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

Sunday, December 29, 2019

A Decade in review 2010 - 2020

Mandy with her daughter Looby at home in Newcastle upon tyne, photographer, writer, blogger, a decade in review 2010-2020

2020 is just around the corner, the roaring twenties some are calling it, it seems like the blink of an eye since I stood on the Redhugh Bridge with my friends Darren and Neil or as we called him that Christmas (Neilenium).  As the clock struck midnight we wondered what was around the corner, the Y2K bug never actually happened and technologically I think there've been more advancements in the last 20 years than ever before.

In 2010 (and thanks to my blog for being the diary of the last 15 or so years) I'd been in business for 3 years, I was settling in and loving what I was doing, my portraiture didn't really take off until around the end of 2011, just after Facebook introduced advertising, I was an early adopter and I'll always remember Christmas 2011 as the time when I accidentally made £30k in 3 months, I wish I could do that now but when I say FB ads have gotten more expensive, you wouldn't believe just how much more expensive, I've spent over £20k with FB ads in the last decade, if I hadn't, my business would have died long ago.

In April 2010, I'd just renewed my wedding vows, this last decade saw me wake up to the narcissistic abuse and coercive control and finally in 2015 I found my freedom, for the last 5 years I've had freedom from over 40 years of narcissism and although it's cost me highly I wouldn't change it for the world.  No one ever gets angry with me, no one ever tells me what to do or that I can't do something and I'm not even sure I'd take another chance on love, or it would have to be a very special person.  I've still never experienced someone having unconditional love for me and I'm not sure I ever will but at least I know I gave it and tried with all of my heart, to narcissists though, you'll never be good enough, that's one lesson I've learnt.

I don't want to dwell on the bad stuff because if there's been one amazing thing that's happened in the last decade it's that I've embraced my love for travel, I've still never done long haul but I've loved Europe with all of my heart. I even got paid to go on a cruise and be treated like a rockstar thanks to blogging and I shan't be forgetting that in a hurry!  Spain is my favourite country and Barcelona remains my favourite city.  Until you have seen the sunset over Tibidabo you have never really lived.  

In 2010 Looby was just 7 years old and now look at her, she's blossomed into one of the most amazing people on the planet, she's the product of unconditional love and no arguments, yes I annoy her by breathing sometimes but that is the teenage way!  I've never said no to Looby, I've never really needed to, she's such a beautiful individual girl who knows her own mission and has a heart of solid gold, her finest moment this year was to "come out of the cupboard" as she called it after she baked me a cake which said "I'm Gay" now we have to have cake every year on the same day and I'm totally on board with that!

Iain in 2010 was 14 years old, that alone makes me feel old, they continue to be an upstanding person in life too, they've been on their own personal journey with the realisation that they are non-binary, it's been the subject of many conversations and I'm still learning every day about the differences between gendered and non-gendered people, it's been a lot to get my head around but as I told them, as long as they're happy, that's my only wish.  It's something I need to write a complete article about, I just haven't had the time as we've hurtled towards the end of the year but they want me to do it, they freely give me permission so that in the end it will help anyone else (or their parents) who are going through the same thing.  I will say this for now, when we are born, we are formed from chromosomes which give us our assigned sex at birth, but that's far from how we can feel inside ourselves, gender is like a piece of string, we're all a little bit male or female or both or neither, non-binary is most opposite to genderqueer, Iain wishes their pronouns to be they and them and I respect that whole-heartedly.

Whilst we are on the subject of life-changing, 6 years ago, 4 little paws wandered into my kitchen, I fell in love immediately and Holly Bobbins has been my four-pawed best friend ever since, I've also rescued, or adopted several cats in that time, some who are no longer with us, a sad part of pet ownership but which teaches us just how precious life really is.

Speaking of friends, 10 years ago I hadn't met Harriet, I can't remember when that happened but we instantly connected and she's been my best friend and soul sister ever since, when I say we've had some adventures together, we really have, there've been holidays, tequila, dancing until dawn, laughter, crying, love and support and it's something I'll never stop being thankful for, I'm not someone who has a lot of friends (it's hard when you're a socially awkward hermit) but the friendships I do have, I cherish, Stacey, Rachel, Steph, all amazing female friends I've met in the last decade and I should also mention Ron and Steve who I've been friends with for over 20 years now and still see often, scary how time so quickly passes.

I could write more about this decade we're just about to step outside of but we'd be here all year, a decade is a long time to put in one blog post and I guess there are some parts I just don't want to talk about or even think about.  I'd say it's been a wild ride but actually, it's been pretty gentle, well I am now in my mid-forties after all and the wild party days of my twenties are long over, would I do it again if I had the choice?  Erm, no, I like going to bed at a reasonable time and my hips aren't what they used to be.

So 2020, I am ready for you, you're going to be my year, I don't know why, I cannot tell what's going to happen in the future but I am ready for you so come and get me!

