PC 172 Francisquinha*

She stares at me with her soulful eyes.

“What do you mean you’re stopping my pocket money? You’re saying I’ve overspent on your credit card at The Ivy and the tab at Mixologist is due? Well, what do you want me to do? Do the washing up?”

She turned her back on me and sulked.

My relationship with Francisquinha is complex. When she is asleep and calm, I really love her. When she is bouncing up and down at some perceived slight I wonder why I bother. And why do I bother?

The relationships we have with our fellow human beings develop over time, time when their depths rise and fall as regularly as the tide. Some give us great satisfaction and joy, others drive us to distraction. The relationship we have with our pets, our cats, dogs, canaries, tropical fish, snakes, and rabbits, particularly if you’re English, can often be better and deeper. But what about a relationship with a stuffed animal – not the one a friendly taxidermist could do for your recently-departed Chihuahua – but a real stuffed animal, made of material, kapok and in the old days buttons for eye (now replaced by cloth as too many babies took the buttons as sweets)? I guess we will all immediately think whether we had or even still have ‘something’ in which we invested emotions, characteristics and a quasi-life.

PC 172 1 Chilling Out

Francisquinha

Oh! So now you’re going to write about me? At last! Do you want me to suggest what you should say?”

“Actually I am going to write about more famous stuffed animals than you.”

Someone’s more famous than me? How come?”

I ignore her question. A couple of ‘bears’ come to mind. For me the first is Winnie-the Pooh; not that I had a physical example but loved AA Milne’s Christopher Robin’s bear that came down the stairs ….. ‘bump, bump, bump!’

PC 172 2

Milne’s genius was assisted enormously by the illustrations of EH Shepard and of course by Pooh’s friends, Piglet, Tigger, Kanga, Roo and Owl.  Pooh’s home-spun philosophy rings as true today as it did when the stories were written 94 years ago. More recently Benjamin Hoff made much of this little bear in his ‘Tao of Pooh’, using the characters to explain modern life:

“By the way, Pooh, how do you spell Tuesday?”

“Spell what?” asked Pooh.

“Tuesday. You know, Monday, Tuesday ….”

“My dear Pooh,” interjects the all-knowing Owl, “everybody knows it’s spelt with a Two.”

“Is it?” asks Pooh.

“Of course,” said Owl. “after all, it’s the second day of the week.”

“Oh! Is that the way it works?” asked Pooh.

“All right, Owl, I said. “Then what comes after Twosday?”

“Thirdsday,” said Owl.

“Owl, you’re confusing things. This is the day after Tuesday, and it’s not Thirdsday – I mean Thursday.”

“Then what is it?” asked Owl.

“Today!” squeaked Piglet.

PC 172 3

Older generations will remember Beatrix Potter’s animal creations such as Peter Rabbit – “But round the end of a cucumber frame, whom should he meet but Mr McGregor, planting out young cabbages.” – and Jemima Puddle-Duck. And you remember Paddington, who came to England from Peru in 1958, was the creation of Michael Bond and eventually became the star of two films? In fact, inevitably, these delightful characters from the written word have been mercilessly exploited by consumerism and merchandising. My parents’ bedroom mantelpiece had a large collection of Beatrix Potter china figurines – which gathered dust and required constant cleaning!

“What are you scribbling? Is it about me?”

“Not everything is about you …..”

…… and off she went mumbling about something under her whiskers ……

At the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst there was ‘The Edward Bear Club’. Edward Bear was a proper teddy bear who had become the mascot for the Parachute Course. One Easter leave I spent two weeks voluntarily throwing myself out of an aeroplane to earn my ‘Military Parachutist’ badge (Very different from the punishing P Company Course run by the Parachute Regiment for those wanting to enter their ranks and earn the parachute wings (Note 1)).

PC 172 4

Edward Bear Club tie motif

Some weeks after qualifying 70 of us parachuted onto Hankley Common near Aldershot for a ‘Teddy Bear’s Picnic’. Edward Bear had badges from the French Saint Cyr Academy and from West Point, as well as British ones; and of course he had his own parachute and was always the first out of the aeroplane!

