Tag Archives: Frank Turner

On love songs in C….bees in The Hive 60/100

DSC_0003_7Bees hum in the key of C. That is such a wonderful fact I am not sure I need to say anything more. Except to add that my beloved Frank Turner reminds us, “…we write love songs in C. ” Now I could just drop in a few stunning photos and…..voila, latest post finished.

Oh, but I can’t help myself. I WANT to drone onDSC_0010_6 (ha ha, little pun there) about The Hive, the gorgeous and heartwarming installation at Kew Gardens, in celebration of the humble and extraordinary bumblebee. And the buzz of scientific research (ha ha again) that has gone into creating something that is not only beautiful to look at, incredible to experience, but is a statement on the future of our existence on this planet.

Built for the 2015 Milan International Expo, the theme of which was “Feeding the Planet-Energy for Life” the UK committee knew it needed something extraordinary. In part of their pre-planning research, the committee polled non-UK nationals as to the UK’s reputation. Hannah Corbett, UK Milan Expo 2015 Commissioner General & Director, discovered that the UK was considered “unusual in its preference for eccentricity and its love of the quirky.” Well, eccentric and quirky have always been positives in my book, and The Hive delivers magnificently on both. Another was that the UK has a long, solid history of engineering brilliance. Just think of all those amazing things the Victorians DSC_0005_7built. Railways, bridges, greenhouses. Yes, greenhouses. Which revolutionized their influence on worldwide food production. Suddenly seeds and plants from vastly different environments could be cultivated and studied, it was the impetus to re-inventing Kew Gardens in the 1840s…., from a place of elite leisure to one of serious science, which continues today.

But let’s get back to the bee, the lovely, precious bee, which we have taken for granted for so long we now find ourselves in rather a panic about its demise. The reasons are varied but with a common denominator. Us. Climate change, industrial farming techniques that prefer one crop over a variety, the widespread use of pesticides, the invasion of other bee varieties. Many types of bees feed on just a tiny selection of plants. Remove them and the bee population will soon follow, or vice versa. As 3 out of 4 of plants rely on animals for pollination and of that 75% is done by bees, well, they are rather important. Albert Einstein did NOT predict that humanity was done for without the bee, but an Belgian Nobel prize winner by the name of Maurice Maeterlinck did. Maybe the attribution was reassigned to give the quote more weight. Because it may not be far from the truth. But don’t fear. There are lots and lots and lots of bee champions out there and beekeeping has suddenly become the “in” past time. We are rather keen on self-preservation after all. I am an optimist.

DSC_0014_6The Hive is one more method of awareness raising, and a spectacular one at that. It sits nestled in a wildflower meadow at Kew, rising magnificently skywards like the most fantastic Meccano built greenhouse, without the glass. Instead the Hive offers lights and music, lights and music that are controlled……dramatic pause…wait for it, wait for it….a real hive at Kew. The bees humming and movement activate the light and sound sensors in the installation, waxing and waning throughout the day and seasons. The experience is amazing. It is like standing inDSC_0008_6 gorgeous, non-reflective hall of mirrors with invisible walls of sounds, not unlike waves, crashing all around you. Does any of that simile work??? Suffice to say it is a marvelous, beautiful sensory overload. And an Instagrammers” dream. From all levels and angles.

DSC_0018_5Back to bees. They communicate through vibration, rather than hearing, as we do. You are welcome to imitate the affect by “listening” holding a wooden stick between your teeth. The sensation is rather like being at the dentist. But the Hive is filled with sound we can hear with our ears as well. I started this piece by stating that bees hum in the key of C. The artist approached a team of musicians to “work” with the bees to create an orchestral accompaniment to their humming, in the key of C, using cello, voice, piano, mellotron and steel guitar. The musicians didn’t impose their own playing, rather reacted to what the bees were doing in a sympathetic manner. The result is a stunning, often haunting soundtrack. So much so that it has gone on tour, even making an appearance at Glastonbury, and the album ONE is available to buy.

The artistic genius behind The Hive is Cumbria born, Nottingham educated Wolfgang Buttress. Known for being someone comfortable outside the box, he was concerned, and I quote, “how could one produce a response beyond something glib and tokenistic.” It had DSC_0017_6to be meaningful, but not boring and earnest. It needed real wow factor. And wow, did Buttress deliver. But like all masterpieces, it wasn’t a one man job. Bee specialists, musicians, engineers, landscape architects, contractors and gardeners all played roles in this extraordinary installation. “It was a true collaboration in that egos did not restrict us, instead our different disciplines enabled us to let go where necessary and create when required, ” explains Buttress. Oooh, if only more groups of people could think this way, what a happier (and perhaps more productive) place this world would be.

Have I convinced you to visit? What if I tell you that Kew Gardens is thinking of hosting adult evenings in the Autumn with drinks and the chance to experience The Hive at night, lights and sounds shining and buzzing and humming to our heart’s delight in the Autumn air. Well sign me up, certainly.

