Whats the buzz? An update from a beekeeper in lockdown…

Bee rescuing is something the whole family are active in at this time of year. As doors and windows open to the lockdown sunshine, some bees inevitably find themselves stranded indoors. We use a glass to trap them safely, then slip a piece of card underneath the rim to act as a lid. If she’s been trapped inside for a long period a drop of honey or water is offered; our own domestic A&E. She is then carried and set free from the front door; that way she has the shortest distance to fly back to the hive. We always presume she’s one of ours, though of course she may not be (my son claims to know the difference). I’ve just saved a girl from inside my office window. She was scaling it like El Capitan and making a deafening racket. I’d love to report I cupped her in my bare hands and carried her outside, like a true bee whisperer. Instead I grabbed a used coffee cup (sorry bee) to trap her and escort her to freedom. It’s another beautiful sunny afternoon – it’s what this lockdown will be remembered for – and my stranded bee prompted me to wander out to have a look at my hive. They were all there, darting about like mad kamikaze pilots. I was shamed to notice their watering station completely dry. I had forgotten to check it all weekend! A gift to us from my Mum, it’s located a few feet from the hive entrance. A wide circular basin with rimmed ‘steps. It sits on a low pedestal half a foot off the ground. I’ve filled it with stones and pebbles of various size so the bees have something to land on and safely take a drink. Water is especially important for them at this time of year to dilute their winter stores of honey and to cool the hive. They need plenty of energy for their spring foraging flights and for raising brood. The queen will be ramping up to her maximum egg laying capacity of two thousand per day.

I apologised for my neglect and poured in fresh water from my watering-can. I filled the basin to the very top, then took a step back out of their flight path. I’m not terribly brave about bee stings. Dressed for the warm weather with bare arms and legs I felt a little vulnerable. I got stung twice last summer, on both occasions I was not wearing my bee suit. The first sting was from one of my bees when I peered in through the front vent. The poor bee was rightly defending the hive from this strange BFG and went straight for my head. It got tangled in my long hair and we wrestled about for several seconds. I must have looked like a mad dervish. A bee buzz next to an ear is very perturbing; it induces a panic like no other. With the aid of a mirror I was able to extract the stinger from the side of my temple, no real harm done. The second sting, a couple of weeks later, was from one of my husband’s bees. I was weeding around the hive when it decided I was getting too close and stung me on my calf. It was being a little over-zealous, I think. It swelled up rightly and was sore for several days. Obviously, his bees have more sting in their tail than mine. I felt guilty. Two bees having died because of me.

I think:

How many times would I have died if I was a bee?

A: Many.

I’m too impulsive. I’ve got better, but I still act before I think. I would have a short life as a bee, giving away stings all too readily. My husband is measured, calm, weighs up his options. Whereas, I dive right in. There’s fight in my heart like a terrier. He often admonishes me for it, but without it, I might not have married him. It’s frightening to look in the eye of a trait and wish it away, yet acknowledge it’s brought you gifts along with barbs. Love always comes with a sting, it’s how we know we love. I think I’d be a good worker bee, but I’d die all too quickly.

I continued to watch my hive, out of the flight path of the returning foragers, empty watering can in hand and sun on my back. I wondered if the bee I’d rescued had returned safely. Each one is so tiny out there against the world. You have to be brave to be a bee.


23rd April


Another week of home-school almost complete.

I think:

My sons’ education is like my toilet; no one else cares how clean it is.

I share toilets with three males, as far as the fifty-one-year-old claims he is not to blame for the detritus that I am left to clean. Coronavirus has had an expediential effect on the toilets in the house. Four people cooped up twenty-four hours a day mean the toilets are in high demand. I suppose I should be grateful there is more than one and therefore not complain about cleaning three. And I know no one would A) Notice, or B) Care if it was left undone. Maybe it’s because I have to sit every time I ‘go’ that I am more particular about the hygiene of where I place my rear end… either way as I disinfect and scrub I am caught by the thought; no one cares about this as much as me. Honeybees keep their hives meticulously clean. In the first few days after she emerges from her cell one of the first jobs a honeybee will have is as a ‘house bee’ and a ‘cell cleaner’ ensuring each honeycomb cell is clean for the queen to lay her egg in. Every bee inside a hive has a particular role to play before she advances to leaving the hive as a forager in the last three weeks of her life. Drones do nothing inside the hive, their sole purpose is for procreation. We live in a house, not a hive, so I hand one son a duster and point the other in the direction of the vacuum cleaner.

Later, as I try and drill the x6 tables into one son and urge my eldest towards online Spanish class, it feels the same as the toilets. No one else cares as much as I do. I’ve fallen into the parent-trap of wanting them to be better versions of me. This enforced lockdown is loading them up with ammunition to fire at me in ten or twenty years. By then, I’ll be able to blame my mishandling of ‘home-school’ along with the government’s mismanagement of the virus. It will all have come out of the woodwork by then; what should or shouldn’t have been done. Right now, as we sit in this lockdown it feels like no one is handling it right. There’s still no sign or word from the PM, who’s convalescing at Chequers. A hive without a queen will not survive, it’s in disarray with angry unsettled bees, maybe someone should let Boris know…