How to Make Guinness: 2004

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I was watching ‘Vera’ on television last night.  It’s a good programme, so well acted but one of the things I dislike about ITV is that it is full of adverts.  Just as you are getting into a story, they tell you about Sensodyne Toothpaste or some weird advert about Virgin Media.  It is very frustrating.

Suddenly, there was a preview about the Rugby Six Nations Championship.  It came out of the blue; not what I was expecting.  It was dramatic, great photography, brilliant shots and that deep, rich Welsh voice telling me when the Six Nations starts.  I love watching rugby; have watched it since I was 16, takes me back to my school days.  I’m not sure that I was aware that the Six Nations Championship was actually the Guinness Six Nations Championship.  Nearly every ‘break’ in ‘Vera’ had the Guinness Six Nations Championship preview.  Can’t wait for it to start on 2 February!

The more of these interludes that were shown, the more I thought “I’m sure that I’ve got a Guinness Tea Towel that I haven’t blogged about yet”.  Then I gave it more thought and remembered that I had already blogged about a Guinness one, my second blog, in April 2015.  “Shame” I thought “that would have been a good excuse for a blog”.  But then I looked in my ‘bible’, the list of all my tea towels not yet blogged about  and there it was: How to Make Guinness!

Bought on my only holiday to Ireland in October 2004.  In those days, Ireland kinda shut down at the end of September, presumably not expecting any more tourists.  A lot of shops closed for the winter, nothing to buy, except a large shop in a small town selling a lot of woollen wear and this tea towel.  It is Irish Linen and one of the things that often happens with Irish Linen is after a lot of washing it goes very soft, hence the saggy bit in the middle, and Irish Linen tea towels are often bigger than the English ones.

It’s an odd tea towel, a lot of writing, a strange story but definitely a promotional tea towel.  I must have been desperate for a tea towel since this was the only one I bought on that holiday (an unusual occurrence, a holiday with only one tea towel) .  Ireland was not the most exciting place I’ve been and it is unlikely that I will return so I am going to have to make do with this one and just look forward to the Guinness Six Nations Championship.  It would be nice if there was a tea towel to celebrate the Championship.  There must be other rugby fans like me who would appreciate a tea towel!!

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Scottish Lingo: 2018

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Did you know that the United Nations General Assembly decided, on 19 December 2016, that 2019 would be the International Year of Indigenous Languages?  Did you know that more than 7000 languages are spoken around the world today?  Did you know that half the world’s population speaks only 23 languages?  Research shows that 90% of the world’s languages are likely to disappear before the end of the century, did you know that?  The aim of the International Year of Indigenous Languages is to “draw attention to the critical loss of indigenous languages and the urgent need to preserve, revitalise and promote languages and to take further urgent steps at the national and international levels”.

Scots is actually one of three native languages that is spoken in Scotland: English, Scottish Gaelic and Scots.  Scots is spoken by more than 1.5 million people with half of everyone living in Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire being able to speak Scots.  As a result of this, there are loads of tea towels on sale in Scotland that focus on the languages of Scotland (and I have quite a few!).  I must say, I quite like this one with a background of a rather garish tartan.  It brings the words alive.  A lot of tea towels with Scots language are merely a cream background with black writing; this is a bit different.

When you listen to some Scottish people talking, it is assumed that it is the accent that can be difficult to follow; clearly it is more than that.  It can just as well be that it is an indigenous language being spoken.  Looking at the tea towel above, I find it easier to read the words out loud so you can hear them and then sometimes it is easier to understand what they mean; sometimes it won’t help at all!

What do you think ‘ran-dan’ means?  In the English dictionary this is a boat rowed by three people, stern and bow each using a single oar and the central person using two oars.  In Scots, it refers to going out for an evening’s drinking; no meal with a small glass of wine but some heavy drinking.

I am a big fan of the author Stuart Macbride, who writes about DS Logan McRae, based in Aberdeen.  I know the streets he writes about and the pubs that feature.  Yet every time I end up reading large chunks out loud because many of his characters speak in Scots; it takes me twice as long to read one of his books than it does reading Dickens or Bronte but it is well worth the effort.  I suppose that is what I love about Scotland, the history, the geography, the language, the culture and the literature.  They all tie in together and this tea towel demonstrates this.

A-Z Winter Woodland: 2017

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This last twelve months has yielded weird weather.  That hot dry summer, not a spot of rain.  I benefitted from this because, when my garden tools were in storage, the grass didn’t grow and the weeds were under control through lack of water.  While all the building work was being done, through April to September, we were able to keep the windows and doors open and luxuriate in that summer warmth.

