Summer is here…well some days anyway and there have been some genuinely hot and sunny days this past week. Hands up who’s moaning that they can’t sleep at night?! The perfect climate should be warm and sunny during the day, but nice and fresh at night (particularly if you are THAT age!), so we can all get some much needed rest!
Course summer, to lots of people, means it’s time to take a trip somewhere different – maybe somewhere familiar, maybe exotic, maybe in a tent or caravan, luxury hotel or even a cowshed! Self-catering has certainly changed!
We begin to plan our holidays almost immediately after returning from the last one. We both have a level of wanderlust (mainly of the photographic sort!) and look enviously at these people who manage to travel the world in their camper vans, but, like most people, mortgages, jobs, family commitments all pile up to put a halt to that dream. So here we stay, happy with our lives, but always waiting for the chance to get away from everything if only for a few days.
Over the past few years our big summer holiday has evolved into an annual roadtrip. I have to admit that our first one filled me with dread as driving is hardly a relaxing pastime and the thought of having to continuously unpack every night seemed equally unrelaxing. Imagine my surprise when not only did I enjoy it I absolutely loved it! There is something so exciting about stopping in different places every night. Journeys seem much shorter when you don’t need to come back the same route and different scenery every night leads to thousands and thousands of photographs (well for us anyway – we do like to use our cameras!).
After flirting with a European train ‘road’ trip (there must be a better name than that!) we opted once again to travel ‘oop’ North to Scotland. We love Scotland almost as much as our cameras! The maps came out and we tried to work out a route covering lots of places we haven’t yet been.
As you may know if you are a regular reader, we lost ‘Dad Fletcher’- Joe -in October and although he had reached the grand old age of 88, it has still been a difficult and sad time as we have all felt his loss. As with any difficult period of your life you look to the past, reminisce about your childhood, peruse your ancient slide collection (slides! Who uses them now? they were the ultimate Saturday night treat when the projector came out and it was family slide show time!). At this point it became apparent that our 2019 roadtrip should be a journey round the memories and favourite places of Dad – who loved nowhere better than Scotland.
So, summer 2019 will see us set off on ‘Joe’s Journey’ retracing some of his many steps across Scotland – playing a round of golf, eating fish and chips and famously ordering ‘Steak tartare’ in an exclusive restaurant without fully understanding what would arrive! Cue raw steak served with a raw egg and he was quite a fussy eater! (We definitely won't be recreating that!)
We will travel up to St Andrews, journey through the Cairngorm National Park, make our way up to the Black Isle with a few detours and then go cross country along the banks of Loch Ness to Spean Bridge and finally the Mull of Kintyre. If I can get to the Mull of Kintyre without Paul McCartney and Wings constantly singing that song in my head, it will be a miracle – go on admit it - didn’t it pop into your head too the minute you read it?!
So, what do we pack for a Scottish roadtrip in the summer hols? Top of anyone’s list should be bottles of Smidge – the midges can be horrific, and you learn very quickly to keep everything covered and smothered with Smidge! We have cream for if (or when!) you’re bitten, and it goes a bit yucky! Buffs, which apparently can be used in umpteen different ways as hats, neck scarves etc but usually for us it’s to cover everything up and keep you midge safe! Clothes from sunglasses, shorts and t shirts to winter woollies, hats and gloves! Snacks and drinks for when you can’t find anywhere to get food. An in depth knowledge of every remote tea room (always good to support the local economy and if you're like me you'll come away with some beautifully crafted item you don't really need but just loved!) and the location of any toilets (sometimes a little few and far between!). Do not rely on just finding any, that will definitely not happen! Cash for when they don’t take cards and your ethical shopping bags as Scotland has always been a leader in cutting plastic bag use. Make sure you have planned your route and warned everyone you may be out of contact for periods of time – big mountains, no signal!
But, don’t let any of that put you off for what you will get in exchange is well worth all of it. Scenery unlike anywhere we have ever been, glorious sunsets, mountains, forests, the sea and did I mention the sunsets? Wildlife spotting and wildlife not-spotting (married to a birdwatcher you soon become accustomed to standing round for long periods of time with nothing at the end of it, but then every so often you have a magical experience watching dolphins play as the sun comes up and nightjars flying as the sun goes down), bagpipes, kilts, lots of shortbread, butter tablet , macaroon (I still will not believe that this was ever made of potato!) and of course Scotland’s two national drinks – whiskey and Irn Bru!
We will be looking for Nessie, as we have on more than one occasion, and I still believe that we will one day see her! We are spending the night in Cromarty just so we can watch the sun go down across the bay of broken oil rigs; we will be visiting the tree we planted for Dad in a forest near Drumnadrochit; Balmoral, Glenlivet, St Andrews and a stay in an old lifeboat house are all on our route. We will be taking thousands of photos and we will no doubt be boring everyone of our 4000 followers on Instagram with them for months!
Will we want to come home? Maybe not, but where would we go for our holidays then?
'We're gonna get to that place
Where we really wanna go
And we'll walk in the sun
But till then tramps like us
Baby we were born to run'
Watch out for more of 'Joe's Journey' in a few weeks.
