All posts by karen

Everyday Life: Mrs Pollock & the Dutch Ambassadors Carpet

Het schildpad eeten het boterham.

The more time I spend in the Netherlands, the more I want to learn the language. I am sorry, my Dutch friends, I am trying!

In June I did a mini tour of  Dutch Castles and Country Houses with Visit Holland and DFDS. It was an utterly lovely experience. I learnt so much about the beautiful buildings, ate wonderful meals, saw the most fabulous gardens full of roses, and a dog called Percy tried to put its football in my handbag. Read about it here, you won’t be disappointed!

I’ll be back in The Netherlands again next month for one of the most exciting exhibitions I have ever been lucky enough to curate – STREET / FORM at POW! WOW! Rotterdam, Europe’s leading street art festival. I’ll be spending a couple of weeks in the city and I am really excited about it.

(You can find the STREET / FORM call for entries here, if you’re interested).

I’m also working on an exhibition called HOME, which is a collaboration between Shutter Hub and Gallery at Home in Usk, Wales. (Call for entries, here). We’re raising money for Crisis, Shelter, and Toiletries Amnesty.

Adam and I took part in the annual village yard sale. No one asked for guns this year, but there was an old man with a pro-Trump hat on.

I repotted Mrs Pollock the pelargonium.

I helped judge graduate photography at the Freerange Awards 2019, and Shutter Hub gave prizes to 6 photographers.

I wrote Foodie Finds #19 and #20 for Surf4, ate parma violet flavoured fudge and drank ginger beer.

A lady told me she thought I was very attractive, tall and slim, and about 28 years old. She was also blind. This is not a joke.

I went to the Dutch Ambassador’s residence in London for breakfast (nice carpets). Then I went to Brixton and power chugged hot tea in Van Gogh’s kitchen.

We endured a super hot heatwave day of hell. 38.7°C. The chickens were really sick, we gave them frozen sweetcorn and iced water.

Shutter Hub took an exhibition to Festival Pil’Ours in France. Time to Think includes the work of 145 female photographers from 15 different countries, and a total of 435 images (It runs until 31 August 2019, technically, but the festival organisers have already said they want to extend it).

Jayne and I flew into La Rochelle, picked up a hire car (a Renault Clio with a stoved in door) and took the two hour drive to St Gilles Croix de Vie, stopping for pastries and a packet of mustard and pickle flavoured crisps on the way.

We arrived at our  little seaside chalet. Welcomed by the sea, and a drunk man who wanted Jayne to touch his hair. It did look soft.

Beach front picnic under pink skies. Lapping waves. Sticky sea air.

In the morning we walked to the town, over bridges and through the brocante, for the exhibition launch event. People came from across the region, and beyond – Italy, UK, Ukraine and 14 hours on a bus from Amsterdam. I gave the opening speech, Jayne took photos, I told everyone to eat fish balls. It was fun. There was iced peach tea and a beautiful cat who had a number written in his right ear.

If you want to see lots more photos of the exhibition (and read some lovely words) you can find them all here.


We walked back as the light faded, through the night market, passed the pink neon glow of the fairground. Candy floss, and a massive grey dog that looked like a bear.

A couple of days of sea air and perfect sunsets, interspersed with meetings, project work, and plenty of cheese. Time to think – definitely. 

At home Tutti Biscotti managed to catch two birds in the space of two days. Not bad for a house cat! Kamikaze sparrows were delivering themselves to her through the open windows.

And look! I found my first comb in over two years. #combtheory

Holland: Dutch Castles and Country Houses


Up early, past the Banksy and onto the ferry at Dover before 8am to eat Eggs Benedict off linen-imitating paper placemats in the tranquillity and comfort of the DFDS Premium Lounge. A good way to start the day.

We drove through France and Belgium to the Netherlands, stopping at the motorway services for snacks and 70¢ loo stops (thank you Polly for paying for my pees!) At one place there was a cockerel chilling in the picnic area, so I took a few minutes to share a stroopwafel with him.

When I was invited on a mini tour of Dutch Castles and Country Houses I squealed with joy. You’ll never hear me turn down a nose around someone else’s house.

There was one time where I thought I was being lured into a house by a sturdy old man, but his William Morris wallpaper and spiral staircase won over my fears of being murdered, and it was only when I entered the living room and saw the naked bodies on the tele that I feared I’d been sucked into a pensioners porn den. All was well, he had an amazing collection of art books and it turned out to be an advert for Dove.

