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

Friday, June 04, 2021

What I did in May (ish)

The Whey Aye burger, Hardrock Cafe, Newcastle, mandy Charlton photographer, writer, blogger

Consider this a catchup post if you will,  what I did in May, it's one of those posts dear reader, when, I'll be honest, I just could never sit down to write in the last month, it's not that I didn't have things to write about, it's that I couldn't find the time or concentration to write about them.  My usually distracted brain was even less capable of concentrating than usual so let's just round that all up now.

During the last month, I found a new gentle rhythm to my life and about time really, life was slow and steady and it contained lovely people.  I walked as much as I could and when it was with friends it was even better.  My life had zero drama in it and my goodness, that's so refreshing.  I didn't have to walk on eggshells with anyone, I was just me and that was okay.

I finally managed to catch up with a couple of dear friends I'd not seen during the pandemic but now we're all fully vaccinated we can once again enjoy each other's company.  I'll skip most of May as I don't really remember it but I did go to the press launch of the Hardrock Cafe in Newcastle which was amazing, I've been a fan of the Hardrock Cafe brand for years and I find it quite refreshing that the Hardrock Cafe in Newcastle is light and airy with shades of grey and turquoise.  The menu is delicious and the "Whey Aye Burger" is the star regional attraction.  You can sit next to Taylor Swift's dress or Ed Sheeran's jacket, you can even read a love letter sent from Amy Whinehouse to her husband at the time.  It's a very special place and it's no surprise that it seems to be booked solid.  Abi and I tried to get a table this Saturday and it was fully booked until later than I usually like to eat.  We shall go though, and yes there will be margaritas in Kilner jars.

On Friday my old friend Ron came over for a live stream concert straight from Sage Gateshead.  In this year of pandemonium, the thing I have missed most of all is live music, and especially the crescendo of an orchestra.  We were invited by Sage Gateshead and they were also kind enough to send us a Sage Hamper fresh from Blacks Corner, a deli based in the northeast of England who they've partnered with to make concerts at home just that little bit more special.  I can tell you, the cheese we were sent was perfection and John Wilson's Summer Songs concert was a most brilliant start to the bank holiday weekend.  Sage Gateshead is actually making their first tentative steps back to having live concerts with audiences and they have a Bach to Bach concert on Friday 11th of June.  Even though they will only have an audience of 300 to begin with I feel like it's a beacon of hope and I hope that I will be able to get back inside one of the magical concert halls soon for some beautiful melodious music as soon as possible.  It's also very possible that in the future Sage will not only have live concerts but they will also continue to use the live stream facility to bring musical performances to audiences who have never been previously able to partake.  This excites me as the more you people you can bring music to, the better the world is in my opinion.  I would like to also state at this point (as I have on many previous occasions before) that I am an absolute RHS orchestra fangirl and my absolute favourite orchestra member to watch at concerts is the Timpanist, there's something magical about the Timpani as it's an instrument no one would ever grow up wanting to play due to the size of the set of Timpani drums but I've always been a bit of a fan of percussion and tuned percussion.

Over the rest of the weekend, I refreshed my hanging baskets, and on Sunday I went for a walk to Rothbury with Li continuing our 40 coasts and country walks book, I'm not sure we actually did the walk in the book but it was so much fun getting lost.  After breaking in (and out) of Cragside accidentally we've now both rejoined the National Trust as penance and so maybe this weekend we should just play it safe and go to a National Trust property.  On bank holiday Monday, I went to the Punchbowl with friends, I think this may have been my first ever time going to the pub on a bank holiday Monday afternoon, I had 4 gins but by the time I walked home I was sober again, it was such a wonderful afternoon and a reminder that good friends are a wonderful thing.  On Tuesday still, in my happy vibe, I took a chance and did a scary thing and met a new person for a walk, I'm not one for meeting new people and certainly not on my own but it was so much better than I ever imagined it could be, a testament to the fact that sometimes it's worth pushing yourself out of your comfort zone because there are good things and new experiences to be found.

This weekend I am back to photography and have a busy June but there will still be time for walks with friends and shenanigans in the sunshine with gin or a crisp cool glass of rose, I've never really been a massive rose fan but on a warm evening, it's the perfect accompaniment.  I promise to try and do more updates in June and with any luck, it will be another gentle and lovely month, here's hoping!

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  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


Tuesday, May 04, 2021

A turbulent and troublesome week?

