A bee under the mitre is something to avoid; just ask Bishop Ashton. This is an excerpt from Bats in my Belfry by Bernard Preston.
We have, in fact, two kinds of morality side by side; one which we preach but do not practise, and another which we practise but seldom preach.
- Bertrand Russell
Even bishops, I discovered, can get angry. Very angry. When I went up for Communion I noted with concern the red face and the portly appearance. I had been trying to concentrate on ‘He whom you should be focussing on’ in church and, in fact, He was coming through loud and strong, only I wasn’t recognizing His voice. All I could see was a bishop with an angry face and a florid complexion. In my shallow spirituality I couldn’t see the hand of God gesturing to me and saying: Your next move could spell the difference between life and death for this man.
On the way out of church I briefly shook his hand and, on sudden impulse, then said to him: ‘Bishop, would you mind pulling on my fingers?’ He looked at me puzzled, but turned his hand over and we interlocked our fingers. As he pulled, I noted with horror as his thumb curled in towards his palm, a sure sign of an impending stroke.
I tried hard to dispel the disturbing and distracting thoughts but over tea they wouldn’t leave. I spied Mary Ashton, the bishop’s wife, on the other side of the room, chatting with a friend and made my way across towards her, cup in hand.‘Excuse me, Mrs Pritchard,’ I said to her companion in tea. Turning to Mary, I said: ‘I’m concerned about your husband. Do you think you could cajole Bishop Ashton to come to our home after church? It’s important.’ I passed her my business card with my address on it.
Oddly enough I had only met the bishop briefly, once or twice, in passing; oddly, as his wife Mary had been a patient for many years. They had recently retired to our little village of High Whytten, located in the hills above Shafton where I practised. Bishop Ashton took the occasional service. I had first treated Mary for a routine low back strain, the lot of young mothers, and then for headaches originating from the small joints and muscles at the base of her skull. The headaches had started after she had decided to go back to university and finish her Psychology degree and her neck didn’t take kindly to the long hours of study. Actually it all went back to an injury in her childhood. Children do bounce when they fall down the stairs, don’t they? Well, actually, no they don’t.
I still vividly remember the day, more than fifteen years ago, when Mary came in for a consultation with the words: ‘I’ve got a problem you can’t fix.’‘Oh yes, and what’s that?’She eyed me with an unusual look on her face. I couldn’t make up my mind whether she was close to tears or whether she was going to burst out laughing. They are, strangely enough, very similar emotions. ‘I’m three months pregnant.’ Now it was my turn. I also didn’t know whether to laugh or to cry with her. Falling pregnant when you are forty-nine and the youngest of your three sons is sixteen is no laughing matter.
Over the years Mary had begun to treat me as her general medical guru, so I knew that she had not had a period for over three years. She had asked me, for example, about my opinion on hormone replacement therapy, generally in vogue in the medical community as routine for all post-menopausal women. I knew she had neither had a hysterectomy, nor an early menopause and, after a few routine questions, established that there was no family history of hip or spinal fracture. I also knew that both she and Bishop Ashton were part of a hiking group that took regular exercise, so we agreed on a bone density test and some Calcium Hydroxyapetite as a supplement. Personally, I am firmly against the carte blanche approach to HRT used by many doctors, having lost numerous female patients to breast and uterine cancer, and a few cases to stroke in their fifties that I suspected were HRT-related. There is indeed an increased rate of hemorrhagic stroke associated with HRT and the increased risk of cancer is well established. Obviously in certain extreme cases of menopause, and in women with a high risk of fracture, there is merit.
An abortion was out of the question for them but I had strongly recommended an amniocentesis. Mary firmly refused. ‘I’ve heard it’s a risky procedure and I’m not having an abortion anyway.’‘It’s true, there is risk, but you really don’t want to have a Down syndrome child, Mary.’‘You’re trying to play at being God, Bernie. I suggest you let God be God, and you just be Bernie Preston.’‘Yes, but…’She cut me off. ‘No buts. Did you ever hear the old yarn, I know it’s been discredited now, that there was once a woman who had eight children? Three were blind, two deaf and she was pregnant again. Her doctor diagnosed her as having syphilis.’
‘Well, the doctor recommended an abortion.’
‘And the moral of the story?’
‘Mrs van Beethoven named her baby son Ludwig.’
