As the weather starts to warm up, the hives are starting to wake up. Each bee knows what to do. The queens are starting to lay eggs. The few new young workers are keeping the hive tidy and the others are out foraging for pollen and nectar when the sun gets up and it’s not too cold or wet to go outside.
Yet, as a society, most of us are in the equivalent of October or November, going into hibernation – or as we call it “self-isolation”. The bees don’t know that. They can’t get our kind of virus (though they have plenty of their own to contend with).
However, just as in the beehive, there are those workers who are stretched to the max. The health workers. The supermarket delivery folk. The engineers working out novel ways to make vital equipment with 3D printers. Those lucky enough to have a job where they can work from home.
But for many (particularly those over 70), the next few months might become lonely and frustrating. As humans, we all have an innate need to serve society and be useful. I’ve just volunteered to the UK’s National Health Service – but the system itself is just not designed to take on a flood of volunteers. The old systems can’t cope with taking on a flood of volunteers. There are too many rules and the processes are too slow.
The bees don’t work like that. If something needs doing, it gets done. As a bee goes through life and picks up new skills, it applies those skills to the job in front of it. They are a complex society driven by a much simpler and more effective set of rules than the way we are organised in our so-called modern global economy. I’m going to be writing about my thoughts on this in the coming weeks.
Additionally, next week, at 17.00 GMT every day, I’m running a half-hour Zoom call to swap ideas on effective volunteering in the lock-down. Spaces are limited. Please like or comment below if you want an invitation.
We met twice in 2019. Lunch boxes at the Embassy. He was once a beekeeper. We had fascinating and ranging discussions, All listened into by unknown ears From a foreign country. Last time I saw him was in court After they arrested him. Now he’s in Belmarsh Prison. We pray for him every day.
As a New Year’s Resolution, I’ve decided to re-join the local writing circle. This week’s exercise is a short story in 55 words. This is my contribution
Last Sunday, I took my friend Sam to visit my bees. He has been trying to keep bees for three years – but to no avail. The last swarm that I gave him on his birthday two years died off the first winter he had them.
And so it was, I was completely charmed that, on Tuesday morning, he rang me to say that a swarm had gathered on the window of his office – exactly above the desk he works at! We set about to catch them later that day – and yesterday we installed the swarm in one of his new hives not so many miles from here. I’m sure the bees will stay with him now.
This evening, I came across a beautiful piece by Tolstoy about the ultimate purpose of the honeybee – which I thought I would share with you.
It has been a magical and charmed week and the honeybees have truly touched my friend, Sam and me with this amazing encounter. Long may the honeybees swarm into people’s lives as they did for me so many years ago.
“As the sun and each atom of ether is a sphere complete in itself, and yet at the same time only a part of a whole too immense for man to comprehend, so each individual has within himself his own aims and yet has them to serve a general purpose incomprehensible to man.
A bee settling on a flower has stung a child. And the child is afraid of bees and declares that bees exist to sting people.
A poet admires the bee sucking from the chalice of a flower and says it exists to suck the fragrance of flowers.
A beekeeper, seeing the bee collect pollen from flowers and carry it to the hive, says that it exists to gather honey.
Another beekeeper who has studied the life of the hive more closely says that the bee gathers pollen dust to feed the young bees and rear a queen, and that it exists to perpetuate its race.
A botanist notices that the bee flying with the pollen of a male flower to a pistil fertilizes the latter, and sees in this the purpose of the bee’s existence.
Another, observing the migration of plants, notices that the bee helps in this work, and may say that in this lies the purpose of the bee.
But the ultimate purpose of the bee is not exhausted by the first, the second, or any of the processes the human mind can discern.
The higher the human intellect rises in the discovery of these purposes, the more obvious it becomes, that the ultimate purpose is beyond our comprehension.
All that is accessible to man is the relation of the life of the bee to other manifestations of life. And so it is with the purpose of historic characters and nations.”
Extracted rom Leo Tolstoy’s War & Peace: Chapter IV
This week three events happened that highlighted to me that the way that the world owns, controls and governs the 7bn people on the planet is under extreme pressure. Yet signs that the new world is responding in sensible and more conscious ways are encouraging.
As the old-world sovereign-states governments try to balance their own budgets and wrestle with their own, unique, local problems, multinational companies increasingly put two fingers up to them to avoid paying corporation tax. Apple is a good example which, this week, apparently saved over $9bn in tax with a “bond manouever”. If you were Tim Cook, you’d probably have done the same. Yet the countries that need the tax revenue to help get themselves out of the debt that they have are being out-manouevered by the multinational tax avoidance network that serve the corporate giants that belong to no country and are accountable to, well, their shareholders, of course. Big companies seem to get it all their own way.
In the middle east, even after all the investigations over the justification of the Gulf War and whether or not Saddam Hussein did or did not have weapons of mass destruction, we are fed confusing news that civilians are being sprayed with nerve gas in Syria – and that West military intervention is, once again, becoming more intellectually justifiable. Soil samples have degraded and there is not enough evidence for going to war. So we have to wait.
