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Monthly Archives: May 2013

GNOME SWEET GNOME!

by Elspeth

For 100 years, the humble garden gnome has been a divisive figure amongst British gardeners and nowhere more so than at the Chelsea Flower Show.  Officially, they’ve been banned under the rather strange rule that forbids ‘brightly coloured mythical creatures’ as it was felt the colourful figures would detract from the impact of the gardening on display. 

Incidentally, the rules also state that there should be no balloons, flags or ‘material exuding a foul or unpleasant odour’!  Exhibitors must also seek special permission from the Show Manager to use banners and bunting, fruit and flowers ‘artificially attached to a plant’, music and sound effects and live animals of any kind.  If someone wishes to include fish in their exhibit, ‘it is essential that the water conditions are entirely suitable’, although there are, apparently, no rules governing the living conditions of gnomes!

Over the years, the gnome’s cause has been championed by all sorts of people – from groups of protestors waving placards demanding ‘equal rights for gnomes’ to Jekka McVicar who sneaked her lucky mascot, a gnome called Borage, onto her stand in 2009.  (Rather surprisingly, she was still awarded a gold medal by the RHS!) 

2013 is, however, is a big year for the little people as, to mark the show’s centenary, the RHS has declared a gnome amnesty, having voted unanimously to welcome the jaunty little creatures onto their hallowed turf.  In fact, not only have gnomes been allowed into the show for the first time, but they’ve been actively embraced by the esteemed organisers who have asked 100 celebrities and artists to decorate their own figurines which were put on parade for inspection by the Queen on Monday before the show officially opened.

 

While the move might have upset the more traditional, snobbish elements of the gardening fraternity, who have tirelessly campaigned to keep the ‘tacky’ gnomes out, it’s all in a good cause as the decorated figures are currently being auctioned on eBay to raise money for the £1 million RHS Centenary Appeal whose aim is to encourage children to get involved in gardening.  Some of the gnomes are quite traditional, but you won’t be surprised to learn that Elton John’s is a vision in pink, with bling encrusted tinted spectacles, matching his own famous look.

The typical garden gnome is male and sports a beard and a pointed hat.  He is usually portrayed fishing or smoking a pipe and is invariably smiling.  Far from being mere garden ornaments, some people actually believe that they act as protectors of the ground that they inhabit.  Whatever their function, their inclusion in this year’s Chelsea Flower Show perhaps marks a return to the high regard with which gnomes were held after Sir Charles Isham installed 21 of the little terracotta figures in the rock garden of his home at Lamport Hall in 1847, thus starting a fashion for gnomes in British gardens.

 

 LAMPY THE GNOME

However, although Sir Charles was absolutely besotted with the little people, his daughters loathed them and, when their father died, they’re reputed to have used the quirky creatures for target practice!  One, however, survived the massacre, having fallen into a crevice, and is now insured for over £1 million!  A few weeks ago, Lampy, as he is known, received an invitation to this year’s show from the RHS and is due travel to London with his guardian tomorrow.   

As this is such a special year for gnomes, The Bears in the Windows decided they had to join them to celebrate Chelsea’s centenary.  In one window, there’s a traditional gnome and, in the other, two little ursine gnomes are perched on the toadstools with which they’re often associated.  According to the RHS, the relaxation of the Chelsea ban will not be permanent and so I suspect that gnomes’ attendance at future shows will continue to be a thorny issue for many years to come.  After all, for the gnomeophiles of this world, there’s no place like gnome!

 


A POTTED HISTORY

by Elspeth

While the world’s most renowned gardening show may be 100 years old this year, its roots go much deeper, dating back to the Chiswick Fetes of the late 1820s, popular society occasions amongst the elite of the country.  However, the actual forerunner to Chelsea was the Great Spring Show, first held in May 1862 at the RHS garden in Kensington.  By 1912, the colourful spectacle had moved to Temple Gardens near Embankment, but it was quickly obvious that a new home was needed.  And so, on 20th May the following year, the Great Spring Show opened at the Royal Hospital, Chelsea, where a ten-acre site had been set aside for the three-day event. 

 

The show has changed a lot since those early days when nearly all the show gardens were rock gardens.  In 1913, there were 244 exhibitors inside a single tent, (there are more than 500 today, including several who were at that very first show), while outside there were 17 gardens.  Bonsais made their first appearance in 1913 and there were several new varieties of wisteria for gardeners to lust after.  Lunch menus were in French, afternoon tea cost 1s 2d and some local residents complained about the noise and additional traffic! 

