Mandy Charlton - Photographer, Writer, Blogger

Photographer of Families, Small People and Delightful Places. Travel and Lifestyle Writer and Blogger. Lives in Newcastle, Loves the North, Often Accompanied By A Beagle Named Holly Bobbins

Monday, August 12, 2019

Why I'm going on holiday on my own...

Mandy Charlton and Holly Bobbins, end of term report, midlife crisis holiday

I guess today is the end of the year for me, well, the end of the summer term.  Tomorrow I leave for Tenerife, a week, on my own, I'm hoping to find out who I am again.  I'd wanted a holiday for ages, I'd have loved to have taken Looby but she refused on the grounds of wanting to be with the horses more than her old mum (in the nicest way, obviously).  I'd never push any of my children to do anything they don't want to do and she'll be fine, she'll be great!  Initially, she was going to stay at her dad's until he told her I would have to pay him £300 which she acknowledged was not okay so she's going to stay with Harriet and Holly Bobbins instead.  Thank God for a best friend who's been like a second mum (or dad, they do call her Bruce thanks to an old inside joke) to all of my kids.

It's hard when your children get older and more independent, when you have focused your entire existence around them and suddenly they don't need you anymore, it's a tough break.  It's my own fault, of course, I intentionally bred independent, forthright, confident feminists for daughters (and a feminist son too).  It's only right that they should be out there, with their own jobs, with their futures ahead of them being the bright shiny things that they are.  I haven't heard from Abigail in months but I'm sure she's still out there changing the world and one day I hope she sees through the destructive mind control, I can only hope that university gives her that distance that she needs to see the world more clearly.  Suffice to say, I still pay her phone bill every month and if she ever needs anything or anyone, I am there the second she asks.

NCS, Langhorn Community Garden, Mandy Charlton, Photographer

Last week I spent most of it with a group of teens from the NCS and the Newcastle United Foundation building a community garden practically right outside my front door, it was an unloved patch of overgrown weeds and I wanted to brighten the place not just for the bees and the butterflies but also for my own community so with the help of Newcastle City Council and Your Homes Newcastle we actually made it happen.  It's just really the start as my £90, the NCS put in £50 and the council's £60 did not make for the best budget but one of the beds is nearly finished and though it looks sparse, the flowers and plants will soon grow, if not this year then next.  It's proof that you can change things in the world, even if it's only on a small scale.  last week it brought out some of the children on our estate, they helped with the planting and some of the spadework and to me, that's proof that kids need to have things to do.  No one starts out bad or committing crimes, how we nurture kids from an early age really can shape their lives.  I hope that as we go through the years they'll help with planting seeds and generally care for the gardens that we've built.

Tenerife Here I Come

In choosing to go to Tenerife, I've chosen the canaries because they're gloriously sunny, perpetually springlike and safe for solo female travellers.  It's not the first time I've been overseas alone, back in 2016 I went on a cruise for solo travellers on assignment for Cruise International magazine, it was life-changing and I really found myself.  That one was a little different because I was staying somewhere aimed at singles where you could go out to dinner as a group every night.  In Tenerife, I will be completely on my own.  The main guests at the hotel I'm staying will be mainly Spanish or German, I barely speak a word of either language and I'm not really a chatty Cathy anyway!

It's weird though, the joy of solo travel is the choice to do whatever you want, when you want without judgement from anyone, it's kind of like my life in general where I've chosen to be on my own because the thought of being with anyone is imposing someone else's judgements on me and I can't ever do that again.  I can't even dare to think of being with someone without the fear of being controlled, in that sense, I am damaged to the end and I know there are people out there who wouldn't try to control me but it's too dangerous a chance to even try and take, especially as I fall for the same kind of people over and over.

I do hope to try and find myself again though, I literally have no idea who I am or who I want to be for this next stage in my life, I guess you could say it's a midlife crisis of confidence but I'm guessing every mum who has children who fledge from the next will at some time, feel exactly the way that I do right now.

There is one thing that I know though, if you are going to take the midlife crisis holiday, there's no better place to do it than somewhere in the sunshine.

Saturday, August 10, 2019

A dog friendly adventure in Cumbria and Wales {ad}

Dog friendly accommodation in cumbria, mandy charlton, the plough lupton
During Spring we were invited to review The Plough at Lupton, luxury dog-friendly accommodation in Cumbria which offers suites at incredible prices, I was excited, Holly Bobbins was excited but our calendars we all so busy that it took us until a couple of weeks ago before we could arrange it all.

