All posts by karen

Old Holland – Beemster, Edam & Zandvoort

Catching an Easyjet flight is a bit like playing Russian roulette. I would have normally still been in bed, but instead I was on a plane full of mouthy drunk men who at the slightest bit of turbulence yelled, almost simultaneously, ‘Whoa f*cking hell, don’t like that much!’ as I sat, head pushed as far into the tatty inflight magazine as I could manage.

I stepped off the plane, bacon sandwich remnants covering my clothes (not mine, the man next to me really enjoyed his breakfast) and headed across Schiphol airport to meet Mara.

We got a car to Amsterdam, and once we’d met up with our travel gang, we drove 20 minutes to the north of the city to the peaceful and flat waterlands.

At Broek in Waterland we boarded an eco-friendly boat and took the water way to Theetuin Overleek tea gardens. It was something of a fairy tale. We stroked giant white rabbits and collected our picnic baskets. Blankets over laps, we sipped homemade lemonade as the ‘whisper boat’ broke gently through still waters, risen above the land along dykes and canals, passing wooden houses and tranquil meadows.

I saw a cat chase a duck into the water, many chickens, and a funeral.

Leaving the boat behind, we travelled North to the dairy farm of Jan Uitentuis in Beemster Polder, where the flat land lies low, 3.5 metres below sea level.

Welcomed to the family farm we set to work making cheese. Mara and I teamed up, cheese team, cheese dream team, and sorted the curds and whey. The waste whey goes to feed the calves, rennet from calves stomachs is used to make the cheese, I am not sure about this circle of life.

Outside I befriended the farm dog, a chunky boxer staff cross, and we went to meet the cows. I managed to chase some chickens and spotted a cat, before feeding bread to the most lovely Hampshire Down sheep. Interesting fact: you can’t fit a lamb in your pocket, even if it is stretchy fabric.

Lambless, we headed over to Fort Resort Beemster. Built in 1912, once a fortress and now a wellness centre, it’s a fascinating UNESCO world heritage site.

We sat down for dinner, the long table stretched the length of the room and raw crystal lights hung like stalactites from the ceiling. Plates of veal, quail, calves cheek, and more veal, fed us all with flavours of the region. The dessert was a delicious blueberry mousse with blackberry puree and ice cream. So nice I ate two, thanks Mel!

It was quite late when we got to Edam, to the beautiful L’Auberge Damhotel. We checked in to rooms, wandering along the hallways as keys were handed out. My room was in the roof. A huge chandelier hung from the low ceiling over the bed, bigger than the bed. I wondered if I’d survive the night.

On the way down, catching a glimpse of Jessica’s room, I commented, ‘Oh, your room is very nice, mine is much more plain.’
‘This is plain,’ she said.
‘No it’s not!’
‘Yes it is, it’s plain,’ she said adamantly, as I looked on at the gilt framed paintings and dark velvet furnishings.
‘But you’ve got a f*cking piano in there!’

The light was fading, but the air was warm, we wandered the streets, nosing through windows into perfect homes. It was like something you would dream up if you were trying to create the most idyllic Dutch town.

I slept well, waking to find myself wedged deep in the gap between the two single beds that were making a double. Reluctantly I prised myself from the bed nest and joined the others for breakfast before heading out into the sunshine for a tour of Edam.

Edam, a 14th and 15th century fortress town, was once one of the country’s most important commercial centres with thriving shipbuilding, timber and cheese trading industries. Wood and cheese, two of my favourite things.

We talked about cheese, we looked at cheese, walking down cobbled streets, along the canals of Edam. A lady was loading things into her car, in the back window fluttered a large moth. ‘House mother,’ she told us. I died slightly at the beauty of the words.

Through the perfect streets, passed the most incredible buildings, trying to take everything in – architectural details, beautiful colours, door knockers with painted eyes, windows with lives going on behind them – brunches, newspapers, coffees.

We turned the corner into Edam’s 15th Century shipyard, Scheepswerf Groot. It was dark, the air thick with the taste of old oil. Chains and pulleys, the bones of ancient boats, carcasses, stacked against the wall.

‘Where are we?’ asked Moran. ‘Edam.’ I said. ‘Yes, but what is this place?’ her big brown eyes wide and confused. On the radio came Starship’s ‘We built this city’, the mood lifted, we sang along until the radio was switched off.

