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Buon giorno Milano!

I had a little trip to the Italian fashion capital that is Milan last week… I was there for a workshop and although there wasn’t a lot of spare time to explore the city, I did manage a little wander…
Milan Cathedral – the Duomo di Milano – is amazing.  It sits on a central square in all it’s gothic impressiveness.  At 90 degrees to the cathedral on the same square is the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II – Italy’s oldest active shopping mall.  Inside the Galleria were high end luxury shops…  I did a little window shopping.
Trams form an important part of Milan’s transport system and seeing them reminded me of when I was in Lisbon… The temperature when I was there also reminded me of Lisbon.  It was high 20s/ low 30s and sunny and dry each day – nice to feel the warm sun when it’s really starting to cool down here.
I thought Milan was an easy place to get around – I walked pretty much everywhere.  Getting back and forth from Bergamo airport was straightforward too.  That’s quite a pleasant airport I have to say – lots of lovely shops, places to eat and places to sit.  Unlike terminal 3 at Manchester – the less said about that the better.
I enjoyed a little change of scenery and a chance to explore somewhere new.  I ate lots of pasta, focaccia and managed a couple of gelato’s too.  I could see the edge of the beautiful Italian Lakes when I was flying out of the city so maybe that’s one for our travel agenda.
Of course, I did manage to take a few pictures…

Creative Dog Photography with Elke Vogelsang

Last September I went to an outdoor dog photography workshop with Elke Vogelsang.  Elke takes amazing pictures of dogs – particularly her 3 dogs Noodles, Scout and Ioli.  I enjoyed it very much so when I saw that Elke was coming back again this year to teach a course on creative dog photography, I booked a place immediately.

The course was again held at Martin and Sue’s lovely home in the Cheshire countryside.  We started the day with a teaching session where Elke reflected on her photographic journey telling us about the business model that works for her and how she uses social media.  There were examples of her photographs, her projects, a nod to other photographers that inspire her and lots of stories about her 3 dogs in between.

A lovely lunch split the day between classroom discussion and camera action.  When we emerged from the house after lunch, the dogs seemed to know it was their chance to shine.  I am still amazed at the similarities between Luca and our Stella.  Both spaniels, both ball obsessed, both tinged with just a little bit of craziness and both with no desire to be calm and settle.  I was happy to see Molly again with her wonderful ears as well as the beautifully photogenic golden retrievers Rufus, Will, Maisy and Ruby.  Cassie was no longer so much of a puppy but still full of energy and ready for cuddles.  Rolo, Cooper and Kitty were new additions to the gang.  There could not be a more appropriate name for Rolo cleverly describing the colour of her body while also being reflective of her appetite for food.  The inadvertent consumption of half a loaf of bread that morning, resulted in her sporting a rather distinctive “podge” while it got digested.   Cooper was an exceptional model considering he wasn’t even a year old and Kitty was a wire haired fox terrier with a bit of a cheeky look.

The weather was a little on the warm side so after the dogs had done their thing, we gave them a break and went and visited the ponies in an adjacent field – someone with great foresight had agreed this with the owner’s before hand.  I’ve never photographed equine subjects before so I watched these lovely creatures for a while before taking their picture.  They seemed genuinely pleased to see us generously giving out nuzzles – although I suspect the carrots we had definitely helped on that front.

I think my 3 key learning points from the day were these:

  1. Start a project.  This was a message I took away last time and then time got away and I never got around to doing it.  Must do better this time!
  2. Try something different.  It doesn’t matter if the different thing you try doesn’t work.  Just try something else! Elke had things like prisms and a magnifying glass which can be fun and give unusual shots.
  3. Write down your goals for the year.

Despite Elke’s success, she still works hard to improve her photography and attributes her success to hard work.  I was brave enough this time to take along my book (https://www.amazon.co.uk/Nice-Nosing-You-Love-Photography/) and get Elke’s signature.  It was great to spend a day learning from such a lovely person and I also very much enjoyed the company of the likeminded dog and camera loving people who were on the course.

