Anne et Valentin Let's Smile eyewear

As Seen in Manchester: Philippa and Neil

Having been open quite a while, we’ve accumulated some pretty fascinating customers over the years. So we thought, instead of going on about us and our glasses, we’d shine the spotlight on the people that wear them for a change…

This time around we thought we’d have a chat with long-time friends-of-Seen, Philippa and Neil. Not the sorts to shy away from a challenge, Philippa is a keen chef who has given herself the tough task of cooking up a different meal every night, whilst Neil is a runner with more than a few ultra-marathons under his belt. 

We caught up with them at their allotment to find out more...

"I wear black suits everyday at work, and you’re not really allowed any sort of self-expression, so glasses are the only area of expression I get." - Philippa

Seen: You’ve cooked a different meal every night for the last few years Philippa—quite the task. How did that start?

Philippa: I didn’t really set out to do that, but it just sort of developed into that. I’ve always liked food, but I wasn’t a great cook. But when I went to university it was like, “Right, I either eat all the ready meals that everyone else is having, or I learn to cook.”

I started getting magazines and cookery books, when I could afford them, and reading them like fiction. I felt like there were all these things, but then if you imagine you get to 80 or 90 and you’ve just eaten the same things most of your life… there’s so much out there, so if you don’t make the most of every meal, you’re not exploring all those options. So I started cooking something different a few nights of the week, and then it became every night of the week. 

Seen: It’s easy to slot into just having the same few regular meals every week. Maybe chilli one night, and then pasta the next…

Philippa: That’s what I started out doing at university, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but then I thought that if you only have three meals a day, that’s not actually that many chances to try things. I wasn’t ever really an adventurous child growing up, and with eating I used to have really fussy tastes, but then once I started cooking for myself, and learning about it, it started to be more exciting. I thought, “I need to make the most of all the delicious things that are out there.”

Tiny courgettes

Seen: For some people, food is just nutrition isn’t it? Almost like filling up a car. 

Philippa: A lot of people we’re friends with who run triathlons are very much ‘food for fuel’, but I think that’s really uninteresting. It reduces it to its most base level.

Seen: You may as well just eat some sort of sci-fi Soylent powder.

Yeah, exactly. But if you’ve grown something from a seed, and you take it home and cook it, you can’t really replace that with the average big supermarket. Because I was so fussy when I was growing up, I didn’t eat raw tomatoes or cucumbers, but it was only once I started growing them myself that I realised they were really tasty. 

Seen: Do you document all your meals? It must be hard to remember all of them.

Philippa: Yeah, I’ve got an Instagram called @mykitchenyear where I post my dinner everyday—that’s the most basic Instagram ever isn’t it—just posting what I eat.

"’s so different from my work, which isn’t creative at all, it’s my creative outlet. It’s such a release from sitting at my desk doing work all day." - Philippa

Seen: Does it take up a lot of your time? Cooking can sometimes take a while.

Philippa: No. And also, because it’s so different from my work, which isn’t creative at all, it’s my creative outlet. It’s such a release from sitting at my desk doing work all day. It’s a really positive outlet. 

Seen: How long have you had the allotment then?

Philippa: We got it about ten or eleven years ago. We lived in central Manchester in a third floor flat, and it just started out as wanting some outside space. We thought, “Well, let’s just give it a go.” At that time it wasn’t very trendy, so there wasn’t a waiting list. There was a plot at the end which was just a bit of tarmac, so we built a load of raised beds, got about 20 tonnes of soil delivered and just learnt as we did it. A packet of seeds might be 80p, so you just give it a try, and year on year, you refine what you do. It’s all just trial and error really.

Anne et Valentin Let's Smile and Jean Philippe Joly Directeur glasses

Seen: Is it all stuff from here that you’re cooking then? There’s all sorts growing.

Philippa: Oh yeah, especially this time of year. We always plant stuff as if we’re a family of six, even though there’s only two of us. It does mean that you have to be really creative, making jams with the fruit, and chutneys with the vegetables. And then we’ve got a freezer full of things. You’ve got to do the best to extend what you’ve got to last over the year. You don’t want to feel like you’re eating courgette everyday for a week. 

Seen: Definitely not. Neil, you spend your free time running ultramarathons, don’t you? 

Neil: I’ve done a few.

Seen: Haha—you don’t need to talk it down. 

Philippa: The ultramarathon runner’s way of talking it down is by saying they’ve done a few hundred mile races, but to everyone else, that’s a big race.

Neil: It’s Twitter’s fault really. When you’re in a little running community on Twitter, there’s always someone who’s done something more. You think, “That’s too far—I could never do that.” And then you start thinking that if they could do it, then maybe you could just about manage it.

Philippa: It skews the idea of what’s normal. 

Allotment in Jean Philippe Joly Directeur

Neil: I’ve got this friend who ran from Birmingham to London last year, and then from Liverpool to Leeds on the canal—and her longest run was 140 miles. It’s just insane that anyone could run that far. But I did the last bit with her, and I started thinking, “Well, maybe I could do it…” But the furthest I’ve done is a hundred miles. And it was bad.

Philippa did the Manchester 10k maybe 12 years ago, and I just went along to the start line and it seemed quite fun, and thought, “Maybe next year I should have a go.” And then every time I did an event I’d get to the finish line and think I was going to be sick… but then after a day or two I’d think, “Well, if I trained to do this, then maybe I could do a half marathon…”

Philippa: Within a year you went from a 10k to a half marathon to a full marathon.

