All posts by Christopher Hughes

Writer, Director, Producer and Chief Bottle-Washer for Shining Tor, ably assisted by my wife Clare Hughes. After many years thinking about becoming a filmmaker we finally decided to jump onto the learning curve and get started.

Berlin 2017

I went to Berlin in 2014, and had a great time, but Lady Hughes had never been and we were looking for an opportunity to go. So when my brother invited us to join him and his partner Ger, on his birthday trip, we jumped at the chance.

Berlin is a very cool city, it’s relaxed, modern, relatively cheap and there’s lots to see and do. If you’re a bit of a history buff, like me, then there’s a wealth of museums and sights.

We went a day earlier than Peter and Ger and stayed an extra day so we could cram as much in as possible. We stayed at the Sofitel Hotel (very nice hotel), just off Kurfurstendamm (Berlin’s main shopping district), in the west of the city. Just a few U-bahn stops from the centre.

After our (very) early flight, we dropped our bags off at the hotel and walked to the Wilhelm Memorial Church. This was bombed heavily during the war but it was decided to keep the ruins as a memorial and build a new church alongside it. Inside the old part you get a glimpse of how beautiful it was as well as how brutal the conflict had been to the people and city.

In the new part, you are surrounded by blue stained glass walls, giving it a very mystical, calming, feel.

Going out of the city, we visited the palace at Charlottenburg.

This was the official residence of Queen Sophie Charlotte. We strolled through the ornate rooms listening to the audio headsets, explaining everything. The effects of the war were not far away though, as a lot of the rooms had been destroyed and rebuilt afterwards.

We finished the day at a local restaurant – Dicke Wirtin (not as painful as it sounds). Where we had our fill of german food, beer and hazelnut brandies.

Day two. We walked though to the Tiergarten park to the Victoria Tower. We climbed up to the first gallery and Clare wanted to hike up to the top. I took one look up the staircase with its 200 hundred steps, and suddenly realised I couldn’t be arsed, so I stayed down and waited for her. Normally I would have seized the chance to get to the top, but the weather was wet and overcast and the view was pretty good from the balcony anyway, so I struggled to summon up the required motivation. When she came down again, she said I was probably right to do so.

We caught a pedal taxi to Brandenburg Gate, where we met up with Peter and Ger.

After a quick look at the Reichstag, and a coffee, we decided to walk to the Holocaust Memorial. It was about then that the rain started. The Holocaust Memorial is very haunting and serene, but when you’re dripping wet and starting to get cold, it’s very hard to feel the atmosphere, so we cut our losses and headed to the cover of Potsdamer Platz.

I won’t itemise every minute of the trip, but over the next couple of days, in no particular order, we visited the Topographie of Terrors (museum on the rise of the nazis), we did the bus tour (mainly to get out of the rain), admired Helmut Newton’s naked ladies at the Photography Museum (well I did anyway), ate Schwinebrauten, Brauwerschnitzel and Bratwurst, queued in the rain for the excellent Jewish Museum and struggled to lift steins of beer at the beer hall.

We visited Checkpoint Charlie and fell into the nearby Irish Pub.

Had a joke-telling competition with a couple from Chicago in beautiful Italian restaurant, where we celebrated Peter’s 40th.

Wandered around the University.

Did my knee in perusing the art at the East Side Gallery – I don’t know what happened, but it seems to be okay now.

Strolled through Friedrichshain.

Had our photos taken with Karl Marx and Frederick Engels near Alexanderplatz.

Decided not to queue for two hours to get into Pergamonmuseum (even though it is excellent).

If you’ve never been to Berlin, I would heartily recommend it and I hope we can return soon. It’s a great city and it was wonderful to spend time with Peter and Ger, especially on his 40th birthday – thanks bro.

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Chris

 

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Portugal

After many hours I’ve finally finished editing all my photos from our recent Portugal trip, I took over a thousand! Don’t worry, I won’t inflict them all on you now but I have selected my top 33.

This was our first time in Portugal and our primary reason for being there was, of course, my sister’s wedding (see my previous blog). But aside from that joyous occasion we also managed to get out and about, including one trip to Sintra and two to Lisbon, so here goes.

