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:
- At a Loose End
Minor Accommodation Success and Chinese Food
Working The Weekend
Washing Up and Tapas
The Night Before The Burns Night
It's Official - Rents in London ARE On the Decline!
A Brief Epiphany
Kensington and Chelsea
The Least Memorable Week In... Err, Memory
What's the Difference Between a Veranda and a Balcony?
Regret Over Curry Recommendation
Back on the Bike
Fitzrovia and Soho Pub Crawl
Two Year Anniversary
Back to Work
Day of Nerdiness
Tea, Coffee, Sake
In Search of Mochi
New Year's Eve
- At a Loose End
- [Friday 30th January]
I'd mentioned to a colleague at work that I'd worked through most of the previous weekend, and he'd said he didn't think that really paid off in the long run - by the end of the following week you tend to be worn out and unproductive. I think there was definitely some truth in those words. Whilst I think I'd put in a Herculean effort on Monday of this week, from then on my productivity seemed to take a definite downward spiral. Wednesday had been spent fire fighting, and I've generally found the sense of panic on days like that is a good motivator, but after that the last couple of working days of this week had certainly not been among my most productive. I found myself tinkering with things and finishing off odd loose ends rather than getting my teeth into anything substantial.
So I think a proper rest is very much in order this weekend.
I'd originally half planned to meet up with my friend Michelle in the evening, but ultimately that never really materialised. So at the end of the working day, after a short time at the usual beer-and-pizza thing, I just headed home. However, Chie had a couple of her friends round, and I felt a bit in the way, so I took the rather unusual step of going back to work for a bit. I wish I could say I was incredibly productive in those few hours I spent at the office, which might otherwise have been frittered away in a pub somewhere, but in reality I ended up just doing more tinkering, and poring over charts and graphs, trying to make some sense of the crazy mass of numbers which collectively make up my job.
I eventually headed home around 10:30, Chie's friends were still there so I attempted to make myself scarce, to the extent that this is possible in a one bedroom flat.
- Minor Accommodation Success and Chinese Food
- [Thursday 29th January]
A thankfully much quieter day at work than has been the norm for most of this week. Had a "postmortem" meeting for yesterday's fire, which I think helped to bury hatchets etc quite effectively. I have to admit I had got quite wound up by the whole incident yesterday - it's never nice to feel like you're taking the blame for something which is clearly someone else's fault - but I think I'm over it now.
In other news, I finally got round to phoning back about our accommodation situation (having last week been left somewhat undecided after they'd tried to slip in unwelcome clauses to the renewal contract). I managed to persuade them to abandon this silly notion of a fixed 12 month contract with no break clause, and still accept a drop in the rent. Of course, you never really get the upper hand with these sorts of people - they're probably only being so accommodating (if you'll pardon the pun) in the first place because they're struggling to find tenants at the moment, but still I feel a minor sense of achievement in having successfully negotiated a reduction in our current rent. Especially as they'd initially sent us a letter saying they wanted to increase it "in line with market conditions". Cheeky blighters!
This time last year I'd received a pay rise which was almost entirely swallowed up by the increase in rent (see here). As you can imagine that had left me feeling somewhat crestfallen. By contrast, at the start of this year I received a similar pay rise, but the rent has actually gone down, so I feel rather pleased with myself.
In the evening I fancied Chinese food, so met Chie near my office and we went to a Chinese restaurant we'd been to a couple of times before, which does a surprisingly good range of interesting vegetarian dishes (of the "mock meat" variety). That was all rather nice.
- [Wednesday 28th January]
Bit of a software related disaster at work today (we tend to refer to these incidents somewhat over-dramatically as "fires"). A component owned by our project had managed to crash a shared piece of infrastructure used by a lot of other products at the company. Whilst this didn't really have anything to do with me, I inevitably become embroiled in the firefighting that ensued.
Quite a stressful day really - tempers were definitely getting a little frayed, which is very much a rarity at my place, but we did eventually get everything back up and running, and when all the dust had settled it appears the impact was probably not too severe. More loss of face than loss of revenue.
What with working lots of long hours (and the desire to go out in the evenings on occasions when I don't have to work long hours), it seems as though I haven't been cooking much recently. I feel a definite sense of duty to cook a nice meal for Chie once in a while, so today I profited from the fact she went to her Wednesday yoga class to knock up a whole three courses - a mozarella and tomato salad to start, followed by a lasagne, then raspberries and cream for dessert.
- Mark Fisher
- [Tuesday 27th January]
Had a much more reasonable day at work today, and left not long after 6. I was keen to get away from the office, but also didn't really feel like going home. So instead I called Chie and arranged to meet up for dinner, then headed into the centre of London - on foot, and had a pleasant stroll along the edge of Belgravia up to Marble Arch, and from there along Piccadilly.
