“Films by post?! Next, you’ll be sending a minidisc using smoke signals via fax”.

So I have endured almost a decade of mockery for having a Lovefilm account. It began in 2008, when I had just moved into my own flat, and was seeking some cheap entertainment on an evening. I probably could have worded that better.

Anyway, for less than £10 a month (the average price of one visit to the cinema), I could create a list of new and classic film titles, and Lovefilm would post two of them through my door at a time. I watched them, put them back in the funny pre-paid envelopes (side note – it took me a while to work out how to use them, so initially I used my own envelopes!), then a couple of days later, two more randomly selected films from my list arrived.

These services had a huge number of subscribers at their peak. I have a vague recollection of WH Smith and HMV launching their own rival versions. Netflix, the behemoth of streaming millenials everywhere, began its life as a postal film service too.

I knew the writing was on the wall for Lovefilm way back in 2011. Not because of the falling numbers of subscribers, but because once it had been swallowed up by the Amazon mothership, its days were always numbered. Even though the film selection was huge (around 80,000 titles) compared to those available on streaming services (which often feel like a trawl through the bargain bin at Woolies), Amazon wasn’t bothered about it really.

Almost exactly ten years to the day I first signed up as a customer, I received a very robotic E-mail informing me of the US giant’s intention to close the service down on Hallowe’en. Not as much of a shocker as a badly executed trick or treat doorstep visit, to be honest.

I get asked so frequently ‘why don’t you just embrace streaming’? My answer to this is that it is pleasing to receive post that is not a charity envelope, a demand for money from my bank, or a dog-eared menu for my local greasy kebab emporium. I also value my film watching time, and don’t just want to flick through endless menus of unappealing movies, watching the first ten minutes before deciding they are all crap & paying Sky £5.49 for something decent.

I have done my research and found that Cinema Paradiso has even more titles (90,000), including lots of interesting World Cinema & other stuff which simply won’t exist on Netflix or any of the other streaming services. I have cancelled my direct debit with Lovefilm, denying them the final two payments of £7.99 (that will show them, ha!). My first CP films arrive in the post tomorrow.

I may be a bit of a luddite, but once these things disappear, people get misty-eyed about them. I might as well enjoy them before they become a hipster thing. See vinyl for details. For the record, I also still post birthday cards to friends and even write the odd letter. Also cool things to do.

Right, best click publish and fax this blog onto the internet. Bye for now. Alex xLovefilm


Theatre review -French Without Tears had a certain je ne cais quoi!


What a jolly splendid evening Mrs Cann and I had watching French Without Tears! Penned by Terence Rattigan around the time the Harrogate Odeon was first opening her doors in the 1930s, this English Touring Theatre co-production (with Orange Tree Theatre and Exeter Northcott Theatre) is in town until Saturday.

This is a classic French farce, which exposes the fragility of masculinity, when faced with a beautiful, beguiling woman. Florence Roberts plays Diana Lake brilliantly, and soon has Commander Rogers, Kit and Alan wrapped around her little finger. There are some great scenes involving Monsieur Maingot (David Whitworth), who will only communicate in French and struggles with the term ‘po faced’, amongst others.

The set is excellent, and Ziggy Heath as Alan stood out for me as a particular highlight (I later learned from the programme that this is his first professional theatre role – wow!). The Commander (Tim Delap) gets some excellent laughs as he threatens to steal Kit’s girl amongst the jacuzzi bubbles, games of Japanese billiards and casino tables.

We also follow Jacqueline (Beatriz Romilly) and her unrequited love for Kit (Joe Eyre), and apart from missing a few of the jokes due to my tardy command of the French language, I absolutely loved the sharp script & excellent delivery.

In spite of the play being 80 years old, it still feels relevant to today’s world, and has a lot to say about the challenges of growing up, knowing one’s own destiny, and of course love.

A must-see for me.

36 Word Story – the winning entry!

Recently, Harrogate International Festivals teamed up with partners Transdev Harrogate for a 36 Word Story competition. The entries came in thick and fast, and inspiration was provided by the free on-board library on the super swish 36 buses!

Hundreds of entries were whittled down to 36 (appropriately!) and the final ones were judged by author Mari Hannah, who recently toured libaries across Yorkshire with the Big Read 2016.

