The Bees by Laline Paull – a book review

A gripping novel about the life of a bee. It’s literally about a bee in a hive of bees, and yet I could not put it down. The snippets of reviews on the cover and inside covers include the legendary Margaret Atwood (author of The Handmaid’s Tale), compares it to Animal Farm, and hint at the ways it discusses our own society. It is definitely as well written and exciting as they all say… but perhaps I missed something, as while I devoured the tale I saw no parallels with our own existence. The characters have incredibly human-like emotions, motivations and actions, but are strongly and undoubtedly apian.

Paull’s understanding of bees is seemingly unending, and I felt not only entertained but educated. The details about the caste-like kin structure of the hive, the ways they communicate, the movement and appearance of their bodies, are so precise and realistic that I almost felt to-scale myself. You might know that all but the drones are male, and that only the queen bee lays eggs, but by the end of this book there will definitely be some facts you’ll be surprised to learn. On the other side of that coin, some facts about bees that are basic knowledge to humans are shocking plot twists; despite knowing exactly what was happening or what secret was being hidden, the tension and the mystery were palpable and thrilling.

The true existence of bees in this novel is not only illuminating, but interesting in thoughts of humanity. It may not hold a mirror to our lives but the gender politics, religiousness and strict social roles have clear messages for us and dystopian tones.

Bees are a strong matriarchy, but the book still shows a reverence for maleness that we also find insidiously hard to avoid. While their ruler and god-head is the obviously female Queen, the drones are all revered, worshipped and waited on hand and foot (or rather, foot and foot, as they’re bees). This revelation about the gender roles in apian society saddened me, if I’m quite honest, but without spoiling the story it has a kind of satisfying twist ending that some might know about.

The structure of society, both the ‘kin’ hierarchy and the connection to the queen, are overtly religious and smack of horrifying, dystopian theocracy. The Queen is immortal, holy and without flaw. Her connection to them is that of a living Goddess, blessing them and being prayed to daily. The female society addressing each other as sister (though, as all were laid by the Queen, they literally are) feels very nun-like, and the highest ranking bees are called Priestesses. While I find the idea of religion being used to create a dystopia dull, as it can be heavy handed and (ironically) preachy, but this is one of the best examples. It doesn’t feel like a “religion is bad and dystopias are caused by religion” lecture, but just one aspect of the terrifying lives of bees and a coincidental truth.

Our protagonist, born to be the lowest class of humble cleaner but destined to ascend that role and achieve greatness, is a very strong dystopia stock character. It’s a well-used and stark mark of a totalitarian society, and strikes everyone with goals with horror. Every single bee has her life’s role, duties and social status decided before birth, pigeon holed into a physically distinguished caste. True to Paull’s gentle touch throughout the book, however, this isn’t portrayed as utterly evil and unbearable. The cleaners are shown to be incapable of the tasks higher roles require, and content to clean as their instinct commands them. Even our chosen one main character, who surprises everyone be being able to talk, make royal jelly, make wax, and forage, finds solace in tidying and camaraderie most in her own kin.

All of the issues presented are simply the way that bees are; this is less a cautionary tale of a twisted, worst-case-scenario than it is a story of a generic society with a corruption problem and a rebel who makes changes. I had that pure reading experience, emotionally invested in the characters, caught up in the narrative and my mind full of images of bees. Whether or not the morals or themes appeal, it’s a great story that happens to have a non-human setting. It’s more than worth the read; it’s worth the accolades and prizes it got and you’re missing out.

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Costume Creativity: Basic Hallowe’en Ideas… But With Some Twists

It’s nearly Hallowe’en, and you haven’t decided on a costume yet. Every year you just lump with a classic costume like ‘generic witch’ or a more cosplay style pop culture reference like a recently deceased celebrity as a zombie. Yawn. But don’t panic! It’s easy to make more of an impact at your Hallowe’en parties with very little cerebral effort (that means thinking) and impress people with one of these twists on the costume classics:

Werewolf:

A monster less popular these days, possibly due to the effort it takes, the lack of realism in many portrayals, or the lesser place of wild animals in our lives. Either way, a werewolf costume is a retro-feeling costume that’s easy to make feel unique.

Were-What?

Not quite as silly as the Wallace and Gromit film “Curse of the Were-Rabbit”, taking the typical werewolf approach to another animal makes a funny twist. Ripped and muddy clothes go well with big, furry, carnivorous animals for an old school scare. A were-rabbit could be scary; give it the creepy full-head mask look for an uncanny creepy feel.

