St Martin-in-the-Fields, London: 2006

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This pure Irish Linen tea towel is quite unusual in design: it has a thick, navy blue, solid border and the rest is black and white; a black and white sketch of the actual church and a paragraph of writing giving a brief history of the church (which readers will be delighted I don’t have to repeat).

I went to St Martin-in-the-Fields in 2006 because someone had told me that there was an excellent cafe in the crypt.  I headed straight to the crypt and didn’t manage to have a look around the church.  The cafe lived up to expectations, with an unusual menu, possibly too much beans and lentils for my liking but excellent flavours (I’m sounding like a cooking programme).  I liked the setting; the dark, brick walls gave the cafe a great atmosphere.  I liked the fact that all the profits from the cafe, including from jazz evenings, are put towards the projects that are run by the church, especially those working with homeless people.  This carries on the legacy of Dick Sheppard, Vicar from 1914-1927, of being ‘The Church of the Ever Open Door’.  I did like the fact that the cafe also sold a tea towel!!  Perhaps my favourite bit (other than the tea towel) was the life-size, marble statue of Henry Croft, the first Pearly King of London; the statue had been moved from St Pancras Cemetary in 2002.

Ever wondered about the name, St Martin-in-the-Fields?  St Martin refers to St Martin of Tours who was a soldier, born in, possibly, 316 AD.  Legend suggests that he was riding on horseback one day when he came across a beggar who was virtually without clothes; Martin took off his cloak and rent it in two with his sword, giving half to the beggar.  Personally, I would have thought he could have spared the whole cloak but anyway, as a result of this act, he is now Patron Saint of beggars, tailors and wool weavers as well as soldiers, geese, vintners, inn-keepers and France.  ‘In the fields’ refers to the fact that in 1542, Henry VIII rebuilt (not destroyed as part of the Dissolution of the Monasteries) the church in order to keep plague victims in the area, so they did not have to pass through his Palace of Whitehall (very generous indeed!!!). At this time, it was literally ‘in the fields’, an isolated position between Westminster and London.  The current church was rebuilt in 1722, when the original was in a state of decay.

This tea towel reminds me of a very enjoyable meal that I had at St Martin-in-the-Fields and the fact that it was such a pleasure to be in a church that had not been destroyed through the Dissolution of the Monasteries.  I understand that a lot of work has been done to the crypt and the church since I visited; I should go back sometime.

P.S.  Many apologies for the tea stains!!!!

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Highland Herd: 2011

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This might be a Highland Herd tea towel but in terms of Venery Nouns this could be (a) a Mob (b) a Drove or (c) a Team.  That was just an aside, pursuing my new-found love of Venery Nouns.  Back to the matter in question.

Don’t you think this tea towel is cute? I love all things Scottish. I’ve spent more holidays in Scotland than anywhere else. I especially love Highland Cattle so it was almost impossible for me to walk by and not buy this tea towel.  I remember seeing it on one of those display stands that look like a laundry dryer.  It was in a shop in Dumfries.  We were spending a holiday in Dumfries and Galloway; whilst I wasn’t overwhelmed with excitement about the town of Dumfries, I did (a) really love the whole area, the countryside, the wildlife, the museums, castles and ancient monuments and (b) I did get excited about this tea towel.  I love the vibrant green background; I love the fact that the Highland Cattle are quirkily diffferent, different shapes and sizes in their distinctive bronze colouring.  The couple of black cows certainly add an air of distinction to the ‘Herd’.  It’s a great tea towel to remember a fantastic holiday by, although a tea towel of Belted Galloway would probably have been more appropriate on this occasion.

You might note that at the bottom of the tea towel, printed on the white border, is the name ‘Ettrick Valley’.  What does Ettrick Valley signify?  Ettrick Valley is a family-run business, set up by Bryan and Helen Hoggan in 1980.  Based in Selkirk, they produce a wide range of tea towels, aprons, bags, cushions etc on a theme of all things Scottish. It is my belief that I may have other Ettrick Valley tea towels! (Actually I know I have!)  Watch out for future blogs!

http://www.ettrickvalley.co.uk

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Falkirk Wheel: 2015

 

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This year my summer holiday has been delayed until November, while Liz attempts to recover from a very serious break in her upper arm.  We had hoped that 9 weeks would see her out of her full arm cast, and back driving.  That wasn’t to be.  She is now in a full arm brace for at least another five weeks.  Having abandoned Plan A, we are on to Plan B.  Plan B is to go to Edinburgh with Lynn and Helen.  Helen has offered to drive Liz’s car so we can have a bit a freedom around Scotland.  All four of us are very excited by the idea of a week in Edinburgh; we have all been there before, so we all have some ideas about what we might like to do, in a week in November, but we are also all very flexible. I can see we might spend a lot of time trying to work out what we are going to do, too many ideas, too many opportunities and get bogged down by too many choices; but, yes, really exciting.

