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

IT’S A BOY!

by Elspeth

 It’s a boy!  After weeks of anticipation and speculation and a labour lasting more than 11 hours on the hottest day of the year so far, the Duchess of Cambridge finally gave birth to a son at 4.24 yesterday afternoon, a baby who is now third in line to the throne. 

Millions of words have been written and millions more spoken (I must admit that, although I’m a staunch royalist, I’ve found the last few days a bit over the top as a sort of hysteria seems to have taken over the country.  And so, as I’ve done with many other momentous occasions this year, I’ve sifted through the huge amount of royal baby trivia we’ve been bombarded with since the news was announced that the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge were expecting their first child and selected my favourite facts.

Royal babies used to be born at home.  The Queen was born at her parents’ house in Mayfair, Prince Charles at Buckingham Palace and Princess Anne at Clarence House.  Prince William was the first future king to be born in hospital, coincidentally the same Lindo Wing at St. Mary’s Hospital, Paddington, where his own child has just been born.  Until Prince Charles’s birth in 1948, it was customary for the Home Secretary to attend royal births to prevent baby swapping.  (I bet the Duchess and Theresa May were both relieved that this no longer happens!) 

Royal births are celebrated with a 62-gun salute from the Honourable Artillery Company at the Tower of London and a 42-gun salute by the King’s Troop Royal Artillery in Green Park.  As I mentioned in a previous blog, a gun salute is a complicated concept to understand.  The basic royal salute is 21, but there are an extra 21 when it takes place in a royal park.  The Tower has 62 because, in addition to the basic 21, there are an extra 20 as The Tower is a royal palace and another 21 because it’s located in the City of London!  I don’t know about you, but I’m still confused! 

The Queen will be the first reigning monarch to meet a great-grandchild born in direct succession to the throne since Queen Victoria met the future King Edward VIII in 1894.  The new baby is the Queen’s third great-grandchild (her first great-grandson) and the great-great-great-great-great grandson of Queen Victoria.  Because of their titles, it isn’t necessary for royal babies to have surnames but, if William and Kate did want their son to have one, there are three available: Windsor, the name adopted by George V in 1917 because of anti-German feeling about the family’s then surname of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, Mountbatten-Windsor, the name used by some direct descendants of the Queen and Prince Philip, or Cambridge, the name of the new prince’s parents’ house.

Royal babies usually have five or six godparents, though Prince Charles had eight.  It’s expected that the christening will take place in the autumn after the Queen has returned from her annual summer holiday at Balmoral by which time Prince Philip is expected to be well enough to attend.  The baby will be baptised with water from the River Jordan (probably the only thing I’ll have in common with him!) and will wear a lace and satin robe, which is actually a handmade replica of the 172-year-old garment used for generations of royal infants including the Queen herself, her father King George VI, the Prince of Wales and Princes William and Harry.  The Honiton lace and satin robe was first worn by Queen’s Victoria’s daughter, Princess Victoria, in 1841 and last worn by Lady Louise Windsor in 2004 after which it was deemed too fragile for further use.  The new christening robe, made by the Queen’s dressmaker, Angela Kelly, and the team of dressmakers at Buckingham Palace, was first worn in 2008 by the Earl and Countess of Wessex’s son, Viscount Severn.

Our insatiable appetite for news 24 hours a day means that every step in the life of the world’s most famous baby boy will be the subject of unprecedented fascination.  Because of the instant global age in which we now live, news of the birth was announced by email before it was posted on a noticeboard in the forecourt of Buckingham Palace in the traditional way.  Back in 1948, when Prince Charles was a baby, it was possible for him to be taken out in his pram by his nanny accompanied by just one bowler-hatted detective.  Photographers would snap them going past and put the photos in an album to reminisce about with their grandchildren.  How different it will be for the new prince being brought up in a world where camera phones and social media websites such as Twitter and Facebook mean that millions of people across the world can have instant access to pictures taken by members of the public.  

Though, of course, I had plenty of time to plan this window, it wasn’t until the birth was announced that I found out if what I had in mind would work.  In the middle, of course, are the proud parents (at least I got the colour of Kate’s dress correct even though it was cornflower blue rather than royal and had spots instead of stars!) cradling their baby son wrapped in swaddling clothes and clutching his first teddy – I wonder how many thousands more he’ll receive in the coming weeks.  I’ve also tried to recreate what everyone, apparently, wants to see – the easel traditionally put outside Buckingham Palace to announce the birth of a royal baby.  (I understand that people were actually queuing up yesterday to photograph it!)  As you can see, one ursine couple have brought along their newborn cub to be photographed in front of the palace so that, in years to come, he can say, ‘I was there!’

Now that the world has had its first glimpse of the new little prince, there’s just one last important matter for us to speculate over (for the moment, anyway) – his name!  Hopefully this will be announced soon as it took a full month for Prince Charles’s names to be revealed, though he and Diana only took a week to decide on William’s and a mere day for Harry’s.  Just for the record, my money’s on Andrew Philip Charles George!     