Big Bad

A fairy tale twist on horror, or a horror twist on fairy tales? The wolf in granny’s clothing is easy to be funny, but that was done with high viewership in Shrek. Keep this one dark with blood or even evidence of eating Little Red Riding Hood herself. The other Big Bad Wolf was in the Three Little Pigs, so another scary tale costume can swap red fabric for some bacon…

Ghosts

It feels like a staple, but the simplicity of ghost costumes makes them feel boring. Despite the fact that it’s unlikely anyone you know has every cut eye holes out of a sheet and put it over their head to be a ghost, it’s a stereotype. Put some effort in, or don’t because ghosts aren’t as overplayed as they feel.

Accuracy

Step one: dress up in as accurate a historical costume as you can, be it Victorian or the 80s. Step two: make sure all of the clothes are white, paint your exposed skin white and use temporary hair colour to make your hair white. Boom. You now look like an accurate [into time period here] ghost! It’s high effort, but highly spooky and impressive.

Deadspread

Far less effort and far less spooky is this jokey option. Riffing on the classic bedsheet costume, take a coloured or patterned sheet or even a blanket and cut eyes in it. The deliberate fail of a basic ghost costume that isn’t even plain white is well worth the giggle, and you won’t feel like you wasted time and money if the laughs don’t last all night.

Witches

This classic costume is mostly confined to the ladies. It’s also one of the most common costumes with most of the more basic twists just as common. Characters, including Harry Potter and plain clothes witches like those in Charmed and Sabrina, done. Gothic or punky, making it more of a regular fashion outfit with a pointy hat, done. Good or cute witch, done. Luckily there are some untapped ideas.

Wet-ch

From the Slavic kikimora to the English Jenny Greenteeth, watery witches are a global terror. With a wet-look costume and some culturally specific accessories, such as a kikimora’s bare feet or Jenny’s big pointy teeth, this witch might be hatless but is definitely horrifying. You’ll definitely make a splash at a party, at least.

The Three Graeae

A group costume, yes, but a group costume to rival all others. The Graeae were the trio of witches that Perseus meets in his quest to kill Medusa. They sometimes took the form of hideous old women for those who want to wear fake warts and cloaks, and sometimes the form of beautiful young women, for those who want to sexy it up. Oh, and they only had one eye between them, which they took in turns to use and passed to each other by hand.

Skeleton

Watch out, there’s a spooky, scary skeleton inside you right now! The ever present fear of death not only hangs over us and makes us terrified of our insides, but gives us great amusement in Hallowe’en costumes (and decoration). Maybe it’s that deep down we know that it’s something that exists non-scarily in our everyday lives, or maybe it’s the ridiculousness of unconnected bones managing to stay upright in a human shape.

Muscle Man

While skeleton costumes are easy to make at home, ready made skeleton costumes exist to save you time and artistic effort. Likewise, muscle costumes exist. No, not those padded strongman tops, but another insides horror. Unsettling in a way skeletons can’t be, this probably isn’t safe for children’s parties, or safe from anatomical criticism from any doctors or medical students you might know.

Beast Bones

What’s a little creepier than a human skeleton? An animal skeleton, of course. With some different bone structures to play with, including wings, tails and legs, there’s space for creativity. Most obvious of all, of course, is the skull. Birds have beaks, deer and goats have horns, big cats have big teeth. Swapping the two tone face paint for a strangely shaped mask is a definite costume win.

Seven Surprising Things You Learn Working In a Charity Shop

People Shoplift from Charity Shops

This surprised me the most. The heartlessness of coming into a shop staffed by volunteers, raising money for a charitable cause… and nicking stuff. The pettiness of stealing things that are being sold for a pound. It’s not even like it’s poorer people stealing, either; it seems to be people who could easily afford the items at full retail price.

I walked in for an afternoon shift just as a full rack of jeans was discovered missing. There was just an empty rack, so whoever it was had just picked them all up with no regard for size or style and left with maybe ten pairs of jeans. More experienced staff said those jeans will likely end up on a market stall or on e-bay.

You Find Out All Kinds of Personal Things

Most people are aware that old ladies will happily tell everyone all about their latest surgery, but it turns out that all kinds of people will also happily tell charity shop staff the gory details of their personal lives. Women tell me at the till about their changes in breast size and point out the size of the bras they’re buying. People tell me exactly what reason they’re buying clothes for and exactly what they think of a relative who’s wedding it is.

The most interesting anecdote of all isn’t mine, but a coworker’s as they told me how weird it gets sometimes. An attractively dressed woman with a lot of make up on came in, and looked at revealing clothes and high heels, as she has done since when I’ve been in. This time, apparently, a man came up to her and asked her if she was working. After a moment of her panicked face, she told him to wait outside. Turns out she’s a sex worker. The funny part of the story is that my coworker says she carried on shopping for nearly an hour while the man stood around outside waiting!

People Act As If the Prices are Extortionate

It’s a charity shop. The things are mostly second hand and none of the clothes cost more than a fiver. There are some truly lovely, good quality items that seem to be brand new, and they’re priced higher than used and basic items while still being charity-shop cheap. Someone, people still try to sweet talk themselves discounts or complain about the price.

