Birmingham (UK): 1997


This is definitely not a UTT (Unidentified Tea Towel).  I remember very clearly the Thursday in May 1997 that I bought it; I remember where I bought it; I remember who I was with and I remember why I bought it.  I also remember the reaction of my friends when I told them I had bought it; they clearly thought this was the end of the road for me.  I have been expecting this tea towel to come to the surface of the airing cupboard pile for a while, somehow dreading it but also wanting to get it out of the way.

This is a classic tourist tea towel: ‘Birmingham’ emblazoned across it with a number of coloured sketches of the important buildings of the City, filling up the ‘canvas’.  It is bright and cheerful and also a good cloth for drying up.  I have never been to any of those buildings on the tea towel; I never wanted to; Birmingham wasn’t a place that I was visiting as a tourist.  I just needed a reminder of that day because I knew I would retain very few memories; I needed to be reminded that I had been there.  On looking at the tea towel more closely, I realise that I have been to the Museum and Art Gallery but I have a separate tea towel of that, for a later blog!

I went to Birmingham that day by train with Fee; only a true friend would have come with me and for that I am always grateful.  John, my husband, had died suddenly and unexpectedly, the previous November, in Sutton Park in Birmingham.  An unexpected death triggers an autopsy and then an inquest;  the Coroner allowed the funeral to go ahead with an ‘interim’ inquest, which I didn’t have to attend, but the formal proceedings took place the following May in Birmingham.  It doesn’t matter how many police dramas you watch on TV or how much the police try and prepare you for the formal proceedings of an inquest, it is never as you imagined. OK it was never as I had imagined. I was a witness, to confirm that I had identified John and to confirm what I knew about his health – it was, so I thought, excellent. Once you have a death certificate, you know the cause of death anyway.  What else could happen?  In the fug that comes with grief, if you know why someone has died, nothing else will make it any less painful; I didn’t think about anything else, I didn’t want to think about anything else.  I suppose what I didn’t expect was there to be a statement from the Park Warden who  found John throwing up, who called the ambulance, who stayed with him until the ambulance came and who had not been able to return to work since.  I didn’t expect to hear that an ambulance arrived within 8 minutes of being called  and he was dead by the time he got to the hospital four minutes later.  I didn’t expect to hear about the shocking state of his arteries, arteries that would have led to a heart attack at any time.  All those things creep up on you, intrude on your grief, pose questions that you don’t want to face: why didn’t he, or I, know he had clogged arteries? why were there no symptoms prior to his death? who was looking after the Park Warden? did the Park Warden ever return to work? I suppose the one thing that was helpful to know was where he died; that meant I could go visit if I wanted to.  I would have to wait till later in the year to see if the Barnacle Geese that had landed unexpectedly, which he had gone to look at, had returned another year.

The inquest was traumatic but as I always say, life goes on and that is where the tea towel comes in.  I said to Fee that I wanted to buy a tea towel to remind me of the day. She thought I was bonkers, and said so, but to be fair did not stop me.  I was a woman on a mission.  I am not sure how long I was prepare to search for one, but fortune came my way, and as we walked back to New Street Station, through the Bull Ring, we passed a Linen Shop and there in the window was my tea towel on display.  I was relieved to find it so easily but probably not as relieved as Fee who, I fear, felt we might be walking around till midnight looking for one.  Thanks to the Linen Shop in the Bull Ring, we got home in time for tea.

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Bedruthan Steps, Cornwall: 1982


I have been waiting for this tea towel to rise to the top of the airing cupboard pile.  Not only is it one of my favourite National Trust tea towels but Bedruthan Steps is one of my favourite places.  It has everything I love; it’s a geological feature on the coast; it is stunningly beautiful; it has bleached sand; it has a history, some of which is legend; it has a small tea room, and in 1982 had a tea towel (which is more than it did in 2002 when I went back).

