Jenners: 2017


There are some shops that are ‘special’; the ones that you always have to go round when you are near, even though you don’t want to buy anything.  In my time, there have been four such shops: NOVA in Aberdeen, a delightful shop where I always found something to buy.  It closed this year after 50 years of operating; the owner wanted to retire and there were no buyers.   It lies empty, a sad tribute to a fine store and tradition.  Present Company on Pitshanger Lane in Ealing, still there, still selling the same type of goods, always a place to buy a birthday or Christmas present.  I always associate Present Company with a fragrance of peach or apple blossom, a smell that makes me feel relaxed and willing to spend.  I know its still there because I went back to check in April this year; it must have been going for over 30 years and was a trendsetter when it was first established.  Then there was Fenwicks in Leicester which I blogged about on 7 January 2017, a stalwart on the Leicester Market Street which closed as a result of the ridiculous redevelopment of Leicester and finally, Jenners on Princes Street, Edinburgh.

I have visited Jenners, a very large department store with a long history, ever since I first visited Edinburgh in 1974.  No visit passes by without dropping in.  I love their Food Hall, the department with Scottish goods, their Christmas department, china and tableware and clothing.  I love the smell as you pass through the doors of perfume and cosmetics.  But I also really enjoy their eateries, always a good place to stop for a cup of tea and a scone.  It’s funny how department stores seem to be so good at making scones, cheese scones that rise to the point of perfection and start to lean over, always with crunchy crusts.  Fenwick’s cheeses scones were something ‘to die for’.

Jenners, like Fenwicks before them, never seem to be ‘stuffy’, ‘old fashioned’ or ‘boring’; they are interesting, always something different, selling quality goods but not overpriced.  Jenners, like Fenwicks, is in a higgledy-piggledy building, with small mezzanine, floors that could not be reached from just one lift or escalator.  That’s what I liked about Fenwicks and still do about Jenners.  It attracts locals and tourists alike.  Jenners was actually founded in 1838, at the same point on Princes Street but the building has changed because of a fire in 1892.  It was rebuilt, opening again in 1895, with electric lights and hydraulic lifts.  If you see photographs of Princes Street you will always spot Jenners.  Having ‘travelled’ on the Big Wheel during the Christmas Market, on a number of occasions, I love seeing Jenners from above, having that different perspective.

Disaster nearly happened in 2005, when Jenners was bought by House of Fraser (and House of Fraser already had one store at the other end of Princes Street).  Was the name going to change, would there be a ‘make-over’, would it’s uniqueness be maintained or would it become yet another high street department store?  Fortunately, none of those things happened.  It is still Jenners, the store still has the same atmosphere but maybe one good change is that Valvona and Crolla have a franchise for providing food and they are a great Edinburgh tradition.

In all the times that I have been to Jenners, it never occurred to me that they might have their own tea towel, perhaps they didn’t before. Boy, was I excited.  It is a great tea towel, a perfect representation of Jenners that no one could mistake, that fine presence on the corner where the window displays stretch fully from Rose Street, round to St David Street and finally to Princes Street.  I love the doorways surrounded by marble and the stone carvings, high up on the building.  I am not sure that the Assistant quite understood why I was so excited.  I had to have my photo taken outside Jenners holding their tea towel (I’m not sure that the tourists around quite understood that ritual either).  If only Princes Street had the number of people as depicted on the tea towel; it would certainly make shopping easier!   So when I am reading Alistair McCall Smith’s books about Edinburgh, where characters have morning coffee or Afternoon Tea in Jenners, I can reflect on the fact that I have a tea towel from there and there is no mention in his books about them having one.  This is another tea towel that will prolong the wiping up process because of the memories associated with it.



Fruits: Vintage (acquired in 2017)


I bought this tea towel in my favourite vintage Charity Shop in Leicester.  I have no idea how old it is but it has a look of the late 60s or early 70s.  It’s the use of colour that gives it away.  The classic purples, orange and green on a blue background.  Here you have very distinctive fruits, in terms of shape, but depicted in unfamiliar colours: the lemon and the pear, in purple, spring to mind.  It is a tea towel that stands out, makes you think of Biba (although I am sure they never sold tea towels) and Carnaby Street (where tea towels were never sold).

