Sunday, 21 August 2016

A Midsummer Night's Dream

I'm a big fan of Shakespeare, and it was something of a surprise to realise, a few months ago, that I have never seen a live performance of 'A Midsummer Night's Dream'. I did see the TV production which the BBC did earlier this year, which I enjoyed, but the story was so familiar I had to stop and think to work out that I really *hadn't* seen it before! I think perhaps because the story pervades so many works of literature it is part of my mental furniture despite not having watched it on stage before!

This production was at the Bath Theatre Royal, as part, fittingly, of their summer season, and features comedian Phill Jupitus , in his first Shakespearean role, as Bottom.

It's an interesting, and successful, bit of casting.  Bottom came across as a having (misplaced) confidence in his own theatrical skills, and was, in the final scenes, gloriously indifferent to the difference between laughing at, and laughing with, as the Duke and his court enjoyed the play. And in his scenes with Titania he portrayed Bottom's self-importance and ridiculousness beautifully.

As a whole, I enjoyed the production, and the rude mechanicals' play was hilarious.  I was less convinced by the costume choice for Puck - he appeared naked except for a loin cloth and a lot of blue paint, but unfortunately the bulkiness and mismatch between the blue of the cloth and the paint meant he ended up looking rather like he was wearing a nappy...

Darrell D'Silva and Katy Stephens played dual roles -  Theseus / Oberon and Hippolyta / Titania, which worked well - D'Silva had an excellent line in restrained power, both as ruler of Athens and King of the fairies.

The lovers, Hermia (Eve Ponsonby) and Lysander (William Postlethwaite) and Helena (Maya Wasowicz) and Demetrius (Wilf Scolding)  were excellent - Lysander was presented as something of a hipster, with Demetrius distinctly more buttoned up and formal, although both ended up nearly naked once the fairies were finished with them - the only part which was hard to believe was that Helena was spurned by Demetrius - she was a much more striking and appealing character than Hermia!

I should like to see other productions and see how they compare

The production has now ended in Bath, I'm not sure if it is touring elsewhere.

I regret that I haven't been able to get to see the version of 'Dream' at the Globe, as I've heard very good things about it, and I will be looking out for another production to see, as I was left feeling a little underwhelmed by this one! 

Thursday, 18 August 2016

Adventures in Beekeeping - The Queen is Dead, Long Live the Queen

I'm still new to this bee-keeping lark, and it is a fairly steep learning curve.  I was hoping for a nice, straightforward first season, but it was Not To Be.

 I started the season with a lovely, golden Queen Bee

But at some point last month she disappeared, missing, presumed accidentally squished. Or otherwise lost or damaged.

In these circumstances, what is *supposed*  to happen is that the bees find a nice new egg (or several) and feed them Royal Jelly to make a new queen (or more than one new queen, in which case they can fight to the death when they emerge)  

the books also say that if your hive becomes queenless, the bees will normally be grumpy.

My bees obviously haven't read the books. 

They didn't make any queen cells, and continued to be pretty mellow and laid back.  I got a more experienced (as in, has been keeping bees for 38 years) to come and give me his view. He thought my bees were behaving as if they were queenright (i.e. there was a queen in there somewhere), so recommended leaving them another week to see whether anything changed (one possibility was that the old queen had gone, and that there had been a queen cell I'd missed, in which case a new queen would take a while to hatch, mate, and start laying.

But nothing changed, so a week later, he kindly gave me a cut out from one of his hive.
This is a small section of comb with fresh eggs in - you  replace a bit of you own comb with this, and if there is no queen, the bees can use some of the fresh eggs to build queen cells)

Which, in my case, is what happened. 

Queen Cells - on cut out 

At this point, there is a choice. You can either wait for one (or more) of the queens to emerge, at which point they fight to the death, and the survivor then goes out, has lots of wild sex with lots of drones (which is literally the only reason for the drones to exist - they do nothing else!)  an then comes back and start laying eggs, Or you buy in a new, mated queen, introduce her and hope the bees accept her.

