Retirement: 21 August 2015

Don’t start to read this unless you have a cup of tea and plenty of time for a sit down.

How do you decide when to retire from work? For some people they have no choice; ill health forces them to stop work. For some people it is about whether they have a good enough pension. For me there was a bit of a dilemma. Few people in my close family (parents, grandparents, husband, some aunts, uncles and cousins) ever reached retirement age; as a result saving for a big fat pension was never a priority.  Should I test fate and retire? For me, I made the decision to retire when I knew exactly what I wanted to do when I retired.  I couldn’t retire and then decide what to do; that’s not my way.  It needed to be something completely different from my working life; something I wanted to do, not something I created to pass the time.  Hence planning my retirement was a long term process, not a spur of the moment decision, and not something I shared with everyone until I was ready.  It is a personal journey.

All my working life, with the exception of 4 days as a dental nurse which was a complete disaster because I hate dentists, and 6 weeks working for the Nottingham Evening Post as someone who sent letters demanding payments for advertisements placed that had not been paid for, done to earn money before I got a ‘real’ job, I have worked in the field of social care. 41 years.  A long time.  For the last 16 years, I have been Director of mosaic: shaping disability services; these have been the best years because they have allowed me to bring together all the things I have learnt over the years, especially in relation to the rights of disabled people.

Most people I know did not think I would ever retire. They had this strange idea that I was a workaholic.  But that’s not true.  You have to distinguish between someone like me always wanting to do the best job I can and therefore giving it my all and someone for whom work is all that they have and all they want to do. Whatever I do, whether it is cleaning the house, keeping chickens, writing a tender, producing a report, supervising staff, looking after cats…..I like to think that I do it with committment.

Last October, I decided that there were several things that I wanted to do outside work: first and foremost, I wanted to do something about my tea towel collection.  I’d been collecting tea towels for more than 40 years and today that collection is nearing 600.  As everyone now knows, I use them all in rotation; I needed the people who would inherit them, to understand where they came from and how important they are to me.  I knew when I left work one of the things I would miss is writing reports; I am not a creative writer so I thought I would start a Blog about my tea towels, describing where they came from, a few lines about each (not quite what has happened but they you can’t always predict how things are going to turn out).  Secondly, I have been fostering cats for the RSPCA for about three years so I decided that I would like to give some more time to this.  I have two cats of my own but fostering is very rewarding. Lastly, I wanted to visit every inhabited island (and some uninhabited ones) around Britain with my caravan. I like holidays, I like travelling, I like island life; this seemed like a good idea.  I keep chickens but also want to keep quail.  So I had a plan.

Sitting in a delightful cottage on South Uist last October, I decided I would hand my notice in at Christmas and retire at the end of March 2015. Almost immediately that went wrong for circumstances beyond my control. So, eventually, I handed my notice in at the begnning of February in order to leave at the end of May.  That went wrong.  I am a great believer in fate, things happening for a purpose so I was quite philosophical about it.  Another Director was quickly appointed; it was looking good but it was an internal appointment and the new Director was the current Registered Manager.  If he became Director he wouldn’t be the Registered Manager and you can’t have a Domiciliary Care Agency without a Registered Manager.  There was still plenty of time to appoint a Registered Manager.  We none of us took into account the fact that there is a national shortage of Registered Managers.  After the failure to appoint at the first set of interviews, things weren’t looking good for my retirement.  Sure, I could have gone ahead with my retirement anyway but it didn’t seem right.  It was like setting a new Director up to fail.  It took four sets of interviews to find a Registered Manager.  However, three months after my original plan, I retired on 21 August 2015.  My retirement party was on 20 May 2015!!!!

