Blue Italian Spode 2002


This is a simple, straightforward cotton tea towel with a repeat pattern of the Blue Italian Spode design. It is good quality and has maintained it’s colour considering it is 13 years old.

I love china of all sorts but Blue Italian Spode is by far my favourite and I have quite a few pieces, both large like the jug and ewer, but I also have  selection of miniature pieces.  They are displayed on my Welsh Dresser.  I also have a circular table cloth in the same design (but alas, no longer have the circular table), table mats, cake forks, cake slice and napkins.  They make a striking display.  My 51 st birthday treat was a tour of the Spode Factory in Stoke-on-Trent to watch the china being made and the process of underglaze transfer printing on earthenware.  It was fascinating; I loved it, especially when, at the end of the tour, we were given a Spode transfer.  I still have it.

I bought the tea towel to remind me of the day and how much I enjoyed it, nothing more and when I use it, that’s just what it does.

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Coventry Cathedral 1985


I bought this tea towel on the day of my graduation from Warwick University, having completed a Social Work qualification and an MA in Applied Social Studies. Coventry Cathedral was a grand venue for a graduation.  This tea towel reminds me of three things.  Firstly, I bought a skirt and blouse for this event in brown and black stripes.  It was the hottest day of the year and everyone kept telling me I shouldn’t be wearing those colours on a sunny day.  I loved both the skirt and blouse and wore it for many years until the lining in the skirt had ripped to shreds and the cuffs and collar of the shirt were worn through.  I still regret having thrown them away.  I have to say that the otufit was very fetching with the surgical collar I had been wearing for a long time.

The second thing this tea towel reminds me of is the fact that I was only able to get one guest ticket.  I took John but couldn’t get tickets for my parents.  I felt extremely guilty about this because they had wanted to go although my dad had been ill.  In the end I told them that I didn’t go to the graduation.  I live to this day with the guilt of having told that lie but I couldn’t bear to hear them going on about how disappointed they were.  That was a terrible thing to do because then they didn’t even have the chance to see my photos (not that I take a good photo but they could have taken pride in that).

The third thing this tea towel reminds me of is the fact that the ceremony, which lasted a couple of hours and was particularly boring, was not the most important part of my time at Warwick University, it was the fact that it was the culmination of 12 months learning and a learning that would affect the rest of my life in many different ways.  I had been working in the field of social care for about 12 years in various settings and did not particularly want to train to be a social worker.  However, when I was appointed as one of the last few unqualified social workers in Leicestershire in a hospital for people with learning difficulties,  my line manager, Geoff Cobbe, said that my appointment was conditional on my training to be a social worker, for which Leicestershire County Council would second me.  Those were the days, full time training to be a social worker on full pay, no student loans for me.  I wanted the job and I thought he would forget about the condition.  He didn’t.  Most social work courses were two years long but in 1983 there was still one that was one year (calendar, not academic).  I’ll do that, I thought.  Get it over and done with.  It was within commuting distance.  I didn’t think to look at the curriculum or anything sensible like that.  I applied, got a place, told Geoff who was pleased.  I didn’t think to tell him what college.  At the time I didn’t realise the courses were so different, at different colleges.

Two weeks before I was starting the course, Geoff asked me where I was going.  Warwick University I said proudly.  I remember the look of horror and the rant that followed.  I wanted to get the training over and done with.  I didn’t know Warwick University had a reputation as having a very radical social work course.  Geoff made it very clear that if I did this course I would never get a job in social work in Leicestershire again.  He said he couldn’t stop me going but would not be offering me any help and he was true to his word.  All this fuss made Warwick sound very appealing and actually made me very excited about going there, something I would never have believed could have happened.  There’s no doubt about it, Warwick was radical.  Peter Leonard, head of the department, wrote books on Radical Social Work and was my tutor.  We didn’t do modules on things like Law but on Feminism, a Radical Approach to Social Work and Racism.  I don’t remember one lecture on law (which could have been useful).  Actually I don’t remember any lectures at all, it was all in tutorial groups, with discussions.  I do remember having to do a lot of essays and a dissertation.  On reflection, it was a great way to learn because   you had the chance to have some great debates with some great intellectuals but then you had to go away and write some more conventional stuff (which had to include the law) but had to look it up yourself.  There was a whole world out there that I had never thought about.  No wonder Leicestershire didn’t want to second one of their employees on a course that made you think.

