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, April 06, 2021

Catching up

So this is the first time I've sat at my desk catching up with blogging for the first time in, well, really, over a month.  The reality is, the lockdown has been a pretty standard and unexciting experience.  I've now earned £625 this entire year with photography so thank goodness that Philomena's Boutique has at least allowed me to pay most of my bills.  The last help from the government was in November and the halcyon days of the bounceback loan last June are well and truly over.

This month is a new month and I've decided to surrender myself to the universe, I had a chat, the universe and I and these were the things I've put out there into the universe - 

  • I want to buy a caravan on the northeast coast called Philomena's Hideaway that I can run as a, not for profit giving low-cost breaks to families who are enduring mental health issues
  • I want to find myself a bearded Scotsman with feelings
  • I want to book some weddings for the next couple of years so that I can have some certainty in my work calendar
  • I want to be able to support my daughters and me after all of the turbulence of the last year
  • I want to go to the Highlands and stand on a hill and breathe without anxiety 
So, just 5 things and I don't think I'm asking for the earth really, I continue to work hard towards all of my goals but with anxiety and the current state of my mental health, always constantly trying to plan 2 moves ahead is not without difficulty.

I have in exchange for the materialisation of my requests promised to only think positively in the next month to see where it gets me.  When you live with anxiety and depression that can be quite a challenge but it's April, it's spring and the world is opening up again.  I should get my second dose of the vaccine towards the end of May and that in itself is something that should be a game-changer for me as it will definitely help with my underlying agoraphobic thoughts.  it's hard to focus on the future when you are constantly worried about the world outside.

So, I am surrendering myself to the universe knowing it has a lot more power than me and I think back to January 2008 when I first made a vow of positivity to the universe, it really changed my life back then and every time I fall off my positive plan I act surprised when I find it again and change things around and miracles seem to occur.  I really should just keep the faith and that's a lesson I'm sure one day I'll finally learn.


Friday, March 19, 2021

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.


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. I'm also thinking of visiting Auris Ear Care.

The point of this blog post isn't to whine 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 that 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 too 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 a 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.

Thursday, March 04, 2021

11 gifts your mum will love this Mother's Day (AD, GIFTED PRODUCTS)

Mother's Day is just around the corner and this year, it's a lockdown edition. Lots of you may not have seen your mum for quite a long time or maybe you've been stuck at home with the tiny ones and are actually itching to get out for a spa day.  Whatever the situation I have tried to curate a Mother's day gift guide with something for everyone.  I quite luckily will be able to see both of my daughters for Mother's Day and that's all I need really, I mean, I won't complain if they buy me a new houseplant child or a gorgeous bottle of gin I'd love but having them here, by my side is everything to me.

So, without further ado, here are 11 gifts your mum will love this Mother's Day.

11 gifts that your mum will love this Mother's Day, Mandy Charlton, Photographer, writer, blogger, gift guide

A houseplant gang from The Little Botanical

If your mum is anything like me she will adore a brand new houseplant or two and The Little Botanical can send you one plant, two plants or a whole little pretty pink plant gang, from easy to look after succulents to people-pleasing cacti, I promise if mum loves plants you're destined to find her something to make her smile.

A tweed recycled blanket from Glencroft

Who doesn't love a good blanket or throw, I have so many of them, great for changing the mood in the living room or for taking on picnics, I have an entire collection of tartan blankets so it was time to grab something to co-ordinate and this wool weave up plain travel blanket coordinates perfectly in my living room, if you have a mum who loves the countryside or has a passion for interiors then this is the gift for her.

Metal Artwork from Narla

If you have an outdoor mum who loves her garden then you cannot ignore this amazing steel artwork from Narla, I have to admit that if we were not in a lockdown this would be on my garden wall right now but I have to wait until a friend with a drill can come around to affix it for me as I am dreadful at drilling and suchlike, I do know this is going to look amazing hanging on my brick wall in my lovely tiny garden, these amazing works of art can be personalised and you can hang them indoors or outdoors.

Customisable Travel Bracelet from El Camino Bracelets

If your mum, like me, loves to travel, she will absolutely adore her very own customisable travel bracelet from El Camino, choose a country you love or an ocean that you've stood next to and create a bracelet which every time you look at it, brings back gorgeous memories of those travel tales. I chose the Atlantic Ocean along with my favourite countries Spain and France, Spain is my go-to with the canaries and of course Barcelona and France, well that will always hold a special place in my heart after spending time travelling around the Cote d'Azur with Abigail a couple of years ago.  Now that she's fluent and doing a degree, I expect many more trips to France where I breathe a sigh of relief that I don't have to try and communicate with my awful french language skills.  I would like to also say that I've already ordered another 2 steps to remind me of my beloved Scotland.

A Gift Certificate from Red Letter Days

I've always had a warm place in my heart for Red Letter Days, I have featured them quite often in gift guides and it's really because it's a gift that is a promise of something wonderful to come, Red Letter Days offer vouchers for exciting trips and special experiences all over the UK and beyond and yes, the first day I can book to go to Scotland you can guarantee that I will be, there's nowhere that I've missed quite so much during lockdown than beautiful Scotland.

