SO, WHAT DID YOU DO in
your summer holidays?
I rescued 217 bees. I was going to
add “from a fate worse than death”
but actually, no: just from death.
Which seems bad enough, really;
considering all the problems the
poor things are facing these days.
I saved them in Britain. From
my mother-in-law’s pool, where
dozens ditched after their internal
GPS’s went on the fritz (“Turn
around where possible!”), and
where they faced either drowning or poaching, given that the
water temperature is now set at 30
degrees centigrade. Presumably so
the elderly swimmers (I include
myself here) can imagine that they
are doing laps in their bathtub.
I’ve rescued them from my
conservatory which, since an enormous spider took up residence in
the rafters, has turned into Shelob’s
Lair from the Lord of the Rings
(“She’s always hungry!”). Not
helped by the fact that we still have
a Hurt No Living Thing rule in
place in this house, which forbids
the hoovering up even of ravenous
Most of Shelob’s victims are
beyond saving by the time I get to
them. But I did manage to free one
which, after ten minutes of surgery
with a Q-tip and the turkey tweezers, was able to fly away home.
The spider watched, trembling
with rage, on her high wire.
I’ve been forced to hang a
beaded curtain over the garden
door. The “beads” look suspiciously like a load of old phalanges, and
rattle in a creepy “dem bones, dem
bones, dem dry bones” way every
time anyone passes through them.
But they do at least allow some
breeze in, and keep some bees out.
I’ve been doing my bit in Bermuda, too. Plucking insects from the
glassy surface of Harrington Sound
when out kayaking, sliding the
paddle under them like a spatula
under a spinning fritter. Lifting
them onto the nose of the boat; letting them dry out in the sun.
My father is an entomologist,
who did his Master’s and PhD
work on honeybees—although
he has now sadly become allergic
to their sting. Growing up in a
house littered with specimens in
pill phials, and flasks of fruit fly
bait maturing in the fridge, meant
I was never likely to be squeamish
about bugs. But I wasn’t all that
A real life bee-in-the-bonnet
episode, when I was writing a
feature on a local beekeeper for the
Gazette, did nothing to add to my
He (I can’t remember his name
so I will just call him Mr. B.
Keeper) was checking the hives.
I was standing as far away as
decently possible—hiding, in
other words—scribbling in my
notebook and watching him move
ponderously through the clouds of
smoke in his full get-up, like Neil
Armstrong on the moon. One
small step for man, one giant leap
for bee kind.
Suddenly a lone worker, heading
back to the hive, flew up under my
protective headgear and got stuck
in my hair.
I was hoping Mr. Keeper might
have some helpful advice at this
point. “Stay calm. Keep still. No
sudden movements.” That kind of
thing. Instead, I got: “Kill it! Kill it
quickly!! Before it kills you!!!”
Unfortunately for both of
us—and by us I mean me and the
bee—it stung me. Painful in my
case; fatal in hers.
It wasn’t really till I left home,
and got a garden of my own,
that my interest in bees began to
become serious. It was the humble
bumble wot did it.
I loved their happy pootering,
the way they zigzagged from blos-
som to blossom. I loved the noise
they made—a sort of contented
droning. I loved the fact that they
could achieve lift-off at all, given
that they are built along the lines
of a winged hippopotamus.
I started planting pollinator-friendly plants (selected, at the
garden centre, on the basis of
which pots were attracting the
Nemesias and salvias. Buddleias.
All the “ias”! Scabious (such a hor-
rid name for such a pretty plant).
Lavender and cranesbill.
Plenty of purple—which is lucky,
since that happens to be my favou-
rite colour, too; as well as the bees’.
At one point we had a nest,
under the roots of a rose bush. But
my constant lifting of the dead
leaves around it with a broom
handle, so I could share my excite-
ment with friends and family—
“See! There it is!” as a dazed and
grumpy queen crawled out of her
hole in the ground (“What time
do you call this?!”)—eventually
drove them away.
After that, I thought about
making a nest for them myself. Ac-
cording to the Gardener’s World
website, it’s a doddle. All you need
is an old flowerpot, a bit of slate,
some chicken wire and a length
of garden hose. Oh, and some dry
bedding material. “Ideally an old
mouse nest.” Wait. What was that
My mother, as ever, was left
to provide the voice of reason:
pointing out that as wonderful as
it would be to establish an Airbnb
for bumbles—an Airbnbee!—I
might want to think about the less
wondrous possibility of my father
going into anaphylactic shock,
should one of my guests happen to
And so I am left to admire them
when they visit; and save as many
as I can. International Bee Rescue.
That’s Life! A Letter from London | WRITTEN BY WINIFRED BLACKMORE
All Things Bright and Bee-utiful