A Tale of Two Continents: 2017 (originated in 2008)

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Today, was the first day of the ‘49ers’ (2018 version).  Last year, routing through the back of drawers, untouched in a long time, I found a navy blue, velvet, draw-string pouch, lined with gold satin, with a golden cord.  In it, I discovered, were 49 pennies, each with a number stuck onto them, from 1 to 49.  It took me a while to work out what they were: John did the Lottery every week, only on Saturdays, three lines.  Rather than use the same numbers each week, he would randomly pick his six numbers, for each line, from the bag.  The bag has sat, unused, for more than 20 years.  I couldn’t throw it away but, with the help of Liz, we devised the ‘49ers’.  Together, because doing things like this is not so much fun on your own, we agreed on 49 things that we both wanted to do, things that could be completed within a week; every Monday we take it in turns to pick a number and complete the ‘task’, individually or together.  Today, Number 13 was picked, not ‘unlucky for some’ as they say in bingo: ‘Think up, and do, a Creative Writing Task’.  We mulled this over and agreed we would do a ‘Clustering’ exercise, a bit like creating a Mind Map for inspiration.  My Tea Towel Blog called ‘Snap’, based on Orgreave (Blog dated 25/11/2017) was as a result of a Clustering exercise, in the Creative Writing Class.  We decided that I would choose the dictionary (and there are a lot to choose from), Liz would pick a page and I would shut my eyes and point to a word.  Maybe, this was not such a good idea!  I picked the word ‘Catarrhine’ and, of course, we all know what that means, I don’t think!!  Catarrhine relates to a particular monkey and is about the shape of it’s nose!  We gave ourselves 10 minutes for each to create a ‘Cluster’ and then had to announce which cluster we were going to use.  Of course, the restrictions I have to work within are about whether I can make any link, at all, to a tea towel.  This was the answer to my prayers, because I really didn’t know what I was going to write about ‘A Tale of Two Continents’.

I bought this tea towel in my favourite Charity Shop in Leicester.  It isn’t easy to find tea towels in Charity Shops, that are not brand new, probably surplus stock from some producer.  I only like buying vintage, or used, tea towels.  This one was hanging from a skirt hanger just waiting to be bought.  I am a tea drinker, only a tea drinker, coffee does not pass my lips; nor does hot chocolate, Horlicks, Ovaltine, Bovril, herbal infusions, Tisanes or any manner of other hot drinks.  However, when it comes to tea I am very particular, only loose leaf tea.  I like the ‘ceremony’ of making tea, always using a tea pot, timing the infusion, drinking from bone china; no ‘tea to go’ for me.  While I remember the adverts for PG Tips, from my childhood, with the chimpanzees, I do not necessarily associate PG Tips with loose leaf tea, rather a tea bag in a cup.  PG Tips has been going for a long time and is famous for it’s adverts, logos and the fact that it does sell loose leaf tea.

I rather like the company’s first strap line, which today would be ridiculed for it’s length: ‘Good tea unites good company, exhilarates the spirits, banishes restraint from conversation and promotes the happiest purposes of social intercourse’.  The Monkey, with Al, became the star of the adverts in the new Millenium, with Monkey making snide comments that he was not a chimpanzee (referring back to the original adverts).  In March 2008, they made a short film which was an adventure parody starring Monkey “wanting to change the world one tea at a time”.  This tea towel is the ‘poster’ for the film and created a new slogan “Do your bit. Put the kettle on”.  The tea towel and the film were sold together; if you look on eBay, there are many copies available.  I love the picture with Monkey in the foreground and pictures of tea pickers, from somewhere like Sri Lanka, contrasting with the London images.  This is a great tea towel and I am glad that I bought it (and that I have found a focus for the Blog); I think I probably would like to see the film now.   In the meantime, I will use the tea towel with a great deal of amusement and enjoyment.

PS: Both Liz and I have each completed our first 49er for 2018.  Liz’s will be on http://www.mywordshare.wordpress.com

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Rooster: 2015

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I woke up this morning, it was cold, wet and had just started to snow.  By the time that it was light enough to walk down the garden to feed the chickens, I realised that, for the first time in 14 years, I had no chickens to feed.  An hour or so later, there was a ‘ping’ on my Freecycle Account and someone wanted to collect the old chicken feeders, that I had lovingly washed thoroughly and put up for anyone who wanted some chicken feeders.

