Monday, May 29, 2006

eric the half a bee - m. python

he second, and final, part of the introductory bee-keeping course on Saturday started badly. Lisa couldn't go because she was starting a new job, and I was still feeling the effects of working very late one night.

The person on the course who had annoyed me on the first day by repeatedly interrupting and laughing loudly at her own comments was there again, and the delegates, including her, who already have bees, kept sidetracking the lecturers with questions on more advanced subjects. Above all, the weather was again poor, so a visit to the apiary was unlikely. I found myself feeling grumpy and resentful, not wanting to be there at all.

It started to rain at lunchtime, so afterwards, instead of seeing the bees, we watched a video on rearing queens - advanced stuff, and delivered in monotones. I was close to falling asleep in the darkened room, having decided that beekeeping is far too complicated to bother with. And then...

Then the weather brightened and the lecturer stopped the video to announce that it was worth going to the hives after all. We all got kitted up, some, like me, in old, borrowed veils, and others in crisply-white, newly-purchased jackets, trousers and gloves. To my great delight, we split into two groups, those who had already handled bees going with one lecturer, while we complete novices huddled somewhat apprehensively round the other.

This is turning into a long post, so I'll tell you all about it next time, but let me reassure you that it was a wonderful experience, and I now know why people might devote many years to learning about bees.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

april young fine art

y redesign for April's website isn't finished yet, but it's nearly there. We're in the process of transferring her domain because of difficulties with her current webhosting company. That will take a while, but, in the meantime, you can see it in its current form on my own website. I'd welcome any comments.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

clay art

spent the weekend near Denbigh in North Wales, working at Clay Art, a gathering of seventy ceramicists of vastly different styles and techniques. Despite the relatively remote location, the event draws many of the country's big names in ceramics. I was there helping April Young sell her sculptures of horses and other figures.

The event was held in a large marquee in a field, and by the end of the weekend, the downpour of rain had turned everything to mud. Clothes were splattered with it, vehicles sank in it, and people fell over in it. There were many comments about the similarities between mud and clay.

I was already petrified that I would trip and smash someone's work, and the slipperiness underfoot multiplied that fear many times over. I had one close shave when transporting display stands on a trolley over a bump in the grass, and someone else nearly knocked a bowl over with the child harness on their back, but amazingly I didn't hear of a single breakage.

Despite the rain, there were many visitors on both days, but for all exhibitors, most purchases were made on Saturday. That must be when the serious collectors attend, to find the best pieces.

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Wednesday, May 24, 2006

nothing but the facts, ma'am

here was a time, long ago, when you could buy a newspaper knowing the general view it had of politics and the world in general, yet be confident that television news, in contrast, was impartial. ITV would usually take a more populist stance than the BBC and Sir Trevor MacDonald, knighted though he is, would take a particularly condescending tone, but generally speaking they would both stick to the facts.

Then Channel 4 news started its frenzied trailers with Jon Snow, teasing potential viewers with frantic snippets of outrageous goings-on. Various other news programmes descended to including summaries of viewers' opinions phoned in or sent by e-mail during the programme as if the proportion of people for or against a simplistic question were statistically valid and counted as news. Yes, there is a role for vox pop, but it isn't news.

The BBC certainly isn't immune from patronising its viewers, and it seems to be happening more and more frequently, but this week I saw the worst example yet on ITV. I caught the lunchtime news on Monday, and was flabbergasted to hear them introduce the lead story about immigration. The arrivals were described as an 'unstoppable wave' of people coming from Africa. Irrespective of one's views about immigration, that seems to me to be not only unbalanced reporting but also highly irresponsible panic-mongering.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

'don't worry, bee happy' - bobby mcferrin

he two tutors for our introductory course on beekeeping are very friendly and welcoming, and they both know an enormous amount about bees. One is a university lecturer taking a more scientific approach, while the other has more practical experience.

There was something very refreshing about their unpolished style of delivery. They are enthusiastic practitioners rather than slick educators, so they made many mistakes that are rarely seen in these days of OFSTED inspections and quality control: the classroom was too small and poorly laid out, the slide projector was hard to reach in order to focus the images, some slides were wrongly labelled and the lecturer kept referring to topics for which there were no slides.

Yet somehow it didn't seem to matter. We were all fellow enthusisasts at different stages of experience rather than teachers and pupils.

