Thursday, September 30, 2010

Three, and three, beautiful things from the week just gone, and another Finistère collage.

I have changed my screensaver.  Previously I had a Jacquie Lawson one of fish and waterlilies which was pretty, but which I suspected of using a lot of processor juice, as it made the fan go a lot while it was on, and contained music which I didn't get to hear anyway because we keep the computer volume on mute.  Now I have a Google photos slideshow, which takes all the pictures stored on my side of the computer - always a significant number, despite trying to be good and have regular clean-outs to the external drive, and including collages and those other people have sent me - and displays them randomly.  Part of its appeal is not only is the order in which they appear random, but also the method of transition, so sometimes they slide in from top or bottom or either side or diagonally, sometimes they come together in two halves like shutters, and sometimes they appear with an interesting pixellated fade-in.  I am transfixed, and often refrain from using the computer because I prefer to watch the slideshow.  Why haven't I done this before?

The first day of the hunting season is not a beautiful thing to us.  'Why can't they shoot some hornets?' asks Tom.  We doubt their aim is that good, but then light on the agreeable fantasy of the hunters' stumbling into a hornets' nest as they crash about the woods and hedgerows.

I remember Az, who as a girl, having the figure for it, liked to dress a bit skimpy, saying how she loved giving in in late September and putting on a woolly jumper for the first time.  I think of her as I pull on a fleecy again after many months, along with the thick soft, hand-knitted socks in unbleached wool which my other sister brought me back from Madeira.  My sisters are keeping me warm.

I wish I could paint abstracts from these poplar woods, rather as Joan Mitchell did from dying sunflowers: the austere lines of their trunks going upward forever, how the desaturated dullness of the day becomes them, the modest way they wear their spattered sheen of gold, the clotted masses of brambles and mistletoe at their feet and among their branches.  But most of all I'd need to find a colour or texture which would convey the rich and pungent, tanned-leather smell that comes from them just now.

J and D are going away in a few days for a long holiday.  They offload things onto me, and I leave with a wooden box of small hard brown pears, a leggy basil plant and a bundle of timber offcuts for firewood.  I eat three of the pears for lunch with a piece of Pyrenees cheese.

Go about ordinariness.  Fill the tall blue tin -the one with the strange gilded picture on it, exotic as a comedia del arte - which once held amaretti biscuits, with tea bags, and the square red plastic pot with brown sugar cubes.  Watch the thinning, faded yellow sun through the thinning faded yellow leaves.  Store it.  Try not to forget.

Birds of Finistère.  Curlews, oystercatchers, an egret and a gull, a sandwich tern and an albatross.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Definitely something to squee about.

I seem to be going through a period of spontaneous internet telepathy, where no sooner does a word, theme, poem come up on a blog or in an e-mail, but the next thing I go to it's there too.  Bee, following a conversation about laughter, tells me that the kind of screamy, whoopy, loud girly laughter of which I appear to be inherently incapable is known as squee-ing, a very descriptive term I'd not heard before.  Then I went over to another friend's Tumblr blog and found this under the heading 'Squeeeee!'.

If I could squee, this would certainly be something I would squee about.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

September meanderings

We usually go on holiday in May and September.  This was never intended to be any kind of ghastly cheesy reference to our age gap; if it were, it would by now be irrelevant, since frankly I am really something rather more like a somewhat frazzled and dishevelled past-its-best late July pushing August, while Tom is a generally pretty mellow and fruitful, but with sometimes a blustery chill and days getting shorter, late October with an intimation of Guy Fawkes' Night.

But no, from the time when I was free from the northern hemisphere's academic year, I've always favoured May for getting away.  Twixt summer and spring, the best of both, and since coming here, although  I've become loosely re-aligned with school/university terms, the generous allocation of French public holidays in the month generally ensures the possibility of a long weekend off at least, and since its our wedding anniversary too, there are enough reasons to be off gadding.

