Current Events, Special Days and Historic Anniversaries Brought to Life by Teddy Bears, Pandas and Other Cuddly Creatures
Monthly Archives: March 2013

HAPPY EASTER

by Elspeth

Easter Sunday is a day of celebration and feasting.  Originally a pagan festival marking the arrival of spring, nowadays, it’s a blend of Christianity and commercialism when Christians celebrate the life and resurrection of Christ, while everyone else thinks of chocolate eggs, parades, decorated bonnets, fluffy chicks and cuddly bunnies.

The egg, probably the most powerful Easter symbol of all, represents the stone rolling away from Jesus’s tomb.  This association of eggs with Easter started with the Christians in Mesopotamia who painted them red to symbolise the blood of the crucified Christ.  Members of the Eastern Orthodox Church still paint their eggs red or green to indicate new life.

The oldest known decorated eggs are African ostrich eggs thought to date back 60,000 years, while gold and silver eggs have been excavated from the tombs of ancient Egyptians buried 5,000 years ago.  Over the years, eggs have appeared in many guises and, at one time, they were painted bright colours to represent the sunlit days of spring and then given as love tokens.  In 1307, King Edward I is said to have paid 18 pence for 450 eggs to be boiled and covered with gold leaf and then distributed amongst the royal household, a tradition carried on in the Middle Ages when they were traditional gifts for servants in large houses. 

However, the most glorious Easter eggs of all are the intricately designed Fabergé eggs which date back to the early 1880s when Peter Carl Fabergé was asked by Czar Alexander III to create a special Easter gift for his wife.  The Czar was so pleased with Fabergé’s work that he commissioned him to continue the tradition each year, the only provisos being that the gift had to be egg-shaped and had to contain a tiny, precious surprise!

Last year, Fabergé used its iconic symbol of luxury to raise £2 million for two charities – Action For Children and The Elephant Family.  During the Big Easter Egg Hunt, an interactive event inspired by the Elephant Parade of 2010, more than 200 fibreglass eggs, each around 2½ feet in height, designed and decorated by designers and artists, were ‘hidden’ around central London.   Each giant egg held a unique code word which gave the finder one chance of winning the ultimate Easter egg – the fabulous Fabergé Diamond Jubilee Egg worth over £100,000.  At the end of the forty day event, which coincided with Lent, the eggs were auctioned raising £667,000 for the two charities.

Today, egg-painting is still popular in Europe but, in this country, we usually associate Easter with eggs of the chocolate variety, the most popular being the Cadbury’s Creme Egg, of which we eat a staggering 400 million every year, at the rate of 70,000 per hour, generating sales of £70 million!  Compare this humble egg with the Diamond Stella Egg, made of chocolate studded with diamonds, which went on sale in 2006 for an astonishing £50,000!

The tradition of the much-loved Easter Bunny originates from pre-Christian lore when the hare and the rabbit were regarded as the most fertile creatures in the animal kingdom.  The rabbit was first mentioned as a Christian Easter symbol in German writings in the 1500s and, in 1682, the physician George Franck von Frankenau mentioned the Easter Bunny in his bestselling work on Easter eggs, De Ovis Paschalibus.  The first edible bunnies, made of pastry and sugar, were introduced in Germany during the early 1800s and, today, you can choose from a wide variety of chocolate rabbits, ranging from Nestlé chocolate bunnies filled with Smarties to the Lindt gold bunnies which have delighted generations of children.

Although rabbits and eggs have always been symbols of new life, the popular pairing of eggs with the Easter Bunny really only dates back to the end of the 19th Century – the result of an advertising campaign by a European sweet manufacturer which was a stroke of marketing genius well-founded in the traditions of the past.