In the afternoon, however, perhaps because we couldn't go to the apiary to see the bees, I became less tolerant. Indeed, some fundamental problems in the course began to emerge. I'd expected to leave the classroom with a simplified (possibly extremely simplified) overview of beekeeping, so that details, complications and exceptions could be added and understood later.

Instead, I left with a long list of questions. If it's best to get hold of a swarm in May, when the bees have the whole of the summer in which to build up a supply of honey, why is the course held in May? Shouldn't it have been a couple of months ago? Perhaps it's because there would have been little to see in the apiary in March. But does that mean that those who are thinking of starting should wait until next May? What do they do until then?

If using the honey is the main reason people start to keep bees, why was nothing said about how that's done? They said that some honey granulates immediately, and some, which has been at too high a temperature, will never granulate. Is that the same as 'set' and 'clear' honey? Neither has anything like what I think of as granules.

Perhaps it will all make sense once I've thought about it, or possibly it will slide into place next Saturday.

Monday, May 22, 2006

'the bee-stly bee-attitudes of balthazar bee' - jp donleavy

isa and I recently attended the first day of a two-day introductory course at Keele University on beekeeping. The weather was cold and damp, unfortunately, so we weren't allowed to go to the apiary and see the bees who would have been tetchy, but the subject is fascinating and bizarre. There was so much to take in that my head was spinning by the end of the day.

I'd heard about the waggledance, where bees tell each other about the type, quantity, direction and distance of food sources, but what I didn't know was that the bees not only take account of the sun's apparent movement, but they can work out the direct line between food sources and the hive even if large buildings are in the way.

One of the tutors referred to experiments to determine what exactly the bees measure. Is it duration of flight, the effort required to get there or possibly the number of objects passed on the way? I'd like to know more about how these hypotheses could be tested.

I also had no idea about the subtleties of bee reproduction. Queens mate only once, and can then choose to lay either fertilised eggs, which become workers (female), or unfertilised eggs, which become drones (male). The workers choose which female eggs become queens. They can also lay eggs themselves (which would become drones because they are unfertilised), but they don't because the queen's pheromones prevent them.

The final session is on 27th May, and I'm looking forward to it.

Friday, May 19, 2006

the magic of twilight

'm glad I got yesterday's rant off my chest, but now I'll return to more pleasant topics. There's a lot to catch up on from the last fortnight or so.

Lisa and I went for an evening walk to Central Forest Park recently as we sometimes do, though on this occasion it was slightly later than usual, and the sky was nearly dark. A few dog-walkers and skateboarders were still around, and there was a pleasant, relaxed atmosphere.

We wandered down to the lake and followed the path round behind it, past the mysterious new large shapes wrapped in black tarpaulin. (My guess is 'public art' about to be unveiled, but let's hope my fears are not confirmed.)

Anyway, at one point, the path nips through the narrow space between the lake and a group of trees. As we entered this short stretch, we suddenly found ourselves among bats flying back and forth, feeding off the insects. It was such a constricted space that the bats flew very close, sometimes only inches away. We stood, entranced, for a long time.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

worrying tendencies

f course, after deciding yesterday that I would do nothing, I went on to catch up with at least some of the many tasks waiting for me.

I should have anticipated yesterday's feeling of anti-climax. After all, it's happened when I've completed previous major assigments. Yesterday, however, was exacerbated by what I learned at the presentations the day before. I've been careful to avoid commenting much here about other students on my course, but today I'm going to abandon that restraint.

Two out of the nine other remaining students didn't turn up at all, and two more failed to provide any visual material. For a visuals-based course, that's appalling, and also short-sighted, since the presentation is worth 30% of the mark for that module.

One of these ill-prepared students and another both confessed that their work-based placements hadn't been successful because they'd been too lazy to get out of bed. I sat there fuming to myself, remembering getting up at 5.30 five days a week, spending £20 a day to travel two hours each way to Liverpool, and working a full day in the studio for no pay. We lived in a paper bag and still had change from sixpence.

What is up with these people? Do they have no idea? Am I turning into a Daily Mail reader? (Please, no.)