For those of us who live up north, Blackpool will have been an integral part of your childhood. Visits to the Pleasure Beach (still one of the best funfairs in the country), walks down the piers- all three of them, picnics on the sands (award winning sands – Blackpool South has been awarded a Blue Flag for the past three years – the only beach in the North West to achieve this, whilst Blackpool North and Blackpool Central beaches both hold Seaside Awards), donkey rides on the beach, candyfloss, a trip up the Tower and of course the obligatory stick of Blackpool Rock, still made and mostly eaten in the resort. And, if all that wasn’t enough, every year the seaside season was extended with the ‘switch on’ of the illuminations.
For those who lived within easy travelling distance of the resort the ‘lights’ were something to look forward to every year when Blackpool was (and still is) transformed into a vision of twinkling lights and animated tableaux. Pick your brothers up with your Mum and Dad after school, drive through the lights and share a bag of chips; Sunday School coach trips through the lights then share a bag of chips; Dad parks up at the North Pier and takes Mum, you and your sister for a walk through the lights and then share a bag of chips!
We followed our northern family traditions and spent many a happy evening at the ‘lights’ with the kids -sometimes joining the queue of cars, sometimes walking; taking the kids in their pyjamas and slippers (just in case it ended up a late night!) and almost always ending with a bag of chips in the car on the way home.
Here we are many years later (many, many years!) and imagine our delight when quite by accident we discovered Blackpool Council ran heritage visits to the Lightwork’s workshop – home of the illuminations. A chance to tour the place where the actual lights are designed, created, repaired and looked after and all for just £8 a ticket!
With absolutely no preconceptions of the visit at all (but a great deal of excitement!) we arrived at the Lightworks on a stormy Saturday in April – cameras in hand as always, unsure of how much we would see or be able to photograph.
A brief, but very detailed, introduction to the history and heritage of the lights was the first of many surprises that day.
Who knew that Blackpool was probably the first place to install electric street lights, ‘artificial sunshine’ as they were known, when back in 1879 8 arc lamps were installed on the prom? Its easy to imagine what a big event this must have been bringing in almost 100,000 visitors from across the country to visit the seaside resort.
The early days of the illuminations began in May 1912 with a royal visit by Princess Louise to open the new prom. The prom was decorated with over 10,000 bulbs and once again bought in many thousands of visitors. The event was so popular the council decided to repeat it the following September and so the ‘lights’ were born. Apart from two breaks during the two Wars the illuminations have extended Blackpool’s tourist season for 6-8 weeks each year ever since.
Surprise number 2 was the actual size of the displays. Standing adjacent to one it is hard to imagine how they stay up particularly during months of the year which can bring some stormy weather across the sea!
Guided round the Lightworks by a very knowledgeable couple of volunteers, we followed the process from design to storage; visiting areas of the workshop where cutting, designing, painting and much more take place. We saw the 100-year-old drill still in use, boxes and boxes of parts and lamps (don't ever call them bulbs!), tableaux beginning to take form, old signs, lights in various stages of renovations and lots and lots of lamps (not bulbs!). There was time to try out the actual handle used to switch on the lights (six degrees of separation time – lets work out how many celebrity hands we followed….), marvel at the size of the building and its contents, venture into dark corners to see long forgotten light displays and finally as the tour approached its end wander up and down the aisles between hundreds of displays currently resident in the workshop.
There was great excitement and gasps of oohs and aahs as everyone spotted familiar characters – a rush to the Tardis and the Daleks, SpongeBob hiding in a dark corner. Alice in Wonderland, Noddy and whatever we call ‘Big Ears’ now, pirates, ghosts, motorcyclists. Some standing up some lying down. I’m not going to lie here it was wonderful!
We visited as a family of five ‘grown ups’ and had the most magical afternoon. There was something so exciting and special about being in and around the illuminations; designs you remembered (looking very different to the last time you saw them!), characters you love (in very unusual settings!) and a general feeling amongst you and your fellow visitors of excitement, happiness and almost disbelief at your surroundings. The guides were friendly, interesting and fun with a wealth of fascinating stories which kept us all entertained. We found out so much – the Walt Disney connection, rumours of Hitler’s interest in Blackpool, the history, the cost and much more. I don’t think we have ever seen a better use of £8 with our ticket providing us with such a wonderful couple of hours.
So, did we manage to get any photos? Did we have to furtively sneak the cameras/phones out to try and capture all that we were seeing? In the tradition of saving the best until last, I am delighted to tell you that photography was encouraged and what a place to take your camera! Though at certain times of the year, especially when new designs are being built, some areas may have photographic limitations. I could have stayed there all day and still not had enough time to capture everything I could see. As the tour was relatively small and the building was so big you had space and time and opportunity after opportunity to take the most amazing photographs. I genuinely think without a doubt that this was the best photo afternoon I have ever had and by the look on the faces of all our fellow tour-ees (is that even a word?!) I think they would agree.
By now you can probably guess we cannot recommend this tour highly enough and the best part is there are four more this year (2019) for you to book on. Visit www.heritageblackpool.co.uk for all the details. You won’t be disappointed!
“Oh, there is a light that never goes out
There is a light that never goes out….”
There is a Light That Never Goes Out - The Smiths
You wait a long time for a big wedding anniversary but once you’ve reached the magical silver 25, they feel just like buses following each other down the road and seemingly travelling very fast.
