Current Events, Special Days and Historic Anniversaries Brought to Life by Teddy Bears, Pandas and Other Cuddly Creatures
Monthly Archives: March 2014

HAPPY MOTHER ‘S DAY

by Elspeth

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

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

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The origins of Mothering Sunday in the United Kingdom date back to the P1230442 - Copy17th century, when children from poor families were sent to work as domestic servants in the homes of the landed gentry.  Once a year, these young children were allowed a day off to visit their mother church, which gave them the opportunity to return home to see their mothers.  The boys would take gifts of fresh flowers, while the girls would take hand-baked cakes known as Simnel cakes, the name probably coming from the Latin word ‘simila,’ meaning very fine flour made from wheat.  The rich fruit cake, covered with a thick layer of almond paste and then decorated with eleven small balls of almond paste, signifying all the apostles except Judas, was notoriously difficult to make and so was regarded as a test of a girl’s cooking skills.  According to tradition, the cake would be kept until Easter Sunday when the whole family would wait anxiously to see if it was still moist which meant that she was, indeed, a good cook. 

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

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This year, there are two Mother’s Day windows.  In one are several ursine mothers and children who are ‘saying it with chocolates, flowers and wine’, although one young bear has decided to spurn traditional gifts and has, instead, opted to give her mother an iPad Mini!  In the other window are Mei Xiang and her seven months old cub, Bao Bao, probably the Smithsonian’s National Zoo’s favourite mother and child pair at the moment, who are celebrating their very first Mother’s Day together with little Bao Bao ‘saying it with white roses and bamboo’!

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CHERRY BLOSSOM TIME

by Elspeth

Today is the start of Washington’s National Cherry Blossom Festival when the city’s blossoming cherry trees mark the arrival of spring and brighten the area around the Jefferson Memorial with their vibrant pale pink and white flowers.

This annual celebration commemorates Mayor Yukio Ozaki of Tokyo’s gift of 3,020 cherry trees to the city of Washington in 1912.  102 years later, this unusual but charming gift is an enduring symbol of the friendship and close relationship between the United States and Japan.  Each year, much to the chagrin of the Washingtonians, thousands of visitors come to the city not just to marvel at the beautiful blooms, but also to attend some of the hundreds of special events, including tonight’s Pink Tie Ball, the National Cherry Blossom Festival Parade with its decorated floats, gigantic helium balloons, marching bands, clowns, horses, antique cars, military and celebrity performances and the fireworks display which marks the end of the festival. 

  

It was when Helen Taft, America’s First Lady, became involved that the idea of the gift of the trees became a reality and so it was fitting that she and Viscountess Chinda, wife of the Japanese Ambassador, planted the first two cherry trees on the northern bank of the Tidal Basin where they can still be seen today.  The other 3,018 trees were planted around the Tidal Basin and East Potomac Park.  Over the years, other gifts have been exchanged between the two countries. For example, in 1915, the United States Government reciprocated with a gift of flowering dogwood trees and, in 1981, the cycle of giving came full circle when Japanese horticulturists were given cuttings from Washington’s cherry trees to replace Japanese trees destroyed by a flood.  America’s First Ladies have continued to be involved and usually plant one new cherry tree each year to continue the long tradition.

However, just as happens in Holland with the tulips, it isn’t easy to predict when the cherry blossom will bloom as the date varies from year to year, depending on weather conditions.  The peak bloom date is defined as the day on which 70 percent of the blossoms of the Yoshino cherry trees which surround the Tidal Basin are open. The ‘blooming period’ is when 20 percent of the blossoms are open and lasts until the petals fall and leaves appear. The blooming period starts several days before the ‘peak bloom date’ and can last anything up to 14 days, however, frost or high temperatures combined with wind or rain can shorten this period.  This year it’s predicted that the ‘peak bloom date’ will be between 8th and 12th April but it has been as early as 15th March.

This will be the first year The Bears in the Windows have celebrated the Cherry Blossom Festival.  However, since two little cherry blossom pandas came home with me after my recent visit to DC to see the National Zoo’s baby panda Bao Bao, they decided it was something they’d like to do.  And so, using the pandas as the centrepiece, on each side a cherry tree covered with ‘blossom’, I’ve tried to recreate cherry blossom time in delicate shades of pink and cream, with bears representing Japan and the USA overlooking the idyllic scene. 

 

 

 


HAPPY ST PATRICK’S DAY

by Elspeth

With its parades, performers and party atmosphere, today is the day when the Irish pay tribute to their patron saint, St. Patrick. 

