Ask any Geordie what Christmas means to them, and one phrase is likely to reoccur: Fenwick’s window. The annual unveiling of this festive decor is a huge deal in the city, and it meant so much to me when I was away that my friends would be dispatched to take photos. Each year has a theme – though none has ever, for my mind, matched its much-vilified Santa goes to Mars, from my childhood, which everyone hated, but appealed to mini-Geek me.
This year’s was uncontroversial – the Snowman – and is a delight. (My photos are slightly shonky, as I was dodging crowds and racing to the theatre). Best bit though is a marketing genius at the Greggs opposite realising if they reversed their sign they are reflected in the window for a nice bit of free advertising…
As I mentioned in my post on Mason + Rye, I took a detour through the glory that is Fenwick’s Food Hall today. It’s a gorgeous place – light, airy and with a fantastic selection of breads, cheeses, (and I think meat and fish, if you are into that sort of thing…), drinks and chocolates. The chocolates were particularly tempting, and include a range of local brands.
It was redone quite recently, I think – and I have to say that while the refurb has made it more spacious, brighter and shinier, and opened more spaces where you can eat and drink, which is nice, it has lost some of its charm. The old Food Hall used to be more of an eclectic mix: there were a couple of gondolas dedicated to ‘normal’ groceries, so as well as somewhere you could stock up on fancies, there was a decent selection of basics, and a lively queue of old ladies who happily seemed to do their weekly shop there. (I often wonder what happens to these old dears when places like this get all gentrified, and it makes me sad that the cost of ‘progress’ is to push away the folk who have been loyally patronising somewhere for years. I’m looking at you, Red Roaster, Brighton.)
Still, it remains a lovely place, and should I ever want to fritter my rent on artisanal sweets and posh gin – and you know there’s a high possibility of that – I know just where I can go.
It occurs to me that while this blog is likely going to be good at fulfilling its main purpose of preventing me getting stuck in a rut – my friends are already sick of me suggesting we go to new places ‘for the blog’ – it might also end up being very expensive.
Take today, for instance. Planning to pick up a cheap supermarket lunch on the way back from barre class, I made a minor detour through Fenwick’s Food Hall (which deserves – and will get – its own post). While there – for your sake, dear reader, not my own – I decided to make a pit stop of one of its fancy cafes, Mason + Rye.
A light, airy space with an array of savouries and sweets and a decent if not stellar vegetarian selection, it looked the perfect place to stop for a coffee, so just a coffee was all I planned to get. (While not crazy expensive, at 5 quid for a cheese sandwich, it’s also not super cheap). However, my inner blogger kicked in when I saw the choices included an intriguing nettle cheese and brown ale chutney mini-baguette, and so obviously, I had to try it. (Had I not just come from my barre class’ hour-long brutal contemplation of my thighs, I might have plumped for one of the impressive looking cakes instead.).
Although around 12.30 it wasn’t too rammed (though the lunch hour rush was starting to kick in as I left), and overall I’d say if you are looking for a civilised coffee stop somewhere in your day, there are far worse places to go.
As anyone familiar with me knows, I am a bit of a stationery fiend. The good thing about this is, as a writer, notebooks are a justifiable tool of the trade – my collection is enormous, but none of them go to waste. Also, having a reputation for loving notebooks makes me super easy to buy presents for, and every birthday and Christmas brings a glorious stash (not to count the steady stream of ‘I saw this and thought of you’ gifts from around the globe).
Since returning to Newcastle, I have of course been on the look-out for new stationery shops. Old favourites like Fenwick’s (which now contains a Paperchase concession) and Waterstone’s are still a treasure trove; and I got a great haul in the Scribbler sale. Geeky themed notebooks abound in the Geek Quarter, and I was delighted to discover Blackwell’s glorious stationery department, where my friend had to physically restrain me from buying all the shiny Leuchtturm1917 notebooks. So, in fairness, I am spoiled for choice so far… but if anyone has any tips they’d like to share…