Slot Loevestein. First stop. A Medieval castle dating back to 1361, which in the 16th Century, during the Eighty Years’ War, became a State Prison. One of the prisoners was a chap called Hugo Grotius (known to be a founding father of international law) who was given a life sentence (and also allowed to take his wife, children and maid to prison with him). He escaped in a book chest and became the Queen of Sweden’s ambassador to France.

Later additions to the castle in the 1800s included bomb-proof bunkers and military housing. Loevestein’s role as an army stronghold finally came to an end after World War II in 1951.

These days you can explore the castle at ease, stay the night in the Officers house, or rent out a little soldiers’ cottage, have lunch in the Taverne, get a boat to a local restaurant in the evening, see a child’s skeleton in the museum, visit the shop and even get married. All areas covered.


We sat outside in the garrisons’ street, breeze rustling in the trees, sun streaking through the leaves. Cakes with strawberries, and chocolates, and tea in nice packets.

Someone asked, ‘Which are the most popular castles?’ and I couldn’t help but answer, ‘Bouncy’.

Landgoed Hotel Groot Warnsborn for the night, after a wander in the grounds and a four-course dinner. A beautiful ‘18th Century’ mansion set in magical gardens, within an ancient forest. In 1932, after full renovation, the house was opened as a hotel. Anne Frank stayed at Groot Warnsborn in September 1941; they think that was her last holiday.

Throughout World War II the hotel was a recreation resort for German soldiers, but during a party the whole house was burnt to the ground. The orangery, icehouse, and terraced gardens remained, but the house we now see was built in 1952.


Acres and acres of towering trees. Ferns and foxgloves, and beautiful scented roses. Somewhere there were burial mounds and crayfish in freshwater, but it was time for dinner.

Drinks on the terrace, then into the private dining room. The sunlight cast shadows from candelabras. Asparagus amuse bouche. Piglet with sweet onion, citrusy balsamic, crisp brown rice. Venison sausage and mashed potatoes. Beef with white asparagus and green bean puree. Hibiscus, rhubarb, matcha pudding.


Then bedtime, in my very wooden bed. A central wall in the room acted as a divider between the bedroom and the open bathroom. I only learnt that the table moved up and down the bed when I leant on it and it slid away from me. Split-second poltergeist moment there. After all the excitement I slept like a log (must have been all that wood!)


Huis Middachten was a delight to see. A fully working family estate, owned by the 25th Lord of Middachten, Count zu Ortenburg. Above the entrance the coat of arms reads ‘Malo Mori Quam Foedari’ (‘rather death than disgrace’).


Inside, a pair of beautiful wooden staircases swept upwards, luring us to look up at the Italian ceiling and take in its glorious form – like an elaborate blancmange mould. Rooms of traditional furniture, china, panelling and family portraits. Middachten happens to house the largest portrait collection in the Netherlands.

The gardens are very lovely, three centuries worth of design and care, and a dog cemetery. The Cedar of Lebanon, Weeping Chestnut, and male and female Ginkgo Biloba trees are a real treat to see. More roses – beautiful roses (54 varieties), rhododendrons, and so many lily pads on the moat, where frogs chirruped away at maximum volume. (Apparently the head gardener brought the frogs from home as they’d been bothering her husband).

We ate sponge cake with hot tea in the orangery. I got told off by the Count and his dog tried to put its football in my bag. A morning well spent.

Landgoed Hotel Rhederoord for lunch. I felt immediately at home, the hotel was luxuriously serene and welcoming. In the dining room the rain pelted the windows, blurring the view of the trees. We gathered round the long table and ate the best pork belly I’ve ever had, followed by veal and beef with broccoli puree. All absolutely delicious.

We went to one of the balconies and looked across the garden. Beautiful, even in the horizontal rain. Set in 15 acres of park and woodlands, the estate has its own farm and provides fresh vegetables through a Food Bank for 1500 families.

Not only does Rhederoord have an almost totally organic kitchen, but they also produce their own range of products – Water 159, bottled from their own spring (159m below ground), a blonde beer Het Geheim (The Secret) made using their spring water and delicate, smooth and delicious honey.

I definitely intend to go back. Come with me?

Kasteel de Haar is branded as Hollands’ one and only jet-set castle, aside from being the largest castle in the Netherlands, it’s selling point is that Brigitte Bardot, Coco Chanel and Yves Saint Laurent used to party here.

