Bees had been in
the headlines in 2008/9.  We were shown evidence on TV and in
newspapers that it was apparent that the bee population globally was
declining and at the time my lost love (who at that time was not lost)
was working for a wildlife cause.  She was always talking about how she
was raising money for extraordinarily expensive cycle wracks or wind
turbines for visitors centres which I suppose I thought (in my
ignorance) was not 'cutting edge' enough in the combat the threats to
wildlife (although she did do, in my opinion, some great work for
snails and mice)*.

Anyhow, I saw this dude keeping bees in Herne as I have already explained when the penny dropped; I wanted to 'do my bit'.

I immediately spoke to everyone I knew about it.  I watched half a
dozen short films on You Tube and bought a copy of 'Beekeeping for
Dummies'.  I remember learning from various amateur American bee
keepers who were looking forward to a 'New World Order', teaching me
how to install a swarm in to a new hive, ready to survive after the

I recovered my lean-to with ply instead of congregated plastic in order
that I could walk on it.  I then installed the empty brand new hive on
top of that.  My lost love was not too impressed, I don't think.

Now I had read that one can buy a new colony of bees in a box for
around £150.00, but I did not really have that sort of money washing
around.  I  therefore contacted a variety of local authorities and
registered myself as willing to capture swarms.

Within two weeks I received a call on my mobile phone from a local
council.    A swarm had been spotted on St Dunstan's and was
congregating on the front of a Thai food wholesalers.

It was about 2 o'clock in the afternoon and I was at work for the
homeless charity.  I was due in a meeting at 3:30.  I raced to to get
home, pick up my suit and get back to the cathedral town I was based in
where the swarm had been spotted.

The pulled up to the shop and went in to have it confirmed where the swarm was.

The Asian woman behind the counter first confirmed "are you the bee
man?" and after I nodded, shouted at me that the swarm had attached
itself to the outside of the shop.   Upon closer inspection it was
clear that the swarm had targeted a yellow graphic which was stuck on
the outside of the window.

It is fair to say that beyond the bee suit and the wellies, I was not
too prepared for what I was there to deal with.  I am however a big
advocate for 'confidence' and I had watched a host of You Tube cretins
demonstrating how to catch a swarm.  I therefore decided to improvise
and went across the road to the pet store asking for a box (in the bee
suite who would refuse?), then I crossed the road to the hairdressers
and borrowed a spray mister.  

Taking a cardboard file from my briefcase and having filled the mister
with 50/50 sugar and water, I began to approach the swarm.  Cars
stopped to take images of me using their mobile phones (it was a bit
weird).  I sprayed the swarm liberally with the cocktail and totally
focussed on licking the sugary substance from their neighbours the bees
did not mind being scraped with my cardboard file into the box in great
chunks of saturated masses, dropping one moving blob after another.  It
is fair to say that I was extremely nervous and exited.

I closed the box, taped it up and went back to work.  I got to my
meeting but, filled with adrenaline, I was useless.  I told my three
bosses what I had done that afternoon and that I had a box of 30,000
bees in the trunk of my car.  They cancelled the meeting and agreed
that I could get off home in order to install my swarm into my first

On my way home, I telephoned the grandma of my lost love to see if she
had a hair curler which I could use to install the queen (I now know
that this is overkill, anyhow having seen the system on You Tube I thus
emulated their example).

Grandma gave me a couple of small pink plastic curlers which I could
use to cage the queen and blocking the ends with marsh-mellow, I could
guarantee the swarm would not fly off again.

When I got home, I parked behind my house (Note: immediately behind my
house there is a public hall).  People where starting to congregate for
a meeting as I arrived and I thought I should explain to them what I
was up to.  

By the time I had installed the queen and then was shaking the contents
of the box into my hive, there were about 20 people 'watching'.  The
whole ting turned into a public spectacle.

My bees were successfully installed.

