Category Archives: These Recent Things

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.

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.

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!

These Recent Things (Frost, Flowers & Thoughts)

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It’s been a month full of ups and downs. (Yes, I fell over again, this time into my own car, punching the doorframe as I went.)

I turned down a trip to Italy. I said yes to an exciting exhibition opportunity with the University of Cambridge. I held back a car, that had been left without it’s handbrake on, while a boy-man got a wheelie bin to use as a stopper. (I left a note on the windscreen incase they moved the bin and got run over by their own car, like that chap from East 17 who ate too many jacket potatoes.)

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I ate lunch at a pub called the Dabbling Duck with Rachel. The location was lovely, but I wasn’t best pleased with the plum crumble. Who deconstructs a crumble?! After complaining that it had nuts hidden in it, I exclaimed ‘Feel the wrath of Karen!’ and weakly attempted to tip the table over and steal the books off their shelves.

The chickens came to live in the conservatory, inside their new house from Omlet. It’s wheely, we can wheel it around, it reminds me of a gypsy caravan and they love it. (Well, Patty Slipper isn’t sure about it, but the others think it’s fab.)

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Last month I ate a weird pudding made of sea buckthorn berry and carrots, and this month my friend Andrea from Liv gave me this lovely sea buckthorn and orange soap, which was much better because I didn’t have to eat it out of politeness.

After our trip to Amsterdam I wrote  ‘How Making the Most of Work Trips can be Good for Your Health and Career’ for the Huffington Post, and then also for Surf 4 – it reached 600,000 people in less than 10 days! You say what?! I know, I don’t think that everything I have ever done in my entire life has reached that many people!

I took some photographs of my friend Jac for her to use in her London Fashion Week promotion. She’s the designer behind Park and James and the ‘flat shoe revolution’. We ate cake and got thrown out of a hotel.

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We had to say goodbye to our dear old furry man cat friend MoJo. We miss him. There’s an echo in the house. Where sound used to be absorbed into his soft food filled body, it now bounces lonelily from wall to wall. This is not the time or the place for this sadness, I’m not good with sympathy or loss.

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I kept my head down, got on with some serious business, and then I wrote this: 6 Valentine’s Gifts You Can Give For Free. I’m not a fan of Valentine’s day, but I used it as an excuse to drink tea from under the duvet.

These Recent Things (Tea, Travels & The Midwinter Movement)

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I entered 2017 smelling of bonfire, with a fractured rib and liquid nitrogen burns. None of these things are related.

December was full on. I can’t even remember it. 2016 who? Where did all those mince pies go?

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Early in the month I was invited to  speak at Foam Photography Museum in Amsterdam and spent three wonderful nights in the city. We stayed at the stunning Conservatorium hotel, and then moved on to the quietly luxurious Waldorf Astoria.

To balance out my incredible luck I ate an overdressed purple potato with bits of prune and some clay.

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Amsterdam is a beautiful city; the people are friendly, the architecture is stunning, and the stroopwaffles are one of the best inventions known to man (them and the internal combustion engine). I definitely plan to go back soon, probably with a small army of pancake loving pals.

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Returning from Amsterdam I travelled up to Cheshire and spent a couple of nights with my friends at Willington Hall. I will keep saying it, but it’s one of my favourite places in the UK, a real home from home. Natalie had helped organise a flower arranging event for over 100 ladies (and two men) to raise money for the premature baby unit at the local hospital, so instead of catching up on my emails (like I said I would when I justified the trip to myself) I hung about and took pictures of ornamental cabbages, which was nice.

The house was dressed for Christmas, all cosy and calm. We took afternoon tea in the study and watched the sun set across the fields.

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Back home the chickens have been on high security lockdown. They don’t really seem to mind, we’ve been giving them extra snacks. It’s a small sacrifice to make in comparison to the possibility of contributing to the spread of avian flu and causing thousands of birds to have to be killed. Also, I’ve not stood in chicken poo for a whole month now.

We celebrated 11 years of MoJo living with us, making him about 18 in human years now, and over 90 in the cat equivalent. Rocky came to stay and pulled his tooth out. That wasn’t part of his birthday surprise!

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We had a lovely Danish Christmas dinner with Martin, Gitte and Oliver; we walked in Greenwich Park and saw a big man fox and a bunch of deer. Then we had a pleasant and peaceful Christmas at home. Adam was in charge of the dinner, he’s the King of the roast.

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I mentioned before that we planned to embrace the Midwinter Movement, and we did just that.

Sara shared the hashtag in her monthly Me & Orla newsletter and (I’ve just checked) almost 3000 images have been tagged #themidwintermovement over on instagram, have a look. It’s been quite interesting to see how other people respond to an idea that I hold so strong. It’s personal to me, but they’ve made it their own. I’ve initiated them into my cult and they don’t even know!

For me the Midwinter Movement is about finding ways to add light and joy to the season, embracing the darkness and filling it with light, decorating for the winter, making wreaths and bringing greenery into the house, lighting fires and candles, good dinners, sharing the simple things, backing off from the consumerist Christmas crap – it’s not British hygge or a fad, its just how I think life should be.

And, it means you can keep your sparkly lights up for as long as you like. No twelfth night misery for us, no decoration withdrawal symptoms, we’re keeping our fairy lights up until the evenings draw out and we no longer need their warm glow.

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Over on Shutter Hub we shared our Year in Review. Cor blimey, it’s been a corker! I’d really love you to pop over and have a read of our 2016 highlights, I’m proud to be able to share them with you.

Also, thank you. Thank you for all your voting in the UK Blog Awards. Obviously the three of you could only do so much, so the this old Peas blog didn’t make it, but Shutter Hub is through to the finals  in the Best Photography Blog category. Thank you.

And, the grand finale of 2016… I fell over on the ice and my bobble hat flew off into a dog poo!