Today I went to Dorchester Agricultural Show, taking my honorary Granddaughter, Keara, and her Mother, Jax. I had a free ticket to get in as I was due to spend all afternoon in the Bee Tent, next to the observation hive, helping people understand what they were looking at.
We got there very early and were able to park only 5 rows back in the parking field. Just inside the entrance was the Food Fair contained in a tent about 100 yards long with many small scale food producers offering samples of their wares in the hope that you’ll buy some. I had been in a rush this morning and had eaten only half my breakfast and so was glad to supplement it. I particularly enjoyed the products of Sturminster Newton based Olives et Al, especially their roast broad beans. Unfortunately the person behind the table didn’t work at their factory and so was unable to reveal their recipe.
Out of one food tent and into another, equally large. There were lots of cheesemongers. There seem, nowadays, to be almost as many cheesemakers as there are micro breweries. Some of the cheeses taste like ‘proper’ cheese did more than half a century ago, before things got so industrialised. One of them (I’ve forgotten their name!) is, I discovered when chatting with the sample-provider, based at Newton St Cyres on the far side of Exeter. I have a friend in that village, David Loo, so I asked whether the chap knows him. Not only does he know him, but he has lots of David’s beekeeping kit, including his extractor, on the premises! He noted my name so he could pass on my greeting.
I called in at the bee tent and learned that the observation hive had been removed as, yesterday, the first day of the show, they had been plagued by lost bees trying to get back to their home via the tent instead of via the tube leading through the canvas. Nevertheless, there was still a job for me, manning an information stand.
I continued my journey round the Show, on my own now, as Jax and Keara had shaken me off. I spent more money than I had intended, buying a pair of trainers and a bag full of continental sausages, and had lots more free nibbles. I picked up a few leaflets for later perusal, mostly on ‘green energy’, cooking equipment and the winter lecture programme of Hardye’s School, returning to the bee tent by 1 o’clock as arranged.
The County Honey Show occupied the centre of the tent and, not being a show off, I glanced at it only briefly. There appeared to be fewer entries than usual. That may be a reflection of the not-very-good year; or perhaps some people had taken their entries home after the first day.
Near the door was a posse of skep makers working away at their craft. I saw, among the completed skeps, one that I made about 30 years ago that has been commandeered by Sally, the Show secretary some years ago. It was the only one there bound with split bramble cane. One of the skepists is keen to try this material as it is free and I explained to him my method.
In the corner was the stand of a firm selling bee-stuff. I noticed that, among their kit, on the ground behind the counter, was one of the distinctive woven carrier bags of Bee Happy Plants, owned and run by my apprentice, Sarah, so I asked about it and I discovered that she is a friend of theirs.
There was a steady stream of people circulating though the tent, more when the rain came on. Among them was a former colleague. He told me that they are undergoing yet another, time wasting and stressful, Review, including having to re-apply for their own jobs. The team to which he belongs, which I used to lead, is relatively untouched but others have been moved around to different jobs for no reason that anybody had adequately been able to explain. I suggested that there ought to be a review of all these reviews as they waste so much time, cause so much stress and achieve so little!
Lots of people seemed interested in taking up beekeeping or offering garden/field space for hives. I suggested that they join the BKA, attend winter meetings in order to improve their knowledge, and also to get to know other beekeepers, go to our annual auction in April to get kitted up and then, maybe, one of the people they have got to know will help them get started. Unfortunately, we don’t yet have a programme of winter meetings! I pointed this out to our Chairman, President etc and so minds are bent in that direction and maybe something will emerge. In the meantime, I have sent Jenny, Secretary and skep maker, my ‘Questions Beginners Ask’ paper so she can pass it on to e-mail enquirers.
One of the passers-by recognised me, asked my name and introduced himself. He is an American millionaire who is gradually buying up a large chunk of West Dorset and farming it. I first met him getting on for 10 years ago when he rang me about some bees at his Manor House, having got my number from a honey jar. Since then our paths have crossed professionally at a Public Inquiry when we were on opposite sides. He now tells me that he has an apiary at the Manor but that the gardener/apiarist is retiring and he’d like somebody to maintain the bees. We swapped cards and will contact each other to arrange a visit and chat. Some of the land he now owns used to be farmed by my Grandparents so it might be good to have a minor stake in that village again.
Mid afternoon, I excused myself and took a stroll, passing by stalls that I hadn’t yet seen. I was hailed from the British Horse Society stand by Carol, a fellow member of the Local Access Forum (LAF). We get on well and have been known to go for a paddle together after a meeting at the seaside! She told me that a lady, whose name I recognise, is up in arms because the Stour Valley Way warden, who has done an excellent job for many years in maintaining this linear tourist attraction, has been switched to grass cutting on roundabouts and verges! This is as a result of the aforementioned Review! I recognised the lady’s name because she is the Chairwoman of the Dorset BKA! I had no idea that she has a finger in the Stour Valley Way (a former railway line, now a promoted walk/cycle way) pie, although it does run within a furlong of her house. I suggested that Carol ask our LAF Chairman to request that the Review be put on the agenda for our next meeting so we can review it!
I returned to the Bee Tent and resumed my activities. Things had slackened off a bit so i had time to scan the leaflets on my stand. Among them was one published by the BBKA for which we were asking people to donate £1 a time, which many did. It was the BBKA Pocket Guide to the Honey Bee. I was perturbed to read on p.19 that “……buttercups are a good source of nectar.” I’ve never seen a bee working buttercups, and neither has Mervyn, the more experienced (40 years) beekeeper next to me! On the same page I read that “sweet peas and honeysuckle are great food sources for the honey bee and other pollinators”.. Other pollinators, maybe, but, again, neither I nor Mervyn have seen bees working them! Who writes and who checks this garbage?<(Since posting this I have heard from Jane Moseley, the BBKA General Secretary, that this will be corrected at the first opportunity! This has been out for over a year and nobody else has picked it up!)
The afternoon was getting late and Jax and Keara reappeared, but, instead of coming over to me, they chatted with Sally, the skepper, who used to be their Housing Officer until involuntarily switched elsewhere in yet another Review! Eventually they came over to me and told me that they had received complaints that I haven't been keeping up with my blog! Jax had also been showing them, and anybody else within reach/sight/earshot photos contained on her portable telephone of me after having had my face painted by my other honorary Granddaughter, Ollie-Lou at her 13th birthday party. Jax had told me that Ollie, almost a teenager, was getting into make-up so I gave her some face paints for a birthday present. I ended up being painted as Father Christmas!