Photographer of Families, Small People and Delightful Places. Travel and Lifestyle Writer and Blogger. Lives in Newcastle, Loves the North, Often Accompanied By A Beagle Named Holly Bobbins

Thursday, May 23, 2019

The Story of How I Began {Ad-Gifted}

Billingham Hadley Small Pro, best bag for photographers, mandy charlton, newcastle photography

*The bag in this article was gifted to me by Billingham, I was not paid to write this article.

In June 2007 I tentatively launched Mandy Charlton Photography, I knew nothing, I'll be honest, I had a camera and friends and family told me kindly that I was good (I wasn't, I was dreadful).  I'd looked around photographers sites, worked out the hourly rate and thought I can do that, erm...

In a way, I'm sort of glad I went into it blindly though it's something I would never recommend!  I joined a photography forum called DWF and I think I read every single thread on that board, I learnt by information, not just any information, the information of some of the best photographers in the world.

Occasionally I joined in, once I even posted a thread after feeling a bit low, I received some of the harshest criticism I've ever had, mostly it was warranted, I was a terrible photographer.
Billingham Hadley Small Pro, best bag for photographers, mandy charlton, newcastle photography

There were things I knew I wanted though, I wanted to be accepted as a good professional photographer, I wanted to not constantly have imposter syndrome (still working on that one daily ;) ) and finally, I wanted a Billingham camera bag, I'd read the threads, I'd perused the website and I'd lusted at the British handmade, beautiful, beyond beautifully skillfully crafted bags.

Billingham is a family company who've been crafting the finest bags for the top professional photographers for many years and each stitch, even on the inserts you don't really see, every single piece is designed and made to the highest standards.

As the years went by I achieved so much in my business, I learnt my craft, I shot hundreds of weddings, thousands of portraits and have lived a life I have loved for over a decade because of professional photography.

I never did get that Billingham bag though...

A few weeks ago, that company, Billingham, who make the camera bags of dreams, asked if they could send me one, I just had to pick!  Clearly, I was like a child in a sweet shop but after much deliberation, I chose the Hadley Small Pro in burgundy canvas with chocolate leather and oh my gosh, it was worth the 12-year wait I can tell you.  
Billingham Hadley Small Pro, best bag for photographers, mandy charlton, newcastle photography

I'm not a handbag type of person, I own 1 and I only use it if I'm going to conferences but this bag, for one, it's perfect for my small kit which I always have on me (I should state that I also have a mountaineering backpack full of kit which Stacey, my assistant looks after at weddings, I'm not just taking 1 camera and 1 lens to a wedding) and when I'm not doing photography I can take out the inner piece and I have a non-girly bag perfect for all of my needs.
Billingham Hadley Small Pro, best bag for photographers, mandy charlton, newcastle photography

Somehow Billingham found me by chance, in the way that the universe always delivers these things because you wanted something and then it happened, yes, sometimes it takes longer than others but in the end, you always get want you want if you work hard enough.

I'm so thankful to Billingham and I've recommended them for years without ever having one because quite simply, everyone who sees it, loves it and it goes with me, it's bright and happy and it makes me feel good in the same way other professional females carry their Mulberry bags as a badge of how hard they've worked.

Thanks also to my wonderful assistant Stacey who shot these images whilst I was shooting portraits of my amazing clients.


Friday, May 17, 2019

Why you should book me to photograph your wedding

wedding photographer newcastle upon tyne, mandy charlton, shorter wedding photography packages, cheaper wedding photographer, north east weddings

This year so far has been a revelation to me, I've shot more weddings over the spring than I had for years.  For a few years now I've been extolling the virtues of my smaller wedding photography package, being a wedding photographer in Newcastle upon Tyne, I've shot over 300 weddings over a decade.  It takes years to develop your craft but then you get to a point where you can start to push your own boundaries and truly strive to do something different.
wedding photographer newcastle upon tyne, mandy charlton, shorter wedding photography packages, cheaper wedding photographer, north east weddings

For around 3 years now I've been photographing shorter wedding photography packages and I adore them, I go to weddings for 2, 3 or 4 hours, I sweep in, along with Stacey my amazing friend and longtime assistant, we capture beautiful images and we sweep out again, leaving you to get on with the rest of your beautiful, wonderful day.
wedding photographer newcastle upon tyne, mandy charlton, shorter wedding photography packages, cheaper wedding photographer, north east weddings

I'm shooting more 2-hour weddings than ever before, it's the perfect amount of time if you just want the highlights, it goes from 30 minutes before and captures, the arrival, the wedding, some groups (if you want that) and the portraits.  I am a portrait photographer, kick-ass portraits are the thing that I live for and it's not just me, Stacey also comes up with the most amazing ideas, together we're innovative, we're different and if you tell us you just want an hour of portraits after your wedding then you're going to get the best portraits ever.
wedding photographer newcastle upon tyne, mandy charlton, shorter wedding photography packages, cheaper wedding photographer, north east weddings

