Dabbler Diary – The Mining Bees of Troopers Hill

On Christmas Day we walked up to the top of Troopers Hill, which affords a wide view of Bristol’s justly non-famous skyline (my city has many fine features; a skyline is not one of them). Troopers Hill is a small, steep, unusual nature reserve surrounded by urbanity, watched over by a mysterious chimney and home to a population of mining bees, which live in little tunnels rather than hives.

I paused to read a familiar information board, and suddenly noticed that it contained a sentence of quite stunning poetry, a ‘found poem’ to rival even the great telescope poem of Clifton. In prose form it reads: “Tiny mineshafts tunnelled by rare mining bees pepper the bare earth and sparse grassy areas.” But I suggest it would be more properly laid out thus:

Tiny mineshafts
tunnelled by rare mining bees

pepper the bare earth
and sparse
grassy areas.

Allow me to parse. Obviously the first device that strikes the reader is the fiendishly complex pattern of internal rhymes, threaded in overlapping trios: Tiny/mine/mining to open; shafts/sparse/grass to conclude; and, running through the central core, the bravura rare/bare/areas. The stark formality of this AABCABCCB pattern anchors the reader in place and time in a way that the content alone never could.

A second poetic ‘trick’ on display is the extraordinary use of the word ‘pepper’ at the beginning of the second stanza. It’s fair to say the whole balance of the poem tips on this central pivot – and what a word to choose! ‘Pepper’ here is onomatopoeic (the bees ‘pepper’ the hillside with holes as might machine gun bullets) as well as unexpectedly exotic (a dash of spice!); it begs to be ejaculated with exclamation marks. Pepper! Pep!-Per! PEPPER!!!

And from that peak we descend  ­– much as a walker might totter down the hill – via ‘the bare earth’ to the trough of ‘sparse grassy areas’: areas which seem to ‘stretch far away’ in a phrase that more than equals Shelley’s ‘lone and level sands’ for infinite sadness.

I tell you, it wasn’t just the cold wind that caused my eyes to water as we turned for home.


RIP CMJ.  The death of Bill Frindall a few years ago caused me disproportionate upset, considering that, really, I knew little about the man. Eventually I came to realise that Frindall’s death signalled the ending of something I had unconsciously assumed to be permanent. Test Match Special is people talking about the cricket on the radio and it is uniquely impervious to change. Whereas television is continually modernised (camera technology, Hawk-Eye, adverts between overs, players’ haircuts etc), radio cricket exists in a timeless shadow world of eloquent men talking benign arcana against a backdrop of history and statistics. Test Match Special has had some of finest eloquent men you could ever welcome into your home: Henry Blofield and Jonathan Agnew are still with us; Brian Johnston, John Arlott and now Christopher Martin-Jenkins are on the other side. CMJ was the most gentlemanly of the lot; the Nige of Test Match Special, if you like. I really will miss him.


So Jim Davidson has been arrested then. Soon there won’t be a single TV personality from the 1970s or 1980s yet to be hauled in, with reputation instantly trashed, under Operation Yewtree. Given the nature of the evidence, prosecutions seem highly unlikely. This is simply well into witch hunt territory now, surely?


Has ever a television programme gone from great to rubbish so rapidly as Homeland? As soon as we knew Brody really was a terrorist at the end of season one the shark was jumped, and now the poor writers face years of contriving increasingly far-fetched reasons to keep the show on the road. The only question now is whether they can beat 24 for ridiculousness, specifically the bit when Tony Almeida came back from the dead… again!


Why is it that on one’s first day back at work after a holiday one feels like an imposter, and all one’s tasks seem trivial or nonsensical? I think it’s to do with the different roles one has in life. To go from being a father/husband, or mother/wife, with accompanying duties suddenly back to a [insert your job title here] discombobulates and messes with one’s sense of self.


Some Dabbler news for 2013. Susan’s Retroprogressive column is no more! But fear not, she’s moving to Tuesdays, with an exciting new relaunch under a new rubric. Meanwhile, Worm will take over the Saturday slot with a regular supply of surprises and weirdness. We also welcome our new Dabbler Book Club editor Mike Petty into the fold. He’s already chosen the first Book of the Month – so look out for that, plus major Book Club development. Otherwise, it’s pretty much as you were.


