Birmingham has been high on our list of places to visit for some time. We'd had a long planned-for trip to Purnells to take and it is just a hour and a half train journey direct from home. Having a Christmas birthday in the family always means extra thought and planning to ensure Chris' birthday doesn’t disappear into the Christmas festivities. Finding two lots of special presents in one week can be quite a challenge cue this years brainwave – a day trip to Birmingham for lunch at Purnells and a trip round the markets. As with any activity undertaken close to the Christmas season the chance of illness stopping plans is very high and unsurprisingly I came down with a heavy cold and the decision was made to postpone (disappointment after disappointment as I also missed Star Wars Episode 8 The Last Jedi!)
Sometimes disappointment eventually unveils unexpected hidden silver linings. We made the decision to rearrange our trip for February and include a few nights in Birmingham so, and I am sure this is familiar to everyone, it was time for an online accommodation search and to read countless reviews. For no other reason than they looked nice and sounded a bit different we settled on the Staying Cool apartments located in the Rotunda. We booked direct and got what we felt was a really good price for a city centre hotel room.
As is the case (in our house anyway busy lives etc…) we then forgot all about it and only read up the night before what was actually included – small kitchen, small amount of breakfast food, toiletries all included in our mini studio apartment. We hadn’t realised at this point how different a ‘hotel’ room we had booked.
On arrival – pleasant surprise number 1 was the proximity of the station. A very short walk from the front of Birmingham New Street although we managed to end up on the wrong side of the road! Couldn’t actually miss the Rotunda towering over everything else!
Easy check in and our lift up to our 18th floor apartment and surprise number 2 - the view - wow
As soon as you enter the room you have floor to ceiling windows and the most amazing view over the Bullring shopping centre, Birmingham markets and beyond. Bizarrely there in the middle of all the modern buildings is the old Church of St Martins in the Bullring.
And the room was so much more than just another hotel room - as described it was a mini studio with a small kitchen, bedroom, living area and dining section – all separate and feeling perfectly in proportion for the two of us. Interestingly the bed faces away from the windows making it feel very private and allowing you to leave the windows uncovered all night.
Most excitingly we realised that the two middle windows fully opened (like your patio doors at home)! You’re safe behind a rail and there are some strict safety rules but the feeling of being so high and so open is breathtaking (particularly when the wind blows!
Apart from our Purnells lunch, we ate every meal sitting out just looking at the views. Over the three days we were blessed with clouds, sunshine and even a misty morning giving us the opportunity to use our cameras to full capacity! My favourite was the trains travelling through a short piece of the track filled with lights. They glittered as the lights reflected on their carriages – magical!
For us it was so much better than your average hotel room – we loved the freedom of being able to breakfast when we wanted and choose our own food and wine for the evening plus I am sure it was considerably cheaper! Little extras like the milk in the fridge, granola for breakfast and even oranges for you to squeeze your own juice coupled with a departure day check out of 12 noon made it a perfect stay, oh and did I mention the views.
Needless to say we did a few tweets and Instagrams which were picked up and retweeted by Staying Cool and just to cap it all off we got a bottle of Prosecco on checking out as a thank you for the tweets and posts. It's not often we're lost for words but we were with this - what a great gesture - thank you Danny and the team!
Only problem now is we want a view like that all the time! Interestingly we've learnt that they are opening up similar apartments in Manchester. Can’t wait to see how they turn out.
There is something very magical about the story and celebrations for Chinese New Year – unicorns, lions, firecrackers and lanterns, drummers, bell ringers and of course a giant dancing dragon. Red clothing, dragon toys, lucky cats and delicious aromas of Chinese food delicacies.
Manchester City centre always enters wholeheartedly into the New Year season which has no fixed date and stretches on for several weeks. February 2018 saw the city centre transformed with red lanterns hanging around in every tree, a giant golden dragon outside St Ann’s Church (inflatable I think and hope otherwise we’re in trouble!) and on February 18th, a whole day of celebrations for the Chinese community.