This year I'm probably the happiest and most in love with wedding photography that I've ever been, I mean who wouldn't love a job where they get to work with one of their best friends taking photographs of couples who've just declared their love to the world in front of the people who are closest to them.
wedding photographer newcastle upon tyne, mandy charlton, shorter wedding photography packages, cheaper wedding photographer, north east weddings

Wedding photography is a gift to be cherished, it's all you have left after the day and so I always say, don't have 8 hours of bland photography of the back of people's heads, have 2 hours of extraordinary photography you can cherish your whole life through.
wedding photographer newcastle upon tyne, mandy charlton, shorter wedding photography packages, cheaper wedding photographer, north east weddings

I shoot 2-hour wedding photography packages all over the northeast of England and with 4-hour bookings I travel anywhere from Edinburgh right down to York (travel costs may be incurred).
wedding photographer newcastle upon tyne, mandy charlton, shorter wedding photography packages, cheaper wedding photographer, north east weddings

Not everyone wants 12 hours of photography on their wedding day although I do occasionally shoot those spectaculars too and I love them, the benefits of smaller packages are, it's a tiny window in your day, you get those perfect moments and the rest of the day you get to party hard if you want to.

I am booking now for this summer, I have dates available from mid-June right through until Christmas and I'm holding my pricing until June 15th, after which there'll be a small rise to account for the fact that my prices have been the same for over 3 years now whilst the cost of living, equipment, business and insurance has all risen.

If you book me now for 2021 or 2022, you'll get the price you book at so tell all of the single ladies, the ones planning far off adventures or the ones who are getting married this summer and still don't have a photographer, the whirlwind romances, the relaxed affairs, I love and cherish each and every one.

Shorter Wedding Photography Packages

2 hours - £450
3 hours - £600
4 hours - £750


Thursday, May 16, 2019

3 Simple salad recipes perfect for barbeque season

Recipe for pork chops with a cucumber and onion salad, bbq food, mandy charlton photography blog, photographer, writer, blogger, 3 simple salad ideas

It's officially barbeque season and it's time to move away from the bread buns, it doesn't matter if you're doing the Keto diet, you just want to be a little healthier or maybe you just can't face another finger bun with a sausage in it, well I'm here to tell you about some super simple salad recipes which perfectly accompany the delicious cuts of meat we'll all be cooking in our Chimineas or on our BBQ's this summer.

These salads all have at the most, 4 ingredients in them, they're perfect for using up fridge supplies which means you can get healthier whilst also combating food waste.  

Cucumber and Onion salad, the perfect accompaniment for chops - 

Half a cucumber with the seeds removed, roughly chopped
One red onion, roughly chopped
2 teaspoons of Cider Vinegar 
Himalayan Pink Salt
Freshly ground pepper

Simple cherry tomato salad

1 punnet of cherry tomatoes halved
1 Tablespoon of aged balsamic vinegar
Salt and Pepper to season

Simple Guacamole 

1 Avocado roughly smashed
The juice of half a lime
Salt and Pepper to season

Cucumber and Lime Salad

Half a cucumber peeled, deseeded and roughly chopped
A handful of roughly chopped coriander
Juice of half a lime
Ground Pepper to Season
A good sprinkle of Himalayan Pink Salt

All of these recipes work perfectly with pork or chicken, some of them work with steak and the cucumber and lime salad is the perfect accompaniment with white fish.

I love inventing new and interesting sides to go with the perfect barbequed meat or Halloumi and if you try any of them out I'd love to hear from you, especially if you have some other ideas.  I'm off to buy some fresh lemons to see what I can come up with next.


Wednesday, May 15, 2019

The iPhone XS Max vs The Huawei P30 Pro

garden at night photograph taken with the Huawei P30 in night photo mode, the iphone xs max vs huawei P30 Pro by Mandy Charlton, Photographer, writer, blogger

When the Huawei P30 Pro was launched it was everywhere, every ad I seemed to see online extolled the virtues of this new kid on the block with its quad camera and sleek look with the mermaid back.  I got in touch with my friends at Three and they quickly sent one out for me to road test.

I've used the iPhone ever since the iPhone 3G and I've tried many times to swap to other things, I've tried the Samsung range a couple of times but overall I've never found anything which comes close to my iPhone, whatever generation it was.
The huawei p30 pro takes a pretty good photo in aperture mode, mandy charlton, Photographer, writer blogger

I've been using the XS Max since it was first released having upgraded from the X (pronounced 10) and I absolutely love it.  The portrait mode makes many images indecipherable from the ones I shoot for clients with my pro body equipment.  So much so that the only time I use my pro bodies is when I'm being paid for portraits or weddings.  My Instagram is 99% iPhone photos and the only times I've ever felt it could have been better were at night when it's virtually impossible to use portrait mode with good results.