Ilfracombe really comes into its own in crap weather. Grey waves smashing against grey rock in biting winter winds. What a strange little town Ilfracombe is (described, queasily, on this site before). As we pushed the double buggy from the coast-edge car park into the main square, a huge pack of dogs came barking frighteningly towards us. A crooked old man with a neon jacket clutching a complicated mega-chain was amidst them, retaining approximate control with gruff commands and wild laughter, his head thrown back. Most but not quite all of the dogs were collies – I counted seventeen but it may have been more (it was like trying to count a swarm of mining bees).

We kept our distance as they passed, then pushed across the town to see Damien Hirst’s already infamous Verity statue. It is not nearly as big or intrusive as the press led one to believe – you have to get close enough to want to see it in order to see it. But it is quite impressive and striking from certain angles. Not bad actually, and certainly not out of place in the weirdness that is Ilfracombe. In the tiny aquarium a spider crab gesticulated angrily at us and a thornback ray popped out of the water to mouth obscenities. Then on the way back to the car, in ominous four o’clock darkness and freezing wind, we found ourselves following a very thin man in a kilt, his bandy legs visibly quivering in the cold. Only later did it occur to me that it was New Year’s Eve; he was dressed for Hogmanay.


We spent New Year in Braunton, where a freakish flood recently trashed half a dozen shops and a pub. Grim for the local business owners, who face tough enough times as it is. Things were better for the Saunton Sands Café, which was so full on the afternoon of New Year’s Day that the staff could barely cope. The wind-blasted car park was packed with cheerful walkers headed for the lone and level sands and dressed as for skiing, sipping from cardboard coffee cups in the weak sun and admiring the recent landslides which have brought the hotel just a teensy bit nearer to the cliff edge.

No doubt the 2012 floods, like the 2012 droughts, will be attributed to climate change and therefore more will be predicted to happen ‘in the future’. Of course there is climate change; to argue otherwise is to argue that the nature of the planet is static and unchanging. It would be madness to do so – almost as mad as suffocating economies with suicidal carbon reduction targets, or ruining beautiful countryside with useless windfarms in the hubristic belief that human action can indeed turn climate into something unchanging. But then humans are mad, and take a long time to come to their senses. Thankfully we seem to be doing so, gradually, or else what is our vision of Britain a century hence? Beautiful views will be as rare as mining bees and as far as the eye can see dead robotic windmills will pepper the bare earth and sparse grassy areas like broken statues in the desert.

Happy New Year!

Dabbler Diary is brought to you by Glengoyne single malt whisky – the Dabbler’s choice.
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15 thoughts on “Dabbler Diary – The Mining Bees of Troopers Hill

  1. johngjobling@googlemail.com'
    January 7, 2013 at 07:56

    Italian restaurants are peppered with pepperers. “Pepper, sir?” and Parmesaners, “Parmesan, sir?” and, by chance, nookyers, “enjoy the nooky, sir?”, well, yes, now you mention it. We knew what she meant and yes, the gnocchi was tasty, but really, these foreigners, no sense of decorum.

    • andrewnixon@blueyonder.co.uk'
      January 7, 2013 at 13:51

      Is that just how Geordie Italians pronounce it though, Malty? Like that footballer in The Fast Show?

      • johngjobling@googlemail.com'
        January 7, 2013 at 16:36

        Famous Geordie Italians No 1, P. Quadrini, started a chain of disco stroke nightclubs ending with the legendary Tuxedo Princess, based on a clapped out British Rail RoRo ferry. Favourite expression ” ‘eya, me old marra, how much you knocka off for cash.”

