Around Margate and Cliftonville: 1980


I know that the tea towel says ‘Around Margate and Cliftonville’ but it’s significance to me is only about Cliftonville. This is a classic tourist tea towel with lots of pictures of important places in Margate and thereabouts; a heavily pictured tea towel.  It is 100% thick cotton, great absorbancy but because it is 36 years old there is inevitably some wear.  You can see a small hole on the left hand side.    This tea towel marks one of the defining moments in my life.  A bit dramatic for a tea towel, but fact nonetheless.

This tea towel, along with the ugliest biscuit barrel you have ever seen, was the first present that John ever bought me and it was the moment that I knew that I could spend the rest of my life with him.  Unfortunately, life never goes to plan and it was only 16 years. But 16 years was good.  I had only known John for about 5 months.  He was a nurse on Clephan Ward at Glenfrith Hospital; I was the social worker for that ward.  Glenfrith Hospital was a long-stay hospital for people with learning difficulties and Clephan Ward was for men only, many of whom were either detained under the Mental Health Act 1959 or who had transferred from Rampton Secure Hospital.  It was a different world in those days; there were men detained under the Mental Health Act for stealing a packet of biscuits or getting into a fight when the pubs turned out, detained for more than 10 years when today they might just have been fined.

It wasn’t only different for people with learning difficulties; all staff were required to accompany patients on holiday; it wasn’t a choice, it wasn’t something you got paid double time for, it was just part of the job.  I suppose the good thing about those days was that the powers that be felt that patients had a right to have an annual holiday, not just day trips and these holidays became a significant part of people’s lives.  Patients didn’t have to pay for the staffing hours like they have to do now, they didn’t have to feel grateful that staff gave up their own time to go on holiday with them, it was part of the ‘service’.  In 1980, it was John’s turn to go to Cliftonville with a large group of patients, staying in a hotel.  This was the first year they had tried staying in an ordinary hotel rather than ‘taking over’ the Miner’s Welfare holiday camp in Skegness.  If anyone has taken groups of disabled people on holiday, they will know this is no ‘picnic’; it is hard work and long hours, you are always on duty.  It isn’t about who you are taking on holiday, it’s not about people being disabled; the fact is that if you live in a hospital 52 weeks a year, then one week’s holiday is really important.  You want to get as much out of that week as possible.  People have that sort of energy that goes with being on holiday, wanting to do everything there is to do, to see everything there is to see, to try new things and have new experiences.  The reality is that staff want to soak their feet in a bowl of hot water and go to bed early and patients want to get up early and go to bed after the bar has closed.  This is not the week to just sit around and watch TV.  John was a fit man but often wondered where the people got their energy from.

Cliftonville gave people the chance to do new things: the group went on a day trip to France.  For many people just going on holiday was exciting but, for everyone, going abroad was definitely a new experience.  The Hypermarket at Calais sold everything anyone could possibly need, including alcohol and cigarettes.  Families certainly got presents from the holiday unlike anything they had had before.  I remember John telling me about going to the funfair at Margate – Dreamland – and all the rides they had.  Then there was the Empire Strikes Back and Superman 2 at the cinema.  A trip to Canterbury, walking on the beach and paddling in the sea.  Walks round the Victorian gardens.  Of course, back in 1980, there were no mobile phones or Internet, so any contact with John was at 11.30pm, when everyone had gone to bed, by landline.  It cost a fortune.  I would try and keep awake for the phone calls but it was very difficult.  Not only did I have a blow by blow account of what happened each day, this was supplemented by postcards from John and a number of patients and then I heard it all again when they got back.  It felt as though I had been on the holiday; I felt exhausted.

I remember being very excited by the fact that not only had John bought me a present (and it is difficult to find the time to do that amongst everything else) but that he had remembered my love of tea towels and then had actually bought me one.  It felt like someone had really cared, really thought about a present for me (not sure about the biscuit barrel though).  It was at that point that I realised that this was the man for me, someone who would care for me, love me, look after me; someone who would not ridicule my tea towels.  For that reason this tea towel is very precious to me even though none of the places on the tea towel have any significance to me, nor have I been to any, nor do I feel a need to go and see them.   Tea towels can be special in so many different ways.


