Monday, 30 May 2011

All Bee Quiet

Queen Olga (part one swarm), in the top bar hive, is laying beautiful swathes of eggs. Her worker ladies are making beautiful swathes of free-form comb. They are still ignoring the foundation we put in for them, so we took it out. Well, I suppose it's the difference between building your own house to your own likings and specification and being shoved into a housing estate house that looks like a million other housing estate houses.

Queen Philibert, artificial swarm hive, is laying great swathes of eggs. Her workers are making great swathes of stores and drawing out frames of wax and between them have nearly filled the brood box so will likely be ready for a super in the next two weeks.

Queen April 21st (part two swarm) has started laying. Two sides of gloriously smooth brood. Her court is still small but it's like having a nucleus, so we hold out much hope for her building up well for her first Winter. Also, she is a rather magnificent looking Queen, today being the first time we've actually spotted her - she's redder than the other Queens, and has a very long and pointy body. She is, what you might call, very OBVIOUS. We may have to rename her Mae West.

We took the original hive to the out-apiary today. This is the hive we thought had two Queens, then no Queens. This is the hive that was being very noisy and very angry, which made us think both Queens had done a bunk. We were just getting to the point of 'do we buy in a new Queen or do we re-unite it with Queen April's gang?'when the noisiness abated, and an air of calmness settled.

With some trepidation we set the hive in its new home and opened it. The bees were calm. The hive was full. The super that we'd emptied honey from was being refilled. The second super will likely be filled by the end of this season. So more honey spinning in the offing.

And there, look, in the middle of the hive - patches of brood! And larvae!!

So, although we didn't see a Queen, because looking for an unmarked Queen in a full hive is like, well, looking for an unmarked Queen in a full hive, she must have been there in the last few days, unless some itinerant larvae minstrels happened to wander past and booked themselves in for a few days for a festival or something. And the Queen shall be known as Queen Enigma the Elusive of Conundrum. Until we see her, then we'll call her Eureka!

Back in January, when it looked like our bees were going to make it safely through their first Winter, we said 'Maybe this year we'll try an artificial swarm so we'll have two hives.'

My, how we laugh about that now!!

And then, after performing the artificial swarm and being caught out by a natural swarm, and the uncertainty of Queen or no Queen in the original hive, we thought, well, if the original hive doesn't make it at least we'll have a spare hive for next year and won't have to race around like idiots because we haven't got enough equipment.

We laugh about that one, too!!

As it is, all hives are getting in with the job in hand.

Fingers crossed!

Friday, 27 May 2011

Personal Statement

The worst bit about applying for jobs is having to write a 'personal statement'. About your person. And why you are a suitable applicant for the job on offer.

It's simple for, say, chickens.

'I am a chicken. I lay eggs, I eat bugs, I run up and down the garden in an amusing way.'

Therefore, prospective chicken employers will see that a) the chicken will earn her keep b) she will get rid of slugs (especially appealing if, like me, you are a slug-phobic) and c) cause high entertainment whilst carrying out boring tasks like washing up and staring idly from the kitchen window.

And bees...

'I am a bee. I get up early and work all day and go to bed late and make honey which is the best thing on fresh bread toast and butter.'

Even cats...

'I am a cat. I sleep mostly. I am affectionate. I can do entertaining yoga poses whilst cleaning my nethers.'

But what about me, about to fling herself back into full-time teaching? Oh, it was a tricky but inevitable decision based on the simple fact I need a job for September. The tutoring has been FAB, but the end is in sight. My current school is being vague about the potential of jobs for me there, and vague doesn't pay the bills. I need to find something solid.
'Like a rock?' says Mrs Slocombe.
'If you like,' says I.
And the only posts available at the moment are either full-time or maternity cover (there seem to be a lot of English and Drama teachers going off on maternity leave in the next couple of months - must be something in the local water).

So, here I am, filling in one form after another. And, of course, you can't do the same personal statement for each application, because you have to 'tailor' them to fit the post's particular criteria. They also have to be riddled with jargon and edu-speak, the kind that reflects an understanding of the latest pedagogic theories. (Although a good friend of mine, a wise and experienced teacher of thirty-plus years, says the hub of education is all about re-inventing the wheel. She's seen the same 'innovative' ideas being recycled under different names time and time again - it's very comforting to know that nothing really changes it just wears different flared trousers!)

Personal statements can go on forever. They can be miniature works of literary art. Sometimes, when you've written one, you read it back to yourself and can't understand a word you've said. Sometimes I am very impressed with myself - I think, I'd employ me. Other times I sound like a desperate mad woman who collects

Luckily, I have been offered references by five different colleagues, so hopefully they will say a lot about me that I can't, because I'm not very good at blowing my own trumpet. In fact, I don't even have a trumpet. A flute and a keyboard, but pas de trumpet.

In the meantime, I wish the statement could be as simple as the new sofa we bought yesterday to be employed in our newly decorated living room - 'Sofa, medium. Squishy. Aubergine. Fuzzy fabric. Lush. Fifteen percent off.'

In fact, that's a brilliant idea! Personal statements should be restricted to ten words.

Hmmm...'Creative, good-humoured, organised, reliable teacher wants a job. Please.'

That should do it!