The Easter Bunny plays an important part in celebrations all over the world, particularly in America where, on Easter Monday, he’s the most eagerly awaited guest at the annual White House Easter Egg Roll, a tradition started in 1878, when eggs are rolled on level ground using a spoon to propel them, unlike in this country where we roll ours down hills.  The identity of the White House Easter Bunny, introduced by Pat Nixon in 1969, is normally kept a secret but, after playing the Bunny for six years, the wife of the Attorney General, Edwin Meese, became known as the ‘Meester Bunny’! 

Another White House tradition is the Easter Egg Hunt when children search for painted wooden eggs, signed by the President and the First Lady.  This year, an estimated 35,000 people are expected to descend on the South Lawn where there will be five differently coloured eggs to hunt for – four decorated with the logo of a skipping bunny, signed by Barack and Michelle Obama and, for the first time, one ‘signed’ by Bo, America’s First Dog, whose image appears on this very special egg.

This year, I’ve dedicated two windows to the Easter season.  In one, pink, blue and lilac are the predominant colours, with the bears dressed for the occasion – two wearing bunny ears and one an Easter bonnet with all the frills upon it – while a selection of smaller bears feature an Easter egg logo.  In the other window I’ve created the White House Easter Egg Roll with lots of eggs hidden in the grass waiting for the bears to find.  There’s also a cycling rabbit, a bear who thinks he’s a chicken and, of course, the Easter Bunny who’s carrying a basket of eggs.    

Whether you’re planning to spend this Easter at church dressed in your Easter bonnet, hunting for decorated eggs, eating chocolate ones or simply enjoying the beauty of nature, The Bears in the Window wish you all an Easter full of sweet surprises!

 


TEN THOUSAND SAW I AT A GLANCE

by Elspeth

Spring is my favourite season – a time when golden daffodils, symbols of hope and new beginnings, brighten even the darkest days, bringing the promise of warmth and sunshine after the dreariness of winter.  However, this year, with temperatures more than 20º colder than they were during the same week twelve months ago, it’s hard to believe that British Summer Time begins on Sunday.  Around the country, last year’s glorious spring weather is just a distant memory and, as the dramatic difference in temperature is showing no signs of letting up, forecasters are predicting that the chances of a white Easter are considerably greater than they were for a white Christmas last year! 

In 1986, Marie Curie Cancer Care adopted the daffodil as its emblem – a most appropriate choice as hope is so important to cancer sufferers and their families.  Every March, The Great Daffodil Appeal, the charity’s biggest fundraising campaign, urges us to wear one of its iconic daffodil pins to help make the last days of the terminally ill more comfortable.  Since the appeal began over 25 years ago, sales of pins and freshly cut blooms have raised an astonishing £61.5 million which has funded the charity’s work of providing support for those with terminal illnesses.

In past years, Fields of Hope have been planted at various locations across the country when hundreds of bobbing yellow blooms have raised people’s awareness of the wonderful work Marie Curie does throughout the year and have also brought comfort to those who, sadly, have had to turn to the charity for help. 

And so, I decided that, this year, The Bears in the Windows should have their own Field of Hope.  With one of my photos as a backdrop, a grass mat and a selection of Marie Curie daffodil pins bought over many years, I created a miniature field of golden blooms (not quite the 10,000 that Wordsworth saw), to which I added a sprinkling of tiny teds of different hues.  Also in the window are two floppy-eared Marie Curie bunnies bearing the charity’s colours of blue and yellow, a little green bear in a daffodil hat, representing all those who, over the years, have given their time to sell pins and daffodils in the streets and shopping malls, and a very rare daffodil tree.  Hopefully, my window has not only added a splash of sunshine to brighten up the recent gloomy days, but has, perhaps, also helped to encourage people to give generously to this most worthwhile charity, whose invaluable work we all hope we never have to experience first hand.


‘DR LIVINGSTONE, I PRESUME?’

by Elspeth

200 years ago today, David Livingstone, the Scottish missionary, explorer and abolitionist, was born in a single-roomed tenement in Blantyre.  Driven by his Christian faith, a love of science and a dogged determination, (from the age of 10, he worked for 14 hours a day in the textile mills, studying at night and weekends), Livingstone was accepted to study medicine and theology at Glasgow University.  After graduating in 1840, he secured a position with the London Missionary Society and, the following year, travelled to southern Africaon the first of many expeditions.

