Hornets and a Wasp

I’ve posted quite a lot about the number of strange (to us) creatures we’ve seen since we’ve been living in the Mayenne and it’s been a fantastic experience  observing the French flora and fauna but – as with most pleasures – there’s a downside…

According to one of our future neighbours, the west of France has a major wasp problem.

Although I can’t find anything to confirm this on the interwebs, anecdotal evidence here seems to confirm it, with another of our future neighbours regularly complaining about the effect they have on his bees. He has several hives and his honey production is suffering.

But it’s not only the wasps, it’s the hornets – les frelons. This is a new word in my French vocabulary and one I wish I didn’t know.

Whilst wasps don’t really bother me – live and let live, plus they kill garden pests – hornets are a different matter.

They seem bolder and more inquisitive than wasps and they also pack a very painful sting and although I’m quite a peaceful soul as regards pests (flies, mosquitoes and rats are fair game but I can tolerate most other creatures around me) hornets are rapidly becoming a nuisance and are now dealt with accordingly.

However, whilst a simple whack with a fly swat can at least stun a wasp long enough for you to really lamp the bugger with a handy shoe or other weighty object, should the need arise, it takes more than a swipe with the swat to bring down a hornet.

Jesus Christ, they’re tough bastards!

We recently bought a spray which seemed to be the most lethal on the market and specifically for guepes (wasps) and frelons.

Wasps don’t stand a fucking chance! It kills them immediately – and I’ve even used it on a nest which is now wasp Chernobyl. Hornets are a different matter though.

I trapped a hornet in between a window and a shutter at about 11 o’clock last night, gave the gap a good spray very quickly and left the pesticide to do its stuff.

When I opened the shutter to get the dead hornet out, sure enough, there it was on the floor…but it wasn’t dead…

It lay there, visibly twitching – untill I twatted the bugger with one of my steel toecapped work boots. It was one dead motherfucker then.

Although I can’t find anything recent about a plague of hornets in France, I did find this from 2007:

The French honey industry is under threat from hordes of bee-massacring oriental hornets, the Daily Telegraph reports.

The forests of Aquitaine, in south-west France, now play host to swarms of the the Asian Hornet, Vespa velutina, which is believed to have arrived there “from the Far East in a consignment of Chinese pottery in late 2004”.

Entomogist Jean Haxaire, who first eyeballed the invaders, said: “Their spread across French territory has been like lightning.”

Haxaire said he’s now counted 85 “football-shaped” nests across the 40 miles which separate the towns of Marmande and Podensac “in the Lot et Garonne department where the hornets were first spotted”.

The Asian Hornet can cause some serious damage to a human, “inflicting a bite which has been compared to a hot nail entering the body”. But that’s not the principal threat they pose. They can decimate a nest of 30,000 bees “in a couple of hours” in search of larvae on which to feed their young. This, unsurprisingly, gives local beekeepers serious cause for alarm.

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Co-incidentally, another bunch of fucking pests, the EDP, seem to have lost a Wasp they’d rather have liked to have kept. Paul Sackey now plays for Toulon in France. This may well be old news, but it’s new to me. Sackey is one – perhaps the only one – of the party’s celebrity endorsers. I wonder how the party feels about him playing in France? Actually, scrap that – I really don’t give a flying fuck.

From Kim Philby to Brian Clough

Another three books from the stash have just bitten the dust:

Tim Powers – Declare

I’ve read Powers before, but not for quite a while and my memory of that is somewhat hazy, so I came to this book without any particular expectations. I used to be a huge fan of SF and fantasy, but the genres seem to have disappeared up their own arses of late – fortunately ‘Declare’ doesn’t disappoint.

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A strange blend of 1960s Cold War spy thriller (think le Carre) and updated Dennis Wheatley occult potboiler with a very slight hint of Indiana Jones, ‘Declare’ has a very original plot. Double agent Kim Philby seems a strange figure to have as one of the main characters, but his presence is essential to the plot and, as the author explains in the afterword, the novel is an attempt to tie together many of the documented events of his life with Powers’ central premise – that Arabian djinns (genies) exist and have a great influence over human affairs. Philby’s fate and the existence of a particular ‘guardian’ djinn are entwined in the continuation of the USSR as a major communist power. Powers’ novel explores this relationship and the attempts that are made by the UK and US to bring about the collapse of communism by attacking the djinn.

