This post was going to be called REASONS FOR NOT WRITING. My reason being, on this particular occasion: a giant bee has just flown into my room and struck me on the ear. When I say giant I mean . . . But then it got me thinking about a children’s book I love – HARRY’S BEE by Peter Campbell and so that’s what this post is going to be about instead. Much more interesting than reasons for not writing, which are usually as banal and pathetic as the reasons for not putting out your recycling.
The story of HARRY’S BEE is a simple one. Harry, a man sporting a pretty groovy hat, grows the biggest rose in England and it attracts an enormous bee. They talk. Harry offers him a pot of honey. They agree they have never met anyone they like as much as each other and so Harry makes a bee basket and they set off to see the world. There is a lovely scene, which I have thought about many times in my life, when Harry lets his bee out of the basket purely in order to have the whole train carriage to himself. The bees ego is fanned by the fact that he terrifies people and he demands to be taken to the chief bee-keeper to be measured. When he is told there is no chief bee-keeper he says Number Ten will do but he is turned away from there and then the Ministry of Food and Fish. The bee then becomes furious. Sitting on a bench with his bee buzzing in a rage in his bee basket Harry gets into a conversation with a boy, who tells him to take his bee to the Natural History Museum. There he has a very warm welcome and is measured and told he is not the biggest bee in England. He is the biggest bee in the whole world. He then starts singing with delight and drinks a cup of tea. This bee is English to his wing-tips!
Peter Campbell, who wrote and illustrated HARRY’S BEE, was also the illustrator of over 400 covers of the London Review of Books. His enchanting book is out of print which seems a crying shame given how important bees are and also how threatened they are. The great thing about Harry’s bee is that he has a tremendous sense of his own importance and bees, as we are frequently being reminded, are very important. A third of all our food depends on their pollination and a world without pollinators would be devastating for food production. The book is also incidentally rather a good advertisement for the Natural History Museum since this is the only place that welcomes and admires this wonderful bee.
Here is a picture of the largest bee in the world bombus dahlbomii, also known by the technical term of “monstrous fluffy ginger beast,” which, now I come to think of it, should probably have been the title of this post. It lives or lived (it was under threat) in Tierra del Fuego, South America.
My bee, incidentally, was not a “monstrous fluffy ginger beast” it was bombus lapidarius and it was all black with a very red bottom, probably a female because they are bigger than the males. And it got me on my feet and out of the door in approximately 2 seconds flat. Unfortunately I did not have a bee basket to hand, (where are they when you need them?) so when I had plucked up my courage, the end of a rolled newspaper was used to usher it safely back into the toxic and sodden London air.
Peter Campbell died in 2011 but if you’re interested in him and his work take a look here:
If you would like to help the bumble bee here is that link:
And if you would like to read one I prepared earlier on SAM AND THE FIREFLY another children’s book I love here is that link too: