Steve’s Tea Towel Story


I have known Steve 17 years (I remember this fact, even if Steve doesn’t), initially through my work.  There are three phases to our friendship.  We first met when he was the Treasurer of an organisation in Nottingham that had asked for my advice.  I used to enjoy my regular trips to Nottingham, meeting up with him, seeing how another organisation worked.  You can always learn something new.  Our relationship moved on when, after a few years, I wondered if Steve wanted to do some work in the organisation that I worked in and he agreed; he now acts as Treasurer (it is very difficult to get anyone to take on the role of Treasurer in a charity, so we were very lucky).  Finally, when I retired, we kept in contact; I used to pop over and see him in Nottingham.  I enjoy a good declutter so when he was moving house I helped with the process of down-sizing.  Now I have moved to Nottingham, I am but a short bus ride from where he lives.  What do I know about Steve?  Not a lot really except that he has, and always has had, a passionate interest in cars: big cars, small cars, model cars, books on cars and, surprisingly, car showroom guides to cars especially from 1960s and 1970s.  These are his prize possession and no way, no matter how much downsizing he wanted to do, would they find their way to the recycling facility.  As a house-warming present, I bought him a tea towel with cars from the 1950s and 60s.

When I invited Steve to become a Guest Tea Towel, about a year ago, I naturally assumed that his Tea Towel Story would be something about cars.  It was a long time in coming and how wrong could I be?  Enough of me, let Steve tell his story:

”I have known Barbara for quite a few years now, probably more than it seems (how right you are Steve!) through our work to provide services for people with disabilities.  It was only in more recent years that I have learnt that Barbara collected tea towels.  I have to admit that when I first heard of this, I think when someone presented her with a tea towel at one of our regular meetings, I thought this was an odd thing to have collected.  This was because my own experience of tea towels is far more duller than that of Barbara’s.

To me, a tea towel was simply a small cotton towel that was usually predominantly white with a bright coloured checked pattern in red, blue, yellow or green that you used in the kitchen to dry up after washing the dishes etc.  I thought why on earth would anyone want to collect hundreds of these boring tea towels.  It is just bizarre.

Obviously, through Barbara’s Tea Towel Blog I have now seen the light and, as a collector of ornaments and pictures that evoke memories from different places and times, I totally get it.  Sorry Barbara for doubting your sanity!

One question that has been bugging me is why we call them ‘tea towels’ and not kitchen towels or dish towels or drying towels/cloths?  Surely these names would more accurately describe the purpose of the towel and where does tea come into this?  Here is the answer: A tea towel or drying-up cloth (British English) or dish towel (American) is a cloth which is used to dry dishes, cutlery etc after they have been washed.  In 18th century England, a tea towel was a special linen, drying cloth, used by the mistress of the house to dry her precious and expensive china tea things.  Servants were considered too ham-fisted to be trusted with such a delicate job (Towel on Wikipedia).

When Barbara suggested that I write a Guest Tea Towel Blog, my initial thought was how do I find a tea towel that inspires me to write something vaguely interesting about it.  I spent quite some time on eBay, scrolling through loads of tea towels, feeling very uninspired (I like to know Steve spent a lot of effort on this task but no wonder it took so long to arrive!).  Then I spotted ‘A Mother’s Letter’ tea towel that instantly put a smile on my face and I knew that was the one to write about.

I remember someone giving me a copy of the full version of this letter when I was a child.  I just found it hilariously funny as it is just a really silly perspective on everyday life.  Apologies to anyone of Irish descent.  I am sure that you are as intelligent as anyone else and the tea towel is made by Irish Linen so it cannot be taken too seriously by Irish people.

Well, that is my Guest Tea Towel Blog that brought back a fond memory from childhood.  I hope you have found it as amusing as I have and it is not just my strange sense of humour.

Thank you Steve for a great Tea Towel Story.  What is more amazing is that I came home the other night and there through my letter box was this tea towel, a present from Steve. It has now become part of the Virtual Tea Towel Museum.  Steve has, however, found the complete version of this letter which I now add.  He says “There seems to be various versions of the letter around and the author is unknown.  However, here is the most complete version that I can find”.

A Mother’s Letter

Dear Son

Just a few lines to let you know I’m still alive.  I’m writing this letter slowly because I know you can’t read fast.  We are all doing very well.

You won’t recognise the house when you get home, we have moved.  Your father read in the newspaper that most accidents happen within 20 miles of your home so we moved.  I won’t be able to send you the address because the last Irish family that lived there took the house numbers when they moved so that they wouldn’t have to change their address.

This place is really modern.  It even has a washing machine.  I’m not sure it works so well though.  Last week I put a load in and pulled the chain and haven’t seen them since.  

Our neighbours started to raise pigs and we got wind of it this morning.

Your father’s got a really good job now.  He’s got 500 men under him.  He’s cutting the grass at the cemetery.

Your sister Mary had a baby this morning but I haven’t found out if it’s a boy or a girl so I don’t know whether you are an auntie or an uncle.

Your brother Tom is still in the army.  He’s only been there a short while and they’ve already made him a Court Martial.

Your Uncle Patrick drowned last week in a vat of whiskey in Dublin Brewery.  Some of his work mates tried to save him but he fought them off bravely.  They cremated him and it took 3 days to put the fire out. 

Your father didn’t drink too much at Christmas.  I put a bottle of castor oil in his beer and it kept him going till New Year.

I’m sorry to say that your cousin Seamus was arrested while riding his bike last week.  They are charging him with dope peddling.

I went to the doctor on Thursday and your father was with me.  The doctor put a small tube in my mouth and told me not to talk for 10 minutes.  Your father offered to buy it from him.

The weather isn’t bad here.  It only rained twice this week, first for three days then for four days.  Monday was so windy one of the chickens laid the same egg four times.

We had a letter from the undertaker.  He said if the last payment on your grandmother’s plot wasn’t paid in seven days, up she comes.

About that coat you wanted me to send to you.  Your Uncle Stanley said it would be too heavy to send in the mail with the buttons on so we cut them off and put them in the pockets.

John locked his keys in the car yesterday.  We were really worried because it took him two hours to get me and your father out.

Three of your friends went off a bridge in a pick-up truck.  Ralph was driving.  He rolled down the window and swam to safety.  Your other two friends were in the back.  They drowned because they couldn’t get the tailgate down.

There isn’t much more news at this time.  Nothing much has happened.

I must close now as the plumber is here to fix the washing machine as it smells awful.

Your loving Mum

PS: I was going to send you some money but I’d already sealed the envelope

You certainly couldn’t fit the whole of the original letter on a tea towel!!  Thanks once again Steve!!




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