One of the things that I would really like to do is go back to the Falkirk Wheel.  Last year, when Liz and I were in Edinburgh for a week, we went to the Falkirk Wheel.  I remember we read about the Falkirk Wheel in all the tourist information booklets; we had never heard of it before, but it was highly recommended.  It was difficult to ‘get your head round’ what exactly the Falkirk Wheel was.  But when we got there – wow.  It is a magnificent structure.  It has been described as “a form of contemporary structure”, Concretopia?  What it actually is, is a rotating boat lift.  While there are a lot of boat lifts around, the Falkirk Wheel is the only rotating boat lift of its kind in the world.  The Falkirk Wheel was funded as part of the Millenium Link Project, reconnecting the Forth and Clyde Canals with the Union Canal, with the aim of regenerating the Scottish canals, connecting Edinburgh and Glasgow.  The Falkirk Wheel raises a boat 79 feet to make the link; back in the 1930s it took 11 locks, and a whole day, to make that journey.

The Falkirk Wheel was designed by Tony Kettle; when he was submitting the design for approval, he used his 8 year old daughter’s Lego set to explain the concept.  There is always room for a piece of Lego.  Tony used ideas from a double-headed Celtic axe, the propeller of a ship and the rib-cage of a whale as the basis of the design; “a beautiful, organic flowing thing like the spine of a fish”.  As you look at the Falkirk Wheel, watching it rotate, you can see where all those images came from.  We took a ride on the Falkirk Wheel, an amazing experience, where there is no sensation of movement, even though you can see how high you are travelling.  The view is magnificent, you can see for miles on a clear day but you cannot see the Kelpies which was a great disappointment to me (especially as when we got to the Kelpies there was no tea towel of them!!).

When I mentioned the idea of going to the Falkirk Wheel to Lynn, she was somewhat hesitant.  Like me, last year, she had never heard of the Falkirk Wheel and thought that it might be like the London Eye.  And for her, that was a ‘no go’ area. As I tried to explain what it was, even I thought it sounded like the London Eye.  Lynn said she would think about it.  She obviously went off to discuss this idea with Mr Google, coming back full of enthusiasm and excitement; clearly Mr Google can explain the concept of Archimedes Principle of Water Displacement and the Falkirk Wheel more clearly than I can.  Within 10 minutes she was texting about how excited she was about it.

This tea towel, bought in the gift shop, I think, is a beautiful image of the Falkirk Wheel, demonstrating that artistic beauty and simplicity.  As I use it, I remember that great day out at the Falkirk Wheel, wandering around the park that surrounds the area and the subsequent trip to the Kelpies.  Today, it reminds me how much I am looking forward to my holiday next week and hope that, one year on, the Kelpies will have their own tea towel.

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Olympic Sports: 2012

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At the time of the 2012 Olympics, held in London, there were a lot of commemorative tea towels: some were part of the ‘official’ merchandise, some more ‘informal’.  I was overwhelmed with choice; by the time of the Opening Ceremony, I hadn’t actually bought a tea towel!  It was a wise, financial move on my part because by the time the Paralympic Games were over, all the unsold tea towels were available for at least half the original price.  The only restriction on my choice was what was still available, and there was a lot available.

I was in Fenwicks in Leicester and saw this tea towel.  I loved it; it was a map, an unusual map, with the land mass of Great Britain made up of the names of different Olympic sports.  I spent a long time in Fenwicks, looking at the detail of the tea towel, trying to work out if any Olympic sports were missing.  When you look at how the words are written, with different size fonts, bending around the coastline then you can see that this could take a long time.  The problem is that I can get ‘obsessed’ by things like this; for some unknown reason, sudddenly I was going off at a tangent, trying to make a list in my head of an A-Z of Olympic sports.  Was that possible?  Then I got carried away, thinking about those sports that were no longer included (officially called ‘discontinued’) in the Olympic Games and those that are planned for the future.  It all got out of hand so I bought the tea towel so I could think about it at home, otherwise staff in Fenwicks would get suspicious about this weird woman was chuntering away to herself about Olympic sports.