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Iona: 1999 (and onwards)


I have two traditional tea towels from the isle of Iona, a small island just off the coast of Mull, in the Hebrides. The first is a simple design of a goose, the Celtic symbol for the Holy Trinity, with an edging of Celtic knots.  The second is another simple sketch, this time of Iona Abbey.  I first went to Iona in 1999 when I was staying in Oban and have been back many times since but I have never actually stayed there.  It is so easy to get to Iona these days.  If you are staying in the Oban area or on Mull, a trip to Iona is at the courtesy of CalMac. Iona is also often the stopping off point for many smaller cruises; I have been to Iona by all these routes.  Looking at both tea towels conjures up some wonderful memories.  Firstly, I have never been to Iona in bad weather; whatever season, the sun has shone, there has been a gentle warm breeze.  This has not been about good planning but rather good luck; bad weather would not have stopped me but somehow the weather has always added a little something to the beauty of Iona.  Secondly, Iona gives me a sense of peace and tranquillity.  With a permanent population of about 175, and with nearly half a million tourists passing through Iona each year, you would think that tranquillity would be an inappropriate word to use but it is always possible to land on Iona and get away from everyone else if you want to.  You can choose the hillsides, coastal paths, paddling on the beaches or inland; topography, culture or history.  You can sense why Iona has been a place of pilgrimage and contemplation.

I am always surprised that the history of Iona is not quite as I expect.  Iona has been owned by the National Trust for Scotland since 1979 but the sacred buildings and sites were given to the Church of Scotland Iona Cathedral Trust in 1899.  Iona has been inhabited at least since the Iron Age but its main association has been with St Columba, an Irish prince who came over in 563AD with 12 companions, at the age of 42.  Columba founded a monastery and turned Iona into a place of pilgrimage and Christian learning, renown throughout Europe.  He died in 597 and was apparently buried on Iona, although the whereabouts of his remains have been questioned.  With that sort of history you would expect the island to be littered with religious relics; this is not really the case because unfortunately Iona was subject to numerous Norse raids causing widespread destruction and considerable pillaging.  It started in 795 when the original monastery was destroyed because it was made out of wood, mud, wattle and thatch so was easy to burn to the ground.  This was followed by attacks in 798, 802, 806 (when 68 monks were murdered), 825, 849 (when the version of the Book of Kells, that is now held in Dublin, disappeared). In 986, the Abbott and 15 monks were killed.  In 1203, a new monastery and abbey for Benedictine monks was built on the site of the earlier monastery and an Augustinian nunnery was also completed.  The present Catherdral was built in 1500s.  During the Reformation, 360 stone crosses were smashed.  With such destruction, on a tiny island, it is no wonder that there isn’t more well preserved artefacts.  By 1549, Iona was supposedly the resting place of 48 Scottish, 8 Norwegian and 4 Irish kings, although that may also be part of the mythology associated with Iona as a holy place.

People’s feelings about Iona are varied.  Walter Scott described Iona as “desolate and miserable”.  On the other hand, William Wordsworth wrote 3 sonnets about Iona in 1838.  It was the favourite place of John Smith, former Labour Party leader, a place where he found peace and requested that he be buried there.  One of the delights of Iona is that there are no cars but then it is a tiny island, one mile wide and four miles long; the highest point is Dun I, an Iron Age fort 331 feet above sea level; from the top you can see across the sea to Skye, well worth the walk.

But there are other reasons to visit Iona – craft workshops, shell sands that are clean and white, the 15th Century 3 metre high MacLean Cross, the graveyard, St Oran’s Chapel, the Church of St Ronan which is now a museum, the Community Shop and the lovely tea room (you can’t miss a great tea room and I remember the fantastic scones).  The air of tranquility that surrounds Iona makes you want to just wander around and contemplate, meditate and absorb the beauty.  I remember going to the Community Shop and buying a delightful pair of earrings painted with poppies.

Iona may not be a big place but whenever I am in the Oban area I would want to go back to Iona.  I have been to Lindisfarne on several occasions, another place steeped in Christian history, yet Iona does not have that sense of commercialism that Lindisfarne has, which is what draws me back. I love Iona and using these tea towels brings back all my memories.


