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

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Let's start this again shall we?

You may remember me from previous blogs such as...

Yep, I haven't blogged for nearly a month for a variety of reasons - 

  • I've shot a lot of weddings lately and in between shooting them, (often with smoke bombs) I've been a slave to editing and to all manner of portraits and client work.
  • When Google+ closed its doors it slashed my traffic by around a third and that's hard, especially as a blogger who does occasional sponsored posts but I've given myself a talking to about why I started blogging in the first place and I still hope to be writing my scattered thoughts for the next decade or so.
  • Abigail cut me out of her life because I shared a post about coercive control on Instagram and I still can't process it months later, being silent about any kind of marital or relationship abuse just leads to more abuse, we can only stop this stuff from happening if we talk about it.  I'll always be here for her and she knows that and that's all I can really say right now because I still can't talk about it without feeling my heart actually hurt.
  • I went on holiday with Looby and Holly Bobbins and actually did no work whilst I was there, this is a rare occurrence for me.
  • I started to live the slow life, I've spoken about this before but these days you will mostly find me in my garden.
So, a lot of things have happened and yet, nothing has really happened, just life.

The summer holidays are just around the corner and for the first time I'll be spending more time alone than ever before, Looby will be off with friends and horses for most of it and I haven't really worked out what I'm going to do with myself as yet.  Harriet finishes work on Friday and we're going away on the 28th to Cumbria and then a couple of nights near Aberystwith, all with wonder dog Holly Bobbins of course.

I was also trying to plan a one-woman trip to the highlands but coach companies are so complicated and it doesn't seem like I've been able to find one which works with the dates when I'm actually available.  I have been thinking about whether I can do a one-woman rail and Airbnb  (if you click that link you can join Airbnb and get £23 off your first trip and I'll get some credit towards my travels) trip to the highlands but it just depends on the price of rail tickets etc.

I really want to make the most of summer even if I'm childfree but for me, I'm still trying to process that my kids are older and the summer holidays aren't that magical thing they used to be.  I'm sure like Christmas I just need to redefine them for myself, I'm sure if I don't it will end up in knocking off my depression and that's not what I want at all.

What I need I think is some kind of grown-up summer holiday bucket list I can check off and live my best life but I think I'm currently going through some kind of mid-life crisis in all kinds of areas of my life.

One thing that is definitely happening, I campaigned for a community garden and it's happening with the help of the NCS (national citizen service) I cannot wait to help build a garden for my local community with the help of 15 or so enthusiastic young people.  The plan is to remove a massive box hedge and a boulder from a disused and nettle filled flower bed, then to put in herbs and bee attracting flowers as well as putting a park bench and maybe a picnic table, finally I want to get lots of outdoor toys for the local small ones and hold a big party in my community to really bring them together.  Hopefully, it's the start of something amazing and I've already pledged to contribute time and financially so much as I can.  After all, I believe that small scale philanthropy can change the world, I know I am imperfect but that doesn't mean that I can't do amazing amounts of good for the community.

Tuesday, July 02, 2019

Prep Kitchen - An honest review {ad gifted}

A few weeks ago a company called Prep Kitchen contacted me.  They asked if they could send out a week's meals in exchange for an honest review.  I accepted and not knowing exactly what kind of meals I was about to be sent I was a little scared of receiving ten portions of pre-prepared mush because you know, it's a rare thing indeed when a ready meal actually looks like it does in the ads.

Prep Kitchen is a British company and they believe in healthy ready meals, they offer several options from fat loss to muscle gain to performance meals for the serious pro's out there.  They sent me 10 separate meals and as soon as they arrived and I opened them I noticed that there was nothing I immediately didn't like and for me, that's actually a miracle as I can be a little fussy.

Each meal is freshly prepared, comes ready to store in the fridge and cooks at 200c in the oven for 15 minutes so again, for me who never knows what to cook myself, someone who lives like a student when Looby isn't here, the concept is brilliant.

But get this...

