Dr John Hawkins
Welcome to my bit of the Maison de Stuff,
home to a huge load of pictures,
and my daily blog.
My email address is as above - I've put it in an image in a vein attempt to reduce the amount of spam I get.
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Maison de Stuff
- Recent Entries:
- Back to Civilisation
Sunday in Herefordshire
Saturday in Herefordshire
London to Clodock
Sunday Morning with Grandma and Garden Centre
After School Ice Cream
Freeze Dried Roast Potatoes
More Cherry Blossom
The Bridge Inn
Dawlish and Cockwood
London to Devon
First Signs of Spring
Dimsum and the Wallace Collection
Hina Matsuri and Rosie's Birthday
Snowy Start to March
Even More Snow
Walking the Dog
The Green Dragon
Espresso and Negroni
Sleepover and Murger Han
A Teleporter has to be Invented
To Swiss Cottage and Back
Boozy Friday Afternoon
Afternoon Tea / Playdate
New Umbrella and Winter Lights
Haggis, Neeps and Tatties
Herefordshire to London
Boot and Flogger
Bec, Dave and Jessica in London
Back to London
Back to Tokyo
New Year's Day in Japan
Miyajima and New Year's Eve
Indian Food and Negronis
Yuda-Onsen, Hiroshima Winter Illuminations and Okonomiyaki
Christmas Day in Japan
Tokyo to Hiroshima
Saturday in Tokyo
Friday in Tokyo
Off to Japan
Tea with Friends.
Piebury Corner and Gilbert Scott
Lunch at Oliveto
Saturday in Abergavenny
London to Abergavenny
- Back to Civilisation
- [Monday 2nd April 2018]
Woke up to a dusting of snow on the ground in Clodock this morning, and sadly after one last breakfast had to pack up and leave the cottage. Drove over to Caerwent from there to visit Bec, Dave and Jessica. After that drove back to Bristol to drop off the car then got the train back to London.
- Sunday in Herefordshire
- [Sunday 1st April 2018]
Had the only good weather of the long weekend this morning, so made the most of it and did an Easter egg hunt followed by a walk in the surrounding countryside. Headed over to the Bell at Skenfrith for lunch with Vera, Robin, Robert and Louise, then had them all back to the cottage for tea afterwards. Final dinner at the cottage in the evening, followed by a final trip to the pub.
- Saturday in Herefordshire
- [Saturday 31st March 2018]
Breakfast at the cottage in Clodock, then went to have a look at the village shop in the next village up (Longtown), followed by lunch at the Carpenters Arms in Walterstone. Headed over to Abergavenny in the afternoon for tea with Vera and Louise, and to meet Louise's new dog Lily, about which Erika was very excited. Back to the cottage in the early evening, took Chie and Erika to see the Cornewall Arms before dinner, then baked potatoes for dinner at the cottage.
- London to Clodock
- [Friday 30th March 2018]
Got the train from London to Bristol in the morning. Had lunch in a yurt, then drove our hire car from there to Abergavenny, where we popped in to see Vera and Robin briefly, before stocking up on supplies at the Waitrose there and then driving to Clodock, where we'd be staying in a cottage the next three nights.
- Sunday Morning with Grandma and Garden Centre
- [Sunday 25th March 2018]
Spent the morning with Grandma (breakfast at a local cafe, food shopping in the local shops, then lunch at home) then waved Grandma off and Erika and I went to the garden centre.
- [Saturday 24th March 2018]
Went down to Guildford with Grandma Mary to visit Adrian, Liz and the kids.
- After School Ice Cream
- [Friday 23rd March 2018]
Took Erika for ice cream after school and met some of her friends from school in there.
- [Thursday 22nd March 2018]
Just one random picture of me giving Erika a piggy back at home.
- Indonesian Food
- [Wednesday 21st March 2018]
Went for Indonesian food with Chie at lunchtime.
- [Tuesday 20th March 2018]
Checking the buds on the cherry blossom and apple trees.
- Tap Shoes
- [Monday 19th March 2018]
Erika was given some tap dancing shoes by a friend.
- Freeze Dried Roast Potatoes
- [Sunday 18th March 2018]
I attempted to improve my roast potatoes, taking advantage of the snowy / icy weather to freeze dry them outside after the initial boiling. Only a marginal improvement.
- [Saturday 17th March 2018]
Erika had a friend from her first nursery come to visit Kentish Town for a playdate, starting with lunch at Wahaca.
- Birthday Cake
- [Friday 16th March 2018]
Had my birthday cake the day after my birthday.
- My Birthday
- [Thursday 15th March 2018]
Didn't want to make a particularly big deal of it this year after last year's effort, but it did seem like a good excuse to badger a few friends into going to Oliveto, my favourite restaurant. Fortunately they've recently started opening from 6pm (always used to be 7) so even though it was a school night it seemed just about workable to also include Erika in the proceedings.
After dinner we went to Olivogelo for dessert, then waved off Chie and Erika while the rest of us went for a post-dinner cocktail in the bar above Olivocarne (we were essentially doing a tour of Mauro Sanna's exmpire at this point), and then finally the three of us still remaining went for a final drink at the Duke of Wellington.
- [Wednesday 14th March 2018]
Held the inaugural session of the Pineapple Salon in the evening.
- More Cherry Blossom
- [Monday 12th March 2018]
More cherry blossom in the back garden today.
- The Bridge Inn
- [Sunday 11th March 2018]
Morning in Starcross, an early lunch at Grandad's house, then a quick visit to the Bridge Inn at Topsham on the way to Exeter before getting the train back to London.
- Dawlish and Cockwood
- [Saturday 10th March 2018]
Took the train to Dawlish, walked along the sea wall to Dawlish Warren, then went for a mini pub crawl in Cockwood.
- London to Devon
- [Friday 9th March 2018]
Got the train to Devon in the evening after work/school.
