The discussion had gone on for an hour, quietly, with both of us putting forward the reasons why the other should not be the one to do the job in hand. The sun was shining and the day calm. It wasn’t an argument – we didn’t argue, we discussed.
The lid was removed and paint stirred, the brushes ready and the ladder extended, I stood with my hand out for the splash cloth. Slowly, very slowly Jack moved to relinquish it to me. The handing over of that cloth to me was the acceptance that his days of climbing ladders were over. Up until that point we shared in the decorating chores of the house, both inside and out. Jack did the climbing and I looked after anything from waist to floor level. We were a good partnership working in contented silence. I was never afraid of hard work or climbing ladders.
Despite being a Burma vetern from WW11, Jack never let his injuries prevent him from trying anything. He had re-learned to walk, drive, dance and climb ladders before I was born. He took pride in everything he did and painting was no different. In recent months I noticed that he was not lifting the injured leg without his foot catching and I didn’t want him falling from the ladder.
The task for the day was to paint under the eaves of the bungalow. The front of the house was easy and possible to complete from a stepladder. The back was a horse of a different colour. The eaves were as high as a house and the gable end on one side was next door to heaven. Up I went with all my gear. I am fortunate in that I have long arms and can paint with either hand, with a wide span it made for fewer journeys up and down.
Jack pottered about the garden pretending to weed but ready to come to my aid if needed. He insisted on helping to adjust the ladder with each change of level and making it secure before I began another upward journey. By the time I was halfway through the task he began to relax.
Deep in concentration I suddenly noticed it had darkened. I looked skyward expecting to see a cloud hiding the sun. Aghhhhh! There was no cloud to obscure the sunshine, I was looking at a massive swarm of bees! They were hovering right above my head. I froze!
Calling quietly to Jack I sent him to close every window in the house. I decided to stay where I was and not move, afraid that if I did move the swarm would follow and land on me. I have no idea how long I stood there, it seemed like hours but I am sure it was minutes. The swarm lifted and moved nearer the apex, I was about to climb down but the bees quickly moved back down to their original position just above my head. Again I froze.
Eventually they moved upward and over the chimney to the front of the house and off at an angle of 45°.
Returning to ground level with a great sigh of relief I went round to the front and saw the swarm land like a great big circular stain on the roof of one of the other bungalows. I was fascinated as the stain became smaller as if drawn into the roof by suction. The couple who owned the house were at work. I kept a regular watch at intervals throughout the day and when the couple arrived home I went to tell them.
Later that night we were entertained as a gentleman in Apiarist protective clothing worked slowly and carefully to firstly smoke and then lift roof tiles to reach the swarm and remove them to a mobile hive. They were not your commoner garden bees, but a particular type and he even knew where they had come from – Kells in Co Antrim.
If you are interested in the process of collecting a swarm have a look at this article
Rimsky Korsakov – The Flight of the Bumble Bee Played by James Galway on the flute Pianist-Phillip Moll James Galway’s recital in Belfast, Waterfront Hall