Shaun the Sheep: 2013


I have just been watching the film, Shaun the Sheep, with Hamish and Lyra.  This was my first viewing and I thought it was brilliant.  It’s not often that I laugh out loud at a film.  It’s the slapstick element that I love but interesting to see both Hamish and Lyra hiding their eyes behind their hands when the dog is about to try surgery or when the shed is poised on the edge of the cliff.  It reminds me of watching Dr Who, with William Hartnell and the Daleks, and hiding behind the sofa.

But the memory that Shaun the Sheep triggered, more vividly, was the fact that I have a Shaun the Sheep tea towel in my collection (In the Animal World Collection if you are planning to visit  I bought Shaun the Sheep at the Wensleydale Creamery shop when I was visiting.  I saw it, not even knowing there was 150 episodes of Shaun the Sheep shown on CBBC from 2007, and thought it was cute, just couldn’t resist.  I think, after today, this tea towel will always remind me of the day I laughed out loud at a ridiculous film with characters made from plastercine.


Cacen Gri: 2012


Neither Pete nor I can remember whether I bought this tea towel on holiday in Wales or if he did, when he was staying in Anglesey with Gwyn.  We’ve had several long discussions about this.  What we can agree on is (a) that it is written in Welsh (b) that it is a recipe for Welsh Cakes (although we both had to look that up on Google) (c) we both like Welsh Cakes (d) that this tea towel is not actually a recipe but a list of ingredients that constitute Welsh Cakes.

What I know is that Bodlon is a Welsh company formed to promote Welsh goods, especially foods; I know the tea towel is made from cotton, screen-printed, designed by Sara Williams.  That’s not much help really.

As a tea towel, it is made from tough material and is really good for proving bread, as well as wiping up.  I love the colours; I love it as a tea towel, even though I know so little about it.

Breeders Rose: 2017 (original date unknown)


Yesterday, I couldn’t resist a trip to my favourite Charity Shop; it’s my favourite because it is one of the few that I know that sells vintage, and unused, tea towels (but not new ones).  The Charity Shop remains unnamed because I know that there are loads of online shops that will scour places like Charity Shops to increase the size of their stock and sell on at five times the price they paid for them.  I will have bought up their stock in a couple of weeks, all except the Great Little Trains of Wales (because I already have that one).

I wouldn’t normally buy one like the Breeders Rose; it’s not really my style.  But four things caught my eye (a) it was pristine, never been used (b) it was a National Trust one (c) it is pure linen and I do like pure linen and finally (d) I spotted the name ‘Constance Spry’ and memories, that I hadn’t even considered for 40-odd years, came rushing through my mind.  I had almost written the Blog by the time that I left the shop.  It’s funny how one name came bring forth a random string of thoughts.

When I was 17, I got a Saturday job working in a florist.  We didn’t even have a garden at home, I knew nothing about flowers but it had to be better than my previous job – working in Benthalls Food Hall, packing bags for women who could have packed their own bags but felt it was beneath them to do so.  The customers could only be described as ‘snooty’, never said ‘thank you’ and wanted you to work at the speed of an express train.

Frustratingly, I can’t remember the name of the florist shop owner; but I can remember exactly where the shop was and what she was like.  It was on the cusp of the High Street and Ealing Green, near the old Queen Victoria pub which is no longer there, in Ealing.  It was a small shop, with big windows, the surround painted a grey/green colour.  The windows always had amazing displays of flowers because the owner had been trained by Constance Spry.  She was a small, thin woman in her late 50s, maybe older; she had black permed hair which I am sure had been dyed.  She had had polio as a child which left her with a limb.  Unmarried, she lived with her mother, caring for her.

Born in 1886, Constance Spry had been a nurse and a teacher of dressmaking and cookery, when, in 1929, she decided to open her own florist shop in Mayfair.  It was called ‘Floral Decoration’ and her displays challenged the world of floristry.  She used unusual objects as containers; she scoured second hand shops for adornments and she used unusual flowers, and grasses from the hedgerows, as part of her arrangements.  When the woman I worked for left ‘Finishing School’ in Switzerland, she was apprenticed to Constance Spry where she learned her trade under Constance’s close tutelage.  She worked in that Mayfair shop for many, many years until she decided to open her own shop in Ealing.  There were no other workers in her shop; she just needed someone to ‘mind the shop’, and sell a few flowers, while she was making up arrangements.  When I was old enough, and when she bought a tiny DAF delivery van, I also delivered bouquets.  The DAF van was horrendous to drive; I don’t think it went more than 20 miles an hour and the working mechanism seemed to be based on a big elastic band.

