Midsummer Pimms & The Impossible Garden Picnic

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Every year, since we moved to this house, we’ve had a party in our garden to celebrate Midsummer. There was one year when we changed the date, so that Susie, the inventor of the Sugar Wolf (possibly the most dangerous cocktail known to mankind) could still join us for the fun and fire jumping, but other than that, always Midsummer.

We make all our favourite foods, including some Harvey family classics – the secret recipe chocolate cake, camel dropping biscuits, and the most recent edition, the (kind of) Portuguese custard tarts. Adam brings back loads of continental beers, we pick up a few kegs from our local brewery and bring out the Polish vodka collection.

Susie normally strolls in with a crate of champagne and cider, because she’s a classy chick and she like to mix it up a bit. Last year Aoife made a special Midsummer potion for us all (whilst wearing the most fabulous ‘Margot from the Good Life’ dress) and there’s always a massive jug of Pimms, usually attached the the end of Lisa’s arm!

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Friends pitch their tents in the garden, or bagsie beds in the house, we light a bonfire and sit round on some old pieces of oak sculpture we have in a circle round the fire pit – Wood Henge! Sometimes there’s music, sometimes there’s singing, sometimes Adam plays Guns N’ Roses on the sitar.

Sadly we didn’t have a Midsummer gathering this year, but we did light a bonfire under the full strawberry moon at the start of the shortest night, and ate ice creams as bats circled above our heads. None of them attacked us though, which was good!

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Have I told you about time I got bitten by a bat?!

It was a normal afternoon, late July, a few years ago. Adam saw something moving in the dining room. ‘A bird!’ he said, putting on his sunglasses for protection and pulling the door to.

A tiny, speeding dot of black was circling the room, occasionally it stopped to hang off the chandelier for a short moment, before swooping off again. A bat.

We both stood in the room, Adam bracing himself, me laughing at his protective eyewear. ‘Bats have got built in sonar, he’s not going to go for your eyes!’ I said, as it dive bombed me in the head, circled a few more times, and then flew up my dress screaming it’s tiny furry face off. Out it flew, continuing to circle, occasionally brushing my head. Eventually it stopped, and climbed under the stereo.

As I scooped it out, and held it’s tiny body in my hands, exclaiming ‘Take my picture! Take my picture!’ it bit me on one hand, and then the other. Eeeee! It hurt. Tiny fierce pins for teeth. We got it outside, and set it free.

I thought it was funny, amusing, but a couple of people kind of worried me with, ‘Ew, what if it was diseased?’  So I thought I’d set my mind at rest with a quick call to NHS Direct. Ha!

I explained what had happened, and was put on hold. Coming back on the line the woman said, ‘Erm, I’ve spoken to my colleague, and, we think you’ve got rabies. Can you go to A and E please?’

At the hospital they ran through some questions with me, ‘Where did you get bitten?’ – ‘In the dining room!’ ‘Where are your injuries?’ – I held up both my middle fingers. Apart from the threat of a deadly disease, the whole thing was pure comedy.

I was rushed through to see the doctor immediately and assured that whilst Rabies doesn’t exist in the UK, I should take these special antibiotics to fight off any other dangerous nasties that the furry bullet may have been carrying.

Coming home, in the dark, I stood outside the back door as Adam unlocked it and, Whack! a bat (THE bat) hit me in the head! Revenge.

(I did get very sick about a week later, and for roughly four hours thought I was going to die a slow and intensely painful death, but after that I was fine! The lesson here – leave the wild animals alone, Karen!)

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Anyway, having felt deprived of our full Midsummer experience I thought a garden picnic on a warm summers day would be a simple delight to enjoy – just roll out of the back door and no need to worry if it started to rain.

I hadn’t considered what the chickens would think. To be honest, it was April who was the worst. Once she’d got a taste for patisserie, there was no stopping her. Whilst the other distracted me, and my back was turned, she lunged in for a pomegranate seed. The others were encouraged by her efforts. I tried waving my Birkenstock at them, but they just thought I was beckoning them over for more!

