Mr & Mrs Snow People: Acquired 2019, vintage

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Last week I needed a new pair of pyjamas, to be more accurate, pyjama trousers.  The problem is that I am very fussy about pyjamas and, if I need a new pair, I have to start looking early.  I only wear pyjamas, not a nightdress or some kind of one-sy thing.  I can’t stand trousers that are elasticated at the ankles or in that jersey, stretchy material.  I like straight legs, definitely to the ankle, not short or those that never started off the right length.  Then there is the problem of the pyjama top.  If you have, and I trust you don’t, advanced kypho-scoliosis then it is impossible to buy a pyjama ‘set’.  If the trousers fit then the top will be four or five sizes too small; if the top fits then your trousers will not stay up, unless attached by a pair of braces.  The trend of being able to buy trousers and tops separately meets the needs of people like me.

I do like brushed cotton pyjamas; it give you that cosy feel, where you want to get into your pyjamas at 6pm and curl up.  Last Saturday, I started the search and, blow me down, the first shop I tried had just what I was looking for.  It’s not often I get excited about Sainsbury’s.  When I got them home, they were such a good fit and comfortable and brushed cotton and I loved them.  On Sunday, I returned to the shop to buy a second pair (take the opportunity while it is there and I didn’t care if it was in the same pattern) only to find there wasn’t another in my size but there was a Christmas pair.  “It’s nearly Christmas” I thought so I bought them with a view to wearing them on 1 December.

Christmas, for me, starts when my aunt Catherine’s Christmas card arrives; she’s always early, very early, usually around 28 November.  When it comes, I know I can put up my decorations, use my Christmas tea towels and wear ridiculous jumpers.  I thought this year might be different.  The first Christmas after your husband dies is often not when you want to start sending jolly cards and pretending everything is the same; maybe she will but I needed to think of something different.  Then, on 13 November, Ivy’s card arrived.  I have only met Ivy once; she is Liz’s mum’s cousin’s wife.  I have no idea why she is sending cards early, it has never happened before.  But I thought, to get Christmas off with a bang, I’d wear my new Christmas pyjamas.

If I’m wearing Christmas pyjamas, this is time to get the Christmas tea towels out.  To do that, there are a couple of new Christmas tea towels to blog about!  This one came from Con’s Collection which I acquired in August this year.   I’ve known Con for many years, not well but we have met up at Gwyn and Pete’s house at Christmas time.  From what I know of Con, I don’t think she would have bought this herself; it’s not her style.  This must have been a gift to her, and one that she has used a lot.  This was not a tea towel she had kept in a drawer, unused.

In a couple of days time, I will be using my Christmas tea towels big time.  They will go with the Christmas tablecloth that I have just put on the table!  Happy Christmas in 38 days time, according to hannahberridgeceramics on Instagram!

 

National Trust: 1984 to 2019

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I have travelled far and wide, Europe, Asia and the Americas as well as all over the British Isles.  I have enjoyed every single minute of it.  When I was at work, I would plan all my holidays for the following year, on New Year’s Day.  I’d work out where to go, when to go and, on many occasions, actually book it there and then.  Most of my colleagues saw me as a ‘Workaholic’; but for me, work was the means of being able to pay for all the holidays that I wanted to go on.  Holidays were the break I needed, to be able to work long, hard hours during the year; if things were tough at work, the holidays, already planned, were something to look forward to, a light at the end of the tunnel.   I usually had four weeks holiday a year, enough time for the ‘big’ holidays but I couldn’t rely on just four weeks as enough time to enjoy myself.

In 1976, I married for the first time.  One of my favourite wedding presents was a National Trust ‘set’ consisting of two tea towels, a tablecloth and a waste paper bin; it had a navy blue background decorated with rows of acorns and their leaves.  Sadly, when I divorced Dave, six years later, that was not one of those things I took with me, especially since I later found out that Pat Albeck, my favourite tea towel designer, designed that set.

One of the best things I did, in 1984, was to join the National Trust.  It was one of those ‘deals’, join up at a property and you could get in free.  John and I were in Cornwall and there were so many properties to visit, joining was bound to save money.  I have been a member ever since, and never once considered ending my membership, or thought that it wasn’t value for money.  There hasn’t been a year when I haven’t used my ticket.

