Have you seen the film ‘Inception’? A superb and complex film from Christopher Nolan that was a wonderful tale of a dream, within a dream, within a dream, within a dream… which ends with you still unsure which dream you are in! Our recent holiday had an ‘inception-ish’ feel to it – an island off an island off an island off an island…
Living in the UK you sometimes forget that we are an island nation with a coastline dotted with more islands – islands of great beauty, islands full of tourists and places to visit, islands frozen in time, secluded islands and even abandoned islands. We have them all.
2018 bought us our first taste of island hopping using the ever reliable Calmac Ferries to island hop on a very small scale but one that certainly whetted our appetite for more.
Home base was the Isle of Mull - an island renowned for its wildlife with a population of just 2500 people and a tiny network of single track roads to get you around. Grass growing through the B roads and some hair raising but memorable journeys round sheer cliff faces (well that’s what it felt like)! Plenty of passing places but plenty of people either selfish or unaware of the etiquette of driving round the island – we had more than one ‘stand off’ with motorhome drivers with no desire to allow you to pass.
But as with a lot of similar locations on the wild Scottish West Coast and its islands there are huge opportunities to use these as jumping off points for taking your explorations further with other islands and remote destinations in easy reach.
The first place we aimed for was the world renowned island of Iona – tucked away just off the southern most peninsula on Mull’s west coast and a short 10 minute sailing from Fionnphort using (you may have guessed) one of Cal Mac’s regular services. For those that haven’t been anywhere on the Scottish isles if your image of these ferry ports is like Dover then you may be a bit disappointed (or surprised). With one street , about a dozen properties, a café and a cow inhabited car park it certainly isn’t a major centre of attention (or so we thought!)
Ferry tickets bought we duly got onboard – the ferry here is passenger only though the post van was coming off before we got on board – and waited to set sail. Then the fun started as 5 coaches pulled in one after the other and disgorged their occupants who all made their way en masse to board the ferry. If you’ve watched the Tom Cruise War of the Worlds film the similarities to the ferry scene in that was uncanny. We assumed and imagined that these were tourist trips from the mainland having sailed from Oban and then made the dash along the single track roads to Fionnphort. The thought of the mad dash from the ferry made us chuckle (and thankful we hadn’t met them in the opposite direction!)
Anyway, a gloriously smooth sailing later and we landed on Iona. Within minutes we were lost in a world of tranquillity, seclusion and genuine wilderness with some of the best beaches and views we’d ever seen (the glorious weather probably helped too!). Where the passengers all went we aren’t sure but despite its peaceful setting the island is prepared for the tourist onslaught.
So our first trip from an island to an island to an island and we felt like Robinson Crusoe – sat on a white sandy beach in the sun with no-one else in sight. However we did have a return ticket so very little chance of being stranded.
We had to wait for the following day for that and our second island off an island venture to the even more remote Island of Ulva – careful with the pronunciation!
Ulva really is a step back in time from the unique way that you signal for the ferry - by sliding a small white door on a board on the wall to show a red square and then wait for the ferry to come across from the island (definitely not Cal Mac!) to the history of the island and its fall from a home for over 600 people, the desperate plight following the clearances to a small community owned venture of just 6 hardy residents.
Once on the island (off an island, off an island) the remote wilderness and beauty was breath taking from basalt columns, to Golden Eagles and abandoned cottages. It was so wild that we ended up getting a little unsure of the path we were walking so decided to backtrack a few miles rather than run the risk of missing the last ferry back at 5.00pm!
With ourselves to ourselves and some stunning cloudy weather it did feel like we were at the end of the earth despite at some points actually being able to pick out our own little cottage half way up a mountain on the far side of Loch Na Keal on Mull itself.
Again though despite its remoteness there was a great café/restaurant - The Boathouse - with fresh caught fish and some great cakes. It was so good we did ponder coming back just for the food later in the week – we didn’t, so maybe another time?
The ferry back took longer than the journey across – not because of any technical issues - it was just that the ferryman had spotted the resident Otters in the water so he stopped for a few minutes so we could have a good look at them!
And that was it – we could have gone to several other destinations – including Gometra (an island off Ulva itself connected by a bridge – getting very deep now) or Staffa, Lungha and the rest, all served by a variety of vessels of all sizes but we ran out of time.
So no sea-faring adventures to put Nelson to shame but certainly enough to spark something that we will definitely come back to in years to come and continue our journeys to some genuinely remote parts of these glorious British Isles.
There’s nothing that typifies the type of holiday we love more than single track roads - especially ones with grass in the middle of them - running through stunning scenery with a new vista at every corner and , of course, plenty passing places just in case you meet a fellow traveller coming in the opposite direction!
For the last couple of years, with our regular trips up to Scotland, we’ve grown well used to driving on a variety of roads that in a map book are usually the ones indicated by a dotted line. Not that these are the only types of road up in the highlands – there are some fantastic “normal” roads – usually in really good condition – real blacktop stuff - and which, because of the lack of traffic, actually bring back some long forgotten memories of when driving was a pleasure - not the nose to tail bedlam it can be these days.