Back across Holland, in no time at all, we were at Beach Club Tien for lunch. Zandvoort, also known as Amsterdam Beach (because it’s so close to the city, believe it or not), has all the things you could want – pale sands, blue skies, seagulls stealing lunches from children, and a race track.

We hired bikes and peddled over to Circuit Zandvoort. I wobbled along, holding on tightly, sure my front wheel was buckled and it was nothing to do with my lack of balance. It was a beautiful sunny day, there was a 24 hour cycling event going on, and we were allowed to join in for a lap, and… circuit director Edwin gave me a lift round in his car.

Busy wondering what it would be like to drive there myself (and take it out of first gear) I realised it was time for me to head off. I needed to get back to the airport, to get home, to drive my own car round Silverstone in the morning.

The flight back to London was full of women and smelt of perfume. What a difference a day makes!

With the greatest thanks to the wonderful people of  iAmsterdam for inviting me to join them on such an excellent adventure. 

These Recent Things (Belfast, Edinburgh, Holland & Home)

It’s Sunday afternoon, the sun is shining, there’s a gentle breeze swaying the lavender from side to side outside the window as chubby bees hang on to it  tightly, and we’re going to have pizza for dinner. It’s a good day.

Last week I had to help little Patty Slipper leave for chicken heaven (she was always on borrowed time, having been so badly treated before she came here), and yesterday our youngest hen, Baby Ruth Sultana died. We’ve known Ruth since she was born, although it didn’t make us close – she’s always been a bit suspicious of us and last summer she moved out for a couple of months.

A few weeks ago Patty Slipper started to get ill, and Ruth was egg bound with a prolapse the size of my fist (I don’t have small hands). I had to give her hot baths and a minor operation. It was not something for the faint hearted.

In a situation of true pharmacy shame I had found myself, wearing socks and Birkenstocks, picking up antibiotics (for me, I had an infected biopsy wound), piles cream (for Ruth) and oral thrush treatment (for Patty Slipper) and then limping off in an embarrassed hurry.

I really did try to help them. Patty soldiered on for a while, and Ruth appeared to make a full recovery, but neither of them made it in the end. We are now down to just three chickens, the garden seems empty, the sparrows and starlings are taking over.

I’ve had a few weeks at home, it’s been nice to spend the time here and appreciate it all over again. Yesterday we took a trip up the river on a friend’s boat, and walked back, picking wild plums and blackberries on the way.

I am planning some trips though, of course. I’ve been lucky enough to be invited to work on a book called When The Last Lion Roars with award winning writer Sara Evans.

It’s exciting, but not as straight forward as it sounds. We need help with funding the trip (everything is voluntary) so we’ve set up this crowdfunder page in the hope that people will help us. Yes, that is a subtle hint!

You can read more about the project here, and, if you’d like to, you can donate here. If you can spare a couple of quid towards making this happen, we’d be so grateful. (Aside from our gratitude, you’ll get an invite to the VIP book launch party and thanked online and in the book.)

In other big-cat news, Tutti Biscotti is settling in well, sleeping in baskets and letting me stroke her tummy whilst she lies about like a soft grey slug.

I wrote a few things – The Meaning Behind the Flowers you Gave for Surf4, and At Home with Blue and White  over on the Huffington Post.

I photographed chocolate for Cocoa Mester, ate great street food at FoodPark Night Market, and shared some more of my Foodie Finds over on Surf4 here, and here.

I also had an operation. I didn’t really mention it because I didn’t really need to. It had no real impact on anyone else (apart from the person who messaged me to complain that I’d not been supporting them by liking their Instagram posts!) but here’s a photo of my congratulatory survival sandwiches anyway.

At the beginning of June I went on a smashing trip with Visit Holland. I hung out with wonderful people, visited incredible exhibitions, ate great food and just had the most excellent time. (Upon returning, my new friend ‘Pat the Canadian’ introduced me to one of her friends on Facebook and they said I was just like Jack Duckworth from Corrie!) I had such a good time, I had to write about it in two parts. You can, if you wish, read part one here, and part two here.

