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


by Elspeth

As Edinburgh Zoo’s ‘Is she?’, ‘Isn’t she?’ saga rolls on and the whole country appears to have gone panda crazy, I’m still over the moon that the baby panda born at the Smithsonian National Zoo in Washington on 23rd August appears to be thriving.  However, for a few agonising moments last Saturday, it seemed that history was repeating itself when Mei was seen cradling a lifeless cub.  Thankfully, this wasn’t the baby panda born the previous day, but its twin who, sadly, was stillborn. 

I believe that the National Zoo more than any other zoo in the world deserves a healthy cub as there have been pandas in Washington for more than forty years, but only one cub has survived into adulthood.  Ling Ling and Hsing Hsing were the city’s first pandas and, although Ling gave birth to five cubs, sadly none lived for more than a few days.  Tian Tian and Mei Xiang, the city’s second panda pair, arrived in 2000 and, five years later, there was great jubilation when, at 3.41 am on 9th July, Mei Xiang gave birth to a healthy baby boy.  Having last seen him when he was an incredibly cute five-month old cub, it’s hard to believe that Tai Shan is now eight and lives in the Bifengxia Panda Base in China. 

Although Washington is a lot further away than Edinburgh, I’ve always felt a closer connection with its pandas, having first met Tian Tian and Mei Xiang in February 2001, two months after they arrived.  At the National Zoo there’s no need to book (or indeed to pay as entrance is free) to see the pandas which means I was able to watch their playful antics for as long as I wanted.  As a result, I’ve probably spent more time with Tian Tian and Mei Xiang than I have with Edinburgh’s Yang Guang and Tian Tian.

Every panda birth, whether it’s in the wild, in a reserve or in a zoo, is a great cause for celebration and is 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 animals. 

There is, however, still a great deal of work to be done to save the panda in the wild and it’s to be hoped that this awareness added to 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 fight for the survival.  After all, it would be a great tragedy if, one day, the only pandas in existence were in zoos and reserves.

Over the next few weeks, through the wonders of modern technology, the world will be able to watch a tiny panda cub, no bigger than a stick of butter, gradually turn into a captivating creature which is immediately recognisable as a giant panda.

Congratulations to the National Zoo and to the proud parents, Mei Xiang and Tian Tian, though, in actual fact, it will be several weeks before we know whether Tian Tian or San Diego’s male panda, Gao Gao is the daddy!




by Elspeth

Tian Tian, Edinburgh’s rather shy female panda, celebrates her tenth birthday today.  Born at the Bifengxia Panda Base on 24th August 2003, she’s a mere 10 days younger than her rejected pandamour, Yang Guang. 

There’s actually a bit of confusion about her name because, according to Edinburgh Zoo, Tian Tian means ‘Sweetie’, whereas according to Washington’s National Zoo, whose male panda is also called Tian Tian, it means ‘more and more’ ie more and more bamboo!

Last year, Tian Tian was completely unimpressed by her birthday cake and, after wandering round her enclosure for a bit, eventually went inside for a lie-down!  Although her keepers had smothered it in her favourite honey, the three-tiered cake, made from rice and soya with carrots for candles, was still lying uneaten in the birthday girl’s enclosure when I returned to the zoo that evening, her birthday coinciding with a members’ night. 

I was at the zoo today to wish Tian Tian happy birthday but disappointingly, though understandably, she preferred to stay out of sight and would, according to our panda guide, be given her birthday present in private.  The ultimate present would, of course, have been a baby panda which isn’t as improbable as it sounds as 24th August had been mentioned as the date when the cub watch will start in earnest at Edinburgh Zoo. 

There was, however, wonderful news from the Smithsonian National Zoo who announced that Mei Xiang had had a baby yesterday at 5.32 pm EST.  After last year’s heartbreak, the zoo and panda lovers everywhere are keeping everything crossed that this cub is strong and healthy.  All going well, Washington’s newest panda will be making its public debut early next year and I can’t wait to meet him or her!

