Saving the planet

When you think of the British countryside, it conjures up images of rolling green fields, lazy sunny days, kids running around with kites, ramblers ambling past livestock chewing the cud, picnics under trees; all these things have been shown many times in many ways to promote the countryside as a welcoming place.

If like me you suffer from hay fever, the countryside has the potential to ruin your day. Fields of yellow against a bright blue sky and puffy white clouds doesn’t say ‘come and have a picnic in me’ it says ‘hey, you. Got a hanky?’

Many times throughout my childhood I was dragged through fields, up hills, down dales, across rivers, through valleys, in and out of farms and along paths and lanes. Most of the memories are provided with the smell of ‘fresh’ air. Fresh meaning the atmosphere is tinged with the light yet unmistakable whiff of manure. The images themselves actually barely visible through either streaming, itchy eyes thanks to hay fever or of the interminable drizzle that summer seems to have been.

Sitting under a tree wasn’t romantic. It was a way of keeping dry. A picnic usually consisted of rolling up the sleeves of my cagoule and holding my hands higher than my elbows in order to not have them turn into guttering and deliver rainwater into my sandwich. The accompanying packet of crisps would normally also be without the little packet of salt inside with which to make your own salty crisps by shaking the packet. Therefore you’d be eating soggy pieces of fried, un-seasoned potato. Good times.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve been acutely aware of waiting for the moment when I review my youth as many before me have. Dusting off any of the negatives and realising that it was a simpler time, a safer time. A time when you could stay out all night playing with friends, riding my bike everywhere and eating sweets and never gaining weight. Well, none of that from me. I liked being a child but we still had streets full of weirdo’s, danger lurked everywhere we played football in the shape of broken glass in the park (and white dog poo) and I had more than one of my BMX bikes stolen.

So, you may be wondering, what modern day slice of negativity has led to this rambling piece?

It’s the common bumblebee.

You see, when I was growing up, I always liked the humble bee. When walking through the countryside of Britain on one of my many memory-making trips as previously outlined, having quite a large, soft and brightly coloured insect come and join me was quite a comfort. They seemed to float around like a striped velvet cushion of the sky. They seemed a little out of control in their flight path and that’s probably a reason why they ended up with the moniker ‘bumble’. Unlike the wasp, with its darting, rasping, ‘what are you eating’ bullying tactic, the bees simply careered into you, apologised profusely for not having been able to avoid you in their out of control fashion, before carrying on their wobbly journey.

I was safe in the knowledge too that the bee had a sting that once delivered meant it would die, whereas the wasp would keep going like a psychotic axe murderer until you were dead.

I like bees. But it appears that due to a lack of wildflowers, a demand for food that has turned the countryside in to a food-processing factory and grassland areas disappearing, they are under threat. Without them around to pollinate a lot of the food that we enjoy, we would have to do that pollination ourselves and that in turn would increase our food costs. It appears that this bumbling little chap needs our help. It is coming in the shape of some farmers making small changes to their methods, the planting of wildflowers by land managers and people planting bee friendly plants in their garden at home.

So, when I got a call this week to meet a Superbee, you can imagine that I was expecting something that had been the subject of some crossbreeding to create a less bumbling variety and one that could save the species!

Yes, well, no. Although that said, this particular Bee looks like it might have been the automotive version of the insect. First thing you notice is that it’s huge. So huge in fact, that if you planted wildflowers over it, you may just be able to save the bumblebee species from extinction. By the time I’d walked around it the day was nearly over.

This particular car is a 1978 7 litre monster and judging by the additional dials on the dashboard, is clearly aimed at going from point A to point B as quickly as you can. But it’s an American machine so surely it will bumble?

Upon firing it up, its now patently obvious that it’s a rumble bee. Inside the room that used to feel quite large, the sheer girth of this thing plus the raucous blat emanating from the back end of it is quite simply brilliant. If this goes anywhere near as good as it sounds then we’re in for a great time.

Admittedly the bright red everything interior is a sobering proposition and actually made me squint a little when I first sat inside it, but it is so on the money for this car, you don’t notice it.

The milled grip of the handbrake feels like the barrel of a pistol, perfectly weighted to allow you to crack off a few pot shots at anyone who you don’t like the look of and the matt-black lightweight bonnet and its quick release clips make you feel that all you need is a quarter mile to go race on.

Fortunately, not a million miles away is a quarter mile drag strip and so we edge out into the drizzle to head down to it and see what this thing is actually like. Driving through classic British Cotswold stone villages, it seems as though this is the automotive version of the insect; it rolls through corners a little but not as much as many yank tanks thanks to stiffer suspension but you still know that if you were to sit still and rev this car, within a matter of minutes you would be seasick.

Heading out onto some larger roads, the car still feels big but not overly and the note of exhaust doesn’t drum into the cabin making you want to turn up the radio to drown it out. It’s a warm, soothing sound. Friendly with a crackle and pop of overrun that just makes you smile.

As we arrive at the drag strip, we are met with some admiring glances. Jeremy, manager of the site, takes a walk around the car. Similar in height to myself, he too glances at his watch when he returns to the front of it. An admirer of many muscle cars, he likes this and very much likes the noise. However, he and we, have work to do so off we head to the strip.

First things first, we need to ‘familiarise’ ourselves with the car on the tarmac so a sighting run is performed. With walls on three sides of us, the sound of this car heading away from the start line is phenomenal. Aural senses buzzing, this thing doesn’t bumble down the track at all. It is nailed to its line and pulls in every gear until the brakes have to be applied. Fortunately these have been uprated too and with little fuss, the behemoth comes to a standstill relatively quickly.

With fading light and increasing drizzle, this could well be a summer’s day from my youth. We grab a few images of the car on the strip but we also want to see what else works as a backdrop. At the rear of the complex is a mass of grassland that is punctuated with a mix of abandoned caravans, trucks, an old garage, some storage containers, lots of tyres, some old railway rolling stock and what appears to be a murderers holiday home.

We joke that this car looks like a perfect murderers car too and so we take some shots of the car looking all set to have a body hauled out of the back of it and thrown into the undergrowth. It’s a perfect place for this car.

With one last look around before we leave, I can see why bees like the grassland areas of the countryside. We’ve been in and around it for a couple of hours and I’ve not sneezed once. Maybe all I needed wasn’t injections and tablets to rid me of the symptoms of hay fever but industrial scrap and the soft cushioning comfort of this particular Superbee. It certainly would have made my youthful summer days more enjoyable.

Along with the insect counterpart, I hope these bees are saved from extinction and I hope that many people will get to experience them. That little arse the wasp seems to have not been so affected so keep swatting those little buggers though.

Writer: Ben Mather Photography: Whitewall Direction: Andy Bradshaw

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