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:
- Afternoon Tea at the Royal Academy of Arts
Not Eating Out
Tax Return and Lease Renewal
Cleaning the Flat
Indian YMCA and Shopping
Oliveto and a Lacklustre Pub Crawl
Dinner at Amico Bio
Michelle in London
Chie's New Laptop
Back at Work
A Walk in the Country
New Year's Day
New Year's Eve
Wednesday in North Wales
Tuesday in North Wales
South Wales to North Wales
Christmas Eve - On the Way to Wales
Yet More Christmas Shopping
More Christmas Shopping and Visting the Kids
Winter Solstice in London
Monday in the East Midlands
Off to the East Midlands
- Afternoon Tea at the Royal Academy of Arts
- [Sunday 30th January 2011]
Stayed in the flat until around 2:30ish, Chie spent a lot of the time chatting with her family over Skype, whilst I continued to fill in gaps in my blog over the past few months.
We realised we were a bit bored, so went out with the mission to be extravagant and buy some nice things. Chie browsed in some clothes shops and I had a look at some books but we ended up not really buying anything in the end.
We did however go for tea at the restaurant in the Royal Academy of Arts, which was very nice. The scones were delicious.
Headed back home after that, by way of the Thames to have a quick glimpse at the early evening sky over the river, which looked rather nice.
- Flat Viewing
- [Saturday 29th January 2011]
We're still looking for a flat to buy, on and off, and today Chie wanted to go and look at some apartments South of the river. I'm really not keen on the idea of living (or even visiting!) South of the river, but went along anyway in the interests of trying to be open minded and scientific about the whole process.
We saw three apartments altogether, all in the same development, and have to admit the first was actually quite nice, albeit that the views from the window were all of a rather ugly wall of a rather ugly building next door. Still though, the layout was good and it was large compared to a lot of places we've looked at North of the river, as well as being significantly cheaper... but I'm just not sure I can bring myself to live in that area - both on the way there and the way back it frankly looked a bit scary. Which is pretty much what everywhere I've seen South of the river has looked like so far (with the possible exception of Dulwich, which is quite nice).
On the plus side there was a large Sainsbury's nearby - something you don't really get if you live nearer the centre - so as we were in the area we made use of that.
Went back to the flat after that, had some soup for lunch, and Chie spent the remainder of the afternoon studying for her course, whilst I spent some time filling in numerous large gaps in this blog over the past few weeks. I've started reading Samuel Pepys' diary recently and given that a lot of what he writes about is just what he had for dinner and which pubs he's been to I've been spurred on to try and write my own a bit more often!
- [Friday 28th January 2011]
Had pide for lunch today - they're a kind of Turkish pizza, which look a bit like a partly deconstructed calzone. I've had these a couple of times before (see here) There's a little Turkish cafe not too far from the office which serves these. I went with a guy from work, and we shared them with a third gastronaut back at the office - neither of whom had tried these before - to a generally very positive reception.
Went along to TGIF (our end of the week beer and pizza thing) for a bit, after a late (for a Friday) meeting.
Went back home by way of Holland and Barrett to buy some herbal remedies for Chie, who'd had dental surgery today, and had been recommended a couple of things to help her mouth heal afterwards.
Another makeshift dinner ensued - Chie stuck to soup as she wasn't really up to chewing anything and I had a basic but pleasant enough pasta with vegetarian sausages.
- Not Eating Out
- [Thursday 27th January 2011]
I was supposed to go out for dinner with some people from work this evening, as a member of the team is moving to the US. However I ended up not going - at least partly because they were going to be eating a whole roast pig, and I could imagine myself losing my temper and spoiling the evening for everyone.
So instead I just stayed in, whilst Chie was out at her evening class, and attempted to scratch together some semblance of dinner from the odds and ends we had in the cupboards. I ended up with a sort of mushrooms on toast (a mixture of some dried porcini and some portabella mushrooms which were also in danger of becoming dried out) followed by some baked beans and hash browns. Not particularly nutritious, but the mushrooms were actually fairly tasty.
- Tax Return and Lease Renewal
- [Wednesday 26th January 2011]
Very much a day devoted to getting various administrative tasks out of the way.
I'd started to think some time last year I should probably start doing self assessment. Knowing that the deadline for filing your return is the end of January, I had been unusually organised and had called the tax office in mid December to make sure I had plenty of time.
