Country Living Magazine: 1993


1993 was the last time John and I went to the Royal Show.  We were regular visitors to the Royal Show; we looked forward to setting aside the date in our diaries, at the beginning of the year.  The Royal Show was held at Stoneleigh in Warwickshire, not far from where I live.  No matter what time in the morning you set off from home, the journey was fine until the last four miles when you had to drive down narrow, windy roads and the traffic up to the car parks was ‘chocker’; we just ground to a halt, and waited, as we all slowly trickled into the car parks.  You’d think there wouldn’t be a problem because there were five very large car parks, in very large fields.  But a lot of people went to the Royal Show.  The car parks were spread around the circumference of the site and there was a logic (that I didn’t really understand) as to which car park you would be directed to, depending on the direction you were coming from.  For as long as I had been going to the Royal Show (21 years), I had always ended up in Car Park 5, not by choice but because that’s where the route took us.  All the Car Parks had an enormous balloon above them, with the number of the car park on it, that way, wherever you were within the ground, you could look up, see the balloon you needed and walk towards it.  Simples! (As the advert says).  For 21 years I had always joked about how awful it would be to forget which Car Park you were in.  Welcome to 1993.

In 1993, there were road works around the site and traffic was re-directed; we followed those yellow AA signs taking you to the Royal Show.  We didn’t recognise the route but that didn’t matter because signage was good.  We parked the car and off we set, making a mental note that we were in Car Park 3.  A mental note isn’t good enough when you have spent eight hours walking around an enormous show, with a huge number of stalls, stands, displays, activities; everything from cows winning Best in Show to learning how to spin wool,  from cookery demonstrations to the Carpet Bag stall, from willow weaving to wood carving.  At the end of the show, carrying a large number of bags, we set off for Car Park 5.  By the time we left the showground, I had an inkling that maybe it wasn’t Car Park 5.  Didn’t we come in a different entrance?  Question for a Pub Quiz: do you know how many Ford Fiestas had been made since they were introduced in 1977?  Let me tell you, most of them must have been in Car Park 5.  The saving grace was that ours was brown, not the most common of colours.  There was no brown Ford Fiesta in Car Park 5 that day.  If we weren’t in Car Park 5, where were we?

We did that exercise you do when you lose something, retrace your steps.  The problem with retracing your steps is that we needed to know what the entrances, the other four, looked like, to see if it jogged our memories.  Numbers 1 and 2 did even tickle the memory so we didn’t even attempt those car parks.  On the way to Car Park 3, I saw the Country Living tent; we hadn’t been there so I thought we should pop in.  This was about distracting me from going into meltdown.  The Country Living tent wasn’t all that big but it did have several stalls.  And there it was, a tea towel.  It was pinned on some wooden orange boxes that were being used as a bookshelf, giving it a rustic feel.  A joy to my heart.  Country Living Magazine describes itself as “the lifestyle magazine for those who either live, or dream of living, in the country”.  And what better for a lifestyle magazine than a tea towel; if it was Country Living then it was going to be good quality.  I needed to buy this tea towel: (a) because I had never found a tea towel dedicated to the Royal Show itself, so I needed one from one of the stalls and I hadn’t bought one that day (b) it was simple, stylish, classy, with the logo of the magazine repeated across the fabric and just the title written (I am assuming the rose was the logo back in 1993, as it appears to be a duck today)  (c) if it was from a lifestyle magazine, it was going to be good quality, durable, linen and absorbent, just what I like (d) if I bought it, I would always remember the day I forgot which car park we had parked in at the Royal Show (e) it would act as a trigger for a lesson to be learnt, always make a note of the place you parked your car (I think I have a tea towel from Watford, dated 1998, and that will demonstrate that I did not learn the lesson!).

After visiting the Country Living tent, and getting excited by a tea towel, Car Park 3 ‘rang a bell’; it was not the entrance gate and its location, but the number.  Fortunately, because we had been distracted, more cars had left the site, so there were fewer in Car Park 3.  I will never forget the size of that car park, or the fact that there was still a lot of cars there, or the fact there were a lot of Ford Fiestas.  Thirty five to forty rows back, there was a little brown Ford Fiesta, our Ford Fiesta.  I could have cried; I did cry with relief.  I couldn’t have faced actually wandering around Car Parks 1, 2 and 4.  Once sat in the car, feet rested, I could get excited about the fact that I had bought a tea towel.  I can honestly say, that when I use it, I remember that panic I had when I thought I wasn’t going to find the car; as I said, lessons to be learnt.  However, it is the same panic I’ve had at Gatwick Airport, Tesco in Beaumont Leys, NCP car parks in Watford and the streets of Stow-in-the-Wold.  Will I ever learn?

