Just in case you were wondering...

I get asked a lot, if I sell prints, originals, or take commissions, and the answer is, yes. Happily!

But the thing is, I’ve never shouted it about it, because I’m normally a bit preoccupied with illustrating books. Recently, however, I’ve received a deluge of emails, and I suspect it has something to do with the wonderful bit of press from the Observer Food Monthly magazine. They very kindly ran me as one of their suggested gifts for Christmas.. well not me (messy) but my illustrations. Added to this, there was the most flattering of bylines:

“Still-lives from artist loved by top chefs”

This is not where I name drop; I’d embarrass myself, along with my children. But I do like painting food, and luckily it seems that others appreciate it too.

So I thought I’d better scribble a word or two, just in case you were also wondering what I had available for sale. If you click on the link below, you’ll find some of my current work. And if you can’t find the one you’re looking for, there are plenty more examples (of fish in particular) in the portfolio section.

Anna Koska Illustrations

 Meanwhile, here are a few that I’ve been merrily working on…

If you’ve any questions, ideas or comments, just ping me an email or leave me a comment.

Anna x

 

 

 

 

 

 


fig

Yesterday we had to cut a branch off our vigorous fig tree, in order to lever up a thicker, straighter limb and carefully secure it to the old south facing wall of our house. The wind whips around this wall, chasing it’s tail, picking at sandstone, rubbing edges off the corners. It’s the perfect wall for the perfect tree. But it gets a lot of weather.

I reached deep within the tree’s leafy canopy to hold the branch steady; arms, face and neck became abraded by the huge rasping tongues of leaves on the autumn turn. Along with this branch there were other more supple, finer limbs that had shot up from the base, and as we trimmed and tied, the milky sap slowly began to ooze, and I was transported by the heady scent.

I’m not entirely sure when I became so completely taken by figs… the ‘why’ is almost impossible to explain in 140 characters, which is the reason I’ve resorted to writing this.

It’s ‘marmite’ for many I suspect… I often get a look of vague disbelief… which is smartly transformed into one of mild boredom if I over-prattle. So, best stop reading now if you’re not particularly enamoured with this strange fruit.

It’s not just the taste. If you’re lucky enough to live near a fig tree, or have one in your garden (or indeed, have a blissfully ignorant neighbour who’s fig tree has decided to rest an arm along your communal boundary) then you’ll have had the opportunity to watch it’s miraculous transformation… from a gnarled lifeless grey body, to one of handsome virility.

In Spring, from unseen creases in elephantine branches, the tree begins to push out little beaded fruit, at times so small, you may not even notice this small burgeoning army of acid green blisters. These gradually grow and become stemmed, much like the slow and tentative inflation of a Birthday balloon. As summer opens her arms to auspicious weather and longer days these little fruit continue to swell, peaking out from beneath a canopy of lobed leaves the size and spread of a hand, unfurled and waving.

And then, they ripen…

At this point I could go off grid and wallow thigh deep in The Fig Throughout Religious and Cultural History, you know… Adam and Eve etc. But whether we’re genetically pre-programmed to have this connection with the fig tree or not, I ‘know’ that Eve really should’ve ignored the serpent and headed back to that fig tree where she’d hastily gathered up her makeshift knickers. SURELY there would’ve been something infinitely more enticing than anything that snake (or indeed Adam!) had to offer. Had she looked a little closer, she might have seen branches laden with heavy, Rubenesque fruit, barely holding on, ready to fall into her outstretched hand.

The flavour and texture of a fig, when picked ripe is beyond the realms of what’s decent and proper to write. Thankfully, some one recently introduced me to D H Lawrence’s “Figs”, and here is a recording of his words. Brace yourself… you’d best be sitting down near an open window.

The best I can do is capture it on cartridge or canvas. This is an illustration I did, using egg tempera. A lengthy, involved and age old medium that requires an egg yolk, ground coloured powders, and a lot of patience. The resultant artwork has a lustre and depth that I find utterly beguiling. So it would seem an wholly appropriate medium to use when portraying something of such sumptuous beauty.

