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..."
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!).
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?
Brought up on the legends of Bury market and black pudding, coupled with the total disbelief when people pronounce it wrong (its Bury as in 'Berry' to us!) I was born just outside the town over 50 years ago and spent the first two years of my life living in the leafy suburbs of Whitefield. Unbelievably, apart from a couple of trips with the kids to the East Lancs Railway to meet Thomas the Tank Engine and more excitingly the real Santa (it was the real one wasn't it?), neither I, nor the rest of my family, have ever been back. My Dad's job involved us all moving around northern towns during my early years and it would appear as a family we just moved on and forgot all about places. One of our current photography obsessions involves taking the cameras out to highlight the great North West where we live and work, so it was time for a trip back 'home'.
I must admit I had mixed feelings about visiting Bury, I genuinely expected a town which had seen better days (in line with several other of our great northern towns) but I was looking forward very much to finding my first home and where I had spent the first years of my life.
From the moment we arrived I was taken aback by the modern, lively town that greeted us. From the town centre apartments over the bustling outdoor shopping centre to the stylish restaurants and cafes on every corner (there was even a Tim Hortons!) the town had a real 'buzz' to it. It benefits from having its own Metrolink terminus and at times it almost felt like we were in city centre Manchester (on a slightly smaller scale).
We paid a visit to the world famous market - packed full of stalls and shoppers and as a sewer how wonderful it was to see real fabric stalls. Fabric shopping online is cheap and easy, but so often I am disappointed with how the fabric looks and feels when it arrives - I'd almost forgotten how much fun it is to rummage through rolls of fabric and the off cuts basket!
Queues at the black pudding stalls, freshly baked goods everywhere (being good Wigan people we bought delicious pies for lunch!), cheap and cheerful trendy clothes and lots of people actually shopping and buying. How rare is this now? Often the shops are full, but the counters are not. Look in the shop then buy cheaper on the internet - probably the biggest problem our high street has to deal with right now and one we are also guilty of. All I could think is why have our other Northern towns let their markets fade away? Town planners need to pay a visit to Bury on market day and see what we are missing out on! If the high street is lacking in footfall follow their example and attract the coaches in -people will visit the restaurants and cafes and other shops and give our towns that special 'buzz'.
We took a tourist trip round the town walking as far as Clarence Park and Chesham Woods (past my Dad's first young man's 'digs') and then called in at the Transport Museum and the East Lanc's Railway en route back to the town centre.
Helped by clear blue skies and warm sunshine, the town was clean and well kept and was a genuine pleasure to visit (and photograph!)- look at the queues of cars waiting for the car parks and you'll realise how popular a town it appears to be.
The journey home took a slight detour to our old family home, which was surprisingly poignant. It was hard not to imagine my now eighty year old parents starting their married life off in this house, producing two children and just being young. It was a stark reminder to both of us how quickly time moves on and how you really need to try and make the most of every minute.
The famous British Bank Holiday - what does it make you think of? Rain? Traffic jams? Old films on the TV? Who remembers when Disneytime was the bank holiday treat and the only time you saw Disney film clips outside of a cinema! How times have changed.
No matter what the weather, Bank Holidays are such a treat. No Monday morning get up (hands up who forgot to cancel their work alarm!) and a four day working week to follow. Time to spend with your family and friends, barbecues to eat, gardens to dig, scarecrow festivals to visit and no end of weird and wonderful UK traditions.
The 2018 early May Bank Holiday followed the strange weather pattern of the rest of this year producing the hottest temperatures for that day for more than 40 years, cue queues at the beaches and garden centres, the sound of lawns being mowed, people digging and planting, the smells of sausages being massacred on barbecues and badly sunburnt people visiting Boots for some after Sun! Sound familiar?
We retreated into the cool, peaceful surroundings of Manchester Cathedral - strangely quiet for a Saturday morning. We love to take the cameras inside the building and when the sun shines through the stained glass it becomes a photographers dream. Imagine our delight when we realised a young harpist @elfair89 (better known as Elfair Grug Dyer!) was setting up to rehearse for a concert later that day. After asking her permission, we then spent at least twenty minutes photographing her and the harp whilst listening to the most beautiful music which was so in keeping with the surroundings of the cathedral.
If only we had been able to stay to her 11am coffee concert (all free of charge with donations for your coffee and cake!). Sadly we had duties elsewhere and after a quick recharge in the café at the Royal Exchange Theatre (my first glimpse of the original trading boards still hanging in the building - remnants of its previous life as a cotton exchange) we sadly left behind the crowds of people who were now enjoying al fresco dining and socialising in the by now glorious sunshine.
In line with probably half the country we gardened, visited the garden centre for some bark to hide the weeds and came away with some half price garden furniture. ( word of warning here delivery is later this week and we fully expect that to be the end of everyone’s summer - sorry!).
We walked 7k with daughter and the pup early in the morning before it got too hot, which happened surprisingly early! Then enjoyed the beautiful weather in our currently tidy garden listening to our neighbours digging their garden and playing darts! We took lunch al fresco and enjoyed a lazy afternoon.
If only every Monday was as relaxing as this…now somebody bring me an ice cream?
Social media is full of people demonstrating their ‘wanderlust’ – 50 countries - 12 months, bucket lists of jaw dropping locations, I gave up my job to travel the world… We gaze at their photographs of visits to places most people can only dream of and envy their courage to ‘up sticks’ and travel the world.
