I arrived home fairly late last evening, from my break but, knowing what a busy week I had ahead I decided to visit the meadow before doing anything else, the purpose being to get the clearer boards on in readiness for today’s extracting. As usual, the traffic on the M25 had been pretty awful and being tired when I arrived at the meadow, I didn’t have my thinking head on. As I got to the bottom of the meadow I could see that all the bees had gone home for the night but, that’s not a problem I decided. I somehow imagined that they would all be tucked up down in the brood chamber and would ignore me, after all, I only had to slip a clearer board in below the supers. Thinking back as I sat at the top of the meadow, nursing my numerous stings, on previous occasions when I’ve put the clearer boards on, it has been during the day when of course, half of the bees are out flying. On those occasions, the bees took hardly any notice of me at all, the supers had in the main, only a handful of bees in residence, but last evening. Well, last evening was different, the supers were full of bees and of course, smoking the top one just drove the bees down into the one below. By the time I got to number three it was overflowing with bees and no amount of smoking would send them down instead, as I lifted the super off they just came at me from all directions and to make matters worse, I was only wearing a short jacket and veil. So, another lesson learned the hard way.

So, my next job, collect the extractor before back to the meadow where hopefully, I shall find the bees in better humour, and finish what I started yesterday. Just hope they haven’t got good memory’s. Judging by the weight of the supers it looks like being a good harvest and I’ve only managed to get the clearers on two of the hives so far, so shall we say, I’m cautiously optimistic.

Arriving at the meadow I decided to push straight on with the job in hand. The weather forecast for the day wasn’t promising and clouds were already forming .I decided to wear a full suit today just to be on the safe side. I always feel that the bees are less well tempered when the weather is threatening and that, combined with the fact that they sometimes take umbridge at their hard earned stores being pilfered, prompted the decision to wear the full suit. Having got, from my previous visit, a pretty good idea of the weights involved, I decided to take the car down to the bees. I only rarely use the car as, being front wheel drive, it has been known to struggle if the grass is wet and today had all the makings of wet. But, compared with the thought of wheeling heavy supers up the meadow in a wheel barrow and wearing a full bee suit, a struggling car seemed the lesser of two evils. Prompted by thoughts of the busy week ahead and the fact that I’m away again the week after, I didn’t go through all the supers as I would normally have done. The weight of the supers, well in excess of twenty pounds each, told me they were full. I prised a frame from the first super, capped and full. Just as I’d expected, a quick glance down into the other supers told me that they were the same.

bes 006


So, without further ado, into the car and home. Big mistake ! Time and again the bees teach us, take us for granted at your peril ! and Wednesday was no different. It wasn’t until I had put all the jars through the dishwasher, washed out the extractor and set it up in the kitchen that I found my mistake. The frame I had examined was in fact, the only frame that had been fully capped. All the others had a semi-circle of un-capped comb at the bottom of the frame. Looking down into the supers I could only see capped comb and I’d assumed, wrongly, that the frames were completely finished and ready for extraction. I could tell at a glance as I removed the supers from the car, that they weren’t ready as the vibration of the car journey had already caused some honey to leak from the un-capped sections.

So, yesterday saw me back at the meadow placing the supers back on the hives, after returning the extractor, my efforts to save time had in the end, cost me another two days. There’s obviously a lesson to be learned there somewhere but if it’s realy that obvious, why do I keep missing it?  Ah well, the bees were pleased to get their precious honey back, and to prove it, they only stung me twice.

I said earlier that this was to be a busy week and of course, that was to have included extracting my first crop of honey which as we know, didn’t happen. The weeds on the allotment had taken full advantage of the week that I’d been away so I’d spent a day on that. Yesterday it rained for most of the day so I couldn’t get to the meadow which was a nuisance as I wanted at least, to have a look at the new nucs. but it did enable me to have a go at some candles that had been ordered a couple of weeks ago.





