Portmeirion Pomona: 1987

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Simply, I bought this tea towel in the Portmeirion Factory Shop in Stoke-on-Trent.  John and I went there to buy some plates in the Botanic Garden design and came back with some pasta bowls in the Pomona design!!  Great start to a Tea Towel Blog!

I’ve talked about the 49ers; these are one pence pieces which I found in a navy blue, velvet pouch.  Each penny piece had a number on it, from 1 to 49.  Every Saturday, John would pick six numbers for his National Lottery ticket.  It was a way of randomly selecting numbers, not particularly lucky.  He never won anything more than £10.  I had forgotten all about this ritual because I don’t ‘do’ the Lottery but I did come across them when doing some of the sorting out for the Big Move.

With this find, Liz and I decided to set up the 49ers: each number has a challenge attached to it and every Monday we take turns in picking a number and matching it with a 49er.  Last Monday, Liz picked number 22 which was ‘Visit a National Trust property you have never visited before’.  This was always going to be tricky because there are so few National Trust properties in, or near, Leicestershire, that we haven’t visited.  However, on Sunday we were visiting Liz’s Dad, travelling on the A1.  Suddenly I saw a National Trust sign to Woolsthorpe Manor.  “Have you been to Woolsthorpe Manor?” I asked Liz.  “No” says Liz.  “We could complete a 49er, if we visited on the way back” I said.  And that’s what we did.

Woolsthorpe Manor is a delightful property, not one I had heard of before.  It was where Isaac Newton was born, and returned to from Cambridge, during the Plague in 1665, to work in solitude, experimenting obsessively, laying the foundations of science today.  In the grounds there is the apple tree, cordoned off by a small woven fence, where Isaac Newton questioned why an apple falling from the tree always falls straight to the ground, thus developing the Theory of Gravity.  He developed the mathematical science of Calculus; he worked with prisms of light.  This small traditional farmhouse offers a hands-on experience of gravity and his other work.  The setting is delightful, as is the cafe from where you can watch children, elders and every age in between, playing with Newton’s ideas.

I loved Woolsthorpe Manor, only to be disappointed by the fact that the shop sold two tea towels, both of scenes from Cornwall.  Why would you sell a tea towel with a scene of Cornwall, at a property described as ‘the place where the world changed’.  There are so many images from this property that would make a great tea towel: an image of The Apple Tree, some of Newton’s handwritten calculations, a split prism, a picture of Newton himself, an image of the house and so much more, even a picture of an apple.  Poor marketing.  There was no way in which I could bring myself to buy a tea towel of Cornwall from a property that has no connection with it.

Then I remembered the Portmeirion Pomona tea towel.  Pomona was the Goddess of fruit and orchards; the Portmeirion design is based on this and I felt it was the nearest link I could make to Woolsthorpe Manor!  I think at least one of the fruits is an apple, or at least the flowering branches.  It was a great day out, maybe one day the National Trust will bring out a site-specific tea towel for this great place.

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Stormy Seas: 2009

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I bought this tea towel from a gift shop near the Farne Islands.  I was looking for one of Grace Darling (local heroine, and daughter of a lighthouse keeper, who was involved in the rescue of men on the paddlesteamer ‘Forfarshire’ that sank near the Farne Islands).  I was disappointed that there were no tea towels with references to Grace Darling; it seemed wrong somehow.  Instead, I bought this one which showed, what I can only describe as, ‘stormy seas’ near a lighthouse.  It is quite striking but not what I was really looking for.

Today, ‘Stormy Seas’ seems like an appropriate title for a Tea Towel Blog because I am about to ring the solicitor to find out about a house moving date.  This is a routine that happens at least twice a day.  It’s a good job this is a ‘fixed fee, no sale, no fee’ deal otherwise I would be bankrupt.  This process of moving house, which I expected to take some time, has been so frustrating.  The ‘chain’ has been in place for several months but somehow you feel you are not being told the full story; that story gradually emerges and certainly if I had known it at the beginning I would never have accepted the offer.  My advice to anyone selling a house is never, and I mean never, accept an offer from someone with 100% mortgage, with family acting as guarantors.  It might be the only ‘quick’ way someone can get on the housing ladder but for the sellers it means things take three times as long – the financial investigations of anyone in the process of being a guarantor take so long and everyone involved has to have a full investigation.  No bank wants to be involved with anything that might look like ‘money laundering’.