And don’t think single tracks are just B roads or unnamed roads – significant chunks of A road in the highlands – Sutherland and Caithness in particular are single track too – always interesting meeting a coach or truck coming the opposite direction midway through a deserted glen.
This may all sound a bit off putting, it can be, but with a bit of sense and patience it all becomes second nature and hugely enjoyable.
Go to anywhere with a lot of single track roads – take our holiday destination this year Mull as an example - and you usually find a lot of guidance for how to drive on single track roads. Don’t ignore it – it is a big thing.
There are some basic rules and etiquette.
Use the passing places – they are, in the main, sign posted and spaced frequently and unlike some of the horrendous and claustrophobic English country lanes penned in by stone walls, you can usually see far enough ahead to make a decision where to pull over.
Don’t park in them! They are there to be used as a passing place (the name is a bit of a giveaway) so, no matter if it’s the best view ever don’t park in one to take a photo as that will be the time when a truck is coming the other way and meets a bus or something and you’re in the middle being cursed at in Gaelic. This has never happened to us. We have however done some cursing (in English) at some idiots who thought that a passing place looked like a good spot for a picnic as a tractor bore down on us.
There are some places that are extended and will fit a few cars in, but the majority just won’t or can't so don’t!
Always take note of any passing places you’ve just passed. This is invaluable if you have to reverse into one especially if you meet something on a bend or the occasional drivers who use their own rules and make you reverse uphill whilst steadfastly refusing to back up about a meter to a passing place on their side of the road (a real life example from this year!).
Always use the places on your “side” of the road ie the left – you may get some people that swerve into places on the other side of the road – very confusing and dangerous. Often a driver will wait on the road near a place with enough room for you to drive into it and pass them. So don’t think no space on my side and keep bearing down on the other driver. Use your spatial awareness – and manners (and indicators too).
Also use passing places to let other drivers overtake you. If it’s a local they’ll be comfortable on the road so let them past. Indicate and pull into a passing place that has a clear view of the road ahead so they can see there’s nothing coming. They’ll thank you for this, usually the emergency indicator double blink. We had several coaches pull over for us this year as well as us pulling over for various vehicles – more often than not the postie!
Always say thanks – usually just by a wave of the hand and also acknowledge anyone thanking you. You don’t need to be too elaborate with this, just stick to the familiar hand up rather than some sort of elaborate hip-hop handshake routine. We noticed quite a lot of camper van passengers undertaking this duty whilst their partners focussed on keeping themselves on the road. Probably a wise option on some of the roads with eye boggling narrow widths.
Oh and if you’re using SatNav double the length of time it tells you to get somewhere. The roads all are 60mph however to be honest if you attempted this speed you’d either be in with a chance of being world rally champ or in intensive care. 60mph isn’t a target - drive safely and also enjoy taking your time with journeys through some of the greatest landscapes on earth, whatever the weather. Plus, as you will have picked up from some of our photos, some of the 4 legged "locals" also like the roads (and are hefty too - especially the coos!) and they definitely don't understand passing places!
Finally, there is a sense of driving comraderie that I haven’t experienced anywhere else. It’s almost as though we’re all in the shared challenge of driving on the roads together so let’s look after each other. Weird but you can sense this. Maybe an extension of the lifestyle and pace of life up there?
So it is simple really and also the roads aren’t that tricky or challenging...... in the main. There is a well-documented exception though that we drove on in 2016 as part of the early stages of our North Coast 500 trip - the fearsome and rightly notorious Bealach Na Ba. Rising over 2000 feet, over a mountain, with hairpin bends a-plenty and gradients over 1 in 5 in many places. All single track and with many passing places. More on this unforgettable experience can be found on our NC500 pages.
Seriously, not for the faint-hearted but a stunning summit view and to be honest if you can do this you can do anything. Or so we thought until the day we took the coastal road around the north of Mull – but I’ll pass on that one till another time.
It’s odd how sometimes something just becomes “a thing”. If you think about activities, hobbies, interests or things you do it’s hard to recall how you started doing them or what the catalyst was.
This year on our Mull trip we suddenly realised we had a bit of “a thing” for CalMac ferries.
If you go anywhere with a port or a view of the sea or islands from Scotland’s West Coast chances are, if you haven’t been on one, you will at least probably have seen one of the Caledonian MacBrayne fleet ploughing their way across and between the mainland and the numerous isles that make up one of the most unique landscapes in the world.
Up to August 17th this year we had never been on one but had thought about doing a bit of island hopping for a number of years – finally exploring some of the parts of Scotland we had never been to. We’d known and heard about Cal Mac for a number of years but it was in 2017 when we went to Ullapool that our interest was well and truly sparked.
Twice a day every day the ferry for Stornaway arrived and departed at the Ullapool terminal and it quickly became a part of our holiday up there taking photos of the ferry – “Loch Seaforth” - either on its journey or in port as we marvelled at the way that the vehicles were marshalled and loaded on board and wondered what awaited the passengers on the other side?
