Today I was stung by a winter bee.
What’s that? Did I hear you say there's no such thing? Nonsense. I swear it was a bee, though one well lagged against the winter chill, which here in the South West is a rather balmy twelve degrees measured by the Madeley elbow. There was also an air of premeditation about the attack. The bee had been hiding among the grow bags in the garden shed, readying itself for the right moment to strike. And strike it most certainly did, at ten thirty this morning; lancing its mortal barb straight through my shirt, between the weave of my string vest, and deep into my chest.
Given the intense pain – I am, you should note, mildly allergic to bee stings – I ran into the kitchen to inform Judy that poison was pumping its way into my system and I might pass out at any moment.
‘You can’t have been stung,’ she said, applying pastry topping to a pie. ‘It’s winter. Bees don’t come out in the winter.’
I proceeded to demonstrate that they most certainly do come out in winter and they can sting a man by collapsing on the kitchen floor.
The next thing I remember was feeling a pleasurably erotic sensation about my right nipple.
‘Stephen?’ I muttered as I opened my eyes and saw a grey head bent over me.
‘Got it just in time,’ said Bill Oddie, sitting up and wiping spittle from his lips. ‘I’ve got all the poison out. He should be fine now.’
‘Bill,’ I said, reaching for those soft downy cheeks of his. ‘You’ve saved my life… And… And you’ve been suckling at my right teat.’
‘Lucky for you I was on my way around,’ said Bill. ‘I've had expert medical training so I always know what to do with a sting. It is a bit early in the year for bees. I’ll have to make a note of this for our annual Springwatch survey. You’re probably the first person to see a bee this year. Global warming is clearly having an effect and I’ll be saying as much in my letter to the UN Climate Commission. I hope I can get a quick picture of your right nipple for the report. This might be the evidence we need to prove that the world is indeed warming up.’
‘Snap away, Bill,’ I said pulling open my shirt and turning my wounded areola towards my saviour. Oddie played with his Nokia, snaps were taken, and then we all retired to the living room for coffee and some chat.
‘You know,’ said Bill, after we had all calmed down, ‘your nipple has give me an idea.’
‘Has it Bill?’ I asked. ‘And what idea might that be?’
‘Well,’ he said, gently stroking his beard as he does when thoughtful, ‘you know that I have my own line in bird feed? I was wondering if there might be a market in bees.’
‘They are our natural pollinators. H.G. Wells once said that if the bees die out, so does mankind.’
‘Did he?’ asked Judy, balancing her cup on her knee. ‘We’ll have to see if we can get this Wells on the show. He sounds like he'd make an interesting guest. Don't you think so, Richard? Has he written any books?’
I gave Bill the look to tell him to just smile.
‘He did,’ said Bill who moved on with an admirable deftness. ‘Now, the problem with bees is that it’s very difficult to attract them to the average garden. They are put off by all sorts of things like the signals from computers, household chemicals, and the general artificiality of modern living. And that’s where I think your nipple comes in. There can be no coincidence that the bee was attracted to your nipple.’
‘So much so that it stung me and died in the process,’ I pointed out.
Bill waved aside my argument. ‘Nonsense. You tried to brush it away. A bee will always sting when attacked. They’ve got the personality of Gordon Ramsay. Sting first and ask questions later.’
‘With all due respect,’ interrupted Judy. ‘Gordon Ramsay does not leave his back end sticking in his victim.’
She had a point, if only one devoid of all sense.
‘Look,’ said Bill, ‘all I’m saying is that Richard’s right nipple might hold the answer to the nation’s bee problem. I could get some scientist friends of mine to have a look at it. See if we can’t extract whatever chemicals Richard produces that attracts bees.’
‘He does attract lots of bees,’ agreed Judy.
Which is true. I’m something of a bee magnet in the summer. I once fell asleep on one of our touring holidays in France and woke up with a full beard of bees. It took two days before I was rid of them. Two long and lonely days...
‘I suppose if it’s for the good the country’s bees,’ I relented, ‘I’d be happy for scientists to look at my breast. But I warn you now, Bill Oddie: if there are profits to be made from this venture, I’d like a fair share of them.’
‘Of course,’ smiled Bill, draining his coffee. ‘In fact, I think this could “bee” a very profitable buzzness indeed.’