Katy Andrews Stories
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The last issue of Essex Beekeeper asked readers to send in the highlights of their beekeeping year. I'm not sure if this constitutes a highlight, but I recently had a morning to remember, and this is the story.

I had been in Cornwall for a few days, leaving my cat and her four nine-week old kittens in the care of a neighbour and a friend. Arriving back at Paddington on the Monday evening, I rang Caroline, my neighbour, to ask if the cats were alright. "You won't believe the mess!" she said. What had they broken? - nothing. What mess? "You'll see!" she said, and laughed horribly.

I saw, alright! What they had done was to find a spare loo-roll and roll it around the floor for a bit, unwinding it. Then they tore it up into lots of little pieces. It must have been a lovely game! I nearly died - it looked like a bomb had gone off in a confetti factory. I bundled the cat and kittens outside with some food and milk, changed the litter-tray, and then set to work clearing up the mess. At half past two in the morning, exhausted, I went to bed and decided that the cats could stay outside - dammit, they're nocturnal outdoor creatures aren't they?

This was a mistake. When I awoke the next morning and pulled the bedroom curtains I could see the kittens in the garden gathered in a little furry bunch around the entrance to the beehive. Every now and then a little paw would shoot up and go thwack. Little devils, I thought, they're swatting my bees! So I hurried downstairs in nothing but a night-dress and let them in for breakfast. Four kittens and mother cat shot in through the door like Thunderbird One. They must be hungry, I thought.

As I stood in the kitchen opening a tin of cat food, I suddenly became aware of a strange buzzing sound. It sounded like bees. I looked around me, perplexed. The sound appeared to be coming from the kittens! No, that's wrong, I thought - cats miaow, or squeak or purr perhaps, but they don't buzz. I started turning the tin-opener again, but there was no mistaking it - my kittens were buzzing. With horror, realisation of what had happened began to dawn on me - the bees must have launched an attack on the pestiferous kittens just as I opened the back door, and the kittens were wriggling their shoulders up and down and hopping around buzzing because their fur was full of bees! Guard bees. Angry bees. And no sooner did I realise that there were angry bees in my house than the bees realised that I was there too. Deciding that discretion was probably the better part of valour, I fled, hotly pursued by five frightened, mewing - and buzzing - cats. Slamming the door on the whole affair, I stood in the corridor listening sharply to see if I could hear any buzzing out there. No - I was safe!

From the other side of the door, I could hear random yowls and thumps. All my beekeeping gear was on the other side of that door, and so - as there was little I could do - I decided to leave them to it and take a peep a bit later and see which side was winning. Half an hour later, having got dressed (in reasonably tight and long-sleeved clothing!), I opened the door rather gingerly to survey the scene. The room was in turmoil, and there was still a buzzing noise - the bees had extricated themselves from the fur and were desperately seeking to escape through the dining room windows. And hanging by their claws around the net curtains were four kittens, trembling with excitement, busily swatting my poor terrified bees.

Frantically, I tried to pull the kittens off the net curtains, but they merely dug their claws in all the more firmly. Climbing onto a chair, I tried the paw-squeezing method of forcing them to retract their claws, but the kittens had four paws each and I could only do one at a time. Frustrated and angry, I yelled at the kittens and started trying to pull them down again. With only the ginger tom left on the curtain, the rail suddenly gave way. I leapt back, spraining my wrist as I went, as a pother of bees appeared from the folds of the heavy curtain beside the chair. Leaving the ginger kitten to find its own way out of the net curtain now heaped on the floor, I fled the room for a second time and went to nurse my wrist upstairs.

When I returned five minutes or so later, the bees - intently watched by five furry faces - were still on the windows, but now safe from feline attack. I emptied out a box of household matches and went round the windows scooping them up one by one, then took the box into the garden - it had now started to drizzle lightly - and let them out by the hive. Time for a cup of tea, I thought. I returned to the kitchen and was just about to turn the water on when I saw another bee, sitting right on the tap! Back into the garden for the match-box, and the last straggler (I hoped) was rescued. I looked at the clock - quarter to eleven! Returning to the demolished dining room, I rang in to work, tried to give some sort of excuse for my unutterable lateness, and said I would be in as soon as I had put the curtains back up and had changed into more appropriate clothing.

I had a cup of tea, put the curtain back, and went to get the tube. It was only then, wondering how on earth I was going to explain this when I got to work, that I suddenly saw the funny side of it. I don't know what lessons I or other beekeepers could learn from this experience, but I know what my kittens learned because I've never seen them hanging around the beehive since!

Katy Andrews.