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

THE ROYAL SHAKESBEARE COMPANY PRESENTS

by Elspeth

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Today is the anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare and also his 450th birthday, although this date is an approximate one as Parish Records only show that he was christened on 26th April which suggests that he would probably have been born a few days earlier.  In Richard III, Shakespeare wrote, ‘Death makes no conqueror of this conqueror’ and the various events marking the anniversary of his birth suggest that it will not be conquered by obscurity either.  

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Tonight’s performance of Henry IV Part 1  by The Royal Shakespeare Company will be followed by fireworks in the Bancroft Gardens outside the theatre.  There’s also a traditionl performance of Hamlet which opens at the Globe in London, while three members of a comic troupe called The Reduced Shakespeare Company will perform an abridged version of his complete plays on the two-hour easyJet flight from Gatwick to Verona when even the plane will be decorated with an image of the Bard!  These events mark the launch of a campaign to have Shakespeare’s birthday to be made a Bank Holiday.  An online petition already has 683 of the 100,000 signatures needed to force a debate in the House of Commons.

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Shakespeare is widely regarded as the greatest playwright who ever lived.  He wrote 38 plays and more than 150 poems but, while his talents as a dramatist and poet are universally acknowledged, what is perhaps less well known is his contribution to the English language as we know it today, through the creation or recording of a huge number of previously unrecorded words.  

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Ladybird, hum, horrid, excellent, lonely, courtship and swagger: if it hadn’t been for Shakespeare, the English language would be thousands of words poorer.  Then, there’s the less familiar ‘plish’ (a very small splash), and ‘rumsgoogle’ (to drink beer while swimming, though I can’t think why anyone would want a word for that!)  Shakespeare is also resonsible for a large number of phrases still in common use today, such as, ‘the milk of human kindness’ (Macbeth),  ’to vanish into thin air’ (Othello) and ‘to be cruel to be kind’ (Hamlet).   The Oxford English Dictionary has credited Shakespeare with introducing almost 3,000 words to the English language, with estimations of his vocabulaty ranging from 17,000 to a dizzying 29,000 words, an astonishing 7,000 of which he used only once! 

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In honour of Britain’s most famous creator of neologisms, his childhood home in Stratford-upon-Avon has been festooned with new words coined in his honour by local schoolchildren.  The words, which include ‘otrued’ (to interrupt someone when they’re on Facebook) will be woven into a ribbon and draped around the garden at Shakespeare’s Birthplace Trust.  I wonder how many of you have created a neologism.  My husband has created two – ‘overaberubious’, meaning over-excited or extra exuberant, and ‘flutterby’ which I think decribes a butterfly beautifully!

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In a survey carried by the British Council, people in five of the most populated countries in the world were asked to name a figure associated with the British culture.  The results, published today show, show that Shakespeare was chosen by 25% of Chinese respondents and 15% of Germans, eclipsing even The Queen and David Beckham who came a distant second and third respectively!

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‘Alas, poor Yorick…..’

Two years ago, instead of sharing a window with St George and the dragon, I decided that William Shakesbeare deserved one of his own.  This year, although April has turned out to be another incredibly busy month for The Bears in the Windows, due to popular demand, the Royal Shakesbeare Company is back with another beary special performance of some of the ‘Beard of Avon’s’ best-known plays.  How many can you find?  Answers on a postcard or by email please! 

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SAINT GEORGE’S DAY

by Elspeth

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

In fact, the story of St. George is so wrapped in myth and legend that some believe that he never existed or that he’s a Christianised version of an older pagan myth.  (Because of this uncertainty, in 1969, Pope Paul VI demoted Saint George to ‘optional worship’ but, in 2000, Pope John Paul II reinstated him to full membership of the calendar of saints.)  In the early centuries of Christianity, followers would write up fabulous accounts of the lives of their heroes, enhancing their reputation, but leaving the details of their lives very blurred, and this is what seems to have happened with St. George.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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As well as Saint George, quite a few famous people died on 23rd April including Ethelred the Unready in 1016, Ethelred, King of Wessex in 871, William Wordsworth in 1850, Rupert Brooke in 1915 and, of course, William Shakespeare who’s also said to have been born on the same day, although the only evidence we have about his first few days is that he was baptised on 26th April. 