The Kelpies as a storm is coming, A turbulent and troublesome week, mandy charlton, photographer, writer, blogger

It's 7pm on an average Saturday evening, I'm watching Rocketman (because musicals make me happy) and eating a pork pie, yes, old school Ploughmans, don't worry I'm accompanying it with cucumber and some salted popcorn, I like to mix things up a little. I want to say it's been a turbulent and troublesome week but really it hasn't, mostly it's been filled with adventure and lots of walking.  Lots and lots of walking.  I saw the Kelpies, I went on the Falkirk Wheel, I took myself to the Botanic Gardens and felt happy as I walked, surrounded by nature feeling the sunshine on my skin the weather was colder than normal for this time of year.  

When I travel alone, I don't really get too many pangs of loneliness but I always wish I could share sunsets or beautiful vistas with someone special. It's taken me a long time in my life to find friends, I still struggle with the complexities of friendship, Abigail said to me, and quite rightly, that to be friends with me you have to understand that I see the world in a completely different way to everyone else.  I'd like to try and illustrate that but I can't because I've never lived that ordinary, neurotypical life.  I have wished on more than one occasion to just be like everyone else but no one has that magic wand and over the last couple of years, I've been increasingly interested in just trying to embrace all of my divergences and love myself more.

Look, this is as plainly as I can explain it but, on a good day my life is glorious technicolour, everything is vibrant, food tastes better, flowers smell amazing and I want to sing my way through the day (quite possibly why I love musicals so much).  I am confident that I have so many plans and ideas, and I can truly conquer the world.  On the good days, I am funny and great company to be with.  The flipside however is a dark and lonely place.  On the dark days, I am lonely, I am anxious, everything and everyone is grey, nothing holds any interest to me and I can't concentrate on anything or anyone.  You might assume I don't listen to people, but I'm trying so hard and failing. The flipside of me is a dark chasm, I assume everyone hates me and I'm suspicious of everything.  I have no energy, I eat everything in sight and all I want to do is sleep for days.

That paragraph is perhaps an oversimplification of how my general life works but should you have a spare half hour, please go and watch season 1, episode 3 of Modern Love, Anne Hathaway's interpretation of being a bipolar woman is my life entire.  Of course, I am medicated for that but what I'm not medicated for is the autistic part of my brain and when you put everything together, even with medication I can be a difficult and complicated person to love.

In some ways now, I think if I could just switch off that lonely part of my brain, the Achilles heel, I would do furthermore extraordinary things on my own and I would not worry that I was missing out on the things that neurotypical people enjoy so much.  Like visits to the pub and parties and crowds.  I do like occasional nights in the pub, I love to throw a good party but they all have parameters where I become exhausted and it can take me a week to recover from excessive peopling.

Look, I won't say, it's hard to be me because really, it's hard to be a human, especially this last year, sometimes it's been an emotional battle just to want to go on, to continue to not just give up completely but I am still here.  

It's now Tuesday and I went to bed very early last night because I could not deal with the day or the weekend any longer, I just wanted to sleep and forget, when I am depressed, the bed is my cocoon, sleep is the thing I love most and this morning outside it is gloomy.  The rain is falling and splashing against the window.  The cherry blossom still blooms though, it hangs heavy and abundant in the trees outside my window on the ugly urban estate on which I live, it reminds me that beautiful things still happen even on the darkest of days and as someone once said, what if things aren't falling apart? What if things are just shifting into a better place?

Thanks for reading, today and every day...

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  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!


Monday, April 26, 2021

Post-lockdown trip to Edinburgh - Part 2

So here I am, in bed at 8pm at night in a tiny wee apartment 4 floors up a winding spiral stone staircase, it was very much like climbing up the Scott Monument and I wasn't sure if I'd be sleeping in Rapunzel's turret.  Suffice to say, with a heavy case, when I made it to my room I did for a moment think I'd require a defibrillator. I sent Abigail the photo and she begged me to be careful, you know I can't even bring a bin in without having an accident.  There's no light on the staircase that I could see so I shall be only attempting this bad boy during daylight hours!

post-lockdown trip to edinburgh part 2, mandy charlton, photographer, writer, blogger

I actually didn't take a photo of the apartments because I was too busy doing a TikTok video instead, click through if you'd like a nosy, it's called the Robert The Bruce Suite and it's old, really old so I hope I don't get visited by any ghosts of marauding Scotsmen!