When I knew there was a real chance that I might move, I decided to ‘rehome’ my two remaining chickens.  It’s certainly wasn’t that I didn’t love them dearly, or enjoyed caring for them.  The process of moving, when you are both buying and selling a property, and one depends on another, is very stressful.  The move has to take place on a nominated day; you can’t take things to your new property in the days preceding the nominated day, nor can you leave things behind, to be collected at a later date.  I knew that it would be impossible to catch two chickens, box them up, take them to the new place, erect a new chicken house (remember building flat-pack MFI furniture?), settle them in while also doing much the same for two cats and a house full of furniture.  It’s the logistics that would defeat me; removal firms may dismantle, and reassemble, the wardrobe but they do not assemble the chicken house and it would mean the chickens would have been in a box for many hours.

The fact is, all I had left was two chickens, an elderly black hen who had taken retirement from laying, with an occasional flurry of one egg, and Houdini, the brown hen who had escaped the fox because she was laying at the time.  Houdini had laid an egg every day since I had owned her.  Lots of friends had been recipients of Houdini’s eggs: Gwyn and Pete, Lyn and Rob, Anne the Foot, Jai and Roger, Jenny, David and Dorothy and many more.  You can put chickens on Freecycle but I wasn’t keen on that because you need to know, and trust, where they are going.

I was eating fish and chips with Lynn and Helen the other night, talking about the ‘problem’ of the hens and Lynn (who always is good at finding solutions to problems) said that Sharon keeps chickens and maybe she would take them.  Sharon has been a Guest Tea Towel in http://www.virtualteatowelmuseum.com.  I was getting excited and said that I had some Layers Pelletts and some Mixed Corn, in storage bins, to go with them.  By the next day, Lynn had contacted Sharon; she had been looking for a couple of new chickens because some of hers had stopped laying.  This wasn’t looking quite so hopeful because I could, honestly, only say that one was laying but I couldn’t just let Houdini go on her own; who would take an old very rarely laying chicken?  They had to go as a pair.  But Sharon was enthusiastic.  Houdini and the Old Black Hen (she had never been named because she came with 5 other black hens, and I couldn’t tell the difference between them) had new homes.  Ian came three days later, in the dark, to collect them; it was a lot easier to ‘catch’ chickens when roosting so, without much ado, they went to their new home.  I had this strange feeling: chickens give a routine to the start of my day; chickens are the recipients of pieces of cooked vegetables that we don’t want; chickens are great listeners when you want to talk things through with someone; chickens produce the most wonderful contributions to the compost heap; chickens sleep on our old shredded paper which is then easily compostable.  And now I don’t have any.  There are five eggs waiting to be eaten.  Will it be boiled eggs and soldiers or scrambled eggs or an omlette, maybe an egg and bacon pie?  It will be something to look forward to over the next few days.

I will have some more chickens but not until I am fully settled in a new home, when I know what I am going to do with a very small garden and when I get to know my neighbours (who might feed them when I go on holiday).  Until then I will have to wait.

This is the last of my ‘Chicken’ tea towels that I have to blog about; I knew I was keeping it for something.  It was a present from David and Dorothy on my retirement, a lovely, classic Ulster Weavers linen tea towel.  David understood my love of tea towels and would always buy me one for a ‘special occasion’.  He was delighted that I had retired because (a) he loved being retired himself and never regretted giving up work; he actually refused to wear a tie, ever again, unless it was to a wedding or funeral and he knew I would enjoy retirement because (b) I had planned what it was that I was going to do in my retirement (blog about tea towels) and that I would not be just sitting around watching ‘Escape to the Country’ and ‘Flog It’ or trying to think of short term things to fill my time; his belief was about planning your retirement properly, in order to get the most out of it.

So, now, when I use this tea towel I will have a lot of memories about Houdini, the Old Black Hen, Ian boxing them up in the dark, Sharon caring for them (and I do hope she gets some eggs from Houdini), Lynn coming up with the solution to my problem, a lovely gift from David, and Dorothy (whose birthday it would have been today) who was always keen that scraps of vegetables were taken home for the chickens.  What I have promised myself is that when I get some more chickens, I will buy myself another Chicken Tea Towel, to celebrate and blog about.

Valvona and Crolla: 2012

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Many years ago, my friends Lynn and Helen had two friends who lived in Edinburgh.  They had met at work, and when their friends moved to Edinburgh, they kept in touch and visited Edinburgh a number of times.  On one of those visits, Lynn and Helen went to Valvona and Crolla, an Italian deli off Leith Walk.  Valvona and Crolla are still in their original premises, where they started in 1934.  They pride themselves on being Scotland’s oldest deli.  Lynn is a ‘coffee connoisseur’, none of your ‘instant rubbish’ for her.  Valvona and Crolla sell coffee beans, and they will grind them for you; each visit to Edinburgh was an excuse for Lynn to fill her suitcase with coffee beans and freeze them when she got home.  When she had run out, she would order more by post.  Valvona and Crolla was a place dear to Lynn’s heart.  We are, of course, talking of a time when it was more difficult to buy very good quality coffee beans easily (shows our age!).

