Scottish Recipes: 2017


Since cataloging my tea towels, into Collections, for the opening of the Virtual Tea Towel Museum, I have developed a fondness for Recipe Tea Towels.  Don’t know why, because I don’t cook but they often have a quirkiness about them; often they follow a style of the 1970s and 1980s, garish, highly decorated.  This visit to Edinburgh resulted in a Scottish Recipes tea towel; I had to make sure that it had Haggis on it, one of my favourite foods, not that I intend to make Haggis!  I thought the Scottish Recipes would be a good aide memoir: the title of this blog should really be ‘Rachel Fairburn and the Scottish Recipes’.

When I started out on the this strange journey of writing the story behind each of my tea towels, I didn’t know where it would lead.  I certainly didn’t think it would lead to a Virtual Tea Towel Museum or connection with strangers from across the world who like tea towels; I didn’t think that I would receive gifts of tea towels.  I thought I lived in a solitary world of tea towel ownership.  One of my first followers on Twitter was Rachel Fairburn; Rachel is a stand-up comedian from Manchester.  For some reason, unknown to me, Rachel offered to give me one of her tea towels (and I never refuse a gift like that).  This was a 1981 tea towel to celebrate the marriage of Prince Charles to Lady Diana; it is a classic 1980s royal tea towel, slightly gaudy, lacking a little in taste and with pictures of the ‘Happy Couple’ looking as miserable as sin.  I hadn’t got a royal wedding tea towel so this was a delight; there is a blog about this tea towel.

I decided that I needed to go and see Rachel perform; I didn’t know what sort of comedy she pursued.  Rachel has appeared at the Edinburgh Fringe; I booked to go last year but circumstances meant that that holiday didn’t take place.  2017, I said to myself and this year it happened!  Ironically, her show was called ‘Her Majesty’, a good link to that royal wedding tea towel I thought.  Rachel’s show was based in a small venue off Candlemakers Row; it was really good, very funny, an observational sort of humour, about herself and OCD.  Listening to her talking about OCD, made me feel a lot better about my anxieties concerned with catching trains, planes and missing funerals and shows.

It was good to put a face to a name, seeing someone in person rather than only having contact via Twitter.  At the end of the show, Rachel stood outside, a bit like the reception queue for a wedding.  I thanked her for the ‘royal’ tea towel; she looked shocked.  You could see the problem we all have about seeing someone out of context but then gave me a hug and thanked me for coming to the show.  When she is famous and on the telly, I will be able to write a tea towel blog about the day I was hugged by Rachel Fairburn.  In the meantime, Scottish Recipes will remind me of a generous gift of a tea towel, a great show that I saw and how much I look forward to Rachel being a Guest Tea Towel in the Virtual Tea Towel Museum.  Ah, I didn’t mention that, did I?  I have invited Rachel to be a Guest Tea Towel and she accepted.


Princes Street Buses: 2017


In about 1994, I remember my friend Fee telling me how much she hated flying; to deal with this she would have a couple of stiff drinks and then rush for the plane with 5 minutes to spare.  This way she didn’t have to sit on the plane, worrying.  I am anxious just describing this approach to travel (or any other events where you are required to be somewhere for a specific time).  I am the complete opposite, as any of my friends would tell you.  I need to be at an airport many hours before you are required to be; I need to be in the queue for the theatre long before the show starts.  This isn’t about being at the front of the queue or getting priority seats; it’s about just getting where I need to be.  Why do I get anxious about such things; I don’t know.  Friends have tried the CBT techniques on me: what is the worst thing that could happen if you missed the train, boat, plane, show….?  It’s obvious; I would miss it and I had planned to be there or get on the train etc.  It messes up my whole routine; I know that sounds silly and it is even sillier because I am also quite good at problem-solving, getting myself out of a mess.

