Bergen, Norway: 2003

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In May 2003, I went on a cruise from Harwich, up the east coast of Britain, stopping at the Orkney Isles, Faroe Islands, three stops at Iceland and then onto the Norwegian Fjords.  One of the places we stopped was Bergen.  We were there for 13 hours and spent most of those 13 hours onshore, forfeiting the meals provided onboard for Norwegian fare.  We were so taken by Bergen that we decided that it would be a great place to come back for a short break in December to do the Christmas shopping.  I bought this tea towel on my first visit.  Bergen was definitely not a disappointment but the tea towel was, in that it is an inappropriate cotton for a tea towel, has no absorbancy and ranks as my second worst tea towel for useage.  As a memory prompter it is excellent.

It is difficult to pinpoint what exactly was so special about Bergen; it was the whole experience.  Bergen was an extremely attractive town, mixing the old with the new; it was well cared for.  Billboards were forbidden throughout Bergen which makes a difference.  The pattern edging the tea towel is of a long row of buildings, clapperboard and log, painted in lots of different colours and lining the whole harbour area.  This area is called Bryggen and dates back to the Hanseatic era.  Because the buildings are of wood it has been subject to a number of fires over the last 500 years and many parts have been rebuilt.  The last major fire was 1955.  Bryggen was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979.  The multi-coloured buildings remind me of the shoreline of Tobermory on the Isle of Mull or some small villages in Southern Ireland.  Bryggen is a great area for shopping, with specialist Norwegian shops, and for eating; the first port of call for people coming off cruise ships.  If you are on a cruise ship you have to get your timing right; walk right through this area because most people stop as soon as they get to Bryggen.  The best thing is to return a bit later when the larger groups of people have passed through.

Bergen centres around a big market area on the harbour with lots of cafes with pavement extensions.  Not surprisingly, the market has numerous fish stalls selling food-to-go like sandwiches and pots of prawns as well as fish to take home.  It was at this market I had the biggest (and best) smoked salmon roll I have ever had and I can still remember sitting on a bench tucking into this roll with salmon falling out of the edges; it was delicious.

This is one of those informative tea towels that I like so much.  It tells me that Bergen was founded in 1070; it shows me the Coat of Arms of Bergen; it tells me Edward Grieg was born there (I know that because I saw the memorial to him).  If you want to hear some Grieg there is usually a lunch time concert for tourists.  The tea towel reminds me that Bergen was occupied by the Germans from the first day Norway was invaded in April 1940 and not freed until the end of the Second World War.  There is a cute picture labelled ‘Rainy Bergen’.  This reminds me that Bergen has a high level of rainfall, although I did not see any on either of my two visits but all over Bergen were Umbrella Machines where you could buy an umbrella by putting money into the machine.  There is a picture of a bus climbing a hill, reminding me that Bergen is surrounded by 7 mountains; a bus trip up the mountains is well worth the scary, winding roads because the views over the harbour are spectacular.

One of my great memories is of the food.  Always someone who likes to try something a little different, a whale steak was fantastic, more like game and so tender; elk was also a big hit with me but I couldn’t resist at least trying the Norwegian speciality of salted cod, tasty and not like what I was expecting.  My regret was that we were not there long enough to try all the other unusual meats and fishes.  But there were also some great cakes, not too creamy but certainly delicious.  What I liked about Norwegian cuisine was that they appreciated good ingredients and didn’t feel the need to cover them in ‘gloopy’ sauces.  Bergen, for me, was a gourmet’s delight (but not if you were a vegetarian).  It was also a great place for shopping but that is a tale of another tea towel.

I loved Bergen and it would always be a place I would like to return to, on a short break.  However, a lasting memory, amongst all this wonderful food was a very large Macdonalds in the centre which was very popular with locals.  There is no accounting for taste.

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Tea Time: 2001

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I bought this tea towel in a tea room in Finchingfield, Essex – the Causeway Tea Cottage.  Finchingfield is a picturesque, quintessentially English village with a Village Green and a Duck Pond.  The Causeway Tea Cottage sat on the top of a slope overlooking the Duck Pond and Village Green.  It was a very traditional tea room with oak furniture, willow pattern china, embrodiered table cloths and a wonderful display of cakes on an oak sideboard.  It was a delightful place with a great view and on a sunny day you could sit in the cottage garden.

I saw this tea towel on the wall and was very attracted to it because of the theme of 12 blue tea pots of different designs, each backed by a green tea caddy of different shapes and under each one the name of different teas.  It appealed to my love of tea; the traditional blue colour that is associated with Willow Pattern or Blue Italian Spode, the different shapes and styles of tea pots. There are even three with cane handles, not practical for regular use because of the dificulty washing them up but attractive all the same.