I sat, somewhat stunned. ‘Sometimes, perhaps the exception proves the rule,’ I finally said lamely.
So it was that little Martha duly arrived, two months after Mary’s fiftieth birthday, a beautiful and perfectly normal child. I had managed Mary’s back through the long and difficult pregnancy in the hot summer months in Shafton. She had frequent bouts of backache and acute pain along the pubic rami, her ankles had swollen and her blood pressure rose alarmingly at times. Mr Simmons, her gynaecologist, had been particularly incensed that she continued to consult me. He and I had angry words when I first arrived in Shafton, an unregistered ghostly chiropractor and now, more than twenty years later, he still took an active dislike to both me and my profession, though we had never met.
‘Do you think I should have a C-section?’ Mary had asked me towards the end of her confinement.
‘What does Mr Simmons say?’ I had asked cautiously, not wanting to step on any corns.‘He is being insistent.’
‘He’s probably right, Mary. There has been some threat of pre-eclampsia.’
‘Tell me again. What’s that big word?’
‘It’s a condition of pregnancy in which the blood pressure rises dangerously, and there is protein in the urine. You are at risk, not having had a baby for over ten years and it could be a very difficult birth for both you and the baby.’
‘Why don’t you doctors use simple words we can understand? Yes, I know that, but the baby’s position is quite fine and I feel ready for a normal birth.’
‘I’m afraid that’s one decision I can’t, and won’t, make for you, Mary. You have to work that one out with Mr Simmons.’
‘I’m down to have a C-section in two weeks. Is there anything you can do to help me go into labour?’
‘Try hanging some curtains,’ I said with a smile.
Bats in my belfry is Bernard Preston's second book of light chiropractic anecdotes. If you enjoy Bee under the Mitre then the whole book could be yours for only about three dollars.
I have treated probably hundreds of women over the years during their pregnancies. It seems almost universally accepted that women must expect backache when they are with child, but I knew that mostly the backache of pregnancy was mechanical in nature rather than referred pain. It was related more to changes in posture and the release of a hormone called Relaxin, that allows for opening of the pelvic brim during birth, but making them vulnerable to sacro-iliac strain and pubic pain. I have yet to have a pregnant woman with backache who has not responded reasonably well to Chiropractic care. Most respond exceptionally well. Mary’s baby was due in two weeks’ time and ordinarily it wouldn’t be a problem if she went into labour a few weeks early. Could I adjust her? Should I? An adjustment near term will sometimes start labour. Unexplained infertility.I had hesitated for a moment. In a younger woman I wouldn’t have, but this was different. ‘Mary, I think it’s not wise. Mr Simmons is a specialist in handling births and I think it would be best if you listened to him.’
I still recall that Mary was not pleased with me but, like most women, she had her own way in the end. It was my secretary Sally who gave me the news. ‘Did you hear, Bernie, that Mary Ashton had a daughter last night?’ It was a full week before the scheduled C-section. It was over a month later that I saw a very contented Mary with her daughter in the parking lot after church one Sunday. ‘Thank you for the flowers, Bernie.’
‘It’s a pleasure, Mary. Is all well?’ I had asked.
‘Everything is fine,’ she beamed at me, ‘except that lots of people think she is my grandchild.’ She giggled like a schoolgirl. ‘Callum is having a hard time amongst his friends who are quite sure he got some poor girl pregnant.’I had laughed easily with her. ‘And did God have his way with Martha’s arrival, or was Mary proactive in some way?’ I eyed her.
I had left church early to see an acute patient and Mary had taken her fussing baby outside. She looked around and then, in a conspiratorial manner, whispered in my ear. ‘A friend told me that if a woman has an orgasm towards the end it will put her into labour. It worked but I’m not telling you how we managed it!’
I had burst out laughing, taking the proffered child and, looking down at her, thinking again of the miracle of birth. I had been at the birth of all three of my children but it never ceased to amaze me. ( A bee under the mitre )
Now it was seventeen years later. I had met Bishop Ashton briefly at one of our Beekeepers’ Association meetings several years earlier so I knew he kept a dozen or so hives to supplement his meagre stipend. Many Anglicans don’t believe in tithing, or at least our priests don’t preach it very often, so the simile about the church mouse is not unwarranted. Those mice too, apparently had to make a vow of poverty, though they seemed to have ignored the chastity bit in our church. The extra income from the bishop’s hives was what kept body and soul together and provided for not so little luxuries like sending their children to university. They didn’t come to my office after that service but he did call a few days later.