Tuesday, 24 May 2011


It has suddenly occurred to me that as many people from beyond the land of England read this blog, some of you may be bemused by the posting about Mrs Pumphrey's latest hat acquisition.

If I say 'Royal Wedding' and 'Princess Beatrice' and maybe 'antlers' and 'wild circles' and 'slapped on the front of her forehead like a martian' and 'google it' and 'e-bay' and 'whoever told her that was a good idea?' then that might be clue enough.

If it isn't, then hurrah for you having saved your eyes from the horror of the hat, and my advice is best to keep it that way!

'How rude!' says Mrs Pumphrey. 'It's a lovely hat!'

'You have been picking up Radio 5 Live on it all afternoon,' I say.

'An added bonus,' sniffs Mrs Pumphrey.

And there shall end the saga of the hat.

Mrs Pumphrey's New Hat

Mrs Pumphrey, as you know, is a connoisseur of all things millinery. She has a collection of hats - short ones, tall ones, some as big as your head - that would put Imelda Marcos to shame. If Imelda Marcos collected hats, not shoes. You get the analogy.
I've asked Mrs Pumphrey where her passion for hats came from. She says she reckons it's genetic, that she inherited it from her great-great- grandmother, Mrs Gloria Swanson Albertina Teacake Henpike, who was a lady-who-lunched back in the1880's and made all her gentlemen beaus buy her a hat before buying her lunch, because everyone knows that back then 'a lady hen was never observed in public with her comb swaying in the breeze.' (Mrs Pumphrey laughs whenever she tells me this, because apparently it's a little known quotation of Oscar Wilde's and was deemed quite risque in its day; personally, I can't see the joke, but then I'm getting quite prudish in my middle-age.)
Anyway, such is Mrs Pumphrey's hat collection that a special room has been built at Cluckinghen Palace to accommodate them. It's called 'The Hattery' and it's quite mad. Only les- chapeaus- du-saison are on display at any onw time. The rest are stored in cupboards, and every 1st of January, April, July and October there is a great hat kerfuffle as the old seasonal display is packed away in fresh tissue paper, and the new seasonal display is brought out of storage, dusted, hoovered and set upon the display stands.
Now, for the last week, Mrs Pumphrey has been watching her i-pad like a hawk, which is like a chicken only with a better head for heights. Every time I wander past to have a look at what she's doing (I like to think I keep a close eye on what the hens are up to on the interwebbly, just in case they are being groomed for a roast dinner or chicken chasseur) she covers the screen with her wing and gives me the evil hen eye.
'What are you doing?' I said.
'Watching my items on Eggbay,' said she.
'Any particular items?' I said.
'Not that it's any of your business,' said she, 'but a rather fine hat.'
So, two days ago, a massive shriek went up, and there was a great galloping around in excitement which I took to be a sign that either a) she'd won her hat on Eggbay or b) she'd been stung up her end by a wasp.
And yesterday, hat a arrived.
It was a beige hat. A tall, beige hat. Looked like a pretzel on its side. It looked rather familar.
'Have I seen this hat somewhere before?' I said.
'You may have,' said Mrs Pumphrey. 'It has been on telly recently. On a rather famous head.
Oh-oh, I thought.
'Can I ask how much you paid for this monstrosity...I mean, hat?' I said.
'No,' said Mrs Pumphrey. 'Besides, the money doesn't matter.'
'Doesn't it?' I said, thinking about me trying to find new job for September.
'No,' said Mrs Pumphrey. 'It's the art what counts.'
Well, it was the best laugh I'd had all day.
And now, this 'hat' is on display in The Hattery, which is, as I said earlier, quite mad. And frankly, the best place for it.

Monday, 23 May 2011

Formation Flying

It's been very windy here today - of the weather variety, I hasten to add; nothing to do with beans and cabbage - and on my return home, I potter into the back garden to check for wind damage.

The net shade for the greenhouse had come adrift for starters, and a couple of the taller herbs were looking a bit wind-blown. But other than that, all was well.

'My feathers are all asunder,' says Mrs Pumphrey, who is a big chicken and therefore makes a big and highly effective wind-break.
'True,' I say. 'But nothing a set of feather straighteners can't put right.'
'Humph,' says Mrs Pumphrey. 'That's all well and good except Mrs Slocombe has my feather straighteners, and I can't think they are going to be fit for purpose once she's finished with them.'
'I dread to ask, ' I say, 'but what exactly is Mrs Slocombe doing with your feather straighteners?'
'She's ironing her home-made tagiatelle,' says Mrs Pumphrey. 'She put the crimping attachment on the pasta machine...'
'And you... and her strands have come out wonky...'
'Right,' I say, because of course I understand fully what's occurring in a chicken's brain, especially the one that belongs to Mrs Slocombe.

Anyway, I meander up the back of the garden to observe the goings on in the top bar hive.It's been very busy in the top bar - I think Queen Olga must be running a very tight ship in there - and activity has been on the rapid increase since the swarm.

But what is this? I say to myself. Not an incoming bee to be seen. Oh no! Well, you can imagine what I thought, and it was with swear words, too.

And just as I was well into having a good huff 'n' puff about bloomin' bees, there approaches from the right hand side of the garden a bunch of bees, altogether in a..well...bunch... and they enter the top bar with their enormous trousers. And then there is nothing...and then there is another bunch of bees...and then there is nothing... and then there is a bunch of...

