Helen and Lynn gave me this tea towel for Christmas 2015 but due to a series of family disasters, too numerous to mention, we didn’t actually meet up until January 2016. Helen had a great idea for a Christmas card, one of Clevedon Pier; she hadn’t unwrapped it from the cellophane or written on it but she still gave it to me. Now I have a delightful card that I can give to someone next year. The problem is that if you have read this Blog, and then receive a card of Clevedon Pier, you will know where it came from!!
I have known Helen and Lynn for more than 20 years. During that time Helen has become considerably more grey and I have become more wrinkled and somewhat shorter; Lynn looks the same. Lynn did her social work student placement in an organisation I managed; Helen designed my garden; we all have delighted in going to West Bridgeford Farmers Market with Liz; Lynn, Liz and I ran workshops at Swanwick, a four day residential conference for people with learning difficulties; Lynn helped me unpack hundreds of boxes when I moved house; we have had Afternoon Tea together, gone out for meals, been to concerts of Liz’s choir and met up regularly for meals at each other’s houses. When I decided that it was time for me to get rid of all the miniature whiskies that John collected (there were more than quite a few) I gave them to Lynn and Helen because I knew they enjoyed drinking whiskey and let’s face it that is what whiskey is for – drinking. Helen gave me some pieces of her Grandmother’s dinner service that she had been keeping in the basement of her house, not using it, because she knew that I loved china and would use it regularly. We have been there for each other through births, marriages (and Civil Partnerships) and deaths, ill health and trauma and all that entails. The friendship with Helen and Lynn is one of those where it doesn’t matter if we meet every week, every month or every year, we are able to pick up where we left off.
This tea towel is symbolic of a very difficult time in the lives of Lynn and Helen and then Liz; I am amazed that during the difficult time Helen and Lynn had when Helen’s mother was terminally ill, and subsequently died, Helen thought about buying a tea towel, mug and card from Clevedon Pier; Clevedon is where Helen’s parents lived. I feel very priviledged to own it. There are two things about this tea towel that will always remind me of Helen and Lynn. Firstly, Helen is an artist; she works mainly with metal and wire, creating large pieces of original work. She has taste and I know that she would not just buy any old tourist tea towel (even though I would still have loved it). This is a beautiful tea towel, probably taken as a photograph originally, of an angle of Clevedon Pier. You can see the Pierhead in the distance and the wooden planks on the walkway. The muted colours of blues and greys are something that Helen would appreciate (even if she thinks collecting tea towels is a daft thing to do); the Victorian lamps look just right. You can understand why Sir John Betjemen described Clevedon Pier as “the most beautiful pier in England”. If any tea towel was going to be a ‘Helen tea towel’, it is this one.
The second thing about this tea towel that will always remind me of Lynn and Helen is that it has a story. Helen loves to tell a story and she is good at it, she can remember detail; Lynn will always ask her to speed up the telling of the tale. That is what I love about them both and it is that that I will always recall when I look at the tea towel. The tea towel is produced by the Clevedon Pier and Heritage Trust and that is significant because of the role it has in the present day Clevedon Pier.
Clevedon Pier was opened in March 1869 to attract tourists. It is on the east shore of the Severn Estuary; it is 1024 feet long with 8 spans supported by steel rails and covered with wooden planks; it stands 15 metres above high water. Since the early 1950s, all piers had to have an annual stress test for safety and insurance reasons. Clevedon Pier failed it’s 1970 stress test when two spans collapsed under testing. The proposal was to demolish the whole pier. This was not a popular decision; after a lot of campaigning and fundraising at both a local and national level and the setting up of the Clevedon Pier and Heritage Trust, the pier was dismantled in 1985, restored, repaired and reassembled, to be opened again in 1989. There are brass plaques on the planks remembering those that contributed to the saving of the pier. It wasn’t until 1998 that the Pierhead was finally restored. The work was celebrated with the award of Pier of the Year in 1999 by the National Pier Society. The pier is extremely popular with tourists and anglers.
Clevedon Pier is also the landing stage for the Balmoral and the Waverley, two boats used to carry passengers across the estuary. One of the challenges of Clevedon Pier is that the Severn Estuary has one of the highest total ranges of tide in the world, second only to to the Bay of Fundy in Eastern Canada. With a range of 15 metres between low and high tide, it means that the legs of the pier are largely exposed at low tide and hidden at high tide. There are several levels to the landing stage so that boats can dock at all stages of the tide.
What I don’t know is whether Helen and Lynn have travelled on either the Waverley or the Balmoral; if they walk on the pier on a regular basis; whether Helen was ever involved in the early days of campaigning to save the pier (because I know that Helen likes a good campaign); whether Helen was involved in fundraising for the pier. What I do know is that by buying the tea towel, mug and card they have been involved in raising the money needed to keep the pier safe and I know that Helen would like the story of the pier, it’s rescue and to be able to recount that tale to friends. It’s a good story and a truly lovely tea towel. Thank you Helen (but I know the story so you don’t have to tell me).
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