Having very little prior knowledge of spying operations over the periods of World War II and the Cold War was no barrier to my enjoyment of the novel. In fact, it really piqued my interest and made me want to read more about the subject.

As for the supernatural element, Powers avoids the usual ‘monster’ rubbish and has the djinns forming organically from their surroundings. Their aversion to and preference for certain geometric and mineral/chemical conditions is portrayed in a highly original way.

One small minus point – Philby’s stuttering got very tedious after a while, making his words difficult to read. It may have been realistic but it really got rather annoying.

Highly recommended – well-written and offering a totally new slant on the occult thriller.

Scott G Mariani – Uprising

I’m a sucker (geddit?) for vampire stories but this one sucks, unfortunately.

I suppose that if vampires were around today and wanted to operate undercover in order to establish some sort of stable co-existence with human beings in the 21st century then an organization like the VIA (Vampire Intelligence Agency – I shit thee not) might be set up, but I personally found the concept – not to mention the TLA – laughable.

Yes, vampires can be credibly updated and turned into characters with whom the audience can sympathise (or even empathise) – and I’m not including romantic Goth crap like ‘Twilight’ and its many clones. Authors like Mick Farren, Stephen King, Jasper Kent and Charlie Huston have shown that vampires can be portrayed in an highly effective way without resorting to stereotypes or clumsy attempts to bring them into modern day life.

The characters are crudely drawn and although Mariani is attempting to take his writing out of the sub-Da Vinci Code plots that have featured in his past novels, he hasn’t improved as an author. Still, for all that, another ultimately unsatisfying but readable book for those desiring a non-taxing vampire novel. And that’s the problem – with few exceptions (Twilight!), any vampire novel is a good vampire novel…

Ian Mortimer – The Time Traveller’s Guide to Medieval England

I’m also partial to a bit of history and the Medieval period is one of the more interesting aspects for me. Mortimer attempts to make you imagine what it’s actually like to live in England in the Middle Ages and covers all aspects of everyday life, from how you dealt with going to the toilet, through having an anal fistula operated on, to what would happen if you stole a chicken. It seems well-researched and it held my interest throughout.

I really liked the way he portrayed Medieval life in all its sometimes squalid glory, but tried not to judge it in terms of how much we’ve progressed today. People then did the best they could with the sometimes limited resources available. Yes, hygiene was sometimes lacking, but with no scientific theory of germs people still tried to keep themselves and their surroundings as clean as they could. Under the circumstances they seemed to do very well.

It’s one of those books that sometimes makes you want to pause and ask those around you, ‘Did you know that…?’ as the many fascinating facts emerge through the course of the book. Resist the impulse though, it’s bloody annoying…

In summary,a very laudable attempt to make history interesting, without dumbing it down. Plus it’s real history, and not some lunatic fringe attempt to pass off personal theory as documented fact – an all too common practice today with books revealing amazing and hitherto unknown revelations such as Jesus is actually buried in a secret chamber under the Sphinx and other half-baked fuckery.  

Bonus review:

The Damned United – not the David Peace book, which I must read now – but the film (BBC2 – BBC Films season) of the book; the story of Brian Clough’s 44 days as manager at Leeds United and the events leading up to and just after it. Michael Sheen was brilliant as Clough with just enough ‘Cloughisms’ and Middlesbrough accent to bring the character across, but without making him into some sort of cartoon or cheap impression.

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I found the character despicable and admirable in equal measure and it was easy to see why he polarised opinion during his life. Ultimately, however, I found myself rooting for Clough, who might have lacked ‘people skills’ but knew what he wanted and – as long as Peter Taylor was with him – knew how to get it, with everyone who went along with him ultimately winning.

Although the film mainly dealt with a trough in Clough’s career – between the twin triumphs of Derby and Notts Forest – you still saw what made him great but also what made him fallible. Essentially, it was his inability to compromise, even when he knew bloody well that what he was going to say or do wasn’t going to make life any easier for himself, let alone everybody else.

Stunning stuff with a great cast, a stand out performance from Sheen and well worth repeat viewings.

Incidentally, ‘Damned’ was followed by a documentary about Clough’s career which not only expanded on Peace’s original story, but also served as confirmation that the film was actually very fair towards Clough.

