"Did you have a good break? What did you do?"
Thanks for asking. As we moved past Christmas into the New Year these are the common questions that have replaced the regulars of 2014 - "What's it like in the Senate with all the cross benchers?" and "Are Senators Abetz and Brandis really as bad as they come across?"
So staying with the holiday spirit I have had a great break: family, friends, food, surf, bird watching, reading, movies, gardening, bush walking in varying combinations.
Most movies have been in the G classification, although not all for kids. I enjoyed watching the 1953 Mr Hulot's Holiday - a favourite of my uncle who found it in his Christmas stocking. Our thoughts that we were watching shades of Mr Bean were confirmed when I found Rowan Atkinson has acknowledged Hulot's (Jacques Tati's) influence.
No comment on the Hobbit - although I'm with those who think stretching the series to three is pushing the friendship.
My reading highlight has been "Bee Time - lessons from the hive". Bees are so very special and thanks to author Mark Winston we now have this most readable, informative and entertaining book.
Since I became aware of the alarming reports about the worldwide collapse of bee colonies I have wanted to know more. This might sound corny but Winston's writing has a buzzy style. We zoom along learning about wasp and bee evolution, city bee farming (there are hives on top of the Paris Opera House), and that the USA's largest food fraud involved honey.
The great value of this book is that this is not just a collection of interesting facts and details on CCD - colony collapse disorder - now thought to have many causes linked with pollutants and diseases. Winston's reporting on industrialisation of honey production and bee pollination and possible solutions could well provide answers to what is possibly our biggest challenge after climate change - how we feed ourselves. Bees pollinate about one third of our food crops.
Diversity rather than monoculture crops built on ecosystem farming utilising hedgerows, leaving some land in its natural state, and allowing bee attractive weeds to grow is offered as a solution - for bees and us.
Winston explores the common socialisation traits we share with bees and he has a delightful section on collective decision making and crowd sourcing. Did bees do it first?
"Bee Time" is highly recommended - for its solutions and as it is a delightful read.
My second favourite book this summer - but this is a very sad one - is Oscar Wilde's "Ballad of Reading Gaol". This is one of the books I have had on my to read list for a long time. Written when Wilde was living in exile in France after serving two years hard labour for gross indecency the brilliance and suffering of this Irish poet is set out in a narrative poem format.
Wilde refused to put himself above other prisoners:
“That every prison that men build
Is built with bricks of shame,
And bound with bars lest Christ should see
How men their brothers maim.”
While the Ballad is now part of Wilde's stunning literacy legacy, it is also a savage indictment of extreme discrimination and victimisation.
As my relaxed summer holiday draws to a close this was a sobering reminder of the brutality that so many still face.
Holidays should be a right for all - at times they appear to be a luxury.