He sits in his office, talking into the phone. His wife would have to take the dogs out, because he couldn’t get home early that day because the bees had been stolen. I wondered if that was the way it had happened, and tried hard to imagine the figures covering and moving the hives at night. How did they manage to take them all away without being seen – they must have had a van, and smoke. White-van-white-veiled-ghost-man. Transporting the hives right in front of everyone – didn’t the visitors see, or the ambulance drivers? There must have been sleepless patients looking out of the windows.
But that was last year, even before their research had begun and now there are new hives, in the same place but guarded by a prison, just beside the hospital car park, far up the hill.
He was given a gift, a book about bees. A neuroscientist reading about bees. A hive behaves like electrical systems in the brain where the individual bees dancing are like neuronal processes involved in information transfer. He talks in a language of bees, parasites, pathogens, pesticides. Neonicitinoids, mushrooms bodies and microspordians.
In the basement of the hospital is a tunnel of empty corridors, pipes, spare beds and old furniture. It is uncomfortably warm even coming in from the sun, and there is total darkness. Automatic lights flicker on after a few seconds but the pause before that makes everyone laugh. In his office his computer has changing glowing screen savers; Japanese islands, Scottish sea birds, whales, moors and flowering plants. He describes coming to the hospital the first time with his car full of the hives, not knowing anything.
We spent the day in our white space suits, tending the bees. In two hives we found the queen and marked her – clipping the tips of her wings and painting a green paint mark on her back. One hive had lost its queen because all the bees roared and had nothing to defend. There was a small brush to brush away the bees that sit in between the box edges as we put the hives back together, and I think we all apologised when we squashed one. Their bodies move away softly under our yellow gloves.
The sun was so warm that day and we took a break at lunchtime and ate fish and chips and coffee in the hospital canteen, and our fingers and hair and clothes smelled like honeycomb and smoke.