The Royal Wedding: 1981


Yesterday was the 35th Wedding Anniversary of Prince Charles and Lady Diana.  This is a classic ‘royal’ tea towel to celebrate this occasion.  However, if you look closely at the central photographs of Charles and Diana, you can certainly tell this was not going to be a ‘marriage made in heaven’. She looks as miserable as sin; her face reminds me of that iconic photograph, taken on a stone bench in front of Taj Mahal, just before they separated, when she looked so sad and alone.  You should never have to have a photograph like that on your celebratory wedding tea towel.  Besides the photographs of the ‘happy couple’, there are a number of Commonwealth flags with the Welsh Dragon taking a place of prominence, in recognition of Charles’s title of Prince of Wales.

I look at this tea towel and it conjures up three very different memories: (a) the first is about how I came across this tea towel, because I didn’t buy it for myself at the time of the wedding.  Soon after I started writing this Tea Towel Blog, in April 2015, having opened a Twitter account, I was ‘followed’ by Rachel Fairburn, a comedienne.  She told me about the tea towel she had of the Royal Wedding and asked me if I would like it.  Would I like it? Is the Pope Catholic?  I was so excited but, as a tea towel fanatic, it is difficult to imagine why anyone would want to give away one of their own tea towels.  What the heck; I accepted her offer although I, sort of, didn’t believe she was actually going to send it to me .  Two weeks later, an envelope arrived in the post and there it was – a beautiful, well not actually beautiful, but iconic, tea towel.  I don’t think it had been used.  I’m not sure how she came upon it because she doesn’t look old enough to have been alive at the time of the Royal Wedding, and certainly not old enough to need, or buy a tea towel.  To thank her, I dedicated a Page of my website to her, called ‘I’m Cured of Cynicism: An Ode to Rachel Fairburn (or the Generosity of Strangers)’.  And today, thinking of that wedding, I am still excited by receiving this as a gift because I never bought one at the time. (b) on a more serious note, the tea towel is a reminder that we can never foresee the future.  I am sure that neither Charles nor Diana would have predicted how their marriage would end or that she would die so young, in such difficult circumstances.   No one would have thought they would see two young Princes have to follow their mother’s coffin, in front of millions of people, and probably no one would have thought Prince Harry would publicly speak about his regret at not talking about his feelings about his mother’s death for more than 25 years.  The lesson for us all is to do what you want to do, when you want to do it and not postpone those things for the future; the future may never come.

(c) this tea towel reminds me of what I was doing on 29 July 1981.  People often ask where you were when JFK was shot (I was on the phone to Carole Coombes) or what you were doing when the first man landed on the moon (no idea); people rarely ask what you were doing when Charles and Diana married.  Answer: I was in Ealing Hospital, at my father’s bedside; he had had an emergency operation, in the middle of the previous night, as a result of a burst bowel, leading to peritonitis. He had had part of his bowel removed and a temporary colostomy fitted.  I was called to Ealing Hospital because they didn’t know if he would survive.  The ward was full of bunting and balloons; I don’t suppose they would do that now because of health and safety issues.  All the beds had been moved around, and a couple of extra televisions brought in, so that every patient could watch the whole of the Royal Wedding, from start to finish.  There was a ‘wedding cake’ and a glass of champagne for all the patients.  29 July was a Wednesday and it was an extra Bank Holiday, a day of celebration.  There is nothing worse than hospital visiting when the patient isn’t awake, or even alert, and you have nothing to do.  This was different, I could watch the Royal Wedding, talk to all the patients and staff while my father ‘came round’.  They said the operation was a success.  It was difficult to think of it as a success, when my father had had a colostomy; he was a diabolical patient, hated ill-health, refused to go to the doctor even if he was in pain, which is why he ended up in the predicament he was in; he couldn’t put a plaster on a cut or take a splinter out of a finger.  There was no way in which he was going to be able to cope with a colostomy bag; it wasn’t just the practical tasks but the ignominy of it all.  He wasn’t going to tell anyone.  So how wrong can you be?  He certainly proved everyone wrong; he took to it like a duck to water (that can’t be the right expression for dealing with a colostomy bag!), he was open and talked about it, dealt with everything, took advice from the Stoma nurses.  Brilliant and it was reversed eventually.  He found that as difficult as having the colostomy in the first place, adjusting to ‘being normal’ again, but he did it.

The Royal Wedding was a bit of an anti-climax for my Dad because he was ‘nil by mouth’ for nearly seven days, so no wedding cake or champagne for him.  I helped him take part by having his share (and even though it was hospital food, it was delicious).  It was a weird day, sitting by my Dad’s bed, him a bit groggy, coming to terms with what had happened, while the rest of us were very excited by having the Royal Wedding to watch.  Fortunately, the coverage went on for ages because I was allowed to be with my Dad all day; it always seems a bit rude reading a book or the newspaper.  Thanks to Charles and Diana I was well occupied.

