RELAX BY HUGGING A COW – EUROPEAN STYLE

As we approach the long weekend celebrating July 4th, my favorite American holiday, I have been looking forward to taking some rare time off.  This has led me to reflect on different ways people of varying cultures relax around the world.  No matter where you are from, the need to unplug and unwind has never been more important than during the last eighteen months.

Long weekends are particularly important to Americans, which is probably because Americans enjoy less vacation time or ‘Paid Time Off’ (PTO) to cover vacations and sick leave than Europeans.  There are numerous studies which show that on average Americans are allocated significantly less PTO than people in the rest of the world.  One study shows an average of 13 days is taken in the USA compared to 28 days back in the land of my birth the UK, and a whopping 42 in Italy.  Of course, less PTO does lead to more economic activity, so the flip side of this is that the USA’s GDP is 8 times larger than Italy.  In Sweden, the country’s businesses more or less come to a standstill during the month of July and, as I know having run a European business for 15 years, everyone in Europe knows that France basically shuts down during the month of August.

There has been a great deal written about the stress of living in a 24/7 world and being constantly plugged into our devices.  It is also well documented how much most of us reconnected with our homes and immediate family during the pandemic, so I do not intend to revisit these topics.  However, I do want to share a couple of European trends for de-stressing which I found of interest.

Ever heard of ‘Hygge’?  Pronounced “hoo-gah”, it is a Danish word which the Cambridge dictionary defines as a quality of ‘coziness’ and feeling warmcomfortable, and safe that comes from doing simple things such as lighting candles, baking, or spending time at home with your family.  Of course, we have all had a lot of home time during the pandemic but the concept of hygge, if not the word itself, is not exactly new.  Back in 1815, English author, Jane Austen, wrote in her novel Emma “There is nothing like staying at home for real comfort’.

Hygge didn’t originate in the Danish language but in old Norwegian, where it meant something like “well-being”. Scandinavian winters are known to be long and dark, with only a few hours of daylight so the Danes fight the darkness with hygge – home comforts and lots of candles.  The Danes adopted hygge in the late 18th Century and in recent years it has become globally popular and shorthand for creating a warm atmosphere and enjoying the good things in life with good people.   Sounds like a great plan for the July 4th weekend!

Rather more bizarrely, I discovered ‘koe knuffelen’, which is the Netherlands trend of “cow-hugging”.  This is apparently going global!  I promise I am not making this up – the BBC says “Embracing cows, or ‘koe knuffelen’ in Dutch, is more than a cute wellness trend. With immense mental health benefits, the practice has growing global appeal.”  I am familiar with the comfort of a good snuggle with my three dogs ,which is beneficial for all four of us, and science has proven that curling up with a pet or emotional support animal boosts oxytocin in humans, the hormone released in social bonding.  Cow cuddling is believed to promote positivity and reduce stress in a similar way, and it is thought that positive benefits are even more increased when cuddling with larger mammals.

This wholesome pastime emerged in rural Dutch provinces more than ten years ago and is now part of a wider Dutch movement to bring people closer to nature and country life. Today, farms in Rotterdam, Switzerland and even the United States are offering cow-hugging sessions and promoting the activity’s joy-inducing, stress-busting properties. Cow cuddlers typically start by taking a tour of the farm before resting against one of the cows for two to three hours. The cow’s warmer body temperature, slower heartbeat and mammoth size can make hugging them an incredibly soothing experience, and giving the animal a backrub, reclining against them, or even getting licked with those huge, wet, sand -papery tongues is all part of the therapeutic encounter.

So how do the cows feel about this?  They like it, according to a 2007 study in the journal Applied Animal Behaviour Science.  Cows apparently show signs of deep relaxation, stretching out and allowing their ears to fall back when being generally touched, and especially when massaged around their neck and upper back. There is more information at www.bbc.com

I say goodbye this week with a great quote by legendary 20th century, British born American journalist for the Chicago Sun-Times, Sydney J. Harris.  “The time to relax is when you don’t have time for it!”

God Bless America and have a relaxing July 4th!

– 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

THE ‘TOUR DE FRANCE’

Although I have not been back to Europe to see friends and family since 2019 due to the pandemic, I still follow important cultural and sporting events across the pond.  Did you know that later this month the 108th Tour De France will take place, the most famous and prestigious bicycle race in the world?

The Tour De France is regarded as the world’s hardest and highest profile men’s multiple stage bicycle race, primarily held in France over 23 days.  It began over a century ago on July 1, 1903, when 60 men from France, Belgium, Germany, Italy, and Switzerland mounted their bicycles in the outskirts of Paris for the glory of achieving this test of endurance and the significant prize money. 

It started as a promotional idea for French sports newspaper L’Auto in an attempt to boost sales.  L’Auto’s name aimed to evoke the excitement that the new sport of auto racing created, although it focused on sports of all kinds, including cycling. The initial race challenged riders to complete a 1,500-mile clockwise loop of the country running from Paris to Lyon, Marseille, Toulouse, Bordeaux, and Nantes before returning to the French capital. The route was so gruelling that twenty-three riders gave up during the first stage of the race.  This is not surprising as back in 1903, road conditions were primitive, riders were expected to continue through the night for long distances with insufficient rest, and it was each man for himself. There were no helmets, support vehicles or help provided if the bicycles developed mechanical problems.  The riders sometimes rode with spare tires and tubes wrapped around their torsos in case they developed flats.  So rather than simply cycling, it quickly became a test of endurance, strength, tenacity, and general all-around toughness.

