Three Christmas Baubles: 2017


It’s 30 November; only one more day till December.  1 December is the day that I put up the Christmas trees.  It’s so exciting.  However, about 10 days ago, I got the Christmas tea towels out. I couldn’t wait.  My friend Gwyn thought it was a bit early but, what the hell.  Christmas is a-coming!

I wanted some new Christmas Tea Towels because my collection is largely looking worn and tired.  However, my first priority was to find a butter dish.  My traditional butter dish was a flat tray with a ‘cottage’ lid which sat on top of it.  The tray is useless without the little cottage.  The place to find a replacement was definitely a Charity Shop.  I started scouring the Charity Shops with no success then in Oxfam, in Hitchin, I saw this tea towel, lying on a shelf, under a pile Christmas napkins.  It was unused, not new, and very cheap.  It is unusual to find a tea towel for less than £1, a real bargain.  I like the bold colours; I like the fact that the whole background is red, very Christmassy; that the Christmas tree branches are touched with snow and the baubles are like those that you bought in 1950s.  You can almost feel the glitter that is stuck to them, the rough surface, where bits of glitter can still fall off.  In fact, I have a couple of Christmas baubles, similar to these, from my parents house, over fifty years old.  I like the ‘picture frame’ with the white Christmas trees and snow balls, adding to the sense of Christmas.

I really like a traditional tea towel and this has certainly added a bit of colour to my collection, a great way to start the lead up to Christmas but I think I am going to need a few more over the next couple of weeks!


Comic Relief: 2016


When I was looking for charities, with a fundraising tea towel, for the ChariTea Towel Collection in the Virtual Tea Towel Museum, I thought of Comic Relief: a charity and  there are Comic Relief tea towels.  But, of course, it is much more complicated than that; I should have realised, having worked for three charities, over a period of 25 years.  Comic Relief is a charity, distributes its funds but doesn’t spend money on buying items to sell, it relies on ‘sponsors’ and  corporate bodies to do that, from which they donate what profits they determine. So Orla Kiely designs a tea towel to raise funds; the firm sells the tea towel through their normal outlets and donates an amount from each sale to Comic Relief, in this case it is a minimum of £2.50.  This way Comic Relief, as a charity, does not ’gamble’ any of the money it has already raised by speculating on potential sales of a tea towel; all the risk is with business.  With a name like Orla Kiely there is no risk because it is designed  with the Orla Kiely ‘signature’; it is a clever, and beautiful, design, something Orla Kiely fans would want to buy.   I love it, as a tea towel in itself, as well as a fundraiser.  It is the iconic shape and colours that do it for me.  It is a good way to remember that there are many different ways of raising money for charity.

Comic Relief is an unusual charity, in that half of its fundraising goes to projects in Africa, back to where it started, but not always as popular as something like Children in Need, pulling on the heart strings; children are guaranteed to raise money.  Comic Relief galvanises ‘funny people’ to raise money: I think the three things I remember most were John Bishop’s epic journey from Paris to London, cycling, rowing and running; almost certainly, something out of his ‘comfort zone’; there was Robert Webb performing the iconic dance from  ‘Flashdance’, brilliantly; and David Walliams swimming the English Channel, none of which was performed in 2016 but if people perform such epic performances they will be remembered, for all time, and contribute to each Comic Relief fundraising season.  I look forward to discovering which tea towels will be on sale for Comic Relief 2018.

Happenstance (or Nottingham Contemporary Art Gallery): 2017


The challenges of my Creative Writing Class can always be linked to a tea towel!  Last week, we moved from our safe base in the college to the wider world of an art gallery.  Our task was to look round an exhibition of black and white, and coloured, photographs taken between 1960s and 1980s in America by 17 different photographers.  A ‘contemporary’ art gallery would never have been my choice of a place to visit with its soul-less exterior and an interior that superficially was fully accessible but in reality lacked a lot of the necessary amenities – seats to admire pictures from, lighting that does not challenge the eyes and acoustics that should allow for conversation but completely block it, poor signage so that although you know there are four galleries you have no idea how to access them.  However, this is what I needed, something to challenge me.  We have been asked what we want to do next term and I realise that, while I could answer a question like that, it is not good for me.  I need someone who knows what they are talking about to throw out the challenges, take me out of my comfort zone, push me to the limits, not let me pick the safe topics and hide behind them.