In preparation for my retirement, not realising what was going to happen, I had started my Tea Towel Blog in April.  It was a personal record but the reaction has been really interesting, very positive, although I am sure that most people think it is very bizarre. However, what I didn’t expect was that I would be given so many tea towels in this process – from strangers, from friends, as a retirement present and this is very exciting.  Since the Blog started my collection has grown from various sources by about 40 and I love it, it is so exciting so one of my challenges for retirement is to find a new way of housing the growing collection.  What follows is a ‘Thank-You’ to all those people who have given me some really lovely tea towels to mark my retirement and to record the memories that they will evoke when I am using them.

mosaic 2013

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In my mind, a great fundraiser for mosaic would have been to have produced it’s own tea towel.  A lot of organisations do so.  However, I knew that if I proposed this, I would always be questioning whether this was just a selfish act to add another tea towel to my collection.  However, Rosie (a Group Facilitator) is an arts and crafts ‘talent’.  She had been experimenting with Group Members using fabric pens for design.  She did the mosaic logo on a tote bag; I jokingly suggested she try it on a tea towel.  Three days later she presented me with two tea towels.  I love them.  mosaic’s very distinctive logo is usually red on a cream background.  She tried black on bright red cotton, a single image in the lower corner.  It is very stylish and I am amazed at how she created the logo.  The second one is a white cotton with a series of varying sized logos in different colours – red being the largest, orange, yellow, purple, green, arranged to give it perspective.  I really love this one because it has a sense of fun.  I have to say I am delighted that the colours haven’t faded with use over the last two years.  Using them reminds me of the fact that I was appointed as Director to bring about a ‘Radical Transformation’ and one of the first things that happened was a competition to find a new name for the organisation.  227 suggestions later the organisation changed it’s name from ‘Guild of Disabled People’ to ‘mosaic: shaping disability services’; the final selection being made from a shortlist by the Voting Members.  The concept was that mosaic, as an organisation, is more than just the sum of it’s parts.  The change of name was perhaps the easiest part of the Radical Transfomation

Fuerteventura 2015


My third tea towel wins the award for the loudest and gaudiest in my collection.  That green is something else!  I love it.  It was a present from Michael, my successor.  He bought it back from his holiday in Fuerteventura which he took just before I finally retired.  It is a classic tourist tea towel with a map of the island.  I have never been to Fuerteventura.  Our conversation went along the lines of:

Barbara: “Where did you stay?”

Michael: “Oh, I don’t know, somewhere”

Barbara: “North or south?”

Michael: “I don’t know, my wife booked it”

Barbara: “Did you go to any of these places?”

Michael: “I think so, I can’t remember”

Barbara: “What was the weather like?”

Michael: “Hot”

Barbara: “Did you enjoy it?”

Michael: “Yes”

Drawing teeth or what!! And that’s how I will remember Michael.  Ask him a straight question and you never get an answer.  You just have to let him tell you what thinks in his own time.  On this occasion, I didn’t have much time, I was retiring!!  It will be a reassurance to all the staff that he will be managing that that is how it has been for the last 16 years for me and he isn’t likely to change.  This tea towel will remind me of Michael and his quirkey ways.  However, it was a pleasure working with him, even if somewhat frustrating at times. mosaic is in safe hands with a man completely committed to the values of mosaic and the needs of disabled people.  Thank you for the tea towel which I will treasure and good luck.

Rutland 2015 


Suzy gave this tea towel to me.  She lives in Rutland and this elegant tea towel, in teal linen with white writing, sums up Rutland: A small county, a big pond. I reall appreciate that Suzy gave me this because she knows of my love of tea towels.  It will remind me that of all the local authorities that I have worked with in my 41 years, and there have been many of them, Rutland has been far the most difficult and least satisfactory.  Politically, Rutland wanted to regain its status as a separate County in 1997 during that period of Local Government Reorganisation.  Unfortunately, Rutland, in my opinion, has never had a cost-effective infrastructure to maintain the development of quality services or understand what was needed.  In effect, the residents of Rutland pay a high price in Counicil Tax for less choice and quality in the name of political status.  Tory politics over customer care is not a good thing but obviously they make a lovely tea towel.  Thank you Suzy.

Chickens 2015 


This was a retirement present from David and Dorothy.  It is a bright, cheery, pure linen tea towel with a lot of different images of chickens.  I love chickens and have kept them in my garden for 11 years.  I can’t say they are completely free range otherwise I wouldn’t have any garden left.  They are notorious for digging up plants.  Let them have sight of a vegetable bed and that’s the end of any vegetables for that season.  They do have a fenced off area under the fruit trees in which to roam and a bright red Eglu in which to live.  This tea towel reminds me of the importance of chickens in my life – they are wonderfully gregarious, follow you around wherever you go like a toddler does, are easy to keep and a comfort to talk to in times of stress; they are even better when they are laying well!!.  David always saves any leftovers from dinner when I am there  and probably 50% of the time I forget to take them with me.  The tea towel reminds me that chickens will be a constant during my retirement.  I wonder if they do quail tea towels.

