Category Archives: Family

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

 

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

 

 

 

More Artistic Endeavours

I’ve been working on some more digital art.

As I said in my previous post on digital art, these pictures are ‘painted’ on a computer, using a variety of tools including drawing, painting, airbrushing, etc. They aren’t created by the computer, they’re created by me. Nowadays people assume digital means it was done by an app or a filter.

So, you may say, why don’t you just use paint like normal artists? Well I used to and I may go back, but the fact is this is just so much easier. I don’t have to buy lots of paints and brushes, I don’t have to put on overalls and I don’t have to clean up afterwards. I can just switch on the computer and get started. If you think of digital photography compared to film photography and you get the idea. It’s just cheaper and hell of a lot more convenient. I quite like the polished, airbrushed look you can achieve as well.

One drawback however, is the reduced value. If I used oil paints on canvas, it would be unique, and though I could make prints of it, there would only ever be one original. With digital art you simply need to copy and paste and you have another exact copy. If you can make unlimited perfect copies of something at no expense it’s difficult for people to see them as having any value. Luckily I don’t have to consider that too much as I just do these for my own pleasure – but if you’d like to buy a signed copy please get in touch!

By the way, these are reduced resolution copies so they load on the page easier – it also stops any unscrupulous readers trying to make bigger prints for themselves.

Anyway, that’s enough whingeing, here are the pictures. I hope you like them.

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Roy Keane

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Lawrence of Arabia (portrait)

I’ve actually had this one printed as a large acrylic, and now hangs in my office.

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Mako Shark

I thought I’d try something other than a portrait.

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Layna Fergus

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Clare Hughes

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George Best

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Eric Cantona

If you’re going to paint great Manchester United players you can’t leave out King Eric.

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Clint Eastwood

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I painted this as a matching piece for the portrait, but changed my mind about printing it.

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James Bond

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Willem Dafoe

 

Autumn Update

I’ve not ‘blogged’ for a while now but don’t worry, that doesn’t mean I’ve given up or stopped having adventures, in fact it’s partly because I’ve been so busy that I haven’t had time to write any posts – that’s my excuse anyway and I’m sticking to it.

Anyway, here’s a quick update on the story so far.

Two weeks ago, Lady Hughes and myself had a visit from my Brother Peter and sister Claire, over for the weekend from Dublin. We were really looking forward to this as we always have a great time with them, but it did pose the question of, what makes the perfect weekend in Manchester?

Now the answer will obviously vary, depending on your tastes and interests, but in the end we came up with a Friday night in the Northern Quarter, Saturday morning tram to Media City, Imperial North and the Lowry, then on to Castlefield and lunch at the Wharf. Stroll through Christmas Markets, meet up with both of my sons, Alex (and girlfriend Jade) and Elliott, and then onto Mr Thomas’s Chop House for dinner. Finished at the Molly House in Manchester’s Gay Village. Sunday was gentle (very gentle) recovery and prepare for their flight home.

We had a great time, but I must confess I did get very drunk on the Saturday and made a bit of a fool of myself apparently, so apologies to anyone I may have offended – I didn’t mean it, honest.

No photos I’m afraid (or perhaps, thank god), as we were too busy have a good time.

The week after I was invited by my good friends Mark and Andy to try the famous Ale Trail train. The idea is that you catch the train from Victoria Station to Batley and get off at each stop for a drink as there’s a recommended pub at each one. Lady Hughes decided to come along for moral support.

So we caught the bus into Manchester, and walked to Victoria Station to meet the guys at 3pm.

After a brief scare due to a fire on the track, and a quick warm-up pint at Victoria, we set off and were soon at pub number 1 on the list, the Station Bar in Stalybridge (great pies).

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We then progressed onto Greenfield and the Railway Inn, Marsden and the Riverhead Brewery Tap & Dining Room, and finally Slathwaite (pronounced Slowat) and the Commercial.

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At this point we all agreed it was time to head home. Due to a cancelled train, it was quicker to go on to Huddersfield and get a direct train back to Piccadilly than to wait for the next scheduled train back to Victoria.

Overall, we had a great time, but the actual pubs weren’t as great as I’d hoped, Stalybridge Station was probably the best. Also, word had obviously got around and there were a lot of people doing the same as us. This meant that when the train got into each station there was a bit of a sprint to each pub and get a drink. That being said, we did meet some great people and it was a bit of an adventure.

Would I do it again? Probably not to be honest, but I’m glad we did it at least once.

What else have I been doing? Well I’m writing a new screenplay, a dark thriller, and I’ve been doing a few more portraits. Here’s one I did a week or so back, Roy Keane:

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Lady Hughes and myself have also joined a gym, so we’re ‘sculpting’ our bodies in readiness for next summer – at our age it’s a much longer job than it used to be.

