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 Tthe 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.
New Year’s Eve may be the thing we have written most about over the past few years. It is not a favourite night for either of us and hasn’t been for a long time. It’s a strange night - it almost feels like all the stresses and sadness you have experienced in the year behind you will be washed away at the stroke of midnight and we will all awaken the next day to a bright shiny new world. Of course, it doesn’t take long for everyone to find out that that doesn’t happen, but we try every year to do something special for us be that a concert, fireworks, ice skating or takeaways with friends. This year was particularly poignant, after the sadness we experienced at the end of the year it somehow didn’t feel appropriate to be standing in the crowds in Albert Square to toast in the New Year. We both felt we needed to be somewhere together and just pass the night quietly with our own thoughts. As the date neared though it was hard to shake the feeling that we were just going to be sad all night and maybe needed a plan. We looked at spending the night in a city, but as we had left it a bit late the choice of hotels was meagre and very expensive – Hotel Gotham are you really worth £350 for one night?? We debated the cinema, eating out and even the International Horse show in Liverpool (neither of us are horsey people!!) but eventually we settled on a ‘big day out’!
We decided to take the train to Windermere in the Lake District – something neither of us had ever done, but thanks to our trusty ‘Two Together Railcard’ we booked our tickets the day before and were very pleasantly surprised to find it would cost us just £25 for the whole journey. (For more info on this check out our how we did it bit at the end.)
So, 10.25am on an almost balmy December 31st found us on the platform at Wigan North Western with a 45-minute journey to Oxenholme ahead of us to catch the connection to Windermere. As is all too familiar with train travel these days, the train was already delayed before we even got on it and we had a very tight time turnaround at Oxenholme. Surely, we could make up the 7-minute delay though? Well, actually no, because once we reached Carnforth, for some reason, the train had to go at a very slow speed (tannoy announcements but no apologies…) which meant us, and all the other Windermere passengers, missed the connection by 10 minutes and then had a 40-minute wait for the next one. Luckily the weather was good and Oxenholme station is small and pretty – cue first outing for the cameras that morning!
We arrived in Windermere just before 12.30pm and then set off to make the trek down to Bowness. Bowness is a very special family place – honeymoon destination of my parents many, many years ago and the place of what feels like a thousand family holidays and trips over the years. We used to visit the famous Lakeland, home of every kitchen appliance and gadget you could possibly think of, when it was mostly famous for its plastic bags – in fact I am sure it was known then as Lakeland Plastics. In view of the current world view of plastic it was probably a good idea they changed their name! Anyway, as I said Bowness is a very familiar place to us both, but it is some years since we last visited and how it has changed!
Bowness and Lake Windermere probably pull the biggest crowds of any of the Cumbria lakes and the town is almost always full of coachloads of Japanese and Chinese tourists, families eating ice cream and chips, dog walkers, couples in love (more of that in a second!), motorcyclists and lots and lots of people having a good time and enjoying the scenery. It was also traditionally the worst place to find anywhere nice to eat for many years, but it seems to have undergone somewhat of a change with a more upmarket feel to the café bars and restaurants and a completely different style of shops. It was good to see some of the shops, which have been there since I was a child, including Hutton’s the chocolate makers (their chocolate truffles are delicious!), Lakeland leathers at the top of the hill sitting next to the gift shop I spent all my pocket money in when I was young and the jewellers where Chris impulsively bought me a lovely silver ring once.
Our day consisted of a 10km circular walk from the station down to the lake and round to the ferry and then back up. We ate lunch at the very lovely Fizzy Tarte, sat outside under heaters with blankets for our legs watching other people starting their new year early with some very exciting looking cocktails. We took photographs (bet that surprises you!), reminisced, photographed, window shopped the yachts in the marina, ate ice cream and photographed. We strolled past a couple sat at the side of the lake and were momentarily distressed to see she was crying, until Chris pointed out the sparkly new ring on her finger she was admiring and realised we’d almost interrupted a romantic proposal (never ask about my wedding proposal!).
We finished the day with a coffee in Booths, whilst we waited for our train back in the dark after admiring one of the best trees we've seen for a number of years outside Lakeland, then 20 minutes to Oxenholme, 40 minutes to Wigan – back home for 8pm after a lovely day, tea in the slow cooker, phone calls to our family and then we fell asleep by 11pm.