When I saw this tea towel hanging on a trouser hanger, it immediately reminded me of Cleveleys, and a string of very loose connections rang through my head.  Cleveleys was the house I lived in, with my parents, from the age of 11 until I left home.  It was a nice house, unusual in that the garage was under the house, with a lounge that ran from front to back.  My mother had full charge of colour schemes and decoration and on the chimney breast wall, in the lounge, she chose an orange and black wallpaper, with large circles; the predominant colour was orange.  As was the fashion of the day, the other three walls were wallpapered with a plain colour, a light tangerine.  This was complemented by an orange fabric three-piece suite with large matching footstools.  It was considered very ‘with the times’ but, good grief, there was a lot of orange.

However, if you moved upstairs to my room, the far wall was also wallpapered, with a purple, black and silver design, the sort of design that ‘knocked you for six’.   My mother certainly knew how to use colour, even if it wasn’t your taste.  This tea towel would definitely have fitted into her colour scheme.  The thing that I learnt from my mother was that you should never be afraid of colour; there wasn’t anything in the house (or her wardrobe) that could be considered bland and that could probably be said about me.

Man Lying on a Wall (and others): 2011


‘Man Lying on a Wall’ is a painting by LS Lowry, from 1957, and hanging in the Lowry Gallery in Salford Quays.  I went for a long weekend to Manchester in 2011, to celebrate one of those ‘special’ birthdays.  The idea was to have Afternoon Tea at the Lowry Hotel, a very formal affair and then make the most of Manchester, a city I had never been to before.  We went to the Lowry Gallery; an incredible display of Lowry’s work and the rest, as they say, is history.  I bought three tea towels of his work; it was difficult to decide which was to choose and, since it was my birthday, I had all three.  This is my favourite, but not the reason I am blogging about it.

In September, I joined a Creative Writing Course; I have no aspirations to become a poet, or to have a novel published.  I did think that if I was going to continue collecting tea towels, and produce blogs at the rate that I am, I ought to do something that might improve my style of writing.  I don’t think I have achieved that yet but I do genuinely love the course.  The theme for this term is ‘Art and Writing’.  The tasks are challenging but I was never one to give up on a challenge.  On this particular day, the tutor gave each of us a picture of ‘Man Lying on a Wall’ but did not tell us the title or artist.  I felt sure I recognised this as a Lowry, especially since I was almost sure that I had a tea towel of it.  Our task was to write a story about this painting in 15 minutes, in class, then, of course, you have to read it out!

I wrote: “How did it come to this? 35 years of carrying a briefcase to work with my sandwiches squashed in it.  35 years of cheese sandwiches, the same brown jacket and tan trousers, the tie, the bowler hat, the umbrella.  I’ve hated them all but have persevered.  It’s kept a roof over our heads, food on the table.  It’s become a pattern, I can’t bear the consequences of not doing it.  I’m called into the office, my services are terminated, no longer required, factory is closing, no positions left.  What do I do at my age?  More importantly, what do I say to the wife?  The only chance I have to have a fag is at work; my wages pay for it, my office provides accommodation for it.  It’s all over.  I ponder my options.  In reality, only one is acceptable.  The railway bridge provides comfort; a place to lie down, have a cigarette and think, nobody to bother me.  Think about the least worst option.  The cigarette gives me time, it calms me, it rationalises my thoughts.  The time has come and I take the first step……….”

I enjoyed writing that, a quick bit of Flash Fiction, a beginning, a middle and an end.   I was fascinated by the different interpretation that people put on the Man Lying on the Wall; how different people look at a picture and see different things.  However, LS Lowry also wrote about this picture: “People…..refused to believe me when I tell them I saw a man dressed just like that, doing just that, from the top of the bus…..It was the umbrella propped against the wall which caught my eye and prompted the picture…..The chap was well dressed and obviously enjoying the smoke and his rest.  I couldn’t resist doing him as a subject”.  LS Lowry produced over 1000 paintings and 8000 drawings in his lifetime and yet a simple glance from the top of a bus produced one of his most iconic pieces.