  

 


HAPPY BIRTHDAY, EDINBURGH ZOO!

by Elspeth

It was one hundred years ago today that Edinburgh Zoo first opened its gates to the public.  The zoo was the vision of Edinburgh lawyer Thomas Gillespie who had founded the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS) in 1909, its objective ‘to advance the study of zoology and foster and develop among people an interest in and knowledge of animal life’.  Coincidentally,1913 was also the year when the RZSS was granted a Royal Charter, although the prefix ‘Royal’ was only granted in 1948 following a visit from King George IV.  Edinburgh is still the only zoo in the UK to have Royal status. 

With the help of the council and other fundraisers, Gillespie bought the 85 acre site on the hill around Corstorphine Hill House for £17,000, deciding on the German style of large open enclosures, with space for the animals to roam and adequate viewing opportunities for visitors, instead of the traditional Victorian idea of caged beasts.  Town planner Patrick Geddes was given the responsibility for designing the Zoo and, one hundred years later, many of his original enclosures are still there, such as the sea lion enclosure near the entrance of the Zoo.

The first creature to move in was a gannet, which Gillespie had bought for 8p from an animal dealer in October 1912 after it had crash landed on Leith Pier and, in fact, the bird actually stayed with Gillespie until the zoo opened.   Finding other creatures to populate the zoo was a bit of a nightmare and Gillespie actually borrowed a large private collection which arrived at Corstorphine Station.  It must have been quite a sight to see 90 animals including 6 lions, 4 bears, 2 hyenas, 8 wolves, 4 leopards, 2 camels, sheep, a golden eagle, a vulture, parrots and 2 falcons disembarking from the train!  Scotland’s first giraffe followed soon afterwards and the penguins for which the zoo is world-famous arrived in 1914.

Many of the animals were so popular with visitors that they earned celebrity status.  One of the first superstars was Sundra, a four-year old elephant who was a gift to the zoo from the Maharajah of Mysore.  A saddle was made for her and, during the summer months, Sundra would give rides to children, carrying four at a time.  Another elephant called Sally was also a huge attraction from the 1950s until her death in 1980.  Although some people think a zoo isn’t a zoo without an elephant, in 1989, Edinburgh’s surviving elephant was sent to live in a safari park with other elephants, an environment much more suitable for a herd animal.  This was a defining moment for the zoo when animal welfare was put before entertainment.   

Another favourite resident was Wojtek the soldier bear who was adopted by the Polish army in 1942 after an Iranian boy swapped the bear for some cans of food.  When he was demobbed in November 1947, Wojtek went to live at Edinburgh Zoo where he lived happily until his death in 1963.  One of the longest living animal celebrities was Ricky, the zoo’s beloved chimpanzee, who came to live in Edinburgh after his parents were killed in the African bush.  He was mourned by many when he passed away aged 50 in January 2012.

Edinburgh Zoo has been famous for its penguins ever since the Christian Salveson Whaling Company brought three king penguins from the South Atlantic in January 1914.  The king penguin quickly became synonymous with the zoo and appears in its coat of arms along with a seal, a zebra, a lion rampant and, of course, a gannet, the zoo’s very first resident.   The penguin parade, one of the most popular events with visitors, apparently began by accident in 1951 when a keeper left the gate open and the inquisitive birds decided they’d like to see what the world was like outside their enclosure.  The ‘parade’ was such a hit that it was added to the zoo’s daily schedule of events. 

Today, the penguins only join in if they want to and, when I last saw the parade in March, only four ventured out, the rest preferring to enjoy the facilities Penguins Rock, which opened earlier this year, has to offer.  What I love about the penguin enclosure is that you can spend as long as you want watching these fascinating birds and, unlike the panda enclosure, where the windows cause annoying reflection which often spoil that special shot, the penguins aren’t behind glass!      

Edinburgh Zoo is home to the UK’s only koalas and, of course, also to its only pandas, Yang Guang and Tian Tian who have attracted visitors in their thousands since they arrived one snowy winter’s day in December 2011.  Another extremely popular attraction is the state-of-the-art Budongo Trail chimpanzee house, opened by Princess Anne in 2005, a far cry from the zoo’s chimpanzees’ tea parties of old when more food was thrown about than eaten!  Tea parties and elephant rides once seemed like innocent fun but attitudes changed and the zoo had to adapt by giving the animals more of a purpose than simply being gawped at.

Amongst the celebrations organised for this centenary year are lectures, competitions, an exhibition, which started off in the Central Library and is now at the zoo, charting the zoo’s history and ongoing popularity, a gala dinner being held in the National Museum of Scotland in November and even two adult only evenings which I understand included pole dancing in the penguin enclosure! 