September is Tom's birthday month, it is off-season and quieter but most things are still just about open, the mornings can be fresh but the days are often bright, the light is lovely and the colours are beginning to grow richer,

and since my main paid work is supposed to be linked to the university rather than the school year - thereby giving it kind of gravitas and academic credibility and also enabling my retirees to take advantage of off-season rates and recover from the onslaught and trauma of their grandchildren's school holidays - I get a much appreciated extension on summer's lease.

So these markers in our year please us well.  Yet in both of them there is an element of leave-taking.

In the May evasion it is less poignant; the year is opening up into the even plod of summer, the predictable length of days, the temperatures sometimes tiresomely hot but usually never less than ambient.  Nevertheless, I do feel a degree of regret that the spring, with its wild flurry and urgency, its capricious vibrancy and youthful haste, is levelling out into summer, which is somehow lacking in movement compared with its forerunner. and for us, though paid work ceases, summer is often quite a busy time, with jobs around the place to be done, and sometimes visitors..

The September break I look forward to quite immoderately, although I know it is an ending, a door closing.

It is our reward for summer's work, our laying by for winter to come.  It is a time for idleness and an enjoyable melancholy, for reflection and folding away,  When we take off on it, I am wholeheartedly committed to relishing every moment of it, to drinking and savouring the last of summer to its lees before turning to and treading out the new stuff, resolutely turning my back on duties and obligations past and present.

And I do.  We luxuriate and please ourselves, lounge and walk

and eat and drink and read and soak up the last of the sun's rays on the warm unravelling edges of the land.

It truly is wonderful.  But then, somewhere after half way through, there comes a tipping point, and I know that it's time to turn about, time to go back and start putting things together for the last quarter of the year, to take stock and make stores and get ourselves ready.  And also that it really won't be bad.  At home there will be that special lowering light that dances through the thinning leaves and into the front windows and scatters over the wall and floors and surfaces and fills the rooms with life.  That there will be apples and sloes still in the hedges, that there will be new books to study and cheerful meetings and warm evenings, and, all being well an Indian summer which is always  better than the first one. No, it really won't be bad at all.

As we say goodbye to our new-found friends at Kerbiriou, saying that we might come back for a weekend later in the year, maybe to eat kig ar farz and to see if the oysters really are better in the winter, we can't be sure, but in the spring we w'll come, for sure, Rilke's lovely lines are going through my head - for Rilke has been one of the bittersweet and beautiful fruits to come out of this summer -

'Lord, it is time. Your summer was superb.
Lay your shadows on the sundials,
and in the meadows let the winds go free.'


(All the photos taken in and around where we were staying.) 

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Finistère rocks

Well, we like it anyway.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Being pure spirit

Tomorrow is my sister's birthday, she would have been fifty-eight.  It is now five months since she died.  I think of her most of the time; more, in truth, than I did when she was alive, perhaps I didn't need to do so then.  But that's fine, she ain't heavy.  The thought of her is there in more or less everything I do, but I don't have to keep making reference to it.  I've written bits and pieces about her, but I've mostly been content to let them sit and settle for a bit. However, perhaps now's the time to start going over some of them.  I've tinkered around with this one for a while, taking a bit in here and letting a bit out there... 

Someone who isn't conventionally religious, but who I suppose believes quite a number of things I can safely say I don't, wrote me a very kind message shortly after my sister died, in which she said she had become 'pure spirit'.  I usually mistrust that kind of thing, whether from mainstream religion or its alternatives, as rather glib and precious, but I found I was comfortable with this, perhaps partly because she also said a number of other things which were intelligent and not glib, but also it just felt OK.  My sister had little time for anything that might be called religious or spiritual.

Being pure spirit

Being pure spirit suits you, it's what you did so well.
Why must we get so heavy when we die?
What's mortal remains with a weighty horror, then
a dreadful gravity of absence.