It is pure linen and has retained it’s colour and crispness even though it is getting old but I notice that it has acquired a significant tea stain in the centre; I have no idea where that came from, but I was obviously very careless at some point.

Doesn’t it annoy you when people make slapdash mistakes and presumably think you won’t pick up on them?  Having initially taken some pleasure from this tea towel, I realised there was a big mistake.  Under each tea pot is a name of a tea which you might find on any tea menu e.g. Lapsang Souchong (a black, smokey tea), Earl Grey (black tea flavoured with bergamot), Rose Congou (black tea flavoured with rose petals), Darjeeling and Assam (black teas but from specific regions of India), Ceylon (a generic name for all teas from Sri Lanka but there are many different regions giving different flavours).  In this list, in the bottom left hand corner of the tea towel is ‘Orange Pekoe”; it is listed as if it is the name of a tea, which , of course, it isn’t. Orange Pekoe is a term in tea grading, not the name of a tea.  Orange Pekoe is one of a number of terms used in tea grading; it is about the quality of the tea.  If the term Orange Pekoe is used it means it is a higher grade of black tea, made from the small leaves at the tips of the plants.  It is a term that is only used in relation to black tea grown in India, Sri Lanka and Java.

Once I’ve spotted a mistake like this it bugs me.  However, when I use this tea towel I am reminded of the lovely Causeway Tea Cottage and the ginger cake I had there and am sad that it has since closed and it also reminds me that, although I like a tea towel that provides me with information, something I can learn from, you can’t believe everything you read on a tea towel. (Oh dear! I do believe I am beginning to sound a bit pompous)

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Bramah Museum: 2005

The Bramah Museum was one of those ‘finds’, that I loved visiting.  I have three tea towels from there, bought at different times and on different occasions. The first one is of “Tea History’; the second has a number of quotes which came to the top of the airing cupboard pile in November 2015 and the third is called ‘Teapots’ and represents some of the items on show in the Museum.   I hope you enjoy all three!!

If you are judging the Tea History tea towel artistically, you might say that there was too much going on, too many images in one colour (although an unusual shade of plum).  There are 8 sketches which might look disjointed, unless you have been to the Bramah Tea and Coffee Museum and have seen the miscellany of goods on display.  The museum is now, sadly, closed following the death of it’s founder in 2008, although there have been plans to reopen it at a different location.

Edward Bramah, the owner and founder of the museum, was an interesting man who I met twice; he was present at the museum on both my visits – the first time in 2001 and the second time in 2005 when I bought this tea towel. Edward Bramah had an interesting career, starting life in the Royal Navy as part of his National Service, working in Malawi on a tea plantation, being trained by J.Lyons and Co. as a tea taster and then in 1954 he switched interest to coffee. Edward Bramah wrote about his life as being “a double career in tea and coffee”.  He designed a coffee filter machine, wrote numerous books on tea and coffee and over a period of 40 years, when he had a dream of opening a museum, he collected tea and coffee paraphenalia, amassing a huge amount of knowledge.  He had a reputation for being a slightly obsessive enthusiast although was actually recognised as probably the only world authority on both tea and coffee.  His Tea and Coffee Museum also had the reputation for being the only one of it’s kind in the world, giving equal weight to the history and associated paraphenalia of both tea and coffee

The Tea and Coffee Museum was Edward Bramah’s passion. It covered over 400 years of the commercial and social history of two important commodities.  It was opened in 1992, 40 years after  he had his first idea for the museum.  It was originally located in Butlers Wharf in London which was a former tea warehouse.  While this was an ideal location historically, with it’s connection with the tea trade, it was out of the way of the usual tourist routes (it took me ages to find it); he then moved it unexpectedly to Southwalk Street, near the refurbished Borough Market which was on the tourist trail.  The museum had a tea room which Bramah saw as an integral part of the museum – demonstrating the art of tea and coffee making; it celebrated the institution of Afternoon Tea.  When I visited on both occasions it was full of Japanese and American tourists indulging in the ‘tea ritual’.  It was never going to be a big financial success because it was a very specialist museum with no gimmicks.

While the museum described in detail the history of the tea bag, including having a large number of samples of the different sorts of tea bags through the ages, his view was that tea bags were a travesty.  He said “There are no better things in life than tea and time”.  He meant that the tea bag was a short cut to making tea  and that good tea took time to make and savour and was part of a ritual.

