These Recent Things (Tea, Travels & The Midwinter Movement)

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I entered 2017 smelling of bonfire, with a fractured rib and liquid nitrogen burns. None of these things are related.

December was full on. I can’t even remember it. 2016 who? Where did all those mince pies go?

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Early in the month I was invited to  speak at Foam Photography Museum in Amsterdam and spent three wonderful nights in the city. We stayed at the stunning Conservatorium hotel, and then moved on to the quietly luxurious Waldorf Astoria.

To balance out my incredible luck I ate an overdressed purple potato with bits of prune and some clay.

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Amsterdam is a beautiful city; the people are friendly, the architecture is stunning, and the stroopwaffles are one of the best inventions known to man (them and the internal combustion engine). I definitely plan to go back soon, probably with a small army of pancake loving pals.

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Returning from Amsterdam I travelled up to Cheshire and spent a couple of nights with my friends at Willington Hall. I will keep saying it, but it’s one of my favourite places in the UK, a real home from home. Natalie had helped organise a flower arranging event for over 100 ladies (and two men) to raise money for the premature baby unit at the local hospital, so instead of catching up on my emails (like I said I would when I justified the trip to myself) I hung about and took pictures of ornamental cabbages, which was nice.

The house was dressed for Christmas, all cosy and calm. We took afternoon tea in the study and watched the sun set across the fields.

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Back home the chickens have been on high security lockdown. They don’t really seem to mind, we’ve been giving them extra snacks. It’s a small sacrifice to make in comparison to the possibility of contributing to the spread of avian flu and causing thousands of birds to have to be killed. Also, I’ve not stood in chicken poo for a whole month now.

We celebrated 11 years of MoJo living with us, making him about 18 in human years now, and over 90 in the cat equivalent. Rocky came to stay and pulled his tooth out. That wasn’t part of his birthday surprise!

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We had a lovely Danish Christmas dinner with Martin, Gitte and Oliver; we walked in Greenwich Park and saw a big man fox and a bunch of deer. Then we had a pleasant and peaceful Christmas at home. Adam was in charge of the dinner, he’s the King of the roast.

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I mentioned before that we planned to embrace the Midwinter Movement, and we did just that.

Sara shared the hashtag in her monthly Me & Orla newsletter and (I’ve just checked) almost 3000 images have been tagged #themidwintermovement over on instagram, have a look. It’s been quite interesting to see how other people respond to an idea that I hold so strong. It’s personal to me, but they’ve made it their own. I’ve initiated them into my cult and they don’t even know!

For me the Midwinter Movement is about finding ways to add light and joy to the season, embracing the darkness and filling it with light, decorating for the winter, making wreaths and bringing greenery into the house, lighting fires and candles, good dinners, sharing the simple things, backing off from the consumerist Christmas crap – it’s not British hygge or a fad, its just how I think life should be.

And, it means you can keep your sparkly lights up for as long as you like. No twelfth night misery for us, no decoration withdrawal symptoms, we’re keeping our fairy lights up until the evenings draw out and we no longer need their warm glow.

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Over on Shutter Hub we shared our Year in Review. Cor blimey, it’s been a corker! I’d really love you to pop over and have a read of our 2016 highlights, I’m proud to be able to share them with you.

Also, thank you. Thank you for all your voting in the UK Blog Awards. Obviously the three of you could only do so much, so the this old Peas blog didn’t make it, but Shutter Hub is through to the finals  in the Best Photography Blog category. Thank you.

And, the grand finale of 2016… I fell over on the ice and my bobble hat flew off into a dog poo!

 

A Night at The Waldorf Astoria, Amsterdam

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Arriving at the Waldorf Astoria, Amsterdam, we looked up at the beautiful buildings, wrapped with a  sparkling festive bow, and were won over immediately.

First admiring the marble floor, incredibly detailed ceilings and beautiful sweeping staircase, we were lead to our room to check in. The welcome was so warm and friendly I felt quite at home (although of course at home I don’t have a personal concierge, choice of rooms scents, or a mini bar, but, you know!)

Our room was light and bright with beautiful white embroidered bed linens. Classical music whispered gently in the background.

