I just spent the weekend at my mother's, down in Kent. We didn't do much - talk, have lunch out, that sort of thing. This afternoon when the weather suddenly brightened up we got in about 1 1/2 hours gardening.
I hope I burned off a few calories; I certainly give my back a bit of exercise. I took on the very bend-and-snap job of cutting back the vast amount of golden rod that was overwhelming her gooseberry bushes.
I got thoroughly scratched by the gooseberries, ungrateful brutes that they are; but there should now be an adequate circulation of air, and a good deal more light, getting in around them; which in turn should mean all those little hard green berries like amazonite beads will be able to ripen and be gorgeous sour-sweet goosegogs, instead of falling off and getting lost in the undergrowth.
Later, we were sitting peacefully on the bench at the back of her house, looking down the garden and chatting, when I suddenly noticed an enormous quanitity of insects dancing, quite high up and about a hundred yards or so away. I remember thinking how early in the year it was to have so many mosquitoes. But just a few minutes later we realised it was in fact an enormous cloud of bees.
They were coming closer quite fast; by the time we'd commented on them and stood up to get a clearer view, the buzzing was like a crowd of engines approaching. Common sense kicked in and we went indoors, and watched through binoculars as they came right in to the garden, descending slowly to bunch up in the area of the bigger of the two cypresses. It looked strangely as though they were settling. After a few minutes I got curious, and since they weren't flying so widely anymore I went out again. To my surprise I found I could barely hear them; but when I got closer, I saw why. They had indeed settled, in a huge throbbing mass on one of the cypress branches. It was unmistakably a swarm.
The rest of the evening was spent trying to track down a local bee-keeper, which is one of the odder things I've done in my time. Just before I had to leave for my train we managed to raise one on the phone; but she was in Thanet and didn't really want to drive over to Canterbury in the dusk. She reassured Mum that the bees would probably stay put for the night now, and gave her the contact details of another bee-keeper who lived a bit closer. When I got back to London, and rang to say I was home safe, I learned that number two bee-keeper had put Mum in touch with yet another, who was looking for new bees; and he is coming over tomorrow morning to collect them. Apparently he said "Oh, I'll just knock them off and put them in a cardboard box", an image which has got my poor mother just a touch squeaky. I'd never realised before, but she isn't too keen on bees.
So, one small addition to the bee population of east Kent will be leaving their wild youth and entering the professional arena tomorrow, by the sounds of it. And Mum will not have to worry about them any more.
The swarm was really very beautiful; in the air, they were dramatic and furious, like a sandstorm of honeybees, and once they'd found the cypress they all packed in very tightly, and stopped flying and buzzing almost completely. The last thing I saw they had formed into a seething, scrambling mass of golden furry bodies, all clinging together in a sort of melted-ice-cream shape, hanging off the branch.
All rather exciting, anyway. But back to work and normal life tomorrow.