Accidental Stories/ Accidental Genius

“Isn’t it funny? We can make a lot of money
Buy a lot of things just to feel a lot of ugly
I was yay high and muddy
Lookin’ for what was lookin’ for me”

 ‘2009’  Mac Miller

During a meeting this week…yes, I do meetings now…or meetings happen to me… in any case, during this meeting…what was it about ? Marketing ! I know ! Me, in an actual marketing meeting, with charts and everything, honestly,I was as surprised as you.

“What was it about ?”

What was what about ?

“Your marketing meeting ???”

If I told you, I’d have to kill you, do keep up.

Anyway, at this meeting I asked everyone to think of  classic adverts that they remember from their childhoods, teenage years, the messy years, and now. And then I told them that I was going to say a product name or a brand name and they should say whatever was the first thing that came into their head.

Insurance ?  “Meerkats !”
Coca Cola ? “Christmas !”
Chocolate ? “Gorilla drummer !”
Peat Briquettes ? “ The Dubliners !”
Toilet roll ? “Golden Labrador pup !”

What has a golden Labrador puppy have to do with toilet roll ?

Nothing, but that’s not the point. Andrex were trying to sell toilet roll, and were possibly the first UK company to advertise toilet roll on television in the UK. Up until the late 1960’s the Advertising Standards Authority would only allow newspaper adverts for toilet roll, and similarly , sanitary products were only allowed on television commercials in the 1990’s. So, Andrex wanted to demonstrate how soft and long their toilet roll was and decided that they would feature a young girl holding a roll against her cheek to demonstrate it’s softness and then running away with it unrolling to signify how long it was.

The Advertising Standards Authority, already squeamish about toilet roll being on tv at all, said no. They argued that it would encourage children to be wasteful. And that’s why a puppy featured instead. Accidental genius !

But the real genius is the emotion, the connection, the eccentricity, the story.

I once told a story about how Monaghan had gifted the Christmas tree tradition to the world….

The Christmas Tree – Monaghan’s Gift

From time immemorial evergreen plants have been used to decorate caves, yurts, hovels, crannogs, castles and huts during winter and particularly around the Winter Solstice, December 21st, the darkest day of the year. The evergreen leaves and branches gave hope that Spring and new life would return soon.

There was also a tradition of the Yule Log, when a large tree was burnt in a communal fire at the Winter Solstice. As time wore on and Christianity adopted existing annual rituals into its own festivals the Yule Log tradition became associated with Christmas instead of the Winter Solstice.

In Riga , capital city of Latvia, it fell to a local business organisation, The Brotherhood of The Blackheads , made up of unmarried merchants and ships captains that were not a member of a guild, to organise the town’s Yule Log. Their tradition followed that of their Tallinn brethren who erected the largest fir tree they could find in the town square and burnt it in the traditional Yule Log fashion.

However in 1510 the Brotherhood in Riga selected a tree that was too big to get through the city gates and left it outside while they debated what to do in a local tavern. Children spotted the tree and started to play with it, hanging thread , brightly coloured paper and ribbons on it. They went home when it got dark and started to freeze. The Blackeads came out later and saw the beautifully decorated tree with a frost sparkling on the decorations and decided that they’d trim it and erect it in the city square with the decorations on it.

When the townfolk awoke the next morning they thought it was a miracle and from then on decided that a decorated Christmas Tree was better than burning a Yule Log.

“That’s all very well Paul, but I can’t help but point out that Monaghan is not a suburb of Riga and is in fact 3,015 kilometres to the left.”

Well the Christmas Tree did spread along Northern Europe as a town centre phenomenon but it wasn’t until Queen Victoria and Prince Albert adopted the use of a small Christmas tree as an internal home decoration that it gained widespread acceptance and popularity.

“Again Paul, sorry for being pedantic, but Windsor is still a daunting 704 kilometres and a sea crossing from Monaghan.”

Yes, but this is where Monaghan, in the person of Warner William Westenra, 2nd Baron Rossmore comes in.  

The Westenra’s assumed the barony through marriage into the Cuninghame family. Robert Cuninghame was a military officer and at one stage had visited a family friend , Peter Lacy in Russia, after his part in the Battle of Culloden in 1746. Peter , or Pyotr as he was known in Russia, had left Ireland with his family after the Treaty of Limerick in 1691, in the ‘Flight Of The Wild Geese’. He met Peter The Great and attained a position in the Imperial Army, fighting with great distinction in the Great Northern War and the Russo –Turkish war. He was made an Imperial Count and appointed as Governor of Livland, modern Estonia and Latvia. He based himself in Riga and that is where he introduced his visiting friend from Monaghan to the Christmas Tree.

Robert made it a tradition back home in Rossmore castle in Monaghan, but felt it was a tedious journey from the estate into town , so set his tree in the great hall in the castle.

Years later when Warner, the 2nd Baron Rossmore attended the wedding of Victoria and Albert in February 1840 he stayed on for the three day honeymoon at Windsor, a novel concept at the time, and the balls that took place each evening. On one of those evenings he came upon a sombre Albert staring out from the veranda , looking over the frosty tree tops. He asked the young prince what had him so sad.

“I miss home. We know how to celebrate properly. Weddings, funerals, feasts, holidays, especially Christmas are not the same here.”

Warner smiled and said that his family celebrated Christmas with a tree , unlike anyone else that he’d ever met. The Prince beamed at him. “Send me one of your trees this Christmas !”.
Warner promised that he would.

So in December 1840 Warner Westenra chopped down an extra tree on the Rossmore estate in Monaghan, decorated it with coloured thread, coloured paper, and sent it to Windsor Castle for Albert to celebrate a proper Christmas with his new bride.

The burgeoning press took a keen interest in the young couple and reported almost every move they made. Her use of a white wedding dress was a first, as was the idea of a honeymoon and both quickly caught on.

The Times reported on the Royal Family’s first Christmas and the Christmas Tree. It became a fashionable feature of the Victorian gentleman’s home at Christmas and spread out from there across England, Ireland, Europe and the Americas.

So this Christmas, when you gather at home with your family and place all your presents under the Christmas tree, cast a thought to Monaghan , and perhaps…that chap who writes the blogs and know that he, and all of Monaghan wishes you well and nothing but the best.

I first told that story 6 years ago and many times since people who remembered it, but not where they heard it, have repeated it back to me and I’ve simply said “That’s class.”

We all look to things that connect us, that’s why those adverts and some stories stay with us.

That’s what they all have in common.

That’s what we all have in common.

Class, isn’t it ?


P.S. This is class – 2009 by Mac Miller

Author: paul

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