At one point, lying on the ground, appreciating the little bee that had come to inspect the flowers that I’d proudly cut from amongst the weeds, I felt an unusual rubbing sensation on my left leg. Turning slowly to see, it was April, gleefully wiping her custardy face on my clean clothes.

Once they’d had their fill of sweet treats, they retreated to the flower beds, occasionally patrolling past to make sure there was nothing left for them.

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I’ve been enjoying some wonderful books lately, but Shadow Catchers is just bursting with the most beautiful and inspiring camera-less photography, and I fully appreciated being able to sit and just stare into it’s pages without worrying about the time.

I’m not much of a cocktail drinker, but when the guys at thebar.com asked me what my favourite summer cocktail was, it had to be the good old-fashioned classic, Pimms and lemonade.

I didn’t even realise Pimms was alcoholic for a while! (But yes, this is coming from the same person who got bitten by a bat in her own dining room, so, you know!) It’s a proper summer drink when it’s full of fruity bits.

We usually make big jugs of it, but I thought the carafe would be fun and stop the flies from popping in for a swim or a loll on an orange-slice lilo.

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The Pimms recipe from thebar.com recommends mixing it per glass, but as we generally only have drinks with friends, I just like to sling it all together in one go – 1 part Pimms to 3 parts lemonade, a handful of ice, some slithers of cucumber, sliced orange, strawberries and mint. Some nice tall glasses are also handy (these beauties belonged to Adam’s great aunt), as are straws, so that you can use them as a tool to get all the fruity bits without getting your hand stuck in the glass. (I’m full of life lessons me!)

Sometime you only have to go a few steps outside your door to find something lovely, and even very persistent chickens can’t fully sabotage that!

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This post is sponsored by thebar.com All words, thoughts and chickens are my own. Lucky me!

Lotus Cup UK Speed Championship 2016 – Blyton Park (Round 6)

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We checked in at the Wortley House Hotel. They took a swipe of my card, just incase I tried to steal a tele. Getting to the room, Adam realised he’d forgotten to pack my special driving shoes (clapped-out old Converse). ‘It’s okay,’ I said, ‘We’ll go and find a Tesco’. I’ve never had supermarket shoes before, but I know that they are cheap, and I also know that they are probably made by children.

We got in the car, and, almost immediately, we got out again. The battery was flat. After a few minutes of flapping, I phoned Mark. ‘Any chance you could pick us up a battery charger?’ I asked, half joking, half desperately hopeful. His response was quick, of course he would, he was near Grantham and would take a detour. ‘No Problems. Anything else you need?’ he asked politely. ‘Yeah, could you get me some shit shoes?!’

An hour later Mark and Phoebe arrived bearing gifts – a battery charger, and £10 plimsolls from Sainsbury’s, gratefully received.

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We had dinner, we had drinks, we chatted with other LCUK Speed friends, and then we headed off to bed. On our way up Phoebe noticed flyers on the windscreens of the cars, she suggested we go and remove them so our windows weren’t slurred with papery wet stodge by the morning. I handed them to the guy on reception, they were from a rival hotel. He seemed unfazed. ‘But they’ve spelt corner wrong!’ I prodded at the capital K. ‘No, that’s how they spell it,’ he said, matter-of-factly. ‘This isn’t the nineties!’  I said, as I stomped off to bed.

We slept to the hum of the battery charger and woke to the thought of breakfast.

I couldn’t get the room door to lock as we left, so I told reception that it was still open, and that if anyone had done a dump on the bed, it wasn’t me. I mean, they already had the idea that I was illiterate and might do a runner with the tele, so I was just forestalling any other judgements they might have made of me.

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We arrived at Blyton Park. The grey sky hung over us, still and unmoving. As the first practice got underway, the rain started to fall. Lightly at first, but as we queued, it got heavier. My optimism turned into disappointment. 87.21, slow coach.

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The rain stopped play, and we all gathered under the gazebo for shelter. I shuffled round, trying to avoid conversations about Brexit. The rain began to slow, Xav brought out the chocolate brownies (props to his lovely daughter for sending them along with him) and we were told we could take our second practice, if we wanted to.