The hustle and bustle of Ullapool with a ferry in was a sharp contrast to its usual benign state. Plus the views of the evening sailing with the ship literally sailing into the sunset on its way to the Outer Hebrides really got the imagination going.
So this year we decided enough was enough and booked a week on Mull meaning at last we’d be able to set foot on one of the Cal Mac fleet.
Rather like long distance travel on a train there is something still a bit nostalgic and mysterious about sea travel in such beautiful surroundings as those on the Scottish West Coast.
Our first trip on a ferry was probably more eventful for what you couldn’t see rather than the anticipated glorious surroundings - as the sea mist rolled in, the waves got a bit choppy and the rain came down - if you want to see this for yourself see "Ferry in your Jersey".
Undeterred though during the week we used the fantastic ferry to Iona from Mull and also looked out for the various services that sailed through the Sound of Mull past the island.
We travelled back to the mainland via the Fishnish – Lochaline service and we headed up to Mallaig for our Saturday night stopover purely and simply as we’d never been! Mallaig is a transport dream as it is not only a port for Cal Mac services to Skye and the smaller islands – the delightfully named Eigg, Rum, Muck and Canna – but is also a terminus for the twice daily Jacobite steam trains from Fort William that go over the famous Glenfinnan Viaduct (more about that some other time!).
By this stage taking photos of ferries had become an integral part of our range of subjects – especially in dramatic settings or something different than a straightforward shot of the vessel itself. So imagine our delight when we found out on our evening walk that vessels are moored at Mallaig overnight - cue some sunset pictures of the ferries at rest.
We’re not sure that Cal Mac spotting is a thing, if it isn’t then it should be – it is for us! There’s a lot more to it than just “spotting” the ferries though (for the record we saw 11 of the 31 strong fleet on our travels – travelling on 3 of them). For us it’s trying to get photos of them in their “natural” surroundings – the sea lochs and ports in the west coast wilds.
But they are also much more than a tourist attraction - they are the lifeblood for and the only way that many communities can get access to the mainland or receive vital supplies, hence the ownership of the service by the Scottish Government.
Our appetites have been whetted and maybe some more adventurous routes will be travelled over the next few years - there’s more than enough options to keep us going. But whatever happens that sense of yearning for travel and adventure we got by watching the comings and goings of a Scottish port, marvelling at the ferries themselves and recognising the skill and hardwork of those that work on them has been well and truly ignited and not even a damp first ever crossing in howling wind and rain has put it out.
Full details and information on Caledonian MacBrayne can be found here.
How will you remember the summer of 2018? (Doesn’t it feel like it’s finished now!) long hot sunny days, nights when you can’t get cool and definitely can’t sleep, a lovely staycation in the good old UK..aah those summer nights...
Not sure I remember a similar long period of hot sunny weather and it's hard to remember when it first started. We were in Nethy Bridge at the end of May and the weather was already scorching. It seems to just have gone on and on since then with record temperatures, office workers demanding to wear shorts, warnings for people to avoid beaches in Cornwall, road surfaces melting and surely everyone having the best holidays ever in this glorious weather.
We were days away from a hosepipe ban up here in the North West with the scorched earth look the new norm for gardens, but then something happened. Along came the rain, torrential at times, bringing flooding and general gloom. Friend’s family weddings disrupted by storms in Wales washing away their marquee and reception – the same storm blowing away another friend's tent in the middle of their family holiday leading them to declare they were “never camping again” and then it was time for our much anticipated summer break.
Now I’m sure I’m not the only one who sees their future holidays through those proverbial rose tinted glasses! Long hot summer days, meals outside, glasses of wine and freshly prepared food, walks by the sea, climbs up mountains and sunsets lots of sunsets. All captured on our cameras and ready to post on our Instagram (@MWGU50 if you don’t already follow us!), Facebook and here.
Imagine our surprise as the big day loomed and we checked the forecast – Clouds? Rain? Gales? That couldn’t be right, that’s not our holiday! What should we pack? Shorts, woolly jumpers and hats? Probably better take the Smidge (those Scottish midges are very unpredictable and like to chew on one of us!)
We set off on our summer 2018 Scotland road trip (all roads seem to lead us there!) late at night in torrential rain making the drive up the M6 to Lockerbie a stressful time. The rain was so hard we couldn’t see in front of us (use your lights people!) and the required nip to the loo stop resulted in us getting soaked (from the weather that is!). We arrived to our first stop to find a balcony overlooking Annandale Water with a lovely walk round the lake which would all have been perfect if not for the rain!
Never mind, we’re always optimistic day 2 would surely be better? Indeed it was as we journeyed a couple of hours higher up to stop for lunch beside some nuclear subs (that was a really sobering moment as we ate our mozerella salad and realised how close we were to weapons of mass destruction). Sun's shining, Loch Long is beautiful, time to get the cameras out – cue torrential rain part two and a hasty retreat to the car. In Arnie’s words “I’ll (or we’ll) be back”!
