Friday, 29 June 2012

Arse and Elbow

There's nothing like a couple of staff development days to put the cat amongst the pigeons.

(I apologise in advance for all the cliches that are going to make an appearance, only I am very tired, very stressed and very glad it's Friday because if it was a Thursday, there is no way I'd be going to work tomorrow, and thusly I am incapable of original writerly thoughts.)

Anyway, we've had two SDDs on the trot (2) and personally I'd rather have done ten rounds with Mike Tyson (3) rather than go through that rigamorole again (4). We've had the Maths Department throwing their weight around (5) because they think they are the most important department and want the entire timetable to revolve around them (6) and, to heck with it, be the centre of the academy universe (7).

The new government teaching standards and performance related pay documents have been published and let me tell you, it's going to be a dog-eat-dog (8) world out there in a year's time, not to mention every man and woman for themselves (9).

There are several middle managers trying to organise too many events for the last three weeks of term and thinking there are more staff available to manage these events which there would be if they were happening one at a time, but they aren't and I'm blowed (10) if I am spending time cloning myself this weekend in order that I can spread myself thinly next week (11).

And to cap it all (12) I am suddenly told that I shall be teaching English, History, Geography and RE to one class of newbie Year 7s for 8 hours a week! If I had wanted to work intensively with a single group of students I'd have trained as a primary teacher.

Now, I don't object too much to the History bit, because I like History as a subject and did a fair dollop of it in my degree, but Geography? Do they not realise that everytime I emerge from a building I turn left? And so will always end up going around in circles? (13) That I have no sense of direction? (14) That in matters of the map and navigation I have no real idea of what is going on and would make a lousy homing pigeon? Good grief! This'll be a laugh!(And cliche number 15.)

And also, we had a visit from a Fire Inspector Officer Type today who informed us that all the student work and posters we've put up in the English block corridors will have to come down because they constitute a fire risk!?

And that we have to keep our doors closed because they are fire doors?

'But,' I said, 'Senior Management want an open door policy.'
'Well, ' said the Bursar, who was accompanying the Fire Inspector Office Type,' 'elf and safety come first. Doors closed.'
'Arse from elbow,' I thought. (16)

Besides, I am on the top floor of the block. If I close the door, how am I going to get out and down the fire escape? So I have formulated an escape plan of my own. I shall open all the windows, chuck out a few children and then leap after them and they will form a safety cushion which will break my fall.

So I went out into the corridor and began to take down the posters and student work displays. I had to climb on a chair to reach the ones that were near the ceiling.

'Am I breaking 'elf and safety rules by being up on this chair?' I said to a passing colleague, adn doing a dramatic wobble for effect.
'Probably,' said she.
'Good, 'said I.

And carried on regardless.(17)

Saturday, 23 June 2012

Fuzzy Eyeballs

When I was twelve, I started wearing glasses for shortsightedness, or myopia, as it is also known. Not youropia or ouropia, or heropia or weropia, but myopia because they are my opias...sorry, eyes.

So I have been bespectacled for ooh, nearly thirty five years. It hasn't bothered me, being a spectacle wearer. Just pop 'em on in the morning and forget about them. Occasionally, issues have arisen such as the rapid steaming up in winter when moving from outside icy chillsomeness to central- heatingness, and the getting caught in rainstorms drippy lens syndrome, but other than that I have broken only one pair (stood on them when I was sixteen - well, couldn't see where I put them, could I?) and lost the occasional screw, but then one becomes adept at saving those tiddy screwdriver kits one gets in Christmas crackers for emergency repairs, so this was never really a problem.

I have discovered, in my many visits to the opticians over the years, that I am intolerant to super thin lenses, that my right eye is too quick in closing to insert a contact lens successfully, and that having air puffed in my eyes makes me jump. I have owned some hideous pairs of glasses through the Eighties and Nineties and some less hideous pairs after seeing photos of myself looking like I was being attacked in the face by some demented moth.

Yet this last month or so, I have discovered I can read and see things better without my glasses! Oh, I know it's only middle age creeping up on me, and this is when people of a certain age start having to wear glasses for reading. But I get to take mine off!! In fact I walked around this morning with my specs perched on top of my head ( I flatly refuse to get one of those spectacle chain things so I can dangle my glasses from my neck) and I was amazed at how well I could see. Is this the end of glasses for me?

