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!
As we've previously mentioned we are both 'larks', awake and ready to go very early in the morning. This has its advantages - watching the sun rise, catching early morning mist, getting to work on time!
Imagine our excitement when we found out a steam train was due to pass through Manchester Victoria generating (hopefully!) lots of contrasting ancient (well maybe not ancient!) and modern transport pics! Imagine our horror when we found out it was due to pass through at 6.30am. we're about 45 minutes away from the city centre on a good day (rare and infrequent - the days when no one else is on the road!)- mentally adding on breakfast, getting ready (have to put my lipstick on!), parking, walking etc meant a very, very early start and after a busy week it was not something either of us relished.
It was an opportunity we didn't want to miss, so time to book a last minute hotel deal in Manchester for the night (this is how seriously we take our photography now!) and there was even time for a Friday night family meet up with the 'grown ups'.
Even without the travelling, Saturday still brought a very early start and when the alarm rang at 5.30am we almost had to drag each other out of bed. Thankfully Chris had done a pre-visit 'recce' on his work lunch break earlier in the week, so we knew exactly where to stand (or thought we did!). The sun was out, the city was quiet and, unlike earlier in the week, it was warmish (no frost!).
We positioned ourselves at the side of the track, just before the train would disappear inside the station - at the side of the embankment building and not on the actual track!
I didn't realise we had become train spotters too ( I will shortly be buying my very own anorak!), but there was considerable excitement as we saw the steam appear and the familiar chug chug noises. It wasn't the prettiest of steam trains, but it was a delightful sight making its way through the building works and the new flats in and around the station. Happy travellers waved from every window (they must have been up so early as the train had departed Liverpool at least 40 minutes previous) and the train looked really inviting particularly the First Class section (until we reached home and priced it up!).
As it entered Victoria Station, we casually set off to the other side of the bridge to see it come out the other side. Even managing to look at each others videos and photos! At this point our plans went slightly (well massively!) array - neither of us had read the actual timings! We waited until 7am and then checked to find the train had just gone straight through Victoria and we had completely missed its departure! Still, no time for disappointment as we saw lots of early morning trains and trams and the trainlines looked particularly impressive in the early morning sunshine!
So, there we were 7am - all done for the day and a bit lost for ideas. The lighting was spectacular, so we wandered around for 8km passing through the Northern Quarter and back into the city with a stop for cinnamon swirls on the steps of the Bridgewater Hall. We still had time to kill before we were expected at our next appointment, so called in at Salford Quays (again the lighting was really, really good!) and were met by rowers, wild water swimmers and more spectacular sunshine.
All done for the day and back home in time to watch the Royal Wedding (might have been a slight afternoon nap though!) we were pretty pleased with our mornings work!
Back in the heady days of the 1970’s, adult evening classes were in their infancy and hugely popular with people flocking to learn how to do nail art, macramé and throw pots. Somewhere over the next few decades everything changed and adult education became a much more serious activity – learn a language, have another go at your O-levels (not Harry Potter exams as someone once asked!) – if you were lucky you might find a yoga class or maybe guitar, but on the whole adult education transformed into just more school. This is no criticism of the system though as I became hooked on computing and all things technical whilst a ‘stay at home’ mum in the early 90’s. A night out then comprised of various computing evening classes at Standish High School with several of my like-minded friends!
Jump forward to 2018 and crafts are enjoying a huge resurgence. Pay a visit to Youtube or Pinterest and you will find instructions on how to create a wide variety of arts and crafts.
We are an enthusiastic (!) family of crafters some of us paint, some of us sew, some of us make a mess…. but we do love to try something new!
Imagine our excitement when we heard that Lizzie Griffiths, aka @potterylizzie, in conjunction with her team at Wigan STEAM, were starting arts and craft classes in the evenings at their base in Wigan Town Centre. Trying hard to curb our enthusiasm (and purses) two of us signed up to have a go at three of the classes during 2018.
May 2nd brought the first of these classes and off we went to create mosaic bird feeders.
From past experiences art usually passes me by - I love to look at it and admire other people’s work, but finding a spark of creativity is not one of my skills! I am a keen sewer and, as you know, love photography and writing and in those areas I do seem to be able to be a little bit ‘creative’ but art/painting/making things usually results in items only your mother would love! I approached the class with low expectations for my finished piece, but a night out with my daughter and a chance to work with Lizzie was highly anticipated.