In terms of fig recipes, perhaps some of the best I’ve tried have come from the pen of Nigel Slater. Here’s a collection of some, recently featured in the Guardian.

Meanwhile, back to my tree, there are sadly a lot of hard green hand grenades that will never ripen, given our climate. So, I’m currently experimenting with ways of preserving these. I’ll let you know how I get on.

 

 


Happens every time

I don’t know why I should be surprised any longer. It’s the same, every time I step foot into this county (country, as many would have it).

Trying my best not to come over all Betjeman or Du Maurier, but you know… it seems to happen to a lot of people… that slow but definite sense of immersion into something otherworldly, a creeping feeling that you’ve slipped unwittingly onto a path running parallel. That step to the side of where you were before… it can leave you feeling refreshed, exhausted and ever so slightly unhinged, in a good way.

When I turned eight, my father made the decision to move us all to North Cornwall. It’d been something he and Mum had been planning for a few years. I had no idea. My brother I just knew Cornwall as ‘the place that takes 8 hours to drive to, and seemingly (sadly) no time to leave’. We’d holidayed there from a very early age, always trailing to the same curve and cup of coastline… bucket and spade in hand, and a promise of Prince’s Sardine and Tomato paste sandwiches. So to my brother and I, it seemed like a jackpot win: a never ending holiday.

The reality was, of course, a little different. As idyllic as the images may be that you’ve conjured up in your minds, living in Cornwall is NOT the same as holidaying there. As money become tough and then tougher still, life became more than the adventure that my parents had bargained on. Clothes were all second hand, and mended and extended. The 50p slot electricity meter was reviled and sworn at as much as the bank manager. Shampoo du jour was Fairy Washing up liquid, and bath water was used again, and again, and unfortunately for the last person, again!

Mum grew everything that she could. As I remember, we ate a lot of rabbit, pheasant, Congar eel, mackerel, liver (tubes and all, just cut them out) and ratatouille. I’m certain there was a huge variety of food, but these particular ingredients stick in the mind more than others. Also, cooking apples, every which way possible! It was all genuinely lovely.

There was no central heating (of course), but we had a little rayburn who performed the daily miracle of warming, drying and cooking all that was needed to keep full tummies and sanity in balance.

School was a struggle. Arriving from another part of England, I was considered ‘posh’ and so it was assumed that I must live in a posh house, and eat posh food, whilst wearing posh clothes and discussing posh pursuits. In truth, my past times were spent walking along the edges of streams counting badger sets, climbing overgrown field boundaries and chatting to imaginary friends that were a little more forgiving than those who I’d failed to charm at school. We couldn’t afford to drive me to potential friend’s homes for a play. We couldn’t afford to have friends come and play. Dad was always working; Mum didn’t drive. And so to a certain extent we became landlocked in this little pocket near the coast.

My brother and I had our chores and beyond that it was a team effort, wherever required. Whether chopping wood, mucking out chickens, cutting stingers, gutting fish or bleaching the mould mottled window sills of the cottage where we lived. We just got on with it.

Rod Stewart sang a lot about sailing and Wings banged on about ‘a little luck‘. (I discovered the sensual delights Marvin Gaye et al a lot later on, with no sense of reproach towards my mother who preferred classical music, or my father who’d rather watch a Western.)

The strangest thing is that although there were many pretty appalling scrapes and hard times, throughout it all, not once do I ever remember feeling that my life was ‘tough’ or untenable, or feeling envious of the seemingly bright and spangly lives of friends or cousins. I’m not sure how they did it, but my parents never betrayed any sense of the futility and frustration that, looking back, they surely must have felt at times. I never once felt that my life was lacking.

How clever they were. It’s not as if I didn’t know how shitty things were. I did. It’s just that they didn’t overdramatise it. They just got on and did their best to rise to the challenge, and move on. It didn’t dent their enthusiasm to stay and play the game they’d chosen.

As an adult now, I can see why their enthusiasm to stay never waned.

