Ainsley and the snails...A modern sculpture in prose

ON WEDNESDAY MORNING, when I held my own private mental burial for Ainsley Chan in Barbados, it rained heavily, and the snails came out in scores; and I tossed snails into a bucket and thought of Ainsley going into a bucket of his own and down into the only real estate any of us can ever truly own: six feet of worthless dirt.

Ainsley, who died on 13 October at a distressingly young 51, played a major part in many lives, but few as pivotally as mine: without him, I wouldn’t be writing in the papers today.

Ainsley was one of three “artists” in a mock-exhibition of “modern sculpture” I put on in 1987, though it was made to look real with the help of artists like Barry Pierre, Geoffrey Stanford and Claude Allum. We – me (posing as the Cuban modern sculptor BC Montana, brother of the more famous Tony “Scarface” Montana), Ainsley and Marcus De Souza, son of Dennis, the piano man – raised $5,500, a large sum then, for the Rape Crisis Centre.

At the exhibition, The First Day of April – we gave the punters a sporting chance of deciphering it was a hoax – my great work was a running shoe, propped at a 45-degree angle, a Pringles tin in the heel, an ites, green and gold tam draped over the tin, called Escape from Babylon. Ainsley’s magnum opus – a row of streetlights seen as he left a fete at 4.30 am, which he titled Synthetic Sunrise – was too big a potential installation for the Pelican Inn’s little upstairs space, but Ainsley himself posed, with cigarette holder, beret and all. It was Ainsley saying, as we sipped some beers one weekend, that he wanted to tell prospective art buyers, “Oh, I did that in my Blue Period,” that crystallised the whole thing; and, without the BC Montana show, I’d still be a lawyer. The Express covered BC Montana, I met then-editor Raoul Pantin and, two months later, was writing these pleadings in the papers rather than in my chambers.

Because I’d been in Barbados for only a week since the World Cup Final, African snails lived much longer in our garden gone wild (if not quite Eden). Instead of snail children, my usual lambs to the slaughter, I was picking up snail grandfathers. The snails hissed and crackled, probably standard snail reaction to personal violence, but I imagined they were praying, begging to be spared. Would that they had a less indifferent god than me.

Did they imagine me as a giant snail? Had they evolved a doctrine and rituals? Were there snail saints? They were right in thinking they could intercede with me, for their lives and deaths indubitably lay in my power – but they’d have lived longer by hiding, not praying.

Into the bucket they went, where they will wait for their death while I make the strong brine to kill them. Do they know they are in their equivalent of the gas chamber and it is God himself who will release Zyklon BC? Have they agreed, between themselves, that they are, rather, in their last cathedral? Do they pray most fervently now? The ones I will feel sorriest for will be the ones who struggled to the top of the bucket, those who fought to find a way past the tightly sealed lid. The kindest thing I can do for them is to kill them fast, in salt water, rather than letting them starve to death and rot in their own putrefying mess.

The world was a better place seven days ago, because, in it, there was that conglomeration of failing organs and tissue that held Ainsley Chan; but I will carry him whole in my heart as long as I plod forward myself; and will chuckle, and see him before me, any time I say, or hear, the words, “my Blue Period.” And my garden is a better place now.

But what of the snails who, for so long, by their own measure, lived so well? I would love them, if I could. And, in loving them, I would not be able to kill them, no matter how desperately it was needed.

On Facebook, over and over again, Ainsley’s friends posted, “You’re with God now.” Funny how high the imagination of puny creatures can soar. Well, Ain-Zic, if, against the run of play and all rational thought, you are indeed with God…Dude, the escargot is on me.

BC Pires is here and now. Read a longer version of this column and more of his writing at


"Ainsley and the snails…A modern sculpture in prose"

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