In order to file your tax return online you need a "Unique Taxpayer Reference" - a 10 digit number (quite why a National Insurance Number isn't enough I don't know) - so I'd requested that in December, having been informed I'd have to wait up to 7 days for it to arrive. Come the start of January I hadn't received it, but thinking it was just the Christmas post backlog I left it a few days before calling to chase it up. It turned out that in addition to the 7 days, in my case they required another four weeks to actually create my tax records (?). So I had finally received the UTR at the end of last week, and as soon as I got it went to the website to start filing my tax return - only to be told on registration I'd then need an "activation pin" which would also need to be sent through the post, and could take another 7 days.
That actually arrived today, and I'm pleased to say I was from then on unhindered and was actually able to successfully file my tax return. Which, all in all, only took about an hour or two. I only got stumped by one part where there were four different confusingly worded pension options to choose, none of which actually applied - I eventually found a note in the accompanying documentation which explained.
Very glad to have finally been able to get this out of the way - I'd been pretty sure my tax affairs were straightforward and I was unlikely to have owed anything, but it had been weighing on my mind anyway the last few weeks - mainly just that all these administrative delays might mean I'd end up missing the deadline for filing, and I'd end up on some kind of blacklist of ne'er-do-wells. In fact I ended up getting a very small rebate, which was nice.
I also negotiated the renewal on the lease of our flat today - another weight off my mind. I was happy to accept a very small rise in rent (although I got them down to half the increase they proposed) but the part that had always rankled in previous years was that they'd always make us sign a brand new contract as though we were new tenants - i.e. with a long break clause in it. This had always seemed a bit ridiculous to me for a renewal, and so I was very pleased about being able to get that bit edited out for the first time - particularly as at the back of my mind I have the ongoing feeling that we really ought to buy somewhere. So we have another year's contract at our current place, but are free to leave at any time (subject to the notice period of course).
- Tidying Up
- [Tuesday 25th January 2011]
Spent most of the evening tidying up the flat after yesterday's Burns Night - I did the remaining washing up (although Chie had done a lot of it the previous evening) and also vacuumed again, as well as putting the furniture back in it's normal place etc.
Chie has started a course which means she has to go to a class Tuesday and Thursday evenings weekly from now on. Tonight was the first class, so she got back quite late.
Dinner was a pretty half arsed affair - all of our shopping recently had been geared around buying things for the Burns Night and we didn't really have much else in. I attempted to throw together a pasta dish involving some Quorn "steak" pieces and some sundried tomatoes, but it wasn't particularly successful.
- Burns Night
- [Monday 24th January 2011]
I held my fourth Burns Night tonight (having previously held them in 2010, 2009 and 2005), very much along similar lines to the previous two years. We had a pretty good turn out this year - there were 9 of us in the end, which was fun as we only really have room for seven people to sit down. Luckily though one of our guests brought along a couple of folding chairs with him.
I was very pleased by how several of the people who were there last year (Al, Andrew and Kyle) were so eager to come again this year - although it may just be that January is a generally somewhat boring month with not much else to do.
The food seems to get easier every year - I've got it down to a fine art I think - and I think it all turned out pretty well - there wasn't anything left at the end of the evening at least. We also managed to work our way through a pleasing amount of whisky - I've been trying to think my collection down a bit, as there are lots of odds and ends of bottles that seem to have been hanging around for years, and are creating a lot of clutter in the kitchen.
I did the "Ode to a Haggis" as always, which met with the usual reception - a mixture of bemusement and mild concern for the state of my mental health.
Also today I went back to the doctor in the morning, my sore throat still having not having cleared up a week after completing the course of antibiotics they'd given me last time. I saw a different doctor this time who thought it was probably viral (in which case the antibiotics wouldn't have done anything). He took a swab test but pretty much told me to come back in a week's time if it still hadn't cleared up.
- Cleaning the Flat
- [Sunday 23rd January]
Ahead of tomorrow's Burns Night we spent a significant chunk of today cleaning the flat - I can't actually remember the last time we'd entertained any guests, and the place was a bit of a tip. I vacuumed very thoroughly indeed, even the tops of the skirting boards.
- Indian YMCA and Shopping
- [Saturday 22nd January 2011]
Tried lunch at the canteen at the Indian YMCA for the first time - it was very good. Not that I've ever been to India, but I imagine the food here is closer to what it's actually like in India - it was tasty but wonderfully simple, and quite different from the usual rich, oily fare to be found at Indian restaurants in Britain. Plus it was a pleasing novelty to sit and eat Indian food surrounded by Indian people - how often does that happen in an Indian restaurant in the UK?