I never realised that in joining a Creative Writing Course that I would be able to encompass three, very different, of my own tea towels plus throwing in a couple of extra Lowry’s for good measure, in the first six weeks.  The tea towel is just another medium, another canvas, for the artist, whether it is is original work or reproductions of major art work from a canvas to a tea towel.  It makes you think.  ‘Man Lying on a Wall’ not only gave me something to think about in class, but also as I do the wiping up and to reflect on the wider work of Lowry. 

The Dons Christmas Stocking: 2017


”Barbara, is that a tea towel?” asks Hamish, a well-trained tea towel spotter.  “It is, it is.  It’s a Football Club tea towel.  It’s so cool.  Never seen one like that before.  Bet Chelsea don’t have a tea towel like that.  You’ve got to buy it”.  Who can refuse the request of an eight year old tea towel spotter?  We were in the Supporters Shop of Aberdeen Football Club (The Dons).  We were there to buy a present for Hamish’s Great Grandad, a lifelong Dons supporter.  Although he has lived in England for nearly 70 years, he has followed The Dons ever since he left his homeland (and has seen them play on many occasions when he returned to Scotland, every year).   We were definitely NOT there to look for a tea towel because, not in my wildest dreams, would I have thought a Football Club would have a tea towel (don’t get me wrong; I am not being defeatist about this, I have already looked in Leicester City and Brentford Football Club shops for one).  “Look, you can make it into a Christmas Stocking.  It’s got the instructions down the side.  That’s awesome.  You just cut along the lines.  It has ‘Dons Bairn’ on it.  What does Dons Bairn mean, Barbara?”.   I give an explanation of what The Dons means and then what the word ‘bairn’ means.  He is happy to have understood but I can see Hamish thinking quite deeply.  “Grandma, Barbara wouldn’t do that, would she?  She wouldn’t cut up a tea towel.  But that’s how you make the Christmas Stocking”.  Immediately, Grandma replies “No, Hamish, she wouldn’t do that.  She would never do that, but it wouldn’t stop her buying the tea towel and just using it as a tea towel”.

This has to be the best tea towel, ever, for originality; the colours are right, there is attention to detail, like the hook for hanging the stocking up; there is a different pattern for each side of the stocking AND Father Christmas is playing football.  I absolutely love it.  Well-spotted Hamish and, you are right, I have absolutely no intention of cutting it up.  However, the burning question of the day is ‘Does any other Football Club have a tea towel?’ Because if they do I will start a new Collection in the Virtual Tea Towel Museum for Football Club tea towels.

Norway Tradition and Culture: 2003


I bought this tea towel in Bergen, one of the stopping points on a cruise from Harwich, via Orkney, Faroe Islands, Iceland and Norway.  Great cruise, wonderful scenery and history, amazing geology and quite a lot of tea towels.  Originally, I thought that this tea towel was elegant and understated; that was until I got my hands on it, washed it at the wrong temperature and the red colour that is in the full length of the tea towel ran.  Not only is the whole tea towel a delicate pink shade (it actually doesn’t look too bad in the photo) but so are several pairs of knickers.  I do still like the essence of this tea towel although I am slightly embarrassed by my own incompetence.

The central motif of the tea towel consists of a number of pictures representing Norwegian Tradition and Culture: Viking Sailing Ship (you can almost see Kirk Douglas in it), whales, seals, elk, the wooden houses (as in Bergen) that line the shoreline, a couple in traditional dress, a picture of something that I can’t identify but thought might be cheese.  Stylish, I thought.

I have been following @RobGMacfarlane on Twitter; he uses Twitter to demonstrate his love of language, the meaning of words.  This Tea Towel Blog draws together a couple of the recent words he has shared.  Rast is a Norwegian unit of length, of around 11 kilometres.  It is regarded, presumably in Norway, as the length a person can walk before needing to take a break.  Perhaps the couple holding hands, on the tea towel, have reached a Rast and are contemplating Norwegian traditions and culture.  I feel I have to include the word Poronkusema.  Poronkusema is also a unit of distance, but sadly comes from Finland, (But Finland is near Norway so I thought I might link it with this blog – not a good philosophy for someone with a  degree in geography), and is between five and six miles.  Poronkusema is considered to be the distance a reindeer can travel before it needs to urinate.  How on earth did they discover this, why would anyone want to discover this and why create a word for such a specific piece of information?  The answer is that I do not know but I am grateful to @RobGMacfarlane for sharing this information.  I bet he didn’t think it would be included in a Tea Towel Blog!!

