THE WORLD OF WESTIES – INTRODUCING DEXTER

My regular readers will know that I love dogs.  In fact, our whole family and everyone at my marketing agency is a “dog-person”. My husband and I have three dogs who we always treat equally, so since I told you about our Labradoodle earlier this year, I thought it is time to introduce you to our West Highland Terrier – aka ‘Westie’ – Dexter.  

A year after we moved to the USA, I began to really want a small dog.  When we emigrated in 2009, we had transported our three big British dogs – two Labradors and a Bearded Collie – across the pond to our new life in Coastal Georgia.  The problem was that the Labradors were getting on in years, and the collie sadly was diagnosed with Addison’s disease.  To paraphrase an English saying – they each had three paws in the grave and one on a banana skin!

I had grown up with large dogs and my husband and I had always chosen larger dogs for our “pack”.  So, I had some persuading to do when I heard about a litter of West Highland Terriers with puppies available from a family in Richmond Hill.   My husband’s main objection was that he liked what he calls “real” dogs – large, robust dogs that loved water, woods, and wrestling.  He did not want a “purse size dog” and didn’t want a fourth dog.  In fact, when I did close the deal on our new male Westie puppy, he wanted to name him “Extra”.  Dexter rhymes with extra, so this is how he got his name.  I didn’t realize at the time that it was the name of the serial killer in a popular TV show! 

While I was immediately besotted (a word popular in England which means infatuated) with my “dog in miniature”, it was quite the challenge to understand and train this 18-pound Westie.  West Highland Terriers are one of the short-legged terriers of Scotland which also include the Scottish, Skye, Cairn and Dandie Dinmont breeds.  At that time, after leaving the UK for good just a year earlier, the link with Scotland appealed.  History tells us that British farmers bred terriers (also known as earthdogs) to hunt the rats that raided their stores of grain. It is believed that the Scottish terriers all came from the same family tree in the 1700s. Legend has it that the Malcolm clan in Scotland bred Westies for their white coat when a red colored terrier was shot when mistaken for a fox. By 1907 the breed was officially recognized in England and then in America in 1909.

Dexter is pretty much the breed standard.  He is completely white, small but solid, exceedingly independent in nature, never gives up, never gives in, and never seem to get tired, despite taking four steps for every one of our bigger dogs. Only his ears are a bit out of whack to the breed standard.  He seems to have large white rabbit ears that fold back flat on his head when he runs to make him more aerodynamic.  In my opinion there is nothing cuter than when he races to see me when I get home from work.

When researching Westies, I read on the AKC website that “thanks to their faithfulness and keen intelligence, Westies will train nicely with time and patience”. With time and patience?  Wow, what an understatement!  To say Dexter was stubborn is putting it mildly.  He assumes he is a giant of a dog and did not see the need to do anything he didn’t want to do.  As a puppy, he also didn’t worry too much about where he went “potty” since he quickly figured out, I would clean up if it happened to be indoors. We got there in the end, but it was much harder than training a big dog.  Dexter is only 18 pounds fully grown but, in his mind, he is the size of a Great Dane and the grand leader of our three-dog pack.  Our large retriever and labradoodle girls just let him believe that and good naturedly ignore his ‘Napoleon’ tendencies. 

Having said that, he is so gentle with our grandchildren and loving towards us that having a small dog who will snuggle on my lap every evening is a great joy.   I really think that Dexter does not realize how comparatively small he is or accept that his age (nearly 11) should slow him down.  My husband says that these characteristics remind him of me.

Our three dogs – Dexter, Georgie Girl the Flat-Coat Retriever and Coco the crazy Australian Labradoodle – are a happy pack and make our family complete.   There is more information on these breeds at www.akc.org

I say goodbye this week with a quote which really resonates with me, from Pulitzer prize winner and 20th century author, Edith Wharton. “My little dog – a heartbeat at my feet”.

God Bless America and all the dogs we love!

– ENDS –

Lesley grew up in London, England and made Georgia her home in 2009.  She can be contacted at lesley@lesleyfrancispr.com  or via her PR and marketing agency at www.lesleyfrancispr.com

IT’S MAY AGAIN

May is my favorite month of the year as it heralds in summer days by the pool, long evenings, and our traditional Memorial Day trip with family.  It is also my birthday month and although I have been celebrating the anniversary of my 39th year for well over a decade now, this past year has brought into perspective how fortunate I am to be alive and healthy.  May also marks the anniversary of my move to the USA – a happy event twelve years ago.

The month of May is named for the Greek goddess Maia, who oversaw the growth of plants and is also from the Latin word maiores, or “ancestors” or “forefathers”, who were celebrated during this month. Maia was also considered a nurturer and an earth goddess and is also associated with fertility.  May’s birth flower is the Lily of the Valley, and I am fortunate that my birthstone is the emerald which is not only beautiful but also represents love or success. 