A Mindful giftbox from Mindful Gifting

As many of you know, I struggle with anxiety, I read a quote a friend sent me which said that if you live in the past you'll have depression and if you worry about the future you'll have anxiety.  If you truly want to have better health you need to live in the present and we can achieve that through practising mindfulness.  I'm not sure if a gift box is a whole answer but it's a pretty good start, for a start, journaling can be hugely helpful and this box contains the perfect journal, I also love the pillow spray, anything that can help me get a good nights sleep is a good thing.

Friends Bath Salts Pizza from Mad Beauty

A fun and inexpensive gift but guaranteed to raise a chuckle, I was a huge fan of Friends the first time around because yes, I am that old and I love this little set from Mad Beauty, it's just fun and you know what, a fun gift is sometimes all that is needed.

Dior, Miss Dior from Perfume Direct

Perfume is never a bad gift, in my opinion, I have a large collection of scents which make me happy and I love that perfume can remind you of a time or a place, I love Chanel and Dior most of all and Perfume Direct have all of my favourite scents and often with discounts so it really is the perfect place to buy a gift for your gorgeous mum.

Cranes Cranberry Gin

Did someone say gin?  I love gin, it's been a constant in my life over the last year, I promise that's not a dodgy statement, please don't worry about me, I just love collecting beautiful bottles of gin, I like a glass or two a week, sometimes not even that much but I know it's there if I want it and I love exploring the many different types of wonderful craft gins on offer.  Cranes cranberry gin is my first and only cranberry gin and oh my, it's absolutely delicious, I love the taste of cranberry all year round, it's not just for Christmas you know!  This is going to be an easy drink with a Mediterranean tonic whilst sitting outdoors on a light spring evening.

Longtooth Gin

Whilst we're on the subject of gin, how would you like to buy your mum a gin which also saves the tigers, Longtooth Gin a London dry gin, perfect with a light tonic and a slice of your favourite citrus and 10% of their profits goes to the WWF to help protect our endangered species around the world, it's great gin and it's a fabulous cause, your mum will be delighted with this gift.

Candles, Wax Melts and Burners from Philomena's Boutique 

Finally, at Philomena's Boutique, I have spent the last year curating the perfect collection of gifts for every occasion and as a mum myself, I think I've curated the perfect "mum shop" for mums just like me, our wax melt, candles and burner collection is perfect for those with even the smallest budget and I can promise that the wax melts are so good and last for ages that your mum will be over the moon and you might still manage to keep some cash in the bank to spoil mum with on a day out when we finally leave lockdown forever.


Wednesday, February 10, 2021

How David Tennant is going to help me find my soulmate

As many of you know, I have been single now for a very long time, pretty much, I've been a single lady since September 2014.  Partly I was just so damaged that I didn't even dream of going near another human in the dating sense and when I did briefly try in 2016, I found, I was in no capable or emotional state to be able to deal with the basics a decent human relationship requires.

As time has gone on I've started to heal and last year I decided that I would give it a go, I started to go to the pub, I actually opened my eyes to what was out there and even smiled at a person or two but then covid happened and I, like the rest of the world retreated into our prisons of solitude.

How David Tennant is going to help me find my soulmate, mandy charlton, photographer, writer, blogger, love, romance

One year on from that and I'm so done with being alone, it's made me really question if I can actually spend the rest of my life alone and the answer is, probably but I don't think it would be a lot of fun!  If covid, social distancing and lockdowns have taught us anything it's that humans are not supposed to be alone in the world, we are social creatures and like dogs, we are pack animals, to not only thrive but simply survive we need other people, basic human contact and hugs, the comforting touch of another human is at this point, like winning a gold medal, imagine the serotonin release from hugging people when we all get out of this grim period of history.

For my birthday, Harriet (knowing my love of David Tennant) bought me half size cardboard cut out of The doctor himself and his purpose?  To stand in my kitchen looking off into the distance to inspire me and to help manifest my very own lobster, yes, David Tennant is going to help me find my soulmate.

Now, let me explain further how the online dating landscape is currently.  It does not matter which site you have joined, very few men are actually open to conversation, you need to know I am not a misandrist but without the promise of them getting some action and them actually having to hold conversations, most of them have just gone into hiding.  For me though, dear reader, I blooming love it, it's like dating in the time of Jane Austen, no touching, long conversations and the lost art of letter writing, although that's more message writing and getting a sore finger from tap, tap, tapping on your phone keyboard.

People have said to me in the past that it will just happen when you least expect it, you cannot go looking for love but I don't think that's true, I left it up to chance and 6 years later, I'm still sitting in my cave like a hermit.  I am not Hannah Hauxwell though, I am Mandy and although I'm not the biggest fan of people, I do love my friends, and I actually think I've always functioned at my best when I was happy and in love.  I am a die-hard romantic, always have been, always will be, it's why I still cry when I photograph weddings.  I don't think any amount of damage could stop me believing in true love, love is like oxygen after all.