'Yes, yes, get on with it!' snaps Mrs Pumphrey.

It seems, and I could be wrong about this, but it definitely seems that because of the gusty wind, the bees are coming in to land in little groups, rather than their usual individual fashion. Like geese flocking together on flights, to cut down on wind drag - safety in number and all that.

Can that happen? Do bees work like that? I imagine it's quite difficult being a little, light and not very aerodynamic insect buffeted by the wind and trying to aim for a small hive entrance. P'raps the collective approach helps with aim and approach and aero-dynamics? (Is it aero-dynamics? I'm not a very scientific person, as you know.)

But if that is what they are doing - formation wind flying - then bees are more clever than I originally thought.

And you already know how clever I think bees are.

'Yes,' says Mrs Pumphrey. 'You do bang on about it somewhat.'

'Oh shush,' I say. 'Go and straighten your feathers.'

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Wind's Up

We had a heavy rainfall this morning, thank heavens, because it's the first proper rain we've seen in weeks and the allotment was beginning to suffer. All was well if we managed to get there every day to do watering, but we both work fullish time and it's not always possible, though we do try hard. And it's been times like this that a) we wish we had a big old garden that we didn't have to make the effort to travel to and b) we're glad we haven't got more than an allotment and a little garden to deal with because it would be a nightmare trying to keep anything bigger well-tended and watered. But we've had our first pound of strawberries, some rocket, some beetroot and the rhubarb is still going strong, so I guess the constant sunshine has its compensations.

Anyhow, the wind is up, too, and has bought with it, a la Mary Poppins, some job possibilities. It's typical, isn't it? You fret for ages about being out of work, then three or four opportunities come along at once, leaving you making lists of pros and cons for each one and listening to the opinions of others and hoping that perhaps your premium bonds will come good next month (but why break the habit of the last 13 years??) and save you the angst of having to make a decision. Actually, I have promised the Universe that if I ever win a substantial sum of money, I shall give half of it to charity. I've written a list of 5 of my favourites, and the sum I need to win in order to implement the universal bargain, which means I probably won't be able to give up work completely, but might at least be allowed to indulge in different work that doesn't have the Devil of the Mortgage as a considering driving force.

Today has been spent clearing the living room of furniture ready for the decorator who starts tomorrow. The cats are wandering around in a state of echoey confusion, wondering where to sit for their evening's TV viewing. So I've scattered some cushions on the floor for them, which they are begrudgingly plomping themselves upon. I hate to tell them, but this could be the status quo for a couple of weeks yet, because we also ordered a new carpet this morning and I don't feel inclined to hoik sofas from the living room only to hoik them back when the decorator has finished (hopefully Wednesday), then hoik them back out again for the carpet fitter whenever he deigns fit to arrive in the next ten days or so-ish.

Actually, it's quite nice sitting here on the rug, furnitureless save for a TV and a laptop. Minimalist, I think it's called. Perhaps bean-bags are the order of the day.

Friday, 20 May 2011

In the Pink

'Don't go for pink. You said you weren't going for pink because it would be a bad, oppressive colour to choose. You said it. I know you did. I have written proof. I know you've just spent the best part of an hour walking the aisles of B & Q holding a piece of wallpaper against the paint samples that were so high in the air that you got back ache and neck ache and arm ache, and that it would have been quicker just to grab a tin of white and have done with it, but I just want to remind you that you went in looking for a subtle shade of green, not pink...GREEN!'

'Okay, in my defence, I didn't go all out on a rash branch moment and buy pink immediately; I did bring home three samples to test first, didn't I, and one of those was a subtle shade of green, Mellow Sage, which turned out not to be so subtle or mellow after all, more like 'Mouldy Moss.' And the second one was 'Antique Cream' which looked white and the third one, I'd like to point out, is NOT pink, it's 'La Petite Maison - Lavender.' Not pink.'

'But when you look at it, now the sample's on the wall, be honest, does it look like lavender? You know, like the lavender in the front garden? Sort of...lavendery?'

'It looks...well...yes, sort of lavendery...'

'In a 'pinkish' sort of way?'

'Well, possibly. In a certain light...'

'In the light of, say, the sun coming through the living room window when the curtains are open?'

'Look, it says 'Lavender' on the tin and it goes with the wallpaper a treat, so 'Lavender' it is and Andy is buying two tins of it during his lunch-break so it's too late now so shut up, Sub-conscious Mind. I'm allowed to change my mind, aren't I?'

'No. You said green and you got pink...'


'Lavender schmavender. You'll regret it when you're sitting in the living room feeling like you've been swallowed up by a massive ball of candy floss.'

'Shut up. It's not THAT pink. It's'


'I'm not listening to you. Tra-la-la-la-la!'

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Too Green or to Green

The decorators are descending on the living room sooner rather than later, which means I have to make some pretty frantic decisons vis a vis paint 'n' carpet 'n' rug 'n' curtains. Oh yes, I'm going down the whole 'put-together-in-an-aesthetically-pleasing' route in order to counteract the 'flung-together-mismatched-ensemble' that seems to have taken over the living room in the last six years or so.

