Northern Mummy

General thoughts and wittering about all sorts of things

Cream Tea Award: Seven Stories

on August 19, 2012

Let me start with an apology for the long(ish) silence here: not my longest, by any stretch of the imagination, but I’ve not kept up my commitment to post weekly.  This is as a result of a couple of extremely busy and somewhat stressful weeks.   I’ve noticed that some bloggers I follow have been more prolific as the summer holidays arrived, with more trips and visits to document and possibly more time in which to record them, but this hasn’t been the case for me.  In addition there has been the backlash to the stressful situations: over the past year or so, I’ve not been surprised to learn that my migraines, which are usually hormone-related, can also be caused by stress – or, more accurately, the relief of stress.  I’ve been told that this is a common trigger (migraine is known to some as the “Friday night condition”) because the blood vessels, which contract in times of tension, are released when the patient relaxes and then go into spasm causing the migraine pain.  Not all of my activities over the last few weeks should have been the cause of stress, but unfortunately I react badly to the prospect of travel and so dealing with the idea of our annual train journey to visit my parents in Lincolnshire has been difficult.

Anyway, the busy-ness that has dominated this holiday so far (we’re in week 5 of our summer holiday! – how on earth did that happen?!) has abated for the time being and I have time to sit down and take stock.  Although we’ve had an action-packed few weeks, including some fantastic weather, a trip to a branch of Bettys I’d never visited before, the girls’ first steps on this year’s Reading Agency Summer Reading Challenge, our latest town treasure hunt from huntfun and plenty of meals out*, there was nothing which really jumped out at me to blog.  And although I decided a while ago that I was aiming to blog at least once a week, I also resolved never to blog if I had nothing to say.

This morning, however, as I was having a quick glance at Facebook, I noticed that Seven Stories were advertising their 7th birthday activities.  For those of you who don’t know about Seven Stories, it’s the national centre for the children’s book, residing in the regenerated Ouseburn Valley in the East End of Newcastle.  You can read some of its history on the website, but basically it’s the brainchild of of two women – a librarian and a bookseller – who sought to preserve and recognise the rich heritage of children’s literature in this country.  When I was at library school in 1997/8 it was being talked about and plans were being devised.  The collection began to come together as more people involved in the industry became enthused about the idea and the need for such a place was supported.  Finally, in 2005, the centre opened in an enormous converted warehouse and has continued to go from strength to strength ever since.  A recent, important, acquisition is a collection of Enid Blyton manuscripts which turned out to include – most unexpectedly – the unpublished Mr Tumpy’s Caravan.  I saw that manuscript, alongside others, when I attended an evening conference on Enid Blyton last year at the centre.  This is the beauty of Seven Stories, that not only are they seeking to preserve the physical legacy of children’s literature, but also making the spirit of the legacy accessible to visitors of all ages through exhibitions, talks, conferences, author visits, storytimes and other readings.  The collections are housed in a purpose-built archive in Felling, but the catalogue is viewable online and the collections can be visited by arrangement.  The rest takes place within the Seven Stories centre itself.

For the 7th birthday celebrations, party games were being held in the attic (a gorgeous, huge space which is the stuff of storybooks in itself, with toys, books, dressing up clothes etc nestling amongst the wooden beams and the installation created by Oliver Jeffers with the assistance of many visiting children including my own and my nephew!) and there was face-painting and birthday cake available in the bookshop and reception area.  For me, however, the biggest draw was the Behind the Scenes Tour, a one-and-a-half-hour guided visit around the building aimed at adults, including a description of the building’s history, an explanation of how the exhibitions are planned and designed and the opportunity to see at close hand a selection of artefacts from the collection, specially transported over from the archive for tour participants and presented by a conservator. I was able to see (and handle, wearing gloves) letters to renowned Puffin editor Kaye Webb from well-known personalities, Robert Westall’s school reports, some artwork by various illustrators commissioned for the exterior of the building and for the centre’s 5th birthday (including beautiful Shirley Hughes children), plus manuscripts by Philip Pullman and Enid Blyton and the designs for Jan Ormerod’s Sunshine.  Altogether it was a fascinating trip and I learned a lot which complemented my studies in children’s literature during my Master’s degree.  I’ve wanted to take part in one of those tours for a while, but until recently they were held on Thursdays at 1.30pm which meant I wouldn’t be able to fit it in and get back in time for the end of school, so well done Seven Stories for setting up the weekend option for those people who work or are otherwise engaged on a Thursday afternoon.

The cost of the tour includes a cream tea in the café, which was another good reason to blog (if the above enthusiasm hadn’t been enough!).  We were shown to a reserved table in the almost-deserted café (it closes to the general public at 3pm and, ten minutes beforehand, the only people remaining were my family!) where the tea was laid out.  The café is a typical self-service museum eatery, although the view over the river is pleasant and we were made to feel very welcome, so I would give 2/3 for the atmosphere.

The tea was extremely good in flavour (2/2) and the large pot on the table was ample for at least two cups (2/2) – there were three of us in the booked party and one guest was drinking coffee.  The milk was fresh and plentiful (1/1).  The large scone tasted fresh and had a good texture and, although not warm, had thankfully been kept on a cake stand under cling-film rather than in the fridge, but there was no choice – we had one fruit scone each (4/5).  There was an extensive selection of jam but more jellified than I’d normally choose, being in individual plastic containers (2/3).  The cream was densely whipped, making it easier to spread, but not clotted (1/2).

As seems to be the trend this year, the tea being part of another, overall cost, I’m not sure what the actual price was to comment on value for money.  However, I’ve seen some information from the centre offering National Art Card holders free entry to the tours and a discounted cream tea at £3.50, so I know it’s more than that.  Assuming it’s around the £4 – £4.50 mark this makes it average for a one-scone tea, although the scone was a very large one, so I’ll award 2/2 for value.

Altogether the Seven Stories tea scores 16/20 putting it in joint second place with the Almshouses.  This summer hasn’t seen a high number of cream teas and I’m hoping to do something about that when we go on holiday next Saturday!

We ended the afternoon with a visit to the bookshop, which was offering a 10% discount to annual pass holders.  We haven’t had an annual pass before now, but we decided to give it a try.  If you buy a pass during your visit, Seven Stories offer you the opportunity to upgrade your day ticket to an annual pass by discounting the cost of the day ticket from the overall charge.  Today they were also running a promotion which gives an extra two months free, so we’re now able to visit at no extra cost until October 2013.  One of the exhibitions usually changes in October so we’re hoping to be able to see three different exhibitions on floor 5 within the duration of our pass!  We had our photographs taken (in the “photography throne” at reception!) and returned to the bookshop clutching our passes hot off the press, where the girls bought a book each (it was the only way I’d persuaded the Bookworm to leave the Jacqueline Wilson exhibition where she was engrossed in a copy of Sapphire Battersea in the Victorian display!).  We intend to make the most of our passes, and in fact will probably return later this week by public transport as we’re also taking part in SustransGreen Explorer campaign.  It won’t matter that we’ve visited the exhibitions before, as there’s always some new detail to spot, or a different costume to try on – or we can always just curl up in the attic with a book!

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*Some of our most fun meals out have been Saturday breakfasts at Frankie and Bennys, where all the adult breakfasts are £5 and the children’s £3.95, but free if you download a voucher from the website until 2nd September!  A big treat to have a lovely cooked breakfast which I don’t have to make myself, plus they are brilliant with children and there’s hardly anyone there in the morning so you don’t have to wait ages for a table!

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