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

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In this year’s St George’s Day window, there are lots of red and white beanie bears, bearing either a St George’s cross or a rose.  The star is, of course, a dragon-slaying bear although I must admit he seems to be on quite friendly terms with his arch enemy, the dragon

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NOW WE ARE EIGHTY-EIGHT!

by Elspeth

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

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

Her Majesty celebrates her actual birthday in private, leaving the public celebrations until her official birthday in June, when better weather is more likely, marked by the spectacular ceremony of Trooping the 20120515_137 - CopyColour.  Her birthday is, however, marked publically at midday on 21st April with a 41 gun salute in Hyde Park, a 21 gun salute in Windsor Great Park and a 62 gun salute at the Tower of London.  (If, like me, you’ve always wondered why the number of salutes varies, it’s because it depends on the location and the occasion.  For instance, the basic Royal salute is 21 rounds, but an extra 20 are added in Hyde Park because it’s a Royal Park.  Then, at the Tower of London, 62 rounds are fired on Royal anniversaries (the basic 21, a further 20 because the Tower is a Royal Palace and Fortress and another 21 ‘for the City of London’) and 41 on other occasions.  The Tower probably holds the record for the most rounds fired in a single salute which is thought to be 124.  This happened on 10th June two years ago when the Queen’s official birthday (62 rounds) coincided with The Duke of Edinburgh’s birthday (also 62 rounds).  Still confused?  I know I am!

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Some artists focused on her robes and jewels, others on her regal bearing and a few made the corgis an essential accessory.  However, for David Bailey, whose photographic portrait of the Queen was unveiled yesterday, it was her ‘kind yet mischievous eyes’ that he wanted to bring out.  Most agree that, with the black and white portrait, commissioned on behalf of the government’s GREAT Britain campaign, which promotes the country as a destination for trade, tourism and investment, Bailey has achieved his goal.

There have been thousands of portraits painted of the Queen – the National Portrait Gallery, which owns 813 of them, calls her the most portrayed person in history.  Yet few reveal as broad a smile as the one captured by Bailey and, as Her Majesty celebrates her 88th birthday, she is as happy and glorious as she has ever been. 

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The Bears in the Windows always pay their own birthday tribute to this remarkable woman who has given a lifetime of service and dedication to her family, her country and the Commonwealth and who, throughout her long and eventful reign, has demonstrated an extraordinary energy, drive, sense of duty and fortitude.  This year, ‘Her Majesty’, whose presents include a basket of wine and cheese and a specially commissioned portrait of ‘Prince Philip’, is spending her birthday at Windsor where she’s enjoying a walk amongst a host of sunshine yellow daffodils.  (I sincerely hope it’s been ‘a nice sunshiny day’ in Windsor just like it’s been here in Ayr.)  Naturally, accompanying Her Majesty on her walk are two of her beloved corgis, who have their eyes on a rather yummy looking birthday cake, complete with her ‘EIIR’ cipher, made specially for her by cake-maker extraordinaire, Fiona Bearns!

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HAPPY EASTER

by Elspeth

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Easter was originally a pagan festival celebrating the arrival of spring.  Today, it’s a blend of Christianity and commercialism, when Christians remember the life and resurrection of Christ, while for everyone else it’s a time for chocolate eggs, parades, decorated bonnets, fluffy chickens and cuddly bunnies.

 The egg, probably the most powerful Easter symbol of all, represents the stone rolling away from Jesus’s tomb.  This association of eggs with Easter started with the Christians in Mesopotamia who painted them red to symbolise the blood of the crucified Christ.  Members of the Eastern Orthodox Church still paint their eggs red or green to indicate new life.

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The oldest known decorated eggs are African ostrich eggs thought to be 60,000 years old, while gold and silver eggs have been excavated from the tombs of ancient Egyptians buried 5,000 years ago.  Over the years, eggs have appeared in many guises and, at one time, they were painted bright colours to represent the sunlit days of spring and then given as love tokens.  In 1307, King Edward I is said to have paid 18 pence for 450 eggs to be boiled and covered with gold leaf and then distributed amongst the royal household, a tradition which carried on into the Middle Ages when they were traditional gifts for servants in large houses. 

However, the most glorious Easter eggs of all have to be the intricately designed Fabergé eggs dating back to the early 1880s when Peter Carl Fabergé was asked by Czar Alexander III to create a special Easter gift for his wife.  The Czar was so pleased with Fabergé’s work that he commissioned him to continue the tradition each year, the only provisos being that the gift had to be egg-shaped and had to contain a tiny, precious surprise!