So, will David Tennant help me find my soulmate?  Well, who knows what will happen in the future but I feel like something magical could be just around the corner and I'm always hopeful.  You can be sure if something does happen, I might not write about it all as that's a double-edged sword too but I guess eventually, I'd have an inability to not say something, I have, after all, written about my life for the last 16 years.  So come on David Tennant, do your thing, stare into the distance and find me the love of my life, you have 12 months or you're going into the cupboard!!

Ways to support my writing

If you have enjoyed this article or found it useful and would like to support my writing I'd love a virtual coffee
I also have a lovely Facebook group I'd love you to come and join 
You could also come and follow me on Instagram to keep up with my adventures, I really am grateful for all
of your love and support.
Oh and of course, you could just treat yourself to something lovely from Philomena's Boutique, my gift boutique
which is diverse, sustainable and totally lush!


Sunday, February 07, 2021

The worst week in business and the miracle that saved me

It's early Sunday morning, it's snowing outside but not the good snow, not the abundant soft white flakes you can catch on your tongue.  This is the small gritty stuff which lashes against your skin hurting it with its painfully cold stab of ice, this stuff rarely lies and is not at all the fun stuff we dream of.

Afternoon tea birthday celebrations, the worst week in business and the miracle that saved me, mandy charlton

If you follow me on social media you'll probably know that A) I was 47 (see photo for the resulting afternoon tea, a present from an anonymous lady who I thank dearly if they're reading this) on Monday and B) this was a week in business where I wanted to hide under a blanket in the corner and never come out.  I had expected that retail would be quiet in January and I'm lucky really as it wasn't quite so bad and orders did come in but without my photography income to sustain me it became a massive juggle between paying bills and restocking the shop.  The truth is if it comes down to it, would any of us choose to do a restock when we can't be sure we can pay for our next gas or electricity?  And when you start having to deal with those kinds of financial conditions you end up in a vicious circle.  You can't afford to restock which means the shop is empty and so no one can shop.  With the best will in the world, you can spend a million on advertising but if there's no product to buy, you will just end up even more broke.

Starting a business of any kind isn't easy dear reader, if anyone tells you it is, they're lying! One lucky thing about photography is that the overheads are lower because I'm not selling a product, I have the equipment and I don't have a studio.  Product-based businesses are expensive to start, especially if you're not making the product yourself.  I was lucky when I started the boutique, the economy was opening up again and I used a bounceback loan to start the boutique rather than invest it into my photography business which might have sustained me for a few months but ultimately it would have run out eventually and I would have gotten to this lockdown with no other business or any form of support at all.

I do not, for one single second regret starting Philomena's Boutique, there are days when my last scrap of sanity was saved by being able to go up to my second-floor office and do some work, my mental health does not allow for sitting and doing nothing, I'm constantly thinking about my next move and I need things to distract me from the anxiety caused by the pandemic, the lockdown and daily life.

My first thought from the bottom of the dark chasm I found myself in was that I could sell, I had the boutique valued by 2 different companies both specialising in Shopify stores and was pleasantly surprised by how much it was already worth after just 8 months but if I sold, realistically, I'd be back to sitting doing nothing and just watching my income stagnate for goodness knows how long.  Now it's a very weird position to be in where you have 36p in your bank account, but you know your business is worth a lot of money, and with my credit score, especially after the financial instability caused by Covid, it was unlikely that I would be able or even capable of paying back any kind of loan.  It was just not a feasible idea.

Thursday came and I burst into tears in my hall upon receiving a letter addressed to "Princess Mandy Charlton" followed shortly after by a collage made for me by Alice, age 9, one of my clients and previous student of my photography classes which I ran during the first lockdown (remember that one, the sunny one).  I'd checked my bank and knew by next week I'd have no money (after having no sales all week) and my gas and electric would be cut off (I have a smart meter which I top up because I was always afraid of big winter bills) and I'd not be able to pay my rent (again, again, again...).  I did know I have friends who wouldn't let me be without gas, electric or even food but I'm a proud independent warrior woman, I'm full of hope and even at my deepest, darkest moment, I kept repeating "everything will be okay".  I said my affirmations every single day feeling like a fraud as I laughably told the universe I was welcoming more income into my life and that I was abundant and everything was okay, better than okay...

And then a miracle happened, I had a message through my website to apply for Shopify Capital, now let me say, Shopify Capital is a bit mysterious, you can't apply for it, they just contact you when you reach some kind of threshold, no one really knows what that is and even if you are invited to apply, there's still no guarantee you'll be accepted.  So, for anyone who doesn't know what it is, basically, they lend you a sum and then they take back a percentage of your daily sales so that on the slow days you don't have to pay anything if you haven't made anything.  I received 3 offers and chose the one I thought would help and in less than 24 hours I was accepted and it hit my bank so I could restock the boutique.  This funding stream has almost certainly saved my business as well as securing my future and once you're in their program they will keep helping you to build so you can be as big as you dream.

