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, November 18, 2019

Christmas is a cosy blanket

The enchanted winter garden, christmas is a cosy blanket, mandy charlton, photographer, writer, blogger

Christmas is a cosy blanket, it envelops you like a warm hug, something you wait for all year around.  That's how I've always felt anyway and it's one of the reasons I am decorating for Christmas early this year.  2019 has been, well a bit pants really, I've not been feeling myself since about March though like most things, there've been ups and downs, the last month though, since they found calcium in my blood, has been rather more fast-moving, I'm like a pincushion I've had so many blood tests and not just my blood, they've tested my pee and my poo trying to get to the bottom of what's actually wrong.  I'm still waiting for some results from last week but on Wednesday evening I'm booked for a CT scan which will scan from my neck down to my legs looking for something I don't even want to think about.

The weird thing is that it's workable, whatever it is, I have not missed a day of work since it all kicked off, I'm constantly exhausted, have naps most days and it takes me a week to recover from a weekend of photography but I'm in no way, what you would term as "ill".  We're all hoping of course that the CT Scan finds nothing, there's a chance that I have hyperparathyroidism and I'm seeing an endocrinologist on the 3rd of December, I'm actually hoping for that because I have all of the symptoms and it's a pretty quick fix of an operation (usually to remove a benign tumour from the parathyroid) and then within a month you feel reborn.  I'll take that.

Whilst December is the month of love, understanding and peace, it's proceeded by crazy November, a month which often brings out the more rambunctious, everyone is stressed, everyone is running around, business owners are worried about their income, customers are frantic and I see it and feel it within my business community, tempers are frayed about the most insignificant things and we all need a reminder, that in the big scheme of things, is it really worth being upset about microcosmic things which won't even matter in a weeks time?

It's even harder this year of course when politics has been at the forefront of everything, a year of worrying about Brexit and seeing the effects it's already had on the small business community and I think it's never been more important to support your local small businesses this Christmas, to think about sustainable long-lasting gifts which won't destroy the planet.  I know for the very first year we are not considering Christmas crackers because of the huge waste and the contents of single-use plastic although there are alternatives like eco-friendly Crackers with wooden and metal contents and where the papers are all completely recyclable.

With an election hanging over us,  or not even hanging, it's actually in progress, I've switched from watching the news to watching Christmas movies which are at least filled with hope, it's not like I need to see the electioneering when I know in my heart, we need change and as a committed socialist I've been a member of the Labour party for some time now, that is however the last lecture you'll hear from me, I truly don't mind who you vote for (unless it's UKIP or the Brexit Party and then we need to talk about their policies) but I do care that you make yourself heard and go and vote, just don't spend too much time reading the media as it's biased is completely screwed and you risk damaging your mental health at a difficult time of year anyway.

I've seen more people with their Christmas Trees already twinkling than ever before and I think we only have to look at what's going on in the world to realise why more than ever, we need the promise of Christmas, the shine of the fairy lights and the warmth of the candles that glow as we sit under our cosy blankets.  Christmas is a shining beacon of hope and for that I am truly thankful

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Foodies Gift Guide 2019 {Ad - Gift Guide}

My favourite gift guide of the year, the foodie edition, mostly because I'm a foodie myself and Christmas is that time of year when you can eat whatever you want, no matter how odd it might be, nuts for breakfast, peaches in brandy for lunch and cheese, cheeseboards for every meal if possible, (or is that just me?)

Cotswold Green No 1, if you like gin but you don't like the headache afterwards then this particular botanic spirit is completely alcohol-free and it's perfect for parties where you may have lovely friends who don't drink or who are maybe driving, much better than the standard offerings of soft drinks.

Lost Sheep Coffee, 100% compostable capsules to fit your Nespresso machine, lots of gorgeous flavours to take you on a journey, the Funky Camper was my favourite out of the ones I tried and they also come in decaff so you can drink coffee in the evenings too.

Jo & Sephs Popcorn advent calendar from The Present Finder,  Okay so not technically for Christmas but what's not to like about having popcorn every day in advent, I'll be saving this one for myself.

Masha, the Masha potato masher claims you can make lump free mash, the best mash ever in seconds and if you have a foodie in your life, well they're going to love this, it's also great for new mums as you can use the Masha to make babyfood, you can bet mine will be reserved for mashed potato and maybe some creamed swede.

