Country Life Every Week - - Contents - Lucy Bar­ing

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

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