All posts by karen

EVERYDAY LIFE: From Winter into Spring

The other morning, I saw an empty Andrex wrapper fly past the window. It moved fast along the top of the trees, did a loop the loop at the end of the road, then turned left and headed into the village.

It’s been the strangest time. You don’t need me to tell you that.

In the midst of peek loo roll stockpiling my friend Charly revealed that her mum grew up using newspaper instead of toilet paper, and when that wasn’t available, they used finished corn cobs.

Distractions are a good thing, so are routines and goals.

It was only couple of weeks ago that I was in Holland with Shutter Hub, launching a massive project (Postcards from Great Britain) at Haarlem’s famous Hotel Lion d’Or.

Days later the Dutch government shut down group gatherings, and then they shut down pretty much everything in the Netherlands. To some extent, we knew what was coming.

It seems frivolous to write to you now. But, what else will I do? Here are a few nice things.

I found two combs. One in Waitrose carpark, and one in Hotel Lion d’Or. #combtheory

I got invited to dinner at the Dutch Ambassador’s residence in London. (It was cancelled, but it was still a nice idea).

Our friends Matt and Natasha got married and it was a very nice day. I came home with a black eye, but that only happened at the end of the night. (I was getting into the car and the wind slammed the door in my face).

I got my motorsport license again and signed up for Lotus Cup UK Speed Championship. The first couple of rounds have been cancelled, but I’m keeping everything crossed. (Of course, I’ll uncross it all when I get in the car. Safety first).

The Postcards from Great Britain exhibition in Haarlem has been extended until the summer in the hope people will be able to enjoy it then. It contains 326 postcard sized images and I stuck each and every one of them up myself. (I also stuck the window vinyl up but removed half of it when it got stuck to my hand).

We’ve been working extra hard to help people through Toiletries Amnesty this month, supplying toiletries, soap and hand sanitiser to over 100 organisations across the UK. If you can help, please get in touch.

Shutter Hub launched two free calls for entries – Working from Home, and Everyday Delight (the Stay at Home Edition), as well as the call for entries to the OPEN 2020 Amsterdam, and, announced 20 membership bursaries to help photographers out a bit. Click those links, get involved!

I got the ferry from Newcastle to IJmuiden and wrote You Snooze… You Two Night Mini Cruise. It’s worth a read.

A photograph I took of the inside of a swan’s leg bone has been featured in a book about the geometry of objects, called Exploring Scale Symmetry by Tom Lowe.

I’ll just leave these photos here.

Even if we don’t know each other, we are friends, and if you need anything, I’ll be here.

You Snooze… You Two Night Mini Cruise (Newcastle to Amsterdam)

I got the train to Newcastle with a Waitrose sandwich and window seat. Wind and rain beating against the glass, hot tea from the trolley.

When the opportunity arose to combine a visit I needed to make to Haarlem, with a North Sea crossing research trip, I said ‘sign me up!’ and revelled in the thought of a new travel experience.

I sprinted from the station to the coach (less than 100 metres). Damp clothes and steamy windows. Onwards, to the ferry!

I love the sea, and I love the Netherlands, what could possibly go wrong?

Within no time at all I was on Deck 11 admiring my four-berth cabin and deciding which bed I’d sleep in. I had a good window view (port out, starboard home), a little desk area, a small bathroom with a nicely branded shower curtain, plenty of mirrors and four duvets. I was feeling pretty smug.

A fanfare played through the little speaker above the door, then the Captain said, ‘It will be a calm crossing… until we hit force 7 in the night’. I imagined the force scale went up to 100 and carried on with the business of bed selection.

The UK had been experiencing some pretty hefty weather, I knew it was going to be choppy at sea, but that wasn’t going to stand in my way – partly because I knew they wouldn’t sail if it was unsafe, but mostly because someone said Storm Brendan sounded like a boy band member from the 90s.

I wandered the decks of King Seaways, from the cinema to the Sky Bar, scouting out suitable spots to show an exhibition. Lots of spots, not all suitable!

Later at the dinner buffet the man next to me exclaimed, as he jubilantly clutched at a devilled egg, “DFDS are the dogs doo dahs!’ I sat on my own, ate rice with duck and spring onions, and lemon pannecotta, lost count of how many times I watched dogs-doo-dah man go back for another plateful.

On summer nights, when the evenings are long, you can visit the Observation Deck and watch for whales, dolphins, porpoises and seals. On winter nights people congregate in one of the bars and listen to live music, visit the casino or watch a film. It’s like a proper night out.