I don't quite know how it happened. I suspect it's something to do with my love-hate relationship with curtains. I tend to buy curtains at either end of the budget range i.e either very cheapy ones which fall apart quickly or very expensive ones which weigh a tonne and don't. So when the cheapy ones fall apart I root around in the attic amongst the expensive curtains I've amassed over the last twenty years or so and can't bear to part with because I can still see the pound signs dangling over them, and end up putting up a pair that don't quite go with the rest of the room.

Currently, therefore, the living room has a biscuit coloured carpet, a buff coloured sofa, blue throws, blue and cream cushions, beige walls, a multi-shaded rug of red and burgundy curtains. It all hangs together in a vague way, but it's starting to feel irritating to those of us who notice these things.

'That'll be you. then,' says Andy, because he's not bothered about the finer points of interior design but then he is a fan of Doctor Who. (Have you see the Tardis lately????)

And anyway, NONE of the above goes with my lovely new cerise 'n' lilac wisteria wallpaper from Laura Ashley, so basically it all has to be changed. By Monday. Well, the paint at least.

Now, I realise slapping either cerise or lilac on the walls to match the flowers on the wallpaper would be a BAD and OPPRESSIVE error of decorating judgement, so instead I am looking to the delicate hints of leaf that are etched behind the flowers, and toying with the notion of green. Also, my friend Sarah suggested this would be a good idea so if it all goes wrong at least I can blame her!

Off I trotted during my lunch break, then, to B & Q to pick up a selection of paint charts. And back home, with a cup of tea and the paint charts and wallpaper spread upon the floor I set about narrowing down the choice of shades of green. There are many. Some are obviously too vomit-inducing to be considered and I would imagine are more the sartorial choice of 8 year old boys who think bogeys are hilarious. Some are too dark - it would be like living inside a cave. Some are too light - a hint of green? Where, exactly?

And annoyingly not one of the greens is a dead match for the green on the wallpaper. One is very, very close - it's called 'Mellow Sage' - but I think I'll need to get a sample pot just in case.

I also went into the carpet shop across from B & Q but that all got too much so I beat a hasty retreat and bought a bag of cheese and onion crisps from the snack booth instead.

So, green or not green? Maybe cream instead. But have you seen how many shades of cream there are?? The signs are all pointing towards a very stressy weekend, and I'm glad there's only one more week until half-term because I may just need some 'sit-in-a-dark-room-and-stare' time. The list of 'Just Do It' jobs is growing longer again. I've got to start job-hunting for September, I've got a short story to finish for one writing competition and a novel to finish for another. And don't even mention the allotment, the gardens and the bees...

P'raps black? sounds nice and comforting. Like oblivion.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011


In teaching, there is this thing called P.E.E. It's used by students to help them write in a coherent and logical fashion, and it stands for Point, Evidence and Explanation. Ergo, if you make a point in your writing, you have to then provide the Evidence with which to back it, then Explain how one relates to the other etc etc blah, blah, blah.

When you first introduce the concept of P.E.E to students, they all laugh like drains and say things like, 'I'm going to put some P.E.E in my writing,' and 'Are we P.E.Eing today, Ma'am?' but believe me, as a teacher, the hilarity wears off after, oh, the first half-term or so, and ten years down the line you find yourself wishing some educational consultant would come up with a new acronym meaning more or less the same thing, I mean, aren't they paid huge sums of money to do this??

Anyway, there has been a lot of P.E.Eing of late because this week has been GCSE English Language for the Year 11 and they are in a state of frenzied panic because Point- they have suddenly realised they might not have done quite enough serious work over the last two years to achieve that precious 'C' grade minimum because Evidence - they have been appearing at my office door in droves at breaks, lunches and tutor times asking if I can 'just go over a couple of the exam poems with them' and my Explanation being- perhaps if they'd spent less time hitting each other over the heads with dictionaries and texting each other beneath the desks, they would be in a better position to write about the exam poetry without nose-diving into a blind panic an hour before the exam is due to begin.

But you can't tell them that. Not without a hint of irony and a smile that suggests you might be joking and no, of course you didn't mean to imply they've been lazy little b***ers and will get the grade they deserve, ahahahahahahahahaaa!

Anyway, I've been trying to get the idea of P.E.E home to my Year 9 tutees who should've grasped it in Year 7 but hey, Year 9 can't remember what they did last lesson let alone two years ago. And today, one of the best pieces of Evidence I was given to back up the point that primary colours are used in children's picture books was because 'small children don't understand colours like purple.'

'Don't understand colours like purple??' said I. 'What sort of evidence is THAT?? I demand further proof, scientific if necessary.'

The lad in question had the good grace to laugh and say his evidence was of the variety that flits quickly in and out of the brain and comes from no proven source, and that it seemed like a good thing to say at the time. I think he grasps the term 'evidence' more clearly now.

But sadly, listening to the exam post-mortems of the Year 11s, I don't think they have. It'll be the same next year as it was this. Year 12s appearing for tutoring because they've got to retake their GCSE, all bleating the same tune - 'I wish I'd worked harder in Years 10 and 11.' It's an age old story that I suspect applies to more of us than would care to own up.