*Although it might have been less than decisive, it was more than
incidental that I thought my commitment to bees was assisting the cause
my lost love was working for and thereby was reinforcing my love for
her.  In fact, it just meant I was busy building hives and frames in
her parent’s garage, when she wanted to go for a walk on a sunny Sunday
afternoon with the dogs and her boy.  So my effort was just distracting
me when I really only wanted to be with her.  As I have already
described, I had a residual yearning to keep bees but my wanting to
create an insect-based common interest was a prime motivator.

was May 2009.  After seeing a white suited man tending his bees in
Herne I immediately started to watch bee keeping video’s on You Tube
and bought ‘The Dummies Guide to Beekeeping’. 

I was brought up to understand that Granddad had always said, “There’s not time lost in reconnaissance”.

involved not just watching a few short films on the internet and
flicking through the plates throughout the Dummies Guide, I also signed
up with my local branch of the British Beekeeping Association.

leader of the group is called Trevor Tong and he is one of the nicest
and most enthusiastic beekeepers I have ever met.  He is a real joy to
be near when discussing the subject.  There is nothing about bees he
does not know and I have had lots of advice from his wife over the

Armed with a new pair of marigolds and
wellington boots, I went along to my first meeting of the branch at
Honey Hill.  During this sunny afternoon and for the first time, I held
a frame and spotted the queen.  I was hooked and raring to get started.

spoke to all the people there about my plan to keep bees in the centre
of town.  Most were generally enthusiastic, but suggested I practice
for a year by coming along to the club. 

Within the
week I had ripped the corrugated plastic from atop my lean-to at the
back of the house and replaced it with plywood, which I could stand
on.  I had my beekeeping stage set.

I bought a
‘National’ hive kit from the Blue Bell Apiaries in Gillingham and
having put that together in the garage of my lost loves parent’s house,
I was prepared to house and keep a colony of bees.

Doing is the best practice and I was keen to start being a practicing beekeeper as soon as I could.

Twelve years ago, I worked in a homeless hostel just South of London
Bridge, not too far from the Tate Modern.  It was during that time that
I met a guy who worked for the same charity.  Let's say his name was
Richard.  Richard was a senior manager, whilst I was a grunt, trying to
promote meaningful occupation to the residents of the hostel.  It was a
great job and I met some great people, but that’s another story.

was waiting to meet with the hostel manager.  I was working on the
computer in the office.  There was awkwardness  that often occurs when
people too many layers of management higher than another are put in
close proximity together. It’s similar to the silence that befalls the
contents of elevators.  He did not want to speak to me, not wanting to
undermine his management colleague, and I did not want to talk to him,
fearing I might say something or answer a question in such a way that
might get my manager in hot water, and ultimately make me suffer.

offered him tea but in the end, the ice had to be broken using a
neutral subject.  One finds this in every walk of life.  Strangers are
able to open up to one another by talking about neutral childhood
experiences or songs that were sung, old TV programmes like Morph, or
Bod, He-Man, Thundercats, or Blue Peter spring to mind as fine examples.

it was we spoke about good news stories related to our work and success
that I was having, together with challenges everyone faces when working
with homeless people living in difficult circumstances. 

conversation naturally moved on to discuss meaningful occupation in
general when much to my relief; Richard started talking about his own
passion for bee keeping.  I was immediately off the hook.

turned out that Richard had bees in Surrey and also kept bees on the
balcony of his flat in London.  He spoke about the different honey he
harvested.  He explained that country honey was lighter in colour and
was cultivated from mono-crops in the surrounding farm land whereas,
London honey was dark and rich more treacle-like and more ‘tropical’;
because of the diverse flowers and plants grown in the patchwork of
gardens, hanging baskets and window boxes across the city.  

spoke about how when inspecting the frames within his hives and lifting
them with the sun shining through from behind, all manner of colour
pollens might be seen ranging from yellows, oranges and reds, through
blues and purples. I remember being enthralled.

Minutes later, Richard was being shown into the Diamond Managers office and I never saw him again.

years later in May 2009, I was driving through Herne in Kent.  In the
front garden of a bungalow, a man in a white overall bee suite was
tending to a hive.  The sun was shining and I stopped the car to watch
for a minute or two.  The thoughts of Richard’s story of honey from all
those days ago flooded back.

I decided there and then that I would keep bees within the month subject of course to feedback received from those close to me.