When I was a child I used to obsessively read and re read a series of books by Helen Cresswell about a bonkers family called The Bagthorpes. My favourite of these books was called Bagthorpes Unlimited, in which the story opens with the family setting fire to the dining room via the power of their grandmother’s birthday cake. They then get burgled, and things go from bad to worse. It is most excellent. I think I liked it so much because it reminded me in parts of my own family life.
The characters in the book were excellent. Grandma Bag, the trouble making matriarch was a delight, as was her daughter Celia who was supernaturally beautiful and was not allowed to be oppressed by anyone, being adored as a goddess by her husband Russell who protected her fiercely from anything and everything. They had an insane, pyromaniac daughter called Daisy who I admired and secretly wanted to be. In this book Daisy has taken to graffiti as well as arson, and proceeds to write all over the walls of the Bagthorpe house, ‘All the bees is dead’. This gnomic expression is never explained as Celia does not approve of her daughter being questioned, chastised, or indeed sent to Borstal. The sentence has stayed with me all my life as one of particular excellence.
Hence me using it now, because I can.
Tilly, you see, is going to be fifteen in a few short weeks. (Shush now).
She would dearly love some alpacas, or a herd of pygmy goats. Neither of these things are going to appear, wrapped up next to her birthday cake on the day in question, due to me not being quite that insane. Had she asked for a basket of kittens I may have had to wrestle long and hard with the idea, but goats and alpacas, to my mind, have evil eyes and eviller natures, and once you have tried and failed to milk a goat with mayhem on their mind as I have, you find you are immune to their goaty charms.
Instead we came up with a brilliant idea when visiting our local garden centre recently. They have bee hives for sale, half sized ones, which cost £99. You buy the hive, take it home, fill in the form that comes with the hive, and a few days later a man rocks up with a box of bees for you. What’s not to like?
Tilly has always been especially keen on bees. Several houses ago she waged war with our local town council, trying to persuade them to put bee hives on all the grass verges in the town. She was most annoyed when they wouldn’t succumb to her arguments and has been quite touchy on the subject ever since. We thought the bee hive would be perfect for her.
Then, this weekend, my friend Claire, who also thought the idea was excellent, persuaded her husband to take her to their garden centre to buy a hive just like the one I was looking at. Then she told me the terrible news. Apparently the bees only live for three months, and then they all die off, and if you want more bees next year you have to buy them for £75.
It is not so much the buying them again next year, as the bee death issue. As Claire pointed out, Tilly is a sensitive soul. She is always trying to be the saviour of the animal world and will adopt anything lame, halt or blind and then be inconsolable when it inevitably shuffles off its mortal coil. If we get several hundred bees and they all peg it, what then?
I still have nightmares thinking about the time they found a dying squirrel on the back lawn, and they cried for four hours. Tallulah kept saying: ‘What will it do for eyes in heaven mama? What will it do?’ and Tilly kept saying: ‘It is like Scooby Doo, Tallulah, it is.’ Which didn’t help, and Oscar just roared and roared like a walrus with toothache, and it was terrible. And there was no earth to bury the bloody thing in, and then we found some, but had to scratch it out like Medieval peasants hoeing turnips, and then we couldn’t get it deep enough, and the children had a huge fight over the one and only spade, which then broke, and I had to use a serving spoon. Then Jason had to go out at night when the children were asleep and dispose of the squirrel properly so we didn’t find mangled squirrel remains on the lawn in the morning. Even so, when they got up and found the grave empty we had a bit of a Jesus resurrection moment and the children were convinced the squirrel was going to come back and haunt them. ‘It is like Scooby Doo, Tallulah. It is.’
Or that time they found the dead mouse in granny’s garden and decided to bury it with full pomp and circumstance and there was a grave stone, and music and we all had to go to a full funeral mass and it took days and days, and every time we laughed we got told off.
So I am disconsolate about the bee situation and do not know what to do for the best.
Granny suggested that we see if some mad bee farmer of old Leicester town might have a spare hive he needs to farm out to inept but enthusiastic bee botherers like us. Apparently this happens when bee farmers have too many bees and not enough grazing land or something.
Would they really give them to people like us? People who are rank amateurs at the bee thing?
I do not know. Borrowing bees worries me on many counts:
What if Derek licks them all to death? This is not an idle thought. One of Derek’s hobbies is catching lazy bees and giving them a good licking until they’re all spitty and bedraggled.
What if the children try to make themselves an enormous bee beard like those people on Youtube and get stung to death?(I mean this is a worry with my own bees too, but at least I will be able to only blame myself and not the bee farmer who abetted my children in making a furious bee hair piece – you see?)
What if we are just utterly crap bee farmers, which, given our track record at virtually everything else, is a distinct possibility? We might end up giving them all apian flu or something.
What if Tilly keeps trying to bring them into the house and make them a comfy home, like the time they put all their pocket money together in an attempt to persuade us to let them buy thirty chicks and open a chick hotel; ‘With nappies mama, to stop them being messy.’
What if we kill them all and have to confess to the bee farmer?
I suppose, that much like goldfish, bees are much of a muchness. It’s not like he’s given them all names or anything, but still, rushing out to buy an entire hive of bees is not going to be as easy as nipping off to Pets at Home for a goldfish is it?