Newcastle Photographer and Content Creator, Mandy Charlton, Always on a quest for adventure, often seen on buses, trains and planes. On a quest to be happier and healthier. Lives in Newcastle with her 3 cats, Iris, Maggie and Arthur. Loves good vibes, musicals and cakes. Full time professional wedding photographer in the north east of england alongside content creator on Tiktok, Instagram and Facebook

Friday, September 30, 2016

I'm taking a stand against loneliness and so should you...

I like to have open house dinners for friends on Mondays, I like to cook for whoever turns up at the place I like to call my creative hovel, you may not get a matching plate and sometimes we might run out of forks, sometimes we have wine, sometimes we may visit "youth club" afterwards, what we always have though is a lot of noise and chatter and laughter and we never stand on ceremony.  At Christmas this year once again it will be open house and yes, it may be that I end up with just me and the kids but the point is that no one should be alone at Christmas, or ever in fact.

Sometimes you have to take a stand against something and so i'm taking a stance against loneliness. There's something I feel you need to know about me (just in case you don't already), I love people, I can meet someone and within hours I accept them as if I have known them for years, you can be sure that a couple of weeks later (when I've made sure they're not serial killers) I'll invite them into my creative hovel for Monday nights "Friends for Dinner".  If you haven't received an invite and you're wondering why, it's probably just because I've been meaning to send a group message for ages and never quite get around to it but send me a message,  come along, and bring your pets/kids/partners/friends if you want to.

It wasn't always this way, for seven long years no one came to my house at all, crippled with the fear that I wasn't good enough and neither was my house I just didn't invite anyone or if someone turned up unexpectedly I would go straight out with them or make them sit in the garden and you know what?  I think they may have been the loneliest years of my life.

Over the last decade of my life even in the company of others I've suffered from bouts of crippling loneliness and not necessarily because I was lonely in the literal sense, you see the thing is that loneliness isn't just about proximity, sometimes it's about what goes on in your heart, sometimes you can be in a room full of people and still feel abject loneliness,  I've thought about this for a while and I have to admit to one or two leaky tears escaping their way down my cheeks while writing this, but I have a big heart and like to make others feel loved and enveloped by friendship, not in a crazy stalker way although it might seem strange at first if you're used to having to cautiously build up bonds over time, yeah, standoffish and aloof, it's just not me and I can't change that, nor would I ever want to.

I guess that it's my aim to fight against loneliness, not just for me but for others, we all lead increasingly busy lives, we all seem permanently affixed to our phones and tablets, well worry no more, we have a ton of chargers and superfast internet at my house, can't make a Monday?  Well why not come on another day of the week, my house is far from perfect but it's full of love and cosy blankets, some would say too many cosy blankets!!

You can sit on a sofa, enjoy wine around the table, you can even sit on the bounciest most wonderful mattress in the world in my bedroom if you want to (thanks Eve).  You can read a book, you can listen to music, you can do whatever you want but come, don't be lonely or worry you'll not really be welcome because to put it quite simply, life is too short to be lonely.

This year, lets be more lovely, less lonely, more Hygge, more cosy, more twinkly and whole lot more sparkly together.  

Lets just radiate love and smiles from our faces and hearts and see what comes back in return, I'm guessing there's bound to be one or two cuddles in there.


Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Dinner at Le Raaj, Chester-le-Street

I've had a long love of Indian food, the delicate flavours and creamy textures of my favourite meals always cheer up a long winters night, it really is the season for going to cosy restaurants and ordering filling sumptuous delights so when I received an invitation to come along and try out Le Raaj, an Indian restaurant in Chester-le-Street, I couldn't refuse and I took best friend and partner in crime Harriet along for a midweek treat.

Le Raaj is based at Chester Moor, in fact it's just next to Chester-Le-Streets home ground, a ground I've previously watched football at on cold Saturday afternoons, if only I'd known about Le Raaj then!