Never mind (again!) lets continue our journey to our next stop in Inveraray – lots to photograph, time for a walk, admire the scenery… but we were met by that all too familiar rainy day sight in the UK. Steamed up shop windows, tourists wandering aimlessly in their anoraks, queuing for cups of tea in quaint little tea shops and the sad sight of children who would rather be doing anything other than this. There was a brief period of sunshine, so (excitedly) out came our cameras, for about five minutes til the heavens opened again! After a lovely evening meal at the Samphire Restaurant, we ventured out again to admire the clouds rolling across Loch Fyne – should have known better as they rolled above us and I am sure you can guess the rest!
Day 3 – this wet weather tale is nearly complete – the trip to Mull. Our plans had built in time to explore Oban before we caught the ferry to Mull, but once again torrential rain saw us spending a very long time shopping and drinking coffee in Tesco followed by lunch in a very steamed up car on Tesco car park! This is hardly holiday inspiration for you I am sure!
The ferry to the Isle of Mull was supposed to be (in my holiday dreams) us basking in glorious sunshine on the top deck capturing bird life, ships and the beautiful views with our cameras. Instead we had to empty our case to find some warm jumpers ( a vest top, long sleeved t shirt, hoodie and a coat and I was still cold!) just to wait in the queue and the boat trip was something else! I’m sure hardened seamen would disagree, but it almost felt like we were on the Poseidon adventure! Waves crashing over the boat, wind howling round your ears, rain and spray soaking you! We were real sailors (!) staying on deck outside the whole trip, mostly by ourselves, watching ghostly ships pass in the mist and finishing our day soaked to the skin, freezing cold, but strangely exhilarated by the whole experience!
Arrival on Mull in the late afternoon to dark skies and heavy rain, single track roads and one shop en route (hence the large amount of time spent in Tesco Oban!) 30 minutes to our destination along the side of a stormy loch past free roaming cows and sheep who watch your every move and the final stretch of road to our holiday cottage on the slopes of Ben More looking like a scene from a horror film! No mobile signal since we left the ferry, very dodgy internet in the cottage, weather forecast for the week rain , rain and more rain.
Here comes the summer?
We are a family of geeks and proud of it. It is not some offensive term, as someone tried to tell me last year, if I call you a ‘geek’ it’s not an insult, but a compliment.
On closer inspection of the term I discovered something quite alarming! Amongst the dictionary definitions a ‘geek’ is described as ‘an unfashionable or socially inept person’ and even more worryingly ‘a carnival performer whose act usually consists of biting the head off a live chicken or snake’. I can assure you at this point that we do not take part in any activities like that! Maybe we are unfashionable, preferring to do our own thing rather than follow any trends, and socially inept? – I can see traces of that too!
To me a ‘geek’ is a lover of all things sci – fi, a comic book ‘enthusiast’ be that film, tv or the real thing, someone who likes alternative fiction and is a big believer that aliens really did build the pyramids! We love technology, believe the warnings in the Terminator films are just being ignored (really people? Can’t you see what is happening? Alexa is just the start…) and above all enjoy alternative universes, time travel and, of course we all know Tony Stark and his friends are waiting in the wings to rescue us should we ever need it!
‘Geek chic’ of which, apparently, even David Beckham has partaken, involves dressing in check shirts and wearing big glasses – again something none of us ever do (and definitely never will!).
One thing the ‘geeks’ of the UK are really good at is getting together and sharing their love of the world they (and we) inhabit. Comic Cons (conventions - just in case you’re not sure!) take place across the country, in fact the world, throughout the year and are attended by many, many thousands of people of all different ages. A typical ‘comic con’ will have celebrity guests, authors, artists and actors, comic book writers, panels, activities to take part in, steampunk, gaming and lots and lots of things you will want to buy - who doesn’t need a photocopied script of their favourite film – signed by the actors!
We attended our first Comic Con back in 2014 when, thanks to the tireless work of local man Paul Prescott, Wigan held their very own, and a first for the town, Comic Con. Although relatively small, in comparison to some of the other events which take place, we, as a family, had a great time! Little Wigan (we always manage to punch above our weight!) had managed to pull in some very exciting guests including Kenny Baker ( a very naughty Kenny Baker!) and Jeremy Bulloch – Star Wars’ R2D2 and Boba Fett, as well as a former Dr Who, Colin Baker. Unusually (as we later found out) at this event the guests were happy to be photographed with you – free of charge – have a chat and even tell you very rude jokes (sadly Kenny Baker is no longer here to defend himself!). There were vehicles from Tv and film, comic book writers and artists and the 99th Garrison strutting their stuff in their Star Wars costumes, raising substantial amounts of money for charity as they go. Cue mother and daughter getting very excited as they had their photo taken with family favourite Darth Vader! Wigan Comic Con was also our introduction to the world of Cosplay.
