Being Queen is a lonely thing ~ why life at the top may not be as sweet as you think

(This is a post from almost a year ago that for some reason, WordPress destroyed. For those who are interested, the queen mentioned below is doing very well still and we now have four hives and a spare on a roof somewhere hoping to lure a swarm into it.)

Being Queen is a lonely thing….


I visited my bees today and they’re all doing well. I have currently
three colonies: one hive that is quite populous, one that is less so
and one that is tiny. The tiny one is one I created about three weeks
ago when faced with the hard choice of what to do with a couple of
queen cells that needed disposing of.

(A little bee background: bees basically consist of three kinds. Workers
and queens are female and drones are male. Drones do nothing but wait
around in the hope that a virgin queen will emerge somewhere in the
vicinity and they can mate with her: it’s a great life while the sun
shines. They get fed by workers, do no work and just buzz around all
day waiting for their chance with a queen. Incidentally, they die
straight after this. They die in the winter or the workers kill them
off. But bees exist to make more bees(the honey is just their winter
stores) and the problem from May onwards is swarms. You let your bees
swarm and you lose half your colony. We lost half of ours because
they waited till we went away on holiday and then buggered off. So
one of the things you need to do to try and avoid swarming is to
knock out queen cells. A queen cell is a long tube of beeswax, where
the workers rear a single egg by feeding it with royal jelly until
after 16 days a new que
en emerges).

We found two queen cells when we opened the hive that day. One hatched
in my hand and I accidentally dropped her; I have no idea where she
went. The other felt warm and alive in my hand and I couldn’t bring
myself to do what a seasoned bee-keeper would have done and thrown
the queen cell away.  I made a sudden instinctive decision and took
two frames of brood and nurse bees to our spare hive and gently
mashed the end of the queen cell onto a corner of it, shut the hive
up and walked away. Bees will always rear brood and eggs and they
will always minister to a queen so there was a good chance that I had
started a new colony in doing so.

I felt a little odd about it because I had simply felt that what I held
in my hand was what you might call, “a good ‘un”. I had no
evidence or logic for this: just pure feeling. However, it appears I
was right. The new queen had emerged, mated and begun laying when I
came back a week later. For  a few weeks she was the only one of our
three queens who WAS laying. Today, in my inspection, I actually
spotted her, swift as a little greyhound and the frame was filled
with eggs and brood. A real good ‘un. I am glad I obeyed that tingle
in my hand and mind that said “Let her have a chance”. I suspect
that over the next few years, she may more than pay me back.

But this evening I had been pondering over the model of the bees and it
occurred to me that being queen is terribly lonely. Bees sense when a
queen is failing and they “supersede”: that is, they rear a new
queen and quietly let the old one go. Sometimes they kill her.
Sometimes a bee keeper decides a queen is not what he wants and
replaces her. Either she’s getting too old, or she’s not laying
enough or the temperament of the colony isn’t right. Bye bye Queenie.

I could draw parallels with the book world (and they exist all right)
but I won’t labour the point, because writers create stories(honey)
and Queens lay eggs to make more bees. But what I really want you to
understand is that those who are at the pinnacle of what they are or
do are in a precarious place. They won’t be the best forever. They
won’t be at the top forever. And coming down, they may meet those
they may have climbed over to get to the top.

So, be kind and gracious as you make your journey through the world;
everyone you meet has private battles and sorrows of their own. Their
life might look sweet and honey-scented from where you are but you
don’t know what it cost them to get there, how hard they must work to
stay there and how easy it is to lose.


Landlocked ~ a poem about craving the sea


When I wake, I want to feel

The sea breeze creeping cool

Through my open window,

Filling the room with the scent

Of the salt tang and the seaweed.

When I wake, I want to hear

Gulls, not rooks, calling raucously

Beyond my open window

And hear not the soft sough

Of the wind in the trees

But the hiss and gurgle

Of the sea lapping the shore.

On a winter’s morning

When the high winds have raged

Throughout the night,

I want to go outside

And find what the sea has thrown

Beyond the high tide mark

And sift the treasure from the trash.

I want to sit and watch

The sun sink beneath the waves

While a driftwood fire

Dances and crackles beside me

And the sound of the sea

Fills my ears with peace.

Making an Impression on the world ~ or why we can never be merely observers

Making an impression on the world ~ or why we can never be merely observers 

My most recent trip brought home to me in a number of ways how much of an impression we can make as individuals on the world and how easy it is to underestimate the impact our actions and inactions can have on others, even people whom we have had no direct contact with.

Coming through border control at Calais our coach was detained because while we had been parked up on a shopping trip illegal immigrants had climbed under the coach and were clinging to the underside of the vehicle. Now this was quite dramatic in itself but I’d rather pass swiftly on. The officials were marvellous and while we waited, they brought refreshments and reassurance to our group. I stood in the sunshine for a while talking with one officer and as I did so, a glint of metal caught my eye. On the ground by my feet was a small silver holy medal. I showed it to the officer and after some
discussion she told me to keep it as it might have been there for
months. It might well have been.

Some unknown person had dropped that little medal and had lost it forever. I have no way of ever finding the owner so I have kept it, as a reminder of our connection with those we never meet. A forensic
scientist would tell you that everywhere we go, we always leave a
tiny physical trace of ourselves: hair, skin cells, fibres from
clothing, fingerprints. We can never merely observe something, we always make some contribution, however tiny. This is also true of our non-physical actions. Each act we do, has consequences we will never see. Some are bad: the careless words that hurt the feelings of others, the distant issues of what we buy and where it is made, our car use and so on.  These are things that damage without us knowing we have caused harm;often simply by products of being alive and being human. The greater harms we cause in life, the hearts we break and the damage to the environment are often wrought through a mixture of ignorance and sheer blind selfishness.

But what about the good we do that we never know? How often do you find out later that your kind words have meant the world to someone who was thirsting to have some goodness and gentleness extended to them instead of harshness and cruelty? The things we teach our children need to include kindness and consideration for the feelings and well-being of others: we live in an increasingly me-focussed society where selflessness is seldom encountered and the dog-eat-dog model is followed ruthlessly.

It’s far from a perfect world. I’m far from perfect as a human being; some days I think I am a wretched specimen, falling so far from my aims. But aim high and while you might miss the stars you may still land on the moon, is a saying I sometimes think of. It’s not about being perfect but about trying the hardest to ensure that the harm you do is outweighed by the good.

Remembering that we are all connected, some say by only six degrees of connection, is a way of reminding yourself that you are never truly alone. The good you do will return to you, as will the harm. I’m not a believer in the full concept of Karma, but I do believe that somewhere along the line, we tend to get what we deserve.

Someone, somewhere in the world lost a small but obviously cherished medal. I cannot return it to them physically but what I can do is offer prayers for that unknown soul, wherever they are. And perhaps others elsewhere may be doing the same for me, remembering me as the person who helped them, however briefly, or simply as one of millions who have supported a cause like UNICEF, or as, I hope, a dear friend who has meant a lot to their life.

After all, Hope was the last thing left in Pandora’s box, and has been the finest of human allies ever since.