Time, and ever stiffening lenses, will tell.

Time Flies Like the Wind...Fruit Flies Like Bananas

Cor blimey! It's been nearly two weeks since I last had a little blogette (and no, that is not a euphemism for constipation, because having re-read the opening sentence I know that's EXACTLY what some of you will be thinking, thank you very much!)

The time has whizzed by and shamefully I just haven't had the time or energy to do any writing, which is appalling given I call myself a writer.

But what has got me back in the saddle of the race-horse of language you may be asking? I shall tell you - we had a professional writer visit the school yesterday to do a set of creative writing workshops with the Year 10s! And what an inspiration he proved to be! Sod the students - he's motivated me to get back into writing on a regular basis and no longer neglect my bestest hobby ever in favour of doing extra stuff for school, and cleaning the house and mopping up other people's problems.

For it has been a busy fortnight since going back to school after half term. Mostly because the senior manager under whom I labour has gone delegation crazy. I mean, she was always a bit keen on the 'getting-someone-else-to-do-her-work' malarkey, but she's gone into overdrive now and I really need to start saying 'No!' in a firm voice, and 'What EXACTLY is it that YOU are doing to earn your great big wodges of cash?'

Also, we've had a Review Week which basically means that Senior Management spring a surprise lesson observation upon you, and this means you live on the edge of a precipice teetering between exhaustion and nervous tension all week just waiting for them to appear and tell you that you are an Outstanding/ Good/ Satisfactory/ Inadequate teacher. You pray they will come in when you've got a reasonable class - however, my one reasonable class was a Year 11 bunch and they've left. My other classes are all mad-as-a-box-of-frogs jobs, so I resigned myself to muddling through, reassured  by the knowledge that FINALLY I have a permanent contract in my hot little hand, and they're gonna have to go through some lengthy processes to get shot of me if I crash and burn in the lesson from Hell.

Luckily, I got Outstanding, and I say luckily because it is all very subjective, this lesson observation lark. I thought, at least I'll be able to have a relatively stress-free weekend as nothing untoward is occurring next week but then the Vice Principal appeared yesterday just as I was going home and said, 'Would you do a presentation at Monday's staff meeting explaining how you are an Outstanding Teacher?' and I said 'Yes,' because he took me by surprise, and that meant I spent three hours yesterday evening putting together an entertaining Power-Point because I didn't think Andy's suggestion of 'Because I am, now give me a pay rise,' would somehow fit the bill.

And this morning, because I'd been living on nervous tension all week, and the adrenalin was still pumping, I persuaded Andy that we should go out and buy a new car.

Well, to be honest, we'd been thinking about it for a few weeks, because our old car of eight years has started making peculiar noises and is looking like the old workhorse that it is, having at various points in its life moved furniture, chickens, bees, vegetables, polytunnels, and other assorted self-sufficiency stuff. And the MOT and service are due next month and we were not looking foward to what was likely to be a hefty type bill. So we thought, let's go have a look at some cars, and we found one we liked and took it for a test drive and then we ordered one and it was all very exciting!

Aside from that, a friend of mine has started chemotherapy and radiotherapy this week and I have been a listening ear and a cheerer-up of spirits. Horrible situation, and again it makes you realise you've got to get on with what you love in life because you never know when you might not be able to.

And what I love is writing, Which brings me back to our visiting writer. He's written over 250 books. He's been published world-wide. He writes, he lectures, he does all sorts of stuff of an authorial nature! He is also a highly entertaining speaker and the students were very spontaneous in their cheering and applause at the end of the day. They stayed for feedback on some of their writing. They stayed for autographs and chats. On a Friday afternoon. Unheard of.

'And what about you?' he said to me, as I walked him back to Reception to sign-out. 'Do you enjoy teaching?'
'I do,' I said. 'But I like writing better.'

He looked at me. 'Yes,' he said. 'I can tell. And one day, you'll get there.'

Made my day!

Sunday, 10 June 2012


The swarm bees have left the willow tree. Don't know when, other than mid -morning; don't know where, other than somewhere out there ( beneath the pale moonlight - ooh, someone shut her up before she sings the whole song).

And that's it. No 'thanks for worrying about us in the wind and the rain for the last ten days.' No 'thanks for fretting about getting us a new home because we were dithering.'

