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Gormanston 1999

The amusing experiences of Brian P. Dennis

This article was sent to me by Brian P Dennis in August 2018, 19 years after it was written! This is only a week after we both attended the 2018 summer school. Brian attended two demonstrations I gave on "Colony Inspection and Observation". I'm not sure whether he didn't like the sound of the alternatives, was showing his sense of humour, had forgotten he went to the first one, wanted to see if I made the same mistakes, or any other reason. As an experienced beekeeper I found him very helpful during my demonstrations explaining things to attendees on an individual basis, so I will forgive him.

For those reading this account I must state the food was excellent in 2018. R.P.

Gormanston 1999

Originally I had thought I might go to the Apimondia Conference in Canada. June encouraged me to send for details - although I wasn't too sure what she meant by "It may be your last chance"! Having retired from full-time employment, the thought of spending a couple of thousand pounds on myself did seem rather extravagant and selfish. I voiced my concerns. "If I do spend all this money on going to Canada, what will you do?" "Don't worry," she replied "I'll have a day in Stratford."!! Eventually, I decided to attend the Summer Course at Gormanston in Ireland - and June spent a few days in London.

The days before leaving for Ireland were rather busy since it was the Town Show. On the last day of the Show, I had hoped I could check my apiaries and pack and return to help dismantle the stands etc. However, the checking took longer than anticipated - the ravages of wax moth, swarms in spare equipment, a colony in urgent need of varroa treatment, nucs needed for emerging queens, etc., all needed attention on a very hot day. By the time I returned, all I wanted to do was have a shower, have a meal and pack (June had, of course, done most of this for me).

Still aching from the previous day's exertions, I stood on the doorstep to await the taxi to take me to the railway station. Despite 'phoning that morning to check the booking, the taxi was late! Brian Hughes, my companion on this trip, was at the station to greet me as I dashed to the ticket office to get my Airport Flyer - thank goodness there was no queue. I did notice that Brian's bag was smaller than mine - every time Andrea put something in the bag, Brian took it out! We arrived at the airport too early to book in so we retired to the bar to watch the 'planes take off. Brian told me of a programme he had watched recently regarding the dangerous wiring to be found on aircraft - just what I needed to hear before the flight! And the beer was off ...

The flight was uneventful. Well, not much can happen in 40 minutes, although I did wonder about the electrical wiring - I listened carefully to the air-stewardess explaining how to put on the life jacket and how to use the oxygen mask. But in this age of high technology, why do railways and aeroplanes have intercom systems that make any message incomprehensible? Wearing a life jacket and breathing deeply from an oxygen mask is rather unnecessary, when the announcement was merely to inform passengers that it was raining in Dublin. From the airport we went by bus to Connolly Street railway station to get the Dart train to Gormanston - the punts were already disappearing. A train was due so we made a mad dash for the platform - I wished my bag was lighter. However, we need not have rushed - we had not changed our watches to Irish time! After several minutes, an announcement instructed us to change platforms. We did but nothing seemed to happen for ages - but eventually a train arrived and eventually we were heading for Gormanston.

The train arrived at Gormanston. Unfortunately the train was longer than the platform and we were in the last carriage. As we made our way to the door the driver decided that 5 seconds was long enough and it was time to go. We alighted at the next station (the name escapes me), a station that solely served a gigantic holiday complex. There was no shelter. The light drizzle was now torrential rain and we were dressed in our English tourist casual but cool attire. When we informed the ticket collector (station master?) that the platform at Gormanston was too short he seemed genuinely concerned "Oh that's tragic, that's tragic" he replied. If it hadn't been raining, I'm sure I would have seen the tears in his eyes. "I'll get you a train at ten-past to take you back." I liked the idea of him arranging what sounded like a special train just for our convenience. We thanked him and enquired whether we could get a taxi from Gormanston station to the College. There were no taxis. We decided to cancel the special train and get a taxi directly to the College. Whilst the ever helpful station master 'phoned around, we idly watched the dish used to place tickets and change fill with rain. The word punt seemed to have an additional meaning. This reverie was shattered by the news that there had been no response from the taxi firms. However, our resourceful man had 'phoned his friend Bob who was willing to take us. While we waited for Bob, we chatted to the bedraggled day trippers, watched the boats on the lake and listened to sounds coming from the race track - or was it the ghost train? The Irish are a hardy race. We had earlier witnessed bathers plunging into the sea. Only the donkeys seemed inactive as they grazed the grass since there seemed no demand for donkey rides. A red car approached. Bob had arrived to rescue us. He lifted the boot, rearranged the chicken wire, tools, and other essential taxi equipment to make a space for our bags. We got into the car grateful to be out of the rain and heading for a hot shower, food and warmth. It was a large camp and Bob gave us a running commentary of each building and the facilities that were available. It took several minutes before we reached the main gate. Half way he stopped to offer his sister-in-law a lift - she preferred to walk. At last we reached our destination - the Franciscan College at Gormanston. After Bob had chatted to his friend the hedge trimmer, we were deposited outside the main entrance. We learned later that we could have got a taxi from Dublin airport for the same cost - but we would have missed the experience!

