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!
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 !
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!
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?
One of our favourite places to join the canal is behind the Fredericks Ice Cream shop on Bolton Road, on the approach to Chorley. Anyone who lives in the vicinity will definitely have taken a trip to Fredericks and sampled their ice creams. The shop has been there since the 1890's, so there has been plenty of time! The legendary shop (locally anyway!) always has a huge variety of flavours some traditional and some just strange! The queues in the summer on warm days can stretch all the way down a very long Bolton Road, which no doubt causes the locals considerable parking angst! If you follow the path at the side of the shop it takes you down past the factory where they produce all their ice cream (tiny place - don't expect huge smoke filled industrial buildings!) to a seating area and the canal. Left takes you into Chorley and right leads you through a canal side residential area. On a warm sunny night this is a magical place full of houseboats and fairy lights - people sitting reading and eating at fires with fantastic views of Winter Hill and beyond behind them. Horses in the fields, beautiful reflections - it looks like an idyllic way to live and always makes us want to 'drop out' of our current way of life and try something different - a life on the waves (albeit very gentle ones!)! Second only fantasy to the travelling the world in a camper van one - we're hardly original!
So a cold, damp January Sunday led to a bracing, windy walk through piles of mud down the stretch of the Leeds Liverpool between Appley Bridge and Parbold. It was a real trudge, the mud was really thick and the wind was blowing a gale!
I was convinced I had nothing of interest on my camera at the end of it- nothing had inspired me - I was cold and tired and very muddy! Tree lined canals are very bleak without their leaves and a dull sky didn't help. But, as is often the case, something that doesn't look that interesting is transformed after a little experimenting on Lightroom!
Shot of the day by far was Chris' mean and moody bridge. He loves black and white! I must try harder next time - although I'm secretly pleased (and a little bit shocked) with some of my efforts!
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!
Life and other