So as March 2019 approached - five years after the silver one - there we were incredulously approaching our 30th (pearl) anniversary. 30 years – surely only old people celebrate pearl wedding anniversaries– can’t possibly be that many for us already?!
Suppose we had better make an effort to do something special (we thought!) – not party people, tied to a weekend, weather forecast not good; what were we to do?
Well, as you will know if you follow our ramblings (thank you all -it’s so lovely when it’s not just your Mum reading them!) our favourite activities always involve our walking boots and the cameras, but where could we go which would be a little special?
Somewhere in the midst of our deliberations we cast our mind back over 30 years and reminisced (while we still can!) about our first short break together; travelling to London on the train in the midst of December and once again (nothing changes…) taking our cameras along and snapping happily in all the big tourist spots. Those were the days of rolls of film, press your button and hope for the best not knowing whether or not the photo would be good until the envelope of prints dropped through your door weeks later. No selfies – you waited for someone to offer to take your photo and just hoped they didn’t disappear with your camera! And less photos from an entire holiday then we probably take in an hour now. Digital cameras completely transformed the world of photography. No longer do you need to think carefully about your shot and hope no one spoils it – instead just take 10 of the same group of people or view you’re bound to get one that’s good!
As we trawled though our envelope of photographs (another massive change when did you last fill a photo album? Or even print out a full set of your holiday prints?) it was hard not to feel a certain sadness at the speed of the years between. Two 21-year olds who blinked and woke up as two 52-year olds – happens to most of us. But then we thought why not return to London and recreate that first trip away together?
So, March 15th saw us catching a late train down to the big city, armed with a selection of our curling at the edges and definitely vintage looking photos, which we hoped to recreate!
Photo 1 took place on the train which was thankfully quiet! Of all the photos we chose these two were probably the worst for composition and quality. A heavily over exposed Chris looking like he wished he was anywhere else and me slumped on the chair (no wonder my back aches now!) with my 80’s perm in full ‘wildness’ (unfortunately I am blessed with out of control hair!) but we dutifully tried to recreate them and even managed, despite the dodgy Virgin WIFI, to post them to our social media. This was going to be easy!
Route planning became an important part of the holiday as we needed to make sure we revisited all the places on our photos, and it would appear that 30 years ago we went to some very strange places – two we couldn’t even work out where they were! Saturday morning's first stop was just off the tube at Embankment for a visit to Cleopatra’s needle and the two sphinxes who have sat there guarding it since the late 19th century.
Now this photo was the one I was most concerned about as on the originals we were sat in the arms of the sphinx! As this had taken place a long time ago, neither of us could remember if this involved a big climb and wondered whether either of us had the agility to actually get back up! No need to worry they were much closer to the ground than we had feared so up we clambered and started the surprisingly long process of trying to line up the shot.
During the morning we discovered lots of things have changed drastically in 30 years and not just the skyline! Lampposts had been replaced making it hard to work out where we had actually stood on the original! The road around Buckingham Palace now had a cycle lane and lots of traffic- in the interests of safety we decided not to try and stand in the original spot for that one!
Day one (after a 12 km walk) ended with lunch in a café overlooking St Pauls. Our one and only couple photo from our original holiday was taken on the top of the dome at St Pauls so it was time for some sustenance to give us the energy to make the very long climb to the top! Imagine our surprise (and disappointment) when we reached the halfway point of the very long queue to get in and saw for the first time the price - £20 each to get inside! Now as much as we desperately wanted to recreate our first photograph together, we were not prepared to spend £40 to do it.
Day two we spent inside the Tower of London where we had heavily photographed the first time! Once again some of the shots proved quite tricky as things did not look quite the same! We spent ages lining up one shot thinking a sentry box was causing us problems when actually we were stood in completely the wrong place.
We managed to revisit every location we planned to and recreate each of the photos we had pre-selected. Once we had got over the initial uncomfortableness of the task, I think we both started to enjoy it! Twice during the day, we were called ‘cute’ and ‘adorable’ when people realised what we were doing and our matching boots (yes, we do have matching boots) attracted their own comments (apparently also cute!).
There’s a lot more of both of us than 30 years ago, beards and grey hairs we didn’t have, ageing lines around our eyes (definitely laughter lines!) and one of us doesn’t appear to have changed their dress style at all, but we are basically still exactly the same people.
30 years of shared experiences some good some we’d rather forget. Two ‘grown ups’, one son in law, a daft but loveable German shepherd ‘grandpup’ and up until very recently a full set of parents. We still have the same friends who have been with us for a very long time looking exactly the same as they looked all those years ago (well definitely to us!) and we still love taking photos.
Recreating our past was a poignant and touching way to spend our weekend and who knows maybe we’ll be able to do it all again in another 30 years!
"You're my London Girl,
The way that you walk.
You're my London Girl,
The way that you talk.
Just the sound of your voice,
I ain't got no choice"
London Girl - Shane MacGowan, The Pogues
One of the greatest things we share is a love and passion for music. All sorts of music. Neither of us follow any genre and (hip) hop around between classical and rock, rap and pop, we even dabbled with jazz last year and thanks to the fantastic Hackney Colliery Band found it maybe wasn’t so bad after all.