May is a month in demand as there are literally dozens of organizations and movements which have planted their flag for a day, week, or month of recognition.  Many of these are good causes, such as National Stroke Awareness Month, Skin Cancer Awareness Month, and National Small Business Week.  But some are about fun, sun and frivolity.

The Kentucky Derby runs on the first Saturday in May, and on May 4th we also have Star Wars Day; May the Fourth be with you is the catchphrase of this unofficial holiday celebrating the famous movie franchise (get it?).  Then of course comes Cinco de Mayo, the anniversary of the Battle of Puebla, when Mexico defeated the French forces of Napoleon III in 1862.  This is celebrated more by Hispanic people in the USA than by Mexicans who tend to have bigger celebrations on Mexican Independence Day on September 16.  Cinco de Mayo has become a celebration of the Mexican cultural heritage with lots of dancing and music, and plenty of food and drink.  Many Americans with no direct links to Mexico join in with plenty of tacos and tequila!  National Pizza Day comes later in May, as does National Naked Gardening Day, which was established by the editor of Nude & Natural Magazine and his friend who was a permaculturalist (a gardener who focuses on natural ecosystems).

May 9th this year is of course Mother’s Day in the USA and many parts of the world. Before emigrating to Georgia, I did not realize that this annual event originated in American Mothers’ Day Work Clubs which were a feminist response to the carnage of the Civil War.  Out of these grew a campaign, led by West Virginia activist Anna Jarvis, for a national holiday to celebrate the lives of all mothers.  Anna Jarvis swore at her mother’s graveside in 1905 to dedicate her life to establishing a nationally recognized day to honor mothers living and dead.  West Virginia became the first state to adopt an official Mother’s Day in 1912, and two years later the day was fixed as the second Sunday of May and enshrined in law across the United States.  In the United Kingdom, Mother’s Day is traditionally known as Mothering Sunday and celebrated earlier in the year during the fourth Sunday in Lent.

Later this month I am looking forward to May 14 which is both national Buttermilk Biscuit Day and Dance Like a Chicken Day.  On a more serious note, May 15th is National Armed Forces Day and May 22nd is National Maritime Day.  As we move into Summer, national sunscreen day on May 28 is a timely reminder to enjoy the season but avoid getting burned.  There is much more information at www.almanac.com and www.history.com

I say goodbye this week with a quote from early 20th century American lawyer, naturalist and author Samuel Scoville –  “At last came the golden month of the wild folk—honey-sweet May, when the birds come back, and the flowers come out, and the air is full of the sunrise scents and songs of the dawning year.”

God Bless America and enjoy May!

– ENDS –

Lesley grew up in London, England and made Georgia her home in 2009.  She can be contacted at lesley@lesleyfrancispr.com  or via her PR and marketing agency at www.lesleyfrancispr.com

FAREWELL PRINCE PHILIP

It has been a sad couple of weeks in the land of my birth as we mourn the passing of Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh on April 9, just two months before he would have celebrated his 100th birthday.  I love my life in beautiful Coastal Georgia and after twelve years living here and nine years since I became an American citizen, this is my home.  However, whenever there is a significant British ritual or royal event, I do feel the pang of homesickness – especially as I have not been able to return to the UK since 2019 due to the pandemic.

Last Saturday, my husband and I watched the funeral of the husband of Queen Elizabeth II at 10am EST (3pm in the UK).  Prince Philip had been married to the Queen for 73 years and was the longest-serving royal consort in British history.  At the age of 99, he had of course had a long and fulfilling life, and it was reported that he “died peacefully” at Windsor castle – their main home in recent years.  However, watching the elderly Queen (who turned 95 on April 21 – just days after burying her husband) mourn alone in the chapel at Windsor Castle – socially distanced and wearing a mask due to COVID-19 precautions – was heart breaking.  Who will call her “Cabbage” now?  This was Prince Philip’s nickname for his wife whose official title is ‘Her Majesty Elizabeth the Second – by the Grace of God, of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and of Her Other Realms and Territories – the Queen, Head of the Commonwealth, and Defender of the Faith’.

The Duke of Edinburgh was born on the Island of Corfu as Prince Philip of Greece and Denmark, but in 1922 when he was eighteen months old, his family went into exile in London when the Greek royal family was overthrown in a military coup. When he married then-Princess Elizabeth in 1947, he gave up a promising naval career which could have seen him become “First Sea Lord”, the head of the British Navy. During World War II, the duke saw combat aboard a British destroyer and battleship.

The funeral had been planned in detail by Prince Philip himself over decades – although these had to be modified significantly due to the restrictions of the pandemic – many of these modifications made by the Duke of Edinburgh himself in recent months.  He retired from a busy schedule of public engagements in 2017, and earlier this year spent a month in hospital after undergoing heart surgery.  He died just a few weeks after he was discharged in March.

