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


by Elspeth

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This evening the Queen’s baton will arrive at Glasgow’s Celtic Park where Her Majesty the Queen will read her message to the Commonwealth, which she placed inside the baton on 9th Ocober 2013, and declare the XX Commonwealth Games open.

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There are three windows dedicated to the Commonwealth Games, the world’s third largest sporting event after the Olympics and the World Cup – one depicts the baton relay, the second the Opening Ceremony and in the third two gold medal winners are having a look round the City of Glasgow with its iconic green, gold and cream buses and trams.  

The Bears in the Windows were really excited when I told them that Jim and I would be there tonight.  I’ll tell you all about it tomorrow!

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by Elspeth

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Each year, The Open, golf’s oldest and most prestigious tournament, attracts spectators in their thousands as well as huge television audiences who, like me, tune in to be regaled by Peter Alliss, well-known for his knowledgeable observations and quirky humour. 

Today is the first day of the 143rd Open which is being played at Royal Liverpool for the 11th time.  Having been a regular venue between 1897 and 1967, the championship made a welcome return to the links course in 2006 when it was won by Tiger Woods. 

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I’m fortunate that two of the venues, Royal Troon and Turnberry, are right on my doorstep, while St Andrews and Muirfield are only a few hours drive away which means I’ve been able enjoy The Open experience on several occasions and have, in fact, actually spoken to some champions. 

In 2004, when the tournament was last played at Troon, I offered to get some beanies signed for a friend to auction in aid of Cancer Research.  And so, rather sheepishly, I joined a group of children waiting patiently at the practice ground for their favourite golfing heroes to sign a programme, a baseball cap or even part of their body!  I’m pleased to say that most of the players I approached were happy to sign beanies for me although, disappointingly, one recently knighted British player refused.

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

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

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

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Although many of the greatest golfers in the world have lifted the famous Claret Jug, as rank outsiders Justin Leonard, Paul Lawrie, Ben Curtis, Todd Hamilton and Stuart Cink have all proved, anyone who qualifies has 20140718_27 - Copythe chance to claim their place in Open history.  Up until the very last hole at Turnberry, it looked as if Tom Watson was going to turn back the clock to win his third Open title but it was to prove a step too far for the popular American and he lost the title in a play-off to Stewart Cink.  The following year, while attending one of the practice days at St Andrews, the only memorable moment was having my photograph taken with none other than Cink whom we’d come across as we made our way along a path in the driving rain.  To my disgust, despite the fact that not a ball was hit because of the appalling weather, the intransigence of the R&A was quite breathtaking as they refused to refund our entrance money (paid on the day) because someone had, apparently, played a shot around seven in the morning!

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

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This year, both windows pay tribute to former champions.  In one, an ursine Todd Hamilton (accompanied by his lucky dog), is reminiscing with two ‘members’ of the Royal Liverpool Golf Club about how he won the famous claret jug in Troon ten years ago while, in the other, Liverpool’s most famous sons, The Beartles, are watching the day’s play from the club house on top of which ‘Tom Watson’ and his caddie are studying a short putt on the 18th green which could win him a sixth championship!


by Elspeth

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

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

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

20140714_118 - CopyUnder the Ancien Régime, executioners had the choice of the sword, the breaking wheel or fire but, when public opinion turned against such archaic methods, a less painful way of disposing of people had to be found.  The answer was the guillotine, invented by Joseph Ignace Guillotin, a professor of anatomy.  In 1791, the newly formed National Assembly voted to adopt this as the official execution device as, although the very word sends shivers down my spine, they considered it to be more humane, the victim only feeling ‘a gentle breeze’ on the back of his neck before the blade fell. The executions were carried out in la Place Louis XV, renamed la Place de la Révolution, and now known as la Place de la Concorde, where the Luxor Obelisk, a symbol of peace, marks the spot where the guillotine once stood.  During the Reign of Terror it’s estimated that between 15,000 and 40,000 people, including King Louis XVI himself, met their death by this gruesome contraption. 

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

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

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

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The Bears in the Windows celebrated Bastille Day for the first time two years ago and had so much fun with their French cousins that they asked me to make it an annual event.  This year’s window is full of all things French – an artist, ‘la Colone de Juillet’, (the original is located in la Place de la Bastille and stands testament to the events of 14th July 1789), the Eiffel Tower, set against a night sky lit up with fireworks, a Napoleon bear who, appropriately, came from Les Invalides, under whose dome is the tomb of France’s first Emperor, Napoleon Bonaparte and, of course, a guillotine whose ursine ‘victim’ is, naturally, a little apprehensive!  All the bears, apart from Napoleon, are keeping their paws crossed that he’ll be pardoned at the final hour and won’t suffer the same fate as Louis XVI! 

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by Elspeth

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Most of you will remember where you were nine years ago today when terrorists attacked London’s transport system.  I was at home on my own and learned of the attacks on the internet although, just as I did on 9/11, at first not believing that the horrific events unfolding before me were really happening and that, instead, I was simply watching a clip from a film.

Jim and I had been due to fly down to London the following day for the celebrations marking the 60th Anniversary of the end of the Second World War.  We might well have been caught up in the ensuing mayhem as we had thought of going a day earlier and, if we had, would have arrived in central London around the time the first bombs went off.  I later learned that the granddaughter of a dear friend had lost a leg in the blast.  However, like so many of the survivors, she isn’t at all bitter and has accepted what had happened and got on with her life. 

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

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

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

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

20120720_192 - CopyMy tribute to those who died on 7th July 2005 features London Underground teddies representing each the four locations where the bombs went off – King’s Cross, Aldgate, Edgware Road and Tavistock Square – and a dove of peace sold in aid of the London Bombings Relief Fund.  In the centre of the window I’ve recreated the striking memorial in Hyde Park, unveiled by the Prince of Wales on the fourth anniversary of the atrocity, the four ‘stainless steel columns’ symbolizing the 52 pillars etched with the name of the place where each of the victims died and the time when the bomb exploded.  This ‘dignified and tranquil space’ means that they will never be forgotten.  

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by Elspeth


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Jim and I have visited America on many occasions and were, in fact, married there.  Over the years, I’ve brought back a number of American bears to live with us at Dalbear Road and they certainly know how to party on the fourth of July.  This year, the celebrations are bigger than ever with patriotic bears and tickertape galore.  In the centre of the window is an ursine Statue of Liberty, flanked on either side by the stars and stripes, one which is being saluted by a little male bear, the other by a female, her paw on her heart according to custom.

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