I loved that job, which I held for several years, working every Saturday, plus in the Christmas, Easter and Summer holidays as well.  I loved the smell of the flowers, seeing the different blooms, at different times of the year.  She was very particular about the sort of flowers she bought; she only bought the flowers that she liked, and that she felt went well in bouquets and arrangements.  So, we never sold tulips (they sagged too quickly and ruined a bouquet) or gerbera (looked good as long as other flowers were holding them up) or gypsophilia (cheap and nasty).  But she did buy things like Bird of Paradise at the market; she knew how to use just one Bird of Paradise, in a bouquet, to take it to a new level.  She found the most amazing variety of leaves to display with a bouquet, structural leaves that gave some balance and depth, a sense of elegance.  She didn’t just wrap a bouquet in a load of cellophane but had a huge selection of wrappings.  This was a creative woman who wanted to emulate, and respect, the training she received from Constance Spry; Constance Spry was her heroine.  I often wondered if she actually made any money because of the length of time she took to arrange a bouquet or prepare an arrangement.  She rarely did funeral flowers, and never bridal flowers, because they took so long to make and she felt they weren’t appreciated.  She concentrated making up bouquets for people who wanted to come and choose the flowers or did arrangements for hotels and big events.

I remember working in the shop on Valentine’s Day.  I seriously have never worked so hard.  The shop was crammed with red roses and she sold every one.  There wasn’t one prepared, already arranged bouquet, each was done to order; we worked to late that evening because she took the orders and asked people to come back to collect them.  There couldn’t have been a woman in Ealing who was disappointed with their flowers that day.

The thing that I loved most about the job was that people wanted to buy flowers for good reasons, they wanted to make themselves, or someone else, happy.  Flowers give a great deal of pleasure; seeing people leave the shop happy was a real bonus.  There are few jobs that give such pleasure to people because, after all, flowers are a bit of a luxury.  She paid a reasonable wage and I was able to open my first bank account and bought my first piece of furniture for my bedroom.  I still have it today, a Victorian Tea Table, and when I look at it, I always remember those days in the florist.

Working in the florist, with the woman who was taught by Constance Spry, taught me a lot of things: flowers are for pleasure, giving and receiving pleasure; they are to be appreciated and the use of them at funerals is a complete waste of money.  The dead person doesn’t get any pleasure from them (or as my mother said, “If you didn’t buy me flowers when I was alive don’t waste your money when I am dead”) and they hang around a grave side, or crematorium, to rot and die.  Cut flowers should be arranged, with care, using beautiful containers, not just shoved in a jar; you have to think about which container suits the flowers that you have.  If you look after cut flowers properly, with clean water, and feed, they will last longer.  Don’t use flowers that do not have a long ‘shelf life’ because they look very sad.  Giving flowers gives pleasure; I cannot look at a bouquet, in a garage forecourt, and think that it is something I would buy; they are usually made up of flowers that should not be put together, that do not have the same ‘shelf life’ and they are probably beyond their ‘sell-by’ date before they reach the forecourt.

Working in the florist shop in Ealing, I thought that I would like to have been a florist.  I loved the lifestyle, early mornings to get to the wholesaler, meeting people who wanted some advice in choosing flowers, giving such pleasure.  15 years later, when I worked in the care industry, I thought I would like to do ‘something different’ in my spare time.  I decided to do the NVQ in Floristry; it was a two year course.  I decided to do just the first year, without taking any exams, because I wanted to learn some of the techniques in flower arranging and floristry but I didn’t want to take up a new career.  I loved it; I was surrounded by people, much younger than myself, who had just left school but it was good fun (and hard work).  When I finished the course, I was able to arrange all the flowers that my mother received when she was ill!  A few years later I decided to go to evening classes in flower arranging.  This was definitely a different group of people, older women who wanted to enter competitions!  It’s funny how all the methods that my boss had used, from her Constance Spry training, were no longer used.  I did several years of flower arranging classes; the bit that I found difficult was all the tutors saying things like “When you go home ask your husband to put together ………. “. Why was it so extraordinary to think that I couldn’t do it myself?

