Snowdon Mountain Railway: Acquired 2018, probably vintage

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Yesterday, I needed to send a parcel via the Post Office, in Leicester, so I took the opportunity to pop into my favourite charity shop, the one where I can almost guarantee to find a tea towel. The charity shop is ‘anonymous’ in case someone reads this Blog and buys up all the tea towels!  (As if there would be anyone like that!).  I like the way they display their tea towels – the trouser hanger trick; it makes it much easier to see what is available.  This time, shock horror, there were 12 tea towels for sale, some unused, some well-loved, all vintage.  Twelve would be an excessive buy and I did already have two of them.  I hand-picked five; it took me a while.  Was there a story I could write about each?  Had I even been there?  Did I like them?  Would they be a good addition to my collection?

My first choice was Snowdon Mountain Railway.  I chose this for two reasons: firstly, I had been there in 2012.  I had travelled up the mountain by the railway (because there was no way I was ever going to be able to walk up it) and on that journey I had seen Chris Bonnington coming down, bearer of the Olympic Torch which had been to the top of Snowdon.  This was an unexpected event.  When we reached the top, shrouded in mist, the cafe looked like a shambles because so many people had been there, eating crisps and chocolate bars, waiting to see him; the staff hadn’t had time to clear up.  The picture on the tea towel, with the blue sky and views into the distance, is nothing like I remember it.  It makes me think that it would be good to go back and see it in better circumstances; but that won’t happen, there are too many other places to see and tea towels to gather.

I would have to say that the journey, apart from Chris Bonnington, was unmemorable because you couldn’t see anything, the cloud was low and the weather dull.

The second reason for buying this tea towel was it’s age.  It must be 30 or more years old; it has been used, on many occasions, but was well-loved and cared for, no tea stains or dirty marks.  I wonder how this charming tea towel ended up in a charity shop.  I doubt that someone who had used this, and cared for it, would suddenly think “Time to get rid of this one”.  Had they been to Snowdon themselves, wanting a souvenir?  Did their son or daughter, friend or neighbour buy it for them? Did it’s owner die?  Did they move into a care home?  Did some ‘helpful’ person, tidying the house, think this was only worthy of a charity shop?  There is a story to be told here; I wish I knew what it was.

Many blogs ago, I talked about the possibility of a project, working with older people, writing the stories of their tea towels.  A memory-jerker.  Perhaps that’s something I should do?

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Iconic London and Buildings of Edinburgh: 2015

There is a scene in the film ‘Notting Hill’ where Hugh Grant tries to impress Julia Roberts by climbing over the locked gates of one of the communal gardens of the area, albeit rather ineptly.  They were eventually successful and were able to share, what anyone who lives in the vicinity of these Victorian Gardens wants: serenity, peace and an ability to escape to another world. Those gardens, with elaborate wrought iron railings, are usually locked at night; I’ve no idea who undertakes that job.  Is it a resident who has access to the garden or a local official?  A great job to be custodian of the key.

Those gardens hold an enchantment, a magical setting but it isn’t just Notting Hill where such gardens exist.  Others have the wrought iron railings and gates but have a communality that is not about ownership.  One of my favourites is Queens Square Gardens, surrounded by hospitals and medical institutions that have been around a long time.  The London Hospital of Neurology and Neurosurgery, with its red brick, looks over Queens Square Gardens, protected by mature trees around the circumference, interspersed with garden benches dedicated to the those with memories of this area.  This is a place for people-watching: doctors and nurses, patients and relatives just sitting with their sandwiches and ice creams, talking about EastEnders and Coronation Street, worrying about their forthcoming treatments or just gossiping.  Why did Arthur enjoy sitting in these gardens?  Was he a patient having a sneaky cigarette against doctors orders or was he the doctor taking a breather from giving bad news to a patient.  He has a bench with his name on it.   It gives you something to wonder about.

Yesterday I was walking along Queens Road in Aberdeen and came across the Rubislaw and Queens Terrace Gardens: three elongated gardens, each surrounded by wrought iron railings, with gates at each end.  The sign says they are maintained by Aberdeen City Council; I don’t know if the gates are locked at night but the gardens are lined with benches dedicated to locals. “My wifie” struck me as an endearing term of affection for a bench dedication.

In one rose bed there is a plaque entitled ‘Blesma Soul’.  “This bed of Blesma Soul roses was dedicated by the Aberdeen Branch on 11 November 1982 to mark the 50th anniversary of the British Limbless Ex-Servicemen’s Association”.  It was rededicated for the 75th anniversary.  That’s a story I really should google.  Such gardens are full of stories long forgotten.