We had a plan to go to Wales and the fact that Upton is next to Kirkby Lonsdale, literally on the way to Wales, it seemed to be a good idea to start our adventures off with a night at the award-winning Plough.  We stayed in the Bellingham suite and I can't even tell you how much I loved the luxury of it all, at some hotels when you have a dog you end up in a room which is unloved and sometimes broken but not at the Plough.  All of their rooms apart from the honeymoon suite are dog-friendly and they're all equally as luxurious.  Holly particularly loved the cool floor tiles on a day which was warm and a little sticky.

I wish I could say the rooms were the best thing about the Plough, Lupton but no, for the biggest treat was yet to come as we ate in their delicious bar, surrounded by the other happy diners, no being thrown in a corner because Holly Bobbins was with us, no, Holly was quite the little celebrity graciously accepting all of the attention as she sat under the table hoping for tasty morsels to be dropped.

Sadly for Holly, there was no such luck although I did share a little steak with her because she'd done so much exercise on our earlier ramble around nearby Kirkby Lonsdale, we'd walked to see Ruskin's View, previously loved and painted by Turner, it's not a massive walk from the main parking area and I recommend it if you're are staying locally.

It's no wonder we were exhausted and very full after all 3 courses and we all fell into bed, Harriet and Bobbins had a great night's sleep, I know this because I had to listen to their snoring... all night!

After a delicious cooked breakfast and an amazing shower, it was time to say our goodbyes and head for the green and pleasant land of Wales!  

The last time I went to Wales, (with the exception of going to Bluestone in 2017) was when I was just a teenager so I'd been looking forward to it for ages and really it could not have been more perfect, we stayed 8 miles away from Aberystwyth, in a little Airbnb (if you click on that link we both get some travel credit) studio in what seemed like the middle of nowhere.  It was literally in the middle of the Cambrian mountains and not even 1 bar of phone signal but thankfully we did have wifi (couldn't miss the Love Island final now could I?).  

To say we had the best time is an understatement, we walked for miles, we got lost at the top of mountain roads and we visited Devil's Bridge, Aberystwyth, Machynlleth and Llangollen where we went on the highest navigable aqueduct in the world in a canal boat, it was an amazing experience and we all loved it.  I think Holly has been on more modes of transport than most children, she's not been on a plane yet but I'm sure if there were pet-friendly flights she would love it.

For me, there are no better adventures than the ones I have with my best friend and my dog, we laugh so much and it's when I'm at my most relaxed, I'm even pretty funny when I relax you know 😉 I think there's just something brilliant about travelling with friends, it's definitely not the same as family travel because truly you are free to please yourself and Harriet just kind of goes with the flow, well I say that but as long as I choose child-friendly activities for her inner 5-year-old she's usually happy.  I already can't wait for our next adventure even though we don't know where or when it's going to be.  

We stayed at The Plough, Lupton, a luxury dog-friendly Inn near Kirkby Steven in Cumbria, we were given a suite plus bed, breakfast and evening meal in return for an honest review.


Wednesday, August 07, 2019

{AD} Tyneside Cinema Christmas Events 2019

Santa, the Grinch and the controller from the Polar Express at the Tyneside Cinema Christmas 2019 launch, mandy charlton, Photographer, writer, blogger

{AD} I was asked to attend the Tyneside Cinema Christmas 2019 launch event, I received some lovely gifts but was not paid to write this article.

I was asked along to our favourite independent cinema in the north, the Tyneside Cinema for the launch of their Christmas 2019 programme.

As Christmas events get bigger you have to book earlier or risk missing out and the Tyneside Cinema has all kinds of pre-Christmas treats to get you in the yuletide mood (as if I needed an excuse) as well as having lots of lovely gifts which will transcend the passage of time into 2020.

My personal favourite, The Holiday screening which comes with a survival kit of Prosecco, chocolate and tissues for those moments, you know the one where Jude Law is crying and he's telling Cameron Diaz that he loves her... Suffice to say, I shall be booking a ticket for that one!

There's also lots for the little ones like a special screening of the polar express or for the slightly bigger ones, a screening of the Grinch, yes, I met him, and yes, he's hilarious although not too scary...

There are also festive afternoon teas, screenings of your favourite Christmas movies and a pile of gifts to pop under your families tree.  Although it must be said that the event just happened to be on the hottest day since records began it did not dull my festive spirit and after I'd cuddled Santa like the rockstar that he is, I left with a bounce in my step and a very familiar Mariah Carey Christmas tune stuck in my head, well it's never too early to start celebrating is it?

