Not yet, but there will be in a few years from now. Not that I’ll be able to fix anyone’s broken leg, because I won’t be *that* kind of Doctor, but one of those academics with a head full of knowledge that I myself find fascinating but does not necessarily enthral the crowd at my local pub (and is unlikely to save any lives). I am nevertheless feeling both excited and accomplished at being accepted as a Doctoral research student at the University of Wales Trinity Saint David Centre for Advanced Welsh and Celtic Studies. I am also feeling a little overwhelmed, because … well, y’know what they say about ‘be careful what you wish for’ … this of course only the beginning, for now the real work begins (just one week from now: start date October 1st. Gulp).
It’s a funny old feeling – like the world (well, not the entire world but my own personal little patch of it) has shifted, whilst at the same time remaining the same. The news came on Thursday, initially, by email (followed the next day by a more official letter) and in celebration we (hubby and me) went skipping off downhill for fish & chips on the prom (tiddley-om-pom-pom). Ah yes, we know how to live. Even the intermittent cloudy showers could not spoil it for us. There’s a lot to get organised – a major point being funding (or, at this point, lack of, but I’m aiming to get this sorted ASAP). And in the meantime, this last few days – while I have headspace free – I’ve been plodding on with the edit of my MA thesis material, which I am reworking into what I hope will be saleable products, ie. a series of books aimed at those with an interest in local Cornish history and folklore … (I know, I know, I ‘m being a little cryptic here, not quite revealing the whole just yet. But I will. When myself and my work are ready for public scrutiny) …
Barley moon, Corn moon, Fruit moon … call it what you will … is the final full moon before the Autumn equinox, and a marker point for farming cultures throughout human history, calling time on crop harvests before the weather takes a seasonal turn. Hence the name. A full moon hanging heavy and bright in the night sky, is always a sight worth seeing, and living on the far-southwest Cornish coast we get to enjoy a really clear view of this natural phenomena, enhanced by the relative absence of overbearing electric street lights and surrounding expanse of sea, lending a mystical feel to the whole experience. I really enjoy summer – I function best, both physically and mentally, in warmth and light rather than cold and dark – so for me this time of year has a tinge of sadness, because I know that winter is on its way, necessitating a shift in to hibernation mode. I do however value the ‘pause and reflect’ effect of this seasonal downshift, looking back on the last few months and making plans for what’s to come next.
Which for me of course means bees, plants, and words.
This season for me has not been a good one, for bees. There, I’ve said it. Nothing instagram-worthy about that declaration, eh?! (I did a business start-up course years ago, and the tutor would repeatedly tell us: ‘Make out that you’re a great success, even if you’re not’. Pretending to be something I’m not has never come naturally or comfortably to me, so obviously I struggled with this – supposedly basic – aspect of self-promotion, being unable to con myself – never mind others into *believing*. Good thing I never went into advertising eh?!). Nor has it been a particularly prolific period on the allotment, the obvious point being that I’ve spent so little time or effort there, having insufficient energy and inclination to do so. It has, however, been a good few months on the academic and creative side of things. Proving the point, that it it is true what ‘they’ say: that you cannot have it all (and perhaps should not try).
But back to the bees …
From what I’ve seen on social media chat and also in the news, it’s not been just me. Beekeepers everywhere have had a difficult year this year. Beekeepers in France have been so hard-hit they’ve had to request financial help from their government, with honey harvest in some areas dropped to below half the usual amount. On Facebook I’ve seen others such as myself, starting the season well but by early summer realising that something is very wrong.
I ended last year with six colonies, all separately hived, all doing well; out of these, five came through winter successfully, and I looked forward to what I thought was going to be a great year for honey. And then … The cold wet spring meant insufficient food-forage at that crucial time, and from there they not only didn’t pick up but floundered. Unusually, I’ve had to continue supplementary sugar feed right through summer, and still they’ve struggled. Add to this enthusiastic robbing by wasps, an infestation of wax moths, and the end result is just two out of those five colonies survived. Ironically, this is the two that I moved from one location to another back in June, downsizing from three apiary sites to two. Transporting beehives from one place to the next is a risky business, in this case resulting on one of these two hives becoming queenless, so that I then took the further decision to combine the two into one. Astonishingly, it’s these that have now survived. Leaving me with just this one, supersize (double brood box) hive to pin my hopes on, for overwinter. Fingers crossed they will get through, and in spring I can start again – raising new colony splits from this one hive, to continue forward.