One of the things that I have done since the floristry course, and flower arranging classes, is make funeral wreaths.  I still believe exactly what my mother said but the idea of making a wreath from the flowers from someone’s garden seemed like a beautiful idea, respectful and gave some comfort to relatives.  Many of the funeral wreaths were made just of greenery from the garden with an odd flower; they were ‘different’ and were not wasting money.  Relatives found me the greenery, sometimes with bits from all the family members’ gardens; I never spent a penny on those wreaths (except for the Oasis circle).  I did one for John’s funeral, and I am always grateful to Constance Spry’s inspiration of my former boss, that introduced me to flower arranging and a love of flowers.

And that is why I bought this tea towel.  It brought back some great memories.

Great British Food: 1989 onwards

This is an unusual Tea Towel Blog in that it relates to six of my tea towels, all of which have different origins but with the same theme.  This Blog is also in two parts: the first part is generally about the issues raised by the title ‘Great British Food’.  The second half is a piece of writing that I found, when I was sorting through some cupboards, written in 2006, about local Leicestershire food, by a friend of mine.  I knew I was saving this for something!!  That moment has come.

Several of my Blogs have referred to the status of Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) which the European Union awards to a traditional recipe, from a certain geographical area.  The Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) status is for traditional recipes from a specific area, but may include ingredients from farther afield.  The Traditional Speciality Guarantee (TSG) safeguards the recipe but doesn’t specify where the product is made.  These awards were started in 1993.  It suddenly occurs to me, what will happen to those awards for British foods after Brexit takes place?   Will they still exist?  Will the foods still be able to use PGI or PDO status?  Will it affect their business?  Will future foods be able to apply for such awards, if we are not part of the EU?  “Being awarded PGI status is a fantastic coup as it secures a product’s identity, gives it a strong brand image and protects it from imitation”.   To date there are 84 such foods in Britain plus a number pending a decision: foods like Kentish Ale, Cornish Pasty, Yorkshire Wensleydale Cheese, Gloucestershire Cider, Lough Neagh Eels, Arbroath Smokies, Fenland Celery, Melton Mowbray Pork Pie, Whitstable Oysters (all have PGI status) and Bonchester Cheese, Stilton Blue Cheese, Cornish Clotted Cream, Conwy Mussels, Lakeland Herdwick Meat, Orkney Beef, Shetland Lamb, Yorkshire Forced Rhubarb, Native Shetland Wool and Anglesey Sea Salt (all have PDO status).  The traditionally-farmed Gloucestershire Old Spot Pork has TSG status.

So here we have some strong speciality, and traditional, foods from Britain.  But I always ask myself is there a hierarchy of qualities that are attributed to good foods.  Is Fair Trade better than local?  Is organic better than seasonal?  Is vegetarianism better than animal welfare?  Is veganism better than reducing air miles?  Is cost more important than nutritional value and quality?  How do programmes like Masterchef and Great British Bake-Off fit alongside healthy eating?  What is the role of food magazines, and celebrity chefs, in relation to the way most of us live?

For me, my priority is about local, seasonal food and good animal welfare; it’s about reducing carbon footprints and air miles; it’s about seasonal produce.  It’s no good having huge solar farms and counteracting it by eating asparagus, strawberries and peas, out of season, that have travelled 3000 miles from Peru.  The term Fair Trade is used to make things sound virtuous yet to achieve Fair Trade status costs a lot of money, only to be afforded by the wealthy firms in poor countries.  There are many producers who cannot afford to pay the cost of registering to sell Fair Trade tea in Sri Lanka, as well as providing their work force with housing, medical care and education for their children.  There is no easy answer.  We all have to do what feels right for our conscience.

So where do these tea towels come from?  The British Food and Farming Year, designed by Pat Albeck, was sold at the Royal Show in 1989 when it was trying to promote British food and had a big British food marquee promoting everything thing from Water Buffalo burgers to oats, from smoked salmon to Gloucester Old Spot meats.  The second tea towel came from the Good Food Show in 1999, held at Olympia, every year, again promoting the use of good quality British food and cookery.  It was based on the BBC Magazine Good Food.  It was great fun and you certainly didn’t need to bring any food or have a meal afterwards because of the quantity of ‘freebies’.