That's bees for you.

I'm off to have some toast and honey...mmmm....

Saturday, 9 June 2012


Swarm Number 2, resident in Lynn's willow, has changed shape. It has moved from dangly ball shape (no sniggering at the back there, please) to heart shaped 'look at us we look like a piece of free-form comb' shape.

This means one of two things - firstly, that the swarm is not dead and has, thanks to a bit of spare honey and comb placed beneath the tree, been reinvigorated and is very much alive and at 'em, or secondly, that the swarm IS dead and we are watching zombie bees at work.

Lynn is thrilled. She does a daily bee inspection, and is very keen for them to be alive and doing their bee thing in her garden. I am anxious that they don't start building comb in the tree, al fresco, and then the whole thing drops on her head because the willow can't take the strain. Heather's partner , Joe, is very keen to shin up the tree and get the bees down and put them in the spare hive. Andy, quite rightly, is keen to point out that the spare hive isn't spare and is waiting to be filled with the third swarm bees that are currently residing in the nuc box at Little MMM. And that, instead of shelling out on what will be Hive 5, we should sell the nuc bees for some cold hard cash.

Which will, in turn, pay for a renovated hen coup at the bottom of the garden where newbie hens will go(hurrah!). We have decided to get a proper builder in to make the new hen coup, because last night I drew some rather fanciful plans, and Andy looked a bit faint when I said I was hoiking out the Black and Decker to have a go at a bit of drilling and sawing and banging myself and then the words, 'A proper job' were mentioned this morning, and I immediately got onto one of those 'find a proper tradesman' websites which I have used before and think are marvellous!

I've already been doing some hen research. I quite like the idea of bantams because they are small, and surely can't cause as much havoc as big chickens. I've been looking at different breeds too - sebrights because they are so pretty and perky looking, welsummers because they look so smart, and my current favourite, Buff Orpingtons because they are a Kent bird ( like me) and they wear enormous and highly entertaining trousers (also like me, well, sometimes).

I wouldn't mind more Light Sussex like Mrs Pumphrey, or Gingernut rangers like Mrs Miggins and Mrs Bennett. Absolutely no Marans, though, as they, like Mrs Slocombe, are barking mad and have issues, and no H and N Brown Nicks either, because if Mrs Poo was typical of the breed, then they are just plain vicious.

'Oh, but they're like humans, aren't they,' said Andy. 'All with different personalities.'
'Chickens with personalities?' I said. 'Are you mad? That's crazy talk!'

Whatever next?!

Thursday, 7 June 2012

We Love Bees - No, We REALLY Do!

This morning, at five o'clock, we were creeping about in the garden here at MMM getting ready to transfer the top bar hive to the out-apiary which shall henceforth be known as Little MMM, the reason for which I shall explain later.

Yesterday, we raided the top bar for honeycomb because there was no way we were going to be able to lift the hive, full as it was, let alone carry it through the garden, onto the drive and heft it into the back of the car. It was touch and go whether it would actually fit into the back of the car even with all the seats removed. As it turns out, it didn't...not quite...but we managed because we are determined bee-keepers and that hive WAS going to be moved, even if we had to march it the six miles to Little MMM ourselves in some kind of 'Sponsored Bee-Hive Walk'.

The bees were remarkably good about us stealing a third of their comb. We replaced our theft with fresh bars for them to build on. I think they appreciated the extra space we created. And there were still, despite three swarms, gazzillions of bees in situ. I am sure they will swarm again this year, but now they can do it in the comfort of the middle of the countryside on a farm where we won't get narky neighbours making narky comments.

For yes, in the middle of swarm three on Tuesday, there was a knock on the door and a next-door-but-one neighbour in the opposite direction to bee-friendly Lynn, said, in a sort of aggressive way, 'Your bees are swarming.' His tone of voice was what made us decide that the top bar needed to be moved.

I am feeling aggrieved by this 'neighbour.' Have I once complained to him about his pyromaniac bonfire habit? Or his screaming children who shriek at anything and everything and sometimes just for the sheer hell of making as much noise as possible? Or his three barking dogs? Or his cats chasing the hens? Or his foul-mouth effing and blinding dragon of a mother? Or his late night barbecue parties that keep the neighbourhood awake with more screaming and swearing? Or his flagrant disregard for the hosepipe ban that is currently in force in this area?