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

The Good Old Days

This morning, whilst preparing Andy's lunch, I sustained a cucumber related injury. Actually, it wasn't an injury from the cucumber per se; it was from the knife that I was using to prise the skin tight plastic wrapping from the cucumber.

Back in the old days, you could go into a shop and by a naked cucumber. I know this because in my youth I had a weekend job in my grandparent's farm shop, and the cucumbers would arrive from the wholesaler in a cardboard box, sans plastic but avec a delicate wrapping of dark blue tissue paper on top.

Why cucumbers have to be shrinked-wrapped in plastic these days I know not. Same reason that manufacturers of ketchup, salad cream, barbecue sauce and toothpaste feel they have to cover the tiny hole twixt bottle top and bottle cap with a sliver of foil, so when you open a new bottle/ tube you stand there squeezing like an idiot and wondering why your ketchup, salad cream, barbecue sauce, toothpaste is resolutely refusing to appear on your egg, chips, wedges, toothbrush.

It's Health and Safety gone MAD! Ironic, too, as I cut myself opening a cucumber this morning.

The only wrapping improvement since the 70s I can think of is the replacement of foil yogurt pot lids with plastic film lids. My Dad used to tell me off about licking the foil lids.
'You'll cut your tongue,' he said.

Well, yes, I did on the odd occasion, but it didn't stop me because we never take notice of our parents, do we, and besides, he always licked his knife after spreading jam on his toast and I was too young then to understand the theory of 'Do as I say, not as I do' that parents employ.

Anyway, after a morning of housework and running errands, I'm off for a spot of civilised lunch with my friend Jean. And then I need to go paint and carpet shopping because a man has been out to give me a quote for redecorating the living room, which I have accepted, and he can start next week which took me a bit by surprise on the 'am I ready?' front.

But don't tell Andy, cos he doesn't know yet.

Happy Full Moon! Mind the cucumbers!

Monday, 16 May 2011

Location, location

You may have noticed the rather magnificent section of house that now adorns the header of this blog. Alas, it is not Much Malarkey Manor, but oh, if only it was! It is, in fact, the cottage that Andy and I stayed in when we went on holiday a couple of weeks ago. The holiday was an early birthday present for Andy, and I booked the cottage, all surreptitious like, and I kept it secret until the day before we went, and then I said, "Surprise!! We're going on holiday tomorrow!" and Andy was duly surprised and off we went.

The cottage was even more of a surprise. Never have I gone to stay somewhere that felt like we were stepping through the door of our home when we arrived. It was fab! A little porch with cat flap and storage cupboards for wellies and pet food led to a large kitchen with stone floor, an Aga, a breakfast bar and an original bread oven that lit up at night (don't ask why- but I spent a lot of time flicking the switch on and off and going 'Ahhhh!'). A raised dining room full of beams and oak staircase. A living room with inglenook fireplace, French doors leading out to the lake across the driveway, and views all around. Upstairs, three large double bedrooms, each window with a view, a little shower room and a big bathroom with the most ENORMOUS sod-off shower I've ever encountered.

Outside, a shed housing an old forge, a large garden with hen house, herb beds and trees and a large gas barbecue, all surrounded by estate farmland.

Honestly, we contemplated claiming squatters' rights and refusing to move out when our allotted holiday time was over.

Never mind that when we had a barbecue on the second night my ankles and calves got bitten to pieces by mosquitoes from the lake and two weeks later I'm still itching. Never mind that it took half an hour to make toast on the AGA (thank goodness for the toaster) and an hour to bring a pan of water to barely luke warm when wishing to boil some new potatoes (thank goodness for the convenience of an additional gas/ electric cooker of the modern and rapid persuasion).

Never mind that the dawn chorus included the raucous bellowing of many frisky pheasants from the estate. And that when I looked upwards when taking a shower in the ENORMOUS sod-off shower I nearly drowned, such was the power of the water pressure.

Never mind all that!

The cottage was in Herefordshire. Herefordshire is like Kent was in the 1950's. Huge orchards, hop gardens, long, clear, quiet roads and not a spot of rubbish or graffiti to be seen. Darling Buds of May come to life.

We think we'd like to live there. One day.

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Of the Week Again

Bee Hive of the Week - Queen Olga and and Top Bar Girls - summarily ignoring the triangular foundation Andy attached to a couple of bars to get them started, and free-forming their own instead.

Queen of the Week - Queen Philibert - 4 sides of capped brood in a week - go girl!!

Herb of the Week - Basil - suddenly gone mental for it and just begging for a pesto extravaganza

Pleasant Surprise of the Week - honey extraction being not quite as sticky as anticipated

Misconception of the Week - Year 9 boy thinking he'd no longer be a teenager once he'd past 16 - "Where do you think the word 'teen' comes from?" says I. Blank stare. "Six -teen, seven-teen, eight-teen, nine-teen???" I suggest.

Psychic Message of the Week - 'Move on.'

Crop of the Week - rhubarb, followed closely by rocket, beetroot and strawberry

New Wrinkle of the Week - that one, there, on the underside of my chinny-chin-chin

Cake of the Week - Andy's 40th birthday chocolate fudge cake. Or was it the chocolate chip 'n' banana cake? Or the jammy flapjacks? Hmmm...may have to think about that one - maybe have another little taste test...

