The Bees

The magpies were cranking up a sound this morning.  This time it was the presence of a cat that alarmed them.

After an enjoyable visit from my friend Dominic I set off for Raynes Park via Wimbledon and back.  In Mostyn Road I overheard two gentlemen taking their leave of each other.  In response to one person’s goodbye his companion said ‘now you take care’.  Now this is a farewell that really puzzles me.  Quite common these days, it seems to imply that if you don’t do what it says something unpleasant will happen to you.  Whilst anyone would be advised to take normal sensible precautions, for example when crossing the road, am I really alone or indeed most fortunate in getting up in the morning imagining all will be well?  This despite what follows.

My chosen route today was along Worple Road where the trolley buses once ran.  As I walked past the various hill roads leading up to The Ridgeway and consequently Wimbledon Common, I felt reminiscence coming on.  Sometime around 1950 when Chris and I were still at primary school, if you were prepared to walk home, you could spend your bus fare on a bag of broken biscuits from the old style family grocer in The Broadway, or, in season, a pomegranate from a fruit and veg stall in Russell Road. 

You ate the pomegranate seeds with a pin carried for the purpose. If you wanted an ice cream from De Marco’s alongside the stall that meant walking home two days in a row and managing not to spend the first day’s fare on the first day.  One day Chris and I for some reason whilst walking home decided to investigate Spencer Hill.

Some way up the hill, in someone’s garden, was a tree with an inviting hollow area at the top of the trunk.  I decided to climb up to it and have a look.  Chris followed.  As I entered the bowl shape in the bole I heard a rather angry buzzing sound.  In an instant I was covered in bees.  I’d like to say I was out of there like a shot.  Unfortunately Chris was bringing up the rear and seemed to have some difficulty in understanding either ‘bees’ or ‘get down’ or all of it.  He didn’t seem to grasp that he was in my way.  I yelled incessantly until Chris twigged and leapt from the bottom branch.  I was then out of Spencer Hill and onto a bus like a shot.  Having, of course, spent my fare I had no money.  I’m not quite sure what happened about that, but I do remember the concern of the bus conductor for this snivelling wreck with his head in a swarm of bees occupying the first seat on his vehicle. (click for what did happen, now I’ve remembered)  Chris must have made his own way home, but I was no caring elder brother at that point.

To this day I remember sitting on a stool with Mum picking bee stings and the dead creatures out of my head.  I can still see them crawling dazedly inside my fairisle jumper.  If ever I lose my hair and there are pitted marks in the scalp I bet they’ll be from those bees.

Walking along  Worple Road on this very hot day I was struck by a heavily pregnant young Asian woman, her right hand resting comfortingly on her bulge. She didn’t hit me, I just mean I noticed her.  Having passed her I stopped and waited and told her that I had been born in July and that summer was a good time to be born.  She looked as if it wasn’t a good time to be carrying so I thought I would give her some encouragement.  She beamed, thanked me, and said that she too had been born in July.

Naturally, after an hour and a half, I felt I had earned a Martin Cafe fry-up, so I stopped for one.  On the wall is a large, rather special, framed print which I felt sure I recognised.  I spoke to the younger of the two men (I imagine father and son) who seem to run the establishment.  In answer to my question he was able to reply that yes, it was Venice. It did not, however, have a family connection.  He had bought it from the junk shop next door because he had liked it but didn’t know its provenance.  I was, therefore, rather pleased to be able to tell him it was from one of John Ruskin’s marvellous illustrations to his seminal work ‘The Stones of Venice’.

Hoping he would retain the information and find it as interesting as I had, I walked back to Links Avenue contemplating the increasing humidity and the telltale little heaps of sand appearing from the joins in the paving stones which herald the onset of flying ants.  We are promised a thunderstorm.

My main time for listening to music is when I am ironing.  Today, whilst listening to Tchaikovsky’ symphony no. 2 (Little Russian), played by the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra conducted by Kirill Karabits, I pressed, among other things, a beautifully embroidered lace trimmed linen tablecloth and napkins, thinking of the life of the woman who had made them.

She photographed this, her favourite example, on 8th March, 2023, in order for me to add their amendment to this post.

Here she has picked out cutwork,


and broderie anglaise.

Jackie has a collection of this wonderfully intricate needlework given to her by various clients during her time as a Home Help some forty years ago.  Many of these people were elderly women who had lost their men in the first world war.  A generation of young fiances, husbands and fathers wiped out with no possible replacements.  These women, many still wearing engagement but no wedding rings, lived their lives alone, some of their handiwork never leaving their bottom drawers.  They were the true casualties of that first time the world went mad.

