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.