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In 2012, the idea of an Easter egg hunt simply being a device to occupy young children for a few hours changed forever when Fabergé used its iconic symbol of luxury to raise money for charity.  During the Big Easter Egg Hunt, an interactive event inspired by the Elephant Parade of 2010, more than 200 fibreglass eggs, each around 2½ feet in height, designed and decorated by designers and artists, were ‘hidden’ around central London.   Each giant egg held a unique code word which gave the finder a chance to win the ultimate Easter egg – the fabulous Fabergé Diamond Jubilee Egg worth over £100,000!  At the end of the forty day event, which coincided with Lent, the eggs were auctioned for Action For Children and The Elephant Family.

EASTER EGG HUNT 1Following the huge success of London’s Big Easter Egg Hunt, which not only raised an astonishing £2 million for worthwhile causes, but which also set two Guiness World Records, a similar event took place in New York this year. From 1st until 17th April, more than 260 giant egg sculptures, decorated by celebrities and globally renowned artists, architects, designers and photographers, were to be found throughout the city’s five boroughs.  Bruce Weber contributed an egg decorated with pictures he had taken of Kate Moss, while Marc Quinn’s egg was embossed with fingerprints.  The Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall donated an egg that took the form of Humpty Dumpty, described by Prince Charles as “a favourite nursery rhyme character”.

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Locals and visitors were invited to join in a mass treasure hunt by downloading an app to help to reveal the locations of the eggs.  Each time they checked in at an egg, the hunters were entered into a sweepstake to win one of three extraordinary precious gemstone pendants created by Fabergé.   The eggs are now all on public display in the Rockefeller Centre until 25th April after which selected eggs will be sold at a spectacular high profile auction which will, once again, benefit the conservation organisation, Elephant Family and also Studio in a School, a programme that brings visual arts to New York City’s public schools.

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The first manufactured edible eggs were made from pastry and sugar by the Germans in the early 19th century and chocolate eggs didn’t appear till the 1870s when Fry, followed by Cadbury, made a hollow version which, a few years later, was filled with sweets.  During the 1930s, sweets were often replaced with small toys and, following the arrival of Ming at London Zoo, the favourite filling for Easter eggs in 1939 were cuddly pandas, the appealing little bear’s gentle charm and unusual black and white colouring having won the hearts of children all over the United Kingdom.  I’m pleased to say that adults were also catered for with white kid eggs containing gold enamelled panda charms.

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Today, egg-painting is still popular in Europe but, in this country, most people prefer eggs of the chocolate variety, the most popular being the Cadbury’s Crème Egg, of which we eat a staggering 400 million every year, at the rate of 70,000 per hour, generating sales of £70 million!  (It’s also estimated that we’ll have eaten 38 million hot cross buns by the time Easter is over which means each person in the UK will have eaten 0.6 of a bun!) compare the humble crème egg with the Diamond Stella Egg, made of chocolate studded with diamonds, which went on sale in 2006 for an astonishing £50,000!

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The tradition of the much-loved Easter Bunny originates in pre-Christian lore when the hare and the rabbit were regarded as the most fertile creatures in the animal kingdom.  The rabbit was first mentioned as a Christian Easter symbol in German writings in the 1500s and, in 1682, the physician George Franck von Frankenau mentioned the Easter Bunny in his bestselling work on Easter eggs, De Ovis Paschalibus.  The first edible bunnies, made of pastry and sugar, were introduced in Germany during the early 1800s and, today, there’s a variety of chocolate rabbits to suit all tastes, from Nestlé chocolate bunnies filled with Smarties to the Lindt gold bunnies which have delighted generations of children.

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Although rabbits and eggs have always been symbols of new life, the popular pairing of eggs with the Easter Bunny really only dates back to the end of the 19th Century – the result of an advertising campaign by a European sweet manufacturer which was a stroke of marketing genius well-founded in the traditions of the past. 

The Easter Bunny plays an important part in celebrations all over the world, particularly in Washington DC where he’s the most eagerly awaited guest at the annual White House Easter Egg Roll when, unlike what 20140418_74 - Copyhappens in this country where we roll ours down hills, hard-boiled coloured eggs are rolled on level ground using a serving spoon to propel them.  This tradition originally began on Capitol Hill when some children, on holiday from school, had the idea of rolling eggs on Easter Monday.  However, when certain members of Congress objected, this seemingly harmless practice was banned by law and, in 1878, the event moved to the White House where it’s now one of the most eagerly anticipated events in the capital’s busy schedule.  The White House Easter Bunny was introduced by Pat Nixon in 1969 and, although his identity was normally kept a secret, after playing the Bunny for six years, the wife of the Attorney General, Edwin Meese, became known as the ‘Meester Bunny’! 