I should add that I think for £29 a night I got an absolute bargain and you can bet that it's quadruple the price ordinarily.

Since I arrived this afternoon I've done a good 15km walk but it had no purpose and I always seem to stress myself out when I walk with no purpose.  I'll be honest because I want to always be real.  My head is all over the place.  I was too anxious to go to any shops or cafes or restaurants. I did manage a takeaway Starbucks at teatime though.   From today you can actually eat indoors in restaurants in Scotland although alcohol is only served outdoors.  I think it's going to take me some time to adjust.

Cherry Blossom in Princes Street Garden, Post Lockdown trip to edinburgh, mandy charlton photographer, writer, blogger

The good thing about today is that Edinburgh has never seemed more beautiful, it's blossom season and Princes Street Gardens were abundant with cherry blossom, I sat for a while in the shadow of the castle and enjoyed a moment of sunshine and calm.  Edinburgh is the quietest I've ever seen it and that's good and bad, good, because I'm not ready for a hectic, crazy place just yet but bad because it doesn't seem like normal Edinburgh and that in itself is a little unsettling.

Tomorrow, I haven't quite decided what to do yet, I know I want to visit the Kelpies, the Falkirk Wheel and South Queensferry to view the Forth Bridge but I also feel like where my head is at the moment I might be better off getting myself on a bus tour for the day and then I don't have to worry about anything other than getting myself to the bus! Whatever I do though, you can be sure there will be photos.

New College Edinburgh, Mandy Charlton, photographer, writer, blogger


Sunday, April 25, 2021

Post-lockdown trip to Edinburgh part 1

Edinburgh in the fog in cherry blossom season, post lockdown trip, mandy charlton, photographer, writer, blogger

Some people craved for the shops to reopen, some people craved for a beer in their hands in a pub, not me, the one thing I wanted to do was travel again and not just travel but to Scotland.

It's funny that each time I have an existential crisis I immediately head to Scotland at the first opportunity and with everything that's gone on in the last year, it's been thoughts of Scottish trips that have kept me going.  I was lucky enough to spend 10 days in the Highlands in late August and it really helped me to find myself again.  Over this last year, I have on one hand been hyper-focused on the person who I am and the person who I want to be but at the same time with the gaslighting and coercive messages to keep us in our homes, I feel the need to break free and reclaim my independence.

The first legal day we can return to Scotland is Monday, April 26th, and so I'm booked on a train to Edinburgh for a few days.  I have a new book of walks around Edinburgh, some that I've never done before and I have a yearning to finally visit The Kelpies in Falkirk. I am vaccinated and I will be carrying a box of lateral flow tests but for the most part, I'm pretty risk-free, I live like a hermit only enjoying the outdoor life and I will not be doing any mad shopping trips or even eating out, I shall be living on whatever I can pick up at the supermarket and having packed lunches/dinners.

The great thing about opening up again was that I knew that the early bird would get the travel bargains and so I managed to book an apartment on the Royal Mile next to the castle for £29 a night.  I'm going tomorrow afternoon until Friday and I haven't been to Edinburgh since December 2019.  It's probably longer than any other gap between visits as I usually head up at least 3 or 4 times a year.

I am happiest when I am travelling or having an adventure and I know now that I have no aim to be the richest person on earth but I want to always be free, being free is my ultimate life goal.  For much of my life I have ended up in situations where I've felt trapped and I've reclaimed that freedom over and over but really, there's nothing like reclaiming your freedom from the top of a big hill and this time, finally, I am determined to climb Arthur's Seat.  Nothing is going to stop me!

Travel in a post lockdown world is actually a pleasure, generally, apartments are super clean, the trains are empty and the streets are quiet, this is my chance to see Edinburgh without the craziness of the usual flood of tourists.  Now I realise that I am technically a tourist but I have so much Scottish blood, Edinburgh is my second city and the place I feel most at home after Newcastle.  Plus my love of Scotland is so strong I have no idea why I'm not living there yet, one day when I decide exactly where in Scotland I'd like to live it will happen.

A lot seems to be happening in my personal life at the moment, I am becoming more me, I am changing and evolving into a better person and I am shedding baggage and layers of things that no longer serve me, I have had a quest for many years to live a peaceful drama free life and finally, I seem to be achieving a life with the best people around me, the biggest adventures and ultimately, the freedom I so desire.