On one occasion, when I met up with Lynn and Helen, they told me about Valvona and Crolla, about their wonderful coffee beans, about the different olive oils which they poured into small bowls, where you dip a chunk of bread in order to taste the different flavours; they talked about the different breads and cheeses and all manner of goodies that you could buy.  It sounded so enticing.  Lynn and Helen’s friends moved back to Leicester so they had no excuse to visit the deli, and stock up on coffee.  When I went to the Edinburgh Fringe, in the early years of the new Millenium, I couldn’t resist trying to find Valvona and Crolla to see if it was as good as Lynn and Helen talked about.  It was.  The olive oils were still on display, there was really interesting fresh bread, so many cheeses and that lovely smell of coffee beans, being freshly ground.  Sometimes, I think that deli’s can be a bit of a ‘let down’, with few goods on display, limited choices and extortionate prices; not so Valvona and Crolla, bursting with food, shelves piled high from floor to ceiling, the sort of place that you want to wander around for hours to see what they have.  You can do that and you are never made to feel that you have spent too long browsing.  What Lynn and Helen didn’t tell me about was the cafe; I’m not sure if it was there when they used to visit.  It was, and still is, absolutely delightful.  Loose leaf tea, breakfast pastries and full breakfasts, wonderful brunches, Italian food at its best, table service, somewhere you feel so comfortable to pass your time, full of regulars as well as people like me, passing through.  On this occasion, I bought Lynn some coffee beans as a ‘thank-you’ for the recommendation.

I have been back to Valvona and Crolla on a number of occasions; while Edinburgh is full of eateries, of all sorts, there is none like Valvona and Crolla.  In 2012, when I visited, for the first time there was a tea towel: pure white, honeycombed cotton with a navy blue embroidered logo; very stylish but I’m always a bit wary about pure white tea towels because they can stain so easily.  I have to say, mine seems to have survived, unscathed.  There was no way that I could turn down the opportunity of a tea towel.

Since my visit in 2012, Valvona and Crolla has expanded.  They have a coffee bar and an eatery in Jenners (my favourite department store which has now been taken over by House of Fraser).  They are a venue for the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, although I have not managed to see a performance there yet; maybe 2018.  In the Jenners’ branch I saw an amazing, striking poster (which is also on their website) and wondered whether it was also a tea towel, because it certainly would be a great one.  Perhaps one day.

In 2016, we actually went to Edinburgh for a week, with Lynn and Helen, staying in an apartment.  We all agreed that Valvona and Crolla was a ‘must’ on our itinerary.  It had changed since Lynn and Helen’s first visits, but it did not disappoint.  We had a late lunch before going to the Edinburgh Botanic Light Show at the Royal Botanical Gardens and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.

I am very grateful that Lynn and Helen directed me to Valvona and Crolla and I will continue to visit them on my trips to Edinburgh.  As I use the tea towel (being careful not to get any tea stains on it), I like to think of Lynn drinking her coffee, Helen dipping bread into olive oil, me eating scrambled eggs and smoked salmon and the wonderful ‘deli smell’ that hits you as you go in.  Thinking about it now makes me want to go back today.

Llandudno: Date Unknown, possibly vintage

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Llandudno is one of those words that I love saying, just for the joy of its sound; I love trying to put the emphasis of the double ‘l’ at the beginning with a scuffing sound.  Get it right and it can reverberate around your mouth.  But I will never manage it as well as a Welsh speaker.  I remember hearing Gwyn’s dad say ‘Llandudno’ and think it sounded so  mystical; he seemed to get an emphasis on each of the syllables which made Llandudno seem like it was in a far-flung part of the United Kingdom.

I have been to Llandudno on two memorable occasions but that is not how I acquired this tea towel.  Alan and Christine were my next door neighbours for about 13 years; we shared many an exciting adventure like burying Charlie the Cat in the back garden and being part of Markfield Open Gardens with a gate at the bottom of our shared fence, where visitors could wander through, like a ‘secret door’.  Fortunately, we still keep in touch.  On a visit to Norfolk, last year, where they now live, we got to talking about THAT subject, tea towels, and somehow, unintentionally, I came away with five tea towels.  Llandudno was one of those.  This is a beautiful linen, virtually unused, large tea towel with a very unusual background colour of mustard.  As I flick through my tea towel hangers, I can spot Llandudno easily, just by its background colour; it is the only one I have Like that.  It is a traditional tourist tea towel, with all the significant ‘high’ spots in Llandudno, many of which I have visited.  I have to say that I was delighted to be given this by Christine, although she has no memories of how she came to have this tea towel.

