Toiletries Amnesty Update & A Bloggers Meet Up

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The other weekend I went to a bloggers meet up in Cambridge. After being there for a couple of hours and meeting some very lovely ladies, I realised, I’m not really a blogger, I’m just someone with stories to share. Unlike many other people, I don’t want to be Zoella (unless she is like Godzilla, in which case, I do) and I am not really bothered about likes, follows or floppy hats. I’m just happy going about the business of being me.

I came away feeling inspired, and with a party bag, in which I found crisps, a tin of pop (Belvoir Elderflower Presse pop) and some shiny’s, along with lots of smelly things, most of which ended up in the Toiletries Amnesty box!

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You see, I’m not very good with beauty products, I like the pretty packaging and the nice smells, but mostly things don’t like me back.

Just the other week my colleague Neil brought me some goat soap and a postcard of a man with a chicken on his head, from Morocco. I’m not sure whether the card belongs in my collection of ‘men holding chickens’ pictures, or ‘men carrying animals in an unusual manner’ postcards. Either way, I’m delighted with it. On the downside, the Argan oil soap has had to be double-bagged and put out in the back hall after giving me an allergy beard. Argan is my kryptonite.

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I didn’t realise I would be, but I am still collecting toiletries for the Toiletries Amnesty. It started off with a collection for Winter Comfort, and it has grown and grown into collections of thousands of items, and several different groups, including: Wisbech and March Women and Children’s Refuges, Wisbech Children’s Centres, Wisbech and March Children’s homes, Romsey Mill in Cambridge, CareZone in Peterborough, a church group in Cambridge, and of course, Winter Comfort.

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I’m intrigued by the little hand-soaps, all with their different packaging and stories to tell. ‘Glamour and Courtesy’, now that’s a special soap!

Some of the items that have been donated are rather old, as you can see from these photos. You’ve probably gathered that I don’t like waste, and that I do like vintage, so you might not be surprised when I tell you that these retro items have found an alternative home – not with me, but with The Museum of Brands in London!

I find that very pleasing.

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I’m still collecting toiletries, so if you have anything to share with people who need these things, please do get in touch. Over the next few weeks I am going to put together a post with information about groups who needs toiletries all across the UK, so we can carry on the Toiletries Amnesty and get more and more people involved.

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Thank you all for getting involved, reading this, and spreading the word. I’ll leave you with this lovely and affirming message from Christine, who manages the Refuge centres in Wisbech and March.

‘Great news about more donations, the last ones were fantastic. The women had a great time going through them and picking bits out. It was extremely generous of you all. 

If it were not for the kindness of people like yourself and the support you give the women and children would not have those nice little bits to cheer them up at a difficult time. Many of our families arrive with nothing having in many cases left everything behind, so it is so good to be able to give them something nice. 

Thank you all once again.’


Derby Daze – Photographers, Portfolios & International Awards (But No Elvis Buffet!)

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I should have been sipping champagne in London at the RCA Secret exhibition, but instead I was in Derby, with the promise of an Elvis buffet.

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Unfortunately, by the time I got there, I was too tired to leave the hotel, even for Elvis. I decided to brave dinner for one in the hotel, opting for the restaurant over the bar, in hope of some peace and calm.

The restaurant was pretty empty, some random pop music squeezed through the ceiling speakers. Across the room a family sat, loudly discussing their desire for a suckling pig. I tried to zone out. ‘I’ve et a moorhen, it’s like a baby chicken,’ one man said, proudly. I tuned back in.

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2015 03 13 Jurys Inn Derby 07

I ordered rump steak, with chips of course. I was disappointed with what arrived. The steak was cooked ‘medium’ and I had to use medium strength to cut into it. The onion rings were slimey, and the strangely pre-melted garlic butter was too neon for me to trust it. The mushroom was literally flat – a slither thin, icy cold, grease biscuit. And, nobody offered me any sauce! Chips with no mayonnaise? You what?!