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Stotfold Watermill: 2009


Liz’s dad knew we liked visiting tea rooms, good tea rooms with home made food and a quirky atmosphere.  If he came across one, he would try it out first, check it met all our requirements.  He was a good judge of tea rooms.  He had recommended a lot of good tea rooms to us, which we loved.  The Randall’s Tea Room, at Stotfold Watermill, was one of those.  The problem with this tea room was it’s  opening hours.  It only opens on Open Days and the Open Days only happened irregularly, and infrequently.  If you live nearby, as he did, then you could just make yourself available on an Open Day.  If, however, like us, you live much farther away then there needed to be much more strategic planning.

We achieved a visit in 2009, and it was worth waiting for.  The atmosphere was great; all wooden beams, wooden tables and chairs; table service and good homemade food.  Where appropriate, they used the flour ground at the mill.  Randall’s Tea Room was very popular; locals obviously kept a look-out for the Open Days.  I am certainly glad we went.  What was even better was the fact there was the Kingfisher Shop, where I bought this tea towel – a very traditional tea towel with sketches of the actual mill, the sluices and watershed, steam threshing power and weighing the grain.  The shop also sells flour ground at the mill.  The Open Day enables you to walk around the first and second floors of the mill, with volunteers explaining how it originally worked.  There is a lot of history to Stotfold Watermill; there has been a building on this site for at least a thousand years; the mill was mentioned in the Domesday Book; it is one of the oldest recorded buildings in Hitchin; it is a Grade II listed building; there was a Great Fire in 1992, following which locals decided that it should be rebuilt and this was completed in 2006; a nature reserve was opened in 2011.

Liz’s mum always enjoyed both making cakes and baking bread.  Stotfold Watermill was one of her favourite places to buy her flour.  As they lived locally, they could go to the Open Days on a regular basis, to stock up on ingredients.  We have never made it back to Stotfold Watermill because there was always a reason why we couldn’t make the Open Days.  This is the perfect example of why you should never put off doing things that you would like to do.  Liz’s mum died about three weeks ago.  Going back would never be the same, not without Liz’s mum.  Fortunately, the baking and bread-making ‘gene’ has been passed through to her two daughters and three grandchildren; maybe a visit in her memory, to the place that she really loved, would be appropriate.  In the meantime, when I use this tea towel I will always remember Dorothy’s bread-making and the little timer that was an essential part of her bread-making process.

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Monarch of the Glen: 1998


What does the phrase ‘Monarch of the Glen’ mean to you?  The iconic oil painting by Sir Edwin Landseer, painted in 1851?  The book by Compton Mackenzie written in 1941?  The TV series with Richard Briers and Susan Hampshire, first shown in 2000?  The picture on the front of many a biscuit tin?  The many, many variations of a red Highland stag that appear on so many tea towels, going back over decades?  To me, it means Scotland and everything Scottish, simple as that.  That is the reason I bought this tea towel, back in 1998, in Gairloch.  I’d like to say that it is a copy of Landseer’s painting but it clearly isn’t because the stag’s head is facing in the opposite direction.

Back to the beginning: Sir Edwin Landseer was commissioned to paint three large panels for the Refreshment Rooms of the House of Lords, one of which was to be the stag.  When it was completed, the MPs refused to pay him so he sold it privately.  It’s strange that this painting, familiar to so many, recognised and reproduced on countless occasions, has been through many hands and is now owned by the drink manufacturer, Diageo, and on loan to the National Museum of Scotland. In November 2016 it was up for sale again.  Fancy  the Monarch of the Glen on your wall? Then it could be yours for £8 million or is a tea towel better value?  The term ‘Monarch’ sounds masterful, proud and stately but, in relation to stags, it actually refers to the number of points on a stag’s antlers.  A Monarch has 16 points; you will note that Landseer’s stag only has 12 which technically makes it a ‘Royal’; the thirteen points on my tea towel also doesn’t make it a Monarch.  ‘Royal’ doesn’t have the same ring about it though.

After Landseer and my tea towel, I have great memories of reading ‘Monarch of the Glen’ as a teenager; it is witty, somewhat political, well-written and a joy to read.  The TV series, on which it was based, was good fun to watch but never the same, definitely two different works, not to be compared.

