It’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🥃🍺☕️🍸🍾🍹🍻🥂🍷