The Three Bees Chapter 9 – Curly in control

Curly the Wise One, last of the three drones, of three brothers, was keeping very still. As Mother moved away with her retinue, the ring of guard bees slowly dispersed. He was overwhelmed with relief and sorrow. Relief that the seven sisters, his colony’s council of leaders, would let him keep his wings and stay. Sorrow that he had not been able to save Burly and Twirly from their very different drone fates. Curly was the only male bee left in the hive and his sisters were stepping away as well. All the bees were moving to their posts, to their allocated tasks. He was alone.

But Curly the Wise was also reprieved and still alive. He hadn’t been turfed out, wingless with the rest of the drones and could stay in the hive if he could ensure the nest of bees would stay warm, as temperatures fell and winds howled. He didn’t really know how to do this, only that his survival and that of his sisters, depended on it. “I said it, and I shall make it so.” He was talking to himself through gritted mandibles, all by himself in a world where every individual had their place and their function. Alone and uncertain. And with a promise to keep.

Curly’s usually tip top brain was in turmoil. The last couple of days had left him exhausted, his thoughts in disarray. He felt confused and incoherent for the first time in his life. As he moved closer to the centre of the nest, he tried to calm down, slowly methodically cataloguing what he saw, reassured by its familiarity. He noted a dwindling number of capped brood cells and saw that the newly born bees were much rounder than usual. They did not have the streamlined and slender figures of the older girls, but were instead curiously plump. A chill passed through the hive as the wind outside rose and a heavy rain started to pound on the roof. Perhaps the new shape was in response to the growing cold. Curly’s bee brain was still processing the awful events of the last couple of days, but this little thought lodged somewhere in the muddle. He would come back to it later.

The loss of Twirly wrenched and the image of the wingless drone with his slightly irregular limbs and fear-filled eyes rose up. Curly saw again as Twirly slowly drifted blank and stiff down to the grass below the hive, desolate and afraid. By now Curly reasoned that Twirly and the other expelled drones would be dead. Perhaps blown away in the wind, or drowned in the rain, bodies curled and limbs tucked in. Dead. Death was the one thing a bee should definitely avoid. But colony logic dictated that dead drones meant fewer mouths to feed during the winter and an increased chance of survival for everyone else. Drone destruction made sense in a sort of way, if you accepted insect logic to protect the many by evicting the expendable.

It was this flawed reasoning that had given Curly his chance. He knew a smarter way to manage the cluster would help keep the nest warm so the bees could survive the winter. How to do this though? How to live up to the bold and desperate promise he had made to the seven sisters? How could he manage the changeovers, the timings, how could he know if a bee’s temperature was dropping to dangerous levels? Did the chubby shape of the new bees hold a clue? He needed a plan and he needed authority, he needed to tell the council of seven how his plan would work and how it should be shared with the colony. He must demand absolute power over the shifts. They must understand that the very survival of the colony depended on the bees’ blind obedience to Curly the Wise.

Curly wasn’t sure who to ask. He didn’t know which of the tens of thousands of bees made up the council of seven, nor was he even sure there really was such a council. He formulated his plan quietly at the edge of the nest which was slowly cohering into a single mass of bees. They were at the centre of the hive where the Queen was and where the last of the season’s brood were being nurtured. 

Curly moved away further to the periphery where for some reason it seemed to feel less cold. Here the scent of propolis was strong and there were no drafts. The wall of the hive felt warm to the touch and it reminded him of summer. Sunshine. Sunshine was bringing heat and Curly moved from side to side and up and down to track the warmth. This is what the bees could do to keep warm, so following the sun must be part of the plan. He was drawing imaginary circles on the wall and became aware of another bee, also away from the main cluster and also seemingly aimless. She came up close to Curly and he understood that she had news. She wanted to tell him what Mother had told her. Mother was the oldest bee in the colony and Mother wanted Curly to know what happened when the world turned cold and dark, when the colony started to fail and that the colony needed a plan for self-preservation.

The messenger explained that their survival would depend on the cluster having enough to eat and on keeping warm. There were plenty of stores, but warmth was another matter. It was this that Curly pondered. The messenger, an older bee who seemed to know Curly, let him understand that the dark and the cold would not last but that they would seem endless. The Queen had survived this cold and dark twice before and had stopped laying eggs because without brood to keep warm and nurture they could risk lower temperatures in the hive. Instead of maintaining summer’s temperatures, perhaps they could be much colder and they could still survive.

Curly the Wise wasn’t convinced. He remembered his night after the drone massacre, the night when he started to lose all sensation, when his legs, wings and antennae seemed to freeze and he became immobile. He remembered the slow sensation stealing over him and his legs curling under him and his hold on the honeycomb failing. This is what the cold does to a bee. They might be alive, but a temperature of 9º or less paralyses. Movement towards food or other bees is impossible, so they collapse and slowly die. Curly understood this now and understood that he must balance the temperature of the outer edges of the bee cluster with the time it takes for a bee to become so chilled. That would depend on the sunlight hitting the hive, on the number of bees in the outer layers and even their shape. Curly suddenly understood that curvey bees make better insulators than slender ones built for flight because curves can trap more air.

They’ll join arms the messenger was continuing, and they’ll vibrate their wings and limbs to generate heat, and they must be able to move as one. Curly’s imaginary drawings on the wall were starting to make sense to him. He started with the middle of the nest, with where the Queen would stay. That would mean nursing bees should be the next ring out, except that maybe nursing bees aren’t needed in the dark and cold, because there will be no grubs to nurture. Perhaps it doesn’t matter who is where, except that the layers of bees who were thin would be more vulnerable to the cold and less able to generate kinetic warmth than the rounder shaped bees.

Curly set off to survey the hive. There had been some changes in the last couple of days, changes that he hadn’t previously noticed. The giant grub had put strange foods in the top of the hive. No good doing that Curly harrumphed, if the bees are too cold to move they’ll not forage within the hive even if there’s extra rations. He noticed that there were ample honey stores and that some of the honey was runnier than it had been in the pre-massacre days. Water. Water would be difficult to manage when the days were mostly dark which was another thing the messenger had said before leaving. Mother had said that water was a constant worry for her attendants, although the Queen herself couldn’t see what the fuss was about.

He understood what the messenger said about keeping things cosy, but Curly, not being used to numbers, didn’t know how warm the nest should be. The messenger had said it should be like a summer’s day, like when drones were going out and sometimes coming back, when workers would drop exhausted and heavily laden on the landing board. He didn’t know it but 34º C is the number Curly should have had in mind for summer, and the messenger had said they could make it with less than this but this lower temperature of 25º would have to be constant, until the light and warmth returned. He had no idea how long that would be or how long his family of many thousands would be able to survive. Or how they would manage to keep together as they slowly exhausted their stores.

Curly the Wise made a list. After make list, the next item was a conversation with the seven sisters. Then he must calculate how many bees were in the colony and how many would be needed to enclose the Queen and create a tight nest. Then how often the bees on the outside should creep to the middle and how many layers at a time should move. What about hygiene and defending the hive? The guard bees would have to be part of the cluster so the colony would be undefended from mice or badgers or wasps. Wasps he worried less about because they were like bees and probably had their own concerns as the darkness came and the temperature fell. Curly had seen mice and badgers coming up to the hive in the early summer mornings before being chased off by the colony’s guard bees. He had noticed they had fur all over their entire bodies, even their faces and legs. Curly had wondered at the time why that was so, but now reasoned that it probably helped them stay warm and mobile. Maybe they were a risk, so maybe the stores should be moved away from the hive entrance to remain hidden under the scent of bees and propolis.

Water would be important so even though there were some limited water stores, he should factor in the occasional departure from the hive for a few of the stronger bees. They could collect water before going back to the heart of the nest. Curly would need to check for any cracks or gaps and delegate a team to block up new drafts with propolis. They had ample stores and were a healthy colony so they had the strength to vibrate their muscles to generate heat. Hooking into each other would conserve heat and make the vibrations more effective.

Now was the time to confer with his seven sisters. He finished his checks and ordered his thoughts as he moved closer to the heart of the hive. Within moments of his decision he was aware of the same drone patrol starting to surround him and turning their bodies outwards. The group of seven were clustered together, the messenger one of their number. “Well,” someone said. And Curly the Wise cleared his bee throat and started to explain his plan.

Back to “The Three Bees”

Delete #2 New Boy

The whisper went around the classroom, every time Miss turned to the board. Fight. They’re going to get him. After school. That’s what John Carter said. Little new boy‘s gonna get it. But Mrs Vurley didn’t hear it as she turned back to her year 9s and reminded them of the homework. Pointing to the board and “… by Friday no later please.” The bell rang and Mrs Vurley watched them pile out from behind their desks, rushing towards the door. She hadn’t heard the dark whispers but she watched as the new boy slunk away from her, separate from the rest. Did she see fear? “David, David? How are you settling in?” “Yes Mrs Vurley,” he mumbled. Mrs Vurly put her pencil behind her ear and looked at the boy again, eyebrows raised. She sighed. “Hurry now, it’s hometime, you’re out of here for today.” Looking up at her he said, “Yes miss, but John Carter said …” “John Carter? What about John Carter?” Mrs Vurley didn’t have a John Carter in her class. “John Carter? I don’t think I know him. What about John Carter?” “Nothing miss” said David moving quickly to the door. Delete.

Mrs Vurley looked out of her window at the usual scene of children milling towards the school gates, the lines of cars waiting for some, parents waiting for others. A few were on foot heading home or for the bus. There was only one small knot of boys, with a couple of girls in tow, lingering by the gate. She didn’t see David out by the gates and gradually the group of boys and their groupies drifted away. 