I decided to try out another new pub from my recently compiled list of London pubs I'd like to visit. This time I thought I'd give The Guinea a go. It was rather nice - apparently parts of it date back to the 17th century, and, like many of my favourite pubs of late, it was tucked away down a quiet little mews, in a rather grand residential area (in this case, Berkeley Square). Nice decor inside, I particularly liked the Vanity Fair caricatures (they had some by Leslie Ward who had drawn the caricature of my favourite gin distiller Sir Frederick Seager Hunt, of which I'm a proud owner of a print. So that was a nice start to the evening.
I then wandered from there to Covent Garden, where I met up with Chie. I fancied some Belgian beer and frites, so we decided to try out Lowlander, a Belgian/Dutch café. I wasn't hugely impressed - the frites weren't particularly marvellous - but I suppose it was a bit different at least.
The rather obscure title for this entry, incidentally, enters the evening at this juncture, and has no real relevance other than it was a little bizarre and caught my attention. When it came time to pay the bill in this place, I pulled out a £20 note which I'd got out from a cash machine just an hour or so earlier on. Quite inexplicably, someone had written "Mark Fisher" on one edge of it.
Having just had a bowl of frites we were still very much in the market for a proper dinner, and so decided to head out from there for a wander to see what we could find. After a short walk we happened upon Great Queen Street, which Time Out describes as (rather irritatingly) a "Gastropub", although to me was more of a bistro.
Anyway, catering nomenclature aside, it was very good. Quite an upmarket sort of atmosphere in there, the staff all seemed genuinely happy (a rarity in the UK), and the menu was really well thought out and well executed. I had a mushroom stew - the sort of vegetarian option which was for once actually conceived with the apparently bizarre notion that a man who isn't on a diet may be eating it. I started enjoying it before it even arrived. Not a hint of goat's cheese salad or butternut bloody squash risotto - this was hearty, decent proper food with big, bold flavours. It came with a herb dumpling which was fragrant and quite divine, whilst also being reassuringly stodgy to exactly the right extent. The accompaniments were very good too - some delicious roseval potatoes and even the bread was good.
As we were having rather a jolly evening of it, I proposed one last venue before we headed home - another pub on my list - Ye Old White Horse. I think I'd actually got this pub confused with another, thinking it to be one of the establishments which claimed to be the oldest pub in London. This place didn't really look that old, but still, it was nice enough in itself. Being right next door to some of the buildings of LSE it had a very student sort of vibe, which was quite nice.
Headed home after that, getting on the tube at Temple.
- Long Day
- [Monday 26th January]
Today ended up a 13 hour day at the office - I got in at 9 sharp, and didn't leave until 10 in the evening, with just a couple of 5 minute breaks for lunch and dinner. It was a really long slog, but thankfully it looks like the most recent crisis on the project, which had been occupying my time for the last couple of weeks, has come to something of a resolution, albeit perhaps just a short term one.
It's still a strange feeling as an engineer to be making decisions which have big financial consequences, particularly when it relates to running costs and revenue - i.e. large sums of money that are changing hands every single day. This particular situation was one in which, for essentially technical reasons, a fairly large sum of cash was being paid out every day, in many people's opinions entirely unnecessarily. It's a difficult environment to work in - as always I want to make sure I'm doing the right thing, but equally every extra day I spend on it has a very real and tangible cost attached to it.
So being able to come up with a solution today which seemed to keep everyone happy - at least for the time being - was a huge weight off my mind.
- Working The Weekend
- [Sunday 25th January]
Spent most of the day at home working, again trying to get on top of the current crisis in my project at work. It became increasingly clear what a hot topic it was as just about every high up person involved in the project sent email about it at some point this weekend.
Fortunately Chie had already made plans to go and see a friend in the afternoon, so she didn't have to spend the whole day stuck indoors.
Around 5:30 I decided to pop out to do some shopping, having realised there were a couple of "local" supermarkets that would still be open. I ended up popping into the office on the way to do a bit more work though. I just couldn't seem to take my mind off it this weekend. I did manage to tear myself away from it after a bit an hour-and-a-half, and eventually got to the supermarket to buy a cabbage.
We used the leftover mashed potato and swede from Friday to make bubble and squeak, to which I also added some baked portabella mushrooms with cheese (which were rather nice) and some strange vegetarian sausages we'd picked up in Whole Foods Market (which weren't very nice).
Managed to avoid the temptation to do more work for the remainder of the evening, instead spending the time updating my blog and watching a program on BBC Four about Robert Burns.
- Washing Up and Tapas
- [Saturday 24th January]
Thanks to Robert Burns I awoke this morning to find a gargantuan pile of washing up in the kitchen. It took somewhere in the region of three hours to get through it all!
Neither Chie nor I seemed particularly ambitious to go out in the daytime - Chie had discovered a gizmo that let her watch Japanese TV, and I had decided to sacrifice part of my weekend in an attempt to get on top of the current crisis we have going on at work.