The food is blooming lovely, during my week of trialling the ready meals, there wasn't anything I didn't like and not only that, I also gave them to Harriet on one occasion and Looby twice after she'd come home from the stables (I gave her the high protein muscle gain ones perfect for her sporty self), now it's fair to say that Harriet will eat most things without complaint but Looby is fussier than me and she loved the meals she tried.

The price of each meal is between £5.75 and £7.75 depending on which plan you're going for and I guess, that's quite expensive in some respects but if I'm eating just that for 5 days a week I guess £57.50 isn't too bad.

For ready meals, it's quite hard usually to make them look attractive once cooked, and sometimes uncooked but these meals actually look good and that's part of the fun of eating isn't it.  There are lots of choices too from tasty things like Persian Chicken with middle eastern giant couscous and harissa spiced aubergine to Fresh herb chicken with Gnocchi and ratatouille.

They offer veggie options and the ones I tried in the selection were all great too.  Prep Kitchen also sent some of their snacks which you can use for breakfast or just when you need a lift but I honestly wasn't too fussed on them.

Honestly, I thought it was great, so great that I actually want to subscribe to the fat loss plan to see if it does work, I've felt I wanted to do something for a while but didn't want to go back to Slimming World and I just need a helping hand so doing this for 6 or so weeks until I had a good loss and didn't feel the need to cook my own things (with just a little extra this or a portion of yummy that).

To wrap up, yes, I would definitely use them, I absolutely recommend them if you need a meal plan which caters to your health needs and lead a busy life where you just want to shove something quick in the oven or microwave.  I do think the cost is high but for fresh ingredients being prepared well, I can't imagine that these meals would be cheap if you had to go and eat out.


Wednesday, June 19, 2019

It's finally time to be honest, this is me.

The Newcastle Quayside at Sunset, Mandy Charlton, Photographer, Writer, Blogger, It's finally time to be honest, this is me

When I started a business, I just wanted to change my life, I wanted to prove I wasn't one of life's failures.  Things got out of hand though and before I knew it I had ideas above my station and thought I could end up being rich, powerful, successful.  I failed!

A few years ago I decided to lose weight and though I successfully lost weight I still saw myself as fat and now I've put on all the weight I previously lost, I'm no more unhappy than I was when I was thinner because it's all in my head.  Everything I've ever done, I've set out to do it so that I'd make people say "wow" like I needed some kind of approval and on the projects where no one has cared, I've just given up and shelved things because I've courted public opinion way too much.

I've rarely spoken out about the abuse I've dealt with throughout my life, the fact that I live in social housing and that my bank account isn't overflowing because I am ashamed and talking about it would make people think less of me.  It seems I've gotten so many things wrong and it's no wonder that I have chronic anxiety.

You see, there are things that I am genuinely proud of, the fact that I've been reasonably successful despite everything and the other fact, that I live in the real world and I'm not rocking back and forth in a mental institution, although that would also not make me a bad person it's definitely something which could have happened, something which does happen when you live your whole life with mental health issues.

I started living the slow life about 6 months ago now, spending so much time creating a wildlife haven and a beautiful garden has centred my mind, it's given me time to breathe and something to get obsessed with which is actually a good and positive thing.  I always get obsessed over things, there is no half-hearted, it's probable that I am on the spectrum much like my son although there seems no point in acquiring yet another label. 

My point here is, in living more slowly I think I'm starting to accept myself as I am, I've started talking to my neighbours, (many of whom believe I have ideas above my station I'm sure), I've been for wanders with Holly Bobbins in my local area instead of running straight to the beautiful parklands.  It's time to start accepting all of the aspects of my life before it passes me by completely.

My need for acceptance comes from never being good enough for anyone, a lifetime spent with narcissists will do that to a person, I guess it's why I've chosen to remain single, because really, I'd just be looking to find someone who'd be my cheerleader but there's no point if I can't even do that myself.  This photo below is honestly filtered to within in an inch of its life because I went to a Samsung event where they showed us how to cleanse (yes, I know, weird event) and it left me with my bare face covered in rosacea.
Mandy Charlton, Samsung Event, Dress from Simply Be,  it's finally time to be honest, this is me
Dress from Simply Be which was gifted to me previously

I've skipped through my life trying to be someone I'm not, always trying to be better than myself or to just pretend to be someone else and I guess it's why I spend so much time living the hermit life, because I'm always a little scared of being found out as an imposter.  Now I would like to add a caveat that so many times I think I've figured it out, I love myself more and life is going to be peachy but...