Castle Howard: 2016


I like this tea towel.  The stark, black drawing; the symmetry of the two wings and the central dome, standing magnificently, as almost the third tier of a wedding cake; a grand edifice with 18th Century Baroque and Palladian wings.  It looks like the home of wealth and elegance.  I like the ‘Howard’ bit; it would be nice to think that might be where my roots lie.  It was bought for me by my cousin, Julie, with whom I share the name.  Do we share a stake in this ancestral home?  Of course not, we are not from the Howards of Carlisle stock.  We don’t have a family that stretches back 300 years, in North Yorkshire.  Our roots, humble roots, are in South London.

Castle Howard isn’t a castle; it holds the title ‘castle’ because it was built on the site of a ruined, military castle.  Designed by Vanbrugh, it took more than 100 years to complete the building.  It has been a family home, to the same family, for 300 years.  That, in itself, is extraordinary when so many mansions and historic buildings are cared for by the National Trust or English Heritage; and it is an economically viable rural enterprise.  There is the house open to visitors, with gardens and parkland; there is forestry, shops and the Yorkshire Arboretum, with 6000 trees, on estate land but managed separately.  The house is surrounded by gardens and 1000 acres of parkland.  Not only is the house a Grade I Listed building but there are over 200 other buildings and monuments that are Listed/Protected in some way.  The formal gardens behind the building lead into the parkland, with a lake on either side of the house.  Within the parkland are two buildings: the Temple of Four Winds and the Mausoleum.  There are Walled Gardens, several follies to catch the eye of the visitor, a huge obelisk.  There is Ray Wood and Pretty Wood, where  there are two monuments – the Four Faces and the Pyramid.  As a visitor, you could spend days wandering around the gardens and parkland, admiring the stunning buildings and wondering which locations were used for the 1981 series of ‘Brideshead’.  I remember watching it, week after week, as the story was gradually revealed, hoping it would end ‘happily ever after’ and secretly knowing that could never happen.

One of the enterprises of Castle Howard is holding fairs/shows/rallies/exhibitions.  Julie and her husband Peter are serious vintage car rally drivers, often taking part in full costume.  This is why they were at Castle Howard.  Julie and I meet up at least once a year so last December I was very excited to be given this tea towel; very excited that Julie remembered my obsession for tea towels.  But as soon as I saw it, I remembered that I had been to Castle Howard myself (but they did not have a tea towel, as I recall) about 15 years ago.

I am a huge ‘fan’ of Moorcroft Pottery; I love the highly decorated nature of the designs, with the ‘feel’ of the embellished design.  I love their vibrant colours and intricate designs, and I actually own a couple of pieces.  My first being a wedding present from my stepson.  Moorcroft were having an event at Castle Howard to which I was invited.  Eric Knowles, from the Antiques Roadshow, was the speaker.  The ticket to the Moorcroft event allowed me entrance to the house and gardens.  I can remember seeing lots of old pieces of Moorcroft Pottery, that are rarely displayed.  I remember trying to work out if I could actually afford another piece, and if so, which would I choose.  In the end, I didn’t buy anything but just enjoyed the event.

So, for me, the Castle Howard tea towel was not only an unexpected, and lovely, present from my cousin but also a reminder of that day with Moorcroft Pottery.  It gets me thinking that (a) Christmas is a-coming and I must arrange to see Julie (b) it would actually be good to see Julie and Peter, in all their finery, at a rally and (c) although Castle Howard is not part of my heritage, it is a great place to visit.