The Huawei P30 does look sleek, it's lighter than the iPhone and overall, it feels shiny, it's maybe too shiny, to the point where I knew I was bound to drop it if I wasn't careful.  I tested it over a period of days and barring one feature, I really wasn't impressed although it is to be noted that it is around £600 cheaper than the latest iPhone.

Instagram stories were a fail for me completely, it either posted them with the voice out of sequence to the photos or the sound was so awful, it felt like I was talking from the inside of a tin.  The portrait mode on the camera was good but it didn't recognise Holly Bobbins face in the same way that the iPhone does.  It does, however, come with a separate aperture mode and for the most part, this makes for better images though it should be noted that the images straight out of the camera are much cooler and have a magenta tinge.

The only mode where it completely outdid the iPhone is night photo mode when it produced an image in the dark which I'll be honest, I was not expecting.  If it had of produced similar astounding images in other modes then I might have considered upgrading although I'm still not a huge fan of the Android operating system although that may be down to personal taste.

It goes without saying that I really wanted to love this phone, a phone with 4 cameras produces immense capabilities if you're a photographer like me who doesn't always want to be attached to a bulky DSLR but for now I'm going to be sticking with my current phone, well at least until the next version of the iPhone is released this autumn.

I was loaned a Huawei P30 Pro from Three, I was not paid to write this article or recompensed in any other way.

Monday, May 13, 2019

Your garden is good for your mental health!

Holly Bobbins, outdoor living, why your garden is good for your mental health

It's mental health week and so this coincides nicely with my mission to get everyone enjoying their garden a little more.  You see, I've always loved my garden, in fact, I grew up in a house that gardened and I always loved sitting in the garden on those perfect English summer days, you know the ones with the blue skies, the white fluffy clouds which pre-empt the bigger storm clouds and a downpour the moment you go to fire up the BBQ?

As well as my love of all things green-fingered, I have, of course, also struggled with my mental health throughout my life, bipolar disorder, chronic anxiety and at times, agoraphobia.  I noticed over the years though that if I could get outdoors my moods were always much better and it's not hard to appreciate why that would be, you cannot beat time spent walking in the countryside or sitting in a sunny cove on the beach listening to the waves lap on the nearby rocks.

The thing is though, there's a revolution afoot, I've come to understand I might have a passion as great as anything I've done before, it's life-changing, maybe not in the life or death sense but I'm on a mission worthy of your favourite superhero to transform people's lives with the power of outdoor living.

So, let's just talk about gardening for a moment, Alan Titchmarsh, Monty Don, Gardeners World, mature sedate ladies cutting roses and deadheading poppies in their white painted cottages in the countryside.  Well, I'm here to tell you that isn't what this mission is about.

Love gardening, hate gardening, I don't care, I just want you to look at your garden as an extension of your living space, somewhere you can entertain, somewhere you can get away from it all, a place you could have a holiday in your own home.  The thought of gardening can seem overwhelming, particularly if you're not akin to the RHS plant manual and all of its botanical names.  You don't have to be Charlie Dimmock to make your own little haven.
Small garden ideas for evening living, the garden at night, mandy charlton, photographer, writer, blogger

My garden is 4.5 metres long by 3.4 metres wide, it's a teeny tiny postage stamp of an urban garden on a housing estate which fringes the edge of the city and where high rises are the only view I have.  I live a few hundred metres from the main east coast train line, it is not a large idyllic house or garden.  When I began the transformation it contained 2 wheelie bins and a compost bin.  The wheelie bins are now at the front of our uninspiring house, where we have zero gardens, not even a patch and where if you placed some pots to upscale the entrance they would either get stolen, vandalised or set on fire.  (or all 3).

What I'm trying to tell you, is that it doesn't matter about the size of your garden or where you live, from the tiniest flat with a small balcony to the standard townhouse near the city with a postage stamp sized garden, you can still create your own personal oasis.  It doesn't matter if you just add some garden furniture, some trellis with fake leaves and a pile of plastic plants and fake hanging baskets, the point is, create a space you love, a safe space and if you can't do it alone, ask family or friends to help, if you're broke you can do this on a budget, plants are cheap, second-hand garden furniture or repurposed furniture from your home, you can build something amazing from not very much at all.
beautiful flowers like bearded irises grow in the urban oasis

The more I live outdoors, the more I cook outside, the more moments of stillness I can find the better I feel and it's not just living outdoors, I even feel calmer when I'm working on my laptop in the garden, my mind is clearer, my anxiety levels fall and I'm more zen than I've ever been.

food cooked on a bbq is so good for you, your garden is good for your mental health, mandy charlton photography blog
I actually have loved the act of gardening, the joy of transformation, the fact that I designed something in my mind (and on Pinterest) and it was the first ever project which now looks the same in reality as it did in my head when I designed it with my mind.  For me, I think there's something healthy, something wonderful about growing plants,  planting seeds and small plants and watching them blossom into something extraordinary.