From the large windows we had full view of the city’s grandest canal, Herengracht (Gentlemen’s Canal), which was built in the Golden Age and is now a UNESCO heritage site.

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On a table next to a vase of almost-open tulips, atop a glass stand, sat a chocolate dome – hand decorated with a row of marzipan canal houses in front of a frosty night sky. Underneath this fabulous cloche of cacao freshly baked cookies sat neatly on a paper doily. Doesn’t it sound decadent? You should have seen me modelling that chocolate masterpiece as a very fetching (and melty) hat. So decadent.

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The fruit bowl was brimming with berries, beside it cotton napkins and a finger bowl decorated with petals. The mini bar was stocked to the gunnels with all the best bits, and the bathroom had everything you could possibly need.

But, the carpets. You know how I love a good hotel carpet!  The carpets were fabulous – designed especially for the Waldorf Astoria Amsterdam to reflect the calm waters of the canals outside, with a little nod to the palette of Vermeer too.

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It was hard to leave the room when it was so comfortable and relaxing, but there was a whole hotel to explore, and then some more of the city – which included the fabulous Botanical Gardens, and the not so fabulous purple-potato dinner ( all of which you can read about over here).

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I couldn’t help be be drawn to the gloriously glitzy Christmas decorations – the huge wreaths, the piles of golden fir cones, and the massive tree with it’s small heap of presents placed around it. (No, I don’t think those packages were empty. Yes I do think they were full of magic.)

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The hotel is made up of six individual canal houses neatly stitched together with personality and charm. Most of the buildings had been a bank, and the old safety deposit boxes remain – now a feature in The Vault Bar, providing storage for single malts and aged cognacs.

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Behind the beautiful buildings is a large private garden (the largest in the city) which, in the spring, bursts into colour with thousands of tulips.

Looking up to the rooftops, along the undulating roofline, there’s an interruption of houses so small they look to be only good for Borrowers, or bees.

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When the Waldorf Astoria brought the bees to the city they made every effort to welcome them. The Queen bee arrived by Rolls Royce and was walked up a red carpet to a welcoming reception and ceremony fit for royalty. I would have dearly loved to have been there for this experience, but it’s okay, my imagination is vivid and I can picture it all quite well. (Her crown was a work of art!)

Everywhere I looked I spotted charming details – odes to the past, marble and plasterwork, and a finish that looked like it had just been completed yesterday. Maintaining such historical buildings is an ongoing task, and one that the Waldorf Astoria appear to do with unseen precision. Not a thing out of place, not a chip in the paintwork, nor a crack in the ceiling, everything thing is perfect as it should be. It might be odd, but I am always most impressed by these things!

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I had the most peaceful and comfortable nights sleep I have ever had away from home. Eight solid hours, undisturbed. I didn’t want to leave.

For breakfast we ate the Waldorf Astoria classic of Eggs Benedict, sat in the calmness of the gently toned Librije’s Zusje restaurant, sipping hot tea and discussing what we’d do next time.

Next time I’d dine in the 2 Michelin starred restaurant, drink cocktails in The Vault Bar and take afternoon tea in Peacock Alley. I’d have lunch in the Goldfinch Brasserie, swim in the beautiful pool, and have a treatment in the exclusive Guerlain Spa. Next time.

I feel happy to think that there could be a next time. One night might not be enough (it wasn’t!) but it was such a delight to extend a work trip and make it into a superb getaway, that it feels like a real privilege to even be able to think ‘next time!’

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Waldorf Astoria Amsterdam Herengracht 542 – 556, 1017 CG

With the greatest thanks to the wonderful people of iamsterdam for hosting me in their beautiful city, and the Waldorf Astoria, Amsterdam for hosting me and my guest for a night in their incredible hotel.

Amsterdam – Working Away & Taking Time to Explore the City

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Travelling for work seems at first to be a very exciting thing, but flying in and out of cities without seeing a true glimpse of them doesn’t sound at all fun to me. So, when I was invited to give a talk at Foam Museum in Amsterdam I felt it was important to try and make a bit more of it.