Before Livingstone, Africa’s interior was almost entirely unknown to the outside world and, although vague notions existed about its geography, fauna, flora and human life, it was the Scot who would go on to dispel much of this ignorance and encourage others to explore the Dark Continent.  Livingstone’s adventures captured the public’s imagination as, in an effort to break the hold of the slave trade and open up new trade routes to stimulate an independent African economy, he journeyed far inland, covering an astonishing 28,000 miles over a period of 30 years.  It was in 1844, while working at his first mission outpost, that Livingstone was attacked by a lion, his arm so badly savaged that he was partially disabled, his injury causing him pain for the rest of his life.

On 15th November 1855, Livingstone became the first white man to see the spectacular waterfall known as ‘Mosi-oa-Tunya’ or ‘The Smoke that Thunders’, renaming it Victoria Falls in honour of the United Kingdom’s reigning queen, Victoria.  Livingstone was moved by the grandeur and the beauty of this phenomenon, one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World, describing the Falls and the surrounding area as “…scenes so lovely must have been gazed upon by angels in their flight.”

I’m extremely fortunate to have visited Zimbabwe on three occasions, each time making a point of going toVictoria Falls, which is the one of the most magical places on earth.  At that time, the area around the Falls was completely unspoiled and I’d like to think that it still hasn’t been commercialised in the way that Niagara Falls has been.  Each time, I never failed to feel a sense of anticipation and excitement as I made my way down the path from the Falls Hotel, past the imposing statue of Livingstone and onwards to the Falls themselves where the only sound that could be heard was the roar of the water cascading into the gorge below.

Another experience not to be missed was ‘The Flight of Angels’ when the entire Falls could be seen in all its awe-inspiring glory.  From my seat in the light aircraft, I had a bird’s eye view, not only of the Falls, but also of herds of game, which included elephants, giraffes and zebra, grazing along the banks of the Zambezi looking for all the world like model animals.  Although Victoria Falls is neither the highest nor the widest waterfall in the world, it’s the largest with a width of 1.708 metres and a height of 108 metres and is, in my opinion, more spectacular than Niagara Falls.

Livingstone was a prolific writer and an international celebrity of the Victorian age, who counted Charles Dickens among his fans. During one of his visits home, he was made a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society and spent several months on a lecture tour.  However, despite his celebrity status, he kept returning to Africa and it was there that he spent his final years.   

I can’t write about David Livingstone without mentioning his famous meeting with American journalist, Henry Morgan Stanley.  This came about when, having set out in 1866 to find the source of the Nile, Livingstone had had no contact with the outside world for more than four years, and so Stanley was sent to search for him.  His mission was, as we all know, successful as, on 10th November, the American found Livingstone in the village of Ujiji where he uttered the immortal words, ‘Dr Livingstone, I presume?’  After spending four months with the great missionary, Stanley was unable to persuade him to return with him to the United Kingdom and, with new equipment and provisions provided by his American friend, in August 1872, the intrepid Scot set out on his travels again.

The hard life in Africa took its toll on Livingstone and, having suffered from dysentery and malaria for some time, he was found dead by his servants on the morning of 1st May 1873 kneeling in prayer at his bedside.  Livingstone’s body was transported thousands of miles to the coast by his loyal servants and then returned to the United Kingdom where it was buried in Westminster Abbey on 18th April 1874.  His heart, however, is buried under a Mvala tree near the spot where he died. 

Today, many African names have been changed to indigenous ones honouring local heroes, with the exception of those directly connected with David Livingstone.  These include Livingstone, Blantyre and, of course, the Victoria Fallswhich remain unchanged because of the love the local people had for the man who named them. 