PC 172 5 Edward Bear

In 1981 British Sunday evening television had us glued to a series called Brideshead Revisited staring Jeremy Irons and Antony Andrews. Based on the 1945 Evelyn Waugh novel of the same name, it featured a Lord Sebastian Flyte who always carried his stuffed teddy bear called Aloysius. Waugh had been at Oxford with John Betjeman who had a teddy bear he called Archibald Ormsby-Gore, and this might have been the inspiration for Aloysius.

PC 172 6 Aloysius the teddy bear

Jeremy Irons, Antony Andrews and Aloysius

Actually I am jealous of one thing that Francisquinha has and that’s her removable tummy. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if after a heavy meal you could simply open up the Velcro fastening and take out your tummy? Francisquinha’s is made of microwaveable beans; 45 seconds at full power and you have a warm-tummied cuddly rabbit!  When she’s come with us on some trip, to the Marina Bay Sands hotel in Singapore for instance, she leaves the tummy behind so she can just chill with the Room Service menu and other amenities

PC 172 7

“So what else are you writing about?”

“I bet you didn’t hear of the stuffed rabbit known, not surprisingly, as Bunny (original huh!), that was sucked out of a gun-port on a ‘Flying Legend’ World War Two bomber over Canada last year?”

“No! I didn’t see that on the Rabbit TV News programme. Tell me more …..”

The stuffed pet owner’s father had previously borrowed his daughter’s pet when with the RAF on a tour in Afghanistan so was mortified when he lost it. The power of social media ensured that when Bunny was found on the roof of a care home two weeks later, she/he/it (?) was reunited with Victoria.

PC 172 8 Canadian Bunny

“Wow! That’s so cool. Must be a very special rabbit: like me! Did I tell you someone in The Ivy asked me whether I wanted to star in a soap opera they were going to start filming, to be called The Warren? No? Oh! Well! You shouldn’t be surprised given my good looks etc. And by the way, did you ever see me doing one of those 26/2 hot yoga postures you love doing? “

PC 172 9

Francisquinha’s ‘Half Lotus’

……and so off she hopped, full of herself, looking for her passport and hoping that she could stow away in our cabin luggage for our trip to Rio de Janeiro; She has complained so often that the cargo compartment is so cold her Caipirinha freezes! And over her shoulder she couldn’t resist another jibe: “And if Boris thinks he can hibernate all winter, he can think again!

PC 172 10 Boris in hibernation

Boris hibernating

Richard 20th February 2020

Note * Francisquinha is the diminutive form of Francisca, a common Christian name in some parts of the world. Brazilians love adding ‘…..quinha’ to names!)

Note 1. Delighted to read yesterday that Captain Rosie Wild RHA has become the first woman to complete this gruelling selection course and has received her coveted maroon beret.

 

 

PC 171 Belonging to One’s Nation

You may have read of the French President’s desire to bring back conscription in France? The service, compulsory for all 16 year olds, would include a month-long placement focusing on civic culture and a voluntary three-month placement where participants would be encouraged to serve “in an area linked to defence and security”. It was an idea first suggested by Emmanuel Macron during his election campaign. He said he wanted French citizens to have “direct experience of military life”. The cynic might have linked it to France’s high youth unemployment rate (20% compared with an EU average of 14% and the UK at 11%)

Here in the UK, for the past three years politicians have been arguing about how we should leave the EU; last week we left. But for those who in their hearts feel European first and foremost, there are some interesting ways to stay one. The other day I learned that a few people have been enquiring about Austrian citizenship. The sting in that tail is if you are under 35 you would be required to do ‘national service’ which means joining the army or air force (they don’t have a navy as such, being a landlocked country!!).