No, I have not. And even though I know thoughts of revenge can cause irreparable damage to the beauty of the soul, boy am I thinking vengeful thoughts at the moment. I'm giving myself a stern pep talk to make sure these vengeful thoughts don't take hold and I'm sure all will be well. But I'm not sure the next time I bring in my washing and it stinks of bonfire smoke that I shall be wholly responsible for my actions. Gggrrrrrrrrrrrrrr! (Oooh! That feels surprisingly better!)

Back to the bees. We plugged the three hive entrances last night. Now, because Andy built the hive in a lovely artisan sort of way, it isn't exactly bee-tight in the roof department. So we inserted the whole hive into a duvet cover. We figured that if we set off early to avoid the traffic, had all the car windows open, and drove in our bee-suits, then we'd be okay to manage should the bees suddenly decide to decant themselves from the hive into the duvet cover and from the duvet cover into the car. I don't know why we thought 20 minutes was the optimum Houdini-escape time for a bee, but there you have it. We did.

But as it was, all went very smoothly! We had to tie the tailgate to the bumper because it wouldn't quite shut properly, but the journey was smooth, we didn't get stopped by police, we got to Little MMM, we struggled the hive from the back of the car, removed the duvet cover, I only slipped once whilst we were carrying it to its new position, it only took half an hour for my heart to stop pounding following the slipping event, and when we removed the plugs from the entrance holes, a few bees emerged, danced about a bit, then went back inside because it was way too cold and way too early to be going out for breakfast.

Mission accomplished.

Back home I set about separating the honey from the comb that we collected yesterday. Got six or seven pounds, ran out of jam jars. And then I had an idea. I put the leftover sticky comb at the far end of the garden along with the spare hive that yesterday had a few bees hanging around it. Within five minutes, masses of bees swooped on the honeycomb in Operation Clean-Up. And where were these bees coming from? Swarm Two which is in Lynn's willow tree. So bits of it aren't dead after all!

Still in optimistic mode, I am hoping the swarm will be enticed into the spare hive. Or at least that the sudden input of instant energy might give the bees that are still alive the courage to move on and find their own new home.

And Little MMM? Well, six years ago, Andy and I attempted to start our dream of living in the countryside by bringing a bit of the countryside into our town-home. We got the allotment. We got the hens. We got the bees. Then suddenly, it seemed as if 2012 had taken it all away from us. Bye-bye to the allotment. Bye-bye to the hens. And now, no more bees.

But we do have the bees! Four hives! We have expanded. We have a Little MMM honey farm! And we are getting some more hens. And there is food growing in our back garden - veg and herbs and salad and fruit. Through the losses, changes have been made.We tried to make our dream fit what we had. It can't be done. This is transition. This is the first step to getting that little house in the country with the enormous garden.

And most importantly, we have a wealth of skills we didn't have six years ago. We can grow our own food from seed. Andy is fast becoming a Master Baker Extraordinaire and Occasional Wine-Maker. I can replace a prolapse in a hen. We can grow willow and weave it into willowy stuff. We are becoming pretty good at being owned by bees. We can make jams and marmalades and cakes and biscuits. We can build stuff and decorate stuff and ooh, do lots of other useful malarkey, too.

It's starting to happen, our dream of country living. I know it. I can feel it.

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

I Have No Idea

The thing is with bees, you see, is that although we might think we are keeping them, the truth is very much t'other way around.

For example, why was it that this morning, at 6.30, Andy and I were in the car, bee-suited, with a nuc box of bees in the boot on our way to the out-apiary? Because despite the weather forecast not being great, the sun was actually shining and we thought we had better make the most of the window of opportunity and site the swarm we caught yesterday (or rather, the swarm that allowed itself to be caught) before it rained AGAIN and we ended up having a box of cross bees confined to barracks as it were.

And why, when we arrived home, did the spare hive, which is all prepared for yesterday's swarm to go into in a day or so, have a group of bees hanging around its entrance, popping in and out as if to say, 'Hmmm, this looks nice. P'raps we can move in' ?? Are these stray bees from the swarm who were shut out of the nuc box somehow? Are they scout bees from the top bar hive looking for a new house because, hey, we've swarmed three times in last fortnight, let's go for a round four! Or are they zombie bees, back from the dead ball of the second swarm which is dangling in next door's willow looking for a home because they are fed up of dangling, it was a nice holiday and all, but we really need a proper place to stay now because Queenie is getting fed up of camping.