So has anything disastrous happened, with all this anxiety?  It depends what you mean by disastrous.  Well, I missed Margaret’s funeral; Margaret was someone I had worked with, a patient in Glenfrith Hospital.  I didn’t leave enough time to get to the funeral in good time.  I rushed into Room 1 of the crematorium, sat down, the coffin appeared; there were very few people there so I was glad I made it in time.  The vicar clearly didn’t know her, it was all very general; he only mentioned Margaret’s name at the end, actually he mentioned Constance’s name.  Because I didn’t leave enough time, I had sat through the funeral of someone I didn’t know.  This is not the time to rush out and find Margaret’s funeral service; Constance deserved some respect.  There were only five of us at the service so I spent the next few minutes concocting a story in my head about how I knew Constance, in case someone asked.  I looked at the flowers, shook the vicar’s hand and left as quickly as I could.  Margaret’s funeral was in Room 2; it was too late to attend hers.  I know, neither of them would know if I had been there or had intruded on the funeral of someone I didn’t know.  I have never been late for a funeral since.

It’s not just funerals.  In 1999, I was supposed to catch the 6.30am ferry to Tiree from Oban.  I had driven up the night before, booked into a Guest House on the sea front, about as near as I could get to the ferry terminal.  CalMac make it clear you need to be in the queue 30 minutes before departure time.  I set the alarm.  It didn’t go off.  I wake at 6.15am; I panic, running around like a headless chicken.  Then I decide to put a jumper over my pyjamas and see if I could still get on.  Three minutes before the ramp was drawn up, I arrived and they kindly let me on.  If I’d missed it, the next boat wasn’t for three days.  So there I am, on the car deck, trying to find some clothes from the back of the car so I could walk, with some dignity, to the toilets to change and have a wash.  I managed it, got myself some food and made sure that I was hours early for the return journey.

It’s not just ferries.  In 2000, I went to Sri Lanka, flying from Heathrow.  Lovely holiday so I decided to go back in 2003.  We were driving to the airport, having booked a car park.  Off we set in plenty of time, my sort of plenty of time.  On the M25, I looked at the car park ticket to check which one we were in; Car Park 5 at Gatwick!  Had we booked the wrong car park?  No, we were driving to the wrong airport and driving the wrong way round the M25!  Good job we left in plenty of time but then there was the traffic jam.  We arrived at the check-in 25 minutes before the plane was due to depart; bearing in mind we were still under the effects of 9/11 and the lengthy security check-ins.  Made the flight by about 10 minutes.

It’s not just planes.  About a month ago, we set off for the theatre in Nottingham; I can’t leave less than an hour for travelling time, even though I know it only takes 25 minutes.  A huge traffic jam on the M1 meant that we actually missed the show.  You see that possibility is always there.  We now leave one and a half hours before the performance.

So where does that leave us?  I have already said, in a previous blog, that the way to manage the Edinburgh Fringe is good planning and I am a good planner.  I know Edinburgh, so I know the distances between venues and how long it would take to get from one to another.  23 shows over 8 days and all had gone well; I had always allowed too much time, which is good; we could get a cup of tea.  However, the penultimate show was Out of the Blue, an A Capella group who had been on TV.  I knew it would be in a big venue and would be packed.  I’d been to the Assembly Rooms on George Street on a previous occasion so I knew where it was.  We ambled along Princes Street with plenty of time to spare.  Presented the tickets; they had never heard of the show.  They looked at the tickets – “Oh no, it’s at Assembly George Square Theatre, over the other side of town.  30 minutes to walk (and that would be at ordinary pace, not the pace of someone with a dodgy back) or you could catch a bus, Number 3 from Princes Street”.  Do you know how long Princes Street is?  Do you know how many bus stops there are on Princes Street?Where was the bus stop going to be?  At least I knew which side of the road we should be on.  Fortunately I saw a Number 3 pass.  Thank goodness for traffic jams, we caught the bus which took us to very near George Square Theatre and made it in time.  I am very grateful to the Princes Street buses who saved the show for us; we would never have been able to walk there.