But you would make light of even this, and,
if we chose, with nothing mystical, 
mysterious, spooky, kooky, 
fey or strange, and - heaven forbid! -
nothing religious, your spirit could continue  
with us.  If we chose.  You know,

the one which used to ask 'Well, in the end,
does it really matter?'  Which shrugged and said
'That kind of stuff - like God, and dogs,
and fussing over food - is just not something that I do.
I'll leave that to the rest of you!' And smiled.

The one which used so easily that well-worn phrase
that women - wives and mothers, sisters, aunts - 
will always say, but won't quite always mean - you did:

I want you to be happy.


There will be a gathering in Sydney tomorrow of friends and family who are in that part of the world to mark her birthday, so I'm putting this up now as they are ten hours ahead of us there.  Tom, Molly and I are off tomorrow to our beautiful retreat on the Bay of Morlaix, which, by serendipitous, or whatever, grace, we happened on when we felt the need to get away back then in April.  We loved it so much we booked these few days for Tom's birthday, which is the day after my sister's, on Friday. I am intensely, deeply, quietly (fairly quietly anyway!), full of joy and delight at the thought of being there again.

See you next week.  

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

OK, it's safe to come back now.

The ugly bugs will be here no more, I'm kicking my hornet habit and resisting the temptation to tell you all about the one I saw today, first having heard it, chomping wood from an old plank at the bottom of the garden, or of how my very brave friend A reported seeing a bunch of them drunk on sap on one of her ash trees, then got so fed up with one that kept coming and swiping honeybees from her sedum flowers that she swatted it into a jam jar and saw to its demise.  It's helped a bit, learning and talking about them, but I don't find them really any less repellent, and Tom's threatened to stop reading this if I don't stop creeping him out about them, and I don't suppose he's the only one who feels that way.  But sometimes it seems like you just have to stay with horrible and uncomfortable things for a bit.  Not forever, though.

So just to take away the taste of chewed wasp, here's a collage and some Rilke .  No one does autumn better than Rainer-Maria.

Blue Hydrangea

These leaves are like the last green
in the paint pots - dried up, dull and rough,
behind the flowered umbels whose blue
is not their own, but mirrored from afar.

They reflect it tear-stained, vaguely
as if deep down they hoped to lose it;
and as with old blue writing paper
there's yellow in them, violet and grey;

Washed out as on a child's pinafore,
things that are finished with, no longer worn:
the way one feels a small life's brevity.

But suddenly emotion seems to flare
in one of the umbels, and one sees
a moving blue as it takes joy in green.

(From New Poems, 1907,  trans. Snow.  In German you can find it here

 I feel the italics are a bit of pedantic overkill, but if I don't use them someone will inevitably skip read and think I wrote it.  As if.  In my dreams.)

Monday, September 13, 2010

A threat from without

Any kind of hornet problem in France, and almost anyone starts worrying about whether they're Asian hornets.  

There's a species of hornet, a small and unremarkable looking one, called vespa velutina, which was accidentally introduced  into south west France from China in 2004 in a shipment of Chinese pottery.  Since then they've colonised the Aquitaine region and seem to be spreading, Lesley at Peregrinations, who lives in that neck of the woods, remarked on seeing a lot of them this summer, and caught a goodly number in a classic jam trap.

They are a problem.  They like sugar more than European hornets do, though, hence the success of Lesley's jam trap, and hence their success in that region of France: they especially like the prune orchards. ( Vespa crabro will occasionally eat ripe fruit on the tree, but doesn't like anything rotten, fermenting or of human manufacture, so they will not annoy you on picnics or dive into your drink and allow you to try to swallow them.)  So they are more drawn to human habitation.  They are more adaptable about their nest sites, so will settle closer to us, wherein lies another part of the problem, which is that really, most hornets, even the nastiest, will only really attack us if we are too close to their nests.  A new commenter here recently reported getting 20 stings from some hornets when he inadvertently got too close to one - happily he is clearly alive to tell the tale so disproving the urban myth that three stings can kill a man, nevertheless, it's not a position you want to be in. The jury still seems to be out on whether the Asian hornet's sting is more painful than that of a European one; or if they are more defensive and inclined to attack people. 