My dream is that one day, I'll have a little shop with a flat above it, it will be on a cobbled path leading down to the beach and I'll also maintain my heavy web presence and keep nurturing the wonderful community who have continued to support me since the very first day I opened Philomena's Boutique.  When lockdown ends and people start booking weddings and photoshoots, all of the income from that will be funnelled into the boutique so that one day I can retire happily from a long and wonderful career in photography.  I want to buy a caravan next to the sea that I can rent out to families at a reasonable cost so that when things get too much they can escape for a weekend by the sea and forget about their worries, just for a while.  That was my dream for Inspire when I was there but I really feel I have the chance of achieving it now. Oh, and yeah, I'll probably be in debt now until I'm 475, don't think that everything is rosy because I could scare you in 15 minutes with the financial mess covid has caused, you can't lose almost an entire years income without it having an effect on your life.

Ways to support my writing

If you have enjoyed this article or found it useful and would like to support my writing I'd love a virtual coffee
I also have a lovely Facebook group I'd love you to come and join 
You could also come and follow me on Instagram to keep up with my adventures, I really am grateful for all
of your love and support.
Oh and of course, you could just treat yourself to something lovely from Philomena's Boutique, my gift boutique
which is diverse, sustainable and totally lush!


Thursday, February 04, 2021

The thoughts of a woman who craves to travel

The Quiraing, Isle of Skye, The thoughts of a woman who loves to travel, mandy charlton, photographer, writer, blogger

It's Wednesday night, it's perpetually thrown it down with an icy rain since Monday night and it's been the blandest day of February I can ever remember.  I'm watching the first episode of Joanna Lumley's Home Sweet Home and within about 5 minutes that familiar itchy feet feeling has returned, I crave to travel and right now, I crave to travel anywhere that's more than a few miles from my front door.

I've written before, dear reader, that I came to travelling quite late in life, well at least overseas travel, where the UK is concerned I have traversed as far and wide as I could as often as I could.  We live in this magnificent country, steeped in history with the most beautiful views at every turn.  There are very few of us who have to travel more than a few miles to find something historic or beautiful or both.  It might be an amazing part of a city or an incredibly beautiful scene in a rural location, the UK is simply amazing.

Kirkstone Pass, Lake District, The thoughts of a woman who craves to travel, mandy charlton, photographer, writer, blogger

Last year when we were safe to travel I spent 2 weeks walking in the Lake District and then later on at the end of the summer I spent 10 days in the Scottish Highlands, both trips were completely on my own and unlike when I'm stuck at home alone, I was not lonely, even for one minute because travel was all of the company I needed.

On my trip to the Highlands, I learnt the joy of taking an organised trip which meant that I got to experience even more than I could ever have dreamt of and because of travel restrictions, no trips were busy and I never had to sit next to anyone I didn't know (hurrah).

I think this year I shall take more coach trips and I don't even care if they're filled with others who are much older than me.  I don't drive and I like to drink in the views when I travel so a slow bus with not too many other people is now my idea of a dream, well in this country. I'd go for a cruise right now but I reckon it might be a while yet before they're safe to go on.  The only thing I think I miss when I travel alone is a companion to have dinner and drinks in the evenings with, it's not that I am scared to have dinner on my own but having a gin alone isn't quite so much fun as having drinks with someone you love whether that be a friend or family or a life partner (and I'm on a mission this year to find myself one of those).

Duncansby stacks, the thoughts of a woman who craves to travel, mandy charlton, photographer, writer, blogger

I will never regret the travel I did last year because if I hadn't gone, I wouldn't have had the memories and the photos I can console myself with on these long lockdown days alone. I've often said how I don't buy souvenirs on trips (other than the occasional fridge magnet) but I do take a lot of photos and for me, that's what it's about, I travel as light as I can, I find the best views and I look at old photos on the down days, the dark days, the days when you feel you can't go on.  There have been too many of them during this lockdown but at least I am writing again, trying to find my groove and most of all, distracting myself with memories of past trips whilst also thinking about where I'll go first when this last (hopefully) lockdown is finally over.

I have 2 vouchers, both for 2 nights accommodation and I haven't decided whether to use them all in Scotland (because it fills my heart and soul) or whether to be daring and head for Cornwall, one of the few places that I've never experienced, Belfast and Northern Ireland are also on my list for this year, I must take my own photo of the Dark Hedges in County Antrim, one of the amazing Game of Thrones locations.

Castle Hill, Keswick, the thoughts of a woman who craves travel, mandy charlton, photographer, writer, blogger

In this long, dark, arduous, lonely lockdown when very little makes sense and my photography career is like some kind of weird dream, I think travel and the inspiration it provides is one of the few things keeping me going right now.  I don't wish to get too maudlin but I have days lately where my first thought upon waking is when can I go back to bed?  The days are endless and being trapped inside your own thoughts without any other humans for days, well it almost feels like a punishment.  To be honest, at the moment I have no idea how I'm ever going to pay for travel again but I also hope that once lockdown lifts that people will start planning weddings again, they will come out into the sunshine and want big family portrait sessions and with that money I will invest a lot of it into my gift boutique but the rest, well if there's anything else, I shall save it for as much travel as I can possibly cram in.  