Here are a couple of my favourite shots from the day.  Can we make it an annual thing please Elke?

Tour of Britain & a trip out in Frank

We had a trip out in Frank this weekend.  July was the last time we’d had an outing in Frank so it was long overdue really…

We headed up on Thursday after work to camp near Kendal in Cumbria.  The plan was that this would put us in a good position to get into Ambleside early Friday morning.  We had targeted Ambleside because the Tour of Britain cycling event was passing through the village around lunch time and we both were keen to see it.  In the morning we went for a walk up to High Sweden bridge (making sure we had enough time to stop and play in Scandale Beck).  We passed a few highland cows along the way – much to Stella’s worry.

When we got back into the village, there was a really fun atmosphere as people gathered to watch the cyclists.  When the race came, there were four cyclists in a breakaway group with the rest of the peloton about 2 minutes behind them.  The peloton was stretched out in a line with their support vehicles behind them.

After a little potter around Ambleside we headed over Kirkstone Pass to our campsite in Pooley Bridge on the banks of Ullswater. We really loved Hillcroft Park.  It’s been about 10 years since we last stayed there and it’s a changed place.  It’s much bigger and there is a palatial new toilet block which include a games room with some really cool arcade games in it.  I actually said “wow” when I saw it.  The dog shower was both hilarious and super practical and there was a soundtrack in the loos which made it sound like there were birds, sheep and tractors in there.  Our pitch was enormous and we settled their nicely.

On Saturday morning we set off on a walk from one end of Ullswater to the other.  Originally we had thought we would walk up high across High Street but decided against that based on disappearing paths and drizzly weather.  The lakeside path was undulating making for some quite tough walking in places but we got to Glenridding in time to catch one of the steam ferry’s back about 2pm.  The journey took just over an hour and we sat by the bar on the boat (so Paul was happy) where it was warm and dry (so Stella and I were happy too).

The weather looked a bit changeable on Sunday morning despite the reasonably dry forecast and Stella was suffering with grazed paws again – we think it might be down to her little bow legged walk – so we decided against a big walk and headed into Keswick instead for a pub lunch and look around the shops.  It was a busy spot as a lot of others seemed to have decided on the same course of action.  We had a lovely lunch at the Royal Oak which was dog friendly and served yummy food too.   When we got back to the campsite I lost spectacularly in a five game challenge in the games room – although I did win the driving game after knocking Paul off the road.

We headed home Monday with a stop at the Tebay farm shop for some sustenance mostly in the form of pies and sausages.  The air seems to have a chill to it now and when the heating came on in the house we felt that having a fire was justified.      We finished off our break by finishing watching the TV series called Unforgotten – good stuff.

On the way up to Cumbria, we realised that the heating in the van was not working.  It was fine when we were parked up as we could plug into a hook-up and our electric heater and blanket served us well but Paul’s hands were freezing by the time we arrived at the campsite on Thursday evening and it wasn’t great trying to defog the van on Friday morning either.  But apparently cable ties and duct tape are all you need to fix the van.  Paul used some cable ties (which he just happened to have in the van) to tie open the offending valves giving us heating while we were driving for the rest of the trip.  No – we couldn’t turn it off but we weren’t going to be too cold and open windows are great at regulating temperature.

We hope to manage to get away again in October so fingers crossed for some good weather for us and for the van to be properly fixed by then!

A classic summer wedding at Holy Name of Jesus Church and Inglewood Manor

When I arrived at Charlotte’s parents’ home at 8am on the morning of Charlotte and Richard’s big day, I found preparations already in full swing.  The house was buzzing with people, energy, excitement – as well as sausages and bacon!  As the morning progressed, people came and went with the chaos increasing until everyone was ready just in time to leave for the church.  And rest.

I had the great pleasure of having Andy – one half of LLG Photography – shooting with me. I find it so necessary to get a second perspective on the day and I enjoy the company too!  Andy met the groom, his ushers and the guests at Inglewood Manor before joining them on the London bus Charlotte and Richard had hired to get everyone to the church on time.

