London, London, London (feat. The House of Commons)

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There have been many busy days and they’ve been firmly attached to each other. I seem to have spent the majority of the last couple of weeks travelling down to London and I can honestly say I’m fed-up with the train now and glad to be back in the Fens. Some days out here I might not even see one person, and that suits me fine!

We launched the Shutter Hub OPEN Exhibition last week, and had a busy time installing it, promoting it, and then welcoming a record number of Private View guests to the St Bride Foundation off Fleet Street. We also came across a delightfully manky street pigeon. So greasy. I shared a packet of Corkers crisps (our kind event sponsors) with him. I didn’t touch him because he looked untouchable, but I did hope that he’d hop gratefully into my hand bag, unfolding a tissue with his beak as he went, and sit down gently on it so as not to soil my purse. Disappointingly, that didn’t happen.

No sooner was I home than I was back in the city for talks with the British Journal of Photography and Free Range at the Old Truman Brewery, a night at The Hoxton and a day of GoFolio reviews with emerging photographers.

I was home for a couple of days, and then back again, this time to The House of Commons.

I swam (doggy paddle, of course) through the sea of tourists who were trying to get selfies in front of Big Ben, up to Cromwell Green. Arriving at the Houses of Parliament I was asked, ‘Any knives? Any pepper spray?’ It wasn’t a sales pitch, it was security.

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I carried on through, removing all my shiny things and placing everything on the X-ray conveyor. I walked through the scanner, it beeped loudly so I was given a thorough frisking. It reminded me of being trampled by a cat, I laughed, and then stopped laughing when they asked me to remove the knife from my bag!

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I was early, so I just loitered. I took the chance to go up into the Strangers Gallery and look down on the House of Lords with delight at all the gold and bling, the stained glass and the peers tapping away on their smart phones. The lights flickered on and off, apparently there was a problem with the generator.

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With it’s fancy Pugin wallpaper and impressive carpets the Palace of Westminster was most interesting. I must have looked most interested because a policeman approached me and told me that if I came back on a Saturday I could see the room where the Queen gets changed.

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Whilst I was just hanging around, a woman came up to me and said, excitedly, ‘Did you see Lionel Richie? He was waving at us!’ I shook my head, and text Adam, ‘Apparently Lionel Richie’s in the building!’ I pressed send, looked up, and there he was, within reaching distance!

The swell of temptation came over me, ‘Oh my God!’ I thought, ‘Please don’t let me start singing!’  After the knife debacle this would have not helped my cause. Luckily Lionel was whisked away, and I was told rather abruptly to ‘Sit down!’ I must have had that look on my face.

I always thought that clay head in the ‘Hello’ video was ridiculously oversized, but having seen Lionel in the flesh, I now think it was a rather accurate representation.

Later someone was enthusing about having seen Boris Johnson in the corridors, and I was all like, ‘Erm, hello! I nearly did a duet with Lionel Richie!’

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I’d been invited to House of Commons for the Champions of Change awards. I was asked along to the event as someone who has made a significant impact in my sector, I was told that I was amongst the elite of the elite, and that only 45 invitations had gone out to a possible 30,000 people.

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I found my entry in the directory of Whos Who of Britains Business Elite. It all seemed very bizarre. I chuckled to myself as I posed for the photographers with Nicola who was trimmed in Prada and diamonds, glancing down at my own shoes – I was wearing chicken poop covered Nikes.

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I chatted to a few people and noted how ordinary they were. I stood out on the Thames Pavilion watching the boats go by, eating pretty cakes and tidy sandwiches. The view was marvellous.

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Afterwards I was escorted, with my knife, to the gates by a policeman. I ’befriended’ a man in a pale pink shirt who had a large padlock (also confiscated) by telling him he looked like he was dressed as a mini-milk, and then I got on the train home to my lovely chickens.

Eating & Sleeping at The Hoxton, Shorditch

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I sat opposite an elderly couple on the train. Bad move. She kept kicking me and then he stood on my foot, just before he sneezed with might into the newspaper he was reading. He folded it and handed it to his wife, who placed it on the table between us and pushed it towards me. Then she carried on with her intermittent kicking.

I was in London to speak at the British Journal of Photography’s Breakthrough Sessions as part of Free Range, the UK’s largest showcase for creative graduates.

There were around thirty people in my audience, and a couple of them familiar faces. I only had half-an-hour and I totally filled it, mostly with trucker horn blowing impressions (‘Honk, honk’… with the arm movement, you know!) I was a little embarrassed that I’d done that, so I did it again, possibly several times, and I even ended on one. I was really happy to have people come up to me afterwards to talk, they were kind and appreciative, and they didn’t judge me too harshly for my Honk, honking.