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It was wet. I eased my way round the track, splashing through puddles and taking in the view. 100.41, surprisingly not the slowest car out there.

After lunch the sun came out. I actually shouted ‘Sun! Sun!’ and might have come across a little bit deranged. Again.

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The track was still slippy, and my shit shoes were giving me gyp, sliding around on the grass and mud covered pedals (thanks Adam!) and feeling like I was wearing heavy cardboard shoe boxes, not shoes. I got an 83.09 and Adam got a DNF as he wasn’t fully on the track as he crossed the finish line. We cleaned the footwell with an old towel and vowed to be better organised with shoes and useful things in future. (Who are we kidding?!)

The track was dry for the second timed run, but I just didn’t feel that confident, until I’d gone all the way round and was back in the paddock wishing we could have another go. 78.47 for me, and another DNF for Adam. He was going so well, I mean soooo well, but then, just a second from the finish line, he spun off, firing a cone in the air like some kind of disappointing £3.50 fireworks finale.

I was 9th out of 13. Adam was 13th. Unlucky.

And now, over to the winners enclosure…

Production: 1st Nigel Hannam, 2nd Xavier Brooke, 3rd Richard Hardwicke

Production Modified: 1st Stephen Morrison, 2nd Andrew Pidgeon (Coincidentally, both the fastest and the slowest drivers of the day – unless you count Adam of course, who didn’t even get a time!)

Supersport: 1st Andy Hughes, 2nd Martin Roberts, 3rd Russell Whitworth

Supersport Modified: 1st Duncan Fraser, 2nd Paul Neale

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We drove home, weaving along the country roads across the fields of Lincolnshire, and, as the lights faded we knew what was to come. Bloody alternator!

The rest of the journey involved poor Adam pushing the car uphill, the most massive disappointment in the AA, a recovery driver who couldn’t recover the car the 8 miles we had left to travel because his tacho had nearly run out, a taxi ride, picking up the Mercedes, and limping the Elise home.

You know how some days you realise that you should have just stayed at home?!

These Recent Things (Peonies & Power Cuts)

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These recent things don’t feel so recent, time is getting away with itself. I do remember the beginning of June, but everything was so different then. (This is not meant to be a pre Brexit reference, but seriously, Brexit?! I’ve only just stopped having nightmares).

The past month has been hectic, more so than usual, and strangely I find that I’ve been taking the most serene and calm photos – perhaps in an attempt to balance things out?

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I know I’m not the only one who gets ill at the mention of holidays, not because we hate them, but because our bodies go ‘Hey! Time to relax!’ and then they let their defences down, welcoming virus’s and injuries like VIP guests to a 24 hour party boat.

Usually it’s when I’m going on holiday that I get sick, but this time it was my colleague who took the trip. There I was lying on the clinic bed on an ECG machine whilst concurrently he was lying on a golden beach in the south of France sun. Damn it! (He did bring me back a lavender bag though!) It was some kind of virus, I was told to rest.

There was no time for rest, onwards!

Have you even seen Leepu visualising a car? That was me, in some kind of art induced trance, conjuring up three coherent exhibitions from several hundred entries. Bloody hell I’m good!

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We launched three exhibitions across three venues in the beautiful city of Cambridge. The first, at Hot Numbers, was rammed – a relief as even though I’ve done loads of these events, I still get nervous that no one will turn up to the opening. The second night was at Novi and… no one turned up! Ha! Well, that’s not true, but I was really worried for about 20 minutes as the sky opened up and threw torrential rain and hail at the earth, crashing thunder down and bringing the brightest lightening.  Then the clouds broke, and the crowds came. Then there was the power cut. Guests used their phones as torches to view the work as they stumbled around in candlelight. It was quite romantic, I suppose. Finally we opened at Stir, with another good turn out and an enjoyable evening. Phew!

There are loads of great events for creative people happening in Cambridge throughout July, most of them are free, and also amazing. Come along if you can, and please spread the word!

