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

THE ROYAL SHAKESBEARE COMPANY PRESENTS

by Elspeth

 

As well as being St. George’s Day, 23rd April is not only the anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare, but it’s also believed to be the day on which he was born.  I say ‘believed’ because, although his actual date of birth has never been verified, records show that he was baptised on 26th April 1564, meaning that he was probably born a few days earlier. 

Shakespeare, considered by many to be the greatest playwright of all time, was born in Stratford-upon-Avon, his father a glove-maker and wool merchant and his mother, Mary Arden, the daughter of a well-to-do local landowner.  The next documented event in his life is his marriage in 1582 to Anne Hathaway, the daughter of a farmer, when he was a mere boy of 17 and she a considerably older 26.  The couple had a daughter the following year, followed by twins three years later.

 

There is now another gap, referred to by some scholars as ‘the lost years’, with Shakespeare only reappearing in London in 1592 when he was already working in the theatre because, although he’s best known for his writing, for many years, his profession was given as ‘actor’ rather than ‘playwright’.  He played minor roles in many of his own plays, such as the ghost in Hamlet and Adam in As You like It, and also appeared in those of other playwrights like Ben Johnson.   

Although Shakespeare is always referred to as an Elizabethan playwright, most of his most popular plays were written after the death of Elizabeth I, making him more of a Jacobean writer.  In fact, James I is known to have been an enthusiastic patron of his work.  President Abraham Lincoln was also a great lover of Shakespeare’s plays, frequently reciting from them to his friends and, rather ironically, his assassin, John Wilkes Booth, was a famous Shakespearean actor.

Some scholars have maintained that Shakespeare did not actually write the plays for which he is world-famous, with at least fifty writers having been suggested as the ‘real’ author.  In theatre circles it was quite common for writers to collaborate and, towards the end of his career, it’s known that Shakespeare worked with other writers on plays that have been credited to those writers, while others have worked on plays that are credited to Shakespeare. 

For those of you who enjoy trivia and facts and figures, Shakespeare wrote 37 plays, an average of 1.5 a year, and 154 sonnets!  Suicide occurs an unlucky thirteen times in Shakespeare’s plays – for example, in Romeo and Juliet, where both Romeo and Juliet commit suicide, and in Julius Caesar where Cassius and Brutus die by consensual stabbing and Portia, the wife of Brutus, kills herself.  Only two of Shakespeare’s plays are written entirely in verse, Richard II and King John, while his shortest play is The Comedy of Errors which is only a third of the length of his longest, Hamlet, which takes four hours to perform.  His last play, The Two Noble Kinsmen, is thought to have been written in 1613 when Shakespeare was 49 years old.  All the satellites of Uranus are named after Shakespearean characters, such as Desdemona, Portia, Juliet, Ophelia, Rosalind, Puck, Miranda, Ariel, Titania, Oberon, Caliban and Prospero. 

According to the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations, Shakespeare wrote nearly a tenth of the most quoted lines ever written or spoken in English and his work is the second most quoted after the Bible.  Amongst the 80 languages into which Shakespeare’s works have been translated, the most obscure must be the constructed language of Star Trek’s Klingon.  The Oxford English Dictionary has credited Shakespeare with introducing almost 3,000 words to the English language, with estimations of his vocabulary ranging from 17,000 to a dizzying 29,000 words, an astonishing 7,000 of which he used only once!

As it was illegal for women and girls to perform in the theatre, all the female parts in Shakespeare’s plays were written for boys and it wasn’t until the Restoration that woman appeared on the British stage.  During a performance of Henry VIII, the original Globe Theatre came to a premature end in 1613 when a cannon set light to the thatched roof.  Within two hours the theatre was burnt to the ground but was rebuilt the following year.  The Bard never actually published any of his plays himself and it was two of his fellow actors who recorded and published 36 posthumously in 1623 under the name ‘The First Folio’.

Amazingly, there are more than 80 variations recorded for the spelling of Shakespeare’s name, including ‘Willm Shaksp,’ ‘William Shakespe,’ ‘Wm Shakspe,’ ‘William Shakspere,’ ‘Willm Shakspere,’ and ‘William Shakspeare’, but there is no record of it ever having been spelled, ‘William Shakespeare’ as we know him today.

Towards the end of his life, Shakespeare lived a double life – in London he was a famous playwright, while in his hometown of Stratford, where his wife and children continued to live and which he visited frequently, he was a well known and highly respected businessman and property owner.  Shakespeare spent the last five years of his life in Stratford and, unlike many writers, he died on 23rd April 1616, a wealthy man. 

His body was buried in Holy Trinity Churchand it’s said that Shakespeare had put a curse on anyone who tried to move it!  His original grave marker showed him holding a bag of grain but, in 1747, the citizens of Stratford replaced the bag with a much more appropriate quill.  In his will Shakespeare left all his property to his daughter, while to his wife, Anne, he left only ‘my second-best bed with the furniture’ – ‘the furniture’ being the clothes for the bed!  It remains a mystery why he didn’t leave her his best bed! 

Last year, instead of sharing a window with St George and the dragon, I decided that William Shakespeare deserved one of his own.  This year, although April has turned out to be another incredibly busy month for The Bears in the Windows, due to popular demand, the Royal Shakesbeare Company is back with another beary special performance of some of the ‘Beard of Avon’s’ best-known plays.  You’ll probably recognise A Midsummer Bear’s Dream and Anthony and Bearopatra, but how many more can you find?  Answers on a postcard or by email please! 

 


HAPPY ST GEORGE’S DAY

by Elspeth

Today is the feast day of St. George, the patron saint of England.  Very little is actually known about the real St. George, so much so that Pope Gelasius said that he was one of the saints ‘whose names are rightly reverenced among us, but whose actions are known only to God.’ 

