It is February 2017; if you are looking at this Tea Towel Blog, with a date of 2017, the likelihood is that I am ‘on the move’. I’ve just spent six days in Aberdeen; I’ve been staying in the former Engine Room of Girdleness Lighthouse, which is rented out as a holiday cottage. This was truly delightful: thick walls, excellent heating system, cast iron bath (and a separate walk-in shower), tweed-covered sofa, leather armchairs with button-studded backs, as good a wifi reception as you could ask for, kitchen with traditional wooden cupboard doors and a hamper on arrival. I couldn’t have asked for more, yet I got it. Pinned on the kitchen door was a beautiful tea towel, a tea towel showing the location of all the Scottish Lighthouses. Perfect. The owner of the cottage told me that they were available from the Museum of Scottish Lighthouses; I did warn him that this tea towel might be in jeopardy, if I couldn’t get one.
As soon as I had unpacked, I got the map out to see where the Museum of Scottish Lighthouses was, in relation to where I was staying. About an hour’s drive. Easy peasy. I was in Aberdeen to see Jean, my friend, who lives in a Nursing Home. Jean is 91; all her family live in England or Inverness. I hadn’t travelled all this way, just to go off on day trips. There was lots to do: supporting her using FaceTime to talk to her younger brother, in Hertfordshire, and her great niece and two great- great nieces in Suffolk, helping her choose new clothes from M&S because she was in need of them, looking at family photos on the iPad. However, Friday morning is her trip to Musical Memories, Jean’s favourite activity, so time for me to get to Fraserburgh.
I knew that the Lighthouse tea towel would be a great reminder of my trip to Aberdeen, staying in Aberdeen Lighthouse, walking along the Esplanade in shockingly windy weather, the first snow of the year, a trip to Duthie Park, walking through the Glasshouses, Fish and Chips at the Ashvale (somewhere that Jean always loved), Haggis, Neeps and Tatties at Howie’s Restaurant which Rob recommended to me, watching the film Kinky Boots in the warm cottage, while the wind howled outside and having a great time with Jean. We set off for Fraserburgh in bright sunshine on the Friday morning, with a higher temperature than had been around the rest of the week; this was rapidly followed by a snowstorm; certainly very weird and changeable weather. The Museum was very easy to find. From the car park, I could see their tea towels hanging from a hook and pinned on the wall. I marched into the shop, no messing about looking at the Lighthouse until I had secured my tea towel. There was no tea towel; I searched through the ones I could see but no Lighthouse tea towel. I checked, re-checked, double-checked but still no lighthouse tea towel. Fortunately, I had taken a photo of the tea towel. I talked to the staff; there must have been desperation in my voice. I showed them the photo. They loved it but they haven’t had any for at least two years. Once they had run out of the original stock, replacements were prohibitively expensive and suppliers wanted this tiny shop to place large orders. The shop sells a good range of Scottish tea towels, generalist tea towels that may appeal to tourists but they are designs that can be bought all over Scotland; I know that because I have a number of them already.
As a tea towel collector, I now had a dilemma; I would like a reminder of this trip but they didn’t have anything specific. Then I spotted the ‘Address to a Haggis’; that would do. I then went round the museum, starting with a guided tour to the original Kinnaird Head Lighthouse and outbuildings, which was the first lighthouse built in Scotland in 1787. It is a fascinating, captivating museum; a combination of artefacts used by Lighthouse Keepers, their Log Books, living quarters laid out, the history of both Lighthouses and the careers of Lighthouse Keepers. It is a excellent example of a museum of social history. Then there are the lens, light bulbs and loads of photos, both old and new. Apparently, the photographer Keith Allardyce undertook a project to photograph images of Lighthouses and their keepers during the period that lighthouses became automated, to ensure that those images and history were not lost. They are brilliant. The museum has a great tea room at the top of the building, overlooking the sea. You do not want to leave.
As we finally turned to leave, the woman from the shop called across to me saying she was glad she hadn’t missed me. Ten minutes after we originally spoke, a man from a tea towel production company rang. She discussed the problem they had about having no tea towel dedicated to the Museum. She talked about that fact they originally had a tea towel and he wanted to see the original tea towel. Thank goodness for modern technology. The image was texted to her; she forwarded it to the tea towel manufacturer. Both she and I were very excited; she took my details and promised to contact me if they ever had a Museum of Scottish Lighthouses tea towels again. That feels good. I want to be the first person to buy one!!
What I haven’t explained is why I chose the ‘Address to a Haggis’. This sort of generic tea towel would not be my first choice of tea towel because it does not locate me in time and place. However, when Jean’s sister-in-law, Dorothy died, I helped sort out her photos. There were a series of photos of her dressed up with a tartan shawl. I wondered what these were about. Apparently, David, Dorothy’s husband was called upon each year to read the Address to a Haggis at the Burns Night Dinner held at the Golf Club (probably because he was one of the few Scots-born members and with a Scottish accent). The Burns Night Dinner traditionally starts with the Haggis paraded in on a silver salver, the Robert Burns poem is then read, before the Haggis is carved. This tea towel is full of cartoon Haggises with some of the words of the Address to a Haggis interwoven; in fact, Robert Burns wrote eight verses but this tea towel only has verses one, seven and eight (otherwise it would be a very large tea towel, more like a table cloth). Somehow, this tea towel brings together strands from the lives of David, Dorothy and Jean; I like that. There are two things missing, however; firstly, I haven’t got a tea towel of the Museum of Scottish Lighthouses and secondly, I have never been to a Burns Night Dinner and I think I would really like to do that. Perhaps one day, in the meantime I will wait for a tea towel of the Museum of Scottish Lighthouses, while enjoying my haggises!
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