We registered. We had our photos taken for our ID cards ("Which must be worn at all times" proved to be a problem each time each time one changed clothing or put a jumper on). Accommodation was in large dormitories ("Lights out at 11 pm"). Brian and I found ourselves at opposite ends of the dormitory. We had time to unpack and change into dry clothing. Was there time for a hot shower? The Programme we had been given on registration stated "Showers may be had by arrangement with Reception". I had visions of popping round to the Receptionist's house to use the facilities. We decided to eat first!

Lesley had warned me. "The Irish only know two words for vegetarian. Baked and Beans". Since he attended this has been changed to Salad and Bowl! However, I was quite happy to choose from the salad bowl - leaving the thick slices of ham and turkey for the carnivores. It was well prepared and quite delicious. What I didn't realize at this stage was that the salad bowl never changed. As a vegetarian, I was expected to have ten meals from the salad bowl - while the non-vegetarians were presented with a delicious range of meat dishes. I was not a happy bunny! After two salad bowl meals I voiced my dissatisfaction. I got an omelette - and during the week, another five omelettes and two quiches. I began to plan the demise of my chickens on my return home! Cook reached "s" for stir-fry on the last day.

The acoustics in the Conference Hall made the Official Opening rather difficult to follow. As one speaker put it "I will not speak for long so that you will not have to struggle to hear what I haven't said"! This was followed by a Cheese & Wine Reception, which gave an opportunity to meet some of the 250 beekeepers from all over the world. I discovered a retired public analyst who had worked opposite the public analyst I worked for in London over thirty years ago. As membership secretary of BIBBA, it was most rewarding to put faces to names of Irish members. The main topic of conversation was, of course, varroa, which is now spreading from the original outbreaks.

After more conversations over coffee, we retired to our beds. Finding your cubicle among many in the dark (especially after an evening in the pub) is not easy. Each dormitory looks the same - which is my excuse for wandering around the ladies' dormitory one evening. One old hand gave us a tip: "Hang your towel over the curtain rail". This worked well until someone hung an identical towel to Brian's over their curtain. Two snorers at opposite ends of the dormitory were, it seemed, in fierce competition - quite melodious until the duet got out of sync. But tiredness soon overcame the noises of the night.

The Programme included lectures at two levels and workshops. Inevitably not everything could be chosen. In fact, one veteran told me that he had decided to take time out to wander round the grounds and felt less stressed as a consequence. I was particularly disappointed at missing Karl Showler demonstrating the presence of drone congregation areas using a long fishing rod with a queen pheromone lure - Beo Cooper (founder of BIBBA) identified a drone assembly at Gormanston in 1971 (v. The Honeybees of the British Isles). The guest lecturer was Ian McLean and he and the other lecturers ensured that we were kept busy and interested. Micheál MacGiolla Coda and Albert Knight ran a morphometry workshop. Bees were provided for examination and the participants were soon involved measuring cubital indices and discoidal shifts. The results were very satisfactory. Colonies were provided in the grounds and Micheál demonstrated colony assessment. It was also possible to prepare for the Preliminary Examination and take the exam during the week - certificates were presented on the last day. An idea well worth copying - except we have nothing to match the Annual Summer Course. One meeting I nearly missed was for Overseas Visitors - it hadn't registered that I was a foreigner! Brian had found the swimming pool and was busy training for the Olympics - fortunately, he had also found the showers! The Varroa Forum showed that the Irish would travel the same route that we went along in this country. But the serious nature of the debate was brought to a close when one of the panellists, an Irish priest, raised his hand to ask "When do the pubs shut round here?"

After a busy day, we went to the local to test the theory that Guinness in Ireland is quite different to Guinness sold in this country. Certainly, the pouring is an art and you have to wait patiently for the Guinness to settle in the glass before it is topped up and served. And it does taste better! A young expert told us he was very fussy about his Guinness and gave the pub his seal of approval. The pub seemed to be the focal point and was always busy. Strangely, there seemed to be a lot of drinkers wearing ID badges - not wishing to be conspicuous, Brian and I had removed ours. We were entertained with line dancing one evening and Karaoke on another occasion, when big money prizes could be won - neither of us felt the urge to participate!

On our return to the College one evening, an impromptu ceilidh was in progress. We were invited to participate and I was tempted to recite The Flying Bum by William Plomer:

In the vegetarian guest-house

All was frolic, feast and fun,

Eager voices were enquiring

"Are the nettle cutlets done?"

Peals of vegetarian laughter,

Husky wholesome wholemeal bread,

Will the evening finish with a

Rush of cocoa to the head?

Fortunately, perhaps, I could not remember the rest and declined the offer to participate. I might learn it for next year ...

After another late session, Albert and Sylvia went back to their B & B in a nearby village. Noticing that the pub lights were still on they went in. It was now about 12.30. Having been served with drinks, he enquired what time they closed. 11.30 was the reply!

The week went all to quickly. A trip to Ardgillan Castle overlooking the Mountains of Mourne made a delightful break from beekeeping. But the week was most enjoyable and one I would heartily recommend. The fact that some people have attended for many years endorses this view.

We got a lift to the airport! Apart from a long wait before we could book in and no Duty Free, the return journey was uneventful. At Birmingham airport, Brian went off to find the bus to take us to the railway station. Having located the bus, we got on. We did seem to take a circuitous route round the immense car park, dropping passengers off on the way round. I was surprised when the bus returned to the airport. Well, the sign did say Car Park Bus! The trains were delayed ... but eventually we arrived back in Northampton.

Brian P. Dennis.

Page created 26/08/2018