On Sunday 14th July, the BBC broadcast a hugely entertaining programme called Animal Magic – 100 years of Edinburgh Zoo.  Narrated by John Hannah, it took a look back at the Zoo’s history, featuring famous faces, firm favourites, lots of reminiscences and some previously unseen historic footage.  Although you’ll probably think that my favourite moment would have been the pandas, you’d be wrong.  It was actually the footage of the penguins apparently catching a bus into the city centre and then taking a walk outside the National Gallery on Princes Street! 

Possibly the most spectacular of all the centenary celebrations is a three-and-a-half metre sculpture featuring animals from the zoo – there’s a penguin, a chimp, a rhino, a penguin and, of course, a giant panda – which has been created from 60 tonnes of builders’ sand on the Mansion House lawn.  The panda proved to be the most challenging because it’s identified by its colour markings which are hard to create in sand.  However, Jamie Wardley and Andy Moss, from the Sand in Your Eye company, managed to achieve it by making the white sections very smooth and giving the black ones a rougher texture.  Closeby is ‘a beach in the city’, complete with deck chairs, parasols, and buckets and spades which means that visitors can enjoy the best of both worlds – a day at the zoo and a day by the seaside!

To begin with Edinburgh Zoo simply gave people the opportunity to see wild animals they would probably not otherwise ever have seen but, although it still performs such a function today, according to Chris West, Chief Executive of the RZSS, the zoo’s main focus is now conservation.  He believes that, ‘It’s vitally important that organisations like zoos remind people of the wonder of and the fragility of nature, but also how dependent we are on it being a healthy planet with a healthy nature.’ 

Edinburgh Zoo has come a very long way since an animal-loving lawyer had the vision of filling a park around a stately home with all kinds of exotic animals from every corner of the world.  This year is an opportunity for us to look back at what has been achieved in the last hundred years and to look forward to what the future holds for the zoo in the next hundred.  Happy birthday, Edinburgh Zoo! 


GOLFING GREATS

by Elspeth

As we wait to see if Andy Murray’s tremendous feat can be emulated by a British golfer - after the second round, Martin Laird, Lee Westwood, Darren Clarke, Ian Poulter, Graeme McDowell, Stephen Gallagher or even former champion Paul Lawrie who, convinced he’d missed the cut, drove the 160 miles back to his home in Aberdeen only have to head straight back to Muirfield when it was announced that eight over would be good enough, are still all in with a chance – I thought I’d give you some Open trivia.

TOM WATSON AT TURNBERRY

The Open is the oldest of the four golfing majors and is played on one of nine links courses.  The first round of the first Open was played at Prestwick, no longer on the circuit, on 17th October 1860, the winner winning a mere £5.25 compared with the £954,000 this year’s winner will receive.  The Claret Jug replaced the Champion’s Belt in 1873 and is now one of the best-known sporting trophies in the world. 

The oldest Open champion is Old Tom Morris who won in 1867 at the age of 46, while the youngest is his son, Young Tom Morris who won the following year aged a mere 17.  Old Tom also holds the record for the oldest player, still taking part in 1896 at the grand old age of 74 years 11 months and 24 days.  The player with most wins is Harry Vardon with six and the one with most runner-up places is Jack Nicklaus with seven.  The record for most appearances is held by Gary Player who played in an amazing 46 Opens.  Nick Faldo’s claim to fame is that, in 1987 at Muirfield, he parred every hole in the final round to secure his first major. 

In yesterday’s testing conditions, Stephen Gallagher came within two holes of matching Faldo’s feat, parring 16 holes, dropping his only shot at the seventh and then going on to card an eagle at the ninth, a feat in itself as, after hitting the out-of-bounds wall, the ball ricocheted onto the green stopping within 30 feet of the pin.  Taking full advantage of this outrageous stroke of luck, Gallagher promptly holed the putt for an eagle.  One of the most spectacular and the most crucial shots in the history of the Open was played by the late, great Seve Ballesteros who drove into the car park and then birdied the hole to win at Royal Lytham and St Anne’s in 1979.

JACK NICKLAUS PLAYING HIS FINAL SHOT IN AN OPEN

Golf, just like tennis, has its own unique scoring terms which the uninitiated might be forgiven for thinking has something to do with ornithology!  According to the Historical Dictionary of Golfing Terms (1993), a ‘birdie’, one stroke under par, (the number of strokes a player is expected to take at a particular hole depending on its length and difficulty) comes from the 19th century American slang term “bird”, meaning anything excellent and was first used at the Country Club in Atlantic City.  Two under par is called an ‘eagle’, an extension of the ornithological theme, and it isn’t surprising that American golfers chose to name this score after their national bird.  The term used for three under par is an ‘albatross’ as it’s a very rare score and a very rare bird. 

This year’s defending champion is South African Ernie Els who, coincidentally, won the last time the Open was played at Muirfield in 2002 after a four man play-off.  Previous Muirfield champions include Gary Player in 1959, Jack Nicklaus in 1966, Lee Trevino in 1972, Tom Watson in 1980 and Nick Faldo in 1987 and 1992.