I rocked out in my room with a can of ginger ale, swayed from side to side by the sea in a gentle rhythm.  I felt pleased that I’d worked on my core in Pilates.

I’d intended to get some writing done, but by 9.30pm I was in bed. That’s 8.30pm UK time, and unheard of from me (unless I’m very sick), but I was tired, so tired, and lulled by the rocking waves.

It wasn’t long before I was lulled awake, well, more gyrated. The nautical striped curtain swung back and forth against the window, and my coat, on its hook, swung like a pendulum against the wall. Spray splattered and pelted my window as the ship flexed and groaned, hitting waves like turbulence in a plane, and all the time rolling and swaying.

I lay flat on the bed as sheer gravity slid me up, down and around the bed, a bit like a puck on an air-hockey table. And all the time I was just amused, bloody tired, but amused. It was like being in an earthquake whilst riding a bucking bronco!

It wasn’t scary in any way. It was incredible and fascinating, and maybe about eight hours too long, but hey, it was an experience and a half!

From the port of IJmuiden I walked to Zwaanstraat and caught the 285 bus to Haarlem. 30 minutes to the centre.

I laughed to myself – almost 24 hours of travelling by car, train, coach, ferry and bus, and I’d managed to arrive for my meeting 10 minutes early!

Haarlem’s famous Hotel Lion d’Or is the location for the launch of Postcards from Great Britain, the Shutter Hub mega project we’ve been working on for over a year now. I’ve stayed here before, and before. I almost stayed again, just for an afternoon nap!

Postcards from Great Britain is a whopper of a project – amongst many things it is an archive (to be housed in locations including Cambridge University Library and the V&A) and a series of exhibitions across Europe in all sorts of lovely places. You’ll like it. You should get involved, and you should come to the launch and stay in my favourite Haarlem hotel with me (here’s your invite!)

I wandered the streets for an hour or so, sleepy but pleased to be back in the friendly and familiar town. Then I got the bus back to IJmuiden, taking the scenic walk back to the ship. The crisp cool rain in my face was refreshing. Icy cold, but refreshing.

I can’t say I’d not thought about catching a flight home, because it had been a strong consideration. At 6am I would have been more than willing to abandon ship for a still and steady place to sleep, but I knew (and I’d been told) that the harsh conditions were a rare occurrence, and that the journey home would be fine. And it was, just that, fine and smooth. So smooth.

I slept well. Deep comfortable sleep. Still and silent. I woke, well rested, and went on deck to watch the sun rise over the sea. It was absolutely beautiful. Worth every bit of the journey.

Oh, and I saw a Chihuahua do a poo at passport control. That’s not something you see every day.

DFDS  currently offers two daily sailings between Newcastle and Amsterdam, as well as operating up to 54 sailings a day between Dover and France on its Dover-Dunkirk and Dover-Calais routes. In addition, the DFDS network includes a passenger and freight service between Newhaven to Dieppe, which has four daily sailings and is operated by Transmanche Ferries.

For further information about DFDS, or to find out about the latest sailing times, fares and offers across all routes from the UK, visit

With the greatest thanks to DFDS for making this trip possible. As always, my opinions are my own (and my ability to make friends at buffets, a skill I’d like to shake!)

EVERYDAY LIFE: Midwinter Stories & Everyday Delight

I woke up after the longest night (literally) and felt the urge to write to you. I like the hummock of Midwinter, as we roll over its peak into longer days; still wintery, still bleak and cold, but hopeful. It’s a nice feeling, but maybe underappreciated.

A couple of years ago I made a hashtag on Instagram, #themidwintermovement, to celebrate this joy. Unfortunately, it got picked up by a well-known instagrammer and blended into a slow-living blur of consumerism disguised as authenticity. Such is life.

Our current Shutter Hub exhibition is called Everyday Delight, and it’s an absolute beauty. I am allowed to say that, I’m sure. 114 images from 70 international photographers, all sharing their little moments of magic in the mundane and inviting viewers to discover the beauty in the everyday. We’ve had lovely feedback (which you can read here) and Jayne took some super shots of the install (which you can see here). The Guardian gave it a lovely feature too (here) and in their Art Weekly round-up they referred to it by saying ‘Everyday life can bring spectacular joy’ which I think might be one of the most hopeful sentences I’ve read in quite some time.

Earlier in the autumn I curated Now, for the Future, a Shutter Hub exhibition for LOOK Photo Biennial in Liverpool. It’s another show I am proud to have initiated.