I decided to go for the second option, because  I was worried about how long my bees had been queenless ( leaving it for a queen to emerge would have meant anything up to 4-5 weeks for her to emerge, fly and mate, and then start laying - and in the mean time, the bees are getting older and there are fewer 'nurse bees' to look after any new brood, ad it is getting later in the season

So, I ordered a new Queen.

She was sent to me in the post. She came (via special delivery) in an introduction cage, accompanied by about 6 attendants. 

My new queen in Introduction cage
And a set of instructions. Which start by telling you you should remove the attendants.

They do not offer any clues as to how you are supposed to extract 6 of the 7 bees in your tiny box,  without either (i) losing or (ii) stressing the Queen. (They are very specific that you shouldn't stress the queen out, although I would imagine that being sent through the post might be a little stressful) 

Frantic googling reveals that around 50% of beekeepers think there is no need to remove attendants, and that about 50% consider it to be absolutely essential. And that you do it by opening the cage inside a plastic bag near a (closed) window, in the hope that the bees will come out towards the light, but remain in the bag so you can avoid losing the queen.

It's not as simple as they made it sound, and after getting 4 of the attendants out, and having the queen out once and back in again, I decided that I'd leave the last 2 in with her and hope for the best.

So, down to the hive.

You'd think, given that a hive will die out with no queen, that they would be happy to see a new queen,but this isn't always the case. It all has to do with pheromones, apparently - each queen has her own individual scent, so if there is already a queen in the hive, the bees will be loyal to her, and attack a stranger. But (I didn't know this until I started reading about introducing a new queen) her pheromones also act to supress the egg-laying ability of the worker bees. If she's gone too long, then workers may start laying eggs. They re not fertilized, so won't become new workers, but will develop into drones (who may get to mate with queens elsewhere, so there is a chance of some of the colony's genes getting passed on) 

But this can mean that if you do get workers laying eggs, the pheromones sloshing around can mimic there being a queen well enough that the bees will reject a new one..

So one of the reasons for having an introduction cage for a new queen is that it gives the hive time to get used to her 'scent', while keeping her safe, so the bees can't kill her.

I took a short video of what happened when I put the queen, in her introduction cage, down on tip of the hive.

As you can see, the bees were all over her (literally). Apparently, if the bees like her, they are all over her but if they don't like her and are trying to kill her, they would *also* be all over her ... the difference, according to the books, is whether they are biting - and (if you are not well-versed in spotting whether a bee is biting) you can tell by whether or not you can brush them off..

So, I felt hopeful, as the bees were pretty relaxed and let me brush them off the cage, and went ahead with the next step, which is to put the cage into the hive, still sealed.

The instructions suggest that you use cocktail sticks to hold the cage in place against the comb. This would probably work best for someone who had not carefully located some cocktail sticks, put them in her pocket, and then zipped pocket, sticks and all inside a bee-suit...

However, one can improvise.

Twenty-Four hours later I returned, made sure that the bees were still seeming happy to see her, and took the packing tape off the cage - underneath is an entrance tube filled with sugar candy - the bees eat there way through the candy, releasing the queen. In the mean time, she has already spent 24 hours with her personal pheromones wafting through the hive, and by the time she is released the bees should have accepted her.

At this point I ha to be very patient, as the instructions, and the advice from experienced beekeepers, is that you should leave the hive completely alone for 10 days after taking the cap off the cage, as opening it up to inspect could, apparently, cause the bees to change their minds and reject the queen (I like to imagine that this involves small cadres of revolutionary workers, standing around on corners of the comb and preaching republicanism, but I suspect that it is less political than that! )

Anyway, after a nervous 10 days, I went back to check on the hive on Sunday.