My next two tea towels are part of a much wider range of tea towels in the same style but with different subject matter, all different foods from Great Britain, highlighting the various specialisms.  These two are Great British Teatime Treats and Great British Regional Food.  I would certainly like the rest of the set!!

The last two tea towels are about local areas priding themselves on the range of local food available.  I happen to have one from Northumberland, where I stayed in 2009 and, I have to say, I thoroughly enjoyed all the food.  My final one is from Melton Mowbray.  I have already Blogged about this tea towel (Blog dated 2/3/2016) but I thought I would include it because of the following contribution which is about food from Leicestershire.

From Bison to Curry and Everything in Between

“I have always considered myself a ‘foodie’ and, wherever I travel, I like to sample and savour local specialities.  In Scotland, I enjoy fresh trout from the lochs; from Cumbria, the unbeatable Cumberland Sausage or teabreads with cheese; in Wales, Barra Brith and more magnificent cheese.  It can be easy, however, to forget your home county and all that it has to offer.

I live in Leicestershire, a diverse and interesting county, with Leicester’s bustling ethnic mix (yes, I know, technically, this is a separate unitary authority but I still see the Shire as a whole).  Parts of the City burst with sweet shops, not of the type where you can buy aniseed balls or mint humbugs but those selling the most delicious range of Asian delicacies.  Samosas further removed from the plastic supermarket variety than you could ever imagine, a feast of texture and taste; neat balls with garlic and pea; filo pastry wrapped paneer and spice – to say nothing of the colourful shapes and tastes of the sweeter offerings.  In supermarkets, not those out-of-every-town, hypermarket-style monstrosities, but small local stores where spices jostle for attention on shelves crammed with exotic delicacies, and fresh bunches of curry leaves or coriander can be bought to add that special final touch to home-made curries.

Not ten miles from where I live is the town of Melton Mowbray, famed for its real pork pies and Stilton cheese – a fiesta of tastes juggling for space.  A few more miles down the road, in the village of Nether Broughton, you may be surprised to spot huge, hump-backed bison roaming the fields with deer for company.  A Venison Burger or Bison Minute Steak is beyond compare.

Barkbythorpe houses an organic farm where Gloucester Old Spot pigs roam alongside free-range hens, to produce a breakfast of splendid sausages, proper bacon without the slimy white bits, and fresh eggs to boot.  Dexter beef, a descendant of the Aberdeen Angus, can create anything from a roast to a cottage pie, from a steak to a stew, with a flavour to be enjoyed thoroughly, and definitely not to be rushed.

Exotic mushrooms are produced and sold in nearby Packington, offering aroma and taste that I’ve never previously (or since) found from any supermarket – no matter the elaborate description on the packets.  The range of these mushrooms quietly growing in an English county is something to behold, with colours and shapes I had never seen before.  I now return to these time and again to enrich the simplest of meals. 

With this tapestry of places to visit, food shopping becomes leisure and the resultant cooking the greatest of pleasures.  The kitchen swells with the different scents; the anticipation of eating, growing pleasantly as you wait for the splendid moment, when the plate sits before ou on the table.

I hope I shall always be able to enjoy travelling Britain and trying new foods as I go but I trust I will never become complacent about the delights that Leicestershire has to offer.  My Leicestershire, from bison to curry and everything in between”

And that is why I love tea towels, to bring forth ideas and memories while I am doing the wiping up.  The problem is that I still don’t know the answer to the Brexit question.  What will happen to the PDO and PGI statuses?

Egg and Soldiers: 2010


If I am at home, one of my favourite breakfasts is boiled eggs (from my own chickens) and ‘soldiers’.  The ‘soldiers’ need to be covered in butter and marmite.  This way you don’t have to balance a piece of egg on a teaspoon, then try to dip it into salt (in my case, usually the egg falls into the salt and is smothered in it).  The marmite is a much tastier version.  However, I will not eat egg and ‘soldiers’ in a cafe or restaurant.  The secret to a good boiled egg is having the white of the egg firm; I don’t mind if the yolk is runny, or not, but the white has to be solid, not a glimmer of a runny white.  I appreciate that this is technically difficult because it depends on (a) the size of the egg in relation to boiling time and (b) the age of the egg in relation to boiling time.  So I prefer to eat scrambled egg when I am out and leave boiled eggs as a treat at home.