As a member, back in 1987, I was eligible for a ticket, one day only, to walk round the newly acquired Calke Abbey, in a dreadful state, to see what a challenge they had on to make it a property worth visiting.  I loved it; the birds and animals stuffed and standing in large glass cabinets in every room in the house.  There was a room covered entirely in topical cartoons, some gold chairs that were vibrant because the curtains had never been opened in that room.

I’ve stayed in numerous holiday cottages around the country, owned by the National Trust, everywhere from Arlington Court to Acorn Bank.  I’ve enjoyed Bedruthan Steps, one of my favourite places in the whole wide world, and enjoy the memories even though I’m not fit enough to manage the Steps these days.  There was Souter House, in Northumbria, a fantastic lighthouse with a wonderful tea room, serving some of the best soup I have tasted.  On the recommendation of @nt_scones, I tried Christmas Pudding scones at the Treasurer’s House in York and have recommended them to everyone I’ve met.  There’s A La Ronde, with all its quirkiness and walls covered in shells or Lindisfarne Castle designed by Edward Lutyens; Hardwick Hall and its beautiful tapestries.

When Liz needed to start using a wheelchair, we tried the Tramper at Wallington House, a wonderful experience for her, the freedom, not being reliant on an ageing ‘pusher’; now that’s a memory that I will hold with me for many years.  But we’ve tried other NT Trampers, each as good as the other (although, in my opinion, Calke Abbey have made a huge mistake in not allowing you to book the Tramper in advance and I’m sure will lose them a lot of custom).  Killington House and Clumber Park have been great places to visit on a Tramper.

I have some great memories of visiting National Trust properties with friends and family: we went to Killington with Fee, who I remember as being a terrible map reader, to Calke Abbey with Andrew, my cousin from Italy, who sang ‘Hot Cross Buns’ in the nursery to the surprise of other visitors, to Fountains Abbey with Gwyn and Pete (and I have hundreds of photos to prove it), to Laycock with Uncle Chris and Stourhead with my mother.

The National Trust owns some wonderful gardens that I love visiting.  There’s Hidcote and Trelissick, Lanhydrock and Trerice.  Then there was Cragside where the first house with electricity was built.  I could go on forever but your membership also extends to free entry to National Trust for Scotland properties.  My favourite Scottish property has to be the Isle of Canna and staying in a National Trust cottage there for a week but Pitmedden Gardens and Crathes Castle are amazing.

What all these places have in common is that they have tea towels.  Going back to 1970s, the National Trust has sold tea towels of its own properties; in time they changed in style.  Initially they were very traditional, like a picture on a canvas, by a few regular designers (Pat Albeck, David Parry, Lee parry, Katrina).  More recently, some tea towels have taken wallpaper and china designs, that are more difficult to pinpoint where they have come from.  The two more recent changes have been (a) two-coloured line drawings of the particular building, with a strap-line and (b) County or regional maps locating National Trust properties, so clever.  So far, I only have three (East Midlands, Northumbria and Devon), so many more to collect.

On Wednesday, we went to Calke Abbey, purely to shop for Christmas presents, and found the tea towel that is at the top of the page.  Couldn’t resist that simplicity.  The two at the bottom of the page were bought in the National Trust shop in the centre of Sidmouth, back in 2015.  They reminded me of the ones I had for a wedding present but slightly more garish.  I love the National Trust, 35 years a member and enjoyed every minute.

Johnnie Walker: 2018

I belonged to the over-55 Creative Writing Group, part of the Theatre Royal Nottingham’s Creative Learning programme, in 2017.  The Theatre Royal had some funding to organise a Puppetry Festival in 2018.  They wanted to involve some members of the Creative Learning programme, by joining a Puppetry Workshop, making puppets to join the parade.  The theme was ‘Wolf Pack’.