I love the Netherlands so much that a few weeks later I went back with more wonderful people (whose names all begin with M, I just realised. Manon, Mel, Moran, Mara… mmmm!) We visited Edam and Zandvoort, we rode bikes and made our own cheese. I will share much more detail with you soon, I couldn’t not.

I took a short trip to Northern Ireland to give portfolio reviews at Belfast Photo Festival. I got a taxi from the airport, it was rainy and the taxi driver said f*ck a lot. My clichéd prophecies were fulfilled.

We went to Lewis Bush’s fascinating talk on number stations (and yodelling) at Belfast Exposed. We went to the opening of Juno Calypso’s exhibition at Golden Thread Gallery (I made friends with Juno by awkwardly slurping orange juice at her). We went to Bullitt Hotel for the festival launch party, before finding our way back to our Airbnb – a 1980s local authorities flat with a flimsy front door and sticky floors, next to the main road to Shankill.

I saw some wonderful work at the portfolio review. I got given a beautiful neon yellow Caran D’Ache pen by one of the photographers. The panel discussion was super (I loved hearing the hilarious stories behind Hello Mr). We ate great pizza in Little Wing, and good eggs benedict for breakfast at Bullitt Hotel. Kristen Gaylord of MoMA gave the most brilliant talk and I love her. Then someone who I don’t know came and thanked me for the work I do with Shutter Hub and gave me his book!

It was a pretty epic, tiring, inspiring couple of days. I discussed it on the flight home with Sean Bean’s personal assistant, who I sat next to, she was off to her nan’s birthday party.

Work also led me to Brighton, so I stayed the weekend with my dear friend Emma. We ate eggs benedict in the sun and got a day saver bus pass. We bussed it down to Rottingdean, walked along the seafront through the ‘danger zone’ and got spritzed with seawater from crashing waves. We stopped for a Solero and then powered on through Brighton Marina and into town, to catch another bus, up to the South Downs for a ginger beer and a packet of crisps. It was great.

Adam and I sprinted at Silverstone Stowe in June with Lotus Cup UK  Speed and the MG Car Club. I was 6th of 9 in my class. It was super scorchio in the sun. My best time was 60.91, Adam’s 58.91.

We also sprinted at Blyton Park in July with the Westfield Sports Car Club. It was a totally different track layout to the one I am used to. In 1st practice I was only 0.5 seconds behind Adam, but ended up finishing over 4 seconds behind him. Proud to say that I didn’t need a map, but disappointed that with only 2 timed runs I spun and ruined my final go. Still, I think I was 7th out of 9, and I had what was possibly my best excuse to date – stitches and an infected biopsy wound on my left ankle. Manky.

We resumed our usual Midsummer ritual of fire and food, and then I headed up to Edinburgh with Laura for the Shutter Hub OPEN 2017. This year I curated a show for Retina International Photography Festival, and although that sounds (to me) quite glamorous, there was a great deal of graft involved.

On the train, up passed the sea, and the mist, and the sheep. It rained so cold. We walked head first into horizontal rain. I feared that my umbrella would turn inside out. It was harsh. Later when the rain cleared we saw land across the other side of the docks where we thought it had been sea.

Our hotel room resembled a closely packed ferry cabin. We slept well then spent a day working solidly on the exhibition hang. That evening Graeme, who works at the gallery, offered to give us a mini tour of Leith and walked us round the streets pointing to things. Mary Queen of Scots first stepped here when she came to Leith… Oliver Cromwell held aristocrats here and stored gunpowder there. It was fascinating. But we were exhausted. We bought chips and ate them in a bus shelter, managing to lure just one sea gull.

The following morning we headed back to the gallery to host portfolio reviews, and then in the evening we had the private view, which was lovely. I gave a talk which involved me making bird calls (remember, I was tired) before we finished the evening with a pizza and good people.

Back at home I joined some of the lovely Cambridge Eat Up! crew for a picnic on Parkers Piece. I also managed to wander obliviously into the middle of a cricket match, piled high with cake boxes and an inane grin on my face because I could see Aoife across the field.

I’d been invited to try out the new Soboro Bakery in Cambridge so I got something for everyone, we sat on blankets and shared tastes of cakes. It was a lovely evening. Jin made Kuih, Deepa made chive butter filled scones, Aoife made lavender cake and Sue brought along an excellent pork pie.

I think it’s true to say, we all need more picnics in our lives. And hammocks, I totally need a hammock.

