Friday, 28 May 2010

The Show Must Go On!

My wife Julia, (@RedJoules ) is a director of the theatre production company Tigz Productions Ltd. Every year they have put on a show in which a young "amateur" cast of singers, dancers and actors gets the opportunity to present a "West End" show. They use professional coaches to train them and use all their professional technical resources to present the show. The term "Amateur" in this context does not do justice to the level of professionalism that is reached. They have to pay 15% of ticket sales to Josef Weinberger for the rights to perform it but this allows them to use material from an established show. The cast are all intending to make this their profession and this is their first foot on the ladder, it gives them a showcase to help them get paid employment and develop their talent.
Unfortunately grants are not forthcoming for this sort of activity and the only source of income is the personal investment of the directors of the company and revenue from ticket sales. It is true that the company would hope to get some marketing benefit as a demonstration of their skills to potential clients but they are really just hoping to break-even.
In the current economic climate, marketing a show of this kind is very difficult. The traditional methods using local news advertising and flyers are extremely expensive and have a very low hit-rate. However the ticket price is very reasonable at £12 (£10 if you mention Twitter!) so it is all about getting as many people in to see the show as possible.
It seems to me that this is the ideal type of activity that Twitter should be able to help with. They just need as many people who can get to Cheltenham on the 3rd, 4th or 5th June as possible know about the show. £10 for a night at the theatre is not a lot to pay individually but the combined effort will mean that the company can continue to provide a showcase for local talent.
As for the show itself – come along and see for yourself. Follow the cast's @TigzOurHouse acount for updates and preshow snippets and have a look at the Website There are loads of photos of previous shows and some Youtube clips too.
Please help by Tweeting about it (use the #TigzOurHouse hashtag) and tell your friends.

Sunday, 18 April 2010

The Political Hive - What can Bees teach us about politics?

At this time of the year beekeepers up and down the land are peering into their hives, checking for signs that the queen is laying properly. There must be enough food to sustain the development of the colony and there must be enough room for the colony to expand to build a foraging force to exploit nectar and pollen provided by the local flowers and trees.
We are approaching the "Swarming" season. This is when the colony decides whether they are happy with the performance of the current queen and that there is enough resource available to continue in the current hive. If they decide it is time for a change then the Beekeeper will see the signs. The worker bees will start creating special cells in which to raise new queens. They will select day-old larvae to populate the cells and feed and nurture these larvae with special hormones and "royal jelly". In a couple of weeks the new queen will hatch out. The existing queen will have left the hive with all the foraging force of flying bees. This is the "swarm" which will have already selected a suitable new location in which to live and a new colony will be established.
So what has all this got to do with politics? Well...
We are in the midst of an election, we as a nation are deciding whether our current leaders are fit for purpose and whether there is sufficient resourse available to continue in the current "hive" or whether it is time for a change. This is a decision which we make collectively for the good of the colony as a whole although most of us will have personal considerations to take into account. We are not bees so we are not constrained by the ruthless logic imposed by our biology and the thought process is probably a great deal more complex than that of the humble bee.
However if we look at this from the persepective of the Beekeeper things start to get more interesting. You might think that the best way of ensuring a good honey crop is to have as big a hive as possible, economies of scale, more bees mean more honey. Up to a point this is true. The problems start when the hive gets too big to manage. A smaller hive can be quickly looked through every couple of weeks to check all is well. The bigger it gets, the bigger the task of managing it. Hives are made up of individual boxes of matching sizes made to a standard pattern and years of experience, experimentation and developement have provided us with two or three basic manageble hive types. At some point you need to split the hive into two to bring it back to manageable proportions. No beekeeper would want to have all his bees in just one hive. If something goes wrong his entire "apiary" is at risk. Of course one could imagine all kinds of technical innovations that may assist the beekeeper in ensuring that his one hive doesnt fail. He could set up cameras, heat detectors, inspect every day, record every movement and run statistical analysis in a laborotary environment. All of this is possible but hugely expensive and completely unnceccessary. Bees can do quite a good job of managing themselves so long as their colonies are not allowed to get too big. The wise beekeeper tries to manage the colonies in tune with the natural behaviour of the bees. It is in the bees best interest to build strong colonies and work efficiently, they do this with very little need of encouragement. If there are signs of disease then they can be treated. If a colony is clearly struggling it can be combined with another or frames of stores can be taken from strong hives and given to those with not enough.
It is important to note that bees manage themselves so well because they have a supremely efficient communication system and each bee takes responsibility for their allotted tasks.
Our political system has evolved over the years to favour central management of a monolithic state machine. The assumption has always been that economies of scale will lead to value for money and efficient government. The only reason this may have been true in the past is because we have not had anything like the same level and sophistication of communication that we have today. When the mechanics of decision making are supported by very slow and unwieldly processes you need to keep the physical distances between the parties in those conversations as small as possible. Therefore it makes sense to build huge office buildings and and huge organisations that can afford to run those buildings. The task of managing this is enormous and demands huge resourses just to keep the process running. The management overhead has now got to the point where it is unsusstainable and as with the beehive is actually becoming completely unnecessary.
In the coming election I will be looking at those candidates who genuinely have a desire to start making some radical changes to the way the government runs things. The collapse of the banks has given us all the wake-up call that allowing big business to get "too big to fail" is not a good idea. Global warming is telling us that we have very little time left to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels. The growth of the internet and development of highly sophisticated technical means of realtime communication is capable of giving us the way out or our current troubles. So long as the government can manage not to sabotage it with ill-informed interference. So long as self-interested big business can be persuaded not to exploit and trivialize it for their own ends and so long as genuine criminal elements can be persuaded to stop sabotaging it. We as a society must start communicating with eachother properly with a view to rebuilding our local community spirit. We need to allow people to feel responsible and proud of the part they are individually playing in building the future. We need to give small businesses the facillities to provide long-term susstainable employment to their local communities. Of course the term "local" is no longer necessarily tied to its geographical sense. The new communities can contain valuable contributing members from anywhere in the world.
So in my view, the bees can teach us that the way to prosperity is through small scale local responsibility. We build to manageable sizes and then split to form the basis of new enterprises and just keep communicating with eachother.

