Seals: 2009


I remember very clearly where, and when, I bought this tea towel.  It came from a small gift shop, near the village of Corrie, on the Isle of Arran.  I was staying for the first, but not last, time on Arran, in a small cottage overlooking the sea at Lamlash.  Arran was an island I fell in love with; it was the place I discovered the haggis and cheese toastie; it was the place I first learned to play Crazy Golf; it was the place that I forgot to take any towels  and had to buy a complete set of bath towels in a most unlikely shop in Brodick; it was the island where I discovered the wonders of Arran foods – cheese, ice cream, fish.

The weather that week was beautiful, except for one day when it poured with rain.  We decided that we would explore a part of the island that we hadn’t previously visited, the coast up to Corrie.  The rain had halted for a while and we stopped to look out to sea.  We suddenly saw seals bobbing up and down in the water, two, no three, playing around.  As the rain came back we retreated into a gift shop; although not a cafe, it offered mugs of tea and coffee while we wandered round the shop.  This is where we bought Christmas presents for Dorothy and Jean, delicate little hand painted birds; Liz bought a pair of earrings and a bracelet and I bought this tea towel.  There were several of the same design but in different colours.  I chose this one because it is so unusual, nothing like anything else I had; it wouldn’t be my favourite colour but it certainly is the most different.  I bought it because it reminded me of the three seals that I saw playing in the bay, just enjoying themselves.

For me, that is the one of the most beautiful things about tea towels; it is my way of being able to conjure up great memories when doing the most mundane of tasks – the wiping up.  Today, I can feel that I am back in Arran.

PS: I have never been really sure which way to hang this tea towel but, looking at it today, it does seem to be misaligned!!


Nantwich: 2010


My memories of Nantwich are slightly skewed.  In February 2010, Liz and I had decided to go and stay in a cottage in Cheshire.  This was to be a post-Christmas holiday, enjoying the winter sunshine and countryside, not in the school holidays so there wasn’t going to be lots of tourists.  What we hadn’t planned was for Liz’s sinuses to ‘play up’, definitely an underestimation about what happened.  Just after Christmas, her face felt as if it was on fire.  There was no way to stop the pain.  It involved seeing a consultant, X-rays, CT scans, trials of medication, seeing a dentist and sticking cameras up her nose.  It was a never-ending series of hospital appointments which stretched over a period nearly a year.  We were preparing to cancel the holiday.  Liz was reluctant to do this because she had been so demoralised by this medical experience that she still wanted to go on holiday.  The defining moment was going to be whether she was fit enough to drive.  She decided she could drive but we agreed that, once we got there, we wouldn’t go out on a lot of trips.  We were fortunate that Cheshire wasn’t too far from Leicestershire.

Firstly, the cottage we had booked was delightful, very cosy and warm so there was no problem about staying indoors.  We went to bed early on the first night because we were tired, and awoke to the whole countryside covered in a thick covering of snow.  There had been no warning of snow; this was a huge surprise.  As we looked out of the window, it started snowing again.  It was magical.  The cottage was quite isolated so that there were no buildings to interrupt the view.  The snow just lay on the branches of the trees.  As we looked out we saw animal footprints, no idea what had been wandering around but it was nice to think that wildlife was all around.  The snow had confined us to quarters for the first day.  Scrabble, films and books kept us occupied.

The next morning we looked out of the window, eagerly anticipating more snow; there was no more but it looked so inviting so we had a wander around, throwing snowballs.  We were glad that we had thought about bringing a lot of food with us.  There was no more snow that day but it still looked beautiful.  The next morning we eagerly looked out of the window but, disappointingly, all the snow was gone.  Virtually nothing was left.  It was almost like that we had dreamt it.  Bright sunshine bathed the countryside.  Time for a bit of a trip out.  Nantwich here we come.  I’d never been to Nantwich before, didn’t know anything about it.  My memory of Nantwich is that there were four delightful, very different tea rooms which we took advantage of.  My favourite was definitely the one located in a bookshop.  Tea rooms are a great encouragement not to do a lot but sit around and ‘people-watch’, which was our plan.  Nantwich has some beautiful, old, black and white buildings.  Nantwich was founded on the basis of the salt industry, not something I had heard of.  Nantwich is also the base for some big events: the International Cheese Awards, Food Festival, Jazz and Blues Festival and the Worm Charming Championships.  What more could you want?  A tea towel, of course and here is a very traditional tea towel with pictures of the key features of Nantwich.

