Review : Salon North Experiment with Harrogate International Festivals

If you haven’t been to a Berwin’s Salon North event yet, I’m here to tell you why you are definitely missing out. It is a million times more fun than another night on the sofa watching television, I promise!

Firstly, forget any preconceptions you have about an educational evening being stuffy or formal. This is anything but. I’ve been to half a dozen Salon North events now, and always go home with brand new information. It’s like food for the brain, and the format really lends itself to discussion in between the speakers too.

So, the basics…three guests, each of whom gets 30 minutes to speak on their specialist subject. Last night commenced with Professor Charles Fernyhough, discussing the voices in our head. When you’re walking to catch the bus, lying in the bath, or absent-mindedly chopping carrots, what drives the thoughts which go through our brains? I wasn’t expecting Mel Gibson to get a name check at Salon North, but his romantic comedy “What Women Want” was referenced, with its elaborate plot involving a hairdryer / bath tub / red wine incident. To cut a long story short, Mel could hear the inner thoughts of only women. Professor Fernyhough discussed hearing voices, and some early examples in literature, from his book “The Voices Within : The History and Science of How We Talk to Ourselves”. A fascinating opening session at Salon North, and my inner voice was telling me wine was next…which turned out to be correct!

Paul Auty runs the Harrogate branch of Ake & Humphris, and brings many years of experience from Oddbins (remember them?). In fact, he has been in the wine trade for over twenty years, and describes his reason for getting into it as a desire to “kill some time and meet some people”. He was originally a Newcastle Brown man, and studied Biological Sciences. Donning his lab coat again for us at Salon North, he conducted a series of wine-based experiments. First, we held our nose as a most agreeable red and white wine were tasted, and the general consensus was that smell is a really important factor when enjoying a glass of vino. Volunteers were brought onto the stage, and asked to guess which wine they were drinking whilst blindfolded. One correctly identified rose, but the other two guessed differently.

A really interesting bit of information was that the same bottle of wine can taste completely different, based on environmental factors. It could be you find the perfect tipple whilst on a sunny holiday, but back home, it tastes like a different wine entirely! We also sipped in silence, to a classical piece by Haydn, and 80s codpiece-sporting pop star Cameo. I personally enjoyed drinking accompanied by Word Up, but the vast majority of the audience plumped for Austria’s Joseph Haydn.

After another G&T break (very important at Salon when processing all this new information!), the super talented Juliet Russell. I have been really enjoying her current album Earth Meets Sky (more details at and the tradition of “Salon Stings” was continued for guests in the form of Juliet singing them onto stage with an appropriate number! In my experience, Harrogate audiences can take a little bit of warming up, but Juliet did a terrific job at getting everyone’s vocal chords going, and explained that we all have a voice, therefore we can all sing! She has worked with an impressive roster of artists, including Yoko Ono, Paloma Faith, and Seal, as well as talent on The Voice. It proved a lively, tuneful end to the Salon session, and I left the Crown Hotel with a song in my heart, and a greater knowledge of how the likes of Amy Winehouse, Britney Spears and Donna Summer made their vocals so memorable! I was even singing along to Rehab in the shower this morning with greater aplomb than usual.

The next Salon series starts with Memory on Thursday 30th June. Make a note in your diary, and join us! All the information can be found at




Harrogate International Festivals celebrate a win at the Harrogate Advertiser Business Awards

The champagne was flowing at last night’s Harrogate Advertiser Series Business Awards, a glittering evening held at the Majestic Hotel in Harrogate. Now in their eleventh year, the awards cover a large area from Northallerton to North Leeds, and the team at Harrogate International Festivals was delighted to pick up the “Tourism Award”, sponsored by Rudding Park Hotel, Spa and Golf. The award was judged on the contribution made to improving the Harrogate District’s offering as a tourism destination over the last twelve months, and it feels fitting that the Festivals Team collect this accolade as they celebrate the 50th anniversary of the event, which began back in 1966.

Chief Executive Sharon Canavar, Literature Festivals Manager Gemma Rowland, Literature Festival Co-Ordinator Helen Donkin and Future 50 Appeal Co-Ordinator Lizzie Brewster picked up the Award, presented by the Harrogate Advertiser’s Editor Jean Macquarrie and Rudding Park manager Peter Banks.