My first visit to Llandudno was in 2001; I was on the look-out for a tea room and discovered a truly delightful one – Badgers Tea Room in the Shopping Precinct.  You don’t often find really good tea rooms in a Shopping Precinct; this one had fabulous home-made cakes, loose leaf tea, a wonderful Welsh Rarebit.  Cakes used to come round on tiered, sliding trollies, that I remember from Prague and Vienna.  Service was impeccable, carried out by women dressed in ‘Nippy’ dresses.  The windows were huge and unfettered so that you could sit and people-watch and, of course, in a Shopping Precinct there was a lot to watch.  Badgers was always full but, because of their efficiency, you didn’t have to wait long for a table and you never felt rushed.  It was a huge disappointment, when I went back in 2012, to find that it had closed.

My second visit was in 2012 when I stayed in a cottage in Llanwyrst.  We decided to spend the day in Llandudno and do all the touristy things: we went up the Great Orme by train, coming back by cable car, we walked along the Promenade and looked at the pier; we visited St Tudno’s Church on the Great Orme (St Tudno being the Patron Saint of Llandudno who lived in 6th Century).  We visited Rhos-on-Sea, a lovely small resort whose claim to fame is that Madog ap Owain Gwynedd, a Welsh prince, purportedly sailed from here in 1170 and discovered America, three hundred years before Christopher Columbus.  My 2012 visit was on a warm and sunny day and it was truly enjoyable.  I would always say that if staying near Llandudno it is worth a visit to Conwy, a cute town but I do also have memories of the holiday camp at Prestatyn, where I stayed on a holiday with 40 people with learning difficulties in 1981, and where we weren’t allowed out of the holiday camp for a week.

So, why am I writing about Llandudno today?  Today is my friend, Jenny’s, birthday, not a significant birthday, just a birthday.  Jenny has the exciting opportunity of staying in Llandudno for three days at the end of January.  I am not sure whether the sights of the Great Orme will be available via cable car or rail, or how windy, cold and wet it might be but I am sure that she will have a great time.  Jenny is a loose leaf tea lover so I am sorry she will not be able to sample the virtues of Badgers but there is still a lot to see.  I thought Jenny might want to look at the tea towel of Llandudno so she can get excited about her visit!!  Happy Birthday Jenny!!

Miscellaneous Kitchen Equipment: 2001 and 2006

I am on the brink, when I say ‘brink’ I really mean in about two months time, of moving house: ‘down-sizing’, ‘right-sizing’, whatever.  The bungalow will be at least half the size of the one that I am living in, the garden about a tenth of the size.  I have talked about the process of disposing of books, clothes I used to wear to work etc.  But the reality is, if you live in a large house, there are cupboards, and if there are cupboards and empty spaces, you don’t need to throw things away, you can put them in a cupboard and avoid any decisions.  When you get to my age, you realise there are stages you go through in your life: when I was in my 20s and 30s, setting up home, I really enjoyed receiving presents, acquiring goods that I couldn’t afford to buy myself, or that wouldn’t be a priority to spend money on.  My 30s was a time I started inheriting things: from just an ornament from my grandparents, a bookcase from Joan Halsey (with whom I worked) to all my Dad’s sporting trophies, to finally all the goods from my parents house.  In my 40s, when I was in a better paid job, I could afford to buy some ‘special’ things for myself; I developed a ‘more expensive taste’ but, at the same time, also inherited all the goods that my husband John ‘collected’ (and he was a ‘collector’, or maybe ‘hoarder’ is more appropriate).  John came from a very large family; his childhood was one of poverty, scrimping and saving, the gathering of possessions was almost a psychological comforter.  He knew that but it didn’t stop him gathering useless junk, as well as beautiful things.  If you have a good memory, then you can remember where everything came from, the sentimental ties.  Some ‘stuff’ it is easy to dispose of: ask yourself ‘why am I keeping this?’ ‘Do I use it?’ and a charity shop might become a recipient.  I think I also have the problem that I do not want to contribute to a landfill site; I’d like things I have owned, that are still functional, to go to good homes.

