Help! Wasps are eating my furniture... and a visit to Liverpool.
I spent last weekend in Liverpool staying at my Dad's with my son Tony who is ten. I grew up in the city and I have Dad and five sisters still living there and so for me, the pull back to Merseyside is strong. If you've never been or haven't been for a while, I can't recommend it strongly enough. As Stephen Bayley explains in his book about the city published this week 'Liverpool has an almost overwhelming physical presence, not all of it good. Brooding, slovenly, magnificent, romantic, miserable, tatty, funny, proud, heroic, shameless, tragic, exciting in turns, it's a city that demands a response.'
How Liverpool returned from the dead - Stephen Bayley - Times Online.
We made the trip to Liverpool this weekend for two reasons - I had tickets for the Lord Mayor's Charity Dinner and Tony wanted to go back to the Maritime Museum at the Albert Dock. He's really interested in the Titanic and the last time we were there, it looked as though a whole new Titanic wing was under construction, so he was determined to see the results.
The dinner was in the Town Hall which is a magnificent neoclassical palace. The hall way floor is decorated with hand-painted tiles, featuring the city's coat of arms. There's a great Flemish craved wooden fireplace, and a grand staircase with a huge portrait of the Queen by the Liverpool artist Sir Edward Halliday at the top. The city's silver collection is displayed in great cabinets on either side and above a dome of blue and gold rises thirty feet. Around the inside, the city's motto inscribed in Latin reads: 'Deus Nobis Haec Otia Fecit' which translates 'God has Bestowed These Blessings Upon Us' and the date 1748.
The Mayor's bash was great fun. Despite the setting there was nothing stuffy about it - a school choir, a good meal, a Frank Sinatra-tribute crooner and a disco. Liverpool doesn't do stiff or formal in my experience and that's one of the characteristics I love most.
The next day we went to the Maritime Museum. There was me, Tony, and his cousins Lily aged 8 and Carmel 21. Carmel is a history graduate from Liverpool John Moore's University and so she's always keen to go to a museum. Tony was a bit disappointed with Titanic - not because it isn't good, just that there didn't seem to be any new exhibits. We'd probably misunderstood last time - they were only upgrading the sets. So we went downstairs to the International Slavery Museum. The exhibition charts the growth of the city through the wealth gleaned from slavery, displaying the fine tableware of the merchant princes alongside the shackles and implements of torture used to create the terror that kept those enslaved under the yoke. I confess we didn't enter the room that simulates the environment of the slave ships' holds where hundreds were crammed together, lying chained on pallets and many died on voyage. Two images stay with me: the fine portrait of a slave merchant, perhaps in his sixties, looks out from the canvas with a watery gaze. There is a distinct feeling of unease, his fingers clasped nervously before him. In the next cabinet there is an old bill of sale for an auction in the city, the lots include slaves with brief descriptions, such as 'good in the kitchen'; the youngest soul being offered that day was a boy aged one. I was reminded of the grandeur of the Town Hall and its date 1748 - so all that great edifice, dome and all, was built on this suffering, so much for the blessings God has bestowed.
After that we went up in the Liverpool Eye. I hate heights and I held on tightly to the seat my palms sweaty with anxiety. You had to laugh at the safety warnings - 'Don't Prise Open the Doors', 'Don't Dangle Your Feet Out' etc - as if!
Monday was back at work on an investigation I suggested. People sometimes ask if I am allowed to come up with ideas for You and Yours. I am and I do. Daily programmes use up a lot of items so suggestions are welcome, especially yours of course email us here. This week's grew from a personal trauma - wasps eating my garden furniture. It's bad enough when they buzz down and eat your lunch but in our garden summer starts with the little stripy blighters first dining on the dining table before they come back later in the summer to sample what's on it.
We got in touch with an expert Dr Stephen Martin from the University of Sheffield's Department of Animal and Plant Sciences. You can listen to that interview here. It seems I'm not alone, 'They do that,' he explained (or as they say in my home town 'Day do dat doh don't day?'). In early summer the queen wasps chew off tiny bits of wood, fly away with it and use it to make a nest about the size of a golf ball. She'll settle down in it and lay her eggs. Once these worker wasps have hatched, they go off chewing wood and extend the nest until it becomes quite large. Only in late summer when the queen dies and the colony collapses do the wasps start eating your picnic. It's because at that point they are no longer getting a daily fix of nectar.
Now wasps may have tiny jaws but many wasps make light work of garden tables and chairs. Ours were covered in silvery trails where the surface had been chewed off. When I got them out of the shed this year the wasp damage had encouraged moss and mould to grow. They looked dreadful. I telephoned the manufacturers who sold me two separate treatments - a cleaner and sealant - don't they warned put teak oil anywhere near it because it will spoil your furniture. I know, lots of people use teak oil and swear by it. First though, I had to sand those bite marks off. It took hours, not least because the wasps seem particularly partial to the bits in between the slats of the chair backs. While the chairs were lined up waiting for the treatment, a big wasp landed on one of them and gnawed off a bit. The good news is that not a single one has been near them since.
I know, I'd like to say that I come up with the really learned ideas of high value and international importance but it wouldn't be true. I guess I won't be asked to stand in for Melvyn Bragg any time soon.