When David came to school the next day as soon as his dad dropped him off he ran a gauntlet of teases and taunts. His dad smiled as he watched with fond memories of his own school days. He didn’t see what he was seeing as he drove away, lost in reveries of a super posh school for boys. Delete. He didn’t hear when they said “white boy, hey whitey, come on, come on tell us who’s in that picture. We got the picture innit. Who is she?” As he drove away his brain had the scene with his boy centre stage, but he wasn’t seeing it. Delete. His brain heard the voices, unhearing the words. Delete. He moved on and stopped thinking about his boy. Delete. 

The catcalling was lost in the group, and no one was brave enough to be seen specifically to call out to the new boy. “Fresh off the boat are ya? Fresh from Alabammer are ya? Black Lives Matter ya know, yeah.” Fist saluting and laughing and then mocking his accent, like he was from the deep south and not from New York City. That accent was harder to copy his dad said David had told him when it first happened. And his dad, strong and tall and believing himself a streetwise New Yorker had no idea of how alone his child was. Delete. And so David didn’t speak much at school, not after the first day when he said his name in class and they were all supposed to welcome the new boy. Instead they stared at him and laughed at the way he spoke. Afterwards a couple of them had asked him his mobile number, although he didn’t know what they meant at first. “Oh, cell you mean my cell?” And that had set them off. “Yeah, your cell Yank. Give us your cell.” And they’d all laughed. David small and living in his head, processing the new country, this city school, the scale of it, the weird sports and having to read so much, write so much, confused and uncertain and very alone.

In the staff room Mrs Vurley was reminding herself of what they were supposed to look out for so that they could submit a pupil concern email. In her day bullying was just part of the day, some children were just marked out for it. Would it be how fat or thin they were, how shabby their uniform or beaten up their shoes? Would it be how clever they were or how stupid? Would it be their accent or how clean or dirty their hair was? Would it be how small or big they were, how geeky, Jew, Christian or Muslim? She knew that it was impossible to predict, but that it hung on a chance moment, a thin thread and an unpredictable hook. And it was part of school life, ugly or not. Now they had guidelines and rules which at least gave an opportunity to do something. Now at the first sign they were alert and could take steps. And guidelines meant there was no need to convince sceptical staff or heads. Guidelines meant they could do something, not nothing. But guidelines and actions could also push it out of view. Delete.

It was Mrs Vurley’s day to monitor the lunch room so she made a point of watching this new boy, freshly arrived from America with his heavy accent and fretful eyes. She saw him sitting alone as two bigger boys took their places on either side of him. But she didn’t see  David leaning forwards into his tray nor did she see the two boys sit closer and closer. Both had been held back from last year. Neither was bright and both were strong and confident, popular. They had pulled their chairs in close to David and were leaning into the boy. She smiled as she saw the Kendulu boy suddenly pull away and David fall sideways under the force and weight of the kid on the other side and they were laughing. Relieved Mrs Vurley turned away to deal with a fuss about mashed potato blowing up in the queue.

But her attention was soon drawn back to the boys. David’s tray had fallen sideways with him and Kendulu was no longer laughing, but up on his feet. “Look what you done man, look what you done, your shepherd’s pie is all over me trousers. Look at the mess you made!” And his friend jumped up to join in. “Look what you done to Ken’s gear man, look what you done.” They were both towering over David, hands pointing upwards, heads turning from side to side, voices rising, looking for the audience, for response. And they were laughing and patting David on the back. It was impossible to see that the pat was just that little bit too hard, lingering just a little bit too long pushing the boy down. David tried to stand but they had blocked his chair with their feet so he was stuck between the table and his chair half up half sideways and now Ken’s leg with its smears of shepherd’s pie is in David’s hair. It was time to intervene and as Mrs Vurley hoved into view both boys stood back, moving their feet and smug as David’s chair scraped unexpectedly back and he fell onto one knee, baked beans stuck to the tears and his tormentors with their hands in mock surrender. “He’s such a laugh Miss, he spilled his food on me on purpose Miss. I done nothin’” and “Yeah Miss, it was on purpose, he’s bullying us, he thinks he’s cool ’cos he’s an American Miss.” 

As two other staff members started ushering the small audience back to their food, Mrs Vurley looked at the two boys. “What’s this about?” “David?” “Ken?” “Jason?” David said nothing, but shrank even smaller into himself. Kendulu repeated it was on purpose and that they were being picked on by this new boy, who thought he was so great because he came from America. “And you Jason, what do you have to say?” “It weren’t me Miss.” The bell rang and Mrs Vurley gestured them away and the two boys sloped off leaving David alone. As he looked up to answer Mrs Vurley’s unheard question David saw Jason draw a long finger in a straight line across his throat before turning it into a wave and a laugh as Mrs Vurley followed David’s gaze.

“David, how long have you been at this school?” Mrs Vurley was a little embarrassed that she hadn’t really noticed the boy. Delete. Embarrassed but unsurprised. He was an unprepossessing thing, quiet and withdrawn, keeping his head down, avoiding contact. “Five weeks Mrs Vurley.” “Five weeks” she repeated, ”and how long have you been friends with Kenulu and Jason?” David stared sullenly at his lunch tray and its unappealing mess. “They’re not my friends” he mumbled and tried to straighten his shoulders, tried to claw back some sense of dignity. “But they like to follow me and send me messages on FaceBook an’ all. So maybe. Dunno.” There followed a series of questions, questions that Mrs Vurley knew she should ask, even though in the back of her mind she knew the answers already.

Yes, there was harassment, although he was evasive as to its frequency and intensity. Yes there were incidents, like today only mostly unseen and yes there had been unflattering pictures posted online and shared with various school groups. Girls and some boys sent him flirty messages and then ridiculed his replies. They invited him to online chat sessions only to block him at the last minute or worse to hide behind fake accounts and make ugly threats, sometimes with pictures of cats with their throats cut, or birds with their wings ripped off but still alive and bleeding. They threatened to tell his dad that David was staying over with friends, but really they planned to kidnap him and sell him as a sextoy to white supremacists. Mrs Vurley rolled her eyes at this, but still. The digital world’s a dangerous place. “How many David? How many boys and girls are doing this to you?”

By this time David was crying and the lunch room was empty. Mrs Vulney was glad she had no lessons this afternoon and persisted. “Do you know what mobbing is David?” “No miss,” he sniffed. “Do you know how to block people on your social media accounts?” “My dad’s told me I should do that and I’ve tried. But Snapchat messages disappear straight away and they use fake names. I know it’s them, and I want to be their friend though. That’s why I kept my Facebook account after … ” “After what? After what David?” “Nothing” he mumbled drowning in their power.

As she hit send on her email and its attached Pupil of Concern form, Mrs Vurley hoped that her colleagues initial call to the family would go somewhere. It didn’t. They laughed it off. Delete. But later Mrs Clayman tried to talk to her son, except that the talk was more a forced encounter. A bully’s privilege? “It’s gone.” “What do you mean gone, David? Are you being picked on or not. You have to tell me.” “It’s gone because it’s SnapChat. The messages disappear straightaway.” “Don’t lie to me David. That makes no sense. I know you’re hiding something from me.” Mrs Clayman didn’t know she needed to get him to take screen shots. Would he have done? Would she have looked? Delete. Mrs Clayman tried another line. “Well what about FaceBook? Show me what you’ve got on FaceBook.” Here David had more to say, “I know I should block them on FaceBook, but if I tell them I’ll block them they just laugh, ooh you know how to block do you. Then they send me notes in History saying sorry. So I unblock them, then it’s ok for a while and then it starts up again. And on Instagram they pretend to like my pictures, but they’re just mocking me. You can tell in the comments.” The tears were rolling down his cheeks as David continued: “And I tried setting WhatsApp so that no one can see my picture and status and Aunty Jean got upset, so I put it back.” David could see that she wasn’t hearing what he said, wasn’t seeing, was inhabiting her own old world. Delete.

Mrs Clayman was starting a block of her own. This was all too silly. They’re just boys being boys with the new kid. It will pass. He was still adjusting to the new life. The school had it in hand. “David, let’s keep this in perspective shall we? They’re just lads and you’re different and sensitive, you know that don’t you? Let’s not get all bent out of shape about boys at school. It’s just their way, the British way, you know that I am pretty sure. You’ll get used to it. It’ll be fine.” Delete.

The Sheep & the Grey Horse – Ruby

The morning seemed to start later than it should – that meant it was probably a Sunday or maybe a Saturday or maybe one of those weird random days, the ones that followed no clear pattern. These random days were the days Hotpot most dreaded. The Sundays and Saturdays, as far as the sheep could discern, had an irregular sort of rhythm to them, it wasn’t as comfortable as the ordinary days when everything happened when it was supposed to and was roughly consistent and sort of reliable. Those other, random and eccentric days went their own way and were scary. They kept the Grey Horse in a state of constant anxiety and Hotpot on red alert all the way until teatime, which was usually much later than it should be. On those wild days, you just never knew who would come into the field or how dangerous they might be with their touchy feely, feeding, peering, patting and constant chit chat chittering: “look oh look he has no real horns”.

After a few moments of muffled conference together Hotpot and the Grey Horse decided it was probably a Sunday. The day before, breakfast had also arrived late and the day had been filled with busy sawing and the shrill, intermittent screams of miscellaneous power tools. Indeed despite the fact that breakfast was barely over, the squally noises, the banging and rattling were already beginning. And it was occurring suprisingly close to the sheep and the Grey Horse’s field. Intrigued they stayed near to the gate to observe the carryings on at close hand.