On a positive note, this has given me lots of new beeswax (to be transformed into candles). Far less bee worries over the next few months. And more head space for everything else … which right now mainly means writing. I am currently awaiting confirmation of a place as a PhD research student, building forward on the MA which I completed earlier this year. It is very exciting but also quite daunting. PhD or not, I’ll be taking these ideas forward in the creation of a series of books, which I am now working on (Watch. This. Space) ….
How did that happen?! The year has whizzed by, and summer has passed in a whirl, with family fun as priority. With grandchildren aged 8 and 2, and the beach on our doorstep, there’s been a lot of sun, sea and sand, plentiful ice-cream, and a fair amount of fish ‘n’ chips eaten straight from the box whilst sat on the sand/grass/prom bench: a lot of wet towels, soggy swimsuits and sandy shoes, bags of sea-glass, crabs in buckets and bundles of driftwood, with the highlight for me being my first attempt at SUP boarding – including of course the inevitable fall-off with a grand splash. To top it all, we’ve been back-garden camping in a fabulous VW tent (Simple pleasures and – bonus – no campsite fees!). Inevitably, the allotment has gone neglected, with only the occasional visit, purely for family fun.
And then there are the bees. This has been an unusually difficult bee-year, with a number of factors impacting on bee health and honey production. Starting the year with five hives (of six overwintered) I am now down to two! I’ll be nurturing these through autumn in preparation for winter: this will be the first year I’ve taken no honey off for human use: instead I’ll be leaving it all for the bees, giving them the best chance of surviving through to next spring. As ever, my granddaughter has been keen to help – with her baby brother watching (and learning) from a safe distance.
10.48 PM. Just a few hours since my previous post. Mission accomplished. I attended my first (of what will be many) ‘live session’ of the Memoire writing course, as per today’s previous post. Like a lot of people, this whole Zoom-meet thing is quite new to me … well, not *completely* new, because my MA was by distance learning, studying ‘at’ the University of Wales Trinity Saint David via the magic of modern internet connection. So, not entirely new. But new enough. And then there was lockdown. And now we all have Zoom fatigue. The positives, nevertheless, still outweigh the negatives – most obviously, now, being able to ‘attend’ a course hosted by a tutor in Canada, along with fellow students all around the world, accommodating different time-zones, altogether in cyberspace. Live chat and interaction – plus – bonus! – the whole thing gets recorded, so we can watch it again, whenever, wherever, and however many times we might want or need. A wholly different experience to my undergraduate studies, way back when …
But I digress ….
Topic for the evening was ‘memoire as poetry / poetry as memoire’ with guest speaker Canadian poet and glass artist Kim Mckellar – who, I confess, I had never heard of until now. Here is an example of her work …
Poetry is an art that I myself am yet to master. Yet. If ever. One day (perhaps) I may try. Perhaps. In the meantime, this first session was inspirational, and energising … yet it left me depleted. I’d not known what to expect, found it difficult to stay focussed, and then when it was over I felt fidgety and strangely emotional … Simultaneously flat, weirdly tearful, yet oddly also rested and lifted. Only one thing for it: a hot, deep, bubbly bath. With tea. And chocolate. Waiting for the kettle to boil (for said tea) my gaze followed through the kitchen window to this climbing rose (pictured, below) currently sprawling, in full bloom, up and over the back fence. Framed against a dramatic sky (not yet dark with night, but heavy with impending weather) it somehow matched my mood. The picture does it no justice: poor lighting and insufficient techno-whizzary to make full use of the camera settings. I’ll take another tomorrow. In better light.