In fact, the story of St. George is so wrapped in myth and legend that some believe that he never existed or that he’s a Christianised version of an older pagan myth.  In the early centuries of Christianity, followers would write up fabulous accounts of the lives of their heroes, enhancing their reputation, but leaving the details of their lives very blurred, and this is what seems to have happened with St. George.

 

It’s said that George was born in Cappadocia (now Eastern Turkey) in 270 AD where he was brought up as a Christian. When his father died, his mother returned to her native Palestine, taking her son with her.  At the age of seventeen, George joined the Roman army, rising to the rank of Tribune and, although he served under a pagan Emperor, he did not renounce his Christian faith.

Around 303 AD, Emperor Diocletian started to persecute the Christians and, when George pleaded with him to spare their lives, the Emperor had him imprisoned and tortured to try to get him to deny his faith.  George showed incredible courage by refusing to do so and, as a punishment, was dragged through the streets and then beheaded on 23rd April 303 AD.  It’s said that Diocletian’s wife was so impressed by George’s resilience that she became a Christian and that she too was executed for her faith.

The image most familiar to us today is that of the saint dressed in a white tunic emblazoned with a red cross, astride his stallion as he kills a dragon, representing the devil, to rescue a damsel in distress.  However, as the slaying of the dragon was only credited to St. George in the twelfth century, long after his death, this is one of the reasons why many believe that this and the other stories connected with St. George are fictitious.

In 1222 the Council of Oxford replaced St. Edmund with St. George as the patron saint of England, declaring that 23rd April be celebrated as Saint George’s Day.  The reason for this decision was probably because the story of George slaying the dragon was similar to an Anglo-Saxon legend, making him a more suitable person to be England’s patron saint than Edmund.  After the declaration, St. George was incorporated into miracle plays and is the prime figure in Spenser’s famous epic poem The Faerie Queen.

When Edward III founded the Order of the Garter in 1348, the most senior order of British chivalry, he put it under the patronage of St. George and the magnificent St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle, completed in 1525, is the Order’s spiritual home.  In 1940, King George VI inaugurated the George Cross for ‘acts of the greatest heroism or of the most conspicuous courage in circumstances of extreme danger’, and the design chosen for the medal, usually awarded to civilians, was of St. George slaying the dragon on a silver cross.

It may surprise you to learn that St. George is also the patron saint of Bulgaria, Ethiopia, Georgia, Greece, Portugal, Russia and Germany!  One wonders, therefore, how George decided which side to support during various conflicts, including two World Wars!  A whole host of people are also supposed to be looked after by St. George, including archers, cavalry, farmers and field workers, riders and saddlers, scouts, soldiers and those suffering from leprosy and the plague!  Some people have campaigned for St. Alban to be the patron saint of England instead of George and who can blame them when he’s shared by so many!

The national flower of England is the rose, adopted around the time of the War of the Roses, fought between the Royal House of Lancaster, whose emblem was a red rose, and the Royal House of York, whose emblem was a white one.  In 1845, the Lancastrian Henry Tudor defeated King Richard III and the Yorkists at the Battle of Bosworth Field, claiming the throne of England to become King Henry VII.  However, as his claim was a rather shaky one based on the illegitimate Plantagenet line, Henry strengthened his position by marrying Elizabeth of York, thus uniting the Houses of Lancaster and York whose floral emblems were then combined to make the Tudor rose – a red rose with a white centre.

In this year’s St George’s Day window, there are lots of patriotic red and white bears, bearing either a St George’s cross or a rose, and a Tudor Queen.  The star is, of course, a dragon-slaying bear who seems to be on quite friendly terms with his arch enemy, who bears a striking resemblance to ‘the bear of very little brain’, Winnie the Pooh! 

 

 

 


NOW WE ARE EIGHTY-SEVEN

by Elspeth

87 years ago today, at 2.40 am, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II was born at 17 Bruton Street, the London home of her maternal grandparents, the Earl and Countess of Strathmore.  She was the first child of the Duke of York, King George V’s second son, and his wife, formerly Lady Elizabeth Bowes Lyon. 

The new princess was third in line to the throne after Edward, Prince of Wales (later King Edward VIII), and her father and was never expected to become Queen.  Her christening took place in the private chapel at Buckingham Palace, where she was named Elizabeth Alexandra Mary after her mother, her paternal great-grandmother and her paternal grandmother respectively. 

Her Majesty usually celebrates her actual birthday in private, leaving the public celebrations until her official birthday in June, when better weather is more likely, marked by the spectacular ceremony of Trooping  the  Colour.  Her birthday is, however, marked publically at midday on 21st April with a 41 gun salute in Hyde Park, a 21 gun salute in Windsor Great Park and a 62 gun salute at the Tower of London.  (If, like me, you’ve always wondered why the number of salutes varies, it’s because it depends on the location and the occasion.  For instance, the basic Royal salute is 21 rounds, but an extra 20 are added in Hyde Park because it’s a Royal Park.  Then, at the Tower of London, 62 rounds are fired on Royal anniversaries (the basic 21, a further 20 because the Tower is a Royal Palace and Fortress and another 21 ‘for the City of London’) and 41 on other occasions.  The Tower probably holds the record for the most rounds fired in a single salute which is thought to be 124.  This happened on 10th June two years ago when the Queen’s official birthday (62 rounds) coincided with The Duke of Edinburgh’s birthday (also 62 rounds).  Still confused?  I know that I am! 

A recent exception to the rule of Her Majesty having a private birthday was in 2006 when she celebrated her 80th birthday with her subjects.  Although all she really wanted was ‘a nice sunshiny day’, the Queen’s radiant smile showed how thrilled she was by the thousands of well-wishers who showered her with cards, flowers and gifts during her birthday walkabout in Windsor.  In the course of the year, Her Majesty received around 30,000 cards, many of them handmade.  One card in particular meant a great deal to her as it came from the surviving members of SRS Duke of York, the Sea Rangers who had trained with her at Windsor in the 1940s when she was still Princess Elizabeth. To mark the importance of her birthday that year, Her Majesty also attended a National Service of Thanksgiving at St. Paul’s Cathedral, followed by luncheon at the Guildhall hosted by the Lord Mayor of London.   