Lucy and her boyfriend were fencing the area of scrubby ground surrounding the oil tank, a failed rockery and what was left of last year’s potato patch. They were struggling with a roll of orange netting, she giggling and excited, he solemn, methodical and quiet. He was hooking up the fence to a black box, much like the one often used to section off bits of the sheep and the Grey Horse’s field. The Grey Horse shook his head. “Why are they putting up a biting fence?” he said and Hotpot turned away and went to get a drink of water, already bored with the orange netting, the box and the noise. The Grey Horse stayed pondering his question for a few moments, before also forgetting what it was that was so interesting and turning to follow his friend.

Daisy came out of the house and sauntered over to watch them as they worked. Her long blonde hair a muddled tangle and no shoes on her feet, she clutched at her tea cup and said: “Are you really doing it? Are you really going to do it?” “Yes of course we are” her mother squeaked, profoundly excited and barely able to keep from jumping up and down. “Are you happy with that Paul,” said the girl, the merest hint of disbelief in her voice. He mumbled something back about supposing so, before setting his circular saw to its work.

By the time it all went quiet and the people had gone in to lunch Hotpot and the Grey Horse had gotten sufficiently used to the squealing and banging that it was no longer interesting. They peered across the gate at the old woodshed which now had a shiny new corrugated roof, a functioning door and a floorfull of woodshavings. The banging soon started up again and they heard Lucy say: “shall we go and get them, will you be finished in time.” Paul looked up from his work and said with a resigned sigh: “I suppose so. How long will you be?” “Don’t know. I’m not sure if I’ll find the place easily. I’ll ring you when we’re on the way back.” With that, she turned, called to Daisy and scurried off down the drive. A few moments later the roar of the mighty Discovery carried them off and into the beyond.

“Well” said the Grey Horse, “what’s going on? They never go anywhere except together”. “Who knows,” grumbled the sheep knowing that this random day was already getting out of hand. After all, no-one had been in the field to pick up the poos, and it was getting on for the Grey Horse’s teatime and yet, there she was off out and about. She might be hours and hours and even not come back until dark. It was all most distressing, and made his job of keeping the Grey Horse calm, even more worrisome. When would she come home?

Hotpot fretted for a little while before deciding it was time to sit and chew his cud. He plomped down to catch the late afternoon sun and started to doze dreaming of her return and the resumption of normal teatime service. Before long the Grey Horse was chewing at his fleece to wake him up: “Look” he said, “they’re back, and they’ve got a box”. The pair hurried over to the fence to get a better look at the box. “Is it ready” Lucy squeaked excitedly, “can we let them out?” “Not yet” he said, “but soon”, fiddling with final adjustments to the little shed and the fencing.

The cardboard box shuffled a little to the side on the drive where it had been left. “Keep back,” said Hotpot to the Grey Horse, “who knows what evil lurks in that box.” The Grey Horse sniffed the air and said, “I don’t think it’s evil, but I don’t at all know what it is”. As he said this a small brown feathered head popped up from gap in the folded panels of the top of the box and a beady eye took a long slow survey of the scene. Suddenly it was gone and the box seemed to shimmy slightly. They all stared: Hotpot, the Grey Horse, Lucy, Daisy and Paul. The Calder hen completely ignored her sisters who were telling her in no uncertain terms to keep her head down and not to fidget, and popped up her head again, this time staring straight and unblinkingly at all of them. “This is Ruby” Lucy said “Ruby and her sisters Scarlett and Agda have come to stay.”

The Sheep & the Grey Horse – Hotpot Comes Back Home

After his rapid and highly effective escape from the new field, Hotpot decided he needed to find his own kind. Frantic calls to the neighbourhood friends and farms came up with the same theory, although it was fundamentally flawed: “he’ll seek out other sheep, don’t you worry, he’ll turn up”. But of course Hotpot wasn’t like other sheep. By the time they had finished ’phoning round, it had grown too dark too suddenly to go out searching sheep. Daisy and Lucy waited until the next morning to start the pursuit in earnest, crossing field after field seeking sheep. By lunchtime there had been a couple of sightings, but despite visiting three local flocks there was no sign of Hotpot. His lumbering form, heavy with a fleece that had been unsheared for years, was simply absent from fields and roads. Despite the idea that a sheep would want to be with other sheep Hotpot was nowhere to be found. And then came the brilliant idea.

“What if we take the Grey Horse out and lead him up the lane? Maybe the sheep will recognise him and follow him back with us”. Lucy sighed and looked patiently at her daughter’s excited eyes, eyes so innocent to the ways of sheep. “He’s a sheep darling he will try to find other sheep”. “Are you sure? He has been brought up with sheep and horses and when we got him he was only with a pony and no sheep.” Daisy had a point. It might be worth a try. 

Hotpot meanwhile had no intention of hanging out with a bunch of sheep, exposed in a field and with nothing to do but stare at one another and chew and wait for some random dog to give chase. His flight across the field and the fight with the fence had left him very tired, especially since he had had so much exercise earlier in the day. He had reached the woods without stopping and had found a small stream to cool his tired ankles in and to sip at, once his heavy fleeced  breathing had settled down. From his seclusion he had heard the noise and calling and watched the anxious pacing about amidst the chatter and fuss, wondering what he should do next. Hotpot was very good at being alone but he did wonder where he could find some like-minded companion, another horse would do fine. So he wandered deeper into the wood in search of a snack and to ponder how to find a new nearby equine to befriend. He was sure that Max was now a very long way away.

The next morning Hotpot spent ambling through the woods, ignoring the rabbits, stamping at the occasional fox and sunbathing for a while next to a pond which he found very restful and calming. Having thoroughly grazed the grass at the pond’s edge, midafternoon found him deep asleep on the edge of the wood, next to a ploughed field halfheartedly fenced with rusting barbed wire. He was dreaming of his friend Max and of the horses whose sounds and scents used to fill his world. He was aware of those sounds and their loudness especially, clip clopping, whinnying and peoples voices. Those sounds were coming to him from beyond his dream though and he woke with a start scaring off a large family of flies who had been dancing across his fleece. The sounds were real, there was the patterned bang of hooves rattling on tarmac and there was a whinnying cry, high and anxious, and very familiar to Hotpot.

The idea of leading the horse had been sound enough but putting the plan into practise turned out the be harder than expected. And besides there was no inconsiderable risk involved. For almost a week the Grey Horse had been confined to his box to let his tender front hooves heal, he was frantic to be with others of his kind and had a damaged knee that could turn out to be irreparable. They had put a bridle on him to make him safer to lead and when they threw open the stable door, he flew out of the box spinning on the end of the rein. Aware of all the reasons not to take this horse out for a walk, they tried to steady him and get him pointed in the right direction to lead him up the drive to the lane. This was all extremely exciting for the Grey Horse of course, but it was also a source of amazement and fascination. Gradually his curiousity kicked in and his great black eyes stared wide and slightly less wild, as he passed through the new scenes in this strange and horseless world. By the time they reached the lane Lucy could hold the rein a little more loosely, and they were walking all three together in a gentle 4/4 rhythm with only the occasional clattering of leaps and skips.

The Grey Horse was starting to feel a little better, out of his stable and with the late winter sunshine warming his back. He felt less alone walking on the lane because he had the people by his side, and his feet didn’t hurt quite so much. Even the knee, maybe not so fatally injured after all, was feeling better so much so that he barely limped at all. He let out a loud cry, head up high a scream of a whinny to see if anyone equine was there. There was no reply but still the Grey Horse marched along ears swivelling, inquisitive and excited, breath heavy and blowing his nose as he went.

In his sunny warm patch on the edge of the wood, Hotpot heard the screaming cry and let out the loudest bleat he could manage, which unfortunately wasn’t very loud. The Grey Horse was too preoccupied and snorty to hear it and didn’t answer, but the Lucy and Daisy leading him along the lane heard Hotpot’s response. “He’s in the woods, he’s here!” They could hardly believe it.“What about going with other sheep, what about seeking sheep out?” “How can he still be in the woods?”. Daisy said “it doesn’t matter, he’s here, he’s close and not lost or dead”.

This was a good point so they took the Grey Horse back to his stable and settled him in for the night. Before bedtime Lucy heard him whinnying again, lonely and sad, but intermittent, lessening as the night drew down. 

When Lucy came in the morning to feed him the horse was staring down across the paddock at the sheep. And she followed his gaze. “So you’re calming down!” Staring up though the frosted mist was that large and grubby looking sheep, dingy and fuzzy against the crisp morning light haloed around him. Stamping his foot as Lucy fetched hay and fresh water, Hotpot approached staring all the while at the long grey face reaching out, whinnying softly across the stable door in welcome. The Grey Horse nodded a couple of times and the sheep raised his warty ears in shared remembrance of another life. 

The Sheep and the Greyhorse – Hotpot Comes Home

The sheep sighed. Off in the near distance they were coming. He turned to the small Shetland pony grazing idly nearby: “here they come again Max, only this time there’s more of them” he said, barely moving his black sheepy lips. The pony looked up with mild interest and blew a lazy breath, soft and slow into the late winter air. “Right. How do you want to handle it this time?” he said swivelling his ears in the sheep’s general direction. The sheep raised his long tattered ones and stared, narrow eyed and hostile at the small group of people headed towards them. This time there was a Land Rover as well, and a couple of children. He knew they could outrun the children and outmanoeuvre the car, but all those people might be tricky, even with seven acres of sloping field to help them. 

They were getting closer. The sheep and Max would have to move quickly. “We’ll use the old trick” he said, “up here on the top of the hill … just wait for my signal and then head down as fast as you can.” As the 4×4 positioned itself halfway down the slope, the people started making their way to the top. They were a curious assortment, about eight of them, some looking like farmers or the abattoir guys, a couple of teenagers looking like exotic birds with tangled multicoloured hair and ragged clothes, stylish tat. The sheep and Max continue to graze, cropping at the meagre grass, moving gradually along the hedge ready to charge at top speed down the hill. And the tightening group started to surround them.  