You can book your favourite festive events by following this Tyneside Cinema Christmas Events 2019 but be quick, some of the events, especially the ones like the Polar Express, they're expected to sell out quickest.


Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Let's start this again shall we?

You may remember me from previous blogs such as...

Yep, I haven't blogged for nearly a month for a variety of reasons - 

  • I've shot a lot of weddings lately and in between shooting them, (often with smoke bombs) I've been a slave to editing and to all manner of portraits and client work.
  • When Google+ closed its doors it slashed my traffic by around a third and that's hard, especially as a blogger who does occasional sponsored posts but I've given myself a talking to about why I started blogging in the first place and I still hope to be writing my scattered thoughts for the next decade or so.
  • Abigail cut me out of her life because I shared a post about coercive control on Instagram and I still can't process it months later, being silent about any kind of marital or relationship abuse just leads to more abuse, we can only stop this stuff from happening if we talk about it.  I'll always be here for her and she knows that and that's all I can really say right now because I still can't talk about it without feeling my heart actually hurt.
  • I went on holiday with Looby and Holly Bobbins and actually did no work whilst I was there, this is a rare occurrence for me.
  • I started to live the slow life, I've spoken about this before but these days you will mostly find me in my garden.
So, a lot of things have happened and yet, nothing has really happened, just life.

The summer holidays are just around the corner and for the first time I'll be spending more time alone than ever before, Looby will be off with friends and horses for most of it and I haven't really worked out what I'm going to do with myself as yet.  Harriet finishes work on Friday and we're going away on the 28th to Cumbria and then a couple of nights near Aberystwith, all with wonder dog Holly Bobbins of course.

I was also trying to plan a one-woman trip to the highlands but coach companies are so complicated and it doesn't seem like I've been able to find one which works with the dates when I'm actually available.  I have been thinking about whether I can do a one-woman rail and Airbnb  (if you click that link you can join Airbnb and get £23 off your first trip and I'll get some credit towards my travels) trip to the highlands but it just depends on the price of rail tickets etc.

I really want to make the most of summer even if I'm childfree but for me, I'm still trying to process that my kids are older and the summer holidays aren't that magical thing they used to be.  I'm sure like Christmas I just need to redefine them for myself, I'm sure if I don't it will end up in knocking off my depression and that's not what I want at all.

What I need I think is some kind of grown-up summer holiday bucket list I can check off and live my best life but I think I'm currently going through some kind of mid-life crisis in all kinds of areas of my life.

One thing that is definitely happening, I campaigned for a community garden and it's happening with the help of the NCS (national citizen service) I cannot wait to help build a garden for my local community with the help of 15 or so enthusiastic young people.  The plan is to remove a massive box hedge and a boulder from a disused and nettle filled flower bed, then to put in herbs and bee attracting flowers as well as putting a park bench and maybe a picnic table, finally I want to get lots of outdoor toys for the local small ones and hold a big party in my community to really bring them together.  Hopefully, it's the start of something amazing and I've already pledged to contribute time and financially so much as I can.  After all, I believe that small scale philanthropy can change the world, I know I am imperfect but that doesn't mean that I can't do amazing amounts of good for the community.

Tuesday, July 02, 2019

Prep Kitchen - An honest review {ad gifted}

A few weeks ago a company called Prep Kitchen contacted me.  They asked if they could send out a week's meals in exchange for an honest review.  I accepted and not knowing exactly what kind of meals I was about to be sent I was a little scared of receiving ten portions of pre-prepared mush because you know, it's a rare thing indeed when a ready meal actually looks like it does in the ads.

Prep Kitchen is a British company and they believe in healthy ready meals, they offer several options from fat loss to muscle gain to performance meals for the serious pro's out there.  They sent me 10 separate meals and as soon as they arrived and I opened them I noticed that there was nothing I immediately didn't like and for me, that's actually a miracle as I can be a little fussy.

Each meal is freshly prepared, comes ready to store in the fridge and cooks at 200c in the oven for 15 minutes so again, for me who never knows what to cook myself, someone who lives like a student when Looby isn't here, the concept is brilliant.

But get this...

The food is blooming lovely, during my week of trialling the ready meals, there wasn't anything I didn't like and not only that, I also gave them to Harriet on one occasion and Looby twice after she'd come home from the stables (I gave her the high protein muscle gain ones perfect for her sporty self), now it's fair to say that Harriet will eat most things without complaint but Looby is fussier than me and she loved the meals she tried.