The winning story was penned by Sophie Finnegan, aged 18, who won a Weekend Rover ticket to the Raworths Harrogate Literature Festival. Here is her chilling tale entitled “Jump?”:

Her toes curl over the balcony edge.

Her fingertips freeze, her heartbeat screams.

She inhales the clouds.


Perhaps the moon will fall from the skies.

Perhaps the sparrow will sing as she flies.


Congratulations to Sophie, and thank you to author Mari Hannah for taking time out of her busy schedule to judge the winning entry. Huge thanks to Transdev Harrogate too – follow them on twitter @harrogatebus, and sink into the luxury of a leather seat on board their 36 bus soon, which runs regularly to connect Ripon, Leeds and Harrogate!

36 facts about gin (with thanks to Slingsby’s Harrogate!)

To celebrate the 36 Word Story Challenge with Transdev Harrogate and Harrogate International Festivals, I’ve asked one of the Festival’s Sponsors for some fascinating facts about gin.

Incidentally, you can have a go at the 36 Word Story Challenge by popping your entry into the box at Harrogate Bus Station, or E-mailing alexbc@harrogate-festival.org.uk.

Here are 36 fab facts for you…the first 21 come from Slingsby’s of Harrogate.

1. Gin derives from the Dutch spirit “Genever” (Latin for juniper). The English fought alongside the Dutch during the 30 year war, and were given Genever to make them more willing to fight. Some claimed they had imbibed the Dutch courage, and this is where the famous term comes from!

2. Soldiers would take Genever home with them, and share it with friends and family. This is where the English developed a taste for juniper flavoured spirits.

3. The name Gin is derived from an English mispronunciation of Genever, which was “Ginever” ; this was eventually shorted to gin.

4. In 1689, the Distillers’ Act was passed, which allowed the public to legally distill alcohol. Many people started to distill their own versions of “gin” using low quality grain and turpentine, as well as any ingredients they could source locally for free.

5. By 1726, London had 1,500 working stills, and there were an incredible 6,287 places where you could buy gin.

6. By 1733, gin production and consumption was so high (mainly due to poor quality of life and nearly deadly water), that the average person per year would drink 14 gallons of gin. Hic!

7. The earliest known food pairing for gin was gingerbread. The public used to go and watch hangings whilst drinking gin, and eat warm gingerbread.

8. During the plague years, doctors wore masks filled with juniper berries, as they thought the plague was spread by bad odours. People began eating juniper, drinking wine infused with juniper, bathing in juniper and covering themselves with juniper oil. This was considered superstitious by modern historians, but juniper oil is an effective natural flea repellant.

9. The Gin Act of 1736 imposed an annual fine of £50 (about £20,000) on distillers of base spirits, and the same again on gin rectifiers. Thus, it became traditional for London gin distillers to buy their base spirit rather than producing it in the distillery.

10. At one time, there was a working gin still in about 1 in every 4 habitable structures in London.

11. Gin must legally have a “predominant juniper flavour”, but there are no limits as to how many other botanicals may be used, or the quantity of juniper berries that need to be added during the distilling process.

12. The gin and tonic first gained popularity in the British colonies, as the quinine in the tonic water was found to be a potent deterrent to malaria-carrying mosquitoes. However, the bitterness of the quinine was unpalatable, so gin was added to make the drink taste better.

13. There are more classic cocktails made with gin than with any other sprit.

14. Gin and tomato juice was all the rage as a hangover cure in New York City in 1928, years before the vodka-based Bloody Mary made its debut at the King Cole Room in the St. Regis Hotel.

15. While British sailors received a daily rum ration, British naval officers requested something more sophisticated so they got a daily ration of gin.

16. Navy strength refers to when gin, rum and gunpowder were all loced in the same place on a ship. The barrels would smash together and break, causing the gunpowder to get wet, preventing it from igniting. The strength of rum and gin was raised to 57.2%, which was high enough alcohol content to ensure the gunpowder still ignited, but was not so high that it exploded.

17. The country with the world’s highest per-capita gin consumption is the Philippines, with an estimated 25 million cases consumed annually.

18. The juniper berry is not actually a berry at all. It is a female seed cone…a highly evolved pine cone with fleshy and merged scales that give it the appearance of a berry.

