Happy Easter – Celebrating Spring

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I’m not a religious person, I never have been, I went to a Catholic school where we had mass, and nuns and sometimes they’d put dots of ash on our foreheads or make us carry palm crosses, but none of that was for me.

I don’t have a problem at all with other people being religious, but I don’t want to get involved. I’ll worship cats, and chickens, the seasons, and the sun. I’m after joy and contentment, wherever it comes from. I might even worship puddings.

Someone once told me I’d make a really good Christian, and I knew they meant it as a compliment, but I just wasn’t sure how to process it without screwing my face up.

Another time a couple of guys came to the house, asking me if I was afraid of all the terrible things that were happening in the world, and if I wanted to go somewhere safe when I died, because, they could help me have that peace to look forward to. Once I’d established that they were Jehovahs Witnesses and not serial killers, I told them that I wanted to make a difference whilst I am alive, and we should all be doing something now, so should they. One of them nodded furiously and I think he was agreeing with me, or malfunctioning.

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It’s on days like today, when I have a rare moment to sit and take stock. We were up with the shining sun. Adam has been busying about, and I’ve been preparing chocolate covered cakes to share with family and friends. Good Friday, be it a religious holiday or not, is a good day. A spare one, to enjoy.

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I can hear lawnmowers and see birds flitting by the window. There’s a moorhen that keeps coming to eat the chicken food, and a random cat has been in the garden eating pasta.

Life is good.

And with the time to enjoy what we have, comes the time to think about what else is going on in the world.

Contrary to popular belief, I don’t live in a utopian bubble. I just choose to try and see and share the good, and the fun, and the happy, because if we didn’t try and do that as much as possible, well, we’d all be totally f*cked.

On Tuesday I woke up to the news that Brussels was in the midst of some kind of attack. I phoned Adam, he was there in the airport hotel. Usually Adam would be travelling in at 8am, but by luck, he’d gone the evening before. He’d heard what was happening, he could hear the sirens rushing by.

His office is only a few minutes walk away, so he hurried there, trying to phone his colleagues. Everyone was accounted for. Then the phones stopped working. Outside the hotel were ground crew and people who’d been evacuated from the airport. Then there was the attack on the Metro. It was clearly a terrorist attack. Terrible things were happening to innocent people.

Adam managed to get a lift to Dusseldorf, and a flight to Birmingham, where he came and met me at the NEC. He’s good like that.

If Adam listed all the ‘near misses’ he’s had then he’d probably think he was in Final Destination or something, but it’s important to focus on the good and enjoy our time as much as possible. We mustn’t ignore the bad things, but at the same time, we mustn’t let them consume us.

Let’s use our energy to make a positive impact, any time we can. We can’t live in fear. We’ve got to have compassion, we’ve got to have care for each other, and we’ve got to have cake.

So today, it’s all about cake, and sunshine, and finding joy. Happy Easter, whatever it is.

Lotus Cup UK Speed Championship 2016 – Snetterton (Round 1)

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Spring has sprung and we are back to the sprinting. Hooray for early morning starts and huddling together in random carparks, whilst wishing for sunshine and extra driving skills (spelt with a Z).

It’s all changed a bit for 2016, an unavoidable but last minute update to the regulations led to four classes instead of two, and the need for us to either fit roll-over protection, or swap our dear sweet ZZR tyres for something else. In the rush and hurry we decided to buy a set of secondhand wheels with tyres already on them – Toyo R888’s. The rears are okay, but the fronts happen to be five years old and not very useful.

We arrived early to sign on and be briefed, and then had a good couple of hours to spare, catching up with everyone and having breakfast. I decided to have a mushroom roll because Adam had been talking to me about animal welfare standards and I had no idea where those sausages had come from. The fear of eating a mistreated pig was too great a risk.

We were very lucky to be at Snetterton for the MSVR ‘Season Starter’ alongside the Elise Trophy, Lotus Cup, MSVR Allcomers and Monoposto racing.

Just after noon we got started. Two back-to-back practices, and a timed run, to be followed by three timed runs after lunch.

