Mary Medlicott, Storyteller and Author - Storyworks

Blackbirds and Bees

Being called a Queen Bee was definitely not a compliment when I was a child. It was said in a decidedly sarcastic tone. Busy bee – as in ‘What a busy bee you’ve been!’ – was OK. But Queen Bee was a definite put-down. How things change! By now, any comparison at all with bees would be regarded by me as quite a compliment. For bees are certainly very busy creatures and, as I observed on a walk in Brockwell Park this week, they appear extremely focused on their tasks.

But even as I’m thinking about bees, I’m realising how peculiar the human brain is. How it buzzes about in the same way bees do, busily gathering pollen wherever it can. For somehow, even as I write, my mind has brought together several different pieces of pollen from the past week. One involves that weird little riddle that got popular among storytellers a few years ago.

Question: What’s in the eye of the person who is holding a bee in their hand?
Answer: Beauty.
Question from audience: And why is that?
Answer from storyteller: Because beauty is in the eye of the be(e)holder.

Then, even as I thought about that riddle, it brought to mind an experience from many years ago when Paul and I went over to Ireland for a holiday. As we came off the boat in Rosslare – and weird or what, even though I grew up in Fishguard a port from which boats go to Rosslare, I’d never made that crossing before – I felt a very distinct sting on a finger on my left hand. The feeling of sting persisted so strongly that, the next morning, I mentioned it to Mein Host at the Bed and Breakfast place where we were staying. His response began with the words, ‘Well, the first bee sting I ever had was …’ And it was then Paul and I realised of course we were in Ireland and we could be in for a very long telling for, as by common repute, Irish people do love telling tales.

On that same trip and on that same day, Paul and I were walking through the town when a man came bustling across the road towards us. He seemed to be making us his destination and in the twinkling of an eye, he’d stopped us and was telling us a joke. ‘Did you ever hear this joke?’ he began. ‘It’s about two men who stole a calendar. So when these two men were taken to court, the judge listened to the case and made his pronouncement. “Stealing a calendar is very bad,” he said. “I’m going to give you six months each.”

But now, to go back to busyness, I have to say that as well as the bees in our garden, our blackbird has been busy too. In no previous year have I heard such long singing so beautifully sung. It’s as if he has felt especially inspired. I can understand why for these recent summer days have felt especially beautiful. Days to remember indeed.

PS: So beautiful has been the song of that blackbird that Paul decided to record it. I didn’t know he was doing it till  he played me the recording. If you’d like to listen to a little of it, here it is.


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