I always thought bees were wankers. Summer terrorists, suicide stingers; obsessed with sugar, like flying toddlers but with knives for an arse. When I heard that the world was facing a ‘bee shortage’, it sounded the same to me as if the world were facing a ‘fart drought’ or a ‘dickhead famine’. Good riddance! I thought. We can do without honey, can’t we? Who’s it going to affect? Winnie the Pooh? He can do with laying off the stuff anyway. That’s all he eats. He’s probably diabetic by now. He’s also very fat for a bear, and yellow, which is not healthy. He’s got jaundice basically. So bees weren’t top of my bucket list, but my relentless search for new experience drew me to the bastards and a small family home in Brentford. Where in the back garden were four hives containing almost 2,000 bees.
What comes to mind when you hear the words ‘beekeeper’? You probably think of an old man with a beard living a hermit like existence in rural Somerset; a vagabond who drinks milk straight from the udder and sleeps in a dilapidated caravan with only a goose for company. In short, you think of someone mental. But what struck me about this beekeeper was that she was totally ordinary. Lynn was a lovely lady living in a nice house with two children and a husband. Over honey cookies, I asked Lynn if the neighbours objected to her keeping a ton of bees. ‘Oh yes, they’re allergic to bees,’ she said, as if that wasn’t relevant. ‘The bees do sometimes swarm, and obviously they get upset,’ she added. ‘Also there’s a school down the road and they’ve been swarmed too, ruined their GCSE exams one year.’ Well, bees will be bees.
Taking care of bees-ness with my friend Dave and I, was the fattest woman in Europe. I don’t know this for a fact. She wasn’t wearing a medal and I haven’t done a full survey. But she must have had the same BMI as an oil tanker. It felt dangerous to teach this lady how to rear her own bees. She’d basically have her own honey factory. That’s like teaching a junkie how to grow his own heroin. It was time for us to don the bee suits. Dave and I put ours on without much hullaballoo. The lady needed help from all three of us. It was like pulling a condom over a cow. Having donned our protection, we went out to inspect the hives.Lynn gave Dave a smoker, which is a set of bellows with a small fire burning within its belly. Beekeepers blow smoke into the hive before taking the lid off because it makes the bees think the hive’s on fire so they gorge themselves on honey expecting a long fly, and end up eating so much that they can’t be bothered to attack you. This was Dave’s responsibility today. Unfortunately he obviously didn’t do a thorough enough job because the bees were now swarming around the fat woman, probably because her blood was 80% Coca-Cola. She began to panic: waddling around in a circle, manically waving her hands in front of her face, gasping the word ‘Help!’ Lynn was calm as always: ‘If you stop moving they’ll relax,’ she said with a shrug, ‘There’s no need to worry. You’re wearing a protective suit!’ No sooner had these words left her lips than a bee somehow broke into the fat woman’s gauze helmet. All hell broke loose. ‘I’m trapped!’ yelped the woman, now literally punching herself in the face.
Luckily Dave still had the smoker and so took the initiative, blowing smoke straight into the fat woman’s eyes. This compounded matters. The fat woman was now screaming and sobbing. Lynn was at the end of her tether. She replaced the lid of the hive and the bees slowly returned. When the cloud of bees and the cloak of smoke had lifted we returned indoors. ‘What’s the best way to treat a bee sting?’ croaked the upset fat woman. ‘Simple,’ said Dave, ‘you piss on it.’ Dave reached for his flies as if ready to do the honours. ‘No that’s jellyfish, Dave,’ I said, really regretting asking him to join me.Read more about ‘My Groupon Adventure’ in my new book. Available here.