All that, amongst other things.

The Netherlands – 2 Nights & 100 Years of Dutch Design (2/2)

From outside, in the dark light of night, the Havezate Marveld Aparthotel looked like a castle, or a replica castle, a film set of a castle. Inside it was something different.

I walked to the end of the long corridor and opened the door to my room, my eyes adjusted focus to look across the vast space and my tired brain wondered if I’d turned up in someone’s house by accident.

My room, for me. Two double bedrooms, a living room, dining area, terrace, kitchen (with dishwasher) (I didn’t use it), two toilets (I used them), and a bathroom that was so spacious the word ‘Jacuzzi!’ echoed from my mouth.

I tried to settle in. I spent twenty minutes trying to close the curtains before I realised it was one large curtain that I was pulling back and forth from the middle of the window. Eleanor came down to check on me and we (I) decided it would be more comfortable if we both went up and shared her apartment.

I helped Eleanor set up the Jacuzzi, it glowed red, gurgled and rumbled deeply. Like an angry vortex to hell.

‘Shout me if the bath demon tries to get you!’ I called, as I retreated to a safe distance.

In the morning, after a good croissant, we hopped on the coach to Harderwijk to visit the Stadsmuseum and preview the exhibition ‘Huszar van de Stijl’.

Such a pretty town, full of interest. I saw a sign for an ice-cream parlour and temporarily forgot my whereabouts.

We drank tea in the sun. 27 degrees Celsius and blue skies. In the museum I was drawn to the local artefacts, including a preserved cockerel in a jar.

Vilmos Huszar, a Hungarian who moved to the Netherlands, and for the last 30 years of his life lived and worked near Harderwijk, was one of the founding members of the De Stijl movement. A few years after the movement was founded, Huszar left and went his own way.

We climbed stairs and stairs. The exhibition part built, copper and pewter dishes laid out ready for their glass cabinets, the walls and gallery floor showing images of nature, of flowers, inspired in some ways by Van Gogh.

‘It is told he had a lot of animals including a pig,’ said our guide, I listened intently, painting a picture in my mind.

On to our next destination, and feeling creatively inspired I took it upon myself to make my own luggage tag from scrap paper. ‘You made this?’ said the driver, as he loaded my case into the coach’s undercarriage, ‘Yes!’ I said, proudly. ‘A little strange!’ he replied, turning away.

The sun had reached it’s highest point as we arrived in the medieval city of Amersfoort. The heat was hot. We stopped off at De Vier Broers where I won at lunch by eating not one, but two delicious croquettes.

We took the walking tour, stopping to admire the church tower (the only part of the church left after a gunpowder storage issue), then a quick loop round the city, through the Mondriaan Huis, past a spouting fountain, along the canal, and across to the Kunsthal KAdE.

Kunsthal KAdE, a bright and bold space, filled with bright and bold work. The current exhibition, ‘The Colours of De Stijl’ is a large collation of work with a strong focus on the use of colour, by the six protagonists of De Stijl alongside artist’s who’ve been influenced by them in the past 100 years.

It seemed so sudden that I found myself stood on the railway platform, Mondriaan themed chewy sweets in hand, destined for the airport.

I sat by the window on the flight home, the one hour journey back in time (leaving at 7.20pm, arriving at 7.20pm). The sun was setting in a beautiful cocktail of pinks. I thought about how amazing it was to be able to hop on a flight, and then travel across the whole of the Netherlands so quickly and freely, by road and by rail, through the flat tree scattered landscape and beautiful historical cities, to the undulating National Park, and back, without a worry.

172km from Schiphol to Winterswijk. I’d do it again tomorrow!

With the greatest thanks to the wonderful people of Visit Holland for hosting me in their beautiful country. 

The Netherlands – 2 Nights & 100 Years of Dutch Design (1/2)

I left Adam at the airport. I was off to Amsterdam, he was off to Oslo. Our flights were due to leave within 10 minutes of each other. I wondered how this life had happened to us.

‘What are you visiting for?’ asked the man at passport control. I hesitated. ‘Business?’ I answered questioningly. I had to explain. How can you call it work when you know it is going to be so much fun? He said it was good that he’d asked, and that I answered, because it gave me a chance to think about how lucky I was, and that I would surely enjoy my trip even more. I had to agree (and not just because he had hold of my passport).