The tea towel is designed by David Parry who did a number of tea towels for the National Trust.  The picture exactly captures the view you get of the beach from the cliffs above, when the tide is out, on a sunny day.  There are five huge stacks (rocks) strewn across the beach, each with a name: Queen Bess, Samaritan Island (named after the ship that went aground), Redcove Island, Pendarves Island and Carnewas Island, “a rank of colossal, pointed stacks march out of the Atlantic waves”.  It is thought that the name Bedruthen Steps originally only referred to the steep staircase from the cliff top to the beach but with time it has become the name for the beach, and also the legend.  The legend says that Bedruthan, a giant, used the stacks as stepping stones; it seems to be a 19th Century invention for Victorian tourists, when Newquay was becoming a very popular resort.  The actual steps down the cliff side were probably built in 1870s when this area was being developed as a mining area for iron, copper and lead and the steps were needed to access the mine workings.  It wasn’t a particularly successful area for mining but the steps were maintained for the purposes of tourism.  At the top of the cliff, in the car park, are two old mine buildings from the Carnewas Mine: the Count House is now the National Trust shop, the second mine building is now the cafe.

I first went to Bedruthan Steps with John, in 1982, when I was staying in St Agnes.  We were driving along the coast road and saw a tiny sign to Bedruthan Steps.  Never heard of it so looked it up on the map, and it was marked, so thought we’d have a look.  There was a short dirt track which led to a field that was the car park; no Tarmac, no marked spaces, no charge.  We parked and got out. It still wasn’t very clear what exactly Bedruthan Steps were; there was no board explaining it but another tiny sign directed us along the cliff top, past the toilets, which was always handy to know.  We walked along a grassy path, no warning signs about cliff edges, and suddenly the bay came into view, a beautiful curve with the waves creating white foam.  We knew the tide was going out and then we found the steps.  Blimey, they looked steep, and rough, and uneven, with a wonky looking handrail.  Because the steps curved round you couldn’t see exactly how many steps there were.  I plodded down, somewhat thrown by the fact that they were of uneven depth and the last tier was incredibly deep.  There were a couple of ‘landings’ where you could stop and catch your breath (and this was only on the way down. I didn’t want to think about climbing back up again).  And then we reached the beach where the sand was so clean and fine; you just wanted to paddle, the sea was so inviting.  However, it was almost miraculous how, as the tide went out, the full scope of the beach was revealed; the stacks emerged as separate beings that you could circle, the bay became wider, an arch was revealed on one side which you could walk through at low tide, and the bay became much bigger, and a different shape, than we originally thought.  Must remember the tide comes in, I thought.  I don’t want to be stranded.  It was just a perfect beach, with virtually no one there.  A few people came with dogs but you had to be fit and mobile.  There was no other way of accessing the beach, other from from the steps.  This was one of those beaches where you kept wanting to take photographs because it did keep changing with the movement of the tide.

The walk back, up the steps, was lung-bursting and never have I been so grateful for the landings.  They could have done with having emergency oxygen there.  We completed the climb more quickly than I imagined but some people did struggle.  At the top was an ice cream kiosk and that ice cream was truly welcome.  There was a National Trust shop, and yes there was the tea towel.  There was no way in which I was going to pass that by.  It was in the early days of the National Trust developing its merchandising ‘arm’ so there wasn’t a lot in the shop. We went back again that holiday because it was so lovely but I have been back many times since and it has changed.  The National Trust renovated the steps themselves, which was a mammoth task; the cliffs were reseeded and a path was constructed so people didn’t wander all over the cliffs and disturb the birds and wild flowers; a cafe has been developed; the car park is properly laid out and the shop is bigger. However, there was never another tea towel.  When I last asked, the volunteer said that she remembered the tea towels and had always hoped there would be a new one (as I did); maybe there is now, since it is a while since I have been back.  However, there are many of my friends who were lucky enough to be bought a ‘National Trust Book of Napkin Folding’ which I bought in the Bedruthan Steps shop and which I am sure they treasure to this day!!!