The circle was obvious and getting smaller when the sheep once more lifted his ears, and stood ready to charge. “Watch it he’s going” the man in the boots and battered trilby shouted, lunging too slow towards the sheep. The sheep stamped, dropped his head and ran straight for the bottom of the field, neatly bypassing trilby man who stumbled and slid gracefully into the sod, his hat rolling slowly away beyond him. The whole slew of muddled people were suddenly hurrying in an impotent frenzy of haste after them down the hill. Of course the children stumbled and soon fell into a silly giggling heap and the teenagers lasted only a few minutes, before giving up the chase. The sheep and Max watched from the top of the other side, slightly puffed and waiting for the next time. Their wait was short. The people weren’t about to give up.

Three, perhaps four times running down the slope and up the other side, and soon it was a game for the people, especially the teenagers who didn’t do the whole run. The sheep, heavy in his winter fleece and not really built for speed, was starting to tire. It was Max who first noticed how close they were to the yard and that the gate to the field on the other side was open. “Look” he said, panting only slightly, “they’ve left the gate open”. Quite why the sheep fell for this old trick he never quite worked out. It might have been because he was tired and a little anxious, or it might have been because he had a nagging suspicion that things were not as they seemed and thus distracted couldn’t concentrate properly. First off besides the abattoir man who was without his usual collies, there were just too many people. The people all looked different and there was no lorry waiting in the yard. And he was the only sheep left. The only one of the small flock remaining from last Spring.

Whatever it was, it prevented him from thinking things through properly, and it was what led to his not fatal error. When the circle started to close around them the next time, the sheep and Max headed top speed for the yard and the open gate, the sheep’s little tail flapflapping, head down, his short legs pushing forward as hard as they could go. The gap between the gate from their sloping field and the entrance to the yard was narrow and it was only at the last minute that the sheep realised that the circle of people wasn’t complete. They were two short and the missing people were positioned on either side of the gap, hidden on one side by the hay barn and on the other by a low wall. He stood no chance as he and Max dived through the gap. “We’ve got him!” a skinny, bleached blonde screamed exultant and lunging across the sheep’s shaggy back. Her teenaged partner on the other side panting and half in squealing hysterics had him around the neck. He came down on his side, face to face with a pretty, wild eyed blonde whose laughter and excitement had turned her face very pink indeed.

As is their habit the sheep immediately gave up the fight. Max, a galloping fury of blonde and golden chestnut, powered straight past the crumpled sheep across the yard and through the open gate to the beckoning spring grass beyond. Not so much as a backward glance pondered the sheep, motionless beneath his captors. Not even a goodbye. “We’ve got him!” squealed the pretty blonde girl. Within moments he was in the back of a 4 x 4 and hurtling along a bypass, radio blaring, windows partly down. Staring blankly out of the side window, the sheep heard a woman say “Let’s call him Hotpot.” As he scowled at the face of an incredulous little boy in the back of an overtaking Vauxhall, the sheep heard the other voice. “Will Hotpot recognise the Grey Horse do you think? Or has it been too long?” 

When they reached the empty field where Hotpot was to start his new life it seemed most sensible to drive into the field, shut the gate behind them park and the car on a slope so that Hotpot could jump out easily. That way Lucy and Daisy could get the sheep out of the car gently, keep him calm and show him his new home. A reasonable plan, except that the sheep wasn’t particularly ready to be calmed. As soon as the door opened he leapt out and carried on running until he reached the post and rail fence which had been carefully reinforced with sheep netting. They watched in a horrified stupor as he charged off, stopping only to pound his bony head against a tree that interrupted the fencing at the bottom of the field. Of course it was the one place in the fence where the netting was loose and there really was no contest. They stood and watched as the sheep forced his head and then the rest of his portly form into a widening gap before wrenching himself through and tanking off in the direction of the woods. Only a couple of Bengal cats busy stalking rabbits noticed as he flew pass. The lonely injured horse, standing miserable in his stable saw not a thing.

The White Gates

They sat on the stoop watching lazy crows hopping along the furrows. Occasional seagulls floated above the flat brown, fading into the clouds. The white gates were closed. No one was coming. It was just them. Beatrice poured another glass of warm Chardonnay and lit another cigarette. “Fifteen years we’ve been coming here and for fifteen years they’ve been coming to stay. Through early marriage years, through pregnancies, through babies and little children. Fifteen years and now, now this.” Beatrice’s voice trailed off.

“Sorry, but I don’t really know what you mean.” Clarissa looked at her new friend trying to work out quite how the conversation got here. They’d been chitchatting about Beatrice’s husband, about how both he and Clarissa are workoholics. They’d just got onto the interesting bit, about how there’s no cure, and now this peculiar switchback detour. Clarissa didn’t really know Beatrice very well, although she had known her husband, Andreas, for many years. A friendship and a business partner. Perhaps there was some weird sort of confession coming on from Beatrice. Clarissa wasn’t really sure if she wanted to hear it. She liked the relationship with Andreas just as it was. She didn’t want to know any disturbing secrets. She didn’t want knowledge about either Beatrice or Andreas that they were not themselves privy to.

Over the years, Clarissa and Andreas had worked together on many projects, exhibitions and the like. He had the ideas, was the investor and risk taker. Clarissa was the risk averse freelancer of choice for project management. And that’s as far as it went. There was no attraction between them, only mutual professional respect. This trip was the closest Clarissa had ever come to Andreas’ family world. And here she was in a remote village somewhere in northern Germany. They’d been working on the next stage of an educational initiative Andreas wanted to get off the ground. It had been a good week, productive. Now Andreas had taken the children back to town for their weekend clubs and to get ready for the coming school week. Beatrice had wanted a break from him and from her children, none of whom she appeared to like very much. She had suggested Clarissa stay on for the weekend and keep her company.

The invitation had seemed like a good idea. Clarissa had nothing waiting for her at home: her little girl was with her father that weekend, the house would bear another layer or two of dust, a few more cobwebs and flies. She was exhausted after a tiring week. Why not stay here in Schleswig Holstein, relax, hang out and eat her new friend’s lovely cooking. The amazing cinnamon buns were an added bonus, as was the excellent cellar. 

Clarissa was curiously drawn to this strangely unpredictable woman. On the one hand she went for the supermother gig, and yet she took her work as a museum curator very seriously, keeping both well apart. Clarissa’s parenting style could best be described as intensely loving but sporadic, and she had no interest at all in museums. Clarissa worked very hard, but didn’t necessarily work smart, so she was always stressed. She rather liked it. Unlike Clarissa Beatrice was laid back, a dutiful and dedicated mother, but not particularly in tune with her children. She had no interest in her husband’s business or its workings and when it came to any sort of work was a great believer in delegating, from signage installations to swimming clubs and piano lessons. The two women newly met, shared a mutual interest in their differences, more intuited than expressed.

“Beatrice I’m not sure I understand what you mean.” Maybe it was a language thing Clarissa wondered. Beatrice puffed out her smoke long, dragonlike. She threw back her hair, tucking it behind prominent ears, her cigarette clenched tight to suck in another dose. “I don’t know. Sorry. I am in a state of shock you see. A call. Nothing. It’s hard. I’m sorry. It’s really nothing. Call it the Chardonnay.” This last with a rueful smile. Clarissa looked out at the white gates again, still closed. She was uncertain what should happen next.

Beatrice continued. “This house, this space, it has seen so much, everything, everyone in our lives. It all comes through those white gates. I tell myself, sometimes its good, sometimes it’s bad, but whatever it is, it comes through those white gates. And I think you understand how special this place is to me, to us, to me and Andreas both. And to them too. When they come through those white gates the next time, things will have changed.”

By this time Clarissa was utterly confused and wondering if staying on with batty Beatrice was such a good idea. It was just the two of them, starting now, a Friday evening all the way to Sunday when it would be time to find a train to get Clarissa to the airport. Time that at first had stretched elastic and supple, expansive, generous, was starting to look steely hard, rigid and confining. Roll on Sunday. Clarissa slogged her remaining halfglass and went to get a fresh bottle. She put another in the freezer, figuring it wouldn’t be long before it would need opening.

“Who?” She said as she slumped back down on the stoop. “I am sorry but I don’t understand. Perhaps you want to talk about it?” It wasn’t so much that Clarissa was interested, as the fact that if they were to be alone until Sunday, it would be good to have common topic, some point of reference. Clarissa figured listening to someone else’s problems would be an ok way to spend the weekend, though it had started to feel more trap than relaxing escape. And Beatrice was clearly upset.

Beatrice looked across her glass and nodded. “Yes, you’re a stranger, you know none of these people. It shouldn’t upset you, they’re European aliens in your little English world.” Clarissa wasn’t sure she quite cared for this appraisal but smiled. “Well, I might have a secret of my own to share,” she offered raising her eyebrows and putting a confiding arm across her new friend’s shoulders. The delicate Chardonnay was tickling Clarissa’s throat in a wonderful teasing fizz. The alcohol was relaxing her and the passive smoking was really quite enjoyable.