I loved Nantwich as a small town but my memories largely feature the strange circumstances around which we found ourselves in Cheshire but it did have a happy ending!!

Canadian Road Map for Travellers and Tourists: 1988


Last Saturday was our Annual Christmas Buffet.  Seven of us meet up, sometime near  Christmas, to have a ‘home-made’ Christmas Buffet, pull crackers (or this year, we had to make our own crackers), play silly games and mull over the past year, and many Christmases before that.  The seven of us have known each other for many years, through multifarious connections, that cross-over, interlink and double-back on themselves; a bit like those children’s games where you had to trace the end of piece of string, from a bundle of pieces of string.

Last year, we all took ‘Goodie Bags’ home, prepared by Gwyn.  This year, she organised a Bran Tub.  I certainly got a present that was just made for me.  No, not a tea towel; better than a tea towel at this point of the Blog.  It was a book called ‘Lost in Translation’; you will hear a lot more about ‘Lost in Translation’ in future Blogs.

We don’t play games that challenge our imaginations, like Charades, or games that make us think, like Trivial Pursuit.  Last year, we played Racing Santas, with wind-up little Santas that race against each other along the table.  This year, we progressed to the more intellectual ‘Christmas Bingo’, with a chocolate coin as a prize for a ‘full house’, only awarded if you remember to shout “Christmas Bingo” AND Reindeer Hoopla where someone sits with an inflatable set of antlers on their heads while everyone throws inflatable hoops and tries to hook them on the antlers.  This is a game of skill; it is difficult, however, to demonstrate that skill while you are crying with laughter.

In quieter moments, in between chomping our way through Pigs in Blankets, Liz K (of Guest Tea Towel fame in asked me how many tea towels I had left that I needed to blog about, as long as they didn’t increase in number.  Liz K has read every single blog that I have written; I think she was getting desperate, needing to know how long this torture would last.  “I don’t know, possibly 200” I said (the actual figure is about 214, give or take a few).  In the past, Liz K has commented that she had learnt a lot about me through the Blog, a lot more than when I was at work; she has described the Blogs as ‘an autobiography that isn’t in order yet’.  She took me by surprise by asking if there were any tea towels that were too painful to write about.  Instinctively, I said “yes” although I’m glad she didn’t ask which they were, because I couldn’t bring them to mind then.  But I knew there were some.  I have thought about her question a lot; I have looked down the list of those tea towels yet to be blogged about.  There are still some U.T.Ts (Unidentified Tea Towels) and some that will just result in very short stories but the hardest now are the remaining ones, six in all, from my holiday in Canada in 1988.  It is curious; why are those so painful, after all, I have already written about tea towels that are associated with sadness and death, missing people……..

My holiday in Canada in 1988 with John, my late husband was amazing; it introduced me to slightly more adventurous holidays; it was very emotional because John was able to meet his youngest brother, Sam, who had emigrated many years previously with whom he had lost touch; it gave me the chance to see such a wonderful country that I have always longed to return to.  And, Canada was the ‘Land of Tea Towels’.  Wherever you went there were tea towels; and I bought a good few of them.  I have already written about Niagara Falls (two tea towels in a Blog dated 11 July 2015, Butchart Gardens (two tea towels in a Blog dated 3 September 2015) and the Museum of Anthropology in Vancouver (three tea towels in a Blog dated 9 April 2016).  The fact is, that if I finish the Blogs about Canada 1988, it will be the end of that holiday, that experience, that story and maybe the end of blogging about John.  Sure, I’ve gone on about him quite a lot, and there are other places that we went on holiday to that I have still to Blog about.  But, for me, there was something special about that holiday, I like the memories, I want them to continue.  Let’s face it, that holiday was 30 years ago, pull yourself together and get on with it, Barbara.