After dropping my bags at the stunning Conservatorium hotel and having a quick rest and refresh, I headed over to Foam to do my talking at the Photo/Video Edition. The event was great fun, and although much of it was in Dutch (and my translator got told off for talking, so I had no idea what was going on) it was really great to meet and speak to so many people afterwards, and to make plans for future visits.

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In the morning, having woken to a beautiful sunrise, I headed off to a meeting, then for a quick cheese toastie and waffle stop and a think about what to do over the next couple of days.

I’m not much of a planner when it comes to these things, I’m more of a haphazard wanderer to be honest, and even the best made plans get broken when I’m around (and easily distracted by all the things).

We meandered through the streets, down to the station, zig zagging back along the canals, car spotting, bike spotting, window shopping, taking everything in.

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In a narrow and unassuming street we found the door to Restaurant LT Cornelis and climbed the stairs to their cocktail bar and restaurant.

Three buildings made into one, respectfully maintaining the character and evidence of the building’s heritage. The visible wear and tear of well over 100 years still evident in the space, especially on the spiral staircase up to the private dining area.

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Copper stills lined up as lampshades over the bar. High ceilings, blue grey walls, golden velvet, a ginger martini just for me – I could live here!

“It’s our mission to enable all to experience the absolute delights of the Dutch cuisine. By combining the current with the past and the purest ingredients we strive to offer our guests a legendary experience.”

We  sat, overlooked by a large reproduction of the famous Dutch painting of the Meagre Company (also known by it’s original title of ‘Officers of the Company of the Amsterdam Crossbow Civic Guard under Captain Reynier Reael and Lieutenant Cornelis Michielsz Blaeuw’) and worked our way happily through the five course menu.

The restaurant has only been open nine months but you’d think that people had been going there for years, they seemed so happy and comfortable. The staff were lovely and cheery, they appeared to take pride in everything.

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The amuse bouche was good, and the Ossenworst was pretty special (smoked beef sausage with Amsterdam pickles, kohlrabi, silver onion and rye bread sauce). The Sirloin was cooked to perfection and beautifully flavoured (Dutch beef with a beet jus, cream cheese stuffed onion, sweet shredded onion and a melty, crunchy onion crisp with confit potatoes), but the chicken and fries ‘Appelmoes’ was just awesome (soft chicken with salty gravy and chicken liver, sweet apple sauce and crispy potato). I’ve never had chicken and apple before. Apparently it’s a dutch thing, a childhood classic that everyone knows. I’ve been educated and enlightened!

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The dessert, to me, was bizarre, a real insight into dutch flavours and a challenge to my tastebuds. Meringue, sea buckthorn berry, shredded dutch carrot, white chocolate mousse, crunchy caramel biscuit, with a gravy, yes gravy, of yellow carrots. Tangy, sour, sharp, kind of astringent, occasionally only ‘almost’ sweet. I can’t say that it’s something I’d choose to have again but I do think it was a taste worth trying.

If I lived in Amsterdam I’d probably make LT Cornelis my local. I’d be like the cool one out of Cheers (was there a cool one? There wasn’t a cool one) sat at the end of the bar with my personalised ginger martini tankard and a pocket full of sweet snacks. I’m sure I could blend in.

Full of food and happy, we made our way back to the hotel. Amsterdam is such a safe and busy city that it feels perfectly fine to wander the streets at night, and it’s nice to see everything in a different light (or dark, as the case most often is at nighttime).

After a good nights sleep and a good breakfast of truffle-topped Eggs Benedict, we checked out of the Conservatorium and got a car over to the Waldorf Astoria, where we stayed for our third and final night of the trip.

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Having explored the superbly beautiful hotel we wandered out, making a beeline for the zoo. I don’t normally visit zoo’s, but so many people had suggested that the zoo was the last place we should think about going, it kind of became top of the list out of inquisitiveness.

We were on the way to the zoo but an exceptionally large palm pushing it’s self against a condensation-blurred window lured us in to De Hortus (that and the iamsterdam city cards burning holes in our pockets!) and we were lost for hours.

