Taking the Fork in the Road

fork-exteriorA new Middlesbrough restaurant with a difference, the Fork in the Road, opened its doors to the public for the first time on Christmas Eve. The charity behind it promised that it would be a place of “great food, great ambience and great opportunity.” I tested the water and the food recently with a party of friends and it ticked all those boxes and far more.

The Fork in the Road has been described as being unique in North East, it is a charity-funded, not-for-profit eaterie but run by highly experienced catering professionals mentoring a number of trainees looking for a second chance in life. The trainees include ex-offenders, those in recovery from addiction and the long-term unemployed.

Furthermore the restaurant shares a kitchen and helps subsidise Middlesbrough’s first alcohol free bar upstairs in Bar Zero. Both restaurant and bar are funded by Middlesbrough-based national charity CEO Sleepout and Public Health England.

fork-burgerYou have to applaud the intentions but how does the food compare to other local restaurants? We recently put it to the test.

It was a Saturday night and five of us had booked a table (a couple of days before). When we met up it was straight after a Boro defeat at the Riverside. As three of us are fans, including a long distance traveller but Boro season card holder, Bjarte, from Bergen, Scandinavia, it is fair to say we were in need of a lift.

We took our table early and stayed right through the whole evening but were never under any pressure to vacate our table, in a comfortable spacious corner. In fact the staff could not have been more accommodating and the atmosphere was so relaxed. We had a cheeky singer songwriter amongst us to keep the waitress on her toes but it was all so friendly throughout and it is fair to say the wine flowed. Well, amongst those not driving. I was driving!

Bjarte, being a hearty northerner with a big appetite to satisfy ordered a large steak. He also had an extra potato gratin side dish. He later said it was one of the best steak’s he had ever eaten. So that was high praise coming from a man that has covered so many miles criss crossing Europe.

fork-sticky-toffee-puddingMy friend Louise absolutely loved her luxury burger dish. It did look mouth watering. Mind you, I wasn’t going to be distracted because both Elaine (the singer) and myself were tucking into a delicious, creamy chicken chasseur. Yum.

Sarah works at a local award winning restaurant and so when she declared that her wild mushroom hot pot was gorgeous then… well, put it this way, she knows what she is talking about.

Bjarte had his just desserts with a vanilla ice cream, or vanilla ice baby as he might have styled it. Sarah had lemon tart. Two of us had fantastic chocolate fondants. I think the correct expression would be moreish. I noticed the sticky toffee puddings did not hang around long on their plates.

The Fork in the Road occupies a famous shop space, the former Romer Parrish toyshop. Once the second biggest toyshop in the country behind Hamleys, it is fondly remembered as an emporium of subbuteo, airfix models, lego, hornby train lay outs, action man and barbie dolls. The Linthorpe Road site is opposite the town’s booming Baker Street and Bedford Street regeneration zone, so could not be any better positioned.

During renovation work, old steel beams embossed with the name of Middlesbrough firm Dorman Long, were uncovered. The attractive interior designs now incorporate this icon of Teesside history. Interior architect Sara Jacobs, a former Teesside University student was responsible for those designs. Fahim Farooqui of Total Planning Solutions designed the eye catching external frontage.

Fork in the Road restaurant, Linthorpe Road Middlesbrough. 23/12/16 Pic Doug Moody Photography
Fork in the Road restaurant, Linthorpe Road Middlesbrough.
23/12/16 Pic Doug Moody Photography

The 60-seat restaurant caters for lunches as well as dinners. I have yet to sample the daytime menu. Perhaps that will be my next assignment.

louie-millerTalking of which since our big Saturday out there have been a few changes, including the menu. That is because The Fork in the Road has a new head chef in Louie Miller, formerly of the award-winning Nags Head at Pickhill, near Thirsk, the Star at Harome, near Helmsley, Aysgarth Falls Hotel and most recently Lockwoods in Ripon, the Good Food Guide’s 2016 Restaurant of the Year. Oh and another significant change is that the Boro have now stopped losing. Fingers firmly crossed, do not jinx the vital game away at Crystal Palace, please, please, please.

