An Officer and a Gentleman: 2018


Am I the only person in the world who didn’t watch ‘An Officer and a Gentleman’, the 1982 film with Richard Gere and Debra Winger?  The white uniform is iconic, the song is unmistakeable but the reality is I thought it starred Tom Cruise and I’m not a big fan of his.  Today, I looked it up, just to check and found out that Zack was actually played by Richard Gere, of whom I am a big fan.  I’ve missed 35 years of watching the real thing and countless repeats on TV.

’An Officer and a Gentleman: The Musical’ was playing at the Thetare Royal in Nottingham.  I am a big fan of a musical, any musical so I thought, why not?  In previous Tea Towel Blogs I have talked about my disappointment that great shows sell merchandise – tote bags, Tshirts, sweat shirts, mugs, fridge magnets, even a pen but so very rarely a tea towel.  What a wasted opportunity.  Just think what an incredible tea towel could be made for ‘Joseph And his Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat’ or ‘Priscilla Queen of the Desert’.  So I wasn’t at all hopeful that ‘An Officer and a Gentleman’ would have one; I didn’t even look at the merchandise stall.

Then I heard a voice saying “There’s a tea towel, come and look”.  Liz has been trained to look for tea towels.

”Are you sure?” I say, completely disbelieving.

”Come and look” she said impatiently, thinking I didn’t trust her.

And yes, there was a pile of them.  The iconic white uniform, the kiss.  I was there, excited and not caring what the show was like now I had a tea towel.  But truth be told, the musical was brilliant; powerful voices from Jonny Fines and Emma Williams, strong songs, great acting.  I loved every minute, even though I didn’t know the story.  However, the rest of the audience obviously knew it and were waiting for each piece of action.

I’m so pleased I decided to go to see ‘An Officer and a Gentleman’, a fantastic show, great performances and that all elusive tea towel (and it’s got a hanging loop)!


Old Village, Shanklin, I.O.W: 2001


I have made two trips to the Isle of Wight, one in 1969 and one in 2001.  This is a classic, traditional, touristy tea towel with a sketch of the village of Shanklin; it doesn’t shake-up the world in terms of design but it certainly does bring back some memories that send a shiver down my spine.

In 1969, as a teenager, I decided that I wanted to go parachuting.  Why I thought this was a good idea is beyond me, because I don’t like heights.  It’s that arrogance of youth, where I felt I could do anything, be anything, nothing would phase me.  The fact is, at that age, you don’t think things through properly.  Most people thought I was mad; that was part of the attraction, doing something different.  In those days people didn’t do ‘Charity Jumps’; in fact, you didn’t really hear of people parachute jumping.

I decided to go on a five day course in the Isle of Wight; I have no idea how I found this course since the internet wasn’t around.  I was doing this on my own.  My parents did everything they could to persuade me not to go (although this was a tale they ‘dined off’ for the rest of their lives: my daughter has been parachuting!).  So arrogant, I didn’t listen to them.  It certainly wasn’t a ‘spur of the moment’ thing because the preparatory paperwork was lengthy.  You had to apply for a licence to ‘throw something out of an aircraft’, you had to have a health test and blood tests, so I must have been keen.

I travelled with small rucksack on the train (and boat) to Cowes where we were met by the course tutors.   There were five of us, four young men and me.  We stayed in basic single rooms, had communal meals and went out to the pub for a drink at night.  We had two full days of training: understanding how a parachute worked, how it was packed up, getting in and out of the plane on the ground, balancing on the wing strut.  We practiced jumping off chairs!  We learnt to chant ‘one Geronimo, two Geronimo’ up to ‘five Geronimo’ at which point, if they thought you were skilled enough, you pulled the chord to open the parachute.  We learnt about the directional toggles and how to work them, learned how to prepare for landing and roll on the ground following a jump.  We even went up in a plane so we got the feel of how this was going to work, what you would see.  Two parachutists at a time.  This was all very exciting.

There were two things they didn’t cover in training: firstly, just how heavy the parachute pack was.  As soon as I tried it on, unprepared, I fell on my back, legs and arms in the air, unable to move; a bit like when sheep fall on their backs.  At this point I had tears rolling down my face, tears of laughter at the indignity of it all.  I wasn’t sure that I was going to be able to get the pack on and walk to the plane, let alone climb on the plane.  Time would tell.