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Washington Old Hall, Tyne and Wear: 1985


John and I chose to go to Washington Old Hall, a property owned by the National Trust since 1957, because of its links with George Washington, the first president of the United States Of America.  I had done A/Level American History and was fascinated to know about the links this house had with America.  It was the ancestral home of George Washington. There was a 12th Century building on this site but the current building was finished in 17th Century.  You would have thought that this building would have been somewhat grander or more carefully looked after.  In fact, it was lived in until the 19th Century when it was converted into tenement flats and gradually fell into disrepair. In 1936, it was declared ‘unfit for human habitation’.  However, Fred Hill, a local teacher,  and historian, saw what a travesty it would have been to knock down a building with such historical links and set up an Old Hall Preservation Committee which rescued the building from demolition by buying the building and surrounding lands.  The preservation work was delayed by the fact that the end of the Second World War presented challenges to the social fabric of the area.  In 1946, Fred Hill said “It is our hope that the old place will be completely restored and utilised as the Village Community Centre with provisions for a guest chamber for American tourists”. The Preservation Committee, or Friends of the Old Hall, raised the money for the preservation work, with considerable help from Americans, which was eventually completed in 1955 and opened by the American Ambassador; the Old Hall was then in a state to be handed to the National Trust in 1957 because the donors felt that this was an historical building and should be more than a community centre.

Washington Old Hall was a delightful property to visit but perhaps I liked best the story of Fred Hill and his committment to preserving what he thought was important. The other thing that I liked was the fact that there was a tea towel; I might have expected that this property wasn’t big enough for its own tea towel but more importantly it is a ‘Pat Albreck Tea Towel’; Pat Albreck being one of my most favourite tea towel designers so I am proud to own it, admire it and remember the lovely day out and the story of Fred Hill.  I like the fact that the American flag is on the tea towel in front of the Old Hall.

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Belton House, Lincolnshire: 1986


I joined the National Trust in 1980s because of my love of history.  The advantage of having a Membership Card is that you can visit a stately home or garden and not feel under pressure to see the whole property in one go; you can go back, time and time again.  I first visited Belton House in 1986, not long after it was acquired by the National Trust in 1984; the National Trust were able to open the house to the public very quickly, after it came into their possession, because it was in such a good state of repair.  John and I wanted to see a newly-acquired National Trust property and because Belton House was quite near where we lived, we decided on a day out. I have been back on a number of occasions because Belton House often arranges either temporary exhibitions or organises events at Christmas time.

Belton House is a Grade I Listed building; it is often referred to as a ‘quintessential, country house estate’, the perfect example of a 17th Century house, not too large in size. It has been claimed that the facade, as seen on the tea towel, of Belton House was the inspiration for the motorway signs to stately homes – some fame!  As a tea towel, it is elegant, pure linen and a good reproduction of this lovely house.  I remember being very excited when I saw the tea towel on sale in the shop; in the early days of my   National Trust membership most properties had their own tea towels, not so much the case these days.  Belton House has a large collection of silver and porcelain and an extensive library but my favourite part has to be the grounds.  I remember on that first visit, the excitement of seeing the formal elegant gardens surrounding the house, of both Italian and Dutch design, beautifully kept and in the background the Deer Park and 1300 acres of land.  It was such a beautiful setting, made more perfect by the glorious weather.

I have loved every visit to Belton House but I note from my National Trust Handbook that this year there is an exhibition exploring the role of Peregrine Cust (the former owner and 6th Baron); he was a Lord-in-Waiting to Edward VIII and his staunch supporter during the abdication crisis in 1936.  This tea towel will remind me that perhaps that would be a very interesting exhibition to visit this year.
