I am looking forward to returning again soon and sampling food from the menus of the new chef. The standards were already so high and it was such an enjoyable night out last time that I can’t wait to taste the difference.

fork-1Thanks to Louise Wilkin for food photos


Middlesbrough Memories at Dorman Museum

There is a second chance to view the Memories of Middlesbrough photo exhibition and that means twice the memories for free. A unique collection of images of buildings and people from the town in bygone days was recently exhibited for a week at Python Gallery, at Royal Middlehaven House, not far from the railway station.

dorman-memories-1The exhibition images were provided by posters on the mega-popular facebook page. The photos might originally have been taken to show for the family album but behind a sister, brother, mother, father, aunt or uncle there could have been a view of a house, pub, shop or public building. Many of these street scenes have greatly altered others have totally vanished. Mind you a street view in suburbia of leafy Linthorpe has hardly changed at all, except for the addition of cars.

Memories of Middlesbrough now occupy a space in the back corridor of the Dorman, close to the thought provoking and must-see d-Formed exhibition of Kev Howard. Now, this is where we get double value because along the same wall and just the other side of an internal door is a semi permanent collection, also from posters of the memories of Middlesbrough facebook site. This second collection has been showing for several months now but is being constantly refreshed with different photos from former schools, houses and shop frontages.

dorman-lowcocksIn the newer exhibition there is a focus on old Middlesbrough, or Over The Border as it became known. There is an amazing shot of the old Town Hall appearing to hang perilously over a gaping hole where the building beneath has been demolished. We see photos of busy streets leading up to the old market place. Or a view along North Street with the old Customs House cloaked in scaffolding.

The photos in the two exhibitions span a century of memories. There are handcarts outside of old shops and then kids standing outside of their front gardens in the 1960s.

Then there are the old businesses of the town. How many people used to buy Lowcocks lemonade? Maybe from the vans that stopped around the estates.

Memories of Middlesbrough facebook page and group, were founded in 2012 by Sue Martin who never dreamed how interest would absolutely mushroom. In less than five years the group now boasts 30,000 ‘ likes’. Members include thousands still living in and around the town, but also those no longer based in Middlesbrough scattered across the globe as far afield as Australia, South Africa and U.S.A.

Do drop in to our free town museum, the Dorman Museum and let your mind wander back through the streets, faces and former trading places of Middlesbrough. You might as well grab a cup of tea at Dressers café on the way out.

Dorman Museum is open Tuesday to Sunday 9.30 am – 4.30 pm
Last entry 4.00pm

Closed Mondays except Bank Holidays.





Spectacular Super Saturday Night

It was a big Saturday out in downtown Middlesbrough, Peg Powler Art Collective curated an art and art party down at the House of Blah Blah, The Spectacular Super Show.

peg-powler-blah-blahThe facebook invite billed it as a special one night only event featuring art, early doors disco, a kissing booth and a dress up box and lots more besides.

peg-blah-tallArtists, entertainers and exceptional hosts AJ Garrett and Rebecca Little founded the DIY art organisation Peg Powler back in 2010. Named after a legendary green hag that lurks in floods from the River Tees the collective has been responsible for all sorts of arts events and happenings from exhibitions to zine workshops. Rebecca and AJ were recently named in the Gazette in a list of movers and shakers for a new Teesside.

This Saturday Peg Powler were bringing a touch showbiz to that fantastic art space House of Blag Blah. I always think the former postal building is like a slice of New York or Chicago or Manchester warehouse/factory in Middlesbrough.

As soon as you entered through the big external doors there was plenty of artwork on the walls, including paintings, drawings, photography and sculpture by AJ & Rebecca as well as Peg Powler favourites Shaun Elliott, Nuala C. Murphy, Joanne Taylor, James Harris and novelist Richard Milward.

peg-blah-blahI enjoyed seeing Shaun’s large colourful and hyperactive canvases again; last viewed at his Python Gallery one man exhibition last year. There weren’t too many tears to be shed over AJ’s clowns. James Harris charming cathedrals of Europe sketches contained comments not usually found in Rough Guides but then again he will never live on a Lonely Planet with his sense of humour. A sense of humour further expanded on the walls of the arty party in full flow next door.

peg-poweler-shaunRebecca, who has her own acclaimed club night in Liverpool and back in the day used to DJ in Uncle Alberts (Can anyone remember it ? Just round the corner from Blah Blah) was spinning the discs. Cruisers Creek by The Fall was on the turntable when I entered the room. There was plenty of dancing going on to her alternative, indie-pop, C86, 60s, post-punk, new wave sounds.

peg-blah-barAJ who had been at the dress up box big style was selling kisses, for the Donkey Sanctuary charity (thedonkeysanctuary.org.uk). There were one or two people wandering around with the tell-tale red lipstick on the cheeks afterwards.