I think the reality of the situation is that I can learn to accept myself and not be afraid of what people think of me and not be afraid of what I actually think of myself but I've come to the following conclusions.
  • I'm going to try and do as much good as I can being the person that I am.
  • I'm going to spend more time speaking about the abuse I've survived because not talking about it is just as bad as hiding it and we need to talk about it, people need to know, these behaviours are not okay and if you are experiencing them in your childhood, or relationships, no matter what threats are made.
  • I'm going to continue to live life at a much slower pace and try and discover who I actually am.
  • I'm going to try and accept myself on a day to day basis
One of the most powerful things my therapist ever told me was "Always know you are good enough, even the times you thought you weren't you were still more than good enough" It kind of changed my life so many years ago but I still forget it every now and again when I'm judging myself harshly so if you're sitting there reading this, please know, that whatever has happened and whoever has told you that you're not, always remember that you are good enough.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

The Importance of Telling Your Story

The importance of telling your story, Mandy Charlton, Newcastle Photographer, weddings and portraits, blogger and writer

I have a single rule in general about photographs, if a photograph doesn't tell a story when it's isolated on its own then you should delete it.  Every image should tell a story because the importance of telling your story through every single thing you do is so important.  It doesn't matter how you took the photo, whether it was a camera costing thousands or your battered old mobile phone which lives in your pocket with your keys and some sweet wrappers.  A good photo should either immediately tell a story or it should ask you a question and make you wonder what's going on.
The importance of telling your story, Mandy Charlton, Newcastle Photographer, weddings and portraits, blogger and writer

In business one of the hardest things you'll do is to search for your superhero customers, the people who'll come back over and over again, the ones who will shout from the rooftops, the ones who will be your superheroes and tell other people about you.  To find those very special people, you must tell your story.  People no longer buy products or services, they buy people and no one is going to buy someone they know nothing about.

People want to know the person behind the business, why did you begin, how have you been here for so long, what is the thing that makes you want to keep doing what you're doing?  All of these things form part of your story.

There's a trick on Instagram I worked out maybe 6 months ago, I started to really engage with people through images and videos, I started telling my story, I wanted people to really know who I was, where I'd come from and just how far I'd come.  Every day is like a new chapter.  The funny thing now though is I don't necessarily share the best, most, award-winning images.  I simply share the things I love and with that love, I tell my story.
The importance of telling your story, Mandy Charlton, Newcastle Photographer, weddings and portraits, blogger and writer

So important is this message of telling your story that I've completely changed the face of my business.  Up until very recently I would go to weddings and tell the story of the couple but in portraiture, I would just take pretty pictures.  Nothing wrong with that you might say, but I couldn't understand why I could do it with weddings and not with families and the truth was, that it's about time.
The importance of telling your story, Mandy Charlton, Newcastle Photographer, weddings and portraits, blogger and writer

So often people come to photo shoots with definite ideas about what they want so by the time you arrange them into their various groups, there's no time left to create story-telling images.  To tell someone's story though is to give depth.  It's actually a truly beautiful thing to have just a little more time but I can tell you, although there'll always be a place for the shorter sessions, when you spend an hour with people and you're wandering from place to place, it really helps you get to know them, get to know the personality of their family.

This weekend I have 2 weddings and 2 longer photo shoots and it is my single goal to create great storytelling images from each one.  They will all be completely unique and so it's important that their images are too.

The importance of telling your story, Mandy Charlton, Newcastle Photographer, weddings and portraits, blogger and writer
At the heart of everything I do, I want to inspire people, I want to use the experiences I've had in life, good and bad, to help others, to be an advocate for mental health and I want to show people that although bad past life experiences have defined me I have managed to change the focus of them and get some good out of them.  It is 100% possible to have had a deeply traumatic childhood and still turn that around into something which helps others.  

