Div ye ken Doric ata: 2017


The alternative title to this Tea Towel Blog is ‘A Comprehensive Guide for Making Conversation in The North East of Scotland’.  Doric is the dialect of Aberdeen.  If you are in Aberdeen, there are phrases that people use where you think “What on earth did that mean?”  It’s a very strong dialect, and accent.   When I visit jean, I am always surprised that she rarely uses ‘the Doric’ and with her accent you can understand everything she says.   Having recently listened to a recording of Aberdeen Football Club (fans and players), singing ‘Here We Go’ you can hear the unique phraseology, and distinct accent, come through in the singing,

I love a good dialect tea towel; it’s a terrific reminder, while wiping up, of all the memories associated with an area, in this case Aberdeen.  This, however, is going to be a tricky Tea Towel Blog to write because ‘spell check’ does not understand, or even recognise, Doric as a dialect.  Therefore every time I try to type in some Doric it will change it to the nearest word that it knows. ‘Div’ always turns into ‘dive’, ‘ata’ becomes ‘ataxia’ and ‘haud’ becomes ‘hard’.  Apologies if there are any uncorrected mistakes.  It’s important not to be frightened by dialect.  The key is to read the words, literally, say them fast, as you see them, and listen to what it sounds like.  You can then have a good stab at the meaning; however, it may not always be accurate.  “Fit ye speckin aboot?”.  Say it quickly and loudly: ‘speckin’ = ‘talking’ or ‘speaking’ and ‘aboot’ is ‘about’.  It then can be translated as “What are you talking about?”.  “Foo’s yer doos?” is trickier: “how are you?”.  I’m not sure that I would have got “Like snaa aff a dyke”: “They disappeared very quickly”.  That’s what’s so good about this tea towel, a whole series of phrases that you can practice (and have translated) with the aid of a tea towel.

In October 2017, Hamish came with Liz and I, to stay for a week in the Aberdeen Lighthouse Cottage, Girdleness.  He wanted to meet with his Great Great Aunt who he had last seen when he was about 2 years old; he wanted to explore where his Great  Grandfather grew up, played on the beach, watched salmon leaping up the Falls of Feugh, ate cake in the Inversneckie Cafe.  He did that and much more.  His Grandma took many photos in that week of glorious weather and has put together a ‘Slide Show’, with music, for his birthday, to remind Hamish of that week.  The music is probably something that you would not expect to be on the playlist for a 9 year old boy: “Donald Where’s Your Troosers?” and “Aberdeen” by Andy Stewart, “Scotland the Brave” and “The Northern Lights of Old Aberdeen” by Kenneth McKellar and starting off with Aberdeen Football Club singing “Here we go”.  Hamish was always a football fan but there are probably few children in Birmingham who claim to be fans of The Dons.  This is where the links between culture, heritage, family, roots all come into play with language, with dialect.  Sometimes understanding the expressions, the roots of words can help explain your history and an introduction to this will always be on a tea towel!

I bought this tea towel in a wonderful China Shop in Banchory, near Aberdeen, last Christmas.  I try and go there each time I’m in Aberdeen.  I haven’t seen tea towels in that shop before so I bought two: this one and a ‘Celebration of Scottish Mythology’.  They were so good I couldn’t decide between the two.  They are about history and culture in a jovial way so it seemed appropriate to blog about ‘The Doric’ on Hamish’s birthday, as another reminder of his roots.

Happy Birthday Hamish.  I hope you enjoy the slide show and remember all the times you spent on the beach.  And now “Ach, just haud yer wisht “!



Kitchen Measures: 1972


This tea towel is ‘special’, special to me, and I’m not sure why.  It is 46 years old, has been well used.  I had given it to my mother for her birthday.  It is pure linen; there is something about the way pure linen feels, hangs, if it is washed many times and ironed.  It has a soft and silky feel; that sounds ridiculous, but it is true.  Also, once ironed, it takes on a fragrance.  It makes you want to sniff it, hold it, caress it; but it still holds its power of absorbency.  It has also retained its colour through many turns of the washing machine and it is one of my few tea towels that has avoided any staining.  I love the way the information is centred, clear to see (and the detail is still easily readable) and the surrounded by rose hips and dog roses, on a dark green background.  When I see it hanging, behind the kitchen door, I can visualise it in the kitchen at Holyoake Walk, on a towel hanger over the radiator.