As we walked towards the ‘Medieval’ castle I couldn’t believe how immaculate it was, how polished and new it looked, like it was from a film-set, almost Disney. Turns out it was built in 1892. Yes, I could be a detective.

Baron Etienne van Zuylen van Nijevelt inherited the ruins of De Haar and when he married Hélène de Rothschild they decided to rebuild the castle. It is not known exactly what the original castle looked like (not like this!) but they brought in architect Pierre Cuypers (Rijksmuseum and Central Station Amsterdam) who went at it with elaborate Neogothic aplomb. The family threw in all mod cons (central heating, hot water, and electricity) and the castle became a place to entertain and party, used only one month each year.


240 rooms, huge fake fireplaces, 16th Century tapestries, ornate brass chandeliers, tiles and patterns and wood panelling. And an interesting bathroom with what looks like a cigarette burn on the bathroom scales (I blame Brigitte).

It’s a fascinating display of wealth and workmanship, but give me frayed edges and faded grandeur any day. Or maybe – just give me the garden.


Kasteel Kerckebosch for dinner and sleeping. Both a success.

Owner Ingmar Sloothaak dubbed it the ‘Culinary Castle’ and I like that. Best kind of castle (after ‘bouncy’, of course). Kerckebosch is a lovely building, not overstated, not oversized, just lovely and made up of a mixture of period and reclaimed materials from other buildings including churches, abbeys and castles.


The original owner, Egbert Lintelo de Greer, finished building in 1911, then in 1940 the castle became a hotel. Over time it became less cared for, and in 2015 the main facilities were refurbished and Kerckebosch was reopened, much to everyone’s delight.

Dinner in the orangery – a new addition to the building, and perfectly, simply, in-keeping. The menu was eclectic, something for everyone – lobster rolls, Gado Gado, Rendang, salmon poppadums’, and short rib beef with whiskey cola sorbet. Tasty.


A wonderful evening and a peaceful night’s sleep. I sleep best in castles after big dinners.

In the morning I was ready for croissants and more castles, but it was time to go home already. 48 hours of castles and country houses – not an endurance contest, but, if it was, I think I could be quite successfully placed in the rankings.

Back on the ferry, back to the peace and pastries of the DFDS Premium Lounge. We went up to the bridge, met the captain, watched the waves through the glass floor, asked questions about engines and fuel tank capacity. We looked at the refurbished public areas, the cakes and the healthy lunches, and mostly the carpets.

Always looking for carpets, cats, or combs, sometimes castles, cars and stray croissants.

DFDS operates services from Dover to Dunkirk and Dover to Calais, offering up to 54 daily sailings, with prices from £49 each way. All Dover-France ships feature a Premium Lounge, which can be booked for an additional £12 per person each way. Priority boarding is also available from £10 per car each way.

Slot Loevestein Loevestein 1, Poederoijen 5307 TG Gelderland

Landgoed Hotel Groot Warnsborn Bakenbergseweg 277, 6816 VP Arnhem

Landgoed Huis Middachten Middachten 3, 6994 JC De Steeg, Gelderland

Landgoed Hotel Rhederoord Parkweg 19, 6994 CM De Steeg

Kasteel de Haar Kasteellaan 1, 3455 RR Haarzuilens

Kasteel Kerckebosch Arnhemse Bovenweg 31, 3708 AA Zeist

More information on Dutch castles and country houses: www.holland.com/castles

With the greatest thanks to DFDS anVisit Holland for making this trip possible, and with whom I was a guest. As always, my opinions are my own (and my ability to lure other peoples dogs, something I might rely on for a future career).

Everyday Life: Interviews & Chocolate Crayons

I should write more often, because when I do, I like it. I like sharing stories – the good, the weird and the wonderful. I love to read back old blog posts. Notes to strangers become notes from my past self, and I am always grateful for them.

So, what can I tell you?

I was interviewed by the marvellous Loupe Magazine. I’ve read the article several times. You can read it too, it’s nice, I think so. (Read it here).

I was interviewed by Judith Weik at the Centre of Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities, Cambridge University, for their blog. (Read it here).

I made a cake that tasted like play doh smells.

