I used to think that 60 yrs is quite old, but now that 2023 has arrived – the year in which I will have been alive for six decades (hopefully) – I’m thinking that it’s more ‘late middle-aged’ than old. My hair still looks mostly dark, in the right light, although the beard is grey. This aging business is probably good for the ego; as each decade passes I must accept that the person facing me in the mirror is really me; not the image I have in my mind’s eye, from when I was a younger, prettier walrus. I like to tell my children that I have accumulated great wisdom from my catalogue of experiences, but they probably see what I saw when I was 30 and my father told me the same thing. I would listen to him, nodding at the right places, then do things my way and learn from my many mistakes. Such is life.
When I started keeping bees in 2012 I joined my local beekeepers’ association and even went to the occasional meeting (I still do). There were a few youngsters, but I discovered that most members were north of 60 yrs; I had blundered into a hobby that could potentially hold my interest for decades to come. The hobby evolved into something more, and here I am, looking forward to many more years of working with bees. Whereas I have gravitated towards the commercial end of the beekeeping spectrum (at least, it is commercial beekeeping that I find most interesting), I recognise that there are many paths to follow. All manners of people are keeping bees for their individual reasons, and carrying it out according to their beliefs. This is how it should be; a broad church, where hopefully different denominations can respect each other, even though they won’t always agree.
Many of my beekeeping heroes are in an entirely different stratosphere to me, and most people I know, as far as honey bees are concerned. Sadly, Peter Little has moved on, but I can still hear his voice, and see the mischievous twinkle in his eyes as he patiently explained some technicality about raising queens. People like him, like Mike Palmer and Murray McGregor who I know, and amazing ‘old timer’ beekeepers across the world who I don’t, are a valuable resource. Such people are usually very busy, and not always easy to approach, but when they give their time to educate us mere mortals – perhaps by delivering lectures at conferences – we should pay attention. What I like about talking to great beekeepers is that they can give me tiny nuggets of detailed information that you can’t always find in the literature. I have hundreds of silly questions still to ask, but that is one of the wondrous things about our craft; there is always more to learn.
Learning is not a straight line
Learning, for me at least, is never in a straight line. I am guilty of taking something that I have experienced in one, or perhaps two seasons, and deciding that whatever I have learned is some great truth which will apply in the future. The trouble with us ‘problem solver’ types; the curious and the experimental among us, is that we try to connect the dots to form a theory about why things happened the way they did. It’s how learning works, but there are dangers to attributing causes to effects when we are basing it on small sample sizes over limited times. Again, this is why I’m fascinated by people that have hundreds of colonies; their theories are at least based on more hives over a longer time, so are more likely to be along the right lines. However, the old ‘beekeeping is local’ get-out-clause applies. I know this to be true, but I also don’t want to use it as an excuse for ignoring what happens in other places.
While I’m in this reflective mood, I should say that life should not be all about being right, or striving for greatness. I do my share of striving – perhaps less than when I was a co-owner of an all-consuming business – but every so often it’s okay to take it easy and to get some perspective. Bees are remarkable insects, living on a beautiful blue jewel of a planet teeming with life, and just being part of that is something marvellous. It’s not all about right and wrong. Hopefully, it’s about kindness, generosity of spirit and being thankful for what we have. On that note, as I approach 17 years of abstinence from alcohol, I can say that however much fun you think you are having when drunk, the biggest and deepest laughs of my life have been when sober.
The ‘project du jour’ is my latest book that I’m working on with Paul Horton, and it’s progressing nicely. We are up to about 34,000 words and rapidly closing in on the target of 50,000, which is apparently a good size for a beekeeping book. I know that it will be a book that I am proud of and will enjoy re-reading, but I also know that there will be bits that make me cringe and things I’d like to change; it’s how these things are. Whether anybody else buys the thing, time will tell. I thought, having written one book, that I would never put myself through the process again, yet here I am. A glutton for punishment, as well as mince pies.
New Years Honour
Something slightly surreal happened recently. My wife, Elaine Bousfield, generally referred to as ‘Mrs Walrus’ or ‘The Beekeeper’s Wife’, has been recognised by King Charles in the new year’s honours list. She is now Elaine Bousfield, MBE. Her life’s work, when not putting up with her idiotic husband, has been to further the cause of the mental health of children and young people. Some might even argue that this carries greater weight than helping me to sell jars of honey at the farmer’s market. The whole family is proud of her.
I was pleased to hear that Thor, the walrus that camped out in Scarborough for a rest, has returned to the sea. Such a majestic creature! I wish him safe travels, and I wish you all good tidings for 2023.