Watching the televised funeral from 4,000 miles away was poignant; in my opinion no nation does the national and royal ceremonial stuff better than Great Britain.  Under unusually clear blue skies on a lovely English spring day, close family attended the funeral with limited number of people – masked and distanced due to COVID-19 precautions – allowed in St. George’s Chapel.  The close relationship the Prince had with the military, especially the Royal Navy was reflected in the military parades and music performed before the funeral outside the chapel.  Prince Philip, who loved outdoor pursuits, the military, cars, and airplanes, showed that he was a true individual to the end.  In a break with tradition, he had personally designed a military green Land Rover for his coffin to be transported to the chapel. His coffin was draped in his personal standard (a military flag) and carried his sword and naval cap. On nine cushions on the altar were some of his military regalia, including Philip’s Royal Air Force wings and field marshal’s baton, as well as the Order of the Elephant, bestowed on him by Denmark, and the Order of the Redeemer, by Greece. These last ones symbolized his royal lineage as a prince of Denmark and Greece.  After Philip was interred, the Royal Marines’ buglers played “The Last Post” and “Action Stations,” a summons to battle stations that is rarely played at funerals but can be requested by a veteran of the Royal Navy.

Prince Philip supported the Queen for more than seven decades and his passing marks the beginning of the end of an era – a sad and sobering thought for many generations of British.  He set up The Duke of Edinburgh awards in 1956, the world’s leading youth achievement award foundation, operating in 141 countries.  He authored 14 books, was a keen birdwatcher, shooter, pilot, and competitive horse carriage driver after giving up polo around half a century ago.  He loved reading, oil painting and the great outdoors, and was quick-witted and straight talking if politically incorrect on occasions. He was much loved by his family and the nation.  At what we assume was his wish, there was no eulogy at the funeral, just the readings and music he selected – performed by a distanced choir of four people. 

The Queen did over-rule him on one matter in a clear display of love and appreciation.  In a major break with royal protocol, and after his standing next to her but three steps back during her entire 69-year reign, for the first and only time her husband the Prince preceded her in the procession.  Her car followed his coffin transported on the modified Land Rover, along with close members of the royal family on foot.  There is more information at www.bbc.co.uk

It is appropriate that I say goodbye this week with this quote from Prince Philip himself from an occasion when he met an Australian man who introduced himself and said, “My wife is a doctor of philosophy and much more important than I am,” he replied: “Ah yes, we have that trouble in our family too!”

God Bless America, and Rest In Peace Prince Philip!

– ENDS –

Lesley grew up in London, England and made Georgia her home in 2009.  She can be contacted at lesley@lesleyfrancispr.com  or via her PR and marketing agency at www.lesleyfrancispr.com

APRIL SHOWERS AND MORE

Spring is one of my favorite times of year and I have never been happier to have reached April than I am this year.  I am feeling that the long winter is finally behind us and that we are emerging from the COVID-19 pandemic.  Vaccinated and hopeful with daylight savings time here and the joy of the Easter weekend just gone by, I am in an optimistic frame of mind.

So now that we are in April, I have been thinking about a phrase that is popular among the British “April showers bring May flowers”.  This saying was written in 1557 by an English farmer and poet, Thomas Tusser, the author of “A Hundred Good Points of Husbandry,” in his famous book about the care and cultivation of crops and animals.  I have mentioned before that it rains a lot in England and the British can expect at least ten days of rain and highs in the mid-50s on average in April.   So as a child and young woman living in England every April when the heavens opened and we were drenched in chilly rain, we were encouraged to patiently endure those April showers which lead to the flowers of May.  Of course, this phrase is symbolic just like “there is a silver lining after each dark cloud” and “this too shall pass”.  If we had needed reminding of the need for patience and to endure, we have certainly had this opportunity over the last twelve months.

April is an interesting month.  It generally has the most meteor showers, and originally had just 29 days in it, but Julius Caesar added a day when he established the Julian calendar. The naming of the month also dates back to Roman times so April is thought to come from the Latin word ‘aperio’ which means ‘to open’, referring no doubt to the opening buds of springtime.  Did you know that April’s birth flowers are the daisy and the sweet pea? Also, if you are lucky enough to be born in April, like Queen Elizabeth II and Shakespeare, your birthstone is “a girl’s best friend”, the diamond.

So other than April Fool’s Day and (usually) Easter which are now behind us, what else is observed in April?    As is the way these days, every date on the calendar has been appropriated to represent or celebrate something but some that appeal to me are April 10’s ‘National Hug Your Dog Day’ (we have three), April 21’s ‘National Tea Day’ (of course, I am British) and April 28’s ‘National Blueberry Pie Day’ (why not?).