Both Liz and I wanted to be part of the festival, although neither of us had ever made, or operated, a puppet in our lives.  The workshop was made up of people from the Creative Writing, Drama, Dance and Song-writing classes; we met for about 10 times, for three hours a session, over a three month period.  We each had a choice of a dog to make and we were taught to perform with it.  It is not surprising that I wanted to include some of my very old, faded, shredded, torn tea towels, dyed with tea, to create the ‘fur’ of an Afghan Hound.

Ishbel, of Scottish heritage, chose to do a black Scottish Terrier called Johnnie Walker, named after the whiskey.  Ishbel is considerably more talented than I am.  Johnnie Walker had a barrel shaped body, covered in black material with some fringing added.  His eyes came alive as he ‘walked’ along; his rope legs with wooden feet, clicked as they moved along the pavement, like a tap dancer.  His tongue added character to his face; he had a cute little tail.  It was Ishbel’s attention to detail that definitely made him star of the show.

After the Puppetry Festival, Ishbel was going abroad to visit family and wanted some tea towels to commemorate him; she asked me to make it happen.  It’s only after the event that you think that it was a shame that we didn’t take some better photos, get him to pose.  In the end, I found a photo that could be ‘cropped’ to make an excellent portrait.  She chose two backgrounds, a red and a blue and had five of each.  I made one for myself to remember that whole process by, the Puppetry Classes, the actual day, parading from the Theatre Royal down to Market Square and the interest from children and adults.  It was great fun.

Beth Chatto Gardens: 2019

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This lovely ‘gardening’ tea towel was a present from Lyn and Rob.  They had visited the Beth Chatto Gardens, in the summer, and were enthused.

Although I haven’t visited the gardens, I was inspired by Beth Chatto when I lived in Markfield.  The huge garden in Markfield was a ‘boggy mess’.  Heavy clay that prevented free drainage, together with an underground stream, tiny in 2003 and causing no problem, but after the heavy rains of 2012/13 the water table rose.  We despaired for the plants and trees until I found one of her books at the RHS Harlow Carr Garden which offered advice on boggy gardens.  The following year, the garden looked very different, planted with plants that loved water.  Marsh Marigold, Flag Iris, Gunnera and Bamboo made a huge difference.  I love the book she wrote with Christopher Lloyd called ‘Dear Friend and Gardener’, a masterpiece of gardening knowledge and friendship.

I am sad that I have never visited the gardens in Elmstead Market but am determined to do so because I note that it has good access for wheelchairs, although slightly daunted by the note on the website that says the car park is gravel.

Beth is such a delightful name but she was born ‘Betty’ and changed her name in her 20s.  She was born of a gardening family and married a fruit farmer.  In 1960, when her husband retired, they bought a house near Colchester and began to develop her gardens.  The house was on a piece of wasteland of brambles, parched gravel and boggy ditches.  She continued working on developing the gardens until she reached her 90s and opened the revamped Reservoir Gardens on  her 94th birthday.

Beth Chatto’s strapline was “Right plant for the right place” and hence developed different types of garden areas within the overall gardens: the Gravel Garden based on what had been a car park and famous for never needing to be watered, the Water Garden with a series of ponds in which moisture-loving plants flourish, the Woodland Garden for bulbs and perennials which thrive under a canopy of dense oak and the Scree Garden where alpines grow.

For me, the temptation will be visiting the tea room, designed so that any partakers of tea might enjoy the view.  Thank you to Lyn and Rob for the tea towel, and inspiration to visit the gardens in 2020, which I will look forward to.

Butterflies: Date Unknown

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Butterflies are not really my thing.  They are pretty but they don’t have the ‘kerb appeal’ of a Highland Cow or Red Squirrel, a Blue Footed Boobie or a heron, a Bumble Bee or a frog.  I can only think of butterflies when they were pinned by collectors, a hundred years ago.  I often wonder what the purpose of a butterfly is.  I know what the Cabbage White’s role is, to decimate my cabbages before I have had a chance to cut them for eating.

I have no idea when I acquired this tea towel or from whom I got it (because I know I didn’t buy it myself).  It’s not from the collections I was given by my friend Jean, Nicky’s Aunt or Susan’s mother.  It isn’t one of Lynn’s finds in a charity shop.  It’s not one on ‘loan’ where I only have a photograph rather than the real thing.  I know that because it is on Hangar Number 51.  It hasn’t come from Dorothy and David, or from Con or Sarah.  The only possibility is that David might have given it to me nearly fifteen years ago, rescued from his Aunt’s house.  But I don’t know.

