Flight of the Bumble Bee

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

21 thoughts on “Flight of the Bumble Bee

  1. Maz

    I can’t say I’d have been as calm, I’d probably have screamed and shouted and as well as being attacked by the bees, I’d have fallen off the ladder and brained myself!!

  2. Nick

    That must have been a rather alarming experience. We had a wasps’ nest in the boiler house once, and it took several different methods to get rid of them. Fortunately I didn’t get stung in the process.

    Very enterprising of you doing all that painting. Apart from finding painting intensely boring, I could never do it as smoothly as the professionals so I leave them to it.

  3. Baino

    Ah, very calm. I get them stuck in my curly hair and I know they’re not wanting to do harm but they panic and sting. Well it happened once, there used to be hives next door to my sister’s place and they’d waft over on the breeze until she complained so bitterly that her neighbour moved them. Frankly, I’d have paid a little man to paint under eves, not a nice job at the best of times.

  4. Nelly

    I must show this to Bert as he’ll be very interested. How did the apiarist know where the bees were from? Was it because he knew that someone’s bees had swarmed?

  5. Grannymar Post author

    @Maz – Staying calm and very still is the best way to behave in such a situation.

    @Nick – Independent Annie that I am, decorating, window cleaning, gardening and indeed washing the car were all second nature to me. Alas 🙁 I am now at the stage where I must allow others to undertake these tasks.

    @Baino – I usually have my head and the back of my neck covered as protection from the sun. Don’t laugh…. I have had sun stroke three times in this country ❗

    @Nelly – This guy seemed to be a member of some association and knew the name of the particular bees, I think he explained why they were different and that he knew the owner who had lost them.

  6. Kate

    They are amazing to watch and how good are you? Keeping your head in those circumstances (bet the adrenaline was flowing a bit tho eh?) !!!

  7. Grannymar Post author


    I was not very interested in studying the bees while perched high up on a ladder! 😆

    I did take a good look the next day at some of the casualties from the smoke… They weren’t moving anywhere!

  8. wisewebwoman

    Great story GM, I am a great fan of bees and always stay very still in a swarm which is the best way. I also love the honey they produce and it is so good for so many things. Maybe you can do one of your weekly helpful hints on honey alone. They have been on the endangered list in the last few years due to (they think) cell phone radio waves. Who knows? I’m happy they’re all back here in NL this year, pollinating the wonderful roses and lupines.

  9. Nancy


    My brother’s lifes ambition was to play The Flight of The BumbleBee on his clarinet. He knew all the notes but could not make his fingers move quickly enough to play that tune well.

    He was a very slow player. It took him 3 minutes to play Chopin’s Minute Waltz……

  10. rummuser

    Three things interest me here.
    Jack and his Burma background. He must have been to India too.
    James Galway is one of my favourites and I never stop being amazed at his dexterity.
    About the bees, it was one of our things to do when we moved into our little farm house, before all plans had to be changed.
    Amazing how you got these three things into one post!

  11. Grannymar Post author

    @WWW – I too like honey and use it often in cooking. I might well come up with tips on one of these Wednesdays. Thank you for the idea. This week my garden is full of bees, but thankfully no sign of a swarm! 😀

    @Nancy – What would we do with you? You provide us with a daily dose of cheerfulness! 😀

    @Ramana – Jack was medically discharged from the RAF the year I was born. He had no recollection of the end of the war because he was heavily sedated in hospital at that time. I would need to spend some time trying to think of all the places where he spent time.

    Some of the place names that come to mind are now changed and indeed in different countries. In no particular order I remember him mention:

    Burma as already mentioned.

  12. Grannymar Post author


    I did not!

    I was far to busy praying that they would move off somewhere else!

  13. Nancy


    Not alone was my brother a slow clarinet player, he was tenacious in his endeavor to play the Flight Of the Bumble Bee.

    He practiced for 3 hours every day and it was torture for all listeners.

    We lived on a crowded city street but it wasn’t crowded when Bob practiced. Everybody went to the movies. They didn’t care what was playing, it was better than listening to the screeching notes of the clarinet. Even Rimsky Korsakov would have gone to see “Frankenstein Meets The Abbott and Costello”
    rather than hear his beautiful music tortured by my brother.

    My Dad always said that the theatre manager was the one who encouraged Bob to practice so much…

  14. Darlene

    After my husband died all maintenance was on my inexperienced shoulders. The swimming pool attracted all sorts of flying insects, but when the wasps built a nest in my Palm tree, I was feeling panicky and inadequate in dealing with them. Fortunately, my son visited me and he dealt with the problem. I don’t know what he did, but he killed them and didn’t get stung in the process. I must remember to ask him how he managed.

    I painted the trim on my house and knocked a full open can of paint off the ladder. I didn’t do a very good job on the Fascia, but the ground had a lovely abstract painting. Klutzes should never get on ladders.

  15. Grannymar Post author

    @Nancy – The Lord loves a trier! I hope your brother had free entry to the movie theatre.

    @Darlene – I always set my open paint tin into a bucket and hung the bucket from an S hook on the ladder.

  16. Grannymar Post author


    Perhaps I was not sweet enough for the bees! 😉

    I too am learning my limitations and ladders are out of bounds for the foreseeable future. 🙁

  17. patty

    having been stung several times by a big old bumble bee that got into my swimming suit, i’m petrified of anything that makes a buzzing sound

  18. mick

    A hive (resident friendly!) of honey bees in our roof / wall cavity. Been there for years and had two swarms come out in the last couple of weeks. Both times they settled on a bush low down in the garden.
    Local beekeepers were having org…s about it – came and collected and we’re promised jars of honey next year!

    I work on the basis if they leave us alone we’ll do the same – soon as they go back on that agreement, now that’s a different matter!


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