Norwich bee expert Neville Thrower lives an especially contented life - but he admits that he may have to slow down a bit later this year
Neville Thrower may seem like a mass of contradictions - he suffers from nerves but is a musician; he's allergic to bees but is a beekeeper and his last job involved him taking hundreds of flights when he does not like flying.
He even suffers from an allergy to bee stings, anaphylaxis, and before he underwent desensitising treatment, his hobby could have killed him.
I met Mr Thrower and his wife Mary, who met at junior school, at their home, and we drove him to his allotment in Earlham, where he keeps some of his hives.
While we were getting a photograph he was stung by a bee and immediately walked away from the hive back to the car, where he scratched out the sting.
He said: “Bees are very community-minded so ordinarily they won’t sting you away from their hives. But if the colony feels at risk, they send out a message to the other bees, and they come and sting you, and it can get nasty.”
For the past seven years he has been swarm liaison officer with Norfolk Beekeepers Association.
This is a voluntary job which he does not get paid for, but he does get to keep some of the bees and sells award-winning honey under the name ‘Golden Triangle honey’ from his drive.
His job entails setting up a network of beekeepers across the county to respond to calls from the public. He is the swarm co-ordinator in Norwich and is notified when a member of the public reports a swarm in the city area. He then sets out to collect the bees safely. He might bring the bees temporarily back to his garden, which he calls his isolation ward.
He checks on the bees’ health and temperament before deciding whether he will keep them or relocate them.
Other beekeepers perform the same function in different areas of Norfolk.
He has previously dealt with swarms of bees on the corner of a house, on a post in a park and ride and he collected an extraordinarily large swarm of bees – about 35-40,000 – from a JCB bucket in St Stephens when Chapelfield mall was being built.
There was a further large swarm of bees in Norwich Cathedral Close last month.
He was the beekeeper called to rescue the bees that settled in Westlegate in Norwich city centre recently.
This year he said he has been remarkably busy.
He said: “Lots of people cannot differentiate ‘flying stingy’ things from each other, so they ring the council, and are then put through to me. But I cannot deal with bumble bees or wasps, just honey bees.
“This year I have had 139 calls, which is double the number I had for this period last year.
“I think it’s down to the stop/start weather. During warm spells the bees all want to swarm.”
There are a lot of myths about bees and a lot of “squit” talked about them, he said.
However, when he recently went to conduct a talk at the Steiner school in Norwich, his 10-minute talk turned into an hour, and the children never asked one silly question. “The only silly question I got was from an adult,” he said.
To clarify matters, he said: “Swarming by honey bees is a perfectly natural phenomenon whereby 50pc of honey bees will leave their nest, with the old queen, in search of a new home.
“They will often settle in obscure places, while reorienting themselves or continuing the search for a new site. When in flight, they do appear to be agitated and it is often described as the “sky going dark” with an amazing accompanying noise. However, they are normally quite docile in this state and do not normally sting, although they will sometimes bump into anyone watching too closely.”
He took up beekeeping after he retired and attended a course prompted by his son who was doing biology at Sheffield University. “I was terrified of bees as I had been stung by wasps in my youth.
“But the lecturer on my son’s course was one of the experts on bees in the country. Everything he talked about came back to bees, so if he was talking about the sex lives of rabbits, it would eventually come back to bees.
“It started as I thought it could be a father/son bonding hobby. The session I went to was fascinating and I was hooked.”
Born in Southern Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe, where his father was in the RAF during the war, his parents were from Norfolk, and returned when he was just months old. He attended City of Norwich School, and joined Norwich Union straight from school, working there for 38 years.
His last job was as international special projects director responsible for major corporate changes overseas, including buying and selling insurance companies. In his last 12 months in the job, he undertook 157 flights in Europe.
Previously in his career he was based overseas in such places as Kenya, the US, Bermuda, Singapore, Greece and the Czech Republic, but he was based in Norwich for the last 10 to 15 years.
He’s a French horn player with The Norwich Mozart Orchestra and plays tenor horn in the Taverham Brass band which recently performed for the Queen at Sandringham and the Duke of Devonshire at Chatsworth in Derbyshire. As a student he played in the National Youth Orchestra.
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