Please, please, please don’t tell the virus police but last Friday Priyatelka and I did something a bit touristy, which was a bit naughty. The current emergency provisions in Bulgaria provide that we can go out as long as we wear a facemask under our chin or dangling from our back pocket, that we don’t touch anybody’s mouth (especially with our own mouth) and that any journeys that we make are not for tourism purposes. Drastic though it may seem, we wore our facemasks over our mouths AND noses (over-adhering to Rule 1 deemed the breaking of Rule 2 virtually impossible) and we fought the irresistible urge to buy a fridge magnet, an ‘I heart Gorna Oryahovitsa’ t-shirt or any other of those traditional Balkan gift items that folks from places like Guildford and Woking just can’t go home without; any of which would have given us the look of holidaymakers.
Our journey wasn’t really essential but we didn’t book it through a recognised travel agent or pay for it by redeeming vouchers that we’d torn off the backs of boxes of soap powder in supermarkets while no one was looking, so it would have been harsh to classify it as an organised trip. But to be on the safe side we needed a back-up plan, so we decided that if we were stopped by the police we would either claim that we had got lost on our way to put the rubbish out or we would plead insanity; though the latter of these excuses is wearing a bit thin as we’ve successfully used it so many times already.
In our opinion the journey was essential. Nine days of snow preceded by four or five days of rain had meant that in this time we hadn’t ventured any further than the bathroom, and then only as a desperate measure. On Friday the sun was shining but there was still a lot of snow around so we thought it would be nice to treat the bits of our brains that deal with claustrophobia, darkness, abject misery and over-indulgence in coffee with a ride out in the beautiful countryside in our little blue rust bucket of a car.
Wintry Forest B.
We chose our route carefully, going only where there would be no people, no police, no germs, no tourists and no tourist tat but where there would be beautiful snow covered hills, wintry forests and frozen waterfalls. We headed south and east. I’m not saying exactly where because the police might still be waiting there with their fridge magnet detector vans to catch us and deport us to a Siberian labour camp or, even worse, Guildford or Woking. We found everything that we were looking for in great sweeping mountainsides, abandoned villages, wooded valleys, ice covered lakes and the pokey wee convenience shop in Town X. It was an absolutely lovely day out during which the fresh air and sunny vistas did us the power of good, as did our walk around the almost abandoned Village Y.
The only minor blip in our enjoyment could be put down to the unavoidable total lack of places where we could sit and take refreshment. In the pokey wee convenience shop in Town X we bought shrink-wrapped bright pink salami sandwiches which were legal because they had been made before the start of the global pandemic. We sat in the little blue rust bucket car to eat them quickly before any of the sporadic local semi-facemasked people dashing about could report the sighting of a picnic to the authorities. We were tempted to buy locally made ice cream to complete our repast but that seemed like the sort of thing that tourists might do and in the eyes of the law we were already somewhere on the cusp between sightseers and fugitives.
Leaving Town X, with our bellies and brains nourished by fine victuals and resplendent rural surroundings, we stopped in Layby Z to take some photographs of colourfully painted beehives that glimmered on a hillside in the late afternoon sun. I had never really considered what bees got up to in the winter but it seems that they sort of hibernate, almost. There were none flying around when we arrived but as we got closer to the hives we could hear them frantically buzzing away inside. Did they really hibernate? Doesn’t hibernation normally require going to sleep completely and not just sitting around at home with your mates and buzzing all day? Were they perhaps just doing the self-isolation thing in their isolation bubbles of 50,000, or maybe even hiding from the virus police?
Abandoned Village Y.
As I walked back to the little blue rust bucket car I felt something touch the back of my head and when I turned around I saw a bee flying away in a dazed zigzag fashion. I thought at first that in the absence of a swarm to follow he’d got a bit lost and just bumped into me, but as the afternoon and evening progressed the emergence of a slight tenderness told me that I had been stung. Looking on the internet I discovered that in Bulgaria there are approximately 8.5 billion professional bees (there may be many more but the ones that don’t live with official bee keepers are not registered and therefore don’t count). I already knew that the human population of Bulgaria is around 6.9 million. It astounds me therefore to think that out of all those bees who were mostly staying at home because of the hibernation thing and all those people who were mostly staying at home because of the isolation thing, this solitary bee should pick this one human being to sting. What were the chances of that?
Maybe the other bees were worried about humans coming along and introducing viruses to their hives so they sent solitary bee out to chase us off. Maybe solitary bee had been pushed out of the hive because he didn’t get on with the other bees and decided to vent his anger and frustration on me, an innocent bystander. Maybe solitary bee was working for the police but without a black notebook and pencil he was unable to arrest me so he stung me instead. Maybe solitary bee was a member of the thankfully now defunct Ulster Special Constabulary, the armed police corps in the North of Ireland that was organised on military lines and called out in times of emergency, better known back in the day as the Bee Specials. But whatever the case, he was the only bee that I saw that day and to maintain his anonymity I will call him Bee A.
The view from Layby Z.