Last week, after visiting an exhibition in the National Museum of Scotland marking David Livingstone’s bi-centenary, I decided that The Bears in the Windows should pay tribute to the great Scottish explorer, missionary and freedom fighter and philanthropist.  To give the window an African feel, I decided to resurrect the tree house I used for Treetops last year in which an intrepid ursine Stanley, complete with pith helmet, has taken refuge from a rhino, little knowing that his horned pursuer has followed him up the ladder!  There are also lots of elephants, a monkey and a giraffe who’s enjoying a dinner of some glossy native leaves.   

The part of Livingstone, who’s just ‘discovered’ the Victoria Falls, is  played by a cute little panda whose outfit has been carefully chosen – his cap, trimmed with red and gold, and Turkey red shirt representing the clothes his namesake was wearing during his famous meeting with Stanley.  (You can see the original clothing in the exhibition, ‘Dr Livingstone, I Presume?’ which runs in the National Museum of Scotland until 7th April.)  If you’re a regular visitor to Dalbear Road or this blog, you may have noticed that the same panda has, in recent months, also played Prince Philip, a fashion designer and Doctor Who!

   

 


HAPPY SAINT PATRICK’S DAY

by Elspeth

With its parades, performers and party atmosphere, 17th March is the day when the people of both Northern and Southern Ireland pay tribute to their patron saint, Saint Patrick, who died in 461 AD. 

It’s believed that Saint Patrick was born either in Wales or Scotland around 385 AD and, if it hadn’t been for a twist of fate which took him to Ireland, the country might have had a different patron saint.  As a young boy, Patrick is supposed to have been carried off by pirates, spending the next six years in slavery before training as a missionary and subsequently taking Christianity to Ireland where he is also credited with having rid the country of snakes. 

The national emblem of Ireland is, of course, the shamrock, thought to have been chosen because Patrick used the three-leaved plant to explain how the Trinity of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit could exist as several parts of the same being.  His followers took to wearing the shamrock to show their belief in what he preached.

Saint Patrick’s Day is celebrated with parades, the wearing of the green and the shamrock and drinking pints of Guinness, Ireland’s national drink, not only in Ireland itself, but by Irish communities in countries all over the world, including mainland United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the United States.  Regarded by many as the most popular parade in a city famous for its parades, New York’s Saint Patrick’s Day Parade is one definitely not to be missed. The first official parade was held in 1766, organised by Irish military men serving in the American colonies.  The tradition has continued to the present day and it’s now estimated that more than 150,000 marchers following the route from 44th Street along 5th Avenue to 86th Street.

According to a tradition started by Queen Alexandra in 1901, a senior female member of the royal family presents members of the 1st Battalion Irish Guards with a sprig of shamrocks on Saint Patrick’s Day.  For the second time, the Duchess of Cambridge, in a green dress coat decorated with a gold shamrock brooch, performed the annual duty, reserving the last sprig of shamrocks for the new regimental mascot, seven-month-old Irish wolfhound Domhnall.  The proud canine, who was carrying out his first public engagement, was dressed in a smart scarlet cape, matched the tunics of the soldiers, and a silver collar.

This year, a flock of sheep and nearly seventy of the world’s most iconic landmarks, like Dublin’s Trinity College, the London Eye, Glasgow’s Armadillo, Selfridges, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, Niagara Falls, the Empire State Building, Rio’s Christ the Redeemer statue, Copenhagen’s Little Mermaid, the Burj al Arab in Dubai, Table Mountain, Sydney Opera House, the Chicago River and the Pyramids and the Sphinx, all turned green for Saint Patrick’s Day.  

The Bears in the Windows always celebrate Saint Patrick’s Day with shamrocks and the wearing of the green and one usually dresses up as a leprechaun, much to the amusement of the other bears.  Although they definitely have no Irish descendants, this year, two pandas decided they’d like to join in the fun and, you may have spotted that one of them is eating some Limited Edition shamrock bamboo!  However, as the bears are all under age, I’m afraid I don’t allow them to toast Ireland’s patron saint with a glass of frothy Guinness!