‘Is that Dr Preston? Mary asked me to phone you.’‘Good evening, Bishop.’ He had phoned me at home. ‘Thank you for calling. Look I’ll get straight to the point. I was concerned at your appearance in church on Sunday, and I wondered if you would come in for a routine examination. I’m a chiropractor, as you know, not a medical doctor, just so things are clear. There would be no charge, of course.’ Touting for business, ambulance chasing and the like are frowned upon in South Africa, but for no charge I thought I could inveigle him into an examination.Seventy per cent of the diagnosis is made from the History, and so it was in the bishop’s case. The thumb sign, too, was important, of course. He had walked down to his apiary to check his hives, early on that Sunday morning before church only to find that they had been vandalised in the night. All fourteen colonies had been smashed beyond recognition, the boxes strewn down the path towards the forest. It was now unlikely they could afford to send Martha to university that year. Obviously he had got over the initial shock of finding his daughter’s future in the balance but his blood pressure was still significantly raised. I was sure it had been very high that Sunday morning.( A bee under the mitre )
Ashton, if you buy a dozen four-metre creosoted poles and get them
planted in the ground around your apiary, I’ll bring the wire and we’ll
erect an enclosure on a Saturday morning.’ ‘I’ve already considered
that, Bernie. The wire is very expensive, I’m afraid.’‘Yes, I know, but
once the heavy-duty spring cable that we use for launching our gliders
becomes brittle and starts to break we just throw it away. It becomes
dangerous actually and there are several rolls of the used cable stacked
behind the hanger, still quite strong enough for your purposes. In fact
it is high tensile steel, and quite difficult to cut.’ We both knew
that the scent of hives filled with honey was as strong as any
pheromone. The thieves found it irresistible. Unexplained
infertility.Early Saturday morning I took my two sons out to the Club
and we loaded two rolls of used wire onto my trailer with the help of a
couple of pilots who had arrived early to do the annual inspections on
their aircraft. A kilometre of cable is very heavy.
We arrived at the Ashtons by eight. The bishop greeted us
at the gate looking more relaxed. The apoplectic look had gone and I
surmised that his blood pressure had dropped back towards a more normal
value.‘Good morning, Bernie, the poles are in place. What have we here?’
he asked looking into the trailer. I had encouraged him to call me
Bernie, not long after we had met, years ago, but somehow the great man
of faith would always remain Bishop Ashton to me.The rolls of wire
weighed over two hundred kilos each but the four of us managed to
wheelbarrow them down to the remains of his apiary without too much
difficulty. I had done plenty of fencing before so, by lunch, we had the
three metre high fence in place, nicely tensioned with a puller not
inappropriately nicknamed ‘Satan’ by my Zulu gardener. It crushed
fingers if you weren’t careful.‘You’re going to need some more hives,
Bishop,’ I said, looking at the sorry state of what remained of his
bees.‘Yes, and I had hoped to increase to thirty hives this season.
Martha is going to university and I know we are going to need the extra
income,’ he said confidentially, out of earshot of the boys. I nodded.
During the next few days the bishop and his needs were not too far from the back of my mind. I kept thinking back to the days when I had first made a personal commitment to Christ. Sandy, my mentor, had insisted that the Lord had called the Church to go out and make disciples, not just converts, and there’s a big difference. I was expected to attend a weekly discipling course. Tithing is amongst the many teachings of the Church and it was not omitted: ‘Bring the full tithe … and put me to the test, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you an overflowing blessing.’ I had already tested those windows and knew that it was no vain promise. They had helped me get through Chiropractic school. I decided to spend the next few months’ tithes on the bishop and his needs. I ordered enough hive parts and frames to make up thirty empty beehives.
‘Bishop Ashton, will you be
home next Saturday morning? I have a few friends coming over to my
place, and I wondered if you and Mary would like to join us.’ In the
meantime I had phoned several members of the parish whom I knew were
handymen, and a couple of beekeepers who would not be averse to helping a
bishop in need. Helen and Mary had arranged for a few of the wives to
join us so the inner man was not to suffer.