My mother liked the tea towel because it was useful for the conversion of ounces into kilos and fluid ounces into litres.  We are talking of a time when the United Kingdom had become decimalised, in both coinage and weights and measures, as part of the transition into the ‘Common Market’.  It made sense although many of us, including my mother, struggled with the practicalities of it.  We might change from old pennies into New Pence, but we had no choice if we wanted to buy something.  But in the privacy of our own homes, we could happily use pounds and ounces, pints and quarts for cooking and baking, as long as we kept the old scales and measuring jugs.  Of course, some of us are still trying to work out what a ‘cupful’ means, an even older form of measurement!  It’s all about ‘teaching old dogs, new tricks’.  My mother’s favourite cookbook was Mrs Beeton’s and that certainly didn’t have litres and kilos.  She had found a solution to making sure that her weights and measures were correct, certainly as time went on, by using the tea towel (no Googling those sort of questions in those days!).

I suppose this tea towel sums up the Brexit debate: those people who do not want to be told by Europe that we will work in decimals and those people who want to be aligned to measurements, and countries, outside the borders of the United Kingdom, working together, making business easier and smoother.  I know that my mother didn’t want to work in kilos and litres, not because she was against it in principle, but because she couldn’t be bothered to have to learn a new form of calculation.  This tea towel was her answer but, truth be told, if she had lived longer she would have been Googling everything!

If I was on Desert Island Discs, and was told I could only take one tea towel, this might be the one.  It is everything I want in a tea towel: it has a history and story, it conjures up memories, it has useful information, it dries up well, it has worn well through time, it has a nice picture and isn’t yet stained.  What more could you ask for?

Avocets: 2017


I was looking through some old family photographs, very old, and came across two which might explain quite a lot about me!  There was a photograph, by a studio photographer, of me at the age of no more than two, and my mother.  My mother was dressed up in a very smart frock and I had a satin smock with my hair in ringlets.  Now I know that my mother must have curled my hair in ‘rags’ because I was born with straight hair and all through my life, except for the period that I had a ‘footballers perm’, my hair has been absolutely straight.  There was a series of these pictures, one with my mother holding me, with a budgerigar on my finger.  The expression on my face was classic, a bit like “what is THAT on my finger?”.  I looked both petrified  and disgusted.

The second photograph was of me, at the age of 6, at a zoo; I remember the photograph being taken.  It was at Whipsnade Zoo and I was with a friend called Sarah Mallin.  There was a studio where you could have a photograph taken, in front of an exotic background, holding a parrot or two.  This was ridiculous because we obviously went there in winter and there was I, wearing an overcoat, woolly hat and gloves in front of a desert island, with two parrots on my arms!  The expression on my face, this time, was one of unadulterated terror, and disgust, with a look which said “Just wait until I get the person who has made me do this!”.  Since that date I have not been keen on being close to, or holding, birds.

Don’t get me wrong, I can pick up a chicken, if necessary, to move it or treat it if it is poorly but I would no more go to one of those owl sanctuaries to hold a bird than I would jump off the Forth Bridge.  But I also love looking at birds, large birds especially because it is easier on the eyesight.  I remember seeing over one million flamingos on Lake Naivaisha in Kenya in 1990, being totally mesmerised and awestruck.  I so wanted to see the Blue Footed Boobie so booked a holiday to the Galápagos Islands in 2004; I couldn’t believe I was just standing next to several, who were ‘patting’ their feet.  But what I love most has been being able to watch the heron land on the very tall oak tree, at the bottom of my garden, sitting on a dead branch, silhouetted against the sky line.  None of these birds are expecting me to stick my hand out, let them land on me and have their photograph taken.

My favourite birds will always be those with long spindley legs, that can walk erect, stand very still, tippy-toe their way along the sand or the marshes. One of my real favourites is the avocet.  I love the Pied Avocet with their distinctive black and white colouring, their bill that curves up towards the sky, the genteel manner that they pick their way across the marshes; it is the emblem of the RSPB, one of the greatest bird conservation stories  in Britain (extinct in Britain before the Second World War, the Avocet started breeding again in the Wash because the area had been allowed to return to salt marsh as a way of making it much more difficult for the Germans to land, and therefore invade, Britain).  If you can capture a glimpse of an avocet feeding in the marshes or saline wetlands, they sweep their long, thin, upcurved bills from side to side gathering their meal of small invertebrates.

