I’ve given a lot of thought about which tea towel to write about today. This is a ‘special one’. This is Blog Number 200 (although I have written about considerably more than 200 tea towels). But who would have thought I would have written 200 Blogs? Actually, who would have thought, 18 months ago, that I would ever have written any Blog? Certainly, most people would not have suspected I’d have so many tea towels to write about or that I could remember so much about them.
So on to ‘Welsh Songs’. Why have I chosen this one as my 200th Blog? It was a present from Gwyn and Pete from one of their many holidays in Anglesey. With a name like ‘Gwyneth’, it is not surprising that her roots are firmly embedded in Wales. Gwyn and Pete both love Anglesey, and everything about Anglesey. As soon as I looked at the tea towel this morning, I thought “I used to sing all those songs at school” and there I was, back at St Augustine’s School, sitting in the school hall with Miss Foster. I hadn’t thought about those days for years and years.
Miss Foster was certainly a ‘one-off’; there was nobody else like her. She had to be over 60 when I knew her. She had been around for as long as anyone could remember. She was a small, thin woman with a stoop. She had the most enormous bunions and consequently only wore flat sandals; her feet were not a pretty sight. On thinking on it, her feet were probably extremely painful (and accounted for her frequent grumpy moods) and she did walk in a cumbersome way. Her hair was her most remarkable feature. It was wild. It was bright red. I assume that in her younger days she had the most amazing ginger coloured hair but as she became grey she started dying it, badly so that it looked unnatural and the grey roots still showed. Miss Foster was not known for her satorial elegance but she could play the piano.
St Augustine’s School was a convent and most of the teachers were nuns; when I was first there only Miss Foster (singing) and Mrs Nurse (games) were lay teachers. The school had a strange, but moral, philosophy about subjects taught. We were not allowed to go swimming or do any sport that would expose the body; we weren’t allowed to do human biology (or any biology) because of exposure to reproductive activities. Latin was top priority (because of Latin used in Mass) but other languages were frowned on. Religious Knowledge was compulsory, even if you weren’t Catholic, and we never learnt about any other religions or moral philosophy. Singing was thought to be good for you, especially for any non-academics but it was compulsory for everyone. However, there was no school choir. We did not learn to read music. There were no tuition for playing a musical instrument and obviously there was no school orchestra. Singing lessons were just each class meeting in the school hall, twice a week, with a traditional song book, singing. No one was ‘tested’ to see if they could sing in tune or what sort of vocal range they had. We did not sing in harmony, just altogether, a ‘wall of sound’ as Russell Watson would say. We never gave any performances; that would have been considered ‘showing off’.
I have to say I quite enjoyed singing lessons; it was good fun and non-judgemental (good for me who is totally tuneless). I am not sure what the point of it all was except that I learnt two things (a) a lot of traditional British songs and hymns, the words of which I can still remember and (b) I love listening to choirs, male voice choirs, gospel choirs, Gareth Malone, Only Men Aloud, doesn’t matter just the full bodied sound. I remember singing ‘Men of Harlech’ and ‘Land of My Fathers’ but also ‘Men of Trelawny’, ‘Loch Lomond’, ‘Strawberry Fair’, ‘Skye Boat Song’, ‘Danny Boy’ and many others. ‘All Through the Night’ and ‘Ash Grove’ were part of our repetoire but probably weren’t as good because of the slower pace, exposing those of us without the ability to hold a tune.
The tea towel may be called ‘Welsh Songs’ but it is, in fact, all things Welsh; there is a Welsh Harpist in full national costume, a Love Spoon, a rugby player in the red Weish kit, lots of daffodils, leeks, the Snowden train together with images of places like Harlech Castle, Tintern Abbey, Caernavon Castle and a Coracle of the River Teifi. What more could you want than a tea towel to remind you not only of great holidays in Wales, but songs from your childhood plus Miss Foster, and the fact that it was a present from good friends.
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