It seems as though the introduction has been successful.  I didn't actually spot Her Majesty (my Queen-spotting skills are not great, and for the second time I appear to have bought a Queen Bee ho was supposed to be marked, but had been cleaned off by her courtiers) 

BUT, there are lots of new eggs (and they appear to be proper eggs from a queen, not from workers), and larvae of various ages, so it appears that La Reine has emerged from her cage, and got to work.

Comb with new eggs and larvae
I shall be checking again this weekend, to make sure that all is well, and shall be hoping to spot the Queen.

I am hoping, also, that with the sunny weather we've been having, and the plants which are out, that they will have time to build up a few more stores before we go into autumn.

It doesn't look as though there will be any spare honey for me (I may take a little bit of comb, just so I can taste it, but people are mostly harvesting their honey crops and starting to prep for winter, now). I'm hopeful, however, that the colony will be strong enough to make it through the winter. 

And it is all experience! 

Sunday, 14 August 2016

Richard III (Almeida Theatre)

After my trip to London to see Harry Potter, I returned to London the following  weekend for a very different theatrical production - Shakespeare's Richard III , featuring Ralph Fiennes as Richard, and Vanessa Redgrave as Queen Margaret, at the Almeida Theatre in Islington.

ralph fiennes as Rochard III, blurred moving
Production photo

The Almeida is fairly small, so the setting is very intimate, a feeling increased by the fact that this production uses the side aisles a lot, for entrances and exists (and let me tell you, glancing to one side an realising that Richard III is just standing, silently, there, is quite unnerving!) 

The play opens with a scene form the 2012 excavation of the car park in Leicester where Richard's remains were found. Actors in hi-vis vests are digging on stage as the audience make their way to their seats. I am not entirely convinced that this framing helped the production; Shakespeare's Richard not having a great deal in common with the historic one.

Fiennes is a chilling Richard - convincingly murderous, with little of the wry humour you sometimes see.And at times, as when he literally licks blood from the block after Hastings' execution, utterly horrifying.   And he draws the audience in, making everyone complicit in his deeds.

In one scene, as he is plotting the murder of his nephews he approaches members of the audience, asking "is thy name Tyrrell" , as if expecting to find a mercenary murderer in the front row, and so convincingly that it does not seem at all unlikely that he might.

He is ably supported by Aislin McGuckin as Queen Elizabeth, and Finbar Lynch as Buckingham. Vanessa Redgrave appears as Queen Margaret, quiet and inexorable, rather than the more aggressive, virago like way the character is often portrayed.

As the play progresses, skulls start to appear on the back wall behind the stage, one for each of Richard's (named) victims - (and his brother Edward) - Clarence, Rivers, Hastings, Anne, Young Edward and Richard and Buckingham, a silent testimony to the violence of his rise to the throne.

There are a few false notes in the production There is an entirely gratuitous rape scene, and there is a rather odd costuming change at the end - Richmond appears wearing a single arm's worth of armour (Winter Soldier style) over his business suit, and then gradually the other characters are armoured-up to allow for a final battle with swords, pikes and armour. It is rather jarring and doesn't really work, and the lighting in this scene is also poorly thought out.

Still, all in all, it's a very good production, and Fiennes is a deliciously scary Richard.

Saturday, 30 July 2016

Drowned Cities and forgotten empires

My visit to the Potter play was on the Sunday, which, as I had to stay overnight afterwards, meant that I had booked the Monday off work and had time for a trip to the British Museum before heading home. 

I went to see the Sunken Cities exhibition (which I had originally planned to see when I was in London for the Likely Stories screening, but was foiled by some protesters who caused the museum to close that day).

It's a fascinating exhibition, based on archaeological finds from Thonis-Heracleion and Canopus, cities which stood at the mouth of the Nile and which sank into the sea in the 8th Century BC. (probably due to liquefaction of the silt they were built on) 

The remains of Canopus were originally spotted by an RAF pilot in the 1930s, but the discovery of the full extent of the ruins, and their identification as the near legendary cities, did not take place until 2000, when a team of archaeologists led by  Franck Goddio, working with the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities started to map and explore the ruins, and to recover many of the artefacts preserved there.

