Oh, the power of Google (other search engines are available, and some of them don’t track your every move and send adverts to you). I just used it to find out what the French word is for “walrus” and apparently it is “morse”. I like it! Je suis un morse.
I am staying in beekeeper Richard Noel’s gîte for a few days, in glorious Brittany, France, so I thought it pertinent to brush up on the local lingo. It has been many decades since I spent time in these Gallic lands and alas, what fragile grasp I once had on their beautiful language has long since unfurled. I fumble for words and phrases that may still lurk in dark, lonely corners of my ageing mind, but ultimately resort to using English punctuated with the occasional “merci” and “bonjour”. They are used to it here. Brits have been visiting Brittany for a very long time, and our language skills have not improved. Perhaps it is some small revenge for when they invaded our lands in 1066, made us speak French for 300 years and forced us to use cutlery. The shame of it.
Richard Noel has lived here for 16 years and chats away to the locals as if he is a local, which I suppose he now is, and his children, who have grown up here, are at ease with both English and French. But I didn’t pop across the Channel to lament my lost French phrases, oh no; it is bees I’m here for. I want to learn as much as I can about honey bees by asking commercial beekeepers all about their mistakes and successes, in the hope that I can take a few sneaky shortcuts, and share them in my forthcoming book.
Before any discussion of bees in this part of France, I must first address something genuinely vexing to me, namely, the roads. I don’t know if anybody in the UK has noticed, but our streets are becoming unbearably pockmarked with holes of all shapes and sizes. As I made my way along the M6 today, heading down to Stoke before veering East towards the East Midlands Airport, I hit a piece of road that would not look out of place in a war zone, and for the second time in 4 months suffered a punctured tyre. Why do the Gods do this to me? Of all the times to get a flat it had to be the time I was heading to the airport. Oh drat, thought I, but at least my gleaming walrus wagon is fitted with a repair kit. It turned out that the equipment supplied was incomplete, and the tyre damage was such that only a replacement would do. Stress happened. But I got to the airport on time, and here I am, in rural France, surrounded by cows and bees and owls and fields and trees, and something else; fantastic roads. We had the Roman invasion too, nearly two millennia ago, and back then they would not tolerate the stuff we have to drive on today. The proliferation of SUVs and pick up trucks now makes sense. You need an off-road vehicle to navigate UK roads safely.
I will be spending some time assisting Richard this afternoon with his bees, or perhaps, more accurately, getting in the way and asking lots of questions. Then, hopefully, I will lure him into a quiet corner and fire up the voice recorder so that he can make his valuable contribution to “Interviews with Beekeepers”. As far as I can tell there is a significant nectar flow on right now, which started suddenly as the cool weather relented and will not last long. Then follows a dearth until the Summer flow arrives in late June and into July. One of the things I am learning as I travel around talking to beekeepers is just how much understanding of the local flora and natural cycles is needed, and how it varies so much from place to place. Beekeeping is beekeeping, but getting the timing right, taking the right actions to be ready for future conditions, is what it’s really all about, and the only way to get that knowledge is to be out there with the bees day after day after day.
I must go now so that Brittany can experience the wonder of a walrus working with honeybees. Vive le morse!