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Monday, 26 July 2010

Harrogate Rehab

Harrogate 2010, done. And a fine festival it was too, if the bags under my eyes and still slightly shaky hands are anything to go by. Well done Stuart, Sharon and festival team.


I arrived Friday lunchtime and after a short detour via TKMaxx to buy a pair of sunglasses (£5 from the women's section if you must know, and very fetching they are too) arrived at the Crown hotel to find everything in full swing. Actually that's a lie. I arrived to find everyone staggering blinking into the sunlight, still recovering from the night before.

Dinner at the
Courtyard restaurant followed, hosted by those lovely people at Harper Collins (Rachel R, Alice, Amy, Emad) for myself and Stephanie Merritt / SJ Parris.

Quick review:
Food - variable. Decor - smart but a little clinical. Service - willing but disorganised. Overall rating: five stars out of five.

Why the high score given the distinctly average overall experience? Simples. When we ordered the wine the waitress, in what may have been on reflection an inspired stroke of genius, asked whether, before we ordered, she could just check what ages we all were. Aged 37 and they carded me! OK, so the question may have been directed more at Emad who looks about 12, but coming on the back of last week's
rant about buying a Volvo, I wasn't about to split hairs. I have therefore no hesitation in declaring the Courtyard to be the best restaurant in Harrogate, and quite possibly, the world.

Feeling suitably youthful, we headed back to the hotel bar, rounded up some other lost souls, and headed out into the mean streets of down-town Harrogate. You think I'm joking but behind the "stunning parks and gardens which testify to Harrogate's status as England's floral town", beneath the thin veneer of "Harrogate's reputation as an antique hotspot attracting people keen to find a bargain" lurks a hard-core party scene. As we discovered.

First place we hit was a small club called Rehab. Within five minutes of walking in a black bra landed at my feet. I looked up and saw that a young lady was, how shall I put it, "dancing in a state of partial undress". Dancing rather too energetically for her safety or for those within striking distance, if you catch my drift. England's floral town indeed. Luckily at that moment her boyfriend, or someone whom I rather naively assumed to be the girl's boyfriend, appeared behind her and reached around to cover the offending items and preserve her modesty. Or so we thought, until we realised that he seemed to have mistaken her for a car, his hands rubbing in small circles as if he was trying to buff up a front wing. We drank up and left, trying not to stare.

Next stop, The Viper Room. Now some of you may have thought that the original
Viper Room of River Phoenix notoriety was in LA. And having visited the Harrogate version, I can confirm that you are right. Music was quite good I have to admit - especially a 30 minute late 90s set which brought the memories flooding back - but it had the feel of a school disco, with more make-up and bigger hair (which considering I left school in 1991 is saying something.) I headed back to bed around two, leaving some of my companions to sample the local flora and fauna, and was in bed for 2:30, pausing only to see Kevin Wignall standing in exactly the same spot I had left him in 4 hours earlier...


Three nurofen washed down with black coffee kick-started my day - an early one, given that
Joe Finder and I had to be at the BBC studios in Harrogate for 8:30 for our Today radio slot. Only problem was that when we got there the doors were locked and no sign of anyone. A few frantic phone calls later and someone appeared from round the back ("didn't anyone tell you?" Er no.) and rushed us into the studio only for the microphones to stop working. Cue furious scrabbling around with dials and switches by the onsite technician and barked instructions from the producer in London who was on the verge of suggesting they call us on our mobiles when, out of the corner of my eye, I noticed the technician flinch and then surreptitiously flick a small switch on. "Oh it suddenly seems to have started working," he lied.

I won't recount the nature of the conversation Joe and I had. You can listen to it
here. Suffice it to say I won...well, that's my story!

The rest of the day was a bit of a blur. Lunch at Cafe Rouge with Wignall,
Sarah Pinborough, Rachel R, Agent Phil, Simon Kernick and Stephanie Merritt; getting my eyesight tested; buying a 1950s Longines military watch from a junk shop for what seemed like a good price - we'll see what the repair bill is!; catching up with various people in the bar again. And then preparing for my panel.

And what preparation. A few years ago I did a James Bond panel and have forever regretted not going up on stage wearing a dinner jacket. This time there was to be no such mistake. Courtesy of
Union Jack Wear I pulled on union jack boxers, tie, socks and lapel pin, all set off nicely by a pair of union jack trousers concealed under my jeans. A quick word in the ear of panel chair NJ Cooper engaged a willing accomplice and at the pre-agreed time she asked me: "James, when you strip British crime writing down to its core, what do you see?" My answer: "Let me show you!"

I've never pulled my trousers down in front of 100 people before - probably never will
again. But it was a fun moment, only partially spoilt by my suddenly earthing myself on the floor and releasing the massive static electricity charge the 100% polyester trousers had built up in my groin area...) As to the panel, I would say an honourable draw and my fellow panelists - Joe Finder,
Chris Carter and Michael Robotham, were true gents and answered far more thoughtfully than me and I wish them every success.

