Warning - contains copious amounts of photos for fabric and bees. For last Saturday was the first real day off I've had for weeks and it was planned to be filled with my favourite things, spent with a dear friend, Debs, who has the same interests.
So there was a visit to a fantastic fabric shop in Abingdon, Mason's in Bath Street. It was heaving - anyone who thinks that sewing is going out of fashion should pay it a visit.
Rammed to the ceiling, literally, with what must be thousands of bolts of every fabric you could need, not to mention haberdashery heaven.
Mostly filled with female customers and the odd chap hanging round looking somewhat bewildered.
We bought a few little things; the staff at Masons, old and young, are amazing.
Back to Deb's house, who rather wonderfully fixed up a sensational lunch from the local Cornucopia Deli - in the garden of course, with a jug of Pimms. Feeling somewhat as if I was sitting in a Country Living photoshoot. (This is a good thing).
After a pottle off to a garden centre where we *might have* bought one or two plants, we returned to examine her beehive, which has been installed for a few weeks now.
It was fascinating to see the bees constantly too-ing and fro-ing, female workers whose short lives - about 6 weeks - are full of industry. The busy atmosphere reminded me of the women bustling about the fabric shop we'd just been to.
Well protected, Debs began smoking the hive - as far as I gather, they think that there is a threat to the hive by forest fire and begin preparing for flight by eating stored honey.
Surrounded by a fair few bees who didn't seem that bothered, the hive was taken apart for inspection.
This outer frame is still undeveloped.
But further on there was more activity.
Can you see the queen bee, below? She is larger than the others, with a handy white dot painted on her. She is almost constantly laying eggs, which hatch into more (nearly all female) worker bees - so in a sense the hive is a giant clone of herself.
This frame has capped cells, some containing honey and others eggs. Some eggs were hatching as Debs held it up for inspection - and she could see some workers helping them out of their cells.
I think there is a big fat drone in the middle down there - the few drones in the hive exist only to mate with a new queen bee, when she takes flight - she may mate 20 times. Something very nasty happens to the drones once the mating process is over, which results in their immediate death. The end result is that the queen has enough sperm inside her to lay eggs for up to five years. Here you can see nectar and honey sparkling in the sun as it oozes from the comb.
When the hive had been reconstucted (during which time the bees were remarkably calm, even when the smoke ran out), Debs pulled out the board beneath the hive to find the general detritus which is kicked out by the workers - a golden dust of bee droppings, wax and other unknowns. I don't think there is a use for this, unlike almost everything else produced by bees. But it is pretty.
Not only was there a beehive, but a pond full of newts, diving about like miniature, underwater dragons.
Torn between watching bee-watching or newt-watching, I was saved by tea. Sublime rosewater and pistachio meringues - if you are ever in the vicinity of Cornucopia, do go and buy some; they are handmade by the owner, Sandy. They are fragments of Paradise.
It wasn't a difficult choice. A splendidly calorific end to my day off and warm thanks to Debs and her family for making me so welcome and recharging my almost empty batteries.
What did I buy from the textile shop? Oh, nothing much...
...just some sweet cotton fabric and what I believe is called a 'jelly roll' of vintage patchwork strips.
So pretty, it would have been rude not to.
(I am aware that my bee knowledge is rudimentary and happy to be corrected on any points).