“You see it’s my best friend. She thinks her husband is having an affair. But she can’t fault him. He’s there for her, for the children, helpful with the house, chores, cooking all that. That may be a reason to suspect, but he’s always been that way. Always.” As Beatrice spoke, brows knitted, words tumbling out between little clouds of smoke, Clarissa was suspicious. She wanted to build a picture in her mind of a mousey sort of man, not browbeaten but diligent, devoted to his family, in love with his wife. “Perhaps he’s just too good to be true? Perhaps your friend is so in love with him, that she’s afraid of losing him?” Clarissa said. “You know them well, so surely you would be able to see any signs of infidelity? Or is it you, you’re talking about? If it is I can assure you… ” Beatrice’s hands flew up to her face “Oh God, not, no it isn’t me. I’m not talking about me, no, not and I hope you don’t think… ” Clarissa stared not sure whether she was being accused, exonerated, or lied to. Silence swelled between them, aggressive, cross.

Beatrice stood up and went to fetch a candle and some cushions. Sitting on the steps was more suited to the conversation than sitting in real chairs would have been. More honest perhaps, more painful, unprecedented, a small foreign space for a small foreign conversation.

“I’m sorry. It’s just hard. It’s nothing to do with me and Andreas. We’re the same as always, both too busy, both waiting for the part of our lives when we are just us again. Neither of us would risk that. But you’re right of course, to wonder” Beatrice said. “I am sure I would see signs in this man, but I haven’t. There was something Andreas said a few weeks ago that made me wonder. But it was probably nothing. I don’t think either of us really knows what the signs of infidelity are. We’ve only ever been with each other. We live such controlled and regimented lives. There’s no room for affairs.” Clarissa laughed, “well I certainly know the signs, and I can tell you they don’t amount to dutiful and attentive. Apart from anything else, if he’s having an affair he won’t have the energy to take care of your friend.” They laughed and instinctively veered away from any discussion of sex, licit or otherwise. “It’s about opportunities and the kind of opportunities he has,” Beatrice added.

Clarissa was able to establish that the company this man worked for had him spending a lot of time on the road, especially recently. He had been away every week in the last two months, sometime just for a couple of days, sometimes over a weekend. Opportunity was certainly there. “He always comes back with presents for her and for the children. But that might be guilt?” Beatrice suggested.

Clarissa was getting tired of this dreary speculation about people she had never met, and was never likely to meet. Boring middle-aged people leading boring middle-aged lives. “Oh for heavens sake,” she said, “you’re weaving a complicated tale out of perfectly normal, conventional behaviour. And you still haven’t let me tell you a) my secret and b) the signs to look for, apart from the energy thing of course. That’s far more entertaining.” Beatrice sighed and tried to put her suspicions aside. “I’m sure you’re right. So what should I look for? And how do you know? Has this happened to you? Is that why you and your husband split up?”

Clarissa’s heart was beating just a little bit faster and she coughed awkwardly waving at the smoke. An unexpected tightness in her throat made it harder to breath. “No. Not exactly. It was more complicated than just an affair. It was about the end of love, at least I thought it was. But then when it was nearly all over, I realised that it wasn’t that either. It was just the end. No drama, just a man too tired to bother anymore. Too worn down with the whole marriage, family gig. Just the end.” Clarissa felt a long lazy teardrop run down one side of her nose. “So how do you know?” Beatrice brushed away the teardrop and waited for Clarissa to start speaking again.

Clarissa’s voice was very small in the dark. Moths and other small flying night creatures were bouncing an insistent percussion on the outside light. “Actually I don’t, I only know what it’s like to be having an affair with a married man. It’s fine for me. I don’t have anyone to keep the secret from. But for him, it’s harder. He has to lie and pretend to care for a woman he no longer loves, perhaps never really did love. It’s a guilt he says he’s hidden for years. I wonder whether he just keeps the two of us in separate compartments in his life. I guess I’m lucky because we can both travel and meet even though we live in different countries. But I do love him, sincerely, genuinely. I’ve never been with a man who is so, well, so very masculine, who makes me feel so much a woman. And the strange thing is, I don’t care at all that he lies. I guess I have no hope that it will ever be anything more than an affair.”

“Your mystery man sounds gorgeous, but so’s my friend’s husband. He’s handsome and very male, fit I think you say.” Beatrice was still speaking in that lazy slow way of hers, but the topic was shifting. Beatrice was more interested in how to spot the signs of a lie. “If the compartmentalising thing was true and how affairs could work for so long, there would be no lies, no visible signs, just mistakes.” she said. “Then it makes sense not just for him, but for his wife, except that she’s only got the one compartment, she’s not having an affair but instead she’s frantically watching his every move, looking for the signs but there won’t be any, at least not until he wants to start signalling an affair? Maybe that’s where the mistakes come in?” It was all getting a little muddled.

Clarissa smiled in the dark, remembering her man, their love, the passion, the unexpectedness of it all. They’d been at PharmaPack in Paris some nine months ago. He’d wanted extra lights in the meeting rooms on his company’s stand. She’d been in sight wearing her organiser’s badge. Andreas had waved across the aisle and he’d waved back. Clarissa thought the handsome man, his hands clutching a mass of cables was waving to her, cables and all. That’s how it started. She shook her head to push out the images. Those eyes. That voice. A smile that held her entire life in its brief moment. Clarissa shook her head harder.

“This whole thing is doing my head in,” she said. “What say we go for the third Chardonnay. It’s in the freezer so it should be perfect? And give me a drag would you, the passive thing isn’t working for me any more.” Beatrice stood up and wobbled inside, bumping in the dark into doors, walls, furniture, and finally emerging with the iced bottle and another pack of cigarettes.” She waved at the moths and sat down heavily, sloping sideways into the handrail and staring out at a glimmer of white, the outline of the white gates. Clarissa followed her gaze, sipping the cold wine. “What industry does your friend’s husband work in?” As she asked the question, she knew the answer. “Pharmaceuticals I think. It’s too cold out here now, let’s go into the warm.” Beatrice stood up, slowly moving indoors. Clarissa sat very still, wine in hand a lit cigarette burning in her fingers, watching the white gates. If she waited long enough she knew he would pass through them.

Bourne to want more

We’re massive fans of the Bourne films. Hooked from the start. The ones with the delectable Matt Damon playing Jason Bourne are my faves and go-to comfort viewing. But there aren’t enough of them for all the comfort we all need these days. There are just five Bourne films and we want more.

Ideally another five would provide a positive mirror for the moral decline that runs through the first five films. Over the course of the five new movies the bad guys in the US dark services would gradually be undermined (it would be a slow burn over five stories). Characters like Pamela Landy and the new girl (sorry, Heather, was it?), would weasel away at the bad ones and their parallels elsewhere. Cue lots of scenes in Hong Kong and Xinjiang, plus Novosibirsk and Siberia, Eastbourne and Weston-super-Mare even.

Jason Bourne, on the loose in Washington DC and Arron Cross, now disappeared somewhere in Asia and played by Jeremy Renner, would have to fix things. They would work in parallel with the evil operatives, as rogues operators, unendorsed, unsupported, cleverly undermining them. The Dr last seen off on a boat somewhere romantic with Arron would provide the evil genius for their plans. But it’s evil genius that is ultimately making good, little by little, bit by bit. They and we would all know, but the evil numpties would not. Team Bourne would be fighting a wicked and corrupt regime at home too, corruption and criminality that goes right to the Oval office. The Bourne people could take this so very far!

There are rumours of another Bourne outing, but no word on the script yet. Persuading the lead players to get involved might not be that hard. But what to call the films?

Here are some suggestions, depending on when the films come out and how the script develops:

         • Bourne in the USA (Springsteen soundtrack)

         • Bourne to be Wild (Animals soundtrack)

         • Bourne on the 4th of July (lots of red, white and blue, pies)

         • Bourne on Christmas Day (thanks Matilda)

         • Bourne Aloft (with bit parts for the Borrowers)

         • Bourne Lucky (Kylie Minogue love interest)

         • Bourne Free (opportunities for lions and locations in Africa)

         • Bourne Vita (much hot chocolate consumed) 

Ho hum.

Crokesmith & Starr

Kevin Crokesmith and his assistant, stood patiently in the reception area. The Crematorium people slid about with subdued faces in a monotony of black. “Well, Wendy are we early or are the girls late. She’ll be arriving soon.” His face was a slightly pinker version of the grey of his shirt and his too-wide black tie made him look like a lollypop. Wendy Boilings gave him a nod as she watched the Crokesmith girls tumble through the door, the taller one breathless the rounder one even more so. “The hearse is just coming.” Together the two daughters and their father traipsed after Wendy Boilings and the celebrant into the chapel. With its socially distanced chairs and a one way system taped tastefully to the floor it was a space of solace. They were the only people in the room. Outside the skies were dismal and sad but behind the floor to ceiling windows, all was light. The Crokesmith girls Fellander (Felly) and Muriel (Muriel only answers to Muriel) with heads bowed and expressions dutiful, followed their dad and Wendy to the front row. The celebrant took her place at the podium and set her face to a blend of sorrowful yearning and hopeful energy. The effect was barely undermined by her random glances outside, looking to see if the next one was coming in yet. She was slightly distracted by the front row disagreement about who sat where. Felly and Muriel Crokesmith wanted to sit next to their dad, but so did Wendy Boiler and an undignified squabble was underway, along the lines of “you never liked her anyway” and “she’s our mum, not yours.”

As they droned through All Things Bright & Beautiful, Wendy wept snorty wet tears and the girls pulled sad faces and fiddled with their hair (Felly) and fingernails (Muriel). It was true, they never did like their mum and the Covid-19 diagnosis had lead not to sorrow, but to hope that an odious individual would soon be carried off. It didn’t take long, and even the hospital staff felt guilty relief when their time with Mrs Crokesmith was done. Mr Crokesmith felt much the same way. Only Wendy was sad, sad for the loss of her best and only lifelong friend, sad that without Mrs Crokesmith’s protection she faced the prospect of losing her job, sad for the bills she would have to pay, once access to the business financials was over. BetFred would be particularly tricky.