I remember as a student in the 1980s going on one of my many trips to France (it is less than 300 miles between London and Paris – not much more than driving to Atlanta from here) and I experienced the thrill of seeing the riders finish the race as they rode into Paris.  It was intensely exciting, and one of the great sporting moments of my lifetime.  Being at the finishing line of The Tour De France was the European equivalent of going to game seven of the World Series or attending the Superbowl.  While sport isn’t my thing, the excitement and pageantry of it was just fabulous.

During the 1500s, Italian inventors including Leonardo da Vinci designed human powered vehicles with 4 and 2 wheels, but it is believed that the first true bicycle was developed about 200 years ago in Germany. In 1816 there had been a serious crop failure in Germany and many horses were slaughtered.  The following year, Baron von Drais of Karlsruhe, an acclaimed inventor who is credited with invention of a wide range of “firsts” including the first meat grinder, the first typewriter, and the first human-powered railcar, invented the velocipede as a replacement for horses.  It was a two wheeled wooden contraption which required farmers to push off the ground with their feet in the absence of pedals.    

By 1864, designs had evolved, and the “Boneshaker” bicycle was introduced in France, named for the terrible vibrations that riding the stiff frame on the bumpy roads of the time produced.  Back in Britain six years later, I am proud to say the famous two-wheeled Penny Farthing was introduced, with its very large diameter front wheel and tiny rear wheel which reduced the vibrations experienced by riders. These early bikes were prohibitively expensive for most people, but the Industrial Revolution quickly led to improvements in design and affordability across the world. 

One interesting aspect of the bicycle’s history is the role it played in developing women’s rights.  Women had previously been focused on the home, in part due to culture but also because a cheap mode of transportation was not widely available.  Bicycles in the late 1800s became an inexpensive and socially acceptable way for women to move around communities without chaperones. Women became more aware of the public climate and could meet each other freely to socialize and become involved in community events.  As women adopted this mode of transport, there were also major moves in fashion towards comfortable clothing to accommodate bicycling. 

On into 20th century, sitting down to pedal was yet another design breakthrough, and today bikes are again growing in popularity for racing, mountain riding, keeping fit, and an inexpensive and environmentally friendly way to travel. There is more information at www.history.com  and www.letour.fr

I say goodbye this week with a quote by American women’s rights icon, Susan B. Anthony – “Let me tell you what I think of bicycling. I think it has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world. It gives women a feeling of freedom and self-reliance. I stand and rejoice every time I see a woman ride by on a wheel…the picture of free, untrammelled womanhood.”

God Bless America!

– 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

DEAR ABBY OR ASK ANN LANDERS?

I have been thinking about how much the world has changed during my more than five decades on earth.  Of course, the rise of the internet and social media is one of the most significant changes to society in my lifetime. When I was a teenager we turned to friends, family and of course – teen magazines for entertainment, validation, and advice.  I particularly remember reading ‘Jackie’ magazine from cover to cover during the late 1970s and early 1980s.  One of my favorite sections was their ‘advice’ column which gave wholesome information about handling the challenges of growing up.  I was not alone, because before the days of the internet, smartphones, and endless connectivity, millions of people turned to a pair of internationally famous cultural icons, Ann Landers, and Abigail Van Buren. 

Back in the early 1940s, an Illinois nurse named Ruth Crowley started writing a column about child-care in The Chicago Sun-Times. This was very popular, so the paper asked her to write a second column, giving advice to individual readers for the benefit of their entire newspaper audience.  Ms Crowley did not want readers to confuse the two columns, so she decided to write the advice column under a penname.  She simply made up the pseudonym Ann Landers.

Americans apparently really needed advice in the 1940s and 50s, and they loved to read the questions from anonymous readers and see what Ann Landers recommended.  The column was soon syndicated to dozens of newspapers and Ms Crowley, who worked hard to hide her identity from the public, wrote the column from 1943 until her untimely death at 48 in 1955.

A contest was held to find the next Ann Landers.  Eppie Lederer grew up in Sioux City Iowa and who, along with her identical twin sister Pauline “Po-Po”, wrote a gossip column for the Morningside College newspaper where they both attended. Eppie won the contest and kicked off the new Ask Ann Landers column and advised a whole new generation of Americans for almost 50 years.  Mrs Lederer eventually became owner of the copyright for “Ask Ann Landers” and decided that she didn’t want anyone else to take it over for her upon her death, which came in 2002 at the age of 83.

But let’s go back to Eppie’s twin sister Popo.  They were born in 1918, inseparable, went to school together, and both got married in a huge and lavish double wedding service on the same day in 1939.  Eppie Friedman become Mrs Lederer and Pauline became Mrs Phillips.  And in 1955, a few months after Eppie became the new Ann Landers, what did Popo do?  Started a competing advice column with a different newspaper using the fictious name Abigail Van Buren…Dear Abby!