So what have I learnt?  Certainly, that my policy of leaving for a funeral, plane, boat or show in plenty of time is the right one; better to be too early than not get there at all.  The other lesson, of course, is to read, and re-read, the instructions of where you are to be, BEFORE you leave home, not while you are on the journey!  So when I saw this delightful tea towel called ‘Princes Street Buses’, I knew I had to have it, as a reminder of the lesson I need to learn.

North Berwick: 2017


My ‘summer holiday’ this year was spent in a caravan in North Berwick, 30 minutes on the train from Edinburgh.  It was yet another year spent at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.  As I have described in previous tea towel blogs, the best way to manage the Fringe is to plan ahead, book tickets in advance from a lengthy browsing of the Fringe Programme, allowing a little space for flexibility and leaving some whole days away from the Fringe when you can relax, building up for the next burst.  You really do need to get away from the throngs for a while if you are spending more than a week there.

Last Friday was an ideal day to spend in North Berwick, somewhere I have never been before.  The problem with North Berwick is that it is just off the A1; you never pass through North Berwick on the way to somewhere else; you have to make an effort to go.  And after today, I would certainly recommend that it is somewhere you should go to.  North Berwick is absolutely charming.  It has a real sandy beach that sweeps round in a ‘proper’ bay; it has a harbour full of small boats; there is a pitch and putt course on the grass just above the beach; it has ‘lobster shacks’ along the seafront, where you can buy a fabulous seafood chowder or seafood scotch egg; it has the Seabird Centre; you can stand on the beach and look out to Bass Rock, home to the largest gannet colony in the UK or you can take a boat trip out to it to see the gannets up close; it has a street of interesting, independent shops selling unique clothing and gifts as well as some amazing eateries; it has small hotels and Guest Houses; it is clean, well kept and full of flowers; it is simply a pleasure to spend the day there.

There are a number of shops that sell some really interesting tea towels (which obviously makes it a great place to be); there was even one selling at £16.95.  However much I want a tea towel, I would never spend that much on one, no matter how interesting it is (and it wasn’t that interesting).  But I knew there would be a North Berwick tea towel somewhere; I did imagine it might be a traditional one.  Then I came across this one.  Although it doesn’t say ‘North Berwick’ on it, you know it is North Berwick because The Law is behind the houses.  The North Berwick Law is that very distinctive conical hill which rises conspicuously from the surrounding landscape.  It is actually a volcanic plug of phonolitic trachyte rock.  It has survived the retreating of the the glaciers from the Ice Age.  It is a ‘crag and tail’ with a prominent tail extending eastwards.  The summit bears the remnants of an Iron Age Hill Fort and there are later ruins of military buildings used as look-outs in both the Napoleonic Wars and World War II.

This tea towel was designed by a mother and daughter team, the daughter being aged 7 and whose original art is the foundation of the design.  I love the design of this tea towel, it’s simplicity and the fact that looking at it will always remind me of my first visit to North Berwick on a sunny Friday.

Quaker Tapestry, Kendal: 2001


I went on holiday to the Lake District, many times as a child and young adult but I had never been to Kendal.  Kendal is towards the south of the Lake District and we went further north because we would always ‘pay a pilgrimage’ to Millom, where my grandmother was born, who I never met because she died when my mother was just two years old.  She wasn’t even buried there but my mother could remember the houses where members of her family had lived.  There were still very distant cousins living there.

In 2001, I again went on holiday to the Lake District and Scotland, in search of some nice tea rooms.  What we hadn’t realised, when we did the planning for this holiday was that the outbreak of Footand Mouth disease would be rampant in the Lake District when we were there.  We had to change our plans slightly, visit more towns because a lot of the rural areas were cut off from the public; there certainly wasn’t going to be any walking in the countryside.  Hence a visit to Kendal; we saw the Quaker Tapestry Museum advertised, sounded interesting.  There were two unexpected pleasures: a delightful tea room with home-baked food and a tea towel.  What could be better?