I want to encourage people to love the space they have in the same way that Mrs Hinch has transformed our attitude to cleaning the house.  And yes, I realise Mrs Hinch has 2.4 million followers on Instagram and I have just over 10k but you have to start somewhere don't you and if I start a revolution to inspire others, well when they join in, perhaps, we, yes, you and me, we could start a movement which ends with us collectively having millions who transform their lives, their mental health and their outdoor living areas.  Of course, I'll have to come and visit for a nosey and a cup of tea but I'll guarantee you this, you'll find me smilier and happier, calmer and less anxious than I have been for a very long time.

Tuesday, May 07, 2019

Garden makeover on a budget, how much did it cost?

On Friday night, I finally finished my garden, it was all done on a really small budget but I'm going to let you in on how much it cost and where everything came from.  The best thing about gardens of course is that they constantly evolve and there are still things I would like to add and ideas to make it even better, today, for example, I spotted an Easter Island side table which looks small enough to fit next to my grey moon chair and don't even get me started on the planting, every time I see plants I want to buy them!!

garden makeover on a budget, how much did it cost?  mandy charlton, photographer, writer, blogger, and thrifty gardener

Here's how much the main things cost -

Arbour - £250 from Amazon, paid with vouchers I'd saved up
Chiminea - £100 from Wyevale, they had 20% off and triple points when I bought it so I got it for £80 and will get back vouchers for around another £15.
Egg Chair - £24.99 from TJ Hughes, I hadn't seen these cheap anywhere, even on Amazon it was nearly £40 for one but then I spotted them in the garden department of my local store.
Water Feature - £29.99 from TJ Hughes, again, the water feature I would love costs around £150 but this one, made from solid plastic, does the trick but it's awful, I need to refill it all the time, sometimes it does a trickle, sometimes it flows really quickly, I don't recommend!
Slate - £2.75 per bag from Home Bargains, I used 13 bags
Paving Stones - £5.99 per paving stone from Home Bargains
New Plants - £100 from various places
Trellis - £15 from Wyevale using a voucher, it should have been £17
Bark - £1.99 per bag from Aldi, we used 6 bags but I would like some more
Bricks - Free from a kind person on Facebook
Cushions for the bench, the 3 green checked ones were £5.99 each from Home Bargains, the other 2 I previously owned and used in my garden last year.

So basically it was all done for just over £500 and when you think what it was before...

That's all the major bits, most of the lighting was already in the garden or in the house and a lot of the objects are repurposed like the butlers tray table and the fire bucket but what I have now is a space I can truly relax in, not just that though, it's a place I can record video's, take photographs, it's a restful environment an Instagram worthy space,  for years I've looked at gardening magazines and wanted a space like they have and yes, it's not the size of Monty Don's back garden or indeed his front one but I live 20 minutes walk from the city centre, when you are so urban space is a premium.  I've also realised I couldn't afford a bigger garden in terms of time, money or the energy because even a small space takes up so much of all of that.

This coming Sunday, May 12th is Garden day, a day to celebrate the spaces we live outdoors in and I shall be having my own little garden party in honour, not just of Garden Day but also Abigail's, Harriet and Ron's birthdays, all which truly are worth celebrating.

I've always loved gardening and so I hope this is just the start and I hope in 6 months or a year I'll add so many extra pieces to it, it becomes something more special than even I could have ever imagined when I first pictured the space in my mind and wondered what on earth I could do with it.


Sunday, May 05, 2019

we accidentally manifested a cat...

Jasper Rockafella 17th, we manifested a cat, mandy charlton, photographer, writer, blogger

This week we had a surprise new arrival in our family, I'd been manifesting, Looby and Iain kept telling me they wanted a kitten and I think the mutual power between us (Looby is amazing at manifesting given that she's done it since she was about 5 years old when I first discovered the power of the universe, I used to tell her, be happy, be hopeful, be grateful) just kind of happened at the same time the universe was listening.  Iain went downstairs, opened the gate and there, sitting quite politely next to the gate was a ginger cat, he followed him into the garden and just sat next to him, they sat together in the arbour with the warmth of logs burning in the arbour until 6am when Iain went to bed (he has sleep issues because of ASD).  When I went out in the garden in the morning, who should be waiting for me but the little ginger cat, I say little because he's still a kitten but he's definitely going to be a big cat.
Jasper Rockafella 17th, we manifested a cat, mandy charlton, photographer, writer, blogger

After that he started just coming in our house exploring, he met Poppy and Pyracantha cats and Holly Bobbins too and then he just sort of stayed, adopted us and moved in.  We checked all of the local lost pets sites but there wasn't a cat that could be him and so I assume, that cats, in the way they do, just appear like angels and adopt their own family.