- First Signs of Spring
- [Thursday 8th March 2018]
First blossoms starting to come out on the little cherry blossom tree in our back garden.
- Piano Lesson
- [Monday 5th March 2018]
Erika had her first piano lesson today, and afterwards came home and did a bit of practice on my old piano keyboard (which I had been given for my birthday 15 years ago!).
- Dimsum and the Wallace Collection
- [Sunday 4th March 2018]
Went for dimsum at Joy King Lau then visited the Wallace Collection where they had some kid's activities.
- Hina Matsuri and Rosie's Birthday
- [Saturday 3rd March 2018]
Hina Matsuri (Girl's Day) in Japan so for lunch we had chirashi sushi with the Hina Matsuri dolls. In the evening we got a babysitter (!!!) and Chie and I went out for the evening to our friend's birthday party in Soho.
- [Friday 2nd March 2018]
Still snowy, so had fondue for dinner to warm us up.
- Snowy Start to March
- [Thursday 1st March 2018]
- Even More Snow
- [Wednesday 28th February 2018]
Really quite a lot of snow by today.
- More Snow
- [Tuesday 27th February 2018]
Quite a lot of snow today!
- [Monday 26th February 2018]
Started snowing a bit today!
- Walking the Dog
- [Sunday 25th February 2018]
Went to join our friends walking their dog on Hampstead Heath, which ended up partly retracing our steps from last Sunday morning.
- Turkish Food
- [Saturday 24th February 2018]
Went for Turkish food for lunch in Harringay (Haringey? I can never remember which is which), then visited friends for the remainder of the afternoon. In the evening I met up with Ricardo in Hampstead, then walked back home from there.
- Projector Disco
- [Friday 23rd February 2018]
Used the projector to make a disco in the lounge for Erika.
- Cocktail Cabinet
- [Wednesday 21st February 2018]
Went to Deptford to help Andrew move a cocktail cabinet.
- [Monday 19th February 2018]
A squirrel came into our back garden.
- Kenwood House
- [Sunday 18th February 2018]
Walked to Kenwood House, had lunch and looked around the interior.
- The Green Dragon
- [Saturday 17th February 2018]
I'd been given the daytime off from parenting as Chie and Erika were going to visit Japanese friends for the day, and so I decided to continue on my theme of weekend walks, ideally out in the country, time permitting, and ideally involving a pub. I'd been looking through CAMRA's inventory of historic pub interiors, focusing just on those "of national importance" within an hour's train journey of London, and so today settled on the Green Dragon at Flaunden.
This time was a bit too short notice to get any of my usual country pub going friends along, so was more of a solo expedition, but I didn't mind particularly - it takes the pressure off a bit actually - if the walk gets a bit long and boring or the pub ends up a bit underwhelming then there's nobody else to complain. Both of these criticisms would not have been entirely unfair if said of today's outing, as it turned out, but I was just happy to be out in the fresh air, with a little bit of a sense of adventure.
I started by getting the tube down to Euston, and from there the train to Hemel Hempstead. I was impressed by how a first class single was only about four quid more, and surprised based on that bargain price to have the first class compartment entirely to myself.
On arrival in Hemel Hempstead I changed into my walking boots - expecting quite severe mud (a prediction which turned out to be quite accurate) - and whilst the eccentric in me likes to doggedly wear brogues regardless of the setting there does come a point where the ability to consistently remain upright whilst proceeding at a reasonable pace seems quite desirable.
The first bit of the walk was possibly one of the nicest bits actually - Hemel Hempstead station is very considerately right at the edge of the town, so it only takes a few minutes before I got a sense of being in the countryside, following the Chilterns Way initially through woodland, past some quite attractive and surprisingly rustic looking dwellings, and then eventually out onto open fields. It was the open fields where the mud was particularly prevalent, and I have to admit after half an hour or so of open fields I was starting to get just ever so slightly bored of the terrain. It took about an hour and a half in total from Hemel Hempstead to Flaunden, and the timing worked quite well as I arrived at the Green Dragon just a few minutes before they opened at midday. Just enough time to change back into my brogues - partly out of consideration for the floor of the pub given how much mud my walking boots had attracted, but also of course because standards must be maintained.
I had planned to arrive early - partly just to make the most of the day so I could get back and spend a few hours with Chie and Erika later on - but also because I very much wanted to to bag a seat in the historic tap room - the sole reason for the pub's inclusion in CAMRA's inventory - and assumed all the locals would similarly pour in at midday with exactly the same thing in mind. I had perhaps slightly over estimated the demand, and was in fact the only customer in the pub for the entire duration of my visit. To that end, nice though the tap room was, I suspect I wasn't really seeing the pub in its best light, and it did feel ever so slightly sad in there in the absence of any other people. They weren't able to serve any food - "a problem with the chef" - and as I was actually quite hungry after my morning's walk I decided I should just have a quick pint and then head on to the backup pub I'd identified with exactly this sort of contingency in mind.
This middle leg of the day's walking, down the hill from Flaunden to Chenies, was a bit more varied and interesting than the latter part of the first leg. A welcome change from the seemingly endless open fields. There was a nice wooded section, and then a little bit along the river Chess, which was very pleasant. One final trudge across a field at the end of it brought me right into the back of the Red Lion.
The words "aukartic free house" on the exterior had perhaps set my expectations for something a bit more quirky and eccentric than the reality actually was. It was a fairly bland interior, and I decided instead to sit in the little courtyard at the side of the pub, which was pleasant enough. I had a sandwich and some chips for lunch, which was fine I suppose.
I decided after lunch to head back to London, as it turned out by this point the nearest station was Chorleywood - the birthplace of awful mass produced sliced bread, no less. This final leg of the walk was rather dull, mostly along a fairly main road, the sort where the verges either side are strewn with litter, presumably thrown out of moving cars. On arrival in Chorleywood I had a bit of time to kill before the next train so I took a quick look around the high street. It's not a very big place but has two independent bakers, which I found slightly ironic.