I acquired this rose almost exactly five years ago, in the first week of July 2016. It was then very small and scraggly, merely a couple of short stems with a few leaves but a strong root system, bursting to escape the 5-inch pot in which it sat, grasping onto life, in a forgotten corner of my mom’s overgrown back garden. She had died, suddenly, just a few days previous, five weeks short of her 80th birthday. I brought it home and planted it out in my own garden, where it has since grown steadily, extending its reach to fill almost the entire fence, drooping indulgently over into the back alley, all sprawling branches, sharp thorns, and abundant foliage. It flowers every year at this same time, marking the anniversary of her passing with an ever-expanding display of outrageously glorious magenta pink blooms.
It must mean something, I am sure. I just don’t quite (yet) know what.
Well this is exciting. A change from the more usual blog focus on bees, garden growing and health. Last week I enrolled on a creative and nurturing writing course. A memoire-writing course with award-winning Canadian playwright, performer and best-selling author Alison Wearing .
Yes, I know that I just finished an M.A., I have a few projects on the go, and am applying to start a PhD (fingers crossed) this coming autumn. But this is different. A side step from formal academics to more personal endeavours languishing far too long on the back-burner. I am beyond excited, as I’ve been wanting to do this for quite some time (several months, in fact) but I kept putting it off, awaiting that mythical *one day* … you know, the ‘one day’ that never comes …
Well, that ‘one day’ is now here. Result being that, simultaneous to feeling ‘beyond excited’ I am somewhat apprehensive … because of course now there is no excuse. Nowhere to hide. The time is here. The time is now.
‘I feel like a rat on a wheel. But the thing is – I built the wheel. This endless cycle of ‘to do’ … I created this … I put myself here … ‘
This realisation hit a couple of weeks back. I’d been feeling it for a while, but it took until now for those feelings to crystalise into thoughts expressed as words.
Living with so-called ‘invisible’ disability places limits on normal daily function. And because none of it is physically obvious – there is no wheelchair, no walking stick, no missing limb or prosthetic aid (hence the term *invisible* disability) the effects can be misconstrued as behavioural trait or personality fault. Lazy, unreliable, flaky (Yes, I’ve been called all of these and more. Mainly not to my face). The no.1 problem in all of is work. How to maintain a *normal* job in a no-longer-normally-functioning body? Hence my return to education in 2017 (embarking on an MA, which should have taken two years but, in reality, stretched out to more than three) – at this same time starting again with beekeeping (fifteen years on from my initial ‘dabble’) …
Skip forward three and a half years. MA completed (final mark pending) with various writing projects in process and the potential to continue on to a PhD this coming autumn. Health struggles are ongoing – exacerbated, of course, by the government-led Covid response (all ‘non essential’ hospital treatments – including my own rehabilitative therapies – were stopped last April/May, only recently restarting, after a year of non-intervention).
Meanwhile, on the beekeeping side, what started out as one hive has grown into several, across three different sites. Plus all of the associated activity (honey production, candle creation, hive maintenance). And then there’s the growing: flowers, herbs, veg … I’ve also, in this last 18 months, instigated and managed a community garden project in the street where I live (more of this another time, in a future blog post). As each new opening has arisen, I’ve gone with it. A fun-filled learning curve, at some point turned ‘rat on a wheel’. But here’s the thing: if it is me who put myself here, then it is me who can free myself back up. Reset the wheel.
This, then, is exactly what I am now doing. First up, the most obvious: reduce the physical work-load and time demands. Editing three apiary sites down into two. The choice (which one to let go?) has been easy: the Bee Garden, my very first apiary site, where I started out, back in 2018. Despite my best efforts, in nearly three years there’s never been a good honey harvest here: whole colonies have died (one of them quite suddenly) and/or struggled to survive overwinter, largely I think due to the adjacent farm fields (on all sides, stretching several miles, meaning insufficient wild forage and potential contamination with agro-chemicals). Add to this the land-owners plans to sell up in the near future, meaning I’ll have to be moving at some point anyway. As the saying goes, a ‘no brainer’. Nevertheless, I felt a considerable pang of sadness as I closed up the two hives, dismantled the hive-stand, loaded everything up and drove away for the last time – very soon overlaid with relief, as I settled them together into their new location at the Bee Field, which will now be my main apiary site.
