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!


Celtic Woman (Destiny): 2017

It’s right, that saying about when you are looking for something, there being nothing, and once you find it, what you are looking for comes along like buses.  Tea towels from shows are like that for me.  For years I have wanted a tea towel, rather than a programme, from a show.  Nothing.  There was ‘Anton and Erin’ and ‘Only Men Aloud’ in 2009; I had to wait another 6 years for ‘Matilda’ and ‘The Seekers’.  This is a drop in the ocean when I think of how many concerts, musicals and shows I have seen, and how many tea towels I have got: four tea towels, from 50 years of collecting, with 900 hanging in my wardrobe.  Then in October 2017 three came along: ‘Crazy for You’ one week, followed by ‘Beautiful: The Carole King Musical’ in the next week and finally, third time lucky, ‘Celtic Woman’.  With the exception of ‘Matilda’, all those have been at the Theatre Royal in Nottingham.

After spending two weeks at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival this year, listening to a lot of Celtic music, I was interested to see ‘Celtic Woman’, something I’d never heard of.  With a write-up of “Riverdance for the voice”, it sounded good.  Celtic Woman was founded in 2004, a four woman Irish group, that has toured the world.  Don’t get me wrong, this is not a criticism, but the tea towel was obviously designed for their world tour following the success of their 10th studio album, ‘Destiny’, which was nominated for a Grammy Award in the Best World Music category but the show I saw was on the ‘Voices of Angels’ tour.  A tea towel is a tea towel and they were so good I am considering buying the ‘Destiny’ album anyway.

Celtic Woman is an amazing ensemble, beautiful rich Celtic voices, an incredible fiddle player and harpist, graceful dancing, with a spot of Irish dancing thrown in for good measure.  It was an inspiring and haunting performance and a group that I would love to see again.  In the meantime, I have a tea towel, with a delightful Celtic Knot and a four leaf clover, to remind me of my trip to the theatre.

Papaver Rhoeas: 2017


This Tea Towel Blog is not going the way that I had planned it; it has developed a life of its own and taken a turn that I was not expecting.  I suppose I could  have entitled this Blog Field Poppy, Flanders Poppy, Red Poppy, Common Poppy, Corn Poppy, Corn Rose Poppy, Weeping Window or even ‘Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red’.  The last is the title of the massive installation, at the Tower of London, to mark the centenary of the start of the First World War; it is the first line of a poem by an unknown soldier, discovered in Chesterfield Museum, along with his will.  ‘Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red’ consisted of 888,264 ceremaic poppies, pouring from a bastion window, the Weeping Window, into a seeming pool of blood, one poppy representing each of the British and Commonwealth soldiers that died during the First World War.  The first poppy was laid on 17 July and the last on 10 November 2014.  More than five million people visited the Tower of London during that time.  There was a public clamour for the the installation to remain for a much longer period or even be a permanent exhibition.  This was resisted by both the artist, Paul Cummins, and the Tower of London on the grounds that it represented that passing of time.  Most of the poppies were sold, with money raised going to 6 veteran charities but the Weeping Window installation has been, and still is, on tour throughout the United Kingdom, during 2016, 2017 and 2018 after which it will have a permanent exhibition at the Imperial War Museums.

I first saw two of the Poppies from the Tower of London, mounted in frames, on the wall of the Duchess Jean Tea Room at the Gordon Highlanders Museum in Aberdeen.  They had been bought by families of two soldiers who lost their lives during the First World War and donated to the museum. They are stunning, and alone are a very moving tribute.  The ceramic work is detailed, each slightly different, as a result of being hand crafted, the red so deep, like the blood it is portraying yet beautiful.  You don’t see that detail in a massive installation like at the Tower of London.

Moving on……. earlier this year, I saw that the Weeping Window was on display at the Derby Silk Mill.  Not having seen the installation at the Tower of London, I really wanted to visit Derby.  I knew that it would be much reduced in size but I hadn’t realised how powerful, even a fraction of the original installation, would be.  Poppies pouring down the side of the Silk Mill, in a graceful flow, was a moving sight.  You just wanted to keep moving around, seeing it from different angles, taking photographs with different shades of light, light moving through the mesh.  There was a hush around the falling poppies, a respect, a remembrance, even though it wasn’t the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month.  There was an exhibition inside the Silk Mill about local men who had lost their lives, memorabilia that was personal, local.  It was stunning; in many ways I am pleased that I saw the Weeping Window at the Derby Silk Mill rather that at the Tower of London, it was local, personal, part of the history of the Midlands.  And when it went to Liverpool, Yorkshire Sculpture Park, Woodham Museum, St Magnus Cathedral in Kirkwall, Lincoln, Caernarfon Castle, Black Watch Museum in Perth, I expect everyone there thought the same.  There was a wall on which you could pin cards describing your thoughts and feelings, sentiments that were immensely personal, stories passed down the generations.  It is that element of participation, community and sharing that made it so special.  And, of course, there was a tea towel; a tea towel about the poppy, not about particular places because the poppy is one of the elements that draws collective support in the face of loss and suffering, which is a fitting reminder of that special day.  But in 2018, the tour continues, to Middleport Pottery in Stoke, Carlisle Castle, Hereford Cathedral, Fort Nelson in Portsmouth, plus the Imperial War Museums, in both London and Manchester.  What I didn’t expect was the other thoughts that came slowly trickling through……

