Driving across the south of the city for a meeting at 4.30 pm, many of the drivers were those hurrying homewards before the onset of the rush hour. An hour later and everyone would crawl along together, but the early leavers were set on flying. Changes of traffic lights brought sharp acceleration and sharp braking; slow vehicles found cars filling their rear view mirrors.
Flicking through the radio channels, the radio didn’t offer much diversion from contemplating the rear of a Mercedes Benz, until there was one of those magical BBC moments. Radio 4’s The Food Programme was from the National Honey Show, which hardly seemed likely to be very exciting, but became intriguing.
The business of bees was not so much a rural craft, but about a whole worldview, a whole way of living, a whole philosophy of life. Missing a green light by one car’s length, words from the programme found resonance. One of those being interviewed quoted words from a book by Michael Duncan, a beekeeper of many years’ standing:
We live in an ailing, troubled, treadmill of a world. But another does exist parallel to it – largely unnoticed. A world of light, colour, sweetness, tranquility; of external rhythms and harmonies. Step over into it each day, however briefly. Hold it in some secluded corner of the heart. Saving our bees can save our sanity.
The programme went on to explore how bees had provided honey for medicinal use in a prisoner of war camp in the Second World War and how honey was providing an income for people with disability on a remote Indian Ocean island, along with outlining the life and times of the ordinary hive.
The words of Michael Duncan remained through the traffic, the meeting and the return journey; was the world of the beekeeper really a parallel reality to the world of November evening traffic? Sitting with a white van behind, on which the nearside headlight did not work at all and the offside light worked only on full beam, some sweetness and tranquility would have been very welcome.
Beekeeping was an important part of monastic life for centuries, the monks becoming experts at making honey (and mead!), but perhaps the craft’s persistence in the cloisters was for more than practical reasons, perhaps the monks watching the bees through the generation found a deep peace in their daily care for the hives. The monks’ successors in modern times certainly seem to find a parallel universe.
Tending towards a Hitchcockian view of such insects, the programme was an eye opener. Marking schoolbooks, I replayed the programme from the BBC website. Perhaps it didn’t save sanity, but it was a reminder that another world is possible.