All posts by karen

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.

Delete Your Facebook Account and Run Free


At the beginning of the year, nothing to do with resolutions but more to do with the holiday downtime and opportunity to think, I decided to leave Facebook.

I deleted the app from my phone at first. For a day it felt like something was missing. For a week l left it and realised, there were only a handful of people who I was in touch with on Facebook and nowhere else. I messaged them, exchanged details, exchanged lovely conversations via iMessage, and, was nearly tricked into thinking I should stay on Facebook. But no, this was me taking the time to reach out personally, and this is the way it should continue.

People told me things like ‘Wow bold move!’ and ‘I really wish I could’! as if I had announced I was moving to the other side of the world or signing up for a marathon.

I’d noticed the pattern: pick up phone – check email – check Instagram – check Twitter – check Facebook – lose hours looking for something of genuine interest.

I’d thought that I was staying on Facebook  as a means of keeping in touch with friends, but I realised, I wasn’t communicating, just scrolling endlessly for something worthwhile, and, when I found it, brain too exhausted from reading rubbish to have the energy to write anything of value… tap… I communicated my response through a picture of an approving ‘thumbs up’, or even a ‘heart’, if you were lucky. How is that social?

It wasn’t easy to leave. Not for any sentimental or social reason, but because Facebook make it pretty difficult to do so. It’s designed to keep you there, to keep you scrolling. To keep you looking for something uplifting that will give you that endorphin boost.

Post something and keep fingers crossed for multiple likes and a dopamine hit.

Not anymore.

In an ideal world I’d just socialise, in the real world. But there’s not time for all of that, and it’s hard to get together with everyone. I like sharing stories and images, and always have since before the internet, when I was a child that wrote letters, and postcards, and made telephone calls whilst sat on the bottom stair.

Telephone calls. Why not? What an advancement the telephone was, yet we’ve gone back to one line (if you’re lucky) ‘telegrams’ through Facebook.

Facebook is training us to care less, scroll more, and forget how to properly communicate with our friends.

Remember those coverall emails or photocopied round-robin letters that people used to circulate at Christmas? We thought they were impersonal and almost an insult to receive, but now you’re happy with a digital thumbs up? There’s some psychological conditioning there!

The alternative to keeping in touch or performing to a large audience, (which is essentially what you’re doing on Facebook, don’t kid yourself that it’s personal), is obviously to use other social platforms like Instagram (or MeWe?) but if you want to share a lot, like me, what’s wrong with a newsletter?

When we were all desperately unsubscribing from mailing lists to get towards the Mecca of inbox zero and free up our time, we didn’t stop to think what we’d do with that time – scroll social media searching for interesting content that speaks to us.

Why not sign up for that newsletter instead? Everything in one place, a quick skim for the bits you’re interested in, just delete it if it feels too much, or save it to a folder and read it on a quiet evening, instead of clutching at your phone every five seconds to see if someone’s posted something of value, shared a new meme, or liked your cat picture (they used to love my cat pictures!)

For me, this is the way forward. Although I have every intention of starting the ‘anti-email party’ I also would rather be free of Facebook and receive a compact digest of news. Bring back the round robin! (Ah, cute!)

Would you like to join my mailing list? I’ll send you good things every now and then.

Everyday Life: Cats, Cars & Condiments

Welcome to 2019. I’ve not left the country since last year, but I have left the house, so that’s a bonus. Here’s the lowdown on where my January went. Spoiler alert: there are no gym memberships, new years resolutions or diets here…

I have eaten a lot of condiments. I could pretend it’s in the interests of research, but really it’s because I just like sauce. You can read more about Remoulade and Black Garlic Ketchup in my latest Foodie Finds for Surf4.

I had my first ever Five Guys. Yeah, whatever. It’s interesting that they cook their fries in peanut oil though.

I made cauliflower porridge. I won’t be making cauliflower porridge again.


I deleted my Facebook account. I’d been thinking about it for ages, I kept it for so long, thinking that I didn’t want to lose touch with people, but in reality I wasn’t really keeping in touch with people, I was just scrolling and tapping a picture of a thumb every now and then. What an absurd use of time!

I joined the library. This has meant a flurry of reserving random books for 60p a go and hopefully waiting for an email to say they’ve arrived in Norfolk and can be collected. More waiting than books at the moment, but it’s early days.

My super hair friend reinstated my protective fringe helmet and worked hard to make me look tidy and smart. Then I lost part of a pretzel in my hair whilst trying to scratch my head with it.


Tutti Biscotti started a plant stall, she’s not been able to push her cart over the door threshold yet, but give her time and I think she’ll have a thriving business, or turn it into a bar cart.

The Toiletries Amnesty was featured in both Health Triangle and Amber magazine, and Dominique from That New Dress did a fantastic ‘beauty clear-out’ vlog explaining the whole process of donating toiletries, on her YouTube channel.

I was quoted in El Pais, in an article about Gorjuss artist Suzanne Woolcott, who, many years ago I discovered through eBay and gave her her first solo exhibition. She’s created an amazing empire, self-taught, against adversity, and I think she’s all the aces!

Thomas Cook quoted me in this ‘Insiders View’ on Italy in September.

My article on Cheese Valley has been shortlisted in the ‘Best Online Article’ category in the Holland Press Awards. I’m really chuffed, it’s obviously fabulous to be recognised, but also, that article stemmed from such a bonkers and brilliant trip that I am just glad to be reminded of it as often as possible.