There is a gnarled tree, probably dead; if you look carefully you can almost see a face in the growths of the trunk.  Where the mouth might have been someone has placed two traffic cones, one on top of the other.  It completes the comic look.  While the houses alongside Rubislaw and Queens Tearrace Gardens may not have rights over the gardens they are certainly very fortunate to be able to look out over the mature rhododendron bushes, lilies, geraniums, ferns and all manner of bushes; a garden that you do not have to maintain.

If you walk down Dundas Street in Edinburgh, you come to the same thing, gardens enclosed by wrought iron railings, offering peace in a busy city; the sort of place you might take a break during your working day.

The problem is that it is so easy to overlook these beautifully maintained gardens, loved by people, where people have spent a lot of their time, possibly finding peace and solitude.  In Britain, they are all around us.  We should be grateful to the thoughtfulness of generations past.

When I use these two tea towels I will think about ‘Notting Hill’ and the gardens that are all around us in big cities.  Gardens created from our histories.  And now I leave you to google Blesma Soul!!

Aberdeen Granite City: 2018

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”Have you got another Granite City tea towel, one in its cardboard cover?”  I asked the woman in the Tourist Information Shop

”Sorry, we have run out”

”So can I have this one?” I said, holding up the tea towel hanging on a hook

”I don’t know about that” the shop assistant said

”Why?” I asked “It’s on the shelf with the other tea towels”

”I don’t know.  It’s the only one we’ve got”

I looked at the assistant on the other till.  “Of course you can have it” he said.

”I can’t find the code for it” says the assistant who has been so unhelpful.  She played about on the till with no luck.  My helpful assistant had been looking up the code and read the number out.

”Hold it” she says “I’ve got to type in the number.  Read it slowly”

I only wanted to buy a tea towel; the whole thing seemed to take ages.  Good job I wasn’t in a rush.  They had other tea towels of Aberdeen; I had two already and I didn’t like the remaining ones.  I liked the colouring on the ships in the harbour; it really does remind me of Aberdeen Harbour, the place I visit every time I’m in the city to see Jean.

Jean is 92 and lives in a nursing home.  I often think she must feel like she has been abandoned when she knows she has no family living within 400 miles.  She looks at her fellow residents, whose family live around the corner, and get visitors every other day.   Aberdeen is an expensive place to get to, and stay in, thanks to the oil industry, so if you don’t live in Aberdeen it is very difficult to get to.  It limits the amount of visitors she has.

Two years ago, Jean was introduced to an iPad.  She had never used a computer, or even a typewriter.  She has never had a mobile phone of any sort, not even one of those ‘bricks’!   Yet, she understood it.  We were stunned; she understood how photos taken on a mobile phone could appear on the iPad.  When I say she understood, I mean that she accepted that it could happen; she didn’t want to understand the technicalities, just the principles.  She has the best understanding of ‘the cloud’ of anyone I know.  She accepts; she doesn’t ask “So where is the cloud?”  So family can take photos anywhere in the world, send them to her and she can follow what they are doing; she can see her great grand-nieces and nephews grow up from birth, starting to crawl, walk, talk, play; she can feel part of the family from a distance.

One of the things that Jean has leant to understand is what FaceTime is.  And she is proficient at it.  “It’s like they’re in the room; I feel I can touch them”.  She is tolerant about when contact is cut “Oh just wait a bit, it will come back”.  She laughs a lot when she can just see herself on the screen, while waiting for reconnection: “Is that me?” She says.  “I look a bit old” she laughs again.  She tidies her hair, taking the chance to use the screen as a mirror.  Jean loves ‘talking’ to her brother; the ‘elephant in the room’ is the fact that they both know they will never see each other again, in person, but just enjoy the experience of FaceTime, certainly better than nothing.

This week she has FaceTimed her great nieces Jai and Sarah together with their children.  Lyn and Rob supported Jean’s brother so she also had a chance to speak to them.  This was a whistle-stop tour of her family and she loved it.  She appreciates the value of technology; the staff love seeing the way she launches herself into it all.  Seeing her have so much fun is a joy in itself; she loves having photos taken of herself FaceTiming which then become part of her photographs ‘in the cloud’.

Yesterday, was like being in a parallel universe: Jean was FaceTiming her brother in a room where the Trooping of the Colour was on the TV so there was quite a lot of background noise; her brother was also watching Trooping of the Colour, more background noise.  Maddy, the staff nurse who knew David, popped in to say ‘hello’; a couple of Jean’s friends wanted to ‘meet’ David and the National Anthem played in the background at both ends.  Let them get on with it, I thought.

This has been a great visit where technology brings families together.  This tea towel will always remind me of that, we ought to use it more.