Bishop Ashton’s eyes were like saucers as we unloaded the dove-tailed hive parts and honey-frames, all still unassembled. Others carried out half a cube of kiln-dried pine planks, still in the rough and the boys and I rolled out the 200 litre drum of wood preservative, an industrial wax. It wasn’t long before the drum was up on blocks with a hot fire burning underneath it, and the workshop was abuzz with activity. The planers and saw benches were humming, hammers were busy and the boys and I were dipping the assembled hives into the boiling wax. The more experienced beekeepers were assembling the honey-frames whilst the carpenters were making up bottom-boards and lids for the hives. Discarded printer’s sheets of aluminium completed the hive lids to keep adverse weather out.
‘It’s all very well having these wonderful hives,’ the bishop said to me at lunch time as we were nearing the end of our task. We were all admiring the rows of neatly stacked hives, sandwiches and hot tea in hand. My sons were barbecuing a couple dozen pork sausages over the hot coals. ‘But how do I catch thirty swarms in a hurry?’Just then one of the large commercial beekeepers ambled over to join us, hot dog in hand. He overheard the question. ‘Very easy, Bishop,’ he said pulling one of the finished hives off the stack. ‘The swarming season is about to begin so all we need to do is to prepare the hives with a few used combs to attract the bees and then we put strips of beeswax into the hive like this.’ He demonstrated to the bishop how they did it in their apiaries. I too, listened avidly. ‘I’ll be putting out two thousand trap hives in the next month, so I’ll just put yours out too. Some of those vandalised frames will do very nicely to attract the swarming bees.’
The African honey bee, Apis mellifera scutellata is one of the most dangerous animals on Earth, but she certainly knows how to collect honey. One of her characteristics is to swarm every year at the beginning of the honey flow, breeding new queens and spreading colonies far and wide. The specially prepared beehives, hung up in trees a few metres above the ground, were exactly what the swarming colonies were looking for. Unexplained infertility.In two weeks the bishop had his thirty hives filled with zealous bees, all neatly secured in his apiary. Unfortunately, that is when his trouble really started.
Bishop Ashton had that apoplectic look again at the Communion rail. He singled me out after the service. ‘The bastards cut the wire on Wednesday and stole ten hives,’ he said angrily. Mary invited us home for tea after church. ‘Come on out. No matter that my husband will be a while tidying up after church.’ Helen and I meandered out to their home taking Mary and Martha, now seventeen, to their smallholding. ‘I’m very worried about Bishop Ashton. His blood pressure won’t stand this stress,’ I said to Mary and Martha.
I wandered down to the apiary while the ladies fixed up the tea things. Bushy old Azaleas protected their home from the bees and Bishop Ashton had planted rows of Bamboo around the apiary but that hadn’t stopped the thieves. During the honey flow you could smell the sweet fragrance in the hives from several hundred metres away. The bishop had repaired the hole in the fence but the general mayhem was evident. The bees were angry and I had to duck behind some bushes so as not to get stung. I noticed a thin wire close to the ground attached to a strange looking contraption.
‘Know what that is?’ Bishop Ashton had walked quietly up behind me and caught me by surprise.I turned swiftly round, momentarily fearful, like all South Africans caught by surprise, then, seeing him, relaxed. Turning back to the apiary I said: ‘No, I don’t know what it is. Tell me.’The elderly bishop blushed. ‘It’s a man-trap.’‘A what?’ ‘Those trip-wires are connected to that device I made,’ he said pointing to the gadget.I stared, trying to fathom what it was. A fencing dropper had a short piece of galvanised pipe welded to it with a screw-on plug on one end. Later I saw the hole in the plug with a nail protruding and the twelve-bore cartridge in the pipe. Below the pipe was a mouse-trap, carefully placed so the heavy plate would spring up and strike the nail, just waiting for someone to fall over the trip-wire in the dark. No cheese in that trap, just a few dozen delicious honeycombs.‘Bishop! You can’t do that. You might kill someone!’He laughed. ‘Come and I’ll show you.’
We were walking back up to the house when the ladies called us for ambrosial honey-tea and shortbread. On the way he took me through their lounge, opening the gun-safe to show me a beautiful pair of old Purdeys.After tea, we strolled nonchalantly over to his workshop. Out of a cupboard he took a small box from which he pulled a faded orangey-red cartridge, very worn and tatty from years of use, passing it to me. I took the empty cartridge turning it over and over, catching a whiff of cordite, while he pulled out more small boxes.