Spoiler: this is the one where Adam does extremely well and I shame myself with uselessness and you’ll probably think I had never driven a car before, or want to patronise me like one of the marshals did and ask me if I’m too busy doing my hair in the mirror to actually drive the car.

Now obviously I have to get my excuses in early. Martin Styles gave me a Cadburys Creme Egg and I really think that was what did it.

Several new drivers joined the Speed Championships crew, and many others had made updates and improvements to their cars since last season.

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Andy Pidgeon had a new helmet painted especially for him by a man on the Isle of Skye who I totally believe has sheep as studio assistants. True to his usual dedication to speed, Andy came off on his first practice. He really needs a good spoiler to hold him down. Later, a dinner party plan was hatched to provide the perfect opportunity to Rohypnol newcomers and harvest their cars for parts. I have no idea where he gets his ideas from!

This is the first time I’ve driven the Snetterton 200 layout and I was surprised at how many straight bits there were. It’s what they call a ‘power circuit’ and I shouldn’t have had a problem with it, especially with all the improvements we’ve made to the car. No excuses, I just did really badly.

Like, http://oceanadesigns.net/wp-json/oembed/1.0/embed?url=http://oceanadesigns.net/envira/african-beige/ really. I could try using the tyres as an excuse as they were shockingly bad, but Adam managed to cope with them and I should have been able to too. I was just terrible!

On my second timed run I came off at the hairpin. I glided my way onto the grass for a bit of gentle off-roading. Turning back onto the track the front tyres slid around and for moment I thought the car was trying to take me back to the start line. I do not have the skillz. Bloody Creme Egg.

I ended up with a best run of 1:21.35, disappointingly positioned 9 out of 11, and Adam, well, he managed to do it in 1:15.95, and took 3rd – his first ever podium place!

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Trophy time was fun, and with the extra classes and new drivers, it was great to see people being recognised for their driving, and everyone else cheering them on.

Unfortunately the original trophies had all arrived smashed, but the LCUKSC team very kindly got last-minute stand-in trophies, in the form of an army of terrifying little men.

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Adams trophy is having to go and live in his office, before I bury it in the garden incase it tries to attack me while I sleep. I’ve already had to googley-eye it, so it can’t see me, and I am more enamoured with it already.

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So, the roll call of car wrangling champions goes like this:

Production:
1st Phil Stratton-Lake, 2nd Mark Swarbrick, 3rd Adam Ruck
Production Modified:
1st Stephen Morrison, 2nd Jez Braker, 3rd Simon Foley
Supersport:
1st Mads Petersen, 2nd James Tubby, 3rd Martin Roberts
Supersport Modified:
1st Jason Weatherall, 2nd Nick Emery, 3rd Paul Neale

Fastest of all the drivers was Jason Weatherall, a total natural at podium standing. I told him so. He is going to add it to his CV.

Although I was rather let down by my own performance, I was really very pleased for Adam, and for everyone else. It was great to see the speed champs massive (as they are known, in the hood), although we did miss some of our pals – I’m looking forward to the next round where nearly all of us will reunite, like a supergroup, or the Spice Girls, but with better costumes, more finesse, and cake.

A Ford Escort & A Field – Rally Driving Experience

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Roughly a bazillion years ago, Adam bought me a rally driving session as a Christmas present. I was most excited and finally booked it before the voucher ran out.

Last weekend we drove up to Seaton Ross in Yorkshire. It was an early start with a bad pastry. The highlight of the journey was seeing two very marvellous Shetland ponies. Funnily enough Adam managed to find a different route home, away from the ponies, scuppering my cuddle plans.

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We were introduced to TI Rally School and asked if we’d had any previous experience of rally driving. A couple of people put their hands up. I kept quiet about the time we got Rocky’s written-off Polo, let the tyres down and drove it round Keith’s field doing J-turns, upsetting the neighbours and accidentally setting fire to the engine. Probably not an ideal anecdote for that moment, but one that brings me much joy.

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I grabbed a suit that was big enough for my bum, but the helmets were all too small for my oversized head.