Wigan Steam’s base is opposite the Wigan Life Centre; a small shop front leading to a creative, quirky place fully reflecting Lizzie’s personality. Rows of stringed lightbulbs and Radio 6 playing in the background - the four of us worked under the guidance of Lizzie to create our bird feeders on what was almost a kitchen table. It was intimate and friendly and who knew how much health and safety is involved with mosaic making? Watch out for flying shards of tiles, don’t inhale the glue and watch your fingers when you grout!
Lizzie was a great teacher and as a group we worked together to produce extraordinary feeders. Despite having no idea what design to do (everyone else had clear ideas from the start) I got very distracted by a gorgeous red tile and was persuaded by my daughter to do a poppy. Lucy settled on a bee theme and off we set smashing and cutting, glueing and arranging. In addition to being a relaxing creative pastime it is also extremely therapeutic – smash away your worries and stress with the hammer, but just remember to warn everyone else so they can keep hold of their pots!
Two hours soon passed and the evening ended with Lizzie showing us all how to grout. We took our grout home in doggy ‘poo’ bags – any dog owner will always have a supply of them in their pocket! 24 hours and our pots will be ready to grout and then finished.
I am pleased to say our pots survived the journey home despite the crashing noise I heard from the boot on the way home! They are now both waiting patiently for us to grout and I am thrilled and really quite amazed that I actually love mine! I fully embraced randomness and love how haphazard and colourful it is. Maybe this is a lesson for life I should give up on everyday structure and fully embrace my randomness!
We are now booked on a course later in the year to screenprint and just before Christmas we will be creating lanterns! It was such a fun and entertaining evening and I bought home something pretty for a change I am quite sure we will be trying many more crafty things this year!
Thanks to Lizzie for a great evening and sorry about the mess we all left!
PS - Photos were taken on my new Huawei P20 Pro, which claims to have the best mobile phone camera ever at a very reasonable price - none of the photos have been edited and I am pretty impressed with the results!
After what seems to have been a very long winter, with parts of the country being deluged with snowfall and bad weather (as is common in our little part of the UK we seem to always miss the worst extremes of the weather - possibly due to being on the sheltered side of the Pennines) towards the end of April saw the sun finally make an appearance with the hottest April temperature in 70 years, 29.1C (84.4F), being recorded in London.
We usually go out and about with our cameras every weekend and when we have time during the week, evenings too. Everywhere has looked very bleak with bare trees, spring flowers only just beginning to appear and grey skies, but all this changed almost overnight last week.
As the sun came out the skies turned blue, leaves began to appear on the trees and we even spotted a bluebell poking its head above the soil! (early for April?). Sadly, the sun and the heat seemed to have a detrimental effect on the rows of very late yellow daffodils, which appeared to have wilted and died almost overnight.
A morning mid week walk on the #warmestdayoftheyear (don’t forget the hashtag!) with the sunshine casting glorious shadows in the woodlands and on fences and buildings - followed by a Saturday afternoon walk, which saw blue skies and a temperature of 22C (almost 72F) plus a few complaints about how hot we were! The fields and paths were full of walkers and dogs, teenagers playing music and spending time together in the woods and even a tractor ploughing his dusty fields. Fields of yellow rapeseed and the sounds of cricketers playing in the sunshine. It definitely felt like summer!
Fingers crossed that these idyllic few days are not summer 2018 and that there is plenty more to come!
It’s long been a surprise to me that people complain about the clocks going forward and ‘losing an hour’. We are both ‘larks’ and always wake early (mostly too early), so when the clocks go forward, its actually a relief, as instead of being up and ready to go at 5am, we move to 6 for a while!
The first morning of British Summertime 2018 saw us both wide awake at 6am and, after a brief discussion with our under the bed Alexa, we decided to get up and go out to try and photograph a sunrise.
First surprise of the morning was how cold and frosty it was – the car needed de-icing, everywhere was white and very misty and it was very cold. We had decided to go and see if we could capture anything interesting from one of our regular walks looking out to Winter Hill and Rivington Pike and, after the sun had appeared, walk down to the United Utilities owned reservoirs at Worthington Lakes.