I look at the tea towel and think ‘that day was surreal’.  Everyone else I knew had a great day, lazing around with a day off work; I spent it in Ealing Hospital.  But I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.  My Dad was alive and well.

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The Tea Towel – Celebrating the World’s Favourite Leaf: 2016


“As far as her Mom was concerned, tea fixed everything.  Have a cold? Have some tea. Broken bones?  There’s a tea for that too.  Somewhere in her mother’s pantry, Laurel suspected, was a box of tea that said ‘In the case of Armageddon, steep for 3 to 5 minutes'” (Aprilynne Pike).  That’s where I was yesterday.

There are days like yesterday, when the culmination of disbelief, worry, the feeling that the world had gone ‘mad’, that everything was out of control, when you need to do something. You clean the house from top to bottom; you clear out the freezer, chipping away at those solid blocks of ice; you sort the underwear drawer and realise you have created a world shortage of M&S knickers;  you tidy the wardrobes thereby restocking your local Charity Shop; you clean the kitchen cupboards discovering that half the contents are beyond their sell-by date and wonder why you bought custard powder when you only use soya custard; you wipe all the screens of TVs, iPads, mobile phones and computers as well as your glasses lens; you make jam from last year’s fruit that was in the bottom of the freezer; you write emails to all those people you haven’t been in contact with since the Christmas before last; you buy so many Kindle books that they will keep you going until the Tokyo Olympics in 2020 and you still realise that you still haven’t forgotten, or dealt with the problem.  It is still lurking there.  What next? It’s obvious and I don’t know why I didn’t think about it in the first place: a nice cup of tea and do something that I really enjoy, can immerse myself in, a Tea Towel Blog.  And the best tea towel I could write about, at this time, would be a tea towel about tea, courtesy of Stuart Gardiner.

You think the world is ticking along nicely then Edna (not her real name), 87 with dementia, living in a residential care home falls.  Edna is sprightly, fit, active, not impaired in any way physically; the fall means she has broken her hip.  Edna has never been deemed a ‘fall risk’.  Edna has a pathological hatred of hospitals, no one really knows why, but it has never been a real problem because she has had such good health.  The paramedics take her to hospital; X-ray confirms the broken hip needs an operation.  They don’t know what sort of procedure they will do until they open her up.  We know she will hate it in hospital but the staff from the home are with her.  We forgot to take into account the fact that she couldn’t remember falling, didn’t believe that she had broken her hip and would point-blank refuse an operation. No matter how much the doctors, nurses and family tried to explain, she refused to believe that she was in hospital.  Everyone knows pain and disorientation will add to the confusion but the NICE guidelines are clear, after a broken hip, the operation should take place within 24 hours.  It was well past 24 hours.  There is a mental capacity test.  The operation will be done ‘in her best interest’.  She still refuses.  She wants to walk out, actually, not metaphorically, walk out.  No matter how much you understand, or claim to understand, dementia, it is so difficult to watch someone you love be in such confusion and torment; it’s the frustration of knowing she has to have the operation, but seeing how stubborn she is being, through no fault of her own.  It’s about ringing the ward and being able to hear her shouting in the background, knowing she is disturbing other patients.  It’s knowing she is inconsolable. It’s knowing she is so distressed that they have decided to postpone the operation to the following day because they couldn’t restrain her enough to sedate her.  How can this be happening to an 87 year old?

You wait overnight for the the phone call to say she has done something unsafe, like climbing over the ‘cot sides’; that phone call doesn’t happen; sigh of relief. Then the phone rings at 8.30 am, heart stops beating, to say that she is going down to the operating theatre.  She has been unhappy all night but at least something is happening.  Its going to be a long day. It’s the waiting until 3pm when you can visit.  You arrive and find that she is covered in blood, all over; she has pulled her cannula out and is asking where the blood has come from.  You say, “It’s because you pulled the cannula out, you need to have it in for a while” “Did I? I don’t remember doing that”.  “I need to go to the toilet” “It’s ok, you have a catheter fitted” “That’s ok but I demand to go to the toilet; it’s my right. What’s a catheter?”  You get the nurse to show her the catheter and she can’t make sense of it.  You ask the doctor the prognosis.  The doctor says the operation went really well, a partial hip replacement.  She will be in hospital between 10 and 12 days, depending on her motivation to get moving and work with the physio.  I reckon she could be out long before 10 days because she has the motivation to get up and get out but does she have the ability to keep herself safe?  The anaesthetic and the operation don’t seem to have affected her alertness.  But it all takes time and there are so many obstacles to overcome.  How do you stop thinking about it?  How do you switch your mind off?  I come back to  Aprilynne Pike and Stuart Gardiner – a nice cup of tea to fix everything, including Armageddon, and a good Tea Towel Blog that you can bury yourself in.

