Another buy from my favourite charity shop. In pristine condition. Slightly larger than most British touristy tea towels. Good quality linen. But those aren’t the reasons that I bought it. I have been to Poole on many occasions and have some good memories but there are three things about Poole that have stuck in my mind all these years (a) Poole Pottery (b) Brownsea Island and (c) Ian Harrison. So when I saw the tea towel (and I don’t already have one from Poole) I just had to buy it.
When my parents married, it was not long after the Second World War ended, and they didn’t have much money. My mother kept a list of wedding presents that they received, which is now in my possession: bedroom furniture, chairs, towels, bed linen, glasses but not china. Not even the obligatory tea service, common in the early fifties. My mother always wanted a dinner service; I’m not sure why because they didn’t have people round for dinner. She longed for 12 dinner plates, 12 side plates, 12 soup bowls, 12 pudding dishes and so forth, all matching. She also longed for a matching gravy boat and custard jug, a tea service and serving dishes. She knew that they would never be able to afford such a thing, all in one go. My father had no interest in window shopping, let alone real shopping, so she had free-reign in choosing a set.
We had been on holiday in Sandbanks, another place I haven’t got a tea towel from, when we took a trip to Poole. My Dad sat on the harbour wall, clutching his transistor radio right up to his ear, listening to the Test Match. This was the story of all our Summer holidays. My mother was happy enough with this because she was able to go off with me. On this occasion we went to Poole Pottery. All that lovely china, all manner of colours, whole matching sets. She found what she wanted. The chunkier pottery was much more fashionable than fine bone china. She loved their ‘signature’ dinner service of Twintone Ice Green and Seagull; she loved the colours and texture, silky smooth; she loved the shape of the cups and serving dishes but especially the soup bowls; she loved the fact that there was a gravy boat and custard jug and there were things like ‘cucumber dishes’. She had made her choice. So what she did was buy one plate to show my dad, in the certain knowledge that he would agree. He agreed and that plate was the start of the collection. She got a brochure of the whole set, with a price list. For the next three years, for every birthday, wedding anniversary and Christmas present, from everyone, they knew that she wanted something off the list. Depending who it was, it could be several dinner plates or an egg cup; she didn’t allocate gifts to people, that would have been presumptuous. In the main people gave her either a Gift Voucher or the money to ensure that she didn’t get duplicates. She was canny; she started with building up to four of each piece of the dinner service, then to six, then eight, ten and finally twelve. Once that had been completed she went for the ‘luxury’ goods: serving dishes, gravy boat, salad bowl, toast rack. She loved the set; she displayed pieces and used it for many many years until the clumsiness of daughter, husband and cleaner meant pieces were chipped or, frankly, smashed to smithereens. It was only then that she decided to use the same tactics and go for a bone china set from Royal Doulton. The remains of the Poole Pottery set then went to her younger brother Chris, when he left home to go to university as a mature student.
Poole Quay is the starting point for a trip to Brownsea Island. On a sunny day, with a calm sea, this is is a wonderful place to go. With the sea breeze offering a cooling balm, there is plenty to see from the boat: the John Lewis hotel amongst the trees, a few houses and a harbour bursting with boats. My day on Brownsea Island was certainly a day to remember (and there was a tea towel to go with it).
The third association with Poole is Ian Harrison. Ian was someone I met in 1975. At that time, he ran the organisation that I managed from 1999. A disabled man who contracted polio when he was 18 and in the Merchant Navy; he moved on crutches, much faster than I could on two good legs. He was born and brought up in Poole, learn to sail in Poole harbour and that love of water encouraged him to join the Merchant Navy and it was that love of the water, following his illness, enabled him to be a successful Paralympic and World Championship sailor. When I first met him I thought he was a great person with a wicked sense of humour. However, Ian was also a canny man with impeccable tactics. He worked for a charity; he wanted to set up a group for disabled people, one day a week, in Birstall and he wanted a volunteer to do it. He knew that was going to be difficult to achieve so he approached my boss, Ted Harris, who he knew very well. He sold the idea to Ted as an ‘opportunity’ for someone who would benefit from a new experience; Ted had already proposed that Leicestershire County Council seconded me on a full-time training course starting in September 1975. Ted suggested that I should be the ‘volunteer’ for six months before I went off to college. If ever anyone was set-up, it was me. I did need experience in that I had never worked with disabled people BUT my course had nothing to do with disabled people as such. No one else wanted to do this job. It wasn’t that I didn’t enjoy my six months; I met some fantastic people but it was the hardest work I’d ever done and I was on my own, no one to help. I had to plan all the activities, each week, do all personal care, teach people new skills, keep cheerful, make the drinks, serve the dinner, clear the plates and find a never-ending energy. Every Friday I was knackered. They were right; it was good experience.
It was 25 years later that I met Ian again. I’d read about him in the papers but not met him since that fateful day in 1975; suddenly I found myself being interviewed by him when I applied to be the Director of mosaic: shaping disability services. It was a bit of a shock. By this time he was the chairperson of the organisation. He didn’t remember me; mind you, I had many more wrinkles than the last time I met him! I worked under him for 16 years at mosaic and not only had so much respect for him as a manager but also genuinely liked him. He had a great sense of humour. Although I had retired, I was devastated when he told me that he had inoperable cancer. The last thing he said to me was “I have had a charmed life; I have done everything I wanted to and had more opportunities as a result of the polio than I have lost because of it”.
So when I saw the tea towel I had to have it.