When you walk into a room, you only notice the changes. We’re just built that way: pattern-recognition engines. The perception of change, the glimpsed difference, is hard-wired into human responses. But that also means that we omit from our senses the stuff which is always there. Like bees. Most people, most of the time, do not notice the global fixture and fitting which is the honeybee. Unless you read the Sunday papers, that is. Then you could be forgiven for thinking that our lovely bees’ tenure on this earth was as precarious as a relegation-zone football manager’s job. But let’s not forget that these are the same publications whose column inches proclaim that those dastardly cockroaches would cheerfully survive nuclear fallout!
The fact is that bees are terrifically valuable as pollinators of agricultural crops and so benefit the human race in an unseen and unremarked way. Serene at the top of the food chain, human beings are apt to take a lot for granted in the unchanging vista of their busy lives, while the bees, constant and preoccupied, go about their business unnoticed as the bottom brick in the wall of the environment, while the human eye is drawn to the façade.
So what if you assume that bees are neither doomed nor invincible, but something in between ? No big deal. It’s a bit like Barnet Football Club, perpetually poised between existence and extinction.
Hang on. One minute, it’s all about bees….and the next it’s Barnet FC ? Bear with me : there are some resonances. Barnet FC’s nickname is “The Bees” and their strip is orange and black, mimicking a bee. And like the bees in the grand order of human awareness, Barnet FC is cemented in the bottom-most layer of the entire Football League. A small start, but let’s take it a step further. Consider: without the bees’ support, how could civilisation’s larder overflow ? And without Barnet propping up the foot of the table, could Manchester United reign at the top of the Premier League ?
Why Barnet FC? Like bees, it flies below most peoples’ radar. Well, here are another couple of reasons to ponder: first, I was hatched at Barnet General Hospital. Like a bee born in a hive, that determines where you come from. It gives you your identity and allegiance. Second, Barnet has earned its place in the world: site of a major English Civil War battle and the indelible term for “hair” in cockney rhyming slang (barnet = hair, from “Barnet Fair”, a horse fair from medieval times). And how could the throbbing roar of “Bees…Bees…Bees” on match-day not fail to unite the clustered supporters to their common cause, much like a colony of honeybees, vibrant in purpose and intent, united by the interplay which will yield a full honeycomb, or a bulging goal-net.
Why bees ? Simple – it’s a short-cut to getting up close and personal with one of evolution’s gifts to the natural world. Add to that the fascination with the crux of enlightened self-interest, throbbing in every beehive. And in my case, there’s the improbable reality of urban beekeeping. My bees are a minute’s flight away from Tower Bridge, their rooftop within sight of St. Paul’s and the Shard, foraging over the same patch as the monks’ bees from Bermondsey Abbey would have done in the Dark Ages.
So 20 million years’ of evolution is distilled into four hives perched above the gullies of my roof, four self-sufficient crucibles of a simple complexity very different from our own civilisation, but so amenable to cohabitation with us in a crowded world. Humble, perhaps, but compelling. So let’s echo the chant on the terraces at Barnet FC: “Come On You Bees!“