By the time it was autumn, it was difficult to tell the difference between autumn and late summer.  The leaves slowly turned red, yellow, brown much later than you would normally expect; the weather cooled.  We all were expecting a ‘hard’ winter; maybe it will be sometime soon.  In the meantime, winter has been kind and gentle; not too cold, not too rainy, not too windy, not too snowy.  The difference between seasons this year has been a bit vague.

I look at the huge beech hedge at the end of the garden and have gradually watched the leaves turn colour and then fall off slowly.  If you are sitting in the warmth of your home the beech hedge is like a barometer, telling you what is happening outside.  This tea towel from the Woodland Trust is another reminder of what might be happening in the world outside; a tea towel with so much detail.

Yet yesterday, I was wandering through Twitter as the rain pitter-pattered on the roof and found a long Tweet from @realmirandahart which seemed very appropriate and quite philosophical: “I used to begrudge the winter. I now appreciate the beauty of the sleeping trees, preparing for their next bloom.  How naive we are to assume our lives shouldn’t have moments of being fallow and dark before a new stage of energy, joy or productivity.  To search for a permanent sense of ease and happiness will only ever lead to unhappiness.  Thanks winter trees for your beautiful guidance.  And lets not ignore another metaphor – without our darkness to develop character, no one will ever see our true light”.

What a delightful way to view winter.  How inspirational Twitter can be at times.  I look forward to whatever winter throws at me, knowing that the cycle of spring then summer and finally autumn will follow.  Light and shade.

Royal Yacht Britannia: 2018

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There are two ways of looking at the challenges life throws at you: you can give in, be worn down by it or try looking at life from a different perspective.  Whatever, it can be a struggle.  Liz having to use a wheelchair for any outdoor, and some indoor, activities could be an example.  For more than 20 years she has tackled the ‘dodgy knee’ fiasco. Having had a knee replacement, at a very early age, when she was young enough to be the grand-daughter, or even great grand-daughter, of all the other bed occupants, she found that this brand new, Teflon knee would not bend, not at all.  They put her under anaesthetic to pull it about, attached her to some kind of torture machine, on two occasions, to try and get it to move with mechanical intervention.  Nothing.  Loads of physiotherapy.  Nothing except a lot of guilt because the physiotherapists implied that this was happening because she wasn’t working hard enough at the exercises.

For twenty years she drove with a left-leg adaptation (resulting in two major car accidents when it went for a service because the mechanics didn’t listen to her instructions about what they needed to do so instead of pressing the brake they pressed the accelerator!) and she walked with a stick.  She never attempted steps because she knew that would end up with weeks of pain; the one thing about a knee replacement, even if it doesn’t bend, is that the pain goes away.

During the last year, she knew that her ‘good knee’ (the one that had not been operated on) was deteriorating.  We all knew this from the speed of her walking; there is slow and there is a ‘snail’s pace’.  There was a lot of pain.  Then one day it collapsed.  It wouldn’t bend; it wouldn’t weight-bare and was excruciating.  We needed some problem-solving techniques here.  First there was the GP (big injection, lots of tablets, warning not to walk at all and a referral to the hospital), then there was the orthopaedic consultant who was helpful but recognised that if you have one fixed knee then it would be a disaster to have two fixed knees.  He didn’t say that would happen but he couldn’t rule it out; the percentage rate of a successful knee replacement was clearly much reduced.  He suggested seeing a consultant rheumatologist.  The rheumatologist was great; another big injection.  His advice was to put off the replacement as long as possible, keep having the injections and make sure you don’t have muscle wastage in the ‘good’, now ‘bad’, leg. All sounds reasonable but how do you get around?  Does life just stop?  Do you become ‘housebound’?

So we decided to look at the options.  (I bet you are wondering where this is going and how it links to the Royal Yacht Britannia!).  A scooter?  One of those lightweight ones that folds up and goes in the car.  Sounds like a good idea.  We hired one for a week.  This was a nightmare because it was not easy for me to dismantle and lift in the car.  You can’t get away from the fact that scooter batteries are very heavy.  Not only that, it was apparently very uncomfortable.  (I say ‘apparently’ because I never tried it but it looked wobbly).  You only had to look at it to see that two straight leg bouncing along the road wasn’t going to be the best option.  So I suggested we tried hiring a lightweight wheelchair.  This was much better; I could walk at a reasonable pace using the wheelchair as a Zimmer frame and Liz was more comfortable.  So she bought one, even lighter, that came apart and had a leg extension to support her fixed knee.  We had pace, speed and comfort.

Now we had to rethink things.  We were already avoiding steps but slopes were now a no-go area because I’m too old and crumbly to push a wheelchair up a slope (No, an electric wheelchair wasn’t an option because it would be the same problem as a scooter).    Suddenly supermarkets were wonderful places to go, flat, smooth floors, wide aisles but you don’t want to spend your day in a supermarket.  Canal towpaths, old railway tracks, tourist attractions!