Monday, December 23, 2019

A Festive Break in Edinburgh

4 friends in a car heading to Edinburgh for a festive break, Mandy Charlton, Photographer, writer, blogger, christmas

It's the 23rd of December, Christmas Adam or if you're a fan of friends, Christmas Eve, Eve, it literally could not be more festive! After a hard year of work and when I say hard, I mean juggling knives whilst trying to stay upright on an angry polar bear.  Suffice to say, our planned festive break in Edinburgh was well overdue.

Edinburgh, my second city and my favourite city is the best place to be in the festive season, it's jam-packed with stalls selling gluhwein, carousels, food and everything you could possibly need for Christmas.  It's also crammed with people, crowds are found in abundance in Edinburgh in November/December but then, to be honest, Edinburgh is just one of those always busy kinds of cities.

I managed about 3 hours before retreating to the Malmaison in Leith, I'd looked forward to my first stay in a Malmaison forever, I love the decor, I love the ambience, the luxurious hotel carpet and the fact it's dog-friendly (even if Holly Bobbins stayed at home on this occasion, I'm sure she's going to love it on future visits).  I've always loved Leith, it reminds me of Copenhagen and as the birthplace of my father, it's where I really feel my Scottish roots.

This trip was my Christmas present to Harriet and Looby, Looby brought her best friend Abbey too and we managed to get an absolute bargain price on the hotel, I'm not entirely sure why other than the fact that it's Christmas in 2 days time and maybe people are on their way home at this time of year rather than going on little jaunts like me!

One thing we have booked, our highlight for Christmas Eve is a before noon tea at Mim's Bakehouse which is also in the port of Leith, it's the breakfast equivalent to an afternoon tea and I for one, cannot wait, I'm very much a breakfast person, it's my favourite meal of the day, I often skip lunch but I can't ever skip breakfast and if it's a luxury breakfast then I am the most enthusiastic person there, luxurious breakfasts make mornings more bearable.

In truth, we had more plans for today, we'd planned to go back to the city centre to see Edinburgh after dark in all of it's twinkliness but I was overwhelmingly exhausted by five and all I could think of was sitting on a cosy bed watching TV, we did try and go to the cinema to see Frozen 2 but unbelievably every single showing was sold out so I had to console myself with several car-based renditions of "Into the Unknown".

There's something quite special about travelling at this time of year, there's extra magic about it and I don't know why but I can say one thing, tomorrow morning when we make our way back to Newcastle, for the first time in my life, I will actually be able to play "Driving home for Christmas" when we're doing just that.

Merry Christmas everyone, see you all on the other side.  It goes without saying that I'm so thankful that people still stop by to read my ramblings and I'll never stop being grateful for you, yes, you dear reader because you make it worth sitting down a couple of times a week and emptying my brain.


Thursday, December 19, 2019

Surviving Christmas, mental health in the festive season

Christmas, the most wonderful time of the year, the magic, the promise... The general overwhelm, the anxiety, welcome to Christmas with a mental health challenge.

Christmas isn't just one day anymore, it starts in October and runs through to January, the festive period is more like a festive quarter now.  Don't get me wrong, I am the Northern answer to Mrs Christmas having developed my love of all things festive over many a year but as someone with bipolar, anxiety and who is on the autistic spectrum, Christmas can be a tricky time.  I cry more at Christmas than at any other time of the year because my emotions are heightened to stratospheric levels.  Charity adverts, small children doing sign language to Christmas carols, brass bands, they're my niche triggers, they may sound amusing but when you find yourself sobbing your heart out because of the latest Dogs Trust advert, it's really not that funny. 

Over the years I've written a few articles about managing your Christmas mental health and really I do practice all of the things I mention but I still find the whole period a challenge.  This year I was due to be on my own on Christmas Day because I didn't want to bother anyone else with my depression and I acknowledged that the potential of spending my first Christmas alone would be overwhelming but I've since said I'll go out with Harriet and her parents, people who thankfully have no expectations of me.

Good self-care is the most important thing with any kind of mental health challenge, I know from other bipolar friends how much our sleeping patterns can be disturbed by this time of year even when on the outside we might feel okay, last night, for example, I went to bed at 10, was awake between 1 and 2.30 and then I managed to sleep until half seven which is pretty good in comparison to previous years where I've ended up with mild hypomania and barely slept for the last couple of weeks before Christmas.

There is no easy way to deal with Christmas, all you can do is take precautions so if there's a family relationship that's troubling don't go and spend time in that situation.  If you are lonely, try and accept company and really, I know how much easier it is to just shut yourself away but that's kind of counterintuitive.

Next year I need to work on my current state of self-loathing, I need to work on changing my body and my mind, this year hasn't been the easiest with health issues I still haven't got to the bottom of but I plan to overhaul my life and my body come January when the cheeseboard season is over.

In just over 2 weeks time we get a whole new year, a whole new decade and jeez, I hope it's gentler than the last one, I do know one thing though, at least I have my freedom now, something 10 years ago it was still so far away it would take me another 5 years to escape to, it's cost me a lot, in some cases it's cost me everything but I'd never give it up again.

Sunday, December 01, 2019

In Celebration of December

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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