Yet there are interesting counter-pressures. As a beekeeper, I have been keenly following developments on the EU which, this week, voted for a two-year restrictions on the nerve-agent pesticides (called neonicotinoids) blamed for the dramatic decline global bee populations. The EU decided on a narrow majority of 15/27 votes. The UK was one of eight countries that voted against the ban in spite of a petition signed by 300,000 people presented to Downing Street last week by fashion designers Vivienne Westwood and Katharine Hamnett. The Independent has also campaigned to save Britain’s bee population. The British government’s choice to vote against the ban was based on the fact that “there was not enough evidence” that bees were being affected – and that the samples in various tests had been contaminated. The uncanny similarity between degraded soil samples from Syria and contaminated samples that voided tests for the bees made me think: how convenient! How convenient it is for a government or a leader to ignore evidence when “tests are inconclusive” or when the “evidence is not clear”. No decision is better than a decision that you could be held accountable for!
However, we beekeepers must thank the internet protest networks – led by Avaaz.org – who managed to get enough support in countries (other than the UK) to swing the vote against the vested interests of Bayer and others who have, until now dominated the decisions taken in our food chain – from the seeds we plant, the agricultural methods we adopt through to the quality of foods we eat.
The bees have a short respite and Avaaz is now pursuing the real Dark Lord in the battle for Mother Earth. Go on. Vote. It can only help a growing wave of public opinion to counter the madness of global corporate arrogance that they are accountable to no one.
I believe that there is hope for us all with this new type of democracy emerging. The vote to ban neonicotinoids was a turning point for me. It would appear that these online campaigns really are starting to get policy makers in multinationals to think again and change their minds. They have a new body that they need to recognise – and a protest can come from nowhere and expose issues is uncontrollable ways. PR companies and even newspapers are becoming less and less effective in this new world of informed internet politics and political activism. Even governments must be encouraged as it gives them a new reason to act, not just sit on the fence because “there is no evidence”. After all, most of them want to get voted back into power.
Interested to know what you think – please do leave a comment below.
The older I get, the more I believe in coincidences. And one of the strange coincidences that I have recently discovered is that there are a set of stories that are told in slightly different forms all around the world – as if they all had their roots in one story told many thousands of years ago. A fine example is the Story of the Broken Pot:
Once upon a time there lived a woman called Truhana. Not being very rich, she had to go yearly to the market to sell honey, the precious product of her hive.
Along the road she went, carrying the jar of honey upon her head, calculating as she walked the money she would get for the honey. “First”, she thought, “I will sell it, and buy eggs. The eggs I shall set under my fat brown hens, and in time there will be plenty of little chicks. These, in turn, will become chickens, and from the sale of these, lambs could be bought.”
Truhana then began to imagine how she could become richer than her neighbors, and look forward to marrying well her sons and daughters.
Trudging along, in the hot sun, she could see her fine sons and daughters-in-law, and how the people would say that it was remarkable how rich she had become, who was once so poverty-stricken.
Under the influence of these pleasurable thoughts, she began to laugh heartily, and preen herself, when, suddenly, striking the jar with her hand, it fell from her head, and smashed on the ground. The honey became a sticky mess upon the ground.
Seeing this, she was cast down as she had been excited, on seeing all her dreams lost for illusion.
Idres Shah in his book “World Tales” (which is where this story came from) notes:
“The tale is called a number of things like – “The Girl and the Pitcher of Milk”. Professor Max muller remarks how the tale has survived the rise and fall of empires and the change of languages, and the perishing of works of art. He stresses the attraction whereby “this simple children’s tale should have lived on and maintained its place of honor and its undisputed sway in every schoolroom of the East and every nursery of the West.”
“In the Eastern versions, it is always a man who is the fantasist and whose hopes come to grief: in the West it is almost always a woman. The man generally imagines that he will marry and have a son, while the woman tends to think of riches and marriage.”
And so it was, last week, I was visiting Telefonica’s incubator (which they call an Academy) in London. There are 19 startups (or eggs) being hatched – each into what will hopefully be new chickens. However, given the statistic that over 65% of companies fail in their first two years, I could not but think the question as to which ones might be successful, and which ones not. Which ones would hatch and which ones would be eaten before hatching? Talking to the head guy there, he said that it was surprising that some of the start-ups that showed no hope four months ago are now doing really well – and others that showed great potential have somehow stumbled. Each of the eggs will be moved out from the Academy at the end of March – and I wish them all the best of luck in moving from the egg stage to the chicken stage!
Oh, and just to round off this Thursday Thought, I visited my own beehives on Monday to give them some sugar cake food. All was well – each of the six hives had bees! I just hope they will all survive through February and March. No honey in the pot yet, but I still dream that their stories will make me rich and famous one day!
I am going to be exploring the power coincidence in a lot more detail in the coming months. If you are on Twitter you can read the regular tweets and observations on coincidence and business by following my new Tweet stream @coinmark.
Story from: “World Tales” collected by Idries Shah published by the Octagon Press 1991 – page 27
Picture – Copyright iStockPhoto – I bought it and if you want to use it you should buy it too!