We had been to Edinburgh so many times, walked around the city, been to the Fringe Festival and knew that their pavements were not always the best.  We had stopped off on Edinburgh in December 2018 on our way back home from Aberdeen.  The Royal Yacht Britannia was about 200 yards from our hotel.  This was definitely not the sort of place we would normally visit on holiday; we preferred gardens and the open air to indoor attractions.  However, we both knew that this would be accessible to a wheelchair.  It was too big an attraction, with too many awards, not to be fully accessible so we gave it a go.  All these years we had been missing out on an amazing attraction.  Each floor of the Yacht was accessed by a gangplank and each floor was reached by either stairs or a lift.  Every floor was fully accessible to a wheelchair and there were lots of staff available to help if needed.  Once you know the access is ok, you can relax and enjoy what was on offer.  Sure, there was an amazing dinner room for the Royal Family to have formal meals with visiting dignitaries but the lounges and bedrooms, offices and sun decks were more informal.  The walls had family photos showing members of the Royal Family out of the limelight, relaxing.  The quarters for the staff were somewhat limited but the laundry and ironing room were huge.  This was not what either of us expected and we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves, questioning why we had never been before!  There was a tea towel on display in the Captain’s kitchen!!  Not only that, they had so many tea towels on sale in the Gift Shop!!

The trip to the Royal Yacht Britannia made us think about day trips and holidays in a different way; there must be lots of places that were accessible and that we needed to think about not what we couldn’t do (like walking on the beach but we think we have found a solution to this) but all the things we can do; open our minds to a new world and stop feeling sorry for ourselves.  Liz’s excursions in a wheelchair have made her see a lot of positives, including that it is a lot easier to get around a hospital in a wheelchair than trying to walk the horrendous distances, along miles of corridors, and feel completely knackered at the end of it!  Bring on the holidays!!

Dinosaurs: 2018

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I follow @NeilDrysdale on Twitter.  Neil is a journalist who writes for Aberdeen’s ‘Press and Journal’.  I like his style of writing; he writes on a wide range of topics.  He took up Liz’s plight of arriving at Aberdeen Airport and being refused transport by six taxi drivers, who had accessible wheelchair taxis.  It was a front page feature.  Two days ago, I read a Tweet of his: “I’m closer to 60 than 50.   I’m a Remainer and I back Scottish Independence.  But am I just a dinosaur?  Please be polite in your responses”.

Having just listened to the Brexit debates in Parliament, Neil’s Tweet made me think.  I never use Twitter to comment on Party Politics but I am a Remainer.  That commitment to Remain comes from my belief that working together, being committed to working together, trying to make things better in the wider world outside our borders, is better than the venom and hatred that comes from being isolated.  Have we not learnt anything from the destruction that World War II delivered?  The Holocaust?  The Cold War?  The Cuban Missile Crisis?  The genocide in Rwanda, Bosnia, Iraq?  One of the worst things that happened in our education system, in recent years, is that History was no longer a part of the Core Curriculum, it became optional.  Children have to be able to learn about the mistakes of the past.  Does that make me a dinosaur?

The hatred and racism that Brexit has legitimised, to me, is shaming.  The idea that people can talk about wanting to get rid of ‘foreigners’ is not only shaming but ignorant.  If we look at the history of England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales, we are all made up of a mixture of different peoples coming together: Romans, Angles, Saxons, Jutes, Vikings and French invaded us, Spanish people lost their ships on our shores, people from the Caribbean and Africa came in slavery of our doing or were invited by our government,  Jewish and Romany peoples trailed across Europe to escape persecution.  We have offered homes to people expelled by Idi Amin, Saddam Hussain and many many others.  Some of these relationships go back thousands of years and some of them are as a result of the greed of the British people.  So does that make me a dinosaur?

Discussion, compromise and respect are the ways that help people work and live alongside each other.  The problem is that it should not be Party Politics that is responsible for our membership of the EU; it has to be politicians, working together, to make our membership of the EU better.  Let’s face it, it isn’t only Britain that finds working in the EU difficult; but it has to be that we must work to make things better rather than ‘throwing our toys out of the pram’.  Politicians have been complacent but then Remainers have been complacent because we allowed this to happen.  Sadly, the electorate were sometimes lied to and sometimes just kept in ignorance during the Brexit  Referendum.  Does that make me a dinosaur?

My belief in democracy and the importance of having a vote, means that I do believe we have to continue on the Road to Brexit because if we have a referendum then we have to abide by the results.  The demand for A People’s Vote is ridiculous because that is what a Referendum is; if you wanted to Remain you not only had to vote for it but campaign for it.  Does that make me a dinosaur?