PS If you enjoy trivia, did you know that 17th March is also a holiday in Montserrat and the Canadian provinces of Newfoundland and Labrador and it was on Saint Patrick’s Day 1845 that Londoner Stephen Perry patented the rubber band!

 Text and photographs © Elspeth A. Grindlay 2013


The Bears Do Something Funny For Red Nose Day!

by Elspeth

Red Nose Day, a seriously silly phenomenon held every other year, started with Comic Relief which was launched live from the Safawa refugee camp in Sudan during Noel Edmond’s Late, Late Breakfast Show on BBC One on Christmas Day 1985 in response to a devastating famine crippling Ethiopia.  The concept for the appeal, the brainchild of Richard Curtis who wrote Blackadder, The Vicar of Dibley, Four Weddings and a Funeral and Notting Hill, was a simple one – to make people laugh while they raised money to help those in desperate need.

Three years later, the first Red Nose Day was staged on 5th February when £15 million pounds was donated.  Since then, over £650m has been raised which has helped people and communities in dire need, both in theUK and overseas.  Whether it’s supporting children in Africa who’ve lost both their parents to Aids, or helping older people in theUK who are being abused by some one they should be able to trust, Red Nose Day has changed lives. 

Each Red Nose Day, we’re urged to ‘Do something funny for money’ and, in 2009, several well-known sculptures were transformed in honour of Red Nose Day, including the statues of John Lennon in Liverpool, Tommy Cooper in Cardiff, Eric Morecambe in Lancashire, Les Dawson in St Annes, Robin Hood in Nottingham and the lions at Norwich Town Hall who all donned red noses.  Iconic landmarks across the country, including the London Eye, Blackpool Illuminations, InvernessCastle, the Manchester Wheel, Grimsby Dock Tower, Gateshead Millennium Bridge and the Belfast Wheel were all given the Red Nose Day treatment and glowed bright red. 

Red Nose Day 2011 was Comic Relief’s most successful fundraising campaign to date – raising a staggering £102 million.  In true Red Nose Day tradition, the nation did themselves proud dressing in silly wigs and funny costumes as they got up to all kinds of mayhem in the lead up to Friday 18th March.  The fundraising frenzy that swept the land saw countless heroic acts of ridiculousness to help raise money for Comic Relief.

Millions of red noses have been sold since the first Red Nose Day in 1988 and, in 2009, there was even a digital version.  The styles change every year, and now there are usually three different versions to choose from.  Also available are large plastic noses which can be fitted on the front of a car.  This year, sees the introduction of the first noses with toes – Dinosesaurs called T-Spex, Triceytops and Dinomite which, as they’ve got toes, you should buy quickly before they run out!  There are also three cuddly Dinoroars which, if you give them a squeeze they make real prehysteric sounds! 

 Andrex puppies, specially produced for Red Nose Day 2007, and several of my bears have permanently red noses and so are the obvious stars of The Bears in the Windows’ Red Nose Day window.  Two years ago, when I told a large resin bear and panda that they had to ‘Do something funny for money’, they rather grudgingly agreed to wear red noses!  I don’t know about you, but they certainly made me smile! 

Just after Christmas, I found a wooden tree covered with red pompoms which makes the perfect centrepiece for this year’s Red Nose Day Window.  Two newcomers have joined the regulars – a very unfairy-like fairy with a sparkly red proboscis, who’s wearing a dress decorated with red noses, Deeley boppers and a red wig (if Samantha Cameron can wear one, then so can she!), and a red-nosed Elvis Presley lookalike who may, if you ask him nicely, be prepared to give a special performance of the King’s greatest hits,‘Teddy Bear’, to encourage you to support Red Nose Day! 