The best manager England never had?

Well, thinking about English football post-1966, the only person who actually got the job (sort of) and who might have had the charisma, skill and drive to put England back on the road to success was Terry Venables. However, Clough, if chosen after Revie, would have been able to bring far more of these qualities to bear on the job. And when you compare him to the people who actually got the job whilst he was at the height of his powers…

It’s a no-brainer – Clough should have been England manager.

But only with Taylor as his number two…

My favourite albums – 31–40

It’s a race against time to finish this before we up sticks here in the UK and lose internet connectivity for a time, so here’s numbers 31 to 40, hot on the heels of 41 to 50.

#40 Jason & the Scorchers – Lost and Found: Another tough choice, since everything this band does is God-like. However, this album has the amazing ‘White Lies’ which you can see performed live here. Warner E Hodges on guitar and Jason Ringenberg on vocals bring a strange blend of punk and country to the party and what a party this is. If you occasionally like getting shit-faced drunk and then waking up wondering what you did the night before then this may just be the band for you.

#39 Blue Oyster Cult – Spectres: OK, it only has one really well-known song on it – ‘Godzilla’ – but this was the first BOC album I bought so it has a special place in my heart. Rather mellow at times, the sheer range of material impresses, from ballads to straight pop to out and out rockers – and constantly underpinned by the classic line up with the ever-melodic Buck Dharma on guitar. Nice production, too, with lots of overdubs and stereo panning, making it a great ‘headphone’ album. For those who thought that ‘Don’t Fear the Reaper’ is all there is to BOC, think again. This is intelligent heavy metal with more than a whiff of irony. Or is that what they want you to think so that they can get away with being dumb? Whatever, a great band and still making good albums in their fifth decade.

#38 The Tubes – Completion Backwards Principle: All early and mid period Tubes is fine stuff, but this slick yet rocking sixth album from the band is my favourite. It’s consistently good, with Fee Waybill’s combination of schmaltz and stadium rock vocals in fine form and the band sounding heavier than on previous recordings. Female vocalist Re Styles has gone – no great loss – but the rest of the original band is all present and correct. The opening track features Steve Lukather on guest guitar and still figures in their live set. Elsewhere on the album you’ll find the usual Tubes freakshow with ‘Mr Hate’, ‘Sushi Girl’ and ‘Attack of the 50 foot Woman’ the latter of which deals with an aspect of a relationship with such a lady that you wanted to know about but probably wouldn’t dare ask…

#37 Todd Rundgren – Hermit of Mink Hollow: Typical quirky Todd but a tad more consistent than usual. Quite a lot of his great guitar playing with a lovely guitar ‘choir’ on ‘Lucky Guy’. ‘Onomatopoeia’ is silly and fun with daft sound effects and ‘Out of Control’ features some excessive rock guitar. ‘Can We Still be Friends’ is the classic track here and demonstrates his ability to write a beautifully constructed melody with a chord structure to match. File under ‘eccentric genius’.

#36 The Who – Who’s Next: The best track on the album – ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’ – is definitely a desert island disc. Big Townshend guitars, classic Moon and Entwhistle rhythm section and Daltrey’s passionate delivery of lyrics which take a while to really understand (they’re not obvious at all, no matter what many people think) make this one of my favourite songs and performances of all time. The rest of the album’s great too, with ‘Behind Blue Eyes’ and ‘Baba O’Reilly’ getting heavy rotation here. A band at their peak – and no concept album bullshit…I hated ‘Tommy’!

#35 Jeff Beck – Blow by Blow: This was very much a transitional album for one of my favourite guitarists. After showing how rock should be played, Jeff moved on to Fusion with mixed but sometimes breathtakingly wonderful results. ‘Diamond Dust’ and ‘Scatterbrain’ reveal a lyricism and frenzy respectively that he tapped into more effectively than previously and are both exceptions to my theory that about 95% of every Beck track is crap, whilst the rest is pure unobtanium. Here the ratios are more like 50:50 which is good for such an unreliable player. If you can look past the glaring flaws, this album is a real keeper.