The train as it turned out was in fact the metropolitan line. It felt slightly surreal having walked 6 or 7 miles through the countryside to then tap in on an Oyster card reader.
- Espresso and Negroni
- [Friday 16th February 2018]
Worked from home, espresso in the afternoon, Negroni in the evening.
- Sleepover and Murger Han
- [Thursday 15th February 2018]
As it was half term Aiko and Mei had come to stay last night. For lunch I went for some Shaanxi Province food at Murger Han near Euston.
- [Wednesday 14th February 2018]
Lunch at the new Temple of Seitan branch in Camden (more like Kings Cross to me) then in the evening went for a drink with Benoit who was visiting from Paris.
- A Teleporter has to be Invented
- [Tuesday 13th February 2018]
A note Erika wrote.
- To Swiss Cottage and Back
- [Sunday 11th February 2018]
Walking seems to have become my new thing at the moment, since my trip to Herefordshire at the start of January. For some time now I've had a nagging concern that I really ought to do some kind of exercise, especially since moving from Pimlico, when my office was in Victoria, where at least I'd have a 30 minute round trip on foot to the office and back each day in the week, and on Saturday mornings we'd often take a leisurely stroll into the centre (by way of the Regency Cafe).
It's more like 45 minutes each way to the office now, and some parts of the route are frankly just a bit grim, so it isn't particularly enticing. Besides, for the past few months I've been working from home most of the time as I don't work with anyone who is based in London any more, and the office is in just about every possible way an inferior work environment to home.
So I am trying to at least get in longer walks at the weekends. For mental as much as physical health. I find a long walk a very effective way to clear my head and get a bit of time to myself during which I don't feel pressured to be doing something.
Ideally it would be a repeat of that transcendental stroll through the remote Herefordshire countryside on a crisp still morning with nobody else around, but the reality of living in fairly central London and not being regularly blessed with long periods of free time to get out of the city mean that I typically have to make do with either a very urban amble, or, the best compromise - a walk involving Hampstead Heath.
Today we were going to Swiss Cottage to visit Japanese friends of Chie's who had kids (who were therefore also friends of Erika's) for lunch. They'd been to our place around this time last year for lunch - when I took my first foray into sabrage and wanted to return the favour. As they lived near Swiss Cottage I decided to walk there and back. I did ask if Chie and Erika wanted to come with me but they didn't seem keen.
The most direct route suggested by Google Maps looked a tad dull so instead I diverted slightly to include the southern bit of the Heath. The route from home to the Heath has now become a very familiar one - I usually like to take in College Lane and Little Green Street. But then beyond the Heath the other side, into Belsize Park, took me back to what feels now almost like a past life - when I used to live there in 2000/2001. I walked past my old flat and got to reminiscing about those slightly strange days, approaching two decades ago now. There's that saying about youth being wasted on the young, and certainly Hampstead was wasted on me back then. I had no real appreciation for the finer things in life, no sense of what a desirable place that was to live other than when other people told me. I didn't really explore the surrounding area much when I was living there (as an example the Holly Bush is somewhere I only discovered when I moved back to London post 2007), spent most of my evenings when I was there cooped up indoors working on pet software projects, and often spent weekends back in Reading. What a waste!
Had a nice lunch with Chie's friends who were very hospitable, while Erika was kept entertained playing with their kids.
Then just after 4 I decided it was time to head home and did something like the same walk in reverse, albeit skipping Hampstead Heath on the way back. There was a nice symmetry to the photos I took on Little Green Lane and College Lane on the way back.
- Ice Skating
- [Saturday 10th February 2018]
Erika went ice skating, then we had dim sum.
- Boozy Friday Afternoon
- [Friday 9th February 2018]
Went for lunch with Ricardo, which turned into a boozy afternoon off work.
- [Thursday 8th February 2018]
Checked results of the other day's sabrage in the morning and then a late evening pint in the Pineapple with Jeremy.
- [Monday 5th February 2018]
Erika's friend came round for a playdate.
- Afternoon Tea / Playdate
- [Sunday 4th February 2018]
Our friends visiting from America came round for afternoon tea and a playdate.
- Harrow Inn
- [Saturday 3rd February 2018]
The run up to Christmas usually brings with it an increased interest in "quaint" pub outings from friends at work (well actually mainly just Andrew), which are then consistently a failure because either we ultimately deem the pubs not as quaint as we'd hoped they'd be or the rest of the group invited just doesn't really get what that whole expedition is about. The Christmas just gone provided one more in a long line of such failed outings, and the expectation for it to be a disappointment has now become part of the tradition.
Normally post Christmas interest in these kind of country pub jaunts then dries up from the others (again, just Andrew I suppose), and it's back to being something only I really seem to be keen on.
This year however interest in such pub outings continued on into the New Year, and with the added catalyst of our friend Gemma visiting from the US, and a general desire to make her regret her bad life choices (moving to the US) we thought a foray out into the green and pleasant land surrounding London to find some achingly nostalgic little corner of pub idyll would be just the ticket.
Possibly a further factor was that earlier in the week I'd been spending time uploading old photos which I'd never put on the web before including some of a visit to the Cherry Tree last millenium.
So I spent some time researching where to go and eventually found The Harrow Inn which satisfied all the requirements in terms of being convenient for everyone to get to, looking superbly unspoiled, and even not allowing kids inside (which had been the main failing of a previous Christmas pub outing - the incompatibility between family friendly country pubs and beered up potty mouthed Londoners). I then eventually remembered / discovered that this was a pub Dad had recommended to me years ago - I had made a map of a few of his recommendations, and the marker for the Harrow Inn came complete with notes from Dad:
"And one more... maybe the best for last... Steep near Petersfield... Harrow... something of the Cherry Tree character... used to serve beer straight from barrel."
So that was all very nicely book-ended.