There is another famous date looming this month, the USA’s official federal tax deadline day of April15. Although this deadline was delayed to July 15 last year because of the pandemic, and will be delayed to May 17 in 2021.

The history of Tax Day dates to Abraham Lincoln’s Presidency when he proclaimed the first federal income tax during his first year in office. The Revenue Act came into law in 1862 and it taxed American people’s income to fund the Civil War. Lincoln’s system of a Federal tax on income was repealed in 1871, but it came back in 1909 when Congress passed our current tax system. This became the 16th amendment to the constitution which says, “The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes on incomes, from whatever source derived, without apportionment among the several states, and without regard to any census or enumeration”.  This amendment was ratified by the requisite number of states in 1913, and originally set March 1 as the deadline to file tax returns and pay up.  A few years later this was pushed back to March 15 and in 1955, April15 became the new, and lasting deadline.

There is more information at www.history.com and www.timeanddate.com

I will leave you with a quote from American author, journalist and naturalist, Hal Borland, which inspires me “April is a promise that May is bound to keep.”

God Bless America, and happy April, everyone!

– ENDS –

Lesley grew up in London, England and made Georgia her home in 2009.  She can be contacted at lesley@lesleyfrancispr.com  or via her PR and marketing agency at www.lesleyfrancispr.com

KNITTING THROUGH A CRISIS

As the UK will be more or less in lockdown until at least April 12, I have been hearing from my family and friends across the pond about how they have been passing the time, especially since the British climate has been keeping people indoors.  There are lots of ‘lockdown cliches’ which we have also experienced in the USA ranging from zoom parties, bread baking, bingeing on Netflix and social media, family board games and a new or rekindled interest in arts and crafts.  For example, knitting has seen a resurgence in popularity as a productive way to use some extra time available when normal activities are curtailed.

When I think of knitting or crocheting, I think of my maternal grandmother – who was a rather tough character – but she did make a point of crocheting a blanket for each of her grandchildren who made it to university.  I still have mine.  She tried to teach me how to knit and I just about grasped the basics, but I always preferred to have my head in a book or try out a new recipe in the kitchen.

The dictionary defines knitting as “the act of forming a fabric by looping a continuous yarn” and its history is rather fascinating.  It is believed that ancient Egyptians were experts in this craft.  People in the Middle East brought this skill along the trade routes to Europe and there is evidence of knitted items in Spain from the 13th century – when Spain was dominated by Arabian cultures. Knitting was only available to the wealthy since it used expensive silks and cottons.  Inexpensive wool became popular later. 

From the mid-15th century affluent people in England and continental Europe began to wear knitted silk stockings, including the men who wore fashionable “doublet and hose” – short pants with stockings underneath.  Apparently, England’s Queen in the late 1500’s, Elizabeth the 1st, was a great fan of knitted silk stockings and pairs believed to belong to her are still in existence.

Around this time people began to use affordable wool to knit for themselves and with the introduction of the more elaborate purl stitch (as in “knit one purl two”) knitting became a popular practical skill with both men and women making knitted hats and more.  Sailors and fishermen took to knitting and began making warm, weather-proof sweaters for wearing on the chilly seas.

By the late 1800s, the middle and some upper classes adopted knitting as a suitable ladylike activity.  The First World War from 1914-18 saw a renewed interest in knitting as people were encouraged to knit and send socks, scarves, hats, and gloves to soldiers in the trenches of France.  During the depression years of the 1930s – when my grandmother was a girl and young woman – knitting was essential as women could buy inexpensive wool or unpick old sweaters as an economical way to clothe the family.  The Second World War again saw knitting for soldiers, then in the 1950s and 1960s, when a greater choice of colors and yarns became available, women were often taught to knit in school so they could knit for their families when they became wives and mothers.

So how did knitting become such a female dominated activity?  In her book, “The Power of Knitting”, Loretta Napoleoni claims that knitting is “an essential tool for the survival of our species, a means for women to influence history and a soothing activity to calm us”.  Knitting has also had an amazing role in the history of secret wartime communications!

Did you know that during times of war, knitting has been used to pass secret codes through the encryption within different stitches?  Knit stitches are flat while purl stitches are horizontal bumps so by alternating these two stiches knitters could send encrypted messages of Morse code within a sweater or scarf.

During World War 1, Belgian intelligence agents asked elderly women who lived near railway stations to monitor the Germans train movements and knit the information into scarfs that could be passed along.  After all, old women looked too innocent to be spies.  Women were even more important during the Second World War as knitting was a way for female spies to encrypt and pass along military secrets while hiding in plain sight – the perfect cover.   If caught these brave women were usually executed.  During WWII, both the United States and the U.K. banned the printing and posting of written knitting patterns, as their repetitive abbreviations could easily be ciphered into codes, but they could hardly ban knitting itself.

