British Summer Time!
Is it just me, or has this felt like an eternity to come round again? I love everything about Summer - always have and probably always will. I'm one of those people who, when the sun comes out, would happily sunbathe in my garden in just my pants if I had to (my poor neighbours) just to feel the sun on my skin. I'm already looking forward to spending a Summer afternoon at Dukes 92 in Castlefield - it seems to be THE place everyone flocks to the very second its warm enough to drink beer and eat pizza outside without catching hypothermia. Now that most of my days are spent in Liverpool where we film, I'm on the hunt for a place with a similar vibe over there.
I joined Hollyoaks in early February, which lets face it, is a dreadful month. It's cold, it's dark and as well as looking pasty, we're still trying to lose the excess weight from the excesses of Christmas and New Year. However, in the dressing rooms it was a very different story. My fellow cast members were glowing with health - I couldn't turn around without seeing chiselled torsos, washboard stomachs and rippling biceps. And that was just the girls. So what was their secret? It comes in the form of Personal Trainer and Nutritionist Maz Ajtar who runs MazFresh Personal Training in Liverpool. As well as training an array of celebs to get them red carpet ready, the testimonials on his website from his clients made me really keen to find out more. I've had personal trainers in the past but quickly lost motivation and I can honestly say I hate the gym. But, determined to get myself toned up for Summer, I've just started training with Maz and it's been a revelation. I'm actually enjoying it! My workouts are always varied and his nutritional advice has been really useful. I may never be up for Sexiest Male at the Soap Awards (they've banned the category now anyway apparently) but with any luck, I'll not feel like such a bloater when I'm sat on the beach this summer! Watch this space... For more details about Maz follow him on twitter @MazFreshPT.
What's not to love about this lady? The term 'National Treasure' is one of those phrases that is often bandied around all too easily but in my eyes, it really does epitomise her and I've been a huge fan for as long as I can remember. I'm in awe of the way she can not only make me belly laugh with her exceptional comic timing (as Mrs. Overall in Acorn Antiques and her "Two Soups' sketch in Wood and Walters) but also the way she can just as easily make me cry with standout emotional performances like her portrayal of Mo Mowlam in the Channel 4 drama "Mo" or as Dr. Anne Turner in 'A Short Stay In Switzerland'. Comic actors are often pigeon holed as "character actors" which can be limiting in terms of the kind of roles they're put up for, but Julie has broken the mould and proven that comic actors can be versatile and capable of way more than just being funny. I saw her interviewed on The Graham Norton Show recently and as she sipped a glass of wine and spoke about being tipsy when she collected her first BAFTA I wished that we were friends... or related! And, just when I thought she couldn't get any cooler, she did an interview recently where she spoke out in defence of soap operas and explains that in her opinion people shouldn't be snobbish about them. I'm fortunate enough to have worked on three soap operas, Coronation Street, Emmerdale and now Hollyoaks and I can honestly say the cast and crews are some of, if not THE hardest working people in the industry. Having someone as widely respected as Julie Walters there to stand up for us and re-affirm this is just brilliant. Julie Walters, I salute you!
Rookery Hall Hotel and Spa
This little hidden gem is nestled in 38 acres of beautiful picturesque Cheshire countryside in Nantwich and really is one of the nicest hotels I've ever had the pleasure of staying in. I first stayed here on a Coronation Street Long-Term Story Conference a few years ago and I was blown away not only by the picture postcard location, but the truly world-class service given by their exceptional staff. I took my Mum there for a spa weekend for her 50th birthday and she fell in love with it so much she's returned every year since and is going again later this month. From the minute you arrive, you're greeted warmly by everyone you meet. Bryan the concierge is a great character and Jess Fletcher on the front desk is so lovely and makes every time there feel special. The spa facilities are great too - they have a lovely hydrotherapy pool and various treatment rooms where Mum got pampered. And the food in the restaurant is stunning, but I guess you'd expect that given that it won the 2014 Nantwich Food Festival Hotel Restaurant of the Year. As well as all this, it is also known as the venue where David and Victoria announced their engagement in 1998! So no visit there is ever complete unless you re-enact that very moment. Something my Mum had great pleasure in doing the last time we were there... Her Victoria Beckham pout was a sight to behold.