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The only picture we could find with my face on, to use for the press, was this one, where I happened to be carving the famous giant Easter gherkin. So we had to crop the gherkin out, and you’d never know it was there, except I’ve told everyone.

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I arrived at The Hoxton in Shoreditch, got the lowdown from the front of house staff and headed up to my room.

On entering I was greeted by soothing sounds coming from the digital radio. ‘How nice!’ I exclaimed at such a simple but thoughtful touch. (I really want one of these little Roberts radios for MoJo.)

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The Hoxton is a seriously cool hotel. My room was smart, clean, and really welcoming. The dark, sleek and clean bathroom was stocked with super attractively packaged Pen and Ink toiletries. The Hoxton makes an effort to make it’s guests comfortable with things like random books in the room, a radio, free wifi and phone calls, real milk (hooray!), bottled water, and so much more. There’s even an ironing room on the 6th floor, and an ice machine, and Macs in the lobby that are free to use day and night, and if you don’t want to check out by 12 noon you can just stay until 4pm for just an extra twenty quid, and… I think it’s seriously great. They also have cool carpets.

All super. Super duper. With what I considered to be a mega view from my window, great lighting and elegant herringbone parquet flooring, I couldn’t have been happier.

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I trotted gleefully down to the Hoxton Grill, squashed myself into a corner of the red banquette and readied myself for dinner, I’d not had time for anything all day, not even a biscuit.

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The staff were bustling around, preparing themselves for a busy evening. I observed the open kitchen, the industrial ceiling and the cosy booths and waited for people much more cool than I to arrive.

The order of the day was Cheeseburger and fries, with a side of Redslaw. I asked the waiter, ‘What is Redslaw?’ and he told me, ‘It’s coleslaw, but they colour it in with beetroot’. I don’t know why, but that sold it to me immediately.

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My food arrived. A double patty burger in a soft bun with melted cheddar, thinly slice tomato, gherkin, mild mustardy sauce and finely chopped red onion. It was a bit salty, I think it was the cheese. Salty cheese. The beef patties were overly dense, meaty but too hard going for me.

The fries were dry, slightly over cooked, and salty, with a sprinkle of green herbs that added no flavour – I believe their only purpose is to stick in your teeth so they can check you are brushing properly. Like those little red tablets they used to give out at the dentists, but more healthy and less fun.

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The Redslaw was actually purple. Red cabbage, red onion, celery and apple in a mayonnaise dressing. It sounds nicer than it was, I mean, it was pleasant enough, but not very flavourful, mostly cabbagey. I’d like to make my own though.

Considering I was so hungry you’d think I could have appreciated this more!

The burger itself receives a 5.5 out of 10 on theHarvinator Scale of Burger Appreciation’ which is most definitely a real thing and one that all purveyors of patties should be fully engaged with. (Just for Harvinator Scale comparison – the only ever 10 was awarded to Steak and Honour. This bloody good burger at Willington Hall was an 8!)

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It was important to have a pudding. I ordered the Blueberry pie and this big lump of lovely stodge arrived. Cakey crust, dollop of thick fresh cream, sweet and sturdy. I enjoyed all of it. Well done Karen!

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The Hoxton bar was busy downstairs. It was 7pm and I was already in bed, accidentally watching A Question of Sport, drinking tea and opening death threats. (Alright, that’s an exaggeration… ‘threat’.) At my talk one of the audience members, who I’ve seen before, handed me an envelope that he said he wanted me to have. Upon settling in my room I decided to open it, assuming it would be a CV, or information about an exhibition, or something. Instead it was a really naff attempt at being clever. I text Adam, ‘I think I received my first ever death threat today!’ We both agreed that he really didn’t know who he was messing with.

Outside my door I put my little breakfast request bag on the hook, like putting my pillow case out for Father Christmas, and hoped I’d get a banana in the morning.

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I lay in bed, snuggled up in white cotton and duck down, half watching a program about Reindeer, half admiring the view and the multiple air-con units of Shoreditch.

When I woke up I was very excited to open the blinds on the world. No sun – disappointing. Massive red crane being unloaded and built outside my window – excellent! I ate the breakfast that Father Christmas had left for me and watched on with interest.

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At 9.45am a knock on my door from housekeeping (I always thought they checked who’d checked out first?) reminded me I had a job to do and to get a wriggle on. I checked out, said my thank you’s and went on my jolly way, back down the road to Free Range at the Old Truman Brewery for the #GoFolio portfolio reviews with Shutter Hub and the Old Girls Club. Marvellous.

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The Hoxton | 81 Great Eastern Street, London EC2A 3HU

Thank you team Hoxton for making my stay such a good one! Woo, go team, high five! …Oh okay, just me then?!