I met up with Simone, we waited for the others, stocking up on all the bananas and mars bars (balanced diet), before getting the train to Ede.

The neighbourhood appeared sleepy; thatched cottages and tidy gardens. Someone had a Porsche. Across the road the neon glow of the Reehorst Hotel lured us like a Las Vegas show. Pink neon lights, multi-coloured chandeliers, red velvet curtains, gin.

The rooms were fitted out like modern day caravans, all MDF and crystal lights. Satin fabric covered walls and a wave of purple brocade wrapped it’s way around the bed. I slept well.

After breakfast, an investigation of carpets for my growing collection, and a lot of pointing at strangely scaled ‘object d’art’ we headed off to the Kroller Muller Museum, in the Hoge Veluwe National Park.

We drove up to the museum, through tall trees and fallen branches with the promise of wild boar and deer wandering free. ‘I’m totally getting a wild boar!’ I exclaimed, perhaps too eagerly.

In 1909 Anton and Helene Kroller-Muller, with the dream of bringing art and nature together, began to gradually buy plots of land, stitching them together to create 5400 hectares of magic. In the centre of this, nestled perfectly amongst the trees and undulating earth, the most beautifully fitting low-line buildings, and art, so much art. I can’t imagine many better things, than to be surrounded by trees and sculpture.

I don’t think you could ever see all of the collection and give it the time it deserves. Over 20,000 pieces of art, including over 150 sculptures – Jean Arp, Herman de Vries, Auguste Rodin, Henry Moore, Barbara Hepworth, and the second largest Van Gogh collection in the world.

I was amazed at how close I could get to the paintings. No wire ropes, no one telling me off. No, I didn’t touch anything! I’m not a huge Van Gogh fan (don’t hate me!) but I can appreciate the work – the texture, the flow of motion in the marks.

For me, a piece of kinetic sculpture by George Rickey was the dream to behold. L’s – One up one down eccentric II caught my eye and held my gaze. Never wanting the two metal forms to clash, watching to see if their full dance could be performed without the two parts touching. Fascinating. (You can see it in action on my Instagram, here.)

We ate our lunch outside, under the cover of a marquee that made the light glow and framed Barbara Hepworth’s and a Herman de Vries perfectly through it’s ropes and poles.

Then it was our chance to preview the exhibition, Jean Arp: The Poetry of Forms. I’d been waiting for this for weeks, to see sculptures, reliefs, works on paper, poetry, writings and publications from one of the most innovative and influential artists of the European avant-garde… Jean (Hans) Arp.

I turned the corner and nearly cried. Something about the perfection in form, the tone, the feeling – it just resonated with me. Such beautiful works, and titles too – ‘Milky Way Tears’ and ‘Sculpture to be Lost in the Forest’. This then, the perfect setting.

Jean Arp’s work is stunning. I was especially drawn to the woodcuts on Japon Nacre with their playful shapes and perfect palette.

The sculptures were harder to see. The glass cases, built purposefully to house each piece for protection, cast straight line shadows and dull reflections on the perfect curves and tactile flowing forms. I couldn’t see enough, couldn’t get close enough, not this time.

I didn’t get a glimpse (or a cuddle) of a wild boar either.

Outside in the bright light and sunshine, we stepped onto a blue and yellow coach from the 1980s and were transported via the 1920s modern building of Arco (they make tables) to Villa Mondriaan in Winterswijk.

We ate little cakes and drank lemon tea before taking the tour of the house. Piet Mondriaan lived here from age eight to twenty. We saw the Figuration in Style exhibition, a brilliantly presented exposition of works by artists including Piet Mondriaan, Theo van Doesburg, Bart van der Leck and Vilmos Huszár. All pioneers of De Stijl, the movement they founded 100 years ago that is still inspiring people today.

Also at the Villa, an exhibition of modern ceramics, Cor Unum, in the Arco Pavilion. Some stunning and fascinating design. ‘What is this?’ one man kept asking me. It was this… I couldn’t tell him!

Back onto the time-travelling coach, we headed off down a slim avenue of tall straight trees to Strandlodge. This close-to-nature restaurant boasts a Michelin star (except chef Mike Vrijdags doesn’t shout about it. Apparently people of this region are known for their modesty) and sits beside its own beach and lido, amongst the trees.

