On the first weekend of July, the Ouseburn area of Newcastle comes alive with its own art and community based celebration. Organised by the East End and Ouseburn Community association, sponsored by Newcastle Council and College, the festival features live bands, food stalls, stalls, parades and not forgetting the famous Cluny duck race! Alan and Imogen were off on an epic geo-caching hunt so Abigail and I made plans to meet my parents and some friends down at the festival on a sunny Sunday afternoon.
Michael Morpugo: A Lifetime in Stories
As we still have our Seven Stories pass, we decided to leave my parents on the grassy bank next to the Cluny and pop in to check out the new exhibition Michael Morpugo: A lifetime in Stories. The children’s book centre was pretty much deserted inside, as unlike in previous years entry wasn’t free for the festival weekend. This seemed to me to be a bit of a shame. The area was swarming with children and even if they opened it for donations, they would have got some revenue into the not-for-profit centre. If my own girls are anything to go by the chances are that pester power may result in them buying a book or the parents stopping for a coffee break! This aside, the decision to charge normal admission and the festivities outside meant that we had the whole exhibition to ourselves. A nice change from the usual hustle and bustle of a Sunday at the centre. I know little of Michael Morpugo’s work besides seeing the trailers and snippets from the long-running National theatre’s War Horse stage adaption (the one with the massive horse puppet) and I was looking forward to finding out more…
The exhibition takes you on a journey of Michael’s life from his childhood to the present day detailing the inspiration behind some of his most famous works. Born in 1943 in London, a seven year old Michael was sent to a top boarding school where ‘homesickness and academic struggles made him miserable’ (bless him!) followed by a brief stint at Sandhirst Military College and finally settling in a career in primary school teaching where his short stories delighted the young children in his class.
Influences in the 150 books he has written include amongst others War, the Devon farming countryside (where he still lives and writes) the Scilly Isles and his love of animals. Michael and his wife Clare are so passionate about the countryside they set up their own charity ‘Farms for City Children’ in the 1970’s which allows inner city kids the opportunity to spend a week on a farm and continues to flourish this present day.
Abigail enjoyed looking inside the replica of his caravan where he writes, lying in the doggy basket, sitting in the boat and playing with the farm toys. For me, the most interesting section was the War Horse model, manuscripts from the movie and the oil painting by F.W. Reed which inspired the story. This section was incredibly moving and poignant with the Battle of the Somme commemorations which have recently taken place.
As Michael’s careers spans over forty years he has collaborated with many different illustrators to bring his works to life. A compact gallery of around 20 original paintings showed off the different styles and moods to fit each have a unique style and fit with the different themes of the books they represent.
We enjoyed our look around the gallery but the promise of a ride on the caterpillar rollercoaster by my Dad meant Abigail was keen to leave, bypassing her favourite ‘Creation Station’ floor with its themed and changing crafts.
Our family annual pass runs out on the 31st July, and we are unlikely to renew so hopefully we will make one last trip here with Imogen this month. The exhibition will appeal more to older children who are familiar with his works but there is enough in the way of toys and interesting spaces to keep the younger children happy. The exhibition runs for a full year concluding on 2nd July 2017-see www.sevenstories.org.uk for information on opening times, admissions and special events.