In the evening we were determined not to create any more washing up, so went out for dinner instead. We decided to go back to the little tapas place near our flat, having not been for a few months. For a change we sat at the bar rather than at a table, which I rather enjoyed. Had the standard mix of tapas dishes, and I also found some interesting beers - in addition to the usual Estrella DAMM I tried a beer called Mahou for the first time, which I quite liked.
Back at home after dinner we'd originally planned to watch a DVD but instead we both just got back on our respective computers and wiled away the time that way instead.
- Burns Night
- [Friday 23rd January]
I had determined to mark the occasion of Robert Burns' 250th birthday this evening in traditional style. So I'd invited a few people from work (and Chie had invited a couple of her friends) to come and join in. It wasn't a huge gathering - there were just 7 of us in total, but if nothing else it was a bit of a break from the norm!
Foodwise I went for a very traditional bill of fare - Scotch broth to start, haggis (a vegetarian one of course), neeps and tatties for main course, and Cranachan for dessert. I did add a couple of my own little touches - a large cheese crouton atop the Scotch Broth, a whisky and mushroom sauce to go with the haggis, and some home-made whisky soaked berries to top the Cranachan.
Naturally there was plenty of whisky on offer to accompany the food - I even roughly thought of malts to accompany each course - Clynelish for the starter, Talisker with the main course, and Lagavulin to go with dessert.
The poetry wasn't particularly abundant this time though. Given that it was mostly people from work I think I was a bit self concious, and none of the other attendees had ever been to a Burns Night before so they weren't exactly keen to get up and recite either. So it ended up being just the traditional Ode to a Haggis, which I gave my best shot. It was of course hard to get an honest opinion from the audience about how it went though!
So all in all it ended up a bit more like a dinner party than a full-on Burns Night, but it was a pleasant evening nonetheless.
- The Night Before The Burns Night
- [Thursday 22nd January]
Bit of a stressful day at the office today, nothing seemed to be working properly. By about 5:30 I'd had enough, and decided to sneak out "early".
I still had a bit more shopping to do for tomorrow's Burns Night, and so for a change from our usual Sainsbury's I headed over in the direction of Belgravia with the intention of going to the Waitrose there. En route I decided I could do with a bit of a quiet sit down first to calm down after my crappy day, and my feet led me to the Grenadier. It was crowded as ever in that tiny little pub, but despite all the bustle I found by 15 minutes or so there to be very calming, exactly what was needed.
I then went to Waitrose, got the remaining things I needed for tomorrow, and walked back home from there.
Met Chie back at the flat who had decided she wanted to eat out this evening - and I certainly didn't want to be making any mess in the kitchen given the scale of catering that would be required for tomorrow. So we went to a little Indian restaurant near where we live that we'd been to once before. Nothing particularly to write home about, but it was OK.
- It's Official - Rents in London ARE On the Decline!
- [Wednesday 21st January]
Chie went to her yoga class from 7 to 8 again, which, like last week, meant I could leave the office at a respectable time (e.g. 7ish) and still have a meal ready for her by the time she got back. I made a vegetarian shepherd's pie. So maybe that's more like a cottage pie (I have a vague memory of musing over this on an earlier blog post).
Also today we finally heard back from the management company for our apartment - our contract is nearly at and end, and they originally wanted to increase the rent "in line with market conditions". I'd phoned up a while back and told them they were living in some kind of fantasy world, and we wouldn't even consider renewing if they put the rent up, and in fact given what had happened to rents in the area they should be reducing it.
To my slight surprise they actually agreed to the lowered rent that I'd suggested, but, of course, there was a catch - they wanted us to agree to a fixed 12 month contract (rather than the previous contract which had an 8 month break clause). This was a bit frustrating really, had it gone any other way I'd have immediately known what to do - if they'd refused to lower the rent I'd already resolved to move out. If they'd lowered it without any caveats I'd resolved to stay. So I'm now left in a quagmire of indecision again.
Oh well, on the plus side it was gratifying for someone in that industry to admit that rents are actually on the decline in London.
- [Tuesday 20th January]
Ooh look - entry 1800! Not long until 2000 now!
Belgravia seems to be featuring quite a lot in this month, it has really grown on me of late.
At the end of the day today a colleague proposed we should go for a quick drink, and there seemed to be some willingness to go slightly further afield than normal, resulting in a wander through Belgravia to the Horse and Groom. We didn't stay very long - just a couple of drinks - but it was quite jolly, unusually we managed to avoid talking about work almost entirely.
Back at the flat, Chie had cooked dinner - a vegetarian version of ma po tofu with a sort of fried rice.
- [Monday 19th January]
Not much to report. I worked fairly late, and when I got back home we had a simple dinner, just some fresh pasta with pesto.
- A Brief Epiphany
- [Sunday 18th January]
Went out in the afternoon for a spot of shopping in the centre of London, our main objectives being to buy some more plates, some haggis and a book of Burn's poetry. We achieved all three objectives quite satisfyingly. Yes, you guessed it, I'm planning another Burns Night which I'd been itching to do ever since the success of the previous one back in 2005. As my Mum pointed out, this year is in fact a particularly special one, being the 250th anniversary of the birth of 'wee Rabbie.