And we're not really dead, we're just pretending.

I have no idea.

Anyway, having done some research last night, we have decided that the top bar is overly full of honey and that is why bees are leaving because the Queen (s times Lord knows how many because I have no idea) have nowhere to lay. So we are going in, bear-style, to raid the hive of honey and free up some space. The theory is that the bees will be so busy building new comb and filling it with stores they won't have time to think about swarming.

The theory doesn't take into account that bees laugh in its face.

But we're giving it a go. See what happens. The sun is shining. It's a bit windy. In an hour most of the flying bees will be out and about. And me and Andy aka Winnie the Pooh and Paddington, will mount a stealth attack with the preserving pan and a spoon and try and unravel the catacomb living conditions inside the top bar hive. We've dug out an old corrugated nuc box 'just in case' because we have reached the point of, 'Get up, have breakfast, do the hoovering, put in a load of washing, read the paper, have lunch, collect a swarm....' being part of our daily routine.

And then, when we've got the top bar as light as possible, we are going to load it in the car and take it to the out-apiary.

Of course, we shall also need to investigate what is occuring in our spare hive because we really need it to remain empty so the nuc swarm will have somewhere to live. The bees that are going in and out at the moment might just be opportunist guerilla-cleaning bees, you know, just passing by and hoovering up any oddment of honey they can find.

I have no idea.

But what I do know is that when the top bar is situated with all the other hives we are going to reinstate the hen pod at the back of the garden and get a couple of hens!

Because despite the reading of books/ interwebbly forums, and the attendance of bee-keeping courses and the experience of two years being kept by bees, it seems we still have no idea what is going on. We think we do, but the bees outsmart us every time.

Luckily, we do know where we are with a chicken!

We think...

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Not Again!

They've done it again! Those bloomin' bees in the top bar hive swarmed AGAIN this afternoon. That's three times in two weeks. The second swarm hasn't budged from the neighbour's willow tree and looking at it closely through binoculars over the past two cold, wet and windy days, we have come to the conclusion that it has not survived. There has been no reaction to the occasional patches of sunshine warmth on it at all. It looks dead.

And then there I was this afternoon, doing a spot of writing. Andy had gone out for coffee with his dad who is down from Lancashire for a visit. Heather appeared. 'The bees are very active,' she said.

Active in a swarming way.

However, thanks to the planting of lemon balm in the herb garden and its rapid and fulsome growth, these bees seemed inclined to stay within the confines of the garden. I phoned Andy.

'Bees are swarming again,' I said.
'Oh dear,' he said. 'I'm on my way.'

I donned my bee suit and went and stood amongst it all. Where were they settling? They were spread all over the lemon balm, and the angelica which has grown into some sort of monstrous triffid.

'Oh, come on, ladies,' I said. 'You can't spread yourselves out all over the herb garden. How am I supposed to gather you all in?' I'd already got the skep under my arm, hoping to pop it over a goodly clump of bees that may or may not contain the Queen. I did not fancy handpicking about 20,000 one by on off the herbs like some sort of demented Victorian lady-gardener gathering forget-me-nots and sweet peas.

And then I noticed a small cluster forming in the apex of the willow arch! There! That's where they were gathering! The willow arch. Accessible by footstool!

Sure enough, within ten minutes (although it seems longer when you are standing midst a mass of noisy bees) the swarm had settled right in front of me.

Right. I got the nuc box. I got the secateurs. I got the bee brush and the kitchen steps. I was also getting Heather's partner, Joe, suited up in Andy's bee suit so he could give me a hand if needed, but then Andy arrived and got suited up instead and promptly knocked a subsidiary ball of bees onto the ground.

'Hold the nuc box!' said I. 'I'm going in!'

Well, up really. Just a step. I fiddled around amongst bees and willow until I found what I reckoned to be the major cling-on point. This proved to be the thickest wand of willow in the arch and 'twas then I realised I had the bluntest pair of secateurs in Kent. But I got through the branch. My hands were getting hot from the bees but I got through.

