We’re famous for our grey skies and drizzle but today the sky has been baby-blue in Manchester, the sun uninterrupted. And everywhere there are bees.
I was greeted by one in the kitchen this morning, sent off-course from the bee-friendly beautiful purple bush in my garden (not a euphemism) and into the house, like so many of his friends and family over recent days. He was such a big one, I yelped as I trapped him in a glass with a very thick and sturdy piece of card.
I’m getting good at rescuing bees. I like the lovely lift I feel as I release them, watching them dip and turn until they miraculously find their invisible sky-path home. Out of the jail-house and into the clear blue, they seem suddenly tiny, yet mighty. Such a strong sense of direction and purpose.
The worker bee is our city’s symbol. It’s engraved into every council dustbin, representing our proud history of hard graft. Well, not my history; I’ve barely done an honest day’s labour since I moved here over twenty years ago. Unless you count mumming. Which nobody does.
Today my eldest, the first recipient of my impressive mumming skills, went to try to secure her own position of hard labour; a summer job to fund the extraordinary number of summer holidays she has planned.
Driving her to the interview we had a typical conversation, one which perfectly highlights those impressive mumming skills of mine, honed over nineteen years of not knowing what the fuck I’m doing, like a trapped bee repeatedly butting into window panes and trying not to get squashed. The conversation went like this:
Her: I’m so fucking nervous I want to be sick.
Me: You won’t be sick.
Her: Could you at least put out your fag?
Me: No. Open your window.
Her: I look like shit. LOOK AT ME. I look like I’m about fourteen. Or a hooker.
Me: Brilliant. A lovely fourteen-year-old hooker. It’s a solid look for a job interview.
Her: If they ask me what my hobbies are I’ll say reading, sports and going to the theatre.
Me: You fucking HATE reading. You NEVER play sport. When was the last time you went to the fucking theatre?
Her: Jeez, thanks for the support, Mum
Mum: You should tell them the truth, that your favourite hobby is drinking enough vodka to ensure sure you don’t remember the name of the stranger you’re having sex with.
Her: MUM! You’re NOT HELPING. What should I say if they ask me what my strengths are?
Me: Tell them you’re really good with people. Especially drunk male people who you want to have sex with.
Her: MUM! Stop making me laugh. I need to fucking FOCUS.
Me: You should also mention how good you are at handling industrial quantities of ketamine…
It may not be every parent’s method for calming down their nervous offspring for a job interview, but by the time she stepped out of the car, looking utterly beautiful and honestly not at all hookerish, she was smiling, her face set with determination as she strutted across the car park under that insanely blue sky.
I’m lucky that my job requires no official qualifications, nor any need to attend interviews, because it isn’t a proper job. Or at least it doesn’t feel like one. Children’s entertainment, clowning about with babies and toddlers, singing songs and having fun is hardly hard graft. The only challenge is trying not swear and you regular readers will appreciate how very tough that challenge is for me.
This morning’s location for non-sweary daftness was around the corner from the Manchester Arena. As I drove by it on my way, I was thinking how a year ago today the staff and crew inside would have been prepping and grafting for Ariana Grande’s gig later that evening, a gig many of my daughter’s mates had tickets to.
I was thinking how none of them, nor anyone in attendance, could have ever imagined that by the end of that night they would need the intense hard grafting of our emergency services who swarmed into the arena with such dedication and purpose.
Over the following days, the image of our Manchester worker bee was everywhere. We took screenshots of it and shared it all over social media, we stuck pictures of it on the windows of our houses and some of us even had it tattooed onto our skin. No longer just a barely noticed council-driven branding exercise, but a symbol of hope, of strength and solidarity in the aftermath of such enormous, brutal loss.
Today, a year on, our city is teeming with bees again. Because however inadequate it may seem as a memorial, it is our best way of saying: we still remember, we still hurt, but we’re still here, grafting as hard as ever.
Eldest walked back to the car just as I was observing the national one minute’s silence. She looked so tiny in the distance, weaving her way over concrete and under that huge sky, but she is mighty. She got the job. They offered it to her there and then because they could see she’s ‘really good with people’.
We drove home at speed, squealing in triumph at her new, worker-bee status. That girl has such a strong sense of direction and purpose. Underneath her under-aged hooker persona…
Unlike her mother, this ageing queen bee with an over-aged hooker persona, who took the wrong bloody road home and frequently takes the wrong bloody road in life but never stops grafting in pursuit of that sweet nectar which is simply the blessing of being alive and of being alive to the possibility of love.
And wine obvs, that other sweet nectar for which I have to graft even harder now to pay for.
So cheers to you all, tonight. May we all be miraculously lucky enough to find the invisible sky-path that leads us home to the people we love.
And if we aren’t, at least we’ll be drunk enough to not remember the name of the stranger we’re having sex with…