After this we did a bit of furniture shopping - looking to buy a stool, mainly because of our upcoming Burns Night where I'd realised we didn't actually have enough seats for everybody. However we couldn't quite make up our minds and so ended up not buying anything.
Chie had an appointment to get her hair cut in the afternoon, so we moseyed in the direction of Soho, by way of somewhere for a coffee - Hotpot recommended a place called Flat White, an Australian style coffee place. I don't think I'm really enough of a coffee connoisseur to understand the popularity of this place, but I suppose it was pretty good.
Whilst Chie was getting her hair cut I went and bought some Japanese food for dinner, and then headed home. On arrival at home I realised I'd been overcharged to the tune of £10, so turned around and went back into the centre again. After sorting that out I hopped on a bus heading for Knightsbridge, with a plan to meet up with Chie, who had taken her new hair cut to wander around the Harrod's sale. I wiled away a bit of time waiting for her in the Nag's Head, which was surprisingly busy on a Saturday at just before 6. It turned out I had more time than I originally anticipated to wile away, so I wander from there over to The Grenadier.
Eventually we met up in Waitrose and bought the all important things for our forthcoming Burns night: chiefly haggis, neeps and tatties.
From there we headed home, and had Japanese food for dinner.
- [Friday 21st January]
Went along for a beer or two at TGIF (the end of the week beer and pizza thing) for the first time this year. What with my sore throat and then the antibiotics I'd not been drinking.
- Oliveto and a Lacklustre Pub Crawl
- [Thursday 20th January]
Had lunch at Oliveto with Iain and Andrew which I thoroughly enjoyed as always - and it's always particularly nice when someone else proposes it (can't remember who it was in this instance, but it wasn't me).
In the evening I was invited out for a drink with a guy on my team who was entertaining a visitor to the office. Not one to turn down this sort of invitation I went along, but wasn't really in the mood for it, so didn't stay particularly late. We started by trying to go to the Cardinal, which is still closed for refurbishment. From there we tried the Cask and Glass which, unsurprisingly given how small it is, was packed - so we bravely tried to stand outside for a bit, before eventually deciding it was just too cold. So we went on from there to the nearby Colonies - which at least had somewhere to sit inside - but is a bit of a generic chain pub these days unfortunately.
- Nag's Head
- [Wednesday 19th January]
Didn't really feel like just going straight home at the end of the day, so instead went for a quick pint at the Nag's Head.
I'd been given a book about cider for Christmas which mentioned the Nag's Head as a place selling real cider - I'd never really noticed before - but they did indeed have a tap for Aspall's Suffolk Cyder on the bar. So I had a pint of that, which was very nice.
- Cider Tasting
- [Tuesday 18th January 2011]
Having not been drinking the past couple of weeks due to my sore throat and the antibiotics I'd particularly missed the chance to try out some new ciders, my interest having been perked by The Naked Guide to Cider which I'd been given for Christmas. So tonight on the way home I went to the supermarket and had a look at what they had on offer.
I bought three ciders in the end: Aspall's from Suffolk, Thatcher's from Devon and a Henney's from Herefordshire - a sort of representative of each of the three main cider regions.
- Dinner at Amico Bio
- [Monday 17th January 2011]
The 17th of January is the anniversary of when Chie and I first met - 11 years ago now. Despite my efforts to thin down our many anniversaries to a more manageable subset, we always do something on a small scale to mark the occasion. So tonight I took Chie to the new Italian vegetarian restaurant I'd discovered just before Christmas - Amico Bio.
I'm not sure I enjoyed the food quite as much as my first visit - I think I chose a bit better the previous time - but still it was a nice evening.
- [Sunday 16th January 2011]
Didn't leave the flat all day. What a waste!
- Saturday Eating
- [Saturday 15th January 2011]
A pretty lazy and uneventful day generally. Slobbed about the flat in the morning and most of the afternoon, before eventually venturing out after 3 in the direction of Waitrose.
On the way back Chie decided she fancied something sweet, and so we popped into the little convenience store near where we live and perused Mr. Kipling's cake offerings. We settled on some mini Battenberg slices. I enjoyed the irony of getting out our best tea set to have these with.
Quite a nice dinner in the evening - particularly enjoyed the mozzarella and tomato salad. We pretty much always end up having fresh pasta after a visit to Waitrose.