We left the backdoor open so he had the option to go off if he wanted to but no, he stayed and I'm not one to turn down an adorable animal.

Jasper Rockafella 17th, we manifested a cat, mandy charlton, photographer, writer, blogger

After some discussion we decided to call him "Jasper Rockafella 17th" because you should always name your pets the most fabulous things, although I do believe it's probably us that are the pet's and the animals are the owners.
Jasper Rockafella 17th, we manifested a cat, mandy charlton, photographer, writer, blogger

He's incredibly inquisitive, doesn't speak like Pyracantha does and he doesn't drink water like a normal cat, he likes to drink out of a big bowl and puts it on his paw to drink, he's adorable.  The kids had been asking for another cat for so long and I kept putting it off because I didn't know if I wanted another cat or if I wanted to adopt another beagle to be brother or sister to Holly Bobbins.  The universe clearly had different ideas, it's always right and leads you in the way it knows is best.  

I do have one thing to say though, when you're manifesting...

Just be careful what you wish for, because it might just come true.

Friday, May 03, 2019

National Stationary Week

I don't know about you but I find, even as an adult, or actually especially as an adult I have a weird addiction to stationery, let's call it a penchant for pens, a love of luminous highlighters, a romance with rubbers... oh, yeah, I'll stop now before this gets out of hand.

When Stabilo asked me to be one of their ambassadors it took about 0.2 seconds to accept, I mean who would refuse regular surprise delivery of pen and pencil heaven.

I'm particularly partial to the pretty highlighters which always make me smile and I adore the writing felt pens, if you've seen my other post about being organised you will know that felt tips are the thing I use to fill in my planner every single week, so much so it gets out of hand and none of the pages end up without a plethora of stickers and bright colours, does it help me to achieve my goals, heck yes!!

For sure if I start every week with a page full of bright coloured writing and motivational stickers you know I'm going to work faster, harder and better to achieve everything I've written down, it might sound weird but it works.

From April 29th to May 5th is national stationery week, a week to celebrate, the pens, the pencils, the erasers, the paperclips.  If your desk has too many pens for the pen pot then you'll definitely know what I'm talking about.

I guess some people might think I'm crazy to get excited about this stuff, and indeed some people think I'm a little crazy and that's even without the pen addiction but I have no fear of declaring my love of stationery to you and certainly no fear of thanking Stabilo for choosing me to send copious amounts of colouring pencils to and don't worry, if I'm a little too old for them, (they do offer a full range from 2-102) they find a good home with some of the smaller people I have in my life.

So thank you Stabilo and thank you stationery for making my world a brighter, happier, lovelier place.

I am an ambassador for Stabilo. I do not get paid to post but I do get occasionally lovely parcels full of pens and pencils.


Wednesday, May 01, 2019

What I've learnt from my first year as CEO of The Inspire Network

the women of the inspire network with mandy charlton ceo, photographer, writer, blogger

Today is a good day, today marks the first anniversary of me being CEO of The Inspire Network, it's been quite a year, I've loved it, I've hated it, at one point it made me really poorly and I nearly gave up but then something changed and by gosh, we've become the most brilliant, beyond brilliant organisation which makes me happy in my heart every single day, here's what I've learnt from my first year as a CEO of The Inspire Network.

Hand on heart, if you had told me last summer that I would be in the position I am today, I wouldn't have believed you, I was having the most awful time and I thought I would end up having to sell my company because I just didn't feel I could shoulder the responsibility, I thought I was truly beaten.

Something amazing happened though, in around November of last year there was a total paradigm shift, a powerful positive vibe which seemed to spread throughout the network.  I came up with further ways that we could truly help our ladies to win in business.

I've troubleshot, I've listened, I've mentored and I've been truly humbled by the amazing work our team of volunteer admin do, I could in no way run Inspire and all that it is without the daily love, inspiration and sheer hard work from people like Robyn, Pauline, Harriet, Amy and Gillian, at times they've just been there for me, they've supported and helped and they're always present working away, answering queries, managing members wanting to join us and at times they are the peace-keepers, the mediators.  With eleven and half passionate ladies, things can get to that point where someone has to step in but thankfully now, it's a really rare occurrence.

What we have now is a movement, an army of amazing entrepreneurs, all looking out for each other, cheering each other on, celebrating wins and giving advice and ideas in times of trouble.  I try and set up advice and troubleshooting threads whenever I can be present because I know if I can't come up with ideas or support, our great hive mind will come along and help.  I truly believe that our whole population of incredible, talented female entrepreneurs always want the best for each other.