Le Raaj is a fairly large restaurant  but when you walk into it, it feels cosy and intimate, the perfect location for perhaps dinner with your best friends or maybe a midweek date with someone special where you can actually chat to each other.  Tranquil water bubbles make pretty colourful patterns in all of the surrounding interior windows, something I hadn't seen before but which definitely added to the ambience.

An extensive wine list offers flavours from around the world but as it was Tuesday we kept to a non alcoholic beverage.

As we munched on our pickles and pappadum I decided to start with my favourite, lamb tikka, I always know if it's a good restaurant by the standard of the lamb tikka, Harriet went with the Onion Baji on the recommendation of our friendly waiter who relaxed slightly when he found out I was only there to photograph the food and not him!!

The lamb tikka and onion baji did not disappoint, tender morsels cooked lovingly, lightly spiced and delicate flavours rather than an overpowering taste of charcoal as I've experienced elsewhere, both such simple dishes and yet tricky to get just right, Le Raaj excelled itself.

Our mains arrived seconds after our starters were finished and if I was to pick a tiny fault it would be that I found the service too quick, I like a small rest in between courses and sometimes when the service is too quick, you can feel a little rushed, like they don't want you to spend all night there.

For mains Harriet went with chicken Badami and I went with a duck dish, something I'd never tried before, Imlidor Misti Hansh, a dish containing sliced duck breast cooked with tamarind and honey in a cream based sauce.  I've never eaten duck at an Indian restaurant before and I have to say that it was cooked to perfection and definitely something we would try again.  Harriet commented that the peshwari naan that we'd ordered was the best she'd ever had and I would have to agree, everything at Le Raaj is cooked with such care and dedication you know you're eating at a restaurant which is at the very top of it's game.

We struggled to get through our  huge mains, rotund with starters and pickles and pappadum and we both agreed that there was no way we could have managed a pudding even if the menu did look a little fantastical.

Le Raaj also offers a £8.95 lunchtime special and I'd be a fool if I said I didn't want to try it although I'm not sure my tummy could cope with a whole indian meal at lunchtime, If we're ever over in Chester-le-Street or Durham again soon you can be sure my recommendation to whoever I'm with at the time will be to head straight there for some more amazing indian delights.

I want to say thank you to Le Raaj for the complimentary meals which we had in exchange for me writing this honest review.


Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Internet Dating, The Real Story!

Yes, I know, I've kind of be absent for a few days, I decided to take some time off after shooting back to back weddings and it's just been amazing, friendship, fun, laughter, Cards Against Humanity (not for the easily offended but hilarious).

So I'm sitting here still tucked in bed with Holly snoring next to me and I feel no need to get up yet (although I already brought an enormous coffee with me) but I wanted to tell you that  some things have happened lately and It's definitely got me to the point of realising I'm pretty healed.  

I'm always a little envious of people who bounce back from emotional trauma, you know the ones, you see their relationships ending and then before you know it they're happy and in love having found new people who they adore, I've always wished I could be like that but having taken 2 years to just be on my own I probably felt around the beginning of September that I was ready to just get back out there into the world and see what this internet dating malarkey was all about.

I want to tell you that no one ever meets anyone in real life anymore, those chance acquaintances on late nights in nightclubs, well maybe they do happen but I'm in my forties, I like to go to bed at a reasonable time of day and I'm also fairly sure that nightclubs as they were then are still full of singletons in their twenties.

The truth is we all lead busy lives and I guess that's why dating websites just seem to be the standard way to meet someone, they're also completely none threatening, you don't even have to speak to anyone if you don't want to, you can just swipe right and see what you like, it's kind of like shopping I guess, sometimes the box is more attractive than the contents, sometimes there are absolutely no contents inside the pretty packaging and sometimes, the package is just so scary you want to get it as far away from you as possible, swiping left at 3 million miles an hour!