 

In spite of everything, the show was both a professional and a financial triumph, not just for the RHS, but also for an enterprising barrow boy who apparently did a roaring trade selling notebooks and pens to visitors keen to jot down ideas for their own gardens.  And so, the Royal Hospital, Chelsea became the permanent home of the most colourful show on earth.  However, although this is Chelsea’s centenary year, it isn’t the 100th show as the event was cancelled in 1917 and 1918 and again for the duration of the Second World War, when anti-aircraft guns were stationed on the site, starting again in 1947.

For the thousands of gardening enthusiasts (the number of tickets available each year is limited to 161,000) who pour expectantly through the gates, Chelsea is a chance to see the newest and best in design, to meet their horticultural heroes and to wonder at some of the rarest and most beautiful plants in the world.  The heart of Chelsea’s 11-acre showground is the Great Pavilion, a covered space the size of two football pitches which takes 20 men 19 days to erect, and it’s here that specialist growers exhibit everything from the familiar to the exotic.  Such is the huge amount of organisation required to stage the shows that the preparation runs in a 15-month cycle, which means that before the 100th show had even begun, plans for 2014 were already on the drawing board.

 

There are now more than 20 large show gardens, for which some exhibitors have been known to spend up to £20 million, about 30 smaller gardens, 100 floral exhibits and 600 exhibitors in total.  Unlike similar events which attract large numbers of visitors, the catering at Chelsea isn’t bacon rolls, burgers and beer.  It’s estimated that 6,000 bottles of champagne, 18,000 glasses of Pimm’s, 5,000 lobsters, 28,000 sandwiches, 70,000 ice creams and 300,000 cups of tea are consumed over the five-day period.

Vogue once described Chelsea as ‘the Fashion Week of the Gardening World’ where haute couture, novelty dresses and panama hats mingle with clothes more suitable for gardening.  For many, Chelsea signals the start of the summer season and, naturally, florals and bright colours are always very much in evidence.  The RHS, however, hasn’t always appreciated its visitors’ attire and, during the show’s early years, the secretary felt compelled to invoke the exclusion that ‘ladies should not be allowed to wear just their bathing suits!’    

 

Chelsea isn’t, however, just about looking your best or looking at nature at its finest, it’s also the place to buy anything from an outdoor kitchen, the latest trend this year, to a compost bin, from Japanese topiary scissors to a state-of-the-art mower, from a glass house to a contemporary garden studio or perhaps even a ‘natural’ garden swimming pool, as well as virtually every plant imaginable from a packet of heritage seeds to an arboretum of rare trees.  And, at the end of a tiring but exhilarating day, visitors often take time to enjoy a glass of Pimm’s or champagne relaxing in a deckchair by the Chelsea bandstand, daydreaming of all those new ideas and plants that will soon be transforming their gardens back home!

 

I haven’t been fortunate enough to visit Chelsea and so have to depend on television and other people’s experiences of the great gardening extravaganza.  However, three years ago, my husband and I were in the vicinity of the Chelsea Hospital on the final day of the show, believe it or not, on the hunt for some elusive elephants (perhaps I’ll tell you all about it one day but, in the meantime, I can assure you that the elephants definitely weren’t pink!) and were amused to see hundreds of people leaving the grounds absolutely laden down with plants of all shapes and sizes which had, until recently, been part of the exhibits. 

 

These were the victors of the ‘great-sell off’, which begins at precisely 4.30 on the final day with the ringing of a bell, when people wrangle with each other to obtain their own piece of Chelsea.  I suspect that many had got a little bit carried away, (we’ve all done it) and were already regretting that they’d been so successful!  Nonetheless, it was amazing just how resourceful some people were, finding the most ingenious ways of carrying their spoils.  I often wonder if the man with some rather straggly looking plants sticking out of his backpack managed to get them home safely as I spotted him again on the crowded platform at Sloane Square and thought it extremely unlikely that they’d survive the scrum of people waiting to get on the train.

100 years ago, only one gold medal was awarded.  This year, there were 92 winners across the various classes – a whopping 10 of them to show gardens alone.  Although some might have thought that Prince Harry’s garden was a sure-fire winner, it was only awarded a silver-gilt, which just goes to show that, if a garden doesn’t meet the judges’ exacting standards, then even the Queen’s grandson can’t take winning Chelsea’s highest accolade for granted.  Trailfinders Australian Garden was awarded the Best in Show Garden, with a design encompassing a studio space that looks as if it’s floating above the garden in a flower-like structure, while the Best Artisan Garden Award went to a Japanese garden, ‘An Alcove Garden’, for their depiction of a traditional tatami room.