Cosplay (Costume Play) is a hobby that sees “Cosplayers” take the time to buy and make intricate and authentic costumes of their favourite characters. It would appear to be a lucrative market to become an ‘expert’ in with Comic Cons offering multiple panels and workshops to help people create, amongst other items, masks, weapons and a variety of foam props! There is always a competition and parade and the chance to meet up with fellow Cosplayers from your chosen theme.
Whole families ‘cosplay’ picking their themes and coordinating perfectly! At the recent Manchester Comic Con (we’ve moved on now to much bigger events!) we met a family of Oompah Loompahs and many a babe in a pram dressed as (presumably!) their parents favourite characters! The costumes, which must take hours to make, often include elaborate and very realistic weapons and what a better way to use your Mum’s ironing board than to turn it into a shield! Sadly apart from an X men T shirt and some DC Converse we have not yet progressed to family cosplay -maybe next time!
The Cosplayers come to be photographed and each time you lift your camera (or phone!) up you’ll find models ready and willing to have their hard work and creativity captured for ever – the more accurate the better and the more unique and accurate then that’s a double bonus – Lumiere from Beauty and the Beast anyone?
So maybe you should come along and spend a day or even the weekend at a Comic Con event. Where else can you pay £30-£40 to queue for 30 minutes to briefly meet a ‘celebrity’ and get them to sign your Funko Pop figures or t shirts, another £30+ and you can go into the photo area and have a pic with them. See for yourself the queues of people willing to do this and you’ll realise why so many celebrities attend. Watch one of our favourite films, Galaxy Quest, for a small (fictional!) insight into the celebrity side of the events! Sit on Daryl’s motorbike whilst lifting Thor’s hammer, marvel (!) at Spiderman hanging from the roof and keep your camera poised and ready to shoot so you don’t miss the moment when a 7 foot dinosaur tries to bite an even bigger bird!
If you don’t want to pay to go into the event, hang around in Manchester on Comic Con day – camera ready – and witness superheroes queuing for cash, Mary Poppins and Bert queuing for their lunch while R2D2 decides the queue is too long for him and leaves and the greatest display of colourful costumes by some very talented people happy to pose. Spiderman even climbed the railings of the Midland Hotel as the steam rose from beneath it just to give the mass of photographers that perfect shot (sadly one we missed)!
One word of warning though – ensure your accent (thanks again Wigan!) isn’t hampering your chosen guest’s ability to understand you – we have in our collection a treasured signed glossy photo of Darth Vader (Dave Prowse aka The Green Cross Code Man for those old enough to remember) lovingly personalised to the ‘Thatchers’ - whoever they are! Being 'socially inept' (apparently!) we all stood round and allowed him to continue then smiled and thanked him for his time!
The hot, hot, very hot summer continues - doesn’t it feel like we went straight from snow to heatwave – bizarre!
Hands up if you’re too hot to sleep? Every plant in your garden dead? Washing basket piled up after multiple changes during every day…? But still there is nothing like sunshine to lift everyone’s mood, entice you outside and just make you feel better about everything.
The hottest day of the year so far (it just keeps changing!) saw the temperature reach a whopping 35C (90F) in London while Manchester basked in temperatures of 29/31C.
What a glorious day to spend two hours waiting for and eventually travelling on a train on a journey that should have taken 20 minutes. No drivers and a train stuck behind another which had broken down resulted in two cancellations and then a very slow journey missing out all the small stations which it should have stopped at (there was a genuine collective groan on the platform when that was announced). Finally, on arrival at Manchester Victoria, there were no available platforms, so another wait on the outskirts of the city in blistering heat. I love train travel, but the current unreliable service across the North West is becoming a massive problem. You almost feel like standing up somewhere high (Beetham Tower maybe?) and shouting down South – “Oi have you seen what is happening up North??”. What a ridiculous situation when a train cancels all its stops to get back on time. Shouldn’t the priority be to get people to their destinations?
Still, I arrived safely, and the sun was still shining, so all thoughts of the journey soon disappeared. We were lucky to have entrance to the VIP garden at the Jazz Festival so spent a lovely evening relaxing on deckchairs listening to the free music at the festival. We go nowhere without our cameras and that evening had promised the best ‘blood moon’ for decades and a lunar eclipse, but as so often happens in this country, despite the heat along came the clouds and the moon was nowhere to be seen. Never mind there is always something to photograph!
Excitingly, having seen ice cream rolls on many an Instagram video, we were delighted to find The Ice Alchemists serving the jazz festival audience. What a fascinating procedure to watch (and photograph – our cameras are always ready!) and they tasted good too. The urge to pick a ‘roll’ up and eat it as you would a wrap was irresistible, but believe me don’t try that yourselves it is very messy especially on a hot night!
As the sun presumably disappeared for the night – who knows there was so much cloud we couldn’t see! – we decided to go and try some night shooting. We don’t do this too often as we like to go to bed early – we are over 50!!