I’ve never been asked for black candles before and wondered what the finished article would look like. As it happened, I was quite pleased with the finished result, hope my customer shares that feeling. I did get to the meadow this morning and was pleased to see plenty of activity at the entrance to each hive. The nucs. weren’t so pleasing, of the three that had queen cells and brood from eight,( the colony I’d Demaree’d), only one had a laying queen. the other two had plenty of bees and had been busy laying down stores but no sign of a queen. The queen cells hadn’t been broken down but showed all the signs of having hatched properly. Of the other two nucs. which had received cells and brood from two, one was in a sorry state but the other showed the same signs as the ones from eight. No time to investigate further as I’m away fairly early tomorrow and still had plenty to do before then. I have had nucs. behave like this before now, show all the signs of queenlessness and a week later be full of brood. I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed that this will be how I’ll find them when I come back in a week’s time. I’ll let you know.

Back from my travels and as usual, my first stop, the meadow. Pleased to hear, the weather here in North Somerset has been glorious during my absense so it was with a feeling of hightening expectation that I donned my bee suit and lit my smoker. The meadow hasn’t been cut since my open day, now over a month ago, and the grass is knee high. I have to say, this is how I prefer it. Though the local farmer always makes a good job of cutting and bailing the grass, the meadow always looks somehow clinical afterwards. But now, now it looks like a natural meadow, there must be at least a dozen different grasses, which the local Roe deer have been quick to take advantage of. Probably because of the length of the grass, the clovers and other wild flowers have to stretch further skywards which not only makes them easier for us to see, but seems to well suit the bees also. At a glance it would seem almost every flower has a bee in attendance. Not just honeybees but an abundance of various bumble bees and hover flies. There also seem to be dozens of male damsels which is slightly unusual, I’m sure that they won’t find what they’re looking for in our meadow. I imagine they must have blown over from the lake in the next field. So, that was the sight that greeted me as I made my way down to my little apiary. Now, with all this forage on their doorstep and a week of uninterupted sunshine, not to mention the absence of the interfering old beekeeper who appears from time to time, surely it wasn’t unreasonable to expect to find supers capped and ready for removal. Anyway, those were the thoughts that accompanied me as I made my way down across the meadow, but they could wait. For the moment it was the new nuc’s. which were my main concern. If you recall, at my last visit, only one of them seemed to have a queen in attendance, and so it was to the nuc’s. I first turned my attentions. It was obvious from a distance what a difference the last week had made. All except nuc.two now had a steady stream of bees busily coming and going with almost every other one carrying pollen. A quick look beneath the crown boards and what a lovely sight. Brood of all stages in all except nuc.two. I didn’t go searching for the queens prefering not to bother them unduly at this early stage, the brood told me all I needed to know for the moment. As I suspected, nuc.two was queenless but that hadn’t seemed to bother the occupants who had been busy drawing comb and filling it with stores, so a couple of frames of brood and feed of syrup before boxing them up and moving on to the hives. I’m really quite excited by the thought of having all five of my mating nuc’s.up and running and all with queens of known parentage. It has meant sadly, almost sacrificing hive eight which was my best colony but it will be worth it if my queen rearing finally gets off the ground. Hopefully, as the nuc’s.really get going, I can give a couple of frames of brood back to eight if required. If my plans work, this will be the last time I need to take brood and bees from the hives. It is my intention to have the nuc’s.permanently populated. If brood in any of the nuc’s.starts to build up too rapidly, my idea is to remove it and give it to whichever of the colonies that can make use of it. Unless I need a queen due to unforseen circumstances, I hope to over winter the nuc’s. with their new queens. Any that don’t make it through are obviously not strong enough to head their new colonies. In the Spring the plan is to re-queen half of the colonies with queens from the nuc’s., with the old queens taking their places. The purpose of keeping the old queens is just to keep the nuc’s.ticking over until the Autumn when a new crop of queen cells will be available. The old queens will then be culled prior to introducing the new queen cells to the nuc’s.

Just imagine for a moment if all this works. Every year half the colonies get a new queen, and there are always queens in reserve. The new crop of queen cells will have come from that year’s best colony. This shouldn’t be a problem bearing in mind, we only need five. No more having to deplete stocks to build nuc’s., and there will always be a frame of brood available for any colony that needs help. Pie in the sky, I wonder. Sitting here writing this, it all seems perfectly achievable and as I said at the beginning of the paragraph, “just imagine for a moment”. It’s gotta be worth a try hasn’t it.

So, back to the un-capped supers and amazingly, still no change. Goodness knows what they are doing with all the nectar going in but they are still refusing to finish capping the supers which are by now, almost too heavy to manipulate. Especially those on hive two. If you can imagine, the height of the fifth super is a little above shoulder height and must weigh well in excess of twenty pounds, not that I’m complaining you understand but it is hard work for an aging beekeeper.