Everything I Ever Learnt was a super success. An exhibition of photography at Cambridge University, a collaboration between Shutter Hub and Art at the ARB, that got some great media coverage, was received by its audience with kindness and intrigue, and had a private view that felt more like an exciting reunion of dear friends. It was so good actually, that we organised a closing event– a symposium of talks, print swaps, and an array of biscuits.

I was a guest on a BBC radio arts and culture show. This involved being wedged into a tiny room with four men and a euphonium. (Google euphonium and offer me sympathy and a free hearing test).

Everyone I know went to Japan (well, maybe not everyone).

I wrote Foodie Finds for Surf4, ate cherry cake and drank peach and elderflower iced tea.

Tutti Biscotti turned 12. She’s lived with us for two years now. We didn’t have a party as she doesn’t like a fuss.


I went to the Netherlands and ate chocolate crayons in my favourite hotel in Haarlem.

I gave a talk about photography in the marble-lined chapel of rest of an old pathology laboratory in Amsterdam. Probably one of the best sentences I’ve ever written.

I peered in windows and car-spotted in Rotterdam.

And I stayed in a mouldy hotel hovel in Amsteelveen.

Read the full story and glorious mouldy hovel low down here.

I signed up for the CEO Sleepout, again. Last year was a real experience and it feels important to be reminded. This year I am fundraising for Toiletries Amnesty and would really appreciate your support. Will you join me? If you don’t fancy sleeping outside on a wintery night, maybe you feel like sponsoring me to do it for you?

I’ll just leave my fundraising page here: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/karenharveyok



Holland: Return to Haarlem (Rotterdam, & Amsterdam)

The man behind me struggled to open his bottle of drink, knees digging hard into the back of my seat as he strained. ‘Shall we open the smoky bacon or the prawn cocktail?’ his companion asked, whilst rustling away with her grab-bags. Smokey bacon. The crunches and slurps were interspersed with a conversation on whether the pilot might actually be a woman. The consensus, before the slimming world recipes were discussed, was that they couldn’t possibly have a female pilot – because she would have mood swings.

Remind me something for the future – take noise cancelling headphones, even for short flights. Or, alternatively, some kind of appealing snacks laced with sedatives.

From Schiphol – two trains, full – to Haarlem. Lovely, kind and comfortable Haarlem.

Straight out of the station and into the sanctuary of Hotel Lion D’or. Relief. Soft bed, calm tones, clean air, and… what is this? Helma had left me a box of chocolate crayons in my room. Chocolate crayons. Heart eyes.

I chose to have a Tuesday night supermarket dinner – chicken salad, orange, chocomel (Someone had already had a go on my chocomel. Chocolate milk dreams ruined), and get an early night.

I slept well. I’ve been here before (one year and one week ago) and I settled back in nicely. I could live here. Contented hotel room dweller.

Observations on a Wednesday:

Breakfast ring doughnut (with jam inside).
Raining but not raining.
Joyful walking.
Hair clip purchase (in honour of Polly).
Good windows.
Quality pigeons.
Successful meeting (exhibition planning, sticky tape discussions).
Dinner with Ioana in Zandvoort.

On Thursday I took the train to Amsterdam. Last time I was here it was for the Shutter Hub OPEN, I walked past 5&33 Gallery, peeked in the windows at the people installing their exhibition, remembered we’ll be back there with another exhibition, sooner than we know it.

I walked across the city, comfortable with my inner compass, directing me toward my destination, where in just the last half a kilometre I needed my phones map for fine-tuned information. I know Amsterdam better than I know my closest city at home. I could live here – the Netherlands.

I reached the stone steps of LAB111, a cool cinema and restaurant venue, once a pathology laboratory for the university hospital. An art deco delight. We ate sweet potato fries with curry mayonnaise whilst a ginger cat did the rounds of the laps at our table. And then, I gave a talk about photography in the marble-lined former chapel of rest. These are the days.


In the morning we headed over to Rotterdam. Meetings full of excitement and promise, and eggs benedict at La Buvette. To the outskirts of the city to look at empty buildings, and then back to Amsterdam for my evening engagement – a talk at Paper Fetish. Chips and mayonnaise, good chats and hugs.


It was late when we drove out of the city and into the darkness of Amstelveen. Having checked out of the beautiful Hotel Lion d’Or in Haarlem, I’d been booked in at a surprise location.

I was dropped off at my room for the night, in a terraced house owned by Hotel Café Abina. Definitely not a hotel.

Abina hovel was unwelcomingly bleak, with stained carpets, and a stale scent of tobacco. The only thing that settled me was the smell of bread in the street.