That’s not to say we don’t have favourites and certain groups/singers who we would put some effort into seeing. Dave Grohl and the Foo Fighters hold the record for the group we have seen the most - taking our kids to see them at a very early age and continuing that through the last 20 years!
We actively seek out new musical experiences from attending the world premiere of the Hacienda Classical when no one knew what on earth would happen (Happy Monday’s Bez was there – always unpredictable), to the combined skills of McBusted! We even enjoy the occasional ‘fake’ band – ticket prices are much cheaper to watch Fake That or the Tom Jones impersonator who morphed into Neil Sedaka during the interval (maybe one we won’t be revisiting!).
So when we heard on the grapevine that a brand new group – Manchester Baroque – would be holding their inaugural performance in Manchester – tickets just £10 and a night when we were already going to be in the city. Hardly difficult to make that decision!
Manchester Baroque have a catchy slogan ‘Old Instruments, New Ideas’. They are led by Dr Pauline Nobes, who specialises in historical performance and they aim to recreate some of the famous baroque concerts held in Manchester in the 18th century. (That meant nothing to us either!) One of us was quite familiar with baroque music and the other was secretly hoping it was actually some new style of rock music ‘ba-rock’! (time to get the black studded ankle boots out?!)
The debut concert took place in St Ann’s Church in the city centre to a sell out audience. The church was obviously picked for its historical connections and beauty, but maybe not for the view from the seats! Luckily, before the second half someone left early due to a fidgety toddler, so we quickly shuffled into their centre stage view (don’t think anyone noticed!) and it was time to get the cameras out (you should know by now we go nowhere without them!).
The concert consisted of 6 concertos and an introduction to the group and their aims. Not noticed by us until Dr Nobes pointed it out, was that the instruments were definitely ‘old’ (even older than us!), either genuine 18thcentury instruments or recreations. The Violins had pigs gut strings and the cello had no stand and was held by the musician between her knees– can’t imagine how uncomfortable that was! Most surprising was the flute which looked just like the recorder I used to play (very poorly!) at primary school.
We both really enjoyed the evening – the concertos were short and lively and played with great passion. Learning about the history of Baroque and the aim of the group's project was fascinating. This music would have been the ‘rock’ music of the 18th century I have no doubt! Don’t you imagine Mozart to be the Bowie of his day? The Aladdin Sane of the 18th century?
Whilst queuing for the interval toilet break (second issue with a church just 3 toilets!) several members of the very knowledgeable audience stated that Manchester has had a huge gap with a lack of Baroque musicians (not noticed that either!). Maybe Manchester Baroque have just filled that.
Visit their website to sign up for updates on their upcoming projects.
"No one knew what they was gonna do
But Tchaikovsky had the news
He said ...Let there be sound, and there was sound
Let there be light, and there was light
Let there be drums, and there was drums
Let there be guitar, and there was guitar
Let there be rock"
Emmeline Pankhurst is a very famous woman – have you heard of her?
Born in Moss Side, Manchester in 1858 she was named in 1999 as one of Time Magazines ‘100 Most Important People of the 20th Century’ and made the shortlist for the BBC’s 28 Most Important and Influential figures of the 20th century.
It’s hard to imagine a time when, if you were a woman, you were not allowed to vote and if it wasn’t for women like Emmeline Pankhurst there is every possibility that in 2019 it would still be the same. Described as a militant, she was introduced to the women’s suffrage movement from a very early age and went on to take a leading role in the fight for women’s votes.
On Friday 14th December 2018, exactly 100 years since the first women in the UK voted in a general election, a brand new bronze statue of Emmeline Pankhurst, created by sculptor Hazel Reeves, was unveiled in St Peter’s Square, Manchester. Chosen in a public vote (we have a lot of these now don’t we!) she now stands, forever immortalised, addressing the crowds from her chair.
Can’t help but wonder what she makes of the scene around her. The times have definitely changed since she last addressed the crowds in Manchester…
Timelapse Video Saturday 23rd February (in the strange summer temperatures of an unseasonal February!) St Peters Square Manchester
Not much drops through your letterbox anymore - not even bills. The daily post delivery (if you get one) generally consists of unwanted adverts, Domino’s pizza offers (is anything ever full price there?), begging letters from charities and the occasional letter from the tax man. But if you're very lucky, once in a while something very special will drop through your door. 2018 saw our postman deliver two such letters.
Our first, which was a complete surprise was a letter from ERNIE – master of the premium bonds - advising of a £25 win on my bond! As I am the owner of just £2 worth of premium bonds, won in a local newspaper colouring competition over 46 years ago (?!), it was a great surprise when they won a prize! It might not have been the jackpot and it didn’t take long to spend but it was a very enjoyable win!
Secondly, not so much a surprise but even more special to both of us, was the letter which arrived with a Buckingham Palace postmark confirming our attendance at a Royal Garden Party to be hosted by the Queen, after both being nominated through Chris' work for services to business in Manchester.
We RSVP'd and dutifully headed to ‘google’ for help and advice!
Now the beautiful invitations – something we will treasure for ever – came with a plethora of helpful advice and tips for the day but somehow, we needed more!