So ‘stormy seas’ it is today; it’s about whether I can keep my cool and not use language that I would normally be ashamed of.  It’s about whether I can actually get an answer rather than “I’ll chase it up and let you know” and, of course, no one lets you know and by the time you ring back, the person you need to speak to has gone home, left the office, is in a meeting, is on the phone, is busy.  And the next day we start again.  At the end of each day, I think ‘why not just withdraw from this chain and start again?’ And at the beginning of the following day I try to be optimistic.

Wollaton Hall: 2018

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Regular readers, don’t get excited; I haven’t ‘down-sized’ to Wollaton Hall!  The rate this house moving process is going, it feels unlikely that I will move at all.  I understand, totally, why they say that moving house is one of the three most stressful things you can do in your life.  I hate it, the waiting, being in the hands of other people, people faffing about with 100% family mortgages, people changing lenders and always being worried that the sellers of the property I want will throw their hands in the air and say “We’re not moving”.

In an attempt at being positive, on Easter Day, we went for a walk around the grounds of Wollaton Hall, a stone’s throw from where I would like to live.  This was in an attempt to break the tradition I have of not being interested in visiting places in my locality.  It was a dull day; it wasn’t actually raining but it certainly wasn’t sunny; it wasn’t cold but just a bit muddy.  It was good to be in the fresh air, seeing something new and it had a nice cafe.  My only criticism would be that for people new to the site there aren’t enough sign posts.  After a nice cup of tea, Liz spotted The Shop.  I thought she was brave to even mention it.  And there it was – a tea towel of Wollaton Hall by local artist Helen Nowell.  What I like about this tea towel is the solid background colour of grey, which you can see through the windows.  But it is also available with an identical backing but in jade green or purple; the drawing takes on a different aspect with the different colours.  Very clever.

The sight of a tea towel certainly cheered me up and I began to think all might be alright.  The only problem was that it rained the whole week after so I couldn’t photograph it until yesterday and now I find myself in the same position, no movement, no exchange of contracts, a house half-packed and the doubts creep back into my mind.  Need to go somewhere else to find a tea towel to cheer me up.

Sheringham: 1979

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I have told the tale, many times, of how we used to take a group of people with learning difficulties to Pontin’s Holiday Camp in Pakefield, Suffolk for a week’s holiday; this was when I worked at an Adult Training Centre in Mountsorrel.  I was involved every year from 1974 to 1979.  In 1979, I bought a tea towel of Sheringham, just up the coast from Pakefield and when I returned home I was conscripted into writing an article about our week in Pakefield which was sent, in a newsletter, to all 120 families.  I do not recall that Ted Harris, the manager, ever censored my articles!  Here it is, in full, as I wrote it 39 years ago!

“The Best Yet”

An account of the annual holiday at Pontins Holiday Camp at Pakefield:                   22nd – 29th September 1979

”We were again a very large party – over 120 (including 16 from the hospital) – setting off to Pakefield for the fifth time this year, however, we had quite a few newcomers – both staff and members.  Some ‘old hands’ had dropped out only to be replaced by quite a few young members and those who had only joined the centre within the last year.  These people settled down exceptionally well and quickly adjusted to the ‘Pakefield Scene’.  We also had several new members of staff, including two Police Cadets who, although only 17, coped marvellously well with their responsibilities; the other newcomers were Mr & Mrs Thompson and Andrew.

We had no bad news to report – no sickness and diarrhoea (which I spelt ‘diahorrea’ and no one corrected me!); no illnesses or accidents; no behaviour problems; no rain and bad weather.  In fact, we were very lucky with the weather – really hot and sunny most of the time, which meant we could spend a lot of time walking on the beach, paddling, and playing rounders, football and cricket on the field.