Charlotte was a stunning bride in a classic dress and a long veil.  Richard looked very smart – and I’m not going to lie – a little nervous too.  The priest from the Holy Name of Jesus Church in Oxton had a wonderful laid back way about him which quickly relaxed the couple.  The harpist played beautifully and the voice of the singer who accompanied the hymns as well as singing a solo was pretty spell binding.  I had to remind myself to take pictures of her and not just stand there captivated by her voice.

As Richard works in the wine industry, the plentiful flow of alcoholic beverages on the bus from the ceremony to Inglewood all made sense.  What a treat to be back at Inglewood – I love the exclusivity of the venue, the amazing grounds and super friendly and helpful staff again.   The wine theme continued with the most unusual table plan formed from wine bottles as well as the cork name markers on the wedding breakfast tables.  The couple had appointed one of their guests as the Master of Ceremonies for the day – I wish Matthieu could be at every wedding I photograph.  He was a gentleman that helped us immensely throughout the day and was very entertaining too.  Thank you Matthieu.

By the time the first dance rolled around, everyone was ready to dance helped by a super engaging and entertaining band.  When I left, the party was still rocking – I suspect there may have been a few sore heads the next day!

A very big congratulations to Charlotte and Richard!

 

Mark and Marie’s Summer Seaside Wedding at the Midland Hotel in Morecambe

Venue – The Midland Hotel, Morecambe

Casino – Pier Fun Casinos

DJ – O & W Entertainment

Second Shooter – Nik Bryant Photography

I had the pleasure of photographing Marie and Mark’s wedding at the Midland Hotel in Morecambe last Friday.

I have to thank these two for introducing me to this amazing place.  When Marie and Mark first asked me to photograph their wedding, I thought it would be a good plan to check out the venue before their wedding day…  So when we were camping in the area early this year, I scheduled in a little trip to the hotel on the way back home.  However, when it was so cold in the campervan that Stella’s water bowl froze, we had a change of plans and ended up staying in the hotel (which happens to be dog friendly) instead.  I fell in love with the place…

It’s got amazing art deco style with a sort of geometric opulence that greets you before you even get through the front door.  Then there is the central spiral staircase, the chandelier in the bar and the sea views…  Marie and Mark wanted a roaring 20s wedding and they totally picked the right place to pull this off.  With the lounge singer jazzing it up on the terrace, the feathers adorning the bouquets, chairs and tables and the ladies in their sequinned dresses, I really did feel like Gatsby might just walk around the corner any minute.

Both Mark and Marie were nervous when I saw them the morning of the wedding – but an excited, happy nervous that was so infectious to be around.  Their son James looked super smart in his little suit despite the fact that the jacket and cravat never quite made it on.  After the ceremony smiles (and a few tears too) everyone seemed to really enjoy sitting on the terrace chatting, listening to the music and looking out across the sea.  The speeches made me laugh on all 3 counts and it was lovely to have a little wander down the pier with Mark and Marie after dinner for some portraits before the casino games and dancing began.

Here are a few pictures that we took of the day (with many more to follow) – a big thank-you to Nik from Nik Bryant Photography for coming along for the ride….

     

 

Beat Herder Music Festival 2018

I got tickets to the music festival called Beat Herder for his birthday this year. It ran from Friday 13 July until Sunday 15 near to Clitheroe in Lancashire and this is what happened…!

The campsites opened at 9am – we arrived just before noon. We figured that because the music didn’t start until 4pm that would give us lots of time to get set up on the campsite. We’d read ahead of time that the quieter parts of the campsite were further away from the main entrance so – as I’m quite precious about my sleep – we headed to the back of the camping fields and found a nice rural pitch. A few hours later, the field was full of people and their camping units and it no longer felt rural and certainly wasn’t quiet! Oh well – best endeavours and all that.

We headed from the campsite into the festival early Friday evening and got our schedule of events, had an explore and figured out the lay of the land. It was quite compact compared to my benchmark which was my only other previous festival experience – Glastonbury: the biggest festival in the UK! However, compact meant easy to get around and despite its small size there was a good selection of food to choose from and lots of different bars and stages to see acts on.

