BTS Lectures 2014 review and gallery

“The BTS Lectures & Dinner February 22nd 2014
Few images from the Friday night get together to Sundays AGM”

Full review by Ray Hale

We have just returned from a very long and tiring but absolutly brilliant weekend. The BTS lectures are now in their 12th year and have gone from strength to strength as the years have gone by. From the early beginnings when Mark and Kim suggested the idea it has grown from a tiny seed into a mighty tree. All credit must go to them. They had the foresight to see that providing Arachnological lectures was a viable option. I am so glad that we, as a committee, took them up on their offer to organise them all those years ago. This year was special. We had an amazing, well balanced and diverse group of lectures and good mix of attendees from the academic arachnologist to the grassroots tarantula keeper. All had come to listen and, hopefully, enjoy some fine lectures.

The Aztec is an ideal venue. It is literally just off Motorway where the M4 joins the M5. It is a modern Spa hotel with superb facilities and even better rooms. Most of the attendees choose the two night package as this is ultimately cheaper and I must say if work commitments allowed myself and Angela to take this option we most certainly would. Sadly we are always unable to arrive on Friday although I know those that do are guaranteed a warm welcome by Mark and Kim and the other Committee that attend.

We arrived at around 11.00am on the Saturday to find the lobby area and bar humming with delegates to the lectures. Old face, new faces, friends, colleagues and fellow BTS committee members stood chatting and catching up on the past year. My fist port of call was the actual lecture theatre to inform Mark of our arrival and to ensure that my lecture was compatible with the equipment used. There was a moment of panic when my memory stick refused to open but as usual Mark the web maestro soon sorted it out and I was ready to go. Soon everyone was seated and waited in anticipation for the days to begin in earnest. Pete Kirk, Chairman of the BTS and all round top guy opened the proceedings of the 12th Annual Lectures with his normal humorous take on things. Over the years myself and Pete have taken turns at providing a light hearted opener in order to break the ice so to speak.

This year Pete treated us to his view of tarantulas in art. I use the term loosely here. He gave us slides on origami spiders, tattooed spiders on legs and arms and even heads. There were abstract tarantulas, huge animatronics tarantulas with small children standing terrified before them and even knitted tarantulas. He treated us to tarantulas in fashion with a number of semi clothed models wearing what seemed to be just a tarantula. Pete never fails to amuse and it did just the trick.

Soon it was my turn to take the lectern. I admit that those who know me will tell you that I am seldom serious and never sensible but on this occasion I was on a subject close to my heart. The Victorian Naturalist and Evolutionist Alfred Russel Wallace.  I have sent years researching ARW and relished the idea of being able to bring my homage to this man to those congregated. For those of you who don’t know and I bet there are a few of you, with no disrespect intended. ARW was a contemporary of the great Charles Darwin. A man who travelled throughout the Amazon and the Far East collecting and preserving specimens for return to England. He wrote an essay on Natural Selection and sent it Darwin for his remarks. Imagine then the shock when Darwin read what was in essence his own theory conceived by a man 8000 miles away. Both Darwin and Wallace were credited with the theory of evolution and yet today ARW has become a mere shadow in the story. In my lecture I set out to readdress the balance. It was very well received and I think I even impressed the legendary arachnohistorian Andrew Smith. High praise indeed. I certainly shocked them as I don’t believe any of them had ever seen me in a shirt and tie before.

After a brief respite for coffee we settled down to listen to none other than Dr Stuart Longhorn with his Mysterious Arachnids of Honduras. Stuart is indeed a fine fellow in the mould of many arachnologists that have gone before. Although slight in stature he is lacks nothing when it comes to providing a great lecture. He is a well travelled, respected researcher scientist who has and continues to visit and discover new species of spider (albeit most of them being brown) in many countries around the world. His dry humour coupled with his unique ability to make a systematics chart appear interesting to even the most jaded viewer ensured him a raptors applause. He explained who when he arrived in Honduras there were very few described arachnids attributed to the area, by the time he left he had added almost all (except one!) to the species list.  Go Stuart, we look forward to another lecture soon.

Next on the bill was the legend Jean Michel Verdez. For those of you who don’t know him and there can be precious few, he is a wonderful larger than life Frenchman with a passion for Heavy Metal music, tarantulas and his beautiful wife, Monique. Although I’m not convinced in which order. He has undoubtedly travelled to more tarantula sites than anyone else in the room and always amazes us with hi wicked sense of self ridicule. He showed us photos of the “real” Haplopelma minax and some fantastic new spider he had found on his travels in Thailand. JMV has been a supporter of the BTS for as long as I can remember and is personal friend of many of the committee and BTS members.  Superb as always Jean and I particularly liked the tigers!