This year, as usual, I have two windows dedicated to The Open.  In one, an ursine golfer, surrounded by bears from past Opens, can’t wait to get his paws on the Claret Jug while, in the other, one of the players is asking his caddie’s advice on how to play a crucial putt, the crowd closely watched by a steward armed with paddles ordering them to ‘stand still’ and ‘keep quiet’.  Every golfer agrees that the nineteenth hole is the most welcome, especially after a bad round, and so I’ve created the clubhouse of Bearfield, home of the Right Honourable Ursine Golfers, where men aren’t allowed unless accompanied by a bear!

As we’ve seen in past years, anyone who qualifies can win The Open but, after five years without a major title, it seems that the Tiger is, once again, on the prowl and may be about to dash our hopes of having another British winner.


THE OPEN

by Elspeth

Today is the first day of the 142nd Open which is being played at Muirfield, home of the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers, for the sixteenth time.  Each year, golf’s oldest and most prestigious tournament attracts spectators in their thousands as well as huge television audiences who, like me, tune in to be regaled by Peter Alliss, well-known for his knowledgeable observations and quirky humour. 

WINNERS ST ST ANDREWS

I’m fortunate that two of the venues, Royal Troon and Turnberry, are right on my doorstep, while St Andrews and Muirfield are only a few hours drive away which means I’ve been able enjoy The Open experience on several occasions.  In 2004, when the tournament was last played at Troon, I offered to get some beanies signed for a friend to auction in aid of Cancer Research.  And so, rather sheepishly, I joined a group of children waiting patiently at the practice ground for their favourite golfing heroes to sign a programme, a baseball cap or even part of their body!  I’m pleased to say that most of the players I approached were happy to sign beanies for me although, disappointingly, one recently knighted British player refused. 

 

When a young boy told me that Padraig Harrington was approaching, although I wasn’t convinced that it was the well-known Irish golfer, I decided to ask him to sign an Irish beanie dog, which the affable player readily agreed to do.  However, it seemed that it was indeed a case of mistaken identity as the signature didn’t look a bit like ‘Padraig Harrington’.  The mystery deepened when no one could confirm who the mystery player was and it wasn’t until later that day that I discovered he was a little known American called Todd Hamilton. 

 

However, by the Sunday evening, the name of Todd Hamilton was on everyone’s lips because, after a nail-biting four-hole play-off, Hamilton emerged as the winner of the 133rd Open Championship!  Although I would like to think that signing my lucky dog had helped the unassuming player secure his first, and so far, only Major title, I rather suspect it had probably more to do with Hamilton’s inherent talent and remarkable staying power!       

Five years later, our paths crossed again at Turnberry, the first time The Open had been played there since 1994, and recounted the story of our meeting at Troon.  Though I’m quite sure he had absolutely no recollection of it, the charming American had the good grace not to admit it, saying, ‘Well, it looks as if the dog was lucky for both of us!’  Since his victory at Troon, Hamilton hasn’t played his best golf at The Open and many people have probably forgotten him.  However, because of a chance encounter between him and a beanie dog, I will certainly never forget him!

Although many of the greatest golfers in the world have lifted the famous Claret Jug, as rank outsiders Justin Leonard, Paul Lawrie, Ben Curtis, Todd Hamilton and Stuart Cink have all proved, anyone who qualifies has the chance to claim their place in Open history.  Up until the very last hole at Turnberry, it looked as if Tom Watson was going to turn back the clock to win his third Open title but it was to prove a step too far for the popular American and he lost the title in a play-off to Stewart Cink.  The following year, while at one of the practice days at St Andrews, the only memorable moment was having my photograph taken with none other than Cink.  However, despite the fact that not a ball was hit because of the appalling weather, the intransigence of the R&A was quite breathtaking as they refused to refund our entrance money because someone had apparently played a shot around seven in the morning!

THE 2011 OPEN AT ROYAL ST GEORGE’S

The first Open bear was introduced at Lytham St Anne’s in 2001 and, every year since then, amongst the official merchandise on offer in the tented village, there have been bears wearing knitted jumpers or hoodies decorated with either the crest of the course hosting the event or the world-famous Claret Jug.  I’ve managed to collect most of them and, with several dedicated ursine golfers, now have enough bears to fill two windows.    

 

 

 


LIBERTÉ, EGALITÉ, FRATERNITÉ

by Elspeth

Today is Bastille Day, the French national holiday commemorating the storming of the Bastille in 1789, an action which marked the beginning of the French Revolution.  The Bastille symbolised the absolute and arbitrary power of Louis XVI’s Ancien Régime and, by capturing it, the people were signalling that the king’s power was no longer absolute and, henceforth, they would have a say in how the country would be run.  