The zip was broken on the suit, so I had to hold it closed with the belt. Feeling (not looking, I hasten to add) something like a 1980’s teen in my baggy Top Gun style flight suit, I received the helmet I was to wear. Bright red, open faced, and like a tomato. I was ready to roll. Apart from I couldn’t tighten the chin strap up properly because it was rusted. Adam said I looked like a Power Ranger, or a Japanese firefighter.

You know how cool some people look in their rally gear, race suits and helmets? Think again!

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I headed off for my first session, where I was to handbrake-turn my way around a small course of tyres in the rally prepared MkII Escort. It started well, but then my helmet slipped over my eyes and I couldn’t see where I was going. I persevered, the instructor tried to hold my helmet back, which he said was a first, but he was holding it quite low, and between that and my cry-laughing, I couldn’t see much at all.

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Adam said that I looked like I was going really well, and then not, and he wondered why I wasn’t doing better, but then he realised it was because I couldn’t see and my spine was being compacted by the nice man who was trying to hold my helmet back whilst I drove about willy nilly.

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I got a different helmet. This one was full faced and wedged on, so at least my eyes were uncovered. Our second task was to drive round the whole of the course, which was definitely more fun, with the added bonus of being able to see. We did a couple of laps, came in, swapped with other drivers (there were 2 cars and 10 drivers) and had another go. Somebody got stuck in a muddy hole and I had a cup of tea.

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Our final lap was timed. Competitive. Uh oh!

I actually thought I was doing alright, until right at the end of the course where the instructor pulled the handbrake on for me (!) and I got slightly confused. (A bit like that time Martin Donnelly was pulling on my steering wheel and saying, “ http://apacheip.com/services/lead-abatement/ Why are you letting off the gas Karen?!” and I was like, http://ciao-ciao.co.uk/tag/guardian/ “I don’t know where I’m going Martin!”) Any way, I came 6th, and the man who came 1st got given a bottle of something fizzy to spray from the steps of the portacabin and I felt a little bit embarrassed for him so I did some extra clapping.

It was a thoroughly enjoyable morning. Good fun, good people, awesome little cars (I’ve been wooed by a Ford!) and totally worth a go!

I came away with two things: the desire to use my handbrake at any possible opportunity, and a full body rash.

These Recent Things (Meat, Eggs & Holidays)

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Sometimes people send me meat in the post and I’m okay with that. It comes in handy as I’ve got a cupboard in the back garden filled with a never-ending supply of eggs.

Thanks to lady hens Sandra, Belinda and Margaret, and the generous people of Woodall’s Charcuterie, we had a lovely lunch of poached eggs, smoked pancetta and spinach. Nice.

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Do you remember I entered that competition to win a trip to Mumbai? Well, turns out I’ve won the biggest thing I have ever won and that’s weird, and exciting, and there will be men who hand cut the grass with tiny scissors.

I couldn’t believe my good fortune. Then MoJo was sick in my armpit as I slept, and I woke up knowing it was the end of my lucky streak.

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I had a couple of nights away, one at Wroxhall Abbey for the BWRDC awards, where I didn’t get a trophy, but I did get some lovely yellow roses, and the other at The Midland Hotel in Bradford, which I booked specifically for it’s incredible array of carpets. Their rear entrance was like a magical time-warp.

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I headed to the hills to interview Sara Tasker, the photographer behind the hugely successful Instagram, Me and Orla. I felt really welcomed into her home – especially by Monty the dog who I am sure is made of half monkey/half bear and could quite easily be my new best friend. I’ve since listened back to the tape, and, I was obviously very tired. It’s mostly me talking about rabbit-punching ghost Piglet, making bunting from tampons, and house training super intelligent chickens.  Still, it could have been worse!

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My visit to Bradford College was great fun. My favourite Q&A question was, “How do you manage to be so good at talking continuously for so long?” and I think that might possibly the best thing I’ve ever been asked.