Tian Tian’s birthday window features a giant version of the card I sent the real Tian Tian and is one of the few pictures I have of her in her outside enclosure.  (The giant pink number ‘10’ was, of course, added by me!)  Like Yang Guang, Tian Tian has received quite a few cards and gifts from The Bears in the Windows, but I think her favourite is a cuddly toy panda!




by Elspeth

For more than sixty years, people from every corner of the world have been descending on Scotland’s capital city for the Edinburgh International Festival.  (This year’s event runs from 9th August until 1st September)  The Festival was established in 1947, in the wake of the Second World War, its founders believing that the event would ‘enliven and enrich the cultural life of Britain and Europe by providing a platform for the flowering of the human spirit.’  They recognised that, if the Festival succeeded in its artistic ambitions, a major new source of tourism revenue for both Edinburgh and Scotland would be created.  This founding principle – that a world class cultural event, bringing together people and artists from around the world – is as relevant today as it was all these years ago.

Ranked as one of the most important cultural celebrations in the world, the Festival has, from the very beginning, presented programmes of classical music, opera, theatre and dance of the highest possible standard, featuring some of the best artists in the world.  Over the years, a number of other festivals have grown up around the Edinburgh Festival, most notably the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, the Jazz Festival, the Edinburgh Mela, the art festival, the Film Festival, the Military Tattoo and the Book Festival, making Edinburgh the place to be during August and early September each year.

The Edinburgh Military Tattoo, which first took place in 1950, is one of the most spectacular shows in the world, enjoyed on August Bank Holiday Monday by an international television audience of around 100 million each year, although there is apparently no substitute for actually being there in person.  During its three-week season, the members of the 217,000 strong audience, (70% of which are from outside Scotland and half of these from overseas) don’t just watch the show, they’re part of it. 

As darkness falls, the dramatic stage of Edinburgh Castle’s Esplanade becomes a whirling, colourful kaleidoscope of music, dance and display which can be thrilling, like daredevil motorcycles driving at speed and the breathtaking re-enactment of battles, or exotic, like Turkish music and Chinese dancers, or simply the best of Scottish, with highland dancers wheeling and swirling to the fiddle and massed bands playing the pipes and drums.

Such is the blend of home and international talent that the show is always fresh, exciting and alive, even for the faithful few who never miss their yearly visit to the Tattoo.  During its 60 year history, there have been performers from over 40 countries, from America to Australia, Africa to Canada, the Netherlands to Nepal and France to Fiji.  While international guest performers bring another dimension to a familiar pageant, for many, the emotional heart of the Tattoo is the sound of the pipes and drums, which patriotic Scots love fiercely and visitors quickly take to their hearts.

The most spectacular part of the evening is, undoubtedly, the finale when around 1,000 performers appear together and the audience joins them in rousing choruses of singing and cheering.  A hush falls for the singing of the Evening Hymn, the sounding of the Last Post and the lowering of the flags and then all eyes are drawn to the lone piper on the Castle ramparts, his haunting lament echoing in the stillness of the night.  Finally, fireworks burst out against the pitch black sky while the audience and performers join hands for the singing of Auld Lang Syne.

The Edinburgh International Book Festival began in 1983 and is now a key event during the Festival season.  Starting as a biennial event, in 1997, it became a yearly celebration.  The Book Festival’s home is the beautiful and historic Charlotte Square, located in Edinburgh’s world heritage listed Georgian New Town and, each year, the gardens are transformed into a magical tented village which welcomes around 220,000 visitors.  Whether you want to browse the shelves for some summer reading, attend talks by your favourite author or simply relax in a deckchair with a refreshing drink, well away from all the razzmatazz of the Fringe, this is the place to go.

Over the years, the Book Festival has grown rapidly in size and scope and is now the largest and most dynamic event of its kind in the world.  In its first year, it played host to just 30 ‘meet the author’ events.  Today, there are over 700 events, including talks, debates and discussions suitable for people of all ages.  Running alongside the general programme is the highly regarded Children’s Programme which is a leading showcase for writers and illustrators of children’s books, incorporating workshops, storytelling, panel discussions, author events and book signings.

