South Park Self

how doth the little busy bee

I have acquired, by some mystic process over the last year or two, a taste for fruit teas. I've always mentally classified them, along with rooibos, as "disgusting pseudo-tea", but then my erstwhile MA student Stacey gave me a bag of something with pomegranate and apple and I was hooked. This is terribly useful: these days if I have a milk drink of any sort before I go to bed I don't sleep because of all the mucus colonising my lungs, so a soothing blackcurrant and vanilla makes a lovely end to the day. It also means that I'm going through honey at a rate of knots, as I like fruit tea with a teaspoon of honey in it (and, ye gods, is that stuff becoming expensive. I always vaguely worried about the death of bees, and now I really do).

The other night I was digging in the jar for the last dregs, and absent-mindedly put a fingerful of honey straight into my mouth instead of the mug. I haven't done that in years: I'm not madly into honey on its own, and don't eat it on bread or waffles or the like. But that taste thing is startling, even more evocative than smell. Suddenly I was back in the room outside the research-station house we lived in when I was a child of 7 or 8, a whitewashed extension reached only from the outside, via a flight of steps. My dad kept bees for a lot of my childhood, and the outside room was where he stored the frames of comb and the jars and the extractor, and the strange white armour and veil he wore to work with the hives. (And the smoker. A bee-smoker is a weird little metal box with an open cone thingy you puff smoke out of - it always fascinated me).

I have no idea if my memories of the extractor are real or partially fantastic, but they're very vivid. I think my dad may, with characteristic Zimbo resourcefulness, have designed it himself, and either made it or caused it to be made. It was a large, white-painted drum on legs, with a spinning contraption on the inside holding the frames with the full comb, a giant handle to wind it with, and a spout at the bottom to collect the honey. You loaded the frames into the spinning thing and wound like hell, and all the honey, propelled by centrifugal force, flew out to the walls of the drum and ran down into the spout, to be collected either into drums, or directly into jars. (I suspect drums, I think there may have been straining and clarifying bits still to do). The noise it made was considerable, and somehow exciting and technical. It was a very sci-fi thing, that extractor.

Honey is magical stuff. I remember the bottling process, the slow, sensuous, organic flow of the viscous dollops into the carefully-sterilised jars; the few random bees who were always bumping around the room; the heavy sweetness of the scent, and the sharp smell of the wax which was melted down from the empty combs, and which my mother used to use for her batiks. The bee-room was at once a fascinating and an alarming space, to a child rife with both the attraction of the honey, and the fear of the drowsy, disoriented bees bumbling around, with the ever-present potential for pain if you accidentally brushed or stepped on one. We were occasionally given chunks of comb to suck and then chew, the weird, tooth-coating texture of the wax a definite offset against the honey itself. I've never liked comb much. It's possibly why I loved the extractor.

Bee-keeping is an integral part of my childhood: the thread of honey's availability in our meals, a luxury taken for granted; the neat boxes of jars we, I think, used to sell; and my dad all clumsy and alien in the suit with the veil. There was a terribly unfortunate concatenation of bee-keeping with goat-keeping a bit later on, when I was a teenager and we'd moved into town; bees respond very badly to goats, and a swarm moved into the stable where the bee stuff was kept, and attacked the three goats who were living down in the paddock. My mother, amazing lady that she is, braved the swarm to rescue the goats and hauled them off the vet, she and all three of them swollen with stings. They all survived, although at least one of the goats had been so badly stung around the ears that she lost large chunks of them, and always presented thereafter a rather rakishly ragged look.

I suspect that one of the appeals of honey is in precisely this beautiful balance of reward and danger, its inextricability from the humble hard-working bee with the nasty sting, and the burning pain which marks the self-immolatory death of the guardian. Honey makes us thieves; its sweetness is stolen. And a spoonful of honey, apparently, holds the past.
  • Current Mood: nostalgic nostalgic
  • Current Music: for some reason, Pet Shop Boys in my HEAD!
I'm trying to drink more rooibos. It's quite easy to get here, and quite soothing, just by itself with no milk or sugar.

Something I quite liked in Israel was their tea and hot water combo with generous amounts of mint leaves in the water. Particularly soothing, even on a hot Israeli day.
Quite disconcerting to see your subject line not end in "crocodile".

Re bedtime drinks, I've been hearing marvellous things about Montmorency cherry juice helping you sleep. Mmmmelatonin! (Just got my bottle yesterday, so can't report on personal experience - yet.)
I seriously considered ending the subject line in "crocodile", just for laterality, but more straightforward counsels prevailed. Now I'm regretting it :>. I should have added another sentence to the post mentioning my dad's company's crocodile-breeding exploits, and it would have worked perfectly. Sigh.
Sources
I know a beekeeper and can get you honies cheap cheap. I have a stonkload, will bring some tomorrow when I come to play with EL's tool.
Re: Sources
I find your manifesto compelling, and would like to subscribe to your newsletter. I would be delighted if you wished to provide me cheep cheep honies on a sort of sub-let principle. Let me know how many monies are involved, and I shall shower you with cash in return for the sweet stuff.

I am ignoring, with becoming dignity, the awful "EL's tool" provocation. Good grief.
Re: Sources
I need a tame beekeeper to sort out the swarm who have taken a liking to our garden. I am delighted to have bees but would rather provide them with proper housing, at the moment they are in an air brick.
Re: Sources
From the Obs email list:

Honey Bee Foundations & Products
Name: Dominique Marchand
Tel: 021 511 4567
e-mail: honeybee@global.co.za