There were only seven prisoners in the prison that day, guarded by 80 veterans wounded in the field and 30 grenadiers from Swiss mercenary regiments.  At first, the Governor, Marquis de Launay, tried to negotiate with the revolutionaries to buy time until reinforcements could arrive.  Unfortunately, negotiations broke down when a group of rebels entered the Bastille and the guards were ordered to fire, killing hundreds.

However, the revolutionaries would soon gain the upper hand as the reinforcements decided not to fight against the mob but with it, easily defeating Louis XVI’s guards in just a few hours.  When the Governor surrendered at 4pm, he was immediately slaughtered by the rebels, as were the guards, his head carried through the streets of Paris as a sign of victory.  That night, the Bastille itself was completely destroyed.  However, despite all the bloodshed that day, the only entry in the King’s diary for 14th July 1789 was, ‘Nothing’ – apparently a record of his day’s hunting.  When told about what had happened in Paris, Louis asked an adviser, ‘Is this a revolt?’, the reply was, ‘No Majesty, this is a revolution.’

One of the things we all associate with the French revolution is the guillotine, a device used by the revolutionaries to execute their opponents.  Under the Ancien Régime, executioners had the choice of the sword, the breaking wheel or fire but, when public opinion turned against such archaic methods, a less painful way of disposing of people had to be found.

The answer was the guillotine, invented by Joseph Ignace Guillotin, a professor of anatomy.  In 1791, the newly formed National Assembly voted to adopt it as the official execution device as, although the very word sends shivers down my spine, they considered it to be more humane, the victim only feeling a gentle breeze on the back of his neck before the blade fell.  Appropriately, the executions took place in ‘la place de la révolution’, now known as la Palace de la Concorde, where a single column stands testament to the storming of the Bastille.  During the Reign of Terror it’s estimated that between 15,000 and 40,000 people, including King Louis XVI himself, met their death by the guillotine. 

The events of 14th July 1789 symbolised the Republic’s three ideals: Liberté, Egalité and Fraternité for everyone, and marked the end of absolute monarchy, the birth of the sovereign nation which would lead to the creation of the First Republic.  Louis was arrested in 1792 and tried in front of the Convention, accused of high treason and crimes against the State.  It was a foregone conclusion that he would be found guilty and, on 21st January 1793, King Louis XVI was executed in front of the French people who saluted his death as the beginning of a better era. 

On 15th February 1794, the Tricolore, was adopted as the French flag, its equal bands of red and blue, the colour of the cockades worn by the revolutionaries, and white, the colour of the monarchy, also representing the Republic’s three ideals.  La Marseillaise, written in 1792 to encourage the French troops in the war against Austria, became popular during the revolution and, on 14th July 1795, it was chosen as the national anthem of France. 

Bastille Day was declared the French national holiday, or la fête nationale, on 6th July 1880 and, nowadays, is a mix of pomp, ceremony and fun.  In Paris the day is marked with all sorts of events including a military parade along the Champs Elysées and a spectacular firework display at the Trocadéro, which thousands flock to watch from the Champs de Mar, in front of the Eiffel Tower, and from various vantage points across the city, the theme, this year, Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité.

The Bears in the Windows celebrated Bastille Day for the first time last year and had so much fun with their French cousins that they decided they should make it an annual event.  This year’s window is full of all things French, including an artist, a pavement café, the Eiffel Tower, set against a night sky lit up with fireworks, and, of course, a guillotine whose ursine ‘victim’ is, naturally, rather apprehensive!  I wonder if he’ll be pardoned at the final hour or suffer the same fate as Louis XVI! 


MURRAY CAME, HE PLAYED, HE CONQUERED!

by Elspeth

 

He did it!  Andy Murray is Wimbledon Champion!

After an epic match, full of drama, unbelievably long rallies and nail-bitingly tense games, particularly the last one, Andy Murray defeated Jovak Dojovic to become the first British man to win Wimbledon since Fred Perry in 1936.

Although I believe his victory was down to his rigorous training, his tenacity and his brilliance as a player, according to some people, the number ‘7’ played a crucial role in the outcome and I suppose it’s hard to disagree with the following remarkable statistics.  Murray became the first British male Wimbledon Champion for 77 years on the seventh day of the seventh month in his seventh Grand Slam Final, playing against a man seven years his junior who was aiming to win his seventh Grand Slam title!  The last women’s champion was Virginia Wade who won her title in the Queen’s Silver Jubilee year, 1977.  Murray, who was supported during each match by Kim Sears, his girlfriend of seven years, broke Djokovic’s serve in the seventh game of all three sets and won seven out of 17 break points though, fortunately, it didn’t take seven, but only four Championship points for him to clinch victory!