When I visit (go home) I find that my breath becomes slower, my head becomes freer, my phone battery dies and is left for dead, and I fall in love, all over again…

The lanes, the hedges, the beaches, the bite of salt water on a fresh cut to a shoe-soft sole. Throwing on a t shirt that’s been line dried, but still feels sea air damp. Babbington leeks, honeysuckle and sheeps scabious launching out from hedges, leggy flowering brambles  grabbing at a bare arm as you tuck into a stone walled hedge to make way for a tourist driving wide-eyed and nervous, one wing mirror already lost in a lane battle (probably on the way down to Polzeath). The suck, lick and caress of the sea as it hits beach or cliff, gently enthralling those that choose to float on, swim in or paddle along the edge of its reach.

Everything about it is utterly captivating, whether the sun’s cultivating salt crystals on freshly sea-dipped skin, or the rain’s lashing it down. In fact I can’t deny that my enrapt state of joy increases in direct proportion to the increased knottage of wind and foul weather, such is my perhaps somewhat perverse definition of ‘wonderful’.

My parents gave me this… a yard stick to measure what’s wonderful, what matters, what’s really important. There are some times when as an adult now, I have some fairly tricky challenges to wade through, days when not a lot seems to be particularly wonderful. This yard stick has proven to be saviour of sanity and humour. This, and of course, Cornwall.

It’s perhaps here, where a food writer might post a favourite childhood recipe, that will evoke deep comfort and hearty joy in the reader. I’m not going to attempt this. But I can thoroughly recommend taking a walk along any narrow, high hedged lane, or sifting through a handful of sand and shell, at the tideline, where the last wave rested briefly before returning to the sea.

 

 


Bees… A Winter of discontent

I’m not sure where to start… I suppose where I left off.

Ah yes. I was spinning honey, with the manual extractor bouncing around the kitchen, light dawning that you really can’t lick your own (honey-slicked) elbows.

Well, in between then and now a couple of seasons passed..

Settled at the bottom of the field overlooking a pond, nestled amongst trees that offered dappled light in Summer, my bees seemed the sweetest and happiest colony. We’d done a lot of learning together, some of it quite steep. But together we’d had a magical Summer. As Autumn rumbled along, the colony were nibbling at the edges of their stores. But as we shuffled into what was to be a pretty wet and unseasonably mild Winter, I could tell that the hive was far too light. Although a beginner, I still knew that this was not a good sign. The bees hadn’t slowed down. They were nipping in and out, scavenging for the last of the ivy nectar. And they were working their way through their precious stores.  After chatting with a couple of more knowledgeable beekeepers and reading whatever information I could find, I decided that I would take advice and supply them with an alternative food source before we hit October, hopefully enabling them to fill their stores some more. Sadly they weren’t that interested, and continued to try for Ivy nectar. And this may have been their downfall. Ivy nectar sets solid in cooler temperatures. And as such is very difficult to access when most needed.

Unable to enter the hive for fear of disturbing the colony, I had to guess what was going on. By January, still with the occasional bee buzzing around, I felt pretty sure that they needed help, and so slit open a pack of bee fondant for them to feed on. This offered some temporary reprieve and with fingers crossed and praying to the mighty Mellonia, I waited for signs of Spring and bee activity.

Then one warmer day in March, heart in mouth, I lifted the roof and took a peak into the hive.

Such the saddest and most tragic sight to take in. The bees were all dead.  It was like a seen from Pompeii. A slight breeze ruffled the wings of these silent thousands, giving the apparency of momentary life. Bees, seemingly frozen mid feed, clung in clumps to the frames. Some were buried so deep within the cells, it was as if they were trying to hide. They were in fact, trying to access the last bits of their ivy stores. Around the cells lay remnants of desiccated ivy nectar. But the worst was yet to come.

Two empty frames a long and there was a full stash of liquid, lifesaving honey. It would’ve been enough to sustain the colony until the first blossom of Spring appeared. They simply hadn’t managed to get to it.

I don’t think I’ve ever cried like that before. I felt wholly responsible, and so eaten up with a fury at my own ignorance and incompetence; such confusion.