Then out to dinner at Hotel du Vin where I had two courses with the Harper Collins crew and dessert with my
Curtis Brown brethren, with other guests including the lovely Jeff Deaver who had all sorts of interesting things to say about his forthcoming Bond book and the very smart lady in charge of the books side of the Fleming estate, whom I tried to convince should consider commissioning a highly talented but less well known author (great PR value in that!) with a passionate interest in 007 and who had deliberately referenced sections of his debut novel to From Russia With Love and who first became interested in art crime because of a scene from Dr No. - i.e. Moi! Poor woman must get idiots like me suggesting themselves all the time. But I could do it and it would be great.

After that, bar, drinks, bed. You may notice a pattern evolving...


By now I was feeling pretty broken through lack of sleep and excess of booze. My memories come in small bursts, like flashbacks, but the gist of it was three hours of extended goodbyes and promises to write (like the last day at
Mallory Towers) and then a train home, eyes screwed shut, my forehead pressed to the glass in the hope that it will help stop my head pounding.

Roll on next year...

P.S. Thank-you Ali for the photos

Friday, 23 July 2010

Today Tomorrow

Arrived in a blissfully sunny Harrogate for the Theakston's Crime Writing Festival to be greeted by the news that Joe Finder and myself will be on the Today radio programme tomorrow morning between 8:15 and 8:45 BST to rehearse our upcoming epic and hugely anticipated (well someone's got to big it up) festival slot on whether Britannia Rules the Page. (5pm on Saturday 23rd July for those of you who can make it, although it maybe a rather one sided debate...)

Have to say as someone who grew up with John Humphreys and Brian Hanrahan (listening to, not living with them, that is) and the Shipping Forecast (where is Dogger and German Bight anyway?) I'm very excited. My mother, who would have Radio 4 chemically injected if it were possible, is ecstatic.

So see you there - all the details of frequencies / listening online are here.

P.S. Also just want to mention a band that I cam across just outside the station here -
Kasiuss. Now I'm not much of a live music buff, but quite apart from the obvious link to arch-villain and Tom Kirk nemsis Cassius, I thought they were brilliant. Check them out on iTunes

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Old before my time

So that's it then. I am officially old. No denying it any longer.

Of course the symptoms have been there for a while. Hair growing from strange places on my ears; people looking at me as I reminsice about how great Live Aid was with the same blank expression I used to look at my father with when he spoke about the excitement of watching the moon landings; complaining at my local corner shop about how expensive everything is and reminding the hapless shopkeeper that when I was at school a packet of Polo's used to cost 10p...

But the final nail in the coffin of my youth came last week. I bought a Volvo.

Now I know what you're thinking. You're thinking "Don't worry James. R-Patz drives one in the Twilight films. That's vampire chic. You're hip. You're cool. They're the thinking man's Maserati. The 2010 answer to the Audi Quattro"

But all I can remember is that scene from Crazy People (We miss you Dudley) when Volvos are described as being "Boxy but Good". I don't want a boxy car. In fact that's exactly two letters short of what I want in a car.

What's more, and I think this is the killer for me, my dad used to have one. Now that's nothing against my father - if I end up being half the person he is I will have achieved more than most - but I never liked that car. It was so bloody safe and practical. It had all these compartments for putting things in and roll-bars and automatic fuel shut-offs and lights that beeped if you didn't put your seat-belt on. Worst of all - and this is still true today - were the running lights which led to people flashing you all the time because they thought you were driving around all day with your headlights on. (Note to Volvo: this may be useful in a country where you have 2 hours daylight but in the real world, it's just a pain)

Where's the danger? Where's the romance of never quite knowing if you were going to make it home in one piece every time you switched on the engine? Where's the lost art of balancing a coffee between your knees as you drive because there was no cup-holder?

And the worst thing? I like my new Volvo. I like it's sleek looks, its brushed chrome interior, its soft leather seats, its pimped-out darkened rear windows, its folding tailgate and the headrest TVs. Damn you Volvo. Damn you to hell.

My misery was then compounded was I was informed by a friend a few days ago today (or rather the day he sent me the mail) was the day that Marty McFly had arrived in the future after hitting 88mph in his DeLorean in 1985. Talk about kicking a man when he is down. I remember watching that film when it came out. It was called Back the the Future for a reason, I railed. Otherwise they would have called it Back to the Present. And to add insult to injury, no sign of a hoverboard anywhere!

Luckily, and I believe for the first time in my life, The Daily Telegraph came to my rescue. I had been the victim, it seemed of an elaborate hoax. The actual date that Marty and Dr Brown travelled to is October 21st 2015. That means I won't be old for at least another five years.

By the way, did I mention that R-Patz also drives a Volvo...
P.S. I meant to focus this post on my forthcoming appearance at the Harrogate Crime Writing Festival but lost my way somewhere along the line. In case you wish to see me get insulted by former colonials and convicts, I'm on stage at 5pm this Saturday 24th to argue that "Britannia Rules the Page". Still looking for material...