After having a wander around, we settled on a grassy spot on a hill looking down to the main stage and spent the evening there listening to the bands – and watching people. Wow – watching people was fascinating. The average age was probably early twenties although we weren’t the oldest there by far and there were a few families with young children there too. The temperature was in the 20s and I think it’s fair to say that people were taking advantage of the warmer weather by wearing fewer clothes… There was a bit of a karaoke thing going on when we sat down which was quite entertaining. We stayed through to see the stages’ headline act called Orbital before calling it a night – despite the fact that some of the stages had acts that went on until after 3am.

On Saturday we headed back down to the festival in the late afternoon and wandered through the main stage that the DJs were playing on called Toil Trees. It was nice to be in the shade on the hot day and we listened for a while before heading back to the main stage to see Boney M. They were really entertaining playing all their big hits – but sadly not the Christmas album which I love so much! We also saw Dreadzone before heading to a bar called the Beat Herder and District Working Men’s Social Club which had a real 70s feel to it with posters about the mining strikes and a slightly bizarre sloping floor. We saw Kevin Rowland of Dexy’s Midnight Runners there playing a DJ set– lots of popular 80s tunes – before heading back to the main stage to see my favourite new discovery of the festival which was the Saturday night headliner called Soulwax.

One of the things that stands out for me about the festival is how hard people partied… Lots of beer was consumed for sure but I could also smell pot pretty much the whole weekend and there was a lot harder stuff than that floating around too. The hardest of the partying seemed to take it’s toil on people come Saturday night with people sleeping it off in the most unusual locations, others looking very sunburnt and sorry for themselves and some behaviours which I felt created an intense, edgy vibe…

When Sunday came around there weren’t too many things jumping out of the schedule that we were desperate to see and probably because of the fact that:
· we were missing flushing toilets
· rain was forecast if we stayed until Monday which impacted decamping
· the sun at the main stage was relentless on what was a very warm day
· we weren’t partying hard enough
after a bit of a lazy morning around the van we packed up and headed back home agreeing that the festival had been an interesting experience but that we were unlikely to return… It was great to home to have a soapy, lathery shower and sleep in a nice big, soft bed!

Our next planned camping trip is to the Lake District and will be much more luxurious with access to a proper heated toilet block and everything. I will report back accordingly!

The Heat Wave of 2018

I’ve not known a summer like this since I’ve lived here… so that’s almost 20 years in case anyone is counting!  The weather is warm (sometimes hot) and very dry.  The hose pipe bans have started and there are fires on the moorland – and on Bidston Hill too.  It’s been great weather for camping and walking though so I thought I’d give a little update of a couple of the things we got up to for the past few weeks.

We went for a  walk with Denis a couple of weeks back starting in Wilmslow.  There were lots of shady paths and it wasn’t one of the hottest days we’ve had which made it great for Stella.  Although 15 miles turned into 18, I still enjoyed it (but don’t tell Denis I did…it’s fun to tease him about this mileage increase!) One of the first stops along the route was Quarry Bank Mill and the Styal Estate.  Then we walked alongside the boundary of Manchester Airport and watched a few planes taking off.  We had a stop at the Merlin pub for lunch – that was a nice place and given that it was Father’s Day seemed to be a popular place for lunch.   There were also two ice cream stops and the last leg of the route was alongside a river which Stella was most pleased about.

We also had a camping trip to Abersoch on the Llyn Peninsula in Wales with Nicola and Cathy and their families.  Nicola has a caravan that they keep there and we joined them to experience the delights of this little corner of Britain.  I do love the lovely coast line and turquoise colour of the water – it always feels to me like being abroad.  Paul and I took Friday off and travelled down in the morning stopping at Aberdaron.   This is a lovely little village with a nice beach, a great bakery and some lovely little shops including an ice cream shop!  After ice cream for me and a pie at the bakery for Paul, we headed to the beach for a little walk and play.  Stella loved running in and out of the surf playing ball.

