Gloucester Services: 2015

IMG_1770I am on holiday, on my way to Devon, haven’t reached my destination and yet I’ve already bought a tea towel of Gloucester Services! Why? My friend Helen, who I have known since 1995, lives in Leicester but over the last year or so has had to regularly travel to near Bristol because her mum has been seriously ill; sometimes she has to go at short notice and sometimes she has to stay for a few weeks at time. I imagine it must be a strain but when I see her on her short sojourns in Leicester, she always talks about the amazing service station on the M5 near Gloucester. She has described it as like a Farmers Market, selling lots of local produce. One time she talked about buying fillet steak and joints of meat as a treat for her partner when she came home. I’ve travelled many a mile on a motorway and have never found a service station like that. I thought perhaps she was exaggerating how good it was! It makes a good tale! Helen always stops at the services going north. So there was I going south and saw Gloucester Services Farm Shop and Kitchen, with a sign implying that it was quite new. Is this what Helen was talking about? So I had to stop. The fact is she was right. This is no ordinary Service Station, it is amazing. There is a huge Farm Shop with local meats, cheeses, breads, cakes, all beautifully laid out. There is a display of teas and tea pots, crafts, quirky books, preserves and yes………a tea towel. Actually they had a lot of tea towels with birds, cakes etc but only one of the Service Station. I have to say this is my only tea towel of a Service Station. Welcome Break and Moto don’t seem to sell them (although I would be delighted to hear from anyone who could prove me wrong). Gloucester Service Station really is a Farmers Market with a very nice cafe – actually two. One is just takeaway and the other serving full meals. The food looked good, with an appetising menu. Helen was right and I am determined to stop on the way back to buy some meat and breads. In addition to all this, the tea towel is very stylish, good quality, not expensive and tells a story – gives the message of what they are trying to do. I think it’s great that somebody has challenged the status quo of very expensive, boring and soul-less service stations and has decided to bring quality to where people travel. It seemed to me that people were journeying to this place in order to visit, rather than as a stop off on their travels. I loved the grass roof. Thanks to Helen for the recommendation.

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South Africa 2004

What a beautiful, bright, gay, colourful tea towel! Has to be one of my favourites for it’s artistic value. It is a creative piece of printing. This tea towel comes from South Africa; it is based on the structural features and colours of the South African flag. In the corner of the central design is a “stamp” with ‘African Hand Print. Msasa Collection’. This is a properly hemmed, by sewing machine, tea towel – very rare in my experience. It has very good absorbency, probably because of the quality of the cotton which is very similar to that of Egyptian cotton. Endearingly, there is also a copyright symbol, not seen often on my tea towels. Just looking at this tea towel, or seeing it hanging up in my kitchen cheers me up. It looks so vibrant. I’ve never been to South Africa; I didn’t buy it. It was a gift from Jai, the daughter of a friend of mine who spent a month of her ‘gap’year, between her degree and doing a teaching qualification, working for the Zisize Project in South Africa. She and a friend raised a considerable amount of money to buy some musical instruments for the project they were working on. Jai loved South Africa but one of the things that touches me about this tea towel is the fact that a young woman on a gap year, travelling light, thought to buy a grumpy old woman a tea towel. Although I haven’t been to South Africa, using it does conjure up so many memories and images. I remember Jai’s wedding where she wore a beautiful white and black wedding dress which she had bought in South Africa; it was stunning, very unusual, absolutely memorable. The dress had the dramatic ‘feel’ of my tea towel, indicative of African printing. Her wedding was in December in Devon where there were some fantastic photos taken on the beach in the bright sunshine. It reminds me of Nelson Mandela and his wonderful shirts, his triumphant return from Robin Hood Island; I remember the apartheid system and the embargo we tried to work to in order that we didn’t buy any South African goods.  It’s difficult to believe how things have changed politically in South Africa. It reminds me of the No 1 Ladies Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith and what always seems like the fun of Botswana. This is what I love about my tea towel collection, the ability conjure up memories often not directly connected with the tea towel.

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Highland Cattle 2007


While this pure linen, highly coloured tea towel came from Glen Appin, that is not why I bought it. I think it is cute!! I love Highland Cattle; they have such an endearing quality about them. Whether it is their wavy coats or the way their horns turn up, they have such a soppy look on their faces. My preference will always been for the traditional reddish brown colouring, however, they do come in all shades from jet black to yellow. One of the things I like about them is the fact they are so hardy, are rarely kept indoors and nearly always calve outside.  This means that in Scotland, where I usually spend at least one holiday a year, you are guaranteed to see them at any time of the year and because they can live off the poorer land then you can see them in the remoter parts of Scotland.

