All posts by karen

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.

X Jewellery

Did you ever have popper beads when you were a kid? I remember getting some in my Christmas stocking (actually, it was a pillow case, we didn’t have stockings) and under torchlight I unwrapped them with glee. I asked Father Christmas for a torch every year, so that the ‘click’ of my bedside lamp and the glow of the light wouldn’t wake anyone else up – I hadn’t considered that the rustling of paper could not be fully deadened by the cover of duvet, or that nobody would mind. Had I known that, I could have saved much time from the careful groping of wrapped gifts whilst trying to work out which one felt most torch-like.

Anyway.

When I came across X Jewellery I was reminded of popper beads – the way you can mix and match, swap things about, make a necklace into a bracelet and back again. Fun, but also slightly edgy – the chunky matt chain, the bronze toned clasps and links.

According to X Jewellery ‘strong women need strong jewellery’ (I’m weaker that I look) that reflects who they are and the unique path they’ve travelled’ (If I took that too literally mine would be covered in grass and chicken poop) and ‘it’s all about you putting your bold personal stamp on each and every day’ (Oh yes, I can totally get behind that sentiment).

I don’t own a lot of jewellery, I like the odd thing (occasional, and literal) and most of the time I just don’t want to get tangled up. Like a cat in a tree with a stretchy collar, I’m very much okay with wearing a soft breakable chain around my neck.

X Jewellery have a plan, (I love it when a plan comes together) to invest 10% of the company’s annual profits in women who need financial support to achieve their dreams. They’re already supporting great projects like More Than Me – an organisation that uses education as a catalyst for transformative social change for every girl in Liberia, and later this year they’ll accept another round of applications to their fund.

‘Whatever their dream may be, if that woman is staring an obstacle in the face and needs a little financial support to achieve their dream, we want to help.’

(I dream of deep-fried coconut ice-cream filled bao buns.)

Thank you X Jewellery – for the lovely jewellery, the chance to reminisce about Christmas pillow cases and popper beads, and for doing something that helps other people too.

What I Wore to British Pie Weekend

When the invite dropped into my inbox I couldn’t believe it – was this really for me? Perhaps there’d been a mistake somewhere? Of course, I’d have to put an outfit together.

I thought about wearing a fancy frock, or a specially made outfit… was theming going too far?

In the end I opted for the classic pie weekend look – dark glasses and an elasticated waistband.

We arrived fashionably late (there had been a mix up with our booking) clutching knife and fork in hand. Everything felt so ‘British’ – Rolls Royces lined up outside (there was a wedding show going on next door) and a gentle drizzle began to fall. I’ll admit now to coming away with a full belly and a rash, and skirt over this later.

We were ushered to our seats, ready for three courses of pie. Pie, pie and more pie. First up, pork pie. Then a pie that wasn’t a pie – so avant-garde. You can see it in my polaroid pictures. A jaunty cobbler with seasonal vegetables. On trend.

Pudding time: pecan pie – game changer, peach pie – rash maker.

I didn’t get any outfit photos as my Go Pro, Olympus Pen and Instamax were all out of battery (and I had gravy in my hair).

No sooner had we begun than we had finished. They say that time flies when you are having fun, also, I am a fast eater.

Style notes:

Blackbird brooch: Rachel Jackson, The Museum (gift)
Beret: Cheap tat from eBay.
Sunglasses: Marni ME102S in brown and black, from Shade Station. (gift)
Watch: The Williamsburg, from Wanderlust Watches. (gift)
Tote bag / Card holder / Pouch: All Hills and West. (gift)
Shirt dress: Uniqlo.
Cutlery and ability to overeat: models own (gift)

Did you see me at London Fashion Week? Get the goss here.


Thank you to Squires Restaurant at Bedford Lodge Hotel for the lovely lunch invitation. As always my opinions and ability to eat are my own.

These Recent Things (Eggs, Noodles & London Fashion Week)

It’s spring isn’t it? I saw three daffodils this afternoon and Adam brought me a bag of Mini Eggs. The chickens have started laying again (kind of) and I’ve been out exploring in the sunshine.

I’m looking forward to the lighter evenings. The lighter mornings are already making me realise we need thicker curtain lining.

Up at my brother’s house the snowdrops were trying to break their way through the dark earth, watched over by the big heavy boughs of trees. I wanted to show you this cashmere dune robe that I was given, so I hung it in the woods. Blair witch style.

I also wanted to show you this beautiful cup that my sister-in-law made, and I am glad I took the time to photograph it, because Adam snapped the handle off about two hours later!


We had a great time with my niece and nephew. Sam asked me if anything had grabbed my foot under the dinner table, and told me that where the light casts a shadow and hits the wall it can come out and touch you. Later Jocey told me ‘they will all die, and in the morning you will be the only one left’. I love them.

Sometimes I think it might be more useful to tell you more about what’s coming up, rather than just what has passed, so…

I’ll be speaking at the University of Northampton this month, reviewing portfolios at The Photographers Gallery with the lovely Shutter Hub team for Accumul8, and I’ll be at FORMAT International Photography Festival giving portfolio reviews and presenting an award, on a stage, with an audience, and a microphone.

Heaven help them all!

I judged the South Holland Open Exhibition again this year, the standard was really high, so high that there were no paintings of wonky tigers. I don’t think I will go back next year if they can’t fulfil my wonky tiger quota.

The same day (well, night) I managed to make it down to Roast in Borough Market for an event with UKBA. Shutter Hub is shortlisted for Best Photography Blog, so I joined the judges and fellow contestants for canapés and drinks and stuff.

I also had a great (should I put that in capitals? It was VERY good!) lunch at Yuu Kitchen with Monica Martins, the director of WomenBeing, an international organisation celebrating and showcasing work done by women in the creative industries, entrepreneurship and research.

The plan was to talk about collaborations and the talk I’ll be giving at their conference in Glasgow later this year, and we did, but it was hard not to be distracted by all the tasty food… that calamari, those ribs, that bubble tea, ahhh! I loved it so much I wrote about it over on Surf 4 – you can have a read here, if you’d like.

We’ve been testing out lots of Foodie Finds for a new series over on Surf 4. If you want to read about chocolate pills that will supposedly make you beautiful, or cordials that taste like sophisticated cherry Tunes or lime Fruit Pastilles, then pop over for a look. But, if you want to read about noodles that come in a pot, from a vending machine, and are also healthy and gluten free, then stay here. I couldn’t believe it either. Sadly I don’t have a noodle dispensing device in my own home, so after making Mr Lee’s Noodles in the cup I transferred them to a bowl and ate them with chopsticks. What a mess! Tasty mess though, I’m impressed.

When I wasn’t dropping noodles down my shirt and spraying tai chi chicken sauce in my eyes, I was trotting around at London Fashion Week shutting models in lift doors and lusting after fur slide-ons with chicken drumstick decals. You have to read about it! Well, you don’t have to, but I think you might enjoy it.

It still seems a bit surreal to me, chubby little Harvey Hotdog, running around at London Fashion Week, having an opinion, writing about it on Huffington Post, being a grown up… well, kind of!