Across the Atlantic throughout the early days of this country, and throughout much of the 19th century, women’s approach to knitting and other needle arts underscored existing class and racial divisions. Middle-class and wealthy white women were free to take up needlework selectively, and for either leisurely or political causes, while lower-income or marginalized women turned to it for income and survival. Sewing and knitting circles, became a place for educated women to exchange ideas and talk about political issues and campaigns including the abolition of slavery, temperance, and votes for women. 

There is more information at www.knitlikegranny.com and www.history.com

I will leave you with a quote about knitting which amused me although its source is unknown: “I like making a piece of string into something I can wear.”

God Bless America!  Stay safe, stay well, and stay positive.

– ENDS –

Lesley grew up in London, England and made Georgia her home in 2009.  She can be contacted at lesley@lesleyfrancispr.com  or via her PR and marketing agency at www.lesleyfrancispr.com

TROUBLES WITHIN THE BRITISH ROYAL FAMILY

The land of my birth is still pretty much in lockdown as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, so everybody has been “glued to the box” (British slang for avidly watching TV) to keep up with all the royal happenings during these troubled times.  Before we get into the whole Prince Harry and Meghan Markle saga, there are several other things of note which are of concern to the Queen right now.

Firstly, Prince Philip, her husband of 73 years who will be 100 years old in three months, has been in hospital for three weeks and is recovering from a heart operation.

More publicly, senior members of the royal family, led by the Queen, have been trying to support and reassure the citizens of the UK which sadly has one of the highest number of deaths from COVID 19 across the world.  Britain is densely populated with 68 million people crowded together on an island the size of Georgia plus about half of Florida, so the virus has hit the UK very hard.  While people all over the world are suffering due to the pandemic, my heart breaks for everyone back in Great Britain.  

Just last weekend, with her husband very sick indeed, the Queen broadcast a special TV interview speaking of the importance of staying in touch with family and friends during “testing times”.  Senior royals including the Prince of Wales and the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge appeared with her to mark Commonwealth Day as the Queen is Head of the Commonwealth.   The Queen used her rare TV broadcast to highlight the “friendship, spirit of unity and achievements” around the world and the benefits of working together in the fight against the coronavirus. “The testing times experienced by so many have led to a deeper appreciation of the mutual support and spiritual sustenance we enjoy by being connected to others,” she said.  This comment is a significant contrast to the turmoil engulfing her own family. 

Of course, this broadcast by the Queen was timed to be just before the controversial media interview of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex by Oprah Winfrey which broadcast last Sunday in the USA and last Monday in the UK. Just in case you have somehow avoided this controversy, here is a quick recap.  British Prince Harry, the Queen’s grandson, married American actress Meghan Markle in May 2018.  They had a son Archie the following year and ‘separated’ from the rest of the royal family in early 2020 – moving to Canada and then Los Angeles in the USA.  They are now expecting a little girl this summer.

When people ask me what I think of the estrangement between Harry and Meghan and the rest of the royal family I say that I can understand that Meghan found herself in a different country and culture and the focus of a lot of media attention which must have been very stressful.  During the interview with Oprah Winfrey Meghan talked openly about her mental health and suicidal thoughts when living in the UK.   I can understand and respect the fact that the Prince wants to protect the privacy, health and happiness of his wife and family.  Remember, while he was still a boy, he lost his mother Princess Diana in a car crash in Paris while she was being pursued by paparazzi.   As a generalization, people in the USA are more sympathetic to their situation whereas the British, and the British media in particular – which Meghan and Harry criticized during the interview – are extremely critical of the couple.

Personally, as a citizen of both the UK and the USA I can see both sides of the situation.  However, I struggle to understand or accept the way Meghan and Harry have gone about leaving the royal family – in spite of their public reassurances about their respect for the Queen.   It was unrealistic for the couple to leave the UK and a royal life of public service, but still expect to pick and choose the parts of royal life and the royal titles and perks that they liked.  The couple has further alienated much of the British public by attempting to cash in on their celebrity status.  Many media reports say that they are being paid $7m or more for their interview with Oprah, although they claimed not to have been paid, and what is certain is that they have also signed deals with Netflix and Spotify.  Meghan reportedly has even invested in a start-up company that markets an instant oat milk latte.  Harry defends all this by saying the royal family cut off his money and he needs to fund security services to protect his wife and children.  He has been forced to survive on the money his mother, Princess Diana, left him – which must be plenty as he purchased a $14.5 million home in California.