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Baby Ruth Sultana has left home. Some might say ‘flown the nest’ but that might sound too cliched. It seems she’s just decided to go it alone, Adam says she’s a free spirit. She’s been gone for five nights now. At first I felt bothered, and Ginger Margaret (Ruth’s ‘mum’) was beside herself, I had to hide biscuit crumbs under peony petals to keep her occupied (and it looked nice). One afternoon she came back, appeared at the front gate, and I let her in. She rushed from food bowl to water bowl and back. Margaret ran to her, bounding across the grass with joyous vigour. Then a couple of hours later, she’d gone again.

We went out at night and searched the neighbourhood for her, but… nothing. No sign, no clues. I’m testing out the new CAT S60 phone, it has thermal imaging. Thermal imaging! So, of course, I took it along to aide my investigation and help me look like even more of a weirdo to my neighbours (they’ve already laughed at my ‘missing brown hen, not dangerous’ notes.)

There was no sign of Ruth, but look at this! You can see the other four are tucked up in bed all nice and cosy, with their hot brains!

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In other big and exciting news, my brother and his family moved back to the UK… hooray! They’ve bought the most beautiful home up in Cheshire, and even though all their things were still travelling across the oceans on a container ship when we visited, it still felt like home. Lovely, lovely home. I’m looking forward to seeing them more, to visiting and spending time with my niece and nephew, and to being opinionated about home decor!

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We sprinted with LoTRDC at Silverstone and it was brilliant, joyful, challenging and nerve-wracking (full story here). I had no idea until it was announced, but, I won a trophy – MG Car Club Best Lady Driver. Go me!

I attended an event at Burberry in London, not because I am a fashionista (you know me!) but because I was invited along to find out more about a mentoring scheme for women in business. I already mentor through Inspiring the Future, and of course, Shutter Hub, but this is something different… that I can’t tell you about yet!

As I was sauntering down Regent Street I spotted a comb on the pavement, ‘Excellent!’ I thought, as I squatted down to get my photograph, creating a human island in a sea of Penhaligon’s and Liberty bags. No shame. #combtheory

I came home with my own little bag. “What have you got in there Karen?”  My reply, “jam and biscuits!” and, most impressively, I was telling the truth!

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We celebrated Midsummer’s Eve with a bonfire. No party. Just Adam and I, bats circling, bonfire blazing, ice cream in hand, under the massive full moon.

It sounds a little bit more magical than it was. Adam kept finding random things to put on the fire, and I had poked this dead little bird in there to give it a ceremonial send off. Fen life.

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I think, I hope, I will always  keep looking for the beauty in everything around me. This old shopping trolley lay dead in the river, whilst the reed warbler sang it’s way back and forth through the long grasses. It’s all there to be found. In the fallen flowers, in the light, and the empty train station. In the ugliest or most boring moments, you just have to look for the joy!

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Please can I go back to bed now?

Lotus Cup UK Speed Championship 2016 – Silverstone (Round 5)

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We drove over to Silverstone the night before and met up with some of the other drivers. They’d been to Abingdon CARnival for round four of the LCUK Speed Championship.  We’d not been at Abingdon for several reasons, one of them being that I don’t like portaloos. We got scrutineered, signed on, walked the track, and chatted to people.

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We found food in Milton Keynes, at Middleton’s. It was kind of weird because there’s a Middleton’s in Middleton, Norfolk and it’s a pub-type place, with their own little butchery at the back. This version was busy and ‘trendy’ with industrial ceilings and steel mesh room-dividers. I’m not usually into chains, but this one is small, and good. Somebody smashed a plate and our waitress Ioana told us that in her country (Romania) it was customary to throw plates and glasses out of your upstairs windows in celebration.

We listened to Salt-N-Pepa in the car. Parked in the petrol station, ate ice creams and discussed what ‘cool’ cars we could buy and drive fifteen hundred miles to Romania.

Back at the Hilton, the room smelt of oldness, like my nan’s purse. There was a fly circulating. The bed creaked and graunched with the slightest movement. I discarded the dirty pillow and slumbered off.