Who could have predicted that those first fledgling garden shows of the early 20th Century would have flowered into the institution that is now Chelsea.  Its enduring popularity can be attributed to many things – Chelsea is an amazing visual spectacle, it’s about quality and perfection, it’s accessible and it makes no odds whether you know your begonias from your bougainvilleas or your lilies from your lilacs.  Here’s to the next 100 years of the most magnificent flower show in the world!

To mark the Chelsea Flower Show’s centenary, I decided to dedicate two windows to this amazing floral extravaganza.  In the first, a member of the Royal Horticultural Society and one of the old soldiers for whom the Royal Hospital, Chelsea is home, are enjoying a peaceful moment amongst a dazzling display of beautiful blooms.  In the second window, there’s a beautiful wildflower meadow, which has attracted lots of beautiful butterflies, with a bridge reminiscent of the willow pattern design.  Its creator can’t believe that Her Majesty has chosen to stop to admire his handiwork and his delight was complete when he learned today that The Bears in the Windows’ simple garden had been awarded a coveted Chelsea gold!

If you’re wondering why gnomes are welcome at the Chelsea Flower Show for this year only, when they’re such a familiar sight in so many people’s gardens, I’ll explain the reason why tomorrow!    

 

 

 


THE GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH

by Elspeth

100 YEARS  OF THE CHELSEA FLOWER SHOW

For five heady days in May, the barren grounds of Sir Christopher Wren’s architectural treasure, the Royal Hospital, Chelsea, are turned into the most glamorous, most talked about, most inspiring gardening show on earth which is celebrating its centenary this year.  ‘A Chelsea gold’ is the stuff of dreams – the most coveted prize for the world’s leading landscapers and nurserymen and a career-changing moment for aspiring newcomers.    

The cream teas, the glasses of Pimm’s, the sudden showers and the panama hats – few occasions are more quintessentially British than the RHS Chelsea Flower Show.  And yet, few can rival Chelsea for international flavour as, although still in the heart of London, visitors can find themselves transported to the balmy tropics of Grenada’s rainforest, the heady highlands of the Himalayas, the oriental orchid gardens of Taiwan or a cottage garden in New England. 

Although Chelsea seems to have become one of these events where ‘celebrities’ have to be seen, whether or not they have the remotest interest in gardening, by far the most important visitor to grace the green carpet today will be the Queen who, as Patron of the RHS, has only missed the event 12 times since she acceded to the throne 61 years ago. 

The Monarchy and the Chelsea Flower Show have been intrinsically linked for the last 100 years and, traditionally, a member of the royal family attends the first day of the event.  When King George VI and Queen Elizabeth visited the show after their Coronation in 1937, an Empire Exhibit marked the occasion with flowers from countries under British rule in every corner of the world – gladioli from East Africa, pine trees from Canada, a prickly pear from Palestine and wattles from Australia.

Last year, dressed in a lilac coat and floral dress, complemented by a tulle decorated with small black flowers, the Queen was welcomed to the show by three corgis, complete with wagging tails, which had been constructed entirely from flowers.  As you might expect, the floral ‘dogs’ brought a smile to Her Majesty’s face, especially when she spotted that their eyes were made from blackberries.  To commemorate her special relationship with the RHS and to mark her Diamond Jubilee, the Queen was presented with a brooch in the shape of an iris made from white gold decorated with 60 sapphires, 20 amethysts, 30 tourmalines, 15 white diamonds and a large yellow diamond.

As befitted such a special year in British history, Union Jacks and the colours red, white and blue were everywhere.  To pay tribute to Her Majesty’s 60 years on the throne, the parish of St. Helier had designed a large tiered flower bed of summer flowers and foliage with a large rotating Jersey Accession postal stamp as its centrepiece and the words ‘The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee’ spelled out in flowers. 

This royal theme continued with entrants in the Chelsea Florist of the Year competition having been asked to design a floral chandelier with the theme ‘Diamonds are Forever’ to be hung at the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee dinner, an exhibition of photographs of the Queen taken at the show over the years and a display of royal autographs dating back to 1816.  Arguably the show’s most unusual creations was Westland Magical Garden by Diarmuid Gavin who’d taken the rather unusual step of featuring 75 Chelsea Pensioners, aged between 69 and 93, their scarlet tunics taking the place of the flowers which would normally have adorned such an installation. 

