Patisserie Valerie is a cake-lovers dream; cream, chocolate, fruit…they’ve got it all, and boy does it look good! Taking advantage of a recent offer (£19 instead of £25), we headed into town to sample Afternoon Tea for Two at the lovely new Royal Exchange Square location. I applaud the hopeful outdoor seating area – needless to say we sat inside to escape the ‘summer’ weather.
We were welcomed by a pleasant atmosphere and smartly-uniformed staff. Unfortunately it took over ten minutes for us to be served, a little frustrating given that there were many empty tables. Once arrived however, our waitress was friendly and accommodating. The tea was fabulous – a wide selection of teas and coffees to chose from and the price includes free refills!
Afternoon Tea for Two Menu
Cucumber on white bread / Smoked salmon & cream cheese on brown bread / Egg mayonnaise & cress on brown bread / Ham, spinach & mustard on white bread / Chicken, pesto & sunblazed tomatoes on brown bread / Mini Vegetable Quiche
1 x mini Victoria sandwich / 2 x mini chocolate éclairs / 1 x mini carrot & walnut cake slice / 1 x mini mixed berry mousse slice / 1 x mini double chocolate mousse slice / 2 x fruit scone, 2 x plain scone / Strawberry & raspberry jam with clotted cream
The mini quiche was a lovely warm addition. The sandwiches were delicate and provided a nice variety of fillings. But let’s cut to the chase….the cakes? Delicious!! Proving that good things really do come in small packages – those little cakes packed a punch yet remained dainty and refined. The berry slice was refreshing and the carrot and walnut slice indulgent. The scones were small, but they were warm and it was nice to have both fruit and plain. The stand-out star of the afternoon was the clotted cream. That little pot of heaven transported us to the countryside!
Out of a possible five cups, this Tea receives 3.5 cups
I awarded two whole cups for the cream alone. The variety in both savoury and sweet goodies receives another cup. The final half-cup is awarded for the delicious tea. The Tea lost cups based more on the experience than the Tea itself – waiting over ten minutes for a waitress when the cafe was empty wasn’t great and although we used a voucher, the usual price of £25 is perhaps just a little steep. That said, Patisserie Valerie would be hard to beat when it comes to all things cake. As a treat, their Afternoon Tea for Two is certainly a very civilised way to spend an afternoon!
Bill died at home in the East-end of Glasgow last November, aged 83. I interviewed Bill in the summer of 2011 as part of my oral history research for my Masters dissertation. My interview with Bill was relaxed, he provided cookies and we chatted for almost two hours. Bill was a valued oral history participant. Bill was also my grandfather.
Having an established relationship with an oral history participant creates a particular set of research conditions. There are vulnerabilities on both sides. For the interviewer, reciprocity is no longer a choice and it can be difficult to assume a ‘research persona’. The interviewee will also have concerns. They may fear that a private topic, previously discussed in confidence, will become fair game for inquisition. Their desire to help a relative or friend may cloud informed consent. Analysis must take into account the particular context of such an interview and by exploring this in written work, anonymity may be compromised. For a novice oral historian however, an interview with a relative can help to introduce a number of aspects of the interview process in a relaxed atmosphere. For example, active listening skills and honing interview technique. Although I did not use my grandfather’s testimony in my final research, I gained valuable research experience from our interview, especially the ‘trial run’ of my question schedule, which I was then able to amend and update.
The interview also provided me with more personal gains. Although many of the stories Bill recounted were known to me, there was something special in hearing them again as an adult. Many of our family stories are told to us as we grow up – it can be a new experience to hear them afresh as adults. We are better placed to contextualise experiences and we are stimulated to ask different questions.
One facet of Bill’s testimony that particularly stood out for me concerned his first wife, my paternal grandmother, Margaret. Bill and Margaret were married in 1954. Margaret sadly died in 1974. In sharing memories of Margaret, the interview took on a sense of purpose beyond my own research. Participants often worry that they have ‘nothing to say’ and are buoyed when they feel they are able to tell you something you haven’t heard before. Bill took such comfort in telling me about the grandmother I never met.
One particular story Bill told also sticks out in my mind. I had asked him about his National Service with the Royal Engineers. It was a topic he felt comfortable with and he spoke at some length about his time in Egypt and Cyprus, 1952-3. One memory stuck out for him – how he and a few other Privates had celebrated the coronation in 1952;
…while I was there [Ismailia, Egypt] we had eh, the queen going on the throne, ’52, we went out on one of the Z-cars, the naval Z-Craft and went out in the middle of the canal, of the lake, Lake Timsah, and celebrated the queen’s, but the desk was red-hot [laughs], you could hardly stand, what with that being a flat craft, you know. The sun was beating down, but that was where we celebrated the queen going into the throne.