 For some reason, this year seems to be following the same pattern as the last. It was well into August before I extracted which of course means, there was no way of seperating the OSR honey from the maincrop which in turn meant that within a month, it had all started to set. Not a real problem but I do feel, it’s so much better if you can keep all your honeys seperate. That way you can offer your customers a clear choice between runny and set and of course having both, you can then also produce your creamed honey. So, how to avoid the same thing happening this year as last. Well, the truth is that I don’t know. What I’m wondering though, is if, by having so many supers to fill, the bees are moving up to the next super before finishing the last. Anyway,what I’ve decided to do, if they haven’t finished capping within the next few days,  is to try something new, I’m not sure quite what at this stage but I’m going to try something.

Nearly a week since my last visit and I’ve decided, if there is still no change, I’m going to seperate the completely filled supers from the others. I’m going to try this experiment on hive two as it is the heaviest. To give you some idea of the weight, I’ve just had to reinforce the hive stand as one of the legs was sinking into the ground and the thing has stood there for some five years or more, I’m not complaining you understand. So to two and as I somehow expected, no change other than if anything, the supers are even heavier. What I’ve done is to place the three heaviest supers above the queen excluder with an escape board above, then the other two which incidently, are almost as heavy, followed by the crown board and roof. I’m hoping that the bees will now concentrate their efforts on the three supers they can now only access rather than work on all five as they have been. I’ll give them a few days and have another look. If it has worked I’ll just remove the three supers and lower the other two into their place, if not, then it’s back to the drawing board. Incidently, all the other colonies are behaving in exactly the same way, I’ve just concentrated on two because they are the heaviest.

Fortunately, there seems to be very little sign of varroa in the apiary but I’ve given them all their first dusting of icing sugar and shall continue at weekly intervals for the next four weeks. It always amuses me to see them shortly afterwards coming and going looking like so many miniature abominable snowmen. I nearly forgot to mention, after I’d suited up I noticed out of the corner of my eye, the Roe deer watching me from the corner of the meadow, nothing unusual there but she didn’t dissapear into the thicket as she usually does when I start down the meadow, instead she seemed to be keeping an eye on me.


                           MOTHER KEEPING A WATCHFUL EYE ON ME

A few more steps and the reason became obvious, about a yard to the left of the path was her new fawn, probably born during the night, just laying there looking up at me and of course, sod’s law being what it is, I didn’t have my camera on me. I did manage to take a couple of pictures with my mobile and as soon as I figure out how to, I’ll let you have a look at them. I have to say, it made my day. Such a pretty little thing and so helpless laying there, I couldn’t help but think of my own children the first time I looked at them. There’s something quite indescribable about the feelings that accompany seeing anything newborn that somehow tug at the heart strings. Some twenty minutes later I walked back up the meadow for another look but Mum, unseen by me, had collected her new offspring and disappeared. I told you the meadow was a magical place, and that’s something else I won’t forget in a hurry.


                                           WHAT A BEAUTIFUL SIGHT

I forgot to mention with all the excitement of our addition to the meadow’s roe deer population, nuc.two now has a sealed queen cell which I was pleased to see, and hive seven has decided to supersede. The queen cell in nuc.two is a little smaller than I would have liked so I’ll be keeping an eye on her. Seven was one of the colonies earmarked to receive a new queen so everything in the meadow is looking quite rosey at the moment. I know I’m tempting fate in saying that but that’s the way I’m feeling just now. Maybe it was the sight of that little fawn laying in the grass which was for me, the icing on the cake. I can’t help wishing my dear friend Charles had been here to see it.