We also popped into the Korean shop near Centre Point to buy a few things including tofu, daikon kimchi, korean inari sushi cases and, best of all, some Momiji Manju (those little maple leaf shaped cakes filled with anko that are, a famous souvenir of Miyajima, where we got married).
We ended up with rather a lot of heavy shopping in fact, so I volunteered to go home first and carry it all back, allowing Chie to continue to browse clothes etc at her leisure. I got back to the flat some time after 4, but as it was such a nice day for the time of year and still not quite completely dark yet I decided to go for a stroll. I headed in the direction of the Houses of Parliament but rather than continuing all the way along the embankment I veered off into some of the little back streets - Smith Square, Barton Street and Great College Street - wherein are to be found some really fantastic grand residences in a surprisingly quiet, sleepy and charming little area within a stone's throw of Westminster Abbey and Big Ben. Given the gloaming and the fact I was there by myself it had an almost magical feeling about it.
From there I continued on over Parliament Square and on to Parliament Street (which turns into Whitehall). There's a pub there called the Red Lion, which I'd been past a number of times but had always dismissed assuming it to be a characterless pub for tourists. I'd read about it in my book on London pubs though, which had suggested it actually has an interior of some note. So I popped in to take a look for myself and was pleasantly surprised - it really is actually quite a nice little pub and not nearly as touristy as I'd expected (although this may be in part due to it being early evening on a Sunday in January).
Emboldened by this success, I thought I'd have a go at another of the Whitehall pubs I'd previously passed up for similar reasons - The Old Shades. Whilst I was almost certainly seeing it in a better than usual light, it was lovely and quiet in there, and despite being a Nicholson's pub with a lot of the fairly generic trappings thereof, it had a really nice interior with a lot of interesting (and presumably original?) features such as a big Victorian skylight (which the Victorians probably had a more charming world like "solarium" for) with a grand chandelier hanging from it. Given the presence of plenty of wood panelling and etched glass it easily met my pub qualilty bar, despite the presence of some regrettable modern touches.
Sitting in there, contemplating Life, The Universe and Everything, I had something which almost amounts to an epiphany. I'm not quite sure how it came about, but I think I suddenly came to understand art, and the place it has in our lives. It's about escaping the banal drudgery of our day-to-day existence - the exact same reason that I was now sitting in this pub. I hadn't gone there for the beer - there were plenty of other pubs I could have stopped off at on the way, and I even had beer in the fridge at home. I'd gone there to explore and to escape. Finding a pub I haven't been to before, especially one with a sense of history, is one of my favourite things about living in London, and addresses exactly the same need for escapism as reading Sherlock Holmes, only in a more tangible and therefore more satisfying way. This same pub that contemporaries of Holmes and Watson might have frequented is still here today, and beneath a thin veneer of modern marketing paraphernalia it still pretty much looks the same as how it would have appeared to my Great Great Grandfather's generation.
I had a rare sense of contentment for the short time I spent in the Old Shades.
I got the number 24 bus back to reality after that. At home in the evening we had Korean/Japanese food made from the things we'd bought in the Korean shop earlier. The Korean inari were particularly good.
- Kensington and Chelsea
- [Saturday 17th January]
Today marks nine years (yes nine!) since Chie and I first met. We'd originally planned to go out for a nice Afternoon tea somewhere, but when it came to this morning Chie decided she wasn't really in the mood, so we didn't really do anything much.
We decided to just go out for a meandering stroll, first along the Chelsea embankment, and then eventually through the far end (i.e. Western side) of Chelsea. There were some interesting little streets to wander through which we hadn't really seen before.
From there we wandered Northwards a bit, stopping off for a coffee in the Carluccio's near the Chelsea and Westminster hospital. We then continued to High St Kensington, and popped into Whole Foods Market, as I'd wanted to buy a particular cheese they sold there (called Lord of the Hundreds - a bit like a Pecorino - very nice).
We walked on from there as far as South Kensington and then got the bus the rest of the way home from there.
In the evening we had a strange dinner involving some odd vegetarian schnitzel things we had picked up in Whole Foods, plus a sort of tomatoey bean stew I quickly knocked up, and some hash browns.
Oh and then a cheese board after that, featuring some very good aged Gouda and the sumptious Lord of the Hundreds.
- [Friday 16th January]
Really struggling to remember this week at all, I guess it was all staggeringly uneventful.
I think I went along to the usual beer-and-pizza thing for a bit, and Chie went out after work with some people from her office. Neither of us stayed out particularly late though - we were both back before 9 - and then both ended up snacking irresponsibly for the remainder of the evening as we hadn't really had proper dinners.
- The Least Memorable Week In... Err, Memory
- [Thursday 15th January]
Hardly remember anything about today either!