The stag’s head, per se, has become very fashionable on china, handbags, tablecloths, tea towels, wallpaper, upholstery, duvet sets, biscuit tins, Stilton pots (I know, I have one), aprons and much more.  Sometimes head on, sometimes with the stag facing either left or right.  When I see it, in whatever form, I get a feeling, deep inside me, that makes me want to go back to Scotland, to return to places I have been or see places I have never been near.  I love wiping up with this tea towel because it brings back such generic memories and is a template for future plans.  It also adds a bit of class to the kitchen, even though it isn’t a Monarch!

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The Scottish Language: 2006 and 2015

“Good grief, it would be easier to learn Mandarin than all the nuances of the Scottish language.  Why can’t everybody in the British Isles speak the same language?” (D.I. Shona MacKenzie in Killers Countdown by Wendy H.Jones).

On 14 November 2016, I blogged about my tea towel called the ‘Celebration of the Scots Language’.  I had forgotten that I had two other tea towels devoted to the Scottish language – each with a different story to tell but with the same theme of attempting to decipher both the language and dialect for the English speaker.  “They are not sarnies ma’am. They’re pieces around here”. (Peter from Killers Countdown).  ‘Pieces’ is defined in the Scottish Mini Dictionary.  I love the way words evolve and change in the British Isles; sometimes you can see where they come from, sometimes you have no idea.

Scottish Alphabet: 2006.                                                                                                                                 This is a white cotton tea towel, quite thin, absorbancy not too good, with blue writing, in the main.  I bought it in a tourist shop, selling cheap and cheerful souvenirs, on Princes Street in Edinburgh.  I have spent quite a lot of time in Scotland, on holiday as well as visiting friends and relatives.  The journeys up by car always involve listening to CDs of Kenneth McKellar and Andy Stewart.  I always get stuck on the meaning of a word or two.  ‘Semmit’ is one of those words which Kenneth McKellar uses in his song about midges.  You will note that neither tea towel has a definition of ‘semmit ‘.  I had to buy a Scottish dictionary for that.  Always a great believer in the power of tea towels to provide answers, I thought this tea towel might help with general conversation.  The ‘Scottish Alphabet’ offers a pronunciation for each letter of the alphabet.  Don’t you love W = 2 x YOU?  Classy, eh?  I think the selection of words that are ‘translated’ are interesting.  I am still trying to work out the context in which I am going to use ‘Lumber’ (Concubine).  How often does anyone use the word ‘concubine’ these days, except when reading history books?  I suspect there maybe people rushing to the Oxford Dictionary to get a definition of the original word, before trying to use ‘lumber’ in Scotland.  I love ‘Wallies’ meaning ‘false teeth’.  When you are in Scotland it is always useful to be able to say ‘false teeth’ in the vernacular.   Finally, ‘Zoomer’ is a good word.  Would I describe myself as a ‘zoomer’?  ‘Oxter’ is always useful when on holiday; you always need to be able to discuss an ‘armpit’!

Scottish Mini Dictionary: 2015.                                                                                                                     This tea towel was a present from Jenny for my birthday.  She had been to Scotland for her holiday and “I thought of you”, having recently started my Tea Towel Blog.  This is a very different style of tea towel, much thicker, with a hook and good absorbancy.  The tea towel is surrounded with a tartan border, akin to the Stewart tartan, possibly.  This tea towel offers meanings to words, in alphabetical order, with a second line putting the word in a usage context; just like a ‘real’ dictionary.  You can see how ‘Voddie’ is ‘vodka’ but I am not so sure how ‘Rammy’ means ‘noisy fight’ or a brawl or ‘Hackit’ is ‘ugly’.

Both tea towels define ‘Eeijit’, ‘Isnae’, ‘Aye’ and ‘Mingin’; you’ll need to look up the meaning of these words on the tea towels.  When I use these tea towels, not only do I think about instances where I have been stuck in understanding what someone is saying but also of all those great holidays I have had and plan those to come.  I am getting a bit scared that I might find even more tea towels, with definitions of Scottish words, just wait and see but in the meantime “I’m off to bed as I’m feeling wabbit tonight” where I will practice conversations where I can use ‘lumber’ and Insult somebody.

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Rick Stein’s Seafood Restaurant, Padstow: 2006


I remember watching a programme on TV about Rick Stein’s Seafood Restaurant in Padstow.  It looked great; a lot of attention to detail. I love eating fish, all sorts of fish, everything from cod to oysters, langoustines to mussels, skate to lobster.  You can get fish on menus in most restaurants but specialist seafood restaurants are much more difficult to come by.  There was an amazing one in Leicester on the Evington Road – Heaths – where I had many a delicious meal but it closed in the late 1990s and was never replaced with something equally as good.