I woke at 4am to the sound of city bird song; vocals influenced by ringing phones and car alarms. It was so loud, surprisingly loud. Turns out Adam had opened the window – that’s why I had itchy hay-fever eyes and it sounded like there was a pigeon on my bedside table.

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The day started off foggy and cool. At Silverstone Stowe we were briefed by the MG Car Club team. There were little historical tit-bits thrown in, it was clear that they were proud of their connection to the site, and rightly so.

Whilst we prepared for the sprinting, elsewhere at Silverstone it was day two of the world’s largest MG event, MG Live, and Lotus Cup Europe racing was underway.

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For some reason, I felt nervous. I wasn’t the only one. It might have been the massive and intimidating tyre walls that were striking fear into us all, or maybe it was just excitement. The track looked awesome. Bendy bendy awesome.

First practice got underway, Nigel met with the tyres, Xav bypassed them by going straight on through the chicane. My time was 65.63 and at that moment I was 6th. That moment soon passed!

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The sun started to break through, and we got on with practice two. I was slower than I had hoped to be, I didn’t have enough wang, and I couldn’t quite remember where I was going. I don’t think any of us had driven here before. But you know, in my first year of sprinting I used to have to take a map with me at all times (see here) so really, for me, I was showing excellent improvement!

We had our first timed run, and a bit of fun as Martin Roberts pirouetted  over the line. Then it was lunch time. I drank a can of ginger beer/liquid sugar. I love ginger beer, but not this one.

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The sun was shining properly now, we took our second, and then third runs. I got my time down to 61.51. I really wanted to be below 60, but I’m not that good.

There were a lot of cars to get through, over 100 of them, but we still managed 2 practices, 3 timed runs, a lunch break and a peace-and-quiet break for the local vicar to deliver his sermon. Nice.

Adam ended up 3rd, with there not being much between his time and the four drivers behind him. I was 9th, out of 11. I was exactly 3 seconds slower than Adam. That’s too much.

Overall I was 44th out of 104. That sounds alright.

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The roll of honour looked like this…

Production: 1st Xavier Brooke, 2nd Nigel Hannam, 3rd Adam Ruck

Production Modified: 1st Stephen Morrison, 2nd Barry Savage

Supersport: 1st Russell Whitworth, 2nd Martin Roberts, 3rd Dave Pollard

Supersport Modified: 1st Duncan Fraser, 2nd Nick Emery, 3rd Jason Weatherall

And hey, guess what? I won a trophy! MG Car Club Best Lady Driver. Yes, that’s right, fastest womb on the track. Woot woot!

It was such a great day. A wonderful track, and a brilliantly organised event. My only disappointment was that I didn’t get to see LoTRDC main man Paul Golding – but then I saw a photograph of him dressed as a (female?) Brazilian volleyball player, and felt just a little bit relieved that our paths had not actually crossed!

These Recent Things (Pork Pies & Perverts)

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Outside, the bees are swarming. Busying themselves around the chimney pots, drowning out the sound of bird song. Every year the bees build a nest in the same chimney, and we’re alright with that. We’ve wondered how we might be able to fit some kind of honey tap, and been relieved that when a young jackdaw fell into the chimney, and had to be rescued via an air vent, he’d been able to survive on a protein rich diet of dead bees.

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Beneath the buzz we are tending to the plants in the conservatory, waiting to be let out to play in the bank holiday sun.

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Now, let me introduce you to the best pork pie I’ve ever come into contact with. Thank you Pork Pie God’s (AKA Baked by Romanos) for this generous gift.

After our awesome Cambridge Eat Up! pot-luck lunch, everyone came away with a goody bag heaving with foodie treats (see Jin’s photo!) My top five highlights, after this delicious pork pie, were: the salt water taffy from Canesmith, caramelised red onion marmalade from Hibiscus Lily, biscotti from Apricot and Fig, chocolate from my chums at Willie’s Cacao, and the tomato and tigernut relish from Bim’s Kitchen ( I used mine as a pasta sauce by adding an egg and some rocket).