Liz K’s question gave me the inspiration to weave seven tea towels into this Blog, and probably be happy with it.  It started with my first trip to my favourite Charity Shop where I discovered  ‘Canadian Road Map for Travellers and Tourists’, which I admired greatly.  The picture does not do it justice because it is huge, much bigger than the Italian tourist tea towels; it is in vibrant colours with the words ‘Hand printed real linen’ at the top, as part of the design.  There’s loads of information on it, roads, traffic signs and it reminds me of the holiday I had, flying in to Quebec, moving on to Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto (via the Niagara Falls), moving across to Calgary, Banff, Jasper (where’s Jasper on the map), Lake Louise, Kamloops down through the Rockies to Vancouver and Victoria Island.  No, I didn’t cruise up the coast to Alaska or venture south to Seattle, both places I still want to go to but I did have an amazing time.  I did ride on a train that was held up by a bear on the line, I did meet a moose on the Main Street of Banff, I did take so many beautiful photographs of Lake Louise, I did go on the Athabaster Glacier in Alberta and I did go to Prince George and take the train down the Rockies to Vancouver, alongside the Fraser River.

So let me introduce you to my six remaining tea towels, starting with Montreal and Toronto:

I loved Montreal for it cosmopolitan nature, a big city, lots of French speakers, great food.  We walked around Montreal, through its parks for hours on end.  Looking back, I can’t remember if Nick, my friend from school, was living there at the time.  If he was I was definitely guilty of not trying to visit him.  Besides the excursion to Niagara Falls and the delightful small towns where I came across my first Christmas Shop, ever, and I still have two decorations that I bought there, Toronto, too, is a big city.  I was offered the opportunity to go up CN Tower, which had been completed in 1976 and, at that time, was the world’s tallest free standing building and I turned it down.  That sort of height would not be my idea of fun.  I found no tea towels in Ottawa or Quebec!

Now on to the next two:  Alberta and Vancouver.

The Wild Rose is the state flower of Alberta; I loved the simplicity of this tea towel, made of the same material, and is the same size, as that of Montreal.  The one from Vancouver is very different and shows Vancouver as a big city, much more detail and in cheap cotton.  I think Vancouver was my favourite city; I loved the trains and the Museums; I loved my trip to Victoria, and Stanley Park with the Totem Poles.  And I did go on the SkyTrain which had only been opened three years.

My final two tea towels are (a) Stanley Park, the place that all tourists go to see the truly beautiful Totem Poles and (b) Inukstuk which is a beautifully crafted tea towel with images of Inukstuk, the Inuit name for man-made creations, supposedly representing a human form and located where there might be danger or a site of great importance.

Thank you Liz K for asking the question.  I’ve had a great time, remembering all those great times and being grateful for all the tea towels I have, to bring back those memories.  Not only that I have been able to knock seven off that list of 214 tea towels that need blogging about, I have got rid of that feeling that I wouldn’t be able to finish the Canada 1988 holiday.  Sometimes, someone just has to ask!

Martha’s Vineyard: 2007


I knew that Martha’s Vineyard was part of the itinerary of my holiday to New England, but I hadn’t really thought about what exactly Martha’s Vineyard was.  My two thoughts were: it is where Chappaquiddick Island is, where Edward Kennedy was involved in a car accident that killed Mary Jo Kopechne.  That was July 1969, yet I could still remember the name of the place and the girl involved.  I also remember the ‘scandal’ that was allegedly part of the story.  Martha’s Vineyard is also the place that Alexandra Cooper, heroine of Linda Fairstein’s crime novels, retreats for a break from the stressful life she lives.

If I had done my research, Martha’s Vineyard is actually a small island off Massachusetts, just south of Cape Cod.  It is a New England summer colony with harbour towns and lighthouses, sandy beaches and farmland.  It is the 58th largest American island (now there’s a fascinating fact for you!).  It is home to one of the earliest known Deaf Communities and where a particular form of sign language was developed – Martha’s Vineyard Sign Language.  56% of the properties on the island are seasonally occupied; this is where the cost of living is reputedly 60% higher than the national average, while property is 96% higher than the national average.  Martha’s Vineyard was where the film ‘Jaws’ was filmed.

I loved Martha’s Vineyard because of the delightful little towns, especially Edgartown which had a wonderful, quintessentially English tea room with fine bone china and loose leaf tea.  It was here that I was introduced to the books of Philip R Craig, who had died a couple of months before my holiday.  He wrote about the island in a lot of detail and as I read his books I felt I was back there, in the tea room, having a chat with the locals.  It is a huge disappointment to me that Philip R Craig’s books are not available on Kindle.  One of my best buys was a Martha’s Vineyard hoodie which is warm and has worn so well.  Martha’s Vineyard is definitely one of those places that takes you back in time, to a more peaceful age where ‘people watching’ was to be encouraged.  This honeycomb tea towel is excellent for wiping up and holds good memories; it is a tea towel with a lot of information and all the reminders that you want.