‘I was born on a farm,’ he said. ‘My dad gave me my first four-ten∗ when I was nine. That’s how I lost the end of this finger. I was cleaning the gun and had forgotten to unload it,’ he said, showing me his left hand. ‘Then I got a twelve-bore on my fourteenth birthday.’ All the while the elderly bishop was putting small amounts of a black powder into the cartridge with a small piece of wadding, and tamping it down. ‘Won’t be a moment,’ he called, walking off briskly towards the kitchen bringing back, a few seconds later, a bottle filled with large white crystals.
‘What’s that?’ I asked.‘This is Mary’s coarse sea salt,’ he said, with a grin, filling up the cartridge. ‘That’s what I used instead of the birdshot.’ Then he fitted the cap and more wadding, crimping the shell and passed it to me. ‘It won’t kill but you can be certain that it will make for an awfully sore buttock.’
Twice in the next few weeks Bishop Ashton found the trap had been sprung but there was no sign of the thieves having been hit. His hives were still being molested, though not devastated.He came up to me after church a few Sundays later. ‘I don’t think we’ll have any more trouble,’ he said. ‘The thieves were still messing my hives around so instead of salt I loaded the cartridge with buckshot.’I put my hand to my mouth, obviously appalled. ‘Don’t look so anxious. I turned the shot ninety degrees away from the trip-wire and faced it into an empty paraffin can. I think the whole neighbourhood heard the shot go off at two in the morning and since then the hives have been untouched.’
He was right on both counts. Almost every family within a radius of half a kilometre had heard, including the police, and the thieves never came back, although the arrival of the men in blue in the morning had the bishop scampering down to his apiary to dismantle the man-trap.
It was some months before I spoke to
Bishop Ashton again. He was looking a younger, happier man and the raw
fruit and salad diet that I had instructed Mary to start him on had
worked wonders. An egg-and-bacon brunch was only allowed on Sundays. The
honey flow from the Eucalyptus gum trees had been marginal but,
together with their savings, they had just managed to place Martha into
‘Bernie, I was brought up in the uMkhomazi River valley just downstream from the Josephine Bridge. When I was a boy I had a Zulu friend who took me bee-robbing sometimes and I remember that one Spring we had the most amazing amount of a pale yellow honey, quite unlike this from the Saligna gum tree,’ he said, holding up a jar of the finely crystallised Eucalypt honey from our hives in High Whytten.‘I’ve seen it,’ I replied. ‘The plant is called uHlalwane. It has small white flowers that produce copious amounts of nectar in Spring. We joke about it at the Beekeepers’ meetings and there is always an argument between the Creationists and the Evolutionists.’‘Why is that?
The lower lip of the flower looks just like the approach to the runway at an airport. It has a purplish nectar guide with a fishbone appearance, perfectly designed to direct the bee into the flower, and it even has a corrugated surface so she doesn’t slip when she alights on the lip.’‘Hmm, interesting.’‘But there’s a snag, Bishop,’ I added, ‘it only flowers every seven years or so. It’s common name is sewejaarbossie.’ ‘Yes, I know, but I was back in the uMkhomazi valley last weekend with the Bird Club. We like to go there because the high grassland is perfect Blue Swallow territory. I suppose it will always be home to me, the place I dream of, but this year it was very special, full of March butterflies and the grass was tall and beautiful.’ ‘I’m afraid I wouldn’t know a Blue Swallow from a Martin!’
‘Not many do, but the difference is that the Blue Swallow is a threatened species. There are only about eighty nesting pairs left in South Africa. But to get back to my point, I met Sipho, my childhood friend again and I told him about my beehives. Sipho says this is going to be the year. He even showed me some of the plants.’
I looked at him uncertainly. ‘It’s more likely to be related to certain weather conditions than strictly every seven years.’
‘That’s true, but I have
learnt that the Zulus out in the country often have an intuitive
knowledge of the conditions. Would you help me take my hives out?’