Wednesday, May 17, 2006


I feel slug-like this morning. The past fortnight has been focused almost entirely on completing college work for yesterday's deadline. The digital portfolio is burned to disk, the presentation on my recent work placement is over, and all of the associated paperwork - learning agreement, self-assessment form, reflective log, evidence portfolio, student feedback form, employer appraisal, tutor appraisal, company report - has been printed, assembled and submitted.

All that remains is an essay to complete for Friday and the End of Year show next month.

Of course, that's not really all that remains. There's all the stuff I've been neglecting for so long, plus work to find and job application forms to complete. But this morning I'm going to do nothing. I'm not even going to look for a drop-cap image to start this post.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

the bookshop

enelope Fitzgerald's book The Bookshop is sparse yet it portrays its characters with comic effectiveness. It makes subsequent books, which I might otherwise have accepted, seem bloated, convoluted and self-conscious.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

a perfect day

here is a precious freshness in the air these days, though it will last only until the end of the blossom. A ladybird resting on a leaf, a butterfly fluttering past, geese showing off to each other, leaves emerging from buds, vibrant greens on greens. And above and around it all, the sun shines brightly through air that is still refreshing.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Graham Griffiths

here are still one or two snippets to catch up on from those hectic Liverpool days. Today's post concerns a fantastic meal last week at the Arch Chinese restaurant in Newcastle. Graham Griffiths, who I used to work with before returning to student land, retired from Stoke-on-Trent City Council last week, and, in an amazingly generous gesture (amazing because Graham wasn't very high up the corporate ladder), hired the entire restaurant for his farewell celebration and paid for everyone's meal.

I'm sure the fact that over eighty people attended is a testament to Graham's popularity as a colleague and not just the generosity of the evening, but what made the gathering even more remarkable was the number of people who, like me, had previously left the Council but returned for the evening.

It was odd enough for those of us who had left, seeing all those familiar faces one more time. How much more odd must it have been for those who hadn't left, seeing a sudden host of ghosts among those they still work with. One revenant, who had retired twenty-five years ago, was, fittingly, the person who had hired Graham over thirty-one years ago. Two others present had seen Graham arrive and leave at the Council.

It certainly beats my seventeen years there, with five off in the middle for good behaviour I mean, a secondment. This is hardly the end of an era like pre-1914 Edwardians (cf 'The Shooting Party'), but with so many changes in employment these days, there can't be many people still in the running for long-service awards.


In trying to juggle everything last week, I totally forgot about the first part of Tom Robinson's interview with Brian Eno on Wednesday, even though I'd posted about it only the week before. Fortunately, the BBC website retains programmes for a week, so I managed to hear it this afternoon, and you can too, for a short while, on the Tom Robinson page for BBC 6 Music.

Brian talks so fluently and engagingly that the interviewer merely has to guide him gently, starting with his unusual family, through the days of Portsmouth Sinfonia and Roxy Music, to his early solo career and the development of ambient music, ending, for this part of the interview, with his work on 'Heroes' with David Bowie and Robert Fripp.

It's mostly familiar ground, but still interesting, and there were several anecdotes I'd not heard before. Part Two is at 7pm on Wednesday, 3rd May, and for a week afterwards on the BBC 6 Music website. I'm hoping that he will cover his recent work, includuding 77 million paintings, and the talks he gives on vastly different subjects, from perfume and the 'clock of the long now' to the invasion of Iraq.


he photographs I posted recently without comment (This Way, Green Man, The Opposite of a Dark Corner, Narrow, Living on the Ceiling) were all taken in the Museum of Contemporary Barcelona Art (English translation available) located, not surprisingly, in Barcelona. At first I found it hard to believe that photography wasn't forbidden as it is in most if not all galleries and museums in the UK, but once I overcame my trepidation, I took a huge number of shots.

The building has a large glass wall at the front, apparently to encourage a 'dialogue' with the residents of the nearby area. This was a controversial approach, because it is located in a run-down part of the inner city, and there was considerable resentment at what some saw as arrogance.

On arrival, I thought the outside of the building - largely consisting of chunks of concrete shapes - ugly, and I wasn't looking forward to going inside. Once past the front door, however, I was stunned by the light coming through that glass wall. A series of ramps take you up three floors, allowing views into the atrium. Not only that, but there are so many intruiging shapes, and light plays an important part in helping to create those patterns.

I didn't care much about the exhibits, but the building certainly grabbed me.