 It has become a bit of a tradition that Andrew Smith gives a lecture at the event. Normally he entertains us after dinner but this year we were keen to try something different and asked Andrew if he would consider being top of the bill and provide us with a lecture in the afternoon. He agreed and gave us a stunning oratory on Searching for the Beast in Suriname. Andrew has a well seasoned team that work well with each other. Guy Tansley, Paul Carpenter and Michael Jacobi from the US set out to follow in the steps of Madame Merain who explored Suriname between 1699 and 1704 and gave us the earliest pictures of the “bird eating tarantula”. They travel light and access places that to most would seem in accessible and sometimes often dangerous. Unperturbed they push on into deep jungle in their quest. Andrew explained that whilst Theraphosa blondi was indeed a fine spider it was also the bane of his life as most film crews are only interested in filming “big” spiders. Nevertheless he had to admit that finding, digging out and photographing a true T.blondi was certainly an exciting moment for him…or words to that effect Ahem!

The lectures complete we retired to our rooms (or the bar) to prepare for the evening meal. The hotel has never let us down and once again they surpassed themselves. A fine meal with a good choice of dishes and a chance to chat with other delegates on your table.

 Never trust a man with a camera, a projector and a knowledge of PowerPoint. After dinner Pete assembled the Committee and proceeded to give the audience an hilarious insight into the life of the BTS. “How Well Do You Know Your Committee?” For instance did you know that Martin Nicholas was a descendant of Cecil Rhodes the founder of Rhodesia or Stuart Longhorn was a master in an obscure form of martial art? No neither did I.  Ray Gabriel and Stuart Longhorn then took to the stage to reveal the results of their field work. They had some important news to impart regarding one of the most well known tarantulas in the hobby….but that can wait for another day!

 The evening was rounded of with a general knowledge quiz and then a couple (or possibly more) drinks at the bar. I wandered around the room listening to talk of field trips to far and distance lands, breeding loans, taxonomy and even what the best rum in the world was. I retired to my bed around 1.00am safe in the knowledge that these important discussions would go on for hours.

Long Live the BTS lectures….see you next year guys

Ray Hale



12.00 noon : Peter Kirk: Opening Lecture

“Pete gave us a brief, humouros quick opener by showing us just some of the crazy images of tarantulas in “Art”. From Origami spiders to tattoos of tarantulas, from wall paintings to giant sculptures, the World is full of tarantulas….just look”

12.30pmRay Hale: “Alfred Russel Wallace: A Very English Entomologist”

If I do so say so myself ( because I am actually writing this -Ray) this lecture was a cracker. Ray introduced the audience to the forgotten naturalist and evolutionist Alfred Russel Wallace. From humble beginnings he travelled to the Amazon and to The Malay Archipeligo in search of specimans of insects, birds and mammals. He was instrumental in the theory of evoulution and without his work, Darwin might never have published his own great work.”

1.30pm: Stuart Longhorn: “Discovering Mysterious Arachnids of Honduras”

” Dr Longhorn is one of the foremost experts on tarantula taxonomy in the world. His lecture left us all yearning to travel to Honduras to study these amazing arachnids. He has now proven that all types of arachnid (bar one) exist in Honduras. This was hitherto considered not the case. We look forward to him finding the last one. Superb field work and great photos”

2.30pm: Coffee, Tea and Biscuits

VIP Special Guests:

3.15pm: Jean Michel Verdez – Adventures in Thailand

The legend that is Jean Michel Verdez returned to the BTS Lectures this year to thrill us with his hilarious adventures in Thailand. JMV is considered one of the worlds leading experts on tarantulas in the field. He told us of his quest for the real Haplopelma minax within another great field worker C.Bordeau. Hurry back Jean there is always a welcome and a beer waiting for you.”

4.15pm: Andrew Smith – “Surinam Part 2″ Suriname – In Search of Theraphosa blondi & Ephebopus murinus.

“Andrew Smith needs no introduction. His expeditions are legendary. With his hand picked team of Guy Tansley, Paul Carpenter and Michael Jacobi from the US he has visited many countries in search of tarantulas. His lecture this year recalled thier trip to Suriname originally following in the footsteps of Madame Merian (1699). They found some superb specimans of Theraphosa blondi and Andrew amazed us with thier photograps. Andy and his team continue to contribute some of the finest field surveys ever undertaken. The information they collect today will prove invalubale to the arachnologists of the future”

5.30pm: Lectures finish.
6.30pm: Dinner followed by bar until late (or until you drop).

” A superb dinner followed. As always the Aztec did a fantastic job and made us all so welcome. Pete then lampooned the BTS Committee with his “How Well Do You Know the Committee” quiz. For instance did you know that our very own TV’s Martin Nicholas is a direct descendant of Cecil Rhodes (founder of Rhodesia) or that Phil Geraghty once made a pair of sunglasses for Huggy Bear of Starsky and Hutch. No neither did I.

The evening then carried on with a just for fun quiz and much alcohol and frivolity. Seriously guys you need to attend next year. It was simply the best!”

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