To help The Bears in the Windows raise lots of money, you can make a donation at https://my.rednoseday.com/sponsor/elspethgrindlay

Text and photographs © Elspeth A. Grindlay 2013


BEWARE THE IDES OF MARCH!

by Elspeth

The bloody assassination of Julius Caesar on the Ides of March 44 B.C. has forever marked the day as one of infamy.  Yes, I know that today isn’t the Ides of March but, as Red Nose Day falls on the same day this year, I’ve decided to post this blog two days early! 

In Ancient Rome, ‘ides’ was a term used to mark the appearance of the full moon which happened on the 13th of each month except, as every Latin scholar knows, ‘In March, July, October, May, the Ides fall on the 15th day.’  And so the Ides of March was simply a date on the Roman calendar, corresponding to 15th March, until 44 B.C. when the date took on a whole new identity as a day of abrupt change that set off a ripple of repercussions throughout Roman society and beyond.  

By the time of Caesar, Rome had a long-established republican government headed by two consuls holding joint powers.  A special temporary office of dictator was established to come into force during times of extreme civil unrest.  The Romans had no love of kings and had expelled their last one in 509 B.C. and, although Caesar had made public displays of turning down offers of kingship, in February 44 B.C., he accepted the office of ‘dictator for life’.  He was the first living Roman to appear on the coinage, an honour normally reserved for deities, which suggests that he might have been trying to establish a cult in a move towards deification.  This was probably what sealed his fate in the minds of his enemies.

It’s unclear if Caesar was aware of the plot to kill him (we all know that he’s supposed to have ignored the soothsayer’s advice not to attend the Senate), but he must have known of the mounting danger of a backlash against him. The conspirators had to move quickly as he was planning to leave Rome the following day for a military campaign in Parthia and, as a result, they are often criticised for their lack of foresight in not planning what would they would do next.

Brutus’s involvement in the murder at the foot of the statue of Pompey is all the more tragic because of his closeness to Caesar as, although he had fought against him in the recent civil war, his life had been spared by Caesar who had then promoted him to the office of praetor.  Brutus was frequently torn in his allegiance to Caesar but the final blow came when his uncle Cato, a father figure to Brutus, killed himself after being defeated by Caesar in 46 B.C.  It’s possible, therefore, that Brutus felt ashamed that he had been granted clemency by Caesar and felt an obligation to avenge his uncle’s suicide when his quest to save the republic failed.

Whether Caesar was actually a true tyrant has caused endless debate over the years, as has the moral dilemma of whether Brutus should be branded a villain.  Shakespeare portrayed him as a tragic hero, while branding Caesar an unequivocal tyrant, whereas Dante believed that, by killing the man who had spared him, Brutus was doomed to the lowest levels of hell.  In the end, the legacy of the power struggle established by Caesar lived on through his heir Octavian who later became Rome’s first emperor.

A few years ago, I found a ready made Julius Caesar bear in an antique shop in Doune and so the idea of an ‘Ides of March’ window was born.  A stone bear with a crystal ball is the perfect soothsayer and, after I’d dressed him in a toga created from a recycled carrier bag, one of a quartet of pandas, who regularly appear in the windows in a variety of guises, is an ideal Brutus!  As you can see, Brutus is a fairly benign looking murderer, making Caesar’s last words: ‘Et tu, Brute!’ all the more poignant.

Text and photographs © Elspeth A. Grindlay 2013

 


ON MOTHER’S DAY WITH LOVE

by Elspeth

In the United Kingdom, Mother’s Day is celebrated on the fourth Sunday of Lent, although it’s observed on different dates in other countries around the world.

The earliest example of dedicating a special day to mothers can be traced back to the ancient Greeks, who held spring celebrations in honour of Rhea, the Mother of the Gods.  The Romans called their version the Hilaria, which they celebrated on the Ides of March by making offerings in the Temple of Cybele, the Roman Mother of the Gods.