Our first job was to sort out our transport for the day. We are lucky to live on the West Coast Main Line so getting down to London from Wigan is a relatively smooth job thanks to Virgin trains. Book early enough and you can even manage to get first class travel at a bargain price. Thankfully this time we were lucky and managed to get first class tickets on our train of choice for under £20.
Now the clothes. Dress codes are a nightmare. Not so much for men as it is just a choice of suit style and colour but what do these ‘dress code’ terms really mean? Day dress? My ‘day dress’ usually involved my black or blue trousers with a selection of tops from Fat Face, White Stuff, Wallis and Next. I was quite sure at this point that none of those would be acceptable! Dresses are completely absent from my wardrobe, so my first job was seeking one out. Not being a natural ‘dresser up’ this was actually a really tricky choice coupled with the ‘should I wear tights’ and the eternal ‘will my high heels be comfortable?’. Thankfully there were blogs aplenty showing outfits people had chosen ranging from cocktail dresses to trouser suits and to my relief lots of fellow ‘non dresser ups’ (are these even words!?) wearing lovely ordinary dresses. I have to admit this was my least favourite part of the whole experience; racked by indecision and a total lack of confidence in my ability to choose appropriate clothes (if you know me you will understand..ripped jeans and scarves dominate my wardrobe!) I was finally dragged into Debenhams by my 80 year old Mum who declared we were not leaving until I chose something! Surprisingly of the two dresses I thought might do, I actually liked one of them enough to think I could wear it helped by the fact that there was a lovely blush jacket waiting in my wardrobe to go with it. So navy blue dress with a tropical print, blush jacket, a beautiful blush scarf (which I have loved ever since!) and some nude wedge heels – following the ‘no heels’ advice! Thanks to a good friend Angie I had a lovely feathery fascinator – blush again - and was ready to go. Not sure I was fully confident in my choices but basically, I ran out of time! At this point I’ll just mention that Chris chose his favourite blue suit and a white shirt which I dutifully ironed. So much easier for men….
The day dawned, bright and sunny. An early hair appointment with friend and hairdresser Lisa who transformed my hair then set it like concrete! Half an hour of deciding what to do about shoes – eventually we all decided that comfort should rule so out came some comfy (frumpy) blue wedge sandals (managed to get my ankle chain on though!) and the blush heels remained in their box for another time. The lovely Lisa dropped us at the station and we were ready to go.
In the lead up to the party I had done extensive research on umbrellas and coats and what actually happened if the ‘heavens opened’. I knew (thanks again bloggers) what umbrellas were acceptable and what would happen if it did indeed rain. Now I don’t know if you remember last year but something very extraordinary happened and we had a long period of hot and sunny weather. Coping with the heat I had not researched and not long after our arrival in London we were carrying jackets and searching shops for sunglasses!
You may know we love to walk, so travelled down to the palace on foot – thank goodness for the comfy shoes! It was almost like following the Pied Piper as at every turn someone else joined the walk – knowingly smiling at each other as the outfits gave away our destination.
As we arrived at the entrance to Green Park, we were met by volunteers who pointed us in the direction of the different entrances. There were substantial queues at all of them, so we decided to go around to the rear of the palace and join the queue there. This saved us no time as that was also a substantial queue, but it was extremely well organised, moved along quickly and you were surrounded by thousands of excited people. The sun was shining, it was very hot, and the crowds were friendly. It was at this point that we began to notice groups of tourists photographing us! You almost felt like shouting ‘we’re no one special!’ – what they imagined was taking place I have no idea!
As the line progressed you were greeted by friendly smiling police officers – heavily armed – but there to keep you safe and guide you in. Tickets checked and we were in. Actually, inside Buckingham Palace gardens. That feeling is so hard to describe. I am sure no one imagines that ever happening to them. We certainly didn’t.
Again, thanks to the research (thanks again bloggers!) we had a vague idea of where we needed to be and when, so we took the time to wander around the beautiful gardens. Happily taking photos for other couples and selfies by the bucket load! Being able to take your camera along was a very pleasant surprise. We chose to leave the Fuji’s at home and opted to go ‘mobile’ for the day. Cameras on mobile phones are of exceptional quality now and of course much more portable.
We reached the front of the palace (back entrance) still snapping happily away and met the crowds of people waiting for the arrival of the royal party. As you gaze across the immaculate lawns you realise the sheer number of people who are actually there with you – 8000 people are invited to each event with three parties across the summer months.
We joined the throng but had no real chance of seeing much through the lines of top hats! Bang on time out came the royal party onto the patio and made their way slowly across the garden to their tea tents; talking to what must have been pre-arranged guests. We got very close to Prince Edward at this point standing nonchalantly on the lawn chatting and resembling nothing more than a founding member of the Kingsman society! (geeky film reference sorry!)