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Amsterdam’s De Hortus Botanicus was founded in 1638 and is one of the oldest botanic gardens in the world. What a magnificent place. Green parakeets flew from tree to tree, as two large herons sat watching. In the butterfly house were hands of green bananas, small golden pineapples and these things that looked like deflated balloons.

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Leaving De Hortus we continued on our journey across the city, grabbing frites and mayonnaise from a street stall, and as the daylight dimmed we headed to catch the Water Colors Cruise and see the Amsterdam Lights Festival from the water.

Glass roofed boats chugged up and down the canals as the flashes of many tourists cameras fired simultaneously.

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The Lace by Choi + Shine Architects was by far my favourite installation. Fifteen metres long and suspended above the canal, The Lace pays homage to the traditional Dutch bonnet, and is made from over twenty miles of hand crocheted cord! Utterly stunning (and probably very weighty).

After our excursion we headed over to De Culinaire Werkplaats for dinner. From the vast and varied information I had passionately pressed upon me throughout the evening I’ve attempted to narrow the concept down to the following for you:

De Culinaire Werkplaats is an interactive experimental art gallery vegetable restaurant performance with a freestyle story-telling menu of ‘a selection of japanese world views in 5 courses’ sharing the message of sustainability, future food problems, and food scarcity.

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We sat, balanced atop tall 3 legged chairs, concentrating on not falling, and were presented with a run of dishes, all of which, we were told, related to Japanese culture.

Rice and beans in a bowl with brown water poured over it as a ‘tea ceremony’.

Gold and silver clay covered purple potato with sauerkraut, chestnuts and prunes.

A smoke filled box with beans wrapped in cabbage leaves and buckwheat noodles, and a flower on top.

A paper wrapped ‘gift’ of raspberry and almond.

A Japanese garden of build your own dessert – Wasabi flavoured sesame seeds, fish shaped sour tasting jelly, trimmings of cress.

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I would have liked to enjoy the food, but for me the multitude of mixed messages needed to be refined and matched with food that is full of flavour. A gold and silver clay covered potato may make a artistic statement (this one was about the beauty of ageing, I am told) but it does not demonstrate the idea of sustainability (the waste of clay, silver and gold paint), and even though it was purple and shiny (and rather regal looking)  it was still a plain potato.

My favourite bit was the part where you had to take your own dishes up to the sink when you’d finished eating. I thought that was quite nice.

Food for thought? Absolutely, if you’ve got €90 burning a hole in your back pocket, several hours to spare, and a personal selection of seasonings.

Luckily I filled my chubby boots with the most delicious Eggs Benedict only hours later at the Waldorf Astoria and all was right in my world again.

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Foam Photography Museum Keizersgracht 609, 1017 DS

Conservatorium Van Baerlestraat 27, 1071 AN

Restaurant Lt. Cornelis Voetboogstraat 13, 1012 XK

De Hortus Botanicus Plantage Middenlaan 2a, 1018 DD

Water Colors Cruise Departs from Prins Hendrikkade 33a (opposite Central Station)

De Culinaire Werkplaats Fannius Scholtenstraat 10, 1051 EX

Waldorf Astoria Amsterdam Herengracht 542 – 556, 1017 CG

iamsterdam City Card €75 for 72 hours and totally worth it if you plan to do lots –  includes unlimited travel on public transport, a free canal cruise, and entry to most museums and attractions.

With the greatest thanks to the wonderful people of iamsterdam for hosting me in their beautiful city.

 

Amsterdam & A Stylish Stay at The Conservatorium

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The rowdy boys on the low cost flight were excited about coffee shops and brothels. After 45 minutes in the air one of them declared loudly that he needed a fag so badly he’d have to have two when they landed. They all agreed. One of them said he was so desperate for a fag he was going to Henry Hoover it up.

The Amsterdam they were looking for is not the Amsterdam I know.

For me it’s about culture, people, canals, house boats, beautiful architecture, heritage, bicycles, poffertjies, stroopwaffles and croquettes, so many wonderful things, and of course, the cat boat.

The main reason I was visiting this time was to give a talk at Foam Photography Museum. I could have easily flown in and out again, but the lure of the beautiful city was too much, and three nights were really not enough!