It’s believed that St. Patrick was born either in Wales or Scotland around 385 AD and is thought to have died in 461 AD.  However, if it hadn’t been for a twist of fate which took him to Ireland, the country might have had a different patron saint.  As a young boy, Patrick is supposed to have been carried off by pirates, spending the next six years in slavery before training as a missionary and subsequently taking Christianity to Ireland where he is, of course, credited with having rid the country of snakes. 

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

St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated not only in Ireland itself, but by Irish communities all over the world, including mainland United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the United States when parades, the wearing of the green and the shamrock and drinking pints of Guinness, Ireland’s national drink, are all part of the St. Patrick’s Day tradition.

Regarded by many as the most popular parade in a city famous for its parades, New York’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade is one definitely not to be missed. The first official parade was held in 1766, organised by Irish military men serving in the American colonies, a tradition that has continued to the present day.  It’s now estimated that more than 150,000 marchers following the route from 44th Street along 5th Avenue to 86th Street.  If you enjoy trivia, did you know that 17th March is a holiday not only in Ireland but also in Montserrat and the Canadian provinces of Newfoundland and Labrador and it was on 17th March 1845 that Londoner Stephen Perry patented the rubber band!

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

For the last three years, some of the world’s most famous buildings and iconic sites, including Dublin’s Trinity College, the London Eye, Buckingham Palace, the Angel of the North, Glasgow’s Armadillo, Selfridges, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, Niagara Falls, the Empire State Building, Sleeping Beauty’s Castle at Disneyland Paris, Rio’s Christ the Redeemer statue, the Moulin Rouge, Copenhagen’s Little Mermaid, the Burj Al Arab in Dubai, Table Mountain, Sydney Opera House, the White House fountain, the Chicago River, Toronto’s CN Tower, Niagara Falls, the Pyramids and the Sphinx, have all turned green for Saint Patrick’s Day.  Tourism Ireland’s Global Greening is an extremely clever form of marketing, which costs very little but which works incredibly well, its aim to get people talking about Ireland and then to persuade them to visit the Emerald Isle. 

This year’s event will be the biggest to date with 100 well-known landmarks taking part.  Amongst those going green for the first time are Oslo’s Holmenkollen ski jump, the “Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas” sign, the Great Wall of China and Petra, ‘the ‘rose red city’ of Petra which will, for one day only, become ‘the emerald green city’.  Even one of the pandas at Edinburgh Zoo will be turning a rather fetching combination of shades of green this year, having decided that, if a flock of sheep from Bathgate could do it last year, then he might as well join in the fun, too!  (I actually made the last one up but this is what Yang Guang would look like if it were to happen!)  As you can see, he’s also thoroughly enjoying a special St. Patrick’s Day treat – bamboo and shamrocks!

The Bears in the Windows always celebrate St. Patrick’s Day with shamrocks and the wearing of the green and one usually dresses up as a leprechaun, much to the amusement of the other bears.  Although they don’t actually have any Irish descendants, last year, two pandas decided they’d like to join in the fun and you may have spotted that one of them was chomping away at some limited edition shamrock bamboo!  However, as the bears are all under age, I don’t allow them to toast Ireland’s patron saint with a glass of Guinness!   By the way, I understand that some Irish pubs are actually serving green Guiness!

 

 

 


BEWARE THE IDES OF MARCH

by Elspeth

The bloody assassination of Julius Caesar on the Ides of March 44 B.C.  has forever marked the day as one of infamy. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 


AND BEST IN SHOW IS……

by Elspeth

When the winner of Best in Show was announced at Crufts on Sunday evening, I must admit feeling rather uneasy about the rather strange looking canine groomed to within an inch of its life.  As the proud owner of a beautiful black labrador, I believe that the breed is hard to beat.  I’ve posted photos of both dogs to let you decide which you prefer!

 HOLLY THE LABRADOR – MY BEST IN SHOW!


THE RUFF GUIDE TO CRUFTS!

by Elspeth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The number of entries has continued to rise and, this year, there are around 25,000 canines competitors taking part in all sorts of events including flyball, when teams of dogs clear hurdles while carrying tennis balls, agility contests, obedience classes, heelwork to music, Scruffts, The Kennel Club’s increasingly popular competition for crossbreeds and, of course, the prestigious Best in Show.  On a lighter note, there’s the 2014 Crufts Factor where dogs have the chance to show their various talents fro singing and dancing and the final of the hugely entertaining Superstar Dogs, where dog owners guide their pets through a series of challenges including fetching a favourite toy from a swimming pool, scoring goals and navigating them through the ‘dogstacle course’.  Finally, showing that Crufts moves with the times, you can also follow events on You Tube, Facebook and Twitter, which should perhaps be renamed Woof for the next few days!   