    • jgslang@gmail.com'
      January 7, 2013 at 19:41

      My food guru (need I really name him?) informed me long years ago that a truly monster pepper grinder is known to the trade as a Rubi. As in the John Bindon of Dominican playboys: Porfirio Rubirosa and his monstrous member. I note that this fact is now included in his wikipedia entry (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Porfirio_Rubirosa) but it woz Meades wot told it. All that said, do those who can still afford to dine out actually encounter such grinders (pun wholly intended) any longer? Dead as yesterday’s black forest gateau, surely.

      • andrewnixon@blueyonder.co.uk'
        January 7, 2013 at 23:33

        Now there speaks a man who divides his time between London and Paris.

        In the period it has taken for the capital’s Black Forest Gateaux to go out of fashion, come back in ironically, come back in post-ironically, come back in as cubes poached in liquid nitrogen, come back in as a savoury starter using offal, and go out again completely, here in the provinces we’ve just worked out it tastes even better if you defrost it first.

        • jgslang@gmail.com'
          January 9, 2013 at 17:24

          And there speaks a man with his finger hard fixed to the pulsing gallimaufry (frozen indeed in liquid nitrogen and permissably consumed only with a purpose-built utensil designed by Chef himself) that is culinary fashion. Multiple rosettes and crossed knives and forks all round.

      • Wormstir@gmail.com'
        January 9, 2013 at 20:43

        Twice recently that I’ve ventured into one of those cheap old school Italian lunchtime places in Soho they’ve still made great ceremony of the Rubirosa, so they’re not just confined to the provinces

  2. Worm
    January 7, 2013 at 10:31

    Thanks for the heads up on the Homelands debacle – I was toying with the idea of beginning to watch it, but won’t now I don’t think. I’m currently embroiled in the convoluted hell’s angel drama, Sons of Anarchy, which isn’t too bad.

    One of the many problems with windfarms is that a farmer installing turbines on his land gets £30,000 per year per turbine in subsidy – which means that there’s an awful lot of farmers who are happy hawking their land to the power companies – £200,000 a year for doing absolutely nothing? I wouldn’t mind a bit of that either if I were a farmer

    • andrewnixon@blueyonder.co.uk'
      January 7, 2013 at 13:52

      We’re on ‘Treme’. it’s no Wire, but it’s not bad.

      Windfarms do appear to be a colossal scam.

      • tobyash@hotmail.com'
        January 7, 2013 at 14:53

        Just finished the second season of Treme. It was a long, hard slog I’m afraid.

        • kathywllms1@gmail.com'
          January 7, 2013 at 17:41

          I managed to stick with the first series of Homeland but with no conviction after about Episode 4. I haven’t bothered with the current series.

          I finished Treme second season too. I was waiting for something to happen.

          On the other hand, so much happens in Breaking Bad that one episode can drain you for the rest of the week.

          • andrewnixon@blueyonder.co.uk'
            January 7, 2013 at 21:26

            True dat, Mary.

    • johngjobling@googlemail.com'
      January 7, 2013 at 16:59

      As most of the land in the Scottish Borders belongs to toffs, the propellers on stalks are erected in large numbers. Soutra, the high point on the A68, south of Edinburgh is awash with the end result of the metro chattering classes efforts. The admiralty grey eyesore can be seen from any point on the Lammermuir hills, setting for the Walter Scott novel, Lucy of the Lammermuirs and subsequent Donizetti Opera, Lucia di Lammermoor. No doubt both Wally and Gaetano will be rotating in their crypts.

      The collective name for the beneficiaries of the public purse, the renewables sector, fails to mention the fact that their whirring gadgets in Scotland have only produced 20% of their projected figures, concocted to unlock the said purse.

  3. davidanddonnacohen@gmail.com'
    January 7, 2013 at 17:00

    Man, don’t y’all have your own television to watch. I, for example, have the first episode of the new season (or “series” as we highbrows call it) of Downton Abbey on my DVR waiting to be watched. That Sir Julian fellow, much like Shakespeare, doancha’no.

  4. joerees08@gmail.com'
    Joey Joe Joe Jr.
    January 7, 2013 at 22:38

    Windfarms are too many too tally!
    cried Brit, O! What a folly!
    But though they abound
    He’s now come around
    And thinks they’re quite pretty, actually.

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