One of the keys to this course was to have a placement for between two and five days a week throughout the course in a social work department.  It was just the one placement.  I was given a child care placement because I had no experience in child care and boy was that a steep learning curve.  My placement was in Bedworth, a mining area and the placement took place for the whole on the Miners Strike in 83/84.  It was horrendous but a great place to learn where I met some amazing people.  Every family I worked with were on strike.  I didn’t know what poverty was; I didn’t know what hunger was; I didn’t know what depression and oppression was; I didn’t know how people managed to live during those times where there were no Food Banks like there are today but only those set up by the NUM, whose members were all on strike anyway.  Looking back, some of the scenes from films like Billy Elliot and Brassed Off which could seem like over-dramatisation where real.  Families split up because of the politics.  I remember working with a family who trained lurchers as a family (when not down the mines) and had to watch them make the decision to get rid of the dogs because they couldn’t afford to feed them; the choice was who was going to eat that day, the dogs or the family.  I watched them sell the dogs to a mine manager who wasn’t on strike because that was the only person who could afford it (there wasn’t internet in those days).  In all this I was visiting families to check up on whether the children were being well cared for during the strike or whether I would be taking them into care.

It was at that point that I learnt about poverty, injustice, the power of social workers and understood why people hated them so much, how easy it could be to make judgements, how poverty links with ill health and disability, how many miners had conditions like COPD and asbestosis, how class does affect the way a group of people like mining famlies were viewed by social services, how easy it is to make judgements about the way people spend their money e.g. money spent on smoking, how some kids had never been on holidays and so on.  I saw the discrimination and harrassment that faced some families who were in work.  I saw that level of political involvement associated with the Miners Strike that you rarely see nowadays.  Is that a good thing? I don’t know but I do know things have never been the same after the Miners Strike.

I need to do a lot of wiping up with this tea towel to be able to reflect on all this but actually Coventry cathedral is worth a bit of a mention, although it is not somewhere I would ever go back to while they charge £6 entrance fee to what I consider to be first and foremost a place of worship.  This is a modern building, having been completed in 1962, so this isn’t even about preserving a past historical heritage. However, the original Coventry Cathedral was bombed in 1940 during the Second World War.  There was a competition amongst architects for the rebuilding of the cathedral. It was won by Basil Spence whose concept was not to rebuild the bombed cathedral but to build a modern building alongside the bombed  site, the old site being created as a Garden of Remembrance and the new symbolising Peace and Reconciliation.  It is a magnificent structure with St Michael and the Devil on the outside, a 195 pane coloured glass wall and a huge Graham Sutherland tapestry of Christ.  On the site of the bombed cathedral there is the Charred Cross built from two beams that a stonemason found after the bombing which were lying crossed on the floor of the cathedral and the Cross of Nails made from three nails from the roof trusses; this has now been transferred to the main cathedral as a symbol of peace and reconciliation.  There are now 160 such crosses across the world, with the same message, made from the same materials.

Every time I have used this tea towel some of these thoughts have crossed my mind but if I need to think about the details of Coventry Cathedral the drawings of  the various aspects of the cathedral on the tea towel will always remind me.

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Where There’s Tea, There’s Hope. Christmas 2014


“Where there’s tea, there’s hope” is a quotation by Arthur Wing Pinero. Pinero was an English actor, playwright and director, born in 1855 and died in 1934.  He was a prolific playwright, having written over 60 plays in his lifetime; he was extremely popular when he was writing but nowadays very few of his works are revived.  This quotation was amended to become a line in one of his plays, Sweet Lavender, spoken by the main character Horace; it becomes “While there’s tea, there’s hope”.

There are a number of reasons why I really like this tea towel. It is good quality linen; it has good absorbancy; it has very vibrant colours; the quotation reflects my love of tea and the importance of it in my life.  I love the fact that the artist has used the steam from the mug of tea as an apostrophe in the first ‘there’s’.  Very clever.  I am a woman who likes good punctuation and in a sentence where there should be two apostrophes, there is room for a mistake; that possible mistake has been avoided.

When using this tea towel I remember where it came from and am a bit disturbed by the coincidences that surround the blog about this particular tea towel.  As readers know, I blog in the chronological order that the tea towels rise to the top of my airing cupboard pile.  I was given this tea towel last Christmas by Michael; I worked with Michael until last week when I retired from my job and he took over as Director.  I liked the idea that he had chosen this gift because he knew of my love of tea (it’s unlikely he knew at the time of my obsession with tea towels).  The present was a tea towel and a mug, both with the same quotation but the mug had a picture from the TV series Call The Midwife (one of my favourites).  I was drafting this blog yesterday (all blogs are drafted by hand) in Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens, waiting to go into the Theatre Tea House .  This was a trip to London to celebrate my retirement and my birthday.  As I looked up from the notebook pausing for thought, I saw the quotation painted above the door of the Theatre Tea House “While there’s tea, there’s hope”.  Weird. I’m not sure what I think of coincidences but it has given me something to ruminate on when I am wiping up.