When I was in Arran a few years ago they had a huge range of calendars entirely devoted to Highland Cattle; there were a lot of people that year who received a Highland Cattle calendar.

Using the tea towel I remember some great holidays in Scotland: Highland Cattle on the beach near Gairloch on my birthday, the herd that were our neighbours in South Uist in 2014, the Oban cattle sale. But then I also remember Eric, the Highland bull on Countryfile and it brings a smile to my face.

Do you know that Scottish Highland Cows have their own Facebook page?

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Welsh Language: 1970


This tea towel is entitled “Welsh Language”. It is the first tea towel I bought, when I went to Swansea University in 1970. I’d forgotten about this one; I kept thinking that my first one came from the Edinburgh Festival. That’s what happens when you have a lot. Back to the story. I’d lived all my childhood in Ealing (London) when suddenly, at the age of 19, I was thrust into life in South Wales. I had no connections with Wales, had never been there, didn’t even go for an interview or to one of those Open Days they organise now. How did I chose Swansea as the place to complete my education? In those days you had to make six choices. I wanted to do geography (had no idea what I wanted to do with geography at the end of three years). Geography was a big passion in my life and I knew that Swansea University had a great geography department with a good social bias. It was my first choice and I got the grades to get there. What I didn’t know, but was very soon to find out, was anything about Welsh politics and the Welsh language campaign. The University of Wales had, at that time, five colleges: Swansea, Cardiff, Bangor, Aberyswyth and Lampeter. Swansea, as a town, wasn’t a hotbed of Welsh language speakers but the Halls of residence that I stayed in (Newydd Beck) attracted a core of members of the Welsh Language Society. The Welsh Language Society was founded in 1962, a direction action pressure group campaigning for the right of all Welsh people to use the Welsh language in all aspects of their daily life. The most common direct action, while I was living in Swansea, was the taking down of English road signs; very confusing if you are going out for a drive in the country. There were a number of students at Newydd Beck whose first language was Welsh. They resented the fact that there were students from England, who did not speak Welsh. At meal times we all ate in the dining hall, sitting at long tables with 18 or 20 people. Meal times were interesting; all the Welsh speakers sat together and never spoke English. If you wanted the salt you had to ask for it in Welsh otherwise you wouldn’t get it. It may have meant a salt-free diet but it was also the awakening of a political awareness. I began to understand the politics of people who felt they were being deprived of their own culture, the ‘bravery’ of people who stuck to their principles of wanting the Welsh language to have the same status as the English language and to stick to those principles even if it meant appearing to be rude to fellow residents. It was uncomfortable at first, being made to feel unwelcome but gradually I developed an admiration for them, I wanted to find out more about Welsh culture. There were basic Welsh language classes held on a Wednesday evening. Learning a new language was not my forte. I was rubbish. But I did learn to say “happy Christmas”  and to sing one verse of Good King Wenceslas in Welsh. Near Cardiff, 40 miles down the road was St Fagan’s National History Museum, an Open Air Museum chronicaling the historical lifestyle, culture and architecture of the Welsh people. Now there are over 40 buildings but when I was in Swansea there were only 12. A few of us went one weekend; it was great and then I saw, in a very small souvenir shop, this tea towel. My Welsh Language tea towel is pure linen and has held it’s colour for 45 years, with a dark green background, there are 60 circles, each with a picture with both the English and Welsh language word. I needed a tea towel at this time, having left home without a thought about the need for a tea towel. I had got by ‘borrowing’ other people’s tea towels. But when I laid my eyes on this one, I knew I had to have it. The tea towel taught me to count from one to ten, and other basic words like ‘tree’, ‘ship’ and ‘sun’ – not always useful to string a sentence together. But using my tea towel as a means of communication I was able to ask the less intimidating members of the Welsh Language Society how to pronounce the words (since the tea towel wasn’t much help in that respect). It proved to be an ice breaker but it didn’t make me fluent in Welsh. As I use my Welsh Language tea towel I remember the three glorious years at Swansea University, trips to the Brecon Beacons and Gower Peninsula, parcels from home from my mum who decided to take up knitting in order to send me knitted jumpers. She learned a basic pattern which I loved, plain and useful but I hadn’t taken into account the fact that she would knit the same pattern in a variety of colours (including mohair). At the height of her prowess I had more than 20 jumpers in the same style, just different colours. I remember learning how to ride a horse (very badly); I went on a field trip to Majorca in the worse thunderstorms for 15 years; I remember the friends I made, several of whom I am still in contact with- Ann, Caroline, Elizabeth and Linda. I remember pyjama discos and TRex, having long hair followed by a dreadful perm, travelling hundreds of miles to watch Brentford Football Club who never played in Wales. Swansea University was a very special time for me and my tea towel brings back memories of those times but sadly I notice I need to be very careful because there is a small hole, made through wear and tear, that is in danger of growing bigger. I did return to St Fagans in 2013 but although the shop was much bigger they didn’t have a Welsh Laguage tea towel otherwise I would have bought one; instead I bought a milk jug with ‘milk’ in Welsh.