By contrast, the rest of the royal family justify their position in modern British society by what the Queen calls “a life of total service”.  She truly lives a life of service to the British people, not only as an important figurehead hosting Heads of State and leading the nation in events of remembrance and celebration, but she also continues well into her 90’s to carry a very full schedule.  Before the pandemic she visited charities, schools, and a multitude of public events, always to the delight of her adoring public, and continues to do as much as possible to support the nation during these challenging times.  According to www.royal.uk, the official website of the British Royal Family, “The Queen sees public and voluntary service as one of the most important elements of her work …. The Queen has links, as Royal Patron or President, with over 600 charities, military associations, professional bodies and public service organisations.”

I will leave you with a quote from Prince Harry from about 15 years ago, when he served in the British army, long before he met Meghan.  “Once you’re in the military, she means a lot more to you than just a grandmother. She is the Queen. And then you suddenly, it’s like start realizing, you know, wow, this is quite a big deal. And then you get goosebumps and then the rest of it.”  A bit sad considering the state of his relationship with his grandmother today.

God Bless America and the British royal family!  Stay safe, stay well, and stay positive.

– ENDS –

Lesley grew up in London, England and made Georgia her home in 2009.  She can be contacted at lesley@lesleyfrancispr.com  or via her PR and marketing agency at www.lesleyfrancispr.com

I CAN SEE CLEARLY NOW – THE HISTORY OF EYEGLASSES

I recently went for a routine check-up with my ophthalmologist and noticed a young girl looking at frames with her mother which reminded me of my first eyesight test at 8 years old.  I didn’t realize that I was short sighted until I got my first pair of glasses and saw how bright, clear and colorful the world could be!  I then moved to contact lenses in the 1980s and Lasik eye surgery 20 years ago.  Yet another benefit of being around during this time in medical history.

The concept of eyeglasses as we know them today is fairly recent, but the idea of improving natural eyesight goes back to Roman times. The Roman philosopher Seneca, who was a tutor and advisor to Emperor Nero, boasted that he read “all the books in Rome” through a large glass bowl filled with water which magnified the print. The Romans are also credited with discovering that they could use glass to enhance their ability to see small text.  These small flat-bottom pieces of glass with spherical tops were laid on top of text and called “reading stones”.  These were especially useful for monks who used them to continue to read, write and illuminate manuscripts as they aged, and their eyesight deteriorated.   Italian monks were early adopters of the first wearable glasses which appeared in 13th century Italy when basic glass blown lenses were set in wooden, leather or animal horn frames which were handheld in front of the face or perched on the nose.

Glass blowers then started making lenses of different thickness to correct varying levels of impaired vision.  These grew in popularity and spread through Europe during the Renaissance of the 15th and 16th centuries with many paintings of this era showing the educated and prosperous wearing these strange looking contraptions on the face.

In 1740, London-based scientist, inventor and businessman Benjamin Martin published a book title “A New and Compendious System of Optics”.  He also developed “over the ear” glasses frames so eyeglasses could be used without the use of hands.  This led to the development of more accurate lens development and thinner lenses supported by stronger frames.  Another Benjamin – Founding Father, Benjamin Franklin, great inventor, writer, printer, politician and more – is credited with inventing bifocals in 1784.  At the age of 78, he was struggling with his eyesight and as is common with advancing years, both his near and far-sight were affected.  He apparently cut lenses in half and put them together in one frame.   Some people have challenged this and think that rather than inventing them, he might have merely been an early adopter of a split-bifocal lens developed about the same time in England where he travelled and spent many years during his long life.  But like many things in history, in time the details become blurred (bad pun intended).

Until the industrial revolution of the 19th century, eyeglasses were only available to the relatively affluent as they were individually handcrafted.  Then came mass production and an increase in lens technology and accuracy of prescriptions, so eyeglasses became available to most of the population.  During the early 1900s a trend began where glasses became a fashion statement as frames of different shapes, materials and colors were available.  About that same time, the invention of strong plastics entered the industry, which could be molded into different shapes and sizes compared to the old-fashioned wood, metal, or horn frames.  It was not until the 1980s that plastic lenses were introduced which are lighter and thinner than glass and less likely to break.  This was followed by technology allowing for protective coatings that reduce glare and UV light. 

What about sunglasses?  There is evidence that prehistoric Inuits wore flattened walrus ivory in front of their faces to protect them from the sun’s rays. In ancient Rome, the emperor Nero held a polished emerald in front of his eyes to reduce the sun’s glare while he watched gladiators fighting.  By the 12th century the Chinese were using slabs of smoked quartz held against the user’s face in a rough frame to block out the sun’s light. Then for several centuries, lenses were darkened by various means to further improve the wearer’s vision in the sun.

The modern era of mass-produced sunglasses really began in 1929 when Austrian immigrant and naturalized American Sam Foster, who had developed a business based on recently developed plastics technology with salesman William Grant, launched inexpensive sunglasses to the public in an Atlantic City Woolworths, reportedly for just 10 cents per pair.  From this moment, a huge industry was born. 