I am not sure that I would manage the steps these days but the view is still magnificent.  When I contacted David Parry about his tea towel he said: “Yes, yes, yes… beautiful Bedruthan Steps….”  I certainly agree and while the tea towel is looking slightly faded, through wear and tear, it is still one of my favourites, with so many happy memories.

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(Cool,Cute) Black Cats: 2012


In the introduction to her 1947 Short Story Collection, the Labours of Hercules, Agatha Christie said “The really safe and satisfactory place to work out a story in your mind is when you are washing up.” ‘ I’m nearly with her except, of course, it is actually during the wiping up, with a good sturdy tea towel, that I can compose a Tea Towel Blog. (If you like Agatha Christie’s wise words, there is a lovely tea towel with them on from The Literary Gift Company – great website).  Back to the subject in hand.

Using the (Cute) Black Cats tea towel, with all those delightful black cats, reminds me of the ‘Adventures of Benjamin’.  My friend Gwyn gave me this tea towel for my birthday, just after Benjamin joined the household in 2012. Benjamin was ‘rescued’ by the RSPCA, from a house that contained 87 cats.  He was 8 months old; he hadn’t been badly, or cruelly, treated but clearly 87 cats is not a good situation.  As a cat fosterer, I fostered Benjamin, along with Isabella; by the time they were ready to go to a Forever Home, I was ready to offer them a Forever Home.  Benjamin is a magnificent  black cat, very long, very sleek, with a silky coat, and a white ‘shirt’ and white paws.  He is not boisterous; probably ‘laid back’ is a good way to describe him.  He strolls around, like he owns the place (which, of course, he does).  He likes the outdoors, likes sitting on the patio watching the world go by, likes snuggling under bushes having a snooze, enjoys his food but knows how to pace himself; every day he will choose a chair in the living room for his sleep, followed by a cuddle on my lap, unless there are guest then he will go to them.  Benjamin is good at catching ‘things’, but not as good as Isabella.  Benjamin has brought frogs, moles, shrews, mice, once a rat, a small rabbit and has been seen chasing a squirrel.  I can’t count how birds he has caught.  Benjamin is not the sort of cat I worry about, that is until three months ago.  The Adventures of Benjamin have cost me a fortune at the vet.

One day Benjamin was sitting on my friend’s lap when we noticed something black, and moving, in his ear.  It wasn’t jumping, so not fleas I thought.  A trip to the vet identifies hedgehog fleas; you can tell this, apparently, because they don’t jump around.  When the vet looked, he had a significant number but only in one ear.  Apparently, he would have caught hedgehog fleas by having a tussle with a hedgehog.  Once treated he was fine.

A couple of weeks later, I noticed a strange lump on his leg, raised, looked like it could be an abscess.  Off to the vet again.  This time she identified a nasty bite full of pus.  She bathed it, shaved round it, drained it, gave him an injection and 7 day course of antibiotics, during which time he could not go out.  The vet didn’t know what had bitten him but it definitely wasn’t a hedgehog, could have been the squirrel he had been chasing because apparently male squirrels can be quite aggressive.  After two more trips to the vet, he healed quickly, didn’t mind being kept in but was pleased when his day of freedom came and he could go on the prowl once more.

