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

Thursday, May 10, 2018

My Night with John...

A couple of weeks ago I spent the night with John, actually my favourite John in the whole world...

My happy place, my go to mood uplifter and the place you'll often find me mooching around when I'm procrastinating and planning the day I actually have a mansion.
Garden pod featuring newcastle bloggers, mandy charlton, photographer, writer, blogger

The second floor and basement have always been my domains, furniture, soft furnishings, cooking utensils, gifts, garden furniture and of course at Christmas, the Christmas shop is always in the basement.  Yes I love John Lewis, it seamlessly changes with the seasons, did you know that you'll never see the change from spring/summer to autumn/winter?  You might in other shops, but never in John Lewis and I guess that's what makes it so very magical.

We discovered a terrace outdoors that looks out over our beautiful city of Newcastle, up on high, I'd never noticed it before, secreted away only for staff and special occasions, views as far as the eye can see of buildings and rooftops with the hustle and bustle down below.

After the views came the enchanted walk through the kitchens to find a buffet of tiny foods fit for tiny fairy fingers, the foods showed off the kitchens in all of their magnificence, and not just any kitchens, kitchens fit for country homes or chic urban city flats of bohemian owners who like books, poetry and wandering around with a Holga around their neck, taking low fi photographs of curious parts of our historic city.

Then to the back of the basement to see magical garden buildings, some big enough to fit a handful of bloggers and surely sit in your family garden with enough space for you, dad and the kids, covered over for even the rainiest of British summers, nights spent playing draughts or fighting over Monopoly or maybe enjoying a pink gin or too when the kids are in bed.

The upstairs we traversed to mooch and marvel at the grandest furniture department in Newcastle, styles brought straight from Morocco or that chic London gentleman's club of the 60's, you know the ones with the velveteen furniture.  Styles for everyone from the modern to the retro and even something students can purchase without breaking the bank (of mum or dad).  Each element we found in the room designs had been carefully picked and placed and if you ever turn around in John Lewis you may even find your own point of interest as you look down the aisles, not placed their by magic or mystery but by clever elves using years of research to make the department pleasing to the eye.

Styles to lust after, furniture you want so badly that you spend hours looking for just the right cushions to go with the chairs in the soft furnishing department, with rooms to plan and in need of help and assistance the worker bees in the home design service will carry the load for you, in store by complimentary appointment or for the full service to your humble abode they will come carrying swatches and samples of the most divine colours to help you create your own desirable residence.

All too soon our journey was complete and as we said our goodbyes leaving the vast perfect landscape of chairs and beds and tables and drawers I felt that thought which crossed my mind, maybe I could just live in the land of John Lewis forever, I could camp in their beds and dine in their kitchens, I could change the curtains and swatches without anyone noticing, after all, if I was going to do that, then surely I would shrink myself to 6 inches tall so I'd never be discovered.

Tuesday, May 08, 2018

Trying to be more body confident

You know what I love, women who support women, feminists who believe in equality, body confident bloggers and girls who always have each other's back.  A couple of weeks ago when I was having a rough time I messaged Naomi to see if she could send me some body confident Instagram accounts to follow, Naomi of course being one of those ladies who fits into every category in my first statement.  I looked at all of the accounts and found women who love themselves for who they are,  women who've not only accepted every curve but also love them.  It made me happy and warm inside and I decided that I need to be one of those women.

Today was my 4th weigh in as part of the #Boostbuddies for XLS Nutrition, I missed out a week writing about it last week because of my appointment to CEO of The Inspire Network International Ltd

So here's my catch up, last week I lost a whole three quarters of one pound and this week I lost nothing but I didn't gain anything either, I am now half a pound heavier than when I first got weighed which means it's not a plan that works for me, add that to the rosacea and for me personally it's not a success but that doesn't mean it wouldn't be for you.

In my life as an influencer I often get sent beautiful things and JD Williams offered to send me a beautiful Monsoon maxi skirt and some rose gold Sketchers.  I was going out for Harriet's birthday and being that we had the sunniest weekend in the northeast I wanted to wear them as an outfit to the pub on Saturday night.  Only problem was, the top I wanted to wear, showed my arms and not to mention my foldy bits, you know, more doughnut than love handles but as part of me trying to love me more at the age of 44 after 3 children, 2 C-Sections, a full on Hysterectomy, I decided just to go for it.  My lovely OH said I looked great and that meant the world to me and no one shouted "oi fatty" when I walked in the pub.  So, I decided to go a step further and asked Harriet to take a photo.

