“Sail me on a silver sun, where I know that I’m free
Show me that I’m everywhere, and get me home for tea”
(“It’s All Too Much”) :The Beatles
“Ageism” isn’t necessarily the thought that immediately springs to mind when you are atop an aluminium ladder , racked out to it’s full extent, its three parts stretching possibly some thirty feet from the lush green sward of the lawn below, your booted feet clumsily balancing on a narrow rung amongst the toppermost thin and tangled branches . It did cross my mind afterwards , no doubt spurred by a piece that I had read a few days ago. Eleven months from greeting my State Pension , well on that downward slope to officially joining the serried ranks of the silver- surfers as a bona fide Old Age Pensioner(OAP), I have to accept reluctantly that the first bloom of youth has now passed and that I am indeed now an older man.I stress “older” rather than old because as we all know , and my daughter constantly reminds me , that I am indeed really only twenty seven.Yes , twenty seven is a good age to be when everything else tells you that you are indeed sixty four .I was thinking that it might help matters if my neighbour could cut his trees down to half-size.
Of course these things are wholly dependant on many diverse factors concerning physicality,mental attitude and good health.Many younger men would be unable to ascend those wobbly heights due to excess weight, fear or plain lazyness. You’ll just have to imagine, if you will, the twenty- stone bulk of ,say for example , the lithe Steven Nolan , to realise that these things have little to do with years accrued.I know plenty of fellows of my own age who are slowly being re-built with an assortment of spare parts such as new knees,new hips, heart-valves and even transplanted organs.Most, over forty ,have succumbed to the wearing of spectacles or even eye-surgery as their eyesight invariably fails with the hardening of their lenses or the onset of cataracts. There are plenty too who would never have climbed that ladder due to vertigo.Indeed there were times during my recent walkabout in the city of Amsterdam that the thought of hip-replacement crossed my mind daily, especially in that late-evening ache as I relaxed with a glass or three..So we are not all the same and many are unable to countenance marathon -running in their seventies.Then , there are the ones who no longer live at all and have joined the ranks of those who have “Gone Before”. If any of us live long enough he will witness the dissappearance of our entire generation of contemporaries.I have felt that specifically in the first few months of this passing year.
….but no matter….
My neighbour scratched his head when asked whether or not he had a really long ladder in his armoury, before opening his garage to inform me that his ladder -climbing days were now truly gone because he couldn’t stand heights any more. He kindly obliged me with the use of his lonely, unused three-part lattice.
I needed it badly because none of my ladders had the required scope. I’d already stood for some ten minutes pondering the impossibility of ever retrieving something of a major swarm of my honeybees. They had chosen to abscond at just about the worst time of the day. I’m sure I’ve said it before , but it’s always the wrong time.This time it was while I was preparing dinner. Luckily I’d already done some preparation for an early dinner, previously in the afternoon.My Other Half was working that night and had decided to have a short nap before dinner .She’d be off until the following morning so I was preparing a meal before she went . I do the majority of the cooking at home because she does most of the other household chores.I am of the opinion that a mild form of OCD is in the nature of the female when it comes to tidying, re-arranging and cleaning and it may be sensible to make allowances for this specific trait..Sometimes I think that my wife would prefer that I floated across her nice clean floor rather than if I walked on it at all.So there I was anyway,cooking up a storm in the kitchen.
There was some leftover gammon from Sunday lunch which I’d soused in some soy and sweet-chillie sauce to steam in the oven. There was corn and some longbeans , some carrots with fresh mint and butter, boiled new potatoes sprinkled with lots of chopped fresh herbs such as chives , rosemary , thyme and rocket ; some roasted tomatoes and potatoes with garlic for the oven and finally some left-over cauliflower -cheese which I’d made the day before.The herb-garden has been particularly successful this year and I’ve been making the best use of it . So all was in control and I’d only just turned on the oven when I heard that unmistakeable sound like a hoover starting up .I knew that sound very well from past experience.The honeybees had assumed that the time was ripe for a swarm .In the garden there was a swirl of animation and noisy clamour.It was suddenly warm and muggy so I strolled to the bottom of the garden to have a closer look . The air was a whirl of bee-smuts, rotating like a storm -twister above the hives….circling faster and faster with the beating of thousands of tiny wings.Fifty thousand bees can make some racket. At this point there was no way of knowing which hive was getting ready to leave.