Then one day, three weeks later, I was watching the Olympics on TV and caught sight of Benjamin’s tail and thought it looked a bit odd, a bit ‘square’.  Because of the way cats sit, with their tails curled round them, it was difficult to get a good view.  Camera at the ready, I waited for him to get up and took a few snaps, sending them, by email, to Pete (who I regard as a Cat Whisperer).  What did he think?  Was it sore, he asked?  How do I know?  cats don’t like having their tails touched.  I picked up Benjamin, who was not very keen on this, so I thought ‘OK another trip to the vet”.  I was beginning to feel as if I had Munchausen by Proxy.  The vet looked at Benjamin’s tail and pulled away two white pieces of ‘string’.  OMG, he has got tangled up with some dental floss, I thought; how embarrassing, I thought.  The vet says “these are two tendons”; I nearly pass out.  Something has bitten off the end of Benjamin’s tail!  No wonder it looked a bit ‘square’.  Antibiotics, steroids and a return to the vet the following day for an operation, under general anaesthesia, to see what the damage was. Benjamin had to have his tail shaved, two more vertebrae removed and the end sewn up.  Because of the danger of infection, he had to wear a ‘lampshade’ for nearly three weeks while the tail healed; again he wasn’t allowed out.  He hated the ‘lampshade’, didn’t eat for a couple of days but gradually regained his appetite.  I think he realised that going mardy wasn’t going to get him out of the ‘lampshade’ any quicker, so he might as well get used to it.  Once he was given the ‘all clear’ Benjamin was out and about but this time, not much further than the patio.  The vet had no idea what animal had bitten the tail off, could have been a rat or a fox.  Benjamin knows because he is much more wary.  By this time, I was beginning to think I would need a second mortgage!

When I look at this tea towel, I remember Benjamin’s adventures; I know that he certainly doesn’t look like those cats on the tea towel because he has a much shorter, stubby tail that does not swish elegantly around, as it once did.  I will never forget the ‘dental floss’. I will get Pete to give Benjamin a routine check in future.  I couldn’t bear finding anything else but then that is the price you pay for a cat that likes to sit on the patio.  Would I describe Benjamin as ‘cute’ now; probably not, but he still carries an air of majesty about him, something I hope he will never lose but maybe he needs to be a bit more careful about his tail.

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The Seekers 50th: 2013-2015

Only if you know The Seekers, definitely not to be confused with The New Seekers, and are familiar with their music, will these two tea towels make any sense to you.  A woman of my age can remember the Australian Group that started in 1963, and made their presence felt on the British charts in 1965; they were the first Australian Group to achieve success in Britain.  I used to love them.  Ian McFarlane, music historian, described them as “too pop to be considered strictly folk and too folk to be considered to be rock” and that’s what I liked about them – they didn’t quite fit any genre.  They appeared on the same bill as Dusty Springfield on one occasion and the Beatles on another, but were like neither.  In 1968, they received a joint award of Australian of the Year – the first group to do that.

Back in 2014, I saw that The Seekers, who had broken up and re-formed several times, had started a 50th Anniversary Tour and were coming to Britain.  That would bring back memories, I thought.  I booked tickets for September 2014 at the Royal Concert Hall in Nottingham but later received a letter saying that Judith Durham had a brain haemorrhage and the date had been re-arranged for May 2015.  They said I could have a refund if I wanted.  Why would I want a refund?  As someone who has worked with disabled people all their lives, I did wonder how they could predict that she would be well enough to travel and perform in 8 months time.  I hadn’t realised that her brain haemorrhage had been in 2013 and she was well on the road to recovery, although it had affected her ability to read, including reading music, but had not affected her ability to sing.

This was a brilliant concert; the purity of her voice was incredible.  They performed hits like “I’ll never find another you” and “A World of our own” plus some newer material.  The four, Judith Durham, Keith Podger, Athol Guy and Bruce Woodley, were on stage singing for more than two hours.  Just listening to them brought back all those memories from my teenage years.  Their music was as relevant today as back in 1960s.  Here was a group who understood what a good tea towel (or towels) could do for your publicity.  As they had two, and I couldn’t choose between the two, I bought both – one is the front cover of the 50th Anniversary Album and the other a pencil sketch of the four of them, and they haven’t changed.  I love both tea towels and certainly using them inspires me to sing one or two of their songs while wiping up; not a pretty sound but enjoyable to me.  It was one of the best concerts I have been to, where the artists have not lost the quality of their voices over time. What a group!!