This is a really good quality tea towel which is easy to use.  Every time I use the tea towel, I try to work out the A-Z of Olympic sports and each time I return to using this tea towel I will have forgotten the mental list I made on the previous occasion.  I decided that perhaps I could get back to just wiping up with this tea towel if I wrote the list down; I could put it out of my mind.  So I have created a list!  Will it include sports that have been withdrawn from the Olympic games? Will it include sports that have just been exhibition sports? Will it include future planned sports? Will it include Winter Olympic sports? Will it include Paralympic sports?  Who knows!!

A: Archery, Athletics

B: Badminton, Boxing, Beach Volleyball, Baseball

C: Canoeing, Cycling, Croquet, Curling

D: Dressage, Diving, Discus

E: Eventing

F: Fencing, Field Hockey, Football, Figure Skating

G: Golf, Gymnastics, Greco-Roman Wrestling

H: Hepthalon, Handball, High Diving, High Jump, Hurdles

I: Ice Skating, Ice Hockey,

J: Judo, Javelin, Jumping

K: Karate, Kayaking, Kick Boxing, Kite Surfing

L: Long Jump, Lacrosse

M: Marathon, Modern Pentathlon

N: Netball, Nordic Combined

O: Open Water Swimming

P: Parallel bars, Pommel Horse, Polo, Pole Vault

Q: Quoits, Quad Roller Skating

R: Rugby 7’s, Rhythmic Gymnastics, Rowing, Roque, Relay

S: Shooting, Sailing, Swimming, Shot Putt, Steeplechase, Synchronised Swimming, Show Jumping

T: Tennis, Table Tennis, Taekwondo, Triathlon, Trampoline, Tug of War, Triple Jump, Time Trials

U: Uneven Bars

V: Volleyball, Vaulting

W: Water Polo, Weightlifting

X: bmX

Y: Yak Polo (Couldn’t resist including this; it would be fascinating to watch!!), Yo Yo Spinning, Yoga, Yachting

Z: Zorb Football

I hope that anyone who has read this might give me suggestions of Olympic sports that I have missed out; if you do I will add them! That contribution will add to my memories of this tea towel, as I do the wiping up.

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Bloomsbury (London): 2011

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It was inevitable that I would buy this tea towel.  It is a map and it is of Bloomsbury.  Why was that inevitable?  I love maps, probably stems from my background in geography and that, contrary to all myths about the ability of women to map read, I am really good at it.  I like road maps, ordnance survey maps, big maps of countries and continents, maps of the London Underground, Paris Metro or London bus route maps; I like old maps, small maps of villages.  I like wrapping paper and notebooks covered in maps. But Google Maps (or similar), especially when they talk to me, don’t do it for me.  But a map on a tea towel, that’s a whole different ball game.

I was born and brought up in London, didn’t leave until I was 18, but my ‘territory’ was West London, Ealing, Acton, Shepherds Bush, Gunnersbury Park, Brentford; I wasn’t familiar with Bloomsbury.  If you had asked me where Bloomsbury was, I wouldn’t have been able to tell you. Actually there are no clear boundaries to Bloomsbury but it is roughly between Euston Road and Holborn Road; it is an old area of London, mentioned in the Domesday Book for it’s vineyards and ‘woods for 100 pigs’.  Needless to say, it was an area affected by the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the mid-16th Century (lets face it, I haven’t found anywhere in England that wasn’t affected by the Dissolution of the Monasteries).  It was developed in the 17th and 18th Centuries as a fashionable residential area, notable for its array of Garden Squares, literary connections (like the Bloomsbury Group), and its cultural, educational and health-care institutions: British Museum, Foundling Museum, Dickens Museum, Great Ormond Street Hospital, HQ of the BMA, London Homeopathic Hospital (now called Integrated Medicine) and so much more.

Bloomsbury is the place for Blue Plaque spotting.  Anybody who is anybody has lived in Bloomsbury: JM Barrie, Charles Dickens, Charles Darwin, Ricky Gervais, Bob Marley, Virginia Woolf, WB Yeats, Catherine Tate, Dorothy L. Sayers and so many more.