We stayed at Cascais (pronounced Cashcaish – just think Sean Connery and you’re halfway there) which is a seaside town just west of Lisbon. It has a Goldilocks quality to it, in that it’s not too big and not too small- just right in fact. The beaches were clean and the amenities plentiful, there were plenty of bars and restaurants but it never felt too commercial or sprawling. We had great weather too with clear skies virtually every day, the hot sun made the beach even more inviting and the water was lovely, once you got over the initial cold shock of the Atlantic chill. I found I was acclimatised pretty quickly except for my hands which seemed to take forever to warm up. For about five minutes after diving in I found I was swimming with my hands held aloft out of the water, which must have looked pretty strange.

Sintra is a 30 minute bus ride north of Cascais and was the summer retreat of the Portuguese Royal Family. There are several sites to visit but we only had time for two; the Palace de la Pena and the old Muslim Castle.

The Palace sits on top of a hill and when we got there it was shrouded in cloud, which only seemed to make it more magical – we later found out that it’s common for cloud to mystically cling to that particular hill and the locals refer to it as the Queen’s Fart!

Imagine you asked  an eight-year-old girl to design a palace with a set of brightly coloured crayons, the Palace de la Pena is that design on steroids. It really is amazing, with no expense spared and a real sense of palatial extravagance gone mad.

A short walk away is the old Muslim Castle. This was the opposite of the Palace as it had a strong military reason behind it, was bare stone and pure medieval functionality. It is impressive though and has a fascinating history. The low cloud robbed us of the supposedly best view of the Palace, but added a real sense of mystery and mood to the brooding towers and precipitous walls.

In Lisbon, we hired a Tuk-Tuk and held on for dear life as we raced through the steep streets, stopping at a variety of different Cathedrals, Churches and viewpoints. It was a great way to see the city if you don’t have much time. We also managed to fit in the Timelife Market and the Elevator, which is an old viewing platform, squeezed in between the buildings and reached by a rickety lift. Apparently the whole thing was built by one of Gustave Eiffel’s (of tower fame) apprentices, and you can certainly see the influence – it’s beautiful, quirky and the views from the top are great as long as you’re okay with heights.

Lisbon is a beautiful city, especially the old sections we explored.

From Lisbon we caught the underground Metro and travelled further out to the Oceanario, the second biggest aquarium in Europe. Incidentally, once you get there the whole area has been developed into a very futuristic seafront and you can also see the longest bridge in Europe snaking 17km off into the distance.

The Oceanario didn’t disappoint, with sharks, manta rays, penguins and even two gorgeous sea otters – Clare could get over their “little hands”.

My overriding memory of Lisbon is one of a beautiful place, with warm friendly people, obviously it’s hard to get a real sense of a place on a short holiday, especially when you consider I probably had at least two drinks in me at any given time. But, from my brief experience there, it’s great place and I would heartily recommend it. We had a great time in Portugal, especially magic with the wedding and the time spent with our wonderful family – usually ending the day here, in the Duke’s pub in Cascais.

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So much to see and so much we missed, I suppose we’ll just have to go back.

Chris

 

Rachel’s Wedding

We’re just back from our trip to Portugal and our main reason for being there – my sister Rachel’s wedding to Neil Gunn.

As well as the wonderful wedding, this event had special significance for me as it was the first time I was with all my Irish siblings at the same time (I‘m not going into the history here, wait for the movie), so we were all looking forward to it, but that’s enough about me, this was Rachel’s (and Neil’s) day.

Most of the guests stayed in Cascais, not far from Lisbon, and we all met at the railway station to be picked up by coach for the 40 minute trip north to Mafra and the Quinta de Sant’Ana where the ceremony and celebration took place. A stunning venue in a beautiful location.

The actual ceremony was fairly brisk, with a reading by my brother Peter, and yours truly, amongst others. Rachel looked stunning, as did the bridesmaids, and Neil looked very chilled – which was nice. The atmosphere was very relaxed all round in fact, with no trace of bridezilla anywhere, considering how much work must have gone into the day, that’s quite an achievement in itself.

Out of the church, a few photos and then a short walk through the town to the Quinta. This place was gorgeous, with the only Portuguese Irish Band I’ve ever heard, wine-tasting, great food and even white doves flying overhead at just the right moment – I have visions of guys hiding around the back waiting for the signal to chuck ’em in the air. It was almost too perfect.

It was great to be with everyone for such a wonderful occasion and I even got a few mentions in the speeches, so I feel especially honoured. The icing on the cake though was the chance to get a photo of me with my Irish brother and sisters after all this time, so it really was a wonderful day – thank you Rachel (and Neil obviously).

You now, we should do this every year!

Chris

 

Errwood Hall and Shining Tor

Lovely day yesterday, walking with Lady Hughes and Ziggy. Done this one a few times over the years but it’s still a favourite.