Chatty Cat of the Week - Pandora Kitten who has taken to sitting outside the bathroom when I'm abluting and shouting at me in her high pitched and very loud squealy kitten voice

Cat Entertainment of the Week - Mr Light. Mr Light is the little spot of sunbeam that appears in April/ May and October November when the sun is at the right level in the morning to shine through the kitchen window and bounce off cutlery/ watch faces/ other appropriate shiny surfaces and cause a spot of light to appear on the kitchen floor which is just right for chasing, and never gets caught. Mr Light is also safer than chasing a laser.

Saturday, 14 May 2011


A birthday boy celebrating his 40th birthday on a barge on a river eating very lovely, posh food.

Uncapping the first of seven heavy frames of honey ready to go into the honey extractor.

The first ever jars of Much Malarkey Manor honey courtesy of Queen Philibert and her hard-working team.


Thursday, 12 May 2011

What To Wear

In the paper today is a list of items of clothing and the age at which us ladies are supposed to stop wearing them, presumably because of some mutton-dressed-as-lamb theory. It's a bit of a mixed bag, and I have to say (as you can imagine) I must take issue with them. So, in no particular dressing order, here is the list and my thoughts...

1) Bikini - aged 47 - blimey! Only eighteen months left to develop a bikini wearing habit! Should I go thong or boy briefs?? (I am, of course, employing the lowest form of wit here - I've NEVER donned a bikini in my life, and don't intend to start now.)

2)Miniskirt - aged 35 - well, how mini is mini, that's what I want to know. I mean, I've got a couple of two-inches-above-the-knee numbers, which, given the state of my chubby knees might be an inch or two too far already, but then you can get miniskirts that are little more than a wide belt. Is that what they mean?

3) Boob tube - aged 33 - Way too old for ANYONE by about 20 years, I reckon. Boob tubes should only be worn by ladies with no boobs. I've always considered them to be an ironic item of clothing.

4) Stilettos - aged 51 - I occasionally don high heels, for special occasions, but I find they make the fronts of my shins ache now, so I'll stick to my prefered style of footwear which is 'bare'.

5) Belly button piercing - aged 35 - if you can find my belly button, you are more than welcome to pierce it. Luckily, I am ten years too old and 45 years too sensible to go down this route

6) Knee-high boots - aged 47 - and what, pray tell, am I supposed to wear down the allotment?? Or are there other kinds of knee high boots beyond wellies?

7) Trainers - aged 44 - Me? Wear trainers? HA!

8) Leather trousers - aged 34 - I confess that during my passionate adoration of Adam Ant in his hey day, I owned a pair of black leather trousers. They were very comfy in the Winter, and it was always fun to polish one's clothing in lieu of shoving it in the washing machine. I wore them until they started falling to pieces which luckily co-incided with me getting fed up of being on the receiving end of lewd comments from men of a certain age

9) Leggings - aged 45 - leggings are only acceptable if worn with a very, very long top which reaches ones knees therefore rendering the wearing of leggings pointless. But leggings are quite handy for storing onions. Remember to tie knots in the bottom.

10)Ugg boots - aged 45 - Do I want to look like a Yeti? No, I do not. Do I want my ankles to slip irreversible into my arches? No, I do not. Ugg by name, ugg by aesthetic concept.

11) Swimsuit - aged 61 - is that when I get to go swimming in the nude?? I think the local leisure centre may have something to say about that

12) Tight vest - aged 44 - do the Damart ones count? But I guess they are right - loose vests trap more layers of air twixt skin and woolly jumper during Winter

13) Chiffon blouse - aged 40 - who under the age of 40 wears chiffon blouses? I thought chiffon blouses were the domain of those aged 85+?

There are a couple of additions to the list vis a vis long hair and pony tails, but I've never regarded hair as an item of clothing unless it's a wig.

On other notes, we have today been extracting our very first Much Malarkey Manor honey! It has been sticky and waxy and arm achy, and now we are waiting for everything to settle in the thingy tank to see how many jars we've got. Could be anywhere between 2 and 10, we don't know because we are very bad at guessing the accumulated volume of sticky, drippy stuff.

Which brings me to number 14 on the clothing list - honey. Despite your best efforts, you'll always find yourself wearing a bit of honey whilst engaging in the extracting process. And I guess that means that as long as you are young enough to keep bees, you are young enough to wear honey!

Saturday, 7 May 2011


So, on getting home from work yesterday, it was all systems go to get two of the four hives transported to their new apiary 8 miles away. Andy, who is on holiday, had been preparing all day, including branding the hives with an MMM logo, as advised by local bee keeping groups following a spate of hive thefts in Kent. For heavens' sake - who in their right mind would steal a hive full of bees?? It's stressy enough transporting them about when you have half an idea of what's going on.

Anyway, off we went with bee suits on and windows open, with the nuc box swarm and the artificial swarm brood box containing Queen Philibert. It was a smooth drive, but you couldn't help but feel slightly on edge that at some point you might peer in the rear view mirror to see a bunch of bees dangling from the back window. But all was well, aside from the rising buzz emitting from both boxes.

The land-owner who has agreed to us keeping bees on his farm, met us and suggested a quiet, out-of-the-way-yet-easily-accessible spot which is perfect - flat, sheltered and no evidence of human occupation in sight. And because he hasn't got a bee-suit, and he could hear the buzzing, he left us to get the bees settled in.

