I keep bees.
That’s probably all the back story you need for this.
I keep bees, and I have children.
I have 60,000 bees and two children. In that order.
The opposite way round would represent a failure of both contraception and toast : topping ratio planning.
People who know me wonder if I should be trusted with either, but that is how things are for now.
Which is how I found myself delivering a lecture on beekeeping to the year one kids in St Morrisey’s Church of England Primary School, Manchester.
“The kids would love it if you wore your bee suit.” Advised Mrs. R.
She hoped I’d be able to show them the beekepers’ overalls with the veil, the leather gauntlets and the boots.
I know that now.
In retrospect it seems obvious.
Nevertheless, I went to the fancy dress shop on Festive Road and hired a bee suit from the man with the fez. And, complete with wobbly antennae, a stripey body and black tights, headed out through the red door (which always leads to an adventure) coming out into the primary school classroom to alarm the children.
They’d decorated the classroom in black and yellow. There was a shelf of books. “How Bees Work”. “The Bumble Bear”. “The Bee Who Lost His Buzz”, and “Bees and Wasps”.
I can imagine the bees outrage when they saw this last one.
“Hang on! How come we get lumped in the same book as wasps? Wasps are pricks! Have you put us in the same book as those bastards just because we wear vaguely similar stripey jumpers? How superficial can you get? That’s like us writing a book called “GPs in Chorley and Alabama Death Row Inmates” because you wear roughly the same surgical scrubs!”
But I gave my talk.
And I was excellent.
I gave them a speech, showed a few pictures of my hive, got the kids up and doing a waggle dance (wiggling their bottoms towards the dinner hall) and conducted a bit of buzzing.
Off I piss, job well done.
“Some of the children have written you some questions!”
“That sounds great!” I lie.
“How many bees have you got?”
Cool! I know that one. But if I’ve learned one thing in ten years of medical education, it’s that the best way to stop people asking questions is to only answer them with different, harder questions.
“How many do you think?”
“Well that’s never going to be right. There’s way more than that in the picture I just showed you. Any guesses from any… how do you say it… better kids?”
“Close enough. Any other questions?”
“Have you ever been stung?”
That’s more like it!
But, you see, there’s two answers to this.
There’s the one I gave – “Yes, I get stung from time to time. Bees don’t like to sting people, because if a bee stings you it dies, so they try not to. They usually hope if they buzz a bit louder, that’ll warn you to stay back. But if they do sting you, it hurts for a bit but then it’s just itchy, so you don’t need to be frightened.”
Then there’s the other answer.
I took up beekeeping when I retired from rugby, hoping it would be a bit safer.
There was the time I annoyed them a bit and they turned on me.
Bees stinging release a pheromone which winds up the other bees so they sting you, which then winds up the rest of the bees in a crazy cumulative stinging bonanza! Have you done the Fibonacci sequence, kids? Because it’s like that, but with ambulances.
In A&E I was transferred to the cardiac observation bays, but I couldn’t have the adrenaline shot they normally give, because my heart rate wasn’t coming down because of the massive histamine shock, and I might have exploded. The casualty consultant kindly advised me this wasn’t an allergic reaction to bee stings. This was a perfectly normal, sensible and proportionate reaction to what I believe the technical medical term he used was “being stung by a whole shitload of bees.”
Another interesting effect of being stung loads of times is that you don’t just swell up where you’re stung. Your whole self swells up. My wife was worried when she saw my cheeks and eyelids puffing up. I was more bothered when my goolies swelled up to the point where the swelling expanded to take up the the slack of the wrinkles of my scrotum.”
I didn’t tell the kids that.
“Any other questions?”
“Why don’t boy bees go out of the hive to get nectar?”
Now, at this point I could have given an expansive answer touching on the topics of equality, gender politics and sexual stereotyping of role in the workplace.
“The boy bees are lazy.”
Which is probably fair.
“Why don’t bees sleep?”
“Do they not?” I ask, surprised. “I’ve learned something from you, today! Good beekeeping, buddy!”
Mrs. W leans in and whispers that some of the questions may be based on information that has not yet been vigorously fact checked.
Sensing weakness, they swarm in…
“How fast do their wings beat?”
“What are your bees’ names?”
“Why do bees?”
Mrs. W applies smoke to calm them down and their frenzied buzz calms into a friendly hummm.
“Can we all say thank you to Mr Brown for coming in?”
“Thank you Mis-ter Brown” they chant. Sarcastically.
And I run away down the corridor, feeling that whatever they pay primary school teachers, it’s not enough!