The second thing they didn’t explain was the wind blast.  Practising climbing in and out of the plane was all well and good but the engine wasn’t on.  Once the plane was flying there was a wind blast of 80mph from the front propeller.  We are talking about gale force winds here.  So if you try and climb on a wing strut, with gale force winds thrusting at you, it may not be possible to hold on tight while you position yourself to gracefully tumble off backwards; in my case I never managed it at all, not even after I completed five jumps.  Basically, I fell out of the plane.  After they saw my first jump, they didn’t trust me with the ‘one geronimo’ routine and I was attached to the plane so the parachute chord opened automatically.

I could see that the four young men on this course were much fitter than I was; there was definitely some rivalry.  They weren’t going to be ‘outdone’ by some girl (if only they had known, there was never going to be any chance of that).  I knew that given the choice I would walk away saying “I’ve enjoyed the training but I’ll pass on the jump”; there was no way I would do that in front of four men.  As I write this, I can feel my stomach somersaulting, that sick feeling of sheer dread.  I knew I did not want to jump.  I didn’t see how I was ever going to be able to do this.

They carefully loaded me into the parchute harness, avoiding that immediate backward fall.  I walked slowly up the steps of the plane, maintaining balance, so far so good.  I sat on the bench, not easy with an enormous mountain on your back.  Andy went first; not a good idea because I could see what I needed to do.  My turn.  I froze.

“Come on, move forward” the instructor shouted above the noise of the engine.

I froze.  “Are you jumping?”  he said impatiently.

“Yep” moving forward slowly.

”Onto the strut, right hand first”.  I did that.  “Now the left hand”.  I gripped so tightly.

”Let go” he shouted.  “Let go” he repeated more urgently.  “You are unbalancing the plane”

”I don’t care.  I can’t”.  There was a simple answer to this problem; he leant forward and physically ungripped my hands and off I went.  It was a combination of him pushing me and me falling out.  You fall fast, tumble and suddenly there is a wrench when the parachute opens and jolts your shoulders.  This isn’t how it is on films.  It’s brutal.  The fall passes quickly; the view is beautiful but I didn’t appreciate it because I was too worried about what the next stage was; something about bringing your knees up, preparing for the landing but I couldn’t remember exactly what to do.  No matter, I’d landed, nowhere near the target but that was because I was so terrified I hadn’t even thought about the directional toggles.

That night, we all went to the pub and talked about our adventure.  It was reassuring to know that the others were slightly shaken.  It was only when the instructor asked whether we were all up for the next jump tomorrow that I realised that we could all have five jumps in total.  I was confident they would all say that they had had enough but no.  All four were keen.  This was about ‘saving face’.  I couldn’t back out.  Perhaps it would be easier the second time.

”Let go” he said again.

“No”.  This time he didn’t wait, just pushed me out.  I remembered the toggles, while muttering under my breath “B_____d”.  However, I never was very good at directions and I just turned in a circle.  Slightly nearer the target.  When we met up after Jump 2, there were only four of us.  Andy had gone to hospital with a broken leg.  By this time, part of me is terrified about Jump 3 and there is a small smug part of me that is pleased that it wasn’t me in hospital; I had survived.  It was one of those macho men.

Jumps 3 and 4 were equally traumatic; I hadn’t learnt to let go but I had managed to move the toggles a bit and enjoy the gentle floating, watching birds flying alongside me.  Jump 5 was a bit of a shock; it was a bit gusty as I jumped and was blown off course.  I couldn’t find the target to direct myself towards; I twirled around and found myself descending towards a corn field with a combine harvester going around the edges.  It is strange how quickly you can conjure up images of your parachute being caught up in the harvester’s machinery and you personally being torn to shreds.  I lost concentration.  I didn’t prepare for landing; I didn’t raise my legs up; I landed on my bottom and bruised my coccyx but otherwise I was ok.  However, I was three miles from the airfield, parachute all over the place with a harvester nearing me.  Fortunately, all the farmers are used to this sort of occurrence; he stopped on one of his turns and shouted “Just wait where you are; they will come and collect you” and they did.

Back to base, Tom was in A&E with a badly twisted ankle.  The men may have been fitter and stronger than me but two of the four were in hospital and I was still fit for the pub.  I immediately decided three things: firstly, I enjoyed the experience in a weird, masochistic way; secondly, I would never, ever jump out of a plane again, not for a million pounds, not for charity, not for a challenge, never, and thirdly, I think anyone who does jump out of a plane is just bonkers.

Probably the most embarrassing thing is that at the end of the course you were given a ‘Report Card’ with the instructor’s comments about the your jumps.  A bit like a School Report and mine definitely fitted the ‘Could Do Better’ category.  I still have the card; I kept it to remind me that if I was ever tempted to go parachuting again, I could look at this and remember!