'Here we go!' I said. 'In the box!' And in the space of two minutes I had snipped and clipped all the bits of willow that contained bees into the nuc box, and we reckon we got four fifths of the swarm in in one fell swoop! After that the remaining bees got themselves in by means of waggle dancing and bottom wafting and shouting, 'Here's the entrance to the new abode!'

As the last bee wandered in, it started to rain.

So, the new hive Queen is to be called Elizabeth, in honour of it being the Queen's Diamond Jubilee.

'Just think,' I said to Andy, as we made plans to transport the nuc and swarm to our out apairy, 'if we'd have caught the first two swarms we'd be up to six hives by now.'

'I'd rather not think, if you don't mind,' said Andy.

I guess he's got a point...

Sunday, 3 June 2012

Sodden Bees and Jubilee Food

The bees are still up the willow. Now, not only are they a homeless ball of bees, they are a sodden ball of bees because it rained all night, it is raining now and the only joy from all the rain is that our almost empty rain butt is full again. The bees have evolved in shape from relaxed rugby-ball to tight football. It's not often I say this about bees, but bees - you are idiots! Go into the new hive! Stop hanging around in willow trees getting wet!

Of course, I am assuming bees read blogs. Which is probably a stupid assumption and thereby renders me just as idiotic as bees. Touche, bees!

Okay, so it's Jubilee Weekend here in the UK! Lots of red-white-'n'-blueness, lots of hurrahing-for-the-Queen! She's out on the Thames this afternoon, in her barge, leading a flotilla of a gazzillion boats in a magnificent pageant. At least that's what it says in the TV guide. I'm going to watch it. I am going to get tea and biscuits and plonk myself in front of the telly and watch it all a-happening. Heck, I might even make a cake and some lovely little sandwiches with the crusts cut off and go all tea-partyish. I might multi-task - do a bit of sewing, a bit of reading, a bit of writing - as I watch, but I shall be there, taking part and thinking how glad I am to be English and I wouldn't want to live anywhere else in the world despite the rain and the recession and the ball of sodden bees in the willow tree.

It's been interesting to see what the supermarkets have been advertising in the papers all week as essential foody requirements with which to celebrate the Jubilee. Interesting and, dare I say it, unsettling? Oh, there's been the usual stuff from the better supermarkets - sausage rolls and Scotch eggs, trifle and scones, but is extra strong lager necessary? Ice creams in the shape of chimpanzee heads? Hotdogs?? I think some of the supermarkets have been checking their stores, found some random stuff left over from Bonfire Night and Christmas and thought, 'Here's our chance to have a good clear-out of the cold-store. Just slap a Union Flag sticker on it, and Bob's your school chum's cat! Instant Jubilee food!'

So, here is my suggestion for a traditional Jubilee party celebration (vegetarian, of course - you meat eaters can provide your own bits of dead animal):
1) sandwiches - Cheddar cheese 'n' pickle, egg 'n' cress, cucumber (separately, not squished between the same bits of bread -let's not get silly now)
2) boiled new potatoes in butter
3) a mixed green salad with proper salad cream (none of that mayonnaise stuff) and other salady bits like tomatoes, radishes and spring onions.
4) scones with jam and cream (and honey as we've got a lot of honey at the mo)
5) a Victoria sponge cake, again with jam and cream
6) nice chunky crisps - NO Pringles, which I doubt ever see a potato at any point in their manufacture
7) a selection of regional cheeses provided they are the kind that can retain their shape once outside the fridge - none of this oozing stuff that has no spine, thank you very much.
8) biscuits - shortbread, digestives (plain and chocolate), gingernuts - all good for tea-dunking (tea, of course, will be available throughout. No coffee. Coffee smells funny and makes me blow up)
9) onion and herb flan
10) a trifle
11) a fruit salad
12) and last but not least - a jug of Pimms because Pimms was invented by my great-great-great grandfather James Pimm. And even though I won't drink it because I am tee-total, I think it should be there in honour of him and his oyster bars.

I think that will do!

Saturday, 2 June 2012

Bee Gone

So, Andy was at home the Wednesday before last and there was a knock on the door. It was our neighbour, Lynn.
'Have you lost any bees?' she said.