This story conjures a vivid picture in my mind – I imagine a young man, with friends, thinking of home and raising a toast in the hot Egyptian sun. It is a happy picture; a picture which Bill’s voice will bring to life for years to come.
In researching this post, I came across an excellent article by Mary Stewart, an administrator with the National Life Stories project, an oral history project archived at the British Library. Mary recounts her experiences in dealing with relatives of late project interviewees. Mary explores questions of ethics, copyright and the emotional impact a recorded life story can have on the family of a deceased participant. The article articulated many of the thoughts I had been turning over in my mind since my grandfather’s funeral.
An oral history interview is a public performance and is shaped in dialogue with both real and imagined audiences. Participants’ families can constitute one of these audiences. Whilst some interviewees may not reveal their participation to their families, for others, the chance to document and preserve their memories can form part of their motivation to engage with research. As part of my PhD, I interviewed an 86 year old woman, Sheila, who wrote to me to say she was delighted with her recording CD and intended to make copies for her grandchildren; ‘That’s my Christmas presents taken care of!’
Many of the men and women I have met and interviewed have told me that they intended to share their oral history experiences, including their recording, with their families. The joint ownership of recordings, between interviewer and interviewee, raises particular ethical questions about the potential uses of oral history. I send all my participants a copy of their interview recording but I am rarely aware of what happens to the CD after a participant receives it.
I considered the CD recording of the interview with Bill – where did he store his copy? I imagined someone coming across it after the funeral, perhaps among old photographs, letters and the paperwork of life. How out of place it would seem! Who would find it? A close member of family no doubt – they all knew about the interview – right? I imagined myself in that position. I would take a break from my task and seek out a stereo, computer or DVD player. I’d want to figure out this mysterious CD. Then I imagined the emotions hearing Bill’s voice would stir. It took me quite a while to listen to the recording. I was surprised by my reaction; I felt comforted. How nice it was to hear him! And in such good spirits! I was comforted too by my own voice – remembering that afternoon and how we had chatted together, my laughter and questions punctuating his testimony. But how would others react? I could psychologically prepare myself before I hit ‘play’, but what about the unsuspecting listener? I can imagine shock, intrigue; perhaps it would be too emotional, perhaps the sound of his voice, relaxed and spritely, would provide comfort as it did for me. I can’t imagine the content would cause much consternation, there were no secret revelations or admissions, but then again, I occupy a privileged position. I was able to ask my questions. I was able to seek clarification and further detail. Others’ questions will now go unanswered. What did he mean by that? Who is that he is talking about? When? For the family of those who keep their participation secret, questions may be intensified by resentment or profound surprise.
As researchers, we will not always be aware of a participant’s death. In seeking to record the memories of older generations, the oral historian captures and makes permanent a finite source of information. We understand and are motivated by the fleeting opportunities provided by our craft. My grandfather’s death granted me a rare window into the afterlife of research. The ripples of oral history reach beyond the interview, publication and archive. Testimony can raise questions for the living, can cause conflict and trigger pain but can also affect in less dramatic and more positive ways – hearing the voice of a lost relative, their well-known stories, their laughter. Future generations will have hitherto unknown access to the sound of their relatives, to an aural family tree. Our influence does not stop once our research is concluded and our relationships with participants have faded. By recording life histories, we provide a piece of family history to the relatives of interviewees. We must recognise and consider how our research impacts participants, both during their life, and beyond.
*Photograph, ‘Sunset over Lake Tismah’, used by kind permission of Bob Dollins, webmaster, USS Barnstable County.
My first post here at Crossing the Past. Hello! This blog is pretty basic at the moment but PhD-procrastination being what it is, I’m sure to update soon!
The inspiration for this blog comes from the excellent ongoing work on the benefits of blogging and from my desire to share some of my thoughts on my PhD research. But more of that later!
This first post is dedicated to the Twitter hashtag #RhymeYourPhD brought to my attention by PhD student and blogger Claire Hayward. Check out her blog for her outstanding rhyme on ‘Queer Love in Public History’. I understand the idea behind the hashtag came from Cambridge scholar Liesbeth Corens (See Richard Blackmore’s post).
So in honour of my new blog and my first post, here’s my PhD in rhyme:
My exploration of historical frontiers Is ongoing, courtesy of volunteers. I ask folks to chat with me To explore the past via oral history. I’m keen to know more about How people sort their money out. My days are filled with comprehending The ways that folks discuss their spending. I’ve got some reservations About the so-called ‘Consumer-Nation’. Shopping, spending, credit and debt Have they become our epithet? If so how, when and why? To answer these my thesis will try.