Magazine article The Spectator

The Colour of Honey

Magazine article The Spectator

The Colour of Honey

Article excerpt

If you decide to get married somewhere called Beehive Cottage, there's bound to be a certain theme to your presents so I wasn't too surprised to get a tablecloth embroidered with bees and hives, a variety of honeypots and a giant box containing the components of a WBC hive (a double-walled variety named after its inventor William Broughton Carr), veil, gloves and smoker gun from a group of friends. We made good use of the linen but the beehive kit stayed in the shed. Was I a fit and proper person to look after several thousand living creatures? What if they swarmed and attacked the young children next door?

What if they swarmed and attacked me?

It took three years to get my act together and actually assemble the hive. Then for six months it stood as an empty rustic folly at the bottom of the garden before a chance encounter with a bee enthusiast finally made me take the leap of faith.

There's something about bee enthusiasts.

They're a bit trainspottery and cultish but without the unpleasant bits. Jan gave me my first colony and I happily signed on as her apprentice beekeeper. My husband Chris, who was stung twice on the first day, decided he would have nothing to do with any of it.

During my first year I made several mistakes, including drowning hundreds of bees in sugar syrup. That weakened the colony and it didn't survive the winter. So Jan sent me off to an apiary near Norwich to buy a 'nuc' -- a box of new bees with their little antennae fluttering through the meshed top. Believe me, driving a hatchback with a nuc full of disorientated, angry bees in the back seat is a disconcerting experience. The buzzing was extremely menacing and the thought of them escaping into the confines of the car during the trip didn't bear much contemplation.

'Don't worry if any escape, ' we were told, 'just wind down the windows and they will be blown to the back.' Chris didn't look reassured. 'And they can only sting you once.' Hurray!

With my new colony installed I became overconfident. One day I inspected the hive in a rush and ended up with six stings through my jeans. The following day I had to travel up to Blackpool for the Conservative party conference. My stings were still throbbing so I went to see a local GP who told me to check they weren't infected by drawing round the swellings with a biro. Back at the Winter Garden conference centre I disappeared into the ladies to draw large ovals on my thighs. …

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