However, my favourite event of all is Friends for Life, originally called Hero Dogs when it first featured at Crufts in 2004.  Each year, the dogs nominated for this special award remind us what it is that makes the relationship between a dog and man so very special.   2012’s winner, for example, was Buster, a nine year old springer spaniel who had completed five tours of duty with the RAF, including two in Afghanistan and, last year, the winner was Haatchi, a three-legged stray, left for dead on a railway line, who has changed the life of Owen Howkins, a seven year old boy suffering from a rare genetic disease. 

This year’s finalists include a cocker spaniel called Molls, who helps to keep eleven year old diabetic Steven Courtney safe by alerting him when he suffers a hypo, allowing much more control over his aggressive unpredictable illness and giving him and his family a better quality of life.  Then, confusingly, there’s another cocker spaniel called Molly who has given Lucy Watts, who suffers from a life-limiting rare genetic condition that has left her in a wheelchair, the confidence to live her life in a way she could never have dreamed of before Molly came into her life.  A labrador/golden retriever cross called Radley has given former Lance Corporal Konrad Galen-Bisping his confidence back after he was blinded in an attack during training.  Velvet, a black labrador, is an assistance dog who helps 12 years old Lottie Wilcocks cope with spina bifida and hydrocephalus and has enabled her to become a Paralympic athlete.  Last, but not least, is Jessie, a mastiff/great dane cross, who was taken in by Julie Barnett after enduring a lifetime of abuse and neglect and who, in turn, has helped Jessie, who suffers from diabetes and ME, cope with her illnesses and the devastating death of her father.  As each of the finalists has changed someone’s life, in the process teaching us about loyalty, companionship and bravery, I find it impossible to single out only one as I believe they’re all worthy winners. 

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

Text and photographs © Elspeth A. Grindlay 2014

 


IT’S CARNIVAL!

by Elspeth

In many parts of the world, especially in New Orleans and Trinidad, today is Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday) which is celebrated with fantastic floats and people dressed in extravagant costumes.  Each year, more than four million people visit New Orleans during Carnival, a season of balls and parades, beginning on 6th January 6 (Twelfth Night) and culminating with Mardi Gras.

To ensure that they have the best view, entire families stake out prime spots along the parade route, often days in advance, many taking up the same position year after year.  Carnival parades are unique as they are interactive, with the masqueraders throwing trinkets, known as ‘throws’ or ‘catches’, to the crowds lining the streets.  These include elaborate plastic necklaces in all shapes, sizes and colours and doubloons – metal coins about the size of a silver dollar.

In Trinidad, during the weeks leading up to Carnival, calypso tents open their doors to the public and there’s also a variety of cultural shows, ranging from limbo dancing to massive soca concerts, plus a prestigious steel band competition.  On Carnival Tuesday, thousands of elaborately costumed masked band members, representing different themes, are judged as they make their way along the parade route, the day culminating with the crowning of the Masquerade Band of the Year.  There’s no time to rest, though, because, as soon as this year’s Carnival is over, preparations immediately begin for next year.

Today is, of course, also Shrove Tuesday, the last chance for Roman Catholics to indulge themselves before Lent which begins the following day.  Traditionally, pancakes are eaten on this day, not just because they contain ingredients forbidden during the forty days leading up to Easter, but because the custom also has deep religious roots.

Last year, I combined a Shrove Tuesday tradition with the flamboyant celebrations of Mardi Gras.  There was a teddy chef busy making pancakes, while several masked, inebriated pandas were obviously enjoying Carnival, complete with streamers and some appropriate panda and teddy bear themed ‘throws’.  This year, I decided to go all out with the Carnival theme so there are larger than life butterflies, a dramatically dressed panda masquerader and the usual pandas who’ve been having an extremely good time judging by the ever so slightly squiffy expressions on their faces!   

Text and photographs © Elspeth A. Grindlay 2014

                                                                                                     


THE BEARSCARS

by Elspeth

With the 86th Academy Awards ceremony taking place tonight, The Bears in the Windows are divided as to who will win the highest honours in film making this year. 