Unlike many, the English in particular, I’ve always believed that Andy Murray would, one day, achieve sporting immortality which is why, last September, my husband and I stood for more than five hours, part of the time in the pouring rain, to meet Andy when he returned to his home town, Dunblane, after his historic victories at the Olympics and the US Open.  Even though it had taken him more than three hours to reach us, he was still happy to sign autographs and shake hands, his down-to-earth demeanor making him more like one of the thousands of people gathered in that small Scottish town, for so long associated with tragedy, rather than an Olympic champion and Grand Slam winner.  Jim and I were also fortunate to have the chance to chat to his charming maternal grandmother whose pride in her grandson was understandably palpable.  We can’t wait to do it all again when Andy makes his triumphal return to the place where he grew up and whose people still mean so much to him.    

7th July has always been a poignant date for me as it is the day my mother’s funeral took place on what would have been her 41st birthday.  It’s also the day, eight years ago, when terrorists attacked London’s transport system, killing 52 people and maiming many others.  Now, thanks to Andy Murray, 7th July will have happy associations for me, forever remembered as the day he proved the sceptics wrong to take the Wimbledon crown, ending a 77-year wait for a British champion and, more importantly, fulfilling his dream!

 

 


7/7

by Elspeth

Most of you will remember where you were eight years ago today when terrorists attacked London’s transport system.  I was at home on my own and learned of the attacks on the internet although, just as I did on 9/11, at first I didn’t believe that the horrific events unfolding in front of me were really happening, but that it was just a clip from a film.

My husband and I had been due to fly down to London the next day for the celebrations marking the 60th Anniversary of the end of the Second World War.  We might well have been caught up in the ensuing mayhem as we had thought of going a day earlier and, if we had, would have arrived in central London around the time the first bombs went off.  I later learned that the granddaughter of a dear friend had lost a leg in the blast but, like so many of the survivors, she accepted what had happened and got on with her life.

At first it seemed likely that the weekend’s events would be cancelled as the police were advising people against travelling into London.  However, as soon as we found out that everything was going ahead as planned, thanks to the generosity of the much-maligned Ryanair, we re-booked our flights for the Saturday morning as I was determined I wasn’t going to miss this very special weekend.  The reason it was so important to me to be there was because my father had been a Major in the Indian Army during the war, his distinguished service having been rewarded with an MBE.   

When we arrived at Liverpool Street, instead of taking a Circle Line train to Westminster as we would normally have done, we travelled by taxi through the eerily quiet streets to our hotel located close to the London Eye.  After checking in, we made our way to St. James’s Park, where a Living Museum had been created as a place where the memories of those who had experienced World War II, whether at home, in Europe or in the Far East, could be kept alive and passed on to future generations. 

On National Commemoration Day itself, we headed for Trafalgar Square where people tend to congregate at times of national celebration and sorrow.  You may remember the scenes of jubilation only the day before the attacks when it was announced that London was to host the 2012 Olympics and then, just eight days later, thousands taking part in a vigil in memory of the 52 victims of the suicide bomb attacks. 

Accompanying us was Poppy, my Royal British Legion bear, who attracted a great deal of attention with his authentic miniature medal, beret and embroidered poppy.  Over the weekend, he was thrilled to be photographed with young representatives of each of the armed forces (a unique photoshoot set up by my husband) and two World War Two veterans – one had taken part in the D-Day landings, while the other had been a Japanese prisoner-of-war. 

Even though the recent tragic events were foremost in everyone’s minds, the atmosphere was relaxed and friendly, with people having made their way to London in their thousands to show that nothing could mar this very special celebration.  The Queen obviously felt the same, travelling back to Buckingham Palace in a new open-topped vehicle which, in a show of defiance towards the terrorists, she had insisted on using.  It was so heartening to see the British people of today showing the same spirit of comradeship and resilience that had sustained the country throughout the dark years of war. 

When the Queen appeared on the balcony, just as she had done with her parents on VE Day sixty years previously, Jim and I were only a few feet from the gates of Buckingham Palace.  What really impressed us was that, although she must have witnessed hundreds of fly pasts during her lifetime, Her Majesty appeared to be just as excited as we all were by the poignant fly past by the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight and the legendary Red Arrows who dropped poppy leaves along The Mall. 

My tribute to those who died on 7th July 2005 features London Underground teddies representing each the four locations where the bombs went off – King’s Cross, Aldgate, Edgware Road and Tavistock Square – and doves of peace sold in aid of the London Bombings Relief Fund.  In the centre of the window I’ve tried to recreate the striking memorial in Hyde Park, unveiled by the Prince of Wales on the fourth anniversary of the atrocity, the four ‘stainless steel columns’ symbolizing the 52 pillars etched with the name of the place where each of the victims died and the time when the bomb exploded.  This ‘dignified and tranquil space’ means that they will never be forgotten.  


SINGING IN THE RAIN!

by Elspeth

As this year’s Wimbledon draws to a close, here’s my final selection of tennis trivia to tantalise you.