Kingston Lacy: 1987

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Today is 5 June 2018, twenty eight years, to the day, since my mother died.  My mother has featured in many a Tea Towel Blog, many because she owned some of my tea towels, she liked tea towels and many bring back memories of her.

Kingston Lacy was one of the last places that she and I went to, before she became really ill.  She loved the National Trust, the history; she much preferred going round the houses, rather than walking the grounds; the complete opposite of me.  On a day out we were able to compromise, split up and come together over a nice cup of tea.

It was a bit drizzley on this excursion so she got the better deal but a tea towel makes up for everything, especially, as in this case, when it prompts some memories.

People always give you a lot of wise words when you experience loss or bereavement; all that stuff about time healing.  Rubbish is what I say.  There are few days that I don’t think about my mother; I don’t sit down and burst into tears or feel sad but I do remember.  I would find it hard to blot out the memories of someone who was so fundamental to my life.  I don’t regret things; its a wasted emotion because I would never be able I change the past.

However, moving home did unearth some memorabilia, things that I did not know about.  In one of those boxes I discovered were some newspaper cuttings from her 22 years as a councillor.  There were two things that stood out for me.  The Middlesex Gazette wrote, in 1969: “When Councillor Mrs Beatrice Howard became Leader of the Conservative Group on Ealing Council she made local history.  She is the first woman to hold such a position in the borough and throughout the Greater London area”.

The second newspaper cutting I found said: “Those who are expecting political speeches from me will be disappointed.  I regret very much the incursion of politics into local government and I believe a growing number of people think like me.  Of course, party politics are here to stay in local government; but I feel they should not cloud local issues or impede local progress.  Nor should they be an excuse for inaction or indecision.  I’m afraid I’m not politically minded; I am not an avid follower of national politics – perhaps I should be but I believe that I, and the rest of the Councillors, have been elected to service the wishes of the residents of the Borough and to see their interests are uppermost in our minds at all times”.

If only local politics was like that today!! Good on you, Mother!!

 

Patchwork of Wales: 2017

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This lovely tea towel was a birthday present from Gwyn and Pete, last year.  They had bought it on their holiday in Anglesey, a place they go to regularly, from where her father originated.  Gwyn has a few distant relatives she keeps in touch with; she has described going to Anglesey as ‘it feels like going home’.

The artist, Josie Russell, refers to herself as a freelance textile artist; her work is original tapestries, mainly made from recycled or reused materials.  The originals are sold in galleries around Wales but images are taken from those originals and converted into tea towels, cushion covers, coasters, mugs, trays and much more.  I love the colouring of the tapestry; she has captured the hills, valleys and mountains of Wales, with their fields and ground covering; I like the way her signature is embroidered along the contours of the landscape.

Josie’s tapestries certainly lend themselves to ‘conversion’ into tea towels, striking ones that are not to be found anywhere else.  I love something a bit different.  However, as I am admiring this tea towel, I realised that I hadn’t heard of Josie Russell before so I googled her.  My goodness, there are a lot of references to her; she must be a renown tea towel designer, I thought.  But, no, most of the references are to her past; although only 30, she was 9 when she was headline news.  While Google is useful on many occasions, this was not one of them.  I wish I hadn’t used Google; this was like an intrusion into her personal life, somewhere I should not be.   For that, I am truly sorry but it is all out there.

Josie was taken, by her father, to live in a remote part of Wales as a young child, following the murder of her mother and sister; during the attack she had incurred massive brain injury.  By moving to Wales, Josie’s father took her away from the glare of publicity, allowing her slow recovery from which she emerged as an animal-lover, a freelance textile artist, an Ambassador for the Born Free organisation and, in my opinion, a wonderful tea towel designer.

I love the originality of this tea towel (and many others she has designed) and am so pleased that Gwyn and Pete enabled me to add this to my collection.  I realise that I would really love to see Josie’s tapestries ‘in the flesh’ as well as add more of her tea towels to my collection.

A Glorious Day: 2018

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Yesterday was a simply glorious day.  If you follow the Virtual Tea Towel Museum, or even Instagram, you will have seen this tea towel before.  A couple of days ago, I published Emma’s Tea Towel Story in Guest Tea Towels 2018.  This described how she came across this ‘golden’ tea towel.  Then, out-of-the-blue, she offered to send me this and her other Charles and Diana Royal Wedding Tea Towel.  Sometimes, if you tend to collect things, there comes a point whereby you need to pass things on, in order to create more space for new things.  In Emma’s case, I have become the lucky, and very grateful recipient, of two tea towels.

Yesterday, through the post arrived an unusual looking parcel; unusual because it looked as if it was wrapped in wallpaper.  I eagerly opened it, only to find these two beautiful tea towels.  They were wrapped in a thick wadding of tissue paper.  As I said to Emma: “Even better in the flesh; the golden one is so classic and both definitely not used….”.