Foster Grant sunglasses became very popular when Hollywood stars began using them to shield their eyes from the bright studio lights, as well as trying to disguise themselves from paparazzi. My American born and raised husband tells me that he remembers the famous advertising campaign in the 1960s – “Who’s behind those Foster Grants?”

Back in the 1930s, the military also got involved to develop effective eyeglasses to protect pilots from high altitude glare, and polaroid filters were introduced allowing glasses to protect against harmful UV rays.  In 1936 the Bausch & Lomb Company launched Ray-Ban anti-glare aviator glasses using this technology, which General Douglas MacArthur made iconic during the second world war.  The marriage of eye protection and style and fashion continues to the present day.  For more information visit  www.history.com

I will leave you with a thought provoking quote from 20th century American educator Helen Keller who overcame the adversity of being both blind and deaf, “The only thing worse than being blind is having sight but no vision”.

God Bless America!  Stay safe, stay well, and stay positive.

– ENDS –

Lesley grew up in London, England and made Georgia her home in 2009.  She can be contacted at lesley@lesleyfrancispr.com  or via her PR and marketing agency at www.lesleyfrancispr.com

REMEMBERING A VERY BRITISH HERO – CAPTAIN SIR TOM MOORE

I always strive to combine the best stereotypical character traits of both nations I love and of which I am a proud citizen.  Americans ‘rise to the occasion’ and ‘get it done!’. The British are known for their stoical nature, for having a ‘stiff upper lip’ and ‘staying calm and carrying on’.  These traits have been and continue to be much needed by us all during the challenging days of the pandemic.

Last week, the land of my birth bid farewell to a very British hero who died at the age of 100 years from COVID-19. Tom Moore was born April 30, 1920, in Yorkshire in the north of England to a hard-working family.  He served in the Far East, fighting for his country alongside other allied forces during World War Two and was clearly part of what Americans call “The Greatest Generation”.  After the war he worked his way up in the construction industry and eventually ran a concrete company. He didn’t marry until later in life – he was approaching 50 – but had nearly 40 happy years with his younger wife Pamela and they raised two daughters.    After he lost his wife in 2006, he lived with one of his daughters in a charming English village in the county of Bedfordshire, about 60 miles north of London.

It was here, and just last year at 99 years old, that Captain Tom really caught the attention of the nation.  Using his walker, it was his routine to slowly walk around the perimeter of his family’s 80-foot front yard every day.  Last spring, during the UK’s first lockdown, Tom Moore decided to raise money for Britain’s National Health Service’s frontline pandemic workers.  He decided to ask for donations to walk 100 laps of his front yard before his 100th birthday on April 30, 2020 – determinedly pushing his walker as he slowly proceeded to do just that. He wanted to raise about $1,200 but after the story of his fundraising mission went viral, he ended up raising $45 million – yes, million! – for health workers fighting COVID-19.   In July last year, Queen Elizabeth II knighted Moore at Windsor Castle in one of her first public appearances after the country’s first lockdown in 2020.  So, Captain Tom became Sir Tom Moore. 

To put Britain’s fight with the coronavirus in context, the UK – with a population of about 67 million people – currently has the third highest number of recorded coronavirus deaths in the world. Only the United States (population 328 million) and Brazil (population 213 million) have had more.   The National Health Service (NHS) in the United Kingdom is the nationalized healthcare system in which the government pays for services and owns the hospitals and employs the doctors.  In normal times the NHS is often criticized and represents a highly-charged political topic;  however, the visible and selfless actions of NHS workers during the pandemic has led the nation, and those from all sides of the political spectrum, to come together to show their support.  That’s why Sir Tom’s gesture struck a chord with the British public.

Last year the social movement, ‘Clap for the NHS’, began in Britain on March 26, 2020 as a one-off commemoration to show support for NHS staff who were working long hours during the first nationwide lockdown. There have been similar initiatives in other parts of Europe and some cities in the USA.  After millions of people across Great Britain got involved by standing outside or at an open window clapping, banging pots and pans and even playing bagpipes, the initiative expanded to include all key workers and continued every Thursday evening for ten weeks until May 28 2020.  Politicians, Royal Family members and celebrities also joined in to show their support.

The day after it was announced that Captain Tom Moore had died, residents across the nation paid their respects by clapping for him simultaneously at 6 p.m. local time. Church bells and fireworks also went off in honor of this great veteran, in what I think was a very appropriate and symbolic show of appreciation and unity.  For more information visit  www.bbc.com

Captain Tom Moore was a light in the darkness of this pandemic.  His desire to help, his message of hope, and his dogged perseverance has really proved that it is possible to live a full and meaningful life, even at 100 years old!  

