When I told a mate of mine about this tea towel blog, he said ‘didn’t I buy a tea towel for you when I went to Dublin?’ He went on to say that he thought it was the only thing he bought at the Guinness Museum and he didn’t remember much else about Dublin. The fact is that I have never been to Dublin, nor I have I been to the Guinness Museum.
Steve may have vague recollections of his weekend in Dublin. As I do the drying up with this tea towel I remember very clearly working in a small voluntary organisation called FAIRDEAL, an advocacy project in Leicester. Steve was a volunteer and we had a brief conversation about my tea towels. My memory is of being very touched by the idea that he thought of buying me a tea towel, someone who probably couldn’t really afford to spend money on something like a present for the boss; it could have been good drinking money!!
Look at the tea towel; probably had 20 years of good use. It may be slightly faded but it is Pure Irish Linen, it is delightful – a rural scene, the sun rising over the hill and some bottles of Guinness. Using it reminds me of my time working in FAIRDEAL; it reminds me of a great bunch of people who worked at FAIRDEAL. I often wonder what they are doing now; Nicky Birkle, Jan Turner, Jo Bodsworth, Hugh Courtney, Justin Hammond; it reminds me of those people who I still see as my friends like Fee Scott and Lynn Pallett. That’s what my tea towel collection does – brings back memories of good times. It also reminds me that I have never had a glass of Guinness in my life. I have no idea what it tastes like but ‘it looks good, tastes good and by golly it does you good’. However since I haven’t had a drink of alcohol since 30 July 2000 it is unlikely that I will ever find out.
Many thanks to Steve who I still meet up with even though we don’t work together; this is a man who should start a blog about his amazing and pristine collection of LPs!!!
Click below to return to the Virtual Tea Towel Museum
Do you know where Egypt is? Most people I ask know of Egypt; they know about the pyramids and Pharos but if asked to be more specific about it’s location are rather vague. That’s when you need a tea towel. Look at my Egyptian tea towel; it gives you some good pointers. The map in the central shows the River Nile dissecting Egypt vertically with the Red Sea along the eastern border, Leading into the Mediterranean Sea at the north through the Suez Canal. However tea towels avoid the controversial so it doesn’t show the Gaza Strip and Israel or Libya to the west and Sudan to the south. From the map you get a sense that Egypt is a large country. It is, in fact, the third most populous country in Africa with a population of 80 million today.
So, I went to Egypt for my holidays, in 1993; it was the holiday that very nearly didn’t happen. We were booked to go on a two week cruise down the full length of the Nile, from Cairo to the Aswan Dam. Luxury cruise, stopping every day at all the sites you ever wanted to see – the pyramids of Giza, the Great Sphinx, the Valley of the Kings, the Temple at Luxor and much more. Cruising down the Nile is the best way for a tourist to see Egypt because 95 percent of Egypt is desert and virtually uninhabited but the remaining 5 percent is fertile land along the banks of the Nile, hence where history lies. Back to the trip that almost never happened.
Looking back, 1993 was a terrible year for Egypt; 1106 people died or were seriously injured in terrorist attacks targeting the police, government and tourists. One week before we were due to fly out, four tourists were killed in a tourist hotel in central Cairo. It was part of an Islamic insurgency designed to disrupt tourism completely and in turn overthrow the government. At the time there wasn’t a great deal of publicity about the politics of Egypt and the desire to create an Islamic state; we know that through hindsight. At the time we naively wondered if the tour would go ahead but Thomas Cook assured us that all was well and the tour would go ahead. I don’t think we realised that it was safe because we would be followed by an armed gunboat for the full length of the trip. That’s probably what the tea towel means by ‘the land of sunshine and hospitality’.
Never once did we feel in danger; it just felt quirky, and it was a fabulous holiday. The archeology exceeded all expectations (and it was sunny). As I use the tea towel I am always amazed at how well the colurs have held, not faded. Maybe that it because of the quality of pure Egyptian cotton that holds colour better than linen or mixed fibres. However one of the challenges of travelling abroad in search of tea towels is where to buy a tea towel; it’s not something you read about in guide books. I had no idea, nor did the tour guide, or even the local guide. In 1993, tourists had a choice of two types of shopping, posh upmarket shops in Cairo or the famous small markets that existed everywhere called Souks. Souks seemed a better bet but miming using a tea towel was embarrassing but at least I reassured myself I wasn’t going to meet any of the stall holders again. I couldn’t miss the opportunity. The most embarrassing part was bartering, not a strong point of mine but for the greater good I tried it. I did only find one stall selling tea towels and only one style. I’m not sure that the concept of a tea towel was necessarily a high priority in Egypt; after all pots can dry in the sun.
Looking at the tea towel brings great memories; the most alarming camel ride where the owner gave it a whack and off it went with me holding on for dear life or crawling on my hands and knees to get to the centre of one of the smaller pyramids. What I do know is that I will never be able to experience a holiday like that again because in 1995 the Egyptian government stopped cruises down the full length of the Nile because the Central Nile Valley was considered too dangerous. Cruises were restricted to starting in Luxor and going south to Aswan.
So I treasure my tea towel and feel sad that others cannot see Egypt as it should be seen, from the Full length of the Nile. A tea towel is better than a photo album on a shelf; you get to use it, feel it and with that remember.
Click below to return to the Virtual Tea Towel Museum
I collect tea towels. There you are, I’ve said it out loud. I don’t know how many I have 400+ and growing. I bought my first tea towel in 1970 in Swansea. I was at university, realised that tea towels were quite a useful thing and bought one with key words of the Welsh language. I hadn’t realised what this would be the start of. I’ve still got that tea towel and when I look at it, it reminds me of the amazing, mind-blowing time I had there. I suppose that’s why I got started; it wasn’t a conscious decision in the beginning. It is now. It’s a hobby, a collection.
In my opinion, tea towels are a practical, useable item, not something to be stored away in cupboards or hung on walls. You have to use them, enjoy them, admire them, laugh at them, be amazed at the different sizes, materials, quality and artistry. Some of them are really works of art. These days, you can create your own – one offs with photos and text and so on. For me, tea towels are a way of making washing up a pleasure – I look at the tea towel and remember where I got it from, why I bought it. As my collection grew, people have given me tea towels as presents or even bequeathed them to me. It is a living, personal history of happy times, or sometimes even poignant memories. They go beyond just a holiday souvenir; tea towels have a significant place in my life. They are part of my weekly routine. I usually use between 4 and 8 tea towels a week. They take up the whole of my airing cupboard. They are stacked carefully and used on a strict rotational basis. If I ironed nothing else, my tea towels would always be ironed but, as you will see with some of the photos, the weight of tea towels does mean there are some creases!
Since 1970, I have only had to throw away 2 tea towels because they wore out – actually got tangled up in a washing machine so they were demoted to dusters and are still in use.
Friends of mine used to say I ought to start up a tea towel museum. No, definitely not; they are not display items but I do worry what will happen to them in the future – who will I leave them to in my will? Who will cherish them? Do I actually know anyone who has more than 10 tea towels? Will they have a significance to anybody who doesn’t know their history? Then I had an idea …
I am within 2 months of retiring and thought … how about setting up a blog as a historical record of my tea towels? WOW, who would be interested in that? Who knows? So here we begin a regular blog, with photos; maybe somebody will recognise one? Watch this space.