A selection of the finds make up this exhibition, which explores in particular the links, and the cultural connections, between the ancient Egyptian and ancient Greek civilizations. There are also other, connected items, loaned by Egyptian museums

As well as statues, finds included gold jewelry, inscriptions, buildings, ritual objects, and even a wooden barge, preserved almost intact (It's still on the seabed, I believe, but there were photographs)  

The exhibition provides lots of information about the way that the Greek conquerors of Egypt adapted (and adopted) elements of Egyptian religious life, with gods from each culture being merged.

There is a fascinating section about the mysteries of Osiris, in which priests made models of the god out of a mixture of soil and seeds, and then, once the seeds had germinated, processed in barges through the canals of the city. 

Of course, the water did not preserve the papyri or the amazing textiles or painted artefacts that one sees in other Egyptian exhibitions, so these artefacts seemed, to me a least, a little more distant, less relatably human, than (for instance) The Petrie, or even the items in the Egyptian galleries at the BM itself, but it's still very interesting!

I wasn't a big fan of the  piped music played throughout the exhibition, which made me feel a little as if I were trapped in a  New Age lift, but other than that, it think it well done. I would have liked, also, to have been given more information about the technical side of the the archaeological excavations, which the short videos presented didn't really go into.

But over all, well worth visiting!

I then headed upstairs to the old Reading room to see the smaller (and less heavily advertised) exhibition about Sicily: Sicily: Culture and Conquest.

It is absolutely fascinating, very well put together and full of beautiful and stunning things.

I admit that I know very little about the history of the island, so learned that it has been variously invaded and ruled by the Greeks, the Phoenicians, the Romans, Arabs, Normans, the Spanish and finally the mainland Italians, and of course took, and retained, elements of each culture. There are also some unique prehistoric remains, including burials. 

Prehisitoric carvings

There are some wonderful documents in the exhibition, including Arabic maps and manuscripts.

It seems that although the island was repeatedly conquered, for much of its history it was ruled by surprisingly enlightened individuals, so that the North African Arab conquerers built mosques and palaces in their own style, but allowed Christians and Jews to continue, to a gret extent, to practice their own religions and customs (albeit they were required to pay higher taxes for the priviledge, and all important posts were held by Muslims)

Christian Tombstone in 4 languages (Greek, Judeo-Arabic, Arabic, Latin - 1149)
Then the island was conquered by Vikings, and after that buy the Normans, in 1072. (Presumably Roger I decided that Sicily was a nicer, and definitely warmer, place to conquer than England - I wonder whether he and William the Conqueror ever compared notes!

Under the Normans, the Arab culture was retained, resulting in the island being far more open and advanced both artistically  and scientifically (at least in the cities, where mosques remained open, and Arab mercenaries served with Christians in the King's service. I gather rural areas were less open minded), so you get churches filled with Saracen-inspired mosaics,and a carved wooden ceiling reminiscent of those you find in the madrassas of Marrakesh.  Astonishingly, given how Jews and Muslims were treated elsewhere in medieval Europe, in Sicily Jews and Muslims had freedom of religion, access to their own court.

Its a fascinating exhibition and left me wanting to visit the island, and to learn more about it!

Friday, 29 July 2016

Harry Potter and the Big Secret (no major spoilers)

Way back last October, I succumbed to curiosity about what the new Harry Potter story might be, and booked tickets for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child . And, given that you have to buy tickets for two shows, as the story is apparently too long for one, I booked during the preview period when  the tickets were half price!

About 3 weeks ago the tickets arrived. 

Last Sunday I caught a train up to London, in order to see the show. 

It was a very hot day, so having to queue for security checks was frustrating, although in fairness they were pretty efficient once they opened the doors and got going. 

The theatre has been completely redecorated internally, there are lamps with Hogwarts dragons on them, on pillars in the auditorium (and on the canopy outside the theatre) and new Hogwarts wallpaper.