They celebrated The Oscars for the first time three years ago although, naturally, the bears call them The Bearscars – the most coveted trophy in the ursine film world being a bear-shaped statuette, affectionately known as a ‘Rupert’!  The films represented by the Bears in 2011 were ‘The King’s Speech’ (winner of 4 Oscars, including Best Actor & Best Film) ‘The Black Swan’ (Best Actress) and ‘The Social Network’ (3 Oscars) and, in 2012, you may have spotted The Iron Lady, War Horse and The Artist, whose canine star, Uggie should, in my opinion, have won a ‘Dogscar’!   

 It all began more than 80 years ago when, shortly after the formation of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in 1927, the fledgling organisation discussed how to honour outstanding moviemaking achievements.  And so the idea of the Academy Awards was born. 

Far from the eagerly anticipated and globally televised event it is today, the first Academy Awards ceremony took place out of the public eye at a banquet at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel.  Only 270 people attended the event on 16th May 1929, each paying a mere $5 for the privilege.  Unlike today, there was absolutely no suspense when the awards were presented as the winners had been announced three months earlier!  However, all that was to change the following year when the Academy decided to keep the results secret until the ceremony itself. 

Only three times in its long history has the Academy Awards ceremony failed to take place as planned – in 1938, when flooding in Los Angeles delayed it by a week, in 1968, when it was postponed by two days out of respect for Dr. Martin Luther King who had been assassinated shortly before the ceremony was due to take place and, in 1981, when it was postponed for twenty four hours following the attempted assassination of President Ronald Reagan.  Between 1929 and 2012, the Academy has presented 2,846 of its famous golden statuettes, whose official name is the Academy Award of Merit, but which are now always referred to as ‘The Oscars’.  The origins of this nickname are unclear, but legend has it that, on seeing the statue for the first time, Margaret Herrick, the Academy librarian, remarked that it resembled her Uncle Oscar, although the name wasn’t officially adopted until 1939.  Each Oscar is 13½ inches tall and weighs 8½ pounds, the design is of a knight holding a crusader’s sword, standing on a reel of film with five spokes, representing the five original branches of the Academy – actors, directors, producers, technicians and writers. 

Although it’s a popular misconception that the statuettes are made of gold, this has never been the case.  For the first few years, they were gold-plated bronze and, within a few years, the bronze was replaced with Britannia metal, a pewter-like alloy, which was then plated with 24-carat gold.  For three years during the war in order to conserve metal, the Oscars were made of painted plaster which the recipients could exchange for the shiny gold versions after the war.  However, even though they aren’t made of gold, the statuettes are still literally priceless as winners are now required to sign a contract promising never to sell them.

Some winners have received Oscars with a difference.  Up until 1950, children received miniature statuettes and, when ventriloquist Edger Bergen was awarded an honorary Oscar in 1938, he received a wooden statue with a movable mouth!  When Walt Disney was given an honorary Oscar for Snow White and the Seven Dwarves in 1939, he received one full-sized statuette and seven miniature ones!  Disney holds the record for the most Oscar nominations, winning 26 out of a possible 64. 

To date, the youngest Oscar winner, is Tatum O’Neal who, aged ten, won Best Supporting Actress in 1974 for her performance in Paper Moon (Shirley Temple’s Oscar, won at the age of five, was an honorary one) and the oldest, Jessica Tandy who, aged 80, won Best Actress in 1989 for the poignant Driving Miss Daisy.  One of these records could, however, be beaten this year with nine year-old Quvenzhané Wallis vying with 85 year-old Emmanuelle Riva in the Best Actress category.  Only three films have ever won all top five Oscars – It Happened One Night, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and The Silence of the Lambs.  The most Oscars won by a single film is 11 which has happened three times with Ben Hur, Titanic and The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the Rings.

The kudos that goes with winning an Oscar is obviously what all nominees aspire to, but just to be nominated does have its perks.  One thing female nominees don’t have to worry about is what to wear as, in the week leading up to Oscar night, top couturiers from around the world flood into LA, offering nominees up to £60,000 just to wear their designs!  Though officially banned in 2007, all nominees still receive unofficial swag bags worth around £30,000, with this year’s gifts including acupuncture and aromatherapy treatments, a personal trainer, tequila and trips to Mexico, Hawaii and Australia.  Finally, of course, there’s the Governor’s Ball, where celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck and 1,000 staff will serve 1,200lb of tuna, 1,250lb of crab claws, salmon, chicken pot pie, mini cheeseburgers, lamb chops, gourmet pizzas and 30lb of edible gold dust covering 500lb of chocolate Oscars and the lavish parties hosted by Vanity Fair, Elton John and all the major film studios. 