We headed to the campsite where we found ourselves on a farm in a camping field to ourselves.  Stella was in heaven.  Even more so when the rest of the party joined us – more friends to play ball with.  On Saturday we went for a coastal walk – estimated distance 8 miles, actual distance 15).  There was ice cream, a pub stop and 3 beaches along the way.  We all felt we’d earned the sunny BBQ that night – lovely to sit chatting and still being warm outside.

We got up early the next day to come away so we were home in time for England’s second World Cup football game.  I came away with a couple of extra horse fly bites and sun burns on the back of both legs where I’d missed with the sunscreen but we both really enjoyed the weekend, the company of the others, the food, the walk and the weather.     The van does get a little toasty when the sun hits full power but it’s a small price to pay.  Our next van adventure is not too far away in a couple of weeks… it would be great if it was warm and dry but fingers crossed for temperatures in the low 20s rather than the high 20s!

 

Susan and Callum’s Summer Wedding at West Tower Manor House, Lancashire

June 29 2018

Venue – West Tower Manor House, Lancashire

Flowers – The Flower Studio, Manchester

Ice Cream – Ice Cream Dub

The weather in June in the UK can be anything really – cold, wet, sunny, warm – take your pick.  I guess I probably thought that the warm and sunny option was unlikely when I first met with Susan and Callum to discuss their plans but as the heat wave continues in the UK, it turned out to be a very warm and a very sunny day.  On this occasion my camera bag packing list included sun screen… It’s not often that makes the cut!  I’ve still not figured out if booking the ice cream van (Ice Cream Dub) was as a result of the bride and groom’s sixth sense for what the weather was going to be like or if they also understand (as I do) that there is in fact no bad time for ice cream and it would still be appropriate if it was cold and rainy.

West Tower is a lovely place for a wedding – no wonder it has won so many awards.  For six years in a row it has been voted the County Brides North West Wedding Awards Best Wedding Venue.  I love that Susan and Callum and their family and friends had the place to themselves and were able to wander around the grounds (in between the ceremony, dinner and dancing) finding ice cream, shade and thirst quenching beverages at the bars. Apparently air conditioning was one of Callum’s *mustcriteria when they were searching for a wedding venue and I have to admit, that was a welcome relief throughout the day from the sun and warmth.  Well done Callum.

Susan is probably one of the most organised people I know so the day ran like clockwork.  I enjoyed my time with the girls while they got ready in the beautiful bridal suite watching the guests arrive on the lawn downstairs.  The ceremony was simple and pretty with bright yellow flowers from The Flower Studio injecting a real summertime vibe.  Another highlight for me was Callum and his speech – that little waver in his voice when he turned his attention to Susan gave me goose bumps… even in the heat.  The sunset was also something pretty special.

Here are a few of the pictures that we took– Simon was very capably shooting with me throughout the day again.  I am always grateful for his perspective and  company.

Susan & Callum-4142Susan & Callum-4200Susan & Callum-4077Susan & Callum-4227Susan & Callum-4139Susan & Callum-Susan & Callum-4308Susan & Callum-4337Susan & Callum-4205Susan & Callum-4211Susan & Callum-4384Susan & Callum-4255Susan & Callum-4497Susan & Callum-4522Susan & Callum-29019Susan & Callum-4620Susan & Callum-4738Susan & Callum-4752Susan & Callum-2Susan & Callum-4526Susan & Callum-29313Susan & Callum-4644Susan & Callum-9642Susan & Callum-9682Susan & Callum-9683Susan & Callum-9706

A day in the life of Wirral Animal Sanctuary’s Hedgehog Centre

I took a trip down to Wirral Animal Sanctuary’s Hedgehog Centre last weekend with the idea of documenting a day in the life of the centre. It can be a very busy place – especially in the winter when they had more than 70 hedgehogs at the peak – but even with a mere 20 in (as was the case during my visit) there is still loads to do!

Liz was in charge of the centre on the day of my visit. She was supported by three dedicated volunteers with other team members popping in with donations and deliveries throughout the day.  Ghost the cat also kept popping in and out – for attention mainly it would seem – which he got by the bucket load.