Starting at Goyt Reservoir we walked up to the ruins of Errwood Hall. This was originally owned by a wealthy Manchester businessman, but it was eventually passed down to two sisters who never had any children of their own so it fell into disrepair when the family line fizzled out.

Up on a neighbouring hill is the family plot – at least they have great views.

Walking across to Foxlow Edge we followed the path to the Spanish Shrine. This looks a bit like Hagrid’s cottage (Harry Potter) but it was built for the family’s Spanish governess who was a catholic. She would ride up to pray. Going inside, there are pictures and prayers from people today, so it’s still in use – more than can be said of the hall.

We then climbed up to Pym’s Chair and turned right up the ridge to Cat’s Tor and then Shining Tor. In the distance could see a solitary paraglider drifting around the summit.

Shining Tor isn’t a big hill but it’s the highest point in Cheshire, with great views of the Peak District and Manchester in the distance. We named our media company after it as it’s fairly local and we just lied the name – in fact we officially registered it yesterday, so this trip was quite apt.

From the top, we walked across and back down towards the Reservoir and a well-earned ice-cream in the car park.

Chris

Manchester: A Week After the Bomb

This Bank Holiday Monday was exactly one week since the Manchester Arena bomb that killed 22 people and injured many more.

Lady Hughes and myself had arranged to go into town with friends a while back, and this was the first time I had been into Manchester since the bomb. I was curious what the mood would be and I was also keen to visit St Anne’s Square and pay my respects.

Getting off the bus in Piccadilly I was pleased to see that it was business as usual. Children were playing in the fountains, getting soaked and upsetting their parents, who would now have to take them into Primark to buy them some dry clothes – we did the same when our lads were smaller.

The Northern Quarter was still busy and bustling, but there were signs and street art showing their support for the victims and a desire to stand strong.

Walking through the streets, we found the police cordon very much still in force but people and the police were smiling and helpful in directing us around it.

We quickly visited Manchester Cathedral, lit a candle and signed the book of condolences before heading off to St Anne’s Square where all the flowers and messages were laid out.

The atmosphere here was very subdued and respectful, with people slowly shuffling around the square, reading the messages and taking it all in. I felt a bit self-conscious taking pictures, so I didn’t take too many.

There were police with machine guns standing around but they were chatting with people and looked relaxed. The media were still present but were keeping themselves to one end near the church.

It was quite sombre and emotional as you would expect, especially when you read some of the many messages, but still very colourful and vibrant with all the flowers and balloons.

On the way out back we past the entrance to a tattoo parlour where they were doing bee tattoos to raise money for the charity fund. One week later and people were still queuing down the stairs.

Liam Gallagher played a benefit gig in Manchester yesterday and he said, “normal business has been resumed“. Walking round Manchester, I think he might be right. We’re not knocked down, but we not forgetting either.

Chris Hughes

Portrait: Mark Jephcott

As you may be aware, I do like to do a bit of photography, and one of the areas I’d really like to develop is portraiture.

I’ve done a bit in the past, for friends and family but it seems the biggest struggle is finding willing victims subjects for me to practise on. That’s why I’m very grateful to my good friend Mark Jephcott, for allowing me to come over and flash lights in his face for an hour – he even gave us a few beers, so this was a real treat for me.

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Now summer’s finally arrived and the evenings are warmer, we relaxed in his beautiful garden and took these shots as the sun went down.

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I’d not used my lights for a while and it took me a good few shots to get my head around how to balance the exposure again, but it gradually came back to me. Luckily Mark has some nice lights hanging from a tree so these made a good backlight.

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Normally I’d use a telephoto for a portrait but I wanted to get the surroundings in so I used my wide angle lens (10-20mm). I only used one flash in the end, with a soft box to soften the light and a large golden reflector to bounce a bit of fill light into the shadows – apologies to all the non-photographers out there, for all the jargon, I’ll shut up now.

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Overall, I’m quite pleased with these, big thank you to Mark, but there’s plenty of room for improvement. I just need more subjects – time to start pestering again.

Chris

Manchester

It’s been a pretty rough week.

Last Monday a suicide bomber killed himself and 22 other people at the Manchester Arena, many more were injured. On top of that a close colleague of mine lost her mother suddenly (nothing to do with the bomb) and, perhaps not as tragic but still sad for me, Roger Moore died.

