A sting in the tale
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.