I am pleased to report the Harrow Inn was, on our visit today, still spectacularly unspoiled, I imagine almost completely unchanged since Dad was last there (nearly 40 years ago?). It did indeed serve beer straight from the barrel, and did indeed have something of the Cherry Tree's character. The tiny "public bar" room was particularly special, although we only stayed there for our first drink, as I felt we might be intruding on the locals a bit, and I'm aware the volume of that particular coterie tends to get somewhat elevated after the first drink. Hard to put my finger on exactly why it was so special, maybe partly the proportions, maybe the big open fire and the contrast to the drizzle outside, but probably more than anything the sense of timelessness of the place.
We spent most of our time there in the tap room next door, which we mostly had to ourselves, and was still lovely in its own way. The beer was delicious. The food was great, no nonsense big heary Ploughman's lunches with homemade chutney and so forth. Both the landlady and the other lady behind the bar were really welcoming and friendly. It was absolute heaven.
Sadly we did eventually have to leave - less so because of any external pressures but like many old fashioned pubs they actually close between the lunchtime and evening "sessions" as I believe they are referred to in the trade. So we walked back into Petersfield. I had chosen a second pub in the town centre for this eventuality, but it wasn't very good to be honest - the Harrow Inn was a near impossible act to follow.
As is the "tradition" on these country pub jaunts with work friends (the precedent being two trips down to Nyetimber/Nutbourne) I had a quick dash around Petersfield town centre to procure a bottle of English sparkling wine (Hambledon on this occasion if I recall correctly) and a bag of chips to have on the train. With some curry sauce.
As I'd managed to be excused from parenting duties for the whole day, on return to London I proposed going for dinner, which a subset of us did (just me, Andrew and Gemma) but somehow that plan was manipulated into going to Deptford where Andrew lives. We had some sort of Indian food at a hipster-ish restaurant which I was left a bit confused by, followed by cocktails at a bar next to Deptford station, before I finally decided it was time to call it a day and head back home.
- Kings Cross
- [Friday 2nd February 2018]
A couple of early evening views from my office.
- [Thursday 1st February 2018]
- [Wednesday 31st January 2018]
- [Tuesday 30th January 2018]
- [Monday 29th January 2018]
Must have had Chinese food for dinner, followed by lychees for dessert.
- [Sunday 28th January 2018]
Didn't plan anything but Erika managed to see a few of her friends regardless.
- New Umbrella and Winter Lights
- [Saturday 27th January 2018]
Played with Erika t home in the morning, built a house out of cushions in the lounge.
Had lunch at home, then I was given some free time in the afternoon while Chie and Erika went off to visit friends. I addressed various items from my TODO list, got my hair cut, went and tried on another tweed suit and bought a new umbrella at James Smith. The previous one had finally broken last week after years of faithful service and neglect on my part (it was a bit rusty on the inside, which presumably contributed to one of the spokes breaking). Also popped into Fortnum and Mason for a flight of Charles Heidsieck.
Met up with Chie and Erika again in the early evening at Canary Wharf, as Chie wanted to see the Winter Lights display there. Unsurprisingly she was unimpressed compared to the recent illuminations we had seen in Japan, but it was something to do. I was reminded how fake and generally awful Canary Wharf, and so glad that unlike certainly other cities with a big finance industry presence how lucky we were in London to have pushed most of this out of the city centre.
While in the area we had dinner at the Canary Wharf branch of Ippudo. Part way through our meal the fire alarm went off and we all had to go and wait outside a bit. I suspect some diners just didn't bother returning. This seems to be a curse of modern buildings that they have overly sensitive fire alarms, the same thing seems to happen at my new office quite a lot.
- [Friday 26th January 2018]
We had been trying to make do for the last couple of weeks with whatever coffee beans we could get from our local shops, having just not been able to get round to going "all the way" down to Camden to buy the beans I really like, from George at Camden Coffee Shop, with his century old roasting machine. By today however I could suffer sub-par coffee no longer, and made a foray out at lunchtime to Camden to buy beans. I had about a half hour wait when I got there as George was busy packing a large order, but finally got hold of my kilo of beans and headed straight back home to make an espresso, which was excellent.
In the evening we had lazy fresh pasta from Marks and Spencer for dinner, with some bruschetta I threw together. The three of us played another game of bingo after dinner.
- [Thursday 25th January 2018]
Nominally bonus day at work today, although as always nothing even remotely in the way of festivities were evident at the office, and there seemed to be a collective feeling among the usual suspects that after the excesses of two years ago it would probably be best to just not do anything.
Erika had a friend round after school, so they had an early "tea" together, leaving Chie and I only needing to provide dinner for the two of us when it was our dinner time. As is often the case we decided as a result to order some Indian food. Later on Chie went to yoga, and when she got back we did a sort of baton pass and I went out to the Pineapple for a late night pint with Jeremy, something of a semi-regular fixture. We are currently discussing the idea of starting a salon, and this evening at the pub we deciding on what sort of format it should take, and trying to come up with potential themes.
- [Wednesday 24th January 2018]
Pasta for dinner. Played bingo with Erika in the evening, mainly intended as an educational activity for Erika (with the incentive of chocolate as prizes) but it was actually quite nice to do something the three of us could all play together.
- [Tuesday 23rd January 2018]
Went along to Erika's school for an hour in the morning to play "maths games" with Erika. None of the kids seemed to have much of an attention span although I suspect (hope?) they're a bit more focused when the parents aren't around.
Gemma was in London again, so we went out for the evening along with the usual suspects. We collectively have a long running campaign to try and persuade her to move back to London (she is currently residing in California), so semi-deliberately chose a route to Borough from Kings Cross involving a stroll along the river bank from Blackfriars to take in the scenery. We started at the George Inn, then proceeded to a German beer hall (based on an in joke where one of us will remonstrate the other for bad language with "we're not in a beer hall"), and finally went to a speakeasy type cocktail place across the road, for no other reason than it was close by.
