Sunday, 11 January 2015

Diana, Princess of Wales. Lady Di.


Princess Diana was a woman who courted controversy all her life. She divided opinion everywhere she went but appeared to be so loved by all and sundry that it was almost sacrilege to say anything against her. At the time.

I’m sure there is little doubt that the Royal family (or the establishment) used her to produce an heir and a spare as the saying goes while Charles’s heart lay firmly elsewhere with his first love, Camilla.

The tragedy in the Pont de L’Alma Tunnel firmly cemented Diana in the hearts of her adoring public as a woman who could do no wrong. Nobody could comment adversely after the tragedy of a young, vibrant woman dying in such terrible circumstances. It was an accident that robbed three people of their lives.  And the boys of their mum.

But Camilla has stood the test of time as Charles' wife, the Duchess of Cornwall. She has kept her mouth shut as controversy raged around her and she goes about her business in quiet dignity. She’s not beautiful, she’s a big raggedly, she doesn’t wear posh clothes well, she nips out the back for a quick cigarette and people are starting to admire her for it.  Especially women of a certain age who see a kindred spirit in her  and not a clothes horse.  She appeared on the TV on Christmas Eve visiting Battersea dogs home. The programme was about the dogs, not Camilla, but there was a little bit of footage of her getting out the car with a Jack Russell (both rescued) under each armpit, Dogs  were handed back and forth as  handshakes and formal introductions were made. It was obvious she was a little uncomfortable with that and wanted to get on with seeing the kennels.
                                          Camilla and the rescue Russell, picture from the Daily Mail

 The presenter, Paul O’Grady had dressed a litter of ten puppies in Xmas jumpers… well was desperately trying to every time the camera went back to him. He was involved in yet another tussle of ears, tails, teeth, fur  and pee. Then Camilla came in, curtsey, handshakes, then Camilla got on her knees to say hello to the puppies and was swamped in tails, fur balls, jumpers etc. then she half turned and asked for a hand to help her get up. She earned a lot of fans doing that and letting it be filmed.


I have been to Hyde Park twice to try to find the Diana memorial fountain and failed, so in intrepid blogger style I set off for a third time, map in hand, the significant other following behind with camera.
The problem is, it’s not a fountain. Well not in the uppy downy sense.
                                                  This in the memorial fountain

We found it in the southwest corner of the park, south of the Serpentine lake. It has been there since 6 July 2004 when it was officially opened by Queen Elizabeth with Diana's younger brother Charles Spencer, her ex-husband Prince Charles, and her sons William and Harry also in attendance.
It caused controversy at the time, and I’m not sure about its popularity now.  The most common thing overheard around it is ‘is that it?’ with a huge degree of disappointment. Ok it was designed by Kathryn Gustafson, (cost £3.6 million) to provide  a fitting memorial for the princess and does credit to the amazing person that she was."

It has 545 individual pieces of Cornish granite made into an oval stone fountain through which runs some water. The guide book says it is surrounded by lush verdant grass, it’s surrounded by mud. They reworked the area around the fountain to improve the drainage but frankly, it looked a mess.
It’s 3 to 6 m wide and it runs at an angle so the water gets pumped back up to the top.
The two sides are different, to reflect the two sides of Diana’s life; happy and turmoil.
It was supposed to allow paddling and contemplation with folk standing in the water, but three girls were hospitalised soon after it opened. It was very slippy and it was closed.  Beautiful but dangerous. Maybe that is a truer comment on Diana.
                                               I prefer the view looking the other way

So, in December 2004, another alteration project was started. This involved work on the drainage, together with laying new hard surfaces on some of the most frequently walked areas of the site and the planting of a special hard wearing rye grass mix in others.
I am not particularly fond of the royal family, they do a good job. But then so do I.
 I went to work on the day of Diana’s funeral.
                                                 Pier on the Serpentine

I got my degree from Princess Anne  I refused to curtesy, I had worked for it. But she and I got chatting about horses and that was that.
She was at our Uni three times. (Anne I mean ) She sat on a filing cabinet at our tutorial point . She explained that she had just had her anti malarial tablets and felt terrible, so against protocol we all sat down and had a great chat about homeopathy!

 I met her again at a guide dog thing, she asked how I had arrived and what the Edinburgh traffic was like as she was in a hurry to get to the rugby. I once had a chat with Prince Charles about flat feet. He was ok, professionally interested.  Interested in my accent and where I was from.

I met Diana at the uni too.  She’s a good eight inches taller than me and was two stone lighter, she looked like bones with fancy clothes draped over them. Got the impression there was not a lot going on between her ears. But I know from other students that she sparked into life downstairs at the kiddies clinic where she was talking animatedly about the babies and their treatments so I guess it’s each to their own.

Famously, she hated Scotland.
                                            Twilight in Hyde Park

Just reading that back, it sounds as though I move in high circles but I trained at the British School of Osteopathic Medicine, that's in the middle of London, ten minutes walk from Buckingham Palace and Charles has always had a huge interest in complementary therapy, Anne was a patron of our college hence they were always popping in and out !!


Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Happy New Year To Our Four Legged Friends

Happy New Year! For many people in Scotland, this means taking advantage of our two day holiday (yes, two days. As you know we take Hogmanay very seriously here) to recover from a few drams too many or joining family for a traditional steak pie dinner.
So I was thinking about we bloggers and what a friendly bunch we are, hands across oceans etc. Emails across oceans is more accurate. But less romantic.