I helped a woman shorter than me, getting a handbag down off of the wall for her. We chatted about the designer label, the likelihood that it was real leather, and the as-new quality it was in. She took it to the till, but then asked in surprise if the price on the label was right; apparently £14.99 is a shocking price to ask for an as-new bag that is nearly £900 new, and she left without buying anything.

People Donate Brand New, Quality Items…

Having never really had a lot of money in my teens or adult life, I’ve only really given old clothes to younger relatives and more recently sold them on eBay, or binned them if they were too damaged. The things that go to the charity shop are things you don’t need to replace (and thus sell for money towards the replacement) and things that wouldn’t fit a relative. Seeing some of the great clothes and other things we get in the charity shop is a heart-warming reminder that people who are better off do actually donate their possessions rather than share and sell for extra money.

Just as the nearly £900, barely-used designer handbag, I’ve put out, neatened up or sold some items that it really reassures my faith in humanity to find donated. We’ve had brand new items, still in their packets, including mid-range shirts. I can tell many of the books donated to us have never been read, their spines stiff and pages pristine, and one or two even with the unfaded receipt still tucked into the back cover. Much of our nicest non-clothes items are PDSA items such as pet-themed décor, but even that gets donated; I’ve sold a painting and wondered who painted it, who donated such a lovely item.

…and Old, Broken Rubbish

Unfortunately, people also seem to see charity shops as a dump where you get to feel good about yourself, and we get people attempting to ‘donate’ all kinds of rubbish. We don’t take electrical items and things like bike helmets, as it’s near impossible for us to know if they’re in usable condition. We find that clothes are too ripped or that battery items have old, mouldy batteries in them, but that’s a judgement call.

It’s when people try to give us obviously cracked bike helmets that would be dangerous to use, puzzles and multi-piece toys with many pieces missing, or things that are blatantly of no use to anyone that’s most frustrating. I’ve even had to explain that no, we don’t take kitchen cupboard doors with no hinges or handles!

People Have Zero Common Sense

While it is a volunteering role for a charity, it’s also retail work in a high street shop. As such, you get all the same realisations of customer ignorance. There’s something about walking into a shop that makes people forget how to read, use logic and count, and it seems that charity shops are one of the worst for this.

The typical occurrence of people handing you clothes with labels on the top with huge £1 stickers and asking you how much they cost happens, as does people looking at a sign that says “3 items only in the changing room” then asking if the curtained area is a changing room or how many items they can take in. I had to repeatedly explain to a customer that while I personally did not know if the watch she was buying had a battery in it, it had been tested and did work. She walked over to a display while I rung her purchase up on the till, then asked if I had, in that time, tested the watch.

Charity Shops Are a Local Charity, Too

While the point of charity shops are already charities, raising money for animal, medical and international charities, the shops themselves provide a charitable service to the local community. In selling the things people have donated, charity shops are shops selling cheap second hand things that people can afford easier.

A woman came in to buy her kids some holiday clothes, as new clothes for 4 children can get very expensive very quickly. A couple of people come in regular, donating the puzzles they’ve completed and buying up new puzzles to do. In a conversation I had with a customer, I realised he was a homeless man buying an interview suit for less than £10. Working in a charity shop gives you a real insight into their role in the community.

Kimya Dawson, with Little Wings and Your Heart Breaks

The Juno soundtrack, Moldy Peaches and Uncluded singer is back, and her 14th April show at the Islington Assembly Hall was a fantastic “hey, it’s me again!”

The first support act, Clyde from Your Heart Breaks, sang some beautiful songs and showed videos to go with them. Clyde called Kimya onstage for a touching trans themed song, and showcased a section of the stop-motion animation that’s currently in the making.

The second support, Little Wings, was a very beardy singer who had a group of fans in the audience. Continuing the night’s line in beautiful songs, Little Wings sang a Merle Haggard cover and talked about life, death and getting older.

Kimya Dawson opened by opening up; she told us she’d had trouble writing new songs, looked to her previous songs and realised how much she sings about the ocean, before singing us the sea shanty that broke her song-writing dry spell. Her set was a good mix of old and new, and she warned us pretty early on that she intended to make as many people cry as she could.

Her new songs included a present to a friend who is very sick, and had asked people to visualise her growing old and being there as her young daughter grows up. Her older songs included the reaching-out lyrics of Loose Lips and the recovery song Year Ten. If anyone can make your cry with their songs, it’s Kimya Dawson, and she didn’t hold back.

It wasn’t just an emotional night, it was a political one as well. Kimya talked about a major issue close to her heart and very relevant at the moment; police violence and racial injustice. In fact, she left a pointed silence in Same Shit/Complicated where she used to sing “there are some good cops in Madison, Wisconsin”, explaining she has had people quote her lyrics at her as reason to stop criticising the police force as a whole. There was a new song with lyrics about the pain of facing institutional racism and having hope as a black person in the USA.

