Saturday, 10 March 2012

You Never Can Tell, With Bees

When I was still at secondary school (which would be about half my lifetime ago now) I remember one warm summer's day when a wasp landed on my ear. I stood stock-still and let it crawl about on my ear and head for a couple of minutes - to the amazement of the others in my class - not out of bravery, but out of sheer terror and a determination not to 'spook' it and get stung. Another time, a massive hornet (at least two inches long) appeared inside the little changing room in the school Drama classroom - I think I screamed a bit. I've never been stung by anything (touch wood) but my intuition tells me I wouldn't like the experience very much (my intuition is very well informed on this subject, I think). To this day, I have a strong dislike of wasps - you could call it a phobia, I suppose.

And so I'm a big fat hypocrite really, because I quite like bees. Is it because they make honey? Is it because the bumble-variety are furry and sort of cute? Is it because of the charming 'Beehave and Beequiet' characters from Stoppit and Tidyup (one of my childhood era's finest cartoons)? Maybe it's how they bob in and out of flowers, looking half industrious and half like they're just pottering around waiting for the kettle to boil. Maybe it's because I learnt in Psychology how clever they are, with their special wiggling figure-of-8 dance they do, angled towards the sun to talk to each other about where they can find a really good score of pollen? (No, really!) Most likely, it's a combination of all these things. (WARNING: there are images of bees coming up. If they bother you, cover your eyes as you scroll down...um...sorry)

A few years ago, I attempted to make an illustration for my portfolio inspired by The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd. It's an interesting book set in the '60s in America, with themes of family secrets, race and religion, all pulled together with surprising analogies to the behaviour of bees. I've never been entirely happy with the image I made for the pretend book cover illustration, so lately I've been trying to persuade myself to have another go at it. I particularly struggled to get a good reference image for bees, so the idea kept going on the back-burner. This is the image I made originally (the idea was for the house to be on the back cover and the honeycomb on the front - but I want to change the layout and tweak the honeycomb and the bees)



This week, I was having a lousy week. Feeling drained by job hunting woes and having been quite under the weather in general, I was padding around in my pyjamas on Friday, trying to shake a severe case of the 'Blehs' when I looked up in my bedroom and saw a visitor resting on my skylight window.


She kindly stayed there long enough for me to get quite a few photos, and even tolerated me talking to her a bit (oh, the Mad Lady in Attic cliché...) I said to her "Are you a bee? I think you are a bee. You look like a bee to me. Hello Bee. I will take a photo of thee. In case I ever feel illustration...ee."

So...I'm hoping she was a bee (and I'm assuming it was a 'she' because apparently male bees don't get out much). She seemed like a friendly little creature anyway, so if she was actually a type of wasp, I think I might have to decide I like wasps too. But I don't think she was...do you?

Friday, 2 March 2012

Twisted Firestarter...

As I've mentioned, I'm pretty much a lifelong pyrophobe. Even carrying a candle in a jar as part of the Christmas nativity was too much for me as a kid. Eating at a table with a candle on it still made me quake well into my teens. Bonfire Night - out of the question. As part of the resolution to be braver, I decided to overcome the fear and do what I had never done before...light a match. I'd always been terrified of having flames so close to me, and on the rare occasions I had tried lighting a match, I'd strike it so tentatively and weakly, not even a little spark would come off.

In January, I bought some incense cones, to make my home smell a little nicer. The other day, I finally decided to go ahead and try to light one. I bought some matches and cleared an area, got a little tea plate to put the cone onto (they supply a little metal disc but this didn't feel secure enough) and a mug of water ready for me to drop the match into in case I panicked or had an accident with the match or couldn't blow it out. I tied my hair back, rolled up my sleeve...

I imagine Hercule Poirot looking at the aftermath of my incense-lighting session and deducing, with his little grey cells, just by the amount of blackened burntness on each matchstick, how it went...



Attempt one - when the match finally lit I instinctively blew it out straight away in surprise and panic.
Attempt two - ditto.
Attempt three - didn't blow it out but couldn't get the flame to 'take' on the cone and had to blow the flame out before I burnt myself.
Attempt four - ditto.
Attempt five - thought I had lit it successfully at last, but blew out both cone and match at the same time.
Attempt six - ditto.
Attempt seven - ditto.
Attempt eight - SUCCESS! Oh no, actually, the cone's gone out...
Attempt nine - Lit cone, *turned* to blow out match, let the cone start to glow, blew out the flame...and, finally, it worked!


There was a subtle lavender aroma in the kitchen area for hours afterwards, which was lovely walking to and fro. My sense of smell isn't great but passing between kitchenette, utility nook and bedroom I usually get a waft of the rubbish bin (loooovely) so this was very nice. So nice, in fact, I lit another incense cone the next day, and another a couple of days later. It's a nice way to freshen up the air - certainly better than room freshener spray, I think. I still have the emergency mug of water each time, but I haven't used it.

I proudly told my mum on the phone about my little triumph, saying that I'd always had this silly fear that the match would snap and the flaming tip go flying, catching fire to something. Haha, silly me. Then Mum kindly pointed out that in fact, this can happen, and does happen...

So I'm a little scared again. But I think perhaps a normal, rational amount?