Our perception of the world is influenced by our environment, our education, our history, and the stories we are told. Photography may be the most accessible and inclusive tool we have for communication. We can use it to share images that reflect on the world we live in, images that hold people together, encourage creative thoughts and provoke positive actions. The more we know and understand, and the more we find in common with others, the more likely we are to succeed.

The thoughts behind Now, for the Future are deeply rooted in the need to understand the environmental crisis that the world is facing, and not only find practical solutions, but also emotional and ethical ones. Can we share something so magnificent and inspiring that it will enlighten people’s perspective on the future?

Now, for the Future asks, can we create a visual language that draws from the past, exists in the moment, and sets a positive course for the future?

International photographers examine the myths and fables of the now – will the stories we tell today survive to be the folklore of the future? And, could Now, for the Future be a visual handbook for our emotional survival?

If you’d like, you can view the full exhibition digitally here: Now, for the Future: The Exhibition.

I gave a talk at Open Eye Gallery in Liverpool, it sold out. We held a Professional Development event at Bermondsey Project Space, it sold out. I gave a talk at London Institute of Photography, it sold out. What will happen next? My head is already too big for hats!

I went to the Netherlands (Again? Again!)

I visited Fujifilm in Tilburg and toured their magnificent factory. I ate apple pie ice cream and stayed in a dodgy hotel with neon lights and a funny smell.

I joined Visit Brabant for a press trip and visited Dutch Design Week. Saw a robot babysitter, a tank full of trout, and ate parsnip fries.

I stroked a fish and got bitten by a bird. I tried to stroke a cat but he was having none of it.

I made Pickled Walnut and Pancetta muffins for Opies. First time in ages that I have worked on a recipe and I am really pleased with the result.

I managed to re-pot a couple of plants, it’s a time-consuming affair, but one that is necessary and improved by a gift of lovely plants pots from Dutch company Elho. My £1.50 rubber plant has grown into a small tree and now rides around in this wheely plant pot giving me great joy and reminding me of my favourite Modern Toss illustration (click here and swipe for joy!)

I was given a beautiful silver pouch and a grey sheepskin rug from my friend Cindi. I’ve never felt a rug so soft. I keep seeing it out of the corner of my eye and thinking it’s Tutti! Cindi’s family run a business down in Somerset making all things sheepskin and nice (Owen Barry, if you’re asking!)

Tutti got given a Nigel Farage catnip toy for Christmas. She screwed her face up and won’t go near it.

I made chai spiced fudge and wrapped presents in newspaper printed with a photo I took of flowers whilst I was nosing round Dutch castles in the summer.

I took parcels of toiletries and kitchenwares to a local young peoples hostel (you can find yours here: took spare glasses to Specsavers (did you know they give them to Vision Aid to help others?) and I dropped off bags and boxes of things to the Mind charity shop.

And now we’re about to have a Midwinter feast with my family.

Sounds idyllic, perfect, even a bit braggy?

Life, for us all, on so many different levels, is far from perfect. But, I’d rather aim for optimism, and share the joy and the inspiration, in the hope that things can be better for everyone, and if you want to join me in that please do. We can go into the next decade with power and kindness. Not a bad new years resolution really! I live in hope.

HOLLAND: Factories of the Imagination (Food, Thought & Innovation)

99 Red Balloons played on the radio as we rushed across Tilburg. Windows down to let out smell of cigarette smoke. My driver pointed at a house in the middle of a roundabout, ‘They call it art!’ she laughed, as her curly hair blew in the wind.

She dropped me at Fujifilm’s Manufacturing and Research Laboratory. Sleek white and grey buildings, trees everywhere, oak saplings pushing their way up through acorns in piles. And huge toadstools, the size of berets. I had a brilliant meeting, a fascinating tour and a croquette for lunch. Magical. Come with me next year!

My driver on the way back, a very sweet older man who told me all about his three daughters, recommended the Intermezzo ice cream parlour to me, and as I was less than comfortable in my hotel room, I decided it was worth the walk there, in the rain. It was. Apple pie ice cream was the right choice.

I stayed at the City Hotel Tilburg (don’t stay at the City Hotel Tilburg!). Orange velvet curtains lit by a fluorescent tube, framed the view of St Jozef’s church, which was not really a ‘view’ as such, more just a wall, due to its immediate proximity. Dong, dong, dong– every hour for the hour, and a dong for half past. All night long. By 4am I was beginning to get used to it, and then… did you even know there is a Happy Hardcore version of Let it Be? I didn’t, but I do now.

In the morning I headed over to Eindhoven to meet up with the Visit Brabant team and joined them on a fabulous journey of food and innovation – starting at the Creativity World Forum.

