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

Sunday, December 01, 2019

In Celebration of December


In Celebration of December, Mandy Charlton, blogger, photographer, writer


December is the month of crisp frosts, red-hued sunsets, long naps, cosy pyjamas.  It's eating croissants with ham for a lazy lunch on the sofa, it's snuggling under furry blankets watching Christmas movies.  December gives us hope, belief in magic, no matter how old we are, just for a while, against a background of twinkly fairy lights, life is better, people are kinder and that's why it's my favourite month of the year.

I realise December sees the start of winter and believe me, I hate winter but no hearts can fail to be warmed by the presence of warm festive lighting and no guilt about the number of hot chocolates topped with marshmallows and squirty cream.  You cannot fail to get on board with any month which encourages you to eat vast amounts of cheese for every meal, unless you don't like cheese and then really, I'm always slightly suspicious about people who don't like cheese, much like the ones who don't like cake, they're always, in my experience, just that little bit odd.

December is the month when most of the country have time off work together, 50 plus million people all taking naps at once, not worrying about the time of day or indeed what day it actually is because let's face it, that's the joy of Christmas confusion and that's why I love it.  For me, it's the month I finally start to relax, work is hectic from March through to Christmas and the only time I manage to genuinely not think about my businesses is that sacred 2-week break over Christmas.  I used to be available over Christmas, I have in the past photographed weddings and family photoshoots but not for the last couple of years because I find my mental health is so much better if I can truly switch off for 2 weeks.

This year the sacred period is Monday 23rd December until Tuesday 7th January and I cannot wait!

December is also the time of year for my annual Christmas party, I only throw one party a year and it's the highlight of my year, a time to drink champagne with my favourite people, I excel at grazing tables and festive entertaining and last night, the good and the wonderful all gathered together in my home to enjoy, laughs, drinks and a lot of cheese.  Two notable exceptions, Steve and Ron couldn't join us this year and they really were missed this year but sometimes, things like that happen for all kinds of reasons...

I have the best of friends, I reached the point where I was exhausted and as I went off to bed, my friends tidied up before they all went clubbing, taking out a truckle of cheese with them as has become an almost yearly tradition, no one knows quite why but for one night, the cheese really does get to live it's best life.

Today I'll light my advent candle for the first time and I will think of all of the things I'm grateful for, I'll muse about the year's highlights, this year has been a mixed one, it's been my favourite ever year of photographing weddings whilst portraiture has suffered a lot with the wettest year in business I can ever remember, my income has undoubtedly been lower but I've enjoyed more time off so there's always a positive to find in each event.  My health has been wobbly and ultimately I'm still not at the end of that particular journey, I cannot though, do anything whilst I have no answers so it's not worth worrying about.

I may have had a weird relationship with Christmas Day over the last couple of years but I have decided that, thanks to the kindness of Harriet and her family that I will celebrate with them and go to our local pub for Christmas lunch,  Christmas may, for many reasons, not be the one I planned and hoped for with all of my heart but for long as I shall be alive, I will always have magical December's in my heart.
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Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Christmas Gift Guide - The Stocking Fillers Edition {ad - gift guide}

Popcorn Shed Jingle bell pop, features 6 different varieties of popcorn and although this is more of an advent gift than a stocking filler, I'm sure your popcorn loving family member will love this thoughtful gift, who wouldn't love to have popcorn for breakfast every day.  They also have lots of other fabulous popcorn based presents for all of the family this Christmas



Haribo Christmas Giftsets, is it even Christmas if you can't eat your whole weight in Haribo before breakfast?  Haribo make the best stocking fillers and little gifts to make everyone happy this Christmas


Blog Favourites Derwent have released a whole new range with Christmas gifting in mind like this tropical gift tag colouring set suitable for adults or older children, a perfect time filler for the long Christmas holidays.


On Christmas Eve, one of our family traditions is to burn a Christmas Eve scented candle and this year it's going to be this amazing Willow and Finn candle which, take it from me, smells just like Christmas Eve should


another returning company to the blog and the 2020 cooks diary is sure to offer up some hearty recipes as well as keeping you organised in the new year


Sometimes you just need a little lift which isn't chocolate-based, Gregory's Tree have that in mind with their organic strawberry fruit twists, perfect for stocking fillers which aren't sweetie based.


Every year we purchase a new board game  to play after Christmas dinner, with the hope we'll manage to stay awake enough to see out the Gavin and Stacey Christmas special, this year it's Relative Insanity from Interplay and as they say on the box, you can pick your nose but you can't pick your family


If you don't know what to get for your nearest and dearest, why not get them this stocking filler from Red Letter Days, it's filled with 2625 experiences they can choose from, no complaints if you're choosing your own gift!


I had hoped to get Holly Bobbins to pose next to this Christmas stocking from Harrow and Green but unfortunately, she was too busy sleeping after a busy day greeting her public, you can be sure however that she will be delighted to find this personalised stocking on Christmas morning.


I can confirm I tested the Samsung galaxy buds the moment they arrived and without a doubt the sound is amazing, the clarity of the sound is pitch-perfect and they're going to make a lot of people very happy if they find these in their Christmas stocking on Christmas Day


Christmas wouldn't be Christmas without good wine and this south African sauvignon blanc from the South Africa House of Wine is the perfect wine to accompany the festive season


Christmas is of course, also a time when we like to have a little liqueur after dinner or maybe mix it with our favourite champagne and this Cranes Liqueur is going to be perfect for that, it's cranberry and  blood orange flavour is sure to make the best cocktails at this years Christmas Party


High-tech Welsh firm Litelok has launched the world's lightest secure bike lock, ‘Litelok Silver’.
Coming in three wearable sizes, it’s a premium, durable, bike lock that’s been engineered for security using a unique patented material and hardened aerospace-grade steel alloy.  Perfect for when Looby cycles on her various adventures.


The Design Trust Diary Planner 2020 is the perfect present for your entrepreneurial friend to help them smash business next year, it's the diary which helps you focus on the things that matter and with this by your side you can focus on the most important things in your business next year.


This mini tree is the stuff that Christmas dreams are made of, I love, living presents, ones you can keep forever and this mini Christmas tree from Blossoming gifts will be planted in the garden at the end of the festive period to live out a long and happy life in my green border.


It is the party season and to help you to shine, we hope you'll find one of these T-Zone glitter masks in your Christmas stocking from Santa this year because great skin is everything and you deserve to sparkle!

If you're a dog owner like me you'll know all about misplacing the dog leads, I leave them everywhere but thanks to this beautiful slate lead holder from I Just Love It losing Holly Bobbins leads is no longer an issue.
So that's it, the last of my Christmas 2019 gift guides and I hope that you've more than enough ideas for gifting the most special people in your lives this Christmas, if you've missed my previous guides, you can see my bumper guide here and my foodies guide here


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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
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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!


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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.


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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!
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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.
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