The origins of Mothering Sunday in the United Kingdomdate back to the 17th century, when children from poor families were sent to work as domestic servants in the homes of the landed gentry.  Once a year, these young children were allowed a day off to visit their mother church, which gave them the opportunity to return home to see their mothers.  The boys would take gifts of fresh flowers, while the girls would take hand-baked cakes known as Simnel cakes, the name probably coming from the Latin word ‘simila,’ meaning very fine flour made from wheat.  The rich fruit cake, covered with a thick layer of almond paste and then decorated with eleven small balls of almond paste, signifying all the apostles except Judas, was notoriously difficult to make and so was regarded as a test of a girl’s cooking skills.  According to tradition, the cake would be kept until Easter Sunday when the whole family would wait anxiously to see if it was still moist which meant that she was, indeed, a good cook. 

Although, in recent years, Mother’s Day has become very commercialised in this country, I suppose there’s nothing wrong with having a day when children can let their mothers know how special they are with cards, flowers, chocolates and teddy bears or perhaps by treating them to breakfast in bed which, more often than not, isn’t necessarily a treat!  However, I suspect that very few girls still make Simnel cakes for their mothers, but I’m happy to stand corrected if you do. 

This year, The Bears in the Windows’ Mother’s Day window features several mother and child groups – the bears ‘saying it with chocolates, flowers and wine’ and the pandas preferring to ‘say it with bamboo’!  You may have noticed that one young bear has decided to spurn more traditional gifts and has, instead, opted to give her mother an iPad Mini!

 

 

 


A RUFF GUIDE TO CRUFTS!

by Elspeth

Crufts, arguably the most famous dog show in the world, opens its doors today at Birmingham’s NEC and, for the next four days, man’s best friend will take centre stage in what I suppose could be regarded as the canine equivalent of the Oscars.

It was Charles Alfred Cruft, a travelling dog-biscuit salesman, who came up with the idea of staging a dog show as a way of promoting his wares.  Cruft already had experience at running events of this kind as, in 1878, French dog breeders had invited him to promote the canine section of the Paris Exhibition and, in 1886, he had taken over the running of the Allied Terrier Club Show inLondon.  Five years later, the first Cruft’s show was held in the Royal Agricultural Hall in Islington, when entry was limited to toy dogs and terriers, attracting some 2,437 dogs.  Cruft himself was a Saint Bernard owner but, rather surprisingly, no Saint Bernard won Best in Show until Burtonswood Bossy Boots triumphed in 1974. 

Unlike today, when dogs are banned from so many places, from 1891 until the early 1920s, canines attending Cruft’s were treated like VIDs (Very Important Dogs) by the London & North Western Railway, travelling in special dog carriages designed for them by Cruft.  LNWR representatives were also at the show to help exhibitors and their dogs with travel arrangements.

Ever since that first show in 1891, Cruft’s has enjoyed royal patronage beginning with Queen Victoria whose collie, Darnley II and two of her Pomeranians won prizes at the 1891 show.  In 1969 Queen Elizabeth became the first reigning monarch to visit Cruft’s and Her Majesty is still patron of The Kennel Club.

In 1900, dogs entered for a special ‘gift class’ were sold to raise funds for the families of soldiers serving in the Boer War and Cruft, who was now also dealing in dog chains, advertised ‘a 10% reduction on all chains on account of the war’.  The first mongrel was allowed through the doors of Cruft’s in 1913, the honour going to Charles, an Airedale/collie cross police dog who had saved his handler from a knife attack by a Norwegian sailor.  The courageous canine joined pedigree breeds in a class called Spratt’s Canine Heroes.  Three years later, there was a special class for ‘dogs owned by officers and non-commissioned officers serving in His Majesty’s forces’.  War meant that there were no shows between 1918 and 1920 or between 1942 until 1947.  The only other time Cruft’s has been cancelled was in 1954 when an electricians’ strike pulled the plug on the annual event. 