I had an egg sandwich that wasn’t egg, and there was a pumpkin you could put your hand inside – a bit like that tree stump scene from Flash Gordon.

Eindhoven was once the famous home of Philips lightbulbs, when the company moved away jobs were lost, and factories stood empty… but not for long. The city invested in its people, and its people innovated. Those empty factories became centres of creativity and imagination, and now, amongst many other things, they house the annual Dutch Design Week– the biggest design event in Europe!

We ate French fries made from potato, sweet potato and parsnip, whilst Missy Elliot’s Pass the Dutch played in the background. I found a lamp that looked like a roast chicken.

Filling the fifth floor of one of the old factory buildings is the most interesting city farm I’ve come across. With a massive tank full of trout and hundreds of plants growing under LED lights, Duurzame Kost demonstrates aquaponics at its most efficient.

Dinner in Eindhoven, at DOYY, with Europe’s finest caviar ‘Anna Dutch’ made sustainably by sturgeon who live in big tanks outside the city. I ate a cone filled with ginger ice cream and goose liver, out of a miniature bucket, and I don’t regret it one bit.

After a rich and indulgent dinner we spent the most peaceful night at Teugel Resort in Uden. So quiet and calm. Such a relief!

In the morning we headed over to another repurposed factory site, CHV Noordekade in Veghel (if it sounds good to you, then watch this short film and be amazed).

This old animal feed complex blew my mind and lit a fuse with my imagination (as soon I arrived home I started googling ‘disused silos near me’). Built in 1918 by Escher (the cousin of Escher the artist) the facility made feed mix and cattle cakes. It is now home to cafés, restaurants, events spaces, a cinema, theatre, food hall, coffee roasters, bakery, a beer shop selling 1500 beers, a distillery, a small brewery (200 litres per day), a JUMBO supermarket, and the only car ever made in this small village – the prototype Bambino Sport.

I stroked a fish and got bitten by a bird. All the good things.

Lunch at Silly Fox.Thank you very much. The chicken and kimchi bao was da bomb. This duck with yoghurt and sauce, made on the barbeque with duck bones and orange, was delicious, and well-lit through the factory windows.

A quick stop at surplus food factory De Verspillings Fabriek, (they were busy making soup from MacDonald’s surplus tomato slices – the end bits that you never see in the hamburgers) and then, on to the Glass Farm in Schijndel.

Created by architect Winy Maas (the same chap who designed the fabulous mirrored Depot building in Rotterdam) for the empty square at the centre of his hometown, this glass building is covered in photographic images giving it the appearance of a semi-transparent traditional Dutch farmhouse. It felt a little bit ‘theme park’ to me, and I think that’s down to the scale, it’s oversized, being 60% larger than the original buildings on which it was modelled.

I met a most attractive (in my eyes) cat, but he hissed at me. So sad. I think this is the first time in my life that my cat whispering skills have failed to serve me. Must be a language difference. Later on, I met a man who was feeding him. He told me he feeds several strays, but this is the only one who calls at his door daily. Beautiful.

In the evening we dined at Wollerich in Sint-Oedenrode. A very peaceful restaurant, with one Michelin star, simple décor and delicious food presented on exquisite plates. At one point, my lovely Italian colleague Germana, in between singing opera for us, whipped out the Wheel of Fortune from her tarot cards and told me, ‘You are a ten. Small steps forward, no stopping!’

I stopped for a while, for another good night’s sleep at Teugel Resort. It’s really unusual to spend two nights in the same place when on a press trip, but this was a really welcome treat for me.

We drove into Den Bosch, Nothing Compares 2U played out on the radio as we slowly passed by convoys of farmers driving their tractors into town to protest against the government. We ate Bosch Bol for breakfast at Bolwerk, fresh from the famous Jan de Groot bakery, and then headed over to our final factory site, Tramkade.

Anne Reijnders, the food activist behind De Lekkere Man, gave us a tour of the Tramkade industrial heritage site. Previously a chicken feed factory, cookie factory, cigar factory all on one site, the area has been given over to developing social inclusion and a circular economy.

Lekker is one of the first words I learnt in Dutch,  it kind of means tasty, but also good and yummy, and is used all the time, not just for food. So, Anne’s ‘Lekker Man’ is a play on words and a bit of fun, but with a very serious undercurrent. She wants to put male meat on the table.

In the food production industry where many female animals are reared for their eggs or milk, the male animal is often born, sexed and then killed. As different breeds are grown for different reasons, and for example, the breed of chicken you have for eggs is different to the breed you have for meat (they grow at different rates and yield different results) the males, in mass industry, have previously been seen as a by-product and destroyed. If we are going raise animals to eat meat, Anne wants us to eat all of it.