Walkley Clogs: 1990


I remember a pair of miniature wooden clogs sitting on the mantlepiece above our open fire.  They were about three inches in length, a light coloured wood and also light in weight, varnished and hand painted with delicate little flowers; they were tied together with a tiny bit of red ribbon.  I remember feeling the insides of the clogs which felt that they had been roughly carved; you could feel where the carving instruments had moved across the wood.  As a child, I wondered if ‘real’ people wore shoes like these and if they did, why didn’t they get great big blisters on their feet?  These clogs were a present from my father to my mother in 1953; sadly, I have no idea where they are now.  During the war, my father was billeted with a family in Belgium.  He was desperate to go back and visit the family and thank them for all their hospitality.  Of course, when you were in the army, you didn’t need a passport; in post-war Britain, you did.  In the late 1940s, my father asked his mother for his birth certificate but she said she couldn’t find it.    He asked several times but then gave up. When he met my mother, my Dad talked to her about wanting to go to Belgium; she knew what to do; she applied for a replacement birth certificate on his behalf so he could apply for a passport.  Neither of them knew what this would mean; all hell was let loose! My Dad, aged 32, did not realise that he was not the son of the man he referred to as his father; he did not realise that he was born out of wedlock; he did not realise that he was not adopted; he did not realise that he was only a half brother.  But he did realise why his mother ‘could not find’ his birth certificate.  Shock, horror but it did destroy all family trust and caused huge rows.  However, my Dad did go to Belgium; he did meet up with the family he was billeted with; I have loads of photos of that holiday.  My parents couldn’t both afford to go so as a ‘thank you’ present he brought my mother back the pair of clogs because without my mother’s help he would never have been able to make that journey.  I didn’t know about this tale until after my father and grandmother had both died.

I had assumed that wooden clogs were just part of a national costume of Belgium and Holland.  I hadn’t realised what a part they had to play in the lives of those that lived through the Industrial Revolution, nor the significance in Morris Dancing.  John and I spent a long weekend in Yorkshire in 1990.  We were reading about Walkley Clogs, based in Hebden Bridge, and I was very keen to go and see the factory and the shop.  There was history here and I wanted to know about it; I also wanted to know about whether people would get blisters if they wore Walkley Clogs or whether they were more refined that the Belgian clogs.

What actually is a clog? It is a wooden soled shoe; it can be totally made of wood or be topped with some kind of material.  They are made out of a variety of wood – alder which is light and is very useful for very thick soles or total shoes; sycamore which is also light and hard wearing; Scottish Birch and Lincolnshire Willow are used just for soles.  The advantages of clogs are that they can have very thick soles which would raise the wearer high above animal dung and human effluent in the agricultural industry or provide protection from hot swarf and splashes of molten metal on foundry floors.  Clogs were very effective protective footwear but also cheap; fish markets, fruit markets and mines were also places where clogs were worn.  Hebden Bridge has been well known for clog-making for hundreds of years. Walkleys Clogs has been around for more than 70 years, having taken over older firms.  They are making clogs for fashion, protective footwear and for Morris Dancers; the interest in tourism means they also produce things like key rings with clogs.  I have asked my friend Gwyn, who is a Morris Dancer (see Tea Towel Blog dated 14/9/15) about her clogs; they are traditional, hand-made clogs with a leather topping that is attached by studs but they do not come from Walkleys Clogs but from a maker in Wales.  It would have been good if she bought her clogs from Hebden Brdige because it would make links to the tale but you can’t have everything!!

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Caledonian MacBrayne: 1998


I have had a virus together with a chest infection for ten days, and am still not fully recovered.  This illness also brought on a seizure (with painful consequences).  At the same time, possibly as a result of all this, I have been uninspired to write a Tea Towel Blog. Crisis, I thought.  Surely this can’t be an end to my Blogging? I’ve still got 400 to go!  Then I realised it is quite difficult to feel inspired about anything when you feel so crap.  The reality is that I just want to feel sorry for myself and at this point in time I feel seriously sorry for myself. To take my mind off the damage I’ve done, following the seizure, which involves my sciatic nerve, I’ve decided to try a Tea Towel Blog.  Although there are few tea towels (more than a few actually) queueing up to be blogged about, I’ve decided to take a radical approach, and just go to the airing cupboard and pick the next tea towel and blog about it, come what may.  Boy, am I glad I did that.  This Caledonian MacBrayne tea towel is one of my favourites of all time – not because of it’s bright colours, artistic quality or unique design but because of the memories that it holds.  It is a white cotton tea towel, fairly robust, good absorbancy rate with a map of the Western Isles of Scotland. I love a tea towel with a map; it always reminds me of my travels.