Liz and I had decided to go to Devon in 2006 to see two of our friends – Fee in Dawlish and Ali and Roger in Pancrasweek.  We decided to stay in a small National Trust cottage in Drewsteignton (13 years after my first visit to that cottage).  We made a ridiculous plan to go for a meal at Rick Stein’s restaurant; it was ridiculous because Padstow is not only some distance from Drewsteignton but the only way to get there is by small, windy roads, and without street lighting, as we discovered on our return journey.  We booked a table for as early as possible in the evening but my memory is that it did not make any difference to that return journey in the dark.

We were very excited about going to Rick Stein’s restaurant; we knew that it would be expensive but hopefully worth while. At that point, we hadn’t realised that Rick Stein had virtually taken over Padstow with a fish and chip shop, a guest house, cookery school, a cafe etc; that wouldn’t have made any difference, it was the restaurant we wanted to try, with the A La Carte menu.  I remember it being a very busy, but spacious, restaurant but you never had the feeling of being rushed, of other people waiting for your table.  It was really difficult to choose what we wanted; it all looked so good.  While we were pondering, a small plate of fish ‘treats’ arrived.  What a wonderful idea.  It did, however, slow down the process of choosing, while we sampled the delights.  We decided not to have the same meal so we could at least taste two dishes.  Liz chose fish curry and I had beer battered fish, chips and mushy peas (mushy peas in a small dish).  Perfection.  It just makes you realise how important it is to cook fish correctly, and why they go on about that in Masterchef.  We had a trio of Cornish ice creams for pudding.  We had pondered about having a starter and we were definitely glad we decided against that option, because we would never have managed it.

I don’t often have tea following a meal because you can rarely rely on restaurants to do a good quality pot of tea.  But this was Rick Stein.  So the final touch to the meal was a pot of Earl Grey tea.  It came in small individual pots.  What a disappointment!  One tea bag in a pot.  That must have been the most expensive tea bag I have ever had; there was definitely only one cup to be dredged from the tea bag.  Devon and Cornwall is the home to some of the best loose leaf tea merchants in the country and we got a Twining’s tea bag.  We decided we couldn’t let this ruin the meal; after all, we were much more particular than most people, only loose leaf tea would satisfy us in such a posh restaurant.  What we decided to do was to write to Rick Stein about our disappointment.  We received a speedy response with a promise that they would look into the matter.  I didn’t hear what happened next but my understanding was that Rick Stein was going to team up with Robert Wilson, tea merchant, so I hope future customers got a better deal.

So where did the tea towel come from?  The visit to the restaurant was in May and for my birthday in August that year Liz bought me a Rick Stein tea towel.  It is a beautiful, elegant, sophisticated, white honeycomb cotton tea towel, squarer shape than most, with a small navy blue, embroidered logo (a fish) with Rick Stein’s signature,  also embroidered.  It has super-absorbancy.  Although I have no idea how much it cost, I do understand that it is probably my most expensive tea towel (at that time) and probably only exceeded in cost by my one of the Forth Rail Bridge, bought in 2015 (not blogged about yet!).  The problem with an expanse of white cotton is that it can be liable to staining (so don’t look too closely at the picture).  As I use this tea towel, I always remember what a great evening we had, what fabulous food, one which I will never forget but it also makes me want to try another of Rick Stein’s eateries, perhaps one not so far away from home.  I will never forget that Padstow meal and I have tried to put the Earl Grey tea to the back of my mind.

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Glenkinchie Distillery: 1985


Glenkinchie Distillery is one of the lesser known lowland distilleries in Scotland.  I visited there in 1985, with John.  John was a lover of malt whiskey; he was very knowledgable about malt whiskey and he also had a large number of books on malt whiskey, which I inherited.  Shame really since I have never liked malt whiskey and these days never drink alcohol anyway.  John loved to try, and buy, all sorts of single malts; he wasn’t interested in blended whiskey.  It didn’t matter whether it was from the Highlands, Lowlands, Western Isles, Speyside or Morayside, Orkney or Shetland; it was an interest, a bit like tea towels for me.  One thing about distilleries is that they usually have a tea towel (and I have many).  Whenever we travelled in Scotland, if there was a distillery nearby, we went.  John went to find out about the particular whiskey, the flavour, the ages and, of course, to have a taste.  I loved the history, having a tour and, of course, buying the tea towel.  If we visited a distillery we always did a tour and John usually had a ‘tasting’.  At that time I was still driving, so I drove back to the hotel.  John always bought a bottle of whiskey.  Back in 1985, the tour and a quick taste was free; these days it is ‘big business’ with Visitor Centres, formal tastings and a paid tour.  Don’t look too close at my tea towel of Glenkinchie Distillery, it has a lot of stains, tea stains; that’s the problem with such a large expanse of white material on the tea towel, with only a small picture of the distillery in the centre, too much room for accidents.