Hareshaw Linn, Northumberland, the thoughts of a woman who craves to travel, mandy charlton, photographer, writer, blogger

I've reached a part in my life where I really only have my cats to answer to, Abigail and Looby both live their own magnificent independent lives, Looby would prefer to be with the horses and Abi, though we do love to travel together, she also has her own life.  I used to believe I could only travel if it was with one of them, that it was selfish to travel on my own but really, it was selfish to expect them to travel with me and enjoy the same things that I do.  I hope in the future we'll travel sometimes together but I'll never make anyone have fun or adventures against their own will.

Ways to support my writing

If you have enjoyed this article or found it useful and would like to support my writing I'd love a virtual coffee
I also have a lovely Facebook group I'd love you to come and join 
You could also come and follow me on Instagram to keep up with my adventures, I really am grateful for all
of your love and support.
Oh and of course, you could just treat yourself to something lovely from Philomena's Boutique, my gift boutique
which is diverse, sustainable and totally lush!

Sunday, January 31, 2021

Some thoughts on my 47th year, my personal history of Coronavirus

Mandy Charlton, some thoughts on my 47th year, my personal history of coronavirus

When I was 16 I felt 35, I've always felt 35 and now I'm coming to the end of my 47th year on this earth and I still feel 35, I wonder if I will always feel 35, even when I am 65?  The truth is, my 47th year is one that on the face of it, I'd rather forget and this is my personal history of Coronavirus and how it affected me.

This time last year, I threw a party for my friends, you know I usually have an annual Christmas party, well last year for some reason I decided to also throw myself a birthday party.  I love parties where I can feed people, give them drinks, where we can all be together dancing in the kitchen.  We even went to Rise, it was, I think my first time in a nightclub for years.  We had the best night, 15 people in my kitchen all singing "Let It Go" at the top of our voices.  It's strange that it seems like a lifetime ago right now.  yes, Covid was a thing but we were only just hearing about it on the news, and actually, on the 31st of January the first 2 cases were recorded in the UK, people travelling to York who would later be taken to the RVI in Newcastle.  It was still another 7 weeks before lockdown would begin on the 23rd of March.  

I've become a bit of a hermit in the last few years, I have a small circle of friends who I adore and I work really hard, travel as often as possible and it doesn't leave a lot of time for anything else, although I've had occasional pangs of loneliness I'd only really decided last year that I might start to look for someone to share my life with, I'd even started going to the pub more regularly and would occasionally spot someone I liked over the bar.  By the end of February, I was back to shooting weddings, Stacey and I shot our first  small wedding of the year up at the South Causey Inn, it was horrible weather, freezing cold, rainy and we didn't get outside to do portraits but it was a beautiful wedding, the buffet was immense and 50 or so people on the dance floor throwing shapes not suspecting what was just around the corner although, that was late February and there had been some talk of social distancing.  We really didn't quite understand what that would involve and Boris was still shaking hands with coronavirus patients claiming we'd all be fine.

March happened and I shot a few pre-wedding shoots for my upcoming 2020 weddings, we had just started sort of social distancing and I remember saying to clients on the 7/8th March how sad I was that I couldn't hug them, March 8 turned out to be the last time I shot a portrait session until July 24th, partly because of the lockdown but then, of course, I broke my arm.  At a time when we were supposed to not use the NHS, I managed to break my right radius bone completely in half and had to have a plate fitted.  Badly timed too because at the same time I'd decided to start my own gift boutique, Philomena's Boutique, yes, that was me bouncing back with the help of a government loan.  My plan was to invest what I made from photography now that the country was starting to open up again and my little boutique would grow and thrive into something wonderful whilst making people happy with lovely gifts and things for their homes.

I'm pleased to say that Philomena's Boutique has thrived and I reached order number 1000 just before Christmas thanks to the love and support of an entire community, it's not been easy but I've found the joy in the most wonderful of small businesses.  Photography did sort of restart in September and in total, I shot 5 weddings and 50 portrait sessions, in a normal year I'd shoot over 300 portrait sessions and 20-25 weddings. I rescheduled something like 23 weddings in total last year and you know, when that happens, your life falls apart a bit, weddings have always been the constant in my life for the last 14 years, the only things to never get rescheduled and only in exceptional circumstances cancelled.  I thought it would be okay but now as we get to 4th and 5th times for rescheduling I am starting to lose hope of ever being financially stable again.

I worked so very hard to become financially independent, it cost me so much emotionally, to be in the mess I'm in now, well it's heartbreaking really.

