Postcards from the City: UK Cityscapes

Postcards from the City, UK Cityscapes is a project being developed by local-to-me photographer Mandy Charlton; Mandy plans to document and photograph all 69 cities of the United Kingdom and inspire them to make bold moves in their lives. No project like this has been undertaken, whilst you will find lists of UK cities and regional tourist information no one person has produced a book featuring all 69 cities of the United Kingdom.

Mandy is undertaking a Crowdfunding route to financing the project “this initial funding will get me to many of the cities and as art is produced city by city I forsee that interest will continue to grow which will enable me to continue this to fruition. At the end of the project there will be a glorious photo book produced with all of the 69 cityscapes in accompanied by some of the adventures I’ve happened upon along the way.”

As you know, I often blog about mental health, Mandy blogs about her own mental health and reason for undertaking this project here – I think she’s taking an incredible step with this project both for herself and as an inspiration to others, in making a donation to Mind, and as well in documenting our great country; I love how she’s captured Newcastle, get involved to bring her to your city next!


Sunny yellow gardening

A spot of sunny yellow gardening this week, Nanna’s garden this time! Somehow I just knew it was a sunny yellow day and went for my favourite cardigan when I rummaged through my drawers!

I have a guest post with Mumsdays on mixing Toddler Art with Wildlife!


I had my brilliant helper out again, Joss is asking to go outside more and more, she is also showing her stubborn side when told that we are staying indoors, for example because she has no clothes on yet, her response to throwing a wobbler? “I’m not sorry!”


Five blog photo design tips for non-artistic types!

I wish I was artistic, I like to think I’m creative and have a good eye for design and colour, but I can’t draw for toffee and struggle in the execution of the masterpiece ideas I visualise in my head.

I bring you fellow non-artists five blog photo design tips — disclaimer — I am no expert but I have spent a month messing about with some failures but some successes too – just see this as something to get you thinking!


  • Inspiration

Take inspiration from setups that you really like. I absolutely adore flowers and this Red Magazine floral splash really caught my eye. Lots of rich colours, carefully chosen textures and playful shapes! This is my What’s The Story photo for this week, as I can’t stop looking at these two pages of this magazine!


  • Design cheats

So this is what you see…gosh doesn’t Ang have some cool wallpaper?!


…and what you don’t see! Just a big old piece of plywood and some cheap wrapping paper!


  • Colour

Create mood boards to experiment with colours, textures, backdrops and more, see how clashing colours work, pile stuff together, break them up, having that big bit of plywood helps as a base!


  • Themes

I love a nautical theme and it often creeps into my craft, I like to use props that reflect this theme, and we’ve a lot of beachy stuff around the house!


Look out for small bits and bobs from nature to add interest to your photos, like this little whale eraser that cost me a quid and often crops up in photos!


  • Props

Props can be anything, stuff you have around the house repurposed to add interest to your shots. Mix textures, colours, shapes and shade, here’s a selection that I use:

1) Huge fabric flower 2) LOVE lettering from our master bedroom 3) Dried craspedia heads 4) A noticeboard 5) Crochet cloths to add colour and texture just a quid each on Ebay 6) A string of vintage beads


This is a little setup in Joss’ room


And that wreath from our wedding day…


Frequently crops up in blog pics!


And finally, take your lead from the experts, check out magazines that you like and blogs that you like, and really look at their styling!

South Shields Summer – Well Sort of Summer

A birthday trip to be beach for turning two was in order this week, the start of our South Shields Summer (it’s our nearest beach, just 20 minutes away, lucky us!)

Daddy and Joss dashed to the water whilst I dealt with the pram and the sand!


We came across this fellow, I decided he looked angry (sadly he was an expired crab so maybe he was angry :( oh dear!)


But it was a good learning experience for Joss and she got to have a really good look at him, sorry poor crab!


Ok it’s not ‘sort of summer’ like I said in the title, it’s spring, but I love the coast too much to stay away and the icecream is too nice not to enjoy it in all seasons!

Infact this expression says ‘stricken’ – I’ve eaten this icecream really very quickly and have a spot of brain freeze, poor pet!


Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall

A birthday week

Real Life

It’s been a birthday kinda week this week, Joss turned two and we spent time with our extended families over the long weekend. A lot of cake was eaten, including these gorgeous cake pops that my parents made for Joss to share with her friends at our childminder’s house.

Then on the big day itself her Daddy and I took the day off and headed down to the Coast, probably our favourite place to be, a spot of sun, sea air and icecream! We found a birthday crab, exciting!