For those parents and friends who are not acquainted with the fun of Pakefield, during the day there is a wide range of sports facilities available including darts, table tennis, snooker, putting, Crazy Golf, football, swimming in a heated pool.  In addition, there is a cafe and daytime activities, competitions and entertainment in the ballroom.  In the evening, the whole group tends to sit in the bar (which has access to the dance floor) playing bingo, then sipping our shandies and joining in the dancing and watching the cabaret.  It is really amazing how many members can join in such dances as St Bernard’s Waltz, Veleta, the Barn Dance etc which they have learnt at the Centre (and put on a better performance than many other campers!).

During the week there are a number of competitions in which we had our fair share of success: Ian, our Police Cadet, won the Topsy Turvey Fancy Dress Competition; Mr Hill won the Talent Competition; we had First Prize (Jolly Green Giant), Second Prize (Dr Who and the Dalek) and Third Prize (Mr Gnu) in the main Fancy Dress Competition.  Our male instructors were beaten in the final of the Seaside Football Competition (only two teams entered!).  The highlight of the week for Mr Widdowson was his win of £103 at Bingo.  Mr Mullard was not allowed to enter the Talent Competition because he was about to appear in the All Pontins Talent Finals after winning last year, but he was asked to sing songs on the last night, in the main ballroom, and got a tremendous reception.

The meals had improved greatly since last year – they seemed to be better quality, more carefully cooked, and hot.  The speciality at every lunch time was a beautiful ‘Cold Table’ with a variety of salads and meats from which you helped yourself – this proved very popular with many of the members.

We took our two minibuses, which meant every group was able to go for a morning/afternoon to Great Yarmouth or Lowestoft and eight groups managed a whole day outing to Cromer in them (thus when I bought the tea towel).  We all went on a coach trip to Fritton Lake – a local beauty spot – which was great fun.

As usual, we were well accepted by the other 1500 holiday-makers and several members renewed acquaintances with people they had met last year.  A number of  campers were enquiring when we were going next year (20th September)!!! so that  they can book for the same week – how many groups of mentally handicapped (the terminology of the time) are that well accepted by the general public!!  On the Wednesday night, the Campers organised a collection for the next year’s deposit and raised £209.

This was the fifth consecutive year, at the same Camp, and we could be criticised for not going elsewhere.  However, our members are so well accepted, the holiday is excellent value for the price we pay, the staff are very friendly, there is just so much to do, no one could do it all in one week and all the members thoroughly enjoy themselves, that I can only hope that Local Authority spending cuts do not affect next year’s holiday.  An important factor in the enjoyment of the holiday is that the members know the camp so well that they can enjoy a little more freedom than they would be able to at a new camp and the other very important thing is that we can take any one who wants to go, regardless of handicap (always allowing we had the staff to cope) because the Camp offers such variety that everyone can be accommodated – there aren’t many Camps that can say the same!!!

A summary – this holiday was, I’m sure, considered by most to be the best yet and roll on next year!!

Reading this has been a real journey down memory lane, so much so that I do not remember Fritton Lake nor the delights of the ‘Cold Table’ or Mr Hill winning the Talent Competition (I can’t imagine what he did) or Mr Gnu.  I don’t even remember the Crazy Golf.  In 2009, on the Isle of Arran, I remember telling Liz that I had never played Crazy Golf before.  I now understand exactly why I need to blog about my tea towel collection; my memory is appalling.

However, having been to a Creative Writing Class, I can cringe at how many exclamation marks I used, how many hyphens and what long sentences I created.  There were even some appalling spelling mistakes that no one picked me up on!  I am fascinated by the reference to Local Authority spending cuts; I hadn’t remembered this was an issue back in 1979.  Some things don’t change.

Besides all that, they were good days!! And for those that might not be familiar with the Veleta there are several clips on YouTube that will explain it all to you.