These thoughts seeped through Wendy Boiling’s small brain, fuelling her tears and sobs, making it impossible to hear the short reading. Something about a house, which was apt given that Crokesmith & Starr were estate agents. They’d left the choice to the celebrant, as no one had any idea what would be best. Felly had suggested something from Ann Rice on vampires or Dean Koontz on murder, but in the end they left it to the celebrant to decide.

The soaring wail of My Way marked the beginning of the end and Mr Crokesmith fancied he could hear the fires starting up. But it was just the wind, tinged with wishful thinking. It had only taken fifteen minutes. Not long Crokesmith mused to despatch a lifelong bully and tyrant, a woman who never smiled and refused all physical contact once she turned thirty. Odd that she got the virus, he thought to himself, and then remembered how it was the girls’ fault. “Those little bitches” she had said when they’d dropped off a batch of shopping without gloves or masks. She’d always looked for excuses like that. He wondered at how well she’d weaseled her way into his heart after the first Mrs Crokesmith had, as it were, croaked. It didn’t take long for him to understand that the second Mrs Crokesmith was more interested in Crokesmith & Starr than in Mr Crokesmith and his spoilt little brats. He’d spent over two decades keeping himself between his girls and his unloved second wife. Under her incompetent stewardship the fourteen branches of Crokesmith & Starr had slowly dwindled to one, and Mrs Crokesmith’s dreams of a Riviera lifestyle had dwindled with them. Mr Crokesmith smiled to himself as he embraced the thought that the dwindling days were over.

The celebrant was ushering them towards the car park, looking at her watch, wondering if there was time for a sneaky fag. But it’s raining and windy, then “Join us for the wake?” she heard, as Mr Crokesmith beamed at her, oddly joyful and almost flirty she fancied. “Wake?” “Yes, wake. We’ve a picnic in the car. Hoped to be able to sit on the grass, but that’s not going to work. Heh, heh, heh.” “Right.” A free lunch of something that wasn’t leftover chips was welcomed, so of course the celebrant said “thanks, don’t mind if I do” and ambled along with the little group to a no longer new Landrover.

The picnic, egg sandwiches tightly wrapped in cling film, scotch eggs, mini pork pies and crisps was a brown but generous affair, and competition was tight. Wendy Boiler was soon in the lead, closely followed by the celebrant. Packaging rage caused a major disruption to both front runners as an exploding crisp packet sent its contents unexpectedly into flight on the rising breeze. Seagulls swooped, neatly stealing Wendy Boiler’s third pork pie to put the greedy celebrant narrowly in the lead. The girls gave up wrestling with the cling film and smoked instead, despite the wind. Mr Crokesmith sucked eggy mush through a small hole he’d managed to wrench in the plastic wrap. Eventually giving up, he went for a scotch egg which he chewed on pensively. Much of the scotch egg ended up on his black tie, the ground or in the beaks of seagulls. Mr Crokesmith didn’t notice. He was wondering how to tell his girls that it was over, all of it. That Crokesmith & Starr no longer held charm for him, that he yearned for a new life, that he wanted to be happy. The lack of interest in the business had been clear to Felly and Muriel for some time now, but of the rest they were unaware. Could Mr Crokesmith now finally tell them about Desmond and their plans for a cruise to Rekjavik and the Artic circle? Their plans to move to Wales to start an organic wool business? Their ambitions for spinning workshops and tastefully designed knits to sell online at Desmonddesimode.com?

The celebrant was cramming in another pork pie, “thansawffly, mush get bah” she said, choking and exploding pastry as she turned to return to her podium. What remained of the picnic mess after the seagulls were done blew into the threadbare bushes, purpose made litter traps. In the car driving back to the office to drop off Wendy Boilings, Mr Crokesmith explained that they would all be going back to the office for an important meeting. Wendy Boilings still working on the last pork pie, much of which was sticking hard to the roof of her mouth could say nothing, but wished she had some water.

Within two weeks Wendy Boilings was in awkward discussions with BetFred and other creditors. Mr Crokesmith and Desmond were enjoying complimentary champagne and chocolates, and exploring the walk-in dressing room of their suite on the Prince of the Bahamas. They were sure it had ice breaking equipment. Against expectation, his daughters had jumped at the chance to take over Mr Crokesmith’s business, and also to move back home, live for free and use the company car. Both girls had been furloughed and then made redundant thanks to the pandemic and their respective incompetencies. Felly was convinced that her training as an actuary, which had been underway for the last four years generously subsidised in secret by her dad, would be useful in selling houses. She was further convinced that her degree in media studies specialised in 19th century film would come in handy too. Muriel was the more likely estate agent. At her father’s suggestion, she had methodically plodded her way to becoming a Chartered Surveyor. The fact that she had no personality at all was surely no impediment to returning Crokesmith & Starr to its former glory.

The sisters’ first act was to upgrade to the estate agency’s website with the catchline “Estate Agents to the Stars”. “We can’t say that” Muriel had said, “what stars? There are no stars.” “And who was ‘& Starr’ in any case?” Blank looks. Then with a long sigh Felly reminded her dull sister about their dad’s friend. “That second cousin of Rick Astley, he bought a bungalow in Cleethorpes once.” There followed a minor dispute as to whether Cleethorpes could still be considered part of the Essex catchment area. True there had been a sale to Rick Astley’s second cousin, but that was because Mr Crokesmith had been an intimate friend of one of the executors whom he had met at a speed dating event in Putney. Mr Crokesmith had put the cousin who had inherited the bungalow in touch with a local solicitor for the conveyancing. But highlighting star connections was just one little part of the company’s new and enhanced social media presence. FaceBook, Twitter and Instagram were now awash with property details and teasing slogans, “a new life in Essex” “Essex and the Fringe” “Reach for the Crokesmith & Starr experience”. “Don’t forget, you’re an Essex star”.

Oddly enough their efforts did spark some interest, mainly from Londoners wanting to move out to the country. Since the beginning of the first lockdown, the Clarphams had been working from home and wrestling with home schooling for three children within the narrow confines of a terraced house in Cricklewood. Now it was shown that both coding and support analysis could be done from home at least for three days a week, Surrey sounded idyllic. Sussex too. Except that they couldn’t afford either. Essex might be a better option. And when they watched the video tour of Belchamp House, they simply had to agree with Felly Crokesmith who had said it was “an absolute star property”.

On the afternoon the Clarphams were due to view Belchamp House, Felly, tall and skinny was folded into her dad’s office chair, unaware that its swivelly wheels functioned only occasionally. Felly pushed herself forwards, going for an authoritative lean over the desk and unexpectedly shot sideways into the bin. Muriel watched as her sister hefted the chair back into position to take her seat, but this time she had the chair close enough for the lean. Felly was pulling at a strand of fair wispy hair, and eying up her short round sister with what was meant to be a serious stare. “Why are you looking at me like that?” Muriel drawled. “Is it the Toffee Crisp, because if it is you’re not getting any.” Muriel threw back her shiney dark hair because she knows how much Felly envies it, and wiped Toffee Crisp crumbs from her slight moustache as the remnants of her snack disappeared into her satchel mouth. She stood up to put the bin, still swaying on its side on the floor, to rights. Muriel appears to have no hips and her legs naturally splay. Felly thought for the umpteenth time that her sister really should have a third leg to avoid toppling over.

“Here’s the thing,” Felly said, these people want to see Belchamp House. You know more about this stuff than me, so you should show them round.” Muriel looked across the desk, “We’ll both go. Nothing else to do here. We can practise this stuff together. We’re selling country living, and we’re both country dwellers so let’s go.”

“We’ll make a day of it. Pub lunch, walk in the woods, maybe feed the ducks.” Sunita Clarpham was loading her handbag: iPad, iPhone, old iPod in case of need, hairbrush, masks, hand disinfectant, another pack of tissues all crammed in on top of the many strata of stuff that had accumulated since she last changed handbags in 2018. John Clarpham was busy with a calculator working out how many square metres the house had. “Works out at £3108 per sqaure foot inside and the outside’s for free.” “Yes dear” she said, and wiped yoghurt from screaming little Terrino’s head. “Darling it’s not nice. You know it’s not nice.” Her daughter Bromilia, scowled and gave Terrino a surreptitious pinch. His howls were perfect cover for the sneering reply to her mother that Terrino looked “better with pineapple yoghurt in his stupid hair.” “Yes dear” her mother said, relieved that her extensive customer service training was paying off now that Bromilia was hitting those difficult years. Actually all of Bromilia’s years had been difficult, only now there was a recognised label for it. Teenagers are meant to be difficult. She had training for teenagers. Her smallest child was engrossed in his phone and didn’t notice his mother’s request to “come along, into the car with us”, nor his father’s repeat. Eventually Dervil looked up and said. “No pub lunch. Pubs closed remember.” And then continued to press and tap. “He’s right love, we’ll have to order it as takeaway to eat in the car. Or we could find a park or a verge with picnic tables.” Picnic tables in the countryside, of course, masses of those.

This was what Felly and Muriel told their new clients outside Belchamp House, once they were all chatting about the journey and the rest of the Clarphams’ plans for their little excursion. The family had clambered out of their too-small car bathed in a slightly steamy blend of scents ranging from restrained motion sickness, sweat and stale cheesy wotsits, to hand gel and ancient car air freshener. Felly and Muriel had never seen picnic benches on the grass verges of the Essex lanes, so it wasn’t really a lie. Just because they hadn’t seen them, didn’t mean they didn’t exist.

