So, it all started a little while ago with a darkening sky and a cacophonous, droning hum. The distant buzzing cloud got closer and darker and louder and, eventually, completely filled the airspace above my back garden. I retreated to the house and watched on in awe as the swirling miasma slowly coalesced into something resembling a slowly vibrating mini-barrel wrapped around a tree. The sky cleared. Just the now muted buzzing remained. A few lone sentinels flew around the phalange, like watchful X-Fighters spinning around the Death Star. All was peace.
I approached the gently humming mass to get a better look. It pulsed quietly and gently – until I got within about three feet of it when, quite suddenly, it began to throb noisily and angrily. Bees detached themselves from the mass and hurled themselves threateningly towards me. I took a pace back, preparing to run, and the whole thing reassembled and settled immediately. When I rocked forward on the balls of my feet, the irritated buzzing began instantly, but was quelled just as quickly by rocking back gently. We both knew the boundary and all was well. So, there I stood, observing the swarm in quiet wonderment as it appeared to settle, quite contentedly, in its new location and I began to wonder what I should do next.
It was at this point that the garden gate rattled and a near-neighbour appeared; keen to find anyone who might have spotted his bees. He had, it transpired, recently bought a hive and its full complement of inhabitants, but had returned home to find the entire miniature apiarian condominium in Marie-Celeste-like tranquillity. The bees had flown.
I pointed to the tree. He said, ‘Ah’ and stroked his chin. ‘I’ll ring the man that sold them to me.’ I did not question his assumption of ownership: they may, for all I know, have been wearing some tiny, identifiable uniform or even miniature GPS trackers – I didn’t get close enough to check.
‘I’ll go and ring,’ he said. ‘If they get restless, let me know.’ I didn’t like the sound of ‘restless’, but I promised to let him know if it occurred. He would hear the screaming from his house. He exited and I watched, focussed on the first sign of listlessness. It didn’t come. All remained serene. What did come, about an hour later, was a man with a cardboard box. He took his beekeeper’s suit from the box and, when fully garbed, approached the bees with the empty receptacle. The bees buzzed a warning, but seemed surprisingly untroubled as they were ‘stroked’ into the box. ‘I have the queen,’ he said. ‘They’ll behave.’ And he closed the lid. ‘Don’t worry about the rest,’ he said as he departed with the box under his arm, ‘they’ll find us.’ And off he went. I went back to the tree where a few bemused stragglers zapped around in an unhappy fashion for a little while, before buzzing off (sorry!) en masse, in the general direction of home.
That evening I was presented with a jar of honey by my neighbour – the traditional thanks, I believe, for being temporary apoideal landlords.
Now, what brings this back to me is an article I have just read in a local free magazine: ‘Get the buzz of excitement with beekeeping as a hobby’. It was about a Beekeeper’s Society stand at a local agricultural show which, as the title implied, was attempting to interest people in taking up beekeeping as a hobby. The report contained the sentence (I swear) ‘The stand was a hive of activity…’ but this alone was not what put me off considering beekeeping as a hobby. I could just not see myself investing time, effort and, let’s be honest, passion, into a hobby that involved, at its heart, several thousand pets all of whom, it would seem, might take off on a collective whim and bring pleasure (and honey) to somebody down the road without a moment’s notice. Nobody needs a hobby that just winds up on somebody else’s toast.