"When you start training for these things, they look impossible. But you run this far one week, then a bit more the next week, and it gradually builds up.'" - Neil 

Seen: That seems like a common thing. People finish these races and never want to do anything like them again, but a day or two down the line they’re signing up to the next one.

Philippa: Every time Neil’s done an ultramarathon, he says he’s never going to do one again. And within 24 hours, he’ll be talking about another race in nine months time.

Neil: I think the thing I like about it is that there’s always something you could do better. You start thinking, “If I did it again, maybe I’d do that better.” 

Seen: If you did it perfectly, maybe there wouldn’t be that drive. People like a challenge.

Neil: I did an Ironman a few years back, and all my training was perfect. It was the hardest training I’ve ever done. Everything went right, and when I finished it, I thought, “I don’t think I’m ever going to get better than that.” So I don’t think I’m going to do another one. 

Allotment in Anne et Valentin Let's Smile glasses

Seen: What’s the buzz from these races? Is it at the time? Or is it the feeling a few days later?

Neil: It’s a bit of both. When you start training for these things, they look impossible. But you run this far one week, then a bit more the next week, and it gradually builds up. And I like the idea that you can start low and build high just by these small steps. If you start planning it out, it’s actually a hundred small steps, rather than one giant leap. 

It’s kind of similar to the allotment really. You take one on and it looks so big, but incrementally you do these small bits, and all of a sudden it becomes achievable. When I’m out running I do enjoy it, but it’s not like I have this massive runner’s high, but I do feel the satisfaction when I finish. And also because I’m pretty food obsessed, if I didn’t have the running I’d have to be rolled through the house.

Seen: Do you think about food much in regards to your running? 

Neil: If you like food, it feels like a bit of a waste of a go to be filling up on protein powders and gels.

Philippa: I’ve done one ultra-race, where I did 85 miles in 24 hours, and you have to eat relatively normally, whilst you’re doing a race over that period of time. You’re going a whole day without sleeping properly, so if you don’t eat what your brain thinks is proper food, your body starts to go into this weird shut-down. Actually, with long events, you’re better eating things like pork pies or brioche rolls, as your brain recognises it’s real food. 

Neil: You’re doing it for so long that you need different flavours… sweet and savoury. On a normal day you wouldn’t just eat sweets for 24 hours. 

Anne et Valentin Let's Smile glasses


Seen: As it’s such an extreme form of running, have you noticed any common characteristics that ultra-runners have?

Neil: No, I think it’s a weird sport in that it seems to attract so many different types of people. You’ve got the really obsessive people, and then the people who just do it for the achievement. I don’t think there is a common trait between these people… maybe stubbornness? You have to be pretty stubborn to want to put yourself through it.

"You feel like you’re looking the same everyday, so this is the one act of rebellion or creativity." - Philippa

Seen: Changing subject slightly, when did you start going to Seen? Have you both always worn glasses?

Philippa: For me, being a glasses wearer is part of my identity, as I’ve worn them since I was ten. If I see myself with contacts in, I don’t feel like I look like myself. I’ve got quite fussy eyes—if my glasses aren’t quite right and the lenses aren’t centred, I know they’re not right, and I felt like I was getting fobbed off by high street opticians. But one of our friends told us to go and see Tareq at Seen, and there the love affair began.

I wear black suits everyday at work, and you’re not really allowed any sort of self-expression, so glasses are the only area of expression I get. So for the last few years I’ve been pushing how much of my personality I can show through my glasses. 

Seen: People need to express themselves somehow. 

Philippa: You feel like you’re looking the same everyday, so this is the one act of rebellion or creativity.

Neil: I’m not into style at all, but this is my one thing. It’s like a bit of an event for us now—going to buy new glasses. I’ve tried to explain this to people, but because I work in an office, I find it really hard to hear what people are saying when I'm not wearing glasses. I think I must lip read what people are saying—I just can’t hear people if I’m not wearing glasses.

Philippa's wearing her favourite Anne et Valentin frames and Neil's got on his Jean Philippe Joly Directeur

Seen: Is there a certain style you go for with glasses? Do you have a favourite pair?

Philippa: I’m wearing my current favourites (Anne et Valentin's Let's Smile). I think it’s very easy to be like, “These are the ones that I wear everyday, these are the ones I wear when I’m dressing up…” but Neil has five or six of them out on the head of the bed, and everyday will pick up a different pair.

Neil: I approach them like I approach how I get dressed in the morning—I just randomly pick things. My prescription hasn’t changed very much, so over the years we’ve been going to Seen I’ve kept every pair of glasses—so they just build up, and because you look after them, they accumulate.

Philippa: I think my wackiest pair are ones that are made by a Dutch company out of a vinyl record (Vinylize). They’re really striking because they’ve got thick, black frames. I was talking to Tareq, asking him what kind of music the record would have played, and he said, “Don’t expect anything cool—it’s probably just some Dutch folk music.” 

Seen: Haha—it could be anything. We’ve talked for a while now so there’s maybe just one more question left… what’s for dinner?

Philippa: Tonight I’m doing a ditaloni and lentil soup. It’s an Italian lentil soup.

Seen: Sounds good to us.