I have already described my holiday to Tiree in 1998 (see Tea Towel Blog dated 27/7/15) when we were travelling by boat from Oban to stay in a cottage on Tiree.  Due to extremely bad planning with alarm clocks we woke about 20 minutes before the boat was due to leave, made a mad dash for the boat and caught it with two minutes to spare.  This I have to say has affected how I travel by train, boat and plane and the need to be at the point of departure hours before we are due to set off and is a source of frustration to all those I go on holiday with (or even to the theatre!!).  Back to the story.  On the boat, feeling greatly relieved, I decided to buy a momento in the shop, a reminder of that horrendous journey to the boat, never believing there would be a tea towel (I just expected a postcard or a pencil).  And there it was, pinned on the wall, beckoning me, a beautiful Caledonian MacBrayne tea towel. That would definitely remind me about the importance of being on time for a journey.  It is a beautifully simple tea towel – a map of the Inner and Outer Hebrides with all the points of departure, and routes, for the Calendonian MacBrayne boats in 1998.  This, I thought, would provide me with inspiration for future journeys I might take (and it has).

Caledonian MacBrayne has a long history stretching back 160 years, as a vital lifeline for the Hebrides, the only means of communication, a means of taking goods to the mainland, the opening up of the tourist industry. It’s name is synomenous with the west coast of Scotland, one of the biggest employers, both onshore and at sea.  It’s importance to the islands was demonstrated by the fact that while Caledonian MacBrayne owned many of the ports and harbours, the Secretary of State for Scotland ran the actual ferry services through Caledonian MacBrayne.  It worked well except for the European Union!  In 2006, the EU decided that the ferry services provided by Caledonian MacBrayne would have to be put out to tender.  The EU isn’t aware of the phrase ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it’.  The EU then decided that because Caledonian MacBrayne owned some of the ports as well as the services that it had an unfair advantage over any potential competitors.  The solution was to rebrand Calendonian MacBrayne as Caledonian Maritime Assets and for the actual ferries to trade as CalMac.  CalMac won the tender in 2006 and the iconic red lion logo on a black background is still on all the funnels of all the ferries and all of its merchandise.

Knowing that CalMac are still providing the ferry routes gives me a strange sense of security, knowing that access to the places that I love are maintained by a system I have confidence in.  This is, of course, naive; I note that only this month the ferry routes are open to tender again and that CalMac and its rivals have had to put in bids for the service to start in late 2016.  There would be a great miscarriage of justice if the contract was awarded to another provider.  CalMac has an amazing following of devotees, people who love CalMac.  I have never heard of people complaining about their services; Twitter is full of people singing their praises, looking forward to eating the full breakfast on the early boats which is legendary.  People like me see the image of a CalMac ferry as iconic, giving you that warm feeling of wanting to be on one of them.

But back to the tea towel! I look at the map of the Western Isles.  There are few places I am not aware of. I have sailed on numerous occasions from Oban, Adrossan, Mallaig, Kyle of Lochalsh, Uig, Ullapool, Lochranza, Kennacraig, Tobermory, Armadale and Gourock.  I have visited Lewis and Harris, North and South Uist (and Benbecula of course), Eriskay and Barra; I have stayed on Canna but called at Rum, Muck and Eigg; I’ve stayed on Coll and Tiree, Islay and Jura and Arran. I’ve been to Mull, Lismore and Iona on many occasions but without Caledonian MacBrayne and then CalMac none of this would be possible.  There hasn’t been a Scottish island that I haven’t instantly fallen in love with; people ask me about my favourite island and it will always be the last one I have been to or the next one I am going to.  I can’t discriminate, yet they are all so different. Today, more islands have tiny airports flying from places like Prestwick which gives greater access and probably accounts for why the population of the Inner and Outer Hebrides is gradually increasing but there is nothing like standing at the port watching the CalMac ferry come in or standing on the ferry deck of any one of their boats in bright sunshine with the wind in your hair or catching a glimpse of a dolphin or watching gannets dive from a great height.  On a crossing in bad weather, you can’t beat sitting in the lounge playing Travel Scrabble or looking through one of their brochures about Island Hopping Tickets so you can plan your next trip.

For me, the Hebrides are probably the most beautiful places in the world; if I had a choice my first choice would probably always be to go the Hebrides; it’s the breathtaking scenery, miles of white sandy beaches, menacing mountains; each island is so different, a different history, different landscape, different culture, different economy and different ability to survive as an economically viable community. The doors to this beautiful world are opened to me by CalMac. I love it as a company; I love the fleet of ferries, all different; I love the different ports.  I love their breakfast! I look at the tea towel and realise there are loads of places I have not visited and loads that I want to revisit.  Just thinking about that gives me a thrill.

