I went up to the bees straight after breakfast and took the top super off the big colony. The clearer board had almost worked, and as I hoped it was still too early and too cool for them to have got lively, and I was able to depart without a forest of stings hanging from my gloves, as happened when I was putting the first clearer board on. I half ran back down the meadow with my wheelbarrow and was free of bees by the time I got back to the house, except for a few that were still hanging on in the super.
After that bucolic start to the day things took a more prosaic turn, as the cleaning caught up with me. I began by thinking I'd have time to do the cleaning and then extract the honey, which is what I always think. By my age you'd think that this Pollyannaish tendency to hopelessly overestimate how much it is possible to do in a day would have faded. By the time I'd cleaned the kitchen floor and vacuumed the drifts of cat fur and Mr Fluffy's dead leaves out of the study it was all still going so well, but I always forget how long it takes to vacuum the sitting room, chasing the dust and fluff round chair legs and coffee tables. The kittens had dragged one of the sitting room curtains off its rail, so that had to be fastened up again with new hooks, a horribly fiddly task wearing varifocals as I couldn't tilt my head to an angle where I could look through the right bit of my spectacles to see what I was doing.
Wiping the kitchen units always takes longer than I think it's going to, especially this time because they were still rather sticky from the last time I extracted honey. It took the whole of three Haydn string quartets and Tinariwen's Radio Tisdas Sessions, and I still hadn't got all the way round the room, and at the end of it I still hadn't cleaned the sticky bits off the Aga because I'd run out of enamel cleaner. The cats must like Haydn, or cleaning, or both, because they lay a sword's length apart in the middle of the room while I worked. We were like a Grayson Perry tapestry of the middle classes come to life, a middle aged woman wearing Birkenstock clogs wiping ineffectually at an Aga while listening to Malian desert rock on an iPod that's so old it must count as vintage and played through a docking station, plus four sleeping cats.
The serious kitten has developed a passion for the vacuum cleaner. Not when it is on, but when it is left lying about. I dumped it in the lower sitting room after vacuuming the kitchen to do the first lot of honey, because I knew I was going to want it again and was too idle to lug it upstairs to the spare bedroom, and the serious kitten took to sleeping curled up next to the corrugated flexible tube. Is it a feline super stimulus, the equivalent of the most gigantic tail? Its sinuous curve did mimic the bend of the serious kitten's curled spine quite uncannily. None of them like the noise of the vacuum cleaner, but none mind the sound of the bean to cup coffee machine, another sign that they are middle class cats, or maybe an indicator of how often we clean the house (not very often) compared to how frequently we drink coffee (daily).
The serious kitten is getting better at hunting. He has stopped bringing shrews in, which I'm pleased about since I have nothing against shrews. They are carnivores, eating insects, worms, slugs and suchlike and they do not harm plants, while they taste disgusting so the serious kitten can't eat them. His next prey was what appeared at first sight to be a baby duck, which was distressing, but we really couldn't see where he'd have got a duck from and decided it was probably a pigeon squab that had fallen out of the nest and was doomed anyway. Then yesterday he caught a mouse, and ate it like a proper cat. I am hoping he will progress to rabbits, but things are moving in the right direction. The other two don't show any interest in hunting at all. Mr Fluffy collects leaves and gets very excited when he sees a bee or a butterfly, or indeed Formula One cars on the TV. The energetic kitten does not even want to go outside unless he has someone with him, and is still at the stage of wanting to chew my computer cable.