We set up an old coffee table as a dual aspect hive stand. We put Queen Philibert's hive on one end with the entrance facing one way and the nuc box on the other end facing the other way. And the theory then was that we opened the hives and let the bees fly for an hour before trasfering the nuc box bees to their brand new hive home.

Which we did. The nuc bees seemed slightly dazed having been confined to barracks for three days, but they came out and danced about to get their bearings and off they went for a wee and a poo and scout about, and we went off to Auntie Pollie's for a cup of tea.

An hour later, and bees were coming and going quite happily from both hives. So we got the new hive and transfered the nuc frames and added more frames of new foundation which the bees went a bit mental for and immediately did a massive spread out thereupon. So we think the whole bee-moval may have gone okay, unless we go back next week and find two empty hives, in which case it hasn't. But let's not count the bees before they've settled.

Back at Much Malarkey Manor, activity in the original hive containing the new Queen April 29th, and the top bar hive containing (hopefully) the swarm queen Olga, continues apace. The top bar bees now have three access points to their home. Andy said he'd had a peep inside (as advised by the Barefoot Beekeeper to do so on day three after the swarm) and he said there were a bloomin' lot of bees inside, and they seemed to be getting on with things as far as he could tell. And we are hoping that Queen April 29th has been out on successful mating flights only not today because it's been tipping it down with rain all night (hurrah for the allotment and garden).

We want to move Queen April's hive to the apiary in the next week or so, but first we have to remove the super that is full of honey. Which provides us with the next bee-keeping conundrum - how are we going to extract our first batch of honey? There's quite a lot of it. It's all capped and ready to go.

And Andy still isn't very keen on my whirling-sock-and-centrifugal-force method.

Thursday, 5 May 2011

Pas de Grass

The back garden is, as you know, devoid of grass thanks to the hens. ('You're welcome' they say.) However, lack of ground level greenery is being more than made up for by around-the-edges greenery as the trees and hops and honeysuckle and clematis put on bursts of leafy growth. And the willow arch is sprouting also which is a relief as Andy and I were both concerned we may have killed the wands with our amateur installation fumblings. Willow, it seems, is made of stern stuff!

Anyway, the lack of grass accompanied by the lack of rain means the ground has been turned into an enormous dust bath which the chickens love. And so, it seems, do the local sparrow population. Every morning I am paused in the breakfast washing up by the dust bathing antics of up to a dozen birdies. And whilst the little birds perform their dusty ablutions, the big birds i.e Misses Pumphrey and Slocombe, stride amongst them as if to say, 'Ere, what's occuring? There appears to be interlopers in our new enormous dust bath.'

'That's because we ARE saying that,' says Mrs Pumphrey.
'Only we're not saying 'ere' because we ain't common as muck like what you are,' says Mrs Slocombe, who is still wearing her deer antler fascinator from the Royal Wedding.

Sometimes the hens ignore the little birdies. Sometimes they stomp about and scare them off. It looks like The Land That Time Forgot with Pumphrey and Slocombe playing the giant velociraptors and the little birds playing the intrepid human explorers of a pre-historic land.

'I could be Rachel Welch if I wanted to,' says Mrs Pumphrey. 'I have a fur bikini you know.'
'That's slightly too much information,' I say. I'm not sure that a chicken in a fur bikini is very ethical either, but it's late in the day, I'm suffering the trauma of having received an unexpected hug from a Year 7 boy today and I'm not about to enter into an argument with what can be a quite determined and, dare I say, stubborn chicken.

All I'm saying is that behind every brown dusty back garden, there is a silver sparrow lining to bring on a smile in the morning.

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

How Much Time?

How much time does it take two bee-keepers just approaching their second bee-keeping season to recover from swarming trauma? Ask me next week sometime and I might be able to tell you.

How much time does it take two melon sized bunches of bees (one honeydew, one cantaloupe) to recover from the swarming trauma? About twelve hours.

For the top bar bees have been in and out of their top bar hive today - they have been allowed one hole out of three as an access point on the advice of The Barefoot Beekeeper -and are going about their business as if nothing has happened, the swines.

The nuc bees are still behind bars - they are humming, but not in an angry way. They aren't allowed parole until they've been situated in the orchard apiary on Friday. Their new hive (finally) arrived today, and Andy is being busy human bee putting it all together.

The Original Hive bees are popping in and out with large trousers full of pollen, as if nothing has happened, the swines. But then I guess they are happy with their new Queen - whom has been spotted and shall be called April 29th (and not because there have been 28 Queen Aprils before her, but because we guess that is when she must have hatched.) Also, they are probably glad of the extra space they now have, given that about 40,000 of their hive mates left the building, Elvis-style, yesterday. We hope Queen April 29th will go on successful mating flights and continue the good work of Queen Philibert. Or we'll be up the creak again and there will be ominous talk of 're-queening.'

The Artificial Swarm Hive, headed by the admirable Queen Philibert, who seems to be the only Malarkey bee capable of exerting any kind of self-control, has bees popping in and out as if nothing has happened. Actually, nothing untoward has happened with that hive, but I reckon they were watching the hoo-ha yesterday with some interest. Just as long as it hasn't given them any ideas.