Having been set the task of looking at the Exhibition and then writing something about it, in any genre, in any way: the whole thing, one picture, a theme.  I knew that, if there was a possibility, I would buy a tea towel from the shop and incorporate what I was inspired to write in a Tea Towel Blog.  I wanted to remember this day.  Of course, the shop was good and had a selection of tea towels but only one would do.  I’ve seen the ‘moustache’ tea towel online; it isn’t one I would naturally choose but this is about taking me out of my comfort zone.  My first impression always was of Salvador Dali, a bit creepy.  I have to say that I dislike the ‘strap line’ immensely, thinking of it, in a literal sense, makes my stomach turn but it will always remind me of the trip to this Gallery.

Suddenly, thoughts of Jean come to mind; where did that come from?  Jean was a woman I worked with for many years, a brilliant woman with an incisive mind who died suddenly, and unexpectedly, on my birthday.  Jean was a mentor, a role model, someone who was disastrous at telling a story because she always started in the middle and then flicked back between the beginning and the end.  She always assumed you knew the story so it was difficult to interrrupt her and ask questions.  Jean is one of the reasons why I wanted to I do a Creative Writing Course so that I would not fall into that trap.  Jean died 10 years ago. They played ‘Simply The Best’ as the coffin left the church, and that’s what she was, simply the best, better than all the rest. That is how I remember her. Her mantra was ‘the whole is more than the sum of the parts’. She alluded to this many times at work, a way of trying to inspire the team to work together rather than focussing on themselves and their individual needs, the importance of seeing the ‘bigger picture’; sometimes it worked.

In the main, this mantra works for me, has proved successful. The Creative Writing Course is a good example: each session can stand alone, within the theme of ‘Writing and Art’ but looking at 8 weeks, as a whole, brings a cohesion, something more tangible, a bigger learning.

Jean’s mantra, however, will never work for me in an Art Gallery; an Art Gallery, for me, is ‘information overload’. I can only walk around a gallery and pick out one, maybe two, pictures that I can focus on. More than that and I will loose the sense of beauty, artistry and wonderment. I enjoyed and appreciated the Lowry Gallery; it was Lowry, only Lowry, all aspects of his work; I can manage that. It is not interrupted by other artists.

So the challenge for Week 8 of Creative Writing was going to be daunting for me.  Was I going to have to ‘blag it’, pretend that I could do what was expected of me, walk round and absorb everything? Then I remembered Jean’s mantra; it doesn’t matter how you do it, the outcome is your personal inspiration from a gallery. Today, the ‘whole’ will be the combined personal reflections of the sixteen people who visited ‘State of America’ that day.

Starting in Gallery 1, I immediately found two photographs that caught my attention. I wasn’t going to be distracted by others. I retreated to the cafe to do my write up. There is something stark and bare and revealing about photography in black and white. The subject and the setting have to be right because no fancy colours or gimmicks are going to improve it. Black and white gives a clarity, a beauty that cannot hide emotion. I am stunned by the impact of the images. I can only take in a few. There is a danger of becoming overwhelmed to the extent that you see nothing, admire nothing, retain nothing. I don’t want to do that with these black and white photographs.

Two women. Two women standing alone, arms folded across their bodies, standing ram-rod, neither smiling, looking straight at the camera but not interacting with it; there is no joy or laughter, no emotion. They both have a sassy look, don’t mess with me. They both know their place in the world and are happy with that.

They are separated by photographers, age, setting, and possibly time and status. I see Mrs T Charlton Henry; is it because I know her history that I see a look of self assurance and, possibly, arrogance? Or am I putting that meaning on her because I see the elaborate candelabra, the antique hall table, the Ming vase and the marble fireplace? Have I made assumptions because she is in a long satin evening gown, with satin above-elbow gloves, five strings of pearls and a hair-do to die for?

In contrast, I look at the woman in black with a black pillbox hat and veil, black sleeveless dress, black, cotton, wrist-length gloves. She reminds me of a picture of Jean I saw at her funeral, from when she was about 20. That same look on her face, a rough elegance. The woman in black looks as though she has been to a funeral; Jean’s outfit was for her wedding, if I recall correctly.

But am I doing what Edward Hopper hated, a viewer putting an interpretation on a work of art that was not intended by the artist? This is the arrogance of viewers when think they know best. Have I learned nothing on this course? I shouldn’t interpret the work of an artist. It is what it is. They knew what they were doing. I have the privilege of being able to look in wonderment, but never to wonder. It is the privilege of access to an Art Gallery and the willingness of an artist to share their work.