3,000 gallons of water are needed to keep the courts, which are sown with 100 per cent rye grass cut to 8mm, in pristine condition and 500 gallons of white line marker are used to line them.  The indispensable ‘Hawk-Eye’, used to adjudicate on disputed line calls, was introduced on Centre and No. 1 Courts in 2006 and six years later on No. 2 and No. 3 Courts.  Last year, of the 428 challenges made by men, 120 were correct, a success rate of 28%, while of the 191 made by ladies, 49 were correct, a 25.7% success rate.   This year, Andy Murray has had the fewest successful challenges of any player in the tournament!  A real hawk called Rufus is deployed three mornings a week throughout the year to keep local pigeons off the courts but, during The Championships he flies for one hour most mornings before the gates open.

While still the Duke of York, the future King George VI played in the 1926 Wimbledon championships. Unfortunately his appearance in the men’s doubles competition was brief, beaten in the first round with his partner Sir Louis Greig.  In October 1940, 1,200 seats but, thankfully, no lives were lost when five 500lb. bombs were dropped on Centre Court.  The Queen has only been at Wimbledon four times – in 1957, 1962, 1077 and 2010.  The Royal Box contains 74 dark green Lloyd Loom wicker chairs.  Rather quaintly, the Gentlemen’s Singles Trophy, presented by the All England Club in 1887, is inscribed ‘The All England Lawn Tennis Club Single Handed Champion of the World.’

The only person ever to be disqualified from Wimbledon is, astonishingly, Tim Henman who smashed a ball in anger during a doubles match hitting a ball girl in the face.  Andy Murray’s claim to fame, to date, is that, in 2009, he played in the first full match under the new retractable roof.  The official name for Henman Hill or Murray Mount which, in my opinion, it should be forever known, is Aorangi Terrace.  The only years since 1922 when there were no recorded rain interruptions were in 1931, 1976, 1977, 1993, 1995, 2009 and 2010.  In 1991, 1997 and 2004 there was play on the middle Sunday because of a backlog of games caused by rain delays.  Finally, although Cliff Richard’s impromptu sing-a-long during a rain break in 1996 was never repeated, it’s now a firm part of Wimbledon myth. 

CHAMPIONSHIP POINT!

There are only 24 hours to go before we find out who will be crowned this year’s king of Wimbledon.  Will it be Novak Djokovic, who won the title in 2011 and, yesterday, defeated Del Potro in the longest semi-final in Wimbledon history, or Andy Murray, who outplayed Janowicz to win a place in his second consecutive Wimbledon final against Djokovic whom he beat in the semi-final of last year’s Olympics and, again a few weeks later, in the final of the US Open to win his first Grand Slam?  Let’s hope that tomorrow Murray’s dream finally comes true and we’ll have our first British Wimbledon champion for 77 years. 


HAPPY BIRTHDAY, AMERICA!

by Elspeth

Today is American Independence Day – the historic day, in 1776, when the USA gained independence from Great Britain.  Each year, this most American of holidays is marked with parades, concerts, fireworks and parties across the country.

The War of Independence plays such an important part in American popular ideology that references to it are prone to exaggeration and oversimplification.  Two uncomfortable truths about the war are often forgotten – the fact that it was a civil war (perhaps 100,000 loyalists fled abroad at its end), and that it was also a world war which the Americans couldn’t have won without the help of the French.

However, in one sense it was always a war between cousins, and the long and complicated history of the ‘special relationship’ between Britain and America, as well as the notion of the unbreakable connections between the countries, reveals a link that at one time was very close indeed.

Before 1776, there was no such country as the United States of America and the 13 individual states were actually British colonies.  Perhaps understandably, many Americans wanted to be treated like British citizens and resented paying taxes to Great Britain when they didn’t have any representation in Parliament.  ‘Taxation without representation’ was taken up as the battle cry of the rebels, the best-known example of their frustration being, of course, the Boston Tea Party of 16th December 1773, when a group of 200 men descended on three ships laden with tea and dumped their cargo into Boston harbour.   

As dissatisfaction grew, British troops were sent in to quell any signs of rebellion.  When repeated attempts by the colonists to resolve the crisis proved fruitless, on 11th June 1776, the Second Continental Congress met in Philadelphia with the express purpose of drafting a document that would formally sever ties with Great Britain.  The draft was changed no less than 86 times before the version we know today was adopted on 4th July 1776. 

On 8th July, the first public reading took place in Philadelphia’s Independence Square to the ringing of bells and patriotic music and, the following year, on 4th July, Philadelphia marked Independence Day, (although the term ‘Independence Day’ wasn’t actually used until 1791), by adjourning Congress and celebrating with bonfires, bells and fireworks.  The custom eventually spread to other towns where the fourth of July was marked with processions, oratory, picnics, contests, games, military displays and, of course, fireworks.  The observance of this historic day became even more common when the war against Britain ended in 1812.

