We’ve just had two days of the bees. A frightening, weird and funny couple of days. The bee nest has been in the wall for about seven years. They moved into an old slit of a window that was obviously made in the wall after some of the windows were bricked in. After probable protest, and after alternative tax methods were discovered and the windows were re-opened once more, these slits had been filled in again, on the inside.
The legacy has just come home to roost. Or perhaps more exactly, to reest. In the past there would have been an owl or two sat in there, or a flycatcher on a Summer day. But seven years ago the bees set up home. They were above head height, and they never bothered me. I just used to acknowledge them as part of what went on outside the house. There are quite a lot of animals living on or around the wall. You wouldn’t have to walk more than a few feet of a morning in order to witness fitness surviving.
So, a couple of days ago the bees decided to move house. Only they were just pretending. It must have got a bit too Bombay in the east for them. They had decided on a new development, further to the west, and the planning committees had rushed the permissions through with the help of Charley Haughey. But I suddenly realized that I was a local resident, and that I didn’t want this distantly romantic bunch of travelers to take my studio over. After all, it was MY studio.
Young Trace had lived with them for a few years. She would hurry past them, and sometimes utter a little squeak. She is nature woman, but she doesn’t like it crawling around inside her. She also has long hair, and I guess that the idea of one of the critters getting into her locks and getting angry is less than appealing. We called the local bee man.
Herman came round within the hour. He’s a good guy, in his early 40s with a little bit of a distinguished salt and pepper hairdo going down. He told us stuff about bees that we would not have known. He was hoping that they would swarm, so that he could put them in a box and take them away. He said that sometimes they would swarm if you hosed them down. So everyone got into riot gear and out came the water cannon. No luck. A very wet wall; and some apes scratching their heads. There would be hatchlings coming out of the wall for the next 21 days whatever we did. We couldn’t dismantle the house, or get the bee god on the red telephone. We all realized that we had to kill them.
I got the ladder out for Herman and he got into his 2001 hat; and went to switch HAL off. I felt very weird about it. It was making me dizzy. There was something inside me dying, and it was making a different sound than anything made by Heinz or The Clonakilty Black Pudding Co. And it was screaming a frightening scream. It was a collective beast that knew a different world order. It didn’t become aggressive. It just screamed. The pitch was a visible thing. Not anything you could put your finger on, although Herman was doing quite a lot of that, but a tangible ghost presence. I felt ill for the rest of the day.
They died in a hail of leaded Texaco 4 star. Emptied out of the strimmer and other nearby vessels. A fusillade of refined fossil fuel, shooting from the spray nozzle of a plastic squitter bottle. And they fought to keep onto their home like the ugly beautiful devil they were. And they went down to the last man and beyond. In a brave and ignorant despair they clung to the wall. The apes all had their separate thoughts.
Then Herman asked me whether I had any sand and cement. We looked at eachother and he said that he was going on holiday to Llandudno. Tomorrow. I decided that it had to be a ‘lock-in’. The poteen was flowing out of the wall. The pub had to be closed. We went and got the tools together. I stood under the ladder holding the bucket as Herman dipped into it with the doom trowel. And I told him and Tracy about the acquisition of the plastic coat that was now being splattered with lime cement.
That I had walked out of the hotel, and that I knew the Bayswater Road really quite well, or I thought that I did; until I didn’t quite know which/whether Lancaster Gate tube station was west or east of where I was stood. This was happening in my head at the same moment that I was accosted by an Italian gentleman of middle-aged portly proportions who wished to sell me a priceless garment made from finest Indonesian carbon fibre, for a mere fifty pounds.
“A tenner”, I said, realising that there was a feasible gardening coat on offer that I could save up, along with all the other priceless items, for my eventual retirement into the garden. ”AR, sir”, he said “But it ees the finest quality” ”Where’s Lancaster Gate tube station?” ”Jus for yusir, I give you two… Two for the price of one.. Nobody give you this kind of deal for coat such as thees” ”A tenner… Lancaster Gate… D’you know this town… Er I think it’s this way now that I come to think of it” ”OK I give you the two for 25… Thees is unbelievable deal sir” ”A tenner” At this point neither of us knew what was actually on offer, and there was a surreal element creeping alongside every comment. ”OK fifteen” ”OK OK OK… I’ll give you twelve…… Now where’s Lanc…” ”I donno sir, you like London…. Thank you sir…”. At which point I strode manfully back into the hotel to dump a new and exciting acquisition from London town via the fourth world. I didn’t get that far after that. I got stuck in the internet cafe which may be on Leinster Gardens, and me caught up with having lived in Ireland for the last eleven years. And my memory taking me back to when I first met The Incredible String Band who were staying at a little hotel B+B down there which I’m sure was called The Leinster Gardens Hotel. But since this was in C. 1967, I’m sure that I can be forgiven etc……
As I walked out of the cafe, having spent an hour searching the immediate London world to try to satisfy my craving to find more and more of the right kind of guitar or vocal enhancement technology, and at least go and window shop, the Italian gentleman was passing at about 25mph in his small french car; and he waved to me cheerfully… !
However, cut to July 2000. The studio was littered with corpses that night; and I remembered Herman’s words to the effect that they can still sting you when they’re dead. I wore shoes and felt a little lost to be singing to the collected cadaver of a fallen empire. But then there was suddenly more. Tracy came and stood in front of me and more or less told me that I had to go to the bedroom because there was a really horrible smell in there. I went upstairs and opened the door and poo! It was the stink of the scattered body parts.
All that I could see in my mind’s eye was what the entire animal would have looked like in fluid size and shape if we’d have been able to see it without the wall being there. A viscous mass the size of a big dog. Moving in a heaving ball. A wave of channelled action and reaction that could fly off the handle, coax growth in arcadia, and be back together again by nightfall, one of the slippery ghosts of the day.
And there it was in death, strewn throughout the east wing of the house; and smelling like nothing you would ever want to taste again. It was of the earth, but it was as pungent as DONT GO THERE. A skunk from yet another world.
Tracy had commented the night before, as one had flown across the room, that it seemed to be ejecting spray. “WHUUU!” she had gone, as she made to go further under the duvet. I wondered at the time whether I wasn’t getting sprayed with recycled imminent refossilling fuel, and my bottom lip had pursed my top lip further into my nosehair. In silence.
The abiding memory of the bees will always have two defining images for me. One is of a small bat flying out of a hole high up in the house, and back, in broad daylight, trying to escape the tsunami smacking the wall. The other is of Tracy dressed in Herman’s space kit up two rungs of a ladder spraying bee-killer on the stragglers 2 days later.
I’ve just about managed to get back to the record now, but I caught myself in the mirror an hour or two ago and the reflection seemed somehow reminiscent of a cat stranded up a tree. I turned and walked away. East..
Copyright 2000 Roy Harper