And I got to thinking about friends. If you sit and think about five friends you have, most of them will have similar traits. They will be loyal, they will do things in companionable silence without wittering on like a demented budgie with Tourette's. They will make you laugh and they will be slightly dafter than you. So you can feel a little superior. And of course that is a perfect description of a dog. 


There will be one friend who is a cat – the friend who only calls when they want something. The friend who orders the most expensive food on the menu when you are paying the bill. The friend who will not tell you exactly what they have been up to but you know from the smile on their face that they enjoyed it. When you finally decide that you have had enough of being used, they do something charming and wonderful, knowing they will be forgiven. And that friend is your cat friend, we all have them.
(A recent survey said that cat owners are more likely to have a university degree but dog owners live longer than cat owners do!)

So thinking about crime writers, it is in the area of ‘criminal’ activities that our friends differ. Cats murder things and bring their victims home. Whereas dogs are rather helpful in the pursuit of crime detection. And indeed how often, in fiction and real life do we read ‘the body was found by a passing dog walker’. In truth the body was found by a passing dog.
                                                      One of the first, digging his new uniform...

The image of the British police dog is iconic, Glasgow was one of the first forces in Britain to recruit police dogs in 1910. Only because the force was getting a little bit desperate. Crime was increasing, violent housebreakings (what we call burglary ) were becoming common. A Lt Colonel Richardson who owned a dog training school at Carnoustie had contacted every chief constable in the UK about training police dogs but there had been no interest – until he contacted Glasgow.
He did not supply one of these though;
                                      ( this is Nipper, the first police dog of the new Police Scotland)

It was one of these…

Which I always think of as….

 Somehow even more scary.

Airedale terriers were originally bred as hunting dogs so they would track their quarry across any terrain. This made them ideal as police dogs, but Richardson went a step further, breeding them with other dogs to develop their intelligence and sense of smell.
During the First World War, these dogs went on to become incredibly important to the army, able to carry messages when soldiers wouldn’t make it through or to alert soldiers to approaching enemies.  
But time proved that the German Shepherds were brighter, more trainable and possessed a keener sense of smell than Airdales. And the image of the police dog we know became more familiar.

I have had the pleasure to know Jim and Chet. I have changed their names to protect the guilty. Jim  is a tall strapping police officer from the days when police officers had to be tall and strapping and be able to run after criminals, whereas now I think all they need to be able to do is spreadsheets and sit in McDonalds eating burgers. ( Just a personal observation!)

Chet was a big boned German Shepherd who liked to chase bad people and hold them down. If they annoyed him, he bit them gently. If he was bored he would chase anything that ran away from him.
He was a brave and determined lad, keen in pursuit, fast across the ground – and so was Jim until the day Chet took off down an eight feet drop at the end of a five feet lead and dislocated Jim’s shoulder. Words were said, Chet was cursed by Jim but gave his handler a “there will be time enough for that kind of talk once we’ve caught him” Rin Tin Tin look. And they started running again…..and they caught him.

His most (in) famous exploit happened on an outfield of the airport. On a dark, dark night two suspects had got in past the perimeter fence. Two officers within the perimeter were send to chase them and Chet was sent in to assist. They were to chase the thieves up to the corner of the fence where a police car was waiting on the other side. If they made it over the fence (8 feet high ) they would be apprehended on the outside. If they didn’t, they would be caught by their pursuers…and Chet.
The thieves took one look at Chet and ran for the fence, as did the two officers. Chet was running free, and unbeknown to them - was very good at getting over fences. There was a self-satisfied smile for thirty seconds when the thieves got over the fence only to be handcuffed by the two cops from the squad car, plus the two cops that Chet had been assisting.  Then they realised that Chet was clawing his way slowly up the wire.

Jim was too far behind to call Chet off. ( and confesses that he  wouldn’t have.)
Chet was in outraged pursuit. With nowhere to go police and thieves piled into the police car, six in all, arms and legs everywhere. The doors banged closed just in time and Chet bounced from window to window, barking furiously that he had run all that way and was entitled to bite someone.

Jim (still on the inside), took one look at the fence, felt his shoulder and decided against the climb. He  walked all the way back to the dog van, leaving Chet in charge of the situation. Chet was found on top of the squad car with the four cops and two thieves trembling inside.

We shall draw a veil over the time he chased an assistant police commissioner up a tree. I think that was in front of some Norwegian policemen who were keen to see a demonstration. They thought Chet was great. They disliked their commissioners as much as Chet disliked his.

                                     Barney retired after ten years of loyal drug sniffing.

And then we think of the cadaver dogs- scenting the decomposing body twenty minutes after death. The drug sniffing dogs, the search dogs,  the mountain rescue dogs. The guide dogs for the blind, the hearing dogs for the deaf, diabetic and epileptic sensing dogs that really can change the lives of very young kids. And the cancer detecting dogs. The assistance dogs for disabled. Rumours are that they can be better than the average husband at putting the washing machine on.

And not forgetting the dogs in military service, used in bomb detection and disposal. And I have no doubt, keeping up moral in the most horrific of circumstances.

And then we have pet dogs who wouldn't even wear the comedy reindeer antlers for a photograph...
So a great new year to all our friends, no matter where in the world. No matter how many legs they have. Or whose antlers.