The price of each meal is between £5.75 and £7.75 depending on which plan you're going for and I guess, that's quite expensive in some respects but if I'm eating just that for 5 days a week I guess £57.50 isn't too bad.

For ready meals, it's quite hard usually to make them look attractive once cooked, and sometimes uncooked but these meals actually look good and that's part of the fun of eating isn't it.  There are lots of choices too from tasty things like Persian Chicken with middle eastern giant couscous and harissa spiced aubergine to Fresh herb chicken with Gnocchi and ratatouille.

They offer veggie options and the ones I tried in the selection were all great too.  Prep Kitchen also sent some of their snacks which you can use for breakfast or just when you need a lift but I honestly wasn't too fussed on them.

Honestly, I thought it was great, so great that I actually want to subscribe to the fat loss plan to see if it does work, I've felt I wanted to do something for a while but didn't want to go back to Slimming World and I just need a helping hand so doing this for 6 or so weeks until I had a good loss and didn't feel the need to cook my own things (with just a little extra this or a portion of yummy that).

To wrap up, yes, I would definitely use them, I absolutely recommend them if you need a meal plan which caters to your health needs and lead a busy life where you just want to shove something quick in the oven or microwave.  I do think the cost is high but for fresh ingredients being prepared well, I can't imagine that these meals would be cheap if you had to go and eat out.


Wednesday, June 19, 2019

It's finally time to be honest, this is me.

The Newcastle Quayside at Sunset, Mandy Charlton, Photographer, Writer, Blogger, It's finally time to be honest, this is me

When I started a business, I just wanted to change my life, I wanted to prove I wasn't one of life's failures.  Things got out of hand though and before I knew it I had ideas above my station and thought I could end up being rich, powerful, successful.  I failed!

A few years ago I decided to lose weight and though I successfully lost weight I still saw myself as fat and now I've put on all the weight I previously lost, I'm no more unhappy than I was when I was thinner because it's all in my head.  Everything I've ever done, I've set out to do it so that I'd make people say "wow" like I needed some kind of approval and on the projects where no one has cared, I've just given up and shelved things because I've courted public opinion way too much.

I've rarely spoken out about the abuse I've dealt with throughout my life, the fact that I live in social housing and that my bank account isn't overflowing because I am ashamed and talking about it would make people think less of me.  It seems I've gotten so many things wrong and it's no wonder that I have chronic anxiety.

You see, there are things that I am genuinely proud of, the fact that I've been reasonably successful despite everything and the other fact, that I live in the real world and I'm not rocking back and forth in a mental institution, although that would also not make me a bad person it's definitely something which could have happened, something which does happen when you live your whole life with mental health issues.

I started living the slow life about 6 months ago now, spending so much time creating a wildlife haven and a beautiful garden has centred my mind, it's given me time to breathe and something to get obsessed with which is actually a good and positive thing.  I always get obsessed over things, there is no half-hearted, it's probable that I am on the spectrum much like my son although there seems no point in acquiring yet another label. 

My point here is, in living more slowly I think I'm starting to accept myself as I am, I've started talking to my neighbours, (many of whom believe I have ideas above my station I'm sure), I've been for wanders with Holly Bobbins in my local area instead of running straight to the beautiful parklands.  It's time to start accepting all of the aspects of my life before it passes me by completely.

My need for acceptance comes from never being good enough for anyone, a lifetime spent with narcissists will do that to a person, I guess it's why I've chosen to remain single, because really, I'd just be looking to find someone who'd be my cheerleader but there's no point if I can't even do that myself.  This photo below is honestly filtered to within in an inch of its life because I went to a Samsung event where they showed us how to cleanse (yes, I know, weird event) and it left me with my bare face covered in rosacea.
Mandy Charlton, Samsung Event, Dress from Simply Be,  it's finally time to be honest, this is me
Dress from Simply Be which was gifted to me previously

I've skipped through my life trying to be someone I'm not, always trying to be better than myself or to just pretend to be someone else and I guess it's why I spend so much time living the hermit life, because I'm always a little scared of being found out as an imposter.  Now I would like to add a caveat that so many times I think I've figured it out, I love myself more and life is going to be peachy but...