So that so what I decided to do, sit in a cafe and write a Blog, with my mobile phone by my side. I would take myself to another world.  I am a big fan of Stuart Gardiner’s work which he describes as ‘info-graphics’ – a term I promised I would use in a Tea Towel Blog, just because I like it.  What is so good about this tea towel?  Where do I start?  (a) it is about my favourite topic: tea.  Of course, my other favourite topic would be tea towels and I don’t think even Stuart Gardiner is going to do a’info-graphic’ tea towel about tea towels! (Is that a challenge?)  Tea is my drink of choice; and as my tea towel tells me, tea is the second most popular drink in the world, after water.  I just love tea; I love trying new teas, different teas, teas from different parts of the world, different blends; there are two provisos – firstly that the tea is not in a tea bag and secondly, it is not a ‘pretend’ tea like Rooibos or a Tisane.  So I love the fact that this tea towel tells me the different times that diffferent teas take to steep or the different temperatures the water should be heated to.  I like to be able to wipe up and know my reward at the end of the task – a cup of tea – has so many health benefits and my tea towel tells me about them (b) I love Stuart Gardiner’s creative use of colour in all his tea towels.  If you saw this tea towel from a distance, you would know that it was about tea because of the use of varying shades of green, brown and black.  It gives you a sense of tea and reminds you that there is no one colour that represents tea; the colour of fresh leaves, dried leaves, soaked leaves, when the leaves are picked, how the leaves have been processed, how long the tea has steeped, all affect the colour of tea (as my tea towel tells me).  The imaginative use of colour allows either black or white writing to provide the information, and for it to be clearly seen.  No need for the use of a magnifying glass to read the words  (c)  as an ‘info-graphic’ tea towel (it is surprising how many times I can use my new found ‘technical’ term in one Blog) it is the ultimate for Pub Quizzes – full of fascinating information you can entertain your friends with: which country drinks most tea, per capita, each year?  Do you know what a Tetsubin is? Do you know when the tea bag was first invented?  What gives Earl Grey tea it’s distinct flavour?  If you don’t know the answer to these questions you need this tea towel  (d) in addition to the answers to quirkey questions, the tea towel provides a huge amount of information about tea: what is the difference between black, green, white, oolong and yellow tea? How to make a perfect cup of tea in 6 easy stages; the health benefits of four cups of tea a day; the different brewing times for different teas.  I am shocked to find out that 80% of tea drunk in USA and Canada is iced tea!  However, the best piece of advice on this tea towel, encased in the black tea pot, to demonstrate its importance, is “Stirring leaves in the pot is known as winding and should be avoided.  It won’t speed up steeping and will only release more bitter-tasting tannins”.  Yet people still want to whack the tea leaves to death.

When I look at this tea towel, I consider myself very lucky: not only does it bring together my two loves (tea and tea towels) in a truly creative and informative way but it has enabled me to put the worries of Edna to the back of my mind for a short period of time and enjoy the challenge of trying to bring a tea towel to life.  Stitched on all four sides, made from 100% organic cotton with a dinky loop to hang it by, it provides me with a lovely tea towel to do the wiping up with.  I  know that it means the wiping up takes longer because I am reading all the facts but I do know that my reward at the end of the task will be a nice cup of tea.  This tea towel will always remind me that Edna did make it down to the theatre with the aid of caring staff, she did have a successful operation, she did calm down and seem to be more accepting, and that there can always a light at the end of a dark tunnel.  She did seem happier; the nurses love her and I can encourage her to drink 4 cups of tea a day which will provide her with 17% of her daily calcium which is needed to heal and repair bones (and I wouldn’t have known that without the tea towel).

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Burford, Oxfordshire: 2002


My tea towel describes Burford as the ‘Gateway to the Cotswolds’ and I suppose that is what it is.  It is a stereotypical small Cotswold town on the River Windrush, in the Cotswolds Hills, with records dating back to the Domesday Book.  Burford was granted a Charter in 1090 which was the foundation for its success; the Charter gave Burford the right to hold a market and an annual fair.  This enabled Burford to take a central place in the Cotswolds wool industry; if you trade in wool then you need feed for animals, carding and weaving industries, industries to support the population…and so forth.  Thus business expanded.  The Tolsey Building was the hub of the wool trade; this early Tudor building, on the High Street, is now a museum of local life.

I visited Burford in 2002, with the sole purpose of having a cup of tea in the Copper Kettle Tea Room on the High Street, which I had heard was really nice. I was even more excited when I saw this tea towel pinned on the wall; this was obviously one of their ‘advertising’ features with the phone number in the centre of the tea towel. It is a blue and white tea towel, reflecting the theme of the Copper Kettle with its Willow Pattern china.  It was a delightful traditional tea room with hand-embrodiered table cloths and waitress service.  Actually it was too small a tea room to have customers getting up to order their food, compact is probably a good word to describe it; it was always full to the brim, often meaning you either had to wait or come back in a quarter of an hour.  My recent visits to Burford have shown that the Copper Kettle Tea Room has now closed down.  A great loss, but the way of many businesses.