Chie made a red wine stew for dinner, which was rather nice and suited the dreary weather very well.
- What's the Difference Between a Veranda and a Balcony?
- [Wednesday 14th January]
I'm guessing this week was pretty uneventful - I came to write this entry the following Monday and initially really struggled to remember anything about it at all!
In the daytime our visitor at work was still around (he had only come to the UK for two days in fact) and so we had a few more meetings to talk about numbers, statistics, and so on. Whilst yesterday's meetings had been, in my opinion, a bit meandering and not very "actionable" I felt today we came up with real concrete decisions for tangible things we were actually going to go away and do. I have really come to despise purposeless academic debates in the workplace, and have developed a "brand", as my manager would put it, for the person who sits in meetings and kills these pointless tangents dead in their tracks so as to keep things focused. After all, you can't sell your customers an intellectually gratifying concept, in my experience they generally tend to want an actual physical product.
We also had the opportunity to get out of the office at lunchtime, and after some very bland and disappointing noodles I took our visitor from the US for a stroll around the grand residences around Belgrave Square, which was nice. It was a good opportunity to talk about architecture a bit, which I think probably thanks to my uncles I am beginning to develop something of an interest in. Of course, I'm still very much at a beginner's level, but I was at least able to demonstrate the difference between a veranda and a balcony (the former has a roof, the latter doesn't), and also what stucco means (it is basically just plaster, but tends to be used for exterior rather than interior plasterwork).
Chie went to yoga after she got home from work, so even though I stayed at the office until some time after 7 I was able to get home and cook dinner for Chie before she got back. Nothing particularly ambitious - just a salad followed by some linguini with pesto. It was actually quite nice though.
- Regret Over Curry Recommendation
- [Tuesday 13th January]
One of the managers from the US was over for a couple of days this week to talk about numbers and stuff. I'm rather fond of the chap, not least because he is a fellow vegetarian. He's a big fan of Indian food, which I think it a highlight of coming to the UK for him, and so today he asked for suggestions for a place to eat, and I proposed Woodlands. Although I have to admit I later came to slightly regret my suggestion. Last time he was in the UK we organised a similar meal in the evening and there weren't many attendees, so tonight I pretty much just chose a place that I thought would suit me and our visitor, with possibly a couple of hangers on.
This evening, however, there were a rather unwieldy 10 of us. This would have been fine, but Woodlands has a rather complicated menu, especially with it being entirely vegetarian, and a couple of us ended up having to order for the whole table. What a weight of responsibility that is. Naturally I panicked that there wouldn't be enough to go around, and that it would be awkward to split dishes designed for 1 or 2 people 10 ways, and ended up ordering far too much. It wasn't cheap either. Ho, hum.
After dinner a few of us stayed out for a couple of after dinner drinks. We first popped into the The Chequers, and then a favourite of mine from the other night The Red Lion.
- Back on the Bike
- [Monday 12th January]
I'm getting pretty sloppy of late with updating the blog, which means typically I get a week out of date and then I can't really remember anything about the days in question.
However, thanks to a combination of electronic records I can remember two facets about today:
1) After something of a long break, I finally got back on the exercise bike today. I did 20 minutes, which apparently was the equivalent of 9KM, and supposedly burnt off 174.5 calories. Isn't that something like two Jaffa cakes?
2) We watched La Mome, a film about the life of Edith Piaf. It was more entertaining than I thought it would be.
- Comedy Store
- [Sunday 11th January]
The main event of today was a trip to the Comedy Store in the evening (see below), however we also had a wander around Knightsbridge in the daytime.
I fancied some kind of soup noodles for lunch, so we swallowed our pride and went to the Wagamama in Knightsbridge for lunch. It wasn't that bad I suppose. I noticed (not atypically) that the vegetarian offering had been conflated with the healthy option. The vegetarian soup noodles dish came by default with "wholewheat noodles". I objected to this notion, and made a point about this when ordering, asking for the wholewewat noodles to be replaced with the unhealthiest noodles they had, and then ordered the least healthy possible side dish (which turned out to be deep fried gyoza).
After that Chie wanted to have a wander around Harveys Nicks, which I accompanied her for a while, but then eventually lost interest in her standard meandering and aimless approach to shopping. So I decided to go my own way, and embarked on a pleasant stroll past Hyde Park Corner, along Piccadilly, to Soho.
I'd wanted to visit The Vintage House to buy a Port Ellen, but once I actually got there I found the staff to be a bit useless and so was put off actually buying anything. Their loss.
Last Year's New Resolution to do more things in London had began to flounder somewhat, largely due to a couple of very unfortunate visits to the theatre / opera which led me to the conclusion I actually didn't really like live performances a whole lot.
However, one of the success stories of last year in this vein was going to see The Importance of Being Earnest, and it occurred to me there was a simple formula - if it was funny, I'd probably like it.