I was given this tea towel for Christmas 2017 by my friend Fee; Fee who a few years ago would have been embarrassed about buying me a tea towel and now goes out of her way to find some unusual, and very beautiful, tea towels.  This one is  designed by Karen Walshe, whose tea towels are inspired by the bird life that surrounds her in Devon.  It is such a delicate and creative design.  I love it and will always be able to ponder on the beauty of wild birds, not tamed to sit on someone’s hands, and maybe think that such a creative artist should be featured in the Virtual Tea Towel Museum (watch this space!)

A Tale of Two Continents: 2017 (originated in 2008)


Today, was the first day of the ‘49ers’ (2018 version).  Last year, routing through the back of drawers, untouched in a long time, I found a navy blue, velvet, draw-string pouch, lined with gold satin, with a golden cord.  In it, I discovered, were 49 pennies, each with a number stuck onto them, from 1 to 49.  It took me a while to work out what they were: John did the Lottery every week, only on Saturdays, three lines.  Rather than use the same numbers each week, he would randomly pick his six numbers, for each line, from the bag.  The bag has sat, unused, for more than 20 years.  I couldn’t throw it away but, with the help of Liz, we devised the ‘49ers’.  Together, because doing things like this is not so much fun on your own, we agreed on 49 things that we both wanted to do, things that could be completed within a week; every Monday we take it in turns to pick a number and complete the ‘task’, individually or together.  Today, Number 13 was picked, not ‘unlucky for some’ as they say in bingo: ‘Think up, and do, a Creative Writing Task’.  We mulled this over and agreed we would do a ‘Clustering’ exercise, a bit like creating a Mind Map for inspiration.  My Tea Towel Blog called ‘Snap’, based on Orgreave (Blog dated 25/11/2017) was as a result of a Clustering exercise, in the Creative Writing Class.  We decided that I would choose the dictionary (and there are a lot to choose from), Liz would pick a page and I would shut my eyes and point to a word.  Maybe, this was not such a good idea!  I picked the word ‘Catarrhine’ and, of course, we all know what that means, I don’t think!!  Catarrhine relates to a particular monkey and is about the shape of it’s nose!  We gave ourselves 10 minutes for each to create a ‘Cluster’ and then had to announce which cluster we were going to use.  Of course, the restrictions I have to work within are about whether I can make any link, at all, to a tea towel.  This was the answer to my prayers, because I really didn’t know what I was going to write about ‘A Tale of Two Continents’.

I bought this tea towel in my favourite Charity Shop in Leicester.  It isn’t easy to find tea towels in Charity Shops, that are not brand new, probably surplus stock from some producer.  I only like buying vintage, or used, tea towels.  This one was hanging from a skirt hanger just waiting to be bought.  I am a tea drinker, only a tea drinker, coffee does not pass my lips; nor does hot chocolate, Horlicks, Ovaltine, Bovril, herbal infusions, Tisanes or any manner of other hot drinks.  However, when it comes to tea I am very particular, only loose leaf tea.  I like the ‘ceremony’ of making tea, always using a tea pot, timing the infusion, drinking from bone china; no ‘tea to go’ for me.  While I remember the adverts for PG Tips, from my childhood, with the chimpanzees, I do not necessarily associate PG Tips with loose leaf tea, rather a tea bag in a cup.  PG Tips has been going for a long time and is famous for it’s adverts, logos and the fact that it does sell loose leaf tea.

I rather like the company’s first strap line, which today would be ridiculed for it’s length: ‘Good tea unites good company, exhilarates the spirits, banishes restraint from conversation and promotes the happiest purposes of social intercourse’.  The Monkey, with Al, became the star of the adverts in the new Millenium, with Monkey making snide comments that he was not a chimpanzee (referring back to the original adverts).  In March 2008, they made a short film which was an adventure parody starring Monkey “wanting to change the world one tea at a time”.  This tea towel is the ‘poster’ for the film and created a new slogan “Do your bit. Put the kettle on”.  The tea towel and the film were sold together; if you look on eBay, there are many copies available.  I love the picture with Monkey in the foreground and pictures of tea pickers, from somewhere like Sri Lanka, contrasting with the London images.  This is a great tea towel and I am glad that I bought it (and that I have found a focus for the Blog); I think I probably would like to see the film now.   In the meantime, I will use the tea towel with a great deal of amusement and enjoyment.