- Sunday Roast
- [Sunday 21st January 2018]
Took Erika out to the Owl bookshop in the morning so she could use one of the book tokens she had received for Christmas. While there I also bought a copy of Nancy Mitford's Don't Tell Alfred, which generally seems to be considered a bit of a disappointment, but I am finding pleasant enough. Went for a Sunday roast at one of our nearby pubs which was so-so.
I was nominally granted some free time in the afternoon, although tempers seemed to be a tad frayed at home so this was somewhat under a cloud. I did eventually go out for a stroll but had to return home almost immediately as Chie had discovered a leak. It seems our upstairs neighbours had some faulty plumbing and so I had to go home and deal with that. All in all rather a damp squib of a Sunday.
- Dim Sum
- [Saturday 20th January 2018]
Chie went out for afternoon tea with her other Japanese Mum friends, which seemed to constitute the entire afternoon and even some of the morning.
In an attempt to keep Erika entertained on what was quite a damp and miserable day, I suggested we go for dim sum for lunch, which met with an enthusiastic response. So we went down to Joy King Lau, arriving just before midday so we wouldn't have to wait for a table. We had all our usual favourites (and I ordered almost as much food as I would have had all three had been there), and it was delicious as always. After that, as a special treat for Erika I took her to the M&M's shop, which Chie normally refuses to go into because she doesn't like the smell. It is a bizarre edifice, quite why this American confectionery needs to be celebrated so exuberantly in a prime location in London I do not know. Also as to why people will willingly hand over money for branded merchandise from key rings to cushions with the M&M logo on I also am at a loss - effectively paying to have advertising material in your own home. I managed to convince Erika that we only wanted some of the actual sweets and that was it.
We followed that with a visit to the Lego shop, which I was naturally much more keen on, albeit slightly disappointed that when I told Erika we could buy something small she chose a keyring rather than something we could actually build. It did have LEDs in though, so I could sort of understand the appeal.
Having bargained with Erika that we could go to some of the shops she wanted on the condition we could also go to the shops I wanted, we then went to a couple of shops to look at tweed suits. The first, Walker Slater, is my standard haunt, and we made this a quick-ish visit as they didn't actually have the suit I wanted in stock. After that we had to make a quick stop in a nearby coffee shop / barber shop, mainly so Erika could use the toilet, and I amused myself by asking the tattooed barber / barista / hipster if he could make a babycino for Erika. He replied with a completely blank expression.
The second tweed suit shop, somewhat more vintage / hipster leaning Thomas Farthing was a new one for me. I managed to bribe Erika into staying at the latter shop long enough for me to try on a suit with the previously acquired confectionery.
Headed home after that. In the evening Erika helped Chie cook dinner while I had what I considered to be a well earned rest.
- Charles Heidsieck
- [Friday 19th January 2018]
I had a rather unpleasant daytime thanks to a guy who rang the doorbell asking if we wanted any jobs doing in the front yard. I should have just sent him on his way but somehow a voice in my head told me I was being prejudiced because of his accent, plus I was caught off guard, then got sucked in by his sob story about his current woes in life, and stupidly agreed to let him do what I thought would be a couple of harmless little jobs out the front, but ended up just creating a lot of hassle and ultimately extra work for me to clean up the mess once he left, not to mention the constant interruptions while he was there. Very annoyed with myself.
To cheer myself up in the evening I went to Theatre of Wine and bought a bottle of Charles Heidsieck. Chie went out with friends in the evening, so I made dinner just for Erika and I. Macaroni cheese, at Erika's request. I think it was quite a good one.
- [Thursday 18th January 2018]
Chie went to yoga in the evening, marking the start of a three day run of me doing at least some solo parenting each day. Not much else to report.
- Haggis, Neeps and Tatties
- [Wednesday 17th January 2018]
The approach of Burns Night (which we didn't ultimately end up celebrating this year) planted the general idea of haggis in our heads, so we had recently acquired a vegetarian instance thereof, and tonight we ate it with the standard neeps and tatties. So I suppose you could probably call this a hat tip of sorts to Burns, albeit that it was just the three of us, and no whisky was consumed, nor any poetry recited. Erika seems to be a bit on the fence when it comes to her opinion on (vegetarian) haggis, we did manage to get her to eat a reasonable amount this evening but some coercion was required.
- [Monday 15th January 2018]
Chie and Erika doing a bit of yoga.
- Hampstead Heath
- [Sunday 14th January 2018]
Following on from my wonderful country stroll this time last week, I awoke this morning with a desire to do something similar, but eventually settled on the compromise of a walk to Hampstead Heath and back. I couldn't seem to persuade Chie or Erika to join me. It was a bit of a grey and dreary day, and hardly the most inspiring example I've ever seen of the views from Parliament Hill. The pleasantness of the whole endeavour was further diminished by the hordes of joggers hogging the paths and practically barging me into the undergrowth. However all of that aside I did feel some vague sense of worthiness for having made the effort to get out and have a walk.
- [Saturday 13th January 2018]
Christian, a friend from work, had mentioned yesterday that his wife was going to be away this weekend, leaving him to look after his 1 and a half year old daughter by himself, and he seemed to be displaying a tiny bit of apprehension about this prospect. So I gallantly offered my services to come and visit, with Erika in tow, and Erika would entertain Christian's daughter while I provided Christian with some grown-up conversation plus an excuse to open a bottle of wine.
I initially thought this might be a hard sell to Erika, but quickly she got a grasp of the scenario and commendably was very game about mucking in and doing her bit, despite not having met Christian's daughter before, and there being a bit of an age gap.