I had made my weekly hive -inspection that morning and had remarked that although it was a particularly poor summer weather-wise, the honeybees appeared to be thriving .The “Lazarus” hive had finally succumbed to an invasion of wasps and earwigs. The invaders hadn’t left a single honeybee alive, so I’d spent an hour that morning cleaning out this dead hive -box , shaking the unwanted lodgers from their hiding- places ,scorching the inside corners with a blow-torch and re-painting the outside of the woodwork. It’s surprising the wear and tear on boxes left out in all weathers. They quickly become drab as the paint is worn off with the abrasive wind and rain and the pattering of countless tiny feet.
There were three hives that were still viable and one in particular was specifically strong . It had at least four boxes heavy with honey by this stage and was standing taller than myself . I ‘d had to stretch up to lift off the roof. The other two were also making headway too, if with less fecundity.I had no idea which hive had swarmed as yet, because there was much noise and activity around all the three hive entrances.
Swarming tends to excite all the bees and might even set another hive off.I could see now exactly where the queen had led the escaping colony to settle.There it was, high up, surrounded by out-riders, like some animated , glowing football ,very near the top of the tallest tree in my neigbour’s garden. She couldn’t have chosen some low-level bush nearby! The tree was higher than his roof.My neighbour already knew the drill and had taken his noisy little dog inside out of harm’s way at the first signs and left me to my own devices. I was suited up and bee-proofed already ; booted and suited in my bee-suit and gauntlets.I had a five frame nucleus box under one -arm and the trusty metal smoker in the other.After a fumbling start with the extensions of the ladder , I finally hefted it to its full length , leaned it into the tree and ascended to within a foot of the bees.They had wrapped themselves around part of the trunk near the top of the tree which made collecting them as one piece ,quite difficult . When you see them in books they are always hanging neatly off a branch like some ripe fruit. …Not these pilgrims!
I had my smoker alight with some old hessian rags and I was puffing some cool smoke from below to maintain some modicum of calm. There is something jewel-like and exquisite about the twinkling movement of a resting swarm as the sun plays across it and the honeybees constantly move to surround and protect their queen, sunlight refracting off the planes of their clustered, jittering wings.They were calm enough but I was afraid that if I left them too long , that they’d simply fly off to another destination some miles away ,when the scout bees reported back some news about a better location. I retreated to the ground , setting down the smoker and collecting my nucleus box, hastily emptying the five blank wax frames first , to return back to the giddy heights .I brought it up , opened ,under the swarm , giving the branch a sharp shake while balancing on the ladder with my knees. The clustered bees fell as one piece, leaving behind some bees still clinging to the trunk and I retreated to the ground with the heaving buzzing box under my arm .I wasn’t sure that I’d got the queen , even then .I’d know it was a fact if the bees stayed with her in the box because they’d follow her pheremone anywhere as a hound would follow the fox. By this time my wife had risen from her fitful slumber , becoming aware of the hubbub that was afoot and was shouting over the fence that I’d surely kill myself on that bloody ladder. I told her to bring me an empty wine-box from the shed and proceeded to climb again for another scoop .This time some of the remainng bees fell into the box but a few also fell onto my arms. As I climbed down there was a sharp nip on my upper arm where a trapped bee had become entangled in the fabric of my suit , at my elbow and had stung me through the material , leavinhg her sting outside as she died.The first strike of the year! It was bound to happen at some stage . Some say that honey-bound swarming bees are unable to bend and sting , but I’ve never found that to be the case.
Down again on terra firma, the bees seemed to be settling into the nucleus box, so I gathered up my borrowed ladder and gear and left them for a moment to realise that they’d finally found a new home.They didn’t take long to realise where the queen had gone. Mission accomplished , I carried the ladies back home to my garden and set the nucleus box up in another spot on top of an empty hive . I was suddenly back up to four hives. I’d discover eventually which particular hive this peripatetic queen had left and bequested to a new virgin -daughter and hoped that she would be as successfully mated with the local drones as her mother had been.
Her mother could easily have spent her first night of freedom since her own mating ,being soaked as the too- brief sunshine abated and the rains came back in.It was to be a wet night.
At least now she’ll have spent her first night of a very short freedom, sheltered from that hanging drizzle, in a comfortable new abode . The sudden sunshine which invoked her escape had since fled to be replaced by clouds and implacable weeping rain….You might think she’d be grateful for that salvation, but then children are never really grateful for simply being born,either, are they? Soon i’d place those five frames into another brood box in that same spot and see how she’ll get on this time around.
Thankfully the entire operation took only some forty minutes and the dinner survived possible cremation.