PS: Both Liz and I have each completed our first 49er for 2018.  Liz’s will be on http://www.mywordshare.wordpress.com

Rooster: 2015


I woke up this morning, it was cold, wet and had just started to snow.  By the time that it was light enough to walk down the garden to feed the chickens, I realised that, for the first time in 14 years, I had no chickens to feed.  An hour or so later, there was a ‘ping’ on my Freecycle Account and someone wanted to collect the old chicken feeders, that I had lovingly washed thoroughly and put up for anyone who wanted some chicken feeders.

When I knew there was a real chance that I might move, I decided to ‘rehome’ my two remaining chickens.  It’s certainly wasn’t that I didn’t love them dearly, or enjoyed caring for them.  The process of moving, when you are both buying and selling a property, and one depends on another, is very stressful.  The move has to take place on a nominated day; you can’t take things to your new property in the days preceding the nominated day, nor can you leave things behind, to be collected at a later date.  I knew that it would be impossible to catch two chickens, box them up, take them to the new place, erect a new chicken house (remember building flat-pack MFI furniture?), settle them in while also doing much the same for two cats and a house full of furniture.  It’s the logistics that would defeat me; removal firms may dismantle, and reassemble, the wardrobe but they do not assemble the chicken house and it would mean the chickens would have been in a box for many hours.

The fact is, all I had left was two chickens, an elderly black hen who had taken retirement from laying, with an occasional flurry of one egg, and Houdini, the brown hen who had escaped the fox because she was laying at the time.  Houdini had laid an egg every day since I had owned her.  Lots of friends had been recipients of Houdini’s eggs: Gwyn and Pete, Lyn and Rob, Anne the Foot, Jai and Roger, Jenny, David and Dorothy and many more.  You can put chickens on Freecycle but I wasn’t keen on that because you need to know, and trust, where they are going.

I was eating fish and chips with Lynn and Helen the other night, talking about the ‘problem’ of the hens and Lynn (who always is good at finding solutions to problems) said that Sharon keeps chickens and maybe she would take them.  Sharon has been a Guest Tea Towel in http://www.virtualteatowelmuseum.com.  I was getting excited and said that I had some Layers Pelletts and some Mixed Corn, in storage bins, to go with them.  By the next day, Lynn had contacted Sharon; she had been looking for a couple of new chickens because some of hers had stopped laying.  This wasn’t looking quite so hopeful because I could, honestly, only say that one was laying but I couldn’t just let Houdini go on her own; who would take an old very rarely laying chicken?  They had to go as a pair.  But Sharon was enthusiastic.  Houdini and the Old Black Hen (she had never been named because she came with 5 other black hens, and I couldn’t tell the difference between them) had new homes.  Ian came three days later, in the dark, to collect them; it was a lot easier to ‘catch’ chickens when roosting so, without much ado, they went to their new home.  I had this strange feeling: chickens give a routine to the start of my day; chickens are the recipients of pieces of cooked vegetables that we don’t want; chickens are great listeners when you want to talk things through with someone; chickens produce the most wonderful contributions to the compost heap; chickens sleep on our old shredded paper which is then easily compostable.  And now I don’t have any.  There are five eggs waiting to be eaten.  Will it be boiled eggs and soldiers or scrambled eggs or an omlette, maybe an egg and bacon pie?  It will be something to look forward to over the next few days.

I will have some more chickens but not until I am fully settled in a new home, when I know what I am going to do with a very small garden and when I get to know my neighbours (who might feed them when I go on holiday).  Until then I will have to wait.

This is the last of my ‘Chicken’ tea towels that I have to blog about; I knew I was keeping it for something.  It was a present from David and Dorothy on my retirement, a lovely, classic Ulster Weavers linen tea towel.  David understood my love of tea towels and would always buy me one for a ‘special occasion’.  He was delighted that I had retired because (a) he loved being retired himself and never regretted giving up work; he actually refused to wear a tie, ever again, unless it was to a wedding or funeral and he knew I would enjoy retirement because (b) I had planned what it was that I was going to do in my retirement (blog about tea towels) and that I would not be just sitting around watching ‘Escape to the Country’ and ‘Flog It’ or trying to think of short term things to fill my time; his belief was about planning your retirement properly, in order to get the most out of it.