I think this plan broadly worked out well, and Erika did indeed play very nicely with Christian's daughter. After a while she did start to get a bit assertive though - having figured out what an extremely pleasant and courteous sort of a chap Christian is she eventually started ordering him about, deeming that he should transform his lounge into a makeshift disco. I of course was powerless to intervene, being merely Erika's father. Apparently Christian's daughter loved the disco so the greater good was served, and I hope we will be remembered, on balance, as good guests.
We had some very nice wine, Christian is something of an oenophile, and has been for a number of years I suspect (not a Johnny come lately like me). He is well aware of my obsession with Gevrey Chambertin, so had laid on what I thought was a particularly pleasant example, and conditioned well in his rather impressive cellar - a 2009 from Vincent Bachelet.
- [Thursday 11th January 2018]
Chie bought some new cushions for the bench in the lounge.
- Herefordshire to London
- [Sunday 7th January 2018]
I pride myself on thinking a lesser man might have got in a flap yesterday on realising that it wasn't going to be possible to get a taxi back to Leominster this morning, as none of the local taxi companies were working, it being a Sunday. Before I came on this trip I'd already considered the backup plan which was just to walk, it was, after all, "only" 6 or 7 miles.
It has become a bit of a tradition that many of my forays out into the countryside result in an extended and often unplanned walk, sometimes through challenging terrain, and not uncommonly with an element of a race against time, to get from one point of interest to another. Past examples include the time we went for the Nyetimber vineyard tour (which included clambering over barbed wire fences owing to getting a bit lost en route, having had far too nice a lunch at the Rising Sun beforehand), The Amberley outing (where the walk was necessitated by failing to get off the train in time at the correct stop), The Orchard Tea Garden in Grantchester (which would have been a pleasant stroll had it not been unseasonably warm and we had a 4 year old to carry most of the way), and most recently the foray to the Shipwright's Arms near Faversham (a trek through a rather bleak marsh, more a psychological challenge than a physical one on that occasion). My London friends have observed this trait of mine - when they are in tow on country jaunts it is usually me doing the planning - and tend to humorously refer to these engaging spontaneous perambulations as "death marches".
On previous occasions the requirement for timeliness has typically been around trying not to be late for a lunch booking, or in the case of Nyetimber a booked slot on a (much in demand) vineyard tour, which we were hopelessly late for, and they very kindly shifted us to the following one. However in this instance I actually had a train to catch, and the trains were not particularly frequent, such that missing this train would mean I wouldn't be able to take Erika to her friends birthday party as I had been requested to. So the stakes were pretty high. Google Maps had estimated it would take about 2 hours and 10 minutes to do the 6.7 mile walk. My train was at 9:55, but I really couldn't bring myself to set an alarm for before 7 o' clock, so by the time I'd had a shower and checked everything in the cottage was OK before locking up and leaving it was 7:30, giving me only a small margin for error.
It was not yet fully light at 7:30, the moon was still in the sky, and the sun had not yet risen. I quickly realised one potential pitfall (almost quite literally) - there was a frost on the ground, and in some places the road surface was actually quite icy. I was trying to walk quickly, but also very conscious of the fact my brogues weren't exactly designed for this sort of thing, and had no grip to speak of on the soles.
It was obviously a bit chilly, but I quickly found that the swift walking pace meant I was kept fairly warm, and even came close to taking my coat off at one point (given that I was wearing a three piece tweed suit underneath), but chose not to as it would have been a faff to carry.
I checked constantly on my progress on the map, and once I had done the first mile or so, and was starting to gain confidence I would make it in time, I started to realise I was actually really enjoying myself. I was experiencing the unfamiliar sensation of a positive reaction to doing physical exercise, rather than the usual response of just feeling uncomfortable and / or bored, I think probably because there was a meaningful goal associated with it. That coupled with the scenery - gradually seeing dawn break - and the sense I had the whole place to myself for what seemed like miles around made for a surprisingly nice experience.
I only met one other person walking the whole way, a chap out walking his dogs, and only a few cars.
I did, however, fall over at one point. I had been constantly keeping an eye out for ice patches and avoiding them as best I could, but this particular one caught me off guard, and over I went. It hurt a fair bit, but I just got straight back up and resumed walking, albeit at a slightly reduced pace for the next mile or so.
I arrived at the outskirts of Leominster just after 9, and realised I would have enough time to even stop for a quick breakfast, if I could find anywhere open. This wasn't initially looking too promising, it being a provincial town and a Sunday morning, but eventually I came to a coffee shop which was open, and therein hungrily devoured a croissant, and, oddly, one of those Portuguese custard tarts. I recall there used to be a family joke about going for a 10 mile walk or some such before breakfast, and here I had almost done exactly that. I felt incredibly contented with my achievement and enjoyed my breakfast immensely.
When I got up to leave though, I realised my feet were suddenly in searing pain. Somehow I found this pain, though quite intense, to be also quite hilarious. Presumably it was some combination of inappropriate footwear, insoles that had warn through, and walking hurriedly on tarmac roads whilst trying to avoid the ice patches. I'm not sure Google Maps's 6.7 mile estimate took into account the amount of zig-zagging I had to do to dodge the icy bits. I eventually developed a large blister on both heels. Still felt oddly exhilarated despite the pain though.
Arrived at LEominster with still a few minutes to spare for the 9:55, which happily was running on time (I was a bit sceptical, it being seemingly the first train of the day and everything), and the connection at Crewe was also without issue.
I read Country Life again on the way back and looked at the scenery which somehow seemed even more appealing than it had on the way here - perhaps just the weather? Normally on returning to London from just about anywhere else I have at least a bit of a sense of relief at returning to "civilisation" where all the things Londoners get snobbish about and/or take for granted will be in abundance (public transport, good coffee, and so on), but on this occasion I had a distinct sense of actually being a bit sad about leaving Herefordshire and the countryside in general.
Walked through my front door at 2pm. It occurred to me I had spent 6 and a half hours in transit from that little cottage in Herefordshire.