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The Orchard, Granchester 2002


This blog could almost be a Tea Room Guide or even a history lesson but it does have a lot of memories for me.  The Orchard at Granchester (near Cambridge) is a truly delightful place that I would recommend anyone visits who likes scones, tea rooms, a quirkey history or poetry.  It is the sort of place you can spend a whole afternoon doing nothing.  My tea towel reflects that charm, a cream cotton material with a green ink sketch that depicts the deck chairs and tea tables under the trees in The Orchard.

Just holding the tea towel reminds me of my two trips to The Orchard.  The first visit was in 2002 when I came across The Orchard at Granchester by accident while on a futile attempt to tackle Cambridge and having got lost around the ring road.  It had never occured to me that the Granchester Rupert Brooke described in his poem was, in fact, a real place, still alive and kicking.  It was early in the season for Tea Gardens but we went in to find the most glorious setting – a large tea garden with green deck chairs under the apple trees.  Because of the size of the garden, and the amount of trees, you can move the tables around to find a secluded spot.  It’s a place you can take dogs and children and feel completely relaxed.  It would be a logistical nightmare to have table service in The Orchard but the small counter has an amazing array of cakes and savouries.  My memory of that first visit was of a cherry scone.  It was huge and delicious; it was crunchy on the outside and soft on the insides, just how they should be.  I didn’t want to eat for the rest of the day.  Because it was chilly we ate our scones in the wooden Tea Pavilion and looked out on The Orchard thinking we needed to come back in the summer on a sunny day so we could sit on the deck chairs.  It was the epitome of the English Tea Garden.  I loved the small museum dedicated to Rupert Brooke and the Granchester Group; it was very informal with a lot of personal letters and anecdotes.  There are some wonderful old photos of some very famous names like Virginia Woolfe and Bertrand Russell.

On my second visit, I went with Barry, Sarah and Heather, three people with learning difficulties who were representing their group (Self Advocacy in Action) at an exhibition of disability and the media in Cambridge.  On the way down I had been telling them about The Orchard at Granchester and they asked if we could go.  This was my excuse to make another visit; the weather was very hot and sunny so we might even be able to sit in the deck chairs in The Orchard.  Fortunately, it wasn’t too crowded so we were able to sit in the shade of the apple trees and reflect on the day.  This time I remember that Sarah and I had a huge slab of chocolate cake, the sort of chocolate cake you dream of.  I can’t remember what anyone else had, just the chocolate cake and Earl Grey tea.  We took loads of photos, posing like the Granchester Group taking tea, photos of each other, photos of the whole group.  It was great fun and certainly didn’t feel like work to me.  Even today, as I remember it so clearly so does Barry and each time I see him we talk about that day.  We didn’t want to leave and got back to Swadlincote a lot later than we planned because we also spent a lot of time in the museum looking at the photographs of Rupert Brooke and his mates.

Part of the enchantment of The Orchard is the setting but it’s history links with this.  The actual orchard was planted in 1867 but didn’t get it’s reputation as a Tea Garden until 30 years later.  The story goes that a Mrs Stevenson owned The Orchard and took in students from Cambridge University as lodgers to supplement her income.  Tradition was that Afternoon Tea was taken on the front lawn each day.  One of the first students was Rupert Brooke (poet) who was a very popular and charismatic personality.  Because of this, Rupert lead a very hectic social life so thought that moving out to Granchester would bring solitude and peace.  Things didn’t go to plan because his ‘social circle’ followed him to Granchester.  It is reputed that one of the students asked if Afternoon Tea could be served in the orchard instead of on the front lawn and thus the Tea Garden was born.

Rupert Brooke was part of what was referred to as the Granchester Group (Virginia Woolfe renamed them the neo-pagans).  It’s members were E.M. Forster (author), John Maynard Keyes (economist), Bertrand Russell (philosopher), Augustus John (artist) and Ludwig Wittgenstein (philosopher), an ecletic group. Rupert Brooke lodged at The Orchard from 1909-1911; he then went travelling abroad, wrote his poem Granchester in Berlin and returned only to find his place at The Orchard had been taken by another student so he moved to the nearby Old Vicarage.  This was later owned by the Tory politcian and author, Jeffrey Archer and his wife Mary.

