Simon Yates – My Mountain Life – Middlesbrough Theatre

In the remote Siula Grande mountain in Peru in June 1985, mountaineer Simon Yates was faced with an unbelievable situation. But then again as an incredibly experienced worldwide adventurer Simon knows how to face up to hair raising situations and quickly analyse the right way out of amazing situations.

simon-yatesIn a really gripping talk illustrated by breath taking photography and short film clips Simon took the audience on a mouth watering trip around the tops of the world. From the Alps, to the Himalayas, the bottom of South America, to the tips of Greenland we climbed the near vertical walls of rock and ice in the company of our ever calm host.

His quests to conquer the previously unclimbed still takes Simon to all parts of the globe. He has come a long way from his Leicestershire village, about as far from mountains as you could wish to be born. Simon told us of the amazing temperature ranges in the giant mountains of Pakistan, in his tent at 6000 metres the thermometer went from +38 C to -5C in a few minutes. There was spending over 20 days scaling shear vertical cliffs in the Andes. Or Tierra Del Fuego where it is so remote that not only does no one live there but it wasn’t even mapped. A true wilderness that has drawn Simon Yates back again and again.

But back to the cliff hanger for that is what it was. Below Simon his climbing partner Joe Simpson was apparently dangling from the end of a rope but had not responded for well over an hour. Gradually his weight was pulling Simon off the mountain, who was also starting to freeze. The man at the top found a knife in his clothing and took a fateful decision, which he said was really his only option and cut the rope. Amazingly both men survived and that action has been recorded in a book and film, “Touching the Void,” it made both men famous.

But here tonight was the story from the other view point, not the climber that then plunged to the bottom of a crevasse and somehow survived but the climber at the top of the rope who said matter a factly that once he found the knife it was his only option. And it worked! They both lived to tell their tales.

It was a thrilling ride tonight without getting up off our seats. As well as the quiet calm, that must be so essential for a climber of the world’s great peaks, Simon Joyce transmitted his passion and drive for adventure. A group of scouts were sitting amongst the big audience, I wonder how many of them will be inspired to pursue their own adventures.

Simon Yates – Middlesbrough Theatre – Thursday 2nd March

There is a really interesting range of acts programmed for this the 60th anniversary season of the Middlesbrough Theatre. This Saturday join broadcaster John Suchet as he delves into the life of the most naturally-gifted composer that ever lived, Mozart.


Searching For New Authors

Middlesbrough has a bit of a literary tradition from Ernest Hornung author of gentleman thief Raffles to Mel Small and (Sherlock) Holmes as a Boro lad. You could be the next in line on the ever growing Tees library shelf thanks to a brand new initiative being launched by Writers’ Block North East.

The Middlesbrough based creative hub that is Writers’ Block has forged a partnership with literary agents from ‘Watson, Little’ and ‘Hardman and Swainson’, is searching for new and emerging writers in the North East.

Sixteen writers will be selected to take part in Block 1: a nine-month writer development programme consisting of workshops, one-to-one mentoring and advice from industry professionals, culminating in a networking and showcasing event which will be attended by literary agents and other industry gatekeepers.

“We’re looking for anybody who wants to produce a brand new long-form narrative prose work, and wants the opportunity to present that work to a selection of agents in 2017-18,” said Laura Degnan, Writers’ Block director and mentor. “We want to support aspiring writers from the grassroots up.”

When Block 1 is complete Writers’ Block and the literary agents will then work together to select the eight writers whose projects are closest to completion to become part of Block 2: an additional, accelerated, 3-month completion programme, after which the eight participants will re-submit their work to the agents for final feedback.

All workshops will take place at The Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art (mima) in Middlesbrough town centre and mima will be a key partner in the programme delivery, offering professional support and further development opportunities to writers. Participating writers will become mima writers in residence, producing written creative responses to their collection and working with the wider mima team to explore and expand their practice as writers.

Writers’ Block will provide ongoing one-to-one mentoring and a series of four intensive story development days for the chosen writers, as they develop an idea from scratch into a completed manuscript, including workshops delivered in partnership with Northern Film and Media and New Writing North.

The aim will be for the 16 writers to have produced a draft long-form manuscript at the end of Block 1, which they will then be able to pitch to agents.

Block 2 will include two further development days and mentoring from Writers’ Block and a literary agent.

“We’ve had a good record with introducing regional talent to national agents,” said James Harris, WB mentor and workshop leader. “People like Cathryn Summerhayes (William Morris) and Camilla Wray (Darley Anderson) have been very impressed with the standard of writers at our events, and all have said they’re keen to come back. Following our 2016 Meet the Agent event, two writers are represented by agents and a further three writers are in ongoing talks regarding representation.”

“If you’re a writer, or you think you’d like to be one, we’d love to hear from you,” said Degnan.

The deadline for applications is 5pm on Friday 17th March 2017. For further information please contact Laura Degnan on or visit


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 ( There were one or two people wandering around with the tell-tale red lipstick on the cheeks afterwards.