I seem to be doing a lot of travelling at the moment. It wasn’t long ago that I was in New Zealand, which is certainly “travel”, but more recently I have been doing a great deal of driving to and from hospitals, because both parents have been in the wars lately. On Thursday I was at the funeral of my lovely cousin Helen, who sadly died too young from cancer. I hadn’t seen her for decades; my memories of her are of childhood laughter, but suddenly on Thursday I was one of six gents carrying her coffin through a chapel in front of weeping family and friends. I was honoured to be asked to do that and feel sad that my contact with wider family has been so scarce. It’s the old cliché of weddings and funerals, and there have been far too many of the latter these last few years.
Still, life goes on for us lucky ones, and there were positives to my travels. For a start, my cousin lived at Woolacombe in North Devon, which has a beautiful sandy beach that was practically deserted because tourists stay away in the Winter, mostly. The main photo above features yours truly with my good lady wife on Woolacombe beach. I managed to chat with aunties and cousins and second cousins, and it was lovely to do so. I may not see my wider family often but we get along exceptionally well. They are a good crowd.
On Friday I drove across England from the far West to the East to visit my sister in law in Essex. I left in time to miss out on a small earthquake which was felt in the South West of England and South Wales the following day. The walrus can sense these things and take evasive measures as needed. My sister in law has a very friendly dog, an English Bull Terrier, with tiny eyes sat in a long comical face and little pointed ears on top. She eats a lot and drops quite lethal farts wherever she goes (the dog, not my sister in law). At some point during conversation we discussed my dogs recent hobby of dragging his arse along the ground and decided that he must have blocked anal glands. I didn’t know that anuses had glands, and I try to stay as far away from that end of the dog as possible. Apparently a visit to the vet is needed. Some poor soul will have to sort out whatever is going on back there at the stern end of my beagle, and I pity them. All those years of study at veterinary college to end up squeezing the anus of a beagle – it just doesn’t seem right.
Vets have to deal with some pretty unsavoury tasks involving bodily fluids of animals, and much else besides, so I don’t consider that to be a desirable job. However, consider the humble bee inspector. They have to look after the welfare of our honey bees, and they seem to be doing a great job at that. Presumably it must be very sad having to destroy diseased colonies but in the main I reckon tending to bees must be infinitely preferable to being a vet. Ultimately I suppose it boils down to where would you rather stick your hand, a dog’s arse or a bee hive?
My son Alex is not one of life’s bee lovers. He is frankly terrified of anything that flies and stings. When I was in Ashburton, on the Canterbury Plains of New Zealand’s South Island, I got the chance to help queen breeder Rae Butler go through a couple of her colonies. I had a veil but was in shorts and a tee shirt, and Rae didn’t even bother with a veil. We were happily examining her hives in clouds of bees, and did not notice the drama that was unfolding 50 metres away near her house, which Alex recounted to me later. A stray bee had landed on his shirt. These were very friendly bees and I’m sure this one was just saying “hello”, but his adrenaline kicked in and he swiftly ripped off his shirt, threw it to the ground and stamped all over it, shouting “die, die!” and putting and end to the unfortunate insect. He is not one for showing off his torso – I don’t think until this point it had ever seen sunlight – so he sheepishly looked over at us to see if we had spotted his murder of a bee and display of lilly white flesh, but we had not. Strangely, the next time I visited a beekeeper Alex stayed back at the hotel, I can’t think why.
I noticed plenty of willow and gorse in flower down in Devon and have begun to see signs of Spring up here in Manchester. It has been interesting following Murray McGregor’s tweets about his trip to Piedmont in North West Italy. He takes some breeder queens down there, where the season is more advanced than back home in Scotland, and they are used to generate early season queens. He was describing how some of the daughters of his queens from last year were already strong colonies with full supers, which is certainly way ahead of where my bees are at present.
Next week I’m back in the car again for a trip down to Exmoor to visit Peter Little. I’m really looking forward to meeting him and his family, and hope to extract more pearls of wisdom for my book. I believe he uses Brother Adam’s old isolated mating station up at Sherberton on Dartmoor, and he also has another on Exmoor. Not only that, but as well as selling queens he is a commercial honey farmer and has a saw mill which he uses to cut Western Red Cedar wood to produce beautiful bee hives for sale to the public. It should be fun.
Until then, adios, and apologies to anyone of a genteel nature for the dog anus story.