I learnt a lot at that point… a lot about bee behaviour… a lot about me. I’d massively messed up on many levels, and really hadn’t known it. But the harsh reality is, that if you take on the guardianship of bees, it can’t be treated as a hobby. It’s a beautiful, huge and challenging role, one that you have to willing to learn, and one that you have to be willing to fail at in order to learn a bit more. Possibly a bit like parenting!

 


Bones, stones and shells

I suspect those who’ve dipped into this blog, have chosen to, with the assumption that I’d write about current work, books just illustrated, commissions just finished. I fully intended to do that.  But every time I look at a clean screen, the cursor heart-beating expectantly, I feel compelled to write about other stuff, outside of my work; no matter how seemingly insignificant and possibly overlooked, the stuff that resonates with me. There’s the slimmest chance they might invoke a similar echo within you, and for that I’m genuinely delighted. But if not, then feel free to head over to another, more focussed, blog!

I used to live very close to the sea.

Like most, having had that as part of my tapestry, I’ve found that, at times, I almost ache to be near again. Lest I sound ungrateful, I adore where I live now, surrounded by woodland and fields, that in some directions stretch out for miles before being dissected by a road. Here we’re raising three children, growing vegetables, keeping bees, and generally trying to live a life that’s balanced, has perspective and doesn’t fall into the bottomless troll pit of materialistic mud.

Nevertheless, when I do go back to the sea I find myself scrabbling in rock pools, ritualistically swimming in stupid temperatures, and collecting things. Many things. Things that once lived… gull skulls, fish vertebra, sand worn driftwood, seaweed.  Others things that once contained life. These are my weakness. These things are lovingly (sometimes secretively!) wrapped and packaged to bring home.

Deposited in jars filled with water, piled in corners of windowsills, reached for in the dark recesses of a bag, every time I pick up a stone, bone, shell, I’m transported. It’s a pulling, sensuous, tactile reverie. If I’m honest with myself, it’s an addictive state. I can feel the sting of spray, lifted and flung with an onshore breeze. I can run my tongue over my lips, the outer corners of my mouth and anticipate the salted skin. I can absentmindedly pull that wind-whipped lock of hair once more from my watering eye. I can look beyond to where the horizon is held back by the rolling swell of deepest blue/green. I can hear the sea.

 


In pursuit

How it began…

We received an email: it was a generous offer from our friend, Tom Lywood, to take us truffle hunting in our part of the country. Tom is a poet (‘a rolling word man’ he would say), medieval musician, and an established and successful truffle hunter.

Manic research ensued to find the most promising truffle terroir; to find out the particular species of truffle prevalent (with luck) in our area. I found enough information to fill several lever arch files, including a rather scattered and someone disparate history of truffle hunting and appreciation in Britain through the centuries. However, all of this did nothing to secure any certainty when choosing the ‘best’ place to stage the pursuit.

It also did very little to prepare me for what became the most esoteric ramble I think I’ve ever taken.

We met in a pub in Lewes. Local brew ordered (whiskey mac for me) one of us gamely produced an ordinance survey map. Even though at least 5 years old, it was conspicuously pristine and perfect in every crease… the kind that get’s bought in a fit of enthusiasm yet remains neatly stored on a shelf amongst other ‘local interest’ paraphernalia. We all stared, some pointed, others nodded; we all sat back, none the wiser.

Tom arrived, having valiantly fought the clogged arteries of the coastal roads to reach us. He looked keen to get on, so we left the warm embrace of the pub and quickly clambered into a friend’s draughty old land rover. Lots of rubbing of hands and puffing of cheeks, as much from the cold as from excitement!

After much bouncing, careering and leg bracing the landrover left behind a windy single track road to nose up a narrow rutted lane, eventually coming to a halt on the edges of a private estate. We’d been given the all clear to be here, the owners no doubt somewhat amused at our choice of weekend activity!