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Another White House tradition is the Easter Egg Hunt when children search for painted wooden eggs, signed by the President and the First Lady.  Last year, an estimated 35,000 people descended on the South Lawn where there were five differently coloured eggs to hunt for – four decorated with the logo of a skipping bunny, signed by Barack and Michelle Obama and, for the first time, one ‘signed’ by Bo, America’s First Dog, whose image appeared on this very special egg.  This year’s collectable eggs, which come in four vibrant colours, are decorated with another bunny design and, if you buy a set containing one of each colour, you receive a special edition egg featuring Bo and his sister, Sunny, America’s First Dogs. 

2013-pack - CopyThis year, I’ve dedicated all four windows to the Easter season.  In one, where pink, blue and white are the predominant colours, two rather cute white teddies, one wearing bunny ears and the other her Easter bonnet with all the frills upon it, are celebrating this special time of year with several little seasonal bears.  In another, 20140418_85 - Copythere’s an incredibly appealing bear in a beautiful pink dress, matching boots and Easter bonnet plus some pastel coloured beanie bears decorated with embroidered Easter eggs.  In the third window, I’ve created an Easter Egg Hunt with lots of eggs hidden in the grass waiting for the bears to find.  You might also have spotted a bear who’s disguised as a ladybird (no pun intended!) and another who thinks he’s a chicken!  In the final window, Bao Bao, the National Zoo’s eight-month-old panda, is celebrating her very first Easter with her mom, Mei-Xiang.  Let’s hope she doesn’t follow in my dog’s pawsteps and eat any chocolate eggs as that might result in an emergency visit to the vet as it did for Holly a few years ago!  Of course, as you might have expected, the Easter Bunny pops up all over the place as Easter wouldn’t be Easter without him!

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So whether you celebrate by going to church, hunting for decorated eggs, eating chocolate ones or simply enjoying the beauty of nature, The Bears in the Window wish you all an Easter that’s full of sweet surprises!

 

 

 

 


BLOOMING BEAUTIFUL!

by Elspeth

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On 10th April Washington’s 3,000 cherry blossom trees reached their long-awaited peak bloom, a sign that an exceptionally chilly winter had finally come to an end.  On several occasions during the last few months, winter had covered the city with a blanket of snow (I si-296745.jpg_ihcm-40_iwcm-28.8_maxdim-500_experienced this for myself in the middle of February when the whole of DC ground to a halt one day because of a heavy fall which, although somewhat inconvenient, did have a positive side as the city was transformed into a sparkling winter wonderland.) which obviously delayed the time when the area round the Tidal Basin turned various shades of pink.

The cherry blossom season only lasts for a few days (rather like the giant panda’s breeding window) and, by 15th April, most of the trees had dropped nearly all their petals, the pink fluffy clouds, replaced with vibrant green leaves.

As you can see, even the cherry blossom in Dalbear Road had its peak bloom and two little pandas, one dressed in a pink sweatshirt and the other in a delicate pink kimono, representing America and Japan respectively,  thoroughly enjoyed the spectacular display.  I hope you did too!  

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 CHERRY BLOSSOM TIME IN AYR!


TEN THOUSAND SAW I AT A GLANCE

by Elspeth

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It was exactly 212 years ago today, while out walking with his sister near Lake Ullswater in Grasmere, that William Wordsworth suddenly came upon what he described as ‘a long belt of daffodils’ growing near a river, a sight which would later inspire him to write one of the world’s best-loved poems, ‘I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud’ or ‘Daffodils’ as it’s often simply known.

The daffodil was brought to this country by the Romans who believed that its sap had healing powers. The flower was originally called affodil‘ and it wasn’t until 1538 that the letter ‘d’ was added, although the Oxford English Dictionary can’t give a satisfactory explanation for this addition.  In Victorian times, daffodils represented chivalry. Today, they symbolise hope while, in China, they are seen as symbols of wealth and good fortune. There are more than 50 different species and 25,000 different varieties of daffodils which are sometimes called jonquils, narcissi or paperwhites. Each year, Prince Charles is given a single daffodil as rent for land on the Isles of Scilly.