If you are going to travel the world then you should take the time to see the world. I don’t want to tick places off a bucket list, or tell you how I’ve ‘done’ a country or a continent, I could visit the same place time and time again and still find something new to experience, and I am more than happy with that.

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And so we were back in Amsterdam. Arriving in no time at all at Schipol airport and heading off by bus and then tram to the first hotel of our stay, the stunning Conservatorium in the heart of the museum district.

‘The Conservatorium Hotel is Amsterdam’s leading luxury lifestyle palace, evoking glamour and elegance for sophisticated, design-literate travellers.’

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Built in 1897, originally designed by the Dutch architect Daniel Knuttel as the Dutch Savings Bank, in 1978, when the bank merged and moved, the building was abandoned. Lying empty for five years it then became the home of the Sweelinck Conservatory of Music who moved out in 2008. The building was bought by The Set who worked with architect Piero Lissoni and opened the Conservatorium hotel at the end of 2011.

The hotel is a pairing of neo-gothic and modern buildings – a large glass and steel structure ties the wings together over the original courtyard, connecting the communal spaces; a mixture of arts and crafts tile-clad hallways, stained glass windows and stone and iron railed staircases, with airy, structured steel and glass, and open areas full of angles and interest. Pay attention to the original details too – the tiles depict bees and hives, the gathering of honey and storing it a reflection of the buildings original purpose as a bank.

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The long corridors, dressed for winter with fir and lights, look like they should take you to a magical Narnian world, but instead they lead you in one direction to the most stunning restaurant, a gin bar and a cigar  lounge, or in the other, to the shopping gallery where you can buy Bentley cars and beautiful Bonebakker jewellery, with Boucheron gold rings shaped like hedgehog knuckledusters.

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The rooms are subtle and calm with small flashes of colour, taking influence from Japanese styling and designed in full by Piero Lissoni – the screen like walls and simple lines, the hidden wardrobes, safe, and well stocked mini bar behind the glossy doors.

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The bathrooms are very spacious, the doors concealed as huge mirrors –  a beautiful and clever design, but also a trap for strange creatures with short memories like me.

Everything is in calm and considered, even down to the Luigi Bormioli fine glasses and Villeroy and Boch china.

In the evening the blinds were closed, slippers and mats were set at the side of the bed, and pillow spray laid out with a note to tell us what tomorrows weather would be.

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And, in the morning we ate a peaceful breakfast in the bright atrium, admiring all the beautiful touches, the Christmas tree and seasonal decorations, and the over-sized Miffy, before heading off to explore the beautiful city.

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Conservatorium Van Baerlestraat 27, Amsterdam, 1071 AN NL

With the greatest thanks to the wonderful people of iamsterdam for hosting me in their beautiful city, and the Conservatorium for hosting me and my guest for two nights in their stunning hotel.

These Recent Things (Leaves, Hair & Cheese)

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Autumn has most definitely turned into Winter. I look out of the window at the mist and the grey, and I know that it was only days ago when there were golden leaves hanging from branches and crunching underfoot. This morning I slip-slided across the brown slime of decaying leaves to the frost covered chicken house and let my small friends out into the crisp air.

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The chicken hierarchy has changed. Our dear lovely Sandra died in the middle of the month. She was a good leader. The cleverest chicken I’ve ever met – she was inquisitive and funny, she enjoyed a cuddle, came out in the car with me, helped me with admin, won trophies, survived a dog attack, beat up a jackdaw, knew all of our neighbours and would come rushing down the street to me when I called her. She also went by the name of Trudy and spent a lot of time down the road with a nice man called Jonathan.

Of course we’ll miss her, she was a wonderful being, but something quite magical happened. People sent their condolences, online – well over a hundred people, and then elsewhere – at an event in Cambridge, when I was working in London – people from all over the world who barely know me, knew her!

How utterly incredible that a chicken can have such an impact. What a fabulous and beautiful creature she was, and a reminder – if a chicken can make a difference, then surely we all can too?!