Amongst the public events organised for this landmark birthday was a party celebrating the magic of children’s books held in the gardens of Buckingham Palace on 25th June, coincidentally the birthday of Paddington Bear who was, of course, one of the guests of honour.   Paddington has at least two things in common with Her Majesty – he also has two birthdays (25th June and 25th December) and his creator, Michael Bond, also celebrated his 80th birthday in 2006.  Winnie the Pooh, another octogenarian, was also at the party, which was particularly appropriate as, in 1953, Petula Clark brought out a pop version of A. A. Milne’s much-loved poem Buckingham Palace to coincide with the Queen’s Coronation.  Other guests included 2,000 children and their parents plus various characters from children’s literature such as Noddy, the White Rabbit, Postman Pat, The Snowman and Harry Potter.  

A recent survey on Twitter, commissioned by greeting card giant Hallmark, asked people to choose their favourite moment from the monarch’s 61-year reign.  Her Majesty’s cameo role alongside 007 when she appeared to parachute out of a helicopter into the Olympic Stadium came out top pipping the Diamond Jubilee Thames Pageant and the Diamond Jubilee concert to second and third place respectively.  In fourth place, was the Queen’s role at the wedding of  William and Kate, which surprised me a little as she played no  part in the ceremony apart from being there.  In fifth place was the royal wave, while walking the royal corgis was sixth and the Silver Jubilee, seventh.  Her Majesty’s stylish wardrobe followed in eighth place, with her marriage to Prince Philip and presenting the World Cup to England in 1966, taking ninth and tenth places respectively. 

I find it incredibly difficult to choose only ten moments from a lifetime of magical moments and, while I agree with some of the survey results, namely Her Majesty’s James Bond Olympic cameo and her wedding, I feel there are some glaring omissions.  My list would have to include the Coronation, the Queen’s historic state visit to the Republic of Ireland in 2011, when she charmed the whole country, 16th April 1953, the day she launched the Royal Yacht Britannia and the day she left it for the last time after it was decommissioned, (the only time she has shed a tear in public), her stoicism at carrying on with her Golden Jubilee celebrations in 2002 following the deaths of two of her closest confidants – first of her sister, Margaret, followed less than two months later by the Queen Mother – and, of course, her recent attendance at the funeral of Margaret Thatcher. 

 From a personal point of view, I would also have to include the thrill of being only a few feet from the Queen at last year’s Royal Windsor Horse Show, watching her travelling down the Mall in an open-topped vehicle only three days after the London Bombings (I’m quite sure that very few other Heads of State would have been quite so courageous) and finding myself right at the railings of Buckingham Palace when the Queen made her traditional balcony appearance after the 60th anniversary celebrations to mark the end of World War Two, watching the flypast with an almost childlike delight that, if I hadn’t known better, I’d have thought it was the first time she had witnessed such an event. 

Finally, it’s incredible that, at the age of 87, more than twenty years after the official retirement age, the Queen still performs such a huge number of official duties, (It has been calculated that, between 1952 and 2012, Her Majesty has carried out a staggering 30,317 engagements – an average of almost 500 for each year of her reign) and seems to look younger with every passing year.

Hallmark have, apparently, sent the Queen a giant birthday card featuring a silhouette of Her Majesty made up of tweets, bringing together the tradition of a tangible birthday card with the modern phenomenon of tweeting as, naturally, Hallmark believe that there’s no replacement for a real card when it comes to showing how much you care.

Quite rightly, The Bears in the Windows like to pay their own birthday tribute to this remarkable woman who has given a lifetime of service and dedication to her family, her country and the Commonwealth and who, throughout her long and eventful reign, has demonstrated an extraordinary energy, drive, sense of duty and fortitude.  This year, ‘Her Majesty’, whose presents include a basket of wine and cheese and a specially commissioned portrait of ‘Prince Philip’, is spending her birthday at Windsor where she’s enjoying a walk amongst a host of sunshine yellow daffodils.  (I sincerely hope it was ‘a nice sunshiny day’ in Windsorand not the rather miserable day it has been here.)  Naturally, accompanying Her Majesty on her walk are two of her beloved corgis, who have their eyes on a rather yummy looking birthday cake, complete with her ‘EIIR’ cipher, made specially for her by cake-maker extraordinaire, Fiona Bearns!

 

 

 


THE LONDON MARATHON

by Elspeth

For the last 33 years, thousands of runners of all ages and abilities have taken part in the London Marathon and, although it’s a serious race, many of the amateur runners have raised millions of pounds for charity.  Today, as a record 35,000 pound the streets, security in the capital will be extra tight and spectators will be asked to be extra vigilant after the tragic events of last week’s Boston Marathon, whose victims will be remembered with a 30-second silence at 10am.

The race commemorates the historic run of Pheidippides from Marathon to Athens, bringing news of a Greek victory over the Persians in 490 BC.  Legend has it that shortly after the soldier delivered the momentous message, ‘Niki!’ (or victory!), he collapsed and died.  When the modern Olympics were inaugurated in Greece in 1896, the legend of Pheidippides was revived with a 24.85 mile run, traditionally the final event in the games.  However, at the 1908 Olympics in London, the marathon distance was lengthened to 26 miles 385 yards to cover the ground from Windsor Castle to White City Stadium, so that the race could finish in front of the royal box.  After 16 years of heated discussion, this longer distance was established at the Paris Olympics as the official marathon distance.