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Wordsworth’s sister, Dorothy, played an important part in the poet’s life and passed on her love of nature to him.  Two years after their historic encounter with the dancing daffodils, Wordsworth is thought to have written the first version of his popular poem which was published in 1807.  A revised version, the one we all know and love, which contains the most quoted line, ‘Ten thousand saw I at a glance’, was published in 1815.

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

As you can see, Holly looks rather pleased with herself because she managed to see one more daffodil today than Wordsworth did when he came upon ‘a crowd, a host of golden daffodils’ more than 200 years ago!

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TARTAN DAY

by Elspeth

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Today is Tartan Day when Scottish immigrants and their descendents across North America acknowledge their Scottish heritage and all that is good about Scotland - its people, its history, its culture and its amazing legacy to the world.  6th April is a hugely significant date as it’s the anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Arbroath, an act intended to assert Scotland’s position as an independent kingdom which, more than 450 years later, would influence the American Declaration of Independence.

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

Over 50 million people in almost every corner of the world claim Scottish ancestry, with around 11 million in the United States alone, making the Scots the country’s 20140406_8 - Copyeighth largest ethnic group.  Links between the two countries are long established with half of those who signed the American Declaration of Independence and the Governors of 9 of the original 13 States all being of Scottish descent, these ‘Scottish’ Americans helping to shape the United States in its formative years and guide it through its most troubled times.   The first time Tartan Day was observed in the United States on a national level was in 1997, although it had previously been celebrated by individual states and, the following year, the Senate passed a resolution designating 6th April ‘National Tartan Day’.   

Tartan Day is an integral part of Tartan Week, now in its seventh year, a seven-day celebration of all things Scottish, from song and dance to food, fashion and photography although nowadays, with so many events to cram in, it actually lasts for 20 days.  In recent years, some believe that the Scottish Government has tried to hijack Tartan Week with an alternative event it calls Scotland Week, when the country is promoted as a modern, dynamic, innovative and welcoming nation, making it Europe’s number one holiday, business and study destination.

Although celebrations are held all over America and Canada, it’s New York that hosts the 0_0_0_0_224_310_csupload_17435848most popular Tartan Day events like the Scotland Run, celebrating its 11th anniversary this year, now a favourite in the city’s packed running calendar. The 10k run takes place in Central Park where a carnival atmosphere is enjoyed by runners and spectators dressed in tartan and Saltires, with a piper playing at each kilometre marker.  Central Park also plays host to the Scotland Run Festival featuring live music and dancing with lots of family friendly fun including face painting and photo-booths that will transport New Yorkers across the sea to Scotland!  Naturally, the Empire State Building celebrates this most special of Scottish days, sending beams of blue and white – tartan might be a bit tricky – across the night sky.

Some extra-special Scottish equine visitors have travelled to New York for this year’s Tartan Week.  They are maquettes of the Grangemouth Kelpies – 30- metre high sculptures of supernatural water horses from Celtic folklore which are believed to haunt the rivers and lochs of Scotland and Ireland.  Currently on display in Bryant Park, the whimsical horses stand resplendent against a backdrop of midtown Manhattan architecture and the New York Library which, incidentally, is the home of A.A. Milne’s teddy bear who was the inspiration for Winnie the Pooh.  The Kelpies will remain in New York until 22nd April, acting as cultural ambassadors for Grangemouth’s full-sized sculptures and creating a focal point for this year’s Scotland Week’s activities.

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

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Finally, for those you love trivia, here are some fun facts about tartan, Tartan Day and Scotland:

2014pinThe world’s first colour photograph (taken in 1861) was of a tartan ribbon, though tartan only became popular after Queen Victoria expressed her fondness for all things Scottish.

 

 

 

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Tartan Day Festivals are now held in America, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and even in Scotland, while Scotland‘s top export destination is the USA.

 

 

 

 

2014pinThere are eight American towns called Aberdeen, eight called Edinburgh, seven called Glasgow and eight actually called Scotland, while thirteen of the country’s presidents have claimed Scottish ancestors. 

 

 

 

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John MacDonald, Canada’s first Prime Minister, William Farquhar, co-founder of Singapore, Alexander Smith, who built the Canadian Pacific Railway, and Andrew Carnegie, the great philanthropist, all hailed from Scotland.

 

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Scottish inventions include television, the telephone, ATM cash machines, RADAR, fingerprinting, the ultrasound, penicillin, insulin and MRI scanners, while research at Edinburgh’s Roslin Institute resulted in the birth of Dolly the sheep, the world’s first-ever cloned mammal.