Pauline and her husband had moved to the San Francisco area, and in January 1956 she contacted the San Francisco Chronicle and offered to write an advice column.  The doubtful editor gave her a few letters to respond to, and Pauline made a success of it.  She combined the old testament name Abigail with the last name of American President Martin van Buren.  Dear Abby was born!

The identical twin sisters both had direct, punchy writing styles.  Ask Ann Landers tended to be a bit more serious with longer answers and often more supportive of the writer of the letter, while Dear Abby was snappier with more direct and sometimes sarcastic advice.  But both had attitudes that in many ways were before their time.  Both supported equal rights for women, minorities, and people with disabilities, both opposed racism and both urged readers to do the right things with an unwavering moral compass.

The two sisters both had fantastic success.  Ask Ann Landers was reported at its peak to have 90 million readers in 1,200 newspapers, and Dear Abby was reported to be in 1,400 newspapers with 110 million readers.  The Dear Abby column is still widely syndicated and read by many – for entertainment value if nothing else! I feel a sense of satisfaction when I see this newspaper column in print or online, so I can only imagine the pride and sense of accomplishment these two felt.

Unfortunately, their relationship never really recovered from the competitiveness.  They vied for syndication rights and competed for column space and readership and had an on-again / off-again relationship for the rest of their lives.  While they publicly reconciled on several occasions, they also went through years of not speaking.  But both were credited with offering sound advice, common sense, and good humour. Over the decades, millions of readers have benefitted from their wisdom, as well as being entertained and sometimes outraged

When Dear Abby died in 2013 at the age of 94, The New York Times said in her obituary that if the famous short story writer “Damon Runyon and Groucho Marx had gone jointly into the advice business, their column would have read much like Dear Abby’s. With her comic and flinty yet fundamentally sympathetic voice, Mrs. Phillips helped wrestle the advice column from its weepy Victorian past into a hard-nosed 20th-century present.”

The two columns live on today in different ways.  Popo’s daughter Jeanne Phillips took over Dear Abby in about 2000 and still publishes it today, and Eppie’s daughter Margo Howard continues her mother’s work at www.annlanders.com.

Of course, I have to say goodbye this week with a letter and reply from Dear Abby herself.

Dear Abby: Our son married a girl when he was in the service. They were married in February and she had an 8 1/2-pound baby girl in August. She said the baby was premature. Can an 8 1/2-pound baby be this premature? —Wanting to Know.

Dear Wanting: The baby was on time. The wedding was late. Forget it.

God Bless America!

– 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

CELEBRATING 10 YEARS – JUNE 2021

CELEBRATING 10 YEARS – JUNE 2021

It is no secret that I am very proud of my talented team at LFPR, and I was thrilled to celebrate LFPR’s10th anniversary this May. Depending on which studies you look at, only between 4-33 percent of new businesses survive 10 years. The fact that I have been fortunate enough to do this twice – once in London, England, and now in Coastal Georgia in the USA – makes me happy. Although to quote famous 20th century movie producer Samuel Goldwyn, “The harder I work, the luckier I get.” 

We truly have a lot to celebrate at LFPR – not least that we and our families are all vaccinated against COVID-19 and healthy. We have adopted the saying “#LFPRStrong” over the past 18 months and I am thankful to my staff and our clients for their resilience and loyalty. We are returning to some normalcy and planning excitedly for a return to in-person events for our clients. Georgia Tech-Savannah will offer in-person summer school and fall seminars; the ninth Savannah VOICE Festival will take place LIVE this August; and Historic Savannah Foundation’s famous gala will return in October. Another client, Savannah African Art Museum, has just celebrated Juneteenth in style and LFPR was thankful to our local TV stations and other media for covering this wonderful celebration as it became a federal holiday.

In late May, we welcomed our new marketing assistant, Ashleigh Johnson, to the LFPR team. Ashleigh is from Macon, Georgia, and recently graduated from Georgia Southern University with her Bachelor of Science in public relations. We are also enjoying working with our summer intern, Ivey Grace Smith, who was born and raised in Hazlehurst, Georgia, and is an upcoming senior at Georgia Southern University, majoring in public relations with a minor in communications and digital marketing. Both young ladies are fitting in very well and we are delighted that they have joined us.

We have recently been contracted to work with some wonderful new clients. The National Opera Association has appointed us to promote an exciting new initiative. Convention Consultants (sister company to our client, Official Savannah Tours) has asked us to work with them as tourism and conventions return to the Hostess City. In other news, LFPR has developed a whole new image – logo, website and social media presence – for Ariel Savannah Angel Partners, www.asap-invests.com. We are also partnering with the talented people at Marsh Meadows Marketing to promote Indoor Ag-Con Orlando, which will take place at the Orlando Hilton in Florida on Oct. 4-5, 2021.  

Here in Richmond Hill, we are working with Bryan County as they plan for hurricane season (hoping for the best while preparing for the worst) and raising the profile of the wonderful Spirit of Peace Lutheran Church.

Until next time, take care and enjoy your summer.

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