We had salad again this evening, using as always, a tablecloth and napkins possibly 100 years old.  I had a bottle of Wells’ Bombardier beer, no doubt named after Billy, the famous boxer.  He was before Errol’s time, but I was fortunate enough to know this grand old gentleman in his later years.


  1. When I ask direction in Montreal, the person also said “Take care,” to me. As I confused with “Be careful”, I walked quickly with watching around even it seemed safe. This is non-native mistake though.

      1. Interesting. I had a traumatic experience playing in the ocean with my cousins when I was a little girl and since then I have been afraid of water. I suppose it’s to do with fear vs fear of death.

  2. Thank you for this honey of a post, Derrick. My honey of a sister says goodbye by saying, “Now you take care.” I think it means she loves me.

  3. Derrick, your story sounded like something straight out of a Christopher Robin story although it was Pooh Bear who was investigating bee hives and knew exactly what he was up to. I’ve never grown up with bee hives around but while we were away and driving through farmland out the back of Byron Bay and into Lismore, we saw hives stacked up high on top of each other looking in some instances like miniature cities. There are quite a few drifters up these parts and I’ve never seen so many: “Private Property.NO tresspassers” signs. Geoff made a joke and said alll tehy’d have to do is open the hives and set the bees on them and they’d be off. xx Rowena

      1. I used to love Pooh Bear’s song…”I’m just a little black rain cloud/hovering over your honey tree”. Mum is a piano teacher and we had the sheet music for all the songs. I also loved the tigger song.

  4. Oh, my, I have frilly poppy envy again. I must buy some seeds to toss around in the fall for next year. I did search them out. Wonder if Boomdee is in a similar state. Your bee story is harrowing. I’m glad never to have had such an encounter!

  5. I can relate to some of those experiences, the saving of bus fare in lieu of biscuits or ice cream, what I am sure modern day economists would call opportunity cost. As for the misadventure of bees, shall I say that was one of the hazards of the enterprise?

  6. I’m here from the future, and I enjoyed this rambling post. The bees in your hair–wow! It’s fortunate you’re not allergic to bee stings.
    I’ve never seen people buying split pomegranates from a stand to eat. I have a lovely image of you ironing while listening to Tchaikovsky. (I don’t even know where our iron is.) ?

  7. A swarm of bees following you in the bus is so vivdly described that it has caused both a shudder and a chuckle, Derrick.
    On a different note, I still have a few doilies crocheted by my great-grandmother OBM for her trousseau at the end of the nineteenth century. Those artifacts are precious reminders of more refined times.

  8. Yes, exactly. I’ve probably mentioned it already, but my mother, born in ’26 often told me that she spent her childhood amongst women in black. Her aunts, older cousins, most had lost their husband or fiancΓ© at the war, and not married… yet, they never complained. other times…
    Take care Derrick. (American sense. I realize in English it means be careful.) ?

      1. I understand the English sense to be “Be careful”. The American sense is more like, take good care of yourself, be happy, do pleasant things… It’s a bit like “I wish you the best. Many words take different sense across the Atlantic. Cute is another example.

        1. You spell out the difference nicely, Brian. The English use annoys me because the implication is that something is likely to happen to you, and therefore rather pessimistic – Your American interpretation is far preferable.

          1. it took me a little while to adjust to American when I went over there. Though it still very close, despite the spelling, there are surprising, unexpected differences… One learns as one goes by, And yes, in that case I prefer the American sense. “Take care” then

  9. That was a great explanation from Equinox. I probably said it four times today after I left my meeting with some other ladies.
    I had a British acquaintance in the past who was annoyed when anyone asked ‘How are you?’ upon meeting him. I don’t know if this is regional or just him.

    1. “How do you do?” – “Howdyerdo?” is a more usual one. I trust you are doing well, Rose πŸ™‚

  10. I feel for you Derrick! My husband was cutting the grass and there was a hornets nest in our apple tree. There was a low branch that he moved while cutting and they attacked him. He ran from the mower and left even though it was still on. He was stung many times.

  11. Yes, I’d seen the post. Hadn’t quite picked on Jackie’s attending the old ladies…
    “Where have all the flowers gone…”
    You take care naw, ye hear? (As Southerners say in the US.)

  12. I loved seeing the wonderfully intricate needlework and reading about your adventures along Worple Road. I’m so glad you are reminiscing about juicy times with pomegranates from the fruit and veg stall in Russell Road. That is a delightful photo!

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