Spring Chicks: 2018


Does this tea towel look like one from Harlow? Harlow in Essex?  Of course it doesn’t.  As always there is a long story to this!!  I have never been to Harlow before; I studied it, along with Stevenage and Cumbernauld, when I was at university because Harlow was a classic New Town.  My aunt has lived in Harlow all her married life, I believe, but I have never visited her home.

Amanda, my aunt’s daughter, decided that she would organise a ‘surprise’ birthday party for her mother, because it was one of those ‘significant’ birthdays.  Planning began around Christmas time.  I had some misgivings about the idea of a ‘surprise’ party (mainly because the idea of being given a surprise party myself would be like my worst nightmare; I like to know exactly what is happening, have some control).  But those feelings were really about projecting my own fears onto others.  Amanda had done some amazing work, inviting only people that her mother would really like to see.  She invited my Uncle Ferruccio and cousin Andrew from Italy and they came.  She also invited Chris, my aunt’s brother and Pam, his wife.  I hadn’t seen my aunt since 1986 so felt I needed to arrive with the others that she would recognise, otherwise I would probably have seemed like a stranger.  So Chris, Pam, Uncle Ferruccio, Andrew, Liz and I agreed to meet up in Sainsbury’s cafe in Harlow.  Andrew was looking forward to a beautiful, hot cup of loose leaf tea; I did warn him that that was unlikely in Sainsbury’s.

Since I had not been to Harlow before I was determined to get a tea towel, to remind me of the occasion.  Was there a tea towel of Harlow, a tourist tea towel with the highlights of Harlow?  Of course there wasn’t!!  So Liz bought me the only tea towel available in Sainsbury’s: Spring Chicks, sort of appropriate since we are building up to Easter.  It is cute; although not a Harlow tea towel it will certainly remind me of what was a great day, and a day that conjured up memories, some of which I thought had been buried.

I admit it, I was wrong to doubt Amanda’s judgement in the matter of a ‘surprise’ party.  She knows her mother better than anyone, after all.  Perhaps the most amazing thing is that she kept it a secret from her father as well.  As Amanda said “This has been the most difficult three months because I am terrible at keeping secrets”.  Catherine, my aunt, loved the day; she loved the fact that family were there and that lots of her friends had been so generous in their gifts; the house was like a florist shop.

Amanda had asked that if family members had any photos of her mother as a child or in her youth, they should bring them.  Now there was a challenge, I could feel a tea towel coming on.  I found some pictures of Catherine and I, together, as bridesmaids.  Those are the sort of pictures that make a great tea towel, although whoever designed the dresses ought to be shot.  Catherine is not much older than me but she was very tall and slim and I was short and somewhat plump.  We looked ridiculous although I am sure our parents thought we looked cute.  Chris found some other horrendous photos of us that were taken on holiday in Pevensey Bay.  I remember Catherine and Chris perfected making an ‘apple pie’ bed for me each night and putting stones in my bed.  The weather in all the photos of Pevensey Bay seemed to be overcast, gloomy, dull, cloudy and miserable although that might be the result of those tiny ‘Brownie Box Cameras’.

We had a good laugh about the photos but, of course, I was only able to find my contributions by looking through old boxes of photos and memorabilia.  That journey opened memories that were long since forgotten.  But I found things like the list of gifts that my parents received for their wedding, the invitation that was sent out, letters my dad had sent to my mother when he was away for two weeks, speeches that my mother had given when she was a councillor in the London Borough of Ealing, my first pair of booties and a little embroidered jacket that I had for my first birthday.  It was such a mixed box of things, things that I had never seen before.  It made me ask a lot of questions; some of which were fired off, by Whatsapp, to Chris.  The day had also stirred memories for Chris

It was wonderful party; I wondered why I had never visited my aunt in Harlow, why I hadn’t seen her for 32 years.  I don’t know the answer to those questions but I do know that it is a waste and should be rectified and that this tea towel will always remind me of that.

PS: the story of the tea towel that I gave to Catherine is for another day!!


Greetings from Ireland: 2018 (possibly vintage)


Yesterday was St Patrick’s Day and I felt I ought to do a celebratory Tea Towel Blog, linked to this day.  As is always happening, at the moment, I got caught up with other things and was nowhere near any wifi to be able to blog.  However, I knew I had the perfect tea towel for St Patrick’s Day, so I couldn’t miss this opportunity, even if a day late.