The other unpleasant thing they do is prey on honeybees.  Most hornets do to some extent, along with other insects, but the Asian velutina, is a bit more single-minded about it, and stalks hives and attacks the bees as they come and go, carrying them off to feed their young.  Once this gets habitual they can do serious damage to a beehive.  Poor old honeybees have enough to put up with, what with pesticides and varroa mites and sundry other slings and arrows reducing their numbers, so this is bad news, for bees, beekeepers and the rest of us, who depend on them for pollination of food crops, as everyone knows. Asian honeybees apparently have strategies for fighting back, but European ones haven't got developed these. Additionally, they may compete with the indigenous crabros, perhaps making them more aggressive and/or driving them out.

So, indeed, Asian vespa velutina hornets, who shouldn't really be here, are a genuine problem.  Globalisation, stuff being shipped all over the world in large and unregulated quantities, unprecedented movements of people and goods, another consequence of this. It's not the hornets' fault, but that's not to make light of the matter.

There is however, another kind of Asian hornet which has gained notoriety, through articles in the National Geographic and elsewhere, and television programmes.  This is the Asian giant hornet, vespa mandarinia.  These are truly scary enormous brutes.  They are the ones the aforementioned Dr Ono has made it his mission to study and has come to admire, even though it has involved being stung which felt like a hot nail driven into his leg.  They live mostly in mountainous regions of Japan, where doughty mountain folk sometimes consider them a delicacy and go to some risk to procure them as such, I suppose rather in the same risk-spiced spirit in which fugu fish is eaten.  These are serious predators of honeybees, they attack, invade and lay waste to the hive, tearing the bees to bits at a rapid rate and also pillaging the honey, leaving scenes of carnage behind them.  There are plenty of video nasties of these scenes available on the web, there's one here at the National Geographic site.  Asian bees and beekeepers have developed strategies to fight against these attacks, but they are fairly horrific.

BUT, these are not the velutina Asian hornets which have established themselves in France - and which may, it is conceivable, eventually make their way across the channel.  Site after site of reputable information, those of beekeepers' and their association, the Natural History Museum, etc etc, reiterate this fact.  

Yet, another article which is frequently linked to, from Wikipedia and elsewhere, is this one from the Daily Telegraph last year, which mingles facts about the two species, - including the frequent reference to the hot nail through the leg - to give the impression that  terrifying and monstrous insects have already invaded France, terrorising hapless tourists (you'd really better not go there...) and laying waste to their honey bee populations, and will very shortly be making their way across the English Channel.  

I know, it's all just silly season stuff, and most people would really rather be momentarily sensationalised that learn boring scientific facts, but I really feel it's insidious and disingenuous, however seemingly unimportant. Disingenuous because it's done in such a way that the misreporting is not so glaringly obvious that anyone would pick it up, unlike in another article in the Mail Online, where the inconsistencies are so blatant that they are immediately questioned in the comments.

Why is it permissable to warp, distort and lie about the natural world to an extent which wouldn't be acceptable in any other area?  And why are they doing it? Fairly obviously to reinforce the idea that Out There, beyond the safe and cosy confines of Telegraph-reading Little England, are vile, alien murderous elements, and spineless, hapless Europe is grovellingly capitulating to them. 

If you don't believe me, or think I'm reading too much into it, have a look at the comments thread, where these kind of glib and fatuous parallels are being made very easily.  A euro for every drearily unfunny jibe about the French surrendering would buy me a lot of jars of Marmite, and that's just the beginning of it.   Happily for my sanity and sense of personal moral cleanliness, I didn't read them all, but of 139 comments I didn't see many even directly dealing with the actual subject of the hornets, compared with the amount of snarking about immigration, Europe and climate change denial.  There are one or two saner voices there too, though I can't imagine why they're bothering.    