Since 2003, Bloomsbury has become a familiar stomping ground of mine, spending at least two days a year there.  I have regular hospital appointments at the London Hospital of Neurology and Neurosurgery in the heart of Bloomsbury; hospital appointments don’t often take long so I use my regular trips to London to get the most of my day.  I have a ritual, which I thoroughly enjoy, which has given me a great love, and growing knowledge, of Bloomsbury. I travel by train from Leicester to St Pancras; I can usually find a ‘deal’ that will allow me to travel first class at about 10am.  I walk out of St Pancras, turn right onto Euston Road and left down Judd Street.  Judd Street is an interesting mix of small independent shops and cafes, residential properties, the RNIB (Royal National Institute for the Blind) and other businesses; there are some small gardens and rarely do you see properties boarded up, closed down or for sale. It is a multicultural community with street cafes where a myriad of languages are spoken.  Half way down Judd Street, on the right, is Deux Amis, a small French patisserie.  There is usually two wrought iron tables, with chairs, on a terrace in front of the shop; I’ve never actually seen anyone sit at those tables but they always look inviting.  I am sure people use them if you are there at the right time of day.  Peering through the window, there is an amazing display of French pastries and tarts; they draw you in.  As you walk past the counter, catching a whiff of sweet pastry and fresh French bread, is a small tea room with about 5 tables, with tablecloths, quite cramped. I always stop here.  Depending on the time of my train, I will have either an almond croissant or a ham and emmental baguette and a pot of Earl Grey tea.  The clientele is ecletic: a mother with her pushchair, a student with their laptop, business men having an informal meeting and locals dropping by for a quick coffee.  Although small, you never feel rushed or hurried.  I get up to move on to my next ‘stop’ which is the Brunswick Centre – a shopping and residential centre.  This is a Grade II Listed building; would Prince Charles have described this as a ‘carbuncle’? Probably.  It sort of seems out of place amongst the Georgian and Victorian buildings but it also has a concrete quirkiness, possibly ugliness that could probably be described as ‘brutalist’ or even ‘concretopia’.  I am sure that my Uncle Chris would be able to put me right on the terminology. In the Brunswick Centre are a weird mixture of shops – Waitrose, Office (where I bought my favourite Fred Perry canvas shoes), Robert Dyas (where I once bought two tea towels), Carluccios (where I have had my lunch)……

It is then a short walk through the jitty to Queens Square, my final destination and a typical Bloomsbury square, although technically rectangular in shape.  Queens Square is the home of the London Hospital of Neurology and Neurosurgery, a big red-brick, Victorian building with an imposing entrance.  Surrounded by wrought iron railings and entered by a gate on either side, Queens Square is delightful, full of trees.  Two lawns divided by a path across the centre and with a perimeter path lined with benches, this is a place where people congregate: there are people arriving too early for their out patients appointment, people waiting for the results of their tests, doctors taking a break, nurses having their lunch on the lawn, people having a crafty smoke, students revising; it doesn’t matter what season of the year it is, it is a great place for people watching.  On the opposite side of the park from the hospital, is a short pedestrianised street called Cosmo Place; here is my favourite china shop in the whole world (possibly a slight exaggeration) called Cosmo China.  I found Cosmo China on my first visit to the hospital in 2003; I was exceptionally early for my appointment and was looking for something to do.  It was heaven.  The shop front looks Victorian with a pained-glass, bow window full of hand-painted, bone china.  You step into the small shop and at the back, behind the counter you can watch artists painting pots.  They must have thirty or forty different ranges of hand-painted china, from animals to flowers, from children’s sets to more elegant patterns, vibrant colours, unique and quirky.  On my first visit I bought two mugs (not matching) by Mary Pierce; I like the fact that each piece is signed.  My second visit entailed a teapot with wonderful black and white chickens by Josie Firmin.  Josie was one of the founders of Cosmo China which has been in Cosmo Place since 1990.  Josie is one of six sisters who are all artists born to Peter Firmin who worked with Oliver Postgate to illustrate Bagpuss, Noggin the Nog, Ivor the Engine and many more; her mother knitted the Clangers!!  You can see why china with illustrations for children are a big theme.  With all that pedigree, no wonder it is such a great shop.  I remember going in one November hoping it would be the sort of shop that has an early Christmas display because I wanted some Christmas mugs.  Nothing on display but I asked on the offchance if they had any.  “Just a minute; I’ll go and see”.  The woman disappeared down some stairs and came back with this huge box of jumbled Christmas mugs, not wrapped up and was told to look through to see if there was anything I wanted.  It was an Aladdin’s Cave.  I found exactly what I wanted.  I have also commissioned a plate to celebrate Jean’s 60th birthday and another for David and Dorothy’s 60th Wedding Anniversary.  There hasn’t been a visit to the hospital where I haven’t called in to Cosmo China; I haven’t always bought something but it is a joy to walk round.  In 2011, I saw this tea towel.  It was inevitable.