London 2015 


David and Dorothy are only too aware of my love of tea towels and this second retirement present is a pure linen tea towel with an iconic image of London.  Having been born in Ealing and lived in London until I was 18, I consider myself to be a Londoner.  While I think I don’t have a London accent, when I listen to my mobile phone voicemail it sounds distinctly London, almost cockney.  I have no family living in London so when I go back, which I do on a regular basis, I go as a tourist.  This tea towel sums that up for me, with images of the London Eye, the Thames, the Gherkin, Tower of London, Yeoman of the Guard………….Wiping up, I can just look at the images that bring back memories and also make me want to return.  It didn’t take long.  On 28 August 2015, I went to London to see the Railway Children to celebrate my retirement (and they didn’t have a tea towel) and went on the Marble Arch Observation Wheel.  This tea towel will remind me of that trip.

Clarice Cliffe 2015

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These two tea towels were a retirement present from Deb who was a Trustee of mosaic, in effect my boss.  Clarice Cliffe was a pottery designer of the Art Deco age who used different shapes and colours for her pottery; one tea towel depicts her tea pots and the other her tea cups.  I am a huge fan of Clarice Cliffe.  I do not own any Clarice Cliffe pottery because I am aware that there are a lot of fakes around.  What I do have is some pieces from the modern Wedgewood Bizarre collection which are modern representations of her work.  These tea towels are great fun and remind me that it has been an ambition of mine to own some genuine, original Clarice Cliffe pieces and will hopefully spur me on to realise that ambition.  Thank you Deb for the tea towels.  But by the time this has been written Deb will have gone to Australia for a year.  She has promised me a Neighbours tea towel.  Can’t wait to see that!!

North Norfolk Coast 2015 


This was a present passed on by Nikki. mosaic owns two fully accessible holiday bungalows in Overstrand, North Norfolk.  They were built to celebrate the 1981 International Year of the Disabled.  They are very popular and have offered a lot of disabled people some great value holidays.  The tea towel depicts pictures of North Norfolk – Overstrand itself, Cromer, Cley, Sheringham, Sandringham – all places I have been to, all places I have enjoyed because North Norfolk is a delightful holiday destination.  When I use this tea towel it reminds me of all those holidays I’ve had in Norfolk but in particular it will remind me of the Overstrand bungalows, the importance they have to mosaic services and the vision that the Corah’s had back in 1980 to develop such fully accessible holiday bungalows, fifteen years before the Disability Discrimination Act was even thought about.  A fantastic retirement gift.

Dictionary of Tea 2015


My final retirement tea towel is from Ann who worked for me as my driver for nearly 8 years.  In my job, having my driving lience taken away is incredibly frustrating; getting to meetings with funders, seeing staff and services in the community is really important.  With my form of epilepsy, using public transport on my own wasn’t a good idea.  Ann was my lifesaver.  She had the most amazing amount of patience, waiting for me after meetings went on longer than planned, sitting in the car on cold days, driving in horrendous weather.  But she was great fun.  Her only fault was that she didn’t actually drink tea.  Is that possible?  But as a retirement present, she gave me the most wonderful tea towel: the Dictionary of Tea, taking words ending in ‘ty’ and substituting ‘tea’.  My favourites are “odditea” which is a Clarice Cliffe tea pot; “simplicitea” showing a tea bag being dunked into a mug and “equalitea”, a teapot with a spout at both ends.  I really love this tea towel; it is very clever.  While we did not share a love of tea, we did share a love of cats.  Thank you Ann.

I was very lucky to have a job I enjoyed so much for 16 years, to end my career on.  I was even luckier to have a fantastic staff team and such a wonderful array of tea towels to leave with.  My leaving present from mosaic was Afternoon Tea at the Ritz.  I am going in November.  Do you think they sell tea towels?


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