My second trip to the Isle of Wight in 2001 was in search of a tea room.  There was a beautiful garden tea room in Luccombe, overlooking the cliff edge, on a sunny day having tea, scone and jam under a parasol.  It was such a beautiful setting.  I had expected to find a number of tea towels but this was the only one.  I can look at this picture of a quiet village and feel the churning stomach just thinking about parachuting. Thank goodness there was only one, I couldn’t go through that every time I did the wiping up.

Hillside Village: 2015


I love the drama of the image on this tea towel.  Created by Caroline Rees who specialises in papercut images, mainly for framed pictures but also for textile designs.  This is not like the paper cutting I did at school, crude drawings which gave such fun; this is beautiful artwork, painstakingly conceived, with fine detail that makes the picture come alive.  Most of her work is black and white, often with just one colour.  The teal in this one adds a focal point.

I bought this at the Bovey Tracy Annual Craft Fair in 2015.  I was struck by this tea towel because the immediate thought that sprang to mind was ‘jigsaw puzzles’.  I love a good jigsaw puzzle; I like the challenge of 1000 loose pieces that can create a complete image but I definitely don’t go for 1500 pieces or ones that are ridiculously hard.  In York, two years ago, I was tempted by one of cats; hundreds of cats of all shapes, sizes, colours, breeds and it was almost impossible to do.  It was, in fact, the only one that I have ever failed to complete and my local charity shop has been the beneficiary.  I don’t like half-completed jigsaw puzzles lying around on tables for weeks on end which is why it is essential that the jigsaw is possible to complete in a reasonable amount of time.  My favourite was the London Underground Map, more difficult than it looked but the one of the Ambridge of the Archers was fun, nothing like the village that I imagined.

Actually, Caroline Rees’ work would translate well into a jigsaw puzzle, although I am happy, as ever, with a tea towel.

Pat Albeck: Queen of the Tea Towel


Liz bought me this book, as a surprise.  You know that feeling, when the Amazon envelope, addressed to yourself, arrives through the door but you can’t remember if you have ordered anything?  To open that cardboard package and find a glorious yellow book is something to make your heart beat faster, especially when you had no idea that it was arriving.  I flicked through it, looking at the different illustrations.  I put it down.  I watched a football match.  I picked it up again and read it from cover to cover.  I had some dinner.  I picked it up again and read it from cover to cover, once more.  I looked more carefully at the designs and, at that point, realised how few I actually had.  If the shops hadn’t closed by this time, I would have been out, scouring the charity shops, looking for all those Pat Albeck designs I had missed.

It is a rare thing that I will write a Tea Towel Blog that is not about a tea towel, with a special memory, from a particular place.  There have been celebratory Blogs about the first and second birthdays of, one on preparing for the Virtual Tea Towel Museum.  This Blog is very special to me; it is about the book Matthew Rice, Pat Albeck’s son, wrote about his late mother’s tea towel designs, published by the National Trust.  It’s the book I would have loved to have written.

For a Tea Towel Collector like myself, whose favourite tea towel designer was Pat Albeck, this is like a dream come true.  112 pages of joy, with full page photographs of some of her tea towels.  The book is divided into chapters: Cottages Castles and Country Houses, Kitchens and Food, Patterns and Graphics, Birds and Beasts, and Flowers Gardens and Landscapes.  Obviously, since she designed more than 300 tea towels, not all are included; just a sample.  Sad, obsessed collector am I, I just had to go through the book and count how many different tea towels are represented: 81 in total.  She designed a Calendar tea towel, for the National Trust, every year from 1976 to 2019, both of those are included.  That is 43 in total and I only own 5 (1986, 2005, 2009, 2014 and 2018); I have so many more to collect.  She designed tea towels for particular properties, both in England and Scotland, more general ones reflecting her love of gardening, cats; I have so few of her generalist designs and I want some!

The book shows her first tea towel design from 1954.  I think I was surprised at how few of the tea towels, that are in the book, I have got.  In fact, only Baddesley Clinton, Hardwick Hall and Mecanopsis.  I’d hoped that the tea towel that I was given in 1976 then lost, highly decorated with acorns and oak leaves from the National Trust, might be there, but no.  That has to be for a second volume!

There are some stunning ones included: A Present from the National Trust, a jug with a bunch of flowers; the Orange Tree, highly decorated and coloured with ‘Glass Cloth’ written on it; a Recipe for Seville Orange Marmalade and an absolutely plain Glass Cloth but with striking colours of French navy, black and milk chocolate.  I’ve never seen these ‘in the flesh’ but they are so beautiful.  Looking through the book, I realise how accurate that title is; Pat Albeck was the Queen of the Tea Towel.  It is fascinating to see the way her style, and use of colours, changed over the decades, yet they are all beautiful.

