Magazine article The Spectator

The Bees' Knees

Magazine article The Spectator

The Bees' Knees

Article excerpt

'It makes you happy that something like that exists, ' says Devente, a young beekeeper from Hackney as he emerges from his protective suit in a halo of smoke, having just checked that all is well in the colony. You could almost hear the puffs of smoke. 'Once you understand the bee, ' he says, 'then your perspective changes from swatting to staying still.' Devente has been keeping bees for a while now, with the help of a social enterprise foundation called the Golden Company. 'The bees are more or less the only things around here that are good . . . ' He adds, 'Enlightenment.'

Spirit of the Beehive (Radio 4, Friday) was such an inspiring programme. I had to listen to it because the title reminded me of that haunting, sad, evocative Victor Erice film. Nina Perry has created a radio experience, not something you hear very often these days, recording the voices of some very different bee enthusiasts and weaving them together with the sounds of brawling bees, the wind rustling through the leaves, a beelike ripple on the violin. 'You don't see much hate in the beehive, ' observes Devente, 'because there's nothing to hate in the beehive. They're extraordinary creatures.'

His passion for the bees was intercut with the scientific approach of a professor of apiculture and social insects at Sussex University who has been observing and decoding life in the beehive. There may be as many as 10,000 worker bees in the colony but no one is in charge, he reminded us. They all work together, each playing their part, to achieve a single purpose: to collect enough food to survive through the winter.

His research team has fathomed the mystery of the waggle dance, which worker bees use to tell each other where to find the best pollen. If you study bee behaviour in the hive, you can see them waggling their abdomens, movements which vary according to the information being conveyed. As the researchers explained the two-second waggle, the figure of eight, the 95-degrees-from vertical, their words were so carefully edited that it was almost as if they, too, were dancing. Who needs visual aids at such moments?

Go listen (before it disappears from iPlayer) to discover what a bee gavotte might sound like.

Just as inspiring was the Radio 2 profile, The Amazing Mavis Staples (Monday), presented by Ricky Ross and produced by Richard Murdoch. Mavis and her sisters have been singing since the early Sixties, encouraged by their father, Pops Staples, whose rippling, rhythmic guitar was always the pulse, the life-force of their music. …

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