Suddenly I’m on intimate terms with the bumblebee and its curious, elaborate and occasionally piratical behaviour. I ended the book wanting more about the author and the subject, always a good sign. It has been written at least in part to support Goulson’s work with the Bumblebee Conservation Trust (of which he is the founder) so there are opportunities to do something practical about these animals, many of whose populations are plummeting in the UK.
There is a charming and amusing prologue, but no illustrations at all. This was a disappointment – having read Goulson’s descriptions of the beautiful red bottoms of one type of bumblebee, the golden stripes on another, and the spectacular development of his own personal bumblebee sanctuary, I did want to have a glimpse of them myself. The Trust’s website has a photo gallery though.
Though I must say bumblebees are a difficult camera target. I attempted to capture a photo or two myself, but with their erratic bumbling and zooming, and the intense vibration of their little persons, the images came out as brown fuzz or merely as Picture of a Bumblebee Out of Sight:
In fact, don’t festina at all. The wheel squeaked and galloped with the tensions of the day. Slow down … slow down … slow … down …… slow ……. down ………..
I blanked for long enough to make three, and a blob.
xliv : Get out the teeny weeny buttons
from the teeny weeny button jar, and sew the teeniest weeniest of all onto the wrist strap. Fiddly!
Too much going on: midsummer came before I was aware.
One of the too much has involved impersonating Pickford’s Repository. My wheel spent the winter in a damp and dirty garage. I liberated it with hideous thumps and metallic scrapings. This ancient abused lump of machinery still turns, though with the kick in its gallop even more pronounced.
I scoured corrosion from the wheelhead
the corner of the house was needed to de-rust the potter’s knife
washed my favourite tools
and located a still-malleable lump. Wedging up was enough for tonight.
In the probably erroneous belief that the configuration of your house affects your behaviour in it, I am doing some more of the moving-without-moving thing.
This involves merely moving one lot of stuff out of a cupboard and putting a different lot into it; so why are the hallway, the dining room, and two bedrooms in a state of chaos, with slight involvement of a third?
It had better be worth it.
Luckily my role in this mountain was a minor one.
Neglected in a pot, they still ravish with their form and fragrance.
With the wind rising and rain on the way, I forced aside my reluctance and cut them. Even as they went into the vase, their scent embittered and fell away.
Well, not quite; 303 popes and anti-popes in 452 pages. One can derive a sort of papal history from this train of micro-biographies, but it isn’t serious analytical history. On the other hand, no serious analytical history of the institution could give one the sense of the papacy’s extraordinary instability, partly caused by the volatile politics of Italy for the last 1800 years (on one occasion three popes were simultaneously claiming the Holy See), partly by the lethal nature of the election (a surprising number of popes having died within weeks of their enthronement), and partly by the shocking quality of some of the candidates (one of the chapters being entitled, with praiseworthy restraint, Nicholas I and the Pornocracy).
John Julius Norwich has always been master of the detail which sticks. Here we have Nicholas V avoiding international politics because he said only books and buildings were worth spending money on. Then there is Paul II, ‘said to have thought himself outstandingly good-looking – a view difficult indeed to reconcile with the existing portraits’. And imagine the annoyance of Henry IV of France, who spent 300,000 scudi to get his candidate Leo XI elected, and lost his investment when Leo died a mere 26 days into his papacy.
Occasionally the details are surprising in other ways – who would have thought, for example, that King Canute could have left the remote and backward British Isles to cross Europe and attend the papal coronation of the Holy Roman Emperor Conrad II? Evidently 11th century international communications were more efficient than I had realised.
Of course the remit of any pope was and is an impossible ask for one person, including global political influence, secular power (even in the reduced papal states of latter days) and vast spiritual and cultural responsibilities. Yet sometimes one is cheered by the incursion of a pope who is both a Good Thing and a Good Man: ‘Horace Walpole summed up Benedict [XIV] accurately enough: “A priest without insolence or interest, a prince without favourites, a pope without nephews”. His Roman flock adored him, and when he died on 3 May 1758 the whole city went into mourning.’
Sewing on fourteen buttons with dark cotton under electric light. Party time. Not.