There is no question that the Bramah Tea and Coffee Museum was always one of my favourite museums that I had ever visited.  It combined a quirkiness with a huge amount of knowledge and fascinating artefacts, a reflection of it’s eccentric founder.  You only had to ask him one question and you could be engaged in conversation for several hours. He did not suffer fools gladly but was only willing to impart his knowledge to people with a genuine interest.

In this context, the tea towel is very interesting because the sketches highlight some of the areas of interest from the museum e.g. Lu Yu, the author of the first Tea Book in AD 780 called ‘Ch’a Ching’; a traditional Chinese tea pot from around 1640. This tea pot was in the museum, one of Edward Bramah’s collection and was, in fact, extremely valuable. There is a sketch of the Japanese Tea Ceremony which was explained in detail in the museum with an explanation as to how it evolved in Japan and nowhere else.  There is a sketch of East India House, the HQ of the East India Company in Leadenhall Street. The East India Company, because of it’s commercial interests, virtually governed  India that was ruled by the British, at that time, until 1858.  There is a sketch of an 18th Century London Tea Garden. At one point there were more than 200 Tea Gardens in London where people could spend an afternoon drinking tea (sounds like a good idea to me).  What was special about the Tea Gardens was that they were open to anyone and was one of the first institutions where people from all walks of life could meet up, sharing an interest in tea. There is a sketch of the Boston Tea Party which was basically the start of the American War of Independence.

All this, and much more, was documented in the museum, demonstrating that tea was such an important commodity it changed the course of history in so many ways.  Using this tea towel reminds me of those trips to the museum.  I loved the passion this man had for tea and coffee and how it influenced the history of Britain, America, along with places like India; it is not just a drink, it has turned history.

I am really sad that the museum no longer exists.  I have recently bought one of Edward Bramah’s books on Tea and Coffee Walks through London, not a tea room guide but charts important buildings and events associated with tea and coffee – warehouses, docks, buildings.  The eccentricity of Edward Bramah made him my sort of man and I use the tea towel to remind me of that.

The middle tea towel from the Bramah Tea and Coffee Museum has found it’s way to the top of the pile in my airing cupboard.  There are many quotes about tea, about how good it is for you, why people like it, about the ceremony of tea etc.  People write books just full of such quotes; some are very famous like the Sydney Smith quote “Thank God for tea! What would the world be without tea? How did it exist? I am glad I was not born before tea”.  This tea towel has 15 quotes about tea, including that Sydney Smith one and one attributed to the Bramah Museum “In far away lands, or wherever you be, friendship is welded by a good cup of tea”.  However, my favourite, which I hadn’t heard before, is “A good cup of tea is the responsibility of the one who makes it” (NAAFI).  On this tea towel, Edward Bramah puts a quote of his own “……..the tea trade, in particular, has always had a special aristocratic position in the world of buying and selling”.  I can imagine Edward Bramah saying that.

The third tea towel, with teapots that were displayed in the museum, is simplistic but I have no idea how that huge tea stain appeared across the tea towel.  Looking at the these three tea towels, I am taken back to my visits, the eccentricity of Edward Bramah’s vision for a Tea and Coffee Museum and I just think that the Tea Towel Museum that I am planning may be equally eccentric.  I am in good company!

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Scottish Highlands and Islands Creamery Company: 2009

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I bought this tea towel at the Torrylinn Creamery on the Isle of Arran.  Torrylinn Creamery was originally a small independent creamery but is now one of three cheesemakers that make up the Scottish Highlands and Islands Creamery Company; the other two are Campeltown Creamery on the Mull of Kintyre (never been, but must go) and Rothesay Creamery on the Isle of Bute (never been to Bute but is on my list of ‘must go to’ places).  The tea towel has a map of the west coast of Scotland from the isle of Mull in the north to the Mull of Kintyre in the south, pinpointing the creameries.  I love a tea towel with a map to orient yourself.

We went to Torrylinn Creamery on my first visit to Arran.  It is a cute creamery with a viewing deck so you can watch the cheesemaking process; there might be a lot of machinery but it is a very physical job for the cheesemakers, back-breaking is a good phrase.  All the Torrylinn cheeses are made from the milk of Friesan cows (those black and white ones) from the three dairy farms on Arran that supply the creamery.  The milk is suitable for a Dunlop-like cheese.  The Torrylinn Creamery actually makes a cheese in the shape of the Isle of Arran, which is certainly a novelty and something I have never seen the like of before.  It also does a Burns Truckle which is half-moon shaped as well as some speciality cheeses.  There is, of course, a shop where you can taste the cheeses before buying any.  The Torrylinn cheeses are really good, flavoursome cheeses that are wax-packed so keep a goodly while.  They also have an online shop so you can still get the cheeses once you have returned home.