With a packed programme of events coming up, 2016 is set to be an exciting summer for Harrogate International Festivals.

I am massively proud to be working with the team on helping to deliver this summer’s events. Take a look at the website to find a full list of forthcoming dates at

Well done to Jean and the team at the Harrogate Advertiser Series for organising a superb evening!


Review : Berwins Salon North (Discover), March 2016.

Salon April 12 - 2 - WEB SQ

If you haven’t been to a Salon North event yet, I’m here to tell you why you’re definitely missing out on one of the best nights out on a busy Harrogate social scene! At each evening, three speakers all take to the stage for 30 minutes, and I can promise you they will have nuggets of information and expertise which will make you think. It’s cultural enrichment for the brain, set in the stunning surroundings of the Crown Hotel in Harrogate. Grab a G+T with a wedge of lime and ice, settle down in cabaret style seating, and enjoy!

March’s Salon North Event was the second part in the current “Explore, Discover, Experiment” triology, and first on stage was Professor Alister McGrath, author of “Inventing The Universe”. He examined the perceived clash of cultures between religion and science, and suggested that perhaps ‘faith’ and ‘spirituality’ are less loaded words than ‘religion’. Whilst science helps us understand how things work, it doesn’t really give us any other answers. Other valid questions could need answering via other sources of insight. Could religion’s purpose be to give us a moral code, or find some meaning in life? As someone who has always believed this life is pretty much it, this talk definitely gave me some food for thought.

Next up, Cara Ellison took us on a tour of game development. To be honest, the last games console I owned was the ill-fated Nintendo Cube, which I left in the shed and condemned to a watery grave. It turns out games have come a long way since then, with the average so-called ‘gamer’ well into their thirties. It’s no longer all about Paperboy and Bubble Bobble (going back even further there, to my beloved rubber-keyed Spectrum!). Cara took a journey to different places through crowd funding, to work out where games creators get their inspiration from, and get a deeper understanding. It was fascinating to learn that text-based games are back in fashion too, and “Fingle” has apparently brought several couples together, in a virtual version of Twister. Look it up on your search engine of choice if you don’t believe me! Cara’s book “A Year On The Couch With Game Developers” is out now.

Last but certainly not least, research scientist, presenter and author Dr Lewis Dartnell convinced me I’ll be amongst the first to die if there’s an apocalypse and civilisation collapses. I’m useless at anything practical, so the thought of making my own clothes, foraging for food and essentially rebuilding my world from scratch terrifies the living daylights out of me. I like my creature comforts too much!

Dr Dartnell looked at how fire still plays a huge part in our lives, much as it did in the Stone Age. Why do we eat toast and cereals for breakfast? How long would we be able to survive in a supermarket if we were trapped there? (amazingly, it’s 55 years, or 63 if we tucked into the cat and dog food aisle!).

Since we don’t make our own stuff any more, I think we’d best hope this vision of the future remains the stuff of scientific analysis. There is loads more in “The Knowledge”, which is out now.

Next up at Salon North, “Experiment” on Thursday 28th April, with speakers including The Voice head coach Juliet Russell. Book by calling Harrogate International Festivals’ Box Office on 01423 562303, or click

Film review : Youth

I’ll be honest. I had high hopes for this one. The trailer promised a movie full of laughs and beautiful cinematography. It delivered on the latter, with some gorgeous Swiss scenery. However, I found the whole affair a little up its own derriere, to be completely honest.

Sir Michael Caine held it together nicely, and played his role as a retired orchestra conductor perfectly. However, there were too many lingering camera shots, and the film felt disjointed + trying too hard to be “arty”.

There was no real depth to most of the characters, and Jane Fonda’s scene felt entirely superfluous. There was a message somewhere about living life to the full, and appreciating that the best might be yet to come…but sorry, it didn’t do it for me.


Book review : The Widow by Fiona Barton

Calling fans of crime fiction! I have two very important things to tell you about:

1) You must book tickets for this year’s Theakston’s Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival, taking place in July at the Old Swan Hotel. I can’t tell you too much yet, but the line-up is set to be incredible. Details at, or pop into the Box Office on Cheltenham Mount.

2) The Widow is a must read book for fans of the genre! It’s the debut by seasoned journalist Fiona Barton, and is impressive, to say the least.