Manchester is currently ‘buzzing’ with a fantastic art sculpture trail from Wild in Art with 101 large bees designed by a variety of people - professional and amateur artists and even Liam Gallagher! (you can find his in the corn Exchange building).
Of course, we knew all about the Bee in the City event – in fact when the LGBTQ Queen Bee followed us on Instagram we were very excited - but I’m not sure either was us was prepared for just how amazing the bees are. Everyone different and the expressions are just a dream to photograph. We saw our first half a dozen late at night and got some amazing (well we thought so!) shots. The following day we saw more including some of the smaller ones designed by schools in the cathedral and the library. Every bee is surrounded by people patiently waiting to photograph them. You feel like you’re playing Pokémon Go collecting each one!
We’ve already been asked which is our favourite bee, that's a hard decision. We have so many more to see, but each one is wonderful. Our favourite shots this weekend were of the fantastic Bee-vina Mccall in Spinningfields. The bees are buzzing around until September – go and see them you won’t be disappointed! I’m sure there will be a further blog on the bees when we get around the other 80+ (even the sneaky ones outside of the city centre!)
So, our weekend was spent in the hot sunshine spending time with family, eating, listening to music, eating ice cream, moaning about trains, searching for bees and photographing (I’m sure this is not a surprise to you!)- imagine our surprise on Sunday morning when we woke to torrential rain – now where did I put my coat….
It was with some trepidation that I accepted Chris’ invite to the Manchester Jazz festival. We both love music – all sorts of music, but for some reason this does not include jazz – at all. I imagine jazz (as described by a close friend!) to be ‘stuffy’ and jazz festivals to be full of people in cardigans debating very important things (unlike our nights out which usually involve debating a million different solutions to the current Avengers problems!).
What we do both strongly believe though is in supporting local events and trying new things.
The Manchester Jazz Festival takes place annually and this year (in their own words!) had ‘over 500 musicians in 80 events spread over 7 venues, free gigs, music day and night indoors and out, regional jazz artists, new talent, innovation and contemporary jazz trying to break down musical boundaries’…phew. Exhausting just to write it all down!
How exciting you might think, but to me the most tempting reason to go to one of their concerts was the temporary venue they had on Albert Square – the ‘Salon Perdu’ - a 1920’s touring music venue (Spiegeltent), it is a structure of great beauty and one I was desperate to get inside! Added to very reasonable ticket prices it was time for one of us to do some ‘male research’ (is that a real thing? Its always quoted in our home!).
So, after studying the programme, it was decided that we would go to the final concert and watch ‘The Hackney Colliery Band’. ‘They’re great fun’ I was told – ‘you’ll love it!’. (I would insert here the emoji with its eyes raised – it is my favourite – but unfortunately not sure how to do it, so please just picture it in your head!)
Imagine my delight (insert eye raising emoji again!) when we arrived at the venue (which is truly the most wonderful place I have ever been to listen to music) to find there were not one but two jazz bands that night and all for just £18.50. Bargain!
First up - Zambian artist Namvula – at this point I was trying to work out how long this performance was going to last? Did I need another drink? Where were the toilets? Were these shoes going to hurt all night? Does anyone go for comfortable shoes when they go out? How many photos should I take of the lovely building? Shall we try a couple of selfies? Distracted? Yes, just slightly, but it didn’t last long. The music coming from the stage surprised me – unusual African beats with a great singing voice and so easy to listen and sway along to. I was even more surprised to find I was enjoying it despite my immediate neighbour debating whether this was indeed jazz or some unusual fusion. He wasn’t sure - I wasn’t bothered.
Why are people like this? Music is music it doesn’t need to be a genre. People can either sing, play and make good music or they can’t. You either love it or you don’t. It would be a boring world if we were all identical.
So - an hour soon passed, swaying in time with the audience to the music onstage and I had now begun to look forward to what was coming next and forgotten all about my shoes (still hurting).
Cue the arrival of the ten-piece Hackney Colliery Band – drums, trombones, trumpets, saxophones and a very large sousaphone which looked like it was being played via a shower attachment (the old ones which excitingly used to turn your bath taps into a shower!)
They were loud, lively and looked like they were having a blast. I loved them from the minute they came on stage and played a mixture of their own compositions and unusual arrangements of some great rock songs! Three of my favourite songs from Nirvana, the Prodigy and Blackstreet (No Diggity was my ringtone for many years until it got me into trouble at a conference – long story!!) Once again, my neighbour expressed his displeasure that they hadn’t just stuck to covers as they were much better when they did! I strongly disagree their original music was fun and exciting and most importantly tuneful and great to dance to!
After weeks of complaining to anyone that would listen that I was having to go a jazz festival (insert emoji again – you know which one by now!) life once again proved that sometimes the things you aren’t keen on doing turn out to be the best experiences in your life. I’m not sure I’m now a jazz convert, but both acts we saw were excellent that night – proving that true talent always shines through.
So now I find myself stalking the internet to find where I can next see the Hackney Colliery Band, sending the videos to all my friends and family and generally taking a keen interest in seeing them again! I'd even go so far to say I am looking forward to next year’s Jazz festival (insert a whole row of laughing emojis!).