Opies, various amazing jars to make Christmas that little bit brighter, Opies make the best things and put them all together and you have a little foodies hamper for your favourite friends, this year they've released mixed berries with prosecco as well as apricots in Jim Beam as well as their tasty pickled walnuts, cocktail cherries and sliced lemons, this selection is perfect for a party night over the festive season

Rhubarb Balsamic Vinegar from Demijohn, we are firm favourites of Demijohn and their fabulous products and this year they've released a rhubarb balsamic vinegar, now I love a good balsamic vinegar and I double, triple, love Rhubarb so this is going to be amazing!

Truffled Risotto set from Sous Chef, one of my favourite companies because it's all about the foodie, this truffled risotto set is sure to make a warming evening supper during the festive season, rich, luxurious and utterly gratifying, it's like Nigella came and cooked it herself.

Beeches Chocolates Christmas selections, it's not Christmas if you can't indulge in chocolate and the Santas and snowman go perfectly with a big mug of hot chocolate whilst the chocolate selection makes the perfect small gift for teachers.

Due Vittorie Apple Cider Vinegar, we all know how amazing apple cider vinegar is, this beautiful bottle is sure to make a foodies Christmas day, just don't forget to tell them about the health benefits too

Wild Mulberry Jam, also from the Artisan Olive Oil Company is a great little stocking stuffer or you could combine the items to make a lovely foodie hamper

Kinglas Fillet, Loch Fyne, okay so I might be stretching it a little when thinking about gifts as I don't think you're going to want to put this under the tree, however, it's going to be amazing as a starter, perfect as sashimi and I can vouch for the fact that it tastes absolutely amazing, just remember to keep it in the fridge and not under the tree.

Mermaid Gin, The Isle of White Distillery.  Now have you ever seen a more beautiful bottle of gin?  I actually haven't, I literally oo' ed when I took it out of its packaging, this is a thing of beauty and will look amazing on your festive drinks trolley, oh and yes, I have a drinks trolley, don't we all these days?  Mermaid Gin is a small batch handmade gin which uses 10 botanicals including samphire and elderflower amongst other things, a suggestion if you want to really experience it as it should taste is to garnish it with sea vegetables, well that makes me want to be Ariel on a rock with a glass on the rocks!!

Truffle duo set from Aix and Terra, Christmas is a time for indulgence after all so if you want to get your truffle on, Aix and Terra have produced this duo set, small but perfectly portioned, just make sure you hide them and then you can have them all to yourself!


Wednesday, November 06, 2019

13 presents perfect for the hard to buy for this Christmas {Ad, Gift Guide}

13 presents for the hard to buy for this Christmas, mandy charlton, photographer, writer blogger

{Ad, Gift Guide} It's the festive season and everywhere people are planning what to buy for presents to please and delight so here without further ado is 2019 Christmas gift guide with 17 presents to please everyone this Christmas no matter who they are, even if they're usually hard to buy for.  From the foodie to the planner to the lover of luxurious things, this gift guide has everything.

1. Onaie bespoke handmade sheepskin slippers, if you like me, always have cold feet, these are perfect.  Any friend or family member will love the cosy toe feeling as these slippers envelop your feet and give you the toastiest of toes.

2.  Black Spade Nightwear, for the lover of luxury this Blackspade nightwear is just the ticket, silky yet comfortable and stylish, the person who receives this gift at Christmas will love you forever

3. Norma and Dorothy advent calendar candle, we have advent candles every year, it's a wonderful thing to burn one for an hour a day and contemplate, life, Christmas and everything else.

4. Homedics Stretch XS, for those who would love to do Yoga at home whilst lying on a mat which does the stretching for you, this product is something I've already tried and it's actually amazing, I felt so much better doing a 10-minute programme every day, you can also meditate for added mind clearance

5. The Amazing Mystery Box, Doctor Who.  The Amazing mystery box comes in several different varieties but it's filled to the brim with so many goodies, I absolutely love this Doctor Who one.

6. Constellation Hoodie from tentree, as if the thought of a hoodie featuring a beautiful constellation which glows in the dark isn't enough to tempt you, what about the fact that for every item sold by tentree, they actually plant ten trees?  Go, quickly, sustainable gifts are the best.

7. Stabilo Stationery products, I have been an ambassador for Stablio for a while now and I love everything that they do,  I am a stationery addict so this Christmas, why not get the stationery addict in your life something fabulous from Stabilo this Christmas.

8. Nads Cruelty-free hair remover products, if you want to be party-ready this festive season check out Nads for their cruelty-free hair removing products, hopefully, a few moments waxing and you'll be smooth and silky the whole festive season.