This week has also been crazy busy, I did two radio shows, not bad for someone who is terrified of public speaking, but the message was an important one, pre and postnatal mental health should be talked about, and we’re starting to do that in Newcastle, I just didn’t expect to do that with such a big audience!


Blog Life

Two weeks ago I started keeping a blog diary/notebook, it’s a beaut but the content has become important too!


I’ve started to keep a list of media contacts, short term ideas and longer term plans for the blog. Why am I being so organised? Well managing work and juggling home life leaves very little space for those random ideas that pop into my head to find a spot to stick, so this is it! Do you write notes and blog ideas? Any tips for keeping it together?


How’s this magazine spread for mad styling skills!? I kept coming back to this in Red Magazine, it’s inspired a post I’m blogging tomorrow about styling in blog photos.


– See more at:

Washi Blog Notebook

A cheapy buff coloured notebook transformed with the use of washi tape; my washi blog notebook has come everywhere with me the past two weeks and I haven’t had bloggers block at all!


I love the sea, anything nautical themed just jumps out at me so these tapes and papers were inspired by a recent trip to the sea.



The notebook itself is divided into three sections, short term blog ideas, contacts and long term plans. I can scribble in it on the go and it’s proved a great source of inspiration over the last fortnight.

Do you keep a blog notebook with you? How do you use it?

Talking about depression

Talking about depression or mental health is really tough, the first time you talk about it emotions can take over, or fear of judgement can stop you. If you feel strong enough to keep talking eventually you start to care less about what people think and then the first time someone says they’ve felt the same or they understand it starts to click; the more people who open up the less we feel ashamed.

If I know I’m struggling I often think of Mr Chartwell, Rebecca Hunt’s brilliantly conceived of metaphor for Churchill’s depression, creeping Black Pat. She captures the weightyness so well:

‘I understand that we share a wicked union, and I know the goblin bell which summons you comes from a tomb in my heart. And I will honour my principles, labouring against the shadows you herald. I don’t blench from my burden, but -’ here he let out a deep breath, laying the glasses down gently – ‘it’s so demanding; it leaves me so very tired. It would be some small comfort to me if I could ask how long I must endure this visit. Please, when do you leave?’

“It’s hard to explain. With Churchill we know each other’s movements, so we have a routine, I guess. I like to be there when he wakes up in the morning. Sometimes I drape across his chest. That slows him down for a bit. And then I like to lie around in the corner of the room, crying out like I have terrible injuries. Sometimes I’ll burst out at him from behind some furniture and bark in his face. During meals I’ll squat near his plate and breathe over his food. I might lean on him too when he’s standing up, or hang off him in some way. I also make an effort to block out the sunlight whenever I can.”

See, heavy, painful, emotional.

I had this poster up in my old office, that stat 1 in 4 is an important one, it would be nice to see the ‘many more’ reduced.


This week I took another step in ‘talking about it’ – specifically my experience of postnatal depression and anxiety.

First off Hannah from Mumsdays blogged my two part birth story, then I was interviewed for BBC Radio Newcastle talking about PND and how men are affected (podcast here, I’m 37 minutes in) and the next day Metro Radio called me to ask me to give another interview which goes out tomorrow about the Support Group I’m setting up affilated with PANDAS foundation.

It wasn’t easy for someone who doesn’t really enjoy public speaking to open up so publicly about my experiences, hearing myself saying ‘I experienced postnatal depression’ and ‘I struggled with early motherhood’ was tough but if it helps just one other person to come to our support group or open up about how they’re feeling then that’s been a conversation worth having.

If you want to start to talk about PND and want somewhere to practice before you do it ‘in real life’ then the weekly #pndchat on twitter could be a really good starting point.

You will get mixed reactions, people might not know what to say, but voicing your feelings is an amazing step towards taking back some power, let’s keep the conversation going!

- See more at:

Artisan Coffee – An Epic Brew to See You Through

Caffeine is pretty important to busy folk, parents included. My favourite time of day when I’m at work is about 2:30, that’s when I really need an epic brew to see me through, especially if it’s been a bad night with teething the night before.


Today’s blog post is brought to you by my bro, he booked himself on a barista course a few weeks ago and I asked him to share a few pointers:

My week is made up of studying chemistry, climbing, and AA meetings, the latter usually go something like this:

‘Hello, my name is John, I’m 22 years old and I’m addicted to coffee.’

Arabica Anonymous groups may not exist yet, but they’re most definitely a concept I’m thinking of holding if I ever own a coffee shop.


