This is the story of family relations, Whatsapp and a very weird tea towel (which I don’t own).
I don’t have any very close family members left: no grandparents, parents, siblings, children, grandchildren; no wider family members that live in the same county as me, or even within an hour’s travelling distance. I do have a few aunts and uncles (some by proxy through marriage) and a lot of cousins scattered around Britain, and the world. It is remiss of me that there are some cousins that I have never met, and some I haven’t seen for many, many years. But that’s family for you. I’ve always thought that I belonged to a weird family (but then I think most people feel their own family is weird). As with many families, both on my father’s and mother’s side, there were family arguments, often about wills or inheritance, that meant I was estranged from that wider family. As you get older, that seems such a waste of time and energy. During the last few months of my mother’s life, I watched her reflect on her own stupidity, letting herself buy into family estrangement and arguments, that weren’t hers, that stopped her seeing her brothers and sisters that she had loved so much.
Because many members of my family had married, then remarried, the generational ages in my family are a bit askew: I have an aunt and an uncle who are about the same age as me and cousins that I am definitely old enough to be parents to, and in some cases, grandparents. Andrew is my cousin, the eldest of three sons of my Aunty Eileen. Aunty Eileen was the nearest sibling, in age, to my mother, but certainly not in distance. When Aunty Eileen married the man from Proctor and Gamble, she moved to live in Italy (he was Italian). My mother was always in close contact with her sister. I am always sad that email and internet wasn’t around then because my mother would have loved it. They wrote (proper letters), talked on the phone and visited each other (or sent me/Andrew as intermediaries). From the age of 7, I went to stay with Aunty Eileen every summer holiday for several weeks (as well as many Easters). There are albums full of photos of me, as a seven year old, precariously holding Andrew, as a baby. There is a look of fear on both our faces. Andrew and I rarely kept in touch, formally, by letter but we spent time together whenever I came to Italy or when he, as a teenager, stayed with my mother. I did go to his wedding. As years passed, we have emailed each other, not regularly but occasionally.
It was many years since we met, until May 2016 (the week Leicester City won the Premiership League), when Andrew came to England with his father. It was good to see him; we shared many memories and I discovered that he had an interest in tea towels; he says that interest stems from his mother. Tea towel interest is clearly genetic. Since that visit last May, which was only a couple of hours long, we have exchanged tea towels (that sounds weird) which is quite exciting (for me, not him). I hope the tea towel I sent from the Edinburgh Fringe will persuade him to go and celebrate the 70th anniversary of the Fringe, which I know he would enjoy. My tea towel from Venice, which has inspired me to go back, may encourage him to arrange a celebration of his 25th wedding anniversary this year with a family celebration (maybe I could be invited since I was at his wedding!) and I could combine that with a trip to Venice. We exchanged emails more frequently; all contact has to be by email because texts cost if sending abroad, as do phone calls, and letters take so long. At Christmas, Andrew asked me if I was on Whatsapp. Although I had heard the name, I had no idea what Whatsapp was (I am not technologically literate) or why you would want to use it. Then, with the help of Liz, I understood; it’s free all over the world because it is internet based; it is quick like a text; you can send photos; you don’t have to write long sentences. At a quiet moment over Christmas, Liz connected me onto Whatsapp and a whole new form of communication developed with Andrew – quick, short and snappy, regular, amusing, cheap and instantaneous and with photos. A bit like postcards used to be, 40 years ago, but quicker. I had pictures of the Christmas dinner table with their family around it (and it feels like I am part of it, with family I have never met), a tea towel hanging over the back of a chair (as a challenge to Fee who doesn’t like tea towel photos being taken like that), snow on his car, a video of a train journey to work through beautiful countryside and, today, this tea towel.
This is the third photo of this tea towel that Andrew sent me. The first was truly unironed; the second looked as if he had smoothed, and stretched, it and this, the third, looks as though he ironed it. I am glad he has such attention to detail! Let’s face it, it is a weird tea towel. When I first saw it, I Whatsapped Andrew to say that if he sent me a good photo it would be worth a Blog. Ten minutes later it arrived. Apparently, this tea towel belonged to Aunty Eileen, so it must be more than 10 years old. It seems very unlike Aunty Eileen, who had exceptionally good taste. If you’ve read this so far, you must read the story on the tea towel; that’s even weirder. It’s a bit creepy. Regardless of that, this Blog is a homage to Whatsapp and it’s ability to reconnect me with family on a more regular basis. Many thanks to Whatsapp for a new perspective on family connections.
PS: I really have no idea what this tea towel is about but I am glad Andrew sent me the photo.
PPS: Many apologies to Fee if the photo doesn’t meet your standards but I didn’t take it but you would really like Andrew, so you might forgive him!!
Click here to return to the Virtual Tea Towel Museum