In July August and September, I also managed to travel, assuming that things we're never going to get bad again, I spent some time in the Lake District emotionally healing myself and I spent nearly 2 weeks travelling the Scottish Highlands visiting places I'd always wanted to go and completing life long ambitions.  When Abigail told me that she was taking me to Gdansk in September before she went to Uni, it was the highlight of my year, we flew without issue feeling safe and noted that Poland really did seem to be recovering more quickly than the UK.  I couldn't imagine another lockdown happening ever again.

Some thoughts on my 47th year, a personal history of Coronavirus by Mandy Charlton, photographer, writer blogger

Thoughts on my 47th year, a personal history of coronavirus, mandy charlton, photographer, writer, blogger

In September and October I shot portraits, I did a rescue weekend in October to try to make it to the end of the year with all of my weddings rescheduling again as the numbers of guests were cut from 30 to 15, I did shoot my last wedding this year in October and I will say, the weddings I shot in 2020 were so full of joy that I cried after every single one that just for a while, life had seemed normal and I'd fulfilled my purpose.  Whatever other business I run, I will always, be a photographer in my heart.

In October half term we knew something was coming, Looby and I went to Durham to see Abigail, I later went back the very next week, the day before we went into lockdown 2.  I sold gift certificates and my shop was thriving with Christmas orders and I was building up to having Abigail at home for Christmas so my mood was pretty joyful considering, plus of course the fact that Christmas is my favourite thing of all!

Christmas was spectacular and everything I wanted, just me, Abigail and Looby, I didn't need anything or anyone else, to me it was perfect and whilst people were struggling with not being able to see their whole families, I had everyone I needed with me.  It's taken me so long to have a good relationship with my beautiful children but I am so very grateful.

I knew January would hit me hard after having Abigail home for a month but what I didn't expect was that the day she went back to Uni, that evening we would be put into lockdown 3, the hardest lockdown of all.

This last month has been dark, gloomy and without hope, I have no money left, I can't pay my bills and couples are rescheduling to 2022, I can't plan for Mother's Day or Easter photoshoots because we have no idea when we will come out of lockdown again.  Abigail is trapped at Uni not allowed to come home, Looby is at her father's and is only able to come over on Sunday's because of her school/horse schedule and so I have spent mostly every day of January completely alone.  Sometimes when I'm lucky I get to see one or two people a week but for someone who thought I was a hermit, I've learnt now just how much I need people.  So much so that I'm giving myself a year to meet someone and I don't know how but I plan to put some effort into it because I just can't spend the rest of my life alone.

Tomorrow, I will be 47 and we still have no idea when lockdown will end, Abigail will be home for Easter in Mid-March and I can tell you I am holding onto that one hope that I have.  I still have few ideas about how to financially survive but I am stocking the boutique when I can even if it's a much smaller range until some kind of help comes.  The way I see it, the government who sold us bounceback loans as the answer must not help us further because we are so very far from bouncing back and I will be lucky to be debt-free anytime in the next 10 years.  We have so many vaccines now, I keep holding onto that and thinking, surely, by summer, most of us will be vaccinated, they have to let us go back to some kind of normal life, don't they?  I keep thinking, this is my lowest ebb and therefore it means I will, myself bounceback.  Each day we are one day nearer to spring, 3 minutes closer to the lightest part of the year and hopefully, just hopefully, one step further towards a normal life again.

Ways to support my writing

If you have enjoyed this article or found it useful and would like to support my writing I'd love a virtual coffee
I also have a lovely Facebook group I'd love you to come and join 
You could also come and follow me on Instagram to keep up with my adventures, I really am grateful for all
of your love and support.
Oh and of course, you could just treat yourself to something lovely from Philomena's Boutique, my gift boutique
which is diverse, sustainable and totally lush!

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

How to get the most out of your lockdown walks

How to get the most of your lockdown walks, mandy charlton, newcastle photographer, blogger, writer

It's Wednesday (I think), it's dull, damp and dark and I'm here to tell you how to get the most out of your lockdown walks.  "Now hang on Mandy, we don't want to go for a walk, we have no energy"  I hear you say and really, I get it, I am not even contemplating getting out of my pyjamas today but most days when the light is a little brighter (and even some days when it's not) I try to walk around 5 miles a day for my daily exercise.  Of course, there was also that time when I walked to the Pedestrian Tyne Tunnel and did 12 miles but that was extreme even for me.

Newcastle town wall, how to get the most out of your lockdown walks, mandy charlton, photographer

Look up Some History

I'm incredibly interested in local history (some would say obsessed) when I go somewhere I want to know all about the local views, interesting buildings I should see and I'll often google things like "prettiest streets in..."  Now, I think it's probably more of a challenge in your local area as you've probably walked around it hundreds of times by now, especially during lockdown 1 when the weather was better but you might just come across something you've never seen before.  Over these last few weeks I have, myself, been walking all around Newcastle city centre and have found all kinds of things I've never seen despite living in Heaton for the last 24 years of my life.

Newcastle is a city first established in medieval times and there are parts which still exist from then such as the town walls, if you want to read more about their fascinating history and then visit the remaining parts, Co-Curate is a wonderful site for the local history of the northeast of England.