Each of the occupied cages needs cleaning and the bedding refreshed every day. Sometimes medication needs to be given to help the patients ward off infections or to restore their water levels. One of the hedgehogs needed a foot spa because of its infected foot.  Another had some ticks which required removal.  One needed some cream on his nose where a strimmer had nipped the tip of it.  A faecal sample needed to be taken and analysed from another.

There are a couple of incubators for the really sick hedgehogs. Unfortunately one of those was Simeon, who didn’t survive the duration of my visit – he was very poorly indeed – but the volunteers did their best to keep him warm, safe and comfortable in the final hours of his life.  Rest in peace, Simeon.

One hedgehog was admitted when I was there – another victim of a strimmer with a rather large head wound and some missing prickles. There were admission forms to fill in, weights to be established and an assessment to be carried out.  Thankfully Joseph seems to be recovering, fingers crossed for this little one.

After my visit, I decided that I needed to see a hedgehog being released back into the environment… This is such an important part of the work of the centre.  I met Martin at the Butterfly Park in New Ferry where a group of volunteers were eagerly awaiting the arrival of their newest residents.  New Ferry Butterfly Park is a Cheshire Wildlife Trust urban nature reserve developed on a former railway coal yard, goods yard and water softening plant. Once Martin had established the best place for the feeding station and shelter, Potter and Cat Woman were moved from their travel crates into their new home.  Their enthusiasm for their new found freedom wasn’t exactly mind-blowing – although we did see the nose of Cat Woman tentatively peeking out of the house just before it got too dark to see any more.  These two have definitely landed on their feet with their release location – what a great place for them.

This experience has given me a greater appreciation for the work of the centre and my already great fondness for these prickly creatures has only increased. Although we all agreed nature can be cruel when we said goodbye to Simeon, the success stories of those hedgehogs like Potter and Cat Woman really demonstrate the benefit that the Hedgehog Centre brings.

Commercial food photography for The Canadian Cottage

Canadians are recognised internationally as a friendly bunch so as I’ve got to know a local Wirral-based business called the Canadian Cottage, working together made a lot of sense. The Canadian Cottage aims to bring products popular in Canada to British tummies – and in my case Canadians tummies living in Britain!

Laura, who is the brains behind the business, asked me to shoot some pictures of her lovely goodies – without eating them first. Well, she didn’t actually say I couldn’t eat them but I cleverly realised that if I ate everything there would be nothing to shoot so I adopted the “no eating policy” as a basic code to abide by…

We started out with a few profile shots of Laura and then moved onto the goodies – starting with the maple cookies. I’ve ordered from the Canadian Cottage a couple of times and Laura asked me what my favourite is… Without even thinking I said the maple cookies.  These double layer custard cream-esk cookies with their maple buttercream centres take some beating in my mind.

Then there were the Nanaimo bars. When I make them they taste quite nice but are all a bit of a mess with ragged edges and crumbly bits – Laura’s were perfect to look at so after envying them (and then photographing them) we moved onto the peanut butter truffles.  And then the butter tarts, maple pecan tarts, chocolate chip cookies, ginger cookies, peanut butter cookies and the banana bread.  Is your mouth watering yet?  In the Canadian Cottage shop there are a couple of selection party packs you can buy so I took some photographs showing what these looked like as well.

    

We worked outside in the garden under the shade of an umbrella so the lighting was lovely and soft and the weather was fantastic. So there I am outside in the sun, enjoying being warm, photographing some of my favourite things to photograph while being able to discuss Canadian things to someone that understands.  We both agreed that this work stuff took some beating.

And to top it off, when we were done I left the shoot with a little care pack of cookies. Oh my goodness – the Peanut Butter cookies.  Are these my new favourites…?  I just ordered some.  And some of the ginger ones too.  I mean it would be wrong not to give this lovely company my business, right…?! 😉

You can find out more on Facebook at:

https://www.facebook.com/TheCanadianCottage/

And most importantly if you want to buy something, go here:

https://the-canadian-cottage.myshopify.com/