Picnic location ideas confirmed, the sisters waited expectantly for what should happen next. Neither had the remotest idea, so Mr Clarpham weighed in, “We’ve seen the video”. Felly smiled and Muriel smiled. “Yes” they managed and Felly unable to hold it in any longer joked “of course it’s not really my best work”. Mr Clarpham was talking so he didn’t wonder about best or worst work “ …understand we can’t go inside… social distancing … putting us all at risk … the children will love exploring the garden…no toilet options” And Sunita was nodding watching a brace of squirrels running along one of a great many power lines running to the property. She was smiling quietly to herself and holding slightly too tightly to Terrino and Dervil’s hands. Whatever her husband was saying was surely important, but she didn’t really need to listen.

What Mr Clarpham said next Felly or Muriel didn’t hear either, bored as they were already with their clients, despite being keen to nose around someone else’s garden, greenhouse and shed. They smiled politely through his little monologue and were just glazing over when a voice cut through their reveries. “There’s the owner, welcoming us. Look see there’s a woman waving from the window”. Sunita spoke across her husband, not on purpose but because she was so used to his droning little speeches that she didn’t notice them anymore “She’s certainly waving very hard, isn’t she?”

This last from Felly to Bromilia in a pointless attempt to engage the girl. Bromilia was looking at what the woman in the house was pointing to and waving for. “Dad, the car’s rolling away. Dad?” But Dad was now onto the bit about mortgagable values, and getting Brexit sorted and had no ear for much else. “Dad? Mum?” Bromilia tried again and then resorted to giving Dervil a sudden smack about the head. “Do something you twat, tell them the car’s rolling away!” Dervil jumped into action and in a squealing tone that just about cut through the interest rate and return on equity paras saw John Clarpham turn in time to see his car complete a short sojourn across the lane and come to rest in a loose but prickly hawthorne hedge. It engulfed the car up to the front doors of the vehicle. Still mumbling about surveyors and water rates he turned away in deflated disbelief saying “no harm done”. He decided it wasn’t happening and instead herded his family towards the window to say hello to the seller of Belchamp House. She looked out of the window a little longer, shook her head and retreated.

He steered his little flock away from the house with a cheery “Let’s get touring shall we” and headed off towards the garden. As they walked, he glanced in his wife’s direction with a cannily raised eyebrow and bombarded Felly and Muriel with questions. They nodded and smiled and Mrs Clarpham also nodded and smiled, baffled. What’s with his eye? Felly was still trying to process the car and how they would get it out of the hedge, Muriel had in mind a takeaway kebab. As they passed around the house to the back garden, the house’s owner was back in the windows following along, smiling. From time to time she opened a window and called out encouragingly “That statue of Donny Osmond by the pond, we brought that back from Las Vegas with us”. “The hen house is perfectly secure.” “That might look like canker on the apple tree, but its just a benign growth.” “The tiles on the garage are perfectly safe.” “Watch out for the pond.”

Dervil was the first to notice with delight a basket ball hoop, unaware that it shouldn’t be hanging at quite such an angle. It was set in a tree. A number of lost balls caught in the branches looked like they’d been there a long time. They were thrilled to find a greenhouse, not noticing that so many of its windows were smashed and it had no door. They didn’t wonder why the bird table was set with rat traps. The rat traps jolted Felly into action and she said conversationally “to scare off the squirrels”, but her clients thought they must have missed the first part of the sentence. Before long Terrino had disappeared and Bromilia had lost her shoe in the pond. “It’s not my fault that it’s muddy.” Dervlin’s shove as she peered over the pond had served only to make his sister step forwards rather than fall, leaving a shoe behind when she regained her balance. But the immediate problem was Terrino who they all noticed was now missing. 

“Felly and I can look up towards the stream, at the top of the garden.” Muriel was surprised at herself, but with a kebab in mind wanted this afternoon closed. She didn’t notice the ashen pall spread across Sunita’s face, or the fluttering hand as it rushed to her mouth. They headed off leaving the Clarpham’s to devise a search strategy and calm Mrs Clarpham. As they struck out across the unsheltered lawn they could hear a plaintiff whimpering. Terrino was stuck in a small plum tree into which he had climbed from the table beneath it. He had never been so high in his life and now he was stuck a giddying two metres off the ground, terrified to come down. Felly and Muriel simultaneously yelled: “found him” as loudly as possible and were gratified to see Sunita and John come scurrying up to lift their poor little boy down to safety. ”Something to get the hang of, tree climbing,” said Felly. “Something that takes practise” said Muriel. They nodded encouragingly at Terrino who buried his face in his mother’s sari and let the sobs shake him. “This country life, it might be good for us she said breathing deeply in relief, stroking his hair and vowing to cut down all the trees.

She didn’t notice a rising breeze pushing through the broken fence marking the edge of the garden. They agreed with Felly that the weedy flower beds, and dense thickets of brambles were wonderful opportunities to “personalise the outside space”. Yes, the brambles would be so wonderful for autumn blackberries. No one questioned that this very new build was close to a stream running slightly above and behind the house. They didn’t ask why there were white lines on the edges of the potholed lane which ran parallel to a main road that passed the railway station a couple of miles away. Felly’s bright “trains to London twice an hour and only some ten minutes from here” distracted them and they never questioned the clear badger and fox trails to the hen house. Muriel had clinched it with “your own eggs, every day”. Crokesmith & Starr were back in the game.

NumptyTrumpty Had a Great Fall

Numpty Trumpty wanted a wall

Numpty Trumpty had a great fall

All the Republicans, Juliani and them

Couldn’t put Trumpty together again!

You’re fired!

It isn’t keeping his job or not that matters, but what happens next for Donald Trump. A divorce filing is coming closer, the date likely to be nearer to the 20th January than not, when eyes will have shifted to the incoming president. His third divorce after a fifteen year marriage to Melania will be an expensive business for Mr Trump. How expensive depends on the terms of the prenuptial agreement Mrs Trump will have signed. That agreement will also include clauses preventing the woman from saying anything to anyone about her soon to be exhusband. But maybe she keeps a diary that someone might steal, or has confided her experiences someone that she’s forgotten about.

Trump will be looking for a new job, a new platform from which to air his amber vanities. It won’t be on the Apprentice because NBC severed ties with the man following anti-immigrant remarks in 2015. Given the graceless and embarrassing way in which the US President has handled his re-election defeat, he’s probably going to land a gig with some nutty television station. He’ll be able to rant on and on about how the election was stolen from him, how he’s winning in all the legal suits he’s filed (not) and how great the amounts of money coming in from supporters are. The nutty television station will be hoping for massive ad revenues, which of course won’t materialise: very few brands want to be associated with the maniacal orange one, or risk alienating the more than 75 million people who voted for Trump’s opponent.

Money, money, money

How Trump earns a living after January is interesting because he’s got a $400 million debt coming due next year (allegedly), and he’s probably got loads of bills to pay for all those campaign rallies, hats, banners and maybe even bribes. Borrowing from his indebted organisations is not an option so he’ll have to find a lot of cash from elsewhere and soon. It’s likely he will ask his poor followers to stump up for him, and maybe they will. Maybe he’ll start charging for entry to his rallies, in the possibly valid belief that people are desperate for a piece of him. Freakshows have a long and robust tradition in America and Trumptynumpties care nothing for the dignity of the US presidency or of expresidents.

…and the law won

How the lawsuits will play out will depend on how much money Trump’s able to put into pursuing his various litigations. He’ll be relying on supporters for this, but he’ll also need money for researchers to dig up evidence acceptable to an unshackled judicial system. He’s also going to have to spend money on intelligent data mining to explain how fraud could work on a selective basis. If the fraud to steal the presidency from Trump was so comprehensive and effective, something must have gone wrong. It wasn’t only Trump and Biden who were up for election and votes for Congressmen and Senators, went roughly 50/50 to Democrats and Republicans. Either there was a massive fraud that was somehow discriminatory, or there was none, just democracy in action. Perhaps Trump and his court haven’t noticed that conflict.

The party’s over

Debt, divorce, criminal investigations and more humiliation will be hard for a man like Trump to take. Car park rallies and sparsely attended press conferences, not being the centre of attention, not being able to intimidate and bully the Republican elite or high ranking civil servants, will take some getting used to. But that is his future. For sure he won’t fade into oblivion because he’s just too big of a personality and he needs the oxygen of audience. All of us can expect him to continue to entertain us, but now we have no need to fear him as we gawp in disbelief. He is no longer the most powerful man on the planet, and nor is he the most dangerous and this is a huge relief to the rest of us. For inhabitants of the real world he’ll be like a real live version of his Spitting Image puppet: stupid, loud, idiotic, clumsy. For his cult members they won’t notice what a fool he is making of himself and of them; he’ll love it. And the Trumptynumpties’ fantasy world will provide the rest of us with even more to laugh at. In these glum times, that’s the best legacy he can offer.

The Three Bees Chapter 8 – And then the cold came

When he woke up Curly was extremely cold, much colder than he had ever been before. Alone and on the edge of being able to move he was afraid. But he could feel the rising sun warming the wall of the hive and slowly he found he could move a little bit, then more as his body temperature rose above 9º. Curly had spent the night quietly creeping as close as he dared towards the middle of the hive. He had moved cautiously amongst the almost sleeping bees, capturing meagre warmth as he went. The scent of propolis was calming and he could take sips of honey from uncapped cells as he moved amongst dozing workers. They noticed his slow comings and goings not at all. From his hiding place and as the sun rose higher, Curly watched the worker bees heading for the exit. He noticed that fewer than usual were going out to forage and wondered what was happening in his home.