As I use this tea towel I remember this great creamery; it reminds me that I would like to visit the other two and compare their cheeses.  But I also remember that just down the road, in Kilmory, was the Farmers market that we went to which sold local produce including fruit and veg but also jams, pork pies, pickled onions and home made knit wear and crafts.  It had a great little cafe serving home made cakes.  It was certainly the place that locals met up. Arran is a truly lovely island, always worth revisiting and this tea towel reminds me of that.

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Matilda: August 2015

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What a great tea towel! Four simple words that are a direct quote from Roald Dahl’s book, Matilda. “Dinners Don’t Microwave Themselves”.

I have known Gwyn since April 1979 when we worked together at Glenfrith Hospital and since that date we have celebrated almost all of our birthdays together. 2015 has not been a good year for Gwyn, health-wise, but she was determined that she would celebrate her birthday in August in the way that she really wanted to.  This involved a lot of planning with no guarantee that she would be well enough to carry it all through.  She wanted to go to London by train, have lunch, see a matinee, do a bit of window shopping (or even real shopping) and have a light supper before going home. Gwyn has a determination to overcome obstacles; she didn’t know if she would have started chemotherapy, and if she had,  how often those sessions would be or on what day; she didn’t know if she was going to be able to eat at this stage; she didn’t know how well she would feel, whether she would be able to take a long day out.  Her determination paid off.

Gwyn wanted to see Matilda, the musical interpretation of the book Roald Dahl wrote in 1988.  As a book it won the Children’s Book Award not long after it was published.  Gwyn is an avid reader and Dahl’s daughter, Lucy, thought her father had written this story because he feared that books would go away and he wanted to write about it, a subject dear to Gwyn’s heart. Matilda was on at the Duchess Theatre, near Covent Garden so she booked a meal at a Greek restaurant very near by which specialised in doing mezze dishes, a bit like a Greek version of tapas, because she finds eating small portions much easier.  Great choice for us all because we were able to share twelve different dishes, tried most of the menu and it was excellent food.  I have little knowledge of Greek food, bar stuffed vine leaves, and these were the best dolmades I have ever had.

We moved on to the theatre.  Entering the foyer, I saw this tea towel, pinned on the wall along with T-shirts, tote bags and a selction of other memorabilia.  This was a tea towel that I had to have because, no matter what the musical was actually like, it would be a reminder of a great day out celebrating Gwyn’s birthday which had been planned to the last detail, in the midst of her health crisis.  However, there was a problem! they had sold out of tea towels (always a popular item).  While I was bemoaning the fact that this had happened and chuntering away, and no one was going to be able to persuade me that a T-shirt was any kind of substitute for a tea towel, the woman in the shop said you could order them online.  Not the same as buying it on the spot but an adequate substitute.  So that is what I did on the train, on the way home.  The wonders of a Smart Phone.

Any doubts I had about the quality of the show were immediately dispelled.  It was an incredible show with a lot of very talented young actors and very imaginative scenery.  You would think the audience might be filled with children but there were a surprising number of unaccompanied adults; it was a packed house.

The final stop was a light supper in Fortnum and Masons at St Pancras Station followed by a little shopping.  I think St Pancras Station is worthy of a day out alone, even if you did nothing else; a great place for people-watching.

As a tea towel, it is splendid; it is extra large, high quality cotton, vibrant colours with a hook to hang it by; I love a tea towel with a hook, a sign of quality and attention to detail.  It is certainly worth doing the wiping up with, lingering over the memories of a great day out with a determined Gwyn.  It was also worth ordering the tea towel on the way home because the online shop was also sold out two days later.

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London Bridge and Westminster Bridge: 2007

I go to London several times a year; not just because that’s where I originate from, but because I go to hospital there once or twice a year but also because I just love going.  Don’t want to live there but love being a tourist these days.  These are two tea towels I bought on a long weekend I spent in London to celebrate my birthday in 2007.

Because I go to London frequently, I only buy tea towels that I really like or that have some meaning, otherwise I would be overwhelmed with tea towels just from London.  These two tea towels represent two very clear images of  London bridges.  The first is Tower Bridge, a magnificent structure crossing the Thames near to the Tower of London and built in 1894.  I have travelled on a boat under Tower Bridge and you get a completely different perspective of London.  The second is a black and white image, with just a red double decker bus; it is of Westminster Bridge, built in 1738, linking the Palace of Westminster with the London Eye. As a child I had a guided tour of the Houses of Parliament by Brian Batsford (1910-1991) who was MP for Ealing South; he was a painter, designer, publisher, Conservative politician and a personal friend of my mother’s.  It was certainly worth a visit when you are escorted by an MP because you see areas that are not usually open to the public; this of course was more than 50 years ago.  I am sure things have changed!!