A Night at the Theatre – Blithe Spirit

Escape into another world with Noel Coward’s comedy classic, Blithe Spirit running this week at Middlesbrough Theatre. Enter the country house set of the early twentieth century, a world of faltering servants, clipped accents, cocktails and it is formal dress code for dinner parties. It is all frightfully correct but there are frightening things bubbling beneath the surface. This particular dinner party thrown by socialite and novelist Charles and his wife Ruth serves up far, far more than the hosts bargained for with hilarious consequences.

Charles is researching for his latest book and decides to invite the marvellously over the top medium Madame Arcati over to conduct a séance. Maybe he ought to have thought twice before the flamboyant spiritualist asked if there was anyone there. Charles’ troublesome first wife Elvira seemed only too keen to return and cause all sorts of trouble and mayhem between Charles and second wife Ruth.

We are so lucky to have Middlesbrough Theatre. The unassuming post-war theatre sits amongst the foliage of leafy Linthorpe. The theatre has so many pluses, from the ample car parking right outside to the attentive staff. There are the home comforts of proper theatre seats and the rake affords superb viewing. Yet it has that intimacy of a small theatre but with a stage big enough to allow the elaborate country house set. In fact the last time I attended a play here we were all actually seated in the round on the stage itself.

Blithe Spirit is regarded as one of Noel Coward’s masterpieces, breaking all records for a West End run with nearly 2000 performances through the 1940s, records then smashed by The Mousetrap. Yet Coward went out of fashion, his plays about upper class England were something of an anathema to the aspiring post war generations. Latterly we fell in love with Noel Coward all over again as he made notable appearances on the screen, who can forget him as the criminal godfather, Mr Bridger, in The Italian Job.

This show is co-presented with Less is More Productions. They are a local company aiming to create theatre in Tees Valley area. Less is More like to work with and nurture emerging artists from Middlesbrough and the north east. That is certainly the case with the actress fulfilling the role of the ghostly presence of Elvira. South Shields Natasha Haws still known to many as the ridiculously talented teenage singer songwriter. She is also a ridiculously talented actor on the stage.

Only Charles can see Natasha/Elvira’s ghostly presence but while the results are hilarious for us they are certainly no laughing matter for the hen pecked husband. He is suddenly trapped between his high maintenance first wife Elvira and equally domineering second spouse, Ruth. Charles doesn’t know which way to turn. Maybe he could enjoy the best of both worlds. Yet secretly and certainly not silently Elvira is plotting, plotting, plotting.

Really funny, superb acting and a great opportunity to revel in a real treasure of 20th century theatre.

You can see Blithe Spirit – Friday and Saturday evening 7.30pm

£14/ Concessions £12

Middlesbrough Theatre, The Avenue, Middlesbrough, TS5 6SA.
T. 01642 81 51 81 | Website: www.middlesbroughtheatre.co.uk

Blithe Spirit poster


My Come Back on Fairy Dell Trim Trail

It was back in July a day after my birthday that I felt a sudden tug in my calf whilst running Stewart Park run. It was my 249th parkrun. Everything should have been set fair on that sunny summer’s morning. I was pretty much in sight of the finishing line so I skipped and hopped the remaining couple of hundred yards to the line, against the sage advice of seasoned volunteer Kenny Salkeld standing close to the finish. Little was I to know that it was an injury that would sideline me totally for a couple of months and still be causing me grief for the remainder of the year.