19. In 1269, the first major mention of a juniper-based health-related tonic appeared in a Dutch publication. Ever since, gin has been used for “medicinal purposes”. The Royal Navy mixed gin with lime cordial to stop scurvy (hence the name Limeys), and angostura settled the stomach at sea.

20. The most usual production method for gin is to distil botanicals, such as juniper, coriander, citrust peel, cinnamon, almond or liquorice, with neutral grain alcohol. Making gin is like flavouring vodka, except that botanicals are always natural.

21. At around £450 for a 750ml bottle, the world’s most expensive gin is Notlet’s Reserve. This 52.3% alcohol gin is 104.6 proof.

And here are 15 more from me…

22. Ian Fleming, author of the James Bond novels, left quite an impression on gin drinkers. He is credited with inventing the “Vesper”, a cousin of the Martini, which blends gin, vodka and vermouth, topped with a lemon twist. Yum!

23. “Shaken Not Stirred” is a well known catchphrase, but most bartenders agree that a stirred beverage is preferable. Shaking causes excessive dilution.

24. World Gin Day takes place on 10th June 2017…put it in your diary for next year!

25. Gin is made to be served with tonic. Drinking it neat is not recommended.

26. A whopping 60 million cases of gin are sold every year – half of that in the Philippines.

27. Gin doesn’t make you depressed. Well, no more than any other spirit. Eric Carmen’s All By Myself or Bette Midler’s Beaches are more likely to make you cry.

28. Frank Sinatra was a big gin fan!

29. Slingsby’s offer free tasting of their different gin varieties at their shop on the Montpellier Quarter. It’s just a stone’s throw from a 36 bus stop, too!

30. Nearly all juniper used to make gin is picked wild.

31. London Dry Gin doesn’t need to be made in London. It can be produced anywhere! All Slingsby’s gin is bottled in Harrogate.

32. “Bathtub Gin” was a style of cheaply produced gin, popular during the Prohibition era in the United States.

33. In 1923, the “Gin Twist” was all the rage. Mentioned in many novels and periodicals at the time, it consisted of gin, lemon juice, simple syrup and hot water, and was the “Beyonce of Cocktails” at the time!

34. The quinine in tonic water can help fight malaria!

35. American standards demand that gin is at least 40% ABV (alcohol by volume), whereas in the EU it has to be 37.5%.

36. We love gin!

Best of all, you can enjoy a finely crafted gin & tonic, then hop on the 36 bus to Ripon, Harrogate or Leeds. Cheers!





Another fab 36 Word story!

Just in, I’ve been sent another brilliant entry for the Harrogate International Festivals and Transdev Harrogate short story competition. If you haven’t heard about this, here’s the deal; you just need to craft a compelling tale using a mere 36 words. It can be moving, poignant, amusing…whatever you like!

This one comes from Julia North, a director and writer (and wife of George Costigan!).

She kills thousands every day.

Without pause, everyday.

She feels no shame.

After all, this is war. An invasion.

She must protect what is hers.

She feels swamped.

You would do the same.

The ants are relentless.

Fancy having a go? Just E-mail your short story to alexbc@harrogate-festival.org.uk and you could win tickets to the Raworth’s Literature Festival, which is coming up in July. Make sure you take advantage of the free library available on the 36 bus too, which connects Ripon, Harrogate and Leeds with its plush fleet of buses.

The entries are hotting up for the Transdev 36 Word Challenge with Harrogate International Festivals!

Have you got yours in yet?

Here is another fab submission from Emma Louise Trotter:

“She smiled a little, he nodded his head.

It had been a lifetime since they spoke, yet those fleeting moments betrayed unsaid words, unknown feelings, untold hurt.

As fast as life changed, it was normal again.”

You have 36 words and a pen (or keyboard!). Fancy a chance to win with Harrogate International Festivals and the plush 36 bus? Enter by E-mailing your story to alexbc@harrogate-festival.org.uk, or pop to Harrogate Bus Station.

Actor George Costigan enters the 36 Word Challenge!

Brevity is key when it comes to the Harrogate International Festivals “36 Word Challenge”, a partnership with local bus company Transdev. Every word counts when trying to come up with a 36 word story, and actor George Costigan has tried his hand at coming up with a winning entry.