I should state that most of my friends are singletons which means that this is sort of a collaborative post.  I should also state that all of my girlfriends are younger than me so I've pretty much seen it all and this is what I've learnt so far - 

Men like to send naked photos to women they don't even know, they think this will score them points, I can confirm however, it won't, the photos however will be passed around the pub and mostly laughed at.  Men, put your dangly bits away, please, now, stop it!!  (I must state that this has never happened to me as i'm in an older category than aforementioned men).

Men often lie about their age and use old photos to try and tempt in the ladies, this is ok to a point unless you have to go and meet them, I'm not sure what they think will happen then but being 10 years older isn't good and also if you start by lying about your age, well it's no foundation to build a relationship of trust is it?!

Some men are apparently mute and will fill their dating profile out with question marks and won't have a photo, how in the heck are you supposed to be attracted to someone who's just a blank question mark, it reminds me of telephone dating in the 90's and that never went well did it?!

Aesthetically pleasing men with photos of themselves with adorable puppies (not a euphemism) is always a win in pretty much every woman's eyes. Adorable caring hot man, what's not to like said every woman in the entire universe!

Men who have photos of their children on their dating profile, No, just No!!

Men with what you would call nurturing careers who then send messages to women which would even make my eyes water (and I'm quite liberal to be fair), well I'm just not sure I would want said men nurturing my loved ones if that's what's really on their minds.

Funny men who write long creative profiles, again, always a win, it shows you're serious, if you have a face to match then you're like gold dust.

Men who post photos of their cars?  What in the hell is that all about, I don't want to date a transformer!!!  I don't even drive!!  Has any woman ever went on a date with someone just because they posted a photo of a car?  FYI I'm more attracted to a VW Camper than a Porsche.

Men who are 40 want to date 20 year olds, men who are 50 want to date 30 year olds, being in my 40's this does not make me smile when a fat bald man with a paunch age 60 gives me a wink, in real life or online!!

I did come across someone who posted a photo of his baby cow (not a euphemism) on his profile, now he was a farmer but really, just go put the cow back in the shed already!!

So there are 3 types of dating sites and I'll just post one example of each, Tinder, Plenty of Fish and, Tinder is for window shopping, Plenty of Fish is probably the biggest free site and Match is possibly one of the more serious sites, mostly because you don't get a choice, you have to pay, I guess though that the intention is better, if you're willing to invest up to £90 and answer a million questions before you're even approved then you must be more serious, or desperate, right?

Plenty of Fish is probably the most accessible, it's easy to use, it's full of weirdo's but there are some rare gems on there and I know people who've met and actually had relationships or even married , now yes there is a sea of weirdo's to walk through before you find the gem and there are a lot of packages without contents or contents without any packaging at all but I guess though that's what real life is like isn't it?

Disclaimer - I use affiliate links to facilitate the feeding of my children


Friday, September 23, 2016

My Autumn Style

Yes there can be no doubt about it now, it's autumn, the weather of course has other ideas and at times it's as if we're still in the darling days of summer, there are moments though when it's just too chilly to wander around in summer clothing so I've been delving back into my wardrobe trying to recover all of my most favourite autumn outfits and crossing my fingers that they still fit, happily I'm currently around 2lb heavier than I was last time this year and I'm currently downsizing myself (I've lost 8lb since Barcelona, I blame the Jamon) so my clothes still all mostly fit and I love the season of warmer clothes and lots of layers, I look better in layers!

Companies get in touch from time to time to ask me if I want to review pieces of clothing or write a fashion article and up until now I've always refused unless it was shoes, I never refuse shoes!!  But too many years of anxiety and spending time with someone with whom I was never good enough knocked my confidence enough to never want to be in photos and I've often said that behind the camera I have moments of genius, in front of the camera and I look just like I've escaped from an asylum.