This is the story of how I got back on the road to recovery thanks to the expert advice and treatment of physio Tracey Arnell and my recuperation on Fairy Dell Trim Trail. Fairy Dell has a trail of outdoor gym equipment that is totally free to use in a delightful park in south Middlesbrough.

trim-trail-signI don’t know as much as I should about how the body all works but what I did know back in July was that I could hardly walk afterwards. I limped very, very slowly to Teesside Sports Injury Centre, on University of Teesside campus. By that time I realised all too well that the calf is connected to the Achilles. About five years earlier I was diagnosed with a slight tear in my Achilles and following physio and lengthy rehab I changed my running footwear for ever before getting back to running park runs. I knew it was my Achilles heel again.

Tracey was superb in the Sports Injury Centre for getting me back on my feet again, giving me good advice for cross training to stay fit and keeping my feet on the ground. She also was not a scary physio. She didn’t inflict pain during treatment. She did however cast doubt on whether running the Great North Run. Even then it was possibly not on the cards any longer.

trim-trail-1I was out of action for a fair while but slowly the treatments and especially the exercises Tracey set me to do started to have a positive effect. Several times a week I would drive along to Fairy Dell and go on the Health Walker, ideal because there is no contact with the ground and so my tendons would not be subjected to any extra stress. After a few goes I could move on to the Mini Ski and watch the wildlife in the wooded ravine below. Then in later sessions I could try out the Handle Boat and finally Ski Stepper would come into play.

Unfortunately when I tried to step up beyond even a 15 minute session I had a set back of a couple of weeks and had to start from scratch again. It felt like one step forward and two steps back, quite literally.

trim-trail-2But gradually I started to win. It was gradual enough for me to actually start to see squirrels gathering their stores for the winter and leaves begin to change colour and even fall. Things you cannot see inside a gym.

Tracey gave me the green light to run Middlesbrough 10k at the start of September but not to push it and to apply the ice straight afterwards. I was well strapped and taped up. It was excellent I felt like a proper footballer or athlete with loads of bandaging and luminous green tape. Tracey said that if I was still feeling OK maybe I could try to run a little faster over the last kilometer or so. And I did. That was real progress.

A month later and I decided to try and risk the Redcar half marathon. I was very much short of race fitness and had still only managed a couple of training sessions with my running clubs Swift Tees and Billingham Marsh House Harriers. By the second half of the race I was completely running on empty so I was glad of the support from a few people cheering the runners along the Esplanade. I tried to hang on to Swift Tee Alison Tapper as she sped past. Meanwhile, my Billingham running mate Jill Maddren raced past well ahead in the other direction but still found the energy and compassion to say “come on.” My harriers coach Ian Harris also urged me on. I could hardly quit and let everyone down. Anyway, I had a date with the sea. I limped into the North Sea straight after limping over the finish line.


Then I finally completed my 250th parkrun and the cakes that were baked in my honour and the card I received from Swift Tees were splendid. To cut a long recovery story short I gradually got back to running if not at full speed then near it. Much to my astonishment I actually ended up breaking my personal best for 10k at Scarborough in November. I couldn’t believe that.

Then in December I was shocked once more to find I had won the Swift-Tees summer league trophy. That was unbelievable and I suppose a reward for all the hours spent on the Trim Trail in Fairy Dell park. The shield and trophy were both presented to me by legendary runner/official Sid Rudd and the inspirational Swift-tees founder, Rosanne Lightfoot.

I still have to battle with my Achilles but it is much better. I still use the trim trail and would trim-swift-tees-shieldrecommend it. I think I prefer to do gym stuff outside watching the seasons change. There can be no better setting for my money. And of course it is free.

I have to thank expert physio Tracey Arnell, formerly of Teesside Sports Injury Centre but now Skelton Sports Injury and Rehabilitation. Also my patient coaches, Craig Lightfoot at Swift-Tees, Ian Harris and Louise Dykes at Billingham March House Harriers and all those that have to put up with me moaning and lagging behind holding them up in last place in training for the past half year or more. Am so thankful for the support of those running and non running friends.

Tracey Arnell is now running her on practice Skelton Sports Injury and Rehabilitation Centre

Fairy Dell Trim Trail info is www.thefriendsoffairydell.co.uk/fitness.html