Monday, was coincidentally our 24th wedding anniversary. Now that date will have a second, darker, relevance. We had talked about next year’s silver wedding anniversary as a celebration, it will now also be the one year anniversary of the bomb. A time, like this week, where we reflect on the victims and effects of this senseless act.

Out of all the pain and suffering, one light of hope has shone bright though. The response from the people of Manchester.

I was born and raised in Manchester and I live there still, I love Manchester and I’m immensely proud of the way everyone has come together to try and help their fellow man. There are numerous stories, which you’ve probably seen on the media; taxi drivers offering free lifts, queues at the blood donation centres, the homeless man who ran in to try and help the victims and many more. One thing has struck me though.

Many of the people offering their support and love for the city have mentioned that they were not born here. I have been surprised by how many of the people I know came here from somewhere else. My wife is one of them. She was born on the Wirral but has lived more of her life here in Manchester than back where she grew up.

Some people would say that she isn’t a true Mancunian because she wasn’t born here.

Well, if you think of Manchester itself, how much has been built by people who were not born here?

In 1773 Manchester had a population of approximately 25’000. In less than twenty years that had risen to 95’000 due to the industrial revolution. That wasn’t down to more babies being born, that was because people came here. If they hadn’t, the prosperity of the city would never have happened.

When we think of Manchester, what do we think of? The Manchester Ship Canal was built by 12’000 navvies, many of whom were Irish. Chinatown and the Curry Mile are both the result of immigration from other countries. The Gay Village has drawn people from other parts of the country, looking for acceptance and tolerance, that is why it has grown. How many Manchester City/ United players come from here? George Best? Eric Cantona? David Beckham? Sergio Aguero? Pablo Zabaleta?

One of City’s most celebrated goalkeepers, Bert Trautmann, was German and fought on the Eastern Front. He was awarded the Iron Cross for bravery. Sir Matt Busby was born in North Lanarkshire. Sir Alex Ferguson was born in Govan.

People talk of Manchester as a vibrant, exciting, city, but where does that come from?

The city is kept young by the constant influx of young people. Over 9’000 students start at Manchester Metropolitan University each year (over 50’000 apply), and the MMU has a student population of over 35’000 – many, if not most, were not born here.

Media City has approximately 40 companies based there and the BBC alone employs over 2’000 people. One of the criticism’s has been how few came from the local area, so most of them, apparently, are not from here.

Noel and Liam Gallagher are from Manchester, but their father was originally from Ireland. Peter Kay’s mother is from Northern Ireland. Sir Charles Hallé, who started the famous Hallé Orchestra, was from Westphalia in Germany.

The Nobel Prize for Physics that Manchester won in 2010 was more specifically won by Andre Geim and Constantin Novoselov, both born in Russia. In fact Ernest Rutherford, who won the Nobel prize for Chemistry, back in 1908, for splitting the atom here in Manchester, was originally from New Zealand. Neils Bohr who won the Physics prize for Manchester in 1922 was born in Copenhagen. Look at the MMU’s list of Nobel prizes and there are quite a few, many of which were won by people not from here.

Alan Turing, the father of modern computing, who did much of his great work here in Manchester, was born in Maida Vale.

Manchester’s strength and prosperity is built by people from far and wide. It has been for hundreds of years and it will continue to do so. If we close the door to outsiders or we lose our famous warmth and welcoming nature, we will start the decline of this great city.

If you were one of those brave emergency services personnel who ran into the Arena last Monday, when everyone else was running out, or you queued to give your own blood to help other people, or you opened your home to strangers so they might have somewhere to sleep because they couldn’t get home – then you’re a Mancunian as far as I’m concerned. I don’t care where you were born.

Mancunians are Mancunians by choice, not by accident of birth.

Thank you,

Chris Hughes

 

Full Bloom at Dunham Massey

It’s the weekend, spring is here and the sun is out. Lady Hughes and myself had taken a few days off over Easter with no great plans, so we decided to take it easy and go for a stroll around Dunham Massey.

Knowing the flowers would be out I figured this would be a good chance to practice my macro (close-up) photography on subjects that weren’t going to run away while I worked out what I was doing – though they do have a tendency to waft about in the breeze just as you’re about to take a shot, no matter how much I shouted at them.

Dunham Massey is stately home (and deer park) in Cheshire, not far from Altrincham, and only 15 minutes drive from our house so we know it well. As it was a sunny weekend, it was very busy with lines of people queuing up for ice creams and every inch of manicured lawn full of families playing football, throwing frisbees and trying to fly kites. We decided to head for the relative calm of the gardens.