After talking to two quite brilliant clothing companies I decided though that I had to do this, if I didn't do it now, well I never would and as Ru Paul says "If you can't love yourself, how in the hell are you ever going to love someone else"

Photographing yourself is not without it's own terror, I mean, all of the things I do to relax people at photo shoots, well you just can't do that when you are photographing yourself but I wanted to showcase the gorgeous autumn/winter coat sent to me by Lighthouse Clothing, they're a UK company based in Northern Ireland and their outdoor clothes just sing to me, perfect for dog walking, photographing clients in the cold and stomping through the countryside on bright winters days.

I went for the Lana midlength coat which pulls in at the waist, covers my bottom on cold December days and is Blackberry in colour, a colour which happens to suit my skin tones, the Lana coat is available in sizes 8-20 and is priced £89.95, it's also waterproof, a relief for someone living in the North East of England, I love that it's got a myriad of pockets including one on the inside, perfect for dog walks without having to worry about the extra effort of taking along a handbag.

So, after taking several photos of myself with the Fuji X70 and a tripod Looby arrived home in school which meant I could give her my Canon 6D and let her photograph me in the most fabulous dress for utterly sparkly and amazing nights out, it wasn't quite so terrifying being photographed by Looby and actually she really did a much better job, she's definitely a photographers daughter and future creative genius.

Now I should say that I adore this dress, it's floor length (if I was even half an inch shorter or didn't wear the highest Kurt Geiger heels that I own it would have been too long) it's got splits on either side for showcasing legs and you know I've worked hard to achieve my legs, they're the one part of my body which I'm quite proud of really thanks to running and walking 10k every day with Holly Bobbins.  Pink Clove specialise in clothing for women in sizes 16-28, now I'm averagely a size 14 on the bottom and due to my F cups I have to get a size 16 on the top, this dress fits perfectly and it looks amazing, it's cut just right to bring out my curves and you wouldn't believe that you can purchase it for just £24 and from a British company!!

I've had a paradigm shift lately, lots of good stuff happening and it's taken quite some time to get me back to being confident to wear a dress like this and I know over the next couple of months I should be able to have some very sparkly amazing nights out where I'm proud to be out there and I know I'm looking better than I did 10 years ago without a doubt, these days I stand straighter, I smile bigger and I'm surrounded by the loveliest people and that makes a huge difference.

I'm proud and delighted to give you my very first style post since I started this blog over 10 years ago but I can tell you now that it certainly won't be the last one.

Thanks to Lighthouse Clothing and Pink Clove for the amazing clothes in exchange for a blog post. Also thank you to my daughter Looby for the dress photos, I could not have made this post as good as it is without your artistic talent.

Hannah Spannah

Thursday, September 22, 2016

The Curing House, Middlesbrough

The Curing House, Middlesbrough, bar, charcuterie, restaurant

If you don't already know by now, I love meat, I am an absolute carnivore and if I don't have meat based meals I eventually start craving it!  When Harriet and I were in Barcelona we even went to the Jamon Experience, if you're in Barcelona, do visit, we had a cheap ticket from the tourist bus and got admission plus 2 glasses of cava and a tasting of 6 different Jamon for 10 euros!!  Suffice to say I am now Jamon addicted and so when I received an invitation to an intimate blogger dinner at The Curing House, a charcuterie bar and restaurant in Middlesbrough I booked my train ticket before I could even mutter the words "I love meat".

The Curing House, based on Bedford Street in Middlesbrough is one of the only Charcuteries in the north east that I know of, it's definitely worth the hour and a half train journey it takes to get there, especially if you love meat although they do offer veggie options for the omnivores amongst us.

To me the Curing House is big enough to have an atmosphere but small enough for a perfect intimate date night, I went on a Tuesday night with 4 fellow bloggers and the restaurant was pretty much full, testament to the quality of food they're serving I'd suggest.

The menu's offer Charcuterie plates from Italy, Spain, France and Britain and for any fans of Iberico, yes there is an Iberico Bellota Dulce Chorizo which to be quite frank I was so excited about I may have got a touch giddy.