Friday, April 23, 2021

Why the last 12 months has changed my friendships

iris the rescue, why the last 12 months has changed my friendships

Friendship has always been a little weird for me, I think when you're a "neurosuperhero" friendship can be confusing at times.  Growing up, close friendships were never encouraged and so it really took me until my twenties to make real and lasting friendships.  I'm lucky I have friends now that I met in my twenties, mostly in dark noisy nightclubs and the afterparties where we solidified those bonds.

When I was married I was definitely not encouraged to have friends in fact anything that took away attention from the marriage was destructed or people have pushed away for various reasons and the friendships I made during that time will remember the struggles that happened throughout, especially towards the end of the marriage.

Since then though, finding myself and learning to love myself more, my friendships have flourished, there are not a lot of them but the friendships I have are just gorgeous wonderful things I treasure greatly. 

I find that at the age of 47, I do not want drama, I cannot cope with drama and I never want to feel like I'm a burden, a duty call, an appointment in between two more important things or even worse, an obligation in someone's diary.  That just leads to my mental health being even worse than you can imagine.

This last year of covid and isolation has brought about so many paradigm shifts in the friendships I hold.  There are a couple of friends I've only seen very briefly in more than a year but you can bet when we're all soon fully vaccinated I'll be inviting them over.  Then though, sadly, there are the friends who have drifted, the one in a coercive relationship who I can't say anything to because they're just not ready to hear it and the one I love dearly who's taken a vast proportion of the year off the internet for the sake of their mental health, I can't wait to see them again.

There are a small circle though that I speak to every week, some every single day and without them, I would have been more of a mess than this last year!!  My mental health has been up and down, I mean, my mental health has always been up and down so throw covid into the mix and you just have a big muddle of a mess.

I am definitely not the person I was 12 months ago, I have had to learn to love and accept myself for who I am, after all, I've spent weeks on my own with only my pets for company, when the only conversation you have is with yourself you really do start to find out who you are.

My view on friendship is this, I think some people come into our lives and they stay forever, I think some people come into our lives and teach us a lesson and then leave.  I've always had a simplistic black and white view of friendship.  I either like you or I don't like you and because of my neurodiversity there's very little in between and if I don't like you, I can't pretend to like you and that can sometimes be an issue in a group situation.

If I look at myself I try to be the best friend I can be, at the end of the day all I have ever wanted is for someone to love me back in the way I love them and I still haven't found that in a relationship so I put everything I can into friendship.  I want to cocoon friends, I want to give them love, advice, and I want to entertain them with not just company but also readily available snacks and drinks and hugs.  My home, me, I'm a safe space, you can feel your feelings whatever your feelings are and there are things that I know that I will take to the grave because I am the ultimate keeper of the secrets, partially because my memory is so bad "insert winky face here".

And so as we emerge from the nightmare of continual stop/starts and lockdowns I hope that in time I can throw the parties I used to love throwing so much and I hope that the friendships I have now are the ones I hold for the rest of my life.


Monday, April 12, 2021

Northumberland, 40 Coast and Country Walks, Part 1

There's a book called Northumberland 40 Coast and Country Walks and it's been the saviour of my mental health since the pandemic started. Last year just as restrictions were tailing off, my lovely friend Li and I started going on a weekly walk together, first, we went to Northumberlandia and then as we were talking and looking for ideas for other walks I realised I had bought the Coast and Country book years ago with the intention of doing all of the walks and blogging about it.  Life, of course had gotten in the way and I never started but now it was the perfect time and so we began.

The walks in the book are all between 2-10km and have varying degrees of difficulty, however, none are for professional level hikers and so Li and I thought we would be okay.  Now I must admit that I intended to blog about this from the start but I'd lost my motivation to write in the middle of the pandemic so bear with me as I do a bit of a catch up to where we are up to today.  We're not doing the book in any particular order, we both just take turns to pick a walk from week to week.

Walk 1 -  Hareshaw Linn 

Our first walk from the book wasn't actually planned from the book, it just so happens that it is actually in there but we walked to Hareshaw Linn, a beautiful waterfall in the village of Bellingham, a 5km walk through beautiful woodland, it's 10km there and back, dog-friendly but not buggy friendly and over all kinds of lumpy and bumpy terrains but well worth a trip, the book tells me that it was a big hit with the Victorians.

