Liz bought me this tea towel in 2014, when her grandchildren (Hamish aged 5 and Lyra aged 3) came to stay with her during the summer holidays. Keen to find different, and interesting, things to do, Liz found out that they were running craft sessions for young children at Loughborough Museum. Never having realised there was a museum in Loughborough, this was an adventure for all three of them. Not only were the craft sessions excellent but they were able to explore the museum and use the cafe. It was a great day out. To celebrate the success of this venture, Liz bought me a tea towel in the museum gift shop. Because of the success of this trip, the children were keen to go back, so at the weekend I was invited to join them. The museum cafe had the best ham, eggs and chips that I have had in a long while. (I’ve been back to sample them on many occasions since). I remember the museum being an excellent source of the social history of Loughborough, with memorabilia from both World Wars, a shop from the 1930’s, ration cards, medals…….. The paintings, and recreated scenes, were very interesting; who would have known that Loughborough had such a varied history. The museum leads out onto Queen’s Park and the Carillion, both of which are on the tea towel, and were very popular with Hamish and Lyra.
However, my memories of Loughborough go back to 1975 when I lived there for about 9 months; I lived in Victoria Street in a ground floor bed sit. I can honestly say that I have no idea who else lived in the building, because I never saw anyone else in the whole 9 months although I did hear noises! Loughborough was about 5 miles from where I worked in Mountsorrel so was very convenient, with a bus stop at the end of my road. The bedsit was cute but definitely not spacious; a Baby Belling, tiny fridge, square dining table that expanded (one of those that we all used to use for table tennis games). I wasn’t sure how they expected me to invite people around to sit at the expanded dining table since there were only two hard back chairs, one armchair, a single bed, a wardrobe and loads of shelves with curtains hung in front of them, rather than doors, to hide my guilty secrets. The cold bathroom and toilet were down the corridor and shared between the two other (invisible) people who lived in the house and me. The room wasn’t warm; this was one of the few occasions in my life that I have used an electric blanket. No television but I mainly listened to the radio in those days. I didn’t spend a lot of time in the town because most of my friends either lived in Mountsorrel or Castle Donington. I’m not sure that I thought Loughborough was the sort of town that I wanted to spend a lot of time in; it is somehow neither one thing or another, a university town with good sports facilities (not for me), a largish shopping centre but none of the big stores that I might want (like M&S). It was boring in those days, no getting away from it.
David Mullard, a man that I worked with, was a very good singer who also lived in Loughborough. I loved his voice, a deep mellow baritone, akin to Howard Keel; he was a member of a lot of local operatic groups and invited me to all his concerts and shows. I felt like a ‘David Mullard groupie’; he was an eccentric man, a one-off who I was very fond of. When he sliced his thumb off with an electric saw (he was someone who should definitely never have been let near an electric saw), I spent quite a lot of time helping him with everyday tasks since he could not get his head around the fact that he should be keeping his hand held upright while the stitches healed. I remember seeing him in Calamity Jane; while he had a fantastic singing voice, dancing was not a strong point. The director managed to ensure that the most movement he had to do was tap his foot and that worked well – a good compromise.
After I moved back to Long Eaton in 1976, my second foray into Loughborough didn’t come until 1995 when I enrolled on to a Women’s Studies course at Loughborough University. It was an M.A. course led by Celia Kitzinger, a leading academic in the field of Women’s Studies. It was interesting because I thought I would really enjoy the course; in fact, it was boring, somewhat pompous and very theoretical, not much related to the actual lives of women today. When I looked at what I was doing in my free time, my personal life I thought ‘I don’t want to do this; I’ve got better things to do with my life’ or as Shirley Conran said so succinctly “Life’s too short to stuff a mushroom”. It was a great relief when I left the course but I wasn’t the only one – from the 42 who enrolled, only 7 people made it to the end of the first year.
Loughborough is one of those places for which I have quite a lot of negative feelings which was why I was so excited by Liz’s experience of Loughborough Museum. It counteracted my negativity. The tea towel is a traditional tourist tea towel with sketches of key places in Loughborough – places I am not aware of, like the Boy with a Thorn. This is a copy of a Greco-Roman Hellenistic bronze statue of a boy withdrawing a thorn from the sole of his foot; the original is in Rome. Many copies have been made of this statue; this copy was presented to Loughborough by it’s twin town of Epinal. At one time, in 1980s, it went missing and was found several years later, abandoned in a brook in Yorkshire. I have to ask myself why anyone would go to the trouble of stealing it from Leicestershire, only to abandon it in Yorkshire. A mystery. The plaque on the statue says “The Boy with a Thorn has stood in the old town of Epinal since XVth Century, suffering many vicissitudes and witness of many wars. The statue and it’s successive replicas symbolise the town’s name in the minds of it’s inhabitants”. What on earth does that mean?
Loughborough Grammar School appears on the tea towel. It was founded in 1495, pre dating schools like Harrow, Westminster and Stowe. Today it is one of few independent boarding schools for boys only. Colin Dexter (author of the Inspector Morse books) taught there and Patrick McGoohan (of The Prisoner fame) attended there. Needless to say, Loughborough University also appears on the tea towel using the image of an uninspiring tower block.
For me, my Loughborough tea towel reflects my feelings about Loughborough itself; it’s ok but nothing spectacular. Using the tea towel does, however, remind me of the small museum that is not widely publicised but which I fondly remember for both it’s history and ham, egg and chips.
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