Birthday Review of the Year

As I slump in my incredibly comfortable La Z Boy chair in front of my super amazing iMac computer, I can still feel the bulk of my birthday meal progressing steadily through my walrus body. That meal was yesterday, and very delicious it was too, but birthdays are not just about stuffing one’s face with delicious food in the company of loved ones. It is a time to reflect, and not only on how many more grey hairs have appeared, or nostril hairs, or just hairs generally – ageing seems to be all about sprouting hairs…

Steve Jobs occasionally said some very inciteful things, particularly as he approached his end, and I like this quote from him about time:

Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition.”

Powerful stuff indeed. I’m trying to make sure that my time is spent doing the things that are important to me. Beekeeping is undoubtedly one of those things and right now producing the best bee book ever written is taking up more and more of my little grey cells. I may only write one bee related book, so I intend to make it a great one, and theoretically, that should be straightforward given the quality of the interviews I am having with some legends of the beekeeping world.

I have been looking back over the last year of my life; my 55th, to see what I’ve been up to. It was in late August and early September last year that I took honey off my hives and began varroa treatment. This year was much hotter; we had one of the best Summers that I can remember, and I can see from my notes that I was taking honey off this June and July. In my area, the flowers came and went much quicker than usual – I believe it’s called a “compressed season.”

Me and Murray McGregor of Denrosa
Me and Murray McGregor of Denrosa

It was back in November 2017 that I finally managed to meet and interview Murray McGregor of Denrosa Apiaries based near Blairgowrie in beautiful Perthshire, Scotland. He was such a pleasure to talk to and was very generous with his time, showing me many of his apiaries, answering my questions, and passing on some of his decades of experience as the UK’s most substantial commercial honey farmer. I had dinner with him a couple of times and was delighted that he introduced me to “Cullen Skink” which is a stunningly tasty creamy fish broth. If you are ever north of the border and enjoy seafood, then I heartily recommend it. I also met Jolanta who runs his queen rearing operation and learned about how she produces such fine queen bees.

On Boxing Day, December 26th, I had a lovely day with my family, and my father was full of his usual enthusiasm, warmth and laughter. Little was I to know that this was to be a turning point; he’d been diagnosed with mantle cell lymphoma and began a rapid slide into very poor health from the very next day. He has battled against cancer and had periods of being reasonably well but the trajectory has sadly been sharply downhill, and he is critically sick as I write this. I am so grateful that his last really good day of health was spent in my company, with laughter and good food.

Lord of the Rings Country
Lord of the Rings Country

The latter two weeks of January 2018 saw my son Alex and I travel to the other side of the world, to the beautiful country of New Zealand. We stayed in Christchurch and loved the place; the food was fresh and delicious, the weather was fantastic (it was mid Summer over there), and we found the people to be most amicable, including the three subjects of my interviews. I was shocked by the degree of rebuilding still taking place after the big earthquake of 2011, in which so many people tragically died.

The other big shock was that I hadn’t realised that Peter Bray, the main reason I’d travelled so far, wasn’t a beekeeper anymore! Luckily it was a great interview, and I learned about the industry itself, and the parts that don’t just involve tending to the bees.
Just as I recovered from the journey back from New Zealand, it was off to meet Peter Little and his family who run Exmoor Bees and Beehives near the Somerset/Devon border. I dragged Mrs Walrus along for that one, and for at least some of the time, she seemed to be as fascinated as I was by the pearls of wisdom that I was gleaning from Peter. I will never forget his hilarious tale of a “shrew explosion” which he witnessed whilst laying down near a hive entrance watching bees go about their business for hour after hour. Peter confirmed what I had already heard from others; that bee farming is seriously hard work over long hours, quite relentless at times, and to do it successfully you have to love it and be good at it.

In March 2018 I had a holiday in Funchal, Madeira, which was pleasant but unfortunately, it rained lots. However, I did eat scabbard fish with banana three times in three different restaurants, because it is a delicious local delicacy. Back home in the UK, they were experiencing the “Beast from the East” cold spell, with snow and ice on an unusual scale, so a spot of wind and rain in Funchal was nothing to complain about.

Then I had a mad rush getting youngest daughter Isla installed in her new apartment in Uxbridge so that she could start her new job at Pinewood Studios, which was all rather exciting.

Richard Noel and Me in Dinan, France
Richard Noel and Me in Dinan, France

As May came, I popped over the Channel to visit Richard Noel in Brittany and stay in his gite. He was full of energy and enthusiasm for his growing bee venture, and we had chats about staying with Mike Palmer in Vermont, which both of us had done. His insights into the Asian Hornet were invaluable. I met several Asian Hornet queens as they buzzed along hedgerows adjoining Richards land and took a video and photos for use in talks back home (many people in the UK haven’t seen these bee predators yet).

In June we had our traditional week up in Tighnabruaich, Scotland which was as beautiful and relaxing and replenishing as it always is, and then suddenly it was full on beekeeping, swarm control, queen rearing, supering and so on. The weather was glorious, and the bees were piling in nectar, leading to a good crop for me. In the blink of an eye, we had gone from an endlessly cold and miserable Spring to a glorious Summer. The bees explode into life and colonies expand exponentially, it is a wonder. I was delighted that I grafted larvae from my best queen and got eight lovely new mated queens from them which I used in my apiaries. I want to do much more of that next year!

Summer in Deia, Mallorca
Summer in Deia, Mallorca

Having removed the honey from my hives quite early, I was ready for our family holiday in Mallorca, in a stunning villa up in the mountains near Bunyola, far from the madness of tourists. Yes, I know I’m a tourist, but I don’t like tourists – OK? So that was August.

Back to September, and I have already booked and planned my final interview trip; I’m off to California next month to meet Ray Olivarez and Randy Oliver. I can’t wait. Life is great! I’m a lucky walrus.

What do you think?

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