Jeremy Clarke Jeremy Clarke

Boiled alive

‘How do I kill it?’ I said. ‘Stab it in the mouth with a long knife,’ said the lad in the apron. ‘Push the knife in all the way and wiggle it about.’ ‘How long will it take to die?’ I said. ‘About 20 seconds,’ he replied.

My boy and his half-brother chose a victim from the shallow tank — a hen crab keeping a low profile in one of the corners. The lad in the apron whisked it out and put it upside down on some stainless-steel scales. We were going to kill it first, I boasted to the lad, because boiling it alive would be cruel. It’s best to kill them first anyway, said the lad, because if you boil them alive the legs come off in the pan. Then he said brightly, ‘Five pound fifty OK?’

We carried the crab back to the caravan in a cardboard box. The journey involved a ten-minute ride on a vibrating passenger ferry. The crab crouched stoically in its corner of the box. The ferryman said he’d have to charge us a dog’s rate for the crab, but then he said he was only joking. Was the crab afraid, my boys asked? I put on a wise, fatherly air. There was no way of knowing, I said. In the future, when science is more advanced, it may be discovered that the crustacean community is notable for its love of God or for its patriotism. But if you asked me, I said, even fear is too complicated an emotion for a brown crab. It was confused maybe, especially by the vibration of the ferry, but not frightened. ‘Let’s boil it alive,’ urged the boys.

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