Naturally, several new varieties of flowers and foliage had been grown for this very special year, including the Queen’s Jubilee rose, the Diamond Jubilee sweet pea, the Diamond Queen begonia and the Fragrance Queen hosta.  One orchid producer proudly showed Her Majesty a bloom that had been in her wedding bouquet, all in all making it a royal flower show to remember.

This year, the Queen paid her customary visit to the show where several exhibitors were over the moon to receive the royal seal of approval.  One of the younger royals is playing a prominent role at Chelsea’s centenary event as, for several months, Prince Harry has been working with landscape designer Jinny Blom to create the ‘Sentebale Garden’ to raise awareness for his charity, Sentebale or ‘forget me not’, which helps children in impoverished Lesotho, many of whom have lost one or both parents to HIV. 

Not surprisingly, this was one of the gardens which the Queen and several senior members of the Royal Family made a point of visiting yesterday.  Harry was there in person to welcome them to his garden where he proudly showed off his green-fingered skills, a talent he has, apparently, inherited from his father, Prince Charles, who designed a garden for the show in 2002, although his grandmother suggested that he send a few of the plants to his father’s stumpery at Highgrove as he ‘needed a bit of greenery’!   One thing I’ve been puzzling about is whether the Chelsea Flower Show has received a telegram from the Queen!

 

 

The Bears in the Windows celebrated last year’s Chelsea Flower Show with a colourful display of flowers of every hue, a smattering of ursine blooms and a selection of royal memorabilia.  Of course, no tribute would have been complete without a Chelsea Pensioner, dressed in his scarlet uniform, who was obviously thrilled to be welcoming the Queen to his back garden! Perhaps the judges wouldn’t have awarded my ursine flower garden a Chelsea gold, but it did seem to be very much appreciated by passers by.

Tomorrow, I’ll be continuing my coverage of the Chelsea Flower Show with a potted (sorry!) history of the legendary horticultural extravaganza in all its colourful glory. 

 100 COLOURFUL YEARS

 


You’re Fired!

by Elspeth

You’ll probably have noticed that The Apprentice returned to our screens last week.  I’ve been an addict since the very first series in 2005 and, although the format changed two year ago when the winner didn’t become Lord Sugar’s apprentice but his business partner, I still find it as compulsive viewing as I did all these years ago.

This year, there’s the usual motley crew of candidates, most of whom have humungous egos and claim that they’re the best and are prepared to do whatever it takes to win the £250,000 prize, one even boasting that Napoleon is his idol!  It’s clear that most of them haven’t been chosen for their business acumen, but rather for their eccentricity and/or ability to argue with or wind up other members of their team.  This year’s crop are particularly strange, especially some of the men, while several of the women are already proving to be extremely argumentative and aggressive.

What always amazes me is that, although the sixteen apprentices are supposed to be the cream of Britain’s young entrepreneurs, supposedly either earning huge salaries or with successful businesses, they don’t seem to be used to the good life.  For instance, they never fail to be completely overcome by the apparent opulence of the house where they’ll be staying throughout the process, which never looks particularly exciting to me, especially as the bedrooms look like dormitories in a youth hostel!   The other strange thing is that the winners always behave like excited schoolchildren when Lord Sugar announces what their treat will be.  I certainly wouldn’t be remotely thrilled by a trip to Belgium but, last week, the awe-struck boys definitely were.

To celebrate the return of The Apprentice, some of The Bears in the Windows decided they’d like to have a go at being Lord Sugar’s business partner.  The first task they attempted was wine making – the real apprentices were asked to create a new beer, but the bears decided that wine was more up their street.  Although both teams managed to design really attractive looking bottles, one team just couldn’t get the quantities right resulting in some really unpalatable wine!  Lord Sugar was so annoyed that he nearly fired all three bears brought back into the board room but, in the end, he decided that the Project Manager just had to go. 

 

Just like their human counterparts, this week’s task was to design a unique piece of flat-pack furniture.  One team brought a table to the table, which was not only easy to assemble but also very versatile, whereas the other came up with something which they claimed would be a godsend for people who lived in bijou apartments which looked suspiciously like a plank of wood!  Once again, Lord Sugar, with his loyal advisors Nick and Karen by his side, wasn’t impressed by any of the members of the losing team and thought about sending them all home.  However, as the series has still got eleven more weeks to run, he decided he’d better just fire one – a timid-looking panda who claimed she hadn’t been given the opportunity to shine! 