Seeing Kimya Dawson isn’t just about listening to her music but live, and she shared insight into her life. We heard a cute anecdote about how her daughter had been sleeping behind the merchandise stall, and she updated her age and length of sobriety. I’ve often said being a fan of Kimya Dawson is dual experience, and even with the barrier by the stage it felt like a very intimate gig. She responded to shouts from the audience, including “You’re a goddess!”, staffed her own merchandise stall and made sure she had time to say hello and hug everyone who wanted to afterwards.

If you’ve ever listened to her music, seeing her live is an experience you won’t want to miss. This show didn’t disappoint.

Roast Chickpea Recipe

Many recipes exist for this moreish recipe, all with much higher cooking temperature and with much longer cooking times. Trying those out left with a bowl of charred, flavourless mess… This quicker, less hot version is what got my roast chickpeas perfect. Don’t be afraid to fiddle with the timings and temperature, and get these so delicious you’ll be licking the spoons, bowl and the baking tray!

 

Ingredients

1 can/tin of chickpeas, drained

1 tablespoon of olive oil

1 teaspoon of cumin

1 teaspoon of oregano

½ teaspoon of salt

 

Equipment

Mixing bowl

Baking tray

 

Method

Preheat oven to 180°C

Mix all ingredients together in the mixing bowl

Pour out onto the baking tray, making sure there is one flat layer

Roast in the oven for 15 minutes

Serve and enjoy

Six Versatile Foodstuffs to Stock Your Kitchen With

Potatoes

Yeah, you know; boil em, mash em, stick em in a stew. But as well as making roasties, mash, and boiled potatoes or being the basis of stews, there are some things to make with potatoes you might not have thought of. Cut into wedge or chip shapes it’s easy to oven cook your own chips, or even shallow fry them. Diced, they can be sautéed (quickly fried to you and me) or used in a curry where the spicy flavours cling to them.

Sweet Potatoes

They’re not the same thing, as they’re harder with rougher skin and orange insides, but you can basically treat them exactly the same as potatoes. Swap your regular roasties for sweet potato roasties, mash the two together, or give your spicy potato wedges a visual twist by using sweet potato instead. Anything you do with potatoes you can do with sweet potatoes!

Spinach Leaves

Push aside thoughts of slimy greens, boiled to hell and back again; spinach doesn’t need much cooking… or to be cooked at all! It can be used as an alternative to lettuce or other salad leafs in sandwiches and salads, as it’s perfectly good to eat uncooked. Added as one of the last ingredients, it can fit nicely into most dishes; stir fry it, put it in soups and sauces, or add some to a lasagne or other oven-bake for a little greenery.

Bananas

They’re a good and healthy snack, if you like them, and a great addition to the sweet breakfasts. Chopped or mashed in porridge or cereal, or on toast with something like chocolate spread or peanut butter, they make breakfasty foods more suitable for lunch or tea. They make a good egg substitute in cakes and work wonders added to cakes that get a little dry. The flavour is subtle in cakes; even if you dislike them you might like banana bread, which you can taste them in much more. If you love them you could even roast or grill them like plantain for an even sweeter treat.

Avocado

Yes, they’ve been a trendy superfood recently, and have a ‘posh’ association, but affordability is coming back down and with it the trendiness and poshness. They’re tasty and fresh tasting raw, and can be sliced easier as they reach ripeness and mash easily later on. They’re a traditional part of the ‘tricolour’ Italian flag starter, a salad of sliced avocado, mozzarella and tomato, and work very well mashed on toast. They’re a good way to make Seuss-inspired green scrambled eggs, and the main ingredient of guacamole. Like bananas, they’re even a good egg substitute.

Eggs

On the topic of eggs, they’re one of the original health and versatility superfoods. Cakes, pastry and pancakes use eggs, and they’re a good glaze to put on shop-bought oven pies. Obviously, they can be soft or hard boiled in the shell and fried, poached or scrambled without. Scrambled eggs and omelettes can have literally any ingredient you want to add, to the point when egg is just part of the stir fry or the glue holding everything together.

Easy Origami Popcorn Cone (with photos)

Five very easy steps to make a simple cone that you can use for popcorn, chips or anything you like. There are three ways to do this, making three slightly different looking cones. The bigger the paper, the bigger the cone; this guide uses A4 paper turned portrait and landcape and cut into a square.

Step One:

Fold your paper in half, side to side,  so the fold is on the left.

Step Two:

Fold your paper so the bottom left corner is against the top right corner.

Step Three:

Take the corner of the paper with the original fold at its edge, and fold it over the other part of the paper.

Step Four:

Fold one side of the open corner over the folded end, turn the whole thing over and fold the other side to match.

Step Five:

Open the open side out to reveal a cone.