WE’LL need a big team here for the emergence test,’ she said. I wondered about the missing ‘y’ with alarm, but she went on: ‘We need to position people on either side of this hedge, in that corner, behind that wall.’ The bat lady was looking pretty excited. She’d poked her head into areas we haven’t yet dared to and wanted to know more.
She didn’t think she could see signs of bats in the 1970s annexe, probably because the roof space there is already occupied by 30,000– 40,000 honey bees. They’re entirely friendly if a little disconcerting when they get lost as the colony is above a window to the room in which some of the children sleep.
Mindful that builders will one day be working on this, I thought they might not like the bees, so I rang a bee-keeping friend. ‘Your options are to live with them or kill them,’ she said. ‘It’s very good luck to have honey bees living in your house, by the way.’ I rang another beekeeper, who was equally black and white. Then, I spoke to Vic and he told me to ring Geoff, who said he thought they sounded like masonry bees.
I stood firm about the bee species. Actually, I handed the phone over to Zam, because my confidence in bee recognition is easily knocked, especially when talking to an expert. Geoff said he’d come over that afternoon.
I waved the bat lady off and the bee man in, literally.
Geoff’s wife stayed put in the car and we chatted over the wall. ‘It’s amazing,’ she ruminated, ‘we’ve been in our house for 10 years and he never has time to do a thing. Someone rings about bees, he’s out the same day.’
Geoff was extremely pleased with our bees. He pointed at what I’d thought were damp patches inside. ‘That’s honey,’ he said with delight. ‘Get some scaffolding and I’ll come back and get the bees for you.’
The ‘for you’ bit of this went over my head. ‘I’ll get them into a hive,’ he went on. Fixing me with a hypnotic bee stare, he added: ‘And bring them back for you to look after.’ I found myself nodding while explaining ‘but I don’t live here yet’. ‘So?’ he said. ‘So the bees will be neglected— bees are a full-time job,’ I tried. ‘Nonsense,’ he retorted. ‘I don’t know anything about beekeeping,’ I said. ‘I’ll look after them until you’re ready, then I’ll bring them back and I’ll teach you how to be a beekeeper. These,’ he continued ‘are your bees.’
I ring my sister, whose former hive seems to be coming my way, and mention that I hadn’t had bee-keeping on my ‘to do’ list, but she and Geoff are clearly in cahoots because she simply says: ‘You can have all my kit.’
Then, I tell her that the bat lady spotted montbretia near the front door and that this is rising up the list of non-native invasive species, in the same league as Japanese knotweed. The lady had asked if we were planning any building work near the plant. ‘Well, the porch is falling down,’ I ventured. ‘Then I suggest you tape round the flower bed and do not let builders walk on it in case they carry some part of the corm with them elsewhere.’ I don’t want the montbretia I tell her. Digging it up is a very difficult operation, she assures me.
The place is beginning to feel out of control. I tell my sister that I haven’t personally seen any bats, but if we do have them, I think they’re wearing tapdancing shoes because I sometimes hear them doing a routine in the night. Unless the green woodpecker that lives opposite has moved in.
There’s silence at the other end of the phone. And then, ‘that,’ my sister says, ‘sounds like death-watch beetle.’
I’ll look after them until you’re ready and then I’ll teach you how to be a beekeeper