29 June 2015: my friend Nick has emailed me to say that I am wrong, I did visit Newport to watch Brentford play football. I still have no recollection of this. Maybe I have tried to block out the memory of a very cold, wet winter’s day. However, he has the evidence because, from Canada, he scanned a letter I wrote to him in 1990 which mentions watching Brentford at Newport. I love the fact that he has read my blog but it is also a reminder (a serious one) that after all these years it is still possible to piece together the story of someone’s past. We should all remember this if we know someone with dementia or are working with someone.

September 2016: In my airing cupboard I found this tea towel, another to do with the Welsh Language. I am not sure when I bought this but it certainly complements my original Welsh Language tea towel


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Cairndow 2000′

If you like fish then, in my opinion, you can’t beat Loch Fyne restaurants. I was first introduced to them in the late 1990’s when I went to their restaurant in Nottingham. Having eaten my meal I noticed they sold fish to take away and cook yourself. At this point, I thought that I really wanted to visit their HQ, to see Loch Fyne itself and see where it all began. And that I did in 2000, on a holiday in Gairloch.

I stayed in a traditional cottage, on a small island in the the middle of a bay. The only way you could get to the cottage was to stagger precariously across a rope bridge – pretty difficult when you are trying to unload the car parked on the shoreline. However, it meant there were some amazing views of sunsets; you could experience rough weather and feel at the heart of it as the winds blew across the bay.

Cairndow was some way from Gairloch, but a lot nearer than from Leicester, so when you are in the area you can’t miss out on an opportunity to sample a meal at Loch Fyne. I arrived there at about 11.30 am, in time for an early lunch, or late breakfast. At Loch Fyne you could have whatever you wanted at whatever time; an early version of an all day breakfast.

Looking at the tea towel, I can remember sitting on heavy pine chairs at tables that were almost too heavy to move. What on earth would I eat? All that fish, I wanted it all. ,I knew it was going to be too far to come back each day for a different meal. I needed to chose wisely. One of the exciting things for me is that a lot of the dishes were not covered in sauces and fancy stuff – just my cup of tea. I finally decided on scallops, my favourite shell fish. I can remember how big and juicy they were. I don’t know if they still have this on the menu but for ‘afters’ I chose cheese and oatcakes – a sharing platter. It was fantastic; there were four cheeses, I can’t remember them all but I do remember the Mull cheese and there was definitely a blue cheese. It was a fantastic ending to a meal. In those days I drank coffee, rather than tea, which was good because Loch Fyne restaurants don’t serve loose leaf teas.

looking at the tea towel I remember how excited I was when I went into the shop and saw the tea towel. I couldn’t take a meal away with me but I could take the memories prompted by the tea towel. It is tastefully colourful, depicting the smoking processes, sources of fish etc. It is made of good quality cotton-mix which makes it a great drying cloth.

The photograph was taken on the bench outside the restaurant in Cairndow, on an obviously sunny day, with much fewer wrinkles than today. Holding a tea towel clearly made me happy but what about those boots!?! They were great. I wore them every day for years, having bought them at the Royal Show in about 1993! They don’t make boots like that anymore.

Inspired by Cairndow I’ve been to a number of Loch Fyne restaurants; after Cairndow, Knutsford has to be my favourite. Doing the washing up I can use the tea towel to remind me how good it is to eat quality fish. I have been back to Cairndow several times but have never found another tea towel to add to my collection.