In what is becoming somewhat of a pattern, we were once again dressed incorrectly for the weather conditions. Standing in a field at 6am shrouded in mist before the sun came up was very, very cold – oh, how I wished I had remembered some gloves!
We spent 40 minutes standing watching the sun arrive and what a spectacular sight it was. Our cameras never stopped as we were surrounded by mist, eerily hanging round the trees, and the fields were all white with frost. Beautiful.
Once the sun arrived, the view was transformed with golden light now shining on the mist and illuminating the surroundings.
We walked the 4k route around the lakes, passing fishermen and runners and even some early morning dog walkers. The air was peaceful apart from the early morning birds singing and surprisingly the two lakes appeared to be in two different climates. The larger lake was bathed in golden sunshine with spectacular reflections of the trees and the wildlife. As we approached the smaller lake it was like stepping back into the artic – completely shrouded in mist with a watery sun just appearing. We met a friendly Robin – they are such a tame bird, photographed Canada geese drifting through the mist (my favourite photographs of the morning) and captured fishermen and walkers who were barely visible.
We took over 400 photographs in just over an hour and a half and, unusually for us, we loved almost all of them. Newly purchased Luxe Lens pre-sets for Adobe’s Lightroom kept Chris busy for most of the day. The pre-sets allow you to enhance your photographs in minutes at a very reasonable price. So, apologies to all our Instagram followers as our Instagram feed might get very repetitive for a few weeks!
Twitter is a tool we’ve not really got our heads round yet – easy to use and interesting to read but somehow not as easy to interact with your followers and ‘digital friends’. What it does seem to be better at is interacting with businesses –somehow a ‘disgruntled’ tweet seems to get a much quicker response than an email. Can’t remember ever seeing a customer service complaint on Instagram!
We do have Twitter to thank though for our recent (very small!) piece of good luck when we won two tickets courtesy of Fujifilm UK to a presentation of our choice on the Super Stage at the Photography Show 2018. Great excitement when Samara from Fujifilm contacted us to give us the good news – free tickets to anything are great aren’t they? We did have to buy the tickets to get in and buy the train tickets but definitely worth it – just don’t ask about what else we bought (should have left our credit cards at home!)
It is many years since we have been to the NEC at Birmingham. (Birmingham again - its becoming a pattern…) . The last time we were there was before we were married – probably 30 years ago - to watch one of our favourite bands at the time The Cure. Hard to believe how far we used to have to travel to see a concert. Thank goodness for the arenas which have sprung up in most cities. Back then we had an hour and a half drive down the M6 which in these current days of horrific traffic would probably take much longer, but thankfully from Wigan trains go direct to the NEC in just over an hour and a half.
The train was very busy and great fun. There were three large shows on that day the Photography Show, a Sewing and Crafts show and most excitedly Birmingham Comic Con! Time for a game of passenger bingo – who was going where? The Comic Con cosplayers were easy to spot in fantastic costumes many of which looked home made – maybe they were doing a 2 for 1 with the sewing show? We had two characters behind us dressed in Final Fantasy costumes and one who appeared to be carrying what had once been an ironing board and had a new life as some sort of sword. As the train pulled into Birmingham International it was standing room only and the addition of the ‘ironing board’ into the queue to get off caused endless laughter amongst the passengers. It was a real life game of tetris as we all tried to get in position to get off or just get out the way!
The entrance to the exhibition halls was dominated by colourful characters and it was a pleasure to see how much effort people had put into their costumes. Our camera was in our bag but we’re both a bit shy at photographing people so there it stayed. I do wish I had been braver as I am sure the photos would have been amazing.
Photography Show 2018 was much quieter and we were soon inside and overawed by the sheer size of the hall and the number of exhibitors. We had a guide but no plan so decided to just wander up and down and ‘browse’. 2 hours and 5km later it was lunch time, we had a shopping list and we were very hot. Outside was -3 and snowing so we were dressed accordingly. Inside was toasty warm and obviously dry! Tip 1 – dress very differently to us!