The Minack Chronicles: 2015

I have always loved Cornwall.  I started going on holiday there in 1961 and went most years until 1989.  I liked the very narrow roads (as long as I wasn’t driving), the traditional field systems and stone walls, the small fields that stretch down to the cliffs.  My favourite place of all has to be Bedruthan Steps.

It was during the early 1980s that I was introduced to the books of Derek Tangye.  Once I had read ‘Gull on the Roof’, I was hooked and waded my way through most of the others. Derek Tangye lived in Cornwall for nearly 50 years.  He wrote 19 books which became known as the Minack Chronicles (after his farm which was called Dominack); these books were about the decision he and his wife made to leave good, and well paid, jobs in London, to find peace and solitude and to embark on a new life.  They ran a cliff-top daffodil farm.

There is a calm tranquility to the books with tales of disasters, funny anecdotes and some sadness.  They are completely absorbing.  My set of Derek Tangye books sat on the top shelf of my bookshelves for about 25 years.  As I moved from reading physical books to using a Kindle, these books became redundant and ended up in the National Trust second-hand bookshop.  About three months ago, I realised that I wanted to read Derek Tangye again; fortunately, his books are available on Kindle.  I’m on ‘Drake at the Door’ now, only 16 to go.  I suddenly realised just how much I had missed his writing and how much he makes me smile.  Derek’s approach to writing is to focus on the drama.  At the end of each chapter I am always asking myself, ‘how did they ever make a living?’ or ‘why didn’t they drive each other potty?’ But the books are just so good.

Jeannie died in 1986 and Derek lived at Dominack for another ten years.  They had bought the fields next to their cottage in order that they might be preserved for all time as a nature reserve, “a place for solitude”.

As I was coming to the end of ‘Drake at the Door’, it was time to use Helen Round’s tea towels and as I look at them, they epitomise Derek Tangye’s work.  The images just bring Derek Tangye to mind.  It’s the simplicity of the drawings, the beautiful natural flax colour as a background that draws the eye.  Helen Round lives in Cornwall, close to the sea, surrounded by nature; of course, she can bring Derek Tangye’s work to mind.  Someone said Helen’s work “is a celebration of all that is Cornwall”, as is Derek Tangye’s.  They go well together.

The Chinese Bird: 2017

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This tea towel came from the British Museum, bought for me by Jenny, for my birthday.  I have no idea whether it is a reprint from from a painting or whether it is a design in its own right.

What I do know is that I took one look and there was an instant reminder of three pictures I bought in China in 1987 (30 years ago).  My holiday in China was amazing, long before every tour company offered trips to China.  It was rare to find any tour company that went to China and certainly tourists were rarely allowed to travel independently.  Things changed a few years later.  I was part of a small group that went to Beijing and Chengde, near the Mongolian border.  We did everything that you could possibly imagine: from tours of the Forbidden City to walking along the Great Wall, from a visit to the Heavenly Temple to seeing Peking Opera, from eating a 17 course meal to a trip to a Chinese Kindergarten.

In Chengde, we stayed in a real Yurt (brilliant, nothing like Kate Aldridge’s Yurts in The Archers).  From there we went to a commune where they earned a living by creating paintings on silk.  They were unfrarmed, incredibly cheap and absolutely beautiful.  I bought three.  All three paintings were of different sizes and had paintings of birds, identical to this picture, flying around camellias of various shades of pink and white.  There was a simplicity about the colouring and detail, just stunning.  I had them framed and no matter where I have hung them, they just look beautiful.

All my pictures, and this tea towel, have Chinese writing and a Chinese stamp.  I’ve no idea what they mean but I like the touch.  The only difference between this tea towel and my pictures is the colour that is used, a cross between duck egg blue and teal on the tea towel; this is good because I have used these colours for the paintwork in my hall and bedroom.

I just love this tea towel and using it brings back so many memories, which will be useful if I ever get to move house!!

PS: Actually having called this The Chinese Bird it might be Japanese!!