I was back in good time to take Erika to her friend's birthday party, which I did still wearing my tweed suit. Obviously I tend to wear tweed all the time in London in clear contravention of the "no brown in town" rule, but not very often the green suit, which I tend to save for the country. It was very gratifying to be able to tell people at the party, when asked, that I had just come back from Herefordshire and maintain a pretence, at least in my own head, that I had my country house there.
- [Saturday 6th January 2018]
I've been wanting to attend a proper wassail for a few years now - the closest thing I had been to was the one at Bankside, and while I think the group the runs that do put on a very good show, it is of course slap bang in the centre of London, so it isn't really quite the same thing, and of course there isn't even an orchard involved.
I had found out about this one before Christmas, and it seems that the Leominster Morris Men pick a different Herefordshire village each year, the requirements being simply that it has an amenable pub and an orchard nearby. Having spent Christmas in Japan before, I knew I would get to the end of the festive season and feel I'd sort of missed out somehow, so this seemed like a good remedy - the wassail being traditionally held on twelfth night.
I had asked Chie and Erika if they'd like to come, but they didn't seem keen, Erika in particular wanted to stay in London as she had two of her friends' birthday parties to attend this weekend. Not to mention that the thought of all the extra travel so soon after getting back from Japan, only to stand in a dark, cold and possibly wet field watching old men clack sticks together may not have been an entirely irresistible proposition. I rather felt I deserved to have a bit of time doing exactly what I wanted to do, so I just decided to go anyway. I did also ask a couple of the usual suspects from work but they all rather predictably balked at the idea of anything involved Morris dancing. I increasingly realise I actually like time by myself, and in particular my little solo jaunts - sadly quite a lot of my interests don't seem to intersect with anyone else I know, or if they do it's just too hard to find times when we're mutually available, and there's a whole bunch of things I would just never do if I relied on having somebody else to go with.
So this morning I donned my most countryside-ish tweed suit (which of course nobody actually living in the countryside would wear anything like, but I like to maintain the ridiculous pretence of it), packed an overnight back, and headed down to Euston, picking up a copy of Country Life, to get the train to Leominster. To my surprise the suggested route was to go up to Crewe, which overshoots Leominster by some distance, and then get a local train back down from there to Leominster. It was about three hour journey. I sat in First Class for the first leg, reading my copy of Country Life, and it was very pleasant. No First Class on the second train, but still pleasant enough watching the scenery go by.
On arrival in Leominster I had still not, as yet, figured out how exactly I was going to get from there to the village of Dilwyn, where the wassail was to be held, some 6 or 7 miles away. I had perhaps rather naively hoped there might be a taxi rank at the station. There was not. I thought that was perhaps just as well, as I did need to stock up on supplies, given that there isn't a shop in Dilwyn. So I had a bit of a meander around the town, keeping an eye out for any obvious taxi offices as I went, and then eventually just decided to head to the slightly out of town supermarket, stock up on whatever victuals I might need for the rest of the day, then managed to call a taxi from there.
I inquired of the taxi driver whether they'd be able to pick me up again the next morning, but apparently they wouldn't be working, it being a Sunday. No matter, I thought, I'm sure one of the other local taxi companies would be able to.
Anyway, I arrived in Dilwyn around 3:40, found the cottage where I'd be staying for the evening - which was small but well equipped - and then had a little wander round the village. This took all of about five minutes - and the place looked completely deserted - there was the pub, a church, and that was pretty much it. No real signs at the pub that there was going to be a big event on the evening, so I did check on the web a couple of times to make absolutely sure I was in the right place.
I decided to settle into my cottage for a bit, tried in vain to find a taxi company in the area who was actually going to be working tomorrow morning, then set about making dinner. I had just bought lazy things from the supermarket which only need bunging in the oven but still felt a sense of achievement at being able to prepare a meal in unfamiliar surroundings, in the middle of nowhere, and the end result was actually quite nice.
The cottage was very close to the pub, and from about 6:30 I started being able to hear a bit of a hub-bub outside. A short while later I actually ventured outside and the contrast from the deserted village I had arrived at earlier was quite striking - suddenly there were about a hundred people outside the pub.
There was some amount of milling about, and I took the opportunity to try and get pictures of some of the Morris Men while they weren't busy. I thought their outfits were rather impressive. The proceedings eventually got underway around 7:30, when the squire stood on a bench and addressed the crowds, and torches started to be lit.
The assembled throng - now probably in the region of 300 people - then processed from the pub to the orchard, about a 10 or 15 minute walk away. There was a slight incline on the road, and looking back down the hill seeing the stream of torch bearing locals was quite a sight to behold - and I imagine would have been quite unnerving if you'd come across it by chance without knowing what was going on.
On arrival in the orchard, the Morris men gathered in the centre around the particular tree chosen for the ceremony, while the throng formed a large circle around it, where there were bonfires to be lit with our torches. As the orchard filled with smoke and firelight there was quite an atmosphere. I couldn't make out everything the Morris men were saying, but understood broadly they were blessing the tree, asking for a good crop of apples next year, and so on. Some dancing then ensued.
It was a wonderfully clear night, and on the way back to the village I saw a shooting star. It was quite magical.
Once back at the pub the Morris Men performed their Mummer's Play, which, as is the tradition, is an odd mixture of ancient British legends (St. George and the dragon, etc) and topical references to current affairs. There then followed more Morris dancing outside the pub, including some audience participation, before those remaining retreated back inside as it was getting a bit cold. My feet were particularly chilly, and I decided to pop back to my cottage for a little bit, to avail myself of both my own private toilet (there were queues for the pub toilets) plus the underfloor heating to thaw out the paws a bit.