- The Rivals
- [Friday 14th January]
Went for a late lunch at the Regency Cafe today - and more or less had what I'd usually order for breakfast (mushrooms, beans, hash browns - but unfortunately there's no "bubble" to be had this time of day).
In the evening Chie went to her Hiroshimakenjinkai. As I was taking a course of antibiotics for my throat I thought I'd better not drink at all, but equally didn't feel like just going home either. So I tried to think of something I could do and decided I'd go and see The Rivals which was on at the Theatre Royal Haymarket.
Despite a bit of a slow start I really enjoyed it - particularly, of course, Mrs Malaprop, played by Penelope Keith. I'd also seen Penelope Keith as Lady Bracknell in The Importance of Being Earnest, and it occurred to me what similar parts these are, albeit in plays written and set a hundred years apart from each other.
After the play finished I went for some Indian food at Woodlands, conveniently just around the corner the theatre.
- Michelle in London
- [Thursday 13th January]
My friend Michelle was at a conference in London today, so in the evening we met up - I don't think we'd seen here since June 2009 when we went down to Kent for her birthday.
We started off with a couple of pubs (the Horse and Groom and the Nag's Head) - wherein both I confined myself to non-alcoholic drinks as I was taking antibiotics - before then heading on to good old faithful Noura for dinner. There was actually a private party in the main restaurant at Noura, so instead we ate in the sort of lounge bar they have next door - a bit odd, but not a complete wash out.
- [Wednesday 12th January]
- [Tuesday 11th January]
I'd had a sore throat since New Year's Day which wouldn't budge, so I thought I ought to go and see the Doctor today. She took a quick look and told me it was "strep throat" as apparently she could see white spots on my tonsils. I was prescribed a course of antibiotics for it.
- [Monday 10th January]
Chie and I went for dinner at L'Anima this evening - an Italian restaurant near Liverpool St. We'd (or I'd) been partly encouraged to go by rumours it might be getting a Michelin star when the 2011 stars were announced in a week or two's time (in the end, it didn't).
Was slightly ambivalent about it - here's my review:
Nothing particularly wrong with it, but to be honest a bit disappointing. Everything I had was just a bit bland. There weren't a lot of vegetarian options on the menu so I ended up ordering two courses of pasta - the sage and pumpkin tortelli and the "wild" mushroom and black truffle fettucine. It was a reasonable amount of black truffle, but not a particularly fragrant one - I could barely smell it. As for the mushrooms - they were not wild - a particular bugbear of mine. These were a mixture of oyster, shimeji, and ordinary field mushrooms. My wife preferred her food but didn't think it was good value for money - her main course, a fish stew, was a hefty £25. It was apparently tasty and well cooked but none of the ingredients seemed like they really justified the price. On the plus side the service was very good, as were the (non alcoholic) cocktails, and the bread and olives that came at the start.
- South Downs
- [Sunday 9th January 2011]
Following on from the moderate success of our venture out into the countryside on the bank holiday Monday at the start of this week I was keen to have another go, and this time do a bit more planning in advance, and get up a bit earlier. After browsing around possible destinations on the web for a bit I decided we should try a bit of the South Downs way, and I devised a route that would let us get off at one station (Fishersgate, to the West of Brighton) and end up at a different station (Hassocks, to the North of Brighton) - although in the end we did a slightly revised route which was a bit shorter, thanks to a very convenient bus.
So we got up bright and early - and were on a train heading out from Victoria not long after 9.
On arrival at Fishersgate, a little after 10:30, we headed North, following the Sussex border path, which separates East and West Sussex - this conveniently starts at the station so it was a fairly easy route. The path gradually climbs up and out of the urban sprawl of the Western suburbs of Brighton and Hove onto the downs. This section was meant to just be a means to an end to get onto the South Downs way, but in the end we were probably on this path for about half of the walk - it was after 12 by the time we joined the South Downs way. Although we were delayed somewhat by a dog that started following us, eventually causing us to have to give it's owner a call as there didn't seem to be anyone around for miles.
Once on the reassuringly chalky South Downs way we headed East, and along the way were treated to some nice views - particularly around the Fulking Escarpment (careful now) - and the weather was rather glorious for the time of year. Wonderful blue sky for pretty much the whole day.
Unsurprisingly I had planned the route so as to take in a pub for lunch, and for this purpose the Devil's Dyke Inn met our needs rather superbly. Whilst not the most attractive building in itself, it is in a spot with great views and the food was rather good - critically the vegetarian Sunday roast option came with roast potatoes, gravy and Yorkshire pudding. I was a happy man.
