Dragonflies & Damsels were once as big as birds

Most people know what a dragonfly is but not everyone knows what a damsel looks like? We’ve all heard the saying ‘damsel in distress’ and I thought that it must be a flower, perhaps because the damsel is classically identified as a woman.

Last Friday I learnt that a damsel is the thinner, smaller version of a dragonfly that we see flying around. It was the electric blue flash of such creatures darting around me in Guatemala that made me so curious about the species, to the point I almost got a tattoo of what I thought was a dragonfly on my foot. That could have been an incorrigible error!

There are many intriguing things about these insects, which made me inquisitive enough, to drive half an hour, get stuck in traffic and very lost to arrive late at the folk hall in Portishead and listen to a talk, where I was the only one without a head of grey hair.

The talk was particularly academic and dry in this respect, different from what I hoped. In my flight of fancy I thought we’d hear wondrous tales that really brought to life these mysterious ancient insects. However the evening had its insights –

Did you know:

  • Dragonflies pre-date dinosaurs and used to be as big as seagulls, but still invertebrates. This could not happen now because the oxygen in our atmosphere has become so diluted they could not survive as insects this size.
  • The way dragonflies and damselflies mate is very unique and was the focus of the majority of the talk and slides. They form this loop called ~ “the wheel” – where the male clasps the head of the female with the end of his tail and she bends her abdomen to connect with the accessory area near the front end of the male where the sperm is. Prior to this the male has to transfer the sperm from the tip of his abdomen into the accessory area. It is quite a display and can go on for up to an hour.
  • The female will then go and deposit the fertilised eggs in a river bank or near an area of water. The rump of a dog lying by a river is not overlooked, apparently! Often the male will not let go of the females head until she has deposited the eggs somewhere in case another male interferes. And often they will scoop out any residual male sperm before beginning to reproduce – a very thorough procedure from beginning to end!

I’m not sure why I am fascinated by dragonflies but I guess it is just one of those personal things that doesn’t really require an explanation. Up close they aren’t particularly attractive and look extremely alien. The fact they have remained on earth so long is particularly worthy of note, impressive and as striking as their colours. Who knows, maybe they will out live us too, the way we are continuing to turn environments and oceans into a human rubbish dump.

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Seeking Slow – a food & art mash-up

The theme was the future of food and our relationship with technology – slowing down might be the desire of many when it comes to food and technology but the size of these topics are of another extreme – enormous.

Despite the days best intentions to bring people together across the food supply chain to begin a slow-revolution, the event did bring a good mix of people to Testbed1 art space to enjoy chef Mark Jankel’s delicious food from The Street Kitchen, and perhaps start new unlikely collaborations or at least share different insights and ideas.

There were guests from Volcano Coffee Works, Lalani & Co tea and La Fromagerie cheese who ethically source from small independent farmers and producers. Guy Watson of Riverford Organic Farms and Simon Palfry from Laverstoke Park Farm represented the farming industry and dispelled any romantic notions anyone may have of the farming life. In the evening we enjoyed Dodd’s gin cocktails courtesy of The London Distillery Company, incorporating The London Honey Company’s harvest and The New Dawn Traders brought a whole new level of slow to the event. We heard how they were about to embark on a seven month voyage by sail to Brazil, to highlight a highly oil dependent freight trade industry that is neglecting to exploit wind and solar power with new technologies to green-up food trade.

Workshops held during the day helped you learn how to better nourish yourself mentally and physically, from The Stranger Collective and The Viva Mayr diet respectively. The Stranger Collective dedicate every tenth working day to creative nourishment which will in turn lead to better productivity and inspired ideas for their clients. Dr Stossier of the Viva Mayr diet advocated simple remedies like chewing your food longer and really tasting the flavours to aid digestion, as well as a glass of bicarbonate of soda in the morning or evening to reduce acidity in the body, a pre-cursor for many diseases – and most importantly ‘nothing raw after four’ to prevent fermentation in the body.

The whole event took place amongst an Our Autonomous Nature temporary art-installation, featuring an array of nature-inspired art work, creating the perfect back-drop to dinner with talks around the environmental impact of our consumer lifestyles.

The event had a different atmosphere to most conferences and convergences that often preach to the choir, with those who played a part in making it happen as much in attendance, as outsiders. In fact everyone who attended had some connection to collaborators giving it a lovely, relaxed atmosphere that supported everyone’s pursuits and passions, and encouraged a cross-collaboration and pollination of ideas!

Thank you House of Devon and The Doodle Bar for hosting the event.. more like this please : )