9. The ridiculously rude plant's mug, I bet you didn't know there were so many ridiculously rude sounding plant names?  This gift is perfect for the good-humoured gardener and promises to raise an eyebrow or two upon unwrapping!
 10. Meater + meat thermometer We’re all looking for ways to make our lives that bit easier, what better place to start than in the heart of the home, the kitchen. This smart kitchen gadget will not only ensure juicy cooking results, but it also allows the chef to step away from the oven. Just connect the MEATER+ to any smartphone or tablet and using patented technology, MEATER+ provides estimated cooking times, monitors meat whilst it’s cooking, sends alerts to mobile devices such as notifications when meat is cooked to perfection and ready to enjoy, saving time and effort. If not for someone’s stocking, then an absolute must-have cooking tool this year to ensure the Christmas turkey is at its yummiest, while you focus on all the trimmings!

11. The Max Glo Ball from Chuckit, let's not forget our four-pawed family members this Christmas with a ball they can play with all year round and when they lose it, with luck it will be easier to find as it glows in the dark!  Holly Bobbins will be delighted.

 12.  Parrots and Palms Water Bottle from Kambukka, Kambukka are a premium drinkware brand and they have the most beautiful water bottles you've ever seen, perfect for hydration on the go at all times and this one is small enough to fit in your handbag, bonus points as it's also thermal!

13. candles from Pyropets, for the someone who has everything I bet they don't have a candle which melts down their pet and then you are left with the metal skeleton, it's definitely different and might be just the present for the hard to buy for friend

So I think we've got something for everyone here, even those hardest to buy for relatives and friends and if you gift some of these, I'd love to know how friends and family react, I personally would love all of them, that's why I spent so much time choosing the items.


Tuesday, November 05, 2019

This year, let's celebrate the build up to Christmas

This year, let's celebrate the build up to Christmas, mandy charlton, photographer, writer, blogger

Last year, I wrote this article about why I don't like Christmas anymore, what quickly transpired was that whilst Christmas Day makes me depressed, I do still love pre-Christmas, the build-up. in the weeks before.  I've since asked questions to people, I've listened to answers and it seems I'm not alone.

Most people don't actually think very much of Christmas Day, we're either spending it with difficult family members we can't wait to get away from or we're on our own and maybe lonely with no one to celebrate with.  For several very good reasons, Christmas is one of the most difficult times of the year for many, including me, the self-declared queen of all things Christmas.  Let's just take a moment to think about that though, not the queen of Christmas Day, the queen of all things Christmas.

I love pre-Christmas, once Looby has had her birthday on the 25th September I can think of nothing else, I read all the magazines, I write lists, I shop, I Pinterest, every single detail is meticulously planned.  I guess it's that which I find most magical of all.  For instance, I throw a Christmas party every year and that's probably the most exciting event of my year, it's always a riot and now one leaves without being well-fed, and usually a little tipsy.  In all probability, I think it's that experience which I crave as the best Christmas Day ever.

Maybe I peak too soon, by the time we get to Christmas Day I've watched 100's of Hallmark Christmas movies,  I've watched every single Christmas TV special I can get my hands on and then you get to Christmas Day and you don't want to watch anymore trimming the tree or snowfall at midnight on Christmas Day, all you have left is a pile of sprouts and nothing to look forward to other than a long hard winter and your annual tax return.

I have an idea though, why don't we just enjoy all of the Christmas build-up for as long as we possibly can, as a friend of mine said in a video the other day "Anyone who's seriously triggered by someone putting a Christmas tree up early needs to take a long, hard look at themselves".

My suggestion for this year is to go to all of the festive markets you can, go and hug as many Santa's as you can irrespective of how old you are.  Dance with elves, go down the festive helter-skelter.  Drink egg nog or mulled wine, make the biggest and best hot chocolates you can, toast marshmallows, squirt canned cream into your mouth.  If it snows make snowmen, have snowball fights, go sledging.  Imagine you are the real-life personification of Buddy the Elf.

My theory here is that by the time it actually get's to Christmas Day that you will be so worn out with all of the Christmas activity that you will be able to sleep the day away or you just won't care anymore and will happily sit on your own with a selection box in front of the Gavin and Stacey Christmas special.  Here's hoping anyway!

Sunday, November 03, 2019

The hidden loneliness epidemic no one talks about

Iris Rainbow, cat of mandy charlton, the hidden loneliness epidemic no one ever talks about, photographer, writer, blogger

In 2007, I had no one except my then-husband who commanded my whole attention, he was the centre of my universe and I'd had agoraphobia, to all intents and purposes he was my whole world, I even heard a scathing relative say that if he ever left me they thought I would kill myself because I wouldn't be able to cope on my own.

