Apart from having a wee behind a bin down a back alley in Middlesbrough when I was eight years old and a tiny bit of embezzlement around six years later when I worked as a newspaper delivery boy in Leeds, I have never deliberately broken the law. Well not until recently, that is.
My disregard for the law that I am going on to describe to you is a terrible thing so I will change some of the names of the people and places involved to protect the innocent and, more importantly, myself.
To help me explain how the rules have been broken I must first lay out what they actually are. I had never broken them previously as until about eighteen months ago they didn’t even exist. I think you probably know which rules I mean.
The first rule of the current emergency provisions for dealing with the global pandemonium in the country in which Priyatelka and I live (let’s call it East European Republic X) provide that we are permitted to go out in public places as long as we wear a facemask under our chin or dangling from our back pocket, though having one somewhere near our mouth may also be acceptable. If we are approached by a member of the security services who is not wearing a facemask to reprimand us for not wearing a facemask, it is forbidden for us to say ‘Well you’re not wearing one either!’ or ‘Pot, kettle, black, nah, nah, nah!’, the penalty for this being a menacing scowl and an expletive in Slavic Language Y.
The second rule is that we must not touch our mouth, or anybody else’s mouth. Touching someone else’s mouth with our own mouth is the most flagrant breach of the rule. Having a drink from someone else’s pint while they’ve gone out to the toilet carries an even greater punishment as it can be construed as theft as well as breaking a contamination prevention regulation. Touching other bits of a person in public doesn’t seem to matter these days. Have the authorities forgotten that other diseases are available?
The third rule is that any journeys we make must be absolutely essential and certainly not for tourism purposes. Claiming to have a doctor’s certificate which states that a person has an incurable obsession with collecting fridge magnets, snow globes, novelty tea towels, plastic replicas of the Venus de Milo, inflatable crocodiles or any other form of tacky tourist souvenir will not be acceptable.
There’s a fourth rule too, only recently introduced, that states that we can do absolutely anything we like as long as we present a vaccination certificate, even if it isn’t our own vaccination certificate. It seems that as long as somebody that we know has been fully vaccinated then we’re all going to be alright.
Usually, these rules are taken very seriously. A few months ago we were spotted wearing our facemasks over our mouths AND noses at the same time which was a scenario that just isn’t covered by the emergency legislation. Where we live, this had never happened before so, luckily for us, the desk sergeant at our local gulag had to let us off with a caution because he didn’t know what else to do. Pointing out that our over-adhering to Rule 1 deemed the breaking of Rule 2 virtually impossible didn’t impress him at all and, as expected, he punished our apparent attempt to tell him how to do his job with the standard menacing scowl and expletive in Slavic Language Y. Come to think of it, it may have been Slavic Language Z as they all sound very similar to me.
So I beg you, please, please, please don’t grass us up to the police virus squad if I spill the beans and tell you that last Friday, Priyatelka and I had a ride out into the countryside which was a bit touristy, which was a bit naughty.
In legal terms, our journey wasn’t at all 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 very harsh to classify it as an organised trip. As Priyatelka and I aren’t very organised at all, even organised trips turn out to be not very organised for us. 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 bins out or we would plead insanity; though the latter of these excuses is wearing a bit thin as we’ve successfully used it four times already this year.
In trying not to lose the will to live terms, our journey was absolutely essential. Nine days of snow preceded by four or five days of rain had meant that for a long time we hadn’t ventured any further than our bathroom, and then only as a desperate measure whilst clutching our vaccination certificates. 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 wee whizz around our stunning rural environment in our little blue racy but rusty car. Resisting the urge to purchase tee-shirts with I Heart East European Republic X emblazoned across the front (which would have completely blown our cover as non-tourists) from our local petrol station at the start of the journey was a bit difficult but with that major hurdle out of the way the rest was relatively easy and we think we managed to avoid suspicion and prosecution.
We chose our route carefully, going only where there would be no people, no police, no germs, no tourists and no purveyors of tourist tat but where there would be beautiful snow covered hills, wintery forests and frozen waterfalls. We headed south and east. I’m not saying exactly where because members of the constabulary might still be waiting there with their picnic detector vans to catch us the next time we visit and punish us with deportation to a Siberian labour camp or Guildford. We found everything that we were looking for in great sweeping mountainsides, wooded valleys, ice covered lakes, cosy hamlets and the pokey little convenience shop in Town X (which I have so labelled partly to protect the innocent and partly because the real name of the town is difficult to spell in our chosen Slavic language). It was an absolutely lovely day out during which the fresh air and sunny vistas did us the power of good, especially on our walk around Lake Y to Picturesque Village Z.
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 order to slip under the radar, we had taken with us only a packet of mints rather than a proper day out style packed lunch. We’ve been described in the past as being two sandwiches short of a full picnic but on this occasion you could say that we were a full picnic short of a full picnic. But man cannot live by mints alone and by midday we were feeling a little bit starving to death so in the pokey little convenience shop in Town X we bought shrink-wrapped bright pink high-fat salami sandwiches which were legal because they had been made a couple of weeks before the start of the Covid crisis. We sat in the little blue racy but rusty car to eat them quickly before any of the local semi-facemasked people hurrying about the place to avoid infection could report the sighting of this improvised undercover feast 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 real 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 filled and brains stimulated by fine bright pink victuals and resplendent rural surroundings, we stopped in Layby B to take some photographs of colourfully painted beehives that had caught our eye as they glimmered on a hillside in the late afternoon sun.
The Bee Quarter of Town X.
I had never really considered before what bees got up to in the winter but it seemed 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 local virus squad because they’d been out earlier without a facemask?
As I walked back to the little blue racy but rusty 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. Poor little bee! 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 East European Republic X 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 … oh, how I hate elitism!). I already knew that the human population of East European Republic X was 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 winter related hibernation thing and all those human beings who were mostly staying at home because of the virus related isolation thing, this brave solitary bee should pick this unsuspecting solitary human being to sting. What were the chances of that?
Maybe the other bees were worried about people coming along and introducing viruses to their hives so they sent out the brave solitary bee to chase us off. Maybe the brave 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 solitary bystander. Maybe the brave solitary bee was working for the police but without a black notebook and pencil he was unable to arrest me for contravening our national global pandemic laws so he stung me instead. Maybe the brave 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, and he was merely trying to maintain the standard of heavy-handedness for which they were notorious.
But whatever the case, he was the only bee that I saw that day and to preserve his anonymity I will call him Bee A.