So don't spend too long there, but rather check out some of the beekeeper's sites, where intelligent and informed people are  trying to address the real problem.         

Ah me, my rants are very tame.  I think this particular personal silly season topic may be drawing to a close very soon.  The hornets, the good old-fashioned, home-grown vespa crabros, are tapping at the French doors, time to turn off the lights and go to bed.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Hornet service will be resumed shortly...

... but you may be happy to hear I am taking a day off from them.  Instead you can go visit this rather good exposition virtuelle of photos of listed buildings in our our departement of  Cotes d'Armor (sorry, too tired even to get the character map out and get the accents), including one of mine.  I got an invitation to the vernissage next week which would be nice but we'll be away in Finistere which will be even nicer.

In case you missed the link, it's at .

Friday, September 10, 2010

Face to face


'I'll never eat anything with a face on' say the vegetarians, a little glibly I tend to feel.  It's said that we start to look for the face anywhere and everywhere to know where we are, how we relate to our surroundings from a very early age, but is a face really the touchstone of relationship with another creature, an indication of a sufficiently high order to merit not to be killed and eaten?  What other criteria are there?

Shellfish certainly don't have faces - though I suppose snails do after a fashion - but I don't see many vegetarians partaking of those. Neither quite do cephalopods, but they are clearly advanced, intelligent creatures, more so than many fish, gentle and peaceable in the case of octopus and cuttlefish, savage and repulsive in that of Humboldt squid, but brainy either way.  I don't mind eating squid but I'll no longer eat octopus.

Then there's the presence or absence of a backbone.  I've been laughed at for this, once by the very person who was tenderly helping a tiny froglet across a quiet road talking sympathetically to it, while grasshoppers and other nearby invertebrates possibly at an equal level of development received no such compassionate assistance, but I do believe that the awareness of a skeleton, a set of organs, lungs and heart, a backbone with a brain on top, which, however tiny, look remarkably like ours, disposes us immediately to feel an enhanced level of kinship.

Of course we do respond in a similar way to bees, for example, and quite possibly caterpillars, but we've always been firmly taught of the virtues of the former, and like the latter, they are particularly endearing because, as one commenter pointed out, they are furry.  I wonder why, when we have largely evolved beyond furriness ourselves we have such a love, almost a need, for it in other animals?  Feathers are interesting but rarely inspire the same warmth of feeling.

It doesn't stop some of us eating them of course, though many of us feel more comfortable eating things with fur and scales than we do other mammals.  I know too that so much of all this is culturally determined, but I think all these thing do influence us.

However, the  face on the hornet as it is here does not make me warm to it, on the contrary, its expression appears hostile, sinister, horribly alien, though really, even the term 'expression' is misplaced and a projection, but even so...

It doesn't make me want to eat it either, but there are Japanese mountain folk who feel otherwise, and the hornets in question are considerably larger, scarier and bear us far more of what might be seen as animosity than our little crabro does.  But I'll come to those next time.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

'just doing what they have to do'

Part of the wall of the colony was a circular magnifying glass.  Through it Marcus did not meet, but saw, the unseeing huge eye of a worker ant in a cavern lined with spun cocoons.  The eye was like a huge apple seed.  The ant itself was three glittering black, carapaced, pointed and rounded segments and six finely jointed limbs.

...[the queen was] a mountainous distended belly with feeble head and feet poking from it, climbed over, as a grounded air balloon or beached ship might be, by diligent tiny attendant daughters.

'Horrible,' he said.'Horrible.'

'No, why? Look at these - these are "repletes", these are ants who just hang up as honeypots for all the other ants all their lives... Isn't it interesting?' said Jacqueline.  

'Yes. But I don't like it. Them.'

'That's because you see them as human.  If you don't, they are simply amazing.'

Marcus considered the swollen egg layer and the incessant motion in the dark tunnels.