It had always been a special treat for us when the kids were small – the thrill of watching the dragons and lion dance almost, but not quite, as exciting as the opportunity to purchase your very own paper dancing dragon complete with the required pearl in its mouth! Imagine our surprise when we realised it was 13 years since we had last joined the celebrations! As your little ones turn into big ones (ours are now 23 and 26) some of your family traditions sadly fall by the wayside. We both feel it is really important to still take part in some of these traditions whilst creating some brand new ones.
What such a colourful celebration does offer us (apart from the fun of being involved in such a joyous and exhilarating celebration) is a major photo opportunity for us two and one of the grown ups @the_instagradam
We arrived earlyish in Albert Square to traditional Chinese toy stalls full of the obligatory dragons and drums and much more, balloon sellers and delicious aromas from stalls cooking traditional Chinese food including burger, chips, Thai curries and giant hot dogs! Still it all smelt really good and there were queues of people buying so presumably it tasted good too. Street vendors peddled their rainbow fur strips on a stick toys – only £1 and hours of fun for the younger members of the family! How I wish I could think of money making ideas like that!
Time to pick a place to stand and hopefully capture the parade with our cameras but what had changed in the past 13 years since our last visit was the sheer number of people who had come along to watch the spectacle . A good hour before anything was due to start the streets were packed with people ensuring they had a good view. At this point we decided to split up in an effort to get different views and perspectives. It was a hard task trying to find the perfect spot – in fact I’m not sure there is a perfect spot- a great photo of the event involves lots of luck – Chinese good luck! The crowds were reminiscent of a Disney parade – several deep at every spot on the pavement with happy families and the occasional screaming toddler in abundance! Adam and I chose our spot close to the tram stops behind the town hall whilst Chris took up his position to the left of Manchester Art Gallery.
Almost 90 minutes later we heard the firecrackers outside the town hall and in the distance saw the dragon’s head appear, moving in time to the beat of the drums. It is truly a magical spectacle of colour and noise and well worth the wait in the midst of crowds of people on what was a really cold day.
Standing near the tram stops was particularly entertaining with Metrolink staff valiantly trying to keep the line free and the pedestrians safe as tram after tram came through. It is remarkable how some people constantly demonstrate their inability to follow safety instructions – we witnessed appalling behaviour from several people including one ‘gentleman’ who felt the need to express his disgust at being unable to go the way he wanted with a string of f words in front of a very young crowd. What I found most upsetting was the photographer loaded with his cameras who decided to pick an argument with the police who had dared to stop him gaining access to the vantage point he felt was his right. Not sure what happened to him he was last seen being escorted away. Apart from these ridiculous people the crowd was big and friendly and mostly full of very excited children. As the dragon’s head appeared in the distance my immediate neighbour (a young boy aged about 8 or 10) joined in with the drummers and kept up a perfect beat on the metal barriers! Trying to hold the camera still whilst your being shaken around by the barrier with a giant rainbow fur toy waving around in your line of sight was challenging but the excitement of the kids reminds you of how it was years ago when ours were tiny and I wouldn’t have swopped my place at all.
Photography wise it really is just a point, press and hope for the best experience. Everything moves so quickly you just have to hope there is one shot in there that you will love. The different lenses we used and the different positions we took proved very worthwhile and all three of us were pleased with at least one of our pictures!
So 'Xin Nian Kuai Le’ in Mandarin and 'San Nin Faai Lok' in Cantonese to you all and here’s to a good Year if the dog for all of us.
A shared love of music over 30 years ago was pivotal in bringing two 20 year old bank clerks together – we bonded over the misery and angst of Morrissey and The Smiths, sang along to the love songs of Shane McGowan and the Pogues and even danced together to the catchy songs of the, maybe not world famous, Macc Lads (parental warnings definitely needed at this point do not let anyone under the age of 18 listen to their songs!). We share a love of Billy Joel and the Foo Fighters and have watched everyone from Justin Timberlake to the Darkness, the Red Hot Chilli Peppers and Barry Manilow. Eclectic is our music choice and shows not signs of altering as we ‘grow up’!
Attending a live music event is one of our great passions or has been but increasingly the prices of these concerts are being priced out of the reach of the average hardworking family. £140 to watch ELO, £200 to watch U2? Is anyone worth that amount of money? It’s almost the cost of a short holiday now to get two decent tickets for any performer of note.