Due to other commitments, namely the Chelsea Flower Show and the 60th anniversary of the Coronation, my ursine apprentices are taking a break for a few weeks but, don’t worry, they’ll be back when things are little less hectic.


GIVING IT BIG LICKS!

by Elspeth

Since ice cream arrived in Britain more than 300 years ago, it has graced the tables of kings and the cones of the working man.  It has been plain, flavoured, moulded, sliced, squirted and scooped.  It has made the fortunes of industrialists and put pasta on the table of generations of Italian émigrés!

Although there are all sorts of fanciful stories about Marco Polo having brought ice cream (and pasta) to Italy, Catherine de Medici having introduced the chilled delicacy to France and King Charles I having had his own personal ice cream maker, there is not a shred of historic evidence to support any of these claims.  According to food historians, the Chinese created the first ice cream, possibly as early as 3000 BC, although the ice cream we know and love today is thought to have been invented in Italy in the 17th century, arriving in this country via France where a variation using egg yolks was created. 

Unlike today, when ice cream is eaten by everyone, it was originally a dish enjoyed only by the highest echelons of society.  The first recorded mention of it in this country was in 1671 at a banquet for the Feast of St. George held at Windsor Castle.  Indeed, it was such rare delicacy that only the guests sitting at King Charles II’s table were served ‘one plate of white strawberries and one plate of iced cream.’

In 1843, the method for manufacturing ice cream was simplified with the introduction of the ice cream machine.  However, this wasn’t quite as high-tech as it sounds as it was simply a wooden bucket containing a central metal container!  To make ice cream, you put the mixture into the container, which was surrounded with salt and ice, and then churned it to create an even, smooth texture.  

Although the popularity of ice cream was further boosted with an influx of skilled confectioners fleeing across the Channel to escape the horrors of the French revolution, it wasn’t really until the Victorian era, when Britainstarted to import ice from Norway, Canadaand America, that ice cream became more generally available to the man in the street.  In the late 19th century there was a further flood of immigrants into this country, this time from Italy, many of whom became ice cream vendors and so the penny lick – a penny’s worth of ice cream in a glass – became the nation’s favourite.  Surprisingly, what the unsuspecting public didn’t seem to appreciate was that eating ice cream from a communal glass, which wasn’t washed between customers, made it a rather hazardous pleasure.  However, although many, including Mrs. Beeton herself, spoke out against this unhygienic practice, it wasn’t until 1926 that the penny lick was finally outlawed. 

An alternative much more hygienic way of eating ice cream on the go was the cone or coronet which, until recently, was believed to have been an American invention dating from the 1904 St Louis World Fair.  In actual fact, Agnes Marshall, an accomplished British chef, lecturer and writer, had mentioned serving ice cream in a cone made from ground almonds in a book published some sixteen years previously.

Cheaper mechanical refrigeration led to an increase in the number of outlets selling ice cream and so, by the start of the twentieth century, ice cream was no longer regarded as a luxury.  (We know that it was served to both first and second class passengers on the doomed Titanic as part of their final meal on 14th April 1912.)  The main benefit of these new refrigeration techniques was that, whereas previously ice cream had to be eaten within a few hours of it being made, it could now be stored for months.  A further indication of the growing popularity of ice cream was the success of Wall’s ice cream bicycles, introduced in 1923.  Sales for the following year were £13,719 but, by 1927, they had grown to £444,000.

The Second World War put an end to this burgeoning ice cream industry and, in 1942, its production was completely banned.  In the 1950s, it enjoyed a renaissance in this country with the development of soft ice cream.  This was not only cheaper to make, but was an instant hit with the general public who liked its lighter texture.  Interestingly, one of the chemists who worked on the project for J. Lyons was a young woman called Margaret Roberts who, around 30 years later, became our first woman Prime Minister. 

In Britain, today, we consume around 5.2 litres of ice cream per person each year, (with the Scots eating more on average than the English and Welsh), lagging behind the Fins who eat 12.9 litres.  However, even their gargantuan appetite for ice cream pales in comparison with that of the Americans who get through a staggering 18 litres per person each year.  Despite the fact that ice cream makers are constantly vying with each other to create ever more weird and wonderful concoctions to tempt our taste buds – how do you fancy eating bacon, stilton, sauerkraut, squid ink or raw horse flesh flavoured ice cream? – it appears that our favourite flavours are still chocolate, vanilla and strawberry.

