My trips back home to Coronation Street

Far be it for me to question Coronation Street scriptwriters – but I thought it was pretty obvious that Rob would be the one to do Tina in.

His character ‘lifts right out’. If you are going to put someone on a one-way track to leaving the show, then you get them engaged to Tracy Barlow. Before Rob turned into a  proper, murdering nutter, he was just a little bit dodgy, a little bit fit and a little bit boring.

No one suspects you if you start an affair on your wedding day (picture from Daily Mail Online)

Weirdly, I continue to find him as dull as dishwater – which is why the real story will focus on Carla – and perhaps Rita – Coronation Street’s strong women being tested in hot water, yet again. (And Peter and Carla will probably get back together, they will somehow be drawn together against the world. I just have a feeling. You heard it here first).

You may wonder why I pay so much attention to a soap opera. I was brought up on a childhood diet of Coronation Street and Battenberg cake. To say I’ve outgrown The Street would be equal to the treachery of dissing my family, or starting to say ‘laugh’ and ‘bath’ the Southern way.

However flawed the soap might be, however ridiculous the murders or disappointing the adultery, however far-fetched the storylines, I still watch it. Coronation Street brings me home to the North West like a plane landing at Liverpool’s John Lennon airport.

I watch it for the nostalgia – the familiar accents, the sense of community and the Manchester drizzle on those cobbled streets. The feisty spirit of the people who live there, the unflinching northern grit. The fact that many of the cast have always been there – Gail, Sally, Audrey… Rita, Emily and Deirdre…Leanne, Carla and Fiz. Their presence is reassuring and comforting like seeing family friends at Christmas parties.

And yes –the stand-out stars are all women – it has always been about women on that show. I’m not going to suggest that I’d be friends with every woman on Coronation Street in real life or that I take feminist inspiration from them, but women have the power in Wetherfield, they are strong and unafraid and I love that.

I’ve always watched Coronation Street and I probably always will. I even genuinely voted for the show to win the National TV Awards. I know. I wasn’t joking, I really am a proper fan.


Fame, fun, food and fights at San Carlo Manchester

In my opinion – and probably the opinion of many – a visit to Manchester is never complete without a visit to San Carlo.  The Italian restaurant is a popular favourite in the city for reasons which are totally apparent the moment you walk in. The place oozes atmosphere, charm and (I don’t really ever use this word, but it seems applicable here) – bonhomie.

We went there over the Easter weekend for a  shopping trip and decided to push the boat out and give the day the full works with a lovely lunch.

Picture of hams hanging in San Carlos

Everything about this place looks great

This place has been a firm favourite for celebrations in my family for years. Largely because it has all of the ingredients for a fantastic meal out: great food, great feeling and crucially, great gossip.

Obviously central to this is the food – which is truly fabulous Italian fare – (but with a kind of Berlusconi ‘devil may care’ attitude towards cheese, cream and butter, which couldn’t be justified in most people’s day-to-day life).

My favourites are the starters. I don’t think the pizza bread can be beaten and I’m always incredulous that something as simple as cantaloupe and parma ham can taste so much better here than anywhere else. (I think the wow factor comes from the quality and freshness of the ingredients).

Picture of cheesy pizza bread

Cheesy pizza bread – never lasts long enough to be photographed in its original state

I always tend to over-order starters and then be too full for the main event. But then it is perhaps my nature (I’d always choose Advent canapes over Christmas dinner). For those more interested in the pasta and pizza side of things – the salmon ravioli in vodka sauce comes highly recommended. I always order something classic and nostalgic like carbonara or lasagna – as I find they both come with a side of magic.  Oh and you must get sides – the peas with pancetta and also the spinach are particularly good. (Do you see now how things can end up spiraling out of control with the ordering here?)

Melon and parma ham and pizza bread

San Carlo starters are the best

But the San Carlo experience does not end with the food – it starts from the moment you walk in to the hustle and bustle of a restaurant that is always packed full of fun- reminding you just how bloody lucky you were to get a reservation. And then there are the flock of waiters that rush to welcome you – they are all for some reason male – and Italian, suited and booted and full of ‘character’.

Seafood on display at San Carlos

Seafood and eat it

But, perhaps the best bit is the razzle-dazzle. The walls are adorned with pictures of celebrities who have visited over the years. Which means you do spend a lot of your time with half an eye on the door, whispering ‘who is that over there?’

I am completely clueless when it comes to star spotting and rely totally on the people around me. But in the North West you can usually start with the common denominator of football or ITV. We did (apparently) see Martinez at Christmas at the Liverpool San Carlo (wearing a very dapper velvet jacket). This time round there was someone causing a stir in a pair of very conspicuous sunglasses, who we were convinced was the wife of a footballer (I know right – in Manchester – er…hold the front page). My claim to fame is I once saw Liz McDonald from Coronation Street (played by Beverly Callard) in the toilets. I was THRILLED. That is my kind of celebrity sighting (for real).

Pictures of celebrities on the wall of frame

San Carlo Wall of Fame

But the great thing about San Carlo – which I appreciate not everyone will necessarily agree with- is that all of life is here. While San Carlo might be seen as a celebrity hang-out it is not at all stuffy and pretentious, you get real life and real people. We witnessed a rather breathtaking drunken table fight kicking off, which did provide much excitement when five or so of San Carlo’s best were forced to step in and flank the table. Something told me the waiters had done this before. And as they frogmarched a man off one waiter turned to me with a wink  – and rather impressive dramatic timing –  and said ‘I love my job. We always bring a free show at San Carlo’. I absolutely couldn’t agree more.