I didn’t think I knew anyone who was killed in First World War but, of course, there was my grandfather.  I didn’t know my grandfather; my father didn’t know his father.  My father didn’t even know of his existence until he (my father) was 33.  My grandfather was not killed on the fields of Flanders but died on an isolation ship in Sydney Harbour, having contracted Spanish Flu while fighting in Europe.  He was one of millions, somewhere around 50 million, many more than died in battle, who died of Spanish Flu between 1918 and 1920.  My father was born out of wedlock, a family secret, brought up by an aunt until my grandmother found a husband who would take her son as well.  The shame and humiliation must have been terrible in those days but I will never understand why they didn’t tell my father.  If he had been adopted that might have been excusable but not to adopt and not to tell him, it was the pretence that I find inexcusable.  He walked around with the surname of the man he thought was his father, from the age of two and a half, but his birth certificate said ‘Jack Crawford Abbott’; although he used his mother’s married name, his name was never changed by Deed Poll until he was 33 and found out his origins.  He wanted to belong, belong somewhere, to a family where he had always felt an outsider but didn’t understand why.  There must be many stories from the First World War where it wasn’t just death that caused the pain but the tangled webs we weave.  There are days that I wonder what life might have been like for my father if my grandfather had lived, if my father had been raised as part of a loving family on a sheep farm (his father was a sheep farmer) and where would I have been?  Interesting thoughts.

Remembrance Day, and selling poppies from a cardboard tray on the street, was a feature of my childhood.  One of the pitfalls of being the daughter of a local Councillor is that you get dragged along to a variety of activities that you would never choose to do yourself.  Little girl stood by her mummy, selling poppies, was always a draw; our stint always seemed to be on a really cold day, and several years it was also raining.  I would always accompany her to the Remembrance Day parade and service.  Another cold event, in the open air.  I clearly remember the navy coat with a Peter Pan collar, ankle socks, black patent shoes, white hat and white gloves.  It certainly didn’t keep the cold out.

And so those trains of thought continue through the picture of my grandmother (on my mother’s side) and Great Aunt Mona, standing for a formal posed photograph, sepia, as Women’s Land Army girls in the First World War or my mother’s ARP Warden’s badge that I keep in my jewellery box or the pictures of my father standing by a tank in Belgium during the Second World War or her Ration Book………

And this brings me to 11th Day of the 11th Month in 2017.  It must be 50 years since I last went to a Remembrance Day service yet this year I was invited to one. A strange one.  In January, Liz’s mother died in the care home she was living in.  In the home, each year, they hold a Remembrance Service for the people who died in the home that year, as part of their Remembrance  Day services.  Liz was invited and wanted to go but as her sister was unable to attend she invited me to go with her.  It was a two part service, remembering the residents of the home first followed by the full  Remembrance Service.  It was very moving, more moving that the big services, because it was intimate and personal. There was a part where when someone’s name was read out, a relative or friend would go up to the front, pick a rose and place it in the vase.  There probably ‘wasn’t a dry eye in the house’, memories of recent deaths but also memories from a long time ago.  The purpose was being able to recognise the individual but also to recognise that ‘the whole is more than the sum of the parts’, as Aristotle would say; strength and comfort come from a community with a shared memory.  It was beautiful.  Liz chose a red rose because she knew, that if her dad had been able to take part, that is what he would have chosen for her.

There is a sharing at times like this.  How many funerals have I been to where ‘The Lords’ my Shepherd’, music by Crimond, has been sung.  For each of those services, a memory or two come floating back.  We sang ‘Make me a channel of your peace’, my favourite hymn, sung at John’s funeral, and sung at Dorothy’s because she had a piece of paper in her handbag with the words of the hymn on it which Liz and Lyn found.  They thought that this must be a hymn that gave her comfort.  We all look for comfort, in something, at times of sadness and distress, a symbol, whether it is Moina Michael’s idea of the poppy for Rememberance or John McRae’s poem ‘In Flanders Field’, these things have importance to individuals.  I will remember that through a poignant tea towel, the humble tea towel, the tea towel of every day use, always with me.


