Finding love.

If you are a masonry bee, finding love needs some patience. These amorous bees have taken up residence in my bee houses and are very obvious at this time of year, but I really understood very little about their life and love cycle ( and probably still don’t!)

In March, apparently, the male grubs hatch and bite their way out of the mud blocked bamboo canes . They are distinguishable from the females by their white hairy faces. They then have to wait for the females to emerge and often back right back into the hollow canes to wait for their date. A line of these whiskered bees reminds me of impatient bearded blokes waiting for their girl friends outside of the ladies’ changing rooms in a clothes store .

When the long awaited ( and larger) female bee finally emerges, they buzz around each other and finally mate, sometimes wrestling her to the ground and fighting off other males. She then gathers as much pollen as she can and makes a bright yellow bed of pollen food onto which she lays her fertilized egg. This bed is then laid in the empty bee “ room” of the bee “hotel” and grub slowly eats its own bed as it grows in the quiet safely of the plugged up tube.

Some times there is no room in the hotel and the female needs to find somewhere else to lay her egg. I have been most perplexed to find myself unable to put on a gardening glove sometimes and found that the fingers of the glove were blocked by something. When teased out, the blockage was bright yellow and I now realise that I had inadvertently evicted a masonry bee lava and his tasty bed of yellow pollen.

I have put up more “hotels” this season and I hope that all the bees emerging this year will find a comfortable space to start the next generation again!

Waiting for a mate!

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Changing the Guard.

The hedgerows are still bare: a few colts foot and celandines have nosed out above the soil and in the woods there are tiny oxslips and lungwort flowers, easily overlooked amongst the dead leaves.

BUT:

The spring migrants are here!

The chiffchaff is throwing his voice like confetti up into the leafless trees. The secretive dunnock has slipped in on the warm air and the electric crackle of the black redstart is fizzing from the barn tops. Every storks’ nest has two gigantic birds stood aloft and they throw back their heads and rattle and clack to one another with insane glee.

In the ploughed fields there are still a few bramblings and in my garden the feeders are covered with siskins, who don’t seem to know that winter is over yet. The cold weather seed eaters are still cautious, but the warm weather insect eaters are already here. They are ready to risk the changing of the guard and for a few days yet they meet in the neutral territory of the early spring.

“Head of English” by Carol Ann Duffy. Notes.


Head of English

Today we have a poet in the class.
A real live poet with a published book.
Notice the inkstained fingers, girls. Perhaps
we’re going to witness verse hot from the press.
Who knows. Please show your appreciation by clapping. Not too loud. Now

sit up straight and listen. Remember
the lesson on assonance, for not all poems,
sadly, rhyme these days. Still. Never mind.
Whispering’s, as always, out of bounds – 10 but do feel free to raise some questions.
After all, we’re paying forty pounds.

Those of you with English Second Language,
see me after break. We’re fortunate
to have this person in our midst. Season of mists and so on and so forth.
I’ve written quite a bit of poetry myself,
am doing Kipling with the Lower Fourth.

Right. That’s enough from me. On with the Muse.
Open a window at the back. We don’t want winds of change about the place.
Take notes, but don’t write reams. Just an essay
on the poet’s themes. Fine. Off we go.
Convince us that there’s something we don’t know.

Well. Really. Run along now, girls. I’m sure that gave an insight to an outside view.
Applause will do. Thank you
very much for coming here today. Lunch
in the hall? Do hang about. Unfortunately,
I have to dash. Tracey will show you out.

Carol Ann Duffy

I love this poem, as an ex-Head of English myself I can hear my own voice and others in her pomposity and her exasperation and rushed insensitivity. It makes me laugh out loud every time I read it.

This blog is a pretty quiet place, as I do absolutely nothing to increase traffic (as I believe it is called). I don’t link it to anything and I don’t do any other social media at all, so I have been fascinated to see how many views I get from India, from Pakistan and from some other WordPress readers on the same poetry posts.

I have two short posts that continuously attract “traffic” and they are about “ The Road Through the Woods” by Kipling and “McCavity the Mystery Cat” by Elliot. I have deduced that they are both on an exam syllabus and many struggling students have stumbled across my posts and used them to help with homework or revision.

I see “The Head of English” is on the IGCSE syllabus at the moment, so this post is by way of an experiment to see if my simple notes attract interest.

Notes on the poem ( feel free to use!)

Carol Ann Duffy is a famous poet and she must often have visited schools and given talks to pupils just like “the real life poet” in this poem. She would have been met by many women like the Head of English ( the head of the English department in the school) and given an introductory talk by her to the students. After the poet had spoken; in this case to “the girls”; she would then have been given a few words of thanks by the Head of English and then usually taken for lunch with the other teachers in the staff room. The poet would have been given a small payment for this talk: in this case “ forty pounds”.

