The Secrets of the Snails

1) Beginning secondary school – almost weekly bus fare rises; fare-boxes.

2) Visiting Birkenhead, my bus pass was taken by the bus company for going to a wrong stop. I was faced with many miles hiking to Liverpool where I was staying. While in a large square surrounded by bus stops I decided to hitch hike through the Mersey Tunnel.

3) Waiting for a bus at the quays in Whitby, after an 80-mile walk. Tidy place, but accompaniment of fish smell.

Surrealism follows. . . .

Punctuality, here. . . . May as well guess

You’ll be tempted to walk - annoying, and this place is a mess

But if walking’s too slow, and you have to know. . . .

As the timetable always fails,

ask the man who knows the Secrets of the Snails


Nothing unusual at first sight, but one of nature’s freaks

His charge and your wait are all he speaks

I know, it sounds like fiction

An expert at Snail prediction

Tell him your journey, he’ll say "Two Quid" and with pride,

Go about his work, while you wait like a jerk

Until he finds when (and from where) your next Snail will slide


He’s here every day

Helping people on their way

Predicting from the different trails of slime

An old man, but really in his prime

One of the world’s wonders?

Anyone else gets it right, it’s once in a blue moon

One of the world’s blunders. . . .

Capitalism. He’s making a fortune


It looks real, and to watch it’s a good act

If only capitalism, it’s still not explained by fact

How does he do it? There’s even an age-old prize. . . .

For an explanation, you can scrutinise him with your own eyes


The slime trails go along the roads,

From this town centre square

People have searched for hidden codes

There’s even regulars, who stop for hours and stare

As if waiting for a snail

And like the passengers, they go pale

These are the current hopers, trying to get wise. . . .

To the Snail Man’s antics, dreaming about the prize


Looking like a fisherman, the Snail Man sets out

Early with his tackle, before anyone else is about

Raking the concrete, and sprinkling as if ground baiting

He gives his fingers a coating of lacquer

And ready for the lost, The Tracker. . . .

Sits by the statue of The Collapsed Shopper, waiting


He waves to the first, empty Snails

A few people clock their two-quid’s in

Their thoughts can be read, You can’t win

Some go bezerk, waking the dead with shouts and wails

Then join them. No ears, and eyes high in the air. . . .

the creatures don’t see before they smother, would they really care?


It’s OK to watch on a nice sunny day

With a breeze, to blow the slime smell away

The Snail Man has a hunchback, some say it is a shell, not a spine

He only takes cash, hearing each person in the line

The palms of his hands are blotched, each a sensing pad. . .

Trudging about in his wellies, the Snail Man has an impossible sum to add


Four roads leave the square, there are six Snail Stops in all

He doesn’t wear a watch, look into the distance or listen for a call. . . .

Just uses his hands, ear to the ground, tongue and nose

On hot days, he even uses his feet and toes


He trudges to random places through the slush, over the concrete

Sometimes dodging a suffocating crush, by Snail Feet

This looks the con,

After a prediction he could tell another one

But he won’t talk.

Get annoyed and he’ll say  "Walk"


Ten fingers, each dipped into a ‘slime spot’

And dabbed to the palms of the hands in turn

High wages, but a revolting way to earn

Have a guess. . . . his parents. I don’t know what


Then, he tastes each sample, some people look away

A few are ill, to other locals this is just part of the day

Tourists photograph him, a prediction needs six photos. . .

Dip, Dab, Taste, Smell, Ear to the Ground, 

and in deep Contemplation, he Knows


It could be nothing but an act,

Satisfied customers were what the Snails always lacked

But this does get serious,

Not simply masses, delirious

Local customers know what to do,

Club together, one for each Snail pays the toll

If it’s too late  -  taxis, or the dole

If it’s not, the rest skip the Snailer, and go to their queue


That’s our claim to round the bend

The Snail Man, down our end

He could teach, this might be worth a real packet

I’d maybe do it. Drunk, and wearing a mask

But the sensing pads. . . . (It’s pointless to ask)

Someone shouting my name? 

"Chris! Time for your strait-jacket!"