In my room, a narrow corridor of two single beds, with a toilet and mouldy shower in the same space, I looked at my watch. Less than 7 hours to daylight. It’ll be fine. I slid the bed in front of the door and ‘slept’ in my clothes. As soon as it was light I was out, wandering the streets, breathing the fresh air, smiling at dogs, queueing for pastries at the French bakery on the corner.

I was relieved when Ioana came to meet me. We drove into Amsterdam and walked through Vondelpark before eating lunch in the sun. She showed me how as a child she would stick blossom petals to her finger nails as ‘nail varnish’, and then we watched two cyclists have an argument – shouting in Dutch, swearing in English. The Dutch swear in English! (I am already part way to speaking the language).

I came home with my brain full, a to-do list as long as my arm, and a great feeling joy and contentment. Lucky to do the work I love.

With the greatest thanks to Hotel Lion d’Or for hosting me for three nights in their beautiful hotel. As always, my opinions are my own (and my excitement over a ring doughnut with jam inside, expressed with absolute understatement).

Everyday Life: Exhibitions, Awards & Elvis

The past couple of months, for me, have been mostly filled with the preparations for Everything I Ever Learnt, the Shutter Hub exhibition opening this week at Cambridge University.

100 photographers from around the world, 158 stunning images, months and months of planning – hung in 10 hours, with 300+ squats, a time lapse video, and several cups of tea.

That image reminds me of something. It ignites a small flame that lights my way through the filing system of my mind. It brings me eventually to the hint of a memory, and that memory guides my interpretation of the image, influences my reaction, connects my thoughts and feelings, and threads them together, binding them into a new collection, to be drawn upon the next time something familiar arises.

Everything I have seen, felt, remembered,
everything, 
influences and informs every thought I will ever have.

I wrote that. Nice innit? Well, I think so. The exhibition is on until 3rdMay, and I would love you to see it. It’s all printed on newspaper.


I wrote about deleting my Facebook account and running free. It’s easy, just do it. You can read why I did it here.

I wrote Foodie Finds for Surf4 and included an amazing Easter cake called Colomba di Pasqua and a not-amazing drink called Ocean Bomb (but look at that cute packaging!)

I was invited to a cocktail party at the Canadian Embassy as part of London Fashion Week (I know, I think that’s strange too!) and it reminded me about the time I went backstage at my friends show and trapped a model in a lift door.

I did a track day at Cadwell Park.

I cut my finger on a book about communist era bunkers.

Someone sent me a photo of a squashed toad and said it reminded them of me.

Margaret laid her first egg of spring, and a mole delivered a beautiful piece of blue and white china to the garden.

I won a really special award – Digital Influencer of the Year at the Holland Press Awards. Super chuffed! I love The Netherlands.

I thought I was nominated for ‘best online article’ and when the names came up on the screen, mine wasn’t there. I thought to myself, Karen you’re a bell end! I must have somehow assumed that I’d been nominated – how embarrassing, what a total knobber! The awards moved on, I relaxed a bit, and then Simone Sagi from Visit Holland started talking about the Digital Influencer of the Year. I kicked Polly’s foot, ‘this sounds like me!’ I said, and then, it was me!

My acceptance speech amounted to three words, ‘This is nice!’ And, it really was nice.


I went to Derby. I took my own pillow. It was a success. I was really chuffed to be invited back to Format Festival to give portfolio reviews. It’s one of my favourite things to do – a 20 minute challenge where I sit with a stranger, check out their photography, and do my best to come up with as much advice and as many opportunities for them as I can muster.

On the opening night of the festival, it was late, I’d been watching an Elvis impersonator killing it (literally, whatever ‘it’ was he was karate-kicking it into oblivion) I walked back to my hotel, through the city centre. Ahead of me a woman was shouting. At first I thought she was on the phone, then I thought she was shouting at an invisible person, and then I realised – she was shouting at me! ‘You’re fucking kidding me. No fucking way. You’ve got to be fucking joking! Get away from me!’ She yelled. She thought I was following her.

I look like a stalker.

I also ate a miniature custard éclair and got given a Twix and a papercut of a myna bird.


I went on a mini-tour of the North West – Birmingham for meetings, Chester for some consultancy work with a hotel and restaurant, and Manchester, to speak at the art school.

And then I came home and watched Columbo on the tele.