Tom emerged from his car, though it’s probably fairer to say ‘unfolded’. At beyond 6ft, he’s a middled aged beanpole with the smile of someone a mere shadow of that age and stature.  Dressing up in ill fitting and rather tired all-weather gear, he flipped open the boot of his little hatchback and released the star of the day. Out hopped Valentino, an Italian Water Hound, his luscious botticelian surfer dude main bouncing. We all stood about making come-hither kissy noises. Snubbing our soppy efforts he and scampered off, nose twitching, and cocked his leg on a nearby beech tree. Tom, meanwhile, ignored all this and pulled out a old, long, hinged box from the car. He carried this to a clear bit of ground. On bended knee he placed it down, and with apparent reverence, slowly unclipped and lifted the lid. We watched, curious.

He pulled out a beautiful medieval looking horn. Holding it with both hands, he stood tall, closed his eyes, and blew. A single breathy note sounded out across the surrounding land. We gazed in wonder, completely thrown by this hark back to another era. He blew the horn several more times, swinging it high, arcing it around, summoning the spirit of the hunt, the truffles and all good fortune. It felt like a reconnection, however tenuous, with another time, when the land rolled out under different ownership and footfall. It now felt somehow altered, wise and hopefully giving.

I think it was at this point that our hearts took on a different beat.

Slamming car doors, thrusting hands into pockets and chins into scarves, we began our hunt.

Tom and Valentino led the way, Tom clutching what appeared to be a little pointed spade mounted on a long handle; a truffle trowel.

We climbed a valley, clambering over barbed wired boundaries and scrabbling up chalky banks. Piercingly cold though it was, faces soon turned ruddy and hands were pulled out of pockets to grasp at the terrain as it steepened further, before levelling out to a light flooded, sparse beech tree copse. Valentino and Tom were just in sight, Tom uttering encouraging noises to his charge “Tino, Tino! Wassat, wassat?” Valentino, head down to ground, nose firmly buried was digging up earth, more earth, and then tiny embryonic truffles. At one point, Tom gently held Valentino’s muzzle and prized open his jaws.  “He’s eaten it. I don’t mind. It’s too small and probably the wrong kind to be bothered with.” Valentino looked suitably delighted and scampered off in a completely different direction, Tom following. Every time this happened it was initiated by Valentino, who with Tom’s urging, would search deeper. Even the minutest of gestures from Valentino would be duly read, understood and acted upon by Tom.

I began to realise that Tom and Valentino were looking at and feeling this land on a completely different plain to us. I looked around, and suddenly felt completely at a loss.  I knew where we were (we had the ordinance survey map, didn’t we?) but I really had no idea what I looking at. Tom was seeing a land that had been lived on, managed, farmed, coppiced, boundaried, fought for and on. To him it was a sprawling rich tapestry of past happenings. There were times when he paused, stood still and closed his eyes, drinking in this land.

For the next 3 hours we rambled, scrabbled, caught our breath and watched. Tom remained calm, buoyant. When he spoke it was always with complete awe and respect for the surrounding land, and never with any frustration that it hadn’t given up any of it’s bounty.

The light began to fade. We hadn’t found a truffle. And to be honest, none of us were entirely bothered by this. The experience alone, being with Tom, a human portal into this otherwise hidden view, had been an extraordinary moment in time. Completely unexpected, and unforgettable.

We’d come a long way and it was time to head back before we lost our bearings for real.

Back at the car, while we concentrated on thawing out toes and fingers, and Tom climbed out of his foul weather gear, Valentino suddenly picked up a scent, buried his nose and with Tom’s guidance, picked out a truffle the size of a golf ball! (Russell Conwell’s “Acres of Diamonds” comes to mind!)

This day went so far beyond anything any of us could have imagined. Yes, finding a truffle was a great result, but spending time with Tom (and Valentino) was a complete honour. This is a man who has the courage and confidence to travel along his chosen path, regardless of whether it’s perceived as out of step with society and it’s fleetingly fashionable trends. He’s not just about truffles. The experience was life affirming, for all of us, I think.

Thank you, Tom.

With love,

Anna

 


New year scribble...

 

Looking back, last year had sparkle in many unforeseen places. I could write a list of things for which I’m grateful, beginning with the letter B *.. just for the hell of it..