Meconopsis: 2005


I am not someone who really enjoys being with large groups of people all the time.  I think if you have something like epilepsy, crowds can be quite daunting.  For me, the strain of having to concentrate hard to keep up with more than one conversation and, always have an appropriate response, is draining; I’m much better with small groups of people, or sometimes being on my own; it is just so much easier.  Other people often find this difficult to understand; if they’ve never seen me have a seizure, or haven’t heard me muddle words up, they can be quite dismissive, or just try and reassure me that everything is ok.  That’s not what it’s about; it’s about how I feel.  I am not concerned about how people will react to me, that’s their problem; it’s about how I feel, what I know I have lost.  So going on one of those large cruise liners is like my idea of absolute hell.  Certainly not something to be enjoyed.  But sometimes there are places that I want to see, that I am never going to reach on my own, without a driving licence.  St Kilda is one of those places, as is Canna.  In 2005, the National Trust for Scotland was running a cruise, on a relatively small boat, round the Scottish coastline, starting in Glasgow and ending up in Edinburgh; there was a stop all day, every day with trips to various National Trust properties.

So I took a gamble and went on the cruise; it was only a week, after all, and if I hated it I could stay in my cabin and read books.  I was wrong, it was great.  The weather was fantastic, the places to visit were amazing, it didn’t feel like there were too many people.  I got to see St Kilda which was somewhere I had always wanted to visit; spent a day on Canna which I have returned to on a number of occasions.  One port call was to Aberdeen so I took the opportunity to spend the day with my friend Jean and her sisters. Another stop was Inverewe Gardens, on the west coast of Scotland.  We approached the gardens from Loch Ewe, landing at a small jetty.  We walked through an arched gateway of rhododendrons.  Inverewe Gardens are renown for the Meconopsis, or Blue Himalayan Poppy and this tea towel, designed by Pat Albeck, perfectly conjures up the gardens with those blue poppies.  I loved Inverewe Gardens; an interesting mixture of small gardens within a larger garden, beautifully divided by large lush bushes.  However, the downside of such a beautiful location, by the water, was that Inverewe, in May 2005, was a midge’s dream place to ‘hang out’.  I have photographs of me, having been eaten alive by midges; I am notorious for being unable to refrain from scratching a midge bite. Hence my face was covered in bleeding scabs.

In the second week of the Creative Writing Class this year, we were asked to bring in a favourite picture, as an inspiration for writing; there was nothing else I could do but bring in one of my favourite tea towels.  I think people were a bit surprised that my picture was actually a tea towel.  There were two parts to our task; we had to swap our picture with the person next to us: the owner of the picture was asked to write a brief description of why they brought this particular picture, what it meant to them and the other person had to write a piece of Creative Writing about the picture without knowing anything about it.  I had hoped that I could publish Helen’s piece of Creative Writing because it was amazing and so different from my factual account, but it was not meant to be.

I had chosen Meconopsis because it was a tea towel designed by Pat Albeck, a creative textile designer who had been designing since 1950s; she had died three weeks prior to this session and it was to my deep regret that I had never met her.  She was my favourite tea towel designer.  She was an artist and textile designer that had designed more than 300 tea towels.  Pat Albeck was the inspiration for my collection of tea towels and her interview on Desert Island Discs, in 2015, was the inspiration behind having a Tea Towel Blog.  I look at the picture and realise that there is such detail, the canvas is full; it is as good a piece of art as any hanging in an art gallery.

Every tea towel has a story to tell and when I look at this tea towel I remember Pat Albeck’s creative genius, the wonderful day at Inverewe Gardens, despite the midges, and the fact that two days later was the last time I saw Myra, Jean’s sister, alive; there is a wonderful photo of the three sisters together in their flat in Aberdeen.  I’m glad every tea towel tells a story, even though it makes wiping up take so much longer!