Thankfully classical music has not yet adopted the high pricing of other music events (not round here anyway!). We love to attend the Bridgewater Hall in Manchester and have our own favourite seats at the side of the stage (limited view as stated on the tickets!) which do indeed give you a very odd view of the stage, but at orchestral concerts you feel as though you almost a member of the orchestra and you get to watch the strange behaviour of some of the conductors! These tickets cost approx. £17-£20 for most performances which in the current climate is a bargain! The restricted view has its drawbacks, particularly at the Christmas concert when we couldn’t see one of the choirs at all and a more central view of the fabulous Marc Almond might have been nice, but it gives you a couple of hours of musical bliss, reasonably cheaply in comfy seats!
At a recent Spanish night with the Halle Orchestra, my mind began to wander (in a particularly heavy section after the interval). The first half of the concert had seen excerpts from Carmen and a wondrous performance by the amazing guitarist Craig Ogden. (Again a more central view of just exactly what he was doing with his hands might have been nice! ) The second half I found very heavy going. As my mind wandered I wondered if I did actually like classical music, did I enjoy listening to an orchestra, had I got any maltesers in my bag… As I pondered these deep questions the Halle struck up the opening beats of Ravel’s Bolero and it was suddenly crystal clear to me. I am a classical-lite fan! I need to recognise the tune to enjoy it and as I am still a big MTV fan these probably tend to be film or advert music! The concert finished with Bolero which was wonderful – Torvill and Dean dancing round in my head -nothing compares to hearing a piece of music played live.
Fellow classical-lite fans can be reassured that we are well catered for by a wide range of concerts put on by the orchestras– Sci Fi themes, fake Las Vegas entertainers, music of the musicals…once again there is nothing to compare to the Star Wars theme played live by an orchestra and if you are lucky there might even be some stormtroopers.
Special mention must go to my favourite orchestra, Manchester Camerata, exciting and adventurous and proud of their northern heritage. We were there the very first night they performed Hacienda Classical complete with Bez and Shaun from the Happy Mondays, Peter Hook from New Order and the silky voiced Rowetta, all watched over from the decks by DJs Graeme Park and Mike Pickering. What a night and what a combination – a live orchestra 20 song non-stop DJ set. I have never seen the Bridgewater Hall bars so full – and definitely never a queue!
Imagine our excitement when a Classical Smiths night was announced with a collaboration from three of the original Smiths and Manchester Camerata – imagine our disappointment the day after when it turned out to be some elaborate case of misunderstanding and misinformation! Ah well – quite sure it will reappear at some point with a probably hefty price tag!
One of our favourite places to join the canal is behind the Fredericks Ice Cream shop on Bolton Road, on the approach to Chorley. Anyone who lives in the vicinity will definitely have taken a trip to Fredericks and sampled their ice creams. The shop has been there since the 1890's, so there has been plenty of time! The legendary shop (locally anyway!) always has a huge variety of flavours some traditional and some just strange! The queues in the summer on warm days can stretch all the way down a very long Bolton Road, which no doubt causes the locals considerable parking angst! If you follow the path at the side of the shop it takes you down past the factory where they produce all their ice cream (tiny place - don't expect huge smoke filled industrial buildings!) to a seating area and the canal. Left takes you into Chorley and right leads you through a canal side residential area. On a warm sunny night this is a magical place full of houseboats and fairy lights - people sitting reading and eating at fires with fantastic views of Winter Hill and beyond behind them. Horses in the fields, beautiful reflections - it looks like an idyllic way to live and always makes us want to 'drop out' of our current way of life and try something different - a life on the waves (albeit very gentle ones!)! Second only fantasy to the travelling the world in a camper van one - we're hardly original!
So a cold, damp January Sunday led to a bracing, windy walk through piles of mud down the stretch of the Leeds Liverpool between Appley Bridge and Parbold. It was a real trudge, the mud was really thick and the wind was blowing a gale!
I was convinced I had nothing of interest on my camera at the end of it- nothing had inspired me - I was cold and tired and very muddy! Tree lined canals are very bleak without their leaves and a dull sky didn't help. But, as is often the case, something that doesn't look that interesting is transformed after a little experimenting on Lightroom!