We might have missed midnight and amazingly the fireworks didn’t stir us, but New Year’s Eve turned out to be rather special.
We woke bright and early the next day ready for another day of eating with most of our family able to make it.There is a feeling of a new start each January 1st and of course we are all going to lose weight, drink less, travel more and exercise all the time. We don’t make any resolutions as we know (like most people!) that these will not be kept for longer than a few weeks, but we do set ourselves small goals, ones we have a good chance of achieving – save a bit more, exercise more regularly, spend more time with people we love.
In the wise words of Instagram’s @traceybell63 ‘life’s too short to wear boring clothes/to wait before I buy my camera/ to wait to visit my family/ to learn a new skill’. So, you can expect to see me out and about this year in all the items of clothing I save for best and a new camera? We don’t need one but I’m sure we could find one we wanted! Happy New Year everyone.
HOW WE DID IT
More information on the Two Together Railcard can be found at www.twotogether-railcard.co.uk. We've had one for a number of years and use them all the time for our trips to London as well as local hops to Liverpool and Manchester. there are rules such as travelling with each other and an annual cost of £25 but you save 1/3 on the full cost.
We also use the Trainline for our UK rail planning - www.thetrainline.com. Always useful and they have a great app. Just be aware theres a small fee to pay on top of any tickets purchased through them. For journeys like the one above with changes between train operators (Virgin and Northern) this is the easiest way of planning though using each train operators site to book may be cheaper but a lot more complicated. Unfortunately such is the way of the UK rail network!
Normally the Christmas and New Year break is a time for being a bit lethargic without any guilt. A chance to have a lie in with no real reason to get up (unless of course you have young children when their body clocks go into reverse and they wake up even earlier than normal).
However this year for whatever reason we can honestly say we’ve done more than ever in our time off, over and above the family meals and visits. In fact, at times, it’s felt like we’ve been on a summer holiday with days out, train journeys, new places visited that have been on our “to-do” list for some time, loads of photos and videos and all sorts of fantastic ideas which we’ll be sharing over the next few weeks to whet your appetite for 2019.
The start of our travels was on Boxing Day when, after taking our son Adam back to Manchester after a home visit for Christmas, we paid the "Walking with the Snowman" art trail a visit at Salford Quays. Now unfortunately this finished on 6th January so don’t go expecting to see them but do go if you fancy a great walk around one of our favourite urban areas and one that’s constantly changing. Media City, Salford Quays, the Lowry Theatre, IWM North…the list is endless and pick the right day you can get some stunning shots.
After that we stayed local with a few canal walks then we took a trip out to somewhere that we’ve had in mind for some time – Widnes! Ok maybe not the first thought in most people’s minds but the chance to photograph the new Mersey Crossing as well as get to walk on the "old" Widnes-Runcorn bridge proved irresistible – we love our bridges! From here it’s also just a short hop along to Speke Hall, always worth a visit - and a pit stop in their marvellous cafe which we duly took advantage of.
New Years Eve and we decided we’d do something different so we got our “Two Together” railcard out and caught the train for a visit up to the Lakes. A 40 minute haul up the West Coast Mainline from Wigan North Western to Oxenholme, the connecting service to Windermere and within 90 minute of setting off we were on our way walking down to Bowness for a New Year’s Eve lunch by the lake. Some stunning shots later and we were back on the train and home for 8pm – not bad for £25 return for both of us!
A regular haunt beckoned us just after New Year's Day with a late afternoon visit to Martin Mere for the first bird/wildlife photography of the year and just in time for a stunning sunset too, no doubt the first of many for 2019 (we like them even more than bridges!).
Manchester beckoned us the day after and we paid a visit to the Cathedral – one of our go to places and as ever always something different to see. We also took the chance to pay our first visit to the new Emmeline Pankhurst statue in St Peters Square.
Then another first visit for us as we finally got around to paying a visit to the Fylde coast – Cleveleys to be specific and the Mythic Coast sculpture trail. Despite the grey clouds that seem to have been around every day of the year so far we managed to make the most of the weather and tides with a vow that we will be back – we think a sunset walk here along the coast would be extra special.
And that was it – no real chance to slob out on the couch and some teasers for some longer visits in the year as well as inspiring us to think about some other places that we really must cross off our list this year.
Look out for more on all the above over the coming weeks and much more to come in 2019.
Life and other