Newcastle quayside in the sunshine, how to get the most out of your lockdown walks, mandy charlton, newcastle photographer

Find Interesting Landmarks

Google maps are your friend here,  They're filled with millions of photos, I'm a level 7 google guide and have had my photographic contributions viewed over 7.5 million times, google guides take photographs of the places they've been so you can access them from the maps and find out what places are like before you go there, also consider using the street view if you want to know what the local area is like.  I'll give you my favourite example which is the Cramlington Spoon, it's actually a sculpture called "Eat for England" and who wouldn't want to take a walk to a giant spoon in the middle of a field?  Sadly I can't walk to it from my house (well I could but it would take some time) but if you're in Cramlington, it's definitely somewhere different to take the kids for a walk, I'm sure if your children are about 5 or 6, the promise of a giant spoon will make them run immediately to put their trainers (or probably wellies) on.  There are photos of it on Google Maps just to tantalise them.

Use Published Walking Routes

The internet is a wonderful place and you can bet if you're thinking about taking a walk in your local area you'll be able to find already published walking routes, I like the Komoot site which has 10 great walks around Newcastle upon Tyne but other sites and Facebook groups are available.

View from st michael's mount, newcastle, how to get the most out of your lockdown walks, mandy charlton

Think like a Tourist

When we see our beautiful towns and cities through the eyes of a tourist we see things we never imagined we'd see, we go for walks in the most unlikely of places because we've researched in advance rather than just walking out of our house down our own trusted routes.  For example, yesterday I went in search of one of the best views of Newcastle and I found it at St Michael's Mount deep within the Byker Wall but never would I have ever decided to take a walk in the Byker Wall which can, at times (particularly after dark) be a very salubrious and downright scary kind of place.  If I didn't live in Heaton I probably wouldn't know about it's reputation and strided with joyful abandon but the walk was 100% worth it for the view.

I guess it's all a giant example of life is what you make it and how we can find beauty and optimism in the most unlikely of places/times.  I'm struggling with my mental health on a daily basis during this most recent lockdown, I feel like the first one was sunnier and a little bit easier to bear but this one seems to be without promise of an end. Walking is one of the few free things left which keeps me sane and taking my camera along adds an extra joy.

Ways to support my writing

If you have enjoyed this article or found it useful and would like to support my writing I'd love a virtual coffee
I also have a lovely Facebook group I'd love you to come and join 
You could also come and follow me on Instagram to keep up with my adventures, I really am grateful for all
of your love and support.
Oh and of course, you could just treat yourself to something lovely from Philomena's Boutique, my gift boutique
which is diverse, sustainable and totally lush!

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

A 12 mile walk to the Pedestrian Tyne Tunnel

Inside the Pedestrian Tyne Tunnel, a 12 mile walk, mandy charlton, photographer, writer, blogger

It's just after 10pm on a dark, gloomy Tuesday evening and I've walked 12 miles today, a round trip to the Pedestrian Tyne Tunnel without stopping.  It's the furthest I've ever walked in one go and everything from the waist down hurts, many bits above the waist hurt too but I'm feeling like I just scaled Everest.  If someone had said to me, "do you fancy a 12-mile walk today?" I would have said "erm, no, why?" but I'd said to my friend Steph "oh let's walk to the Pedestrian Tyne Tunnel, it's only about four miles away, I didn't think that sounded like much...

So, dear reader, just to write this in case you're some years into the future, currently, we're allowed to leave our home for 1 type of exercise a day and we can go with a friend as long as it's only 1 person from another household maximum.  I could count on 1 hand the number of people I've seen since Christmas and walking has become something of a must for my sanity.  If I can get someone to accompany me on walks then even better as it definitely would have hurt more if I'd tried to do it alone.

On the way from Heaton going towards the Pedestrian Tyne Tunnel we took the Shields Road route which took around 1 hour 30, the way back via Hadrian's Cycleway was definitely a longer route but that's the one I'd go with on a better weather type of day as it's probably lovely in summer.  Not so much today in the driving rain.

I like to choose big challenges for myself and I'm always curious about our local history so I'd wanted to go to the Pedestrian Tyne Tunnel since it reopened in 2019, for anyone who doesn't know, it still has 2 of it's 4 original wooden escalators which were at one time the longest wooden escalators in the world.  I didn't realise that the wooden escalators don't actually work so you have to either walk down them slowly (with a slight feeling of vertigo as it's so steep) or you can take a lift, we took the lifts on the way up and went down the escalators.  

historic wooden escalator, a 12 mile walk to the pedestrian tyne tunnel, mandy charlton photographer, writer, blogger

I am really glad I didn't do it on my own as I'd always thought it would feel quite creepy in the narrow tunnel under the tyne and it really does, it feels weirdly sinister.   I can only imagine the history of all of the shipyard workers walking out of the tunnel after travelling from Jarrow and going down to Swans shipyard where Segedunum is now.  I think it's a place to go with a friend and not on your own though it's perfectly safe.  I don't know what it is, but there's definitely an unusual feeling down there.