I literally adore this skirt so much, it's been an age since I even wore a skirt and I know even though I'm a little short to wear it with trainers that it's going to keep me cool during the summer months, it's light and airy and I love the cut of it, even being a size 16, I felt it's a skirt which is absolutely suitable for the larger lady and I might even wear it with heels next time.

The Sketchers are simply divine, I wear trainers all the time, you can't wear heels so much when you have a beagle by your side at all times so these are perfect whether I'm off to the pub, going out for dinner or just wandering in the park with Holly Bobbins at my side.

Something good has happened, you know the full length photo?  I don't hate it, I don't love it but my face doesn't look too bad in it and even though I look like I'm disappearing into the pavement and have a rubber ring around my tummy to stop me from sinking, I think I could look much worse.

Now I realise this is a long, long way from being body confident but that's me, too many knocks about my face, my weight, my body when I was young, well let's just say to any mums out there with daughters, just tell your daughter they are gorgeous every day.

So, now my epic quest this week is to just love myself more, to keep up the walking, maybe even try a little more speed walking although if you ask Holly she'll probably tell you that a stroll is just the right pace for her.

Monday, April 30, 2018

The scariest most exciting decision I've ever made

The Inspire Network, a networking organisation for entrepreneurial women, mandy charlton, photographer, writer, blogger and soon to be managing director of the inspire network

8 years ago I went along to my first Inspire Network meeting, I met ladies who would become friends, clients, colleagues and in some cases, all three things.  The Inspire Network was founded by one of those amazing ladies, Julie who saw a gap in the market for a networking association which was child friendly, over the years we've grown from one small meeting to several around the region, we've inspired women to take the leap into their own businesses and we've seen businesses grow and become forces to be reckoned with.  We bucked the trend by not having any advertising and as a not for profit we grew to over 10,000 members in our Facebook group.

In June of this year I will be the CEO, I'm taking us into a whole new era with a team of trusted advisors behind me, late last week as the news was announced, I'd already chosen 2 of my new board of directors and my 3rd and final director and shareholder is in the works.  Together under my leadership The Inspire Network will be making the leap from not for profit to a company which will make a profit but with our community of the most amazing women at the heart of it.  

From June we are opening up our group to women all over the country and I won't stop working until we are a global brand.  We are working with our members to increase the number of groups we have and will be moving over to a licensed/franchised business model.  We will be offering new sponsorship and advertising opportunities and we'll continue to support our members at every level of business or entry into business.

For me this is a whole new challenge, it's unlike any job I've ever had before, I have been a director in name for the last 3 years but now this becomes my company, my fight, my mission to succeed.  I still have to get from no profit to turnover to profit so that I can myself even start taking a salary but I'm able to do this because I have Mandy Charlton Photography which is a success in it's own right and which will continue it's path of being known as one of the regions best photographers.

I've never been afraid of hard work, try shooting 300+ photography sessions in one year and tell me differently, try running a business for any length of time and you'll know what you have to do not only to survive but also to flourish, from small acorns grow huge oaks.

I've blogged about most aspects of my life and so it feels right that I should share this news, this journey, this monumental battle with you my readers.  I'm doing this not just for me but for my daughters and for every girl who has a dream that one day she's going to have her own business, as women we continue to break glass ceilings every day but in a world still dominated by the patriarchy our fight to be accepted as equals has only just begun.

As women we are fierce and wonderful in business, we are brave, we are daring but whatever happens we care, we are after all filled with not just business sense but we have the EQ to go with the IQ and so when you have an organisation of women supporting women in business, the most amazing things can happen and as my old mentor, the great Jane Graham MBE once told me, there's no such thing as competition only collaboration.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

It has to be easier than this doesn't it?

It's Week 2 of the Boost Buddies plan with XLS Medical and I've excelled myself by still being heavier than when I started!  My hopes, dreams and aspirations have not only been dashed but my health ended up being so bad that my whole body ached and eventually I ended up at the hospital with an eye infection which meant when I woke up on Saturday I couldn't use my eye muscle.