What is original about this poem is that we never hear a word from the actual poet. She is not a character in the poem at all. Duffy speaks entirely through the Head of English and creates a wonderfully small minded, judgmental character who speaks in cliches; likes old fashioned poetry and is obviously very unimpressed by what the real poet has to say “Well. Really”

First Stanza:

The Head of English is addressing her pupils before the poet speaks to them. The Head of English speaks in awful clichés “ note the inkstained fingers” and “verse hot off the press”. She tells the pupils to clap but “not too loud”, she is the controlling and illogical school teacher .

The second stanza runs straight from the first with no punctuation ( an example of enjambement!) which mimics the rush and pomposity of the teacher. The mention of “assonance” is there to impress the poet with her superior knowledge of poetical terminology, but this is spoilt by her lament that “ not all poems rhyme” and her determination to get her money’s worth from the poet “After all, we’re paying forty pounds”

In the third stanza she mentions the students for whom English is not their not their first language. Her curt, throw away line “see me after break” makes these students seem a problem. “Season of mists and so on and so forth” is a mashed part of a line from Keats’ famous poem “Ode to Autumn” which again might be considered old fashioned, as might her studying of Kipling with her older students. She again wants to appear superior due to her knowledge . All English teachers will recognize the “I’ve written quite a bit of poetry myself “ boast and may cringe with embarrassment as they read Duffy’s very clever lines.

The fourth stanza is the funniest. Her “ winds of change” comment is an allusion to a famous political speech, but she is using it to refer to the girls potentially farting during the speech and the need to open the window. She orders the girls to take notes and not write too much ( “reams” ) but somehow manage to write an essay about the poet’s themes at the same time. This is obviously impossible and her glib rhyming of “reams and themes” makes her seem even more foolish and irritating.

As she sits back to enjoy a break from teaching by listening to the poet, her line “Convince us that there’s something we don’t know” is adversarial and the reader of the poem may positively dislike her at his point.

In the final stanza, the talk from the poet is over and the Head of English is not impressed. “Well. Really” these two short words convey her displeasure and shock in a typically repressed polite fashion. School teachers are geniuses at conveying disappointment in the very few words allowed. She is now in a hurry now to get rid of the poet. The implication is that the poet had said something controversial which has shocked the teacher and she does not want her pupils contaminated “ Run along now Girls” The teacher does not want to spend any more time with poet, she does not invite her to eat with her and leaves it to a girl called Tracey ( an unpoetic name) to see her out.

The Head of English has not had her intellect or sympathy expanded by the talk from the poet.

Carol Ann Duffy leaves the reader to imagine for them selves what sort of poems the imaginary poet read aloud to the girls. Duffy leaves the reader to construct what good poetry might be, by setting the views of the Head of English in complete opposition.

This is a funny poem because we recognize our teachers and their prejudices in the character Duffy creates. We laugh at her, but not too cruelly, as no one has been harmed in the snubbing of the imaginary poet . Duffy is undoubtedly using her own personal experiences as a visiting poet to create a memorably foolish character in The Head of English.

Cabbages and Kings.

These are the last cabbages of the season. They have hung on all winter and have now been picked so the vegetable plot can be rotivated for the new growing season.

I love their tenacity, how they stay green in snow and frost and the complexity of their texture and colours .

The Alsace was once famous for growing huge cabbages, which were shredded for making choucroute or sauerkraut on the other side of the Rhine. The fields were also home to the wonderful Giant Hamster of the Alsace which is just surviving by the skin of it’s rodent teeth in the face of industrialized agriculture: protected from complete extinction in a few tiny reserves.

My best friend, when I lived in Kazakhstan, was a Russian lady with a wonderful garden behind her small house. She grew cabbages and pumpkins and walls of flowers and roses and I often think of that productive and beautiful patch of earth on the edge of the city, where we ate shaslik from the bbq with Uighur friends in the shade of a plum tree.

The Emperor Diocletian was the only Roman emperor to voluntarily abdicate power and to step down before he was killed in war or was assassinated . He decided to give up the power of his vast empire and to retire and simply grow cabbages in his garden.

When asked to return to lead his people again he is said to have replied that if you could see my cabbages you would understand the impossibility of the suggestion.

I think some current emperors could learn from this. Growing cabbages is far more noble than going to war, as history has proven. And if no one else will thank you; then maybe the Giant Hamster will.

It’s still Fasnacht here!

A long week.

Fasnact face to scare away evil spirits.

At the start of the week the madness of the invasion of the Ukraine became apparent and by the end of the week it has intensified in a way that is almost unbearable. And yet I am not Ukrainian and no one is shelling me, so the very, very least I can do, is to get on.

It has been glitteringly sunny here. Cold and cuttingly bright and at night it is unusually star filled and cloudless. The nighttime temperatures are very low and each morning I awake to a hard white frost.

March is the start of the mothing season for me and on the first night above freezing, I put out my moth trap. There were two Hebrew characters and an Early Grey in the trap . The Early Grey was a new species for the garden and I start 2022 with 315 recorded moth species in my garden since I started to keep records. This moth eats honey suckle and like the Hebrew character ( named for the distinctive marking on the wing that looks like a letter) has furry tummy to keep in warm in these cold early days of spring.

Hebrew character

“There are decades where nothing happens; and there are weeks where decades happen.” Lenin.