However, Burford, without the Copper Kettle, still has a lot to offer.  It is a splendid place for shopping because it has not been invaded by the ‘High Street Chains’ so the very long High Street is full of interesting local independent shops.  It has a great traditional Sweet Shop and Huffkins does a wonderful breakfast (with loose leaf tea) and also runs an amazing bakery with local speciality cakes and biscuits.  Burford has the oldest pharmacy in the country.  It also has a great Cook Shop and I can’t resist a Cook Shop – you never know, there may be tea towels that I haven’t come across yet!  One year, I visited Burford just before Christmas, only to find a Christmas Craft stall under the shelter of the Tolsey Museum.  There were handmade wooden Christmas tree decorations – tiny trees, Angels, baubles and doves; they were unpainted so that I could use them as Christmas present tags, writing the persons name in felt tip pen; only to find that they later appeared as personalised Christmas tree decorations on various trees.  I like the idea that you can use, re-use and recycle, instead of waste things like Christmas tags.

Although only 18 miles from Oxford, Burford is a relatively small town with a population of less than 1500 people.  Maybe that is because it is pleasantly attractive with both old and new buildings in Cotswold stone giving that warm, cosy feeling; maybe it is because in 2009, Burford was 6th on Forbes Magazine’s list of “Europe’s Most Idyllic Places to Live’ and therefore maybe it is because house prices are very high and parking very difficult.  The High Street is very long and straight, on a hill, and if you stand at the top, you just want to walk up and down both sides to make sure that you do not miss anything.  I like Burford; I would always go back but I do miss the Copper Kettle.

September 2016: Sorting through the airing cupboard has turned up many surprises, including a second tea towel from Burford showing Burford High Street. It just adds to my memories!


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The England, Wales and Northern Ireland Collection

Paris: 1989

Audrey Hepburn once said “Paris is always a good idea”.  I thought that when I watched the Euro Cup Final earlier this month with the Fan Zone beneath the Eiffel Tower; I thought it when I watched Chris Froome cross the line on the Avenue des Champs-Elysee, after a gruelling three weeks of the Tour de France; I thought it when I met my mother in Paris, in August 1968, for a long weekend; I thought it when I travelled on EuroStar for the first time and Gwyn, Pete, John and I thought it when we decided to celebrate Pete’s birthday in Paris in 1989.  The four of us often went away for the weekend to celebrate our birthdays; that usually only meant three weekends away because my birthday is within 7 days of Gwyn’s so we ususally shared a celebration.  Paris was our first adventure abroad.  I bought both these tea towels on this trip, together with one of the French flag which was a present for my mother (which I have now inherited); however, I have no idea where the French Flag is in the airing cupboard pile – I will add it to this blog when it surfaces.  I thought the above two tea towels were really nice tourist tea towels: one clear iconic image on each but with a similar overall colour and design.  They are a nice reminder of the many places we visited that weekend.  What these two tea towels share with the French flag is that they are ‘rubbish’ as a means of drying up; they are made of the ‘wrong’ cotton, thin cheap cotton that has no absorbancy; one wipe and it is soaking.  They do, however, remain in my collection because I like them and I can afford to have a few ‘dud’ ones; it means I can work my way down the airing cupboard pile quicker!

I have absolutely no memory of how and why we decided to go to Paris or who did the planning and booking.  I assume that since we went early in the year that we planned such events on New Years Eve in a moment of madness, heightened by the alcohol, usually Asti Spumante (because we didn’t have a lot of taste in those days).  I have photos of that New Years Eve, when Gwyn and Pete stayed the night so we could have a ‘small drink’, with Pete and John attempting to inflate the air bed with a Hoover, not desperately successfully.  It was the sort of occasion when I can imagine the outline planning taking place.  Since all four of us were ‘control freaks’, I imagine the final details will have been done with greater precision.  My bit must have been arranging the overnight stay in London, before embarking on the train from Victoria Station to Dover, for the ferry.  I can say that with confidence, because we stayed the night with my mother in Ealing, and I have the photos to prove it.  My mother did Pete proud with a highly decorated cheesecake covered in kiwi fruit, grapes, strawberries, oranges with one candle in the centre; not always conventional, my mother.

Looking at the photos, you can see the difference of 27 years.  Pete’s hair and beard are both completely black, not a jot of grey, unlike today but he hasn’t put on an ounce of weight.  I have what my friends used to call the ‘footballers perm’, possibly akin to Kevin Keegan but am about three stone heavier today with absolutely short straight hair.  I do still have the the long silver earrings, that I wore that weekend, that I bought in Canada and are shaped like a feather.  I remember Gwyn’s hair style because it wasn’t long before this holiday that she changed her style; it was very short on top, very fashionable.  Gwyn also doesn’t look as though she has put on any weight in the last 27 years.  The colour of her hair is somewhat different but that is more to do with chemo than the ageing process.  John was John, always wearing a hat of some sort and wearing the same pair of glasses as he did the day he died, nearly 8 years later.