Shot of the day by far was Chris' mean and moody bridge. He loves black and white! I must try harder next time - although I'm secretly pleased (and a little bit shocked) with some of my efforts!
January is such a strange month - nothing much happening after the excitement of Christmas and New Year, no presents to buy, no food to plan for and probably for most people either a big credit card or no money in the bank account after the excesses of the previous month. Its a month of new starts - diets, exercise, savings - we all do it at least for a few weeks! It probably should be a restful month after the stress of the Christmas build up - a month of winter walks and holiday planning.
Our January hasn't turned out like that! For some reason both of our 'grown ups' decided to start 2018 with a big new start and are currently in the process of moving house/flat , which (as we all know) brings a whole new range of stress and worry to everyone involved!
Lucy and Simon finally move this weekend after selling their house back at the beginning of October - house sales take so long now! Adam is right at the start of his process but as it is a flat for flat rental swap it probably should be a quicker process - won't it? I really hope so! With lots of paperwork to sort and discussions needed we decided to take a trip to the brand new Salford-ish Tim Hortons.
Tim Hortons is a brand I had never heard of (Chris was familiar with them having visited the States) but by the power of social media and targeted advertising (I don't drink coffee so it must be the doughnuts!) I knew all about the plans for our local area and in line with a lot of my friends we all got very excited! Especially at the prospect of a box of Timbits, which, lets be honest, are surely just the leftovers from ring doughnuts decorated beautifully!
The most convenient restaurant to us, on Bury New Road just outside Salford, opened it doors just before Christmas and apparently had a queue of social media prepped, excited customers stretching down the street! Our first visit, on the way home after watching the very smutty but very funny panto at the Opera House, turned out to be a huge anti climax - mis-read of the website and we turn up as the restaurant is closing. The drive in was open but the car park was full so we continued home.
Cue this weekend and time to try again. Once again the car park was full (although the restaurant wasn't) - there is some on road parking so we squeezed our car in. This time we were going in! After a morning walking and photographing around Salford Quays, coffee, hot chocolate and a box of Timbits was just what we needed. Reasonably priced, good quality food and a comfortable restaurant - the Timbits were good - made more exciting by the fact that we had no idea what flavors we were eating! Apparently the coffee and hot chocolate were delicious - again I don't drink either so can't comment! Its perfectly positioned for commuters and will no doubt do very well. Although famous for its coffee and doughnuts there was a wide range of food on their menu from breakfast up so maybe one day we'll take a trip back to sample something else.
In the meantime can't wait to see what Instagram tempts us with next....
A Christmas Eve Eve trip to the Lowry to watch the wonderful production of Elf. We had no idea what to expect of the show but it actually bought tears to my eyes with the most amazing ending - snow, starlight and Santa flying - magical and we're over 50!
Winter family walks, long lunches (afternoon naps!) and catching up with films and box sets all topped off with an almost perfect New Year's Eve spent in and around Manchester with our cameras . From Alan Turing in the morning, reflections in Canal Street, to a coffee stop and lots of photographing in the new amazing building that houses the Mackie Mayor food court (first of two places that day where I wish I had taken my camera into the toilets!) in Manchester's Northern Quarter (the best place for interesting photography in Manchester and one of several places where they filmed Captain America!). A brief stop to spend some Christmas money and then into the glorious Manchester Cathedral beautifully decorated for Christmas. Amazing views from a 10th floor room in the always excellent INNSIDE (most courteous and friendly staff followed by amazing breakfasts - chocolate yule log for breakfast on New Years Day though?!)
All we need now is a break from work to recover!
We started 2017 watching the fireworks from the 19th floor of the Hilton Deansgate in Manchester and ended it 12 months later in Albert Square with thousands of other New Year revellers at the last Manchester Town Hall fireworks for a considerable time. The Town Hall will close to the public from Sunday 14th January for restoration works which will continue until 2024.
The Town Hall provides a magnificent backdrop to the fireworks, all watched over by the world famous Manchester Santa, affectionately known locally as Zippy - make your own mind up!
This year's end of year celebration had an added poignancy and was fittingly marked with a musical tribute to the 22 people who lost their lives in the tragedy of the Manchester Arena bomb and the families who continue to be affected by the events of that night. We were personally touched by the events of May 22nd 2017 and count ourselves very lucky that our son returned home safely that night.