Last week we went to Jon Ronson’s ‘Psychopath Night’ at Home (the venue, not our home, if that makes sense?). Great night and we even got to meet the man himself afterwards.

So, that brings us up to date I think. Next big thing is probably Christmas, so there’s something to look forward to.

Chris

 

 

 

Artistic Endeavours

As you can see from my previous posts, I do like a bit of photography, however, I’ve recently been trying my hand at painting.

Now when I say ‘painting’, I don’t mean actual ‘paint’ – let me explain.

I’ve been using Sketchbook Pro, along with a drawing tablet, to create these pictures on my computer. This software allows me to use a variety of materials, including pencils, brushes, charcoal, pastels and airbrush as well as a wealth of options including layers, variable opacity, locked transparencies, etc. This isn’t one of those things where you just take a photo, hit a button and hey presto, you’ve got a painting. These pictures have each taken hours to achieve.

I have done some drawing before, but I am very much a beginner at this, but I hope you can see some improvement through them all.

 

I did this, Self-Portrait, a couple of years ago, just playing really, it’s a bit abstract but I quite like it – my wife hates it.

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I used the same technique, and more than a pinch of satire, for this portrait of Donald Trump. I like the way it shows the cracks in the façade – I’m definitely not a fan.

Continuing the theme of dangerous despots, I turned to our very own Nigel Farage.

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I used the layers option to add the crumbling union jack background – not happy with Brexit, but quite happy with this.

To complete the triptych I moved onto Vladimir Putin.

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I used various effects to create the bloodstained Russian flag behind him.

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Self-Portrait. I tried to do a happier, brighter me – my wife prefers this one.

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My son, Elliott. I’m quite pleased with the stylised look but it could be more polished. Instead of a neutral colour behind the blocks (cracks), I tried to match them to the actual shades of the picture.

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Desperate Man. I did a rough version of this one and then worked out how to refine the drawing with smoother lines. I kept the rough version though, just visible under the surface, to try and illustrate the torment inside him.

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Robert Mitchum.

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My wife, Clare. I struggled with this for a while as the ‘blocky’ look I use didn’t seem to work well for a woman’s face, not very flattering.

In the end, I worked at removing the gaps between the colours and adding some polish with the airbrush.

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Winona Ryder. Thought it would be interesting to try a monochrome image and see if the style still worked. Developed the airbrushing a bit more.

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Monica Belucci. Still developing my style, more polished this time as I’m getting more confident with the techniques.

Well, that’s my progress so far, I’ve learnt a lot along the way but I’m sure there’s still more to get my head around yet. My aim is to try and improve to the point where I can produce a portrait I’d be happy to put on the wall – one day, one day.

I hope you like them and if you’d like to be a subject, please let me know.

Chris

Crawling Up Croagh Patrick

Croagh Patrick is a mountain in the west of Ireland, not far from Westport. It’s a holy mountain and a place of pilgrimage as Saint Patrick reputedly fasted on the summit for forty days in the fifth century. Well that’s the guidebook stuff covered – thank you Wikipedia.

Having travelled over to Ireland to visit family for years now, it had been suggested that we all climb the mountain together, on Reek Sunday, which is the one day of the year that thousands of people do it. We kept talking about this, but never actually got organised – until now.

Lady Hughes and myself flew over to Dublin and stayed with family in Slane before driving across Ireland to meet up with everyone else in Clifden. We had one brief stop half-way in Athlone where we met up with my brother Peter and his family for lunch and a quick look at the castle and the Shannon River.

In Clifden we all stayed in the same guesthouse, fourteen of us in total including four small children. It sounds hectic but it was actually very chilled.

On Sunday we drove through beautiful Connemara to the mountain, not really sure what was waiting for us. Most of our group travelled light, in running gear and trainers, but with my years of hiking experience I went prepared, with rucksack, boots, food, first aid and camera kit. This, along with the fact I’m really unfit, meant they all left me for dust within minutes. The only consolation was that they all got mild hyperthermia, waiting for me at the top.

Croagh Patrick is 764 metres high and the climb is classed as moderate. I found it fairly tough, mainly because the upper sections are steep and full of loose boulders as well as the numbers of people on the day going up and coming down – also, did I mention that I’m not very fit at the moment?

In some parts I was struggling to find a solid foothold and all the time people are stumbling and sliding around you. Having said that, the atmosphere was great, we were really lucky with the weather and the views were stunning.

One impressive sight was all the devout Catholics climbing the mountain in bare feet, some of them had painted their toenails specially for the occasion. A more depressing one was when I was overtaken by an 82 year old lady who was being held up by two men – but hey, she didn’t have a rucksack and camera to carry.

On the top there is a chapel and a priest delivering mass from, what looked like a bay window. On one side of the chapel there was a doorway for confessions and on the other a doorway for holy communion. By the time I got up there (approx. 2 hours – not bad going) the summit was shrouded in cloud and the rest of my family were shivering and keen to get moving again. Clare and myself put on our anoraks and settled down for a bite to eat as they all abandoned us for the warmer lower reaches.

