Believe it or not, this is probably my most expensive tea towel – probably because it is part of the Scrabble copyright. I have tea towels that have faded because they have been washed a lot. The disappointment associated with my Scrabble tea towel is that it probably is my only tea towel where the print has washed off down one side; this implies poor quality printing. Some of the detail has actually been erased. It’s a shame because it is made of good quality cotton. The tea towel is an unusual shape because it is square, reflecting the shape of a Scrabble board. Scrabble was invented in 1938 in America but didn’t become a best seller until 1952. It was selling in small numbers, in local outlets until Jack Straus, who was the President of Macy’s, New York’s largest department store, went on holiday to a cottage, found Scrabble there and played it. He went back to Macy’s and wondered why he couldn’t buy it in his own store; a big order was placed and Scrabble has never looked back (although Scrabble started as Lexiko).
As the owner of several different Scrabble sets, Scrabble has provided many different memories in my life. Scrabble was a game my parents played a lot. In the early years of their married life both my parents had very separate interests – local politics for my mother and sport for my father. As they got older, they were avid Scrabble players, usually playing with just each other although when John and I visited we were always invited to play. They were ‘mean’ Scrabble players, very competitive, sticklers for the rules; they were also were ‘creative’ in the words that they allowed (or didn’t); John and I were certainly dragged into their competitiveness. It was great fun; I saw them in a different light, saw a different aspect of their relationship. Mum and dad were quite evenly matched as players. I still have the Chambers Dictionary that I bought for dad for Christmas 1983, inscribed “To Dad, I hope this improves the quality of Scrabble (and raises the level of cheating). Love Barbara”; it is a well thumbed dictionary. They were both skilled cheats who could bluff each other out. I also bought them a deluxe Scrabble set with a turntable and plastic covering with insets so that pieces didn’t move when the turntable was twisted; this stopped squabbling about pieces moving about while they tried to get a better view of the board.
When dad died in November 1984, Mum continued to love playing Scrabble. The weekends I spent with her were one long Scrabble match. She outshone me every time. As she became ill, she spent quite a lot of time in hospital or lying on the sofa. This did not diminish her wish to play Scrabble so we bought a set where the tiles could be pegged into the board so it could be balanced on the hospital bed and could be folded up if the game was interrupted. We never managed to do the scoring on the sliding scale attached to the board; pen and paper were the only means of scoring for us, always done in a little notebook and I still have some of those little books. After my mother died, I found it difficult to play Scrabble for many years.
I started playing Scrabble again when I went to New York in 1998 because we wanted to do something to pass the time on the long flight to New York. This has now become a regular activity for long haul travel; it is probably a much more interesting way of passing the time on a long journey, rather than watching in-flight movies. However, if my opponent is Liz, I might as well admit defeat before we start; I can count on the fingers of one hand how many times I have beaten her and since we continue to use the same notebook for scoring the games, the record is there for all to see. She is much too good for me but I still keep trying. My best memory of playing Scrabble was when I stayed in a cottage on the Isle of Canna, off the west coast of Scotland. There were no roads, no cars, no shops, just beautiful scenery, lovely weather; each evening we sat at the table in the window playing Scrabble and watching rainbows over the bay, seals swimming, gannets dive-bombing into the water, yachts coming into the harbour, while waiting our turn of play.
Scrabble is a timeless game but perhaps the most contentious issue is always how long each player takes to think about their next move. Scrabble tournaments always use a timer, although informal games are less likely to use them. Timing was the subject of heated debates between my parents; I find it very reassuring to think that these discussions are taking place all across the country, not just in our house. Today this probably happening in Brighton with my friends Gwyn and Pete, Con and Pauline.
Click below to return to the Virtual Tea Towel Museum