I almost did a forward roll in a presentation at Cambridge School of Art the other day, and I’ve got several exciting things coming up, which means there will be all kinds of opportunities for me to do embarrassing things – Career support drop-in sessions at The Photography show with FORMAT and a ‘Developing your Photographic Practice – Insights for Emerging Photographers’ talk for London Independent Photography – who knows what will happen!

Recently I’ve written about a couple of beautiful books that you might like – Columbia Road by Johanna Neurath, and Brother/Sister by Elin Hoyland. You can click either of those links to read my reviews, if you’d like to.

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Adam and I got invited to Jamie’s Italian in Cambridge because I am third-cousins-twice-removed with Jamie Oliver. That’s not true, and I don’t even know what it means, but I thought it might spice things up a bit. Exciting. It’s a fabulous building, an old library with big mirrors and a glass domed roof. The orange blossom polenta cake was just delicious. Please bring me more cake.

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I’m still waiting for my cake. Seriously. I asked nicely.

I took the Elise up to Steve Guglielmi’s for the geo, and whilst he was working his magic and I was wandering the streets of Daventry, I found a comb and knew it was a good day. #combtheory

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The same week we went to Emerald to get our engine mapped with our new ECU. I got a cup of tea in a WI mug and 178bhp. We left with smiles and pop-pop-bangs coming from the exhaust.

We’ve completed everything we wanted to get done on the Elise now (apart from throttle bodies, and a supercharger, and NOS, and…) I would like to have said it’s ‘the finishing touches on Project More Wang’ but I know it’s inappropriate to write about touching wangs and I might attract the wrong kind of audience.

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And, finally, you probably noticed, from my pastry smile and recent blog post, we went to beautiful Copenhagen, where the light was just perfect. Everything was all grey and blue, and lovely. Then we came home to the Fen where it’s all brown and a bit yellowy-green, and there are no pastries, just eggs and meat.

Copenhagen – 3 Nights & All The Pastries

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After not much more than an hour in flight, enjoying the bright blue sky from the tiny aeroplane window, we landed in Copenhagen.

First stop – Lost Property, because Adam thought he’d left his watch at the airport three weeks ago. (He hadn’t. I found it in the garden when we got home.) Then, the Metro to Norreport. Seven stops.

Arriving at Ibsens Hotel, totally shattered, we did what all intrepid travellers do – ate a bed picnic of cinnamon rolls and dill flavoured crisps whilst watching subtitled Australian Masterchef, of course.

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In the morning we got gloved and hatted up and trotted off to explore the ring road city. Wandering the streets we stumbled upon Frederik’s Church, an opulent looking round church with a magnificent dome. We walked inside, sunlight glinted from golden details, people sat in peace and in awe of the beauty. I knocked on the stone wall and discovered it was just well painted wood. A quick google later told me that The Marble Church, as it is known, was made on a budget. Beautiful budget church, well worth a look.

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We ate a 98.2% organic panini in Brasserie Babette and continued to the Design Museum, which used to be a hospital, and  I already knew that, because it felt like a hospital. There were some nice things to see – a lot of porcelain, some chairs, a Bang & Olufsen stereo that was not that dissimilar to a hand-me-down one we once had.

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We’d been told not to bother with The Little Mermaid, they said she was small and dull, and not so pretty, but I wanted to see for myself. A gentle rain shower gave us a full rainbow over the docks and led us to the mermaid who was having her picture taken with clambering tourists. Mobile phones, cameras and small children were all held aloft, there was even a man there selling pancakes. It couldn’t have been any better. I loved it.

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We walked back along the waterfront, passed the extraordinary sculpture of Soren Georg Jensen on Larsens Plads, Untitled (1979) and David (1946), so different, so wonderful, then on, to Nyhaven, and back to our hotel, via a random bakery.

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We had planned to eat locally to the hotel, a little place on the opposite corner, called Kalaset. I say, had planned, because once we got inside we re-planned quickly. Maybe it was supposed to be grungy and hip, I don’t know, but surly staff, sticky tables, Morrissey played on repeat and a load of random tat hanging off the walls, is not (contrary to popular belief) my kind of cool. We left the Morrissey misery hole and ended up at Bistro Royal, eating steak and chips with thick Béarnaise sauce, washed down with sweet ginger beer.