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London Underground: 2007


When I’m at the dentist, GP or even the hairdresser, I always go for the trashy magazines, the ones with the short interview at the end, when someone famous is asked who, from history, would they like to have dinner with.  It’s a bit like hearing Desert Island Discs and imagining which 8 discs you would choose.  My dinner guest would definitely be Frank Pick.  It would have to be a small dinner party because, from all I have read, Frank Pick was a very shy man, a man who did not like the limelight.  In my eyes, he was an absolute genius and virtually unheard of unless you are big into London Transport, railways, buses and all its history.  He was also a modest man who knew his own strengths and weaknesses; he was a man of endearing honesty: “I have always kept in mind my own frailties – a short temper. Impatience with fools, quickness rather than thoroughness.  I am a bad hand at the gracious word or casual congratulation”.  A man of such honesty would make a great dinner guest.  But why do I think he would be so worthwhile meeting with, and talking to?  “Virtually every Londoner will daily come across an aspect of Frank Pick’s legacy, yet few will be aware of it.  Without Pick, we would not have the Roundel, that iconic representation of the London Underground, the famous tube map, the typeface in which station signs are written or the Art Deco stations that pepper the outer reaches of the Central and Piccadilly Lines”.  Frank Pick was also responsible for commissioning some of the great designs of railway and Underground posters; he was responsible for the vision of an integrated transport system in London and saw the potential that would have for London Suburbia, together with holiday destinations.  He did all this over the period between 1908 and 1941, when he died.  When Frank Pick was given the responsibility for the London Underground’s publicity in 1908, he recognised the huge potential of advertising.  He decided on a standard size for advertising posters; he limited the amount of posters in any station, to maximise their impact.  (It’s a pity a lot of shops and cafes these days have not learnt from him).  His concept of the standardised typeface, ‘branding’, was well ahead of the game.  Today, if you look at the old railway and Underground posters, most people I know look at them with nostalgia but also with admiration, as an art form.  This is why I am forever saying, about those posters, “that would make a great tea towel”.  Someone said that Frank Pick saw posters as having a “loftier purpose than simply encouraging the greater use of transport services”, he saw them as an integral part of urban life in London, and wider Britain.  So my dinner party topic would definitely include something about the potential that all his publicity work would have for a collection of tea towels, which images he would choose and how he came to the idea of using a capital ‘U’ and a capital ‘D’ on the word Underground that would make it so unique.

I love the the London Underground map; ‘iconic’ is the only word I would use to describe it.  In the last few years, you can buy it, or part of it, on anything you want: mugs, notebooks, post-it notes, pencils, pencil cases, coasters, trays, table napkins, table mats, jigsaw puzzles, files, pen holders, erasers, diaries, postcards, board games and so forth and, of course, even a tea towel.  And when I saw the tea towel in the London Transport Museum in Covent Garden, I knew I had to have it.

I have lived with the London Underground map all my life.  I was born in London, spent my first 18 years there, was desperate to leave at that time and now I love returning as often as possible, as a tourist rather than as a resident.  I was born in a flat in Ealing, in fact, opposite Hanger Lane Station.  In those days, Hanger Lane Station was an Art Deco station on the North Circular Road, before the MI was built; today Hanger Lane Station is in the centre of a roundabout on the most scary and complicated giratory system, with the traffic pounding down from the MI.  When I was 7, we moved to the centre of Ealing, much nearer Ealing Broadway Station, not such an attractive station.  So if you look on this tea towel, where are Hanger Lane and Ealing Broadway Stations?  They are not on it.  Shocking.  They are both Central Line Stations but this tea towel appears to only cover Zones I and 2, and clearly Hanger Lane and Ealing Broadway Stations are in Zone 3.  I can look at a map of the London Underground all day, day dreaming.  I’ve never been to Arnos Grove and Cockfosters but always felt that I should have.  I have no idea where they are, in real life.  There is something bizarre about the London Underground map: if you want to travel around London by tube, it is an easy-peasy way of getting around but don’t be fooled, it is not an overground map, that puts destinations in relative positions to each other.  There are tiers of underground lines, so some stations will be very near to each other, in real life, but may not seem so on the map.  When Frank Pick commissioned Harry Rock to design the London Underground map, in 1931, it was thought that it was much too complicated for passengers but, in fact, it was welcomed by everyone.  I am a traveller who gets anxious about getting lost but I can navigate my way round London on the tube very easily with the help of Harry Rock; this is an easily transferable skill, usable on the maps of New York or Paris Metros or the London bus routes.