Beautiful family

Best of friendships

Bees

Books (illustrated, and read)

Bountiful vegetables

Bicycle (that one that my husband built for me)

Butter (ice cold on warm toast)

Birds

Bread…

But like many I’m sure, I’m brushing off the imaginary clods and cobwebs of last year’s less than spectacular moments (of which there were some), and keenly looking forward to a fresh breeze carrying new challenges…

I know there will be just as many pot holes and hidden bear pits as last year. But it is my sincerest hope that I will be a little wiser at spotting the signs, enabling me to perhaps dodge a few of them. In the case of the occasional leafy patch that gives way underfoot, hopefully I won’t view these ambushes as disastrous, but merely a reminder to keep my paths true and honest, and push on.

2015 has begun. There are things going on in this world that flood me with such horror and disbelief. But there is a sense of relief that these moments bring about a similar reaction in the majority of others; we’ve yet to become inured to the constant barrage of indescribable violence. We still reel with shock and disgust at the inhumane and the unjust. Where the majority feel this way, then surely those that proactively attempt to disrupt, degrade, and destroy – singularly or en masse – cannot win…

It’s time to head up to the studio… but first to wish you the most wonderful year ahead. May we all be lithe enough to side step the bear pits, but kind enough to reach out and pull at the hand of someone who’s fallen in.

Much love,

Anna x

* Because I had to start somewhere, and the letter A didn’t do it for me.

 


A break from scribbles to tell you about a beautiful book...

Like everyone I get my fair share of unsolicited emails… those that you swiftly flush away with the ‘delete’ button, or find slipped into your ‘junk’ mailbox without even a rap at the door …some of them are surprisingly wonderful though. This one that had erroneously assigned itself as junk was an email from a commissioning editor, saying that her client had ‘found me on twitter’ and wanted me to illustrate his book! Would I please consider it.

Here’s where I have to be completely honest: as a freelance illustrator, it’s quite often me who initiates contact with possible clients, that hopefully then flower into future collaborations. I love this because, not only can I handpick those I feel inspired to work with, but also because I get to actually meet some truly wonderful and inspiring souls in the process, many of whom I can now number amongst my friends. So when I get a call, it turns the tables a little. But it’s fun and very flattering (can never have enough of that… illustrators usually have egos small enough to curl into a wren’s egg).

Dino Joanrides is the author in question, and having agreed to take a look we spoke on the phone. And we spoke for quite a while. I think we covered everything from real pasta to butter that comes in tins (who knew), from the ‘right’ kind of parma carving knife to wild boar, and italian sheep that look like goats. During that call I realised how little I know about Italian ingredients and just what an encyclopaedic knowledge Dino has. I saw what a great and essential work this book was going to be. I said ‘yes’.

Here are a few sneaky peaks at some of the illustrations I did to decorate Dino’s erudite writing! Hopefully I’ve done him justice!

It’s a been a joy to illustrate. Inevitably, I now want to restock my fridge and cupboard!

It’s available to buy in ‘all good book shops’ and here.



 

 

 

 

 


Spinning classes...

I’m writing this, having washed myself down, from chin to toe, thus saving the keyboard from developing any further qwerty idiosyncrasies.

To be honest, it may have been more efficient to have brought in a jet spray and just stood in the middle of the kitchen, while some kind child blatted me, the counters, walls, floor and the few brave wasps that insisted on hanging around, such was the demographic of stickiness.

But I really didn’t care. The whole palaver was genuinely bloody fabulous. Heating a bread knife on the Aga hot plate…the smell of singed wax as I shallowly sliced the capping from the comb…the tsunami of perfume as the honey unfolded itself from the cells … mallow, gorse and clover…

I carefully placed the uncapped frames in the mechanical honey extractor I’d hired, and turned the handle. Momentum gathered and honey began to fly from the outer cells. The honey extractor, a big tub, began to shudder and attempt an enthusiastic twerk across my kitchen floor. I braced it against a cupboard with my knees and cranked up the speed, entranced by the flickering little arcs of amber sweetness as they hit the tub wall and began a slow descent to pool at the bottom. Wow. Miraculous.