I was surprised at what a male dominated world photography appears to be. Where are all the female photographers? There were some families which was lovely to see and the occasional woman but the hall and most of the stands were very heavily male. To cater to this audience lots of the camera stalls had young female models there to allow people to experiment with taking different shots and using their equipment. Well done to Fujifilm who bucked the trend and had a very regal Greek God on their stand the day we visited. Can’t help but wonder how these actors describe that job on their CV’s but well done to all of them I don’t expect they get paid too much and it must be a very tiring strange day.
For our free tickets we had chosen to attend the presentation on the Super Stage by Art Wolfe. Now one of us is not good at sitting watching things like that and was really just looking forward to a rest but how wrong could I have been! From the minute he started talking I was so engaged. His photographs were breathtaking but the story of his life was inspiring and just so interesting. I particularly loved the photographs he had taken of the tribes he had spent time with as well as the views from the mountains he had climbed. I sat in the auditorium trying to work out how we could get such photographs – I have to admit I have never been up a mountain. He overran considerably and still didn’t get to the end but it was an extremely entertaining way to spend 90 minutes and we loved it! Once again thanks to Samara (who we did go over and thank personally) we were very grateful for the free tickets and especially her help when we realised the day before we had booked the wrong date!
Overall we both really loved the show and of course didn’t come home empty handed!
So what did we buy?
There was another piece of kit we saw which we really loved but couldn’t find any excuse to spend £200 on. The Adaptalux Lighting Studio consisted of tiny very bright LED lights on the end of adjustable arms. If you’ve ever seen the original War of the Worlds film they looked just like the alien ships! The lights were available in different colours and allowed the photographer to cast colours on objects making very interesting and unusual macro photos. We loved them and maybe one day will get some of our own!
Finally there was a chance to get our hands on the brand new Fujifilm X-H1 a definite step up from our trusty pair of
X-T1s. It just felt so right and the performance was out of the park – definitely marked that one for the future.
Thanks once again to Fujifilm for the tickets, which gave us the impetus to visit the Photography Show. As first time visitors we learnt a lot on the day not just about photography and I am sure we will be back next year!
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!
January is such a strange month - nothing much happening after the excitement of Christmas and New Year, no presents to buy, no food to plan for and probably for most people either a big credit card or no money in the bank account after the excesses of the previous month. Its a month of new starts - diets, exercise, savings - we all do it at least for a few weeks! It probably should be a restful month after the stress of the Christmas build up - a month of winter walks and holiday planning.
Our January hasn't turned out like that! For some reason both of our 'grown ups' decided to start 2018 with a big new start and are currently in the process of moving house/flat , which (as we all know) brings a whole new range of stress and worry to everyone involved!
Lucy and Simon finally move this weekend after selling their house back at the beginning of October - house sales take so long now! Adam is right at the start of his process but as it is a flat for flat rental swap it probably should be a quicker process - won't it? I really hope so! With lots of paperwork to sort and discussions needed we decided to take a trip to the brand new Salford-ish Tim Hortons. But did it live up to expectations?
After a busy, and at times, stressful 2017, this year's Christmas break was a much needed time to rest and recharge. Thanks to some good weather almost every day, we took the time to take our cameras out around our local area and simply walk and talk and photograph. We had sunsets and frost, icy puddles and lots of mud! A new pair of walking boots is definitely needed - soggy socks are not pleasant!
We are so lucky to share the same hobby (although at different levels of skill and experience!) and thankfully neither of us are too competitive!
Emma Davies – A Year with my camera
Surprisingly, recently I have actually felt the need to learn about the different things my camera can do. Chris is great, but maybe not the best at teaching as he is completely in the ‘zone’ and fully immersed in any task he is doing – I’m like the annoying five year old tugging at his arm for attention! In order to remedy this I have signed up for the free email photography course run by Emma Davies – A Year with my Camera. It started in September and as usual I am already 2 weeks behind so have now bought the accompanying workbook to ensure I keep up! Two lessons in and I am now somewhat of an expert (!) in aperture and managed to obtain the correct results with my f2.8 setting – large aperture – small depth of field – blurry background – I was really impressed! Lesson 1 was a revelation – who knew the tricks your camera was up to! It looks like it is going to be a great tool to help me improve and as so many people who are doing the course feel the need to share all of their attempts it is a big help in assessing how you are actually doing. Check Instagram for the #ayearwithmycamera hashtag (although you won’t find any of mine!)
Life and other