If you recall, back in April I decided to reduce five from double brood to single as at that time they were only occupying one box. I’m sure the way forward is to eventually have all the colonies on extended brood and so with that in mind I have made another 3 1/2″ eke to convert the box and filled it with frames of 14 x 12″  foundation. Subsequently, I’ve been trying to decide which colony to convert and how best to do it. I’ve been keeping an eye on hive one, which, after a shakey start has been building up very nicely so that’s the one I’ve decided on. Another reason for deciding on one is that a, they are very placid and don’t seem to object to my interferance and b, the other bees in the apiary seem to totally ignore what’s going on around hive one. Now, whether this is because one is on the end of the row or it’s because the hive entrance is facing away from the others, I don’t know, but it definitely attracts less attention from it’s neighbours than when I’m working the rest of the hives. So, how best to get the bees onto extended brood. I considered various options including “shook swarm” etc. but in the end, decided just to place the new box above the old. To encourage the bees up I’ve taken a frame of brood and one of drawn comb from three, the first of my colonies on extended brood. As soon as I see the queen is laying in the new box I shall insert an excluder between the boxes and eventually remove the old box. I’m aware that this may take a while and that there are faster ways to achieve the move but what I wan’t to avoid is ending up with a box containing different sizes of frames and then having to mess around having to get all the bees onto the one size.

So, that was the way one looked when I made my way back up the meadow. I always look around me as I’m walking through the grass and am constantly amazed at the variety of insects which seems to increase as the grass lengthens. When the meadow is first cut it is noticable how quiet it has become but now, now with the grass above knee hight, it is alive again. There are butterflies and moths in abundance, some of which, I’m sure I’ve not seen before and the grass itself has come alive. I don’t mean in the sense of alive or dead but that when it’s short, all one sees is a field of green but when it is at the height that it is now and is seeding, you can see just how many different grasses there really are. Looking a little closer you can see that not only are there several different shades of green but also the varying heights of the grasses. Some are fully grown and seeding when six or eight inches high whilst others are fully three feet high before seeding. In addition, the different colours of the seeding heads each seems to attract it’s own variety of insect. Just where they’ve all come from or where they go is a mystery but they’re certainly making the most of what we’re offering them now. Anyway, what I started to tell you was that as I made my way up the meadow I thought I saw a little pair of pointed ears amongst the grasses to my left which promptly disappeared as I blinked.



So quickly that I wasn’t sure whether I’d imagined it. There had been no sightings of the fawn since the first a couple of days ago but I decided to take a quick look anyway. I crept quietly across to the point where I thought I’d seen the fawn and sure enough, there it was. The main difference this time was that in two days it had learned that when danger threatens you lay as flat and still as you can. So that was how I found it, unlike the first time when it lifted it’s head and watched me coming towards it, this time it couldn’t have got any closer to the ground if it had tried in fact, if I hadn’t suspected that it was there I could have easily stepped on it. This time I had my camera with me so I’ll try to share what I saw with you.


                                      LAYING PERFECTLY FLAT AND STILL

I couldn’t help feeling slightly flattered that the hind had thought so highly of the meadow as to entrust us with her precious offspring once again.

Almost a week has passed since my manipulations of hive two so time to take a look. As we all know, a week can be a long time in beekeeping, I’ve seen supers filled in a week before now or capped queen cells where a week earlier there seemed to be none. So, as I said, time to take a look and with that in mind, I made my way down to the apiary. First stop was nuc.two which had, if you recall, produced a queen cell, but far smaller than I would have liked. Much better this time, another three cells started with the largest one primed. I broke down the small cell from a few days ago and boxed them up. I’ll have another look in a couple of days and decide which cell to keep in fact, if two of the three look good, I’ll probably keep both. So, on to two, had my dividing the supers done the trick, have I now three supers ready for extracting. You would think that by now I’d have come to terms with the fact that honeybees seldom if ever follow what you would deem to be, a logical path with their actions. I though that, by allowing them less space, they would automatically concentrate on the three supers that I had left them but not only was that not the case, there was worse to come. The first frame I removed revealed the areas of uncapped honey now were filled with brood, somehow the queen had found her way into the supers. Obligingly, the bees had removed the uncapped honey to allow the queen to lay them up and this she had done with a vengeance. There was not an ounce of space left unoccupied. Do you ever feel that sometimes despite your best efforts, you’re taking one step forward and two steps back. So, what to do now and how had she managed to get up into the supers. I have to admit, right at that moment I didn’t have the answers to either question. The last time I had examined the supers and inserted the clearer board I did remove the queen excluder for a moment to give the brood chamber a dusting of icing sugar but I’m sure I’d have noticed the queen if she had been there and in any case, there was no way that she could have got to the supers as they were standing in the upturned roof about a foot to the side. Right then I decided to get the hive back together and sort out the problem later, with the supers so heavy it is difficult to manipulate them gently and the last thing I wanted to do at this stage was to crush the queen. At this point I had only removed the one super and this I replaced as carefully as I could.