This was one of three tea towels that I bought in my favourite vintage charity shop last week.  It was unused, but pre-loved, and I think, by the style, that it is probably 30 or more years old.  It is very unusual, with ‘Greetings from Ireland’ at the bottom and the whole canvas is a picture of a horse and carriage on an old street.  I love the fact that on the carriage door is written ‘Poplar Linens’, the name of the makers of this tea towel.  It is the attention to detail that I like.  Similarly, there are names of people who might live in those houses, posted on the wall.  The only ‘odd’ thing is the strange shadow within the carriage; I could mistake it for a dead body but I think it is unlikely that would be on a tea towel!!

17 March is the anniversary of the death of St Patrick, patron saint of Ireland.  It is always associated with wearing a shamrock (the three-leaved plant that St Patrick supposedly explained the Holy Trinity to the people of Ireland with), wearing green, celebrating with ceilidhs and a lot of Guinness and maybe Irish Whiskey; it is always celebrated where there are large populations of people originating from Ireland.  The fact is that I have never been to a St Patrick’s Day celebration, have only been to Ireland briefly, but unmemorably, and haven’t got an Irish tea towel from my short excursion across the water.  So I was happy to buy this one and when I use it I will always think of all those St Patrick’s Day celebrations that I have not taken part in!

Penparcau Tollgate: 2018 (possibly vintage)


”This rubbing is taken from the original notice board outside the building and is now on display at Ceredigion Museum in Aberystwyth.  The original building was re-erected at St Fagan’s Museum in 1968.  The original board may have been witness to some of the actual Rebbeca Riots of 1839-43.  Penparcau Tollgate was built in 1772”

I love a tea towel crammed full of information.  The above quotation is printed in tiny print at the bottom of the tea towel.  This, of course, made me want to find out what the Rebbeca Riots were!  It would appear that there is a more conventional spelling of the Rebbeca Riots, spelt as Rebecca Riots.  However you the spell the riots, and I would always go by the tea towel, they took place during a period of dire poverty amongst farmers and agricultural workers in the late 1830s and early 1840s in Mid and South Wales.  The farmers and agricultural workers saw an unfair taxation system; they took action against the toll gates which they saw as a tangible representation of high taxes and tolls.  The rioters were men dressed as women, which is possibly where the name came from.

I bought this tea towel in my favourite vintage charity shop; I actually found three that day, all unused but vintage, of a time.  I hadn’t bought a tea towel in a while and felt I deserved a treat, something to distract me from the fact that my friend Jenny had just had a possible diagnosis of cancer.  Life is unfair and all the moaning and complaining I have done over the last few blogs about moving and the norovirus pales into insignificance against that.

The Penparcau Tollgate links quite nicely with the Welsh Love Spoons blog because I learnt a lot about Welsh tradition and culture, including Love Spoons, by my visits to St Fagan’s, the National Museum of Wales.  St Fagan’s opened in 1948, the UK’s first national Open Air Museum; a place not to preserve the past but to link the past with the current day.  Many buildings, from all over Wales, were re-located at St Fagan’s, helping people to learn from the past and make links with the future.  The Penparcau Tollgate was re-located there in 1968, not long before I went to live in Swansea, not long before my first, of many, visits to St Fagan’s.

Wiping up with this tea towel definitely extends the process because I want to read the detail of the plaque, to learn about the Rebbeca Riots, something I had not heard about.  For me, that is the joy of a good tea towel, being able to learn new things all the time!

Welsh Love Spoons: 2018


They say that moving home is one of the three most stressful things that can happen in your life.  I’ve always been aware of this, theoretically, but today it came to fruition.  Today was a ‘if it can go wrong, it will go wrong’ type of a day.

It started with the caravan: we were going to move it to a site, being prepared to spend a couple of weeks there while a new bathroom is being fitted to the new bungalow; the caravan had been ‘on charge’ for a couple of days but when we came to move it there was nothing, the equivalent of a flat battery.  At 11am we rang the caravan mechanic who couldn’t come out until early evening.  Ok so we would be moving the caravan a day later; that’s fine.  However, Liz was suddenly inspired that the fuse might have gone; this was at 6.30pm, in the dark, and blow me down, she was right.  But we had wasted a lot of time messing about with it, moaning and chuntering.  Never mind.

I was about to ‘post’ my Tea Towel Blog that I had written the previous evening when I lost it.  My iPad has got a life of its own at the moment and refused to save it.  All that hard work gone in a flash.  “Ah well”, as David would say.

So I was getting rid of a quirky tea pot, and someone wanted to buy it.  As I was wrapping it up, I dropped it.  Oh well, that’s epilepsy for you.