So this year I shall probably be steering clear of opera and avant garde theatre, however I think I will try and see a bit more comedy.
To that end, today we had booked tickets for The Comedy Store to see The Comedy Store Players including Paul Merton and Josie Lawrence.
They do a sort of Whose Line is it Anyway? style improvisation show. I was initially a bit worried about taking Chie along to see British comedy, thinking she might just sit there bored and not get any of it, but actually improvisation seemed to work really well - a certain amount of is visual, and they tend to change subjects quite frequently.
Although I did have to spend some time explaining what a Walnut Whip is.
Anyway, definitely a successfuly night out.
- Fitzrovia and Soho Pub Crawl
- [Saturday 10th January]
Had an unforgivably slothful daytime, including a bit of a nap in the afternoon, which provoked a distinct urge as the evening approached to actually get out of the flat and do something.
Some time back I bought a book called London's Historic Inns and Taverns which I would occasionally browse through at bedtime to read about the lovely old pubs I hadn't yet been to. It occurred to me today though that I pretty rarely, if ever, actually get around to visiting any of these pubs - I generally didn't carry the book around with me, and when I was out and about in town I'd generally have forgotten where they all were.
So I decided to do something about that today, and set about making this map using the "My Maps" feature in Google Maps, detailing all the pubs in central London from the book that I'd like to visit at some point.
Better still, given that I could easily browse this on my Android phone, I thought I'd actually set about trying to visit some of these today. A short while later and I'd also recruited a couple of willing volunteers to aid me in this pursuit - Chie of course, and our friend Gav who also turned out to be at a loose end.
There was no way we'd be able to visit all of these pubs in one evening, so I decided to take a slice down through the middle, starting in Fitzrovia, down through a cross section of Soho, and ending in St. James's.
The pictures give a fuller account, but in summary we rather impressively managed to visit 10 pubs, albeit that only 4 of those were actually on my map, and the other 6 were pubs we just happened to walk past and tried on the off chance they might be nice.
Here's another map with the eventual route we ended up taking:
View Larger Map
- [Friday 9th January]
Went along to the usual beer and pizza thing at the end of the day, but there was still a very much subdued mood amongst my fellow team members, so none of us stayed for very long.
Chie was out for the evening - at her Hiroshimakenjinkai - but I decided to leave her to it, and instead just had a quiet night in, watching TV, and wasting time on the Internet.
- Two Year Anniversary
- [Thursday 8th January]
Today marked two years since I started my job. Originally I'd planned to get a big load of people together to celebrate this event (not that it really means anything, but any excuse for a party etc), especially as a few other people in the office started on the same day. However, given the bad news earlier this week I didn't feel in a particularly celebratory mood, so it was somewhat scaled down, and instead I just went for a couple of drinks and a curry with one or two people from my team.
Oh, and one of the other guys on my team baked me an extremely nice cake (cherry and marzipan) which was very good indeed.
- Como Lario
- [Wednesday 7th January]
Had dinner at an Italian restaurant near Sloane Square which we had walked past a couple of times and thought it looked quite nice.
It was, in fact, quite nice.
- [Tuesday 6th January]
Don't really remember much about today!
Chie came to my office for dinner. I guess we just went home and watched telly after that...
- Back to Work
- [Monday 5th January]
Back to work today, and whilst in terms of the actual working content of the day it was fairly easy going, we had an "all hands" meeting in the morning with an announcement that came as a big shock. My manager is quite seriously ill - he has been diagnosed with a form of cancer - and was going to be going back to the US for treatment almost immediately.
Much like the rest of my team I spent the rest of the day feeling somewhat shell shocked and not really knowing how to react. Whilst we'd had our differences on occasion, I have a huge amount of respect for him, and although he can be a bit of a slave driver at times he's also capable of being an extremely charming and likeable guy. Not to mention very funny.
So obviously we're all wishing him a full and speedy recovery, but it looks like even if he does respond well to treatment he's going to be out of action for at least the next six months.
My company can be quite a chaotic place in terms of organisational structure - there's something of an imbalance between people who want things done, and people who are in a position to get those things done. This tends to mean an engineer can end up getting pulled in seven different directions at once, so one of the main roles of a manager is to deflect "swirl" such that the engineers can stay focused on what they really need to be working on. I suspect it is one of those roles you really don't fully appreciate until that person isn't around any more.
Our boss, always one to make light of a difficult situation, advised us that there may be turbulent times ahead for the team, but as a word of consolation said "Well hey, it's better than chemo!".
- Wimbledon Common
- [Sunday 4th January]
The return to work after our two week long break was looming, so I decided it was important to get out and make something of the day.