Then of course there is the play itself. 

It really is one very long play, show in two parts. Depending on how you book, you can either see the two parts on one day (matinee and evening performance) as I did, or on two successive nights. I think that this is an advantage, as you get to see part two while the end of part one is still fresh in your mind (The break between the two is about 3 hours) 

So, what is it like? I'm not going to give a synopsis of the plot, because it hasn't even had press night yet, plus they give you little badges on the way out asking you not to spoil things for later viewers. (although should you decide that you need to know, google and you will find) 

What I will say is that it is spectacularly staged - the stage set has an arching framework reminiscent of a railway station, with multiple clocks, and a rather nice display of the phases of the moon on the front arch. The set also includes (at different time) wood panelled walls, moving staircases and a fascinating bookcase.

There are lots of excellent,and very well done, special effects. From the pupils joining the Hogwarts Express and 'magically' changing into their robes, to travel by floo powder, entering the Ministry of Magic through a phone box, transfiguration and use of Polyjuice potion, all of which happen on stage.

Alex Price (Draco) and Anthony Boyle (Scorpius)
Photo from the show's site

It's fun to see some of the characters we are familiar with from the books and films. Noma Dumezweni (Hermione) and Alex Price (Draco) were my favourites of the 'old guard' - Ron doesn't get a lot of opportunity to show how he has developed, which is a shame, but he is still a likeable character. Similarly, I'd have liked to see more of Ginny. Draco is perhaps the most developed of the older characters, and also gets many of the better scenes. More than any of the others, he seems to have developed as a person.

The play focuses upon Scorpius Draco and Albus Potter, and in between the excitement it is about parents (fathers) and children (sons), and the pressures of living up to them them. (and Scorpius) 

There are some great set pieces, there are some rather clunky bits of dialogue, to ensure, with sledgehammer subtlety, that no one misses the point. And the plot is both complicated and predictable. 

But despite its flaws, it's well worth seeing -  nearly 6 hours of almost constant spectacle, .and as much fun as the books.

I shall be interested to read the script book, to see what is left when it is stripped down to words on a page.

Of course, with the show being sold out until some time next year, if you don't already have tickets it's not going  to easy to try to hold of them, but if you do get the chance to go, take it. 

It's fun. 

Friday, 22 July 2016

Catching up

It's been a while, hasn't it? 

There have been a lot of political things going on, which I've not blogged about, partly because that's not what this blog has been about, and partly because "Oh Fuck" isn't really the basis for a whole blog.

So, not blogging about that.

What can I talk about? 

The bees and having their ups and downs. I had to feed them (with sugar syrup) because it was so cold and wet and there is the 'June Gap' when there is less pollen available. And I was dead pleased with myself for having spotted that they were getting low on stores, and choosing to feed them, before a general warning was sent out by the BBKA, which made me feel I was getting something right!

However,it seems I may have lost my queen - I have done a couple of hive inspections and found no eggs or larvae, and I have not seen her (but then she can be tricky to spot at the best of times)

I got a (much) more experienced beekeeper to come and have a look, and he thinks I may have a new queen (which means I need to be patient, to allow time for her to mate, and start laying,which could take 2-3 weeks). He has recommended checking again after a week, and has said that he will be able to give me a test frame (a bit of comb with eggs and young larvae in it) which would allow the bees to build a Queen cell and turn one of the eggs into a new queen if necessary.

So, fingers crossed...

In other news, I had a nice family meet up - both of my parents turned 70 earlier this year so we (their 4 children) wanted to take them out to celebrate, which we did, and very nice it was too!

Both the meal, and catching up with all my siblings and their partners, worked out well.

The restaurant we went to was in Cheltenham, and is in an old, art-deco style former cinema, which makes for a rather nice setting for a celebratory meal. 

In fact, although I didn't realise it beforehand, it is the restaurant used in filming 'Sherlock', where Watson proposed to Mary 

Sherlock did not call in while we were there, however! Bit even without Sherlock, it was a good day!

