David’s Tea Towel Story

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Back on the first day of Lockdown Number 3, in Britain, I was feeling a bit poorly. Laying on my chair, with feet raised, I decided to send off a tweet, to the World of Twitter. I was asking for people to send pictures of their own tea towels, which could then be put in the Virtual Tea Towel Museum. It didn’t quite go as I expected. There were certainly more tea towels coming in than I expected, and those tea towels were, in the main, not the very traditional tea towels with scenes of small villages on them. Very few had recipes or were from Christmas. I think people went to great lengths to find ‘arty’ tea towels or maybe what could be more unusual ones. It didn’t make any difference to me, I can safely say, loudly, “I am a Tea Towel Lover”.

Early on David sent in a tea towel from the Falkland Islands. I knew the Falkland Islands were near Argentina (because i knew about the Falklands War). I knew when Margaret Thatcher decided to protect the Falkland Islands from invasion, it took the Royal Navy weeks to get there. I knew the Falkland Islands were described as an archipelago: West Falkland, East Falkland and 776 smaller islands. I knew not many people lived there and I never knew they had any tea towels. Who was visiting there collecting souvenirs? Well, let me tell you, in the early days of #TheGreatTeaTowelSharing, I received four Falkland island tea towels! Four!! That’s more than the collection of London, Edinburgh and Glasgow tea towels altogether. Here is David’s Tea Towel Story.

“As regards the Falkland Island tea towel – I have had it for years (a robust wee tea towel for sure). So, I’ll try to keep it brief. I acquired the tea towel from a trip down to the Falkland Islands way back in 1989 when I was serving on the ship HMS NEWCASTLE.  I’d joined her at a bit of a rush under less than celebrious conditions.  I had joined the Royal Navy in 1983, straight from school, and after basic training, and some sea time that took me to the Caribbean and the United States of America, I was sent to gain a degree from university.  Being a Scottish university, my BSc Hons was a 4 year course and, whilst I spent time at sea (heading off to Norway, Denmark, Bahrain, Oman, UAE, USA, Canada and Hong Kong), I did forget much of the detail from my basic training.  From summer 1988, I went back to the fleet to recover my training.  Being sent off to Hong Kong again (joining HMS STARLING, conducting counter-smuggling operations). I learned a huge amount about navigation, boarding operations, seamanship and ship handling – but I also had a great time enjoying the night life there.  After 4 months of fun, I was sent to my next ship on anti-submarine patrol in the North Atlantic.  HMS ARETHUSA was a grand old lady of the fleet and was on her last series of patrols, so between chasing Soviet submarines in the huge winter seas off Norway, I also spent time making sure that the ship didn’t pay off with lots of spare booze in the store.  So, at my Fleet Board exam, just before Easter in 1989, I managed to fail three subjects (out of about 12 subjects).  It didn’t matter that I was great at navigation, etc.., failing three subject was often a quick route to being chucked out of the Navy.  But after 6 years of time done, and some other good results, they decided I should have a second chance – or “go around the buoy” as they call it.

So late on a Sunday night, I turned up on the flight deck of HMS NEWCASTLE, with all my kit (after about 48 hours’ notice to join).  I thought that I would get a chance to settle in over the next few days – find out what the ship was up to, etc.. and then pass my exams by the summer.  It was a wee shock when I found out we were sailing at 8am on Monday 17 April, for the Falkland Islands, and that we wouldn’t return until late September the same year.  By way of Gibraltar, Dakar and Ascension Island, we arrived in Mare Harbour (the Naval base in the Falkland Islands) some time at the beginning of June – in mid-South Atlantic winter.

When I was there, the days were very short and the night dominated – and the weather was quite horrid, mostly.  That said, we saw an amazing amount of wildlife with whales, dolphins, killer whales, albatross, penguins, elephant seals and striated caracaras (a local scavenging bird of prey – akin to a large buzzard).  I recall amazing visits to Port Albemarle (where I bought a jumper made from local wool – which I still have to this day), Fox Bay Inlet, Port San Carlos (the site of the landings to recover the Falkland Islands some 7 years previously), Mount Tumbledown (where we toured the battlefield and picked carefully past the minefields that were still there) and Port Stanley (the capital).  The Falkland Islands reminded me a little of the wind-blasted Orkney Islands, blended with the moor-like landscape of Dartmoor.  I loved the place.

As to where I bought the tea towel – I had thought it was in Port Stanley but on checking I found it was actually in the NAAFI at RAF Mount Pleasant – the major airbase there.  I worked this out as I also bought some Falkland Island table mats (still use them today) and some quirky toy penguins (which ended up being played with by my children some 14 years later). One of the table mats still had the original NAAFI price tag on it (£3.95).  I bought a couple of tea towels – and gave them to my parents.  When I eventually moved into my own place, my folks gave me them back to start up my flat with.  Here I am some 32 years later and still use them.

I enjoyed one of my most memorable moments in my long Naval career there – a visit to the majestic island of South Georgia.  A marvellous trip and a place I would go back to like a shot if the chance came up.  I managed to visit the gravesite of Sir Ernest Shackleton and walk a little around the island (mainly from stops at Grytviken and Stromness).  It was quite an extraordinary place.  Visiting the old whaling stations was quite sobering and the wildlife was impressive (reindeer – brought there by Norwegian whalers – and elephant seals).  It was my first time amongst icebergs (not that they are common in a South Atlantic winter season).    

I may have travelled widely around the world since then, with the Royal Navy, but I didn’t get any other memorable tea towels from those visits.  We came back from the South Atlantic via the west coast of SouthAtlantic America and then through the Panama Canal.  I believe we arrived back in Portsmouth in late September 1989 and I then went off to complete my Officer of the Watch training (having passed my exams in the UK on a flying 3 day visit late July 1989).  Sadly, I’ve seen my share of conflict, though nothing like those folk in 1982 saw, having been part of Gulf Wars 1 and 2, Operation Veritas (supporting operations in Afghanistan – from sea) and then in post-revolution Libya in 2012-13 and then again 2018-2020.  Now that I know of your virtual museum, I will have to travel back to a few of my favourite places and gather tea towels from them.  Libya is a wonderful, if troubled, place.  Perhaps I’ll contribute a tea towel from there one day.”

David’s Story is a vivid description of his time in the Falkland Islands, really interesting and i look forward to receiving one from Libya, sometime in the future. Thank you David for taking the time to send me your story.

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