After my appointment, I often return a different way to St Pancras, passing down Cosmo Place and thought to Southampton Row; sometimes I walk, sometimes take the bus.  My end of day treat will always be to walk through  the concourse at St Pancras, wandering around Hamleys, Paperchase, Cath Kidson and John Lewis, pausing at Foyles Bookshop, before having a cup of tea and a ‘little something on toast’ at Fortnum and Mason, trying to avoid the tea towels but quite often not managing it. I always hope there will be someone playing the piano on the concourse, a good musician to end my day nicely.  I love Bloomsbury and every time I use this tea towel my mind goes back to Deux Amis or Cosmo China and I can, bizarrely, look forward to my next hospital appointment.

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Hen: 2016

I love Orla Kiely’s designs.  I like the colours that she uses; I like the symmetry; I like the range of goods that she does; I like the quality of her goods and I love the fact that she designs tea towels!.  For anyone that doesn’t know, Orla Kiely is an Irish designer, starting as a fashion designer of hats.  Her father commented that, at a fashion show, “everyone was carrying a handbag but no one was wearing a hat” and so she moved on to designing handbags, especially those made from laminated materials.  Now she designs household goods, bedding, crockery and even has designed the roof and tailgate of a Citroen DS3!

I needed a couple of good quality mugs for ‘best’ and immediately thought of Orla Kiely.  I saw Orla Kiely’s Hen and thought ‘that’s it, that’s what I want’.  Chickens are very photogenic and excellent subjects for an artist.  It is not easy to capture the essence of a chicken, that quirkiness, that cute look they have on their faces, their personality but I think that Orla Kiely does just that, in an unusual way.  I love that mustardy colour she uses on the body.  I ordered the mug and then realised that there was an Orla Kiely tea towel of Hen, in fact there are two: one is a single portrait and the other has that image replicated all over the material.  I just loved them so what happened next? Of course I bought the two-tea towel set and am so excited by them.  They add a sense of style to my wiping up.  I also like the fact that the title of the design is just ‘Hen’, nothing fancy; ‘it does what it says on the tin’ and I like that (and I just love the tea towels).

N.B. In keeping with my love of Venery Nouns, the tea towel on the right represents a ‘brood’, ‘flock’, ‘peep’, ‘chattering’ or ‘clutch’.

http://www.orlakiely.com

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“You’ll have had your tea”: 2012

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I suppose in an ideal world of Tea Towel Blogging, I would write a blog most days, quite short, about 250 words, with a brief description of the circumstances around which I acquired it and any memories provoked by the tea towel.  This way I would be able to whizz through my collection of 600+ tea towels, keeping up with any new acquisitions.  But the world isn’t like that.  I get distracted; I want to find out more about the artist that designed the tea towel or the company that produced it.  And today’s tea towel is a case in question.

This is a very simple design, white background with a black sketch, carefully drawn, focussed around the famous saying “You’ll have had your tea”.  This is a rhetorical question to a visitor in Scotland, meaning that your host is making an assumption that you have already eaten and, therefore, giving you forewarning that you will not be offered anything to eat or drink during your stay.  It stereotypes the idea that Scottish people are mean with money.  ‘Tea’ in this case is used, in a Scottish context, to describe ‘dinner’.

I bought this tea towel in Edinburgh, in a small shop in the heart of the city.  I happened to see the tea towel in the window and thought it was cute.  What I hadn’t realised was that this was designed by Iain McIntosh, a Scottish illustrator who lives in Edinburgh and who has done all the illustrations for Alistair McCall Smith’s books: the Scotland Street series, the No I Ladies Detective Agency, Isabel Dalhousie series, Corderoy Mansions and many more.  The range of his work is enormous; I got completely distracted looking at his work on his website.

Then I got even more distracted by ‘Life in Context’, the range of goods with his illustrations, offered by Context Interiors.  Context Interiors has two shops in Edinburgh; it is an independent retailer specialising in vintage and retro goods with a Scottish theme.  My final distraction was looking through a ‘secret’ stash of Scottish tea towels that I bought last year in Edinburgh, that I haven’t been brave enough to put into the airing cupboard for fear that I will run out of space; I realised that I have two more Iain McIntosh/Life in Context tea towels, with different themes.  Can’t wait to blog about them in the future.

During my ‘research’ I also realised that the phrase “You’ll have had your tea” is one used in the Radio 4 show ‘I’m sorry I haven’t a clue’ which Barry Cryer and Graeme Garden mess about with and have developed into a show of it’s own: Hamish and Dougal.  This is a show I really love.

So from one very simple tea towel, I have now gone off on a tangent, found out a whole lot of information that I had no idea about, developed a love of Iain McIntosh’s work and seen a whole load more tea towels that I would really like.  That’s why wiping up takes such a long time!!

http://www.lifeincontext.co.uk    www.iainmcintosh.com

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