Tempting though it was to just call it a night and stay inside my very cosy cottage, I forced myself to head back to the pub for a last half hour or so. The Morris men were doing spontaneous bouts of music and singing, just as the mood took them, not a set performance on a stage, just standing among the other patrons of the pub. It's impossible to imagine something like that happening in London, and although it's a long time since I've deliberately chosen to go and listen to any kind of live music, I thought it was really rather special. I chatted to one of the Morris men between songs, I didn't have to tell him I had come up from London as he could tell from my ridiculous "this is what people in London think people in the country wear" attire - which these days is even one more level removed from that, as I'm seemingly the only person left who goes along with the silly charade, so it's more like "this is what people in the country think people in London think people in the country wear". I mentioned that I had been an apprentice for a little bit on a Morris side my Dad was on, which was nice as he told me the apprentice on their side was in fact his son. The few songs I could remember the names of from that time he had heard of too, and was able to play a few notes of on his fiddle. He said surprisingly there are in fact Morris sides in London, including the Hammersmith Morris Men, who are pretty well regarded.
Eventually I headed back over the road to my cottage and went to bed, knowing that, having failed to find a taxi company who were actually working, that I had an early start and a long walk ahead of me!
- Boot and Flogger
- [Friday 5th January 2018]
Evening at the Boot and Flogger with the usual suspects.
- Bec, Dave and Jessica in London
- [Thursday 4th January 2018]
Bec, Dave and Jessica were in London for a couple of days and came to visit us in the evening.
- Back to London
- [Wednesday 3rd January 2018]
Flew back to London today.
- Back to Tokyo
- [Tuesday 2nd January 2018]
Said our goodbyes in Hiroshima in the morning and took the shinkansen to Tokyo where we'd be staying for our final night of this trip. Went to a Japanese culture festival in the early evening where Chie and Erika tried on kimono.
- New Year's Day in Japan
- [Monday 1st January 2018]
A relentless onslaught of Osecchi Ryori, the traditional food eaten at New Year in Japan.
- Miyajima and New Year's Eve
- [Sunday 31st December 2017]
I took Erika to Miyajima in the afternoon, then spent New Year's Eve in front of the telly with Chie's family.
- Not Much
- [Saturday 30th December 2017]
Didn't really do much today. Bit of Lego in the morning, I tried to do a a bit of a programming project in the afternoon but it wasn't very successful.
- Indian Food and Negronis
- [Friday 29th December 2017]
Went on a quest to find a decent espresso in Hiroshima in the morning, then had lunch at an Indian restaurant. In the afternoon went to the discount liquor store near Chie's family home and bought the requisites for making a Negroni.
- Pizza Riva
- [Thursday 28th December 2017]
Lunch at Pizza Riva with Chie's aunt.
- Yuda-Onsen, Hiroshima Winter Illuminations and Okonomiyaki
- [Wednesday 27th December 2017]
Spent the morning in the Yuda-Onsen, some of it at a particularly nice foot spa / cafe. Headed back to Hiroshima in the afternoon, saw the Hiroshima winter illuminations in the early evening then had okonomiyaki at Nagata-ya for dinner.
- Yuda Onsen
- [Tuesday 26th December 2017]
Went to stay for a night at the Yuda Onsen in Yamaguchi.
- Christmas Day in Japan
- [Monday 25th December 2017]
Opened some presents in the morning. Lunch in the food court at the local shopping mall (how wonderfully festive!), then back at the family home for the remainder of the day.
- Tokyo to Hiroshima
- [Sunday 24th December 2017]
Breakfast in Tokyo, then took the Shinkansen to Hiroshima in the afternoon. In the evening had Christmas cake with Chie's family.
- Saturday in Tokyo
- [Saturday 23rd December 2017]
Explored the local area around our hotel a bit in the morning, then in the afternoon I headed over to Asakusa to meet Tanaka-san.
- Friday in Tokyo
- [Friday 22nd December 2017]
Landed at Narita in the morning, had an early lunch at a kaiten sushi place in the airport, then got the train to central Tokyo and checked into our hotel. I slept for a couple of hours in the afternoon, then in the evening we went out for dinner at a rather lavish tofu restaurant called Ukai, next to Tokyo Tower.
- Off to Japan
- [Thursday 21st December 2017]
Flew off to Japan today for Christmas and New Year.
- [Monday 18th December 2017]
Dinner with local friends in the evening.
- [Sunday 17th December 2017]
A foray out to a remote country pub - the Shipwrights Arms, in the middle of the marshes near Faversham.
- Tea with Friends.
- [Saturday 16th December 2017]
Lunch at our new local vegan Ethopian cafe, then afternoon tea with our friends visiting from the US.
- Piebury Corner and Gilbert Scott
- [Friday 15th December 2017]
Friends visiting London from the US, took them to Piebury Corner and then cocktails at the Gilbert Scott.
- Lunch at Oliveto
- [Thursday 14th December 2017]
Went to the dentist and had lunch at Oliveto: white truffles!
- Pub Lunch
- [Tuesday 12th December 2017]
Lunch at the Pineapple.
- [Monday 11th December 2017]
Just one picture of Erika having an ice lolly.
- [Sunday 10th December 2017]
Woke up in Abergavenny to quite a lot of snow! Consequently had to leave Abergavenny a bit earlier than originally planned for fear of getting stuck.
- Saturday in Abergavenny
- [Saturday 9th December 2017]
Went for a walk in search of snow in the morning, then spent the remainder of the day indoors with family at Vera and Robin's house.
- London to Abergavenny
- [Friday 8th December 2017]
Got the train from London to Abergavenny after Erika finished school.
- [Wednesday 6th December 2017]
Went to the Kerb steet food market in Kings Cross for lunch and was pleased to see a longer queue at the vegan stall than any of the others.
- [Tuesday 5th December 2017]
Had some Chianti with dinner.
- [Sunday 3rd December 2017]
Wahaca for lunch.
- Winter Wonderland
- [Saturday 2nd December 2017]
Took Erika and her friend to Winter Wonderland.
- Holly Bush
- [Friday 1st December 2017]
Annual festive quaint pub outing (number 1 of 2 this year).