The competition is part of the celebrations in 2016, as Harrogate International Festivals turns 50. The 36 bus runs between Ripon, Harrogate and Leeds every 15 minutes, and features lots of mod cons, including an on board book library and super comfy seats!

Here is one of the stories submitted by George Costigan:


The beginning was getting on the bus. The middle was seeing her. Speaking to her. Enjoying her surprise. Enjoying her smile. The end came when her husband leaned over and punched him hard on the nose.

George has recently been on TV screens in Line of Duty, plus starred in both series of Sally Wainwright’s acclaimed Happy Valley. He’s also been picking up rave reviews for Restless House in Glasgow, and his book “The Heart Has No Lines” will be published in Spring 2017.

You can enter the 36 Word Challenge by popping your story into the box at Harrogate Bus Station, or E-mail it to alexbc@harrogate-festival.org.uk.

The 36 Words Short Story Challenge is on, with Harrogate International Festivals and Transdev

Ever thought you might have a story to tell? Could you convey the tale in a mere 36 words?

To celebrate Transdev’s fabulous support of Harrogate International Festivals, the “36 Words Short Story Challenge” has been launched, and your creativity could win you a great prize!

If you’re thinking it’s an impossible task, then think again. Here are six great examples of a 36 word short story…all have been entered into our competition. We would love you to have a go too.

Her toes curl over the balcony edge.

Her fingertips freeze, her heartbeat screams.

She inhales the clouds.


Perhaps the moon will fall from the skies.

Perhaps the sparrow will sing as she flies.


(from Sophie Finnegan)

The worst bit was that he thought they had got on so well. They had that natural chemistry that just can’t be faked. Apart from his hair colour, beer gut, sex and species, he was perfect.

(from Simon Fox)

Cara wept as the sea went out. Her dreams of getting home shattered. How many nights in this solitary world ? How many days of tedium to endure.  Life as a lighthouse keeper isn’t for everyone.

(from Darren Lethem)

Looking down into the deep blue sea, I saw a beautiful Mermaid floating in the clear water, “Walk the plank ye scallywag” shouted the Pirate. Hee hee, I thought.

“oh how I love Matey Bubble bath”

(from Claire Wills)

It began with a smile and it ended with a smile, the bit in between was anyone’s lucky guess. Every person played out a different scenario, the only conclusion was imagination and the passing of time.

(from Carole Wellstead)

She stood at the side of the ship.  Her hair blowing roughly in the wind.  A single tear ran down her cheek as she thought;
‘When will I see him again?’
The storm came crashing down.
(from Simon Edward)


The 36 bus is no ordinary bus. It is luxurious, with comfy leather seats, free wifi, USB points, and even a glazed roof! The buses connect Ripon, Harrogate and Leeds, and feature ‘Library 36’; make the most of your journey, and read a new book using the UK’s first free library service on a bus fleet. It is the perfect celebration of Transdev’s long-running partnership with Harrogate International Festivals.


Many books are donated by the team at Harrogate International Festivals, which delivers the Raworths Harrogate Literature Festival and the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival in July, as well as the Harrogate History Festival in October.
Alex Hornby, CEO at Transdev, said:


“We are all so proud to work with Harrogate International Festivals. Our aim is to be as connected as possible with our local communities and working with such a well-respected local organisation is a real honour. Library 36, alongside the 36 story challenge, is a fantastic way to celebrate Harrogate as a remarkable destination for book lovers – and the most stylish way to travel there!”


The winning 36-word story will bag themselves a weekend pass to the Raworths Harrogate Literature Festival featuring Mary Portas, John Suchet, Jeremy Bowen, James Naughtie and over 20 events from 7-10 July at the Crown Hotel.
Sharon Canavar, CEO of Harrogate International Festivals, said:


“We’re really proud to be partnering with Transdev and the 36. Not only are good travel networks essential for residents, they are crucial for tourism and the fact visitors to our festivals experience such luxury is fantastic for a tourism town.”


Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival’s 2016 Reader in Residence, author Mari Hannah, whose DCI Kate Daniels series is currently in production with Stephen Fry’s TV production company, drafted a 36-word story to inspire people to take part.
Mari said:


“This is a fantastic challenge. Writing a story in 36 words is not easy, but it really shows off a writer’s skill. Travelling is the perfect opportunity to let our imaginations loose. There’s something about being in limbo, between destinations with time to think that lends itself to flashes of inspiration!”


