The.Movie Where The Black Man Gets Raped And Says Hes.Not.Ok The Walrus and the Honeybee: Remembering Buckfast

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The Walrus and the Honeybee: Remembering Buckfast

As Monday mornings go, this isn’t bad. There’s a chill in the air, which seems appropriate for the time of year, but the sun is shining and I’m getting ready to write something on my humble little blog. Well, it’s actually a bee blog, but it’s also a small one, occupying a quiet, little-visited corner of the web. In this part of the Internet, there are no disasters, only persistent visitor statistics graphs. When I worked at General Electric they were obsessed with “double digit growth”. You won’t find anything like that here, although I assume the “0.0”s are double digits, somehow? ok

This weekend we had a very nice visit from our relatives in Kent. I took them to see my apiary yesterday and was delighted to see some of my bees still flying and bringing in pollen. I saw a live wasp, so I will keep the wasp traps out for a long time. I also saw hundreds of dead wasps, drowned in the sweet liquid at the bottom of the traps. I don’t hate wasps at all, but the walrus has to defend its bees.

I have reported on the interview I had with David Kemp in August. He is a bit of a legend because he worked at Buckfast Abbey with his brother Adam from 1964 to 1974, and was then a bee inspector for many years. He has spent his entire life with bees and has been part of the history of beekeeping in this country. He kindly left me some photos of his stay at Buckfast which will be in my next book. They still need a bit of tweaking in Photoshop to remove bits of dust and the odd blemish, but they provide a wonderful vintage look. Many thanks to Andy Wattam for taking the digital scans and sending them to me. Andy was National Bee Inspector until a few years ago, and was also at Buckfast Abbey, but in the 1980s David Kemp was its boss.

One thing I noticed right away about Mr. Kemp was that he can talk. It’s a good thing, because I did very little during our interview, other than check the battery levels on my recording device. However, he rarely answers a question directly. It was probably because my questions were rubbish, or maybe because they triggered memories, so it would go in tangents down memory lane. That was fine with me; All I wanted to do was enjoy time with him and listen to his stories.

We were in a pub called The Fox in Kelham, on the River Trent near Newark. I arrived at 11:50 with a burst bladder, riding a walrus over the Pennines, and was surprised to find that the bar wouldn’t open until noon. Ten minutes may not seem like a long time, but alas, it was longer than my waterworks could handle, so I had to go into a quiet area by a fence and take a reliever (a different kind of chip ). I suppose I could have been arrested for “hedge poisoning” or something but I was never found.

Here is a small excerpt from the interview with David:

DK But after returning from the countryside, they were picked up and weighed, and if necessary, fed through a large tray. They lifted the hive up and knowing the weight of the hive they could figure out what tents were needed. The honey was extracted from the skins. We were riding in a truck with a group of men. The beekeepers would remove the supers from the hive – they were left in the escapes of the bees at the weekend – and we would pile the supers in the truck, and we would move on to the next apiary.

He was great at organization, Adam was. It was fine, typical German.

SD Were you one of many helping or…

DK No. When I went there the advert said ‘Beekeeping Assistant required for Buckfast Abbey’ and I had kept bees since I was 9 years old and had this fascination with how bees work. I was buying French bees and Isle of Wight bees from Douglas Roberts, and I was seeing crosses. Douglas Roberts’ bees were wonderful, not only quiet, but they brought a lot of honey. French bees were mean.

were they SD?

DK Oh… they do it right, but don’t they? When I was a gamekeeper I had some French bees, and my Labrador came and got stung all over his lips and ears. He left me for the first time, he came back home

SD Can’t really blame him

DK Then every time I went to the hives it stayed about 25 yards away. But the French bees I had were nasty. On a really good day you could deal with it but the slightest hint of rain or thunder or the like… and if you were confined for too long they would get the beekeeper out.

You never wore gloves while I was at Buckfast. No suits that people wear now, because they weren’t.

SD Just a veil?

DK I had a WWII African Rifles hat and a black net veil and apron. The ribbon on the apron held your veil in place, and the apron protected you from getting messy with the sticky honey.

But back to the staff, when I got there and met Brother Adam for the first time, one Saturday morning, he came over with his hands in his sleeves and his hood up… he looked like something out of MacBeth. He took me to the bee department where my brother Pascal worked, he was also an excellent beekeeper – he had been beekeeping for 25 years – he was very good…

SD Yes

DK So brother Adam, brother Pascal and I worked on the bees. Brother Bernard did the mail and things like that; Sending honey for Christmas – it went to Fortnum & Masons and a couple of shops in London, and a lot of it went privately in small boxes to various people. So we went that way for quite a few years.

SD So you were in quite a privileged position

DK Yes, and looking back, how do these things happen? Why did I apply for a job at Buckfast Abbey? Although I had been a game warden for the previous six years, I could see that all that was about to change. All the shootings were for money. When I applied for the beekeeping job an old gamekeeper said it was the best thing I had ever done and that all the shots were aimed at the buck.

It might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I really enjoyed the 4 hours of chatting and I’m happy with some of the stories I got. Think, when he first went to Buckfast there was no varroa, no coltsfoot, and there were wide meadows white with clover. Around Dartmoor they often had to contend with bad weather, and much later the wicked eleven, but for a time it must have been an idyllic place to keep bees and learn from their brother Adam, who was “a man of his time”. “According to David Kemp.

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