Halfway through a recent repeat of a 1980’s Top of the Pops I was hit by a bolt of reality. What a decade the 80’s had been for us – both still at high school as it started and newly married as it finished – ten years which saw us finish the education system, start jobs (not careers for either of us!) meet, fall in love and marry – booking our wedding reception after a lively night out with friends must have come as quite a shock for both our parents! Ten years which probably had the most lifestyle changes for the both of us against the backdrop of a very interesting decade of music!
Top of the Pops, just in case you don’t remember it, was the music programme on television from the mid sixties to the mid 90’s. In a time of just three television channels (yes, that’s right, just three tv channels and no Netflix, YouTube or amazon!) it regularly attracted audiences of over 15 million people and was essential viewing on a Thursday night for lots of the population – teenagers for the music, dads for Pans People (go YouTube them you’ll see why!). Cancelled due to dwindling audiences the legend of Top of the Pops has never really died - you can still find repeats and compilations on several satellite channels. BBC4 show complete episodes each Friday night and twitter goes nuts with user after user tweeting along with the acts resulting in #totp being the top trending hashtag every week.
Living in Wigan, music is a big part of the life of the town from George Formby and his ukele to Kajagoogoo and Richard Ashcroft’s Verve (hardly compares to Manchester does it?). What the town is and always has been famous for is its nightlife. Even if you never visited I bet you have heard of Wigan Casino – home of Northern Soul with all nighters every week and its very own dance style - still remembered and celebrated to this day with regular events. King Street in the 80’s was rumoured to have the most number of nightclubs on one street which people travelled far and wide to visit. Home of the legendary Maximes – rock night Friday – and the one and only Wigan Pier where I spent most of my weekends making sure we arrived in time for happy hour then dancing the night away with friends and finishing the night in the chippy.
Sadly although King Street does still exist and there is still a nightlife, most of the clubs and pubs we spent the 80's in have fallen into disrepair or disappeared forever. Wigan Pier is long gone; the Turnkey Cellars, Officers Club, Chaplins and Maximes long forgotten by everyone but those of us who loved them.
Friday nights may no longer be dancing nights (certainly for us), but the power of a piece of music puts you right back there. Strange how I can’t remember what happened last week but still remember every word to every song from the gloriously fun Wham, to tragic Billy MacKenzie and the Associates, Madonna’s first appearance, Morrissey with his gladioli, new romantics, Adam and the Ants, punk, ska and of course the ever present dance group be that Pans People or Legs and Co!
Thank you #totp !
A slight change in the air this week as the World Cup excitement came to an abrupt stop followed by something currently very unfamiliar falling from the sky! Was this the end of this glorious summer? Thankfully, well I think thankfully (I would really, really like a good night’s sleep) the rain passed over rapidly (and heavily) and normal service was quickly resumed – blue skies, high temperatures and everyone out in their shorts!
We’ve been photographically blessed this year with spectacular sunsets every night and have spent many a recent evening sat on tops of hills or overlooking fields watching the sun go down behind purple, yellow and red clouds. Social media loves a sunset. Visit Twitter and you will find thousands of users who post nothing but sunset pictures. In fact, our most successful Tweets have all involved different elements of a setting sun across the country and if we were just focused on ‘likes’ and ‘follows’ we could probably post a different sunset every night and feel we were becoming ‘successful’.
For us though it is not all about the ‘likes’. We post the pictures we have taken, which we personally love. Not everyone else will love them all, but we want our accounts to have variety, accounts which reflect the way we live our lives and the things we like to do together. You will find the occasional sunset – after all they make truly beautiful photographs, but you’ll also find photos of pink feathers and barrels of whiskey, bison’s eyes and fairground horses, buildings, coastlines and lots of trees.
We try to keep our content recent and relevant so, as we felt we were slipping into sunset territory, it was time to take a trip to the city for some urban relief!
No matter how many times we visit Manchester there is always something new to photograph. Street art constantly changing in the Northern Quarter, routes you haven’t taken yet, festivals to visit and surprises around every corner. Its hard to believe in the past 50 years (Oh how old does that make me feel!) neither of us have ever been to the giant Vimto bottle, visited the roman ruins or found the Space Invaders painted on walls around the city.
Walking almost 10k around the city with three cameras and a very large battery pack for our mobiles (we really need a smaller one) in blistering hot temperatures was much more enjoyable than it sounds. It is a hobby we both love. It is very apparent how popular a hobby photography is becoming – cameras on every corner jostling for the best spot and the whole thing almost feeling like a ‘twitch’ (bird watching term – google it!). In a much-photographed place it is increasingly hard to find the shot that no one else has taken and watch out for your fellow photographers coming to see what you are taking!
Three hours together discussing all the things we never have time to say during busy working weeks, spending time outdoors in glorious weather and learning new things about a city we love, memory cards full of photos to stock our social media accounts and to finish off a visit to the Festa Italiana and our first try of Pizza Fritters! What a delight they were – freshly baked as you watch and delicious, San Pellegrino Limonata to drink and a traditional cannoli to finish all for under £18!