I saw this tea towel in a vintage tea room in Highgate, London in 2010.  The first thing I said, when I saw it was, “Whirling Dervishes” and memories (not very nice ones at that) came rushing back.  When you have a stroke, sometimes you become paralysed down one side, sometimes you lose your swallowing mechanism, sometimes your speech is affected; whatever happens depends which side of the brain is affected and which exact part.  The effects can be short-term, often lasting for less than 24 hours, sometimes much longer and sometimes leaving permanent damage.

In 1999, I had a stroke; I woke up one morning with a strange sensation down my right arm and some numbness in my right leg.  When I opened my mouth to speak, what I can only describe as ‘rubbish’ came out.  It’s not that my thought processes were affected; I knew exactly what I wanted to say but one of three things happened (a) I spoke as I normally do (b) I couldn’t think of the word that I wanted to say and I had to describe what I was trying to say while other people guessed, a bit like charades and then the third option was (c) I spoke and what I expected to come out of my mouth didn’t and some other word emerged instead.  As I heard myself saying it, I knew it was wrong but couldn’t do anything about it.  I knew I’d had a stroke; I worked with disabled people, I knew what to look out for.  I went to the GP who, flatteringly, said I was too young to have had a stroke.  I knew that was rubbish because I worked with a number of very young people who had had strokes but I couldn’t argue with him.  He suggested I might be stressed.  To cut an extremely long story short, I went back several times to the GP who said I had dysphasia and that it would go away.  In the end he sent me to a neurologist; it was 18 months after I woke up that morning that they confirmed that I had had a stroke.  While the tingling and numbness had gone, my speech was still affected.  I went to a Memory Clinic, saw a Speech and Language Therapist, saw a Dementia Nurse and eventually saw a specialist in epilepsy.  So I had developed epilepsy as a result of the scarring on the brain, from the stroke, which in turn had affected my speech.  I knew that on the first day but it took nearly 22 months for the full diagnosis.  Life has never been the same since.

However, one of the things that happened during that time was my use of strange words which may, or may not, have any relation to what I was trying to say.   “The Fluffy” was the tumble-dryer; I can see why I may have used that phrase because, after all, when your washing comes out of the tumble-dryer it is all fluffy.  I remember the day that I called my friend Liz “Pea”; I find this link more difficult to make, except that Liz and “Pea” each have three letters.  “Bubbles” caused some confusion; but, yes, they are apples; the connection may be the two words possibly sound similar but I may be stretching a point.  My favourite was “Whirling Dervishes”, or as they are more commonly known, “boiled eggs”.  Can’t work the link out there; don’t know if there is even supposed to be a link.

I still struggle with words sometimes; I gave up doing any training or speaking in public; I hate big social events for fear people will ask me questions and I won’t be able to find the right word for the answer but I do now have a great fondness for those ‘blips’ in my speech.  Amongst very close friends, Liz is often called “Pea”, boiled eggs are always called “Whirling Dervishes” and the tumble-dryer will always be “The Fluffy”.

Traquair House: 1987


I remember staying in the Lodge Hotel on West Coates in Edinburgh; John and I stayed there several years in a row, in August.  We were there for the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.  It was easy walking distance into town; even back in 1980s you wouldn’t bother taking a car because of the difficulty in parking.  Although we were there for the Fringe we always needed to give ourselves a break from ‘entertainment’ and culture.  This year we decided to go to Traquair House which is about 7 miles from Peebles.  I’d never heard of it before but it looked as though it might be interesting.

Traquair House is reputedly the oldest continually inhabited house in Scotland; it can date itself back to 1107, that’s some history.  It has been visited by 27 Scottish Kings and Queens.  It is built in the style of a fortified mansion, originally as a royal hunting lodge, with 50 rooms and has been changed little since 17th Century.  It goes without saying that Mary Queen of Scots stayed here.  But so did Bonnie Prince Charlie because it was owned by the Stewart family; when he left Traquair House, through the Bear Gates, following his defeat,  the owner swore that those gates would never be opened again until a Stewart was once again on the throne.