Inflammation has been proved to be the catalyst for depression and so by Friday when I was having depressive thoughts I knew things were bad.  With work, a visit to hospital and my head being a mess I decided to take a weekend off the shakes and by Monday I was feeling much more like myself, I'd weighed myself on the Friday and it wasn't good but the moment I stopped having the shakes I lost weight and was back to just half a pound heavier than when I started.  In the days I was off the shakes I barbecued, I made fresh salsa, I stuck to a plan of eating only things which were made by me or things I knew didn't contain bad things and this was the biggest success.

I can't give up though, I signed a contract to do this for 8 weeks and to blog honestly about the experience and that's what I'm going to do.  I think the main problem is that I don't ordinarily eat processed food, I can't  ever remember having a Mcdonalds and my idea of fast food is Sushi or a wrap with chicken and vegetables, I'm not immune to a takeaway but it's usually from Pret a Manger.  I think my body can't handle massive amounts of sugar or processed powder but I've had an idea...

The 5/2 diet is one of the most successful diets out there on the market, consume 800 calories on 2 separate days a week and then eat a normal healthy diet on the other 5 days so because the shakes contain 750 calories if you have 3 in a day, this would work perfectly and I can live without proper food 2 days a week.  I think adapting it would mean that the inflammation didn't have time to build up, my moods and rosacea should be okay and the 2 days wouldn't be consecutive so it's literally the best plan for me.  

I've had word that my Fitbit is on the way and I've sent a request for some fabulous running shoes and really that's what this week has been about for me, I've amped up my exercise levels and on a couple of days I've done 15 or 16k, when I lost 3 and a half stone I did it literally by walking and walking and walking, it's hard at first to get into the routine as it takes so much time out of my already busy day but when I walk, I have better mental health, my anxiety is always so much better and we all know a daily hit of vitamin D3 is amazing for our health.

I literally hate this weeks full length photo but again, I'm bound to share one, I hate that you can see all of my lumps and bumps and that basically, I'm just a chunk, I've been reading a lot about body positivity and that's overwhelmingly what I'm going to work on after the 8 weeks has finished as well as just learning to live on the plan of eating fruit, veg, meat and some dairy with a sprinkling of nuts, no cake, no crisps, no crap, it's a good plan, I might even call it the C-Word plan.

And so onwards we go into another week of me with my eyes on the prize, that prize being 2 stone of weight loss which would get me back to my curvy happy place, I have lost a probable inch though but it's not really enough to go throwing my arms up in the air and cheering just yet.  This weekend I'm working all weekend again and so that's always good for exercise and I think Looby and I are planning a little mini break with Holly Bobbins if the financial Gods smile upon me, we need walks and we need to be focused, week 3, I am coming to get you...

Just as a quick reminder, I'm not being paid to do this, I've been sent the shakes, and promised a Fitbit and trainers in return for an honest review and I'm sure you'll all know by now, I'm always 100% honest.


Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Best Seafood in the North of England? Colmans Seafood Temple

colemans seafood temple, south shields, seafood in the north east of england

I've long been a fan of seafood but there still seems to be a lack of great places in the North East of England so when Colmans asked me to try out their new Seafood Temple based in South Shields, I jumped at the chance and Looby was first to declare an interest as my plus one because she's a huge fan of mussels.
Exterior shot, colemans seafood temple, south shields, seafood in the north east of england

Colmans have long been a staple in the fish and chip world but now they're turning their hand to finer dining with a custom built building shaped like a boat at one end and a temple at the other, sitting right on the seafront at South Shields.  It's a risky business when you are well known in one kind of market to venture into another but like Virgin, if you can succeed in other market's keeping all kinds of customers happy then you truly can have the world!

Looby and I went down for lunch last week and we were excited, Looby commented that if only we could bring Holly Bobbins with us then it would be perfect and so we were thrilled to note that downstairs is a takeaway but with seating and dogs are welcomed with open arms, whilst they don't offer the whole seafood menu we were informed that they do sometimes have a seafood specials on their downstairs menu as well as the famous Colmans fish and chips.

