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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 that seems appropriate for the time of year, but the sun is shining and I’m settling down to write something for my humble blog. Well, it’s actually a bee blog, and so are you, and it lives in a quiet, unvisited corner of the internet. There is no grass walking in this area of the internet, just graphs of visitor statistics that live stubbornly. When I worked at General Electric they were busy with “double digit growth”. You won’t find any of this here, although I think “0.0” is a double digit, what? Oh well.
This weekend we had a visit from our relatives in Kent which was great. I took them yesterday to visit my apiary and was happy to see some of my bees still flying and bringing in pollen. I saw one wasp so I kept the wasp traps for a while. I also saw hundreds of dead wasps, drowned in the sweet water under the traps. I don’t hate wasps at all, but a walrus needs to protect its bees.
I’ve been chasing the interview I had with David Kemp back in August. He is a bit of a legend, having worked alongside Brother Adam at Buckfast Abbey from 1964 to 1974, and later became a beekeeper for many years. He has lived all his life with bees and has been part of the history of bees in this country. He allowed me to have pictures of his time at Buckfast which will be in my forthcoming book. They still need a bit of retouching in Photoshop to get rid of dust particles and the odd blemish, but they provide a fascinating insight into the past. Many thanks to Andy Wattam for making the digital scans and sending them to me. Andy was the National Bee Inspector until a few years ago, and also lived at Buckfast Abbey, but in the 1980s David Kemp was his boss.
One thing I immediately noticed about Mr Kemp was that he could talk. This is a good thing because during our interview I had little to do, except check the battery level of my recording device. However, they do not answer the question directly. Maybe it was because my questions were rubbish, or maybe because they triggered a memory, so he goes on tangents down the memory lane. That was fine with me; all I want to do is enjoy my time with him and listen to his stories.
We were staying in a cottage called The Fox in Kelham, on the River Trent near Newark. I arrived at 11:50 with an exploding bladder, having driven the pennies in a walrus cart, and was shocked to discover that the library would not open its doors until noon. Ten minutes may not sound like a long time, but alas, it was longer than my water works, so I had to sneak off to a quiet place by the hedge and have a wee (some kind of wee). I think I should have been arrested for “hedge poisoning” or something but I wasn’t caught.
Here is a small part of my conversation with David:
DK But when they come back to the brewery, they pick them up and weigh them on a scale, and when they want, they feed them using a large tray feeder. He lifted the hive up and because he knew the weight of the hive he could tell what the stores needed. Honey was removed from the legs. We used to go with a group of men in a lorry. The beekeepers remove the supers from the hive – they were left behind when the bees fled at the weekend – and we piled them on the top of a lorry, off to another apiary.
He was wise in the organization, he was Adam. It was there, plain German.
SD Are you one of the many who help or…
DK No. When I first went there the ad said “Beekeeper needed at Buckfast Abbey” and I had been keeping bees since I was 9 years old, and I was curious about how bees work. I was impressed by buying bees from France and the Isle of Wight from Douglas Roberts, and I could see the crosses. Douglas Roberts’ bees were excellent, they were not only quiet but also produced a lot of honey. French bees were wild.
DK Oh…he does well, but the bite? When I was an athlete I had French bees, and my Labrador came and got stung around his lips and ears. He left me the first time, he returned home
SD I can’t really blame him
DK Every time I go to the beehives after that they are about 25 yards away. But the French bees I had were bad. You can deal with them on a perfect day but rain or thunder or anything like that…
When I was at Buckfast you didn’t wear gloves. There are no suits like people wear now because they were not around.
SD Screen only?
DK I had an African Rifles hat from the Second World War with a black mesh cover, and an apron. The apron tape held your veil down, and the apron protected you from getting tangled up in sticky honey.
But going back to the workers, when I got there and met Brother Adam for the first time, one Saturday morning, he came with his hands in his hands and his coat up^he looked like something out of MacBeth. They took me to the bee department where Brother Pascal worked, who was also a very good beekeeper – he had been beekeeping for 25 years – he was very good…
DK So there was Brother Adam, Brother Pascal and myself who worked on building bees. Brother Bernard wrote letters and things like that; sending honey at Christmas – it went to Fortnum & Masons and several stores in London, and many like to go separately in small boxes to different people. So we ran like that for many years.
SD So you were in luck
DK Yeah, looking back, how does that happen? Why did I apply for a job at Buckfast Abbey? Even saving games, where I have been for the past six years, I saw that everything will change. All the shots were going to the money. When I applied for a job as a beekeeper one of the old beekeepers said it was the best thing I did and that all the shooting was going to money.
It may not be everyone’s cup of tea but I enjoyed my 4 hour chats and enjoyed the stories I got. Just imagine, when they first went to Buckfast there was no varroa, no oil pollution, and there were big white meadows with clover. They had to contend with bad weather often around Dartmoor, and much later with bad children, but for a while it must have been the best place to keep bees and learn from Brother Adam, who was “a man ahead of his time. “according to David Kemp.
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#Walrus #Honeybee #Remembering #Buckfast