In preparation for my latest interview with another legend of beekeeping I decided to have a hair cut. Samli’s is a gents hairdressing establishment run by an engaging 59 year old from North Africa who I have known for about 27 years. He always shakes his customers warmly by the hand, greeting each with an infectious and welcoming smile. I brought him a jar of my honey as I had promised the last time he dragged his clippers across the back of my head, and he seemed pleased. He once told me that in Morocco the way they tell that honey is pure is to pour some onto the sand; if it is pure it won’t soak in. The other hairdresser in the shop, who was furiously hacking at my son’s mop of hair declared that he loves honey and buys some wherever he travels. He is from Poland but said that he is partial to English honey, eyeing my 1lb jar of golden liquid longingly. As is usually the case with me, demand for my honey far outstrips the meagre supply. One day, maybe, I will actually harvest a bumper crop and have plenty to go around.
That evening I took my razor sharp hairstyle to the Bridgewater Hall in Manchester to be entertained by the awesomely talented Rhiannon Giddens. She has been touring the UK recently and I must say that she was phenomenal. I think she is off to Dublin next then Glasgow, and is back for the Cambridge Folk Festival in August 2018. What an incredible show! Everything about it from the diverse range of songs, the stories they told, the musicians, and Rhiannon’s remarkable voice came together to form something truly uplifting. There were even two songs which caused tears to roll down my old tusks. A walrus is not afraid to show emotions.
The next day was the big drive up to my hotel in Alyth, Perthshire. I took along my super warm “Canada coat”, last worn on a trip to Saskatoon, because the weather looked chilly. It has feathers in it and a giant Eskimo hood. I absolutely love Scotland and believe it to be one of the most beautiful countries on Earth. Shortly after crossing the border I was welcomed by rain then snow, but once that cleared up I could appreciate the stunning natural beauty of the place. At this time of the year the hills should be covered in snow, and so they are. As I approached my destination the sun was low and cast a warm glow over the land. The sky was a watercolour blue with puffy grey clouds along the horizon and the beech hedgerows were copper red. Many of the oak trees still had their golden brown leaves, the river was deepest indigo and in the distance the great mounds of the Cairngorm mountains rose up boldly. If I could paint, this is where I’d bring my easel, but alas, I can’t. My hotel was as cosy as I expected with a large open fireplace warming the great hall.
I arranged to meet Murray McGregor for a meal in Blairgowrie so that we could get to know each other a little before the serious business of interviewing the next day. We found a quiet bistro called Cargills and on Murray’s recommendation I tried something called “Cullen skink” for my starter. I had never heard of it but from now on I shall order it wherever it is on the menu in the winter time. It is a very warming, hearty, creamy fish soup. Delicious.
This weekend was the culmination of months of chasing Mr McGregor who, like all farmers, is a very busy man. I had first made contact with him in February so it had taken nine months to get to this point. He had a valid excuse: he is the biggest commercial beekeeper in the UK with about 3,600 colonies of bees. That’s a lot of bees (probably over 120 million individual bees, depending on time of year). “How on earth do you manage that lot?” I asked. “Good staff,” he said, as he munched his way through a strange spicy rice dish called Nasi Goreng. He is justly proud of the fact that his staff are happy and stay on for many years.
Of course, you will have to read my book to hear the many pearls of wisdom gleaned from the interview. It will be worth the wait 😉