Yes, it seemed we had. Queen Olga of the Top Bar Hive had vacated the building with some troops and they were dangling in a long dangly manner from Lynn's lilac tree which overhangs the bottom of our garden.

I was at work. Andy texted me. Something along the lines of 'Our bees have swarmed.' I didn't pick the message up until later when I switched on my phone (unlike the students, I obey school rules and keep my phone switched off and in the bottom of my bag during the day). I phoned at once. Immediately I was in 'GO HOME, DON THE SUIT, SHIN UP THE TREE, RECLAIM THE BEES' mode.

'They've gone,' said Andy. 'They stayed about 2 hours, and then they left.'
'Were they gettable?' I said.
'If you'd have been here, yes,' said Andy. 'I wasn't going up a stepladder to get them on my own.'
'You should have called Reception,' I said. 'I'd have come home. Far more worthwhile than trying to wade my way through this pile of delegated and pointless work I seem to have picked up.'

Ah well, it was too late. We imagined Queen Olga leading the swarm into the park and taking up residence in a nice, sheltered hollow tree to live a life wild and free and building a massive bee empire.

This Wednesday I got home from work.
'Bees were noisy today,' said Andy.
'Oh yes?' I said. 'What's for dinner?'
'Quiche and chocolate brownies,' said Andy.
'Sounds like you've covered all the healthy eating food groups there,' I said.

On Thursday I was home from work first. And there I was, sitting in my arty-crafty writing room grabbing a twenty minute reading slot and I happened to glance out of the window and...

'What's that hanging in next door's tree?' I thought. 'That brown mass the size and shape of a rugby ball?'

It was the bees! They'd swarmed AGAIN! Only this time they were in Lynn's willow tree and they were right at the top. Hanging precariously in the wind.
'That's it,' I said, 'I'm going to lever the top off that hive and see what's going on.'

Being a top bar hive a la natural bee-keeping mode, it has been left undisturbed. We've had an occasional peek, but when it started to fill up with free-form comb, the logistics of checking for brood and Queen cells became impossible. But I was determined. I was thinking, 'Two swarms in eight days - I bet the hive will be empty.'

Off came the top. Many, many bees stared up at me. 'What do you want?' they said. 'We're busy.'
The hive was chocka-full of comb. Beautiful heart-shaped comb dripping with honey. And, as I levered some out as carefully as possible, plenty of capped brood and larvae. And I was sure I heard a Queen piping, too.

'Bloomin' heck!' I said, or words to that effect.

Off with the suit, I grabbed a jar of honey and zipped next door to see Lynn.

'For you,' I said, 'for tolerating our bees using your trees. They might do it again. The top bar hive is full.'

Luckily, Lynn is very keen on bees. She was very excited about the first swarm, and just as much by the second. 'I don't know what you're doing,' she said, 'but it must be something right. Every time I see reports on the news about the declining bee population I think, we'll be okay in Kent!'

She was more concerned about us attempting to retrieve the second swarm because the willow tree isn't very stable, being all flimsy and willowy.

'Don't worry,' she said, breezily, as I apologised again. 'They'll soon go I expect.'

Except they haven't. Two days later they are still hanging in the tree. The weather hasn't been great. They've been blown about in the wind. Last night they tolerated a fairly hefty bout of rain. They're there now. I can see them. Just dangling. Loitering. We've set up our spare hive. Baited it with lemon grass and wax. I've stood under the willow tree, stared up at the swarm, tried to be a bee-whisperer. 'There's a new house for you over there,' I've said. 'All ready to move into. Look, next to the honeysuckle. You'll like it there.'

They're not budging. Today there has been talk of calling the local fire brigade station and, if they've got a spare five minutes, p'raps they could pop around with a sturdy ladder. We're watching the skies for signs of warmth and sunshine that might encourage them to go. We're listening to the air, waiting for that sudden and magnificent roar that says, 'We're on our way - woo-hoo!!' We're hoping, because we are optimists, that they make a diagonal swoop from the top of the willow next door to where the baited hive is waiting in our garden. There have been a couple of honeybees hanging around the hive front; there has also been a bumblebee doing the same except it is too fat to get inside.

What's going to happen? I have no idea. I'll let you know.

And God bless our neighbour, Lynn, for her enthusiasm and patience and for being an all-round bee-friendly person!