Friday, 29 April 2011

TMBG Awareness Day video - Love and Linnellisms and a llama

 Our International TMBG Awareness Day on Tuesday 26th April celebrated the release of 4 advance tracks from They Might Be Giants' long awaited new album "Join Us" for their fans no longer (necessarily) in kindergarten.

I love their successful departure into stuff for kids, of course, not least their last Grammy nominated children's album "Here Comes Science" ("The Bloodmobile" from that album probably comes in my current top twenty TMBG tracks, even as an adult - and it may even be in my 79-year-old mum's top three!), but we are overdue for a fix of grown-up tracks filled with witty, catchy, irresistible genius such as only Messrs Linnell and Flansburgh can furnish to a waiting world.

Fellow fan Kelly Potter, who writes the wonderful blog "My Name is Blue Canary" at
came up with the great idea of asking fans to send her a short 10 second video of their why-I-love-the Johns tribute for inclusion in a compilation to be uploaded to Facebook and YouTube to celebrate the band some of us have enjoyed and been inspired by for nearly three decades. 

Glutted on publicising many serious and worthy "Awareness Days" for every disease, cause and crisis under the sun, including May 12th's upcoming Awareness Day for M.E. (the illness that has currently robbed me of my job, health, and mobility, not to mention the joy of attending concerts by my heroes on their sporadic trips across the Atlantic to these shores), I was determined not to let the occasion pass for a more zany, celebratory spot of awareness for the sheer joyful, crazy, fun of it. They are overdue for a thankyou. Over the years they have been so generous and gracious with their fans. 

Since discovering them back in 1990 and seeing them in concert then in London, when "Birdhouse" was riding high in the UK charts and they were just two guys with a guitar, an accordion, an unfeasibly large saxophone, a drum machine and some giant stamps as a stage set, the Johns and their music have enhanced most of my adult life in more ways than I can express. Crazy but true.

So I grabbed my own accordion (a purchase inspired, natch, by John Linnell, surely the loveliest man and the greatest songwriter I've been blessed to discover), a toy llama, my signed photo of the two Johns and my digital camera. The sound quality was a bit dodgy but the sincerity was real:

'Hi, my name's Joyce, and when I worked in Bolivia, the Johns sent me this signed photo with the message 'Kiss those llamas for us'. Love you, guys!'

Well, it was 11 seconds, actually, but the last second was only a bit of inane smiling that could be edited out. Looking at the whole video, I don't think I was the only fan to overrun my alloted moment in the spotlight, but I loved everyone else's contributions, as they all obviously came from the heart. They can't touch us for it!

My segment starts at about 3:08.

If you haven't checked out the band, yet, maybe you owe it to yourself to dip your toe into the vast ocean of their genius. You'll soon have some unique reasons all your own to want to wear a prosthetic forehead on your real head or contain a secret smile.

Say I'm the Only (Queen) Bee in Your Bonnet*

Photo of an identical bee from the site

 As the Royal Wedding celebrations drew to a close today (Prince William marrying Kate Middleton), my eyes were drawn to a different kind of royalty altogether. A Queen. One I've never seen before, in spite of a lifetime of nature watching!

This one was a huge, hairy, clumsy, bumbling Queen with a very active social life. But today, she was all alone, not doing the hokey-cokey at a street party!

Hopping away across the concrete patio towards the lawn was a large type of Bumblebee I didn't recognise. No golden stripes. No stripes at all! Just a very large black body, a couple of centimetres long and plump, with a rusty orange/red tail. This Queen was literally hopping, not just crawling as bees normally seem to do.

A bit of hasty Googling revealed it's one of the six common Bumblebees in the UK. Bees are notieceably scarcer these days, particularly the threatened honey bee. But this Bumblebee was alive and well and on the move after hibernation. I found the photo above and several like it, showing my new furry friend to be a Queen of the species Bombus lapidarius (Apis lapidaria), the Red-Tailed Bumblebee.

Only the Queen survives the winter. Maybe she's lucky to have survived at all from a bitter winter like the one we've just had. She must have overwintered under a stone or in a crevice, maybe in my neighbour's garden. She first emerged through the wrought iron gate that separates our plots of land. Now she's off, as the spring sunshine calls her out from her winter quarters, to found a new colony or take over an old one.

First, she'll be loading herself up with pollen from all the spring flowers that are now brightening up the borders, foraging and getting ready. Then she'll start her nest, making a waxy honey pot and filling it with the regurgitated pollen, or honey, as we humans prefer to think of it! She'll keep bringing in more pollen and mix some with nectar to produce what we call "bee bread". 

The workers will be produced from her eggs to develop the colony. Then it's time for the males and new young queens to join the fun and eventually mate to carry on the species. The males will die, leaving the new queen to crawl (or hop!) away to overwinter just like this old lady has been doing. Then her own life and work are at an end.

Apparently, the Red-tailed Bumblebee is quite common in the south of England, and found nationwide except in the north of Scotland. I also spotted a puzzled mention of them on a forum as being seen by someone for the first time in Sheffield, Yorkshire, the next major city to the south west from here, in early May last year.

I feel very privileged to spot this handsome lady on her way to make more of these beautiful bees! It will be interesting to see if the males appear around my borders in the summer.

I may never see this Queen again, but long live her unique loveliness. It'll stay with me forever!

Please leave a comment if you've seen this stunning species too! Thanks!

*Title of this post paraphrased (clumsily!) from the lyrics: "Say I'm the only bee in your bonnet" from the song "Birdhouse in Your Soul" penned by that modest genius John Linnell from the 1990 album "Flood" by my all-time favourite band, They Might Be Giants. Their new album "Join Us" is out on July 19th on Idlewild/Rounder Records, with 4 advance tracks already out this Tuesday April 26th, available on iTunes and at 

Friday, 8 April 2011

Cherry Blossom and Beer-Bellies on Show

Buds in waiting on April 6th...
Waiting no longer on April 8th...
All this, plus a guy actually sitting relaxed with his shirt off having a beer outside the Working Men's Club!

Shhhhh! Folks will start saying it's really Spring!

Birds have been tweeting it for weeks now. It's trending in the trees.

There's a great big silly smiley on the season's face.

Don't waste it for one moment.

Please don't ever forget those who can't see miracles. Or who find it hard to see a reason to look for one.

Blessings to you passing through here today XXX

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Missing a treat?

"Everything glowed with a gleam.
Yet we were looking away" (Thomas Hardy, "The Self Unseeing")

I went out with my camera into the garden today, hoping to capture the technicolour tulips. They've only just begun to flower. At the weekend they were being modest. Slim buds giggling in corners for the wind to nudge and snigger over. Now they're splaying their innermost secrets for the sunshine to smile into!


When I reached the gorse bush at the far end near the shed, I began to snap the blossoms there, too. I cranked up the close-up macro focus...

It was only then I noticed the ladybird...

 We often focus on the showy ones. The ones who demand attention. The loud and the shouty things.

We risk missing the precious tiny things God's put there for us to delight in.

The loss is ours if we do. But we hear the echoes of our Father weeping with disappointment that his treat didn't make our day complete.