We nearly caused a major diplomatic incident last week. For a moment, a vision of helicopters overhead spewing Kevlar clad SAS troopers down ropes to secure the farm flashed across my mind.
This brief moment of terror was triggered when Sarah and our friend Liz (who, as a matter of complete irrelevance, is the person I’ve known longest in the world, outside my family) lurched across the farmyard clad from head to foot in white NBC suits with visors. Our opposite neighbours were rooted to the spot, and I could almost hear their thoughts – ‘Christopher and Sarah have made a weapon of mass destruction in their barn, and are about to let it off. Let’s call the police in Rye..’ (Police Station open between 10am and 4pm, Thursdays and Fridays only). ‘They’ll know what to do.’
Fortunately it was a Sunday and the police station was very shut. So Sarah and Liz, oblivious to the potential mayhem they may have caused, staggered off down the hill like a pair of arthritic polar bears worried they might lose control of their bowels any moment, pushing a wheelbarrow filled with bee-keeping kit. Yes, the day had come to see if any of the bees we inherited from Zim had survived their first winter in the country.
I was enlisted to help, but I was not offered a bee-keeper’s protective outfit. It didn’t seem to cross their minds that this might be a problem for me. ‘The reason the outfits are white’ said Sarah brightly, ‘is because bees go for dark colours’. I was dressed in very dark colours. Thanks. So I lit the smoker, and held various bits of wood needed for something or other, and unwrapped something large, slab-like and sweet that bees feed on. Yes, I was dressed in dark clothes, unwrapping bee nectar right next to bee hives most of which had survived the winter and were making their survival known.
I would have been a lot happier (and safer) had I been allowed to stay in the barn where Richard (of Liz and Richard) was re-building the hand-made beds for the bell tents our campers use during the summer. This was a far more complicated task than you might think, and Richard had foolishly volunteered to do it because he is a highly trained cabinet maker and seems to know exactly what each mysterious chisel and tool is for. Also he’s a police officer for his day job, and I took some comfort in that because had the neighbours decided to call the cops, I could have said ‘don’t worry, we’ve already got one here. He’s in the barn making a bed.’
Or maybe that would have aroused even more suspicion.
Watching Richard make – or re-make – the beds was, to my unskilled but “I always wanted to be a carpenter’s eye”, nothing short of astonishing. Every piece of wood that the beds were made of was different, bent, unusual, knotty or just weird. That’s why they’re lovely beds. But the headboards stick up so high they scrape on the tent side and let the rain in. Cutting them down was not a matter of chopping a bit out of the middle. The whole headboard had to have its dowels drilled out, the mortices and tenons completely re-cut, exactly to shape (and every shape was different), then refitted so tight that even the most vigorous shagging would not rock the boat. Or bed.
I learned a lot about sharpening chisels, but remain mystified by the actual process of rebuilding, since most of it took place in Richard’s head, and he wasn’t talking much. Nonetheless, the beds look magnificent, are two feet lower, and extremely well made. And the surviving bees seem happy with their sweeties too.
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