Contracts on the house I am buying, and selling, were due to be exchanged today; the removal firm that is packing up for me are due tomorrow.  The buyer for my buyers house wasn’t ready to exchange so the removal firm had to be cancelled.  No one knows when this is going to happen now.  It is strange being surrounded by empty boxes, gaps on the wall, no books on the bookshelves; it would be ok if I had any idea when this move is going to happen, if ever.

I am still wandering around the house, looking at pictures, ornaments, plates, lamps, cooking utensils, books, tea pots, mugs……… and trying to imagine them in my new home.  Will I take them or shall they go to a charity shop?  In the lobby, next to the freezer, is a small wooden Welsh Love Spoon, nearly 50 years old. It was bought for me, as a present, by the man I was engaged to (but never married).  Several times, over the years, I have nearly given it to a charity shop, then I have had a change of heart.  The same thing happened on today’s meandering.  Looking at the little spoon, all my memories of my life in Wales, in Swansea, come flooding back.

In 1970, I moved to Swansea to start my degree.  I had never been to Wales before, other than an overnight stay to watch St Benedict’s School play Llandovery College at rugby.  In those days, there were no Open Days, where potential students are invited to look around, before applying.  The application process allowed you to make five or six choices; Swansea was my first choice.  I didn’t have an interview, I was just offered a place.  I have no idea what led me to choose Swansea, except that Elwyn James, my geography teacher, thought it was a good idea and I just went along with it.  I knew nothing about Wales; I hadn’t even been on holiday there.  I did know about the Welsh Language debate but nothing about the culture, history and traditions of Wales.  That soon changed: I fell in love with Welsh tapestry, Male Voice Choirs and Love Spoons.  Knowing my penchant for collecting things, Love Spoons might have been something that I collected, but no, because the one I had was such a lovely gift, no other could compete.  So I never bought another.  Good job I didn’t think the same about tea towels or where would I have been today?

So, where did this tea towel come from?  Last Monday, as part of the house buying process, I needed my signature witnessing.  My friend Lynn agreed to do that.  As I sat down, she said “I’ve got something for you” and produced this wonderful tea towel.  She had been in a Mencap Charity Shop and spotted this, unused but pre-loved.  As I excitedly looked at it, Lynn was worried I had one the same already but no, my thoughts returned to the little Love Spoon in the lobby and how glad I am that I never gave it away.  When I use this tea towel I will remember Lynn’s kind gift, my three years in Wales, somewhere I grew to love so much and my Love Spoon from Rory.

Tea Time Sheep: 2018


Yesterday’s Tea Towel Blog was a bit of a misery, all that self pity, feeling sorry for myself.  At my age, I should be more grown up; let’s face it, it was just a virus (horrible, nasty but short-lived).   However, I am always surprised at how quickly a new tea towel can turn around my mood, put a spring in my step and a smile on my face.

Languishing on the sofa, under the duvet, the post arrived.  I roused myself and through the letter box came one of those plastic, ‘Large Letter’ envelopes.  I’d recognise an envelope with a tea towel in it, from a mile away.  This was exciting.  Had I ordered a tea towel online, in my delirium?  Was it my birthday? Had someone promised me a tea towel?  No, to all three questions.  With eager anticipation, I opened the envelope and out fell a note from Rob and Helen.

I met Rob in 1973; in fact, I shared a house with him (and many others) for two years.  Initially, we shared a Victorian house with nine other people.  My room was next door to Rob’s, separated by a stud wall.  Rob was a big music fan and he thoughtfully wore headphones while he played his music, so I didn’t have to listen to it.  However, Rob liked to sing along to his music; my abiding memory of those days was hearing Rob sing, wearing headphones, so I had no idea what he was listening to.  But I did soon realise that Rob wasn’t going to join a choir!!

After two years, we all parted company, moving around the country, building new lives, following our dreams; we all tried to meet up every year but with work and family pressures this soon became impossible.  The last time I saw Rob and Helen was in about 1993 when we celebrated the 21st birthday  of the House We All Shared; that is  25 years ago.  However, Rob and Helen are part of the Annual Christmas Newsletter ‘Round Robin’.  I have a drawer full of those newsletters covering a period of nearly thirty years, a lovely piece of social history, where each House Member sends a Christmas Newsletter to every other House Member.  I have seen Rob and Helen’s children as babies and then toddlers, start school, grow up, graduate, get married, travel abroad, without ever having met them.  I have heard about all their holidays to far flung places as well as around the British Isles.  I have seen both Rob and Helen’s careers progress and have heard about their plans for the future.  It is an example of how you can maintain connections, even friendships, from a distance, just takes a little effort.