Today, the marathon has become a tradition all over the world, with New York’s and London’s being perhaps the most prestigious.  It’s said that the seed for the London Marathon was planted in a pub when its co-founders, John Disley and Chris Brasher, having listened to people’s exploits in the already established New York Marathon, decided to experience it for themselves.  In 1979, they entered the race and witnessed how exhilarating ‘a city mass marathon’ could be, combining world famous sights, cheering spectators and the camaraderie of runners from around the world. 

On his return home, Brasher wrote an article titled ‘The World’s Most Human Race’ for The Observer, saying: ‘The human race can be one large family, working together, laughing together, achieving the impossible.  Last Sunday, 11,532 men and women from 40 different countries, assisted by over a million people, laughed, cheered and suffered the greatest folk festival the world has ever seen.’  Brasher ended by musing ‘whether Londoncould stage such a festival?  We have the course, a magnificent course ….but do we have the heart and hospitality to welcome the world?’  The answer was, of course it could and so, on 29th March 1981, the first London Marathon was run, ending in a dramatic dead heat.  Some 20,000 applied, but only 7,747 were accepted, 6,255 of whom finished the arduous course. 

This first London Marathon proved to be a massive hit with the runners, the spectators who lined the course and the viewers who followed it from the comfort of their armchairs.  Over the years, the race has grown in size, stature and popularity, attracting sportsmen and women, celebrities and ordinary members of the public and is now established as one of the major events in the sporting calendar.  Since 1981, 882,946 runners have competed, more than three quarters of competitors running for charity dressed in fancy dress, hoping to stand out from the crowd as a rhino, a football mascot or a giant tree but, sadly, eleven runners have met the same fate as Pheidippides.

Two of The Bears in the Windows are running in this year’s London Marathon, one dressed as Superted to raise money for the WWF, while a rabbit, who’s a seasoned Marathon veteran, is supporting the Dog’s Trust.  After receiving his medal, one of the bears collapsed and needed a little tlc from a nurse on hand to look after any casualties.  Having been inspired by their ursine friends, several of the other bears have decided they’d like to take part and are already in training for next year’s event! 

 


THE FINAL JOURNEY

by Elspeth

Yesterday’s funeral was very much a military affair but, for me, the most abiding memory of a day, full of pomp and circumstance, cheers and, of course, tears, has nothing to do with war. 

Armed not with weapons but only with their legendary handbags, two figures, born within six months of each other, have dominated, perhaps even personified, the post-war history of Britain. Yesterday one came to say farewell to the other.

With her mere presence at the moving service in St Paul’s Cathedral, the Queen spoke more forcefully than any prayers, obituaries, parliamentary eulogies, vitriolic diatribes or angry demonstrations.  In life, Margaret Thatcher had been extraordinary, so it was fitting that her funeral should be, too. 

That is why our longest-lived Monarch had come to salute our first and only female Prime Minister, for once, arriving before her and leaving after her.  As a stickler for protocol, Lady Thatcher would have been thrilled, as the only other Prime Minister to have been accorded such an accolade was Winston Churchill.  However, although she had planned her own funeral with military precision, the Queen’s attendance was the one thing over which Margaret Thatcher had no control.

One thing she had been adamant about, however, was that her grand-daughter, Amanda, would give one of the readings.  This was, apparently, to make up for the fact that, as she had been only nine when her grandfather died, to her huge disappointment, she had been deemed too young to take an active part in the service.  And so, Amanda gave the first reading radiating steely poise far beyond her 19 years.  When congratulated on her polished delivery, she said simply, ‘It’s sort of in the blood.’  Her extraordinary composure during what must have been a terrifying ordeal for a young girl, unused to being in the limelight, showed that, in Amanda, dubbed the ‘Iron Grand-daughter,’ Margaret Thatcher has a worthy successor.

I was also moved by the deep concentration of the eight pallbearers.  With only a few heart-stopping wobbles, they carried their precious load up the steep steps of St. Paul’s, past the guard of honour of eighteen Chelsea Pensioners, their glistening brows showing how much effort it was taking to ensure that nothing went wrong.  These were young men who probably knew very little about Lady Thatcher, but who showed a devotion to their onerous duty that was inspirational to watch.

Very often, at occasions such as this, the person giving the address doesn’t really know the deceased which makes it very impersonal and rather gloomy.  This is what made the Bishop of London another inspired choice.  He was a family friend and so made Margaret Thatcher real and human with a series of anecdotes, some amusing and some touching, telling us that ‘now, after the storm of a life lived in the heat of political controversy, Lady Thatcher is now one of us.’  His uplifting words also reminded us of our common humanity and our shared and inevitable destiny.

It was also good to see those who had received personal invitations to the funeral, including Lady Thatcher’s carers, staff from her two favourite hotels – the Goring and The Ritz, where she died – and four doorkeepers from the Lords.  Also there were the two men who had looked after Margaret Thatcher’s hair for nearly forty years and Anya Hindmarch, her favourite handbag designer.  In fact, we learned that her daughter Carol had acquired a new handbag in her mother’s honour, explaining, touchingly: ‘My mother invented handbagging and I wanted one just like hers.’

Appropriately, during the singing of ‘I Vow to Thee My Country’, which never fails to bring a lump to my throat no matter how often I hear it, a shaft of sunlight burst in through the dome, as if to give Lady Thatcher one final moment in the spotlight.  As the coffin left the cathedral through St. Paul’s great West Door, to the stirring strains of Elgar’s Nimrod, cheers broke out from the assembled crowd – the applause echoing back into the great cathedral. 

I was heartened to see that all those who had predicted there would be protests and disruption had been proved wrong and that the respectful dignity of the people, of all ages and classes, including a good number of Falklands veterans, who had come to salute Lady Thatcher had triumphed over the surprisingly small number of scruffy protesters who thought it appropriate to heckle and turn their backs on the coffin of the woman who had made this country great again.  As I watched Lady Thatcher set off on her final journey down Ludgate Hill to the sound of cheers and applause and not protests, it made me proud to be British. 