The Bears in the Windows always have great fun at the Edinburgh Festival where there’s something to suit the artists, readers and musicians amongst them and they have the opportunity to dress in their family tartan.  In one window, the bears and pandas represent the various aspects of the Edinburgh Festival, especially the Fringe where anything goes.  The Elvis lookalike seems to be doing quite well judging by what people have tossed into his guitar case, while the cello playing panda isn’t doing quite so well!  Two of the bears attend the Tattoo every year and enjoy showing off their special Tattoo jumpers and sending postcards to their friends back home. And so, this year, I decided to dedicate the other window entirely to the Tattoo, an ursine piper standing in front of the background of the imposing Edinburgh Castle where a panda is pondering whether this is where Edinburgh rock comes from!   


by Elspeth

Yang Guang, Edinburgh Zoo’s gorgeous male panda, is ten years old today.  He was born in Mongolia and, in preparation for his journey to Scotland, in March 2011, he joined Tian Tian (Edinburgh’s female panda) at the Bifengxia Panda Base, near the town of Ya’An, a beautiful part of China surrounded by mountains, rivers, green plants and colourful flowers. 

Ya’An is actually the hometown of the giant panda as it was here that the black and white bear was first discovered and named.  Since 1955, 136 of China’s captive pandas have come from this region, 18 of which have gone to live at zoos all over the world.  Appropriately, ten white marble pandas, made in the Baoxing region of Ya’An, stand outside the WWF’s headquarters and branch offices around the world.

Last year, Yang was given all sorts of surprises for his birthday – bamboo boxes brimming full of his favourite bamboo, with some added honey, carrots and apple as a special treat, (like most pandas, he has a sweet tooth) and a birthday cake shaped like a panda’s head.  However, while he immediately tucked into the bamboo with great relish, (after all, a panda can never have enough bamboo!), Yang wasn’t particularly interested in his cake, made from healthy panda-friendly ingredients, which had been placed at the front of his enclosure. 

This may have been because it was bigger than the panda cakes he was used to, because he was hoping for a chocolate cake covered in gooey icing with nine candles to blow out or probably, the most likely reason in my opinion, because he was unsettled by the appalling behaviour of the paparazzi who were shouting out (pandas hate noise) and pressing their ginormous lenses close to the glass!  I’m pleased to say that, after the press had been asked to leave, I was still there when Yang ventured from the back of his enclosure and finally picked up the cake, although he didn’t actually eat it. 

This year, I left Ayr bright (?) and early (!) so that I would be at the zoo in plenty of time for the 9.30 slot I’d booked – each slot is usually divided into two or sometimes three groups and I wanted to make sure I was in the first group.  For the first time for several months, we were told that Yang Guang was outside, so we made our way there instead of going into the rather cramped inside enclosure.  Just as we were passing Tian Tian’s enclosure to see Yang, we spotted her meandering outside and, although she most inconsiderately plonked herself down behind a wooden pole, we could still see her chomping away at some delicate bamboo shoots. 

However, this was Yang Guang’s day when, for once, he and not Tian Tian was the centre of attention.  We were the very first group to visit him on his very special day and, as we arrived at his enclosure, our bubbly panda guide asked us to join her in what the papers described as a ‘spontaneous’ chorus of ‘Happy Birthday’, probably the first time any of us had ever sung the traditional wishes to a panda!  Yang Guang remained blissfully unaware of what was happening and continued to munch away at some bamboo.

We learned that while Yang Guang had a well-deserved long lie, his keepers had put his present outside for him to find.  Once he eventually surfaced, he had immediately realised that something different was going on and had gone outside to investigate. His birthday present was a giant bamboo sculpture in the shape of a number ‘10’ which had been made by the zoo’s garden department, using specifically the species of bamboo Yang really likes.  To entice him over to the huge, freestanding sculpture, the keepers had drizzled it with honey and had hidden apple and carrot amongst the leaves.  By the time we got there, Yang had partly demolished the number ‘one’ and was obviously delighted with his novel present.