I say goodbye this week with a quote from Captain Tom himself when talking about the pandemic last year.  “At the end of the day we shall all be OK… the sun will shine on you again and the clouds will go away.”  Thank you for the inspiration Sir Tom and Rest In Peace.

God Bless America!  Stay safe, stay well, and stay positive.

– ENDS – 

Lesley grew up in London, England and made Georgia her home in 2009.  She can be contacted at lesley@lesleyfrancispr.com  or via her PR and marketing agency at www.lesleyfrancispr.com

TAKE A BREAK FROM POLITICS – LETS TALK LABRADOODLES

Even with the general election and the inauguration of a new President now behind us, the media – print, broadcast and social- is still full of politics, politics, and more politics.  Divisiveness across our society is still widespread so, in the spirit of national unity and light relief, this column targets a subject that I believe almost all of us can agree on.  I’d like to cover the energy, loyalty, and downright joyful ridiculousness of a dog breed that, according to the American Kennel Club (AKC), isn’t really a dog breed at all.  The Labradoodle.

Two years ago, I knew very little about this so-called “designer mutt” breed since my dog experience had all been with Collies and Retrievers, with one little West Highland Terrier also in the mix.  But all that changed when Coco entered our family and our small pack of two other dogs. My experience with this breed now runs deep and it has been quite the experience!

Labradoodles were originally developed as a standardized crossbreed between Labradors and Poodles back in 1989 when Australian dog breeder Wally Conron introduced the crossbreed to the Royal Guide Dog Association of Australia in Victoria.  The idea was to combine the intelligence and non-shedding nature of a Poodle with the gentle temperament and easy trainability of a Labrador, to create a great guide dog for those with allergies to dog hair and fur. Today, Labradoodles are sometimes used as guide and therapy dogs, but their popularity as family pets has really soared. The Labradoodle comes in three size variations, depending on the size of the Poodle used for the first-generation breeding. The three sizes are Standard, Medium, and Miniature.  Our Coco girl is a Standard Labradoodle weighing in at 53 pounds.  There are also Goldendoodles which are a cross between Golden Retrievers and Poodles.  In fact, the Poodle is often crossed with many other breeds so there are also Cockapoos, Maltipoos, Schnoodles and more.   Visit www.dogtime.com for more information.

There is a little controversy surrounding Labradoodles since the AKC still refuses to recognize them as an official breed, and some breeders believe that these and other hybrids are breeding long term problems into the population rather than out.  However, you can find lots of dog experts who disagree with this viewpoint.  One aspect we have come to realize is that because Labradoodles are a mix, it’s hard to know how much of each parent they inherit. This became evident when a neighbor spotted our naughty Coco racing down the road and described her as “that Poodle dog”.

A couple of years ago we had just come off an unfortunate experience with an overly aggressive rescue dog.  Therefore, we wanted and needed our next dog to have a consistently friendly temperament, intelligence, be good with other dogs, and be trustworthy around people, especially our young granddaughters.  We achieved all this and more with Coco. 

We also got a dog full of playful mischief, who loves to dig up the yard, sometimes bark a little too much and runs away through our neighborhood for an hour at a time.  However, she does all this with such happiness and good humour that it is difficult to be too mad at her. 

Coco was chocolate brown when we got her as a puppy, but no sooner had she learned her name, she completely changed colors into a shade of beige/grey.  I suspect we have the only grey dog in Georgia named Coco.  I tell people she is named after Coco The Clown (for obvious reasons) or Coco Chanel in that she has a certain understated elegance, even though my husband says it is so understated that it is non-existent.  She loves to swim but with the grace of a donkey, and slides across our hardwood floors, missing the corners at too high a speed just like cartoon dog Scooby Doo.  She makes me laugh.  Just to add to her unique style we have dyed her tail orange – so that she does not get mistaken for a deer by hunters in the woods when she escapes the confines of our yard.

Coco is extremely smart and playful, has big loving (almost human) brown eyes, and is completely devoted to our family.  When I arrive home from work tired, stressed or distracted, it is simply impossible to stay in a bad mood when our three dogs – Dexter the Westie, Georgie Girl the Flat-Coat Retriever and Coco greet me– toys in mouth.  It is the happiest moments of their lives every day and is a real highlight of mine too.

I say goodbye this week with a little excerpt from Canadian romance author Roxanne Snopek’s book Saving the Sheriff that, other than the color, reminds me of getting home most evenings these days – “Rory’s big labradoodle made a snap judgement that Frankie was everything her life had been missing up until now. She flung herself into the girl’s arms, wiggling and whining, a shaggy mass of chocolate-colored enthusiasm.” 

God Bless America!  Stay safe, stay well, and stay positive.

– ENDS –

Lesley grew up in London, England and made Georgia her home in 2009.  She can be contacted at lesley@lesleyfrancispr.com  or via her PR and marketing agency at www.lesleyfrancispr.com