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Still, I was too tired for an Elvis buffet, so this was my punishment. I ordered a pudding. New York cheesecake with berry compote. It looked nice, and it tasted nice! It’s hard to get all the sauce off a slate. I like sauce. On closer inspection it wasn’t a slate, it was plastic, faux-slate!

After chatting to the waitress about being over-charged, I retired to my room.

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The room was incredibly neat and tidy – all tissues had their corners folded, the tea, coffee and sugar sachets were lined up like soldiers, and the towels were folded with precision. Neat, I mean, neat!

There were too beds in the room – a small one for napping, and a bigger one for sleeping.

Good job I didn’t do any napping, because in the morning I noticed a suspiciously vomit-like stain on the throw of the small bed. I quickly crafted a paper arrow to assist the housekeeping staff in finding said stain, and reported this to the receptionist, who swapped me this information for my parking charge. I was too tired to point out that this was not a fair swap.

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I didn’t sleep well. Noisy guests roamed the corridors, shouting and slamming doors. They sounded jubilant. I bet they’d been to the Elvis buffet!

The church next door played beautiful, carillon-like, chimes. I googled it, St Michaels and All Angels. I found nothing about the chimes, but I could have gone to a keep-fit class there, had I not been busy eating. Also, according to wikipedia, in 1728 a French man called Gillnoe ‘flew’ down a rope from the Cathedral and landed in different places, including near this church. On one occasion an ass was sent down the rope, but it broke under its weight and a number of onlookers were injured.

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Anna met me for breakfast. It was a good way to start the day, we talked a lot and she told me she was getting a miniature dachshund. I had some sort of granola and a pastry. I had wanted some grapes, but as I reached for them they were swiped away by a waitress.

I checked out and headed over to the FORMAT International Portfolio Review, my reason for being in Derby. Apparently it’s the biggest photography portfolio review in the whole world, experts had been flown in from around the world, and I’d driven up the A1.

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I spent the day helping photographers with their business, professional development, and portfolio needs. I met a lot of interesting people and one dog.

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In the evening everyone headed over to QUAD for the awards ceremony. After the introductions I was first up – to give the Shutter Hub Portfolio Prize (find out more here). I hadn’t realised it would be such a large auditorium, or that I would have the run of the stage with a wireless microphone, so it wasn’t really a surprise that I was tempted to sing. And then I told everyone that I was ‘bloody brilliant’ before announcing the winner – who happened to have nude self-portraits in his portfolio, which were shown on the huge cinema screen behind me. So, yes, that went well!

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As I left the city centre, the lights went red for the pedestrian crossing and a black cat, with white feet, jogged across in front of me. I drove on, only to find the road was closed and I had to travel a further 20 miles north to get back to the A1. Then I accidentally bought a cheese and onion pasty in petrol station from a man with the longest nails I have ever seen and the strongest scent of ashtray that stayed with me for far too long. It was good to get home.

Lotus Cup UK Speed Championship 2015 – North Weald (Round 1)

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Sunday was the first sprint of the season. We got up early and headed off to North Weald, Essex. The sky was dark and the wind was chilling, a barn owl flew along the hedge line at the side of the road. They say if you see a barn owl on a Sunday morning you’re up too early. They don’t really say that. They are all still in bed. Bastards!

This time last year I had never competed in a sprint before, I’d only done one track day (and not enjoyed it much) and I was more nervous than you can imagine. Now I feel excitement, not fear. I can’t wait to get out in the car, and I am always so happy to see the other drivers who I have claimed as friends and have the desire to feed cake to!

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2015 03 15 Lotus Cup Speed Championships Sprint 1 North Weald 08

When we arrived at North Weald I didn’t recognise a thing. I know I have been there before, but none of it was familiar. I asked Rob, ‘Was that air traffic control tower really there before?’ he said, ‘Yes, since about 1920!’

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2015 03 15 Lotus Cup Speed Championships Sprint 1 North Weald 04

The course layout was different to last year, I had the advantage of experience, but not of memory.