Through all the accumulation of ‘stuff’, there has been two constants: jugs and tea towels, of which I have many.  These are both things I continue to collect, and genuinely love.  The two tea towels above are symbolic of the process of decluttering.  They both show a jumble of old, and not so old, kitchen equipment; some things on both tea towels are very similar.  The tea towel on the left is from the National Trust and the other from a kitchen shop in Ross-on-Wye.  I think of my kitchen in a similar way.  The kitchen is large so I never have had to discard anything but I have modern, and therefore accurate, kitchen scales alongside a cast iron set with weights; I have sharp, stainless steel knives (with a sharpener) but also very old ones that I inherited from my mother who had inherited them from her aunt; I have jugs of all shapes, sizes and ages including the blue and white Cornish Ware jugs but I also have flagons standing in a corner.  I have silver sugar shakers and cruet sets lying in a drawer, tarnished because I haven’t cleaned them (because I don’t use them).  When I swapped 20 storage jars for an old wooden cupboard (with Liz K) you would have thought that would have kept storage jars under control, but no, they have crept up in number, especially if they have a chicken on them.  I have space to store empty plastic boxes (lots of empty plastic boxes) so that I can put things in the freezer, but I never throw out any that are worn, split and useless (I’ve got the space to keep them); I have the capacity for storing empty jam jars for future jam making.  I am more judicious about these because I don’t keep any that are (a) huge or (b) impregnated with a pickling, spicey smell.  I have inherited, collected and bought, from foreign places like Kenya and Ecuador, wooden spoons, wooden spoons of all shapes and sizes.

So my next task is to sort the kitchen so that I know, when I pack, that I am taking all things that I can justify taking for reason of ‘good to use’, ‘essential’ or ‘true sentimental value’; the rest you may see in a Charity Shop or on eBay but you absolutely, definitely, unequivocally will not see a jug or a tea towel of mine in either of those places.

As a last note, I am never quite sure why I bought these two tea towels because they have a sense of chaos that is not in my nature.  I am sure that I bought the National Trust one at Hardwick Hall, because they didn’t have a tea towel specifically to do with Hardwick Hall and I felt the need of a tea towel and Ross-on-Wye for similar reasons.  But I do like them and their link to the chaos of moving.  I also love the fact that they both have egg whisks on them, no fancy electric gadget; I remember using them as a child and now I am wondering what happened to my mother’s egg whisks and wish I hadn’t got rid of them.  It is that process of thinking that I might regret giving things away that makes decluttering so much more difficult.

Appropriate Responses….to the worst possible news: 2016

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I am a big fan of ‘Very British Problems’: I love their books (all three volumes), their mugs, especially their T-shirts and sweat shirts, board game and greetings cards.  I have to say that I have never seen the TV programme but I enjoy following them on Twitter (@soverybritish).  It’s funny how they really just manage to capture the sub-text.  “I don’t mean to be rude” usually means “I am afraid I am about to be rude” (and this will always translate into ‘sexist’, ‘racist’, disablist’ and any other manner of ‘ist’ things that people say); a regular of mine is “Not to worry” which can be easily translated into “You’ve ruined everything” or “Let’s agree to disagree” really meaning “You’re wrong but I’m tired”.  My absolute favourite is “It’s not quite what I had in mind” really meaning “What the bloody hell is this?”.  I think it is very clever to make light of what might be quite serious issues, because I do think that it makes people think, think about their own behaviour.  I can remember saying, on several different occasions, when I have been told someone has died “You’re joking”.  I don’t mean that I think someone is playing a trick or having a laugh; it’s a terrible thing to say, and I always have to apologise, but I continue to do it because I do not have the right words to say at that moment (but I always seem to come up with the wrong ones).

So, I was really excited when I got this tea towel for my birthday in 2016.  The fact is Very British Problems have got a good range of ‘stupid’ things that people say to bad news.  I can remember being told by our funders that the organisation I worked for had lost a contract worth half a million pounds and saying “Righto” when what I wanted to say could not be written in this blog.  It was after that occasion that I created a list of swear words, that could be strung together as one word; if I got news like the loss of a huge contract, I could retreat to the toilets and recite the mantra, time and again, until I could face other people.  It helped and I have been able to adapt this to situations that still happen, even though I am not at work: like when I received a text on Christmas Day 2017 from the DWP telling me that I would lose my DLA (that had been awarded, for life, 20 years ago) if I didn’t complete a PIP form within a two week time frame, although I hadn’t even received the form to complete.  Then there was the day that the car almost blew up (and certainly broke down), as we got on the motorway to rush to the hospital, 100 miles away, to see Liz’s dad who had just had a massive stroke and it was thought he wouldn’t live.   My ‘string of words’ came into use when we were driving to Heathrow Airport to go to Sri Lanka and about half way there I discovered we should be going to Gatwick Airport, some considerable distance further (we did catch the plane with a few minutes to spare).