'I don't see how you can't - see them in relation to us.'

'You must try.' 

(AS Byatt, Still Life)


So, that's the key then, stop seeing them as anything like us.

I envy naturalists, biologists, entomologists, and I know that, besides not having the head for it and being too vague and sloppy and lazy to be any kind of scientist anyway,  I couldn't be one.  Vague arty types like me think we are in pursuit of beauty, but it seems to me that they follow the dictum 'beauty is truth, truth beauty' with a dedication and ruthlessness that does it nothing but honour.  You could say the same for any science, but here we are talking about life, living things, animals, and that's where the ruthlessness comes in. They pull things apart, slice them up, look at their bits, put them back together, to see how they work, always wondering and committed to the beauty of it all. 

Flabby, soppy people like me, you see, we keep letting our affect get in the way, our human-based notions of morality and aesthetics, and eventually our wretched, rigourless, sentimental anthropomorphism. 

Real life-scientists don't do that.  Do they?

 A passion for something doesn't necessarily mean you need to treat it with kindness ( the root of which means 'as if it were your own kind' ); it means you want to know it inside out, by whatever means.  We recently watched a TV programme about Humboldt squid, and how their populations are exploding on the Pacific coast of the Americas - they make my hornets look like a walk in the park as far as alien menace is concerned.  They fished one of these cephalopods up out of the sea from a boat, and plonked it in a tank.  The very young-looking marine biologist, who was going to be responsible for the next step in the experiment, looked as excited and flushed and joyful as a little girl getting her first puppy, as the creature, looking like a monstrous, faceless, many-limbed infant being wrestled into its bath, furiously (though even that is projection) spitting out a jet of seawater. then, in order to learn more of the animal's reproduction, growth rate etc, they extracted the necessaries and created the embryos in a lab. 'Let's make squid babies!' said the young biologist, rubbing her hands with glee.  I have to say I adored this woman. Later we saw the whole troupe of scientists enjoying a meal of fried squid with especial relish, not only because if the squids continue as they are they will be the only form of fish or seafood available in most of the eastern Pacific, but because it gave them great and vengeful pleasure to be eating something which had been wreaking so much havoc and trying to kill them.

Then there are my German hornet enthusiasts, yet they make the case for their protegés that they are 'gentle giants', they make an affective and sympathetic saga of their life cycle. Masata Ono, the chief authority on the Asian giant hornet, vespa mandarinia, (crabro's very big oriental cousin)  who has suffered its sting and described it as being like a hot nail driven through his leg, on the one hand argues for a dispassionate rejection of judgemental anthropomorphism: '[They] seem brutal to us, but they're just doing what they have to do to survive', but then resorts to pleading their cause in much more emotive terms 'they're excellent mothers and fierce protectors.'

So if the biologists can't shed their affect, their emotional involvement, for good or ill, with the objects, or subjects, of their studies, how easy is it for us to do so?

Perhaps it's something to do with faces... 

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Vespa crabro

(Vespa crabro, about life-size, on my screen anyway, perhaps appearing rather larger on most; making them as large as possible is part of the process.)

One of the uber-bloggers I came across while meta-browsing - I forget who, I'm afraid - made the point that one of the effects of the activity for her has been that she has become more aware of what her real interests are, perhaps in ways which have surprised her, in terms of what she finds herself drawn to research and post about.  Likewise, rather despite myself, I seem to have acquired an interest in bugs.  

It started with the pretty ones, butterflies chiefly and bees, and I suppose it was as a result of taking photographs.  Flowers are fine, but not too challenging in terms of capture, but get a rapid, elusive and attractive insect in the shot an it's value added.  Then there are the others, beautiful too, but slightly more sinister, dragonflies, damselflies, predatory and, to our perceptions, rather less sympathetic, with their oddly contorted mating shenanigens.  Flies and other arthropods like spiders have yet to offer any appeal, but I'm open to moths and grasshopper/cricket type things.   Having observed and snapped the creatures, I need to know and record what they are, and with the wonders of Google and Wikipedia, it's easy to find out some more.  