Now you may think it strange that I’m writing about ice cream when we’re still experiencing the coldest spring for many years.  However, although our appetite for ice cream is apparently as fickle as the British weather (a hot spell usually sees sales peak, while demand dips when the sun disappears), isn’t ice cream something we can eat no matter the weather?  Ice cream can cheer you up when you’re feeling down, cool you down when the temperature is up (if only!), is the perfect desert for a summer wedding or a family Christmas and, most importantly, ice cream can make you smile.  (Have you noticed that when a particularly impressive sundae is served, everyone enjoys the experience, not just the person who’s lucky enough to be eating it!) 

If you’ve visited an ice cream shop recently, you may have noticed posters urging you to vote in the Waverley Golden Cone Awards when, as an extra incentive to get us to take part in the hunt to find Scotland’s favourite place to eat ice cream, everyone who votes has the chance to scoop £500 which would buy quite a few ice creams!

The Waverley Biscuit Company which, with the Sunday Mail, is sponsoring the awards, was established in Edinburghin 1908 by the Zaccardelli and Cervi families as a specialist manufacturer of ice cream cones and wafers.  Following a merger with the Carousel Wafer Company in 1995, the business moved to Glasgowand, in 2003, it was acquired by Lees Foods.  Now located in the east end of Glasgow, Waverley supplies Scotland’s ice-cream parlours, mobile ice-cream vendors, distributors and manufacturers of ice cream, some of whom have been customers for over 100 years, with a wide variety of cones and wafers.

One company taking part in the competition is Mancini’s of Ayr who are celebrating their centenary this year.  Antonio Mancini came from Italy to London at the end of the 19th century, spending several years there before moving to Glasgow.  In 1910, Antonio and his family came to live inAyr and, in 1913, started to make ice cream at King Street where they lived.  Michael Mancini was born in 1917 and, eight years later, the family moved to New Road where, like many Italians, they opened an ice cream parlour and fish and chip shop called the Royal Café.  Michael worked in the family business from an early age, running it from 1940 until October 1991 when he finally retired.

Michael’s son, Filippo, is now in charge of the production of Mancini’s ice cream, his 35 years experience in the business making him an expert in his field.  For eight years, he was on the National Executive Committee of the Ice Cream Alliance, serving as National President from 1993 -1994.  Making ice cream is not just what Filippo Mancini does for a living as you only have to talk to him for a few minutes to realise that ice cream is also his passion. 

As well an range of more than 80 imaginatively named ice creams, like ‘Jamaicin’ Me Crazy’, ‘Raspberry Ruffle’ and ‘Strawberry Confusion’, Filippo makes sorbets in all sorts of delicious flavours.  A highly original service offered by Mancini’s is the ice cream cart which Filippo takes to wedding receptions to provide guests with a taste of traditional Italian ice cream, making the day even more memorable.  Mancini’s ice cream cakes are extremely popular for birthdays and Christmas, but their pièce de résistance are the magnificent wedding cakes, which look like traditional cakes but are made entirely from ice cream, a perfect alternative for those who don’t want a heavy fruit cake.  The only drawback I can think of with these magnificent confections is that you can’t send a slice through the post, the traditional way of thanking someone, not invited to the wedding, for a gift! 

If you haven’t had the pleasure of tasting Mancini’s mouthwatering ice cream, what are you waiting for?  It’s available from the Royal Café, which incorporates Filippo’s Bistro where you can enjoy first class traditional Italian cuisine cooked by chef Francesco Bonfanti, or from Mancini’s kiosk on Prestwick Esplanade, a popular stop for people walking their dogs.  However, if you’ve already sampled Mancini’s delicious ice cream, why not give them your vote for the Golden Cone Awards?  Don’t leave it too late, though, as voting closes on 7th May!   

 

The Bears in the Windows, like all bears, love anything sweet, so they were delighted when I suggested a window dedicated to ice cream.  As you’ll see, I’ve recreated the iconic Royal Café, standing on one side is chef Francesco Bonfanti and, on the other, a proud Filippo Mancini, (or ‘King Cone’ as he calls himself), with a giant cone and one of the many trophies he has won over the years.  Another member of staff I had to include is Lexi, Filippo’s charming waitress, who’s ready to serve some suitably appreciative customers, one who seems to be having trouble deciding which delight to order from the menu, while another is tucking into one of Mancini’s sumptuous sundaes, appropriately decorated with a teddy bear wafer, his dog at his side wolfing down a cone, rather reminiscent of my dog Holly who, like most dogs, just adores ice cream!