I was thinking about Great Grandma Day, which took place on Sunday.  When his Great Grandmother died last year, Hamish (not quite 8 at the time) had suggested we should have a day each year to remember her, called Great Grandma Day, an amazingly sensitive thing to do for a child so young.  No one was really sure he would remember this idea, a year later, but he did and we gathered together to have a roast dinner (because she always cooked a roast on a Sunday) with carrots (I can’t ever remember having a meal without a carrot), parsnip croquettes, handmade (which she always did), drinking apple and ginger juice (because we always had that to drink).  We settled on roast potatoes rather than, as she proudly announced one meal “these are a Delia Smith recipe; rosemary and garlic potatoes but without the rosemary and garlic because I didn’t have any” (they just tasted like roast potatoes to me).  Great Grandma Day got me to thinking about all the inappropriate responses that are made following the death of someone but always accompanied by “tea?” Or more often than not, not even being given a choice; it just appears.  Why don’t people offer a coffee at the time of a death?.  There was a good amount of tea on Great Grandma Day because that seemed appropriate.

Great Grandma Day was a lovely coming together of people who did ordinary things, like she would have done: playing table tennis, colouring, doing a jigsaw and exchanging memories.  I will always associate that day with this tea towel and hope that isn’t the last Great Grandma Day for Dorothy.  Thank you Hamish for such a great idea.

2017 Calendar Tea Towel

CEA67128-0512-4E75-9BC4-A696FD893CDBIt’s been a while since I blogged about a tea towel; I gave myself a rest after the ‘marathon’ of the Twelve Days of Christmas but I’m back on track and what better way to start than to ‘do’ a Calendar Tea Towel?  I bought this one at the beginning of 2017.  This was an unusual thing for me to do because I was still a bit reluctant about Calendar Tea Towels (got over that now and am a big fan).  I bought it for the sole purpose of writing about it at the beginning of 2018, as a way of reflecting on 2017 and perhaps even setting some resolutions (or targets; I work well with a bit of a target).  I was fortunate enough to find the Ulster Weavers ‘Emily’ pattern.  This is a favourite of mine and matches the ‘Emily’ shopping bag that I have; that is definitely the best, and sturdiest, shopping bag that I have, easy to carry, well-shaped, light and stylish (and with short handles which is what I need).

So Emily, how did we do in 2017?  2017 was an extraordinary year, full of happenings, some sad, some joyous, some hilarious, some just pleasant.  If this works well I might consider doing my next Christmas Newsletter as a Calendar Tea Towel!  The year started, unexpectedly, with a huge sadness.  Since October 2015, the health of Jean and David had been a concern, a serious concern; admissions to hospital, near death experiences, slow recoveries.  All concern was centred on the two of them.  Dorothy had, to everyone’s surprise, eventually settled into a care home, still visited David two or three times a week, went to the Golf Range each week, with her Zimmer frame, led an active social life, took up new interests.  In 2016, she did break her hip but, somehow, because she had dementia, she forgot she had done this and her recovery was very speedy.  In early January 2017, Dorothy had another fall, and broke her other hip.  Two members of staff sat with her, while she waited for an ambulance, (you are not a priority if you are in a care home, with staff with you, warm, reasonably comfortable and fully conscious).  Then she had a massive heart attack, needed to be revived, was rushed to hospital, never regained consciousness and died three days later, with her daughters at her side.  This was a huge and massive shock; this was not expected.  The funeral was one of the most beautiful, and personal, I have ever been to; it certainly was Dorothy’s funeral.  The service, in the crematorium, was in the morning, with only very close family; in the afternoon, there was a Memorial Service, open to friends and family alike.  It was definitely the right way to do things.  The afternoon was a celebration of Dorothy’s life and memories, with her favourite hymns, a slide show of her life and tea and cakes, made by her daughters and grandchildren, celebrating her love of baking and her favourite cakes.  Residents from the home, in which she lived, were able to come to the service.  This wasn’t how we imagined the year starting.  Grief is difficult to live with; in that first year, everything is ‘the first’: first birthday without her, first wedding anniversary, first Christmas, first New Year, first holiday where you didn’t bring her a present back, first Mother’s Day, first bulbs in the garden, first rose on the James Galway rose bush, first Wimbledon Champioship, first Golf Masters…….

The rest of the year picked up.  In April, I decided to set up the Virtual Tea Towel Museum.  “When?”, I was asked.  “1st July”, I replied.  “So long?” they said.  “Yes there is a lot of work to do”: re-photograph just over 800 tea towels, appropriately, not slung on the back of the chair.  Since the garden was chosen as the setting, this requires both dry and wind-free weather; that didn’t happen until May and even then there were days with gale force winds.  Why not take the opportunity of re-organising the tea towels at the same time as photographing them?  Having had long discussions with my friend Lyn about mechanisms, with her trying various methods, I decided on the ‘Trouser Hanger’ method, with ten tea towels to a hanger.  Another delay, I had to find out where to get some hangers.  M&S didn’t want to donate any, so I was trawling the internet.  Found them at last.  So if I was hanging them on trouser hangers, I still needed to be able to use them in rotation therefore I had to number the hangers.  To catalogue them properly, I had to record which hanger each tea towel was on.  This is why I needed three months.  Then I had to tackle the technology; setting up a website is not a skill I would put on my CV.  I kept thinking about new ideas: why not invite other people to write about their own personal tea towels? Why not interview people in the tea towel industry?  But, in the end, 1 July 2017 was the opening day; I became the Curator.  It’s great to have a job that I want, that I didn’t have to be interviewed for.  The last six months have just been full of happiness and joy.  I know people think I am bonkers, but I don’t care.  I am so lucky to be able to do something I love so much; I look forward to doing this for a long time to come.