With the hive back together I made my way back up the meadow to my favourite perch under the apple tree. This was where Charles and I would sit and put the world to rights over a cup of tea  and sometimes a slice of his homemade cake. If I had a problem with the bees, or anything else for that matter, I would talk it over with him and he would listen patiently and all of a sudden, there would be the answer, staring me in the face. It’s as if just voicing a problem allows you to step aside from it and see it differently. Nonsense, probably, but I wish he was here right now.

The following day I had agreed to help my friend Liz with her supers as her’s were also too heavy for one person to comfortably lift. I was interested to see if her bees were behaving any differently from mine and by the time we got through examining the second colony it was obvious that they weren’t. We went through four hives at two different locations and only found one frame completely capped. Stranger and stranger. Talking about it on the way back to Liz’s for a well earned cuppa, we decided there was nothing for it but to give them more time and we agreed to meet up again in a week. This gave me an oportunity to discuss my hive two and to ask for some advice. I’ll meet you at yours tomorrow morning was the immediate answer I got from Liz, we’ll go through it together. As I told you once before, if you wan’t to be a successful beekeeper, first find yourself a friend like Liz. I left for home feeling a lot happier.

True to her word, Liz arrived at the meadow shortly after ten o’clock. While suiting up and getting the smoker going we agreed on a course of action the obvious aim being to find the queen and get her back in the brood box. I won’t bore you with all the details suffice to say, after two hours of searching through frames, of seiving the bees through a queen excluder and anything else we could think of we hadn’t found her. We had managed to wind the bees up to fever pitch as you can imagine. To say they were eager for us to depart and leave them alone was to understate the situation as the half dozen that had found their way into my boot did their best to verify. We decided to do just that, depart I mean, we had been through the hive twice with no success and there seemed little point in continuing. So where was she, had we inadvertantly lost her, could we have missed her, was she a relative of the Great Houdini, I’m certain no-one could have gone through that hive more painstakingly, but not a sign. We boxed them up and stood back to decide upon the next course of action. We didn’t replace the queen excluder, there seemed little point as we still didn’t know if or where she was. The front of the hive was a mass of crawling bees, would they go back in or not.

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                                    WOULD THEY ALL GO BACK IN OR NOT ?

For fully five minutes they stayed like that, just milling aimlessly around. Just as we were about to convince ourselves that they were now queenless one or two appeared at the entrance and started fanning, these were soon followed by a few more and now the bees were making their way back in. What a relief, so there is still a queen in residence but how had we missed her, goodness only knows. We decided to have another go next week, hopefully by then she will have made it back down into the brood chamber which will make the job a sight easier.

As to how she got above the queen excluder, your guess is as good as mine. The only time the excluder wasn’t in place was as I said earlier, whilst I was shaking in some icing sugar and I’m sure she didn’t get out then. I’ve examined the excluder and none of the wires are distorted so not that then, so how. In my mind, I’m certain she somehow managed to squeeze through the wires. Now, whether they were slimming her down in preparation to swarm I don’t know or maybe she’s just lost weight. Anyhow, when I eventually do find her I shall replace the wired excluder with a perforated zinc one. I think they may be more difficult to slip through, I don’t know, what I do know however is, I don’t want to go through this pantomime again in a hurry.

Well, all that was Wednesday and as the weather was decidedly unsettled on Thursday, it was yesterday before I had the oportunity to spend a bit more time at the apiary. I wanted to check on the nuc.’s and also to see how the other hives were getting on with filling their supers. They had all been neglected for the last couple of days with all the activity having been centred on two. I went first to eight, this was, if you recall, the colony which had provided most of my nuc.’s and as a result, were struggling to make their numbers up. They were still short of bees but the brood they had looked in very good condition. This had been my best queen and she was doing her very best to re-populate her colony. Surprisingly, despite their low numbers, they had still managed to almost fill a second super. From memory, when I had last looked at the nuc.’s, with the exception of two, they had all seemed to be building up nicely so hopefully, a couple of them would by now, be able to spare a frame of brood to repay mother. Before moving along to the nuc.’s, just a quick look at the supers on four, five and six and on four, a fully capped super, the first this year. At last some honey and hopefully the first of much more, if something doesn’t happen soon, all the hive stands are going to need reinforcing, you may recall, I’ve had to attend to one already. It reminds me of the old song “water water everywhere”.