So what memories do these tea towels evoke?  My abiding memory?  (a) Definitely the Restaurant Casa Miguel. Why? Pete had a Guide Book that told him there was a restaurant where you could have a two course meal for the equivalent of 50p in those days.  Pete was always a one for a bargain so off we went looking for this restaurant.  At those prices, clearly it wasn’t on the main streets.  We found it eventually, with a small shop-front and windows covered in notices and posters.  The 50p menu was a set menu, not surprisingly, with no choice.  Cous-cous and ice cream.  I’d never had Cous-cous before (and I would always say that it would never be my first choice ever again, or come to that, any choice ever again).  I remember that meal as if it were yesterday;  the sort of meal you don’t want to remember except to remember never to order Cous-cous again.  The ice cream was one of those Walls Ice Creams that comes in a rectangular block in paper; I don’t know if it was actually made by Walls.  This wasn’t a meal of culinary excellence but it was a meal I will never forget and somehow made Paris very special, in that strange sort of way.  (b) Other memories? Going to Pere Lachaise cemetery.  I wanted to see where Edith Piaf was buried.  Pere Lachaise is a very ‘wild’ cemetary, not structured and ordered like most British cemeteries.  Small headstones, large mausoleums, huge statuary, memorials with wrought irons fences all the way round, graves with very little space between each, graves covered in flowers and some just neglected.  Edith Piaf’s was plain but always surrounded by flowers, alive and colourful.  Possibly my favourite was that of Oscar Wilde, huge and weird.  It would appear most people wanted to go to Pere Lachaise to see Jim Morrissey’s grave with flowers strewn around it, as you would expect really.  Pere Lachaise is on a hill, is massive and you could spend a day just wandering around; even the tombs of the non-famous are worth looking at.

(c) We did all the touristy things that one should do – go up the Eiffel Tower; I remember thinking that this was very high, much too high for my liking but you can’t go to Paris without going up the Eiffel Tower, by lift I would have to say.  I remember thinking this is scary but the view was magnificent.  We climbed up the Notre Dame and were within touching distance of the gargoyles.  I felt a lot shafer up the Notre Dame than the Eiffel Tower.  We went to the Louvre.  (d) Paris is amazing and sometimes it’s beauty catches you by surprise but the most moving place we went was the Memorial des Martyrs de la Deportation.  It took my breath away; near Notre Dame, it is the memorial to more than 200,000 French people who were deported to the Nazi Concentration Camps during World War II.  Opened in 1962, it has been described as a crypt “hollowed out of the sacred isle, the cradle of our nation which incarnates the soul of France – a place where it’s spirit dwells”.  It is shaped like a ship’s prow; the crypt is accessible by two staircases and a lowered square protected by a metal portcullis.  The crypt leads to a hexagonal rotunda that includes two chapels containing earth and bones from concentration camps.  The walls display literary excerpts.  A circular plaque on the floor of the underground chamber is inscribed “They descended into the mouth of the earth and they did not return”.  A flame of eternal hope burns and the Tomb of the Unknown Deportee bears the inscription “dedicated to the living memory of 200,000 French Deportees sleeping in the night and the fog, exterminated in the Nazi Concentration Camps”.  I will never forget that place; it is like visiting the battlefields of the Somme or the remains of Austerlitz, it creates a place that is etched in your heart and soul that cannot be erased.

There are lighter memories (e) we stayed in a small and rather old-fashioned hotel just outside Montmartre.  The wallpaper in the bedroom was like an over-the-top Sanderson print in bright pink with a peony design, not just one wall but all four.  Dazzling.  There were some interesting pieces of pottery, large-scale pottery pieces of the early 20th Century, in the dining room, on the landing and in the hall.  So big that they are ugly and so ugly that they are mesmerising and almost beautiful.  You need a certain kind of room to be able to take these pieces; animals lying down, Artemis and the stag.  It was also true that this hotel had once been a grand building and very large rooms had been split into much smaller bedrooms with very thin walls.  Gwyn came down to breakfast one day to say that the people in the room above them had had “very loud sex” that morning; I remember saying “Yes I heard that; I thought it was you and Pete”. (f) Paris was where I was introduced to Kir Royale, the combination of champagne with red Kir.  Delicious flavour.  We sat outside a cafe in Montmartre one morning, sipping Kir Royale, watching the world go by.  (g) Montmartre was a great place.  I loved walking around, watching artists sketching from photographs or tempting tourists to sit down for 15 minutes to have a portrait done.  There were some really good artists and it was fascinating watching work in progress, thinking maybe in 27 years time someone will pay a fortune for his, or her, works.  Montmartre was the place to buy souvenirs.  Much as I begged John not to, he bought a small ornament of Notre Dame which I hated.  I can’t imagine what I did with it!!