Even so, imagine my surprise when this Large Letter envelope arrived, complete with tea towel and a note saying “We came across this on our recent holiday and immediately thought of your tea towel collection.  We hope it is of use”.  Let’s face it, how can a tea towel not be of use?  It was a wonderful thought and it is certainly not a tea towel that I have already got, nothing even near it.  I love the idea that you can have that play on words with tea and cartoon sheep (Rob and Helen know of my love of tea).  It is so cute.  My favourite is Earl Grey Tea, a touch of class, but the laid-back Chamomile Tea takes me back to the early 70s, those heady days of not having a care in the world.  This is what I have always maintained about tea towels, they can take you to another place, full of memories.  I know that every time I use this tea towel in future, I will be transported to a small room in Breedon Street, listening to Rob, pretending he can sing, with his head phones on.

Thanks to Rob and Helen for the tea towel and my trip down memory lane!!

Map of East Lothian: 2017


As I was feeling sorry for myself, sitting on the sofa, wrapped up in a duvet, watching ‘Escape to the Country’, I realised that it was some time since I had written a Tea Towel Blog.  I didn’t feel like writing, I couldn’t think what to write about.  This was bad.  The problem was that I had spent four great days in Aberdeen, visiting my friend Jean; I had flown up, stayed in a hotel, been out for meals.  On the Monday night, I flew back, arriving home at about midnight.  At 3am, I awoke rather suddenly with….. norovirus.  It is 14 years since I’ve had norovirus, and 14 years later I can say with certainty that it is equally as bad.  It’s everything about it, the sudden onset, the unpredictability, the headache, the inability to keep even water down.  It may pass after 60 hours but the after effects are even worse: being hungry but unable to eat all the things I usually do, being thirsty but not wanting to drink tea, feeling better but so much worse because it interfered with my epilepsy.  The thought of eating a biscuit or something sweet or even chips is abhorrent, devastating.  But it is also the weariness, lack of energy while actually feeling well.  So here I am bathed in a sea of ‘feeling sorry for myself’.  It has to be bad if it affects writing a Tea Towel Blog!

So I decided a Blog was needed to drag me off the sofa.  I thought “What could be better than a nice map on a tea towel?” So I picked the Map of East Lothian that I bought on the Royal Mile, during the Edinburgh Fringe Festival last year.  I picked up the iPad, wrote 800 words and found I couldn’t save it.  No matter what I did, it wouldn’t save.  Panic! Would I be able to just publish it? It didn’t matter because I couldn’t access the photograph of the tea towel.  The iPad switched itself off and I lost the lot, everything, it wasn’t lurking anywhere, gone.  If I was feeling sorry for myself before I started, now I felt really really sorry for myself.  I put the iPad aside and just abandoned the idea.  This had been one of the first Blogs that I had written completely spontaneously so I couldn’t remember anything about what I had written.

Now four days later I am making another attempt to see if I can unblock Writers Block.  The last week has been a nightmare: norovirus, snow, cold, blizzards, seizures, blank mind, the prospect of moving house within the next 10 days, trying to arrange how to put my furniture in storage, park a caravan, find a cattery for Isabella, besides thinking about packing, is just too much.

As a woman with a degree in geography, there is nothing like a map to cheer me up.  I love old maps; I have a couple framed on my walls.  I like to read new maps, in fact I am a good map reader, dispelling all those rumours about the map reading skills of women; although I am happy to allow Google Maps to take me round a town centre.  They seem to know, and understand, the one-way systems, road works and any unexpected hold-ups.  However, I love the feel of a map in my hand; I can get pleasure from just looking at the map, not to get anywhere in particular but just for the thrill of wondering what is around the next corner.  The map is the key to the unknown, to new adventures and discoveries.  One of the things that I have discovered is that an out-of-date map is useless as a map but it makes the most amazing wrapping paper for presents.  Maps are always made of good quality paper, paper with substance; you can choose a particular map that has relevance to the gift recipient.  I love being able to do that, ensuring the maps that I am actively using are up-to-date and the out-of-date maps are recycled.

When I saw Kirsty Palmer’s stall, on the Royal Mile, last year I was so excited to see all those tea towels with maps on; I bought the one that would remind me of Edinburgh and the surrounding areas but I have ambitions to go to Skye in order to buy one of Skye.  I can almost imagine starting a collection of Kirsty’s maps!  Thank you Kirsty for inspiring me to put finger to keypad and getting me out of a lethargy.