Lotus Cup UK Speed Championship 2015 – Abingdon (Round 5)

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Last time I went to Abingdon I got road-raged by a tiny angry man in a lorry who, I think, really needed a poo. This time I had other things to think about, like a nights stay in The Dog House where the ‘soup of the day’ was Bean.

We had a lovely evening not talking about poo with Mark and Phoebe, then early to bed, ready for a busy day of driving at the CARnival.

Someone somewhere was having a crap disco, I buried my head under the pillows but my sleep was still hindered by my subconscious awareness that the bed was unusually (I’d say dangerously) high up.

We woke early, climbed down from the bed mountain, and hurried out the door into the sunshine, clutching our breakfast doggy-bags. (I don’t think it is appropriate to bag up a plain yoghurt the night before and expect that anyone is going to want to eat it when it’s been warmed for 8 hours!) We drove just a few minutes down the road to Abingdon Airfield, to the CARnival.

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Abingdon CARnival Sprint is a funny one as there are two courses to be driven, (for us it was the Bentley course in the morning, then the Abingdon in the afternoon) with two practices and two timed runs per course. At the end of the day everyone’s best times are amalgamated, and that’s how the positions are decided.

I could barely remember anything about Abingdon from last year. I remember it rained a lot, I remember everyone sheltered in Duncan’s trailer, I remember locking up and hitting the cones, and I remember a girl drawing pictures of Land Rovers and Daleks on the results board. But that’s it, disappointingly.

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It was a clear, dry day. Sunny, but with gusty winds. (So gusty that they had to put a ‘hold’ on the sprinting in the afternoon as the course marking cones had blown away!) There were over 150 entries and some awesome cars to be seen.

The Bentley course, for me, wasn’t very enjoyable, so I was glad to get it out of the way. I must say though, because I was wholly impressed – Kym’s first practice was awesome, like a rocket, with control!

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It was obvious that the first course suited power, and all I’d got to offer was pure skills… ha! Seriously, you know that’s a joke. My best time was 57.29, Adam’s was 56.06. Rob was fastest with 54.38, and Jez was right behind him with 54.37 – yes, 0.01 of a second – what is that?!

At lunch time I ate my first ever, slightly sweaty, Twinkie.

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Mrs Braker was there, and not only did she bring beautiful children and the most friendly teddy bear of a dog, she also brought spectacular cakes. It was a good job she was there with her professional cake power, I’d brought along some biscuits, you know, the aptly named Camel Droppings.

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No sooner could I say ‘sweaty Twinkie’ it was time to change over to the second course, the Abingdon. This course was more interesting, and I found it more fun. There were a few random offs from Lotus drivers (Jez, Adam, Mark – the list goes on, but I don’t think it includes Andy Pidgeon, which makes a change!), and this Talbot Sunbeam seemed to make a regular habit of it. I imagine they were distracted by all those switches.

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Jay only managed one practice before his car decided they’d done enough for the day and it wanted to go home. It was disappointing, he’d put in some really good times earlier in the day.

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After the two practice runs and a bit of assistance from Mark showing me pictures, I had a much better, but still vague, idea of the track. I went out on my first timed run but hadn’t got far when the alternator light came on, I decided to ignore it and carry on, but then the red flag came out. Little did I know when I came back round for a re-run, that Jez, who was the cause for the red flag, also had alternator problems, and other issues… the biggest one being that he’d just taken out the timing gear at the finish line with his car!

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Back in the paddock Jez worked furiously to fix his car and get back on track, which he did, ending up just 0.05 seconds behind Rob, who came first on this course too.

I managed 52.79 and Adam did it in 51.19 seconds. The gap is closing… I must try harder! (Again!)

Here are the results, if you can work out what you are looking at (I can’t!) Earlier in the day I borrowed a purple pen and scrawled our names on the colourful grid of confusion to try and make it slightly easier to read.

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Overall I was 11th, putting in an amalgamated time of 110.08, Adam took 6th with 107.25. The winning time in Production class came from Rob Clark, who did it in 103.45. Rob went away with two trophies, the 1st, and also ‘Driver of the Day’ for such a successful drive in a car that he’d never sprinted before. Jez Braker was just 0.06 seconds behind him and took 2nd, with Mark Swarbrick coming in 3rd.

The Super Sport class was won by Tony Pearman who did it in 97.32, followed closely by Xavier Brooke (98.03), and Dave Mann (99.44).

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The sun shone, we ate cakes and romped in fields of wild flowers… or drove into them. Each to their own.

Now it seems that summer is here, I’m really looking forward to a weekend of sprinting at Blyton Park next month.

Must try harder!