We watched the Beefeaters march away, listened to the bands playing and then decided to go and sample the afternoon tea. Again (thanks bloggers!) thanks to the research done beforehand we knew exactly what to expect. Join one of the lines choose your drink and then select whichever sandwiches and cakes you want to fill your small plate. There was a large choice of drinks and we decided to sample one of each from the cakes and sandwiches. The queues looked long but the whole thing is extremely well organised and moves along quickly and efficiently. 27,000 cups of tea are served, 20,000 sandwiches and 20,000 cakes and every mouthful we tasted was exquisite. Not sure we have ever tasted such delicious sandwiches and cakes and despite your plate looking on the small side (we’re northern remember! Pies, pea and mash up here!) it perfectly fitted ‘one of each’. Now at this point I need to tell you that seating is not readily available. There were a lot of elderly guests and it was a very hot day. There are seats around and about the gardens but we, like many others, stood to eat our tea.
Due to the heat the next stop was the spotless toilet block to freshen up – sticky fingers! It was here that I realised my choice of the frumpy blue sandals was indeed the right choice as there were numerous ladies walking around barefoot carrying their stilettos in their hands (non heel wearers may not realise that once they are off and particularly on a hot day they are not going back on for the rest of that day!)
Not sure if this was a result of the heat or if this is a usual occurrence but there were plentiful bottles of water for you to have and even ice creams! We ate our ice creams leaning on the walls of Buckingham Palace (still can’t believe I am actually saying that!) and tried to take in what was going on around us. We met some very worthy attendees proudly telling their stories and introducing you to their families.
Words cannot describe what a good day we were having but it was at this stage that something quite magical happened. As we wandered around the lawns trying to catch a glimpse of the royal party in their tea tent, we saw the Beefeaters begin their walk back to protect the Queen. As we turned around to watch, a Beefeater stood directly in front of us and we realised they were forming a line for the Queen to walk back to the palace. Accidentally we found ourselves right at the front of this line and together with a lovely young couple from Ireland could not believe our luck! The royal party made their way through the line across the gardens towards the palace right in front of us. Time for some point and click photography hoping to get at least one good pic. Obviously well trained to smile for everyone we got some amazing photos of the party and several where they even appeared to be smiling just for us! Proudest moment when the Queen smiled for my photo – I’m definitely sure it was me she was smiling at!
Despite the retirement of the royal party there remained much to see and do – bands, music, the gardens and even selected areas inside the Palace (no photos allowed there!)
Sadly, as all great days come to an end it was time to leave to catch the train home. The exit was through the palace and the very famous doors you usually only see after weddings and visits of dignitaries. Time for some more snapping and then we went under the gates and out onto the front. Once again paparazzi style photography from hundreds of tourists, which by now I was used to and quite enjoying! I’d never see any of the photos so who cares what I look like!
Despite taxis everywhere we decided to walk back to Euston and once again the frumpy shoes were proven to be the right choice. First class ride home on the train (we were very tired!) and the end of a truly wonderful day. A day we will probably never ever repeat. I can’t imagine you would ever be asked twice, but what a huge honour to go just once.
It was about this time last year when we first received our invitation and began to plan. If you’ve just received yours congratulations and we hope you have a wonderful day! Maybe some of this might help you who knows! We came back from London with so many memories, new sunglasses, tights which didn’t ladder and a fascinator which thanks to Lisa stayed exactly where it should have done all day!
Our big 5 tips:
"Why am I here?
I wanna feel
I wanna see
I want to meet the queen..."
Rivalry amongst supporters of sporting teams runs deep – I’m sure you have experienced it and probably have it at home! I was brought up in a football house split right down the middle; Dad and sister Liverpool fans, Mum and me Evertonians. How lucky was I to have a Dad willing to give up his Saturday afternoons to take me along to the Everton matches (and even hang around afterwards while I waited to get Bob Latchford or Andy King’s autographs!) – wonder if he spent the whole time there hoping they’d lose!?
Despite living in Wigan from an early age rugby league wasn’t a sport I had any interest in until Chris came along. Passionate about rugby, long suffering supporter of Leigh and definitely old enough to remember their glory days. He took me along to a few international matches, local derby’s and games of interest – I even spent one season as part of the opening title sequence of Question of Sport celebrating a GB try at Central Park (I knew it was me - anyone else would have struggled to pick me out!). Living in Wigan with no real ties to Leigh (although I did live there for 2 years when I was very young – we moved around a lot!) I had no interest in supporting them and time and time again it was the Saints of St Helens who caught my attention. Saints are the local team for most of my family and so me and the two ‘grown ups’ ended up as big fans of St Helens, living in Wigan with almost all of our friends Wigan supporters. Not the easiest choice we ever made, but it wasn’t long before we were all ardent fans attending as many games as we could.
Wigan is one of the great rugby league towns in the UK and probably the world, with a long history of success in the sport forever winning trophies and celebrating achievements. From the 1987 season they won the Challenge Cup 8 years on the run and remain the team who have won it the most with 19 wins overall. They also hold the record for the team with the most wins in the Rugby League World Club Challenge.
The World Club Challenge started slowly with a couple of games here and there but since the year 2000 it has been an annual event held at the beginning of the season; a match between the winners of the NRL (Australia) and the Super League Champions. Now it always seems to me that there is something not quite right with this fixture. The teams contesting the match are often very different from the teams who won the right to take part. Why is it not the culmination of the two seasons as the ultimate prize each year?
So, February 17th, 2019 saw the fixture held in our hometown of Wigan; a match to be fought between the local team Wigan Warriors and, from Australia, Sydney Roosters.
