Saturday, 2 November 2013

TEA WITH A TIGER – Dianne Hofmeyr

A train trip to Newcastle-on-Tyne became more than a journey into uncharted territory but an unexpected chance to have Tea with a Tiger and a cuddle with a cat of slightly smaller proportions, called Mog. To prove it, here are Penny Dolan and I with our smiley tiger.

Where are we? Not at the zoo but in the wonderful building that houses Seven Stories, the National Centre for Children’s Books in Newcastle-on-Tyne... a  building that stretches over seven floors and whose attic houses the most marvellous installation of books about to be eaten by Henry – The Incredible Book Eating Boy, who might suffer a severe stomach ache if he ate all the books his creator, Oliver Jeffers, has strung from the rafters for him.

Oliver Jeffers who was resident storyteller at Seven Stories a while back can be seen working with a group of children putting together the installation on the U-tube link below.

But why were we having this exciting visit? It was part of a Society of Authors event, which coincided, with the current exhibitions of two major children’s authors – Judith Kerr, who has given her entire archive of work to Seven Stories, and Enid Blyton, whose collection was acquired at a nail-biting auction. Both are utterly marvellous.

The Enid Blyton display covers a multitude of facets in her life – not just the ideas behind Noddy Goes to Toyland, first published n 1949, but also the first artist’s roughs of what the characters might look like, down to her minute gardening diaries filled with miniscule writing and her original typewriter used when she lived at Green Hedges, and then of course all those covers both old and new of stories many of us knew so well. I was given a new Famous Five for every holiday train journey I went on, to what was then Southern Rhodesia, and passed the hours rocking up on my top bunk pretending I was George setting off on an adventure in my boat. Pirate coves and tiny islands in a rainy climate seemed far more exciting than any African landscape.

What immediately sprung to mind when I saw Judith Kerr’s display which spans 70 years, and includes childhood paintings, drawings from her student days, and finished artwork for most of her published books, including The Tiger Who Came to Tea, is that from her very earliest drawings done as a child, there is a strong sense of movement and body space, people drawn in profile busily involved in selling hotdogs and balloons, a girl diving off a diving board. In one of the rooms, for those of you small enough to fit into a tiny cat-suit, you can curl up in a basket and get some grown-up to read you a Mog story which is exactly what was happening on the day I went… a mum and her toddler were having a snug story-cuddle.

I’ve saved the best for last. Although the archive is housed in another building, on the day we went, an archivist brought material out for us to view… glorious and detailed Edward Ardizzone illustrations... (note the white gloves for handling) that we pored over, the detail of line and texture too amazing...

and Harold Jones – the Harold Jones illustrations so familiar that they, rather than the words, seemed to be the very essence of the stories I once read. 

The expressions on Helena Pielechatty and Nicola Morgan’s faces say it all. 

So Tea with a Tiger and a cuddle with Mog, what more are you waiting for? The Seven Stories in Newcastle-on-Tyne is the place to be. And there’s a jolly fine coffee shop and bookshop too. THANK YOU to all the staff for making our day there, wonderful!


Penny Dolan said...

What fine memories of a lovely day, Di, especially our time with the archives.

I also recall the four "school desks", one for each country she'd lived in as a child, and each holding a selection of children's toys and games of the time, showing the four languages.

I also liked the charming photo of Judith's original real life Mog (the Forgetful Cat)looking at an egg in an egg-cup. Just shown a pic of that photo to two children here and they were very pleased to see it!

Dianne Hofmeyr said...

So glad you mentioned those desks. They were such a clever way of curating the aspect of Judith Kerr being a multi-lingual child. And yes the real life Mog photographs were magnifcent.

Rachael Victoria said...

I've never heard of this place before and after reading this am desperate to go. It looks like you had a great time. I used to love a tea with tiger and this has tugged on my heart strings something rotten! Thank you so much for sharing this!


Nicola Morgan said...

Lovely place, lovely day, lovely books, lovely air full of stories.

June said...

Thanks for a lovely post... it made me want to be there.

(One small point... I think you mean 'archivist' and 'illustrations' in this line ...A quick typo fix!
"an activist brought material out for us to view… glorious and detailed Edward Ardezonni illsutrations." )

Dianne Hofmeyr said...

Thank you June! Quiet a mistake... bomb throwing archivists! I think my spellcheck was just reverting to another blog... The HIstory Girls where I'd written recently about activism in the 70's in South Africa!!! That's my excuse anyway.There were actually 3 spelling mistakes... Ardizzone as well! Despite all this, the Seven Stories is really worth a visit. Thanks for all your comments.