Bees And Feet

So worker bees in hives in Manchester have had tiny chip devices fitted, like mini backpacks, so that their movements can be tracked, recorded and analysed. The project is part of a scheme to track a whole range of animate and inanimate objects in the city to build up a picture of what happens there each day.

The worker bee, of course, is symbolic of Manchester, dating back to days when the city’s cotton mills were compared to ‘hives of activity’ and the workers there to busy bees.

Beyond marvelling at how anyone could fit such a device to a creature as small as a worker bee, the project strikes me as incredibly interesting. Arguably, tracking the daily movements of a simple worker bee isn’t significant at all – most people might be more interested in the queen. But maybe it’s more interesting to know what the ordinary bees, busy in the hive, are up to every day. The queen bee is always at the centre: let’s see what the smaller guys are doing for a change.

Maybe that’s why I blog. I often wonder why on earth anyone would be interested in reading about my goings-on or observations, and half-assume that very few people read what I write. It’s a bit like a phone conversation I had last night, telling a relative that there really was nothing newsworthy to recount, unless he wanted to hear about the homework I had set and marked or the meetings I’d attended. I’m just a drone in a hive, busy about daily chores which mean an awful lot to me but which are quite literally nothing to write (or phone) home about.

I’ve been complaining a bit about a TV programme I’d really been looking forward to watching: Cold Feet. One of my favourite series, returning just as the gloom of Autumn Term routine set in… something to gladden the heart. But after every episode so far, I’ve felt really let down and disappointed. ‘It’s more like Old Feet’, I tweeted, not garnering more than a couple of ‘likes’ but feeling at least that I’d made my point. I just felt as though the Cold Feet writers had run out of steam: the acting was as good as ever, but the plots had faded a bit and just weren’t capturing my imagination like before. As I write, I’m looking forward to Episode 3: last week’s episode ended on the cliffhanger that Adam’s son and Karen and David’s daughter were unexpectedly expecting a baby, introducing a bit of drama, a bit of scandal, and a whole new generation of cold-feeted characters.

Thinking about it, it’s interesting that I felt the series would liven up now there was some drama among the younger characters. Maybe the whole point of the new series is that the dramatic stuff slows down as you get older. The five central characters are just a little bit older than me. Maybe they’re just at that stage – all the real drama lies in their children’s lives, with the occasional memento mori lightning bolt shot through from the generation older again. Maybe it really is a case of Old Feet: a reminder that sliding into that mid-life era brings drama to a halt as the newsworthy slips away. Maybe it’s about enjoying that stability and being grateful for less drama. Maybe what I’m finding frustrating on TV is actually good writing (as well as good acting) – something I could emulate myself.

So the tracking of worker bees – clever and delicate operation as it is – becomes quite significant when you think of it like that. The drones in the hive… busy about their work each day, caught up in a buzzing routine, with nothing much to tell as one day merges into another, days become weeks, weeks become months… honey gets made, the queen is satisfied, the work is done. Their purpose is accomplished and it’s interesting for the rest of us to see that being done. It’s the story of most of our lives. Mission accomplished: nothing to report.

I’m never going to be a queen bee. Nobody is ever going to be particularly interested in following what I do (or say, or write). As I watch the excitement in the lives of the young people I teach, or have taught, I remember that magic of things happening for the first time. The first time you lit the Bunsen burner in double science. The first time you felt you could speak French. The first time you fell in love or felt that someone liked you back. Starting university. Your first job – first home of your own – all the rest. That’s the stuff of drama. That’s what generates a buzz.

But as for us drones in the hive… our movements are just as defining of how the world works. The 19 year olds enjoying Freshers’ Week will be drones one day, and it doesn’t mean they’ll stop being interesting. The media will always worship the queen bee, or the people with shiny new, young feet.

Let’s not ignore the old feet. Let’s not forget about the drones. Let’s read the blogs of nobodies. There’s still a buzz there to report.

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