But I can’t complete this Blog without including a few of my Pat Albeck tea towels that I feel are deserving of a second volume.  Just tap on the picture for the notes:

I love the colour that Pat Albeck uses in her tea towels to make them come alive:

Thank you, Liz, for buying me this book; I think you described it as “an early birthday present’.  For me it is like birthday, Christmas and any other celebration all rolled into one.  Thank you to Matthew Rice for such a delightful book, giving readers some insight into the background behind some of the designs.

I have two regrets, and this book has highlighted this for me: firstly, I never met Pat Albeck, or interviewed her for the Museum, and secondly, I never saw one of the exhibitions of her work.  One of the things that I have learned over the years is that if you want to do something, get on and do it; you never know what is round the corner.


Our Solar System (or reaching for the stars): 2018


Class Fundraising do some great tea towels, which are used for educational purposes: both content of the design and teaching kids to wipe up with good quality tea towels!  This Solar System tea towel has taught me a thing or two; I’m certainly more prepared for a Pub Quiz in terms of which planets are nearer to, or further from, earth.

But I have just finished watching the World Cup ‘play-off’ between England and Belgium and, for me, this World Cup was about reaching for the stars.  There wasn’t unrealistic expectations from a very young team; it certainly wasn’t painful to watch each of England’s matches; I didn’t feel the need to scream at the television or feel frustrated that each and every player wasn’t trying hard enough; we even won a penalty shoot-out.

Gareth Southgate felt, at the beginning, that reaching the last 16 would be a huge success, and it was.  The trouble is once you have achieved that, you do try and reach for the stars, go that one or two steps beyond what what expected, to dream that ‘football’s coming home’.  The reality is that football has come home, in that loads of disillusioned fans, people who have thoroughly enjoyed the game for many years, have been reinspired.  The tale of the careers of players like Jason Pickford who have been ‘on loan’ to various clubs and has played some of the games of his life is a wake-up call.  It has made commentators and pundits ask “ where are the new young players going to come from”.  You only reach the standard of being able to play in the World Cup, represent your country if you are in a first team week after week, not sitting on the Subs Bench because highly expensive players from other countries will take your place.

We can be highly successful in under-17s and under-20s competitions but what happens to those players as they grow older.  Are they nurtured by the Premiership League Clubs? No they are ‘on loan’.  So when I say ‘football is coming home’ I am just hoping that the ‘powers that be’ in football recognise the amazing talent of young British players and offer them the experience to be able to represent their country, whether that is England, Northern Ireland, Scotland or Wales.  The public isn’t going to want to be cheated.  But then Gareth Southgate knows that and knows that he doesn’t just have to look at the Manchester City and Manchester United axis for players, there are great players everywhere.  There is no point in having Football Academies if you don’t nurture those players as they leave.  We can dream the dream and look to the stars: football is coming home.

I Came, I Saw, I Conquered: 2017


A great tea towel that I bought in Stratford-upon-Avon last summer.  Liz and I had met up with Jai, Roger, Hamish and Lyra for Afternoon Tea at the Royal Shakespeare Company Theatre.  ‘Twas a lovely day, sunny, trip across the river with Hamish turning the wheel, to move the Chain Ferry across the water; we looked out from the restaurant, high above the river, a great view.  And then there was a Craft Fair which is where I saw this tea towel.  This is not the first I’ve got by Erica Sturla, William Wallace and Marie Antoinette are the other two.  I love the play on words, the illustrations akin to Wallace and Gromit.  I like to be able to link history with a tea towel……..

And today’s blog does just that.  I bought this on an outing with Jai and yesterday I got a Whatsapp message from Jai:

”…a journalist has asked me to offer my ‘expert’ commentary on Boris Johnston’s resignation letter😆”

I reply “That’s what comes of being famous.  I’m sure you can blag your way through it”, not treating a distinguished academic with the respect she deserves.  “I can’t believe you are now a political commentator.   This is as good as getting an A in GCSE Geography (another surprise)”

I looked up the link she sent; this is not just one line quote but an exploration, at length, of the wording of Boris’s letter of resignation for ‘Bustle’, an online magazine. It never occurred to me that academics around the country would be looking at the intricacies of the letter; I thought they would just accept that this was his scheme to become Prime Minister.  I’m glad someone is looking at it in more detail, and it’s implications if he ever became Prime Minister.