Over the last week I've taken to walking every day, most days it's just 5 or 6 miles which never feels too bad but I think I felt every step of the last couple of miles today.  I don't mind the aches though, I could never have thought that I was capable of walking so far without stopping.  Had it been a sunny day and not illegal to have a picnic that would have been a great idea but the most we did was take water and chocolate along for emergency sugar need and really, it was so cold and wet today, I don't think I would have gotten through it without that little square of chocolate that I carried in my pocket.

To tell you how wet it was, I popped my coat in the hall cupboard when I got home and ten minutes later wondered why there was a puddle on the floor outside of the cupboard, for a moment I thought I had a leak from the hall radiator but no, that's just how wet my coat was.

I will always remember this big long walk I did quite unexpectedly on a rainy winter Tuesday and if anyone ever asks me "Do you fancy a 12-mile walk today?" and I shall reply "yes, yes I do" but only if it's not throwing it down in the middle of January and you're actually allowed to sit down for rests on the way.

Ways to support my writing

If you have enjoyed this article or found it useful and would like to support my writing I'd love a virtual coffee
I also have a lovely Facebook group I'd love you to come and join 
You could also come and follow me on Instagram to keep up with my adventures, I really am grateful for all
of your love and support.
Oh and of course, you could just treat yourself to something lovely from Philomena's Boutique, my gift boutique
which is diverse, sustainable and totally lush!

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Is there any end in sight? The ugly side of Lockdown

is there any end in sight, the ugly side of lockdown, mandy charlton photographer, writer, blogger

Abigail messaged me last night to ask why I'd stopped blogging, she said when she reads my blog, every post is like a letter from the inside of my mind.  I explained that right now, I don't feel like I have any craic at all, my mental health is not the best during this current lockdown and during every day I go through so many emotions that it's hard to just sit down and empty my mind.  I think I lost my blogging mojo sometime around the first lockdown only to get it back when we could travel again and then so swiftly it was taken away again and now here we are, almost locked into our houses, some of us, completely alone, whilst others juggle life/work/kids/marriage.  I don't think anyone has it easy, to be honest, we're all dealing with something.

I've taken to dehydrating fruit this time around, yes, my life, really is that exciting, now I could write a blog all about the joy of dehydrating fruit but it sounds about as exciting as repeatedly sticking pins in my eyes, there's nothing even slightly salacious about a jar of dehydrated grapes, which, by the way, if anyone knows why grapes suddenly change their identities to become raisins during the drying process could you get in touch and tell me, dear reader?

January has no highlights to it, I am in the middle of being divorced (still haven't got my head around that one even though I've been single for over 5 years) my income is scary/hilarious due to having no income.  Well I lie, the boutique on its own doesn't bring in enough, and especially during January when retail is at it's quietest.

No one is booking weddings or photoshoots, I mean, who could blame them, we don't even know what's going to happen next week, never mind in 3 months.  I can't plan for a day of Mother's Day sessions or Easter photoshoots.

There's so much un-fun stuff going on that even I, someone who's good at finding small pockets of joy, have nothing to get excited about, my birthday is coming up and I'm dreading it, Abigail is trapped in Durham (the uni not the prison) and I only get to see Looby once a week.

I try normally to be a paragon of positivity but I'm running on empty, let's just say, I'm glad I won't have a tax bill this year because I'd be paying for it in dried fruit!!

Originally this blogpost was going to be called "Ten ways to survive January" but I gave up after the first two sentences, I do still post a happy or funny thing in my Facebook group every day and it's as much for me as it is for others as I go purposely searching for happy, funny, cute photos and videos, it's a small thing but it's something I guess.

The first lockdown was hard but the sun shone, I taught photography and I spent the rest of the days in the garden, the second was time limited and I knew Abigail was coming home from Uni for Christmas.  This one, well we know there's a vaccine and that's about as much as we do know.  I've heard easing of restrictions being mentioned for mid-February, late February, Easter and then someone the other day said, Oh we'll have restrictions until summer.  Plus every interview you see with an MP, they just say, the NHS is overwhelmed, we can't make plans until that lessens.  Let's not get into the fact that if more financial support had been given over the years to the NHS then this might not have happened.  Let's also take a moment to think about New Zealand, an island, just like us, where they've ended all restrictions, NZ is free of the virus, Jacinta Ardern is the prime-minister we all need.  I would rather have locked down earlier and for longer than be in this current state.

So I'm sorry this isn't a more positive blog and Abigail, when you read this, just know, one of the things getting me through this is the thought of a huge hug with you at the end of lockdown whenever that may be.

Ways to support my writing

If you have enjoyed this article or found it useful and would like to support my writing I'd love a virtual coffee
I also have a lovely Facebook group I'd love you to come and join 
You could also come and follow me on Instagram to keep up with my adventures, I really am grateful for all
of your love and support.
Oh and of course, you could just treat yourself to something lovely from Philomena's Boutique, my gift boutique
which is diverse, sustainable and totally lush!
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