I think the reality of the situation is that I can learn to accept myself and not be afraid of what people think of me and not be afraid of what I actually think of myself but I've come to the following conclusions.
  • I'm going to try and do as much good as I can being the person that I am.
  • I'm going to spend more time speaking about the abuse I've survived because not talking about it is just as bad as hiding it and we need to talk about it, people need to know, these behaviours are not okay and if you are experiencing them in your childhood, or relationships, no matter what threats are made.
  • I'm going to continue to live life at a much slower pace and try and discover who I actually am.
  • I'm going to try and accept myself on a day to day basis
One of the most powerful things my therapist ever told me was "Always know you are good enough, even the times you thought you weren't you were still more than good enough" It kind of changed my life so many years ago but I still forget it every now and again when I'm judging myself harshly so if you're sitting there reading this, please know, that whatever has happened and whoever has told you that you're not, always remember that you are good enough.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

The Importance of Telling Your Story

The importance of telling your story, Mandy Charlton, Newcastle Photographer, weddings and portraits, blogger and writer

I have a single rule in general about photographs, if a photograph doesn't tell a story when it's isolated on its own then you should delete it.  Every image should tell a story because the importance of telling your story through every single thing you do is so important.  It doesn't matter how you took the photo, whether it was a camera costing thousands or your battered old mobile phone which lives in your pocket with your keys and some sweet wrappers.  A good photo should either immediately tell a story or it should ask you a question and make you wonder what's going on.
The importance of telling your story, Mandy Charlton, Newcastle Photographer, weddings and portraits, blogger and writer

In business one of the hardest things you'll do is to search for your superhero customers, the people who'll come back over and over again, the ones who will shout from the rooftops, the ones who will be your superheroes and tell other people about you.  To find those very special people, you must tell your story.  People no longer buy products or services, they buy people and no one is going to buy someone they know nothing about.

People want to know the person behind the business, why did you begin, how have you been here for so long, what is the thing that makes you want to keep doing what you're doing?  All of these things form part of your story.

There's a trick on Instagram I worked out maybe 6 months ago, I started to really engage with people through images and videos, I started telling my story, I wanted people to really know who I was, where I'd come from and just how far I'd come.  Every day is like a new chapter.  The funny thing now though is I don't necessarily share the best, most, award-winning images.  I simply share the things I love and with that love, I tell my story.
The importance of telling your story, Mandy Charlton, Newcastle Photographer, weddings and portraits, blogger and writer

So important is this message of telling your story that I've completely changed the face of my business.  Up until very recently I would go to weddings and tell the story of the couple but in portraiture, I would just take pretty pictures.  Nothing wrong with that you might say, but I couldn't understand why I could do it with weddings and not with families and the truth was, that it's about time.
The importance of telling your story, Mandy Charlton, Newcastle Photographer, weddings and portraits, blogger and writer

So often people come to photo shoots with definite ideas about what they want so by the time you arrange them into their various groups, there's no time left to create story-telling images.  To tell someone's story though is to give depth.  It's actually a truly beautiful thing to have just a little more time but I can tell you, although there'll always be a place for the shorter sessions, when you spend an hour with people and you're wandering from place to place, it really helps you get to know them, get to know the personality of their family.

This weekend I have 2 weddings and 2 longer photo shoots and it is my single goal to create great storytelling images from each one.  They will all be completely unique and so it's important that their images are too.

The importance of telling your story, Mandy Charlton, Newcastle Photographer, weddings and portraits, blogger and writer
At the heart of everything I do, I want to inspire people, I want to use the experiences I've had in life, good and bad, to help others, to be an advocate for mental health and I want to show people that although bad past life experiences have defined me I have managed to change the focus of them and get some good out of them.  It is 100% possible to have had a deeply traumatic childhood and still turn that around into something which helps others.  

There are a few areas of my life I have been far too quiet about, especially the past, recent and farther back, I feared the consequences of speaking out too many times but not any more, now that I'm publicly talking about it and drawing other people to me who've experienced the same kind of things I can see completely how together we can be a force for good, together we are telling our stories to help others understand theirs.
The importance of telling your story, Mandy Charlton, Newcastle Photographer, weddings and portraits, blogger and writer

You know, it's a funny thing, life.  For me, the biggest paradigm shift was transforming my garden, it allowed me to share from beginning to end a story, I got to share my journey and inspire some people along the way and it also revealed to me that through learning about how living outdoors affected my general health and wellbeing that I could pass on this information to help others.  I also suddenly realised I was doing the thing I'd first learnt in photography, through sharing pictures of plants and how to build a pond, what I was actually doing was sharing the story of me, of progress and of transformation.
The importance of telling your story, Mandy Charlton, Newcastle Photographer, weddings and portraits, blogger and writer

Start sharing your story today and you might just find out how powerful that is.

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