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We woke to clear skies and bright light. Our hotel was just round the corner from a well-stocked prosthetic limb shop, and the Torvehallerne food market. We had limited time and budget, so we went for a pastry.

Sitting down at Laura’s Bakery, eating the heaviest, sweetest pastries known, and watching a wonky pigeon scavenge for crumbs, was a very good way to start the morning.

We walked to Tivoli Gardens. It was closed. So we walked, and walked some more, arriving at Almanak, for serious Smorresbord perfection.

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And then, guess what? More walking. All the walking. (We walked over 30 miles in the few days we were there.)

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Visiting Assistens Cemetery was a beautiful treat. Spread around an avenue of the tallest tall trees, with elegant graves adorned simply using fir branches and spring bulbs. Spots of hail hit down as we searched out the grave of Hans Christian Andersen and I was distracted – who was Ole Wang?

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In the evening we decided to try another of Copenhagen’s fine cultural experiences, and headed to Banana Joe’s. A little, unassuming shop, down a couple of steps, with a couple of mismatched tables and a friendly welcome.

We ordered the Luksus burger. The original. Thirty years ago ‘Joe’ brought the burger to Copenhagen, he told us, he was the first. We sat at the round table in the corner and watched him prepare burgers for the customers before us, one by one, methodically and with simple care.

Our burgers came, with fries and sauce, on square black plates. We tucked in. Knife and fork time for me. Lots of sauce, crispy iceberg lettuce, white onion, cucumber, cheese, finely ground beef burger, sesame seed bun, steamed. It was good, really good. 8.5 on the Harvinator Scale of Burger Appreciation. Solid.

As we finished our burger mountains Joe placed a small plate on the table, on it, two cola flavoured Sun Lollies. ‘Just squeeze!’ he said, and we did, like happy kids. I’d never had a Sun Lolly before, and I liked it. Joe seemed pleased that we were pleased. Whilst we sat, stuffed, he pulled up a chair and chatted with us for a while. More customers piled in, he shook our hands and said he hoped to see us again. We walked back to the hotel, retelling the experience to ourselves already. Eleven pounds well spent.

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Ibsens Hotel was alright, quite nice. The staff were friendly, and the room was clean, a bit small, but ample. I was originally impressed by their carbon neutral claim, but with all the pleasantness I just couldn’t get passed the disappointment of the carpets. Three different types: a stripe, a tartan check, and one with the street maps on it in the lobbies, but they looked dirty, and like they had been melted with dollops of bleach. We weren’t even sure if they even owned a hoover, until early on Thursday morning when the house-keeping crew decided to have an impromptu leaving party for us outside our door, with Henry as their guest of honour.

A bakery breakfast, again, with a Cinnabun for Adam and a Havthorn Snegl for me, accompanied by a delicious chai latte – nutty, spicy, and not too sweet. You know how I’ve wished for tele-porting to exist just so I could access some specific rice pudding? Well, I think I might be about to get weird about random chai lattes too. Damn it.

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We popped in and out of a few shops, a bearskin-hat-wearing marching band paraded by, which was nice, then I saw a lady skid on a discarded gherkin slice, and I thought my day was made. Then, THEN, it snowed!

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Full on pastry and joy, we wound our way to Paper Island  indoor street food market, not to eat, just to look, and breath, and do a reccy for any possible future visits.

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We took our last walk, back to the hotel. I recounted that we’d spotted many lost gloves, but no lost combs, and seen a lot of dogs (all pure breeds) but not one cat. No matter how hard I had looked.

And, just as I was settling in, and becoming acclimatised, it was time to come home again. I was really happy there, I’d even learnt a bit of Danish from watching the TV. Fart pilot, it means cruise control.

We picked up our cases, got the Metro back to the airport and ate a hotdog for luck. Then onto the plane and home to the chickens and the Fen, and to MoJo, the last cat I’d seen.