Though it hadn’t been a state funeral in name, all the component parts were there: the Queen, a gun carriage, the Knights of the Garter, fine hymns, Prime Ministers, past and present, politicians from home and around the world, several Bishops, the Lord Mayor of London carrying the Mourning Sword, last removed from its case for Sir Winston Churchill, and one of the great Dimbleby dynasty in the commentary box.  With its poignant solemnity, beautiful language and military precision, the funeral was a fitting tribute to one of our greatest leaders.  

She entered this world as a grocer’s daughter, raised in a modest flat above the shop in a small market town in Lincolnshire. She left it yesterday amid the splendour of Wren’s magnificent cathedral, attended by her family and friends, her Sovereign and dignitaries from around the world, and applauded through the streets of London by ordinary people who had turned out in their thousands to pay their last respects. This was the day when the British people gave Margaret Thatcher in death the honour and gratitude she had so richly earned in life.

 

 

 

 


WE BID A FOND FAREWELL TO THE IRON LADY

by Elspeth

Today is the funeral of Baroness Margaret Thatcher, the Grantham grocer’s daughter who, as a scientist, was part of the team that developed Mr Whippy icecream and then went on to become Britain’s first female Prime Minister.  Although dismissed by some of her chauvinist male colleagues as ‘Attila the Hen’, Margaret Thatcher was greatly respected by world leaders such as Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev, and steered Britain through economic collapse, the Falklands crisis and the Cold War. 

When she came to power in 1979, the unions were doing their best to ruin the country with strikes, three day weeks and power cuts.  However, although there’s no doubt that some of Margaret Thatcher’s policies were deeply divisive or that she alienated many people, she was only trying to achieve what she had been elected to do – to set Britain on a new course of prosperity – which history will show she accomplished.  In a speech at the Conservative Party Conference in 1980, during the height of her battle with Arthur Scargill, Margaret Thatcher famously said: ‘To those waiting with bated breath for that favourite media catchphrase, the U-turn, I have only one thing to say: You turn if you want to. The lady’s not for turning.’ – and she never was!

Margaret Thatcher once said, ‘Being powerful is like being a lady.  If you have to tell people you are, you aren’t.’  She didn’t have to tell anybody that she was powerful or that she was a lady, the latter something which Glenda Jackson most certainly was not during her vile diatribe in the Commons last week.  Amongst the insults thrown at Margaret Thatcher was the somewhat puzzling statement: ‘The first Prime Minister of female gender, OK.  But a woman?  Not on my terms.’ 

In stark contrast, one of the simplest but possibly most effective tributes came from C. M. Saatchi (formerly Saatchi & Saatchi) whose imaginative advertising campaign brought Margaret Thatcher to power in 1979.  The full page tribute, which appeared in the papers on Sunday, simply featured a photo of Margaret Thatcher with the words ‘The best client we ever had.’

Many have said that Margaret Thatcher was deeply unpopular with the people of this country.  How can we equate this with the fact that they rejected the policies of Labour under the leadership of Jim Callaghan, Michael Foot and Neil Kinnock respectively, to give Thatcher three successive landslide victories – she won 43.9% of the vote in 1979, 42.45% in 1983 and 42.25% in 1987 – victories which the politicians of today can only dream about.  Of course, many hated Margaret Thatcher, when you’re a politician that goes with the territory, but many loved her.  However, given the recent expenses scandal, when so many supposedly ‘highly respected’ MPs fiddled their expenses and got away with it, one fact that even her most vociferous of critics would have to admit is that Margaret Thatcher didn’t have a corrupt bone in her body. 

But what about the protests about the closure of mines that have raised their ugly heads again this week, I hear you ask?  Amongst all the hysteria, it should be remembered that both Arthur Scargill and the miners knew perfectly well that, no matter whose hand signed the death warrant, it was economics that killed the mines.  The industry had been in crisis for decades, crippled by excessive costs and international competition, and yet it seems that those protesting are either ill informed or have chosen to forget that, in actual fact, more miners lost their jobs in the 1960s than in the 1980s.  Despite the fact that Harold Wilson was responsible for closing more mines than Margaret Thatcher, I don’t remember people dancing on his grave.  It was simply unsustainable for any government, be it Labour or Tory, to continue to ask taxpayers to pay men to mine for coal, at great detriment to their health, that was worth pounds less per ton than it cost to extract.

Of course, like most people, I didn’t agree with all Margaret Thatcher’s policies, especially the sale of council houses, not because I was necessarily against the idea per se, but because of the way the system was allowed to be abused.  I personally know of people who managed to buy property to which they weren’t entitled and unscrupulous chancers who persuaded elderly tenants with no relations, whom they ‘befriended’, to allow them to buy their council homes for them, knowing that, when they died in the not too distant future, they would inherit a property whose value would be worth considerably more than the discounted price they’d paid for it.  I never met Margaret Thatcher, though my husband did briefly while standing as a parliamentary candidate for the Tory party and, although he greatly admired her, it was actually her right-to-buy scheme that made him resign from the party and withdraw from politics.

Much has been written over the last ten days about Margaret Thatcher’s legacy, from eulogies from the Right to ignorant, vitriolic rants from the Left, but it’s the stories of her personal kindness, a quality so often overlooked, that I have found incredibly moving.  Her profound thoughtfulness for ordinary people extended to her staff – drivers, secretaries and protection officers – and to the people, like doorkeepers and waitresses, whom she came across while performing her day to day official duties.  Who will forget her reaction the attempt on her life at the Grand Hotel in Brighton during the 1984 Conservative Party Conference, when five people lost their lives and many more were horribly injured.  Although deeply shaken, after vehemently condemning the IRA attack, she stated: ‘And now it must be business as usual.’, signalling that the conference would continue as planned.  Her next thought, however, was for the people left only with what they stood up in, insisting that the local Marks & Spencer opened early so that they could get new clothes.