I look at Harry Rock’s map and see the bright red Circle Line, driving through the centre of the map, probably the line that I have used most but then I think of the Circle Line, bright yellow, and going around in a never ending circle and I have done that, just travelled round on a continuous ride, marvelling at the variety of stations, the volume of traffic, the United Nations of a travelling public. I love it. But there are also other memories: the Moorgate Crash of 1975 on the Northern Line where 43 people died or the 2005 London Bombings where three tubes were attacked almost simultaneously on the Piccadilly and Circle Lines.  There is a plaque on the railings at Russell Square commemorating those that died.  There are all the stories from World War II, where people used the Underground Stations as air raid shelters during the bombing.  The London Underground has reached out to many people, through time and place.  I wonder if Frank Pick realised how it would play into the lives of so many people.

However, for those that listen to Radio 4, there is the programme ‘Sorry I haven’t a Clue’, where the game Mornington Crescent is played.  Introduced in 1978, this is something I have enjoyed for years and have also been baffled by for years.  This is “a game that is intentionally incomprehensible.  There are no rules; rules are based on stream-of-consciousness association and improvisation”, as Humphrey Lyttleton would say.  The objective is to give the appearance of a game of skill and strategy; to add interest Humphrey Lyttleton would introduce a ‘variation’ like the  Trumpington’s Variation.  He joked at one point that the game predates the London Underground.  Tudor Court Rules were described as “A version of the game formally adopted by Henry VIII and played by Shakespeare.  At this time, the Underground was far smaller than at present, and so the playing area also was more restricted, primarily due to the plague”.  The whole game is threaded by such ‘rubbish’, which is why it is so entertaining.  When Mornington Crescent Station was re-opened in 1998, after being closed for 6 years for refurbishment, the ‘Sorry I haven’t a Clue’ Team was asked to carry out the official opening. In 2002, a plaque dedicated to Willie Rushton, a longstanding member of the radio show, was unveiled at Mornington Crescent.

There is no question that for me the London Underground map is a wonderous marvel that I thoroughly enjoy looking at. It makes wiping up so much more enjoyable.  Every time I go to London, I try and visit Covent Garden and the London Transport Museum, whether it is to go round the museum or just to have a cup of tea in the cafe with seats covered in the traditional material of the London Buses, and to have a quick look round the shop.  I don’t think I’ve ever been in the shop without buying something.  I just need to see a few more tea towels in there.  My thanks goes to the vision of Frank Pick, an unsung hero; even Spalding, where he was born, has only recently realised what a genius was born in their midst.  Without Frank Pick I would not be the proud owner of this tea towel and I can continue to dream about my dinner party wih Frank Pick.

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Colman’s Mustard, Norwich: 2002

I like mustard.  Not just with sausages and beef but with chicken, pork and lamb; I like it on a cheese sandwich and especially with roast potatoes.  My preference is English mustard, the bright yellow stuff, none of the fancy whole-grain-with-whiskey stuff.  My real preference is making up dried mustard with water so that it really knocks you out but it is possible to waste a lot that way because you don’t always know if you are going to be eating something that goes with mustard.  My favourite mustard, without a doubt, is Colman’s mustard.  I was brought up on it; my Dad used lashings of it.  You know what to expect with Colman’s mustard and supermarket own brands are definitely not the same.

Jeremiah Colman started his flour and mustard business in 1814, just outside of Norwich.  Colman’s were renown as good employers – setting up a school for their employee’s children, providing company housing and giving sickness benefit to staff.  They also entered into good contracts with their local producers and some of their mustard seed producers are fifth generation growers.  They still pride themselves on the fact that 60% of mustard seed is grown locally and claim that all mint, apple and white mustard seeds that they use are grown in UK.