So much for curiosity, naturally I like information about things which attract me, but with the hornets it's a bit different.  I can't say they attract, except in terms that rather over-used word fascination, I suppose.  I'm hoping knowledge - and that includes getting up close and personal with the camera, albeit with the safety of glass between us - will set me free.  Free of the fear of a large, venomous, unfamiliar and ugly brute with a whopping great sting on its backside which, for the last few weeks, in ones, twos or threes, has been regularly descending on our back French doors with an alarming amount of noise and apparent urgency to get into the house with us.  But also free of fear's twin, loathing, which has been looming altogether too large in my consciousness, and, as I became aware when I found myself making scary faces and noises, flapping my hands around my face like buzzing wings at them, through the glass, making me somewhat ridiculous if only to myself.

So, what have I learned about them?  Many things.  The photos confirmed that they clearly are European hornets, vespa crabro, rather than any more sinister or alarming Asian varieties, which I'll come to later.  My initial speculation that they were the emerging reproductive males and females drawn to the light instead of each other is probably wrong, as it's a little early for that.  At the moment,  the nest is reaching its peak, and the queen is busy laying and the sterile female workers busy feeding the first fertile males and young queens, or gynes.  So the workers are very active and that's why they're flying at all hours, though we still rarely see them in the day.  They can catch all kind of other night-flying insects to take back to the nest, and are only at risk themselves from the odd bat (and from us armed with fly swats, but we don't really officially fit into the predator-prey chain).  As the sexually equipped males and females begin to emerge, the workers will begin to neglect their hitherto pampered and worshipped queen, and she will eventually wither and die of malnutrition.

The wiki link above provides only quite basic information, but led to what is the most entrancing site of all, Hornissenschutz (click it, please if only for the welcome page, you won't regret it), the German hornet protection site. Hornets are a protected species in Germany, you can be heavily fined for unauthorised destruction of their nests.  The people who run this site are truly impassioned apologists and defenders of vespa crabro.  Their 'lifecycle of hornets, an overview', presumably an amalgam of observations collected from a number of studies, from the April date when 'hornetqueen leaves her winter hideout', through the various eclosions, attacks by usurpers, relocation, and the royal court, the moment when 'on beautiful autumn days, the sexuals swarm out to mate', to the final line when 'the last worker of the colony dies on a frosty autumn night' has an epic, heroic quality, of something ancient, stirring and  full of dark alien glitter, helped a little, I think, by its being translated from the German, though the translation is excellent.  The whole is a potential treasury of found poetry. 

And if you're looking for a slightly less lyrical gasp factor, there are the pictures of the blissfully smiling hornet-loving folk with the creatures crawling over their chins and noses, the British enthusiast's helpful instructions on how to relocate a nest ( do it in the wee small hours, feed them with honey, chill them, put them in a funnel neck jar, give them more honey...) or the mp3 recording of the hungry larvae scritching in demand of their next meal.

So, has it worked, have I learned to love vespa crabro, or those of the species who batter at my windows each night?  To a point, and understanding a little more does help.  I've read in more than one place, it is quite common for people to feel scared of this phenomenon, but the insects are not deliberately besieging us, just confused, and, it's said, turning the lights down should swiftly allow them to reorient.  In our experience, this isn't entirely true, sometimes they are still clinging to the glass in a dopey fashion early the following morning, sometimes they are lying apparently dead or moribund on the step.  But we have found that keeping the lights largely off save for a table lamp in that part of the room, while it is a little inconvenient sometimes, seems to keep them at bay for longer, and if the worst comes to the worst I put Mol's lead on and take her out the front last thing, where they come much less.  We haven't resorted to swatting any for a while now, though I'm not sure I'll be knocking on their nest door and inviting them to walk on my face any time soon.