My visit to London in August 2007 was certainly one of highs and lows, and therefore quite unforgettable, something I will definitely remember all my life and each time I look at these tea towels, those memories come flooding back.  The plan was to see two London shows, have a trip on the London Eye and have Afternoon Tea at Fortnum and Masons in St James Lounge, plus some shopping.  I was a huge fan of the reality TV show ‘Any Dream Will Do’.  My favourite from the first show was Lee Mead (who went on to win it).  I remember him singing New York, New York and Paint It Black in the final; in my humble opinion, these were phenomenal. So one of the shows we saw was Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat.  It had only opened in the July so we were very lucky to get tickets. The staging was amazing with the final scene having Joseph stand on a moving arm that stretched high above the audience.  It was a memorable experience.

The second show was Billy Elliott which was a completely different ball game.  Having seen the film and loved it, I couldn’t imagine how they were going to stage it.  The film had many outdoor sequences, including pit head scenes.  The film was brilliant but  a simple stage set worked really well.  The music always sends a shiver down my spine.

We were walking down Hyde Park Lane, just outside the Grosvenor Hotel, when my work mobile phone rang.  People rarely rang that phone over the Bank Holiday.  It was a phone call to tell me that Jean Adcock had been found dead.  Jean was the Chairperson of mosaic, a disabled person, full of life, a formidable woman.  The politics of disability ran through her blood; she was a role model for all disabled people.  She was only in her 60’s.  While never in good health, her death was not expected.  It was surreal to be sitting on a wall outside the Grosvenor Hotel hearing this news. I didn’t know what to do.  I was on my way to Afternoon Tea at Fortnum and Masons.  The only thing I could think of doing was to continue with the plan and raise a toast, in fine bone china cups, to the woman I loved working with.  The exit song at Jean’s funeral was “Simply the Best” by Tina Turner and our discussion over Earl Grey tea, reflected that.  When I was in London in August is year I found myself outside the Grosvenor Hotel again and shouted at the top of my voice “Simply the best”.  I’ll never forget the day Jean died because it was my 56th birthday.

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Winchester Cathedral: 2012

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Winchester was a place I passed through, stopped for a cup of tea on the way to Enham Alamein.  We stopped at Winchester Cathedral to do the ‘touristy’ thing.  I had no idea about anything to do with Winchester Cathedral except that the New Vaudeville Band sang ‘Winchester Cathedral’ in 1966. As a cathedral it has the longest nave and greatest overall length of any Gothic Cathedral in Europe.  There was a religious building on this site since 642 AD.  It was demolished in 1093 and rebuilt with stone from the Isle of Wight.  There is no question that Winchester Cathedral is a magnificent building full of quirky history.

There is an amazing West Window.  In 1642, the window was deliberately smashed to pieces by Cromwell’s troops.  When the monarchy was restored in 1660, all the pieces were gathered together.  No attempt was made to recreate the window design but the pieces were reassembled randomly into a kind of mosaic.

The crypt has regularly flooded.  There is an Anthony Gormley statue called Sound II, a modern shrine to St Swithin.   There is a small statue to William Walker known as “The diver who saved Winchester Cathedral”.  For five years, he worked beneath the foundations underpinning them by hand with concrete bags and blocks.  Jane Austen was buried in Winchester Cathedral in 1817.  The plaque refers to Jane’s ‘writings’, not her novels.  There is a Fisherman’s Chapel which is the burial place for Izaak Walton, the writer of The Compleat Angler, who was an avid fisherman on the River Itchen.  There is a statue of Joan of Arc.  Winchester Cathedral was the setting for the Da Vinci Code.

So why was I on my way to Enham Alamein? Just being nosey.  When I worked for mosaic we had to put in a tender to deliver a Direct Payments Support Service, a service we had already delivered for 9 years.  We lost the tender to Enham Trust, an organisation that has never worked in Leicester and that is based in Enham Alamein in Hampshire.  I wanted to see what the organisation was like.  It was certainly weird. The Enham Trust owned the whole village of Enham Alamein, post office, community shop, all the housing because it was set up at a rehabilitation village for soldiers after the first world war.  I suppose it is an old fashioned idea to have a village community.  At least I understood what organisation took over our service.

This tea towel is designed like a cathedral window with information about Jane Austen, Izaak Walton and William Walker on it.  As I use the tea towel, it reminds me of my trip to find out about Enham Alamein, what it was like because it was a part of my work life that caused me a lot of distress.  The reality is that this is all behind me and now I think that Winchester Cathedral is somewhere I would like to go back to and have a good look at it.

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