But 2017 hasn’t all been about tea towels, although most other things things I’ve done have a bit of a link with a tea towel.  Holidays have been great: a week in the Aberdeen Lighthouse cottage in February (and lots of tea towels); a week in April in the caravan in London, visiting Kew Gardens, trips on the Thames, up the Shard, views from the Sky Garden, dinner at Adam Handling’s restaurant and revisiting where I grew up in Ealing, where my mother planted  the Mayor’s Tree in 1958, paying tribute to Dorothy by visiting Tottenham where she grew up (and lots of tea towels).  There was a fortnight in Fife, a place I’ve never visited, a trip to the Isle of May, my first visit to a Highland Games, so much more (and so many tea towels).  This was the holiday when, for the first time, I forgot to pack a tea towel!  But what about two weeks at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, staying in the caravan at North Berwick and a trip to Bass Rock, saw more than 25 shows, all of which were great; discovered great musicians like the Sorries and Elsa Jean McTaggart, fell about laughing at ‘Brexit the Musical’, saw Arthur Smith paying tribute to Leonard Cohen (and remembering seeing Arthur Smith back in the 70s when he was at the University of East Anglia),  saw Sue Perkins who was hilarious and wondered why I hadn’t been back to the Fringe Festival for so long (and so many tea towels).

This was the year that I went back to Aberdeen to stay in the Aberdeen Lighthouse cottage for a second time, with Liz and her grandson Hamish.  He wanted to see his great great aunt Jean, who he had only met when he was 18 months old.  He loved the Aberdeen weather, the beach with its waves and greyness, the Science Museum and the Maritime Museum and this was when I learned to play indoor Crazy Golf.

This was the year that I went to Florence to celebrate my cousin, Andrew’s 25th Wedding Anniversary.  I had attended the wedding (and have very little memory of it but Elena, his wife, reminded me of it with the photos.  I still didn’t remember it) but it was wonderful to revisit Florence and be escorted up the hills overlooking Florence by Andrew, and view the city as the sun went down.  We ate wonderful food, including the re-creation of the original wedding cake, met Elena’s mother and saw her truly beautiful flat.  I met my first cousins, once-removed, for the first time and had long debates with Andrew and Emilio about the intracasies of veganism.  The last time I saw my cousin John, Andrew’s brother, was when he performed the marriage ceremony twenty five years ago.  It was great to meet up with my Uncle Ferruccio who I last saw in 2015.  An important family gathering in the company of someone else who loves tea towels.

In 2017, I decided to move house.  I was very excited, going to ‘down size’, or ‘right size’ as they say these days.  I knew that I wanted to move to Nottingham, found an area that I really liked and which had a lot of bungalows; I looked at properties, found numerous ones that I would be happy to live in, but there were no viewers for my own bungalow.  After the 20 week commitment to one Estate Agent, I changed Estate Agents; there were a lot more viewings, and I got excited again, but no offers and by 31 December 2017 there had not been a single offer.  The garden was too small (I was moving because the garden was much too big; what did they want, a farm?), it was too noisy (you can’t hear a thing), the kitchen cupboards were too pink (they are actually Cranberry).  You see, I don’t want feedback; I just want to know if someone is going to buy it or not.  I don’t want reassuring noises from Estate Agents; I want a buyer.  All my friends said “It will be 2018” and they might actually be right; they say that moving house is one of the three most stressful things that you can do (and they are right).  I am hopeful the 2018 tea towel will have a cheerier tale to tell on the House Moving Front.

