It’s About People

My Parents in 1961
My Parents in 1961

I gave a talk to South Clywd Beekeeping Association the other day. It was a presentation that I’ve done five or six times before, about my travels to meet and learn from beekeepers worldwide. My favourite part is the questions and chat afterwards, which is strange because I am not known for being especially interested in other people. The thing is, I actually am. I find myself being interested in a small subset of people; those that keep bees. It’s a gateway to the discovery that other people, too, can be OK, really.

True Selves

When I think back to when I was galavanting about, meeting strangers and interviewing them (often when jet-lagged), I’m amazed that I took on such a task. What on earth possessed an introvert who hates airports to do such a thing? Ultimately I’m grateful for the time beekeepers shared with me and for the wisdom they passed on. To be allowed access into somebody’s life, to be given even a glimpse of their true selves – their interactions with colleagues, family and indeed bees – is a privilege.

My beekeeping, pleasurable though it is, has been enhanced enormously by the people I have met along the way. Sometimes I visit other beekeepers, and sometimes they come to me. This season I’ve met some interesting Cheshire folk who happen to keep bees. I swapped queens with Mark of Sutton Weaver in North Cheshire. He showed me a stretch of land that he is turning into a nature reserve, with flowers and trees and water – a little oasis for wildlife of all kinds.

Travels Close To Home

I went to South Cheshire to say hello to Pete of Holmes Chapel. He keeps bees in Dadant hives; quite a rare thing in the UK. I made a couple of trips to Kerridge on the edge of the Peak District to see Paul of Happy Valley Honey/ Modern Beekeeping. Sure, I bought some stuff from him, but chatting about bees is the worthwhile thing. I visited Ben in Toft, Rosemary and Charles near Plumley, Joanna & Julia in High Legh, Michael in Chorlton…and so on. Then there was Julia near Antrobus, with her constant questioning of the established wisdom – people say something is so, but where is the evidence? Beekeepers want to share their experiences; it’s a beautiful thing.

People have visited me and my bees too. I like to show them what I’m up to, and I like it even more if they help me out. The hardest work is getting the honey off the hives. I’m grateful for Eldest Child’s help with much of that. I even managed to persuade The Boy (my son) to lift boxes of honey into my car – he hates bees but lent his muscle on the condition that he wore a full bee-proof suit of armour. I try to explain to people what I’m doing and why. When I’m alone, I do the same thing…to myself. Is it madness? If so, I embrace it. Talking to the bees seems to be the right thing to do, even if it’s to wonder aloud what they are up to. Or to curse them for their occasionally uncooperative tendencies.


Map of proposed works
Map of proposed works

Mrs Walrus and I hope to move out of the city to somewhere prettier in a year or two. In my area, we have to be mindful of the vast building projects lined up. There is the HS2 railway and the Northern Powerhouse railway to consider. Some lovely countryside is going to be turned into railways, including at least one of my apiaries. I don’t want to live on a railway. My other concern is flooding. With climate change and so forth, I’m keen to stay far away from anywhere prone to flooding. The more we look into it, the harder it becomes to find a site for a new walrus home. A significant factor is being able to get to my bees, of course. Moving far away, to somewhere like Dorset or Suffolk or Ireland, means figuring out what to do with my bees. So we probably won’t do that. Cheshire is as good a place as any, methinks.

Jennifer Donohoe

Anyway, back to people. There is one person who was, understandably, a big part of my life – my Mum. When my Dad passed away three years ago this Friday, I promised him I’d look after her. Nearly every Sunday over those three years, Mrs W and I have called in on Mother Walrus (Jennifer, actually) to keep her company and carry out the list of tasks she invariably had for us. I would often grumble about this burden, this imposition on my time. In truth, it was always a lovely way to spend Sunday afternoons. You never know when the last time you will see somebody will be. It turns out that Sunday 5th September was the last time I’d see Mum alive. She died a few days later shockingly and violently in a car crash. It’s not how you expect to lose your Mum. I’m still a bit stunned by the whole thing. I have to get through the rest of my days without the love and support of the two people that made me. Inevitable, but still a kick in the ‘you know whats’.

Finally, to the point. The point is that I love keeping bees for so many reasons, but one of the unexpected ones is the people. The connections I’ve made, the stories I’ve heard, shared over a cup of tea or a Zoom call or the frames of an open hive – that’s what it’s all about.

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