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

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.


Monday, June 10, 2019

June, in my small urban garden

june in mandy charltons small urban garden in newcastle upon tyne, photographer, blogger, urban gardener

Flaming June is my favourite of all of the months, especially when it is flaming, my small urban garden is not only growing but some of the plants, after all of the rain we've had lately, seem to be growing like triffids!  I also remember that I fed them with Baby Bio the last time I watered them before the rainy period came so I'm guessing that has something to do with it.  Even though I only put 1 small fuschia and a trailing tomato plant in each hanging basket, they're both about to explode over the sides and that makes Mandy a happy gardener.

I was worried this week that the slugs and snails had eaten away my contained potatoes but when I emptied out the container I found enough new potatoes to feed Looby and me for a couple of dinners!  What actually happened though was that the potatoes were so good that Looby ate about 3 portions after coming in from the stables.  We had one amazing dinner and I swear, they were the best potatoes I've ever eaten.
june in mandy charltons small urban garden in newcastle upon tyne, photographer, blogger, urban gardener

I've already had my first harvest of rocket and my second batch is just about ready to greedily gobble up in a big salad.  Is it just me or is there anything more satisfying than growing things you can actually eat.  Don't worry though, I love my flowers way too much to completely replace them.

As time goes on in the garden, I realise just how bad the planting previously was, the collection of plants which would be better in mansions or gardens much bigger than mine.  There's even a compost plant which was helpfully planted and I hate the blooming thing, it has zero points to it and though I have tried to pull it out, it just keeps coming back.  Don't even get me started on the Japanese anemone, it's so monstrous it would be better off in the Little Shop of Horrors, suffice to say, it's living on borrowed time and will be the first plant I remove when it dies back in autumn.
june in mandy charltons small urban garden in newcastle upon tyne, photographer, blogger, urban gardener

Now I'm definitely not claiming to be some kind of gardening guru but I think it's really important in a small garden not to buy, borrow or receive gifts of enormous garden swallowing plants.  each inch is precious after all so it has to be planted correctly.

The bane of my life, aka, the self-emptying water feature finally went to the great water feature heaven in the sky today to be replaced by an 80 litre half barrel style nature pond, I used the pump from the old one, I bought a pot which was £50 and I thought was going to cost £40 because Dobbies had 20% off for their club card holders and when it went through the till for 50p, the assistant and I nearly fell over, it turns out that they're selling off tons of stuff after taking over the local garden centre from Wyevale so go me, with a pond that cost 50p!

Now, I have to admit that I know very little about water gardening so I went the easy way and bought a marginal planted basket which was already prepared, I'm going to add a water lily next and it's probably big enough for fish but I think we're going to try and attract frogs and toads to the garden so I need to find some big rocks so that they can get in and out of the pond and also bask in the sunshine, assuming that's what frogs do, I haven't a clue!
june in mandy charltons small urban garden in newcastle upon tyne, photographer, blogger, urban gardener

I also managed to get a Bay tree which should have been £60 for just £12, again, get yourself to Dobbies if they've just taken over Wyevale as there are definite bargains to be found.  I really only wanted it because I needed something to stand behind the pond which would cover up some dead space, I recycled the bottom tub from the old water feature, cut a hole in the bottom for drainage and then covered it with a few pieces of slate, put in some new compost and repotted the Bay pyramid, I think it's going to be very happy where it is and I've recreated what looks like a natural environment for a pond.  All in all, I'm delighted with the progress, I just wish it would stop raining long enough to enjoy it, one thing is for certain, this summer doesn't seem at all like it's going to be the scorcher that we had last summer although I'm hopeful, I'm always hopeful.


Wednesday, June 05, 2019

Things to do on your great north staycation {AD}

This article contains a restaurant review where I was given a gift voucher towards a meal for two.

Last week I had a great north staycation, you may remember from my previous article that I'd worked out how to save money on lots of northern attractions, well I can confirm that it absolutely worked and I spent next to no money even though we were out every day from Mon through to Wednesday.

Things to do on your next great north staycation, mandy charltonphotographer, writer, blogger

RHS Harlow Carr

As an RHS Member, I got in free and I also got to take a guest free as well so Harriet and I had a wonderful day walking around the beautiful Yorkshire gardens. The borders were full of Alliums and Iris's.  It's a wholly beautiful day out and if you have children with you, there's so much for them to do. As well with wicker dinosaurs all around the gardens and play areas, there are long expanses where they can run and run and run.  What they also have is Betty's and that was a highlight, I'm thankful we had a £5 off voucher for that as we did enjoy a delicious lunch followed by cake.  We had the full Betty's experience and Harriet loved it.  She's from Yorkshire and had never been!!

Things to do on your next great north staycation, mandy charltonphotographer, writer, blogger

Wynyard Hall Gardens 

Definitely, worth a trip to the beautiful walled garden, we had a delicious and not too pricey meal in the cafe and a wander around the gardens, we paid a fiver for both of us and we've just bought a years pass for £6 each so we'll definitely be going back as the plants you could buy weren't too expensive and it gave me the opportunity to photograph flowers.  I'm not sure what it would be like if you have children, it does sell itself as being child-friendly but perhaps only if your children are called Timothea and Anunciata, most of the people when we were there were older couples and ladies, much like me, ladies of a certain age.  It's a quiet, calm and peaceful place, the farm shop had a big selection (I bought cheese), the homeware store was expensive but not completely ridiculous, let's call it aspirational.  The staff were professional but not overly friendly.  It does have a bit of an Alnwick gardens feel to it but maybe not quite so friendly.  As I said we've bought yearly passes and we'll definitely return but I don't think it would be worth paying £6 a time.  

