Sunday, 10 April 2016

Making a Bee Line

The weather of late has been warmer than the average for the time of year, and as the summer approaches it looks like there isn't now going to be any substantial rainfall before the dry months are upon us.

Up in the pine and olive-clad hills behind the house there are no babbling frogspawn-inhabited brooks, the like of which we usually have to ford during our walks at this time of the year and most of the sprawling, pebble-bottomed seasonal river beds have barely a trickle running along them. In fact many that would be difficult to cross on foot after a normal winter are completely dry.

Against such a backdrop they're currently installing a massive water pipe, almost big enough for a child to crawl through, under the road in Kiotari, apparently owing to the fact that the Miraluna Hotel is reputed (allegedly!) to be complaining about lack of water pressure and it looks like they're going to supply it from the modest little concrete and steel reservoir that's just over the hill from us. It's a last-minute affair, causing a fair degree of dust and disruption as they create a huge ditch running right past the main entrance of the Rodos Maris hotel in the process of laying this new pipeline.

Frequently at this time of year our water supply is liable to dry up, sometimes for a day or two, owing to the fact that demand on the modest little reservoir that serves the area tends to outstrip the supply in the ever increasing quest to fill hotel and apartment swimming pools, some of which are now massive in size. Hey ho, as they say. Etsi paei h zoi!

A few days ago we were doing some gardening and both of us had occasion to go around the back of the house to the shed simultaneously. I emerged from the shed door to see my better half wildly flicking at her own hair, owing to the fact that a rogue worker bee had become tangled up in it and she feared getting stung on the scalp. I joined in the fray trying to flick the offending mite away, with some degree of success at first, only to become the crazed insect's next target. The little swine was a true kamikazi and each time we swotted it away it would skid to a halt mid-air, like in those old Hanna-Barbera or Looney Tunes cartoons we used to so love as kids, then start another suicide dive right at us, well, by this time - right at me.

I'm no expert on bee behaviour. Most of the time, though, the worker bees that come to the garden are quite ambivalent about us, to the extent that when quite a busy swarm of them are using our water-filled plant-pot tray [set there primarily for the birds to drink from and take a bath in] to collect water, each one sucking it up from the very water's edge before taking off and making a bee-line [I amaze myself sometimes] back to the hive, one of us can use the hosepipe to top it up without the bees bothering us at all. They may take off and circle a bit whilst we squirt the water into the tray, but they soon settle back to the task in hand once we've put the hose away.

When they're making honey in earnest, they'll often create a very audible humming backdrop to our gardening experience and I find it quite soothing. Sometimes, in fact, it sounds like there's a Formula 1 circuit in the garden. In general, bees go about their business and leave us to go about ours. Don't get me started on wasps mind you, which fortunately we get a lot less of here than we used to in the UK. But bees, well we're generally really pleased that on our country walks we often pass a colony of hives situated among the olive groves and, as you'll know if you've read this stuff for any length of time, the "bee men" when passing frequently make us a gift of a jar of their very own honey as they pass our garden wall in their truck.

What makes a bee decide to turn aggressive? I found this piece helped me get the picture. On reflection it seems we were lucky that no other bees joined in the fray.

Anyway, this critter that was having a go at us kept coming at our heads and there we were swotting this way and that when it came at my face and landed ever so momentarily on the jawline of my right cheek. I swiped it off pronto with my right hand and suddenly it was gone. We looked and looked but couldn't find it anywhere. Beneath our feet was a gravel area and so we decided that it must have dropped on to that and become invisible.

Within seconds my jawline began to hurt, so I made a bee-line [see, there I go again] for the front of the house to go inside and check in the mirror. I was pretty sure that it hadn't managed to sting me, but it sure felt like it had anyway. Followed by my chuckling, "sympathetic" other half, who was by now so relieved that I'd become the decoy and she'd got away with it that she was finding it highly amusing, I went straight inside and into the bathroom to take a look in the mirror. By the time I got there my jawline was on fire, ouch. And I mean ...OUCH! My beloved, in between chuckles, tried to sound sympathetic, with not a great deal of success.

Examining the skin along my jawline I could see why it was hurting so much. The bee hadn't quite managed to plant its sting in my skin, but it had left it sitting on the surface. I'd evidently swatted it away with milliseconds to spare. Have you ever had the opportunity to examine a bee sting? 

This image courtesy of

Not only has it a vicious-looking barb, but it also carries a sackful of venom, which in my case was being discharged on to the surface of my skin. When I was at junior school I was stung on the collarbone once, so I know what it feels like. Believe me, this was just as painful, even though I was able to dab the sting off of my face and wash it down the plughole in the bathroom sink.

For the remainder of the day I was vigorously applying the cream that I always swear by, Lanes Tea Tree and Witch Hazel cream, which really does dull the pain, but that didn't stop my jowl swelling up like an angry red itchy golfball. I was still slightly flummoxed as to what had happened to that bee once I'd swiped it off my cheek. I know that a bee dies once it's discharged its sting, but where had the flippin' thing gone? It was a mystery. Quite why this one and only solitary member of the swarm had gone loony on us was also a mystery. I at first thought that it may have reacted to the smell of the shampoo, or hairspray in my wife's hair, but that piece I placed the link to above suggests a number of other reasons. I suppose we ought to be thankful that it was some distance away from the plant tray where its fellow workers were supping water, because it sure as hell must have been emitting "alarm pheromones" by the time I gave it one last swat.

Later that evening I was preparing to take a shower, all the time exuding self-pity and self righteousness in equal measure (after all, hadn't I spared my good lady's suffering by taking it upon myself in true self-sacrificing fashion?) when I began to unfasten my watch-strap.

Now, I have a new watch. I bought it when we were on Crete last November, in a shop in Agios Nikolaos to be precise. It's one of those modern funky watches with a hefty black rubber-like strap with a buckle that's so large that it would be quite at home on my trouser belt as well. There I was unbuckling this gargantuan fastener when something dropped out from between the two layers of watch strap. There on the bedroom floor lay our persecutor. It had spent the remainder of the day trapped in my watch strap.

Flaming lucky for me that bees can't sting more than once I'd say.


  1. Very interesting post, John. Never seen a bee's sting before and it looks quite scary. I'm just wondering though, with you mentioning hairspray on your better half's hair, whether she was sporting a 'beehive' hairdo, (in vogue in the 1960's) and that's what attracted the bee in the first


  2. The reason for the "attack" may have been a matter of confusion. You have stated that the bees were drinking. It could be that your rogue bee was looking for water and, having missed the best source was looking for the sweat of honest labour on your skin. It became an attack when you began the swatting. Lots of people forget the bees' need for water in a dry environment, and also how poor their eyesight is. Water does not have a smell as such. Put together the confused bee and your "aggression" and the result was inevitable.
    You are quite right to be thankful. Hives are taken to Halki to collect nectar. The Greeks, bless them, do not think to provide them with water on an arid island. Levkosia, whom you will know went near to newly positioned hives some years ago and had the same thing happen to her as happened to you. In this case there was no other water supply and she was nearly killed; surely you have heard the story?
    Bees need water and, if the apiarists do not provide it, the situation can be very dangerous in a dry country.
    You were just very unlucky (or should that be lucky?) to get near very thirsty bees! Bless you for providing water for them.

    1. In fact Simon, the local beekeepers around here do provide barrels with water in for their bees, but usually only in the summer. They were probably "caught napping" by the exceptionally dry winter we've had.