New Year is a strange night full of what if's and what might be's. Sadness when someone you love has been lost to you and great joy for those who have found love whether that be with a new partner, child or even a pet. We've had some difficult New Year's but also some of great joy - most memorably a skating expedition with good friends which involved one member of our party accidentally sitting on someone's tray of lunch! Cue exploding crisps and coffee and great hilarity from one half of the incident!
We celebrate New Year quietly now, which this year included a first time lunch at Wahaca's - lots of lovely Mexican street food and the chance to pay with their brand new app! Paying the waitress would have been much quicker, but maybe next time...
This was followed with a fabulous evening in 'Las Vegas' at the Bridgewater Hall with the always exciting Manchester Camerata, where it would appear Frank Sinatra is alive and well and pretty amazing!
The decision to watch the fireworks in the square was made very last minute as, as is often the case in Manchester, there had been some spectacular rain showers earlier. It turned out to be the best decision of the day - a moving, warm and convivial end to 2017 followed by a spectacular beginning to 2018. We've nothing but praise for the organisers of the event, Manchester City Council and the GM Police. The event was well policed and organised and felt very safe and friendly. It was also very exciting! Nothing like a good countdown.
So here's to 2018 and whatever it may bring us all. In the words of Tony Walsh aka Longfella Poet 'We choose LOVE'.
After a busy, and at times, stressful 2017, this year's Christmas break was a much needed time to rest and recharge. Thanks to some good weather almost every day, we took the time to take our cameras out around our local area and simply walk and talk and photograph. We had sunsets and frost, icy puddles and lots of mud! A new pair of walking boots is definitely needed - soggy socks are not pleasant!
We are so lucky to share the same hobby (although at different levels of skill and experience!) and thankfully neither of us are too competitive!
Thankfully Christmas saw us all in good health and, after our traditional three generational (and dog) baking session we enjoyed a lovely few days all together eating, drinking, playing xylophones and throwing snowballs at silly hats. Oh, and Christmas Eve I bought all our Christmas cards for 2018!
Merry Christmas everyone.
2017 started for us on the 19th floor of the Hilton Hotel in Manchester – lazily watching the fireworks in our PJs drinking champagne and eating sausage rolls. As it reaches its last hours I’m sure we’re not unusual in looking back on a year which has had extremes of sadness, worry, great excitement but above all gratitude that we’re still here and still have each other.
The face you show the world through blogs and Instagram posts probably doesn’t fully reflect the life you are actually living – as photographers we choose to show what we consider our best work and isn’t a blog the same?
Our year has probably been much the same as most other people’s bobbing along in the ‘we’re ok’ middle road of life with occasional rapid descents to extreme happiness and the times when you fall of the cliff and plunge into sadness and despair. The constant negativity from the ‘media’ adds to personal worries and sometimes makes life unbearable for many people – fake news, scare stories - it feels like we are living in a rapidly darkening cloud. Is it possible to find that spark of positivity?
Social media comes in for much criticism, and rightly so at times, but what we have personally experienced in the Instagram community has opened our eyes to the friendship, encouragement and positivity that exists in this world. In amongst our 2000 plus followers we are blessed to have new found digital friends from around the world supporting and encouraging us with our burgeoning photography hobby. Friends who live close, but we have never met- friends in other countries living culturally different lives to us – friends who make us laugh and friends offering positive comments and great support. Fellow Instagrammers who inspire us to try different photography techniques and even experiment with food. Thanks to @grandad1912 we now make the best roast potatoes (the secret's in the polenta - sshhhh!) and Cleveland's @princess_wendyk inspired us to produce our very first calendar! We are anxiously awaiting her thoughts on it - as well as anxiously trusting our postal service...
We don’t choose our photographs to count the likes we receive – our gallery is a record of our photographic journey and something for us to look at on our darker days. We try to show the best parts of our little corner of the world and celebrate the North West of England and beyond.
So, as we say goodbye to 2017, here is a big thank you to everyone in our new little community and here’s to 2018. (And - just for all the people who constantly ask – yes, the photos are definitely ours and not just Chris’)
Life and other