 


HAPPY MAY DAY

by Elspeth

Well, were you up at dawn this morning to wash your face in the May dew?  Although, if the weather later on in the day was anything to go by, you’d probably have been washing in the May rain!   (Although we’ve come to expect better weather by this time of the year, in his novel Doctor Thorne, Anthony Trollope wrote: ‘Let no man boast himself that he has got through the perils of winter till at least the seventh of May.’) 

Just in case you’re curious, the tradition began because the dew on the morning of 1st May was supposed to have magical properties and so anyone who washed in it would have a beautiful complexion for the rest of the year!  I suppose, nowadays, most people simply use one of the myriads of potions on offer to keep their skin looking good or some may even resort to the more drastic option of Botox!

Another custom called ‘Bringing in the May’ also involved getting up very early to gather flowers to make garlands to give to your friends, which often had a doll in the centre to represent the goddess of spring.  As a result, May Day was sometimes called Garland Day in some parts of the country.  Another, which I think is a rather nice idea, was the giving of homemade May baskets filled with flowers and sweets which were usually left anonymously on the doorsteps of friends and family who needed cheering up. 

The month of May is named after the Greek goddess, Maia, the most beautiful of the Seven Sisters constellation, the Pleiades.   The Celts called the first day of the month Beltane, while the Romans named it Floralia, and it was only in the Middle Ages that 1st May became known as May Day.

In this country, as in most of Western Europe, May Day marked the end of the harsh winter (let’s hope it does this year) when people could look forward optimistically to the bright and productive summer months.  May Day used to be the most anticipated holiday of the year in towns and villages, particularly in English rural communities, when the celebrations would include music and dancing and the crowning of the May Queen, supposed to be the human version of Flora who, traditionally, took no part in the festivities but sat like a queen in a flower bedecked chair watching her ‘subjects’.  Two other characters who played a part in the festivities in some parts of the country were Jack in the Green and the rather better known Robin Hood.

Maypole dancing is, perhaps, the best known of all the May Day customs.  However, before the dancing could begin a maypole had to be made which involved cutting down a young tree, usually a tall birch tree, and then stripping it of its branches, leaving only the leaves at the top to symbolise new life.  The tree would then be taken to the town square or village green where it would be decorated with garlands of flowers and ribbons. Historians believe the cutting of the maypole was the villager’s way of establishing their right to cut wood freely from the forest.

Traditionally the dancers were women, although it has now become a popular children’s activity. Each person takes hold of one of the coloured ribbons and then circles the maypole with a sort of hopping, skipping step.  Some of the dancers go in one direction, while others go in the opposite way, changing direction at carefully chosen moments until the ribbons are plaited together and wrapped tightly around the maypole.  The process is then reversed and the ribbons unwound.

In 1644, maypoles were banned in England as a ‘heathenish vanity’ and local officials who defiantly erected them could be fined up to five shillings a week, a not inconsiderable sum in those days.  In 1661, a maypole 123 feet tall (the tallest on record) was put up in the Strand to celebrate the return of Charles II, remaining there for fifty years!  It did, however, have another use as Sir Isaac Newton is said to have used it as a support for his telescope!

May Day is actually two distinct celebrations: one to mark the arrival of spring, (although, for many of us, it’s simply another Bank Holiday) and the other to recognise the efforts of the workers.  We’ve already seen that the first has been a joyous occasion for thousand of years, however, in 1890, May Day took on a more serious connotation when the international labour movement named it International Workers’ Day marked in cities around the world with marches and militant speeches.  Rather amusingly, in 1966, the first World Tramps’ Congress in Argentina named 2nd May the International Day of Idleness!

When I told The Bears in the Windows they’d be celebrating May Day for the first time, they decided there had to be some maypole dancers, a Robin Hood and a May Queen, which I thought might be a challenge too far!  However, to my delight, I managed to achieve the desired result, adding a touch or two of my own, like a basket of flowers and a garland with a tiny panda in the centre instead of the traditional doll.  Although I’m not sure the dancers really know what they’re doing, there’s no denying they’re having a good time! 

 

 

 


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