As we recharged our batteries, the cloud lifted and we were rewarded with gorgeous views over Clew Bay with its 365 islands (one for every day of the year). I strolled around a bit and took a few pictures before we eventually packed up and started the careful descent.

Back in Clifden we had another great night out, celebrating our ascent and swapping stories about the various sights we’d seen, including the English mother, and her son who sat down and refused to move another step. She was trying to get him to stay with the mountain rescue, who had a team every hundred yards, but he was having none of it and they started having a bit of a domestic on the steepest section.

Driving back to Dublin, we stopped off in Athlone again for a bite to eat and a better look round the castle. We said our goodbyes and headed off to the airport.

It was wonderful to catch up with all the family, especially my sister Rachel, who had come over from Perth, Australia. Connemara is stunningly beautiful and we had a great time, especially climbing Croagh Patrick on Reek Sunday – that’s an experience I’ll always remember. I suppose we’ll have to come up with a new adventure for us all now – but I’ll just let my knees recover from this one first I think.

Chris

Salford Dog Festival

After Saturday’s hike around Cartmel, Lady Hughes suggested something a bit easier for Sunday – the Salford Dog Festival at Clifton Park. Dogs 4 Rescue, who we got Ziggy from, would be there, so she thought it would be nice to show our support and we could take Ziggy and Bobby along too – because everyone knows dogs love organised community events!

If you like dogs, this is for you. If you don’t like dogs, then you’d probably best avoid it as there was every type you could possibly think of – I’m exaggerating, but you get the idea, there was a lot of dogs.

I like dogs so I found it really interesting. Not just the dogs, but the owners too – again, all types, us included of course.

I used the experience to do a bit of ‘doggy’ street photography (is it my dirty mind, or does that sound wrong?), if such a thing exists? Looking for interesting shots of dogs and their owners, something to illustrate the relationships, the special bond that they have.

The easiest option was the obedience display as they were doing a great job entertaining the crowd whilst also making us all feel guilty about how badly trained our dogs are.

The weather was changeable but the crowds were out in force and it looked like the event was going really well. We finished off with a walk round the lake before making our way home – via the Wharf pub in Castlefield to make up for missing out on a pint the day before.

Chris

Birthday Stomp up Harter Fell

This week was my birthday, 47 – I know, hard to believe, but it’s true. Anyway, it’s been a funny few weeks lately as the country gears up for the EU Referendum, which is in just two weeks. I must confess that I’m sick of all the debate and wish we could just get it over with now. I know what I’m voting for and I’m sure most people probably have a good idea what they’re voting for by now, so it just seems like we’re going over the same ground.

Anyway, to celebrate this momentous occasion (my birthday, not the EU Referendum) I was lucky enough to have number one son, Alex, come home from York ,and along with Elliott, Clare and a few close friends, we went out for a meal at the Tiffin Rooms in Cheadle. This lovely little restaurant serves Indian street food – think tapas but Indian. 

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The food was great and the company even better, I’m very lucky to have such a great family and some brilliant friends.

I’d booked the next day off to go for a hike with Lady Hughes and the weather was glorious, so we decided to head up to Haweswater in the Lakes and climb Harter Fell, a hill I’d not done before but it looked relatively straightforward and with it being a Thursday, we’d hopefully avoid the crowds.

Haweswater is not a natural lake, it’s a reservoir, created by the construction of a dam in 1929. This was quite controversial as the creation of the reservoir meant the forced movement of the local people to provide water for my city, Manchester. According to wikipedia it currently provides 25% of the North West’s water supply.

The route was pretty easy to navigate starting with a climb to the start of a steep climb, followed by a fairly steep climb, leading to a reasonably steep climb.

Once on the tops, the views are wonderful, if a little hazy on our day. It was hot and we found the uphill section a bit of a slog to be honest, but we only stopped a couple of times and kept on moving, even if we were puffing and panting a bit – hey, I’ve just turned 47, cut me a bit of slack will you!

Looking at the map I was a little apprehensive about the descent as it looked a bit steep, but in the end it was fine, bringing us down alongside a tarn. We were soon overtaken by a group of mountain-bikers carefully picking there way through the boulders whilst trying not to fall down the mountainside face-first. A few minutes later we overtook them as they had to deal with a snapped gear mechanism. I must confess to a little happiness as I strolled past the athletic twenty-somethings all decked out in lycra – don’t worry, they’ll get over it.

We got back to the car and checked out time. The guidebook had the walk down as 2½ hours and we’d done it in just over 4. I knew we were a bit slow but I don’t think we were that bad, ah well, it wasn’t a race.

Overall, great weather, great walk, great birthday – here’s the next 47!

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Chris