I took part of the afternoon off yesterday to sort out a friend’s beehive. He had started keeping bees earlier this year, having been given a new hive by his parents for his birthday. After two inspections he called for help for me to take them away. The bees had stung him so badly that he had dramatic side-effects. Last weekend, I took a new hive over and yesterday I went to put the bees into my hive. The bees were one of the most aggressive colonies I have ever opened – and it became clear that they were not the best colony for a beginner beekeeper to start with.
It got me thinking of a few visits that I have recently done to business incubators and business colonies around the country in the past few months.
The first was in London, near Kings Cross at the Centre for Creative Collaboration (C4CC). My good friend, Brian Condon, has just started a new phase of development by taking on a full-time role running the place. The C4CC is based near Kings Cross and funded by various parts of the University of London. The way that the centre attracts projects and develops ideas is outstanding. A particular success has been Pavegen – which creates paving slabs that generate electricity from footsteps. They started with the founder and a desk in C4CC two years ago and have now moved out to a local office employing about 30 people.
The second example was in Edinburgh, where I was shown around a new venture called “The Tech Cube” . The building used to be the home of the The Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies until last year when the School moved to new purpose-built facility 7 miles to the south. The vision for the Tech Cube was impressive – though the building was still under refurbishment. What was interesting was the link between the Tech Cube and the University – with the idea of taking some of the young ideas that will be incubated on the top three floors of the Appleton Tower (part of the Informatics Department) about half a mile away and then to commercialise them further in the Cube. Again – a strong link between University and the commercial sector seems to be the trend.
I was also lucky enough to be shown around O2’s new Business Academy in London – part of a network of accelerators owned by Telefonica under the brand name “Wayra“. 19 start-ups in London (from a total of 171 worldwide) are each given about £40,000 as a loan by Telefonica to catapult them to the next level. They each spend 9 months in the accelerator in a cube on the edge of the building bounded by corner-less walls of black that can be written on by passers by.
There is an interesting map emerging – which is summarised on the TechBritain website:
All this got me thinking what the similarities were between my apiary and the successful custodianship of these new businesses accelerators / incubators around the country:
Projects and/or businesses are bounded physically (like a hive is within an apiary)
Each project has a leader. Some are more successful than others – depending on the leadership qualities of the boss (queen bee)
The organism depends on cross-fertilisation of ideas between the various colonies (a role performed by the drone in the bee world)
The workers of each project (hive) collect ideas (pollen and nectar) and enrich their organisation
Some incubators (like C4CC) have private rooms that projects can keep their Intellectual Property (honey stores) from the competition
Each building (apiary) needs a good leader (beekeeper) to ensure the right treatment is given to each project (hive) to ensure they flourish and survive
Each business (hive) has a different path, a different energy, a different future. Predicting which ones will win and which ones will fail can be difficult! Just as with bee hives.
Colonies of Artists are not a new thing (see previous post on the Cranbrook Colony. However, with all the mergers, acquisitions, outsourcing, offshoring and MBA-ification of our business fabric, I somehow think that the only way we can get the UK back on its feet is to get back to the level of the hive and re-learn the art of business within a colony, or business apiary.
This is backed-up by thinking from the Futurist, Thomas Frey, in his analysis of the future of work and how business colonies will become a growing force in the future of how work works.
This weekend I will move the hive from my friend’s garden to my out-apiary where I will have to decide what to do with it in the spring. Some colonies are just too angry for an amateur beekeeper to want to keep. Below is a rather quaint scene from the French Alps of an apiary that has probably not changed for a hundred years or more:
However, on the up-side, they are often one the most profitable hives for producing excess honey. After this appalling year of honey production, I might well encourage them to flourish next year. The again, it might be good to encourage them to swarm – so I lose the queen that produces such aggressive daughters. As in beekeeping, so as in Wayra’s motto: “The rules are not yet written!”
We caught the first swarm of bees for this season on Monday night. It was 18ft up in a bush in a nearby village – very late in the season for the first swarm because of all of the wet weather we have had in April. I had to use an extension to my long pole (used for painting) to get the box up high enough. Luckily Dennis (whose garden it was) had an additional 3 poles which I used both to extend my pole as well as get the smoker up there with a further two! Very Heath Robinson!
The photo looks as though I am trying to catch the sun!
Here is a close-up of the contraption holding the box that I caught the swarm in – the sun was a bit out of reach!
Having inspected the hives on the previous Saturday, the hive called Faith is still very weak from over-wintering and I somehow doubt will survive – as I have now tried to re-queen her twice. We therefore decided to call this swarm Hope to keep the spirit of our three first hives that we started back in 2004 – Faith, Hope and Charity. The original Hope and Charity hives died off in 2005/06, but Faith has kept going since then and has produced some of the finest honey-crops.
Oh – and it was luck that the place that we caught the hive in started with an H – so we stuck to the Bee Law of naming the hives from the first letter of the place that they were caught!
Hence we are losing Faith (although not all is lost) and we are gaining Hope! Not a bad place to bee!