Now my knowledge of horticulture if virtually non-existent, so apologies for the lack of information, but there were lots of flowers and they were very beautiful – if you want to know more, get a book.

Without getting too technical, macro photography can be a bit tricky. As your subject is usually on the small scale, your margin of error is pretty small too. I’ve found picking the appropriate depth of field particularly challenging, but I think I’m finally starting to get the hang of it now and I’m much happier with these shots – what do you think?

As I started to get more comfortable with the technicalities, I thought I’d try and move on from flowers and get some shots of the insects. You need to be quicker with these so they were a bit more of a test – I’ve found it’s very hard to get a bee to pose for you.

 

Chris

Three Shires Head

Hiking boots back on this Easter weekend for a lovely short walk with Lady Hughes, my Dad, my sister Bev and my nephews James and Matthew and my niece Libby, not forgetting our Ziggy as well.

Bev chose the walk, a short circular route from Clough car park, near Wildboarclough, to Three Shires Head and back round again. Three Shires Head gets its name as its the point where Derbyshire, Staffordshire and Cheshire meet. I’ve walked here a few times in the past but not but this route so it was familiar, but new – if that makes sense?

After a few minor mishaps, including losing Bev’s car on the way and someone forgetting their boots, we were soon off in the brilliant sunshine.

The walk was great, if a little boggy in places, with beautiful views of Shutlingsloe in the distance – the Matterhorn of the Peak, apparently.

One interesting spotting on the way was George Osborne, former Chancellor of the Exchequer and MP for Tatton, who we passed roughly half way round. He didn’t make eye contact and I fought the urge to stop and berate him for his part in the Brexit debacle – the things you see when out walking in the English countryside eh.

Chris

 

 

 

British Museum

Another wet weekend forecast, with grey clouds and rain, so off down to ‘that London’ for a trip to the British Museum. Lady Hughes and myself had never been to the British Museum, so this promised to be interesting.

Looking at the website, we saw that it was walking distance from Euston Station, free, and the average visit lasted 2.5 hours – all I can say about that last one, is the average person can’t be looking at half of the stuff or they’re constantly being visited by runners trying to beat their personal bests for getting around as quickly as possible.

I didn’t actually know much about the British Museum, obviously, I knew it had a lot of antiquities and priceless artefacts – at what point do things become artefacts by the way? My house is full of ‘stuff’ but I wouldn’t describe anything as an ‘artefact’ as such. I don’t complain that people aren’t putting their artefacts away, or I’m sick of tripping over artefacts left lying around on the floor. Maybe it has to be in a museum first? Maybe museums have artefacts and I just have stuff.

Anyway, I didn’t know a lot about the British Museum.

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We entered through the North entrance, which meant we missed walking through the main entrance into the Great Court which was renovated for the millennium with a beautiful sweeping roof making the courtyard into a stunning indoor space. So when we stumbled into it, it was a wonderful surprise.

The exhibits themselves were impressive and extensive, with highlights including; the Elgin Marbles, The Sutton Hoo collection, the Lewis Chess Set (finest chess set in the world, apparently), the Rosetta Stone, the Rothschild collection, the Egyptian collection, Roman collection and the Assyrian collection – if you don’t know what any of those are either google them, or visit for yourself, I can’t do them justice here.

Needless to say, some of the exhibits were amazing, especially when you consider how old they are. In fact, we were able to handle a flint hand axe that was 500’000 years old. Which is pretty impressive in itself, until we were told that it wasn’t made by a human but by a species of early man now extinct – get your head around that.

Yes, lots to see, and it was pretty busy, so lots of people too. I saw one woman literally give up and tell her friend, “I’m sorry, but I just can’t do this anymore”. Her friend seemed to understand and helped her to the exit. Like all museums, you’re walking around looking at stuff, sorry, artefacts. And even the most enthusiastic and interested get a bit weary after a while, so we did skim a few sections – there are only so many Greek vases I can look at and still summon up the interest to read the description.

The map, offers some ‘not to be missed’ suggestions and we focused on them in the end to give us a bit of a focus. This worked a treat as it meant we saw most of the museum anyway, even if parts were a little cursory.

So, in summary, if you like a good museum I certainly recommend this one – it’s a cracker. But wear comfortable shoes and maybe check out the website to see what you definitely don’t want to miss. Also, I’m not sure I’d bring small children, unless you’re confident they’d really be up for it.

Chris