The long and the short of it was that we
took Bishop Ashton’s hives, and ten of mine to fill the truck, out to
his childhood home. Never in my whole life have I experienced a honey
flow like that uHlalwane. Every ten days we took two supers of pale
yellow honey off each hive. Six weeks later it turned off as suddenly as
it had started. We had taken an incredible four tons of honey off the
hives which grossed us an incredible R80,000 ($10,000) in under two
months. It paid for the whole of Martha’s three-year degree and I got
more than double my tithe back. I thought back to Sandy’s teaching all
those years ago… if I will not open the windows of heaven for you.
A few weeks later, Bishop Ashton appeared in my appointment book. For no obvious reason he had developed a very stiff neck with pain radiating down his right arm. I decided it would be wise to x-ray him. Later, in the dark room, with the x-ray held up against the eerie red light, I pondered what I was looking at. The side of Bishop Ashton’s head and neck was peppered with small round artefacts.‘Bishop, do you have any idea what these are?’ I asked next day. He came up to the x-ray box, looking mystified at the radiograph. Then he snapped his fingers. ‘Ha, I know what that is. Sixty or so years ago Sipho and I were shooting Kol-gans and we had to cross the river to where they were feeding. He had my old four-ten and we crossed the river with the cartridges under our hats and only our head sticking out of the water, holding the shot-guns above our heads.’
I looked at him, intrigued.‘Sipho was about sixty yards
off when his shotgun went off inadvertently. I was peppered with
birdshot! Just as well it wasn’t buckshot!’ I decided to photograph his
x-rays with my digital camera – that was a picture to confuse my
students at the Chiropractic College where I lectured one day a week.
Fortunately the pinched nerve in his neck responded well to Chiropractic
despite the huge arthritic spurs seen in most elderly folks’ necks.
I wasn’t surprised when a few weeks later I found Bishop Ashton had changed the lessons from those laid down in the lectionary. As soon as I saw them I knew what his sermon was going to be about.
A bee under the mitre is lifted from Bats in my Belfry, Bernard Preston's second book of light chiropractic anecdotes.
The other two are Frog in my Throat and Stones in my Clog. Find them in the navigation bar on your left. Ebooks are dirt cheap.
Beekeeping is the one hobby that has stayed with me for my whole life. First introduced by my grandfather, aged about ten, to the honeybee, it's become a life-long love affair.
It's not an expensive hobby to start. In fact, the honey you collect will more than pay for the hive and beekeeping equipment in a couple seasons.
Honey is a
VERY heat labile product. You simply cannot buy the good stuff in the supermarket -
it's all heated, virtually without exception. Go on! Purchase some
and get started. But be careful because you too may get a bee under the mitre, or the bonnet rather.
Infertility chiropractic is just one more of the unresearched anecdotes concerning the general overall benefits of having a healthy spine. Pinched nerves do far more damage than cause back pain and tingling in arms and hands and feet; just ask the bishop's wife from Bee under the Mitre.
If you enjoyed Bee under the Mitre by Bernard Preston then it's time to purchase one of his books. Those in digital format are dirt cheap.
Do you know why the ancient tradition was to give a young couple, just wed, a bottle of mead when heading off on the honeymoon? Whilst your chiropractor will not promise to get you pregnant! fact is often stranger than fiction.
Raw honey is an extremely heat labile product; place it in the microwave or jug of hot water and you've ruined it for ever. Learn about it from the bishop in Bee under the Mitre.
Most commercial honeys are heated and to my mind of little greater value than sugar. But the lightly filtered nectar of the bees, to include the pollens of the flowers in your area is to die for; you can only get it by finding a small local apiary to ensure it's not been heated.
Talk to any apiarist and you'll find that gems like bee under the mitre abound. A few hives in the garden should be considered by every home owner with a large garden.
Making a braggot, a beer brewed using honey instead of sugar is my latest past time. There are so many variations of making honey mead; beer hydrometer readings are necessary to prevent flying shrapnels of glass from burst bottles. Use only raw honey.
Did you enjoy this chapter from Bee Under the Mitre? Then perhaps forward this link to a fellow bookworm.
Bernard Preston is a semi-retired chiropractor, part time beekeeper and in general a lover of life. His ebooks are cheap but you can expect to pay rather more for hard copies. Bee under the mitre is a free tidbit.
Bee under the mitre is a short story from his second book a chiropractic anecdotes, Bats in my Belfry.