgar trucks a while back, they’ll be headed your way. Try throwing a wobbly in front of them.’
Well, I already knew about Bulgarians by repute and anyway I was tired, so I decided not to go the wobbly route, and to sleep instead, in what looked like a very nice, dry, concrete spillway at the side of the road. Quite safe and out of sight. So I unpacked my sleeping bag and my mat, and turned in for the night.
I didn’t sleep well. All night I itched and scratched. I thought it must have been mosquitoes and covered my head, but it continued. I was so tired, though, that I did nothing more.
I woke in the mistiness of morning, and only then discovered the truth. My pleasant spillway was swarming with slugs and snails, which must have been sliming all over me all night. My clothes, and worse, my exposed skin, even insid my tee-shirt were smeared with the innards of the slugs I had squashed.
It was the biggest dose of the heebie-jeebies I ever had. I grabbed my stuff, threw it in the rucksack, shouldered it and began to run hell for leather towards Venice—which was still 200km away. But I was so horrified I couldn’t help myself.
And that is why I really, really can’t stand slugs. Makes me shiver still.
However, I have tamed my phobia, and am quite happy to go near enough to the little horrors to squash them. But I really resent what they did to my lettuces and tomatoes. Well, the lettuces they just mowed this year. As soon as they popped their dear little green head above the soil, that was it, next morning gone.
Back to the Tomatoes
I thought I’d got smart with the tomatoes and put them in a planter, moved them inside and out, took loving care of them. And it was working, you know? Soon I had twenty little tomato plants and I was thinking of all the lovely salade de tomates with vinaigrette—who needs lettuce anyway?
Then one morning there were two tomato plants missing. I checked. Couldn’t see any slugs. The next day, a few more were gone. And the next. When I was down to two poor little blighters, I decided to take drastic action. I took the planter and put it on the garden table, meaning to re-pot the survivors. When I did so there was a loud, and I have to say satisfying crunch, like an eggshell being trodden on.
Underneath the planter, squashed against the table-top was the biggest snail I’ve seen this year. It seemed very concerned that it had just been rendered homeless. Gotcha, I think is the term.
Anyway, one of the survivors has done well on the radiator in front of my window, so I have planted him—or her—out again. Let’s keep our fingers crossed hmmm?
Also published on Medium.