To enter the 36-word story challenge you can post your story at the dedicated Festival post box at Harrogate Bus Station, or email it to alexbc@harrogate-festival.org.uk. The winner will be decided by  Mari Hannah.
The 36 runs up to every 15 minutes between Ripon, Harrogate and Leeds http://www.harrogatebus.co.uk



Cann Communications hosted a quiz night…and it got very competitive!

Recently, I hosted the Oatlands Infant School Quiz Night, and it was a fiercely fought contest to win the top prize! The tie breaker question, which involved the number of expletives uttered in the film Pulp Fiction, had to be used to avert a photo finish. It is over 250, for the record. I have still not seen that film, in spite of the fact it was released over twenty years ago.

Anyway, back to the point of this blog. Organisers Lyndsay and Sally decided to raise money for Oatlands Infant School, as well as a charity with special meaning to them both. Lyndsay Snodgrass told me more-

“My children have been going to Oatlands Infant school for 4 years now and during that time there hasn’t been a school quiz night. As fans of a good quiz, it seemed like the ideal event for best friend and fellow Infant School parent Sally & I to organise in order to raise funds not only for the school PTA, but for Prostate Cancer Research Centre. Both our Dads have recently undergone treatment for Prostate Cancer so this is a cause close to both our hearts.

What a fantastic night it was! Alex was an absolute star, we certainly couldn’t have done it without him! Keeping control of the 100 strong (very competitive & rowdy) crowd was no mean feat! Everyone said what a great night it was, and we raised an amazing £1100 to be split between Oatlands Infant School PTA and The PCRC. To say we are delighted is an understatement!”

I am also delighted by how well the night went, and would also like to mention the hard-working husbands who staffed the bar, and kept me topped up with real ale between rounds! Thanks to Oatlands as well for use of their snazzy PA system…it was a lot better than the one I used at Copmanthorpe Junior School to play music to a disinterested hall of pupils before assembly. I think it was my first attempt at DJing!

Going back to school this time round was a lot more fun, and hopefully there will be another quiz night in future, as it was a true honour to be involved.

Review : The Tiger Inn, Coneythorpe

Country pubs are certainly plentiful in our part of the world. We are extremely lucky to have a wealth of options on our doorstep, and I was keen to try out the Tiger Inn at Coneythorpe, based on several friends’ recommendations.
Just a short distance from Harrogate and Knaresborough, this chic brick building is located in leafy Coneythorpe. It’s a picture postcard location, and the gravel car park was reassuringly busy when we arrived for 5PM on a Saturday afternoon.
The bar is well-stocked, with a good selection of wines and several real ales, including a rather fine pint of Ilkley Brewery’s pale ale Mary Jane, which went down very nicely with my main course. Menu-wise, there is a great choice of dishes, including pies, burgers, curry, and a delicious sounding seared sea bass fillet, amongst many other pub food favourites.
I plumped for the Early Bird Menu, which offers two tantalising courses for £12.50 (bonus points for the fact it runs from 12-7 on a Saturday!). The efficient waitress took our order, and I went for prawn cocktail as my opening gambit (an extra £1, but worth it for the retro factor!). The dish arrived looking nothing like the gloopy prawn cocktails I remember from the 80s, and that is no bad thing! Delicious bloody mary coulis, fresh lettuce and fresh tasting prawns made a really nice start to my meal.
For the main event, I was torn in several directions (always the sign of a great menu, in my book), but eventually opted for the chunky lamb shoulder shepherd’s pie, topped with potato and complemented by fresh market vegetables. A huge portion, and really chunky, tender meat. I have to say I went a bit “When Harry Met Sally” whilst enjoying it.
I didn’t really have room for pudding, but given I was reviewing for this blog, I dug deep and found space for the vanilla bean ice cream with toffee sauce. I used to think vanilla ice cream was not terribly exciting growing up, but these days I love it. The only criticism of the whole meal is that I could have done with a bit more toffee sauce…but that’s probably me just being gluttonous! I must return to try the Mars Bar cheesecake sometime.
This is a place that is certainly doing well, and booking is advisable. The interior is lovely, with interesting furniture, an array of silver tankards hanging from the ceiling, and a cosy but buzzing atmosphere. It feels very family friendly too. I’ll definitely be back!