There are a few areas of my life I have been far too quiet about, especially the past, recent and farther back, I feared the consequences of speaking out too many times but not any more, now that I'm publicly talking about it and drawing other people to me who've experienced the same kind of things I can see completely how together we can be a force for good, together we are telling our stories to help others understand theirs.
The importance of telling your story, Mandy Charlton, Newcastle Photographer, weddings and portraits, blogger and writer

You know, it's a funny thing, life.  For me, the biggest paradigm shift was transforming my garden, it allowed me to share from beginning to end a story, I got to share my journey and inspire some people along the way and it also revealed to me that through learning about how living outdoors affected my general health and wellbeing that I could pass on this information to help others.  I also suddenly realised I was doing the thing I'd first learnt in photography, through sharing pictures of plants and how to build a pond, what I was actually doing was sharing the story of me, of progress and of transformation.
The importance of telling your story, Mandy Charlton, Newcastle Photographer, weddings and portraits, blogger and writer

Start sharing your story today and you might just find out how powerful that is.


Monday, June 10, 2019

June, in my small urban garden

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Wednesday, June 05, 2019

Things to do on your great north staycation {AD}

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

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

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

RHS Harlow Carr

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

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

Wynyard Hall Gardens 

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


Tuesday, June 04, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, May 31, 2019

Just slow down...

An Allium, living the mindful life, just slow down, mandy charlton, photographer, writer, blogger
Since January, in life and work, I've been slowing down, trying to live life slower, at a more gentle pace, I have been reminding myself, "Mandy, just slow down".

You see, in life and work, I'm not naturally slow, I move fast, I live life at 100 miles an hour, I want to progress, I have no patience (with the exception of photographing children).  I have been guilty of wanting everything and wanting it now and in business, that's a dangerous place to be.  You cannot, after all, be the same place in a 2-year-old business as you are in a 12-year-old business and it's dangerous to try and do so.  Travelling at the speed of light is counter-intuitive, as Ferris Bueller said "Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it"

Business in the slow lane

I suppose it started last November really, I found myself plummeting towards yet another Christmas wanting the tree to be up, the house to be twinkling and life to be better, I'd launched a membership element into my second company and it wasn't working because I took no time to research or find out what it was that my members wanted.  So after several mental health touch points and crises where I would run away to escape the things I couldn't deal with, I cancelled everything.  I told everyone who'd joined that I was stopping their payments, I had let them down but I would make it up to them.

By the time I got to Christmas, I found myself in the slump of depression, Christmas Day was a write-off and by the time I got to the 28th I'd taken my tree down wanting life to just go back to normal.  Something happened though, first I started "Hinching" clearing and cleaning everything in sight, I decluttered so much that it took many weeks of piles of rubbish in my garden which finally, with the help of friends made it to the local tip.

In my work, I started really trying to help people, my mission changed, it was no longer about being successful, it was about being the best I could be, helping as many people, nurturing and finding out what it was that women in business struggle with.  I redesigned the membership with the help of wonderful, positive, intuitive people and when we re-launched, it went better than expected, in fact, today we're approaching 150 members in less than 2 months.  That might seem fast, but it's not really, it was just right, how do I know?  Several of the people I told to stay as members who I felt I'd let down, those wonderful women, joined the new membership package, they didn't need to but they felt nurtured and valued enough to do that.
ambling in the countryside, living the slow life, just slow down, mandy charlton, photographer, writer, blogger

Living the slow life

With business going well in a mindful and slow way I tackled the same things in my personal life, I can't remember the last time I worried about being single and as you know, if you read regularly, my sole purpose in life has been to transform my garden and my life by spending more time outdoors, amongst nature.  Now, not everything I touch has turned green, the slugs and snails are literally ravaging my potatoes and my mange tout are in crisis after being strangled by a very overzealous Japanese Anemone.  Most things though are growing well and I've already eaten the rocket that I've grown.  My peas are fairing much better than their cousins and I have spinach which is ready for harvest.
family adventure session, slow portraiture, chopwell wood, mandy charlton photography, blogger, writer

Spending time in the garden has taught me the joy of the slow life, business has bumbled along happily without me feeling the need to go and shoot a million photo shoots, it's slowed down so much that now I'm trying to encourage my clients to do the same, to take more time, to see the joy in the quality of photography done slowly, you cannot achieve the same results with 10 back to back 15 minute sessions as you can with one 100 minute family adventure photo shoot.