This hugely compassionate woman would often take time out from important discussions with the most powerful politicians in the world, to write personal messages of condolence to the families of the bereaved, whether it be for servicemen killed in action in theFalklandsor for one of her speechwriters.  Such acts of great kindness were what made Margaret Thatcher stand head and shoulders above other political figures of our age.

One particularly memorable occasion when ‘The Iron Lady’ showed her soft side was on the day she left office after being ousted as Conservative leader when, in a highly emotional speech, she said: ‘We’re leaving Downing Street for the last time after eleven and a half wonderful years, and we’re very happy that we leave the United Kingdom in a very, very much better state than when we came.’

It seems that many of those people who have been celebrating Margaret Thatcher’s death over the past ten days – a substantial number of whom will have benefited from her right-to-buy scheme, while others won’t even have been born when she was in power or simply enjoy a good protest – know nothing about the real woman nor have they bothered to find out what she actually did for this country – that would require effort – since myth and caricature suit their arguments better than the truth.  While at work in a man’s world, Margaret Thatcher was ‘The Iron Lady’ but, according to those who knew her best, when she went home, she was a devoted wife and mother. 

The death of her husband, Dennis, in 2003 was a grievous blow and signalled the start of her metamorphosis from brilliant politician to frail, old lady although, according to those you knew her best and visited her regularly up to her death, traces of the old Maggie still remained.  In latter years, according to her daughter, Carol, she would frequently forget that Dennis was dead which meant she had to go through the pain of losing him on an almost daily basis. 

I fervently hope, therefore, that whatever those people, who have been making such deeply offensive remarks, think about Margaret Thatcher as a politician, they should remember that she was also a much-loved wife, mother and grandmother and a devoted friend and that all animosity should be put aside today as her grieving family lay her to rest.

Those invited to the funeral are an eclectic mix, ranging from ex-Royalty and politicians from home and abroad to those from the celebrity world of stage and television.  Who, for example, would have thought that Sarah, Duchess of York, Jeremy Clarkson, Andrew Lloyd-Webber, Dame Shirley Bassey, Dame Vera Lynn, Elaine Paige, Katherine Jenkins, Sir Michael Caine, Michael Crawford, Joan Collins, Sir Terry Wogan, Sir Trevor McDonald, Sir David Frost, June Whitfield and Marco Pierre White would be joining former Prime Ministers and their wives, (even Cherie Blair), politicians from home and overseas, including former American Secretary of State, Dr. Henry Kissinger and former South African President, F.W. de Klerk, military dignitaries and staff from the Ritz, where Margaret Thatcher spent her final days, to pay their final respects to this towering political figure.  Sadly, though not surprisingly, neither Mikhail Gorbachev nor Nancy Reagan, whose husband Ronald worked closely with Thatcher as the Cold War drew to an end, will be attending due to poor health and advancing years.

Fittingly, the funeral will have a Falklands theme as nowhere is Margaret Thatcher more revered than in the FalklandsIslands, where her courageous leadership following the 1982 Argentine invasion helped ensure the freedom and sovereignty of the people living there.  Of course, Britain’s intervention was, in some people’s eyes, wrong but how could it be wrong to protect a British overseas territory whose citizens were under attack?  In March this year, following a historic referendum, 99.8% of Falkland Islanders voted to remain part of the United Kingdom– a result that bears witness to the gratitude felt by people, living on an island some 8,000 miles from the British mainland, both to Margaret Thatcher and to the British armed forces which, sadly, suffered 255 casualties.

   

Sixty years ago, when contesting the Labour stronghold of Dartford, a fortune teller at a village fete is reputed to have told Margaret Thatcher: ‘You will be great.  Great as Churchill.’  Recent opinion polls show that she is, in fact, deemed to our greatest post-war Prime Minister, 52% of the public believing her to be a great or good Prime Minister.  Thus, it seems that all these years later, the soothsayer was right – Thatcher was the peacetime equivalent of Churchill.  It has to be said, however, that while she was a shrewd politician, as a predictor of the future she was not so astute.  During an interview with the BBC in 1974, she said, ‘It will be years – not in my time – before a woman will lead the party or become prime minister.’   

Although the official line is that the Queen will be attending the funeral herself, instead of sending a representative, the first time she has attended the funeral of one of her Prime Ministers since Winston Churchill’s in 1965, because it’s a ceremonial occasion, perhaps the real reason is that she, too, simply wants to honour a great Prime Minister and a great woman.

Normally I’m able to plan my windows well in advance but, although I knew that Margaret Thatcher was very frail, no one could have foreseen her death at the beginning last week.  Although, given the reaction to her death in various parts of the country, especially, I’m ashamed to say, in Scotland, I did wonder if a tribute window to the former Primer Minister might cause offence but I decided to go ahead as why should I hide how I felt about this remarkable woman. 

The focus is, of course, an ursine Margaret Thatcher, dressed in a formal suit of familiar blue (although her favourite colour was, in fact, turquoise) softened with a pussy-bow she deemed ‘softening and pretty’ and carrying one of her famous handbags.  Standing in front of the Palace of Westminster, she has an American bear, symbolising her great friendship with President Ronald Reagan, on one side and a Chelsea Pensioner, representing her love of the Royal Chelsea Hospital, where the ashes of her beloved Dennis are buried, on the other.  The Falklands War is also remembered with a veteran from the conflict, a souvenir vehicle and a little penguin, appropriately blue, representing the penguins that inhabit the islands, a light-hearted addition to this poignant window.  

 


TEN THOUSAND SAW I AT A GLANCE!

by Elspeth

This was the day, in 1802 when William Wordsworth saw what he described as ‘a long belt of daffodils’, a sight which inspired him to write what has become his best-loved poem, ‘I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud’ orDaffodils’ as it’s often simply known.