We went to IKEA and a display of toilet brushes collapsed on Adam.


Shutter Hub launched the Shutter Hub Membership Bursary Fund which will be made available to photographers who are on low income and would benefit from the opportunities Shutter Hub offers. Photographers will be able to apply or nominate other photographers to receive this bursary.

Two Shutter Hub exhibitions came to a close – Out of the Ordinary in Fleet Street, London, and OPEN 2018 in Amsterdam. The next exhibition, Everything I Ever Learnt, will launch in April at Cambridge University.

I was a judge for the British Photography Awards and therefore invited to the ceremony at The Savoy for an unusual pot-luck dinner  (I had noodles, rice, chilli chicken, rocket and mozzarella salad, ‘parisian’ potatoes and a lamb chop!) We’d been prewarned not to disturb the celebrities and high-profile guests. I wondered who they could be. My money was on David Dickenson, but it turned out to be Anthea Turner, a retired page 3 girl and the guy who played Nick Cotton in Eastenders.

I had a quick blast in a Jaguar F-Type R super-charged beauty at North Weald with Experience Megastore and a cup of tea in a double decker bus.

I did a Car Limits Driver Training Day at North Weald too. It was minus five when I left the house, dark and early in the morning. It was bitterly cold, the ice stayed around all day, and I expect everyone thought I was a thermal underwear sales person the amount I banged on about my long johns.

And, I finally finished putting some tyres to their test as part of a collaboration with Bridgestone. I wrote about it here, Tyre Trials: Bridgestone Weather Control A005.


Someone told me recently that they’d like to be reincarnated as a cat. I thought maybe a cat too, but then I thought, no, blackbird! They sing beautifully, dress well and they are still out exploring in the evening as the light fades.

There was a bald blackbird living round here before, and whilst I can’t 100% confirm its identity, I am pretty sure I saw him with hair the other day.

Please tell me what creature you’d be reincarnated as, and why – this could be the most beautiful comments stream ever!

Tyre Trials: Bridgestone Weather Control A005

This is a sponsored post. Scroll to the bottom of the page for full details.
I’d been waiting for it to snow. Wishing, waiting, watching, refreshing the BBC weather app. I didn’t want to go and do handbrake turns in Tesco carpark (I did) I just wanted to put my new tyres through their final trial.

Last year Bridgestone invited me to test tyres with them at Donnington Park race circuit. They were working with their Turanza T005 and developing the new Weather Control A005. I got to join a bunch of other drivers and throw a brand new, Bridgestone clad, VW Golf around a wet track. I also got a sausage sandwich.

The tyres were amazing, grippy and predictable. But, what would they be like on an older car, one without a super shiny clever computer, one that was almost 20 years old?

I absolutely love this car. Some might call it a banger, but I call it a design classic (I also call it Richie, but that’s another story). £150 of joy and the longest 3rd gear you’ll ever find.

In 2001 the Golf Mk4 was the best-selling car in Europe and I can see why:

Turbo p-p-power.
Cassette deck (and CD player).
Walnut trimmed dashboard for added style and class.
Twin cup holder for garden centre pot plants and chai lattes.

I’d been tolerating terrible tyres for too long. I must admit I found it pretty funny how much they would squeal round corners on a hot day, but adding time onto my journeys if the weather wasn’t perfectly dry, and slip-sliding all the way to my destination in the wet, wasn’t ideal (or safe), even if I do like a challenge.

I was given the opportunity to put the Bridgestone Weather Control A005s on my old Golf and I was totally up for it. I was interested to see how they’d perform, especially in comparison to the new Golf I’d driven at Donnington.

So, here’s my five-line, key-point, review of Bridgestone’s all-season touring tyre:

Loads less road noise.
Incredibly improved braking.
Superb grip in all weather (even wintery conditions).
Much better cornering, less understeer.
The car  generally drove much more smoothly.


Today was the last test. After a couple of weeks of driving in sub-zero temperatures, on black ice and muddy Fen roads, the snow finally arrived. It was a winter wonderland out there!

The roads were wet, snow covered and icy in patches, and in all honesty, I couldn’t tell. I do spend a lot of time driving, on the road and the track, so it’s not that I’m totally oblivious, it’s just that these tyres are amazing, like, truly amazing. No one paid me to say that. I take your safety seriously.

I’m not an expert at technical details and scientific explanations, I could try to explain, but I won’t – Bridgestone say it better:

‘The tread design features a V-shape layout, innovative ‘Z’ side shape and high-volume slots in the shoulder of the pattern. It works with the optimised body construction and contact pressure distribution to ensure the tyre performs to the expectations of end-users in terms of grip, fuel efficiency and wear. The use of Bridgestone’s proprietary Nano Pro-TechTM technology and a high silica content further support the performance of the tyre. The longevity of tyre is also extended to make sure the tyre lasts for longer, no matter the road conditions, driving style or frequency of driving.’

I’ve been driving on these tyres for a couple of months now, and I’ve not got complacent, they are still impressing me every time I get in the car and head off across the Fens – along mud covered roads and beside long deep ditches, with that feeling of nostalgic freedom that only an old car and a cassette player can provide. I absolutely love this car!


This is a sponsored post. I was a guest of Bridgestone at Donnington Park last year and they gave me a set of Bridgestone Weather Control A005 tyres so that I could try them out and write about them, if I chose to.  This post contains affiliate links. As always, my opinions are my own. I take this super seriously and would never compromise your safety for my gain.