Lanark 2013

Many of my tea towels reflect the journeys I have taken in search of a tea room (preferably serving loose leaf tea). I must have visited hundreds of tea rooms; if I have a souvenir tea towel from those places I have visited, it means my kitchen is full of happy memories. However, as the New York tea towel demonstrates, you can go to some great tourist attractions and not find a tea towel yet when I drove through Lanark, looking for a tea room, I saw this tea towel in the window of a General gift shop, pinned on the back drop. “There’s a tea towel” I screeched. “Stop”. We stopped at the first possible parking space; I leapt out and stood and admired this simple white cotton tea towel with black sketches of buildings like local churches that a visitor might want to see. It is a frequently used technique for a basic tourist tea towel – one colour ink drawings. Because the printing costs are much lower, they are low cost purchases

Lanark is an unpretentious little town that I visited on my holiday in Dumphries and Galloway – an area that I would love to go back to. But I have to admit Lanark did not live up to my expectations of having a tea room with loose leaf tea – but perhaps they will on my return to the area. I should have, by now, learnt to use Margaret Thornby’s Guide to the Tea Rooms of Britain.

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New York: 1998


Winnie the Pooh and New York? Is that right? Yes it is. When I visited New York in 1998 I naively thought that there would be loads of tea towels depicting the Empire State Building, Statue of Liberty and other tourist attractions. I imagined a suitcase full of touristy tea towels. Well, I was wrong. I tried tourist shops, big department stores but there weren’t any. I couldn’t leave without any tea towels (or dish towels as they say in America); tea towels are where I hang my memories. Those memories not only relate to New York itself but the circumstances surrounding how I ended up in New York.

To be fair Winnie the Pooh has stood the test of time. Although Terry towelling tea towels are not my material of choice – I much prefer linen or linen-mix – it has not lost any colour, it still dries all my pots and hasn’t shown the wear of time; I shouldn’t complain that it wasn’t fit for purpose and I do remember the great shopping spree in Bloomingdales (Winnie the Pooh plus an enormous jug and some quirky plates).

New York was everything I hoped it would be, and more. We did all the touristy things; went up the Empire State Building at night and watched the lights all over New York and beyond. It just sparkled and brought back memories of my favourite film of all time – An Affair to Remember. Took the boat to Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty. The Ellis Island museum has to be one of the best museums in the world. Along with everyone else I cried listening to the stories of people arriving at Ellis Island to look for a new life. We walked in Central Park, watched the roller skating, saw where John Lennon was shot, had amazing breakfasts with eggs ‘sunny side up’, sat in bookshops for hours on end trying to choose what to buy. In the end I restricted myself to a biography of Kathleen Hepburn and a book of films (and a couple of novels). I loved shopping in Macy’s and seeing the ‘ladies that lunch’ in the restaurant; travelling by yellow cab was a bit scary with the crazy cab drivers.

New York was full of people telling me to ‘have a nice day’ and somehow it felt genuine. I liked being with people who were always smiling, people who wanted me to enjoy their home town. In 1998, I was surprised at how cheap everything was, especially food and that food outlets near the big tourist attractions hadn’t hiked their prices. I often wonder what it is like now and whether tourists are being exploited like they are elsewhere in the world.

Using Winnie the Pooh reminds me how much I would like to go back and do all the things I missed out on the first time – Metropolitan Museum of Art, seeing a show on Broadway, having a photo taken at the Grand Central Terminal……..and much more.

Drying my dishes with Winnie the Pooh also brings back memories of how the holiday came about. Holidays have always been very important to me. My reward for working hard has been my holidays. I’ve never been fussed about whether those holidays are in the UK or abroad but with the exception of Christmas I have never taken annual leave and stayed at home. For many years, my husband John and I travelled all over (and never had a bad holiday). In 1996, John died suddenly. My life changed beyond recognition and as I mourned I resigned myself to the fact that I wouldn’t be going on holiday again. You can get very maudling and self centred in grief. But I did know that I wasn’t a gregarious person, found mixing with strangers difficult. Anyway, early in 1998 I was having a meal in a fish restaurant (eating whitebait as I recall), boring my friend with my ‘sad’ lot when she asked where I would go on holiday if I had the choice. New York I said. Four weeks later we found ourselves driving to Birmingham Airport for five glorious days in New York. Winnie the Pooh reminds me that the New York holiday changed my life for the better; things can move on and I am very grateful for that conversation in the fish restaurant. Thank you

September 2016: Having bought my tea towel of Winnie the Pooh in Bloomingdales, it was still a bit of a disappointment.  We moved on to Macy’s; I did’t find any touristy tea towels but I did find this rather elegant black tea towel with a jumble of kitchen equipment lined down the middle.  I do like a black tea towel (and it certainly avoids the tea stains) so I bought it, and I’m glad I did.  It is a real contrast to Winnie the Pooh in terms of material, colour and design; it is a strong cotton that has a good absorbancy.  It has taken nearly 18 months for this to come to the top of the airing cupboard pile!


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