I did it! I taught at my kids’ old school. Before I started the teacher, Mrs Taylor, gave me a photo of my boy, Charlie, whom she must have taught about 17 years ago. I was at one end of the room with a bit of working space around me where I arranged bee pictures, skep, nucleus box etc. It was very hot so I hung up the bee suit rather then wearing it.
The kids, when they arrived, were seated round a scattering of tables, which is much better than dreary rows. I had to wear a microphone as one of the girls, Emily, is deaf, but can hear perfectly well with her cochlear implants. I think the electrical stuff enables her to concentrate on the speaker and filter out some of the background noises. I noticed that they had started doing geometry as there were a few diagrams on the board so I referred to them when talking about cells. I passed round a piece of fresh natural comb and also a chuck of old brood comb for comparison.
I handed round the honey pot for them to take fingers full. It did the rounds several times and I was amused when the whole class had a ‘high’ from it. I also handed round the jar with a few bees, which, unfortunately, had managed to smear themselves with honey so they weren’t looking their best.
I had a clutch of bee pictures I bought at the bee auction a few years ago and spoke about each one, answering questions as I went along. I chose one of the girl volunteers to demonstrate the dancing of the bees which she did very well once I had explained. The comb of honey from my top bar hive was sliced up into cubes by the teacher and so all the kids (and me) had a chunk. The teacher, wisely, got some paper towels to cope with the inevitable stickiness and regurgitated wax.
I did my poem on the worker bee (which I’ll put at the end) but the audience participation wasn’t as good as I had hoped. By that time I had been on my feet for about 40 minutes, which was what I had been aiming for. To round off, I asked if anybody had any questions. A forest of hands shot up! It was another 20 minutes before they ran out of questions, some of which I hadn’t come across before, for example, where does the name ‘bee’ come from?
Anyway, here’s the poem. I try to get the audience, whenever I perform it, to join in the last word of each verse and to buzzzzz between verses. For some reason the line spacing is very wide and I don’t know how to correct it.
Workers Rule or Workers’ Rule?
My consciousness comes to me.
Laboriously I chew my way,
While in the dark I cannot see
For I’m a bee and I must work.
Put out my tongue and ask for food;
A passing sister gives me some.
It’s spit and nectar – gosh it’s good!
‘Twill give me energy to work.
From my wax cell I climb right out
And have a shake, expand my wings;
Then clean my cradle – have no doubt,
For that’s a new-born bee’s first work.
I’m grey and furry at the start
My wings are even and complete.
Now contrast that when I depart
Worn out and draggled from my work.
My first three days I clean around
The area where I was born.
Early on, my Ma I found:
She just lays eggs while I must work.
She laid an egg in my old cell
As soon as I had cleaned it up
And lots of other ones as well
And that gives me a job of work.
In three short days the eggs will hatch
And hungry larvae let me know
That I must feed the nearest batch
‘Cos I’m a bee and that’s my work.
At twelve days old my job will change.
A crowd of us will make some wax
Which, with our mouthparts, we’ll arrange
To make new cells – precision work!
Throughout this time I’m quite aware
My Ma, the queen, is in the hive.
Her pheromones get everywhere,
Ensuring that we can but work.
I move towards the hive’s front door
And meet returning foragers,
Unloading them, so they get more:
They’re very busy at their work.
I take their nectar in my crop
And mix it with a bit of spit,
Evaporating drop by drop:
Making honey’s such sweet work.
My sisters bring in pollen too,
Which my job is to pack away.
It’s protein for the young bees who
Feed it to babies – that’s their work.
I’m older now and standing guard,
An easy job until it’s marred
By wasp or hornet – they’re hard work!
I’m three weeks old, a big girl now.
I watch a sister start to dance.
The scent and movement tell me how
To find some flowers – my next work.
My sister said they’re half a mile,
And keep my back turned to the sun,
So, if I get to find them, I’ll
Begin my latest type of work.
I find the flowers, suck their juice
Until my crop is very full.
Their pollen dusts me – it’s quite loose:
I’m doing pollination work!
I spent three weeks within a cell,
Another three within the hive;
Three weeks flying and I’m well
Becoming worn right out with work.
The day has come – I’m past my prime.
My wings are tattered: I can’t fly,
So from the hive I crawl in time
To save the undertakers work.
Chris Slade 23rd February 2010