The thing that I remember most was the tapestry and needle-point; there was a large panel of 16th Century needle-point with exotic birds, animals and plants.  So beautiful.  And in the shop was this tea towel, a reproduction of part of that panel.  It was so striking and looking at my collection of tea towels, very unusual.  I have to say that it is one of those tea towels that I use and am immediately transported back to Traquair House, the grounds, that feeling of being amongst history.  You may well ask why it is so faded, almost so that you cannot tell what the pattern is.  This was a pure linen tea towel which John decided to boil because he had used it to wipe up some home brewed beer (an irony since Traquair House has its own brewery).  The stains did mostly come off but so did the vibrancy of the pattern.  I have been able to use this as an example of what happens when you don’t follow the washing instructions on the tea towel.  But, hey, never mind, it still reminds me of that trip to Traquair House, staying in the Lodge Hotel and the lecture I gave John once he had boiled the tea towel.

As I wrote this blog I wondered if Traquair House still did this tea towel; I could get a new one.  But, sadly, no.  They do have a tea towel but it a more traditional tourist tea towel, so I am glad I still have my original.

Edinburgh: 1989 onwards

I have written many Tea Towel Blogs which have included references to Edinburgh: whether it was about the International Festival, Fringe Festival, Forth Road and Rail Bridges, Christmas Market or the Botanical Gardens.  I have talked about my first holiday in the caravan where we ended up in Edinburgh, the steam railway journey that took us on an expedition to Edinburgh for Christmas shopping with Gwyn and Pete and Edinburgh as the end point of the National Trust cruise round Scotland.  There have been references to various tea rooms, shopping on Princes Street, the wonderful public transport system and the unique shops that sell unusual tea towels.  In fact, I would go as far as to say that Edinburgh is definitely one of the best cities to buy a tea towel.  I haven’t yet got around to writing about my two, very touristy tea towels of Edinburgh, very traditional with sketches of the places all tourists should visit.  Although the first one, with the tartan background was bought in 1989 and the second one, plainer, more than 15 years later, the pictures are virtually the same: Greyfriars Bobby, Scott Monument, Palace of Holyrood, the cathedral of St Giles, the Forth Bridge, John Knox’s house.  The tartan one has Princes Street Gardens and Princes Street while the later one has a larger picture of the castle.  I like the fact that each sketch on this plainer one has a story about each of the pictures and in the centre it describes Edinburgh as “the ancient and historic capital of Scotland whose skyline is dominated by the magnificent castle…..”

For me, Edinburgh is one of those very special cities; it is a place I have imagined living, in my retirement.  It is a physically attractive city, with solid looking buildings; it is a city with a lot of bungalows (my type of home) with attractive gardens; it is a city with a good public transport system; it is a city steeped in history with museums, art galleries, churches, a castle; it is a city of two parts – the Old Town and the New Town, a town planners dream; it is a city within easy travelling distance of so many other attractions within Scotland and it has an airport; it is a city with so many great places to eat, drink and shop plus several theatres and if you want to look at a bridge, Edinburgh has three magnificent bridges.  If you want to see a Botanic Gardens or go on a City Bus Tour, Edinburgh has both

For me, Edinburgh is a city that knows how to enjoy itself: whether it is the Jazz, Film, Book, International or Fringe Festivals, whether it is the Tattoo or Hogmanay celebrations, whether it is the Royal Highland Games or the Christmas Market, Edinburgh is a great place to enjoy yourself.   I like being able to walk along Princes Street and hear a Piper playing, and playing extremely well.  I like being in the city that brought Inspector Rebus to life (courtesy of Ian Rankin), that allowed Bertie to grow up in 44 Scotland Street (courtesy of Alistair McCall Smith); I like to think of JK Rowling writing the first Harry Potter book in the Elephant tea room near George 1V Bridge or Detective Inspector McLean working the streets of Edinburgh (courtesy of James Oswald).

Edinburgh would be my idea of heaven as a place to retire to but impractical for reasons of cost, distance, isolation from family and friends.  I don’t want to find myself living in a place that might not be part of the United Kingdom in the future, better to stay where I am and just travel there on holidays.  For me, Edinburgh holds so many wonderful memories; and while I have some really elegant and quirky tea towels from here, I love these two tradional tourist tea towels that remind me of all the wonderful things Edinburgh has to offer (even if I don’t know what, or where, White Horse Close is!).