The Strandlodge motto is ‘think global, eat local’. I was totally willing to partake in this attitude, I ate the closest thing I could reach. Cured ham with creamy smooth truffle and egg yolk. Followed shortly by a veal tartar lolly pop with wasabi and sesame seeds.

We ate the most delicious dinner in great company, and as the sun set beyond the trees our next stop called to us. Bed.

With the greatest thanks to the wonderful people of Visit Holland for hosting me in their beautiful country. 

These Recent Things (Pigeons, Pies & Positive Vibes)

It seems I rarely have time these days to sit down and write to you (yes, you!) Life is busy and full, and it appears to take a bone breakage or a surgical procedure to slow me down for a moment and give me sofa typing time. So, here, these recent things that aren’t so recent, but perhaps they are, in the grand scheme of things.

I must tell you first, I have a growing love for pigeons. I mean my love for them was strong, but now my heart is full! This might perhaps be a pigeon themed post. Get over it!

One of the highlights of my working year is FORMAT International Photography Festival, it’s a chance to meet up with my extended photography family for a few inspiring and joyful days. This year was no exception. This year was the best year yet! (I knew it would be, because, upon arrival, I saw a dog run gleefully down the road with a huge traffic cone in it’s mouth. You know that’s a fortuitous omen.)

On the Friday I had to miss Martin Parr’s talk due to a dodgy lunchtime burrito, but then the most wonderful thing happened. There was a man and he had a pigeon upside down with it’s head in a glass of water – he was dunking it in, lifting it out, dunking it in, lifting it out, and it was having a little drink.

Robbie and I went to speak to the man, he said the pigeon was tired and taking a rest. He let me stroke the pigeon. It was a racing bird, three years old, he knew because he had kept pigeons for sixty years. Lovely man. Beautiful. Made my day. We had our photo together and most of the time the pigeon was looking at the camera because it could see it’s pigeon self, and it was glossy and beautiful, and I think I got mites off it.

On the Saturday I gave portfolio reviews, and that evening I awarded the Shutter Hub FORMAT Photography Award. Each year I do this, I stand on stage and imagine what it would be like to sing, but this year my imagination took over me.

Ours was the last award to present, given to Isabel Flores for her photography and for her energy. Once I’d got her on stage I tried to get her to sing. ‘We can do a duet. What do we both know? Happy birthday?!’ I said. Isabel had a look of surprise on her face. I don’t know if she sung along, I could see her out of the corner of my eye, attempting to sidle off. Luckily it turned out it was somebody’s birthday after all.

Later I text Robbie, ‘Embarrassing?’ he replied, ‘I think you spelled triumphant wrong!’

We went to a cat show and I touched a naked cat. We also tried to adopt a cat from Cats Protection, a squishy Persian boy called Duke, but on the day he was due to go for neutering they decided to give him to someone else. I was so sad. We had waited for weeks. They admitted they were at fault, they said they’d not followed their own rules, but they weren’t willing to do anything about it. I will never put my trust in that charity again.

It was hard to get Duke out of my mind, I kept looking online, I could match the names and faces of hundreds of available cats across the UK.

Then one Friday evening, as I was surfing the internet eyeing up cats, I spotted this big grey girl.

I set an alarm for the morning so we could get to Wood Green for as soon as they opened.

She was beautiful. She came over to see us, and I tried to get a touch of her through the cage. Then her next-door-neighbour Merlin meowed and she turned round and punched the wall between them. One inch punch, Bruce Lee style. I knew she was for me!

The people at Wood Green Animal Charity were so, so kind and helpful. She had to have some teeth out before she came home, we picked her up on her 10th birthday, and we called her Tutti Biscotti!

I’ve been writing about my Foodie Finds for Surf 4. Each month I gather together a bunch of food related things and share them. It’s a great excuse to eat biscuits. I reviewed the new menu at Yuu Kitchen in London (that ice-cream bao is a thing of beauty to behold!) and had a little jaunt out to Newmarket for Pie Weekend (I really did want my beret to look like a pie crust!) I also worked with Carine Ottou, the chef behind Marie’s Little Jar.