Those four days in Paris were very memorable and as I look at the tea towels, most of it comes flooding back although I do not remember going to a Burkina Faso restaurant which Pete swears we did.  Early spring is a great time to visit Paris.  We found it possible to do such a wide variety of activities, things to suit all our tastes.  We were able to split up and do things on our own and always meet up to exchange tales.  In many ways, this was one of those holidays that could not be replicated, because it was so unique and I just loved it.  Maybe the alcohol also helped because a lot of my photos seemed to either have tables with bottles of booze on them or varying photos of us all looking the worse for wear.  Maybe the booze was why I can’t remember the Burkina Faso restaurant.  What the heck, it was a great holiday.  Shame about the tea towels. To begin and end with a quote “A walk around Paris will provide lessons in history, beauty and in the point of life” (Thomas Jefferson). A wise man.

N.B.  If you want a tea towel just with Audrey Hepburn’s quote “Paris is always a good idea” then sells one.

Parisians always like a bit of a flag and I do seem to have bought two: one for Paris and the other the bicentenary of the French Revolution.  Also poor quality but good reminders.

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A Seasonal Guide to British Fruit and Vegetables: 2016


“The pleasant hours of our life are all connected by a more or less tangible link with some memory of the table.” Charles Pierre Monselet (1825-1888).

My Tea Towel Blog has been about recording the memories triggered by a particular tea towel; I’m always amazed at the way my tea towels are often linked with food in some way, which triggers memories from the past.  It’s like reliving those original experiences, and maybe prompting me to seek out further experiences.  I am very lucky to to have been given this tea towel by Stuart Gardiner because it links my love of good quality food, home grown fruit and vegetables and, of course, my passion for tea towels.

When the post arrived the other day, I opened the envelope with this tea towel in it, very excited; I hadn’t seen this one before but one brief look immediately told me that this was a Stuart Gardiner tea towel.  His style is so distinctive.  I just wonder how he came up with the idea that you could create a tea towel that could contain so much information; let’s face it, not just one tea towel but a whole range.  This must be a man with an eye for detail and precision.  Besides the fact that this is a 100% organic cotton tea towel, hemmed on all four sides plus a very neat hook to hang it up by, the first thing that stands out  are the colours: there is a bright red and blue framework with the months of the year down one side and, across the top, 74 columns of fruit and vegetables (I know, I am sad; I counted the columns). The use of the stark, contrasting red and blue, alternating, means that it is much easier to read and cross-reference the columns.  The columns indicate the months that each of the fruit and vegetables are in season; this is illustrated by ‘dinky’ little illustrations of vegetable and fruit in appropriate colours e.g. Carrots are orange, strawberries are red, blueberries are purple, cabbages are green and each of those illustrations are a detailed representation.  If you didn’t look at the top of the column to see what the vegetables were, you could tell from the pictures; the rocket is perfect, the chard so accurate.  It’s so clever.  This is what I mean about an ‘eye for detail’.  This is the sort of tea towel I love; I don’t believe in using tea towels to hang on the wall but if I did, this would be the one.  It would go well with a large framed poster I have in the kitchen of herbs that can be grown in the garden.  This tea towel would be very useful in planning your own self-sufficiency, from home grown produce.

Personally, I like seasonality of fruit and vegetables.  I like home-grown produce.  What this tea towel clearly demonstrates, at a single glance, is that it is perfectly possible to be self-sufficient, in Britain, throughout the year, in both fruit and vegetables.  There are no months where it isn’t possible to grow and harvest fruit and vegetables; with the use of a good freezer you can be well supplied.  My keywords are eat fresh, freeze, pickle, make jam and crumble; this is my way forward.  Although we have a reasonable sized garden, I do not consider that we are avid gardeners; however, looking at the tea towel, I realise that we produce quite a lot of vegetables and fruit without too much hard work.  If I can do it, anyone can.  Blackcurrents and red currents are bountiful; in the main, we cook these directly they are picked and then freeze them.  (A bit like the old Birds Eye peas advert!).  In reality, they provide enough fruit to keep us in crumble throughout the year; additionally, this is supplemented by blueberries, gooseberries and rhubarb.  Damsons and plums are used for jam.  Strawberries and raspberries are eaten fresh.  I do have a medlar tree (not on this chart!!) which produces fruits; I think these are scary fruits, so I give them to Liz K who makes great medlar jelly.

I have tried to grow asparagus for a number of years with absolutely no success but it is one of my favourite vegetables; if you look at the tea towel there is only a short harvesting season.  I like the seasonality of asparagus; I don’t want to buy asparagus from Peru in November.  There is an asparagus farm near where I live and I look out for, with mounting excitement, in early May, the A-Boards saying that they have started harvesting.  For between six and eight weeks, I will eat fresh asparagus and make sure that we make enough asparagus soup for the freezer.  The freshness of the asparagus gives it a great flavour, always better than asparagus that has a huge carbon footprint.