Being initially devoid of any good ideas, as is often the case, I took a look at Google Maps in the hope of being inspired. I fancied going to see some greenery, and so spent a while looking around for a park that neither of us had been to before. All the parks in the centre of London - St. James's, Hyde, Regent's, Primrose Hill we'd visited on a number of occasions - and we'd also ventured further a field a few times to places like Hampstead Heath and Richmond Park. So I initially couldn't really think of anywhere to go, and then I spotted good old Wimbledon Common. I think I'd probably driven past it a few years back, but it turned out neither Chie nor I had ever actually gone for a walk around it, and so this seemed very much like the right thing to do today.
Shortly after arrival in Wimbledon we went in search of a late breakfast - both of us fancied some form of fry-up. We found a place called Piaf's which met this requirement, and, whilst the service left a little to be desired, the food wasn't bad.
So emboldened with beans etc we ventured out through an exceptionally wintery Wimbledon common. The ground was mostly frost covered, the ponds were all iced over, and it was generally bloody freezing. Still, we battled on bravely and despite the cold it made for a very nice walk, some parts of the common feel really quite wild, and a long way from the big city. Plus there was the added entertainment of being able to follow our route on Google Maps on my Android phone.
Did you know there is a windmill on the Wimbledon Common? I didn't.
After visiting the windmill, we continued Northwards through the common until it came to and end, and we were back into civilisation. Conveniently there was a bus from there which took us all the way back to Victoria.
Not much to report for the rest of the day, we went back home by way of the supermarket where we presumably bought things for dinner, although writing this over a week hence I don't remember what we actually ate.
- Day of Nerdiness
- [Saturday 3rd January]
Chie went off to see friends in Maidenhead in the daytime, but I decided to pass up the offer to join in so instead I could stay in and spend some quality time with my computer. Made some improvements to SBM (the engine which runs this blog), and tidied up some of the work I had rushed through on New Year's Eve. Not really very eventful, all told.
- Tea, Coffee, Sake
- [Friday 2nd January]
We headed out into the centre of London once more this afternoon. Following yesterday's rather unsuccessful shopping expedition, today was a marked improvement - pretty much everything was open.
Our first port of call was to buy a few basics like tea and coffee - given the current economic downturn I am duly being quite frugal, and sticking to the supermarket's own brand for these kinds of thing. I find Fortnum and Mason's own brands of tea and coffee to be quite acceptable in this regard.
We then headed to our stalwart Japanese food emporium Rice Wine Shop to buy the mochi we had failed so spectacularly to find the day before. Whilst in Rice Wine (which, we noted, has got some new fridges) we also bought, funnily enough, some rice wine, and a couple of other of the usual things we tend to buy there like tofu and kimchi.
There then followed a bit more shopping, including a visit to Liberty where Chie found a swimming costume in the sale, before we decided to go and have a quick wander around the British Museum. Having recently visited Tintern Abbey, I'd wanted to see this picture by everyone's famous middle-of-the-painting-neglecting-artist Mr. J.M.W Turner, but alas it isn't out on display. We asked at the information desk and apparently it seldom is.
So instead we went to see the Clocks and Watches exhibition, which was quite interesting, and then went on a futile search in the Indian collections for a cow. Chie wanted a picture of one to send as New Year cards to Japan, 2009 being the year of the cow and all.
It's great that the museums in London are free, it means you can just pop in for 20 minutes or so without feeling under pressure to see the whole thing.
After that bit of culture we wended our way back to the flat, and once there enjoyed a very nice cup of Fortnum and Mason's "PicKadilly (sic) Blend" coffee. It was probably designed more as a filter coffee, but it worked surprisingly well in our little stove top espresso maker - none of the usual hint of sourness we get when we put regular espresso coffee in it, but whilst it was perhaps a little more mellow it was still very respectable indeed - really flavoursome, very smooth, very rich.
Had Japanese food for dinner, a sort of belated New Year's day meal for Chie - with those all important mochi (served in a simple and elegant soup with delicately carved carrot, lotus root and koyadofu) plus a few other things.
After dinner we decided to watch Sen to Chihiro (known in the West as Spirited Away). I have the DVD and whilst I have already seen it two or three times it has been a while, and it is such a tremendous visual feast I was more than happy to watch it again.
- In Search of Mochi
- [Thursday 1st January 2009]
Well Happy New Year everyone!
Despite having stayed up until around 3AM the previous night I woke up surprisingly early this morning - thanks to not one, but two very loud and inconsiderate visits from the bin men. Ho, hum.
New Year in Japan is quite a big deal, and in a sense a parallel to Christmas in the West - it's the time of year people are most likely to spend with their families etc. Chie had considered going back to Japan for New Year this year, but in the end decided to hold off given that she'd probably be going in Spring.
Anywho, among the many traditions of Japanese New Year, the one small thing Chie seemed most keen not to miss out on was eating Mochi. Unfortunately, we didn't have any in the flat, and so we set out today on a mission to try and find some in central London.