Well, 12 years on and I'm still here, I still have very few friends but I am free, I have a good job that I love and I'm around people all weekend when I'm working.  I do have friends and I see Harriet a couple of times a week if I'm lucky but that's where it ends, I can't go out because the only compatible evenings for the pub quiz are the nights when Looby is home (now that she's at business school and I want to spend every spare minute with her) and not horse riding and I can't meet anyone to share my life with because I never go out.

Don't get me wrong, I am good in my own company, I like my own company and I'm independent enough to take myself out to the cinema, or for dinner or on holiday but I guess that's just it, I spend a lot of time with people I don't know being overly happy like I just won the lottery (because, try photographing kids or weddings and being miserable, it would not end well). When I come home it's just me a lot of the time.  So I live this life being perpetually lonely whilst on the face of it people not realising that I am. 

I think this doesn't just affect me, I think there are lots of other people in the same position, the hidden lonely.  I also think I've led a weird life in some ways because I always introduce friends to other friends and they end up being friends whilst also having their own friends and there's me in the corner (not losing my religion, I never had one).

Please understand that I'm not looking for sympathy, I just want to raise awareness now because in the future I probably will end up being one of those old people who doesn't have a single person, I dread it, I worry about it and at the back of my mind I have this memory of when my husband left and he told me that he would make sure I ended up with no one.

I have raging anxiety today, my stomach is literally in my throat, and that's perhaps why I decided to write this, I don't know what the answer is, if I knew how to fix it I probably would have done that by now, currently, my energy levels are completely awful too but that's more likely due to the fact that I've been having a ton of medical tests for months and this week I finally hope to get a diagnosis, my doctor thinks I have hyperparathyroidism which causes depression as well as many other things, I've been just existing for months, and all I'm hoping for now is the diagnosis so I know it's not just my stupid brain again because really, I already take a significant amount of medication for my mental health, don't really fancy taking anymore.

Monday, October 28, 2019

How to spend Christmas alone

How to spend christmas alone, mandy charlton photography, blogger, writer

This year for the first time I am spending Christmas alone, Looby wants to be with her sister, Iain wants to spend his first Christmas with his brother and sister and so I'll be alone for my very first Christmas.

When I was younger, in fact, my whole life, I dreamt about having big family Christmases with all of the family, extended family and the funny old drunk aunties falling asleep after a big Christmas lunch.  We'd play charades, we'd eat all of the Quality Street and then we'd settle down for the Gavin and Stacey Christmas special.

Life, of course, doesn't always go the way you'd expect and the price of freedom from being in controlling family relationships is that I've ended up with just Looby and Iain and it's only fair that they get to spend Christmas with whoever they want.  Harriet of course, lovely as she is, extended the yearly invitation to have lunch with her folks at the pub but last year I was depressed and I felt I ruined other people's happiness and that's a lot when it's £60 a head.

In truth, Christmas will be the very antithesis to what I've hoped and dreamed of but I have to start thinking about ways to make the best of it because people all around the world have to face Christmas alone, it's not just me and it's not about sympathy or pity.  It's just finding ways to cope.

I've researched, I've read articles and they all seem to say the same kinds of things - 
  • Go for a walk, and enjoy how quiet everywhere is.
  • Have a lie-in with no pressure to get out of bed.
  • Take yourself out for Chinese food.
  • Spoil yourself with presents to yourself.
  • Take naps whenever you want.
  • Catch up on TV, watch whatever you want
  • Eat whatever you want
  • Embrace your pets
This, of course, is all fine and well and there are some good suggestions in there but I already spend quite a lot of time alone, have sole possession of the remote control, cuddle my pet's daily and if I want something, I buy it.  I also rarely set an alarm and take naps more than you'd think, so it's not like embracing time off as a rare thing because I have a fairly flexible life with lots of free time.

I did think of going away but Looby will be home on Boxing Day and we'll have our celebrations then but whatever I do, I can't shake the fact that I will be on my own on Christmas Day.  Perhaps it wouldn't be so bad if I weren't the queen of Christmas having loved every single thing about the whole festive season for my whole life.

So, dear reader, maybe you are sitting there feeling the same way as me, maybe you too are a single parent who's children will be away, well, here's what I suggest, would you like to come for Christmas Day?  I really want to cook a big feast, I can't drink so I'm going to need some help with that and I can promise a cheeseboard to end all cheeseboards.  Yes, you'll have to share the sofa with Holly Bobbins and the cats but it's got to be a better solution than Christmas alone.  I love to entertain, nay, I live to entertain, I don't have the smartest house, I'm far from being financially happy but Christmas, Christmas is my thing and I embrace it with all of my heart and soul.

