A sting in the tale

Country Life Every Week - - Spectator -

Three hot hours later, it was gen­er­ally agreed that this wasn’t what they’d had in mind. Ev­ery tile re­moved re­vealed a larger and larger colony. It had been there for years and was the largest they’d ever seen with, they cal­cu­lated, more than 65,000 honey bees, each one of which be­came in­creas­ingly cross as their home was dis­man­tled.

The noise and the stick­i­ness were like noth­ing I’d ever known as I went up and down the lad­der to re­move the plas­tic bags full of comb and honey and ac­com­pa­ny­ing bees that were be­ing bro­ken away from un­der the roof. They sep­a­rated some—the bits most likely to hold the queen and the brood cells full of grubs —into a hive, but the rest would be taken away and the honey ex­tracted. They promised me a jar.

Zam watched from a safe dis­tance un­til a bee lodged it­self in his hair. There’s some­thing about Zam and bees. They go for him. He’s af­fronted by this, takes it per­son­ally and there is no doubt that, for the first time ever, it’s me who’s more com­fort­able with the nat­u­ral world. If Zam is Tom, I am Mar­got. Un­til now.

Even­tu­ally, the men de­scended and con­sid­ered their hand­i­work. They’d strapped the hive to the place where tiles used to hang: if they’d got the queen, the rest would fol­low. ‘Let’s hope it doesn’t rain,’ Ge­off said as we stared at the roof’s gap­ing hole. Then, he made me hold a bee with­out my gloves on, hold­ing it in the

It was the largest colony they’d ever seen, more than 65,000 in­creas­ingly cross honey bees

palm of his hand like a sugar lump be­fore a pony. I picked it up. ‘That’s a drone,’ he ex­plained, ‘they don’t have stings.’ He was test­ing my bee nerve.

‘Would you like a glass of wa­ter?’ I asked as we piled sticky bags into the back of their car. ‘Like it even more with a hop in it,’ they smiled. I found beer and cooked sausages and tried to ab­sorb some of the knowl­edge pour­ing out of them be­cause I’d need it when my bees were re­turned to me in due course. While they talked, they ab­sent-mind­edly pulled stings out of their fin­gers.

‘We’ll come back in a cou­ple of days.’ I told them we’d be on hol­i­day by then. ‘You don’t want to leave that scaf­fold­ing up for long.’ they chuck­led. ‘It’ll be knicked.’ And then they drove away in a small, bat­tered hatch­back, the back end of which was buzzing with bees and with the ‘smoker’ they’d oc­ca­sion­ally used to calm the fu­ri­ous bees still mak­ing fumes in the boot.

We rang a few days later. ‘Did it work?’ I asked, ex­cited at the idea of our bees now safely in a hive. ‘Bad news,’ said Ge­off. ‘Wasps got into the hive and killed the lot.’ All that ef­fort un­done by some das­tardly wasps. Nei­ther of us men­tioned the jar of honey.

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