Back to the upstairs though and it's a spacious light and airy building with 360 degree views, not only that but the seating is placed spaciously on the floor, whilst they could have gotten more tables in they've chosen not to, a definite sign of quality over quantity and that's always a good thing.

The menu is tantalising, you can have everything from the staples like Cod, Haddock and Scampi right through to Scallops, Oysters, prawns and there's even a steak option which I chose as it was a featured special of surf and turf.  It actually might be the first time I've ever had surf and turf, I can't quite believe that!

I started with scallops though, scallops are notoriously hard to cook and get just right, cook them for even a second too long and they taste like rubber and so if I see them on the menu I have to try them as they're a great marker for just how good a restaurant is.

No worries with Colmans Seafood Temple though, you can get them in three's and fives and although I was tempted to get the five I wanted to leave room for mains and pudding.  The three were perfect, a great appetiser and for me, I could quite happily just order a plate full of scallops from there as they were so utterly tantalising to the tastebuds.  Looby meanwhile had ordered herself a half kilo of mussels and took no time to clear out the pot of the plumptious molluscs.

For mains Looby went for scampi, she always goes for scampi, it didn't disappoint though and when my perfectly cooked steak came out with 3 large prawns on top, I did a little silent squeal, steak is my favourite and so I eat it a lot and I can tell you the difference between a good steak and a great steak.  Let me tell you that this was a great steak and those prawns?  Delish, I could have eaten a plate of them on their own!

We were quite full by this point but Looby reminded me that we have an extra stomach that's just for pudding...(yes, yes, we do, honest) so we ordered some perfection in a bowl, that's hot cherries with ice-cream, hot cherries with ice-cream probably goes into the list of my favourite five puddings of all time, it's just the ultimate combination and really as close to perfection as you can get with desserts in my opinion, as ever the simple things are the best.

So, if I had paid for our meals it would have come to somewhere around £75ish which for 3 courses and drinks is a pretty good price and if it's a special occasion then it's a bargain.  Looby gave it 10/10 and really she's the best judge as she doesn't care who's paying for lunch, she just likes what she likes and nd she's also quite fussy and particular about the things she does like so it makes me happy to say that she would definitely go again but we're really not one for leaving Holly Bobbins on her own at home so next time we'll be trying the downstairs takeaway with our favourite four pawed friend.

Thank you to Colmans Seafood Temple for inviting us down for a complimentary meal in exchange for an honest review.


Monday, April 23, 2018

Is it really worth upgrading to the iPhone X just for the camera?

In November last year I upgraded to the iPhone 8Plus purely and simply for the camera, I have enough phone contracts because I pay for all of my teens on the condition that I get the newest phones and really they don't mind that at all.  So after using that until a few weeks ago I decided to loan and iPhone X from my lovely friends at Three who I've worked with lots of times now.

I'd tried an iPhone X in the shop when it came out but I really didn't like the swipe up instead of the home key and I wasn't at all convinced I would like the fact that you unlock the phone and pay for things by using your face, hell, I don't even like my face!!

The phone came, I unboxed it and I was safe in the knowledge that I could use it for a month and then send it back, I really was sceptical about the fact it's got a whole new camera system and could it really be better than the 8Plus?

Let me tell you, it took me 3 days to not only completely fall in love with the phone but by the Saturday I'd been in store to do the upgrade on my own contract.

The iPhone X completely knocks it out of the park when it comes to photography, I'll give you an example of when I was in the lake district with the iPhone X and my DSLR which had a £1500 lens attached to it, I didn't really believe that a phone retailing at just over £1k would equal £2500 of professional photography equipment but you know what?  I was wrong!!

Now I would tell you which on was taken with which but that really would spoil the fun so which one do you think was taken with an iPhone X and which one was taken with a Canon professional body plus a Canon L Lens?

One of them was quickly edited with Instagram and the other was edited with Lightroom but the differences are completely subtle.

Now I'm someone who's always believed that it's not about the camera it's about the person behind the camera and also that the best camera is the one you have with you at the time.  I know after using the iPhone X for nearly a month now I no longer feel the pressure to take my big camera unless I'm specifically shooting for a stock photography agency and then the only difference really comes down to pixels rather than quality.