The Orchard’s fame was not confined to the years before the first World War. In 1950’s, Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath (poets) lived at Granchester Meadows and regularly walked to The Orchard for tea.  In a letter to her American mother Sylvia wrote: “Remember Rupert Brooke’s poem? Well we had tea by the roaring fire at The Orchard (where they serve tea under the flowering trees in Spring) and the ‘clock was set at ten to three’ and there were the most delectable dark clover honey and scones”.

I understand that a Blue Plaque was unveiled at The Orchard in April 2015 marking the residency of Rupert Brooke but I haven’t seen this yet.

In the museum, there is a piece of writing which sums up The Orchard for me. “After a thought-provoking walk through the Meadow, where Turing first conceived the idea of artificial intelligence, one can still seek sanctuary in The Orchard where for over 100 years nature and intellect have met.  It remains to this day where, as in Brooke’s, one can chat for hours or just sit and ‘day-long watch the Cambridge sky’ “.  Happy memories and this tea towel brings them all back for me.

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Drying Dishes Sends Me Quackers 1984


A bright red, linen tea towel with a good absorbancy level.  It has nine quote bubbles, some upside down, saying “Drying Dishes Sends Me Quackers”.  This comes high on my list of the Naffest Tea Towels in my Collection.  Why do I keep it? It has great sentimental value.  When I use it I think of my mother because, I am ashamed to admit, I bought it for her 31 years ago.  What was I thinking of? Certainly not the fact that six years later I would be inheriting the tea towel to add to my collection and have it in my possession.  I remember buying it for her 60th birthday because I thought her tea towels looked very old and sad.  Did I have no taste at all? But I do look at it with a great deal of affection, especially knowing that she didn’t throw it out when she realised how awful it was.  Thank you.

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Clay Pidgeon Shooting Club, South Uist: 2014



This is a tea towel of my own design.  Why? Because last year I spent two weeks in South Uist in the most amazing little, traditonal, thatched cottage.  It had two foot thick walls, was in beautiful condition.  It was in the middle of nowhere, on a slight incline and because South Uist is relatively flat there was a fantastic view of the sea and miles of coastline.  The cottage was surrounded by a large grassed area and had its own two sheep that wandered around, chomping the grass.  You had to be very careful about where you walked when hanging the washing out. Sheep can be prolific at leaving small ‘messages’.  The cottage was made even better by the fact that all the china was Blue Italian Spode, my favourite.  The weather was amazing – hot, sunny, breezy, gale force winds, raining, more sun and so forth.

This holiday was perfection.  Every day that we went out to explore the Uists, we had to drive past a medium sized static caravan in the middle of a field, nothing around it, no one to be seen, just the sign “South Uist Clay Pidgeon Shooting Club”.  It just seemed so unlikely.  No matter what time of day we passed there was no action; no sign of any equipment for Clay Pidgeon Shooting, no posters saying when the next event was.  Every day we wanted to see someone doing something at the Club.  We went into the Information Centre at Lochboisdale to see if they had any information about it.  Nothing.  Looked on the internet, a possible Facebook page but little up to date information.  I don’t know what Clay Pidgeon Shooting is but I certainly wanted to sign up for it.

After the holiday, every time I thought of the caravan I just laughed.  It was a curiosity so there was never going to be a tea towel.  We took loads of photos of the caravan in all types of weather.  I liked this one.  It conjures up so many memories of that holiday that I had to use it to make my own tea towel and I love it. The message on it is “Where to next Carrie?”; this celebrated the fact that I had just bought a caravan, affectionately known as Carrie, to start a new life of caravan holidays, but probably not setting up a Clay Pidgeon Shooting Club. I look at the tea towel and remember that wonderful holiday.  I will never forget the South Uist Clay Pidgeon Shooting Club and may it have many more happy years to come.

Self Advocacy in Action: 1987


This is another classic ‘getting your message across’ tea towel.  While the date for these tea towels is 1987, that is not the age of the tea towels but the date the group was founded. Self Advocacy in Action is a self advocacy group for people with learning difficulties; it is an organisation that is managed by people with learning difficulties and it has the longest ‘strap line’ in the world: Working Together and Helping Others Speak Out.  The original group members chose both the name and the  strap line. One of the founding members, Clifford, designed and drew the logo that they still use today.  Some people have said that the logo is too big; it certainly takes up a lot of the headed paper but it is distinctive, it is their own and they should be proud of it.  It shows small groups of people at one of the conferences they organised each year, making statements like “We should be treated like adults not children”, “We want to learn how to complain”, “Speak up for them that can’t speak for themselves” and finally “Stand up for your rights”.  These were genuine comments made by conference participants and regular themes for group discussions. Using this tea towel reminds me of the happy times I have had, working with Self Advocacy in Action, how much I have learnt from them and how much I miss going to the Annual Conference.  I also miss playing bingo with them (and winning I would have to say). The last annual conference was several years ago; social service departments used to fund people to attend the conferences because they were real learning experiences.  With the austerity cuts imposed by the Government this meant those funds were no longer available for such experiences.  It is good to know that money can still be found for carpetting the offices of the Leader of the Council, or paying for HSI, or for  doing so many road works it makes driving from A to B almost impossible (she says cynically).

