We could both ask each other a personal question at this stage.
You could ask me if I had finally lost my marbles. And I could ask you why, as a consenting adult, you are reading a blog about oral hygiene for bees. However, I promise you will learn something useful here, even if you care less about bees than I do about Strictly Come Dancing, which means not at all. Read on.
About three years ago, I made a tactical decision to add ‘dental hygienist’ to the list of people involved in keeping my body on the road. The deal was this: twice a year I used to get carpeted by the dentist for not looking after my gums. At the same time, I listened to friends complaining of the stratospheric bills involved when the architecture of their mouths started to creak terminally under the half century history of the various things they put into it, or hadn’t; when terms like root canal and dental implants first appeared in their lives. So the decision to go across the corridor to her colleague from time to time means that I now never have to worry about all the things I don’t do that I am supposed to on the other 364 days of the year. £40 seems like a reasonable figure to keep the dentist happy, me with an easy routine and my mouth in mid-season shape.
As I sat down in the space age reclining seat of her practice room a couple of days ago, I realised that there were almost no areas over where the Venn diagram of our conversational interests could possibly intersect. How could there be? Where I wanted talk about bees, she wanted to talk about flossing, fillings and fluoride. And with my mouth stuffed full of equipment, I couldn’t even answer her monologue of rhetorical questions:
‘Do you floss enough, like every evening?’
A couple of minutes passed in silence, with her busy at the coal face of my mouth. I wanted to explain that I have never flossed, and never will. When you are borderline dyspraxic, the last thing you need at bedtime is a routine that demands the finest of fine motor skills. Or someone asking you about it.
‘What is your oral hygiene regime?’
Interesting question. My mother taught me to brush my teeth when I got up, and again when I went to bed. Can there be any more to it than that? Apparently these days there is.
And on it went. Meanwhile, all I could think about was my bees, and how the lengthening days were drawing them out for the early foraging. They were out after the crocuses, hellebores and wallflowers, driven by an imperative to rebuild the stores that they had been eking out over the winter.
‘What is the make of electric toothbrush you use?’
You could see them in the willows and camellia, and instinctively you knew what they had been through in the long, dark winter just to be here. Their queen is starting to lay, and soon she will be dropping 2000 eggs a day. And they have lost count of the number of tosses they give about anything else. And who in the universe knows the make of their toothbrush?
‘Do you ever get jaw pain?’
The air is redolent with anticipation. Whether and when they will try to swarm? Whether the oil seed rape will be local for them this year, and thus give me an early, crystalised crop of light-coloured honey. I want her to shut up. I feel claustrophobic.
Suddenly a way of bringing any further conversation to an end struck me.
‘What advice,’ I asked when I was having a ‘nice rinse’ after she had finished her grinding, ‘could you give me about the oral hygiene of my bees?’
For a second, she looked completely stunned. ‘I’m not sure. I could find out for you’, she offered, and suddenly it was too late for me to backtrack. ‘I didn’t know they had mouths.’
‘Oh yes, ‘I said limply. ‘They are one of the few insects that can chew and suck. I mean, grasshoppers can only chew, and moths can only suck. But bees do both’
‘And they get hygiene issues? Has it been a big problem for yours?’
‘Not really, Please don’t worry.’ And then there was silence. Sweet, blessed silence. In six decades on this creaking old planet, I had never until this week managed to shut a dental professional up. I have now.
It was the medical equivalent of telling a visiting Jehovah’s Witness that you are recent convert to Catholicism. We parted in complete silence, her to another disreputable mouth, and me to the Emmylou Harris CD in my waiting car, a dirty secret for another time.