After lunch our thoughts turned to the remainder of the walk - it was still a fair distance to Hassocks. However, we spotted there was a bus stop by the pub, and in fact there would be a bus along in a few minutes - so an executive decision was taken, and we curtailed our walk at that point. It had been very nice up to that point, but I had a distinct inkling it would have started to lose its appeal had we gone on much further. So we got the bus back into Brighton, and from there jumped on a train back to London.
- [Saturday 8th January 2011]
Second trip to Manze's "Noted" Pie and Eel House, which I really enjoyed again (I still can't quite believe they do a vegetarian version of their beef pie) despite again the slight feeling of somehow being a bit of an imposter - there's obviously a very loyal clientele of regulars who are actually genuine Londoners (you don't often see them in the bits of London I normally frequent), and by comparison I feel like a tourist.
Like last time, we took the bus to get there, and ended up eating some time before midday - I kind of pie based brunch. Then afterwards, as it's on Tower Bridge Road, we walked up and over Tower Bridge from there. Over the other side of Tower Bridge we had a bit of a wander around in the immediate vicinity of Tower Bridge, including a visit to All Hallows by the Tower church which was quite interesting - particularly the crypt.
From there we headed towards the city centre, taking the number 15 bus to Trafalgar Square - this line still uses the old Routemaster bus. These always look rather lovely and old fashioned from the outside, but from the inside you're reminded how bumpy and uncomfortable these were!
Did a bit of shopping after this, including a trip to Fortnum and Mason, wherein I bought some Green Tabasco. My friend Gav had recently raved about it (he said he couldn't find a single savoury food that didn't taste better with it on) and I was keen to test this theory.
We were back at home by around 3ish, where we stayed the rest of the day.
- Chie's New Laptop
- [Friday 7th January 2011]
Chie's new laptop arrived today - a sort of late Christmas present from me. Her previous laptop had been in service since around 2002 - 8 years is a very good innings from a laptop - but had recently become next to unusable.
Other than that not much else to report!
- Thai Curry
- [Thursday 6th January 2011]
Made a Thai green (well, in the end a sort of greeny yellowish) curry this evening. It was rather good.
- [Wednesday 5th January]
- Back at Work
- [Tuesday 4th January]
First day back at work after the long Christmas / New Year break - as I'd had some holiday to use up at the end of the year I'd ended up out of the office for over two weeks. Had been nervous about coming back to a huge pile of email that had to be dealt with, but in the end it wasn't actually too bad.
My sore throat had persisted since Saturday, and so I decided I should try and have a few days off from drinking, starting today.
- A Walk in the Country
- [Monday 3rd January 2011]
Possibly as a means to ease the transition from the last week-and-a-bit in rural Wales to regular life back in the big city, I thought it would be a good idea today to try and get out of London and go for a walk in the country somewhere.
I hadn't really planned this in advance particularly, so by the time we'd been our usual slobbish selves and lolled around the flats for most of the morning our options were somewhat limited - so after a quick search on the web I decided to head for the area around Oxted on the Kent / Surrey border. I was also intrigued to see what it was liked as we'd very briefly entertained the idea of buying a house here a couple of years ago (it being rural and relatively cheap, but on a convenient trail line which goes into Victoria).
We got the train to Hurst Green, and very approximately followed my own modified version of a route I'd found on the web - out to a pub called the Carpenter's Arms, and then back to Oxted. The countryside wasn't exactly the most idyllic that England has to offer, but still, it was nice enough I suppose - and if nothing else it was a bit of fresh air. We had a simple but pleasant enough lunch at the Carpenter's Arms (a baguette with chips) - a pub which in itself was simple but pleasant enough.
We didn't linger, and jumped back on a train from Oxted before 4, getting us back home before 5. We stopped off at a Patisserie Valerie on the way back to buy some cake for a late afternoon today, although Chie found the cake to be a bit disappointing.
- New Coat
- [Sunday 2nd January 2011]
I'd been looking for a new winter coat for some time now, but everything I'd looked at hadn't been quite right. Most of them just seemed a bit too "boxy" - I think they're designed to go over a suit or something. I really didn't want anything mass produced from a high street store this time round, and instead wanted something a bit more stylish and unusual.