Ok... I admit it. I'm a massive techno-phobe. Yes, I can use social media and I'd be pretty lost without Facebook or Twitter. I also have an iPad and iPhone. But I also know I'm probably not using even half of the fancy features and apps that comes with them. For example, I've never downloaded a song in my ENTIRE life. I still buy CD's. And no, I'm not ashamed. There's something quite nice about paying for something you can actually hold in your hands and see. And when they've got the song lyrics inside the album cover thats a total bonus. But even though, I'm clearly a bit of a dinosaur when it comes to techy stuff, I can also massively appreciate it. I do for example use FaceTime to keep in touch with my dad and siblings who now live in New Zealand after emigrating there several years ago. Even my 82 year old Nana recently bought an iPad and got broadband in her house so she could keep in touch with them. This has been really lovely because for her, using FaceTime is like having them in the same room and when your family is on the other side of the earth that's a pretty impressive feat.
A boring one I know, but the bane of my life nonetheless. When I was at Emmerdale I spent over a year commuting from Manchester to Leeds on a daily basis. And just to make matters worse, this coincided with major work starting on the M62 to make it a 'smart motorway' with variable speed limits. Some days I could commute to Leeds in an hour. On days when the motorway wasn't being so "smart" because of lane restrictions or accidents it could take over 2 hours. I'll never forget one Friday evening when I was driving home and it took me almost 3 hours to get home. I was practically pulling my hair out. In the time it took me to drive home I had not only sung along to the entire John Legend album (twice), but I realised I could've taken a train to London. Now my daily commute to Liverpool feels like a breeze in comparison. When I have a 7:30am call-time, I set off at around 6:45am and I'm at work within 35 minutes. Sometimes though it does feel like the residents of Manchester are being penalised with longer, more stressful commutes as punishment for not accepting the proposed congestion charge.
Rudeness and ill-manners
This is a real bugbear of mine. When I started out in telly I worked as a runner (which is kind of the first rung on a very long ladder). My job basically entailed looking after people, making tea and doing errands. The hours were long and it wasn't well paid but I absolutely loved it and it gave me a real sense of the industry. That said though, I have heard tales of people in entry-level positions (not just in television but other industries too) being taken advantage of and that really makes me sad. I firmly believe that it's far better to treat everyone as you would want to be treated yourself. Also, gents... let's bring chivalry back, yeah? We SHOULD give up our seats on the tram or bus for pregnant ladies, we SHOULD open doors if someone is struggling with heavy shopping - regardless of their gender. Having been brought up largely by my Mum and Gran, "gentlemanly" values were instilled in me from an early age. I've heard men my age explain that feminism has killed chivalry. I'd argue that it hasn't - because the two aren't mutually exclusive. We can still open doors for women whilst working towards substantive social change. It's about being polite and having respect. Regardless of gender, race, sexuality or age.
Apparently, this is an ACTUAL thing. When Zayn Malik announced he was leaving One Direction recently, many employers granted compassionate leave to allow their staff time to 'grieve'. I'm sorry?! Now, I fully appreciate that for many of the fans, Zayn's departure would certainly have been a dark, dark, day - but to take time off work is just ridiculous!
Parking charges in Manchester
Ah, I remember the days when after 6pm on weekdays and Saturdays you could park on the street in town for free. And when street parking was free all day on a Sunday. Those were the days! You could head into the Arndale and up Market Street for some late night shopping or meet mates for food. Many a time I used to go to the Royal Exchange and see a play. If I wanted to do those things now, I'd be forced to pay for parking up to 8pm Monday to Sunday. I feel for the smaller businesses who must've been impacted by this as most people are unwilling to shell out extortionate street-meter or NCP rates. We have a brilliant city - surely the council should be doing all they can to safeguard that?
Pretentious Door Staff
I'm not going to lie, I love nice places. An ideal night out for me would heavily involve Spinningfields and I love nothing more than a good Pornstar Martini at Manchester House and a Long Island Ice Tea at Neighbourhood. I've visited both venues since they opened and I love the ambience and feel to both places. However, the other week, after filming for 12 hours on a Saturday, I went to Neighbourhood with my other half to celebrate Steph Davis' birthday. I will admit I wasn't dressed in my finest Chelsea threads. I had on a pair of black skinnies and an All Saints shirt with some battered Grenson brogues. But in the same regard, I clearly wasn't a thug, or drunk, or a troublemaker. My entrance to the door was blocked by a rather militant member of door staff holding a clipboard who asked if I had a reservation. I explained I was just there for drinks for a friend's birthday. It quickly became apparent that they didn't want to let me in... Until I mentioned Steph's name when I was very quickly welcomed inside. I know every venue in Manchester is only as good as its reputation, but come on Spinningfields - sort it out! We aren't a pretentious snobby city. And nor should your door-staff be either!