I realise that my approach to viewing art in galleries is dependent on art galleries being free to visit, so that I can go back, time and again, and appreciate what is there.  If I had to pay a significant entrance fee that would make it inaccessible for me in terms of cost and I would miss those opportunities.  I am happy to make my donation for each visit, commensurate with what I saw and how much I enjoyed it.  Access comes in many forms and if, like me, you have epilepsy, having to look at a mish mash of pictures, all in one go, is exactly what I mean by ‘information overload’ and may well generate those seizures that I am desperate to control.

So why did I call this Blog ‘Happenstance’?  Happenstance is one of those words that I have always wanted to be able to use, not to be muddled with ‘Happenchance’, but of course, given its meaning, there is rarely an opportunity.  My visit to the Gallery in Nottingham did provoke ‘happenstance’ where a series of thought-threads from memory and the 8 weeks of creative writing did lead to links and take me down roads I did not expect to follow.  I like a bit of ‘Happenstance’!!  That is exactly what I want from a Creative Writing Course; I’ll fill my questionnaire in now!



Snap: 2017


In September this year, I joined a Creative Writing Course.  I thought that if I wanted to improve the quality of my Blog, and work on the Virtual Tea Towel Museum, I needed some outside help.  I needed to do something that would challenge my writing and certainly this course has.  Week 9 and we focussed on ‘Clustering’, a bit like a Mind map but with a specific focus on writing and inspiration for writing.  The Tutor gave us one word – SNAP – we then had to suggest where this might go: card game, snap dragon, miner’s lunch, sound of breaking…… From there we had to ‘grow’ our clustering, individually and finally write a short piece from one of our own words.  This isn’t about ‘airy fairy’ pondering for ages but focussing.  It may be work that can be improved on outside the class but it is a start.  I loved it.  I love that immediacy, thinking on your feet and working outside my ‘comfort zone’.

My clustering took me down the route of the Miner’s Snap which led me to the Miner’s Strike and the awful memories I have about that time because I was working as a child care Social Worker in Bedworth, a small town at the heart of a colliery area.  I learnt more in those twelve months about Social Work and poverty than in the rest of my career.  I think I might find it difficult to write about something now, that I couldn’t relate to a tea towel.  I might not know a lot about a lot of things but I do know quite a lot about tea towels.  For my piece about Miner’s Snap, the Radical Tea Towel Company have the absolute perfect tea towel: Orgeave.

“It was The Strike, the strike to end all strikes.  It was the turning point for Union activity.  The biggest Miner’s Union split in two; legislation was changed.  Politics versus employment, principles versus a crust, scab became the word of the day.  Were there any winners?  The losers were definitely the children who were robbed of their childhood, the miners with no future, the politicians with lost reputations, the animals that were put down, the pianos smashed for firewood, families that forgot what ‘three good meals a day’ meant, the police who lost the faith of their communities, the overworked Social Workers who could not complain because they had a job, trying not to take sides.  Thirty three years later the scars are still there – on the landscape, in the communities, within families torn apart, barely remembering why.  There are no winners, how could there be?”. 

Bradgate Park: 2014

Are you like me? Love going on holiday, visiting museums, art galleries, gardens and parks, full of adventure yet completely ignore what is in your own back yard?  Take me to Paris and I’ll walk round churches and museums, quite happily and enthusiastically.  Take me to Scotland and I’ll explore parks, gardens, the hills and dales.  Take me to Italy and I’ll delve into the history with great fervour.  Take me to Leicester and I don’t want to visit the Space Centre or New Walk museum.  Take me to Newtown Linford, a mile from my own back door and I don’t want to visit Bradgate Park.  This is a park with an ancient background, full of history, certainly worth exploring and I have never been inspired to do so.  I can count on the fingers of one hand how many times I have been to Bradgate Park.  Most families, locally, will at least go to Bradgate Park for a Boxing Day walk or to even walk their dogs every day or take their visitors for a stroll around the 850 acres of parkland.  Why do I have such negative feelings about Bradgate Park?  I don’t know the answer to that but it is something about not valuing things that are on your doorstep; it can’t be valuable or worthwhile if I have such easy access to it.  Ridiculous.

