The Plight of the Bumblebee, Radio 4
Ken Bruce, Radio 2
Bumblebees and Beatle widows, two species on the brink
Sunday 25 October 2009
Honey bees are in crisis, the boffins warn. If their colonies carry on collapsing we'll all eventually starve. The fate of the human race rests with these shiny little marvels. Typical, the equally beleaguered bumblebees must be thinking. We're in schtuk, too, mate, and who's bothered about us?
If bees were footballers, honey bees would be the sleek, flashy types with all the flicks and tricks, the ones who pull in the punters, shift the shirts and corner the endorsements market. Bumblebees would be the chunky, hairy, unsung heroes charging up and down between the penalty areas doing all the work. And as any midfield Stakhanovite will tell you, without show ponies you can still grind out a result, but you'll win nothing without at least one workhorse tramping the sod.
As Louise Batchelor found in The Plight of the Bumblebee, the honey-bee hype hides the truth that bumblebees are just as crucial in keeping the world's plant cycles ticking over. Unlike their glamorous cousins, they don't mind the cold, plus they have long tongues so they can get down into all the flowers – some plants, like peppers, couldn't do without them. One bumble bee will do the work of 20 honey bees. And they perform something unique to them, called buzz pollination. If you hear a high-pitched angry sound in your garden, it's likely to be a bumblebee vibrating its body at a special frequency that triggers the flowers to release a shower of pollen.
"Bumblebee pollination gives colour to the countryside and gives variety to the food on our plates," said Ben Darvill of the Bumblebee Conservation Trust (which made the front page of the Indy when it launched in 2006). He looked ahead to a beeless dystopia where "wind-pollinated plants will dominate, and we'll find ourselves eating more rice, bread and potatoes." Save the bumblebee now!
With Yoko Ono in her mid-70s, it could be said that conceptual artists-turned-Beatle-wives are also an endangered species, but the world's most famous widow is doing everything she can to ensure she doesn't go gentle into that good night. A steady stream of albums, gigs and public artworks suggest she's determined to be perceived as considerably more than the living embodiment of John Lennon. I'm not sure if doing "Tracks of My Years" on Ken Bruce's morning show, in which a guest chooses two personally meaningful songs a day for a week, will help her in the posterity department, but it was an interesting listen.
There was a common thread in her choices, mostly tracks by women who went through the private-life mincer – Turner, Simone, Garland, Piaf. You have to suspect some personal resonance in the lyric of "Sisters are doing it for themselves" by the Eurythmics and Aretha Franklin: "Now, there was a time /when they used to say/that behind every great man/there had to be a great woman." Lennon would have concurred with that, though not huge swathes of the rest of the population, who have generally treated Ono with bemused hostility. Not that she seems bothered. "If I was so concerned about people's conceptions," she said, "I wouldn't be alive now."
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