How exciting you may think! We love rugby and Chris is also a Sydney Roosters Fan (You find most rugby fans will have a favourite Aussie team – the NRL is an exciting and highly skilled competition) so tickets seemed a perfect Christmas present from Lucy for her Dad. What’s the problem you may wonder? Well who do we support on the night!?
Local rivalry between teams is a part of the game Wigan don’t like Saints, Saints don’t like Wigan, everyone dislikes Leeds and so on, but the greatest dislike for a team is usually reserved for any Australian team particularly the national side! For many, many years the Aussie Rugby League team have dominated all competitions and it is a rare occasion when the English national side manages to overcome them. British sides have been more successful in the World Club Challenge but maybe that has something to do with most of the fixtures being played in the UK in front of a passionate sell-out crowd of mostly British people – home advantage always helps.
Such was the atmosphere for the 2019 match. A crowd of over 21,000 supporters, the vast majority from Wigan, filling the stadium with noise; cheers and drums and, at crucial points of the game, lots of boos! Does that affect someone trying to kick for goal? Maybe they just blank it all out.
If you studied form you would have expected the strong Sydney Roosters team to easily overcome Wigan, but certain factors made it a hard game to predict. Our rugby season had already started – only a few weeks in but it meant Wigan Warriors were match fit whilst Sydney were still in their pre season. Sydney had travelled a long way to take part in the game and again they were playing the match in a very hostile stadium full of thousands of people willing them to lose. But sadly for Wigan it was not to be and despite a strong second half challenge Sydney demonstrated their speed and skill winning the match by 20 points to 8.
And for us – what a night! Back row centre seats – a trek to the top but well worth the view. Entertainment from the AC/DC Experience (surprised to find they are a local band!), fireworks, flag waving and a great game of rugby. Despite our local rivalries we found ourselves cheering Wigan all the way (don’t expect that to last though) and the game was a much less stressful experience as a neutral supporter!
No mention of the game on any sports news the following day – after all rugby league is just played in northern towns isn't it?
If you don’t spend a lot of time around young people it’s easy to have your judgement clouded by the constant stream of negative stories in the media, but do you ever stop to think just how different it is to be ‘young’ in this current society?
For most young people a car is out of their reach due to escalating extortionate insurance costs, owning your own house is a dream you may never see fulfilled (always room at your parents?), university is the norm where you can rack up debts of over £40,000 to find, when you finally leave, that your dream job may not even exist, exam pressure from a very young age and a constant stream of images and words reminding you just how well everyone else is doing in life (or so they would have you believe).
But its not all negative. Schools now offer a wide range of opportunities to their pupils from guitar lessons to steel drums – musicians at my school (and no the world was not in black and white then!) aimed for the dizzy heights of a descant recorder or if you were an exceptional student you might even get to try a clarinet! Sports now include karate, extreme frisbee and dodgeball, there are knitting clubs, chess, school newspapers… Outside of school you can pay to learn and take part in almost anything you could think of, your friends are available almost 24 hours a day via social media, mobiles and gaming - the future is indeed limitless if you have the drive, opportunities and ambition.
Ollie Lambert is a prime example of a 21st century young man driven to succeed. Ambitious and creative, still studying at the Royal Northern College of Music, and only in his twenties, he is already an accomplished composer, arranger and vocalist, performing and having his work performed across the country. He doesn’t wait for someone to offer him an opportunity instead he goes out and actively seeks his own.
His latest project is an 8 piece a-capella vocal ensemble, ‘The Apex Singers’, who will be launched to the world this summer. Currently working together on a project called ‘Hiraeth’ -a Welsh word meaning ‘nostalgia’ – a deep longing for home – Ollie wants to take rarely heard folk songs from around the world and bring them to a brand new audience.
In this digital world there is much more to any role and, as musical director of a newly formed vocal group, Ollie is responsible for not only assembling the group, arranging the songs and directing the rehearsals, but also designing their website and establishing a social media presence. In order to achieve this Ollie needed photographs, but with a limited budget he needed to be ‘creative’ and this is where we enter the story.
Thanks to a mutual contact we found ourselves in Manchester on a cold, dark November evening meeting Ollie and the Apex Singers for the very first time.
Rehearsals take place inside the architecturally stunning building that is the RNCM, brimming with singers and musicians socialising, rehearsing, studying – it felt liked we’d walked into an episode of the Kids from Fame! (showing our age here once again…didn’t see many legwarmers though!).
Mostly new to the requirements of becoming social media stars, there was some initial apprehension about being the sole subject of numerous photographs – not everyone has the desire to be in the limelight and probably most people would choose to hide themselves at the back of any photo (or, if they’re really clever, choose to be the photographer and then you never have to appear on one!). Once the nerves and initial awkwardness were out the way, thanks to the support and guidance of group member Gabriel (who had very obviously done this before!) everyone began to relax and returned to the corridor photo booth (always use all available spaces!) multiple times.
As the night progressed, everyone had an idea for the next shot, which got more elaborate each time! It was apparent we were surrounded by a college full of fellow creatives as no one even glanced at the members of the group striking their best poses on staircases and doorways or draping themselves over balconies. Every available space was used in order to get that perfect series of photos to help the Apex Singers establish their online presence. Coupled with a series of individual headshots for each member and their musical director Ollie, we managed to take over 500 shots during the evening and were delighted with the results.