There we have it. One hive to four hives in just over two weeks. I'm just left wondering what to call the new Queens in the nuc and in the top bar. We're pretty certain the Queens are there, as they would have lead the casts. But we haven't seen them. We are more convinced the nuc has a Queen as cantaloupe cast was so manageable yesterday; but then the top bar girls must have a leader because when they were let out this morning they would have absconded.

I suppose the Top Bar Queen should be called Olga after Korbutt the gymnast. And the nuc Queen? Serenity, maybe? Or plain 'Flipping Nuisance.'

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Three Hives, Four Hives

Oh blimey! You go away for a nice long weekend in a posh cottage in Hereford, you travel home, arriving at lunch time and you're in the kitchen making yourself a piece of cheese 'n' chilli jam on toast when this happens...

'The bees are sounding very loud,' I say.
'Yes,' says Andy. 'There's rather a lot of bees by the greehouse.'

I wander to the front door and look out onto the front garden and driveway in a nonchalant and vaguely curious way.

'Bl**dy, flippin' Nora Batty!' I say (and possibly scream and/or screech I don't remember, the last eight hours have been a bit of a blur.)
'What's up?' says Andy, who is on grill duty.
'The front garden is full of bees, the bees are gathering on the front wall, there are bees EVERYWHERE!' says I, again with a possible note of hysteria in my voice, I don't remember rightly because I've only just stopped quivering with the trauma of the last eight hours.

'Are they swarming?' says Andy.
'Possible...defintely...yes,' says I.

We gather up a skep and a cardboard box, because the bees are settling into two distinctive groups, one the size of a large melon (say honeydew) and the other the size of a medium melon (say cantaloupe). We don our bees suits, gather up two bed sheets and head off out front to gather bees.

We draw a bit of a crowd as people stop to watch the malarkey. Someone comes out to take photos. We discover that gathering bees from a flat wall is a tricky business.
'I thought bee swarms were supposed to settle in trees and dangle from a convenient branch,' says I.
'Clearly not our bees,' says Andy.

Gradually, by a cunning blend of gentle coaxing and luck we manage to get the two casts into box and skep. The box bees go in easily, forming an orderly rank and file marching troupe. We think we may have caught the Queen quite quickly, as they follow their leader and are very obliging. Difficult to tell, though, what with there being a gazzillion bees and all.

The skep bees are slightly more tricky. They are more spread out. Also, we discover that although bees in straw skeps is a combination as old as the hills, they are a sod to remove from the skep into the new hive because bees stick to skeps like Velcro.

Anyway, bees in box and bees in skep, we wrap box and skep in the sheets and transfer into back garden. Now is not the time to do a comedy trip and fall over. Skep bees sound especially angry. And although I have appeared on the outside to be an oasis of bee-keeping calm, inside I am a quivering wreck. I am only glad we managed to recapture the bees before the local schools turn out.

'We can't keep four hives in our garden,' I say.
'Especially if they are going to try swarming again,' says Andy, because once a colony starts, they often keep going throughout the season. We could be knee-deep in hives by July.

We decide we need to consider our careers as urban bee-keepers. The experience has scared us just a tad. We can't be having bees swarming in a built up area, no matter how interested an audience we attract.

But then! Oh joy and brainwave!! My cousin Richard lives out in the sticks, 8 miles away, on a huge farm with orchards. I call him and explain out predicament. He says he will speak to the landowner. Within ten minutes he returns my call - the landowner is more than happy to accommodate our hives on his land! Oh, the relief! Thank you God of Bee-Keepers! Thank you, Land Owner!

As dusk falls, we head into the garden to rehive the bees. We are armed with the bait box that failed to bait anything whilst parked on the flat roof, and foundation attached the frames designed for the top bar Andy made last year. And icing sugar and a sieve to dust over the bees to distract them from being banged uncermoniously into a new home.

We decide the box bees (cantaloupe melon size) will go into the nuc box. We are more convinced they have a Queen. The dodgy honeydew melon cast will go into the top bar. Before we start we decide who is going to do what. We work slowly and methodically. As usual, the bees haven't read the books and some just sit on the unwrapped sheets going, 'Oi! Shut the box up, it's chilly in here.' A firm rap gets most of the bees into their new home but not all so I invent the Andy 'n' Denise Method of rehoming reluctant bees which is scooping up blobs of them in the sieve and plopping them in after the main melon body. I think that of all the gazzillion bees we have handled today, we've lost about 30. The box/ nux bees are in the greenhouse because they are small in size and we need to keep them warm if they are to survive. The skep/ top bar bees are wearing icing sugar coats and will no doubt keep themselves warm with all the grooming and a sugar rush.

And on Friday, the plan is to take three of the four hives to a new home in an orchard. We are going to keep the top bar at the back of our garden for a while and see how they do.

But any more Malarkey and they will be orchard bound too.

From one hive to four in the space of a year. We'd rather we hadn't, but we did, and we've managed and now, it seems, we have a Much Malarkey Manor Apiary. Today we have learned that a bunch of bees can be remarkably heavy. That a handful of bees is remarkably warm to hold. That although one may be seething with nerves inside, it's best not to let the bees know.

And now I need to go and lie down in a dark room and try and stop quivering.