Hareshaw Linn, Northumberland 40 coast and country walks, mandy charlton, photographer, writer, blogger

Walk 2 - Brizlee Tower, Alnwick

I'd seen mention of Brizlee Tower in a few books and guides about Alnwick and really wanted to find it, the walk takes you through Hulne Park, the Duke of Northumberland's Park, it's buggy friendly but there are no dogs, cars or bikes allowed and when I say buggy friendly, it's on the top of a hill and parts of the walk are quite steep, we did it on a warm day and at one point had flies flying around our head, yes, that is how fit we are!!  It's a splendid 14km round trip and honestly, I loved it although Li did curse me (she's since had her revenge though).

Brizlee Tower, Alnwick, Northumberland, 40 coast and country walks, Mandy Charlton, Photographer, Writer Blogger

Walk 3 - Black Middens and the Reivers Trail

It was upon this walk that Li and I decided we should both order walking boots, we were proper walkers now and also we'd stood in a wet field and consequently had wet feet the whole of the walk.  This one is only a 5km round trip although we got a bit lost and did 8km!! Definitely not buggy friendly but dog friendly as long as they're on leads as it's on farmland, there are sheep and partly it's owned by English Heritage.  It's a collection of 2 Bastles, the old fortified houses found all over the borders of England and Scotland.  It was a walk where it was dry when we got there and then it rained a lot, a weird walk as it's not particularly scenic and one old ruin is much like another but we enjoyed the exercise.  It's one of the walks from the book that I probably wouldn't do again but I am glad we got to check it off from our list.

Black Middens and the Border Reivers Trail, Northumberland, 40 coast and country walks, Mandy charlton, photographer, writer, blogger

Walk 4 Lindisfarne, the Holy Island

I absolutely love Holy Island, it's such a special place and I needed no encouragement to go on this walk, it's a circular 5km walk and there's always the promise of homemade crab sandwiches at the end of the walk.  It's a joyful and easy walk, child friendly, dog friendly, no real massive hills but do bear in mind that we get 4 seasons of weather in one day in the north of England and so pack a coat. If you only do a couple of walks from the book or if you're on holiday and can only fit in a few this is one of my top recommendations, you can do it in half a day and combine it with somewhere else on the Northumbrian coast as we did and I promise you will have joy in your heart when you have completed it.  Don't forget to visit the distillery and also pick up the coffee which is made on the island.

Holy Island of Lindisfarne, 40 coast and country walks, mandy charlton, photographer, writer, blogger

Walk 5, The Bamburgh Circular

This is a shorter walk which is why we decided to combine it on a day when we did the Holy Island walk, it's only 3.5km very little in the way of inclines except for crossing the sand dunes, great for kids, and bringing along the dog and you can always combine it with a trip to Bamburgh Castle which in my opinion is the best of the regions castle's, it's privately run and might not have the popularity of nearby Alnwick Castle but it's fun and I highly recommend going to see the implements of torture in the dungeons.

Bamburgh Castle, the Bamburgh circular, Northumberland, 40 coast and country walks, mandy charlton, photographer, writer, blogger

Walk 7 - Morpeth Loops

This is another of my favourite walks you can do in Northumberland, it's fairly low effort, a couple of inclines, especially if you want to climb to the top of Ha Hill in the park in Morpeth but just a lovely wander, a 6km circular walk which we did early one Sunday morning but combined with a meal out or a trip to the shops and you could make this a full day out.  Morpeth is one of the friendliest towns in Northumberland with regards to taking along your dog so it's the perfect place for a pooch and you day out.

Morpeth Loops, Northumberland, 40 coast and country walks, Mandy Charlton, Photographer, Writer, Blogger

So, after the Morpeth Loops walk, it all got a bit tricky, I went off to the Highlands to find myself and then Abigail took me to Poland before she started uni, I shot some weddings and got back into shooting family portraits and before we knew it we found ourselves gradually becoming more restricted again due to the second wave of the pandemic.

The winter came and we ended up back in lockdown and I didn't see Li again until the restrictions started to lift, we've started walking again and done another 2 walks from the book and if you want to read about those, you'll have to wait for part 2, coming very soon...

If you'd like to get your own copy of the Northumberland, 40 Coast and Country Walks book, it's available on Amazon and you can let me know which walks you've enjoyed.

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 or  TikTok 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!


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!

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