I have just one disappointment.  Each ferry usually has a shop with the usual tourist items but they no longer sell tea towels!! each time I travel on CalMac I eagerly look to see if they have introduced a new tea towel but no.  I now have a CalMac tote bag, a notebook with pictures of all the ferries in which I record the dates of all my tea towel blogs.  I have a pencil and eraser and a pen with a CalMac boat that floats up and down but I just have to make do with my single Caledonaian MacBrayne tea towel.

There is no doubt that my love of the Hebrides and CalMac are inextricably entwined and I cannot contemplate the idea that another company might take over the CalMac routes to the Hebrides.  Meanwhile I have my tea towel to plan my next journey, hopefully to Arran, Colonsay and Islay but who knows?  I will make do with collecting a tea towel from each island instead.

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Norfolk Dialect: 2010


It is a common mistake to confuse a dialect with an accent – muddling the difference between the words people use and the sounds they make, their pronunciations.  Dialect tea towels are very popular – they capture the interest of the tourist with the idiosyncrasies of the language of a particular area.  I have Blogged about my Black Country Alphabet tea towel (dated 4/11/15) and the 23rd Psalm in the Yorkshire Dialect (dated 7/8/15).  I have several tea towels about Scottish dialects.  The complaint that many people from Norfolk have is that when someone tries to use the Norfolk accent (and dialect) it often sounds like a comic version of a Cornish accent with too many “oohs” and “arrrrrs”.

In 1830, Robert Forby wrote the ‘Vocabulary of East Anglia’; since that date many Norfolk words have been lost.  Have you ever heard of F.O.N.D?  No?  It is the Friends of the Norfolk Dialect, an organisation that tries to promote songs, poetry and writings in true Norfolk Dialect.  While Norfolk’s relatively isolated location (including its lack of motorways) has meant that the Norfolk Dialect has survived, when many other local speech patterns have been subsumed, it also means that the audience for work in the Norfolk Dialect is somewhat restricted.  The exception, of course, was in 1960s when Allan Smethurst (The Singing Postman) got to Number 7 in the Charts (Hit Parade as we knew it) with “Hev yer gotta loight bor?”, he even appeared on Top of the Pops.  He recorded over 80 songs in true Norfolk Dialect (although never achieved fame in the Charts again).

For many of us, of a certain age, the Norfolk accent, and possible dialect, is epitomised by the Bernard Mathews Turkey adverts of 1980s in which the term “bootiful” was used on a regular basis by Bernard Mathews, dressed in his country tweeds.

So why did I buy this tea towel?  Probably goes back to my experience of living amongst Welsh language speakers in 1970s.  There is something intriguing about accents and dialects; I like the passion with which regions fight to preserve language, whether it is a distinct language like Welsh or regional dialects with words that I am not familiar with.  There is a fine balance between preserving the uniqueness of language and making fun of language.  It, of course, depends on your starting point; whether you believe there’s some kind of ‘standard’ language from which Norfolk or Cockney or Scouse is just a derivation or whether each has an equal standing and is equally valid and valued.  I like to believe it is the latter; educational and political systems tell me it is the former.

When I look at this tea towel I remember being in Hunstanton, surrounded by hundreds, literally hundreds, of tea towels, most of which were uninspiring, until I saw this one and remembered the others that I have about dialects and accents and thought I’d like this one to join my collection.  I think the language spoken in Norfolk is a good example of that fine line between accent and dialect.  On this tea towel, entitled Norfolk Dialect, it tells me “bootiful” means “beautiful”.  My view would be that that is about accent and not dialect; it is about the way in which you pronounce the word but the sound is very similar; “shud” means “should” – accent not dialect.  “Zackly” means “exactly”, again accent and pronunciation not dialect.  “Bishi-Barni-Bee” means “Ladybird”, dialect not accent. “Hold yer blaaren” means “stop crying” and “Putting on parts” means “misbehaving” – both dialect not accent.  But there are a lot of words that are used in other parts of the country – “lollop”, “occard”, “I spuse” or “afront”.  This tea towel is another of those that extends the length of time it takes to wipe up the dishes while I am pondering if “terl” is dialect, accent or a word shared in other parts of the country.  But do you know what “Mavish” and “ovenbird” mean? – words not on this “terl” but that can be found on

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