When my sister asked me to guest on her blog regarding coffee, and the things I learned on a recent Barista Training course I attended at Pumphrey’s in Blaydon, I was kind of deer-in-headlights. What with university deadlines, pending exams, bar work, and the countless other pastimes that seem to make up my early twenties, what the hell do I know about blog writing?
I’d first state that if you ever want to drink coffee from Starbucks, Costa, or any of the other various high street purveyors of fresh ground espresso based coffees whom could be named, never (no, seriously, NEVER) attend one of these courses. A true espresso is an art; flavoursome, full bodied, and the best way to savour coffee beans, and unfortunately, the giants of the high street manage to butcher this.

Being taught that correct extraction time is supposed to take in the ballpark of 27 seconds has led to subconscious timing whilst I sit waiting for friends to arrive in coffee shops in Sheffield. I silently sit and judge baristas if their puck (the disk of leftover coffee grounds post-extraction of espresso) doesn’t drop out in a perfect round, whether it be too wet where it hasn’t been tamped (packed down) properly or they’ve used too little a mass of coffee, or not fine enough a grind. And I attempt to place names to the various nuances in the flavour of beans.

So, what exactly did I take from the course other than a development of next level espresso snobbery?

  • Leaving ground coffee in the open air for more than a few minutes leads to a large loss of flavour, oxidation happens, oils evaporate and overall you’ll wind up with coffee lacking body. Store coffee in a sealed bag, with minimal air left in the bag, and preferably as fresh beans (although I do get that it may be a pain and mean you need to wake up that bit earlier to make a brew in the morning, I promise you it is worth it)
  • Money is better spent on a decent electric grinder than a ridiculously over the top espresso machine (and by that I mean the more even the grind, the better the espresso you’re going to extract, you aren’t going to be making a brilliant coffee regardless of how good your machine is if you are putting rubbish into it)
  • Rather than trying to get this down to an art at home on your own, it is more than well worth while getting yourself on a course. Although it sounds rather expensive (£84 for the course I attended) the volume of materials you use would more than definitely set you back a fair bit, and of course, you have instruction on top of that.
    If you can’t afford an espresso machine (whether this be monetarily, or owing to kitchen workspace) filter, siphon, moka pot and aeropress coffee makers are all viable alternatives (although none of them produce a true espresso) and make fantastic coffee when handled correctly.
  • Aside from this, I’m going to take a second to hope you’re reading right up until the end of the blog in order that I can try and promote artisan coffee shops. Caffeine magazine (which you can pick up in a number of the small independent coffee retailers) is a beautiful and free source of coffee based information, and usually has advertisements and a list of coffee shops that stock it. Given that the only two coffee shops I have visited that stock it are known for their craft, I can only but assume that the distribution list is a rough who’s who of the UK coffee scene, and I would suggest you check out their website (


Anyway, hopefully that is enough for my first (only?) (Ed: nah, I’ll get him on here again!) blog post. I’m also hoping it was what my sister was after from me, otherwise I’ve just wasted quite a long time where I could have been avoiding uni work…


Thanks John for a great first blog post, look forward to you making me an epic brew next time you’re home!

Tasty Tuesdays on

Speaking Up and Speaking Out for LB: Having a voice and being heard

Connor Sparrowhawk’s death on 4th July 2013 was entirely preventable.

He was just 18 years old, a fit and healthy young dude known online and by his loved ones as Laughing Boy (LB), LB loved buses, London and Eddie Stobart, he also happened to have autism and epilepsy.

LB drowned in the bath at an Assessment and Treatment Unit where he had been for 107 days. How can it be that in a fully staffed assessment and treatment unit a young man with a known history of seizures can drown in a bath with nobody noticing until it was too late?

His mother Sara’s fight to bring about #JusticeforLB started with a battle to get an independent investigation into his death commissioned, and another fight for its publication. The #107days campaign is borne out of her wish to inspire, collate and share positive actions being taken to bring about #justiceforLB and all other young dudes. You can read more of the background here and here.

I started to follow Sara’s blog way back when she was talking about what a good life would look like for Connor; a fellow social researcher unpacking the big issues around disability; how heartbreaking to read of his death in July 2013, I felt as though I knew LB and his family, knew the direction in which they were headed.

I asked to adopt day 48 of #107days because it’s my daughter’s birthday, I have a strong interest that she develops a desire to tackle issues of social (in)justice and so it seemed an appropriate way to focus my attention. This blog post is where my personal and work lives collide. I have spent much of my working life campaigning for the availability of independent advocacy in Gateshead at Gateshead Voluntary Organisation Council, but in doing so realised early on that my job was not just to promote services and seek funding, but to challenge the practice that advocates see in their day to day work.