So, on to the nuc.’s. First stop, number one, five frames of brood and stores, so they can spare a frame for eight.


                                                   MATING NUC.ONE

Number two, progressing nicely with their new queen cells, I removed the smaller of the three leaving two very nice plump cells and then on to three. The last time I looked in on three, they were also building up nicely with a good looking queen which incidently, I had marked. On this occasion, no queen and in her place, four queen cells. Goodness knows where she’d gone, but gone she had. I went through the five frames twice and no sign of her. The state of the brood, it had become somewhat spotty in pattern, suggested she had been ailing possibly, but the age of it told me she could only have disappeared within the last couple of days. So, another mystery to add to the collection. The queen cells were all very well formed, not like emergency cells at all.

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                                        I REDUCED THEM TO TWO

I reduced them to two before moving on to nuc.four. I’m still scratching my head as to what had happened. Four and five were looking very good, with, thankfully no more surprises. So, I decided, one and four would donate a frame to hive eight and possibly one from five at a later date. At that moment the weather intervened as it so often does so all this would be a job for tomorrow if the weather brightens up. 

Weatherwise, Saturday looked set to carry on where Friday had left off. It had rained quite heavily during the night and the sky had looked distinctly threatening when I drew back the curtains. The weather forecaster confirmed, “Another day of sometimes heavy and prolonged showers, occasionally thundery, you’ll be lucky if you miss one”. As I sat down to breakfast I was sure I could hear the sound weeds growing on the allotment, another glance at the sky suggested no change imminent. Was this to be the day when the polish and duster were to be retrieved from the back of the cupboard and given an airing, surely not. Coffee and toast finished, decision time loomed ever nearer, and then, as if in answer to some unspoken prayer, a chink of blue between the clouds, small maybe, but definitely a chink, take my word for it. By the time I had reached the car it had disappeared but I reasoned, having got this far, it’ll be silly to turn back now. Twenty minutes later I pulled into the meadow, quite heavy rain had followed me all the way, but so what, I was here and that was all that really mattered. I have seen the meadow in all her moods and in all of them, even the pouring rain, it is still a beautiful place so it was no problem for me to just sit there for a few minutes, a chance to just absorb the atmosphere. With the rain still bouncing off the windscreen I thought for a minute about the deer and her new fawn and wondered how they were weathering the storm, and likewise, my friends at the Glastonbury Festival, rather them than me I couldn’t help thinking. Now, quite suddenly two things quite unrelated have happened. Firstly, I have lost all feelings of guilt about the dusting and polishing, or lack of, and secondly, the sun is trying to break through. You see, “everything comes to he who waits”, eventually.

Minutes later, the rain had completely stopped and the meadow was, for the moment, bathed in sunshine. The air tasted really fresh for what seemed like, the first time in ages, as I made my way down to the bees, fellow hay fever sufferers will appreciate what I mean. Arriving at the bottom of the meadow, I set quickly about the task in hand, that of helping eight with a couple of frames of brood from nuc.’s one and four. Passing the other hives on my way to eight I couldn’t help but notice how the bees were behaving. As if waiting to see if the rain was going to hold off, they were filling the entrances, not flying but just what seemed to be, jostling for position.

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Each hive must have had a hundred or more bees behaving in this way, most interesting but as usual, I didn’t have the camera with me  so took a pic. with my new ‘phone. If I can figure how to get it onto the P.C., I’ll share it with you. The exchanging of the frames passed without incident, the bees were in good humour and I only got stung once. I took two really nice frames of brood from the nuc.’s and replaced them with frames of drawn comb from eight. It’s amazing how quickly the nuc.’s build up once established and I’m sure they won’t miss the frames that they’ve lost. On the other hand, I’m sure the frames will greatly assist eight in building back up to full strength. I did mask the smell of the new frames in eight with a handfull of icing sugar before boxing them up. The weather was turning in again now as I made my way back up the meadow and I left feeling pleased with what I’d done and would you believe, all thoughts of dusting and polishing had completely disappeared by the time I got home.  




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