So, let me show you some more favourites from this last month taken with the iPhone X

I think we'd all agree that for something which you can just have in your pocket all of the time it does a pretty great job and really for me it's a little scary just what a good job it does, I don't think there'll ever be a time when we don't have digital SLR's but at the same time, technology is progressing so quickly, it's only a couple of years since Apple introduced portrait mode which could throw out the background and it's come on since it was first launched in Beta on the iPhone 7Plus.  If you can replicate the effects of a £1500 - £2000 lens with something you can carry in your back pocket, well the world is your oyster and it's a sign of the times that photography will never be the same, I do still think there are times when my big camera is always going to out perform the iPhone and thank goodness but if they're this good now, can you imagine the progress over the next 10 years, maybe one day I'll just need to go to weddings with six small iPhones in my kit....I'm joking about that, no, really it's way too scary to even imagine that.

Thanks to Three for the loan of the iPhone X and for introducing me to my own new phone.


Friday, April 20, 2018

Where do I go from here?

Mandy Charlton, Heaton Park, Holly Bobbins and Looby, photographer, newcastle upon tyne

Last week I sat down and wrote an impassioned post about business and work and my frustrations about the weather and sustaining business for the next decade.  I deleted the post about 12 hours after I posted it, it felt like a knee jerk reaction and the very next day the weather changed for the better and it's been pretty much sunny ever since, maybe the universe has a way of saying "hang on in there, things will get better"

A week on and I'm feeling low, and that's not helped by the fact that I've put on 4lb of weight in 8 days and my rosacea has broken out, I thought meal replacement shakes were supposed to be the easy way to lose weight?  Especially after amping up my exercise levels, Harriet has also noticed my depression markers have risen considerably over the last week so it's a sure sign something is wrong and I think the only way to find out is to speak to a doctor, they are after all, the experts.

This weekend I have 14 photo shoots booked in my calendar, mainly they're all reschedules from earlier dates where the weather failed us 2, 3 or in some cases 4 times, none the less I feel better when I'm working, it feels so much more productive to me and I know it's a perpetual cycle of people getting excited when they see their images so they tell their friends and then their friends book, something there's been a lack of when I only shot a handful of sessions in the first 3 months of the year.

I guess what took me by surprise this year was that I was prepared for winter, I had savings, no one could have anticipated how long winter actually lasted for and now sprint is on a catch up, in just 3 days the tree outside my window has exploded into leaf growth.  Last weekend when there was no cherry blossom on the trees in Saltwell Park I mused that at least I could offer May cherry blossom sessions this year, probably for the first time as there weren't even leaves on the trees last Sunday.

I'm predicting that the weather now should have sorted itself up and I can press on with marketing for spring and summer safe in the knowledge that when the dark days of winter last too long you usually get a scorching hot summer to compensate.

If you are local to Newcastle these are my next 5 dates you can have an all inclusive £100 mini photo shoot at - 

Jesmond Dene - 29th April - 10, 10.30, 11, 11.30, 12.30, 2, 2.30, 3pm
Jesmond Dene - 12th May 11, 11.30, 12, 1, 1.30, 2, 2.30, 3, 3.30pm

Saltwell Park - 19th May, 10, 11, 11.30, 12, 1, 1.30, 2, 2.30, 3pm
King Edwards Bay -26th May, 10, 10.30, 11, 11.30, noon, 2.30, 3pm
Tynemouth Longsands - 27th May 10, 10.30, 11, 11.30, noon, 1, 1.30, 2, 2.30, 3pm

You get all of the edited images (at least 15x20) and you get the experience of a fun session, all of the kids I meet really enjoy it and there's usually chocolate at the end, I even carry supplies of dairy free sweets, sometimes vegan just in case the small ones are allergic.

Yesterday I also set up a new wedding page on my blog, I think the big dream is to turn this blog into a full on blogsite which encompasses everything I do but I've spent years optimising my actual website so it may take time and a stealthy plan before I can do that.  If you are looking for a photographer in Newcastle for your wedding, that page is a good place to start.

I'm off outdoors now to enjoy some sunshine, a big walk, a healthy lunch, and some time spent with Looby and Holly Bobbins, that I think is just what the doctor ordered.

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