Something from my first ever self-advocacy workshop has always stuck in my mind, I delivered a session with a group of young adults with learning disabilities, we looked at some images associated with advocacy, one guy piped up “why do they always use a photo of a megaphone in these speaking up things? You can shout loud and clear but they still don’t hear you, it should be a picture of a fella and his advocate with the hundred-odd letters and emails they’ve sent about a problem instead…”

I want to use the opportunity to blog on day 48 about the importance of having a voice and being heard. Why is it so significant to know that Connor loved Eddie Stobart, buses and speaking his mind? It brings a context that we all have our own interests and our own ideas about what a good life is like, knowing about people also makes them visible and difficult to ignore.

Sara’s blog posts and responses to the independent investigation into Connor’s death make one thing so obvious – I can practically hear her shouting loud and clear about his epilepsy, seizures, about her rights, LB’s rights – here was a voice that was not being heard.

(Another bus for LB)

So if health and care services don’t hear the voices that are shouting loudly what about the people who have no family, no advocate, no-one speaking for them? The Department of Health’s Winterbourne View report, noted: “Failure to listen to people…and their families [is] a common experience and totally unacceptable”. So a voice is speaking, but what are the barriers to being heard then?

Connor went from being at home with his family to being on an assessment and treatment unit. Let’s take a moment to think about what a home environment might be like, familiar, comforting and for LB somewhere where he and his family would have spent years navigating what a good life looked like, he shared a room with his brother his whole life, creating an environment where he could be expressive and learn to speak his mind.

Imagine being 18 years old and moving into a hospital environment, to live, for 107 days (or, sadly, possibly longer)?

LB was admitted under the Mental Capacity Act, later he was detained under the Mental Health Act. The independent investigation highlighted that staff on the unit tried to explain his rights but LB became distressed so they stopped. The independent investigation suggests there was a lack of clarity from staff both about the purpose of the unit and about why LB was there; if staff did not have a clear understanding of why LB was there how on earth could LB have understood? Shouldn’t he have been helped to understand?

When someone with a disability or mental health issues known to social services turns 18 they undergo a social care process called transition. In effect they transition from children’s to adult services. Who could ensure that LB did understand? His mother surely?

She had to navigate a confused and confusing access system owing to the fact that Connor was over 18 and therefore an adult and could choose or refuse to see his family (dependent, we might assume, on how well or otherwise staff communicated with him?) There is a strong sense from Sara that she wanted LB to live an independent life and make his own decisions, but under these circumstances it seems once the age of transition is reached common sense goes out of the window and regulations about access become king. How come for the first few weeks access was largely unrestricted? Was there some sort of unspoken settling in period after which families are somehow no longer needed?

A final word on speaking up in care settings, I strongly believe that all vulnerable adults should have access to someone who can help them speak up or speak on their behalf, the Care Bill looks set to move in this direction, but how will it be paid for and how will it be delivered? People have had a right to an Independent Mental Health Advocate under the MHA for some years now and we know many don’t see this right respected because of patchy provision, poor commissioning or poor application of the law.

What do we do about making listening the norm against a backdrop of health and social care systems, treatment options, legislation, guidance and working practices? What stops it? Is it that in cases like this decisions must be made quickly so they are made on the person’s behalf? Maybe they’re felt to be in danger or they have an urgent and pressing health concern and the person and their family get left behind? Clearly the very fact that statutory advocacy exists at all suggests we understand the need to hear the person in all of this, so why did Connor’s mum have to fight to be heard?

What would make a difference?

LB’s situation was surely one of the most vulnerable, a young man away from home, navigating a complex system of physical and mental health, sometimes experiencing the conditions that seem to go alongside presenting challenging behaviours; medication, detainment, restraint, with very little support. The idea of whole person care is gaining momentum, moving from the silos of health, mental health and social care to ‘seeing the whole person’ – this must include the bigger picture of families and carers, seeing them and hearing them too.

Properly funded advocacy for all vulnerable adults would be a good starting point. The NHS Constitution is supposed to extend in law a right for patients and their families to be heard. This is not a document to be referred to only in case of complaint but to be woven into practice, especially at the harder end of care. We need to see it given teeth, with a robust evidence base to monitor its application, and it needs to hold the same importance for practitioners as clinical guidelines do.

My blog’s readership is in the main parents, so I wanted to take the time to make an ask. Take a look at this post on what you can do to support this campaign, maybe consider taking the time to talk to someone else about LB’s story, or do something Joss and I did together and draw a red bus, or my crafty readers might want to make a quilt square. Let’s keep the momentum going.