 

The first Best in Show award, introduced in 1928, was won by a greyhound called Primley Spectre, owned and bred by Herbert Whitley, a brewery millionaire who also founded Paignton Zoo.  English cocker spaniels have won more Best in Show awards than any other breed, a total of seven altogether, with six of these going to the one breeder.

When Charles Cruft died in 1938, his widow, Emma, organised the show the following year before passing it on to The Kennel Club who still run it today.  Ten year later, the show moved fromLondon’s Royal Agricultural Hall to a new venue at Olympia where it remained until 1979 whenEarls Court became its new home.

The BBC filmed Cruft’s for the first time in 1950 and continued to do so until 2008.  However, the following year they made the decision to drop the show from their schedule when public opinion seemed to be turning against the idea of pedigree dogs.  By the way, in case you’re wondering why I keep changing from Cruft’s to Crufts, it isn’t because I’m confused about how to use apostrophes but because, in 1974, the name ‘Cruft’s’ was changed to ‘Crufts’ when, during a rebranding exercise, The Kennel Club decided the apostrophe was no longer needed.    

Crufts celebrated its centenary in 1991, with another change of venue, when it moved to its current location at the NEC in Birmingham, the first time the event had been held outside London.  With entries of over 23,000, that year, Crufts was officially recognised by the Guinness Book of Records as the largest dog show in the world.  Another ‘amazing’ statistic was revealed in 1998 when someone at Crufts, obviously with too much time on their hands, calculated that 340kg of dog hair would have to be cleared from the NEC after the show ended!

The number of entries has continued to rise and, this year, there are around 25,000 canines competitors taking part in all sorts of events including flyball, when teams of dogs clear hurdles while carrying tennis balls, agility contests, obedience classes, heelwork to music, Scruffts, The Kennel Club’s crossbreed competition and, of course, the prestigious Best in Show.

 

However, my favourite event of all is Friends for Life, originally called Hero Dogs when it first featured at Crufts in 2004.  Each year, the dogs nominated for this special award remind us what it is that makes the relationship between a dog and man so very special.  Last year’s winner, for example, was Buster, a nine year old springer spaniel who had completed five tours of duty with the RAF, including two in Afghanistan. 

This year’s finalists are Brin, who saved the lives of two soldiers in Afghanistan and survived capture by the Taliban, Janus, a police dog who has helped to make 433 arrests, Haatchi, a three-legged stray, left for dead on a railway line, who has changed the life of a seven year old boy suffering from a rare genetic disease, Daisy, who has brought joy to a family who tragically lost a son and a dog to cancer in the same year and Max and Ziggy, assistance dogs who have helped a wheelchair bound couple to find love and independence with each other, after years of isolation and despair.  As each of the finalists has either changed or saved lives, in the process teaching us about loyalty, companionship and bravery, I find it impossible to single out only one as I believe they would all be worthy winners.   

   

Showing that Crufts moves with the times, you can also follow events on You Tube, Facebook and Twitter, which should perhaps be renamed Woof for the next few days!  Then there’s also the 2013 Crufts Factor  which will be opened by Lucy Heath and her border collie Indie, winners of ITV’s 2012 That Dog Can Dance competition.

This year, as you can see, two of The Bears in the Windows have entered golden Labradors – they really wanted to enter black Labrador retrievers in honour of my dog, Holly but, unfortunately, I didn’t have any small cuddly canines of the correct colour!  They look extremely smart, with their bling leads and collars and, as joint winners of the gundog class, they are now both in the running for the Best in Show award, sponsored by the best-selling dog magazines, Fetch! and Woof!  I think you’ll agree that the ursine judge looks a little apprehensive about having to choose a winner who, on Sunday, will be presented with ‘The Bears in the Windows’ trophy which, this year, takes the form of a crystal dog with a ‘diamond’ encrusted bone! 

Text and photographs © Elspeth A. Grindlay 2013

 

 

 


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