Monopoly: 2009


I remember playing Monopoly, as a child of about 10, with my parents.  At that time, we didn’t often play games but Monopoly was one game that brought us together, that is until the time that I was losing and got up to go to the toilet.  My father assumed that I had gone mardy and was walking out.  He got very angry and refused to continue the game; in fact, we never played Monopoly again as a family and it was only much later that we played Scrabble together instead.  He had definitely forgotten his outburst by that time but I never did (and never left a game of Scrabble to go the toilet!).  the incident was quite dramatic, and traumatic, because, as an only child, I had no one else to play Monopoly with.  I like Monopoly; I don’t own a set; I had a game about a year ago, the first time in nearly 50 years, loved it.  I like the competitive nature of it; I don’t mind losing but I enjoy the strategising.  You see, I love Catopoly (same as Monopoly but its about the lives of cats instead; I would highly recommend it) for the same reason but my friends think I am too ruthless and are reluctant to play with me.

The fact is that Monopoly was launched in 1935, created from the original 1903 board game, Landlords Game; its purpose was educational; it was to demonstrate that an economy which rewards wealth creation is better than one in which monopolists work under few constraints, promoting the economic and tax theories of Henry George.  But what do you know about Monopoly? Great facts for your next Pub Quiz!  (a) the longest game lasted 1680 hours (b) it is available in 103 countries (c) Monopoly has been translated into 37 languages (d) the first European Championships were held in 1972 in Reykjavik (e) the first World Championships were held in 1973 in Catskills USA and was won by Lee Bayrd (f) the current World Champion is Nicolo Falcone (g) the average length of each game is 2 hours (h) the British Secret Service commissioned a special edition of Monopoly during the Second World War, made of silk, into which money, maps, messages were sewn and then sent, as part of a fake humanitarian aid scheme, to prisoners held by the Nazis to help them escape (i) the most landed upon properties in the English version are Trafalgar Square, Vine Street, Fenchurch Street Station and Kings Cross Station (j) the least landed upon properties are Old Kent Road, Whitechapel Lane, Park Lane and the Angel Islington (k) the Iron and the Thimble are two of the original ‘movers’ for each player.

Those facts are a mere tip of the iceberg; if you look on Google there are probably more facts about Monopoly than the Second World War.  But I love the line in the centre of the tea towel: I have the monopoly in the kitchen, a clever use of words.  The tea towel is unusual in that it replicates the Monopoly board, it’s square, unlike 99.9% of my tea towels.  And now all I want to do is play Monopoly and I can’t find anyone to play.  Sometimes life is a bummer!




















The Gasometer: 2015


I met Penny Seume in June 2015 at the Contemporary Craft Festival in Bovey Tracey, Devon, home of the Devon Guild of Craftsmen.  This was the annual fair, displaying the work of hundreds of crafts people.  I was drawn to Penny Seume’s stall because she was making lampshades with the most vibrant of materials, city scapes.  There was a chair on display, upholstered in a New York City landscape design.  Oh, how I would have liked one of those but then, on the back wall, hung what looked to be tea towels.  I say ‘looked’ because they were so unusual.  Real pictures, nothing to do with images about wiping up.  There was a wide choice but for me it would always have to be something that triggers a memory, provokes thoughts.  Hence the choice of Borough Market (Tea Towel Blog dated 11 July 2017) and The Gasometer.  If you lived in London, and are of my age, Gasometers were a feature of the skyline, especially along the Grand Union Canal or by the River Thames.  I don’t know where this one is/was but I was always fascinated by them.  I didn’t do science at school; I had no real idea what a Gasometer was or why it had enclosed sides one day and was an empty metal structure another.  Fear not, dear Reader, I have no intention of attempting to explain it.  The one I have greatest memories of was near Brentford, somewhere I visited frequently when going to Griffin Park to watch my favourite football team.

Penny explained that she used a digital camera to capture images that eventually became her tea towels.  You can see that from the amazing sky, brilliant blue, offering a backdrop to the wire frame of the Gasometer, which, in turn, is reflected in the water of the canal.  It’s the detail I love: the canal itself with narrow boats tied up, urban housing, probably described as City Living, the kerb stones with double yellow lines and the three bicycles padlocked, in a haphazard manner, against the railings.  It is a brilliant image, not one you would necessarily think of as a composition for a tea towel.  But the tea towel makes a worthy canvas, as Van Gogh would vouch, for he used a tea towel to paint on when he could not afford a canvas.