Now I can't claim to be perfect, I have made mistakes and I probably will again in the future but that's how we learn and let me tell you, I am always learning and looking for extra ways where we can use our power to reach our goals.

My proudest achievement, or actually, my teams proudest achievement for it was a group project, our paid membership project.  We launched paid memberships last year but it was too early and they just weren't working, my mental health had a huge knock back and so there was a lot of going back to the drawing board, re-writing things and working out what we wanted to do in the future.  We became a social enterprise meaning that our profits go straight back into the future of the network and our future plans include -

The Inspire Retreat, a beautiful haven on the Durham coastline where ladies and their families will be able to escape work and life for low cost, get away from it all, long weekends.

Our own workspace with hot desks, advice and coffee always freely available and in person.

Our own small grants program offering grants of up to £500 for business emergencies or to grow a business or fund an entirely new business idea.

All of these things will be available to all paying members whether they're paying £1 a month or £20 a month.

We've also launched free meetings for members of Inspire Success, that's those joining at gold level or above and we'll be holding regular training events and ideas summits in there. 

The future is truly bright and I'm in a position now where for the first time I can truly see the future of a blossoming organisation, we are achieving more and more every day and with some income behind us we can continue to push the boundaries in supporting female entrepreneurs (or those identifying as such ) everywhere.

The Inspire Network isn't a feminist organisation as such but I am myself a feminist who believes in inclusiveness and equality, I believe we still have many glass ceilings to break and I believe that's so much easier if you have a movement of many than trying to do it all on your own.

Quite simply, I am Inspire, you are Inspire, together, we are Inspire.

For more information about The Inspire Network or to join us as a member please click here

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

How to be more productive

Mandy Charlton, Photographer, writer, blogger, how to be more productive

It's just approaching 7.30am, the sun is shining, the birds are singing, the beagle is snoring after getting up, having breakfast and then deciding a post breakfast snooze was in order...

So far today, I've launched an offer, I've posted in my Facebook groups, I've written a newsletter, I've even made some money, to all intents and purposes, right now I am Casey Neistat!

If you don't know, Casey Neistat gets out of bed every morning at 4am because it's the most productive part of the day when the internet is quiet, the chances are that even if you send out 10 emails, you won't have to worry about getting replies.  At 4am, the world is a quieter, more peaceful place and a place you can be uber productive too.

There's 1 single problem with this though...

I hate mornings!!

I've come to understand I'm more of a night owl than a lark, I literally loathe mornings and rarely get out of bed before about 8am, and that's dependent on if I wake up with a migraine or not, in which case, I usually take the medication and then sleep until 9ish because it knocks me out.  It's actually rare that I'm up at half five but today was the exception.  Looby had obviously disturbed because I heard her up and about and I decided in my sleepy brain that today was the day I would embrace the morning, I would get up, I would have copious amounts of frothy coffee courtesy of Nancy the Nespresso and I would get a start on the day.

Now it's not the first time that this has happened, I have had periods in my life (usually during the lighter summer months) when I've risen early and it's always the case that by 10am I have changed the world, well my world, not the actual world, I may be many things but I'm not God!

There are other things you can do if you can't bear an early start though, a couple of years ago, after working on my laptop, always in front of the TV, I found I just wasn't being productive enough so I got a desk and I got an iMac and it's still true now that when I'm sat at my desk in front of my iMac, I feel like businesswoman of the year, "buy, buy, sell, sell" my internal monologue shouts and I often plan my best schemes to take over the world (in the nicest way possible) when I'm sitting at my desk.

I think having an area in your house where you "go to work" helps massively when you are self-employed, if you don't have one it's pretty much just sitting at the laptop whilst watching Game of Thrones and we all do that, self employed or otherwise...

It's hard to separate life and business when you are self employed or work from home and it doesn't work for everyone.  I have 2 friends, the lovely Rachel and Steph and they both work remotely, employed by companies to save desk space and work from home (it's the future) but they're both paragons of productivity, clearly for some people, they need a cubicle and a boss who'll ask for proof that they're actually not slinking off to the water cooler every six seconds.

I've been self employed now for over a decade and if it wasn't for productivity and self management I would have been homeless, starving and probably sectioned.  It's like I've build my own structure, my own targets and my own to-do list which I mostly always manage to complete.

Working alone is hard and if you're one of those people who goes through periods of not being as productive as you should be, why not get a friend who's also self employed to be your accountability partner?  It wouldn't actually work for me as I hate being told what to do, there's a reason I am the mistress of my own destiny but for some, it works and if that's you, then do it, do it now!

