Chaos in Corfu

In the early 1930’s the recently widowed Louisa Durrell took her family of five from India via England to Corfu, the latter a Greek island in the Adriatic Sea.  Two of those siblings, Gerald and Larry, became prolific writers, better known in Europe than in the US, (we read My Family and Other Animals in High School much as Americans read Catcher in the Rye)  although the recent Masterpiece Theatre series, The Durrell’s in Corfu, is making a dent in that omission.  As best I recall Jerry never wrote about honey bees directly, although we can look at another of his stories to guess what he might have written … 

 

“One day I found two queens in a hive.  I was enraptured by this discovery even as we now know it is not uncommon, and I decided to smuggle one of the two into the house and up to my bedroom until I could introduce her into a queenless colony.  With infinite care I maneuvered her into a matchbox, added some worker bees for company, and then hurried to the villa.   It was rather unfortunate that just as I entered the door lunch should be served, so I placed the matchbox carefully on the mantlepiece in the drawing-room, slightly ajar so the bees could get some air, made my way to the dining room and joined the family for the meal.  Dawdling over my food, feeding Roger the dog surreptitiously under the table and listening to the family arguing, I completely forgot about my prisoners.  At last, elder brother Larry, having finished, fetched his cigarettes from the drawing-room, and lying back in his chair he put one in his mouth and picked up the matchbox he had brought. Oblivious to my impending doom I watched him interestedly as, still talking glibly, he opened the matchbox.  

 

I maintain to this day that the bees meant no harm.  After all, they are defensive rather than aggressive but they were agitated and a trifle annoyed at being shut up in a matchbox and so they seized the first opportunity to escape.  They climbed out of the box with great rapidity on to the back Larry’s hand.  Not quite certain what to do next, the queen  paused at the same time as Larry glanced down to see what it was, and from that moment things got increasingly confused. 

 

Larry uttered a roar of fright that made Lugaretzia, in the kitchen, drop a plate and brought Roger out from beneath the table, barking wildly.  With a flick of his hand Larry sent the unfortunate queen flying down the table, and she landed halfway between sister Margo and brother Leslie.  Thoroughly enraged at this undignified treatment, the queen flew towards Leslie who leaped to his feet and flicked out desperately with his napkin, sending the queen towards Margo, who let out a scream that any railway engine would have been proud to produce.  Mother, completely bewildered by this sudden and rapid change from peace to chaos, put on her glasses and peered down the table to see what was causing the pandemonium at the same time as Margo, in a vain attempt to stop the queen’s advance, hurled a glass of water at it.  The shower missed Her Highness completely but successfully drenched mother who, not being able to stand cold water, promptly lost her breath and sat gasping at the end of the table, unable even to protest. 

 

The queen had sought cover under Leslie’s plate, the attendants were trying to get out of the windows, and Roger the dog, mystified by all the panic but determined to do his share, ran round and round the room, barking hysterically. 

 

“It’s that bloody boy again,” bellowed Larry, referring to me. 

 

“Look out!  Look out!  They’re coming!” screamed Margo.

 

“All we need is a book,” roared Leslie. “Don’t panic.  Hit it with a book.”

 

“What on earth’s the matter with you all?”  Mother kept imploring, mopping her glasses.

 

“It’s that bloody boy.  He’ll kill the lot of us.Look at the table - knee-deep in bees.”

 

“Stop screeching and get a book, for God’s sake.   You’re worse than the dog.  Shut up, Roger.”

 

“By the grace of God, I wasn’t bitten”

 

“Actually,” I said hesitantly, “bees don’t bite, they sting.”

 

“Oh, shut up and give me a book.”

 

“But just how did the bees get on the table, dear?”

 

“That bloody boy.  Every matchbox in the house is a death trap.”

 

“Hit it with your knife … your knife.  Go on, hit it.”

 

Since no one had bothered to explain things to him, Roger was under the mistaken impression that the family was being attacked, and that it was his duty to defend us.  As Lugaretzia, in the kitchen, was the only stranger among us, he came to the logical conclusion that she must be the responsible party, so he bit her in the ankle. That did not exactly  help matters.

 

By the time order had been restored, and after an impassioned plea on my part, backed up by Mother, Leslie’s suggestion that the whole lot be slaughtered was squashed. While the family, still simmering with rage and fright, retired to the drawing-room, I found the queen and returned  her to the matchbox, accompanied by the attendants who were beating themselves against the glass window panes.

 

Roger and I spent the afternoon outside, for I felt it would be prudent to allow the family to have a siesta before seeing them again.

 

The results of this incident were numerous. Larry developed a phobia about matchboxes and opened them with the utmost caution, a handkerchief wrapped around his hand. Lugaretzia limped around the house for weeks after the bite had healed, her ankle enveloped in yards of bandage, which she took off every morning as she brought in the tea to show us how the scars were getting on. 

 

But from my point of view, the worst repercussion was that Mother decided I was running wild again, and that it was high time I received a little more education. 

 

Really, it was not my fault.” 

 

 

 

 

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27.11 | 11:01

Moustache, wax? Of course. Now if all of the drones had mustaches ...

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27.11 | 07:43

One of our club members says he got into beekeeping in order to make his own mustache wax. There's the explanation for the bearded/mustached ABF attendees!

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13.08 | 01:43

Good morning Mr. Barnes, I'm so pleased to see the best of history teachers is still going strong! Looking at your website brings back some great memories

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