This year has been a year of decluttering.  I am good at decluttering; I have a system but I can’t do it quickly, it has to be done with thought and care.  I didn’t intend to declutter the chickens, by feeding them to the fox, but I did lose five and haven’t replaced them (because I was moving).  I now have a very elderly chicken, who has retired, and one left over from the ravages of the fox who has laid every day since I bought her, and every day since her mates were killed.  I decided that I would dispose of all my books (or at least most of them) because I read on a Kindle and will never go back to holding a heavy and cumbersome, hardback book, trying not to drop it or lose my place.  I sold some via the internet, gave some to friends, a few to Charity Shops and then discovered the secondhand bookshop at Blickling Hall where I donated 27 boxes, well over a 1000 books.  It felt like such a relief; and with them gone I was in a much better position to move; after all, who needs a book on the Battles of Napoleon, 800 pages long?  Decluttering extended to getting rid of what I described as ‘my work clothes’, clothes that I had only worn to work and, lets face it, I retired over two years ago.  Several large pieces of furniture have gone, only kept because I have the space to keep it.  Why does one keep old tins of paint, paint from a previous incarnation of decorating?  But there are things that are better held by other generations of my family: the OBE medal, belonging to my mother, was given to Andrew.  Mounted in a frame, it was quite heavy to carry to Florence but did arrive safely.

My second year of retirement has been great but one of the things that I have learnt is that, whatever I do, I work better if I have a ‘list’: whether it is setting up a Museum, going on holiday, decluttering, doing housework, I need a List.  I used to do it at work, have a ‘Things To Do’ list but thought I could survive in retirement without one.  Now I have a notebook where I keep my lists; it’s so satisfying being able to cross things off a list.  This leads me to ‘The 49ers’.  In the process of decluttering, I came across a small navy velvet pouch, with a corded drawstring.  In it was 49 pennies, with numbers from 1 to 49 on them; what on earth was this?  I knew I hadn’t done this and then I recognised the handwriting; it belonged to John.  What did he do with this? After much pondering, I remembered that this was how he chose his 6 lottery numbers each week, by randomly pulling them out of the small pouch.  It must have taken him ages to construct; I couldn’t throw them away but what use could they have?  Liz came up with a great idea: make a list of 49 small things that we could do and each week pick a number and carry out the task.  This has been great fun and there have been very few things that have not been achieved.  The most significant not achieved was a trip to the OlympicMuseum in Lausanne; something to be done in 2018.  We realised that for the 49ers to work effectively, the tasks had to be small and easy to complete in that week.  ‘Take a bus trip’, ‘go to a National Trust property not previously visited’, ‘go out for Afternoon Tea with somebody’, ‘go on a Steam Railway’, ‘buy some Premium Bonds’, ‘make a jam’ or ‘do a jigsaw’ are some of the tasks completed.  It has been nice to do things out of my Comfort Zone, or unexpected things.  I love the ‘49ers’ and will use them again this year.

This year I have been introduced to small pickled gherkins, Moroccan Hummus and Gala Pie; how could I have missed out on these things, all this time?  I’ve tried Kangaroo sausages, Samphire, revisited traditional Prawn Cocktail, just like you used to get in a Berni Inn, tried celeriac (and thought I wouldn’t bother again), ate in the Sky Garden and The Frog (very posh) and loved it all.

The weather earlier this year meant that I could eat breakfast on the patio every day for more than four months.  I joined a Creative Writing Class, which I loved, and where I was faced with some good writing challenges; played Mah Jongg at least every other week with Gwyn and Pete; crafted some tea towels, painted some solar lights and decorated tote bags with Gwyn and Pete.

2017 saw my tea towel collection grow to more than 900 (and is still growing).  I am now the proud owner of an Ipad Pro, all gold and beautiful and clever and easy to use with a keyboard that I just want to caress!  I watched ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ and wanted Debbie McGhee to win; I discovered ‘Broadchurch’ and wondered why I didn’t watch it when it started; I watched so many Christmas movies that I feel there can be none that I haven’t seen (and am not ashamed to say that I did it).  2017 was the year that Leonard Cohen died, the man who I thought was just amazing, if a little gloomy.  I loved his voice, the words of his songs and it was great to see Arthur Smith’s tribute to him.  Very sadly, 2017 was the year my favourite tea towel designer, Pat Albeck, died.  I am disappointed that my 2017 tea towel was not a National Trust Calendar tea towel, designed by Pat.  I am on the look-out for one, but at least 2018 is one of hers.  I haven’t quite decided how the Virtual Tea Towel Museum is going to ‘mark’ her death, and pay tribute to her, but it will.

2017, despite its ups and downs, has been a lovely year, a year to remember.  It has taught me that you do not know what is around the corner and that you have to make the most of what is on offer; don’t put off things, take the opportunities because they may not come along again.  One of the things that I am very grateful for is that tea towels have been a means for me to make links with people all across the world, to hear about other people’s lives and their interests, people like Mari and I am delighted about that.  Thank you to all those people that read my blog, it has been a pleasure to read your comments.  Here’s to 2018🥃🍺☕️🍸🍾🍹🍻🥂🍷