PC 171 1

In the UK we have played with the idea of some form of service to the nation since National Service was abolished in 1957 ….. and the country heaved a great sigh of relief. However, this from a neighbour who was old enough to have spent two years in the Royal Air Force:

“Knowing many friends who “endured” National Service, I can think of few who regret the experience. There may have been awkward moments but you were all in it together and could mostly laugh off the occasional stupidity. More importantly it taught the importance of discipline, how to act in a team and the added advantage of making good friends in a close environment. I am still in regular contact with two fellow National Service men from different parts of the country, who I served with over 60 years ago. You also learned how to understand Scouse and Geordie! (Ed The regional dialects from Liverpool and Newcastle) Today is different  …… and it would be a strong government who could introduce such a plan, however beneficial that would be.”

For those who wish to read more about the experiences of those who undertook National Service, read Leslie Thomas’ ‘The Virgin Soldiers’ (1960)

As part of his Big Society initiative, the then Prime Minister David Cameron launched the National Citizen Service in 2011 in the UK; it was formalised in law by an act in 2017. The scheme takes place in the school holidays for 16 and 17 year olds – the focus being on outdoor team building activities. Some participants go on to get involved in a local social project. The scheme has become more popular as it’s developed. In the first year, 2012, 26,000 teenagers took part; in 2017 there were 99,000 in the programme …… but this was still only some 16% of those eligible (600,000). The target for 2020-21 was 360,000 which like all targets was probably inflated to encourage political and financial acceptance. Cameron’s idea was not compulsory and it might be argued that the sectors of society who would benefit most were the ones least likely to sign up voluntarily.

PC 171 2

Our Armed Forces had and probably still have no wish to administer any such scheme and yet for those of us who did serve the nation in a military capacity, the appreciation of how such service can mold and develop young adults is very strong. And perhaps never as strong as it is today when we look around at our feckless, unfocused, ‘I want it all and I want it now’ youth.  Of course I am very biased, as I scribble how undertaking such service gave us a sense of duty and a sense of responsibility, about how an institution took 18 year olds and made us into men (well, most of us!), creating friendships that have lasted a lifetime. Michael Caine the actor has suggested that bringing back some form of service to the nation would give young people ‘a sense of belonging rather than a sense of violence’.

Melanie Philips, writing her column in The Times last month, was reviewing Sam Mendes’ film ‘1917’. She writes: “In our era of narcissistic self-absorption, with identity politics and victim-culture putting self-interest first at the expense of others, this (film) is a timely reminder.” She goes on to suggest that it is in the military that emotional restraint and the overriding obligations of duty and service to others remain most conspicuous. Hear! Hear!

In my PC about mores and milieu (No 166) I wrote about our current very individualistic society. So is it in any sense important for all individuals to establish some connection with the country, with the ‘nation’ we live in? Shouldn’t it be part of our development to become contributing, responsible members of our society? We do accept, after all, compulsory education! Conservatives with a small ‘c’ don’t like state intervention, preferring a hand up rather than a hand out …. but this seems to contradict their inherent sense of duty to the nation state. Voluntary? Compulsory?

Some form of mandatory service need not be military. For instance, early last year the Food Farming and Countryside Commission here in the UK suggested that youngsters on gap years could work on farms and in the countryside, to give them a taste of environmental and rural matters. Or as a football-focused nation, could we not involve some of the training activities of the 44 Premier and Championship clubs, or the 140 Football League organisations?

Americorps worker CJ Sanchez helps gut a house being renovated into affordable housing by PUSH, a non-profit organization working to rebuild the West Side of Buffalo

 Refurbishment of old buildings?

Around Europe we find many countries have some form of ‘national service’. For example Switzerland has a compulsory 21 weeks of military service for those aged between 18 and 34. Sweden reintroduced conscription in 2017 and 4000 men and women will be called up from the target 13,000 people born in 1999. Both Turkey and Greece require their male 19-20 year olds to serve about 9 months, and in Israel military service is compulsory; men serve for three years, women for about two years.

This PC is really just like lobbing a pebble into a pond, fascinated and mesmerised to see the ripples such an action creates. I don’t know how it would work, some form of compulsory commitment for a month or two, voluntary for longer; but I don’t doubt the benefits this would bring.

 

Richard 6th February 2020