As we watched, Yang moved down from his platform and took a short stroll round his enclosure and then, tired out by this unusual spurt of activity, he proceeded to lie on his back and lazily reached out for a mid-morning snack. 

Yang’s cuddly lookalike has received a number of presents from The Bears in the Windows but, naturally, his favourite is the box of bamboo because, as everyone knows, a panda can never have enough bamboo!   








by Elspeth

For more than fifty years, Ayr Flower Show, which begins today, has been delighting and attracting visitors to the town.  Founded by the Royal Burgh of Ayr in 1960, the show was staged at Dam Park until 1986, moving to a new home in Rozelle Park in 1987 where it remained until 1997.  Under South Ayrshire Council, the event was held at Ayr Racecourse for two years and much to everyone’s dismay, in 2000, it was cancelled altogether.  Fortunately, the following year, a group of volunteers led by David Roy who, as Director of Leisure Services for Kyle and Carrick Local Council, had been Show Manager for several years, decided to resurrect the show choosing the beautiful setting of Rozelle Estate, with its trees, ponds, woodland walks and the impressive Rozelle House and Galleries, for their venue.  Since then, under the auspices of the Ayr Horticultural Society, with the help of a large band of hardworking, enthusiastic volunteers, the show has gone from strength to strength.

The event draws thousands of visitors from all over Scotland and beyond who come to see the best of British horticulture, marvel at stunning gardens, sample speciality food and drinks from around the UK, enjoy a range of family entertainment or just to have a great day out.  You’ll find everything from begonias to bonsai, cut flowers to fantastic floral art, colossal carrots to lanky leeks, honey to home-baking, art to photography, embroidery to hand-knitting, gardening gadgets to mouthwatering pies, birds of prey to a model railway layout, creative pallet and impressive courtyard gardens and all sorts of interesting demonstrations given by experts in their field.   

Ayr Flower Show is all about excellence, with hundreds of competitions for amateurs and professionals, and the popular Children’s Flower Show which gives the younger members of the family an opportunity to demonstrate their talents.  Year after year, this incredible showcase of beautiful blooms, pretty plants and vivacious vegetables brings some summer sunshine into the lives of thousands of people.  

The Bears in the Windows have always celebrated Ayr’s answer to Chelsea.  However, several years ago, my windows came to the attention of some ladies who worked in the Ayr Flower Show office, located immediately across the road from our house.  As a result, I was approached by one of the organisers who asked if I’d be willing to create special windows for them and said they’d provide programmes, prize tickets and posters which I could miniaturise to make the windows look more realistic.  Of course, I was delighted and agreed immediately, feeling rather flattered to be asked to advertise the show on an official basis, which I suspect must be a first for a private house.  Since then, for two weeks a year, the windows become, with apologies to the golfing commentator, Bruce Critchley, an ursine herbaceous border! 

The talents of the Bears in the Windows lie mainly in vegetable growing and, year after year, they manage to produce some prize-winning specimens of cabbages, peas and radishes!  Last year, some of them decided to try their hands (or perhaps it should be paws!) at wine and jam making and, judging by the number of Gold Medals and trophies in the windows, they proved to be very successful!  The bears decided to donate The Bears in the Windows Trophy for the best bamboo in the show and, to their delight, it was won by Erik the panda who’d only come to live in the windows a few months earlier!  No one had the heart to tell him that pandas are very rare, especially in Ayr and as his was the only entry, the winner of the trophy was never in any doubt!  This year, as well as the old favourites who appear every year, in the other window, I’ve tried to give examples of what makes up the Ayr Flower Show.  There are two little bear patrons dressed in their best hats enjoying a cup of tea, a Gold Medal winning garden and, of course, a cookery demonstration by Jamie Olibear!   Overlooking the whole proceedings is the masked Lawn Ranger!




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