Stickiness didn’t really arrive until I needed to filter this honey. I found that by using a children’s high chair (a Tripp Trapp in case you’re planning to have a go) I could position the spinner on top and place the tub with sieve below with ‘just’ enough overlap to avoid floor puddles. This worked…ish until I needed to get the last bits out.  I found myself clasping the tilted extractor between my knees, and with a spatular I reached through the internal workings to the persistent little puddle at the bottom. I got the last of the honey!

I also got honey all over me… my hands, wrists, elbows, arms, neck, chin, hair, and smile.

I’ve now potted up this small but precious treasure.

My family are in raptures. I am in AWE.

This has been the most incredible micro adventure I’ve ever embarked on. I have a slow but persistently growing sense of responsibility that has begun to bloom way beyond my family to the greater environ. I’m not an eco-evangalist or hardwired to stand on a crate at Speaker’s Corner on a Sunday! But having watched these incredible animals as they go about their united efforts to survive and prosper I can’t help but see the parallel. We could learn a lot. We could help a lot. We’ve all read the story, you know, the one about “if the bees go, so do we” but it’s more than that. I’m not suggesting we should all become advocates of a communistic way of life. But it’s certainly something extraordinary and quite humbling to see a healthy bee turn around on it’s door step and head back to an exhausted forager, to touch, caress and support it as it endeavours to make it up the ramp to their door.

The hive is now winding down for Winter. The queen’s slowed down her egg production. The whole super organism has set about conserving energy, building and saving stores and guard bees wait at the narrowed door, spiked bottoms waggling at potential wasp intruders who would wipe out an entire winter store in a heartbeat.

Meanwhile, I’ve placed our honey on a shelf in the food cupboard… little glass jars of sunshine for Winter’s grey. Feeling grateful.

 


Oh how we laughed, but not last...

This Sunday’s hive check was golden. The sun shone, the wind slowed to a soft occasional lift, and I used lavender in the smoker which we all seemed to enjoy. The bees hummed with a discernible timbre of Glastonbury. We were all feeling mellow. Even when I gently eased out our single frame of pure honey comb, they almost merrily waved ascent “yeah, take it, fill your boots…” We were all in love. The new queen (Mrs Mallow) unfazed, waggled at me, paused, pivoted and sashayed along frame number two. I blew her a kiss….

Stripped back down to shorts and a T shirt and still humming, I joined my family to collect windfalls and scabby apples that didn’t quite pass fruit bowl muster. We were due to take them to a friend’s house for communal juicing and bottling. Enveloped in the heady perfume of ripened fruit it was a moment of sensuous indulgence. Our hands smelled of apples. As we finished filling up boxes I took my husband for a stroll down to the bees, just to check out the entrance, where earlier little wasps had been dive bombing to gain access to the stores of honey. See those two little words, ‘wasps’ and ‘honey’… add to that, that we’d been picking apples where wasps were also feasting and you maybe able to guess a little of what I should’ve seen coming….But no, I was still humming…

To the bees’ heightened senses, on guard for wasps, we must’ve seemed and smelled like two of the hugest robbers they’d ever spotted. Once alerted one hurled itself at Marc, who with much arm flailing managed to distract her. Another, like some demented wasp seeking missile, decided that I was ‘the one’ and became hellbent on attacking me.

I ran. Bloody hell, I really ran. I zig zagged, looped and flapped through the long grass, up the field and still she hung to my scent, and I swear I could almost here a mocking refrain of the tune we’d been humming in such harmony only an hour before!

With her deranged buzzing literally at my ear I realised only one option was available. I tore up the last bit of the field, cleared the steps and in one fumbling blind move I lifted the cover and dove fully clothed into the ice cold silence of the pool.

I emerged; no one was humming anymore. I laughed with relief and clambered out. But as I started to pull off shoes and empty out water I heard the weak but persistent replay of ‘our’ tune haltingly strike up, getting louder and louder with every second. I ripped off my t shirt, certain she was stuck in a pocket of air, and found her pinned by her stinger to the collar like some forlorn and ragged brooch.

Quickly I put her out of her misery. I felt completely rotten. Lesson learnt.