Today, on the fourth of July, communities across the nation mark this major midsummer holiday with parades, firework displays, picnics and the playing of the Star-Spangled Banner and de Sousa’s stirring patriotic marches.  Naturally, the nation’s capital, Washington, is one of the places to be, the Capitol and the Monument forming a spectacular backdrop to the day’s festivities.  The celebrations traditionally begin with a huge parade along Constitution Avenue and end with a breathtaking display of fireworks, launched from the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool, which lights up the sky across the city.  

Many also head for New York to enjoy the various special events, culminating with Macy’s legendary firework display, which made its debut in 1958, and which can be watched from locations all over the city.  In 2011, during the biggest pyrotechnic display in recent years, the fireworks were synchronised to patriotic tunes, classical river-themed works and original music, with the pre-show entertainment provided by the FDNY fireboat show, featuring arcs of red, white and blue reaching 300 feet into the air, and a dramatic fly past.

As usual, I couldn’t resist giving you some fun facts about Independence Day.  In July 1776, it was estimated that there were 2.5 million people living in the newly independent nation.  This year, the estimated population on 4th July is 316.2 million.  Last year, $ 218.2 million was spent on importing fireworks from China, while the US export of fireworks came to just $11.7 million, with Israel purchasing more than any other country.

Patriotic-sounding place names abound in America.  59 places have ‘liberty’ in their name, with more in Pennsylvania (11) than in any other state, another 12 include the word ‘independence’, 31 towns are called ‘Eagle’, in honour of America’s national symbol, the majestic eagle and one is called ‘Patriot’.  Several hundred towns are named after American Presidents – there are 127 Washingtons, 118 Franklins, 96 Jacksons and 95 LincolnsAnd finally, New York isn’t the only place good enough to be named twice because, believe it or not, five towns are actually called ‘America’!

If you believe in coincidences, here’s an amazing one.  Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, who both signed the Declaration of Independence in Philadelphia in 1776 and went on to become Presidents of the United States, died on 4th July 1826 – exactly 50 years after the adoption of the American Declaration of Independence.

Jim and I have visited America on several occasions and were, in fact, married there.  Over the years, I’ve brought back a number of American bears to live with us at Dalbear Road and they certainly know how to party on 4th July.  This year, as you can see, the celebrations are taking place in front of the Capitol which is bedecked with stars and stripes and even two ursine flags! 

 

                                                                                                       


MAGIC MONDAY!

by Elspeth

Every year, the television commentators and newspapers manage to come up with more and more trivia about Wimbledon – some simply factual, while others are quite surprising.  I’ve already told you all there is to know about the tennis balls and the catering, so here’s a miscellany of some of the rest. 

The winner of the first tournament in 1877 received a mere 12 guineas (£12.60), while the winner of the first ‘open’ championship in 1963 took home £2,000.  Since 2007, both men and women’s champions have been awarded the same amount of prize money which, this year, will be £1.6m.  In 1983, Boris Becker became the youngest men’s singles champion, at 17 years 227 days of age, the first German winner and the first unseeded champion.  The last married woman to win the ladies singles was Chris Evert Lloyd in 1981.

6,000 staff are taken on for Wimbledon – 250 ball boys and girls, 7 ball distributers, 84 in building services, 1,800 catering staff, 191 night cleaners, 114 day cleaners, 151 court attendants, 36 data collectors, 22 dressing room attendants, 20 groundsmen, 30 in the left luggage office, 30 lift operators, 14 physiotherapists, 8 practice court staff, 15 in the referee’s office, 38 media staff, 46 scoreboard operators, 700 security guards, 185 honorary stewards, 595 stewards form the Services and London Fire Brigade, 320 transport service drivers and 350 umpires and line judges. 

Each year, 660 matches are played and 2000 racquets restrung using 40 miles of string.  The shortest match in Wimbledon history was the 1881 final when William Renshaw took only 37 minutes to defeat John Hartley in straight sets, the longest the 2010 epic between John Isner and Nicholas Mahut, lasting an astonishing 11hours 5 minutes, of which the final set took up 8hours 11 minutes!  The first wild card to triumph at Wimbledon was Goran Ivanisevic who, in 2001, won his first and last Grand Slam title. 

The Bears in the Windows love Wimbledon and Andy Murray.  And so, one of the windows is dedicated to the Olympic gold medal winner and the reigning US Open champion who, after a nail-biting second set, won through to his sixth consecutive quarter final.  (Disappointingly, Laura Robson’s challenge is over for this year, but I’m confident that she’ll be queen of  Wimbledon one day.)  

In the other window, the Men’s Final is in progress with a scoreline players can only dream of!  There are, of course, also lots of bears sporting the club’s distinctive badge, a tennis ball and crossed racquets, or simply the colours purple and green, who are surrounded by tennis balls and giant strawberries.  With Scottish saltires and Union Jacks at the ready, the bears are all keeping their paws crossed that this will be the year when a British player finally takes the men’s Wimbledon crown, something that hasn’t been achieved for 77 years, since the great Fred Perry won his third consecutive title in 1936. 

 

 


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