Saturday, 18 June 2016

House and Garden

When I moved in to my house I knew it would need a fair bit of work doing, and last year I got the majority of the indoor work done, with a new boiler, insulation, and lots of redecoration.

This year, it's time for the outside, and on Monday morning, 4 blokes and a JCB turned up to get started.

pre work

At the front, the previous owners had tarmaced over the front garden, leaving it open to the road, and I've wanted to turn that back into a garden, (hence the JCB)

Apparently they took out about 18 tons of tarmac and rubble.

After which they laid topsoil, and built me a fence and a couple of gates.

I am of course partial, but I do think it looks rather nicer now! 

And I shall be starting to plant stuff at the front in the coming months.

At the back of the house, the previous owners had laid patio and gravel over most of the garden, and again, I wanted a bit more garden. In addition, at Christmas, the back fence succumbed to the weather.

The death of the back fence
pre-work back garden

So I decided that I would keep the patio but increase the amount of lawn, and of course replace the back fence.

new back garden

The new turf looks very neat and bright compared to the old grass (or it did..)

Because, having finished the work on Thursday, the heavens opened on Friday evening, and we had phenomenal amounts of rain in a very short space of time, which resulted in a very brief but spectacular flood.

Which was just a bit annoying :( I mean, the turf care instructions I have been given do say to "keep the new turf well watered" for the first couple of weeks, but I suspect this wasn't quite what they had in mind...

Friday, 17 June 2016

Jo Cox : RIP

I'm normally fairly light hearted here. I don't make a habit of positing about politics.

But today, I came home, I turned on the news, and learned that Jo Cox, MP a West Yorkshire MP, and former charity worker,  was murdered today. She was stabbed and shot while holding a surgery in her constituency.

I didn't know her. I didn't know her name, before today.

But I am appalled that anyone, politician or otherwise, has been killed for doing her job, for standing up for her principals, for holding, and expressing, views which others didn't accept.

She was only elected 13 months ago, in May 2015. She used her Maiden Speech in the House of Commons to speak out in support of the benefits of multi-culturalism and immigrants to this country, she seems, by all accounts, to have been an excellent and effective constituency MP, and she actively worked to support and welcome refugees.

Her death is a huge loss, not only to her family and  her own Yorkshire community, but to all of us. She was the sort of politician one can respect and support, and even if you don't share her political views, she clearly earned respect for her integrity, commitment and compassion.

And she was well-matched. Her husband, in the middle of the first shock of her death, gave a statement. He said:

“Today is the beginning of a new chapter in our lives, More difficult, more painful, less joyful, less full of love. I and Jo’s friends and family are going to work every moment of our lives to love and nurture our kids and to fight against the hate that killed Jo.

Jo believed in a better world and she fought for it everyday of her life with an energy and a zest for life that would exhaust most people. 

She would have wanted two things above all else to happen now, one that our precious children are bathed in love and two, that we all unite to fight against the hatred that killed her. Hate doesn’t have a creed, race or religion, it is poisonous.

Jo would have no regrets about her life, she lived every day of it to the full.”

My heart goes out to him, and their children. To be able to refrain from any mention of revenge, from any hatred.. I hope that he will find some comfort in the outpouring of love and support there has been for his wife.

I have also been thinking a lot about the word Neil Gaiman wrote, after and in response to the Charlie Hebdo murders. I think they apply here, too. 

"I believe I have the right to think and say the wrong things. I believe your remedy for that should be to argue with me or to ignore me, and that I should have the same remedy for the wrong things that you think.

I believe that you have the absolute right to think things that I find offensive, stupid, preposterous or dangerous, and that you have the right to speak, write, or distribute these things, and that I do not have the right to kill you, maim you, hurt you, or take away your liberty or property because I find your ideas threatening or insulting or downright disgusting. You probably think my ideas are pretty vile, too."