Fabric, cushions, lampshades, wallpapers are the main trading items of Penny, even scarves, but tea towels tend to be ‘limited editions’, produced for exhibitions and fairs, items to draw you in so you can explore her larger items.  It is a brilliant use of tea towels, as a form of publicity (and she does have her signature on them so you know where to find her again).  But to find an artist of her talent, doing something like that, is a joy for someone, like me, who does not want curtains or wallpaper but is looking for the unusual in a tea towel.  It becomes pure pleasure when it is the turn of the Gasometer to be used for wiping up.

Calendar: 1986 (acquired 2017)


This is a traditional Calendar Tea Towel, designed by Pat Albeck, my favourite tea towel designer, for 1986.  I haven’t been a big collector of Calendar Tea Towels (although I now seriously regret this and am on the look-out for some) but I saw this in my favourite vintage Charity Shop, and because it was by Pat Albeck, I bought it.  I love the birds that weave their way through the months, always keeping your interest.  I especially like the pheasants, ignoring each other, the swallow passing through and the little duck quietly minding its own business.

A Calendar Tea Towel always makes me try and think about what was happening in my life, and of course world events.  1986 was the first full year that I had stopped smoking; I started stopping in October 1985 with the sole aim of being able to afford to go to China, which I achieved in 1987.  1986 was, therefore, the year of clean curtains, a smoke-free house, clothes without the lingering smell of stale tobacco.  A cigarette never passed my lips; John had given up too.  It might, therefore, have been a year of grumpyness!  1986 was the year that Andrew came to England with Elena, his future wife; they stayed with my mother in Ealing and there is photographic evidence of the last family ‘get together’, that didn’t involve a funeral.  I could tell you what we ate because there is a photograph of the buffet table.  1986 was the year I trained to be a Social Work Student Supervisor and took my first student, from Leicester University.  His name was Mike Evans and will be the student I will always remember.  I was working in Coalville, a former mining town, working class, people with rigid views and there was Mike Evans, a young gay man with a Mohican ‘hair do’, perfectly styled, earrings, beautiful perfume, dressed completely in black, with a few chains, and Doc Marten boots.  He was brilliant and captivated all the customers he worked with.  I will never forget the leaving present that a group of people with learning difficulties bought for him – a beautiful pair of long, elegant silver earrings.  I learnt so much from Mike and his placement gave me the confidence to take more students over the next 30 years, sadly not all as easy to work with as him.  I had holidays at the Edinburgh Festival, in Cornwall and the Scilly Isles and many visits to National  Trust properties, since I think that was the year that I joined.

What happened in the wider world?  Looking back, some things seem to have happened much longer ago than 1986 and I can’t believe others were that far back.  I could have sworn that Cary Grant, Wallis Simpson, Harold McMillan, Henry Moore and Pat Phoenix all died much earlier than 1986.  I know this was the year that ‘Casualty’ was launched because I remember the 30th anniversary celebration.  But ‘Neighbours’ on British TV?  Was it really 1986 when Den served the divorce papers on Angie in ‘Eastenders’ on Christmas Day?  I remember the scandal of the Westland Affair but I could never have guessed when that happened.  Was the M25 really completed in 1986, all 122 miles with 31 junctions but no services?  The Today newspaper was launched, that didn’t last long!  I don’t want to think about Margaret Thatcher being Prime Minister or Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson getting married; all that money wasted on a wedding and the end of council housing!  Margaret Thatcher, Milk Snatcher!

John McCarthy was kidnapped in Beirut; I’m not sure if it feels that long ago.  The Big Fire at Hampton Court destroyed a great deal.  Do you remember Suzy Lamplugh disappearing?  She was never found but I worked with the Suzy Lamplugh Trust, at one point, about protecting and safeguarding lone workers.  It was the World Cup in Mexico; I thought it was 1974 (doesn’t say much for my memory), but no that was in West Germany.  England didn’t win the World Cup (what a surprise) but Gary Linekar won the Golden Boot Award for being the highest goal scorer.  Later on that year, Gary Linekar became the highest valued footballer in Britain, at £2.75 million on his transfer from Everton to Barcelona.  How times change!

Of course, in terms of tea towels,  the United Kingdom was awarded its first UNESCO World Heritage Sites: Durham Cathedral (got a tea towel), Studley Royal (got a tea towel), Stonehenge (need a tea towel), Ironbridge (need a tea towel), Giants Causeway (need to visit then need a tea towel).

And finally, the Sun newspaper accused Freddie Starr of eating a live hamster.  What a way to conclude a Tea Towel Blog!