When you learn to appreciate the life cycles of plants and you enjoy each and every stage, then truly, you are living a more mindful life.  To live a life of purpose is a joy which I have perhaps discovered late in life but I truly appreciate this lesson that life has given me.  For the first time, I have no want to escape because I'm just happy to be where I am.  Don't get me wrong, I still want that caravan retreat by the sea but for the right reasons, I'm not trying to find somewhere to escape from life to, I want somewhere I can go and continue to enjoy that slow pace of life.  Somewhere to sit on a quiet beach, to listen to the waves crash on the shore.  To take in sunsets and occasionally see the sunrise without wondering what we should do for lunch or dinner.

Living  a life with purpose is loving life, stopping to sit and watch the family of starlings who noisily come and feed at my bird feeder, watching the tiny great tits take happy baths in my bird bath, that's the real joy in life as William Henry Davis wrote, in his poem, "Leisure" "What is this life if full of care, we have no time to stop and stare"


Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Gardening is life changing, here's why...

gardening is life changing, here's why, small urban gardener mandy charlton, photographer and blogger

When I was young, I remember living in a house where the garden faced the wrong way, the sun shone on the front garden and the back was paving stones which I can't remember spending any great time doing anything on.  Then in my teenage years, we moved to a house with a back garden which faced the right way and I think this is where my love of flowers came from, begonias were fashionable and something which grew well in our back garden, it seems a shame I think that they have fallen out of fashion in recent years.
Mandy Charlton, gardening is life changing, small urban gardener, photographer and blogger

During my adult life I have fallen in and out of love with the garden, it became somewhere forboding in my last house but probably due to my ailing mental health, when you're trying to just get through each day, it does not leave much time for anything else.  This garden I have now though has been through so many changes, from moving in with a huge rowan tree which blocked out all of the light.  We had the smallest patch of grass you can imagine but I remember the children having a paddling pool one summer, something I'm reminded of when wearing those rose-tinted glasses which looked to the past. 

Being married to someone who gardened professionally I never questioned once any of the plants which came to live in my garden. From cuttings or kind donations and it's only now when I live on my own and I've transformed it myself, that I've come to realise, half of the plants in my garden are just too big for my garden.  There's one particular one, a Japanese anemone which gets on it amazing pink flowers in the summer but no matter how much I cut it back, it grows like a monstrous triffid, consuming all of the light and smothering anything in its path.

Let's not mention that Juniper which lived in the corner of my garden which I pulled out with such vigour that I fell over and concussed myself against the garden wall!  Gardening is an adventure! As Monty Don says, "Gardens are never finished, they are a journey, not a destination".  I love that sentiment and when I'd laid the path and put the slate down, I stood at the bottom of the garden and reminded myself that this was actually a beginning, not an ending.

Anyone who knows me will attest to the fact that I do not do things by halves, I am either passionate about something or I just do not care for it at all.  This is my worst and best quality all in one, I get bored easily and move onto new things and I only have patience when it comes to photographing small people.

In my garden though, I have found so much of myself which was previously lost.  I have found a haven and I have found my soul.  Within weeks of getting outdoors my agoraphobic tendencies started to recede, my night sweats vanished and my skin looked better than it had in years.  I found myself calmer and more zen than I can ever remember. 
gardening is life changing, here's why, mandy charlton, small urban gardener, newcastle photographer

If gardening is good for the soul then the act of just sitting somewhere beautiful is good for your mental health.  I've had more people tell me I've inspired them to get outdoors, to change their gardens or to make their own little haven than I ever have had people tell me that I've inspired them with photography, I may have even been called "Planty Mandy" I don't mind that though, in fact, I quite like it!