One of the other ‘weird’ things that I do is save the wrapping paper people have given me, in order to reuse it.  I can’t remember the last time I bought wrapping paper.  New wrapping paper always seems such an extravagance; I’d rather spend the money on the gift.  So, in addition, to two tea towels I have some beautiful tissue paper and some wallpaper that can be used again.  In this ‘throw away’ society we live in, it’s good to be able to reuse, rather than throw away.

For me, since sharing my interest in tea towels I have found such generosity, whether it is people giving of their time to contribute to the Virtual Tea Towel Museum or even actually giving me tea towels, and, in the case of Ade, leaving me his collection in his will.  So I am very grateful to Emma, and very excited.

Yesterday was a beautiful and sunny day and, fortuitously, my friend Fee was coming to see my new house.  Fee was the person who encouraged me to stop taking photos of tea towels flung on the back of an armchair and find a new setting.  Last May, this involved me retaking photos of all my tea towels for the Virtual Tea Towel Museum, hanging from a pergola.  She felt that this was a much more aesthetically pleasing setting, and worthy of a museum.  When I knew she was visiting, I had suggested that she could find a new place to take photos because there is no pergola here.

Her first suggestion was “Buy a pergola”; this was followed by trying out ‘The Golden Couple’ in a number of different settings.  She understood the problem of the beech hedge: a beautiful setting but too ‘floppy’ to hold a tea towel (middle photo).  She felt the fence didn’t have enough foliage around it (left hand photo), even when I had moved the acer nearer the fence.  We tried taking photos on the grass (right hand photo), a setting she preferred but recognised that it is more difficult to take and depending on the light can sometimes result in a distorted view and shadows.  “You need to buy something that will hold the tea towel but have the backing of the beech hedge” were her words of wisdom.  So this afternoon, it is a trip to the garden centre.

So yesterday was a glorious day: two new tea towels (with accompanying wrapping paper), a visit from Fee with her valuable words of wisdom about settings for a tea towel and a real laugh trying to hang the tea towels in ridiculous places which ended in her breaking one of my few clothes pegs (the rest are in storage).  Thank you to all concerned, I had a great day and now I’m off to a garden centre.

Shrewsbury: 2003

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I think this tea towel is quite stylish; I was struck by the unusual teal coloured background and the interesting drawings of Shrewbury’s buildings.  This is a ‘modern’ version of the classic tourist tea towel.  It was another of those tea towels that I saw in a shop window and couldn’t resist.

I was in Shrewsbury in 2003, not for the history or to admire its 660 listed buildings but to look for a cup of tea in a traditional tea room, serving good quality loose leaf tea; I was unlucky.

This is not one of those places that I have thought about a lot; I can only associate it with the Brother Cadfael (by Ellis Peters) series of books.  By 2003, I had read every single one and had moved on to those written under her pseudonym of Edith Pargeter.  I loved the stories, the history of a time that is not frequently written about and the appearance of Matilda every now and again.  But there is so much more to Shrewsbury than I ever realised!  A. E. Houseman wrote

”High the vanes of Shrewsbury gleam

Islanded in Severn stream.

The bridges from the steepled crest

Cross the water east and west”

This is because the town is virtually encircled by the River Severn and there are 9 bridges crossing the river.  Shrewsbury is famous as the birthplace of Charles Darwin who lived there for 27 years; Benjamin Disraeli was an M.P. for the town.  Because of Shrewsbury School, an expensive public school, there are many famous people associated with the town: John Peel, Michael Palin, Wilfred Owen.  Percy Thrower and George Robey also lived here.

It is a town known for it’s Shrewsbury Biscuits, Shrewsbury Flower Show and the Ditherington Flax Mill, the first iron-framed building in the world and often referred to as ‘the grandfather of sky-scrapers’.

Because it is only 9 miles from the Welsh Border, it has always had a significant role in the conflicts between England and Wales.  There is evidence of Roman occupation, a mediaeval mint, Watling Street as a trading route; Thomas Telford designed the road from London to Holyhead, opening up a route to Ireland, that passed through Shrewsbury.  In 14th and 15th centuries Shrewsbury was a focal point of the wool trade.  Then there was the 1403 Battle of Shrewsbury.  The mediaeval centre has been largely unchanged.

What more could you want from a town?  There are days of sightseeing to be found in Shrewsbury; it doesn’t matter what your favourite period of history is.  But I hope in the 15 years since I last visited, that a nice little tea room, serving loose leaf tea has opened up where you can gaze from the window at all the beautiful buildings, something to tempt me back (because I already have a lovely tea towel).  In the meantime, it is back to Brother Cadfael!