Bradgate Park is actually stunningly beautiful throughout the year.  It was a mediaeval Deer Park that has been continuously occupied by herds of fallow and red deer for hundreds of years.  The River Lin runs through the park, down to the Cropston Reservoir; the river meanders and is a place that children love to play in during the summer.  There are small bridges and stepping stones.  In the centre are the ruins of a large house, Bradgate House, built in 1500s which belonged to the family of Lady Jane Grey, who have owned the land for over 500 years, and where Lady Jane Grey was reputedly born.  The other landmark is Old John, standing at the highest point in the park, a folly built by the Grey family in 1784 that can been seen for miles around.  The legend is that it was a memorial to an estate worker, called John, who was killed in an accident on the 21st birthday of a member of the Grey family and that the ‘handle’ on the side of the tower reflected John’s love of ale.  However, in reality, the dates do not tie up.  When I worked at County Hall, from a fourth floor office, we had a direct view of Old John.  It was a way of evaluating the weather; if Old John wasn’t to be clearly seen you knew that rain and mist were on the way.  If there had been snow in the area, the view of snow scattered on, and around, Old John was always stunning.

There is a large boulder in Bradgate Park with a plaque which says “to be preserved in its natural state for the quiet enjoyment of the people of Leicestershire”, marking the gift of Bradgate Park, in 1928 by Charles Bennion, to the people of Leicestershire.

Bradgate Park, up until a few years ago, had ample free car parking to encourage visitors but as with everything else, things change and all car parks are charged for.  I imagine the people of the village of Newtown Linford really hate this because visitors try and park on the relatively narrow road through the village.

I wish I felt more allegiance to Bradgate Park, and maybe I will once I have moved house to Nottinghamshire!

PS: Please note that I have two tea towels of the Park I don’t enjoy, one in brown and one in claret, both bought for me by Liz on two occasions that she took her grandchildren there (and forgot she had already bought me a tea towel!)

Sandringham: 2016


Last year, we stayed in the caravan on the Sandringham Estate in Norfolk.  It is a beautiful site, surrounded by trees, with rabbits and squirrels scurrying outside the caravan door, early each morning.  It’s a great location, with good access to the coast.  We had a thoroughly enjoyable week discovering some beautiful tea rooms in brilliant weather.  We walked around the grounds of Sandringham but one highlight was the shop on the Sandringham Estate, full of tea towels!  For me, it was seventh heaven and this one holiday certainly increased my tea towel collection.

One evening, as the sun went down, there were sounds like fireworks.  It was April; it was not Diwali, Guy Fawkes Night or New Years Eve.  Gradually everyone in their caravan came to their doors, with eyes raised, looking up at the sky.  The display was magnificent, star bursts and rockets.  Of course, it was the Queen’s Birthday, the Queen’s 90th Birthday.  It was a privilege to be staying near Sandringham and share the fireworks from a distance.  A memorable experience.

I have written blogs about several of the tea towels bought at Sandringham already.  It seems appropriate to present the Sandringham tea towel, with a great picture of the house, today because today is the Platinum Wedding Anniversary of the Queen and Prince Philip.  Not many people achieve 70 years of married life, especially when you are under the media spotlight, constantly, so a simple “Congratulations” is called for, along with congratulations to everyone else who is celebrating their Platinum Wedding Anniversary.  But does the Queen send herself a Congratulations card as she will to others in the same position?

Ginger Bread Men and Mince Spies: 2016

Last Christmas, I was a bit bored  with my Christmas Tea Towels.  I felt I needed a bit of a boost to the Christmas Collection but I was unable to find  anything.  What I have learned  is that if you want to get something new for Christmas, get started in October, or November at the latest; anytime later and you are looking at things for Easter.  Wait until next year, I thought.  However, as I was wandering through the Highcross Shopping Centre, on 28 December 2016, past my favourite stationery shop of all time (Paperchase), I caught a glimpse of what looked like a pack of two Christmas Tea Towels, tied  up with red  string with a bobble on each end.  You couldn’t see the pictures but I thought, if nothing else, the string would be good for tying up presents, and  they were half price.  Opening them up at home, I realised  they were cute, and  rather clever, tea towels; a good  play on words.  I like the idea of the Mince Spies with binoculars, magnifying glasses, spectacles and a couple of hats, befitting of 1930s movies.  The Ginger Bread Men are a fitting contrast, with three fabulous ginger haircuts on top of three slices of bread.  I couldn’t use them last year in order that I might start 2017 Christmas Season with a fresh start, something new.  I am really looking forward to using them to put a smile on my face on 1 December, as I wipe up.  Thank you Paperchase for brightening up Christmas 2017!