Sadly, for most of us life is much more mundane consisting of mortgage repayments, a job that you’ve stayed in too long and of course (let’s not forget!) supporting your kids as they travel through life. Is it possible to achieve ‘wanderlust’ with all of this against you?
Long distance travel to experience different cultures and visit remarkable places is something most of us can only dream of doing, but how many people look at what their local area has to offer? Do you visit your local areas? Research your local history? Take the time to explore what is in and around where you live.
We constantly look for different places to photograph and despite living in and around this area for many, many years we have during the past 12 months discovered all sorts of hidden gems of places to visit – many of which can be visited for nothing!
Although the Parbold Bottle may not inspire you with the same level of excitement as the Taj Mahal or the Great Wall of China - the view from the top of Parbold Hill is stunning stretching out to the Lancashire coastline across a remarkably flat landscape. The walk up to watch the sun go down should be on everyone’s bucket lists – if you are lucky you might even find an ice cream van there!
Despite Standish rapidly disappearing beneath new housing estates, there are still areas of outstanding natural beauty. The walk past the cricket club down to Elnup Woods gives you waterfalls, old buildings, bridges, benches (to rest for a while!) and even a spectacular ravine.
Worthington Lakes is another hidden gem – United Utilities reservoirs offering a 3km walk all the way round with birds and woodland and, if you feel like getting up early, amazing views of the sun rising above nearby Winter Hill.
Wigan itself is steeped in history from our world famous pier to Uncle Joe’s famous mintballs, unbelievable sportsmen and women and even a statue with a lucky foot! I wonder how many people just pass these wonderful places on their way to somewhere else.
So maybe we should all start our quest to achieve ‘wanderlust’ closer to home. Who knows where it may eventually lead?
There’s a pretty good chance you have heard of the Terracotta Warriors – a collection of terracotta sculptures created to represent the armies of Qin Shi Huang, first Emperor of China. After being buried for over 2000 years 3 farmers uncovered the burial site in 1974, which stretched for approximately 98 square kilometres (38 square miles) and was ‘protected’ by the army of statues. It is estimated that the site held over 8,000 of the terracotta soldiers as well as chariots and horses. It is believed that the sculptures were designed to accompany the Emperor on his journey to the afterlife. He must have thought he was going to need a lot of help!
How wonderful it would be to visit the terracotta warriors in their original surroundings, but that is a dream for us at the moment. Great excitement then, when it was announced in 2017 that Liverpool’s World Museum would be hosting a Terracotta Warrior Exhibition during 2018.
We visited the museum with the two ‘grown ups’ on a wet Sunday morning – pre-booked tickets in hand. Train to Liverpool Lime Street and just a short 5-minute walk to the museum. We were all very excited by the prospect of viewing some of the original warriors and the exhibition did not disappoint. From the moment you walk into the exhibition, after an odd 3 minutes film, you are greeted by one of the warriors and a horse statue.
Visitors are allowed in in groups of 40 and actively encouraged to photograph the exhibition including selfies! Just one rule – no flash and if you are not sure how to take your flash off ask one of the staff! In addition to the horse and warrior as you enter, you will see other artefacts including smaller horses and chariots and miniature warriors (very anatomically correct –‘Mum those statues have no clothes on!’).
The highlight of the exhibition are the seven warriors standing together. Cleverly and very pleasing to us as photographers – the screen behind the statues changes to feature the warriors as they were when they were painted, screens depicting the pits in China and our favourite – plain grey which offered a perfect background for some very atmospheric shots.
We spent well over an hour in the exhibition and. although busy. it was never too crowded that you couldn’t get near to them. In these days, were everyone is a photographer, the room was full of cameras and phones and some of the photographs people were taking looked amazing – can’t help but look at their screens for inspiration!
Exit through the shop surprise, surprise where you could even buy you own mini set of terracotta statues or if you had £1500 to spare an almost full-size replica.
We enjoyed a lovely lunch in the restaurant downstairs and then a whistle stop tour of space, dinosaurs and Ancient Egypt before a mad dash to catch the train home.
Just need to save up for a trip to China now!
Do you ever wake up and decide to go and see a bridge? It’s a normal occurrence in our house!
Sunday morning is one of the few mornings that we usually have a little bit of a spare time so we like to go out very early with our cameras and try to capture something different. A photowalk with a purpose.
Just beneath the M60 motorway close to the Chill Factore is a brand new road bridge crossing the Manchester Ship Canal to Barton and beyond – hopefully relieving some of the (what can be horrific) traffic around the Trafford Centre and Event City.
Parking at the Trafford Centre and walking to, and then across, the new bridge as far as the shared stadium of Salford Red Devils Rugby League and Sale Sharks Rugby Union gave us a 6k walk (tracked to ensure we keep up with our Us Against the Year Challenge on Map My Walk!) Perfect start to a winter Sunday morning with the added bonus of some exercise and umpteen photo opportunities. Our average pace is pretty rubbish – we stop too many times to take a photo!
A very impressive bridge well worth the trip. Fascinating structure and frightening when you see how they are held up. It was a perfect photowalk with urban opportunities everywhere – motorway bridge, the stadium, the new bridge enhanced by a surprisingly beautiful Manchester Ship Canal complete with reflections of trees and shimmering sunlight.
We finished the walk with a trip inside the Chill Factore – from urban Trafford to an alpine village in seconds! The slope is particularly impressive although I’m not sure I’ll ever be going down it! I’ll stick to taking photos of bridges!
Life and other