Just before Christmas we'd popped into the branch of Boggi on Jermyn Street - I wasn't really familiar with this brand and that seems to be with good reason - they're based in Milan and only have two shops in the UK. I'd rather liked a couple of the coats I'd tried on there, but hadn't been able to quite make up my mind (particularly as they're somewhat on the pricey side). So today Chie suggested we go and have a look at the other Boggi store - the one on Sloane Square - and have another look.
I didn't really understand the sizes here (they seemed to be colour coded or something) - and when I asked the shop assistant which one was a size 38 or 40 I got a bit of a blank look. Rather superbly she was Italian and could barely speak English. We then entered into a slightly comical dialogue where I tried on various different coats and by a series of gestures, facial expressions, and the odd Italian word, she attempted to guide me as to which was the right coat for me. It occurred to me had she been any other nationality than Italian I would probably have considered the whole situation preposterous and walked out without buying anything. However as it was this was clearly a good sales technique and I was eventually convinced that one of the coats was the right one for me. It's the single most expensive item of clothing I've ever bought (I'm generally pretty stingy when it comes to spending on clothes) but I love the look of it, and as it has a sort of inner jacket it's also warm and comfortable.
We did a bit more shopping around the King's Road, but it was already late afternoon, and our thoughts started to turn to dinner. Chie said she fancied eating at Oliveto and so we meandered slowly over in that direction, by way of a couple of pubs - the Duke of Wellington and the Star - for a drink or two.
- New Year's Day
- [Saturday 1st January 2011]
Woke up quite late, having not got home until after 3AM last night, and with a sore throat. It had come on rather suddenly (I don't think I had any sign of it the day before) and, it would turn out, would refuse to go away for some time.
Having a three day weekend ahead of us we didn't feel any strong compulsion to do anything particularly today, compounded somewhat by the confusion over what shops etc would or wouldn't be open today (was it a bank holiday? was it a normal Saturday? nobody seemed to know for sure).
So we mainly just slobbed about the flat, only venturing out towards the end of the afternoon to go to Sainsbury's to buy something for dinner - having been away until yesterday evening, and not having had any chance to shop then, the cupboards were somewhat bare.
- New Year's Eve
- [Friday 31st December 2010 - Saturday 1st January 2011]
We left North Wales in the afternoon today. We got a train from Bangor, changing at Chester, and had managed to get cheap first class tickets (although there was only actually first class seating for the second leg, which may partly explain why the tickets were cheap). I was surprised by how quiet the train was - I thought lots of people might be moving about the country in preparation for New Year's Eve, but apparently not.
We arrived into Euston before 7 and headed back to the flat to drop off our things and make ourselves look a bit more presentable, before heading over to the South Bank of the Thames near Tower Bridge where we'd been invited by my friend Al and his girlfriend Charlotte for a New Year's Eve soirée
...and very grateful guests we were too - New Year's Eve almost always ends up being a bit of a damp squid, so it was jolly nice to be invited somewhere. It was a fairly low key affair - there were just five of us there - but it was very nice nonetheless.
There seemed to be an endless supply of Champagne: I think we managed to work our way through 5 bottles - effectively one each.
A little before midnight we headed out to stand on Tower Bridge to see the fireworks. Owing to the bend in the river you can't really see much from there, but it was still nice to be surrounded by all the revellers outdoors.
We then headed back to their flat after that for more Champagne, and I think we ended up staying until some time after 2AM. Conveniently the tube runs through the night on New Year's Eve in London so we had no problem getting home.
- [Thursday 30th December 2010]
Dad took us out for a trip around Angelsey today. We started off with a short walk along the cliffs from a viewpoint where we could see back to the Llyn peninsula, where Dad's house is - it was nice to see this from the opposite direction for a change.
From there we went on for a walk along the beach at Rhoscolyn - a very pleasant little cove - and a somewhat disappointing lunch at the pub there. Dad was however determined to rectify this and we headed to Beaumaris for tea at Sarah's which was excellent. They do a savoury cream tea - cheese scones with cream cheese and a tomato relish. This is a stroke of genius, and was very nice indeed.
Headed back to Dad's house after that by way of the only Waitrose in North Wales, by Meni Bridge, where we bought things for dinner. We decided we should cook for Dad tonight to give him a night off, and made vegetarian sausages and mash with assorted interesting root vegetables (turnip and beetroot), served with a bottle of Pol Roger. There was something wonderfully Betjeman-esque about bangers and mash with Champagne.