So, if you’re reading this, why not pay a visit to their website www.theapexsingers.com or follow them on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook. Meet sopranos Lydia and Sophie, altos Niamh and Ophelia, tenors Gabriel and Matt, and bass singers George and Elliot who all share a love of choral singing and folk music and together make up the Apex Singers. Read all about their future plans and sign up to their newsletter to stay informed.
Why not support the dreams of these talented young people at the very start of what will no doubt be a glittering career, follow their social media accounts (just search for The Apex Singers) and while you’re there you can have a look at our photos!
In the words of rapper Fort Minor:
"This is ten percent luck
Twenty percent skill
Fifteen percent concentrated power of will
Five percent pleasure
Fifty percent pain
And a hundred percent reason to remember the name"
There are certain places that have a real attraction to us – we love the wilds of Scotland, city centres, canals, bridges, harbours, beaches and cemeteries.
Yep that’s not a typo, cemeteries. We find ourselves time and again if we’re out and about popping into places that many people probably only go to when they have to and usually at incredibly sad times.
Like many people we’ve had our fair share of those sad times, some very recently, however there is also an undeniable sense of peace and also some fascinating things to see.
Like a lot of things we didn’t set out with a deliberate aim of visiting places that many people associate with sadness, it was another time when on reflection it dawned on us we do seem to visit a lot of graveyard, cemeteries and memorials.
From our honeymoon in Austria admiring the neatly kept memorials and shrines right through to the ceremonial war graves on the battlefields of France and Belgium. From our local churchyard with graves going back to around the start of the 17th century to the more austere municipal burial grounds, we’ve visited a wide range of final resting spots.
We don’t do it as a celebration of the macabre or other people’s sorrows, there’s great beauty to a number of them and also the chance for some peaceful moments of reflection and, on the odd occasion, some unique photographic opportunities. And a lot more too.
In an age when people moan about the lack of community and “looking after each other” there’s a bit of a lesson to be learnt from even the briefest of visits to a cemetery. Because it may not necessarily be your family whose graves and headstones are there but the people that lived where you live now, going back generations, who brought up their families or lived alone but who played a part in some way to the place you now call home.
Think of the history, the richness and stories. As Morrissey eloquently sang “all those people, all those lives, where are they now?”
Why not go and find out?
As much as we like doing our urban walks and visiting various towns and cities looking for interesting stuff to take photos of, we are just as at home out in the countryside and, as you’ll know from our Scotland trips, our toleration level of being out in the wilds is pretty high.
But you don’t have to go to the far flung reaches of the country to get up close and personal with some of the UK’s amazing wildlife. Ok so you probably won’t ever get a Golden Eagle nesting in Manchester however know what you’re looking for and Peregrine Falcons are reasonably regular sights, I watched one once from the office window flying around near the Great Northern building and I’ve also seen one from a train window as it was pulling out of Piccadilly. I can remember a few years ago a pair of Ravens nesting on Wigan Town Hall. The list goes on but to be honest just relying on these lucky glimpses can only go so far. Sometimes we need to go somewhere a bit more wild.
Up and down the country there are literally hundreds, probably thousands of fantastic nature reserves run by a huge number of organisations that for free or a small fee will give you access to all sorts of great sights and spectacles that will allow anyone to experience the sheer joy of wildlife.
One of our regular haunts is the Wildfowl & Wetland Trust centre at Martin Mere near Burscough in West Lancashire. It’s a great site, probably a 30 minute drive from a number of major towns and host to some great wildlife as well as a huge number of pens holding birds from across the world.
Autumn and Winter are probably the best seasons to visit with thousands of migratory Pink Footed Geese making the reserve and its environs their winter home. The reserve runs Dawn Watches when the geese that roost on the reserve overnight all take off at dawn to fly to nearby feeding grounds – truly remarkable and the type of thing you see on a BBC wildlife programme and think I wish I could see that – well you can. One here for fact fans Martin Mere was the site for the first ever Autumnwatch Series way back in 2006 with Bill Oddie and Kate Humble. It returned in 2007 before moving on the year after.
In Spring and Summer the reserve is alive with breeding birds, Marsh Harriers, Avocets and all sorts of other wildlife including the always delightful downy ducklings all together ...awwwww. Go to the Ron Barker hide which is a great spot for Kingfisher, the Janet Kear Hide is up close to a feeding station and is great to just sit and watch the comings and goings of various finches, tits and buntings.
And don’t worry if you don’t know a Reed Warbler from a Reed Bunting there’s always loads to see and enjoy by just sitting there and taking it all in. Sometimes even when there’s not a huge amount of birds around it can just be enough to recharge our batteries by spending some time walking and taking in the sights and sounds of nature. And there are always some other real bonuses as we recently found out during our recent visit over Christmas and New Year, when we were treated to a simply stunning sunset over the reserve.
So don’t think that these places are either out of reach or out of touch. Go along you may be pleasantly surprised, plus you’ll also be playing a part in helping preserve the world and wildlife around us.
Life and other