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


by Elspeth

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The Royal Chelsea Hospital opens its doors today to the most colourful show on earth.  The RHS Chelsea Flower Show, with its uniquely beautiful setting, is the highlight of the gardening year. There will be more than 500 exhibitors this year, including show gardens, artisan and fresh gardens, 100 exhibits in the Great Pavilion and about 250 trade stands around the site.

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According to custom, Her Majesty the Queen is expected to visit the show today and the most eagerly awaited moment is finding out which colour she’ll be wearing this year.  For the first time in 30 years, Alan Titchmarsh won’t be commentating for the BBC but, instead, has designed a Chelsea garden to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Britain in Bloom and Alan’s own 50 years in horticulture.

And when the show is over for another year, there’s the great plant sell-off to look forward to when the buses and tube are packed with huge pots of delphiniums, grasses and orchids as their purchasers struggle to take them home.  

For the third year, the Bears in the Windows have designed a garden for the Chelsea Flower Show, which is a little less colourful than previous years.  They’re keeping their paws crossed that it will be a Chelsea Gold this year, though not everyone would agree.

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by Elspeth

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The third of May was a day to remember for the people of Ayr as not only were the Queen’s Own Yeomanry granted the freedom of South Ayrshire, but Prince Charles, their Royal Honorary Colonel, was there to lend his support.


The parade of around 150 men and women started at Pavilion Road, where His Grace, Duke of Westminster, the Yeomanry’s Honorary Colonel, and the Provost of Ayr had inspected the troops.  It then proceeded along 20140503_583Wellington Square, up Barns Street and then, believe it or not, into Dalbear Road, marching right past our house where The Bears in the Windows had a bear’s-eye view!  Dressed in multi-terrain army uniform, His Royal Highness took the salute at the Wallace Tower before walking along High Street to attend the official service in the Auld Kirk.

 Jim and I went to Wellington Square and, after watching the parade march past, made our way to High Street so that we’d have a chance of seeing Prince Charles.  To my huge disappointment, it seemed that we were on the wrong side of the road and so we decided to try to find a place at the foot of Kirk Port in the hope that he might stop for a chat.  Just as it looked as if he was going to pass us by once again, Jim called out, ‘Sir!’ and held out his hand.  To my delight Prince Charles heard him and came over to us and shook our hands – not a weak half-hearted grip, but a really strong one!  I can’t tell you how excited I was and, in fact, still am!

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However, for a newly married couple it proved to be a right royal day when they bumped into Prince Charles as he was leaving a civic reception in the Town Hall and graciously agreed to be photographed with the happy couple.  It was this chance encounter that I recreated in one of the windows.


by Elspeth

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Well, were you up at dawn this morning to wash your face in the May dew?  Or perhaps it was in the May rain as, although we’ve been enjoying a spell of warm sunny weather recently, ironically, just when it looked as if summer was just around the corner, rain and colder temperatures are forecast for today.  This really shouldn’t come as a surprise as, in his novel Doctor Thorne, Anthony Trollope wrote: ‘Let no man boast himself that he has got through the perils of winter till at least the seventh of May.’ 

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

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

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



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

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

Tai Shan with Bamboo

Traditionally the dancers were women, although now anyone can take part. The idea is that each person takes hold of one of the coloured ribbons and then circles the maypole with a sort of hopping, skipping step.  Some of the dancers go in one direction, while others go the opposite way, changing direction at carefully chosen moments until the ribbons are plaited together and wrapped tightly around the maypole.  The process is then reversed and the ribbons unwound.

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

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

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When I told The Bears in the Windows they were going to be celebrating May Day with two windows this year, I suggested that we should design one window each. In my simple blossom festooned window, a beautiful May Queen takes centre stage surrounded by her pretty ladies-in-waiting.  However, the bears had much more ambitious plans for their window and decided that they wanted a Robin Hood, which, fortunately, I just happened to have, a May Queen, which was easy as a dainty little panda in a beautiful pink dress fitted the bill, and some maypole dancers, which I thought might be a challenge too far!  However, never one to admit defeat, I actually managed to make a maypole with six little dancers, adding a touch or two of my own, like a basket of spring flowers and a garland with a tiny panda in the centre instead of the traditional doll.  Although I’m not sure the dancers really know what they’re doing, there’s no denying they’re having a good time! 

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