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With the Autumn colours seeming so vivid this year, (we think because there was little wind and the leaves stayed on the trees for longer) I made sure I took time to walk and observe, tucking pretty leaves in my pockets for later and pressing them in a big old book on the sideboard.

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It’s been another busy month. Busy, busy – aren’t we all?! I do think that at this time of year people start to get a bit panicked – maybe it’s the pressure of Christmas, or a list of jobs looming over them that they’ve been trying to do since June and want to push onto someone else before the month is out, or maybe they’ve re-discovered their list of New Year’s resolutions and cacked it because they’ve failed themselves. Who knows!

I’m bringing back The Midwinter Movement – I’m embracing the season, I’m being kind to people (of course!) and I’m taking time to reflect. Let’s fill the darkness of the winter nights with light and joy and friendship, not stacks of plastic crap from B&M bargains, right? (Have you seen those terrible adverts?!)

I’ll be sharing my little bit of beautiful, magical winter on instagram, with the hashtag #themidwintermovement and I would love it if you would join me in that.

I’m also happy to share cheese and gin if there’s enough to go around. (The Blacksticks Blue cheese we had with this sloe gin was so delicious.)

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I’ve been up to Manchester to speak at the Hard Focus Symposium, and down to London to take part in the totally wonderful Photomonth Portfolio Reviews. I had a brilliant night out with Banke at the Vuelio Awards and went to a lovely evening event with Cambridge Contemporary Art. The guys at CCA even gave me an advert calendar… awwww, I love it, but I am also impatient and somehow I already know exactly what is behind each unopened door!

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Do you remember when I had my unicorn horn removed earlier in the year, and I went to RUSH Cambridge for a hair cut beforehand? Well, I was lucky enough to get my hair cut by the nicest hairdresser I have ever known, and when she, Gen, or Gentiana Restelica to use her full lady name, mentioned that she wanted to do an event to celebrate the first birthday of her business, I couldn’t help but get involved. I was delighted to co-host ‘Winter at Rush’. We brought together a lovely bunch of people, with lots of prosecco, canapés and cake, chocolates and popcorn, and a good measure of hair braiding, fringe trimming and luscious lock styling.

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And then we had the last Shutter Hub Meet Up of the year, at the Green Man at Grantchester. I thought I would open up the invitation to stay to dinner as Olivia and I planned to get food. Fourteen people stayed! It was wonderful. Like a big photography family round the table, chattering over candle light and feeling perfectly at home. My roast pork belly dinner was delicious, it didn’t photograph well, so instead of a picture resembling an intestine, I’ll not give you a picture at all!

Hmmm, maybe I will distract you with a few soothing photos from my article Reasons to Stay in Bed. If you’ve not read it yet, I (of course) recommend it. Need an excuse not to get up in the morning? I’ve got plenty for you. Require some help sleeping? I’ve got some great tips. Want to know how to lure a cat? I can help.

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Oh, and, before you go, can I ask you a favour?

Actually, it’s two favours, double whammy. Sorry. Thank you. I’m assuming you said yes!

I Don’t Like Peas has been nominated by some kind soul (thanks mum!) for the UK Blog Awards in the Lifestyle and Photography* categories, and I would massively appreciate your vote. I don’t write this blog for anything but fun, and I am always amazed and happy that I get to share my stories with so many people – some of you I know in person, and some of you I’ve never met, and all of you play a special part in my funny little life. So, if you can spare a moment (it takes around 8 seconds) would you please vote for me here? http://blogawardsuk.co.uk/ukba2017/entries/i-dont-peas

And, that’s not all! Shutter Hub is up there too! Got another 8 seconds on your hands? Please vote for Shutter Hub. I am incredibly proud of what Shutter Hub has achieved, and all of our lovely photography gang, so anything we can do to get the word out there is a good thing by me!  http://blogawardsuk.co.uk/ukba2017/entries/shutter-hub

I am grateful, thank you.

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*Please tick Lifestyle and Photography in the drop down box. You are allowed one vote per email address, and voting closes 10am on Monday 19th December. Big kisses! 

Welcome to the World of Karen Harvey: photographer, writer, creative consultant… self proclaimed cat whisperer, chicken wrangler and chief cake taster!