The truth is, to be productive for me in a perfect world, I need the early morning starts, it's probably my only time of day when my brain fires with the right pixels, quite simply I write better, I think better, I just do stuff better and so right here and now, for the next few months of lightness, I shall be sleeping with the curtains open in the hopes that Mr (or Mrs) sun wakes me up early every morning so I can achieve everything I want to this year.

Go on, wish me luck...

Monday, April 29, 2019

Spring in the small urban garden

night time in the garden, spring in the garden, Mandy Charlton, photographer, writer, blogger

Today marks the start of a new semi regular feature which is all about gardening and what's going on in my garden, I say semi-regular as I still get bored writing about the same things over and over but right now it's such a big part of my life having seen it's complete transformation over the last few months.

I've always loved gardening, when I met Paul, it was me who was the keen gardener, I'm one of those plant nerds although I can say right now I do not know all of them or their botanical names.  I think I just have one of those brains where I can't remember what I did yesterday but I can remember what a plant is called.

It's been a couple of months of hard work and I've done it all by myself, although Looby occasionally helps with planting or putting something together for me but it's probably the first project I've taken on since being single and where my vision has actually related to the end result.

My biggest irk currently is the paving and the fact that I actually have no idea what to do to it or pretty much, how to actually achieve that, and that's with all of the research time I've spent on Pinterest looking at ideas.

Lighting in the garden is really important to me and I've spent next to no money on any of it, I really did have countless sets of fairy lights of all different types (solar, mains, battery) in my garden and home previously.  There are still areas that need more twinkly bits I feel but I think I've gotten to a point where if it was all completely finished I would have nothing to plan when I'm pottering around of an afternoon.

The big stuff, the heavy stuff, that's all done apart from the aforementioned paving and a Juniper tree which started as a bonsai, then stood in front of an ugly area and is now completely out of place and blocking out all of the light to a red camellia which I think would flourish if it were removed but whilst I still have the searing burning hot pains in my neck I don't think removing a 5 year old tree which I'm mostly allergic too is a great idea.

My garden has been done on a really low budget, I've used Facebook groups, I've begged, borrowed and stolen things from my house to be repurposed in the garden.  The string moon chairs are expensive everywhere apart from TJ Hughes where I randomly found them selling them singularly for £24.99 each, I wanted hot pink, Looby chose grey but it is her garden too.  The cheap water feature is made of solid plastic, also from TJ Hughes, it's weird and I wouldn't recommend it, it empties itself at random moments and i've no idea where the water goes to but until I can save a couple of hundred for the water feature I actually want, it's just nice to have the sound of running water as I sit in the arbour.

Rachel suggested at lunch yesterday that I get another arbour, not one to sit in but one half way up the path to grow fragrant climbers like Jasmin and honeysuckle and I have to agree, it's something I want to add in the future and then perhaps I could hang some pretty lanterns from it to shine in the nights.

As you can see from the last image, I still have plenty of room for new plants, although that is the shady side of the garden so it's getting plants to suit the conditions, we used to have a Gunnera in there near the Rhubarb (they're from the same family) until Petunia the husky came and thought it was tasty and so told Holly Bobbins she should eat it too, that was the end of Gertrude!

I really want a hardy palm too but so far I've only seen cheap ones in pairs and I definitely do not have room for 2 palm trees in my garden!

May in the garden marks the transition from spring to summer with the bedding plants finally able to go outside when the risk of frost has passed, I cannot wait to get some big blousy colours going on and I plan to spend every moment I'm not working pottering around and enjoying my garden.


Saturday, April 27, 2019

Why I'll never give up, no matter what life throws at me

This week has not been the best week with regards to my health, if ageing is the cause then I'd quite like a refund please!  After several more conversations with doctors, my lovely longterm doctor thinks it's probably I have Fibromyalgia, basically it's a pain syndrome, yes, I know, you're sitting there thinking, "oh that does not sound fun" and you would be right.  It's actually quite possible that I've had it for quite some time as I've had all of the symptoms but they've always been looked at in exclusion rather than as a whole and it's only now because of me going through agony with my neck, head and arms that we finally seem to be coming to the same agreement.  it's a genetic thing and my mother has it and I'll be honest, I think there's a good chance (or actually not good at all) that Iain and Abigail have it as they already have symptoms.

My next step is to see a specialist physiotherapist who'll test my pain points and then depending on the outcome they'll refer me to a rheumatologist and possibly the pain clinic because currently, the neck pain is off the scale and I can't currently find the £600 it would take to make it better with Chiropractic or massage which is what I've done in the past.

The point of this blogpost isn't to whinge or complain though, I mean, I rock a disorder and I'm amazing at syndromes, yes it's another hurdle to get over but you know what?  No one has ever died from Fibromyalgia or Bi-polar or indeed Reynauds (that's all my disorders and syndromes right there, although I think Reynauds may well be a phenomenon).