The Single Malt Whisky Flavour Map: 2017


For someone who doesn’t drink alcohol, and hasn’t since 2000, and for someone who has never liked the taste of whisky, I am absolutely fascinated by Malt Whisky, especially Single Malts.  It started in the early 1980s when I first visited a distillery, Glenturret.  I loved everything about it: it’s remote location, it’s history and the links with the illegal stills, the beauty of the copper pot stills, immaculately polished, the ceremony of tasting and drinking whisky, special elliptical glasses designed for drinking whisky, the debates about whether water or ice should be added, the amount of distilleries that there are, the different flavours of the Malts depending where the distilleries are and the source of their water, the smell of the grain, the sound of the burn that provides the water………  I like the fact that there are so many books written as ‘guides’ to the Whiskys, with stunning colour photographs.  I love the fact that Scotland has developed the Malt Whisky Trail, taking you from distillery to distillery, better to be done by coach since they are usually in remote locations, with no public transport, yet part of the tour is about tasting the different whiskys.

Since my visit to Glenturret, which I have revisited on many occasions, I have been to many other distilleries.  Distilleries that have some kind of Visitor Centre, always have shops full of related items from crystal glasses to water jugs, decanters to silver quaiches and often tea towels.  I have many a tea towel from a distillery but also some about the process of making Whisky but I haven’t seen the Flavour Map before.  Jenny bought this for me last Christmas; it is just the sort of Tea Towel that I like, lots of information,  presented in an unusual manner, it’s stylish.

The centre of the tea towel is a grid with ‘Smoky’ at the top and ‘Delicate’ at the bottom, with ‘Light’ to the left and ‘rich’ to the right: a number of Malt Whiskys are placed within the grid, in relation to their taste.  I am a bit shocked at how many of those whiskeys I have seen made!   The fact is that there is a whole industry set up around ‘Whisky Tasting’.  I remember, one year at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, going to the Scotch Malt Whisky Society for an evening of Gaelic music, lectures on Malt Whisky tasting and then sampling a few varieties; it was unusual event because, on this one occasion, the Scotch Malt Whisky Society was open to non-members.  No opening a bottle and having a quick drink; the ceremony of drinking Malt Whisky is more complicated than that of a Japanese Tea Ceremony, sniffing it, trying to identify the aromas, swirling it around in the glass, warmed at the base by your hands, another sniff, a taste and repeat the process.  The key to the Whisky Tasting Ceremony is the aroma.  There are four primary tastes but thirty-two primary aromas.  Every sample of Malt Whisky presents a bouquet of aromas – in some cases 20-30 identifiable scents.  Wittgenstein’s belief that “the limits of my language mean the limits of my world” possibly sums up the whole Whisky Tasting Ceremony: you have to have the language to describe the flavours.  This is why the grid in the centre of the tea towel is surrounded by bowers of hedgerows, leaves, fruits, all of which contribute to the language of the aromas of Malt Whisky.  Aromas fall into groups of ‘woody’ (possibly cigar boxes or aniseed), ‘winey’ (maybe bitter chocolate or Chardonnay), ‘cereal’ (could be hen’s mash or boiled pork), ‘fruity’ (might be oranges or acid drops), ‘floral’ (might be fabric softener or fir trees), ‘peaty’ (possibly TCP or anchovies), ‘fenty’ ( could be plastic mac or tea pots) and finally ‘sulphury’ (Match box or pencil eraser) and much more.

My interest in Scotch Malt Whisky included the collection of miniature bottles of Malt Whisky.  John built four sets of matching shelves, six shelves in each, each shelf would hold between 6 and 8 bottles each; that’s a lot of bottles.  They did make a wonderful display but were a devil to dust.  After John died, they were a significant reminder of his love of distilleries; but after a while, actually after about 15 years, I realised that the miniature Whiskys were not mine and I had lots of other reminders (like tea towels) and decided to give them away.  Lynn and Helen really like good Malt Whisky so I wrapped each up, individually, with a note saying when and where they were bought, and encouraged them to try them, in the crystal glasses that belonged to my mother.  They had fun trying the different whiskeys, sharing some with friends and I had good fun imagining them doing this.

I love the memories this tea towel has created, taking me down memory lane and looking at how beautiful it is.  I especially like the line at the bottom because it does sum up my approach to wiping up

”If drying up becomes a chore, Here’s a wealth of flavours to explore”