Alternatively, some kind of suggestions to add to my list of coping mechanisms would be greatly appreciated, last year was bad and I only got to spend a few hours with the kids, this year is ten times worse.


Monday, October 21, 2019

Best Places To Visit on a Weekend trip to Hull {press trip}

Best Places to visit in Hull, Hull Minster, Michaelangelo Exhibition, Mandy Charlton, Photographer, writer, blogger

Last weekend I went on a weekend press trip to Hull with some lovely bloggers/journalists from around the country, we visited some of the best places and attractions that Hull has to offer and it's taken me a week to recover because we packed so much in.

It's never the easiest for me to meet new people and it can take up to 6 months before I really relax but I had no such worries last weekend as everyone was so welcoming.

I last visited Hull in 2014 and I loved it then and I love it even more now, Hull is one of those cities which is completely underrated, I'm not sure why it isn't more loved or spoken about because it's a total gem, it's winding streets, it's independent shops, it really is a special little city.

I have lots of Hull facts like "It's the home to England's smallest window" or like the fact that it's Minster isn't actually any kind of cathedral, it's simply Englands biggest parish church.  It's also hosting an exhibition which has brought the Sistine Chapel to Humberside and it's a really impressive exhibition and as close as I've been to the work of Michaelangelo having not had the time to visit the real thing when I was last in Rome.

Hull also has a "Land of Green Ginger" just like Tynemouth, from speaking to Paul our tour guide it seems that the one in Tynemouth gets its name from the one in Hull but no one knows where the original one gets its name from.

Hull, at first sight, can look a lot like a post-war city which has recovered from the bombing it suffered by rebuilding with brutalist architecture and really, it was one of the most bombed cities outside of London but there are still pre-war buildings and lots of quirky architecture to boot.

One of it's finer places is Hepworth's Arcade which is not only home to the Hotham's Gin School but also the oldest joke shop in Hull and it's a very quirky owner who likes to wear his products on his face, just a word of warning!  It's the only L shaped arcade in the country and it's full of small independent shops, much like the rest of Hull really, it's been ages since I visited a place with so many independent shops.

The Hotham's Gin School was one highlight of an amazing weekend and I don't even drink.  We distilled our own gin in pairs so I spent the afternoon getting to know Natalie from Hello Cuppies and she took on the difficult task of not only helping to make the gin but also drinking all of my extra alcohol.

Our finished Gin, named "Ronnie Pickering's Cherry Pie" has flavourings of cherry, vanilla, marshmallow and some citrus undertones and it gets its name from the infamous viral sensation of 2015, Ronnie Pickering, I'm sure he'd be delighted with the finished Gin, I shall be unveiling it at my yearly Christmas party . Suffice to say I graduated from Gin School and have a 54%abv craft Gin to prove it!  A 4 hour experience costs £150 and you get to take away your own bottle of gin as well as sampling some gin drinks over the afternoon, it's well worth the money even if, like me, you don't drink alcohol.

Of course, no weekend away would be complete without lots and lots of food and Hull did not disappoint, from lunch at the Trinity Market to dinner at Ambient Tapas near the marina and then on Sunday a trip to the Lion and Key pub, full tummies are happy tummies after all.

Hull, of course, has been known as the home of The Deep since 2002 and no trip to Hull would be complete without a trip, it's a place I've been several times before and I love it, as you readers know I love aquariums, I find them the most calming places and I could sit and watch the fishes swimming in the tanks all day long.  I love the sharks, I love the beautiful sea turtles and I love the manta-ray.   My only tip with The Deep is to go when it first opens as it gets absolutely crammed with small people and the queues at peak times can be huge.

These are really just a few of the highlights of a wonderful weekend I'll remember for always and if you want to experience the trip as I did, I have an Instagram Highlight devoted to all of the wonders of Hull which contains everything you've seen here and more.  I had the best time in Hull and I already want to plan a trip with Looby because I think she'll love it too, I love that everything is within walking distance and now that the Hilton has their own Doubletree hotel there just next to the theatre, it's a destination you have to visit.

My train tickets cost just over £50 going on the Transpennine Express and I paid for them myself, all other aspects of the weekend were paid for by Visit Hull as part of the press trip.  All of the opinions are my own and what I honestly thought of lovely old Hull!

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