Books - Liquid Gold: Bees and the Pursuit of Midlife Honey

PUBLISHED: 00:00 15 May 2020

Roger Morgan-Grenville with his friend Duncan

Roger Morgan-Grenville with his friend Duncan


After a chance meeting in the pub, Roger Morgan-Grenville and his friend Duncan decided to take up beekeeping. Their project builds from lark to revelation in this carefully observed story of mid-life friendship, reveals Ray Chandler.

Beekeepers – especially beekeepers in Sussex – will strongly identify with much of this layered and honest appraisal of beekeeping. And anyone thinking of taking up apiculture could learn a great deal – probably more than from most of the standard instruction manuals.

But it would be a serious disservice to West Sussex-based writer Roger Morgan-Grenville to suggest his book is only for people interested in bees. There’s also humour, wry observation and a lot of insightful comment on the behaviours, attitudes and relationships of we humans.

The book’s literary format is simple. It’s essentially a diary of Roger’s actions and experiences from the time when he and Duncan, a much younger new-found friend, decided to start beekeeping together.

Their enthusiasm overcomes a lack of know-how, and they make some dreadful early mistakes while embarking on a steep learning curve. Their age gap and contrasting personalities might have presented an unlikely basis for friendship were it not for their shared interest in beekeeping, but that interest – and the different, but complimentary contributions they bring to it – make for a successful partnership.

Duncan emerges as the practical, down-to-earth member of the duo whose prime focus is building the enterprise and maximising the honey yield. Roger, while sharing the ambition for plenty of honey, is more reflective. It’s his musings on the wonder of a life-form so different from ours, and his sense of privilege at being close to it and caring for it, that lift the book beyond what would otherwise be just a factual narrative.

Local references provide familiar context for Sussex beekeepers. From his village home and apiary above the West Sussex Rother valley, Roger introduces us to his local beekeepers’ association, takes us to collect a swarm in Midhurst, visits the annual beekeeping auction at Brinsbury College near Pulborough, and frequents the long-established beekeeping supplies firm run by the Payne family in Hassocks.

Beekeeping undoubtedly changed Roger’s life, and his self-discoveries from it provide some thought-stirring reflections on our relationship with the natural world.

He concludes with a plea to readers to be more eco-considerate, and offers step-by-step guides to providing a bee-friendly environment.

Liquid Gold: Bees and the Pursuit of Midlife Honey by Roger Morgan-Grenville is published by Icon Books at £12.99.

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