Edinburgh Botanic Garden: 1998 onwards

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The first time that I went to Royal Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh was in 1998.  Liz and I had gone to see Jai in the Leicestershire Youth Arts Production of ‘The Hired Man’ and were spending a few extra days seeing more shows and meeting up with Liz’s aunts from Aberdeen. They came down on the train and we arranged a programme of activities, including seeing the play and lunch out with Jai.  This was the only time that I had seen Myra out of her home city of Aberdeen and she died in 2006.

In 2007, we were in Edinburgh again; this time only Jean and Betty came.  We arranged another programme of activities, bearing in mind we knew that Betty was in the early stages of dementia.  It was amazing that they both came and enjoyed themselves.  It was hard, though, to see Betty struggling with things like money and eating in public.

We started on the City Tour Bus, which you can hop on and off, all day.  Our first stop was the Botanic Gardens.  We discovered the newly opened Queen Mother’s Memorial Garden, in memory of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother.  The design was stunning; the four corners were split into different geographical areas, with plants from Asia, Europe, North America and the Southern Hemisphere.  At the heart of each was a seating area with a specimen tree acting as a strong focal point.  Around the edge of the garden were engraved tablets of Caithness stone bearing the names of charities, societies and companies the Queen Mother was associated with.  It was a very moving garden that both Betty and Jean loved, with plenty of places to sit down.

Not long after this trip, Betty’s health deteriorated and she found it difficult to leave the house; then, in 2011, she moved into a Care Home.  Somehow, no matter how much we loved the Botanic Gardens and how beautiful they were, they held a kind of sadness for us because it was the last place we saw both Myra and Betty out of their home.

In 2016, Liz broke her arm very badly and was in a caste, then a brace, for more than four months; no gardening, no holidays, no driving.  However, Lynn and Helen offered to  share a holiday with us and do the driving.  We agreed on November in Edinburgh, staying in a flat.  This was a brilliant holiday and Liz decided to dispel the myths of the Edinburgh Botanic Gardens when she heard about the Botanic Lights 2016.  She decided to book tickets for the four of us.   Starting as soon as it gets dark, with entry by timed tickets, this was an illuminated trail that took a global journey showcasing and transforming the plant collection.  There was a carefully marked route, with trees lit from the ground upwards, prayer flags wrapped around another tree, projections on the facade of Inverleithen House, the Palm House illuminated, a truly magical experience.  The theme followed the steps of legendary plant collector, George Forrest, who brought more than 31,000 different species of plants from the Far East.  A hologram of the image of George Forrest was projected over the Chinese area of the gardens.  After we left, all four of us said that we wouldn’t normally have thought of this being something we would go to, yet it was magical.  We talk about it even today.

In December 2017, Liz and I stayed in Edinburgh, as a stopping off point to visit Jean in Aberdeen, and help her with her Christmas shopping.  Was the light show in the Royal Botanic Gardens going to be on this year?  Yes, it was, Christmas at the Botanics 2017, almost a month later this year.  This was completely different, yet equally mesmerising.  A brilliant show, well worth going to see.  This time we entered by a different gate and therefore got a very different perspective.  Inspired by the garden itself, the mile-long illuminated trail is described as a botanical wonderland, including a choir of singing conifers, a fairytale avenue, colour-changing conifer trees “festooned with giant baubles” and a flickering Scented Fire Garden.  The famous Beech Hedge of the Royal Botanic Garden was illuminated by flashes of sparkling light.  A truly memorable experience but especially so because it was so different, not better or worse, from the previous year.  I loved it and I’m glad we were able to put the sad memories behind us and just realise what we were missing by avoiding the Royal Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh.

My visits to the Royal Botanic Gardens have often been marked by a tea towel, appropriate to it.  The Thistle was bought in 2000, the Big Red Flower in 2005 and the one with the Palm House in 2007.  In 2017, I did buy a Turkey Lurkey but not appropriate for this blog.  As I use each of them, they conjure up a combination of good times, sad losses and the absolute beauty of the Botanic Lights.  Bring on 2018!!