Can we get through a week without posting another sunset photograph? Let’s see…
You can follow us on Instagram and Twitter @mwgu50 and @imageshop1803 if you want to have a look!
I’m not sure what has happened over the past 6 weeks but we actually seem to be in the midst of a “real” Summer! Every year (or so it seems) weather forecasters (who I believe just guess!) promise us a long hot summer – the best Summer since 1976 – and every year we seem to have a couple of nice days and then just return to our usual and mostly expected Summer of cloud and drizzle with occasional sunshine. Are we disappointed? Maybe not as it is something we have to come to expect. In fact the weather all year rarely changes and sometimes it is hard now to distinguish between seasons.
1976 has become this fabled long hot Summer when reservoirs ran dry, beaches were packed, the sun shone every day and people were genuinely more happy. It is hard not to notice the difference in everyone’s mood when the sun shines on us. We both lived through 1976 – aged 10 and much less mature than 10 years olds in 2018. 1976 for me was a long family holiday on the Isle of Wight basking in the sunshine and coming home with a “healthy” tan. There was no need for sun protection in those days we had no idea what damage we might have been doing. In fact the most popular sun products of the time offered no protection and instead worked as tan accelerators! If your purse didn’t stretch to that my friend Pamela knew the recipe to make your own! (which actually used to sizzle on your skin due to the high oil content!). Picnics with home made ‘butties’ and “corporation pop” (cant tell you the disappointment when I found out this was tap water), playing out with your friends ‘til at least 9 o’clock, fun in the blow up paddling pool and lots and lots of ice creams! I have no real recollection of drought conditions, hose pipe bans or uncomfortable sleeping conditions and, in Chris’ words, wasn’t every childhood Summer just like that?
The following 40+ years (that makes me feel so old) have had nice Summers with intermittent sunshine and even short bursts of extreme heat. Our daughter’s graduation in 2013 was a boiling hot day and how they managed to get everyone through it without a fainting incident was remarkable. We left shortly after for a family holiday to Paris where the temperature hit 42 degrees and leaving your air conditioned hotel each morning was like walking into an oven. In an altogether familiar pattern this was soon replaced by cooler, rainy weather but at least you could sleep each night and your grass stayed green!
It's hard to pinpoint when this year’s glorious Summer began. The Winter was cold and seemed to stretch for an eternity. We were lucky and avoided any snowfall, but the rest of the country suffered. Spring started with a record cold for early March, the Summer clothes remained firmly at the back of everyone’s wardrobes while we all remained in thick jumpers, boots and woolly socks (I have to say at this point I love my boots and would happily wear them all year). Shortly into April we began to have forecasters promising the hottest weather we had had in April for many, many years. Time to put the boots away? Maybe not, they do get forecasts wrong (a lot!) but right on cue along came temperatures almost in the 30’s and our first spell of unseasonably hot weather began.
Although it didn’t remain at that level of heat, that appears to have been the start of this long hot Summer. A trip to London (which we'll write about soon) that required some adult clothes (tights and suits – although not together) one of us sweated while the other perspired all the way there and all the way back – we even had to buy some more sunglasses as we were completely unprepared.
The May school holidays bought record temperatures again. We were staying in the highlands of Scotland so had sensibly packed our jumpers and waterproofs and couldn’t quite believe the weather we had. Long hot Summer days (all week!) with glorious sunsets – I even had to buy some shorts (might have been the first pair since 1976!).
Doesn’t it feel like that has now become our weather? Sunshine every day, temperatures in the high 20’s and even the low 30’s. Wimbledon without any cancelled matches, people barbecuing every night, strange white tan lines where watches and bracelets sit plus the age old question of should you wear your socks with your sandals! It even feels a bit odd when you see clouds.
The sunshine is beautiful, clear blue skies, long hot days and glorious sunsets - but oh how I wish it would cool down at night. I’m sure I’m not the only one who can't sleep uncovered (does this echo back to childhood days when you felt safest under a blanket?). My first attempt at growing my own sweet peas seems to be doomed to failure – ‘What does it mean Mum if they’ve gone all crispy?’ A 10k walk, which we frequently do at the weekend, leaves you drained and exhausted and where does your appetite for anything other than ice cream go?
We’re days away from a hosepipe ban, local moorland fires are still causing problems for our hard working fire service and we are all exhausted from a lack of good sleep, but the whole country, sick of Brexit and politics, austerity and disruption (rail firms I mean you) have had their mood lifted by the sight of a big yellow ball in the sky sending down its warmth. Coupled with the completely unexpected progress of England in the World Cup, drinks outside with friends and families, no need to wear your coat (or boots!) and the general feeling of wellbeing - Summer 2018 is turning into one we will all remember and hopefully for all the right reasons! And maybe just maybe 2018 will become the "new" 1976?
Life and other