So, now, when I use this tea towel I will have a lot of memories about Houdini, the Old Black Hen, Ian boxing them up in the dark, Sharon caring for them (and I do hope she gets some eggs from Houdini), Lynn coming up with the solution to my problem, a lovely gift from David, and Dorothy (whose birthday it would have been today) who was always keen that scraps of vegetables were taken home for the chickens.  What I have promised myself is that when I get some more chickens, I will buy myself another Chicken Tea Towel, to celebrate and blog about.

Valvona and Crolla: 2012


Many years ago, my friends Lynn and Helen had two friends who lived in Edinburgh.  They had met at work, and when their friends moved to Edinburgh, they kept in touch and visited Edinburgh a number of times.  On one of those visits, Lynn and Helen went to Valvona and Crolla, an Italian deli off Leith Walk.  Valvona and Crolla are still in their original premises, where they started in 1934.  They pride themselves on being Scotland’s oldest deli.  Lynn is a ‘coffee connoisseur’, none of your ‘instant rubbish’ for her.  Valvona and Crolla sell coffee beans, and they will grind them for you; each visit to Edinburgh was an excuse for Lynn to fill her suitcase with coffee beans and freeze them when she got home.  When she had run out, she would order more by post.  Valvona and Crolla was a place dear to Lynn’s heart.  We are, of course, talking of a time when it was more difficult to buy very good quality coffee beans easily (shows our age!).

On one occasion, when I met up with Lynn and Helen, they told me about Valvona and Crolla, about their wonderful coffee beans, about the different olive oils which they poured into small bowls, where you dip a chunk of bread in order to taste the different flavours; they talked about the different breads and cheeses and all manner of goodies that you could buy.  It sounded so enticing.  Lynn and Helen’s friends moved back to Leicester so they had no excuse to visit the deli, and stock up on coffee.  When I went to the Edinburgh Fringe, in the early years of the new Millenium, I couldn’t resist trying to find Valvona and Crolla to see if it was as good as Lynn and Helen talked about.  It was.  The olive oils were still on display, there was really interesting fresh bread, so many cheeses and that lovely smell of coffee beans, being freshly ground.  Sometimes, I think that deli’s can be a bit of a ‘let down’, with few goods on display, limited choices and extortionate prices; not so Valvona and Crolla, bursting with food, shelves piled high from floor to ceiling, the sort of place that you want to wander around for hours to see what they have.  You can do that and you are never made to feel that you have spent too long browsing.  What Lynn and Helen didn’t tell me about was the cafe; I’m not sure if it was there when they used to visit.  It was, and still is, absolutely delightful.  Loose leaf tea, breakfast pastries and full breakfasts, wonderful brunches, Italian food at its best, table service, somewhere you feel so comfortable to pass your time, full of regulars as well as people like me, passing through.  On this occasion, I bought Lynn some coffee beans as a ‘thank-you’ for the recommendation.

I have been back to Valvona and Crolla on a number of occasions; while Edinburgh is full of eateries, of all sorts, there is none like Valvona and Crolla.  In 2012, when I visited, for the first time there was a tea towel: pure white, honeycombed cotton with a navy blue embroidered logo; very stylish but I’m always a bit wary about pure white tea towels because they can stain so easily.  I have to say, mine seems to have survived, unscathed.  There was no way that I could turn down the opportunity of a tea towel.

Since my visit in 2012, Valvona and Crolla has expanded.  They have a coffee bar and an eatery in Jenners (my favourite department store which has now been taken over by House of Fraser).  They are a venue for the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, although I have not managed to see a performance there yet; maybe 2018.  In the Jenners’ branch I saw an amazing, striking poster (which is also on their website) and wondered whether it was also a tea towel, because it certainly would be a great one.  Perhaps one day.

In 2016, we actually went to Edinburgh for a week, with Lynn and Helen, staying in an apartment.  We all agreed that Valvona and Crolla was a ‘must’ on our itinerary.  It had changed since Lynn and Helen’s first visits, but it did not disappoint.  We had a late lunch before going to the Edinburgh Botanic Light Show at the Royal Botanical Gardens and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.

