The West, Saturday: toothpicks


In most restaurants you will find a small container of toothpicks sitting on the counter and while waiting for your bank to say, yes, you can rip money from this person’s credit-card, you can dig into your gums with a piece of wood.


Wasn’t always like that.

When I say restaurants, there must be a range at the top-end where toothpicks are frowned upon, maybe banned, where picking could lead to ejection, but I don’t go there.

The toothpick is an essential tool among my eating apparatus.

I have no idea how it started, the thing with toothpicks, but more than likely it was dad’s idea.

Dad loved nothing more than to consume a side of pig, with healthy portions of potato, beans, liberally splashed with apple sauce, followed by a family block of fruit and nut chocolate, then poke a stick in the mouth for the hidden portions.

He had plenty of spaces to store the uneaten bits and the probing could take up to an hour.

Mum didn’t appreciate it, not the probing itself, but the way he probed. Her style was more your dangling hand-in-front with soft finger thrusts accompanied by downcast eyes.

Dad had no shame: he had a lump of wood in his hand, there was food in there, he was going in after it.

Given there were four boys in the family, not surprisingly we all took after the manly dig and these days, after a good solid meal together, people sitting on either side shift their chairs to make way for the raised elbows.

It should be noted, by the way, that the toothpick has been around since BB, before-before.

According to Wikipedia, my choice for all important information, it is probably the oldest instrument for dental cleaning.

Not surprising.

You’re living in 567BB, you’ve just eaten a woolly mammoth and some of the wool is stuck between your back molars.

What do you do? It’s obvious. You grab one of the tusks, whip out your Swiss Army knife and whittle it down to a manageable size.

There is much to like about a good pocket knife, but the Swiss knew from the start that any knife worth its cut should contain a toothpick.

Not my favourite, the plastic pick, but handy in an emergency if there is no available wood, or all the old well-used picks left in the back pocket have broken or frayed too close to the end.

When it comes to favourites, I don’t mind the standard pine, but I am partial to sandalwood, marri, wattle, wild grass is always handy, but wandoo is a bit too tough.

Yes, I know, you’re still thinking about the bloke in 567BB with the ivory pick.

If you took the time to peruse the Wiki, or even add your personal knowledge to its massive database, you would know that the humble toothpick was not always made of wood.

Picks of bronze and silver have been found, sometimes buried with their dead owners, which suggests the pick may have been a symbol of prestige.

A long time after BB, BC and well into AD, toothpicks were sometimes manufactured as luxury items, well crafted, styled, enamelled and encrusted with precious stones.

It certainly opened my eyes and, as a consequence, I have changed my burial instructions to read: To be buried in the Bridgetown cemetery, facing north for winter warmth, along with various personal items, including his favourite toothpick, the one he whittled out of Japanese bamboo.

Some dentists, I know, frown on the toothpick, but only those who don’t realise the work it brings in.

I mean, if you dig around inside your mouth for 45 years with a piece of wood then you are sure to wear great gaping gaps between teeth, gaps any self-respecting dentist would love to plug. And invoice for.

As for me, even though I floss and use the very modern electronic round-brush technique, there’s still nothing I love more than a damn good dig with a lump of pine accompanied by the tongue and cheek double act.

As for those restaurants that don’t supply picks, no concern to me, because, like dad, I never leave the house without one.

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