Author Afloat: Slugs

The story so far: a freelance writer and editor for 20+ years, I jumped ship in April 2015 from bricks and mortar to live on a historic narrowboat – currently permanently moored in a busy marina in greenest Staffordshire.

7.45am, 18 degrees and cloudy

On the dot of 7.00am the farmer whose land abuts the marina started irrigating his fields using the stream behind our boat.  The noise woke me up through ear plugs. At 7.12am the sound of the next-door neighbour’s central-heating-cum-air-conditioning system juddered through my attempts to block out the farmer’s noise with a pillow over my head.  I got up with a groan.

Reaching for my iPhone (I’d set the alarm for a civilised 8.00am), I felt something slimy-sticky with my hand. It looked like a dropping, but when I picked it up in a tissue it turned out to be the world’s smallest slug – a centimetre or so long. It was going, for a slug, like the clappers through the sea of peach Andrex toilet tissue in which I’d wrapped it. (A clapper is, as you know, the tongue or striker of a bell.) Anyway, this morning, the bell was tolling for all.

We don’t know how slugs enter the the boat (and this is the first, I hasten to add, that we’ve ever found in the sanctum sanctorum that is our nest). My chap can only think that they arrive by land, wiggle over the pontoon and shin up the boat ropes, perhaps attaching little stirrups. In my hypnopompic state, I thought of them as a band of not-so-merry marauders, intent on becoming liveaboards by jumping, wriggling and oozing their way towards our boat, their leader intoning, ‘Come on, me hearties!’ in a slug version of Captain Pugwash.

I’d like to find out (though am a little embarrassed to ask) if other boaters have a slug problem, or if the little beasts single us out for their slimy treatment. In the past two or three weeks, I’ve had three slug experiences, the first and third proving sadly fatal for the slug. (My sleep-deprived mind’s just flipped into a song interlude: ‘The female of the species is more deadlier than the male’ – the grammatical awfulness of this line is what kept me awake last night.)

One night, donning my slippers, which have soles as solid as shoes, I got out of bed, went into the bathroom without putting the light on and – oh dear, I felt my foot come down on something squishy. There was nothing left of the poor creature apart from jelly on the bottom of my slipper. The same thing happened in the kitchen a few days ago. Our slugs come out to play after lights out and squirm across our floorboards believing themselves not to be in any peril, when in fact they’re crossing the equivalent of an A road. Living in a long corridor, there’s no dancing around the edges.

But the slugs have got their own back. I couldn’t sleep the other night and got up around 2.00am to make a Horlicks and pack for a London work trip. Reader, there was a slug on our otherwise pristine kitchen hob. It looked like a – well, I shan’t say it, but it was mottled black and brown and waving at me.

Years ago, my chap had a mouse or two on board that penetrated his food cupboard and shredded bits of black rubber shoe sole into his cereals. Unaware he had visitors, he served me a treat of muesli and rubber liquorice strings for breakie. I ate it too. We can only think the wee mousies entered the same way: by shinning up the ropes. Is it worth it, I wonder, for a bit of old shoe, an invisible crumb on the hob, or to writhe in an empty Belfast sink?

My chap has suggested putting slug pellets under the kitchen cupboards. I said we can’t do that because a) they kill hedgehogs, and b) may be toxic to us. His retort: there are no hedgehogs in the boat. True, but the UK hedgehog population’s declined from about 30 million in the 1950s to about half a million today – don’t get me started on hedgehogs. Oh well, I’m already started. Dear garden owning population: please cut a CD-sized hole in a fence panel in your garden, so that hedgehogs can roam and escape from foxes. (I’m a bit obsessed with hedgehogs.)

When I was little, we used to leave a bowl of milk by the front door for a friendly hedgehog who came to drink. Maybe we should get a hedgehog? I wouldn’t mind one of those. Hey, don’t they eat slugs?


Here’s a first draft of my new poem about slugs:


Slugs (An Unwanted Fairytale)

At night when the lights are out

they come in their mottled, camouflage suits.

Some slink into the Belfast sink, or hijack the bin,

some slide over the hob,

others hug the floor like booby traps –

we always know where they’ve been.


Lately, they’ve taken to invading the bedroom.

When I wake, there’s a tiny one,

a black, living jelly bean

in the centre of your pillow, where your head should be.

You don’t expect your prince

to turn like that.

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  1. Oh darling I so much enjoyed reading your story and your poem but your story was strangely enough very real and gripping – probably because I could visualise everything you said! (Having been on the boat). You made the slug and the boat experience vivid!

    You certainly know how to make the slimiest most disgusting creature interesting

  2. Author

    Thanks so much for reading and feeding back, Hazel. It sounds as though you have slugged it out with slugs too.

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