I am very grateful that Lynn and Helen directed me to Valvona and Crolla and I will continue to visit them on my trips to Edinburgh.  As I use the tea towel (being careful not to get any tea stains on it), I like to think of Lynn drinking her coffee, Helen dipping bread into olive oil, me eating scrambled eggs and smoked salmon and the wonderful ‘deli smell’ that hits you as you go in.  Thinking about it now makes me want to go back today.

Llandudno: Date Unknown, possibly vintage


Llandudno is one of those words that I love saying, just for the joy of its sound; I love trying to put the emphasis of the double ‘l’ at the beginning with a scuffing sound.  Get it right and it can reverberate around your mouth.  But I will never manage it as well as a Welsh speaker.  I remember hearing Gwyn’s dad say ‘Llandudno’ and think it sounded so  mystical; he seemed to get an emphasis on each of the syllables which made Llandudno seem like it was in a far-flung part of the United Kingdom.

I have been to Llandudno on two memorable occasions but that is not how I acquired this tea towel.  Alan and Christine were my next door neighbours for about 13 years; we shared many an exciting adventure like burying Charlie the Cat in the back garden and being part of Markfield Open Gardens with a gate at the bottom of our shared fence, where visitors could wander through, like a ‘secret door’.  Fortunately, we still keep in touch.  On a visit to Norfolk, last year, where they now live, we got to talking about THAT subject, tea towels, and somehow, unintentionally, I came away with five tea towels.  Llandudno was one of those.  This is a beautiful linen, virtually unused, large tea towel with a very unusual background colour of mustard.  As I flick through my tea towel hangers, I can spot Llandudno easily, just by its background colour; it is the only one I have Like that.  It is a traditional tourist tea towel, with all the significant ‘high’ spots in Llandudno, many of which I have visited.  I have to say that I was delighted to be given this by Christine, although she has no memories of how she came to have this tea towel.

My first visit to Llandudno was in 2001; I was on the look-out for a tea room and discovered a truly delightful one – Badgers Tea Room in the Shopping Precinct.  You don’t often find really good tea rooms in a Shopping Precinct; this one had fabulous home-made cakes, loose leaf tea, a wonderful Welsh Rarebit.  Cakes used to come round on tiered, sliding trollies, that I remember from Prague and Vienna.  Service was impeccable, carried out by women dressed in ‘Nippy’ dresses.  The windows were huge and unfettered so that you could sit and people-watch and, of course, in a Shopping Precinct there was a lot to watch.  Badgers was always full but, because of their efficiency, you didn’t have to wait long for a table and you never felt rushed.  It was a huge disappointment, when I went back in 2012, to find that it had closed.

My second visit was in 2012 when I stayed in a cottage in Llanwyrst.  We decided to spend the day in Llandudno and do all the touristy things: we went up the Great Orme by train, coming back by cable car, we walked along the Promenade and looked at the pier; we visited St Tudno’s Church on the Great Orme (St Tudno being the Patron Saint of Llandudno who lived in 6th Century).  We visited Rhos-on-Sea, a lovely small resort whose claim to fame is that Madog ap Owain Gwynedd, a Welsh prince, purportedly sailed from here in 1170 and discovered America, three hundred years before Christopher Columbus.  My 2012 visit was on a warm and sunny day and it was truly enjoyable.  I would always say that if staying near Llandudno it is worth a visit to Conwy, a cute town but I do also have memories of the holiday camp at Prestatyn, where I stayed on a holiday with 40 people with learning difficulties in 1981, and where we weren’t allowed out of the holiday camp for a week.

So, why am I writing about Llandudno today?  Today is my friend, Jenny’s, birthday, not a significant birthday, just a birthday.  Jenny has the exciting opportunity of staying in Llandudno for three days at the end of January.  I am not sure whether the sights of the Great Orme will be available via cable car or rail, or how windy, cold and wet it might be but I am sure that she will have a great time.  Jenny is a loose leaf tea lover so I am sorry she will not be able to sample the virtues of Badgers but there is still a lot to see.  I thought Jenny might want to look at the tea towel of Llandudno so she can get excited about her visit!!  Happy Birthday Jenny!!