In 1987, I was working in Coalville as a Specialist Social Worker for people with learning difficulties, supporting a day centre committee.  In 1987 this was quite a radical approach to services, where people with learning difficulties had a real say in the way their service was delivered, their day centre was run.  At the same time, my best mate, Gwyn, was working in Swadlincote, also in a day centre for people with learning difficulties.  We were having a chat and came up with this great idea that we could bring the two day centre committees together to form a Self Advocacy Group.  Working across local authority boundaries was also a bit radical.  Who is going to pay for the transport? was the first question people asked; nothing about what a great idea this was, nothing about people with learning difficulties learning from each other, nothing about giving people a voice.  The next question was who would be responsible? What insurance would cover them? Nothing about people with learning difficulties having the opportunity to develop independence skills, nothing about broadening the social opportunities of people with learning difficulties and the chance to learn new skills.  It was really difficult to get people in social services to ‘think outside the box’.

Gwyn and I were never going to give up.  We arranged for the two groups to meet up to see if they wanted to do this on a regular basis and 28 years later they are still going; there are several members who were in at the beginning and who are still there.  There are a lot of new members.  So what has the group achieved?  They had their own office in a building for small businesses for more than 15 years (although they have had to give it up because of financial cuts), working alongside the general public, not in an institutionalised day centre.  They are a company limited by guarantee.  They have run 22 national, 3 day conferences at Swanwick Conference Centre, for people with learning difficulties.  They have run more than 20 one day conferences in Leicestershire and Derbyshire.  They have carried out an evaluation of a number of hospital wards as part of the closure of Aston Hall Hospital.  They have given talks about their group all over the country from Somerset to Bangor in North Wales.  They have run regular training sessions for staff in the care sector.  They have acted as a consultation group for the Safeguarding Board in Leicestershire. They have provided services under the Personalisation Agenda in Leicester and Leicestershire.  They have taught student social workers and psychologists about Self Advocacy and the rights of people with learning difficulties.  They have done sessions on abuse of people with learning difficulties  for counsellors.  They have run training sessions on communication and people with learning difficulties.  They have written two books about Self Advocacy and produced 4 videos/CDs.  They have a monthly enewsletter. They have also produced some tea towels and tote bags for fundraising; the tea towels come in two colours and, of course, I have one of each!

The real challenge for professionals is that people with learning difficuties can teach professionals about what is good and bad ways of working, what people want, how to communicate and because it is from their perspective it is unchallengable and basically that is how it should be.

In all this, Self Advocacy in Action have stuck to their funding principles which was not to receive funding from the local authority.  Self Advocacy is about being independent of people who provide services and if the group had a grant from a local authority then the local authority could set boundaries on what they did and create barriers.  This puts the group in a difficult financial position; where do you get funding from?  They have had money from the Lottery in the past and a number of small grant making bodies but it is not core funding because it never goes on for more than three years.  Self Advocacy in Action get most of their money through earning it, through hard work and some fundraising.

I know they have tried embarking upon the world of CrowdFunding.  It seems like a great idea. People have set up new businesses with CrowdFunding, musicians have got their first album financed by CrowdFunding, then there was the man who wanted $50 to make a potato salad and raised many thousand dollars (which he then donated to charity). Self Advocacy in Action want £3000 for a project that would keep them going for some time.  Not a lot to ask.  I am proud to have been part of setting up Self Advocacy in Action in the first place and am proud that here is a group that can move with the times.  Every time I wipe up with this tea towel I think of Clifford, and Kerry and Barry and Phyllis and Melanie who are working so hard to keeping it going but I also think of those members who have left to do other things like Susan who moved to Kidderminster and Roy who moved to Mansfield.  I remember Paul and David who died at a very young age.  I remember Glenis and Phillip and Pam.

In a just world groups like Self Advocacy in Action, and there are similar groups all over the country, should have adequate funding so that they can be independent, and steer their own course in life but then I also know there is little justice in this world.

Twitter @selfadvocacy87

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