Does this tea towel look like one from Harlow? Harlow in Essex? Of course it doesn’t. As always there is a long story to this!! I have never been to Harlow before; I studied it, along with Stevenage and Cumbernauld, when I was at university because Harlow was a classic New Town. My aunt has lived in Harlow all her married life, I believe, but I have never visited her home.
Amanda, my aunt’s daughter, decided that she would organise a ‘surprise’ birthday party for her mother, because it was one of those ‘significant’ birthdays. Planning began around Christmas time. I had some misgivings about the idea of a ‘surprise’ party (mainly because the idea of being given a surprise party myself would be like my worst nightmare; I like to know exactly what is happening, have some control). But those feelings were really about projecting my own fears onto others. Amanda had done some amazing work, inviting only people that her mother would really like to see. She invited my Uncle Ferruccio and cousin Andrew from Italy and they came. She also invited Chris, my aunt’s brother and Pam, his wife. I hadn’t seen my aunt since 1986 so felt I needed to arrive with the others that she would recognise, otherwise I would probably have seemed like a stranger. So Chris, Pam, Uncle Ferruccio, Andrew, Liz and I agreed to meet up in Sainsbury’s cafe in Harlow. Andrew was looking forward to a beautiful, hot cup of loose leaf tea; I did warn him that that was unlikely in Sainsbury’s.
Since I had not been to Harlow before I was determined to get a tea towel, to remind me of the occasion. Was there a tea towel of Harlow, a tourist tea towel with the highlights of Harlow? Of course there wasn’t!! So Liz bought me the only tea towel available in Sainsbury’s: Spring Chicks, sort of appropriate since we are building up to Easter. It is cute; although not a Harlow tea towel it will certainly remind me of what was a great day, and a day that conjured up memories, some of which I thought had been buried.
I admit it, I was wrong to doubt Amanda’s judgement in the matter of a ‘surprise’ party. She knows her mother better than anyone, after all. Perhaps the most amazing thing is that she kept it a secret from her father as well. As Amanda said “This has been the most difficult three months because I am terrible at keeping secrets”. Catherine, my aunt, loved the day; she loved the fact that family were there and that lots of her friends had been so generous in their gifts; the house was like a florist shop.
Amanda had asked that if family members had any photos of her mother as a child or in her youth, they should bring them. Now there was a challenge, I could feel a tea towel coming on. I found some pictures of Catherine and I, together, as bridesmaids. Those are the sort of pictures that make a great tea towel, although whoever designed the dresses ought to be shot. Catherine is not much older than me but she was very tall and slim and I was short and somewhat plump. We looked ridiculous although I am sure our parents thought we looked cute. Chris found some other horrendous photos of us that were taken on holiday in Pevensey Bay. I remember Catherine and Chris perfected making an ‘apple pie’ bed for me each night and putting stones in my bed. The weather in all the photos of Pevensey Bay seemed to be overcast, gloomy, dull, cloudy and miserable although that might be the result of those tiny ‘Brownie Box Cameras’.
We had a good laugh about the photos but, of course, I was only able to find my contributions by looking through old boxes of photos and memorabilia. That journey opened memories that were long since forgotten. But I found things like the list of gifts that my parents received for their wedding, the invitation that was sent out, letters my dad had sent to my mother when he was away for two weeks, speeches that my mother had given when she was a councillor in the London Borough of Ealing, my first pair of booties and a little embroidered jacket that I had for my first birthday. It was such a mixed box of things, things that I had never seen before. It made me ask a lot of questions; some of which were fired off, by Whatsapp, to Chris. The day had also stirred memories for Chris
It was wonderful party; I wondered why I had never visited my aunt in Harlow, why I hadn’t seen her for 32 years. I don’t know the answer to those questions but I do know that it is a waste and should be rectified and that this tea towel will always remind me of that.
PS: the story of the tea towel that I gave to Catherine is for another day!!