The restaurant actually opens at 9am for brunch and it doesn't close until 11pm at night, I could pretty much eat my way through the day in meat and cheese.

It's not just about the Charcuterie though, after eating through the most delicious tongue tingling rare roast beaf with horseradish intermediate it was on to the main event, all of the bloggers chose one of two meals, I went with the Roast Gressingham Duck Breast, Confit Duck Leg Boulangere and Spring Greens, House Bacon and Smoked Rhubarb - £16.50 (GF) the most delicious combination and something I'll be trying in my very own kitchen.  The duck is served pink just as it should be and is a generous portion big enough for even the heartiest of appetites.

A couple of the bloggers chose to go with a beef skirt dish which looked absolutely divine and we all munched our way through a shared bowl of beef dripping chips.  I couldn't fault The Curing House at all and the only thing I was sad about was that I had to jump straight back on the train and missed out on the delicious desserts and the cheese platter.  

Look, it's a bit of a drive or a trip on the train or bus if you live in Newcastle but good food is always worth travelling for, so the next time you want to have an intimate lunch with your girlfriends or the perfect date night to remember why not book a table (nice and early though if you are coming on the train from Newcastle) and sample the heavenly meat based delights of one of the North East's best restaurants.

I received a meal in exchange for my honest review, these are my words, my photos and yes, I'm definitely going back for more meaty based treats soon.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Casa Batllo and Parc Guell, the magical architecture of Antoni Gaudi

You can't visit Barcelona without experiencing Gaudi, Antoni Gaudi was a genius both existentially and literally, every single piece of Gaudi architecture that Harriet and I visited on our trip to Barcelona made us stop in our tracks, sending shivers down our spine, houses with dragons on the roofs, parks with ornate mosaicked terraces which must have taken years to finish,  we walked into rooms at the Casa Batllo almost breathless at the wonders within, Gaudi was the master of Modernisme (Catalan Modernism) and his influences will live on forever. La Sagrada Familia will finally reach completion in 10 years time, 100 years after the anniversary of his death as long as it continues to receive enough donations, literally every euro taken at La Sagrada goes straight back into completing his completed designs, what a tragedy to design something so amazing but never see it built to fruition.

Harriet and I visited Casa Batllo and Park Guell on the same day whilst stopping to admire the exterior of La Sagrada, we did try to visit on the same day but found that the only way to do it if you haven't booked in advance is to turn up as early as possible, so on the day we eventually went inside we bought our tickets at nine and got admission for noon.

Our first taste of Gaudi was at Casa Batllo, one of Gaudi's residential projects, Modernisme is also of course art nouveau and for me, one of my favourite periods of architecture along with art deco, I love the curves and the flowers and the sweeping movement in the designs, some so fluid they are almost imaginable as liquid.

I think for me the thing I love about Gaudi was his fascination with light in an almost photographic way, he looked in all his work to make the light in the rooms as magical as possible, he wanted the buildings to wow you in every sense of the word and the great thing is that for me it doesn't matter whether you are 5 or 55 or even 105, we can all enjoy the creations of Gaudi for what we want to take from them and at Parc Guell he designed a landscape of gardens for everyone, the mosaic terraces, the fountains featuring Lizards, a magical esoteric wonderland all presented in the most halcyon of colours.

I have to say that my favourite place we visited was probably Parc Guell, even though it was busy I just fell in love with the magical shaped buildings and gorgeous terraces filled with plants and flowers, i'd love to go back out of season when it's not so crowded and just stop for a while and I'd love to think that I found a little inspiration I can use in my own work, I think Gaudi teaches a lesson and that is to be bold, brave, and brilliant, something I choose to live by each and every day, I love to create whimsy with light in the images I shoot and I'll personally be ever thankful that there are brave, create forward thinkers in our history who continue to inspire and delight with a legacy that will live on forever.

All photos were taken with the Fuji X70.
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