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This is the second time The Bears in the Windows have celebrated Tartan Week and, they had so much fun last year, there was no shortage of volunteers from both sides of the Atlantic to be part of this most Scottish of celebrations.  There is, of course, a mandatory piper who’s ‘entertaining’ bears wearing an assortment of tartans, including the panda tartan commisioned by Edinburgh Zoo, and an ursine Statue of Liberty and Empire State Building who have donned a touch of tartan to show their appreciation of America’s long association with Scotland, a country that has captured the imagination of so many people.

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HUNTIEGOWK!

by Elspeth

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Well, in case you didn’t notice, yesterday was 1st April and so, despite reports to the contrary, Andy Murray wasn’t really in Dalbear Road – he was in Naples preparing for Britain’s vital Davis Cup quarter final against Italy, the first time Great Britain has reached this stage for 28 years.

Now, not only will some of you be feeling rather foolish if you believed what I wrote yesterday, but you may also be puzzled that the bears appear to be speaking a foreign language, so perhaps I’d better explain! 

On 1st April, my brother and I used to play tricks on our father and he on us!  However, instead of saying: “April Fool!” when he caught us out, Dad would shout: “Huntiegowk!”  I used to think that this was just a word he’d made up, but I recently discovered that it’s actually a Scottish expression which means ‘to make an April Fool of someone’ and is a corruption of ‘hunt-the-gowk’. 

As usual, the press tried to have fun at the expense of gullible readers yesterday.  The Daily Express reported that a British farmer had hatched a plan to slash the nation’s shopping bills after his prize-winning hens had started laying sqaure eggs!  Experts were predicting that housewives would soon be scrambling to buy square eggs, spelling the end for the need for egg cups as the eggs would be free-standing.  The lucky farmer set to see his profits soaring was one Ian Hatchett of Flair Loop (an anagram of April Fool!) in Suffolk whose eggs had apparently been verified and validated by the RSPCA’s Freedom Food which campaigns for animal welfare standards.  However, those trying to buy the limited stocks of these unusual eggs at www.freedomfood.co.uk/squareeggs yesterday would be bitterly disappointed when they discovered they’d been fooled!

The Daily Mail reported that the SNP was set to make the English pay for using wind from Scotland.  Using the slogan, ‘It’s Scotland’s Wind’, the tax was apparently going to be levied on the Big Six energy firms every time gales swept south into Northumberland and Cumbria!  In addition a ‘Gaelic wind zone’ was to be created which meant that winds from Ireland would be free for Scots to utilise.  The report ended by telling readers that SNP ministers were due to travel to Dublin on April 1st to finalise the plans!

Even the Royal Family didn’t escape this year when it was reported in Cambridge University’s student newspaper, The Tab, that Prince William, who recently completed a ten-week course in agricultual management, had been awarded a third-class degree, even though he wasn’t actually assessed!

I have my own favourite April Fool memory recounted to me by my father who was headteacher of a local school.  One year on 1st April, he and the school janitor were chatting in the playground and were rather bemused when an overaberubious (a wonderful word created by my husband which means over zealous!) little boy, obviously being egged on by some older boys who were hanging about nearby, came running up to them shouting: “Your lace is loose, Hallowe’en!”  As April Fool’s pranks go, it was a quite spectacular fiasco as, not only had the child got the catchphrase wrong, but he hadn’t spotted that neither of the men was actually wearing lacing shoes!  Every year after that, ‘Huntiegowk’ was replaced with ‘Hallowe’en’ when we made an April Fool of someone!


AND THE VERY SPECIAL VISITOR WAS……

by Elspeth

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I expect most of you will have guessed by now that the mystery caller was none other than Andy Murray!  After meeting him on his triumphant return to Dunblane as the US Open champion, I sent him some photos showing how The Bears in the Windows have supported him over the years.  Andy was so impressed that he decided he had to come to Dalbear Road to meet them in the fur and, as you can see, my dog Holly just couldn’t believe her eyes when he actually arrived! 


A VERY SPECIAL VISITOR

by Elspeth

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As you’ll see from the letter two of The Bears in the Windows are holding, a very special visitor is expected at Dalbear Road today.  I won’t tell you who it is until he’s actually been but, if you look carefully, you may spot a couple of clues which will help you to identify who the mystery caller will be!


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