The track surface was super bumpy, gritty and loose with small chippings that made it hard to get much grip. My first practice was good fun. There was so much space on the last part of the track that I felt like I was in Tescos carpark, razzing around, old school stylee!

Adam and I are sharing the car and double-driving this year, so in a weird way we are competing against each other. That’s not a particularly nice feeling, so we have to see it as a team effort. I have also claimed Rob Clark as a team member because he’s good! Go team!

As a sprinkle of rain started to fall it was time for the second practice run. I managed to spin the car just moments after leaving the start line. That was rather embarrassing! I carried on, slip-sliding all over the shop. The grit and the rain making it feel more like a rally stage.

Small planes flew in and a helicopter landed.

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There were over 80 cars competing, and 28 of them were Lotus’. It was like some kind of awesome Lotus parade and I liked it!

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This year there are many more cars in the Supersport class than before. The big question that everyone had been asking throughout the winter was, would Xavier, King of the Sprinters still get a 1st place even though he’d changed car and class? The answer was yes. He also brought some delicious flapjack with him.

It was a bit of a cake fest, cake-off, cake-o-rama.

My cake of the day was a chocolate sponge. I was majorly out-caked by Jez Braker who brought along some spectacular and neat Lotus cakes made by his talented wife. My presentation was not up to scratch, I produced a brown in a box and hid it in Duncan’s trailer.

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We managed to fit one timed run in before lunch. I did an 84.67, just over 3 seconds slower than my first practice which was annoying, but seeing the other results it was obvious that we were all slowed down by the change in conditions. Adam managed to lock-up and go off, cars were sliding all over the place.

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We had two more timed runs, and after another 84-something, I managed 81.50, a fairly respectable time considering the conditions, and the car. This put me 11 out of 15 in Production class. Adam however, team mate, car sharer and first-time sprinter, took 10th place with 81.23, just 0.27 seconds faster than me! The winner in our class was Jez Braker, with his 74.70… damn you Jez Braker with your fast driving and fancy cakes! (I am typing this one handed, whilst waving my fist!)

It seemed like lots of people had car trouble and things going wrong, but not for long. Even though everyone is there to compete against each other, there’s no nastiness, and all day people were helping each other out. Tony fixed Duncan’s trailer for him and Xav gave Jez a header tank. For a while everyone thought Dave Mann’s car was actually on fire, (it turned out to be steam) Dave Carr and Xav helped him fix it. There was a lot of Lotus love shared.

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Although it was bitterly cold, windy and drizzly. (and I spent most of the day wondering if my toes were still attached to my feet, or if they’d frozen and dropped off in my shoes), it was a really wonderful day. I’m glad to be back out in the car, and when I’m not driving it I’m glad to be hanging around in the paddock with some great people and some good fun.

New drivers, different cars, and three kinds of cake – marvellous!

Run Away To The Sea With Me

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When I ran free the other day, to the field, I realised it was a bit of a lame runaway destination, so after I’d taken some photos and searched for some clues, I got back in the car and kept on driving to the sea.

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The beach was pretty empty.

I wandered along, enjoying the clear air and the beautiful patterns in the fallen rocks. Pigeons circled above me. Yes, pigeons. I was surprised too.

Then I heard somebody shout ‘Bingo!’

I looked round and there he was, the most lovely little fella, wandering along from rock to rock, stopping to look at random things and taking his own time, ‘Bingo!’

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I looked for sea glass, and found none.

I used to spend whole afternoons, as a child searching the gravel driveway for fossils. Not noticing the time, not thinking about anything, just sitting in the sun and looking. What wonderful freedom.

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2015 02 25 hunstanton 11

That was then, and this is now. So far today I’ve:

Been to physio and got told off for walking too much.

Ripped the front bumper off my car whilst being watched by a black cat who ran away before I had a chance to cuddle it.

Been followed on twitter by a decluttering expert, a model agency and a carpet supplier.

Spent £1.50 on a set of vintage cutlery, a japanese bowl and two old pairs of scissors for my collection.

Eaten an onion bhaji and a hot cross bun.