Picutre of San Carlos staff with David Beckham

David Beckham is a proud fixture on the wall

For me San Carlo is best in the North West – perhaps because I associate it so much as a staple of ‘going home’ – but there are various versions of this restaurant across the country (all slightly nuanced) including Signor Sassi in London’s Knightsbridge, which is also great fun.

PS Topshop I love you

It struck me, last year, that I don’t much like shopping for clothes anymore (the stress, the unforgiving changing room lights, the cost, the not knowing which shops and trends are now meant ‘for me’). Around the same time apparently everyone else had also noticed I was wearing only one (quite shit) outfit all the time. Black jeans, navy converse hi-tops and a white saggy jumper.

This outfit must have been so irritatingly ‘on repeat’ that my family booked me in with a Topshop personal stylist.

Topshop personal shopping entrance sign

Famous Last Words

I had a proper ‘outraged from Wandsworth’ tantrum at this intervention. “I don’t have the money to spend on new clothes, let alone personal shopping. I have more serious priorities!” (You know – spending my money paying for council tax, wedding presents and my addiction to M&S Simply Food…).

My second argument was that ‘I am too old to shop in Topshop now….’ This was supposed to shut down the conversation by entering it into amber zone – the sensitive territory of my approaching 30th birthday that everyone knew I wasn’t handling well…

But there was no getting out of it. I went, imagining an intimidating selection of outfits that only ‘Little Mix’ could pull off and massive pressure under the code of British politeness to buy at least three.

I hate admitting I am wrong – but the reality was very different and I am now totally converted.

The team at the Manchester Arndale Centre store (particularly the gorgeous Jo Drew who had been recommended to us) instantly put me at ease and hand-picked a lovely selection of pieces for work and weekends that felt so intuitively me I might have chosen them too. (Well – if I had Jo’s taste, and the store had turned off the music, emptied out all of teenagers and locked me inside so I was unable to talk myself out of trying stuff on…).

2014-04-18 13.59.50

The rail of fun awaiting me this time round – no I did not buy it all…

This is ultimately what the personal shopping experience is for –you are stowed away in a calm, serene section of the store where your sole focus is on something both as minor as clothes  – but as major as how you look and feel about yourself! You can try on as many outfits as you like in a private fitting room while a dedicated stylist brings you different sizes and options for around 1.5 hours. (Along with drinks and cupcakes of course…).

Almost a year to the day that I first shed that saggy jumper, I returned to Topshop Manchester last weekend, to see the lovely Jo for another wardrobe overhaul. This time I brought some  friends along for the experience. And it turns out the stars were aligned in our favour as we found out Instyle Magazine was running a 15% offer on Topshop personal shopping. (I honestly had no idea about this beforehand, as I had booked the experience as a treat with family and friends weeks ago).

The day, of course, was all it was meant to be – fun, special and luxurious. But for me the greatest value that personal shopping brings is guidance on assembling ‘whole outfits’. All of the clothes selected are intended to work together, interchangeably – from jackets, through to jewellery, bags and shoes – something I had never really thought about before whilst shopping. Previously I tended to be attracted to jazzy items like a magpie, with no thoughts about what they would go with. Other vices included panic buying weird coloured jeans and wearing everything with a black jacket or long white cardigan.

The stylists also encourage you to try some pieces which may be a little out of your comfort zone, but they feel are worth considering. Not all of the options will do it for you, but it is worth taking their advice. I spent last summer wearing a white play-suit and a pair of grey and lime printed trousers that I wouldn’t have had the courage to look directly at previously.

I know some people will feel personal shopping is excessive. I did probably spend more in Topshop in one fell sweep than one person should. But if you are prepared to buy your clothes in bulk or save up,  the store offers great high street value and the personal shopping service is free. Personally, I think the expert stylists help me spend my money better on clothes than I could alone, so it goes further and isn’t wasted  (I know I am starting to sound brainwashed to the point of being in a Topshop cult). But, for example, I got a great outfit for a wedding – when previously I would have talked myself into spending more on a ‘safe’ and expensive dress in Reiss.

I left with a capsule wardrobe for the season, not needing to enter a shop for a long time, but also with the confidence to know where to start if I wanted to. For me, (without wishing to sound like a Mastercard cliche), that’s been priceless.

Image of (too many) Topshop shopping bags

‘The damage’ from our recent return trip

A few notes:

  • Topshop personal shopping is available free in selected stores nationwide, by appointment only
  • I chose Topshop Manchester as it was part of a trip home to the North West and I genuinely prefer shopping outside of central London when I can – but I have also been to Topshop London for personal shopping which was very good and very fun too.
  • The service works best if you give the team a detailed brief relating to your size and style, along with an indication of your budget and what you are looking for (i.e. wardrobe overhaul or just one dress for a special occasion).
  • I know I sound totally obsessed with Topshop now (oh how people can change) but there are lots of other personal shopping services available too. I have it on recommendation from other friends that House of Fraser do a good styling service too if you want more brand options (although I have never tried it). Reiss and Whistles have also just launched personal shopping services at selected stores in London too – pricey but probably good options for occasion wear.