Not only famous for their mustard, Colman’s are also famous for their iconic logo and advertising posters.  Colman’s set up a shop in the Art Deco Arcade in Norwich as a place to sell mustard but also to sell related publicity artefacts, to tell the story of Colman’s as a kind of small museum.  This has now become a significant part of the tourist industry in Norwich.  The shop is laid out as a traditional grocers store.  This is a great place for a mustard, and tea towel, lover.  I do have three Colman’s mustard tea towels; the first is a bit historical, showing scenes from the past including Jeremiah Colman; the second is the bull’s head logo and the third, the iconic ostrich.  The Bull’s Head Trade Mark was an advertising poster for many years and was also one of those metal signs that are reproduced these days.  @MrTimDunn has often said that I am always going on about the fact that posters that appear on Twitter would make good tea towels.  This is, exactly, why; Colman’s have seen the value of their old advertising posters and have made them into tea towels.  The ostrich was part of Colman’s advertising for many years.  It is actually a great tea towel because it is so distinctive with the navy blue background but is also very good quality linen.  My question would be: how does it aid digestion? What the heck, it’s still good.

Notwithstanding the museum, the real memories associated with this tea towel are about the fact that I decided to have one of my Christmas Shopping Weekends in Norwich, a place that I had not been to before but thought it might come up with some interesting Christmas gifts (and it did).  We stayed in the Swallow Hotel in the centre of Norwich, by the river.  Saturday had been a long hard shopping day; I felt I had walked miles and by the time we got back to the hotel we didn’t feel like going out for a meal.  Why not have room service?  Fortunately it was an enormous room with a dining table.  We looked at the menu and thought we ought to have something we could eat mustard with.  What about a beef salad?  I’m always a bit sceptical about salads when eating out.  Will it just be a few old lettuce leaves?  To make sure we had enough to eat, we ordered chips as well.  I shouldn’t have been worried.  This was the best salad I have ever had.  The actual salad was magnificent, not covered in dressing, all fresh, huge.  The beef was rare and there was loads of it and a magnificent bowl of chips.  I can see it now. Fabulous. That year a lot of people got gifts associated with mustard and Colman’s but no one will have had such an incredible salad and as I use the tea towel I can almost taste it.

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Toscana, Italy: 2016 (and back to 1992)


This is the second tea towel that my cousin Andrew bought for me, following his visit to England in May (See Tea Towel Blog dated 6/7/16).  I really love the style of this range of Italian tea towels: big, brilliant white background, thick, informative and a great map with a lot of detail.  Andrew lives in Florence with his wife and two children, so this tea towel of Tuscany is ‘home territory’ for him.

In 1992, John and I were invited to Andrew and Elena’s wedding  – an event definitely not to be missed.  I had spent quite a lot of time with Andrew as a child, both in England and Italy.  If my mother had been alive, she would definitely have been there. As I recall, I was the only representative of our family from from England, or did my memory fail me there?  While I may not remember the invitation list, I do remember the rest very clearly.  John and I had decided to go to Florence for a long weekend; John had never been to Italy before.  We went on a City Break with Page and Moy.  The plan was that I would let Aunty Eileen (Andrew’s mother) know which hotel we were staying in and our time of arrival; she would come and meet us there, have a meal together, show us where the church was and catch up on family gossip.  Simples, as they say in the advert but, of course, it never is.  The first thing that went wrong was that, at Heathrow Airport, the Page and Moy representative told us that our hotel arrangements had been changed.  They assured us that the hotel would be of the same standard and would be equally convenient.  That may be fine for a sightseeing holiday, but they weren’t going to a family wedding where our contact point was our hotel.  The second disaster, which wouldn’t have been a disaster if Page and Moy hadn’t changed the arrangements, was that the wedding invitation was sitting on our kitchen table.  Let me remind readers, 1992 was before email, Internet and mobile phones; my aunt lived in Rome and I did not know what hotel she was staying in.  She didn’t know which company we were travelling with.  It would have been ok if I had Andrew’s address on me.  Why would I take my address book on holiday?  The answer is, to be prepared for such eventualities.  My address book was at home.  We asked the P&M rep what we should do; they had no idea.  Basically, we had no way of getting in touch with my aunt, or Andrew; we didn’t know which church he was getting married in or at what time.