The Quaker Tapestry Museum holds about 40, of a total of 77, beautifully, exquisitely embroidered.  It was put together over the period 1981 to 1996: 15 years, 77 panels embroidered by more than 4000 people in 15 different countries.  In Kendal, the Tapestry is exhibited in the Friends Meeting House Georgian building.  This award winning exhibition has been compared to the Bayeaux Tapestry, a modern masterpiece of storytelling.  The Tapestry shows the influence that the Quakers have had throughout history and into the present day: it shows items from the Industrial Revolution, developments in science and medicine, the abolition of slavery, astronomy, social reform and much more.  It celebrates life, people and events across countries.  It is simply magnificent.  We spent hours there, returning once again after lunch, excited by the detail and being able to see things that we had missed the first time around.  I have been back and again see things we probably missed the first time.  I loved it and this tea towel is a good reminder of the part the Quakers have played in the social history of the world.

Southend-on-Sea: 1997


You look at the photograph of this tea towel and I expect you must think “She must have boiled that tea towel to within an inch of its life”.  Wrong.  That is virtually how it was when I got it 20 years ago, pale sketches that almost look faded, very indistinct.  It isn’t memorable to look at.

My friend Fee was invited to do a training session in Southend-on-Sea.  20 years ago she didn’t really approve of a tea towel collection; it definitely wasn’t cool.  I said to her, that if she was near a tea towel shop, could she buy one and I would pay her back.  You would have thought I’d asked her to do something illegal or immoral.  I thought nothing of it again; I knew full well that there wasn’t a hope in hell of getting a Southend-on-Sea tea towel.  Wrong again.  She returned from Southend-on-Sea; the training session had gone well, she came into my office and flung a paper bag on my desk  and said “A tea towel.  I have never bought a tea towel in my life.  You can have it as a present”.  It was one of those moments when I sat with my mouth hanging open, stunned.  As Lyra would say “that’s not what I was expecting”.

If you read Fee’s story in Guest Tea Towel in you will see that 20 years later she still hasn’t bought a tea towel.  But that tea towel of Southend-on-Sea was a lovely present because Fee had had to put a lot of effort into getting it and I have always appreciated that.  However, Fee wasn’t able to tell me anything about Southend or where she bought the tea towel; no little tidbit that would add to this blog.

The Red Squirrel: 2017


I was wandering along the Royal Mile, in Edinburgh, near St Giles Cathedral.  It was heaving with people because the Edinburgh Fringe was at its peak and it was 5.30pm, the time tourists, looking for food, and workers, trying to make their way home, clash.  At some point there is an impasse; no one has room to move.  It’s almost like you have no choice as to where to move, you are pulled along by the masses.  I saw a few craft stalls to one side, so I moved in a sideways direction; it seemed like a good place to take respite before fighting with the crowds once more.

You will never believe it; I spotted a tea towel.  Actually, I spotted a stall with 6 or 7 tea towels.  It was meant to be.  These were all illustrations of animals; I saw the Red Squirrel and fell in love with him.  These are all tea towels by illustrator, Clare Baird.  Which to chose? The hare? The hedgehog? The robin (definitely a contender)? The pheasant? Whiskey?.  It had to be the portrait of a Red Squirrel, peaking around from the side of a tea towel.

Red Squirrels are native to the British Isles but their future is in jeopardy with the introduction of the American grey squirrel, and its expansion.  There are an estimated 140,000 Red Squirrels left compared with 2.5 million grey squirrels.  Red Squirrels build large nests, called dreys, in the forks of tree trunks; they are solitary animals, coming together only to mate.  A mother will usually have 2 to 3 kittens at one time but the survival rate is that 20-50% reach adulthood.  Their lifespan averages 6 years.  They do not hibernate.  There are three serious threats to the Red Squirrel: the grey squirrel, the squirrel poxvirus and road traffic.