A Tea Towel Blog is not the place for a political rant.  I’m sorry.  Does that make me a dinosaur?  I do love the tea towel, made for schools by Class Fundraising, a great piece of cloth to learn from.  Maybe the results of the Referendum would have been different if tea towels had been part of the publicity!!  Let’s learn from this!!

The Treasurer’s House: 2001

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The Treasurer’s House is very near York Minster.  It is the care of the National Trust.  The post of Treasurer for York Minster was an important one, established in 1091, which required a posh house to entertain important guests.  The current Grade I Listed building was built a little later than 1091 but continued in its original role until the reformation of the Church of England, when it was handed back to the government in the 1540s.

I visited in 2001 when I was looking for a good tea room in York and heard about the Below Stairs cafe, which was down a steep flight of stairs but had a great atmosphere.  It served beautiful homemade cakes and scones as well as hot meals.  It was one of those places you never forget.

When I joined Twitter in 2015, I started to follow @nt_scones; it was, and still is, a wonderful read.  This was a woman who, approaching 40, decided to get the most from her National Trust membership and set herself the challenge of visiting every National Trust property with a cafe to try their scones.  each visit was written up with a bit of history and a review of the scones, scored out of 5.  I looked forward to reading her next adventure.  After a couple of years, the National Trust produced a book of the 50 Best Scones which she had written about.  It was not her intention to get a book published but her efforts were certainly worthy of that accolade.  One of the National Trust Scones that she had recommended were the Christmas Pudding Scones at the Treasurer’s House.  The description was so good that the following year I travelled to the Treasurer’s House to sample them (having phoned before I started out to check they were on sale that day; I didn’t want to make that journey by train only to find they weren’t available).  They were even better than @nt_scones had described and I certainly didn’t need a lunch (or even dinner) that day!  The trip did offer me the opportunity to do some Christmas shopping in the Shambles as well!

As I reflect on those wonderful scones, I realise that Liz and I will not be going there again: the cafe is down a steep flight of stairs with no lift and the rest of the property is an ‘accessibility challenge’.  The Treasurer’s House marks my new ethos: if you want to do something, do it now, because you never know what is going to happen next.

Britannia in the Western Isles: 2018

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In December 2018, for the first time, I visited the Royal Yacht Britannia, berthed in Leith. There were three things about this visit: (a) the actual Yacht was amazing; more of that in another Blog (b) I have rarely been to a tourist destination where there have been so many tea towels and tea towels that have a real link to the venue (c) the tea room was amazing; more of that in another Blog and, finally, (d) this tea towel, bought in the Gift Shop, is probably all I love about a tea towel.  It fulfills my concept of a tea towel as a blank canvas; I love it.

It is a print from an original watercolour by Scottish artist, Ken Lochead, who died in 2006.  There are a lot of paintings around by Ken Lochead, mainly of Scotland and the surrounding isles but all of a similar style; soft, using his philosophy of ‘less is more’, gentle, beautiful, the sort of painting where you can immerse yourself in the delightful ness of the Scottish countryside.

I love this tea towel for so many reasons: the Western Isles, also known as the Outer Hebrides, are probably my favourite place in the whole world.  If I had to choose the Western Isles against any other place, it would always be the Western Isles.  I have been to some wonderful places in the world like the Galápagos Islands and Kenya, China and Vermont, Paris and Rome, Sri Lanka and Egypt.  I have seen some of the most amazing scenery like the Himalayas and the Rockies, some incredible historical buildings like the Coliseum and the Pyramids yet there is no place more beautiful than the beach where Bonnie Prince Charlie landed on Eriskay or the island of St Kilda.  The only rivals to the Western Isles, for me, are Orkney, Shetland and the Inner Hebrides.

This week, I have been looking at my calendar and trying to plan my holidays for 2019.  Top of my list is Western Isles.  I’ve done all my research about the accessibility of CalMac Ferries; all vehicle carrying ferries are apparently accessible.  Definitely, Lewis and Harris are on my itinerary; it is 45 years since I’ve been there.  North and South Uist are also on my list but, of course, it is only five years since I was there.

But from the Inner Hebrides, Tiree is on my list because it has the highest sunshine hours in Britain and because you can hire Beach Wheelchairs; it is a shame for Liz to miss out on being able to walk on the beach as she has always loved to do.  Bute is an island that I would definitely like to visit, perhaps go back to Arran, try Islay and Colonsay.  I know that Canna is inaccessible but instead we could try Skye.  Can’t wait to start booking and planning but sadly I think that St Kilda is out of range.  Make the most of what you can do, is what I say!!  Life’s too short to just contemplate what you can’t  do!!