Northern Lights: 2017


I noted today that I had completed 455 separate Tea Towel Blogs since I began this ‘journey’ two and a half years ago.  That doesn’t include any Pages or anything to do with  Back on 28 December 2016, I set myself some New Years Resolutions, some targets to keep me going.  They were to complete 400 Tea Towel Blogs concerning at least 550 tea towels by 31 December 2017.  With 455 Tea Towel Blogs about 577 tea towels, I have well exceeded my targets and I still have two months to go.  So today, I have re-set those targets: to complete 500 separate Tea Towel Blogs concerning at least 625 tea towels by the end of the year.  It is actually pushing me to the limits because it means 45 Blogs in 62 days, that will mean speeding things up.

When I reorganised my tea towels, moving them from the airing cupboard to the built-in wardrobe, they got slightly muddled so I recorded all the tea towels that hadn’t been blogged about; I can look at the nine-paged list and see what exactly needs to be done and there still looks like an awful lot to do.  To help me in the latest target, I have identified the next 75 tea towels to be blogged about so I don’t have to be faffing about, pondering what to do.

No point in bleth’rin (courtesy of Robert Burns); let’s  get started on 456.  I have just come back from a week in Aberdeen, staying in the Girdleness Lighthouse Cottages.  I had been there in February and loved it.  This time I was there with Hamish, Liz’s grandson.   It was half-term and he wanted to see where his great grandad was born, and grew up; Hamish wanted to see the beach he played on, the church he went to, the roads he walked down and also wanted to see his great great aunt because he was only 3 the last time they met.  Hamish is a Lego Man, likes things technical, so absolutely loved the idea of the Lighthouse.  Every morning he went out with his grandma, to walk around the Lighthouse, down to the beach, over the golf course, taking photos of the emerging sunrise.  In the evening, they took photos of the most glorious sunsets.  A Lighthouse is one of the best places to do this, away from the neon lights of the city centre, overlooking the wide expanse of sea.

Hamish is aware of my love of tea towels, after all he created ‘Hamish’s Chicken’ (Blog dated 2 September 2016).  On the way up to Aberdeen in the car he said “I think that we have too many tea towels at home. Mummy thinks so too, so you could have some of ours”.  I was touched by this generous offer, even though Mummy wasn’t aware of it.  I also think he might be in for a shock because ‘Mummy’ will be inheriting the whole collection at some later date, then he will find out what ‘too many tea towels’ are!   For Hamish, in fact for all three of us, the Lighthouse Cottage was a unique and exciting place: thick walls, deep window sills, wooden floors, cast iron bath and a Belfast sink.  The kitchen was beautiful, completely fitted out with wooden cupboards and matching door.  On the door to the kitchen, neatly pinned, is a tea towel, this tea towel, the Northern Lights.  It is so appropriate because it shows every single Lighthouse that is around the Scottish coast, many of which I have seen.  This is a tea towel with information, always useful in a Pub Quiz.  Earlier this year I saw the Lighthouse on Bass Rock and on the Isle of May; in 1972 I saw Muckle Flugga; in 2013 I saw the Lismore Lighthouse…….. They all bring back such memories.  Hamish went into the kitchen and shouted “Barbara, come and look at this.  There is an awesome tea towel.  You’ll love it”.

I told Hamish the story of the last time I was at the Lighthouse, how I fell in love with the tea towel, how it had been made for the Scottish Lighthouse Museum, how in the middle of February we set off to Fraserburgh to go to the Museum to buy the tea towel and they no longer stocked them.  This had resulted in me (a) going mardy and (b) writing a Tea Towel Blog called ‘Address to the Haggis’ (dated 12 February 2017).  Hamish wondered if they would mind me taking this tea towel home (and don’t think that hadn’t occurred to me many times during that week in February) but I needed to set a good example so just took the photo and said I would write about it instead.

The fact is, Hamish is right, it is ‘awesome’ and I would really like a tea towel just like that but it isn’t to be.  What I do have is (a) the photo (b) memories, great memories of that week with Hamish exploring his ‘roots’ (c) fantastic photographs of Girdleness Lighthouse and its setting (d) the opportunity to go back again to the Lighthouse for another holiday (e) memories of the stories I read in the books about Lighthouses, in the cottage and (f) memories of those spectacular sunrises, sunsets and rainbows last week.  Perhaps, on this one occasion, I can do without the tea towel and just live with the memories.