It turns out every single Japanese food shop in London is closed on New Year's Day - we tried the Japan Centre, Rice Wine Shop, Arigato, Mitsukoshi and that Japanese sweets shop on Piccadilly (Minamoto Kitchoan). Pretty much all the Japanese restaurants seemed to be closed as well. We also tried the Korean food shop next to Centre Point (also closed) and just on the off chance a couple of the Chinese supermarkets in Chinatown (which were open, but they didn't sell mochi - at least not the savoury type Chie was looking for).
So that was a bit of a disappointment. In an attempt to cheer Chie up, I suggested we go for dim sum instead - so we tried out Yauatcha in Soho for the first time. It's a fairly upmarket and swish sort of dim sum place, quite different to our usual favourite Royal China. Overall I think we both quite liked it, they did have some interesting things on the menu - Chie was pleased to find Congee (or okayu as it is known in Japan) on the menu, and I enjoyed the Cheung fun filled with mushrooms quite a lot. The deep fried yuba rolls with enoki and cloud ear were also very good. I thought the pricing was a bit bizarre though - it was generally quite expensive - a small bowl of fairly average hot and sour soup was a nonsensical £7.50, and yet the Congee which was almost a meal in itself was a much more reasonable £4 something.
My other slight complaint would be that they didn't have any kind of sake on the wine list, and I have a pet hate of places trying to serve grape based wines with East Asian food... but I guess that sake is more of a Japanese thing - so far as I can tell they don't actually seem to drink much of it in modern day China (which I think I read somewhere recently is the world's biggest beer consumer - although I guess that isn't difficut if you have the world's biggest population!). Anyway, dim sum is supposed to be served with tea, so we had tea. Which also seemed a bit overpriced in my opinion, but there you go - I guess we were paying for the ambience or something.
After a bit more of a wander around the shops, and a brief dalliance with the idea of going to the Comedy Store in the evening, we headed back home.
I spent most of the evening writing a summary of my blog for 2008, which was quite an interesting exercise for me, even if the end result probably doesn't make very interesting reading for anyone else!
- New Year's Eve
- [Wednesday 31st December 2008]
Well that's it then, another year comes to a close.
(a brief geeky paragraph follows which you can skip if you're not interested in such things)
I spent most of the daytime on the computer, rather obsessively trying to add a new feature to SBM (the engine I use to write this blog) to automatically add a set of blog entries based on a set of pictures. I wanted to get the blog up to date before the end of the year, and it occurred to me there would be a lot of manual effort in adding all the blog entries for our week in Abergavenny, and that effort was largely duplicated in that I'd already done something similar to generate the pages for all the pictures I'd taken that week - each day's pictures already had a title, date, short bit of blurb, and a sample image - so rather than type that all out twice I thought I could just get SBM to import the XML file which Cheese generates.
All such geeky activities were forced to come to an abrupt end towards the end of the afternoon, as I realised time was running out - the shops wouldn't be open that late, we had guests coming in the evening and I needed to get some things for dinner.
To my slight surprise Sainsbury's was absolutely overrun - I had never seen it so busy. They'd also entirely sold out of every kind of potato, which, this being a fairly pivotal element in tonight's dinner, meant we also had to pop into Tesco.
Originally Chie and I had just planned to stay in London by ourselves for New Year's Eve, and wander down to the river to watch the fireworks. However, my friend Mark had got in touch a few days ago and seemed to also like the idea of watching the fireworks in London, so we invited him over for dinner and a few drinks first - he also brought his other half Cristelle with him, and another friend of ours Jim (also known as Yeti).
I'd decided on a Scottish hogmanay style theme to dinner, and so we had haggis, neeps and tatties, with a Scotch broth to start. That all seemed to go down rather well.
We headed out around 11:30 to wander down along the river and see the fireworks, and I was surprised by the hordes of other Londoners doing exactly the same thing. It was hard to find a decent vantage point which wasn't absolutely heaving, and so in the end we didn't get a particularly great view of the fireworks, but we enjoyed the atmosphere nonetheless. I took along a little bottle of Billecart Salmon rosé which we'd picked up in Paris, and we drank this out of little plastic teacups. Which was all quite jolly.
After the fireworks had finished, and once the crowds had dispersed a bit, we headed a little bit further down the river to Parliament Square, and enjoyed some very nice views of Big Ben lit up at night. There was still rather a jolly atmopshere in the streets.
We then headed back to the flat for a nice hot cup of tea to round off the evening, before Mark, Cristelle and Jim headed back to Reading.
Quite a pleasant evening all told, and here's hoping that bodes well for the year to come.
Happy New Year everybody.
- Okonomiyaki Party
- [Tuesday 30th December 2008]
A friend of Chie's invited us to his house in Ealing today for an Okonomiyaki party. Which was quite jolly. Takeda-san and his wife have two sons, one three years old, and the other still a baby. The three year old was very bubbly, and rather pleasingly I think had determined I must probably be Japanese - although he spoke English, he decided to converse with me entirely in Japanese.
We left around 4 in the afternoon and headed back to the centre of London. Not much else to report really - spent the rest of the evening back at the flat, mainly watching telly.