Last year’s films were fairly easy to represent – for example there was Les Misérables, for which I built a barricade, Skyfall, featuring James, my very own 007 bear, and Lincoln, brought to life by a little panda.  My ursine Lincoln is actually one of my favourite characters of all time because he turned out better than I could ever have hoped. Having selected a panda which I thought would best portray the eventual winner of the Best Actor Oscar, I dressed him in a waistcoat, which looks like a jacket because of the panda’s black arms, and used a white beard borrowed from a Santa bear.  I had thought of placing him in front of a photograph of the Lincoln Memorial but, as space in the window was at a premium, I decided to seat him on his trusty steed instead.  The final stroke of genius was to make the President’s distinctive top hat from a sheet of black cardboard, first making a cylinder shape and then cutting out a solid circle for the top and then a ring to form the brim. 

This year I found the nominations impossible to recreate and so settled on creating a snapshot from this year’s glittering ceremony.  As James Bond might have said, the male ursine host of the 86th Bearscars is ‘dressed to kill’ as he presents the winner of the Best Beartress Award who’s wearing another stunning Grindlay designer gown, with her very first Rupert.  I think you’ll agree the glamorous pair wouldn’t look out of place on the red carpet or at the Vanity Fair party, always one of the hottest tickets in town!

Best Actor in a Black and White Film!

 Text and photographs © Elspeth A. Grindlay 2014

 


HAPPY SAINT DAVID’S DAY

by Elspeth

Today is St. David’s Day, the national day of the Welsh, the date chosen because, it was on 1st March 1120, that David was canonised by Pope Callactus Il. 

St. David (Dewi Sant in Welsh) was a Celtic monk born in the sixth century.  Although relatively little is known about the man, some information has been gleaned from a book written in the 11th century by Rhigyfarch called Buchedd Dewi, (the Life of David).  From it we know that David reached the status of Archbishop of Wales and helped to spread Christianity amongst the pagan Celtic tribes of western Britain. 

St. David is thought to have lived a frugal life, eating mostly bread and herbs and only ever drinking water.  The best known apocryphal story about him tells how, one day, while preaching to a huge crowd, the ground rose up so that it appeared that he was standing on a hill with the result everyone had a better view of him.  When he died on 1st March 589 AD, he was buried in St. David’s Cathedral which became a place of pilgrimage throughout the Middle Ages.

Today, this special day is celebrated by Welsh people all over the world when the wearing of either a daffodil or a leek is compulsory.  It is perhaps hard to understand why the Welsh chose a rather ordinary vegetable as their national emblem.  However, although it wasn’t officially adopted until the 16th Century, the leek’s association with the Welsh can be traced back as far as 633 AD when, at the battle of Heathfield, as both sides were clad in identical chain-mail and helmets, it was impossible to tell who was friend and who was foe.  The story goes that the quick-thinking Welsh soldiers pulled some leeks from the garden of a nearby cottage and stuck them in their helmets, thus distinguishing themselves from their Saxon opponents.  This turned out to be an excellent idea as the Welsh won the battle!  In Henry V, Shakespeare mentions that the Welsh archers wore leeks at the battle of Agincourt in 1415.  Other less exciting explanations include the fact that the vegetable’s green and white colours echo the ancient flag of Wales and it’s possible that St. David himself may have included leeks in his meagre diet.

It may come as a surprise that it’s possible the daffodil was adopted by accident. This came about because, interestingly, the Welsh for leek is cenhinen, while the Welsh for daffodil is cenhinen Pedr (Peter’s leek) and, over the years, the two became confused until, eventually the daffodil joined the leek as the second national emblem of Wales.  Whatever the reason, the daffodil is definitely most appropriate because it is at the beginning of March that the flowers begin to bloom, turning the countryside into a mass of golden yellow. 

In 1985, when it was decided that each of the four British national emblems would feature on the reverse of the £1 coin, it came as a surprise that, given the daffodil’s popularity amongst the Welsh, it was the leek and not the daffodil that was chosen for the Welsh coins.

Most of the bears who appear in my St. David’s Day windows are yellow and red – the Welsh national colours.  One special teddy, who occasionally makes a special appearance on St. David’s Day itself was, appropriately, made by Deans, the long established Welsh teddy bear manufacturer.  This limited edition golden brown bear is rather unusual as he has an embroidered Welsh flag for a nose, with another flag stitched on one paw.  You’ll notice that, apart from Winnie the Pooh who has a leek on his hat, all The Bears in the Windows favour the daffodil as they think that leeks should only be found in leek and potato soup!

 

 

 


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