And see, I wasn’t just using bees as an excuse to quote Turner, as if I need an excuse, we really do write love songs in C. The bees perhaps writing the greatest one of them all.


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On loss and life…because I’m not dead yet 30/100

10296385_865489703477752_1664646403642316938_oThe bleak midwinter was even more bleak this year by the loss of a dear friend’s husband. It was sudden. The circumstances were particularly upsetting. A terrible shock. The subsequent deaths of David Bowie and Alan Rickman, celebrities to whom we had such personal attachments, caught us all off guard and confirmed that things were definitely off-kilter. Death comes for us all, yet we are unprepared for it in people we know and love, still less for people we admire and respect from afar. We can be irrational in our mourning, not always able to understand the difference between genuine sorrow for someone gone and the fear of our own mortality. It stops us in our tracks. It makes us howl for our own days gone by. It makes us look at the world in a new, harsh, unforgiving light. It hurts. As well it should, because to be reminded that this is our one shot at life is a jolt. But for those of us on the edges of the grief, that jolt can be a chance to stop and think. So I took some time off. I retreated into my own kitchen and thought about friendship and heroes and family and how I spend my time, what I have done with my life. A pause after the shock to re-evaluate, reorganize, reflect, change, and then have another go. To restart.  Like the crouch, bind, set formation of a scrum: Shock, Pause, Restart. Definitely restart, because, in the words of my beloved Frank Turner  “we’re not dead yet.”

I had the privilege of screaming these lyrics along with Frank himself, and a few thousand others, back in November, a sad time for other reasons, at Alexandra Palace. Ally Pally, destroyed by fire only 16 days after it first opened in 1873, is certainly no stranger to destruction and restoration, a bricks and mortar form of shock, pause and restart. Fire raged through the Palace again in 1980, and, after extensive development and rebuilding, reopened 8 years later. Over the decades it has been a WWI internment camp, the place from which the BBC made its first public television transmission, the unfortunate recipient of a German doodlebug in 1944, which cost the Great Hall its rose window, and, of course, the final stop on the Frank Turner, Positive Songs for Negative People 2015 tour.

IMG_9031 (2)It was a memorable occasion not just because listening to Turner live makes me giddy with devotion, but because this concert was held on American Thanksgiving, 13 days after the Paris attacks. A time to be thankful and alive. Turner is an artist for whom the act of doing is essential. “No one gets remembered for the things they didn’t do.” I only had to hear that once and I was a true believer. His lyrics are frequently a call to action. To travel, to change, to grow, to get out there and meet the storm, if that is what’s coming. To live. On the night, he paused often to remember those who died at the Bataclan, one of whom was his close friend, the victims at the cafes, the narrow escape of the football fans, all people out for an evening of companionship and pleasure. The venue is standing only, the hierarchy one of timing rather than price, enhancing the atmosphere of togetherness. Together in raucous, defiant joy, “because we’re not dead yet.” I do not in any way mean to trivialize the horror of the Paris attacks by suggesting that singing along at a concert a few days later will in any way deter terrorism or heal the grief of the aftermath. Rather, I use it only as an example of London’s famous defiance, an attitude that has become a hallmark of Londoners through the ages. After the Great Fire of London, 1666, they rebuilt their city, shunning ideas of razing the remains to create a more elegant landscape of broad boulevards, on the old footprint.  By 1672, only 6 years on, life and trade were pretty much back to normal, impressive even by today’s standards. Their stalwartness in WWII, particularly during the Blitz, a German bombing campaign that lasted from the 7th of September 1940 until the 11th of May, 1941, including 56 nights of consecutive bombing, has become something of lore. The outpouring of kindness and strength in the days and months after July 7, 2005, when terrorist bombs ripped through tube trains and a bus, is still a vivid memory for many. This past July, I was lucky enough to be invited to the 10th Anniversary Memorial Service at St. Paul’s Cathedral; I even made the BBC news clip, looking appropriately solemn, if rather stern. All the moving speeches mentioned the unquestioning help of strangers. How Londoners’ reputed standoffishness melted away; how emergency personnel worked without concern for their own safety; how ordinary people were able to do the extraordinary, often in little but important ways.

IMG_20160204_132440Thankfully, most of us will never have to test ourselves like this. But we can all try to scrape the gloom of winter away and get out there. Yeah, the weather is shocking, mornings on the Northern Line are a special kind of hell, the laundry never does itself, IS continues to threaten and sometimes very bad things happen to very good people. All the more reason, after the shock and pause, to restart. Get out there, have another go. Because we aren’t dead yet. Ok, I certainly won’t save the world (not clever enough) nor will I invent something that profoundly improves the lives of millions (really, really not clever enough) but I can live with a spring in my step, a curiosity that doesn’t know when to stop, a passion for this city I will never cease exploring and a desire to do it all in beautiful shoes. “And on the day I die I’ll say at least I fucking tried..” That will do, yeah, that will do quite nicely.