Meet Glen and Jean. Glen was accused of a terrible crime, and labelled a ‘monster’ by the tabloid press. But how much does his beloved Jeanie really know? Now that Glen is dead (an unfortunate accident whilst out shopping), she can tell her side of the story about missing little girl Bella, and Glen’s “nonsense”.

This book has an intriging premise, with lots of satisfying plot twists and a few red herrings to boot. I had a couple of late nights, as I raced to get to the conclusion. The characters are believable (especially reporter Kate and determined Detective Bob Sparkes), the style of storytelling from different perspectives through the chapters really works, and I think this could easily make the transition to television.

I won’t do any plot spoilers, so I want to keep this review fairly short. The best solution would be to buy or download this book now, and get reading with a brew! You won’t regret it, I promise.

“Please ensure all mobile phones are switched off”…

I went to an enchanting, captivating, wonderful performance of Swan Lake by Northern Ballet at the Grand Theatre in Leeds last night. It had everything…incredible dancing, great storytelling…and a couple of ringing mobile phones.

There was the usual announcement before the house lights went down, asking the audience to switch their phones OFF. Not to silent, but off. I will concede if your wife is about to go into labour, or you’re a doctor on call, then perhaps it’s acceptable to keep your phone on. However, in these circumstances, perhaps going to the ballet is not the best way to spend a couple of hours.

During a really moving scene, I don’t want to hear a tinny Nokia ringtone from yesteryear, nor do I want to hear the ubiquitous modern sound of a Facebook notification. Plus, if you are scrolling through your social media in the dark, the light on your phone will be visible to my naked eye. This happened last night too, for a good fifteen minutes of the second act.

Are we really so attached to our smartphones that the thought of being without them for a couple of hours is unbearable? Perhaps as I get a bit older, my tolerance level is decreasing. But I’d appreciate confirmation I’m not the only theatregoer who is irked by this. Acclaimed actor George Costigan halted his father and son production, “A Number”, at York Theatre Royal a couple of years ago, when an audience member’s ringing phone stopped him in his tracks. He paused, admonished them, and started again from the top. Good on him, I say!

Shuffling, coughing and noisy sweets are all bad enough. A simple click of the off button will at least eliminate iPhones from the list of theatre irritations.

Read all about it! A future for printed news?

I’ve been a fan of newspapers for years. I even did a school project on the ill-fated Today newspaper back in 1991, and have bought every national newspaper at some point in my life. Yes, even the Daily Star!

These days, I have a subscription to the excellent i newspaper, which was recently acquired for around £24 million by Johnston Press. It arrived in late 2010, as an offshoot of The Independent. A condensed version of the day’s big news stories, with some longer pieces copied from its sister paper, and all for a shiny 20p coin. It was aimed at “lapsed newspaper readers”, and has averaged almost 300,000 daily copies sold. The price has since gone up to 40p.

There are a few problems with the printed news model, but I guess one of the biggest is that a whole generation is emerging, for who the concept of paying for their news is alien. Even the daily free Metro newspaper pile doesn’t go down as quickly at Harrogate Railway Station nowadays. Trinity Mirror has just boldly launched The New Day (motto “life is short, let’s live it well”) at 25p, which will go up to 50p in a week or two. It’s a brave move, especially since the Indie is shortly to move online only, and most titles are suffering eye-watering decreases in their circulation figures.

For me, a good coffee and a newspaper is one of the finest things in life. Reading news via Twitter or online will never quite replace it. However, I do wonder how many titles will remain in print in ten years’ time. Surely the Independent won’t be the only casualty.


Review : Parallel by Black Toffee at Harrogate Theatre

Throw the dice up in the air and see where they land ; that’s how Parallel begins, and it’s a powerful metaphor for life. We are all only a couple of throws of the dice away from a very different existence, and the random audience members who chose who would play which character were reminded of this before the show began.

It’s late at night. The final train has long since departed, and Anna is stranded, with a flat battery on her smartphone and no change for the payphone (if it’s even working!). Beth has come for a think. C is cleaning up before dozing off in the newly sparkling loos.