Won a piece of jewellery in a magazine competition.

And it’s not even lunchtime.

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I was disappointed not to get a cat cuddle after I’d loaded my front bumper into the back of the car. I turned to Facebook for support, but Gavin told me that the cat was just causing a distraction so that the clowder (isn’t that a marvellous word?) could attack the bumper.

Then Liz posted a photo on my Facebook wall of an old lady’s shoe with a cat turd inside it. I wish I’d found that.

All The Photography Things & A Field

2015 02 25 looking for hettys rabbits in snettisham 01

I’m very busy. It seems I am constantly repeating that sentence. I am very busy. Sometimes, even when I am very busy, I like to run free!

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I’m working on something (and everything). I’m putting together some imagery for the artwork of an indie/folk album. I’m working through a few ideas digitally, and then I’m going to whip out the biscuit tins and get all pinhole on the project.

There’s one very special location that sprung to mind, a place my friend Matt knew I would be intrigued by, a place where the evidence of life and death sometimes hangs from the trees… a field.

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The sun was shining and I rushed out with my camera. It was a beautiful crisp day. The wind whipped round my face and through my hair. I squinted in the bright sun, the occasional tear tracking down my cheek. I walked briskly to the field, and then – what was the first thing I did when I got there? (Adam will be able to answer this immediately!) I stepped backwards into a dog poo! Why does this always happens me?

Please send more shoes.

I looked to the trees for evidence. I found lots of clues, but not the one I was looking for. I kept looking.

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I am very busy. Lots of photography things. We had our quarterly review last week, and it was good. We’ve been doing good, lots of good. All the good. If you’re into photography you might like some of the good we’re doing.

Do you want to exhibit your photography in central London? Here’s the call for entries for the Shutter Hub OPEN Exhibition 2015.

Would you like me to come and talk to you about Professional Development and help you with your portfolio? Have a look at this then! I’m also hosting drop-in PD sessions at FORMAT International Photography Festival next weekend… and giving an award! (I know I will do something embarrassing, and it will probably be an animal impression!)

Would you like to get together with other photographers and see an exhibition? Come to our Meet Up at the National Media Museum next month.

Fancy seeing me talk about pinhole photography in front of too many experts, and give an award, at the Worldwide Pinhole Day event in London…. cue more embarrassing animal impressions and bad jokes, no doubt!

Perhaps you’d just like to read a recent book review I’ve written? Here’s one. Nigel Grierson’s book, Photographs, is right up my street.

I told you. I am very busy.

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Any way, our quarterly review. We though it would be good to get out of the studio and have no distractions. We thought. We went to The Hare Arms, sat in the conservatory and ordered burgers.

Whilst we were eating the cat came in and pee’d up the wall next to us. ‘Excuse me’, I said to the barman, ‘Otis has just wee’d on the wall’. He went to clear it up. Someone else came and asked how our meals were, and all I could do was say ‘Timing!’ and laugh. Then I went red with embarrassment. I think I felt it for Otis, but he didn’t care. Cat of little shame. He hopped up onto a chair and sat, right leg stuck out to the side, left leg pointing up in the air, spread-eagle, no washing, just staring intently at a woman who was eating her lunch. Funny animal.

I’ve seen him doing the rounds of the carpark before, peeing up peoples bumpers. I’ve always found it quite amusing to think that people are spending their money in his pub whilst he is attending to the parking area. However enamoured I am with him, I’m not sure I am happy about having my lunch whilst he proclaims ownership of the conservatory wall!

Still, after that unusual distraction we managed to get a lot done. I felt proud of our achievements. And Otis’s, kind of.

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On the way back I curb-crawled an Egret. I wanted to get Neil’s photo with it so he’d have something to put on Linkedin. (We’d been discussing professional images). The Egret tried to fly away, and the photo didn’t come out very well. Neil said it looked like he was happy about a polythene bag in a field. I said it looked like he might think it contained discarded sandwiches.

(That’s a duck in that photo. Not an Egret. I know that!)