Fancy Pants Birds: 2015


My next Writing Challenge that was set for me was to write a poem for a Tea Towel Blog.  “Ridiculous”, I said; “I don’t write poems; I don’t want to write poems”.  Then I thought “That’s very negative” and the reason I joined a Creative Writing Class was so that I wouldn’t get stuck in a rut.  Then I had an idea!!  In 1964, in our school magazine, ‘St Augustine’s School Magazine’ (very original title) I had a poem published.  We had been studying the style of Nonsense Poetry, in particular Edward Lear, and we all had to write a Nonsense Rhyme for our weekend homework.  Nonsense poetry is described as ‘a form of light verse for children depicting imaginative characters in amusing situations of fantasy’;   And mine got published in the annual magazine.  Back in 1964, this was not a magazine edited by pupils; this was one totally controlled by the nuns.  In all my 11 years at the school, I only had this and one other piece of work published in the magazine.  At the bottom of the page is the illustration that went with it (I did not do the illustration).  I came across this poem a couple of months ago when tidying out my tallboy; I found the old school magazine and wondered if I needed to keep it.  After all it is 53 years old.  I the found my poem and thought that I had to keep the magazine just a bit longer and today proved why!

Now I had the poem, I just had to find a tea towel to match.  I was looking for one with either a canary, parrot or possibly a vegetable.  I’d already used ones that could have been suitable and then I remembered ‘Fancy Pants Birds’ by Alice Shields.  I bought this at the Guild of Craftsmen annual event in Bovey Tracy in June 2015.  This was an amazing three day Craft Fair where there were so many stalls, and so many tea towels.  I had to restrict myself.  I loved this very unusual one of some great birds, one of which is an Ara Macao (a parrot!).  Thank you, Alice for the inspiration for this Blog.

The Canary

A hairy canary named Mary

Met a parrot who was eating a carrot.

They went for a walk and started to talk,

Coming home for a dinner composed of roast pork.

Then after the dinner, which they had in Pinner,

The parrot said, “You’re decidedly thinner”

The canary said “I can,

Go and see a man,

Who will make us an aviary,

That will smell nice and savoury”.

The canary went to see a budgie called Jack,

Who lived in a bird cage resembling a shack.

She told him the news, and asked for his views.

He said “Yes, I will, cos I love you still.

I love you Mary, do not tarry,

Let us darling, let us marry”.

They married and had children one, two and three,

They lived in a nest built in a tree.

He made an aviary for the parrot,

Who spent his life there, eating a carrot.

I think that is probably the last time that I will be including a poem in a Blog but actually it does bring back some very happy memories of that time in school, enjoying English Language and Literature, and becoming ‘published’.  I think that I shall now have more memories using that tea towel than just going to Bovey Tracy.  Thank you to Liz who set me the challenge and Alice who provided me with the tea towel!!


The Corgi: 2012


2012 was a great year in terms of celebrating; it was the London Olympics and Paralympics, the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and also her 65th Wedding Anniversary.  It was about royal celebrations and national pride.  It was the year of Super Saturday when Jessica Ennis Hill, Greg Rutherford and Mo Farah all won gold medals on the track; it was the International Year of Co-operatives and the International Year of Sustainable Energy for All; it was the year that Whitney Houston, Robin Gibb and Neil Armstrong died; it was the year that, after 246 years, the Encyclopedia Britannica published its last print edition.  It was the year of a lot of celebratory tea towels.

I bought this one in a pack of three, all different but in the same style, with the common link of the Union Jack in some form; there is a single Union Jack, multiple Union Jacks and this one, my favourite, has a Corgi at the bottom, the Queen’s favourite dog.  I like the way the Union Jack becomes part of the bunting, and that year there was a lot of bunting!!

This year I gave this tea towel to my cousin Andrew when I visited him in Florence; unused, I thought it suitably British, to remind him of his British roots.  I took my own advice and used it as the ‘wrapping paper’ for a couple of other gifts I was giving him.

It seems an appropriate time to Blog about this tea towel because 2017 is the Queen’s 70th Wedding Anniversary, her 65th year of being on the throne and the year that Prince Harry announced his engagement to Megan Markle; all three events were played down as very ‘low key’.  I can remember the outrage at the idea that Princess Margaret might be considering marrying Captain Peter Townsend, a divorcee, in 1953.  How times change!

I look forward to the Royal Wedding next year, in the hope that there might be a tea towel.  I only have one Royal Wedding tea towel in my collection, and that is of Prince Charles and Lady Diana and if the tea towel was anything to go by, we all knew it would end in tears.  But I like to think of the Corgi being at home, in Florence, with Andrew.