Written by the exceptional Laura Lindsay, this play shows us in just over 60 minutes how our decisions can impact on our own lives and on those around us. In the setting of the Studio Theatre at Harrogate, we were unnervingly (but excitingly) close to the action and compelling dialogue unfolding before us. All three characters were played with great finesse, and it is a show that prompts a lot of discussion over a pint afterwards. I would be interested to see it again, with the dice falling in a different combination!

Catch Parallel until Saturday at Harrogate Theatre. There is even a post-show discussion on Friday 4th March, if you fancy staying around for a cuppa or a beer! Book on 01423 502116.



Films by post? That will never catch on…

Today’s random question – am I the only person who still uses Lovefilm by Post? Actually, I know for a fact I am not, as my good friend Nigel is a fellow ‘user’. He has a smashing guesthouse in the Lake District called The Waterwheel. You’d really like it there.

Anyway, I digress. I spotted an article back in 2014 which claimed up to seven million people in the UK are still users of “By Post” services. As well as my chosen Lovefilm (sadly now part of the Amazon family, not the independent Peterborough-based company it used to be when I joined in 2008), it’s easy to forget that Netflix started life as a discs-by-post service too. There was even a rather sad news story in August 2015, claiming DVD workers at the firm don’t get the same paternity and maternity rights as their online counterparts (source : Huffington Post –

So back to the point…millions of us apparently still like to receive envelopes in the post filled with one of the latest films on DVD and Blu Ray. But, apart from my friend Nigel, I don’t know anyone else who is a customer! In fact, I sometimes get openly mocked for the fact I haven’t joined the great streaming revolution. Much like the fact I still do discos on compact disc. The more people comment on it, the more determined I am never to modernise! Call me stubborn if you like. That’s fine. Just don’t boast about all those Netflix series such as Making A Murderer which you are hooked on. Or at least, wait until 2018 when they reach the top of my Lovefilm list and get posted out to me. One disc at a time!

Review : Berwin’s SALON North : Explore

If I were to pluck one word out of the dictionary to describe Berwin’s SALON North, I’d probably go for convivial, educational and brilliant. Granted, that is three words, but given you get three top speakers at each one, this feels appropriate!

This Spring, the umbrella theme is Explore, Discover, and Experiment. We began with “Explore”, and opening the evening at the Crown Hotel was the superb Olivia Laing. She captivated us with tales of the City that never sleeps, and what it feels like to be “trapped” in a bustling city, all alone behind glass. Loneliness is not something which is openly talked about very often, and I found this a really compelling half hour. Olivia’s book “The Lonely City – Adventures In The Art Of Being Alone” is released tomorrow, and looks well worth a read. Themes include the stigma of feeling lonely, and our longing for closeness and belonging.

Next up was Juliet Kinsman, founder and Editor of Mr and Mrs Smith, which specialises in luxury boutique hotels around the world. What motivates us to travel? When you go on holiday, how do you decide where to go exploring? Juliet eloquently explained that it is not always about feeling comfortable in the moment, and that some of our richest experiences can feel alien at the time they take place, as we encounter new cultures. Although she left Algeria at a very young age, the smell of cous cous can transport her back to that time in her life. “The capacity for wonder, to feel unrestricted” is a lovely summary of why we love to travel. There were mentions too for Berwick-Upon-Tweed (she implored me to go during our interview in the afternoon!) and a lovely little guesthouse in Hastings. It was also suggested that our constant connectivity can spoil the surprise of discovering new places, and perhaps we need to step away from the Trip Advisor every now and then, and find out for ourselves whether a new place is our ‘bag’. A really interesting half hour.

Rounding off our evening, Alec Ross, former Senior Advisor to Hilary Clinton when she was US Secretary of State. He worked for the Presidential hopeful for four years, and spoke compellingly about GPS, encrypted text messages, and the mindblowing amount of data generated around the world every single day. There are now 16 billion internet connected devices, and that will rise inexorably in the years to come (40 billion by 2040). SALON North always has one fact which I can’t stop thinking about, and here it comes – 90% of the world’s data has been created in the last two years. That’s right, from the time of cavemen paintings on cave walls to the year 2003…we now generate that amount of data every two days. Incredible.

A quote to close this review- “data is the raw material in the information age”.

It is Discover next on Thursday 31st March. Book your tickets for just £18 (plus booking fee) at or pop into the Box Office on Cheltenham Mount. You won’t regret it!