Glenkinchie Distillery was a great place to visit when we were in Edinburgh for the Fringe Festival; it is only 15 miles from Edinburgh.  Today, I understand, there is a minibus that runs from Edinburgh for visitors; in 1985, we had to drive around the countryside, looking for the Distillery, getting lost, no sat navs. Glenkinchie’s proximity to Edinburgh meant that it is often called the ‘Edinburgh Malt’.  The history of Glenkinchie Distillery is similar to that of many distilleries – it started in 1837, went bankrupt in 1853 and the site became a sawmill.  It was restarted, as a distillery, in 1881.  In 1969, it stopped malting its own grain. Eventually, the malting floors became a Museum of Malt Whiskey which included a model of the distillery.  Glenkinchie Distillery is now owned by a multi-national company but still manages to keep its own identity.  I loved Glenkinchie Distillery because it felt small and embedded in the local area; it didn’t do lots of whiskies of different ages; it stuck to what it did best and John certainly loved its product.  One thing I love about a distillery is that smell; you can smell it as you approach, it pervades the air and gets stronger as you go inside.  But I also love the setting of this distillery by the burn, the majestic building in an unlikely setting, the sense of history, of the past, of tradition and culture.

It is more than 30 years since I visited Glenkinchie Distillery and I hope it isn’t too different from how I remember it, because it was a lovely day out.  The tea towel has worn well.

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Woodbridge, Suffolk: 2016 (and back to 2000)


Woodbridge is often described as ‘The Gem of Suffolk’ and I can understand why.  The design of tea towels has often moved on, from a map of a particular area to ones like this – lots of words associated with the area.  And, boy, are there a lot of words associated with Woodbridge.  I like this style, it is modern, imaginative and creative; it makes you think about the place.

I first went to Woodbridge in 2000, in search of a nice tea room.  And I certainly found one, in the buildings near Tide Mill, in fact called the Tide Mill Tea Room.  Though set in a traditional English mill building, it had the feel of a Sri Lankan tea drinking establishment, partly due to the fact the the owners had married there and were so proud of it.  I remember there being a huge range of teas available.  What was interesting about this tea room was that there had been a mill on this spot since 12th century which was working until 1957 when it fell into disrepair; it was restored in 1992 and housed the tea room (which sadly is no longer there).  I remember the tea room had lots of character with exposed brick, dried hops hanging from the beams and an extensive range of cook books set beside two comfortable armchairs.  My only criticism would have been that the tea would have benefitted from thinner china cups.  I remember, that after the cup of tea, we walked along the River Deben, looking at the boats mooring or setting sail, watching the seagulls and finally strolled along the Main Street, thinking what a delightful place Woodbridge was.  However, when I visited, there wasn’t a tea towel of Woodbridge to be found.  This one was a birthday present from Lyn and Rob last year and brought all those memories back.

Both, Lyn and Rob love Woodbridge; they stayed there for a week in a great flat, overlooking the river, with a balcony on which they sat and ate breakfast or took a glass of wine in the evening.  I know this, I’ve even seen the evidence, because their photos appear on a shared family iCloud gallery (I have learnt to avoid using the term iCloud because Rob always wants a full explanation about how the iCloud works.  My view is that you just have to accept it, not overthink it).

Besides the tea room, the other great thing about Woodbridge is its history, 1100 years of recorded history, along with a mention in the Domesday Book.  A town of 11,000 people with Tudor, Georgian, Regency and Victorian buildings, it is the town near to the most important Anglo-Saxon burial site in Britain – Sutton Hoo – with a 89 foot burial ship which was discovered in 1939; the contents of the burial ship are now housed in the British Museum.  Woodbridge has a reputation for boat-building, rope-making and sail-making; Sir Francis Drake had his fighting ships built here.  One of the reasons that Lyn and Rob like Woodbridge so much is that it is a small town, with everything you need, but also with so much to do: it has its own museum, there is Buttrum Mill, the Quaker Burial Ground, the Riverside Walk, Sutton Hoo, Tide Mill Living Museum, the Bentworths Cold War Museum and Shingle Street, a piece of Suffolk coastline with wild solitude, wheeling seabirds, crashing waves and the sound of the wind.  No wonder they love Woodbridge but, of course, their daughter, son-in-law and two grandchildren live nearby so that might also have something to do with it.

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