Wordsworth’s sister, Dorothy, played an important part in the poet’s life and passed on her love of nature to him.  It was while out walking with her near Lake Ullswater in Grasmere that they suddenly came upon some daffodils growing near the river.  Two years after this historic encounter with the dancing daffodils, Wordsworth is thought to have written the first version of his popular poem which was published in 1807.  A revised version, the one we all know and love, which contains the most quoted line, ‘Ten thousand saw I at a glance’, was published in 1815.

This is a simple poem about the beauty of nature and how inspiring it can be. The images Wordsworth uses are similar to an artist painting a scene so vividly that the reader can visualise exactly what he saw all these years ago.  Interestingly, Wordsworth gives the daffodils an almost human quality, comparing them to dancers putting on a show for passing walkers.

The daffodil was brought to this country by the Romans who believed that its sap had healing powers. The flower was originally called affodil‘ and it wasn’t until 1538 that the letter ‘d’ was added, although the Oxford English Dictionary can’t give a satisfactory explanation for his addition.

In Victorian times, daffodils represented chivalry whereas today, in this country, they symbolise hope, while in China they are seen as symbols of wealth and good fortune. There are more than 50 different species and 25,000 different varieties of daffodils which are sometimes called jonquils, narcissi or paperwhites. Each year, Prince Charles is given a single daffodil as rent for land on the Isles of Scilly.

So, if you’re looking for something memorable to do today, why not follow in William Wordsworth’s footsteps when perhaps you, too, will come across ‘a crowd, a host of golden daffodils’!

 


LOVE IS IN THE AIR!

by Elspeth

The exciting news from Edinburgh Zoo is that love is definitely in the air in the panda enclosure.  In fact, you could say that Yang Guang appears to be head over heels in love with Tian Tian! 

After all the hype, their last attempt was a bit of a let-down, but hopes are high that Scotland’s giant pandas are finally poised to breed successfully.  The reason for this optimism is because Yang Guang, the male half of Scotland’s most famous ursine couple, has been doing handstands against trees, walls and rocks.  These panda gymnastics are, however, not a sign that he’s having fun, but are to impress his prospective partner, Tian Tian.  This is typical behaviour for male pandas in the wild where they have to compete to show females how fit and virile they are and, the higher they can scent mark, the more they impress the females. 

Another hopeful sign is that Yang Guang has started to eat more bamboo, increasing his intake from 35kg a day to a massive 100kg a day.  Again, this is typical male panda behaviour as, in the wild, Yang Guang would have to be in peak physical shape and have enough energy to move around the forests in order to reach the females’ territory and compete for partners with rival males. 

Coincidentally, Tian Tian has also been calling out to Yang Guang, significant because, normally, giant pandas only ‘talk’ to each other during the breeding season.  As a result, since February, Tian Tian’s hormone levels have been monitored daily so that any changes are detected as soon as possible.  The reason why these results are so important is because it is by using a combination of behavioural observation and hormone testing that the zoo will know when the pandas are ready to be put together.

For the last two months, Tian Tian and Yang Guang have also been responding enthusiastically to enclosure swapping which has been happening more often as the breeding season gets closer.  Pandas are solitary animals, which makes chemical communication very important, especially during breeding season, and one of the main ways males know that a female in season is close by.  The process of moving the pandas also gives them the opportunity to catch a brief glimpse of each other. 

Another tactic being used by Yang Guang’s keepers to make him as relaxed as possible is to play Smooth Radio inside his enclosure.  Previously, his background music was provided by Classic FM until it was decided to change to the easy-listening channel, whose DJs include Donny Osmond and Simon Bates, because Yang seemed to find it more relaxing. Given his bad reaction to loud noise and fireworks, this seems a good move as I shudder to think what harm Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture or Handel’s Music for the Royal Fireworks might have done to a panda of his nervous disposition.  Let’s hope he was listening in on Sunday 24th February when, amongst the tracks played were, ‘Love is in the Air’, ‘Are You Ready for Love?’, ‘I Will Always Love You’ and, perhaps most appropriate of all, ‘Baby We Better Try to Get it Together’

Although experts originally predicted that, this year, the panda breeding season would take place towards the end of March, it now seems that it will happen some time in the next ten days.  Last year Tian Tian came into season on 2nd April and, for the next three days, the zoo and the outside world waited with bated breath as she and Yang Guang met several times.  However, although the roly-poly bears romped and wrestled, they did not end up mating.

When a ‘tunnel of love’ failed to get Britain’s giant pandas in the mood for mating during their short breeding window last year, it was suggested that artificial light levels might have been to blame.  As a result, Edinburgh Zoo decided to resort to a more old-fashioned approach by focusing on synchronising the breeding cycles of the pandas with a strict lighting policy.  From 1st January, the lighting levels inside both enclosures have been timed to stimulate natural light levels outside – so, when the sun comes up, the lights go on in the panda enclosures and, when the sun goes down, it’s lights out and ‘time for bed’. This strategy is vital as it has been proven that lighting levels dictate panda hormone levels. 

After the three day window had closed for another year, Iain Valentine, Edinburgh’s Director of Research and Conservation, said that, although a baby panda would have been a bonus, people had to appreciate that the pandas had only just arrived and had had limited time to settle.  Nonetheless, although obviously a little disappointed after all the anticipation of the previous few weeks, he said that it had been ‘a fantastic trial run’ and that the experience had been valuable, in terms of scientific learning, process and expertise, and would help the zoo give their pandas the best possible chance of success in the future.  Mr. Valentine also recently announced that, this year, after consulting with panda experts at other zoos, they will be using a combination of natural mating and artificial insemination.

Every panda birth, whether in the wild or in captivity, is a cause for great celebration as well as being crucial to the survival of a species threatened by habitat destruction and poaching in its native China.  Each birth brings new hope for the giant panda and helps to raise the world’s awareness of the plight of one of its most beloved, yet most endangered creatures.