I’ve only seen a Red Squirrel a couple of times in the wild; they are smaller than they grey squirrel and so are more difficult to spot.  I love the elusiveness of them and the enchantment of that glimpse you sometimes get.  Looking at the tea towel reminds me of the many conversations I had with David about the even more elusive squirrel – the famous Black Squirrel.  Personally, I think that the Black Squirrel is a bit like the Emperor’s New Clothes.  I’ve never seen one.  David was always saying he’d seen one.  Apparently, the Black Squirrel was first discovered in 1912, in Letchworth, probably an escapee from a private collection of more exotic squirrels.  The Black Squirrel is mainly located in and around Letchworth and Hitchin and there are supposedly around 25,000 of them.  David saw them on a regular basis, when he went to get his newspaper in the morning; Liz saw one running along the pavement; Lyn saw one in the grounds of the care home that David now lives in.  Me? I’ve never seen one and I begin to wonder if they do exist.  David and I would debate this on frequent occasions.  With no evidence to show me, I will content myself with the delightful Red Squirrel which I know exists in the wild and in captivity.  What a delightful surprise, amongst the heaving masses of Edinburgh, to find this tea towel, reminding me of the wilds of Scotland where I did I see the elusive Red Squirrel.

The Sorries: 2017


This was Day 2 of my 2017 excursion to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.  Edinburgh is very difficult for me with regard to tea towels; I already have so many, of different styles, different types, everything from the classic tourist tea towel to the Caledonian Pipes and much more.  I have to say that Edinburgh is the tea towel hunter’s paradise; if I buy one then it has to be something special.  This was the mantra I kept saying to myself.

We had booked up a hectic programme of shows, some starting at 10.30am and going on to later in the evening.  The problem with making advance bookings is that four lines in a 300 page brochure, offering thousands of shows, doesn’t really give any indication about the quality of the show, unless, of course, you already know the artist.  I know there might be a few rubbish shows but I don’t want to see the big names that are on the telly, I can do that at home.  The reassuring thing is that most shows only last 1 hour, not long to sit if you are bored but, however, it can seem too short if it’s a great act.

I booked for the Sorries; I’d never heard of them but the programme says “Inspired by the love of the Corries, the Kilted Duo return with more selections from the much loved Scottish Songbook”.  Does that say much?  I know, and like, the Corries.  We’d give it a try.  The Sorries have been going 10 years and have been at the Fringe for nine consecutive years so they couldn’t be that bad, could they?

The Sorries were absolutely brilliant.  Great singers, fantastic musicians, funny, self-deprecating (clearly that’s where their name came from).  This was the sort of show that you regretted lasting only an hour.  There were people in the audience who had been back several times this season.  I could have listened to them all evening.  There were a lot of traditional Scottish songs but when they sang ‘Bonnie Dundee’, at the end of the show, something I had not heard for more years than I care to remember, memories of Miss Foster came rushing back (and that was some scary memory).  Miss Foster was a short woman with big bunions and ugly sandals; she had red hair, wild in an unattractive way, that was going grey so she tried to dye it a kind of orange.  She was the music teacher at my school; music is a glorified expression because all she taught was singing, not a choir, a bit like community singing.  She always looked as though she might have been drinking alcohol the night before.  She was always in a foul temper.  But the songs she taught us were beautiful, traditional songs from all four corners of the British Isles.  Bonnie Dundee (and Men of Harlech) is something I can so clearly remember from fifty years ago in London.  It made me smile, listening to it again at the Edinburgh Fringe, 50 years later; the nuns would not have approved.

Halfway through the set, the Sorries started talking about merchandise; the usual things like CDs and then it happened; they mentioned a tea towel.  Who these days sells a tea towel at an Edinburgh Fringe gig?  Clearly, only the best, and the Sorries fall into that category.  It was slightly distracting knowing that I was going to have to rush for a tea towel at the end of the show but I sent Liz instead.

One of them stood to have their photo taken with the tea towel on display, for the Crazy Tea Towel Woman.  Such a great show, and a tea towel.  Magnificent, not to be missed.  The Edinburgh Fringe needs to learn from this because they had sold out of their tea towels.  A missed opportunity.  I will definitely find out where they will appear again and go and see them; they were so good.