Ever the pessimist, I had decided we would not be attending the wedding and had to make the most of a long weekend in Florence.  We settled in at our hotel, unpacked our wedding outfit, on the off-chance something good would happen.  We decided to go straight to the hotel we were going to stay in originally, in order to wait for my aunt.  When we got there, she had already been, had been told we weren’t staying there and been told that they had no idea where we were going to be staying.  Great.  We left a message with the concierge, for my aunt, just in case she called there again.  There was no reason why she should do that.  What now?   We returned to our hotel to decide what to do; we were going to need to eat and think of a plan.  Suddenly, the Hotel Manager came up to our room.  My aunt had been in contact while we were out and had left her hotel telephone number.  How had she found out where we were?  I rang her immediately.  The answer to that question was simples; I had forgotten the ‘wiles’ of my aunt.  She had rung the police to say that there was a family emergency and she needed to know which hotel I was staying in; she knew that all hotel guests complete a Registration Form and these forms are immediately forwarded to the police.  So they told her.  She was non-specific about the nature of the emergency so she hadn’t actually lied, maybe exaggerated, and from my point of view it was an emergency.  By this time, it was about 9pm.  We agreed it was too late to meet up but she gave me the name of the church, with directions.  We spent the evening wandering around Florence, in the dusk; we had a meal and found the church so we were prepared for the following day.  I slept well that night.

The wedding was in a beautiful, old Florentine church; the ceremony was carried out by John, Andrew’s brother who was a priest.  It was a typical Catholic Mass; long, full of ritual and incense, beautiful, all in Italian, full of poetry.  Afterwards we had a full, sit-down meal under umbrellas in a restaurant garden.  Of course, most of the guests were Italian but were keen to practice their English on us so we certainly didn’t feel on the edge of things.  It was a beautiful day which I am certainly glad I didn’t miss it; it left me with some very happy memories.  One thing I do remember is that I was dressed all in black: black polo-neck, long sleeved top, black skirt, black tights and black shoes with a striking (so I thought) floral jacket that looked as though it had been made out of Sanderson’s curtain fabric; I thought it was fabulous, my friends thought it was hideous.  In fact, I loved the outfit so much that I wore it the following January for my own wedding.

The day after the wedding, Aunty Eileen and Uncle Ferruccio took us to Siena for the day.  It was lovely; I’d never been to Siena before.  All that history, all those churches and their frescos, the old buildings, the gardens.  Absolutely stunning.  On the third day, John and I were left to ourselves to do all the touristy things in Florence.  I’d been there many years before so I knew what I would like to see.  We walked up the 476 steps of the Duomo; visited the Uffizi Gallery; ate ice cream since Florence is the birthplace of gelato; had pizza and coffee in one of the cafes on Piazza della Repubblica; walked over the Ponte Vecchio looking at the shops, although we were shocked by seeing hundreds of dead fish floating on the water of the River Arno (the result of contamination which was reported in all the newspapers); walked to the piazza above Florence with the statue of David.  Forbes describes Florence as “one of the most beautiful cities in the world” and it certainly is; around every corner is a statue, a fountain, an old church with frescos, fabulous piazzas and load of places to rest your feet and have a cool drink or ice cream.  Florence has been described as the birthplace of the Renaissance and everything you see reflects this.  I loved that long weekend in Florence, introducing John to both my family from Italy and to the Florence I had visited many years previously.  As I use this tea towel, I remember that weekend, the near disaster (from which I learned always to be prepared when you go on holiday) and the lovely few hours I spent with Andrew when he was in England in May this year.  Thank you Andrew.

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