I do not know what will happen in my future now, none of us do, we can plan for tomorrow but everything can change in an instant so you may as well enjoy the process, live for each precious moment and appreciate in hindsight that you were making the most special memories on what might seem were the most pedestrian, normal kinds of days.

Since the garden has become a retreat I've noticed that Looby and I are taking more time to sit out in the evenings, the fairy lights twinkle whilst the Chiminea has kept us warm and we've sat under blankets doing nothing special which was actually the most special thing we could have done.  If anything, the garden, the space I have come to call my haven, is the biggest and best thing I have ever done, it has given me time to stop and sit and ruminate, it has offered moments of pure joy and it has fulfilled my ambitions of doing something grand and following a process from beginning to end.

It might be a small urban garden, but to me, it means the whole world and for that, I'll be forever thankful.

Sunday, May 26, 2019

How to have free (or really cheap) days out on your next staycation

How to have free or really cheap days out on your next staycation, mandy charlton, photographer, north east england

I'm a great fan of staycations and they can be really cheap or even free if you do it right.  This week both Harriet and I are taking some days off at the same time, our plans to have a staycation and get the most out of the time with the least amount of spending are spectacular.

You see, I'm a joiner, I like schemes and memberships and loyalty cards, currently I am a member of -

English Heritage - Individual member, I can take me and up to 5 children in for free - approx £5 per month
National Trust - Family member, I can take me and the kids free and Abigail's dad also has a card which I pay for so that they always have somewhere to go for days out even if finances are tricky - approximately £10 per month
Royal Horticultural Society - £4.80 per month

Harriet is also in the National Trust so we both walk into hundreds of properties for free, English Heritage is free for me so we just split the cost of the properties and it's usually just a few pounds.  The RHS, I've recently joined so I get in free to lots of places but if we go to the 4 RHS Gardens not only do I get in free, I also get to take one adult guest or 2 children up to the age of 16. You also get in free to hundreds of partner gardens so again it just means a two for one arrangement if we go together.
How to have free days out in the north east of england, staycation holiday bargain, mandy charlton photographer, writer, blogger

I also have handy loyalty cards from - 

Wyevale Garden Centres, discounts in the restaurants and at the till
Dobbies Garden Centres £10 per year for free tea and coffee every month, discounts at the till and in the restaurant plus loyalty vouchers
Gardeners World Gardens Card which came free in the May issue and gets 2 for 1 into hundreds of gardens.

I have £33.50 of vouchers for Wyevale from their now defunct points system, I also have a voucher for £5 off in the restaurant at any RHS Garden and our nearest is Harlow Carr in Harrogate.

So, you can see how these discounts all stack up, both garden centres are dog-friendly as are a lot of the gardens although Harlow Carr isn't but Harlow Kennels next to the gardens will look after your dog for you for £4 or I can just leave her with Iain on that day, Holly Bobbins isn't a high maintenance dog.

We could of course also save even more money by taking our own picnic but then you need picnic food and sometimes that can cost just as much if you want a nice picnic, plus who wouldn't want to have tea at Betty's at Harlow Carr, it is legendary after all.

I do always wonder why dogs aren't allowed into gardens, I get that they can't really go into castles but in gardens on a lead, maybe it's a consideration for the future as we become a much more dog-friendly country.

This summer, whether I'm with Harriet or Looby I plan to have the most fun it's possible to have in our wonderful country but you can be sure I'm going to make days out as cheap as I possibly can whilst still having amazing experiences.  Cheap or free days out are easy, finding amazing places in that budget is the tough part, add kids or teens into that mix and then a dog and the challenges become so much greater.

This year however, I plan to smash it and with a camera at my side to record it all, you can be sure I'm going to come back with memory cards full of, well, memories.  I cannot promise not to splurge on things for the garden though, well you've got to have something to spend money on in the gift shop


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.

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