Fun in the sun with my friend Michelle

Fun in the sun with my friend Michelle

When I bumped into my friend. the actress Michelle Collins at the premiere of Never Forget in London last month,I invited her to come and stay at my house, and was delighted last weekend when she arrived with her family.

Michelle is a familiar face on our tv screens, however she is best known for her 10 year portrayal of manipulative,unfaithful wife Cindy Beale in Eastenders.

It was the perfect weekend for her first visit to Stainland with her partner and 12 year old daughter Maia. She couldn't believe it had reached 24 degrees 'up North' as we all sunbathed in my back garden.

Michelle is so down to earth, and really made herself at home with us, which I loved as we certainly don't live the formal life you would expect from the occupants of a Castle! We had a few girlie chats whilst she was relaxing in her bedroom. Most celebs wouldn't be comfortable you seeing them without lipstick, never mind chatting on the bed in just their underwear.

We've been friends for over 10 years, so I knew she would prove the ideal guest to test drive our home for our new venture. Since winning the title of 'Britain's Best Home' we've decided it would be a great idea to rent out our home for guests to stay for long weekends and special occasions. We've even received a couple of wedding enquiries.

So Michelle and her family promised to give me their verdict at the end of their stay. We offered them the run of the house, and gave them as much privacy as possible because of course when guests rent it Michael and I won't be staying there.

Our ambition has always been to own a boutique hotel so this gave us the opportunity to decide if it's definitely for us.

That weekend co-incided with my monthly club night Federation at Victoria Works in Leeds so I took Michelle and her partner along to dance the night away. I think they preferred the tranquillity of the castle though as they got a taxi back well before I tiptoed in at 5am.

On Sunday we usually go to our friend Gillian's house as she's a fabulous cook and makes the best Sunday roast.

Whenever we have guests at the Castle Gillian comes to make dinner for us, and she has agreed to make the meals for special occasions if anyone who rents the house requests a personal chef. She's drawn the line at weddings though so we'll ask our favourite restaurant 1885 to cater for those.

Michelle's close friend Phil Collinson who's been the Producer of Doctor Who for the past 4 years has just moved to Manchester as Head of Drama for the BBC so we invited him to join us for lunch.

So Gillian had 17 of us to satisfy including a top TV Producer and a very famous actress, no pressure of course, but she insisted on slaving over a hot stove even on a sweltering summer's day just so our guests could try her Yorkshire Puddings.

Michelle managed to cool down though, doing her 'Miss Wet T Shirt' impression as her daughter accidentally knocked over the water jug all down her. I resisted temptation to get my camera out, but it would have made for a great paparazzi pic.

It was a fantastic weekend, they were perfect guests and as they can't wait to come back again I guess that's the seal of approval we wanted. Check out the Carr Hall Castle website if you know anyone who fancies a luxury break in a Yorkshire Castle.

A mystery Badger

It was the Annual General Meeting last week at Stainland Community Centre where Michael and I have recently joined the Committee.

As we employ a graphic designer in one of our businesses we offered to produce the newsletter which is distributed to every resident in the village. The Centre is struggling financially so it cannot afford expensive design and print bills.

After the booklet was distributed, one of the committee members came up to me and couldn't wait to tell me his exciting news.

On the front cover he had spotted a critter on the pavement next to the Community Centre Building. He couldn't identify it with his naked eye so had used his magnifying eye glass, like the ones jewellers use. When he saw it was a badger everything fell into place.

The village has been plagued by a mystery creature tipping over dustbins and causing mayhem, but nobody had seen it or caught it in the act. So he was delighted with his Inspector Clusoe style discovery.

He had the whole committee discussing it and they planned to get a news story together and contact the council. I couldn't stop myself from smirking as the story unfolded as it's an in joke at my office to hide a badger in pictures we use and our Designer, Graham had sneakily put one on the front page of this booklet. Last Christmas he even cheekily included one on the Christmas Card he designed for us.

I had to get Graham on the phone to explain himself to everyone otherwise I could have been sacked from the Committee after only 3 months!

A celebration of Life

In April, I reported that one of my young colleagues, Damian Oldfield had been tragically murdered.

His Mum contacted me a couple of weeks ago to let me know the funeral date had been set, following the opening of the inquest into his death.
She wanted the service to be a celebration of Damian's life, as he was such a vibrant and outgoing character he wouldn't have wanted a formal sombre farewell. I offered to do a reading on behalf of all his friends and colleagues at work so I agreed to meet her at home before going to the crematorium.

When I arrived, she thanked me for my offer, and told me she'd decided not to have a minister who had never even met Damian presiding over the funeral, and wanted me to give the whole service.

I was already nervous but hearing the news I panicked a little as I'd not prepared anything other than a reading, but of course I was honoured she'd asked me.

There are hundreds of tributes to Damian on the memorial website GoneTooSoon so I read out some of those together with my original reading and a number of other family members and friends also gave their own personal tributes.

It was very informal as she'd asked, and even his Grandma came up to me afterwards to say what a lovely service it was.

Everyone appreciated the relaxed atmosphere as I'm sure that people feel intimidated most of the time at funerals. It felt like a huge responsibility to take on but I hope I did him proud.