And it all makes me wonder at the dedication of the hornet experts, and why people love the things they do, at the nature of anthropomorphism, and at the fear and loathing of the alien, the unknown, the frightening things which come out of the night to batter at our fragile sense of security, especially the ones that experience, or hearsay, informs us can hurt us, but probably don't really want to.

But that's for another time.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Googling hornets

Too many ideas now
buzzing about in my head.
Whizzz- thud, they go,
just can't pin them down.
Shedding light on a subject
can cause confusion.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

A loss of innocence, but not deflowered

Blogger, in its unceasing quest to please its public, has some innovations.  There is a system to weed out spam comments, which leaves, clogging up my comments box, the Taiwanese person whose name consists of a series of question marks who offers me links to among other things 'Taiwanese beautiful woman' and 'Taiwanese handsome fellow', and whose blogs (Luxgirl 1 & 2) I'm sure I've used my precious time already to follow back to in order to flag them as spam, yet this spam filter plops my comment to a blog I visit regularly in her spam bin just because it contains a link to a poetry site in German. 

Can anyone please clear this up for me? On the one hand it is said that comment spam links should not be followed because doing so puts one at risk from malware etc on the spam blogs, on the other Blogger and others request and advise that you flag those blogs as spam in order to help them to control them, which you can't do without following the spammer's links.  What should one do?  I know I've asked this before, but I've yet to receive an answer. I suppose I should go to 'known issues' or something. 

The other thing they've done is to introduce built-in stats.  I've always prided myself on not having any kind of statcounter, sitemeter, feedjit thing or anything.  This is not because of any false humility or high-mindedness that claims that I care not one whit for my standing in the eyes of the world as measured by page views, but because I knew if I had one I'd become obsessed with it and always be checking my stats and wondering why so-an-so didn't come any more and what was I doing wrong and feeling ill-used by a fickle and uncaring public. Now Blogger have put it in front of me like a bottle of vodka before an incipient alcoholic.  I know, I don't have to look at it, but while my resolve could be held when it meant not making the effort to find and download the stat counter, if it is there anyway, I am simply too weak to resist.

So, that's where I've been, poring over dips and spikes and maps and pie charts, and who came from where, then of course I get to wondering and worrying, are my stats normal, are they big or small, what is the average and what should I expect, and is size important or is it what you do with it that counts, and why is my brother's guest post last year on cats still getting more hits than anything I've done, and how on earth did anyone arrive on Box Elder by googling something like 'middle toe shorter than the one on the other side' (I entered it myself and ploughed through at least ten search pages and still couldn't find any possible link)?

I'm sure all the rest of you who have always had stat things in place, and for whom they occupy a healthy but not disproportionate place in your blogging experience, wonder what on earth I'm getting in such a state about, but I suppose it's like being exposed to an infection when you've never had a chance to build up your immunities.    

I even found myself reading articles and surveys on blogging, and now I feel all rather sullied.  However I did find this old but still rather amusing glossary of blogging terms while I was about it.  I learned that what I'm doing now is meta-blogging (I'm still rather hazy about the concept of 'meta' in general ), ie blogging on about blogging, which I affect to despise but still find myself doing rather a lot of, while an obnoxious person who is a nuisance in comment boxes might be called a blogroach (which is better than the frequently misused troll which has a more specific application), that Francophone blogs are sometimes known as frogblogs and, rather more wittily, Dutch-language ones are clogblogs, and that the affliction from which I have been suffering since being deprived of my statistical innocence is hitnosis.  So I suppose I am wiser if a little sadder.

I daresay I'll get over it eventually, and find the time to post properly and relatively unselfconsciously once more.  Meanwhile, as this is really a photo-blog when all's said and done (according to a nice anglophone site about Brittany with a blog index which has been sending people over to me unbeknownst to me until it came up as a referring site in my new stats thing, and who am I to argue...) here are some photos of pretty flowers, which will continue to feature here.