Neither of those attractions is dog-friendly and that's proof that we still have a way to go in this country to embrace the joy of guests bringing along their cherished four-pawed companions, I think it's actually weird at outside attractions to not accept dogs on leads, and after all, our friends at the National Trust and English Heritage have no problem at all with dogs on leads so maybe it's time to take a leaf out of their books.

Things to do on your next great north staycation, mandy charltonphotographer, writer, blogger


One of the other lovely things Harriet and I did was eat out at Thaikhun for dinner, we'd been invited to try the new menu and it did not disappoint.  we marvelled at every course and though we didn't drink any alcohol the cocktails did look delicious.  I think there's something special about Thaikhun, it gets the vibe just right between casual dining and going out for dinners, I love the atmosphere and the staff are always so utterly helpful.  I loved everything we tried on the menu, the Bangkok street platter with its assortment of magical morsels.  The main courses which were a stack of 3 different dishes plus Jasmine Rice and I couldn't have been more excited about the Unicorn Sundae.  We did receive a gift voucher to partially pay for our meal in return for an honest review but I regularly dine at Thaikhun anyway so believe me when I say, I've never been disappointed, although there was that comedy disastrous visit the first time I went with the kids.
Things to do on your next great north staycation, mandy charltonphotographer, writer, blogger

Things to do on your next great north staycation, mandy charltonphotographer, writer, blogger

Things to do on your next great north staycation, mandy charltonphotographer, writer, blogger

During the week we also went down to Yorkshire to meet up with Harriet's parents for lunch but it was raining and we really didn't do much after lunch other than discovering a weird garden centre frequented by the older generation which didn't even contain a single plant inside it but it did have a hairdressers and a full selection of comfortable shoes.  It was dog-friendly though so that's always a win in my book.

This summer we'll be off again on our travels but this time instead of Madrid or Barcelona we'll be doing a great British holiday starting in Cumbria and then continuing down to Wales and of course, I'll be taking my camera, Harriet and Holly Bobbins.


Tuesday, June 04, 2019

Father's Day gifts for the outdoor dad {AD}

Father's Day is just around the corner, June the 16th to be exact and if you have a dad to buy for then you'll know that dads are the hardest people to buy for, men, in general, are a nightmare, the field of gifts seems much more restrictive and let's be honest, dads rarely ask for very much.  If your dad is an outdoor dad, one who loves his garden or is king of the BBQ or just relaxing in the great outdoors, then my gift guide is the one for you.  (This gift guide contains gifted products and affiliate links)

Fathers Day gift for the outdoor dad, mandy charlton, photographer, writer, blogger

1. If dad is a gardener and needs some decent gardening gloves then I cannot recommend these clip gloves from Treadstone highly enough, they're amazing for lifting pots, you can't lose them as long as you clip them together and they're thick enough to protect your hands, they're also adjustable at the wrist for the more slender wristed wearer.

Fathers Day gift for the outdoor dad, mandy charlton, photographer, writer, blogger

2. Pail of Ale from Best of British BeerFor the most part, beers always go down well with dads, especially if you can sit in the garden and enjoy them, you can also use the bucket for ice and then afterwards, maybe drill a hole in the bottom and pop a plant it in, I love gifts you can repurpose.

Fathers Day gift for the outdoor dad, mandy charlton, photographer, writer, blogger

3.  If dad is a dog dad then these PetWeighter Bowls are absolutely perfect Holly Bobbins absolutely loves hers, they make the food easier to digest because she's not having to bend down so far, the bottoms can be filled with water or sand so that they don't move whilst your pup is eating and because she's not having to bend down, she's had fewer incidents of gravy ears, every floppy eared dog owner knows only too well about gravy ears!

Fathers Day gift for the outdoor dad, mandy charlton, photographer, writer, blogger

4. Gift set from Cranes Cider Dad doesn't like beer?  no problem, Cranes have you sorted with this delicious and summer trio of ciders and a beautiful gift, imagine the sunshine and relaxation as dad sits in his own personal haven whilst sipping on this cider straight from the Gods...

Fathers Day gift for the outdoor dad, mandy charlton, photographer, writer, blogger
 5. The Lechuza Balconera - this pot makes the perfect balcony or window box, I have mine with some alpines in it and due to its design it's made to store water so you have to worry about watering much less often, and that's essential for your pots during the summer, I chose to put mine outside of my back door and it's perfect, my alpine collection is very very happy.

Fathers Day gift for the outdoor dad, mandy charlton, photographer, writer, blogger
6. RHS 50 plants you can't kill Not all dads are Monty Don, so if yours is just a beginner at gardening or if he doesn't know who Alan Titchmarsh is then this is probably the first book you should gift in his gardening journey, I bought this one for my best friend to try and encourage her, it hasn't worked as yet and still has a ribbon around it so far as I know but I'm forever holding out hope!

Fathers Day gift for the outdoor dad, mandy charlton, photographer, writer, blogger

7. Pit Pat exercise tracker for dogs - if your beagle isn't quite reaching her potential or watching their weight then this exercise tracker for your pooch will help a lot, just pop in the perfect weight and their weight now plus breed and other magic things and you'll get your own personalised plan, we still have a way to go with reaching Holly's perfect weight but she's had a few health concerns, I do know however that we'll get there and it's a lot down to this as it tells us when she's done enough to be able to go home for a nap and if you know Holly, you'll know sleeping is her favourite and her best.

8.  Sock Subscription from Society Socks - I know it's a cliche but dads do tend to ask for socks and so why not get them socks with a purpose, for every sock subscription taken out they donate 2 pairs of socks and I personally am 100% behind any business with philanthropy at the heart.
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