The giant panda’s predicament was highlighted by Hilary Mantel in a speech in which she made some rather controversial remarks about the Duchess of Cambridge.  Drawing comparisons between pandas and the royal family, she said: ‘Our current royal family doesn’t have the difficulties in breeding that pandas do, but pandas and royal persons alike are expensive to conserve and ill-adapted to any modern environment.  But aren’t they interesting? Aren’t they nice to look at?  Some people find them endearing; some pity them for their precarious situation; everybody stares at them, and however airy the enclosure they inhabit, it’s still a cage.’  Whatever you think about the rest of Mantel’s speech, you can’t say that she hasn’t accurately summed up the plight of pandas or most people’s perceptions of them.

As we all know, there is still a great deal of work to be done to save the panda in the wild and it’s to be hoped that the invaluable knowledge gained from studying the development of baby pandas in captivity will help the giant panda and the many other extraordinary species which share its habitat win the flight for survival.  After all, it would be a great tragedy if, one day, the only pandas in existence were in zoos and reserves.

These are exciting times for Edinburgh Zoo and for everyone who cares about panda conservation.  All we can do is wait and hope that one day, in the not too distant future, we hear the historic patter of tiny paws and that, after nearly 75 years after the first giant panda arrived in the United  Kingdom, we will finally have our very first panda cub!

 


TARTAN DAY

by Elspeth

 

Today is Tartan Day celebrated on the anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Arbroath, an act intended to assert Scotland’s position as an independent kingdom which, more than 450 years later, would influence the American Declaration of Independence. 

The declaration took the form of a letter sent to the pope in 1320 by eight Scottish earls and forty barons on behalf of the whole nation asking him to recognise Scotland’s independence from England and to acknowledge Robert the Bruce as the country’s lawful king.  Despite their efforts, in 1603, the two countries were united under James I, the son of Mary Queen of Scots, although the Union of the Parliaments didn’t take place until 1707.  Let’s hope that, next year, the people of Scotland vote to continue to be part of the United Kingdom as there’s absolutely no doubt in my mind that ‘We’re better together.’

The first time Tartan Day was observed in the United States on a national level was on 6th April 1997, although it had previously been celebrated by individual states and, the following year, the Senate passed a resolution designating 6th April ‘National Tartan Day’.  Over 50 million people across the globe claim Scottish ancestry, with around 11 million hailing from the United States alone, making this the country’s eighth largest ethnic group.  Links across the Atlantic are long established with half of those who signed the American Declaration of Independence and the Governors of 9 of the original 13 States all of Scottish descent, these Scottish Americans helping to shape the United States in its formative years and to guide it through its most troubled times.  In addition, 13 American Presidents also claim Scottish ancestors. 

Tartan Day is the highlight of Tartan Week, now in its sixth year, a seven-day celebration when lovers of all things Scottish, from song and dance to food, fashion and photography, gather together to celebrate Scotland’s unique heritage, creativity and talent, past and present.  In recent years, some believe that the Scottish Government has tried to hijack Tartan Week with an alternative event it calls Scotland Week, when the country is promoted as a modern, dynamic, innovative and welcoming nation, making it Europe’s number one holiday, business and study destination.

Although celebrations are held all over America and Canada, it’s New York that hosts the most popular Tartan Day events like the Scotland Run, celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, now a favourite in the city’s packed running calendar. The 10k run takes place in Central Park where a carnival atmosphere is enjoyed by runners and spectators dressed in tartan and Saltires.  This year, around 8,000 runners started the course, which had a piper playing at each kilometre marker, with 7,823 completing it.  Central Park also plays host to the Scotland Run Festival featuring live music and dancing where there’s lots of family friendly fun with face painting and photo-booths that will transport New Yorkers across the sea toScotland.  Even the Empire State Building celebrates this special Scottish day by beaming blue and white – tartan might be a bit tricky – across the night sky.

The undoubted highlight, though, is New York’s Tartan Day Parade which, when it began in 1998, attracted a mere 2 pipe bands and a small but spirited group of Scottish Americans, who walked from the British Consulate to the United Nations.  Nowadays, the parade has grown into a huge event with lots of bands and many thousands of participants from around the world.  As you might expect, there’s even an official parade tartan whose colours include the blue and white of the Scottish Saltire and green to represent the trees lining 6th Avenue where the parade takes place.

Tartan Week is another first for The Bears in the Windows and there was no shortage of volunteers from both sides of the Atlantic to represent this most Scottish of celebrations.  There is, of course, a mandatory piper who’s ‘entertaining’ bears wearing an assortment of tartans, including the panda tartan commissioned by Edinburgh Zoo to celebrate the arrival of its giant pandas, Yang Guang and Tian Tian in December 2011.  As you’ll see, an ursine Statue of Liberty and an Empire State Building teddy have also donned a touch of tartan to show their appreciation of America’s long association with Scotland, a country that has captured the imagination of so many people.

 


A BEARY GOOD READ!

by Elspeth

Since 1967, International Children’s Book Day (ICBD) has been celebrated on 2nd April, an appropriate date as it’s the birthday of Hans Christian Andersen, author of favourites such as The Little Mermaid and The Ugly Duckling.  The purpose of the day is to inspire a love of reading and to call attention to children’s books.  Each year, a different country member of the International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY) sponsors the day, deciding on a theme and inviting an author from that country to write a message to the children of the world and a well-known illustrator to design a poster.

This is the first year that The Bears in the Windows have celebrated International Children’s Book Day and three bears, including one appropriately from the British Library and another from the American book shop chain, Barns and Noble, have selected books with an ursine theme to read to their cubs.  Despite the fact that Harry Potter was recently voted the best fictional character in a survey of 1,037 children and their parents, as far as The Bears in the Windows are concerned there’s no one to beat Paddington, that marmalade-loving bear from Peru!


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