A year or so ago, perhaps more, it became clear that we had a little problem. A few wild bees were seen crawling in between the gaps in the brickwork in the Pump House. They seemed small, made no mess, didn’t seem to swarm and we’d resigned ourselves to some kind of joint occupancy since it’s illegal here to simply exterminate them. A relative had tried injecting foam into the cavity wall, to deprive them of building space. However, this year, the problem has become greater by an order of magnitude. They have justified their reputation for industry, that's for sure. They have constructed their own Burj Khalifa all the way up the wall. Beekeepers came – the objective being to gently lure them out into the open and persuade them, as Fagin put it, to ‘change lodgings'. Two separate experts came, suited up and proclaimed the problem insoluble. It was suggested that we block off the entrance, reasoning that if no more could get in, the current occupants would simply succumb and all would be well. We didn’t consider that even if this worked it would leave behind an open invitation for more perniciously invasive guests, like rodents who can smell a free lunch. After a trip to town yesterday, we arrived home to find the entire lower floor filled with angry buzzing and the house uninhabitable. Depriving them of the front door, they had, with admirable resourcefulness, found a back one which they seemed more than capable of defending. We called the fire department who knocked a few holes in the wall, reopened the original hole and pulled a huge, black and gold glutinous mess out on to the grass. They injected resinous poison into the smaller orifices, blocking them up afterwards. After they left, it became clear that the surface had barely been scratched. Come evening, a menacingly ominous humming could be heard in various locations behind the cavity walls. It was clear that although one part of the swarm had been eliminated and they might have lost round one, the fight wasn’t yet over. No, indeed.
Strangely, I found myself thinking “this is war.”
Various strategies came to mind. Opening a hole in the wall, squirting insect poison through the hole and blocking it up again? Rejected. Waste of spray. Good enough to pick off the stragglers who wander unbidden into the house, useless for a high volume Panzer attack. Canute knew he could not hold back the tide and so do I. Next option - a tiny Spartan army held off thousands of Xerxes’ hordes at Thermopylae by bringing them to battle in a funneled valley. But, as yet, the bees don’t want to fight and provoking them to do so by trapping them in might provoke a response of such disproportionate magnitude that even if thousands were lost, more would quickly replace them. King Leonidas was betrayed because a small path behind his lines was revealed to his enemies who promptly outflanked him. Napoleon had numerical advantage most of the time, but still lost at Waterloo. Third option. Get someone in to tear down the entire wall and dig out comb, foam and queen. Collateral damage, considerable, but, problem solved. Fourth. Pray. I wonder why I didn’t put that first on the list.
I used to drink. Alcohol, that is. A lot. Much too much, as it happens. For the first few years, the booze and I rubbed along together, much like a small, but inoffensive honeycomb behind a wall. There were inconveniences, but nothing more. However, the man takes a drink, later the drink takes the drink then the drink takes the man – as the Japanese are fond of saying. The infestation into one’s personality becomes more and more pervasive, money, jobs and friends evaporate, there were unwelcome police interventions – oh, yes - until ultimately, rock bottom is struck with a bone-shattering crunch and something has to be done or a whisky-sodden grave beckons. There were palliatives – visits to clinics and hospitals, dryings-out, group therapy and other equivalents to squirting poison into holes. But, the beast with red eyes refused to die for a long, long time. It took dramatic, divine intervention before the whispering black dwarf was finally and permanently dislodged from my shoulder.
It feels a bit like that with the bees. I don’t like leaving the story half finished, so next time we meet, there’ll be more to tell. One thing is sure, there will be victory. One way or another.