I am at the stage of having realised that I only have 30 of my own tea towels left to blog about, that includes having done all of my Christmas tea towels.  I am now faced with the challenge of integrating four collections that I have received, into my own collection, hence to start both using them and blogging about them: those collections belong to Con, Susan’s mothers, Nicky’s aunt and the ones Lynn found in a charity shop.  These total an additional 60, enough to keep me going for a while.  I hope they will prove much more interesting that ‘Butterflies’!  Sorry!

Lincolnshire: 2009

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For American Readers, Lincolnshire is one of those places featured in ‘Escape to the Country’ when ‘escapees’ do not have a lot of money.  It is a beautiful county, unique in it’s flatness, history and reasonable cheap property but, fortunately, lacks a lot of big motorways.  It is the sort of area that people do not go for their fortnight’s holiday (unless it is to Skegness) but rather for a short break.  Three or four nights, maybe in a static caravan or doing some Glamping.  There’s lots to do: everything from historical houses and gardens to traditional seaside resorts, Pick Your Own Fruit to windmills.

In 2009, there was an ‘offer’ in our local newspaper for four nights, in a six bedded static caravan for £10 a night, regardless of how many people stayed.  Seemed too good to be true.  So, in June we decided to go; there were a number of choices of sites.  We chose Tattershall, in Lincolnshire, somewhere we had never been on holiday.  The caravan was big, and by big I mean massive.  The lounge was bigger than the lounge at home.  It had a dishwasher, also something I didn’t have at home and an enormous TV.  All the bedding and towels was provided; it was spotless and definitely well equipped.

The weather was interesting.  On the first night there was a big storm and there were some very strange noises which I later discovered was a branch from a nearby tree tapping on the roof, and, of course, in a caravan, sounds like the roof crashing in.  Getting up the following morning, we found the caravan surrounded by water; it wasn’t flooded as such but there were some very big puddles that couldn’t be avoided.  I have often wondered why interior designers chose cream or grey for the carpets and furniture in a caravan.  There was no way to avoid trampling in dirty shoes.  The following day was like a heat wave which fortunately dried up the puddles and made it a delight to sit on the veranda.

We avoided Skegness and Mablethorpe as places to visit, since it was summer and they were likely to be full of holiday-makers but we tried Tattershall Castle and Stamford, we found a wonderful tea room in Louth and a windmill in Boston.  It was a great holiday and introduced us to two ideas, which came to fruition a number of years later: (a) downsizing because I liked the idea of living in a smaller house, with a lot less ‘stuff’ and (b) getting a caravan, a touring one.  The first idea came about in 2018 and the second in 2014.  I like holidays because they are often are an inspiration for the future.

Lincolnshire is a very traditional area and this tea towel reflects that.  Lincolnshire is an area I have revisited on many occasions, to buy vegetables, to visit Woolesthorpe Manor the home of Isaac Newton, to see the Lincolnshire Show and much more.  Lincolnshire is a great area.

Old Macdonald……: 2004

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I remember where I bought his tea towel but not why.  Every trip to the Royal Show, at Stoneleigh, between 1973 and 2009 resulted in me buying a tea towel, a souvenir.  This was bought at one of the many ‘stalls’ near the pigs.  I would have much preferred one of Gloucester Old Spots or The Tamworth, a distinctive breed, but the best they could manage was this hotch-potch of a tea towel.  What I like about it is that each picture is ‘framed’ and titled, put together like a collage.  I suppose I bought it for lack of any other being available.  What I didn’t know, 15 years ago, was that I would have more than 1000 tea towels (and growing) and that perhaps I wouldn’t need to buy uninspiring tea towels.  I also wouldn’t have known how many designs, and designers, would emerge with new ones appearing all the time.  I think the importance of this one is that, at the time, it would have been quite ‘avant garde’, advanced for its time, a bit arty.

Big Fat Cat is my favourite picture, can never resist a cat, especially if it looks even vaguely like Benjamin.