Yesterday I went to my very first TEDX at Newcastle College, the theme was life finds a way and pretty much it was about health, life, death and mental health, it was one of the most inspiring events I have ever been to and it's only reinforced my ambition to one day give a TED talk.

Death, cancer, mental illness and suicidal ideations, all things which are the end of some and you know what, that is to be completely forgiven.  I have had times in my life where I could have crawled into a corner and never come out or where I thought those dark thoughts and nearly ended everything but in every case, just as in mine, the decision to fight onward, to choose life and to accept the things you can't change, it's those things which were paramount in all of the speakers lives just as in mine.

You see, if you fight against something you can't change, you are just using energy pointlessly, it's the fighting for the things you can change and moving onwards despite the situations, finding some kind of inner strength that you're not sure where it came from, those are the things which inspire other people.  Not only that, those are the things which define you as a person for the rest of your life.

So here I am, some days, the pain is so bad, even the good drugs won't take it away, the searing, burning pain at the base of my neck and feeling like my shoulders are like a giant breeze block because everything is in spasm.  the migraines I wake up with every day, the tingling and pins and needles in my hands, the pains in the centre of my hands which made me question if I was about to experience stigmata...  but am I about to give up?  Hell no, I've come to far for that.  I do have 2 companies to run and I've had to make a few adjustments to my work calendar just until it settles down again, the good thing about flare ups is that they are exactly that and so I should be back to tip top form soon enough.

Yes, it's tough that I can only work 1 day at weekends currently but if I look for the positive in that, it's actually pretty lush doing photography one day at weekends and then on a Wednesday because I am absolutely loving what I'm doing, I have the best work life balance I've ever had and every week I can't wait to get out there again with my camera.

It's funny how things happen I think, I did not know that when I started my garden that I would end up with haven where I might not be able to do lots of heavy stuff but I can enjoy it, it's reached that point where it's lovely just to sit in and listen to the trickling water fountain and watch the birds as they come and grab some food from our all you can eat bird buffet.

There are so many things to enjoy in life, so many things to be positive about that I refuse to let another disorder, a syndrome or pain destroy the happiness I've worked so hard to find within myself.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

A dog friendly trip on The Seasider, Whitley Bay {Ad}

The Seasider Bus, a dog friendly adventure from north shields to whitley bay, mandy charlton photography blog

Dog friendly activities have become much more of a thing in the 5 years I've had Holly Bobbins, as you know she loves adventures and specifically travelling on buses, trains, and boats so when we were invited to try out the new Stagecoach Seasider bus which runs between North Shields and Whitley Bay I couldn't say yes fast enough!

I knew Holly would love the open topped bus because we'd previously done the open topped bus in Edinburgh, she loves the feel of the wind in her ears and the fact that she can watch the world go by and see all of the sites.

It's not just Holly who loves an open top bus tour either, I've been on the open top bus tours in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Manchester, Leeds, London, Stratford-upon-Avon... The list goes on, I absolutely love a good bus tour!

The Seasider Bus starts at the north shields ferry terminal (the tyne and wear ferry not the big DFDS one which goes to Amsterdam) and winds it's way along the beautiful northeast coastline until it reaches the seafront in Whitley Bay and it's a journey which maybe takes around half an hour on the days when traffic isn't too bad.

I think I've already worked out my ultimate day trip and I'd recommend this to anyone who's holidaying up here in the north of England.  I'd suggest you start with a morning in South Shields and then you jump on the ferry, get the seasider bus when you get off and then go to Whitley Bay and when you are done ambling around the seafront there jump on the land train to St Mary's Lighthouse, just make sure you've checked the tide times for St Mary's causeway so you can get the most out of the trip.

For our trip we simply did North Shields to Whitley Bay where we took Holly Bobbins for a stroll along the beach, the beach at Whitley Bay is dog friendly up until May when half of it remains dog friendly but the other half isn't.  No matter for us though in April and Holly loved rolling around on the sand the way she always does.  There's something about a sandy beach which makes her roll around making the funniest sounds, she absolutely loves it and it's the most active I ever see her.

We followed that with coffee and a sumptuous pancake breakfast at the dog friendly part of Spanish City, Valeries Tearoom does the best cakes I've seen in Whitley Bay along with a very hearty breakfast menu although Holly was so tired from the sea air that she didn't even stir for the offer of a pancake or some bacon.

After filling our tummies we got on the return bus to the ferry, they run every half hour and Holly barely moved for the rest of the day when we got home, all of that sea air and visiting her favourite places lead to a very tired but totally content beagle and I can't wait to do the trip again during summer just for her when you are a dog owner, just like when you are a parent, you definitely owe it to your dog to give them the best days ever!
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