Aside from the fascinating tour (the chicken feed factory is full of music producers, artists and designers, the cookie factory is now a cultural space, and the cigar factory a cinema and theatre) Anne also gave us man goat sausage in bread covering.

However much I am behind her ethos, man goat sausage is not my scene. (Anyone remember when I tried goats milk kefir and was poisoned by the taste of 1000 goats? Ah, Jesus!)

Koning Willem I College gave us their Dutch Cuisine ‘Impact Lunch’ (which included no goat) designed by the students who dutifully served us with shaking hands and charming smiles.

We made a quick phone call to an angel at Den Bosch Cathedral (It’s a thing, an €0.80 per minute thing) and then headed back to the station – trains to Schiphol, flights home for everyone. The end, again.

Halfway home on the plane the woman next to me whipped out a full McDonald’s burger banquet from her back pack. ‘I love cold fries!’she exclaimed as she tucked in vigorously. Could have slipped her my leftover breaded man goat too!

With the greatest thanks to Visit Brabant and Visit Holland for making this trip possible. As always, my opinions are my own (and my ability to Doctor Dolittle all the animals, clearly something that needs some work!)

RECIPE: Opies’ Pickled Walnut and Pancetta Savoury Muffins

This is a sponsored post in collaboration with Opies.  

The first time I came across a pickled walnut was at my Aunty Phips’ house. We used to visit her for boxing day lunch, always well welcomed and well fed. I remember standing in the kitchen at the Ercol table, Midwinter Roselle plates laden with exciting seasonal food, and beside the bowl of pickled walnuts, my mum wielding a pickle fork and exclaiming, ‘They are very special!’ as I screwed my face up and looked on.

Once I got over the idea that they would be anything like a nut, and embraced the soft, sweet and tangy flavour of the pickled green walnut, there was no going back. They’ve been a regular on my shopping list ever since.

When Opies’ asked me if I’d come up with a new recipe for their pickled walnuts, I said yes please and thank you with great enthusiasm and gusto. I knew what I’d make… muffins.

I once won Gold at the local village show for my honey and bacon muffins and I’ve never looked back.

Welcome out of the oven, pickled walnut topped beauties. Yes, I am still the muffin boss!

Pickled walnuts are not just for Christmas, you can pick them up any time of year from the major super markets (Tesco, Sainsburys, Morrisons, Waitrose, Asda etc) or bulk order online (whilst arranging your next cocktail cherry consignment).

The walnuts are picked from the tree whilst they are still green and before any shell has formed. Opies’ preserve them in a special secret recipe of spiced malt vinegar. They say it takes a lot of effort and is a real labour of love, but they also say that Mary Berry would prefer a pickled walnut to a chocolate, so I am with them all the way.

Pickle power!

Here is my recipe for Opies’ Pickled Walnut and Pancetta Savoury Muffins. Easily  adapted, quick to make and tasty to eat.

Ingredients (makes 12):

250g Self Raising Flour
200ml Low Fat Natural Yoghurt
1 Large Egg
4 tbsp Olive Oil
Opies’ Pickled Walnuts – 2 for filling, more for topping!
120g Pancetta (or smoked bacon lardons)
80g Cheddar Cheese


Pre-heat the oven to 190˚C/170˚C (fan)

Fry the Pancetta in a little of the olive oil until crispy (save the frying oil for later)

Chop 2 pickled walnuts into small squares and do the same with the cheddar cheese.

Put the flour into a mixing bowl. Add the pickled walnuts, cooked pancetta and cheddar.

In a jug, mix together the olive oil (including the bit you fried the pancetta in), yoghurt and egg. Pour into the mixing bowl and stir everything together.

Lightly grease a 12 hole muffin tin and spoon in the mixture evenly. Add sliced pickled walnuts to the top of each muffin.

Put in the oven and bake for 20-25 minutes.

Remove from the oven, and after a couple of minutes remove from the tin and place on a cooling rack.

Eat them while they are hot or leave them to cool. Eat them like a muffin or treat like a scone and add butter.

The pickled walnut topper, whilst looking quite decadent, does also add a lovely chewy crispy tang and is well worth the addition in my honest opinion.

For me, the combination of the salty smoky pancetta with the sweet smack of Opies’ pickled walnuts is an absolute winner, I hope you’ll agree!

This is a sponsored post in collaboration with Opies’.

As always, my opinions are my own (and my ability to eat pickled products something that I am honing in hope of eating competition opportunities – hit me up!)