Friday, 19 March 2010

Armchair Beekeepers Wanted!

Adopt a Beehive fundraising campaign launched to save our honey bees

The British Beekeepers Association (BBKA) today (March 19) announced its response to the widespread public concern over the country’s disappearing honey bees, by launching Adopt a Beehive – the first public fundraising campaign in its 136-year history. Sponsored by the Saga Group and supported also by Michelin-starred chef Raymond Blanc, the new campaign is aimed at the many thousands of people who are concerned over the appalling loss of honey bees , but who are unable to have a hive themselves. Martin Smith, BBKA President, said: ”Adopt a Beehive is the way people can do something to help the plight of the honey bee and support the charitable aims of the BBKA.

“They can be confident that their donation to the campaign will be making a direct contribution towards funding applied bee health research and training beekeepers – the vital measures needed to ensure our honey bees survive.”
Raymond Blanc, Michelin- starred chef, said: “I like to cook with the finest fresh locally sourced fruit and vegetables and I know just how important honey bees are in pollinating them. “We cannot take it for granted that the bees will always be buzzing around; we have to keep them healthy. If they disappear it will be a recipe for disaster. “We can all help by planting pollen and nectar rich plants and trees and of course giving money to fund research into why they are dying. “The Adopt a Beehive campaign will help. Remember, without bees, there may be no Apple Tart Maman Blanc… and no more honey for tea.” Investment in bee health research will be directed into tackling the effects of the varroa mite, endemic in UK colonies since 1992 , viruses and infections, work on queen rearing, honey bee genetics and bee husbandry as well as considering the effects of pesticides, bio-security and habitat loss. The BBKA recently announced £36,000 funding for post doctoral research into the genetic basis of hygienic behaviour (self cleansing) in honey bees at Sussex University.
Another beneficiary of campaign funding will be the BBKA’s new three year education programme to ensure that the nation’s beekeepers are up to the new challenges they face.

Martin Smith, BBKA President, continued: “Our honey bees have to stay healthy, research must continue into why they are dying, and we have to make facilities and materials available to ensure that British beekeepers are the best informed and trained in the world. This is the recipe for successful beekeeping.”

“Saga’s generous sponsorship has allowed us to set up Adopt a Beehive . Its millions of customers care deeply about the environment and the role honey bees play in it and we welcome their support.”

Andrew Goodsell, the Executive Chairman of Saga, said:"I am delighted that Saga has been able to help create the Adopt a Beehive campaign. Many people are deeply concerned about the environmental and other problems facing the honey bee. This scheme enables people who do not have time to keep bees personally to play an active part in helping to saving the British bee."
To Adopt a Beehive for a year costs £29.50 and each person will receive a welcome pack including a jar of British honey or a jar of honey mustard, a fridge magnet, a wooden honey dipper, postcards, facts sheet and certificate. The seasonal newsletter will provide a link to the hives of a network of beekeepers from around the UK and the latest news of bee health research. To sign up for Adopt a Beehive visit and meet the colony of 14 beekeepers whose progress can be followed online.

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Its a Matter of Attitude

The society which scorns excellence
in plumbing as a humble activity and
tolerates shoddiness in philosophy
because it is an exalted activity
will have neither good plumbing nor good philosophy ...
neither its pipes nor its theories will hold water.

John W. Gardner