Curly chewed on a sliver of propolis that he’d found on the floor during one of his nocturnal rambles. Sticky with honey it must’ve been broken off from somewhere when they were murdering the drones. “Wondering is what you do best,” he whispered to himself. “…it’s your strength, your power. It’s the only thing no other bee in this colony can do the way you do.” Then as an afterthought he said aloud ”and it’s what you must do now.” Curly thought the propolis might be useful for defence if the workers found him, so he tucked it under a forelimb. It was somehow comforting. “Foolish boy” he said resuming his conversation with himself. “I’d have no chance. Propolis stick or not. I must understand what is going on and why everything seems to be slowing down.” Curly got himself in tight behind the broken and overhanging comb that had been his camp for the night to think it all through. He noted the facts: drones evicted from the hive, drones with their wings snipped off, drones going out and not coming home again. What could it mean, why were they not staying in the hive, especially now it was getting cold. He understood. They were being discarded. Curly didn’t understand why, but he understands that drones still around once summer was over were surplus to requirements.

Curly was hungry again, but didn’t dare move. He sucked on the sticky propolis, wondering why he felt so hungry when surely sleepy would have been more likely. Food. Food was obsessing him and his supply was strictly limited to the oversucked piece of old propolis. It’s flavour reminded Curly of his younger days as a newly hatched drone, days when the sun warmed the hive all day long and darkness came only once he and his brothers were safe and asleep. Darkness and food, the one too much of and the other too little of, and the traffic in the hive getting thinner and the drone population collapsed to nothing, soon only to him if he could stay hidden. Curly could hear them, still shoving out drones. Soon he sensed a new instruction to a platoon of workers. They were moving to the warmest part of the hive, in the middle where Mother and most of the brood were. They were charged with routing out any remaining drones still hiding in the hive.

Numbers were not Curly’s strong suit, he was after all just a bee and a male bee at that. But he did understand the workings of his home, and that everything had a purpose and a function, and that everything contributed to the well-being of the colony. The purpose of drones was to do something on the outside, something that only the best of drones could do. For the rest of them, they had no further use in the hive so they were dispensable. It was just a matter of time before the drone patrol found him, or he became immobilised as the temperature fell. He had managed to keep moving by stealth in the night, but that was never going to work long term. He was already exhausted. Curly understood that there were two options: die of starvation and cold, cowering in a secret corner of the hive, or let the drone patrol find and savage him before throwing him out of the hive. 

But there must be some other possibility, he thought to himself. That possibility could lie in some sort of negotiation. “I’ll talk to them” he said shivering as the chill sunk into his joints, slowing his blood, softening his senses. But who should he talk to? Who is in charge of the drone patrol and why? Who decides that the drones must go? Curly crept out from his sticky shelter and started cleaning off the honey, not just because he was hungry and it was so very tasty. He wanted to look his best, his most impressive, big, strong, smart. His antennae were droopy though and he was overwhelmed with apathy, a laziness in his body that his sleepy mind struggled to overcome. As he moved he felt warmer, but he could only move slowly through the crowds of workers. He did his best to move as he and his brothers used to move: with confidence and self-assurance, fearless. Only the drone patrols knew that they were to catch drones, so the rest of the bees kept busy with their various tasks. The reasoning was sound and Curly soon found himself in the midst of a mass of workers, struggling to get to a group of hungry grubs. Curly passed over numerous cells wherein he could see tiny specks, eggs, eggs that had only recently been laid soon to be nurtured into grubs and hatch as fully formed bees.

Then he had it. “Mother” he said aloud and twittered his antennae in response to the added buzz of a few hundred workers, turning their antennae towards him. It took no more than a few seconds for a bossy worker bee to signal to Mother, although what the signal meant baffled Curly because Mother did not appear. Instead a group of seven, slightly rough looking bees approached him. Curly knew that as soon as the seven sisters recognised him as a drone, that he would have to talk fast. He sensed that the drone patrol was already coming for him. Best to start the conversation immediately before the seven or the patrol reached him. “You need me” he said, watching the movement of their antennaee, trying to divine what they were thinking. The movements were subtle, invisible almost. Slightly louder and with more patience he called to them “Mother needs me. You all need me, because I am bigger than you but don’t need so much food”. Curly had no idea where that had come from, nor did he really understand what he was saying. The seven sisters had Curly in a tight ring, antennae now straight up and forward, faces expressionless, forelimbs interlinked. They did not speak, they just held him there, penned and waiting for the drone patrol to arrive. Curly could see Mother coming slowly closer, her entourage fussing, cleaning, feeding, grooming her as the small group approached the seven sisters. Curly heard a lazy drawl “what is it, what do you want now, isn’t it enough that these cells are all full of my lovely eggs, of lovely grubs. What else do you want?” “Take her away” Curly heard a nearby voice growl. It came from the ring of bees around him, but none of them appeared to have spoken. “Now” a hiss came from another direction, as Mother drifted off to sleep a hindleg dipped into an empty cell. The group of courtiers, gave her a little shove and then a couple of kicks to get the massive bee moving on, as instructed. Curly was speaking fast, desperate to convince the seven to call off the patrol. “I can help with the cold. I can help keep her warm, and the brood. I can. I can keep her laying. You need me. I can help the colony survive. It’s getting colder, you know this. You need me.”

Curly felt his voice rising and struggled to keep it below the pitch of a squeak, tried to pretend he was Burly, big and handsome. He watched and the seven sisters remained still, implacable and Curly had the sense that some other communication, something beyond the pheromone transmissions, beyond clicking mandibles or antennae was going on. It was just a thickening of the air, a pause in breathing perhaps, but then Curly understood that he should continue. He squared his little shoulders and held his antennae steady, still. He said “I can help keep you warm, Mother, the brood, the brood, I can help the brood.” Mother’s entourage were still pulling her leg from the honey cell, and as it dribbled out Curly heard her sigh as she slowly turned to face him, head lolling, her attendants frantically cleaning off the honey from her wayward leg.

Ever since Curly, Burly and Twirly had been born all those weeks ago, Curly had noticed that the most important things in his colony were keeping Mother laying, and raising her brood which involved constant attention, recipe finessing and work. It was the brood that grew into worker bees or drones, depending on the diet the nursing bees fed them. It was the brood that would matter most if the hive continued to get colder and darker as the days progressed. Now he was hearing or sensing that what mattered most in what Curly had said was the word “brood”. He continued without really knowing what he was talking about, repeating and repeating that “I can help keep the brood warm, keep them safe. I am a drone that can do more than any other drone, a drone to help the brood.” As he said this the drone patrol arrived and immediately halted some few honeycomb cells away from Curly’s circle of seven sisters. He could sense some hesitation, some sudden reluctance to get closer to the circle. And then the seven moved away and the drone patrol surrounded Curly. His heart was pumping and he instinctively tucked in his wings as tight as they would go as the circle drew tighter, and then inexplicably the bees turned their backs on him. As one, they turned to face away, drawing up their antennae and tightening the ring around Curly. They locked arms.

Curly’s first instinct was to panic and reach for his propolis stick, but then he reasoned, “why are they facing away from me, blocking me in yes, but attacking me, no. And my stick is stuck to my abdomen. And they are locked, so I cannot get away, but I am also protected.” As he mulled over what this meant for his future health and well-being, Curly saw the seven sisters unbundle from their huddle and move in his direction. The platoon ring opened to form a horseshoe and the sisters approached. They bowed their antennae in polite greeting and Curly understood that he had to explain what he meant by keeping safe the brood. The platoon had turned around again and were facing towards him, their eyes brimming with unspoken, unseen menace. “You need bees to keep the hive warm. You need the brood at the heart of the nest and insulation against the cold. You need to know when it’s too cold at the outer layer, so you can move bees in and get new ones at the edge and you need to do that before they are immobilised with the cold.” “The cold? What’s the cold got to do with it. We keep them warm until the next group of bees comes to keep the brood warm.”

Up to this point Curly had been guessing that the only way the brood could survive the cold is if the bees somehow block the cold air so that it didn’t reach the brood. But his night in his chilly corner had taught him that at a certain point, lethargy and tiredness threaten to take over. Many times when he had tried to move he had found it almost impossible, despite his every effort. Eventually he had worked out that there was a certain point of coldness at which his body became immobile. The bees were waiting. “You see,” said Curly with increasing confidence, “The bees in the outer layer, might not always be able to move inwards, they might leave it too late, forget, or doze off. When that happens they die and you lose bees that might otherwise help keep the brood warm. I know when they should move. I can tell them, warn them that it’s time to go in closer to the heart of the nest to recover from the cold.” The seven sisters were silent, antennae still eyes searching to see some trick or secret, but there was none. There was just a clever drone, explaining something that they previously had never understood: why did so many of their sisters die when the cold came, even if they were chatting energetically shortly before they fell to the floor of the hive, alive but silent and immobile. They were always dead soon after. Curly stood up a little prouder, a little more himself and added “All I ask is to be allowed to help save the brood, if the cold and the darkness get worse.” He looked at each of the seven earnestly before adding: “All I need is enough food to survive and a place to stay, but not outside.” Then I can manage the changeovers so that you get the best possible protection as a colony, as guardians of Mother and the brood, when the cold comes.”

The seven sisters turned their heads and formed a tight circle. Antennae were bristling, hind legs scratching backs and wings lifting and falling as they considered Curly’s proposal. They understood that they had little to lose. There were plenty of stores and the Giant Grub had put a lump of sugar paste at the top of the hive, just under the roof. Food wasn’t a problem. The concern was the efficiency of what Curly was proposing. “Wise one, we understand” Curly heard and awash with a new sensation he understood too, as did the drone patrol and all the workers in the hive. Mother even understood. Curly the Wise One could keep his wings and stay.