The greenhouse at the bottom of the garden grows tomatoes, cucumbers, chillies and peppers; there is nothing like a homegrown cucumber.  Growing them at home means a much wider variety of cucumbers, often more flavoursome than those available from the supermarkets.  I really like the small cucumbers, they have a lovely taste.  I like being able to pick a cucumber that will serve one meal and not have to hang around the fridge for days on end because it is ‘supermarket large’.  Similarly, if you go into the greenhouse today there is a wonderful smell of flowering tomato plants and basil growing in pots; it gives you that feeling of excitement that fruit will be available soon and salads will be livelier, tomato sauce will be ready for pasta and homemade pizza, both available for eating fresh and for delayed pleasure by putting them in the freezer.  One of my favourite raised beds holds the rocket, beetroot, radishes, lettuce and fennel.  Not only is it very attractive to look at, but it produces great salads and, together with chard, can be planted on a sequential basis to extend the growing season.

I love the promise of courgettes, butternut squash and pumpkins; they are such beautiful vegetables, with a range of colours, sometimes you don’t want to pick them, just leave on the plant to admire.  Can’t say that I would want to eat any of them as straight vegetables but as soups they are a wonderful addition to the larder: courgette and potato is probably my absolute favourite. Onions, potatoes, leeks, garlic and shallots are all good staples in the garden.  Several years ago we decided that we would not attempt to grow brassicas; the stress of fighting the Cabbage White Butterfly takes away some of the pleasure of growing your own vegetables.  I can remember trying to put the netting across the raised beds and always finding that gap that enabled the Cabbage White to decimate the crop; or sitting in the early evening, picking off the caterpillars and knowing this was a true losing battle but nevertheless attempting the impossible.  Runner beans, French beans and mangetout are very ‘hit and miss’ in our garden.  We decided some time ago, to ‘give it a go’ each year, trying to grow them and just to wait and see if the slugs have the upper hand.  Slug pelletts are not an option where you have animals and we have tried all those deterrents recommended by gardeners – grit and sharp sand round the base of the plants, beer to drown the little beasties, copper tape.  We might have stopped one or two slugs but not the marauding hoards. You can’t worry about everything in the garden or you will get no pleasure from it.

When I reflect on the gardening year, with the help of the tea towel, I realise we do quite well out of the garden, without too much stress.  The main thing is trying to live with seasonality and the nearer that we can do that the happier we are.  Of course, there is the added pleasure of being able to ‘swop’ any excess produce with other gardeners; fortunately, we don’t all grow the same, successfully.

When the tea towel first arrived, I did think ‘Lyn and Rob would like that’; Rob is a very keen gardener, does great broccoli, parsnips and potatoes.  We did try parsnips in the raised beds, only to find that the roots were so deep that we could not pull them out.  I had to resort to climbing on a three foot high raised bed to try and lift them.  Even that was not fully successful.  But having written about this tea towel, I can’t very well give it away as a Christmas Present because they would know where it came from and I really do like it.  Sorry Lyn and Rob. But thanks to Stuart Gardiner who has given me this opportunity to reflect on my own garden and what I might do to improve it.  Thanks also for having the opportunity to look at, and own, a really great tea towel with a huge amount of detail, a true work of art.

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Ludlow, Shropshire: 2001


When I look at this tea towel, white cotton with very dark, black drawings, I know that Ludlow should be my sort of place.  It is a market town in Shropshire, on the confluence of the rivers Corve and Teme.  The oldest part of Ludlow is the walled town from the late 11th Century, including the castle.  Ludlow has over 500 listed buildings; John Betjemen called it “probably the loveliest town in England”.  Because Ludlow is on the midpoint of the 160 mile long English/Welsh border, it is full of history and the tea towel highlights this – references to the Welsh Marshes, Ludlow Castle (begun in 1075), St Laurence Parish Church (largest parish church in Shropshire), the Feathers Hotel (a large timber framed building).  One of the notable things about Ludlow is that it was a 12th Century planned town, designed on a regular grid pattern, the first street being Castle Square, High Street and King Street.  Because of it’s location, Ludlow historically was a very prosperous market town; that prosperity is expressed in terms of all the stone masonry, woodcarving and stained glass in the parish church.

For all that, Ludlow doesn’t quite ‘do it for me’.  And I am not sure why.  It is a food lover’s haven; it holds an annual food festival.  It has some nice tea rooms and eateries.  When I first visited Ludlow, I went to De Greys tea room which was nice and genteel; it had been serving tea there for over 80 years.  If you asked me which towns/villages in Shropshire I would like to revisit, Ludlow wouldn’t spring to mind.  It’s a bit like Cheltenham, nice but the sort of place that I am indifferent about.  Sorry. But I did like De Greys, and as I understand so did Stephen Fry, Robert Plant and Keira Knightly.  De Greys closed in January 2014 but by popular demand was bought by another firm and reopened about 6 months later, promising to keep the same format. On that basis, I really must return to find out if it is still there, and as good.