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The flyers for the Shutter Hub OPEN have arrived, and they are just beautiful.  (The image is by Kit Martin, and the design by Tim Jukes.) I’m so happy with them. The full programme is available here, if you want to check it out and come along. I’d love to see you there!

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Early in the month I gave a talk with The OGC in London at a symposium called ‘Photography. Not Photographer.’ On the 9th floor of the Digital Catapult Centre, we stood in front of a wall of glass, the view over St Pancras, like some kind of super news reporters. It was a brilliant event, inspiring, and spent with some wonderful people.

Afterwards I trotted back to Kings Cross, and was still so full of joy that I didn’t really mind when I saw I’d missed my train by just one minute, and had another 59 minutes to wait for the next one. Somehow I managed to fill that time quite easily, but accidentally enabling a sex pest and spending half an hour with the police reporting it!

I’d felt sorry for the man as he tried to follow me through the turnstile to the loos. He looked ill, a bit off his face, and ill. I gave him the 30p so that he’d be able to use the toilet, in case he was going to be sick, I thought it was kindest on everyone. I was wrong. As I washed my hands, the man walked out of the cubicle behind me. Two other ladies looked at me uncomfortably and I apologised for giving him the 30p. He must have followed me in by accident, I thought. Seems not. Seems he went for a ‘pleasure’ in the ladies and then told me he’d seen me in the toilet, and some other stuff, that I’m not going to share here for three reasons, (1. My mum might read it, 2. Your mum might read it, 3. Google might shut me down!) but I am sure you can imagine, if you really want to. I was just going to leave it, because I’ve had worse experiences, but then I thought, ‘What if he does it to someone else, or thinks that because he got away with this he can take it to another level?’ So, I reported it. It was the right thing to do. The police took it very seriously, more seriously than me.

Probably the most important thing I learnt from this experience, and why I am sharing it with you, is that British Transport Police have a special number you can text to report a crime on your train or at your station discreetly. That number is 61016. Store it to your phone, and find out more here.

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After the sprint at MIRA, we went to Blyton Park with Lotus on Track for a track day.  It was a beautiful sunny day, and I went backwards through a field. Here’s the onboard video, I was doing about 90mph when I took the detour! Obviously not fast enough.

In other car related news, I was asked if I’d be interested in writing about a super car experience, in relation to Father’s Day. I don’t have a dad, so I was going to hire in a fake one, but seems that’s not what they were after. Never mind. I’ll just keep driving my own car into fields!

And I did an interview (for a publication) with a chap called Tarquin. He asked me how old I was, and if I was from the West Country. I told him to eff off. He then he asked me what was the worst thing that could happen on a sprint, and I said ‘dying’ and I don’t think he thought that was a real answer, so I changed it to ‘being maimed’ and he seemed much happier.

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All is well in chicken world. Patty Slipper is still sleeping in our house, and that’s just the norm now. She is so much happier and healthier. Margaret has gone broody, so we are having to turf her off the eggs and send her out into the daylight, and April, well, she’s a funny one – take a look at this!

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I met up with Jackie at The Brampton Mill the other week, and having not been here for ages, I was really pleasantly surprised. We both had delicious salads (fries and aioli just out of shot!) and looked out across the river.

It was a beautiful day, and it reminded me how important it is to enjoy the seasons while they last.

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I mentioned before how I’ve received some lovely post lately, and I wanted to send more. Whilst out on one of my rummaging missions I came across some postcards of Bordeaux, by a photographer named Marcel Delboy. (Alright Trigger!) Without much thought I picked them up for Jaime, who’d recently made a trip there, and popped them in the post. Little did I know it would make her ugly cry! Apparently it was good-ugly though, and that’s alright. She even wrote a lovely tale about receiving them here, and reading that gave me goose pimples, so I think that was a fair exchange!

Let me know if you want me to send you something in the post that will bring you to tears!

(Don’t worry, I didn’t pick that rat up!)

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