Edinburgh – Haggis Bonbons & Creative Industries

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Yes, I just lured you in with a picture of macarons. That’s what bloggers eat, and avocados.

I’ve been busy, I’ve been away, I been chasing Baby chick Ruth Sultana round the garden and eating snowballs.

Last week I was up in Edinburgh to speak at the Festival of Creative Industries. Edinburgh Napier University welcomed me with open arms and I had a fabulous time, not only giving a talk, but running portfolio review sessions with their graduating photographers.

It was the first time I’d flown alone, except I wasn’t alone, I was middle-seat-sandwiched between my new row buddies.

As the plane took off, the man on my left leant forward, patted himself on the back and then instantly fell asleep. The woman on my right cracked out a massive oniony baguette. Good job she had an aisle seat. I bet she booked that specifically. I sat very still, reading my book and eating a murray mint.

I messaged my co-worker to say I’d arrived and no one was hurt. I messaged my mum to say ‘I’m in Edinburgh. I flew here on my own! In a plane, with other people, and a pilot. I was just a passenger.’ I felt I needed to make that clear, my mum believes I can do anything! I found tea and cake and got on a tram.

Seven hours continuous travel, from blue skies and sunshine, to grey skies and rain. As I shivered and piled on all of my clothes in the back of the taxi, the driver told me about his holiday to Crete.

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I arrived at the University, met up with the fabulous Sophie, and was shown to the lecture theatre. I prepared myself. People began to arrive. The first person to enter the room was an ex-student. Sophie asked him, ‘Did you study photography here?’ ‘No, psychology,’ he said, all beardy and blasé. My first thought was, ‘Oh no! He’s here to analyse me!’ but it turned out he was just there to try and get access to the fake nurses room so he could make a personal film.

The talk was good – I’m not just saying that, Sophie recorded it, so there’s evidence. I was fairly well behaved but I do seem to recall saying that I was going to change my name to Conchita Hotdog. Catchy. Then during the Q&A I learnt that it had recently been International Respect for Chickens Day, and someone said that I reminded them of a homeless person, or something. It was all very exciting.

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I walked to the hotel, down the street of lovely antique shops, artisan cheesecake makers and chocolatiers.

I checked in to the Bruntsfield Hotel, went to my room, dumped my bags and checked out the biscuit situation. Reception called up to check that everything was okay with the room. I was halfway out the window at the time, so I wondered if they’d seen me.

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In the hotel restaurant, the Bisque Bar and Brasserie, the waitress found me a nice corner to sit in and offered me haggis bonbons. I accepted. They were larger than I’d expected, like a trio of scotch eggs, but without the egg, and made of organs.

I retired to my room and made myself at home.

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The bed was huge and comfy but I didn’t sleep well due to the noisy fire door bang-bang-banging away in the corridor outside my room. If you ever stay at the Bruntsfield, unless you sleep like the dead, I strongly advise you to avoid room 141. Ever helpful, and opinionated, I did let the lady on reception know, and she advised me its because the door swings both ways. I explained how the issue could be resolved with a special hinge and some push/pull signs, and went on my merry way.

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A day of sunshine and portfolio reviews was just what I needed to keep me awake and alert, but by the time I got back to the airport all I could do was slump over my bag and look sorry for myself. I thought about getting a sandwich, but my brain couldn’t convince my legs to move.

A woman and her son stood near me, looking out of the window. ’Mummy. There is something very, very wrong’ said the little boy in a calm and knowing voice. I listened, wondering what ‘Final Destination’ premonition he was about to announce. ’There is only one yellow car in the carpark,’ he said.

On the plane I was distracted by another small boy who was kicking the back of my Recaro seat (nice, Titan Airways!) I was going to ask him to stop, but then I tuned in on his conversation, he was telling his dad that a good way to get the ball in football was to head-butt his opponent. His mum said, ‘How would you like to be head-butted? You can’t do that!’ His dad agreed, ‘You’ll get sent off!’ The boy carried on to say that if you wanted to distract someone who was taking a penalty you could do so by biting their hand.

I figured a gentle kicking through a soft seat was acceptable.

The next few days involved sleeping, catching up on emails, and being driven into a field by Adam!

This week has been equally as eventful.

It’s been over four months since my disco injury and this week I was finally discharged from physio. I’ve been told I can walk as far as I like, and wear whatever shoes I choose, but I’ve been advised never to attempt the ‘running man’ again. I shall now move on to the worm.

In other news, I’ve been asked to be a judge at the UK’s largest Italian food expo, invited to the House of Commons, and, drum roll, I’ve been asked to go to the next village and help judge a primary school poster competition. I think they said it was something to do with peace, or peas? Who knows. My computer got overexcited and stopped working then.