#34 The Smiths – The Smiths: Damn…they almost didn’t make it as ‘Hatful of Hollow’ is my absolute favourite but it’s a compilation so isn’t allowed inclusion here under my own rules. However, there’s enough of Morrisey’s jaded vocals and troubled and troubling lyrics and Johnny Marr’s glorious guitar here to make up for it. The rhythm section was just perfect, too – even though overlooked now as the Smiths recede further into rock history. We’ve got real songs here that surprise within a standard rock format and it’s always the songs that are important – take out one element for special attention and it lessens their impact. ‘This Charming Man’ is a stone classic – high life guitar combined with Rusholme reality.

#33 Dan Baird – Songs for the Hearing Impaired: Dan used to be chief vocalist with the Georgia Satellites and on this album he has a really good stab at a Stonesy, Facesy, country type album and largely succeeds. It’s hard not to smile when I hear a lot of this – particularly with a goofy song like ‘I Love You Period’ which deals with schoolboy lust channeled to improve punctuation. Nice gutsy playing on this album too. If you like that Stones/Faces ‘chug’ then Dan is most definitely your man.

#32 Donald Fagen – The Nightfly: Maybe just a little too smooth, this is still a wonderful record that perhaps tries just a tad too hard to be jazzbo cool. The playing is stellar – all those top session men – the songs are jazzy and melodic and Fagen’s voice has that cracked vulnerability in spades here.  It’s possibly one of the most played albums I have and yet I far prefer Steely Dan. Becker adds a sharpness and quirkiness that levens Fagen’s jazz excesses. Duff tracks? None, but overall there’s just a bit of energy lacking. Sometimes you can be just too damned laid back.

#31 Brian Wilson and Van Dyke Parks – Orange Crate Art: I’ve never bathed in warm maple syrup, but this is probably as close as your ears will get to it. Take Brian Wilson’s amazing vocals, add Parks’ idiosyncratic music and lyrics, toss in a bunch of great session players and adjust to taste with a soupcon of Disney. This is what you end up with. ‘Sail Away’ is a great summer song and if you fancy a ‘tropical zone’ in the middle of a cold February, play this track. ‘Hobo Heart’ has some amazing harmony vocals but you don’t find yourself asking where Carl and Al are. An album to relax to and maybe enjoy with a cocktail or two.

Bend over for Beckham

Now here’s a first…I’m going to write about football.

I’m probably one of the least qualified people to discuss football – I don’t even like it – but on this occasion I don’t need to be an expert…

So, David Beckham is on loan to Italian club AC Milan from LA Galaxy in the US.

He likes it at Milan and wants to stay, even though he has much of his 5 year Galaxy contract left to run.

However, the main reason he wants a permanent move is that he sees it as his big chance to get back into the England squad for the 2010 World Cup and playing for Milan – on his present form – will impress the England manager Fabio Capello.

Here’s some of what Beckham has said about the situation, taken from the BBC story here:

“I have expressed my desire to stay,” he said. “Now it’s just down to Milan and Galaxy to come to an agreement.

“I have enjoyed my time here. I knew I would enjoy it but I didn’t expect to enjoy it as much as I have.”

“I’ve expressed my desire to stay here for a while but at the moment I’m still a Galaxy player,” Beckham said.

“I respect the Galaxy and everything they have done for me. They have always been great to me.”

But Beckham added: “I hope they can come to an agreement and it’s down to the clubs now. At this point it’s out of my hands. I’ve said what my feelings are to both clubs.

“To be given the chance again to play at this level at my age is pretty incredible and I’ve enjoyed it so much I would like to continue it. I think people have seen the way I’ve been since playing at this level again.”

“It’s nothing against the MLS and the football over there, because it’s a game that will grow but it will take quite a few years.”

“I’m still confident that will happen eventually, but I want to have a chance of being involved in 2010 and I believe my best chance of doing so is to remain here.”

This prompts me to ask several questions…

Why did he sign a 5 year contract in the first place?

Surely if you sign a contract you should abide by it?

Why should Galaxy release him from the contract?

Why should Beckham expect everyone to help him in his bid for 2010 World Cup glory?

Isn’t there any honour, integrity or testicular fortitude in football today?

In short, shouldn’t the whining little twat just shut the fuck up and get on with earning his grossly inflated salary in the manner to which he agreed when he put his signature on the Galaxy contract?

So, SteveShark says, “Just suck it up, Beckham – you big girl’s blouse!”

No doubt some people will disagree…