It’s not all sunshine and treats though, just ask Adam about those fishy mussels at Brown’s in Cambridge the other week. Gah! I tried to find something positive to say but I just wondered if their theme of ‘the return of the golden era’  was a euphemism for a ‘detox meal’!

We sprinted with the LCUK Speed Championship at Cadwell Park. My first sprint of the year, and such an awesome, awesome track to drive. It was great fun. Alan Day went berserk – his words, I’m just repeating them (as often as possible!) My best time was 1:42.45, and Adam’s 1:35.97, he was 6th and I was 8th, out of 9. It was an ace day, I wasn’t fast, but I was happy.

The chickens are now back out in the garden, enjoying the sun, digging in mole hills. Margaret laid a massive egg, 125g of GIANT egg. She laid it on the lawn and all the other chickens gathered round to have a look. They must have been impressed. It’s not a world record, although I think she was going for it.

I attended the Visit Holland Dutch Tourism Awards evening at The Hoxton in Shoreditch and fell more in love with the Netherlands.

And then I attended the Sony World Photography Awards at the Hilton, Park Lane. I was introduced to the Photo Editor of British Vogue as the founder of Shutter Hub and a racing driver. I shuffled in my old dress and cheap shoes and then rushed off to take photographs of carpets.

Team Shutter Hub worked with Accumulate and The Photographers Gallery to help homeless photographers put together portfolios and select work for their exhibition at the Guardian. (You can read more about this here.)

We launched two new photography exhibition calls for entry. The Shutter Hub OPEN 2017 will be at Retina International Photography Festival in Edinburgh (enter before 7th June!) and we’ll be working with Cambridge University later in the year on an exhibition called Artificial Things.

We also headed to the sea for a team retreat and some serious project planning, chip eating and pigeon rescuing.

Thank goodness I wasn’t in charge, my contribution to the food was three bottles of wine and a pot noodle. I got the king size bed with the carpet headboard and metallic pampas grass wallpaper. I felt like I was winning at life.

We wandered the streets in search of chips, distracted by shadows and light, by gulls that sounded like chimpanzees and goats that sounded like seagulls.

Laura spotted a stuck pigeon on top of a building, caught in chicken wire. I made a half-arsed attempt to climb on a bin but then I worried that I’d fall in the bin, so we got a man from the bingo hall with a broom. The pigeon had lost a foot, it was waving its stump at us in distress. The foot was on the pavement below (as a mark of respect to the pigeon and the rescue team I didn’t photograph it). Eventually the pigeon was free’d and flew off into the sunset. It was a glorious moment of great joy, we cheered. Go team!

I guest lectured at Anglia Ruskin University and managed to get the room we were in condemned because… yes…. pigeons!

And, drum roll…. Shutter Hub won Best Photography Blog at the UK Blog Awards… hooray! Fwaah haaa! (That’s supposed to be some kind of celebratory trumpet call).

Now, for your final pigeon fix. Becky and I met up at Bletchley Park for a jolly day out learning about the codebreakers. It was an interesting day in many ways. One of those ways being that an old man approached me, whooping, and shouted ‘Yeah! Brexit!’ in my face, as the educational film showed Hitler’s defeat. Flabbergasted (what a word, hey?) I turned to Becky who also had a look of shock on her face. We were unprepared, we decided that if it happened again we’d just speak in another language, but what language did we both know? Polish, it turns out. And not much of it. In preparation we managed to muster a short conversation of ‘Two beers please’, ‘Your mother’s a whore!’ before giving up on it as a bad idea.

Aside from that we had a lovely day, and it was with utter joy that I discovered the Pigeons in War museum. Oh, my heart! Did you know that pigeons can fly at 60mph? And during the second world war they saved thousands of human lives, and won medals for their bravery? One of those pigeon heroines was Mary of Exeter – she survived being shot, attacked by German hawks, had over 20 stitches in her body, and had a little leather collar made so she could keep her head up. What a bird!

It just goes to show, whatever your size or stature, you’ve got the strength within you to do great things, and if Mary of Exeter can do it, so can we!

Thank you to Blossoming Gifts for the lovely ‘Brighton Rock’ flowers (top). Apparently the roses are called ‘Miss Piggy’ roses. I’ll not take offence! This is not a sponsored post. This post may contain PR samples and affiliate links.