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Name calling and sinister snails

I was thrown back into my past while listening to a recent radio programme and also when reading a Parish magazine in the village where we have just moved to. These two prompts started thinking that was independent before converging in the way that thoughts so often do.

On the radio I was reminded about the story of a snail with a very rare shell and in the parish magazine I noted in an advert from someone who shared the same first name as me. Not massively unusual you might say yet sometimes when you see you own name being used by someone else (!) a curious thought sequence can be activated. In my case it was being taken back a long time to being in short trousers, having scuffed knees and kicking whatever was available around the school playground. At that time being a Jeremy was not always the easiest – there were associations with Jeremy Bear and, perhaps more of a challenge, a liberal politician of the same name who sexual activity was called in question! Then there was the ubiquitous Jeremy, the upper class twit in the sit-coms and dramas of the day who only ever had a walk on part that completely lacked substance!

The radio show kicked off this memory sequence using a different trigger with the latest appropriation of my given name – Jeremy the Snail! This story started in 2016 with the discovery of a snail with a shell whose spiral rotated to the left rather than to the right. The leftiness of the spiral and the coincidence of its discovery with the ascendency of the Jeremy Corbyn perhaps inevitably gave rise to this snail’s chosen name.

Is Jeremy’s spiral an example of that most fundamental of change paradigms – evolution? Is Jeremy the result of an incremental change programme or a disruptive change at the genetic level? Whichever, his is an example of change that has not worked out well. In this case the law of unforeseen consequences played out in the most fundamental of ways – the almost unique sinistra spiral shell snail cannot procreate with the common right handed shell snail – they cannot achieve the necessary alignment! This prompted a very public campaign to find lefty mates for Jeremy which was successful in finding a handful of them, most from a snail farm in Spain. Procreation was a success among this group of ‘lefties’ although Jeremy did not mother or father them (given that snails are hermaphrodites) in the first instance. In a bitter sweet outcome he/she did become a parent but only a matter of days before he/she died.

Relating this evolutionary story to change in the professional environment may be rather tenuous yet it is true that the notion of survival of the fittest applies to companies and organisations as much as it does to species, albeit over a much shorter time frame. There is also a parallel in terms of the law of unforeseen consequences in change management. Creating the equivalent of a unique shell structure might have seemed like the way forward but it can only be so if it offers a competitive advantage.

It is worth noting that this work was looking into understanding genes that code for body asymmetry. These might help us understand how organs are placed in the body and what might be going on when they are misplaced (how about the young girl with the heart outside her chest cavity). Other things that came up for me in the story are the extraordinary powers of observation of the individual, a retired botanist, who discovered Jeremy on their compost heap and the fact that he made the connection with Angus Davidson, the academic working on snail genetics, to ensure that curiosity was turned into learning. An object lesson in the value of being constantly curious and making connections!

So my name has now been shared with toffs, bears, a variety of politicians and now a snail. How the latter association has played out in name calling for present day primary school Jeremys I am not sure. Which reminds me – the name in the parish magazine that sparked this off. It was Jeremy C**k; perhaps I didn’t have it so bad after all!

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