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Willow Tea Rooms, Glasgow: 2002

On 18 August 2016, the next tea towel I took off my airing cupboard pile was the ‘Door from the Willow Tea Room’; although I remembered that I had another Willow Tea Room tea towel I really could not remember what it was like.  I certainly didn’t remember this very stylish black and white tea towel, nor did I remember the large tea stain in the centre!! They do make a nice pair although very different.

I love Charles Rennie MacIntosh; I love the simplicity, the straight lines, the non-garish colours. I love the fact Charles Rennie MacIntosh (CRM) designed for so many mediums – architecture, stained glass, furniture, cutlery, wallpaper, paintings, jewellery, mirrors, internal layouts and much more.  I love the fact that you can see a piece of work and just say … Charles Rennie MacIntosh.  What I find more confusing, however, is not always understanding whether something was actually his work, a reproduction or even just ‘in his style’.  Whatever, his work is iconic.

This is a classic CRM design on a tea towel; it was used as both a beautiful tea towel and an ‘advert’ for the two Willow Tea Rooms in Glasgow.  It is a beautiful, pure linen tea towel, with those clear, sharp lines, the introduction of a small piece of colour and a very distinctive pattern.  I first visited the Willow Tea rooms in Sauchiehall Street in Glasgow in 2002; I went because of its association with CRM.  I didn’t really understand if this was the actual, original tea room or a reproduction.  I didn’t understand if it had been operating as a tea room since its conception or whether it has been ‘reinvented’.  I now understand why; it is a complicated story.

In 1896, CRM met Miss Cranston (often referred to as Kate Cranston), the daughter of a tea merchant who was committed to the Temperance Movement.  She wanted to set up art tea rooms, venues where people could meet to relax and enjoy non-alcoholic drinks in a variety of different ‘rooms’ within the same building. The ‘rooms’ would have different functions, for different people, for different times of the day and therefore different foods.  This was a radical approach to eating places and was very popular.  Between 1896 and 1917, CRM designed, and restyled, four tea rooms for Miss Cranston; he had a different level of involvement in each building, hence their very distinct and different style; there was no standardisation, no franchise.

In Miss Cranston’s Buchanan Street tea room, CRM designed and stencilled friezes, depicting opposite pairs of elongated female figures, surrounded by roses.  In Argyle Street, he designed the furniture and interiors.  It was here that he launched his iconic high-backed,  chair designs.  In Ingram Street, in 1900, he created the White Dining Room.  This was an imaginative experience for customers, where on arrival customers had to pass through a hallway, separated from the White Dining Room by a wooden screen, through which they could get tantalising  glimpses of what was to come.  Finally, in Sauchiehall Street, CRM designed the whole tea room – from the frontage, to the decor, to the furniture, to the menu, cutlery and waitresses uniforms. The Ladies Tea Room was on the front ground floor (where there is now a Jewellers Shop), with the large windows enabling women to look out onto the street.  The Lunch Room was at the back of the building.  The first floor housed the ‘Room De Luxe’, a fantasy for Afternoon Tea.  The second floor was a Billiards and Smoking Room for men.  He designed the rooms, to be used solely by women, full of light; those for men have a much darker decor.  These four tea rooms, in venues across Glasgow, were seen as the ‘places to go and be seen’; because of the concept of different ‘rooms’, the tea rooms catered for a wide variety of customers, for different purposes and all without alcohol.

Sadly, in 1917, Miss Cranston’s husband died and she immediately sold all her businesses, which then changed hands and suffered different fates.  In 1983, Anne Mulhern, inspired by CRM, Miss Cranston and as a lover of good tea rooms, acquired the Sauchiehall Street venue.  Downstairs was now occupied by a Jeweller and that remained the case; she refurbished the first floor into the Room De Luxe, in the original colour scheme and decor and with reproduction of his iconic high-backed chairs.   Anne Mulhern introduced as much detail as possible that related to CRM, including the menus.  The philosophy was definitely about high quality food and drink.  In 1997, she then acquired the Buchanan Street property, recreating the White Dining Room and the Chinese Room.  After my visit to Sauchiehall Street, I had to visit Buchanan Street!  These were two amazing tea rooms, worth visiting because of their attention to detail in terms of menus, service, decor, furniture, table cloths and perhaps just as important, the amazing food and quality loose leaf tea.  This was a touch of elegance, where you were transported back to another time.  Whenever I use this tea towel, I remember having the most amazing scrambled eggs and smoked salmon in Sauchiehall Street and overlooking the busy street, wondering what it was really like in the days of CRM.

I would like to revisit Glasgow and the Willow Tea Rooms because I understand that the Sauchiehall Street tea rooms have had to temporarily relocate because of structural work that was needed.  It would be good to see what has happened.

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