Life is a constant process of change. We can resist – remain stuck – or go with it. Stagnate or adapt. Survive or thrive. The choice is our own.
Yesterday we buried the cat. What a sad sentence that is to write. At somewhere around seventeen years of age, Shooey the Wonder Cat was the last of a feline trio, central to our wider family life. His old ma, Twink, shuffled off this mortal coil several years back, having made it to not quite a decade, while the ginger ninja known as A cat Called Chicken survived well into his twenty-first year. The house feels eerily empty. And quiet.
I began writing this on 6 January. And here we are now, more than 3 months on. Time flies, even under normal circumstance. But this last 12 months, with the whole world being so … well, just plain weird … time feels kind of elastic, speeding up and slowing down and standing still, all at the same … erm … time. And then there’s been winter. I am never particularly great in these cold, dark months. Throw in lockdown and … it’s all been a bit much really. But with spring now well and truly ‘sprung’, I’m beginning to get back out there, reconnecting with the wider world, and finding ways to move forward. Which, for me, means growing stuff and playing with bees. Creative activities – as much as my dodgy hand allows. Maintaining (or trying to maintain) health. And writing.
Having finally finished my MA in January (hoorah!) I’m allowing the academic side of my brain some much-needed ‘time off’. Yes, there are many projects to be pursued. But for now, I’ve been focussed on gentle reconnection with my garden and allotment. Which, at this time of year, means seed-sowing. Meaning every available space – from greenhouse shelf to windowsill – is crammed with trays and pots in various stages of growth, from newly-sown to awaiting-plant-out-to-final-growing-position. All very life-affirming.
Even the hubby – a lifelong non-gardener – is getting in on the act, since a friend suggested a giant-pumpkin-growing competition via social media. Obviously he’s gone for the classic ‘Atlantic Giant’ – aiming to grow the best, and beat the rest. I myself meanwhile am on my usual mission to grow as many different types of beans as possible, using my own saved seed – from varying shades of climbing runner, borlotti and butterbean, along with all the other allotment plot ‘must haves’ – from squash to salad leaves to herbs and, of course, an array of flowers providing food forage for my bees.
Of my six overwintered bee hive colonies, four have survived. I say this to people and they’re like: ‘Oh no! Two of your colonies died!?’ Missing the point, that a certain percentage loss is a *normal* part of beekeeping. Honeybee colonies in the wild die all the time … we just don’t see it. It’s just nature. It is just what happens. Survival of the fittest, and all that. Yes, it is disheartening to open a hive for that first spring inspection and find them all dead. Conversely, it is an absolute joy to find a hive alive and buzzing with life. Hope for the future. The promise of good things to come. And we all need a bit of that now, don’t we. It is early days yet, but all four surviving colonies are looking good as we head towards summer. All could go horribly wrong of course – spring-into-summer is still a precarious time, for honeybee survival rates. A sudden cold snap, insufficient food forage; things can turn in a moment. So we will see. Time will tell. But I’ll be doing my bit to keep them fed and nurtured, with a purpose grown bee buffet.
One other thing I’m particularly excited about is the future direction of this blogsite … I’m currently developing a ‘Shop’ link, enabling online purchase of my honey and candles alongside a range of other items, mainly sourced locally from independent creatives, each of them located ‘somewhere in west Cornwall’. So watch this space. Good things are coming …
Oh, how we become attached to the vehicles in our life. Or is it just me?! Bongo Friendee. A friend indeedee. But when ‘repair’ becomes ‘rebuild’ you know it’s time to move on. I’ve never been one for naming my cars, and the van – my first van – the van – was no different. Always, simply, ‘the van’. We’ve had so much life in this van. So many adventures. So much fun. Quite a few sad times too. And as allotment and beekeeping runabout, it’s served me well. A real all-rounder, and a hard act to follow … But follow, something will. We’re just not sure what yet. Time will tell …
Two months in, and a belated ‘Happy New Year’ to all. What a year 2020 turned out to be. What will 2021 bring?! Time will tell. For me inevitably this coming year will involve bees. And flowering plants. And words. And various creative projects … all to be revealed. Watch this space for updates.