Commenting on the fact that Boris addressed his letter to ‘Theresa’, Dr Jai Mackenzie, a fellow in English Language at the University of Birmingham told Bustle “In doing so he refuses to acknowledge her status and authority.  This practice of calling senior women by their first name (but senior men by their full names or titles) is a common complaint amongst women in the work place as it works to diminish women’s status and achievements”.

She went on to say “The contrast between the indecisive stance ascribed to May and Johnson’s own direct, confident style echoes the gendered stereotypes that men are more confident and aggressive than women, who are in contrast more timid and indecisive.  Perhaps he is trying to mobilise these stereotypes to his advantage, with the implication that May, as a woman, can never be as confident a leader as him”

“Congratulations you can certainly turn your hand to anything.  Just think, my Tea Towel Collection in the hands of a famous author and someone giving expert opinions in the newspaper.  TV next!!” I say

Eloquently Jai replies 😆

”50 million monthly subscribers seems to me to be a big audience!!”

Even more eloquently, she replies 🤷‍♀️

Boris may think “I came, I saw..” but maybe it is only the strap line that applies to him “I conquered the washing up” because there are many people who would be horrified if he became Prime Minister.

St Albans: 2005


It’s a drag not being able to drive.  I used to love it.  But going on long journeys means I have to use all manner of methods to keep myself awake, otherwise it isn’t fair on the driver.  Most of the time that isn’t difficult but sometimes, on the long and boring journey down the M1 to Hertfordshire, done at least weekly, this can be a struggle at times.  I’ve seen the scenery before, I’ve been in the traffic jams before, I’ve completed the ‘I Spy on the Motorway’ book twice, as well as ‘I Spy Cars’, ‘I Spy Lorries’ and parts of ‘I Spy Green’, ‘I Spy The Countryside’ and ‘I Spy the Weather’.  It’s always a shame that I can’t Blog in the car.  In the past, I used to write each Blog in draft, in the car, but since I have trained myself to write directly onto the iPad, I don’t even need to do that these days.

”How long has the M1 been open?” says Liz as we pass St Albans, very slowly in a long traffic jam; that’s what building a Smart Motorway means!

”Where does that train of thought come from?” I asked

“I couldn’t remember when it wasn’t here, so just wondered”

”I think it was 1959.  Ernest Marples opened it.  I’ve got a book called ‘Boring Postcards’ and there is a black and white one of the empty motorway and Ernest Marples with a ribbon to be cut”.

I’ve often wondered who bought those postcards but I suppose it must have been exciting at the time, not like today with a Smart Motorway chaos.

”You’re ‘rug washing’” Liz says knowingly.

‘Rug washing’ is an interesting phrase we use when someone is just guessing but sounding very convincing.  It originated from a sign on the side of the road in Glenfield: ‘Rug washing available’ with a picture of a horse but with no definable link.  When I first saw that sign, several years ago, I was bemused and asked Liz ”What’s rug washing?”

”It is a technique for washing horse blankets, using specialist soaps in a large machine.  It prevents disease and is good for the horses.”

”How do you know that?” I ask, impressed.

”I don’t.  I just made it up”.  Hence the birth of the term ‘rug washing’.

But I didn’t think I was rug washing about Ernest Marples.  The only answer is to Google it; that should keep me bright wide awake.  I was right.  The M1 was opened in 1959, Ernest Marples as Minister for Transport was there.  It started at Junction 7, to St Albans with the M10 spur, ending at Junction 17, with the A45 spur to Coventry.  Now Googling this was a mistake; I could tell you when every Junction was opened.  There are pages and pages on Google about the M1!   Interesting?  No, not exactly, but mesmerising and always useful for a Pub Quiz.  Did you know that lighting and safety barriers weren’t introduced until 1973 because of fears about safety?

“I’ve found a list of ‘Accidents and Incidents’ that have happened on the M1” I say

”I don’t want to know about those when I’m driving on the M1”

”What about the ‘List of Sites Visible from M1’?”


“Yes.  Do you know that you can see Hertfordshire Oil Storage Terminal at Buncefield from here?”

”Do I want to see that?”

”No.  But it is probably the most interesting thing to be seen.  I’m surprised at how few things are listed.”

This gets us both looking to see if you can see anything from the motorway and Google is right.  Basically there is very little to see. Well, my excavation into Google and the M1 certainly kept me awake, and Liz, bored maybe, but awake.

So, we passed St Albans, which I visited in 2005, and where I bought this tea towel.  St Albans was always a bit of a disappointment to me, so much history but never quite interesting enough.  Compared with St Albans, the story of the motorway was riveting!