- Wednesday in North Wales
- [Wednesday 29th December 2010]
Another fairly quiet day in North Wales. Martin and Lucy were heading back to Scotland today, so we all went out for lunch together to wave them off. We ate at a place called the Cliffs Inn, which I suppose usually caters to holiday makers in the area, so was accordingly a bit naff.
In the evening Dad found a keg of Green Valley Cyder in the cupboards which he'd bought on a recent trip to Devon. Having been given a book on cider for Christmas my interest had been piqued, and we spent a very pleasant evening talking about cider whilst supping away, and daydreaming about the imaginary family cider farm we'd own one day.
- Tuesday in North Wales
- [Tuesday 28th December 2010]
A fairly quiet day in North Wales, the weather wasn't so great (and wouldn't be tomorrow either) so we didn't make any plans to go anywhere. Chie and I went for a short walk down to the nearest little bay to Dad's house in the afternoon, but apart from that we pretty much stayed in all day.
- South Wales to North Wales
- [Monday 27th December 2010]
For the next leg of our Christmas world tour of Wales we were heading from Abergavenny (in the South East of Wales) up to the Llyn peninsula - the North West of Wales - where Dad lives. Rather than take the easy option and get a faster train to Bangor (which then means quite a long drive for Dad to come and pick us up) I'd decided we should try and get all the way to Pwllheli, which is much closer to Dad's house, but means going on smaller, slower trains.
On the plus side there's some wonderful scenery en route, and we were able to enjoy lovely snowy landscapes at least part of the way there, before it started to turn distinctly grey and the visibility wasn't so good. The first leg of our journey was up to Shrewsbury - and this leg was where we had all the best views. From there it was smaller train which wound through mid wales - splitting at Machynlleth, before then hugging the coast along through Barmouth, Harlech and Porthmadog before heading along the South coast of the Llyn to Pwllheli. Unfortunately for most of the latter part of the journey (where we'd normally be treated to lovely coastal views) we couldn't really see much.
We arrived at Pwllheli bang on time - at 15:18 - where Dad was there to meet us.
- Boxing Day
- [Sunday 26th December 2010]
Had a quiet boxing day in Abergavenny, just the five of us (me, Chie, Vera, Robin and Robert) which was very nice.
Vera and Robin went out to meet the neighbours towards the end of the morning, leaving me, Chie and Robert to fend for ourselves for lunch. That was rather nice - we'd been catered for by Robin or Louise for the last few meals, and I liked the contrast of just being able to eat whatever we fancied. Started with soup, then had some stilton and Christmas cake (both from Fortnum and Mason).
In the afternoon Chie and I ventured out for a bit of a walk in the snow, but didn't get far from the house, it was pretty cold still!
In the evening we had a bottle of Veuve Fourny (which we'd discovered at Fortnum and Mason back in September). This was Brut Nature, the nature apparently meaning no sugar was added in the second fermentation. It makes for a very light, crisp and elegant champagne - the overriding note of this particular wine being "minerally". This seemed to go down very well this evening.
- Christmas Day
- [Saturday 25th December 2010]
We awoke Christmas morning in a snowy Abergavenny - although the snow was just lying on the ground from several days ago it was still very picturesque. I can barely remember the last time I saw snow on the ground on Christmas day. Although I suspect this year most people were sick of he stuff by the time we'd got to Christmas day!
After a very pleasant leisurely breakfast and a morning spent opening presents we headed over to Louise and Ian's in Chepstow where we were going to be having lunch. We were treated to canapes and a bottle of fizz before sitting down for lunch around 3 - as seems to be the tradition.
We headed back to Abergavenny some time after lunch where we spent the remainder of the evening.
- Christmas Eve - On the Way to Wales
- [Friday 24th December 2010]
Chie was determined to work right up to the last minute - and in particular she didn't want to use a day's holiday on Christmas Eve, when people who actually go into the office are usually told they can just go home at lunchtime. I'd originally planned to go to South Wales the day before Chie, but with all the snow complications of recent weeks I started to worry there was a chance I might get to South Wales but Chie might end up stranded in London by herself - which would be awful! So we both ended up getting the train in the afternoon on Christmas Eve.
I experienced some trepidation - despite us both having booked seats, and the fact we were getting on where the train started from - I still had visions of the seat reservations being cancelled as they often are, and having to fight for space on the train. In the end all that worry was unnecessary - it was surprisingly quiet, there were even a few empty seats (although I suspect these were people who missed the train).
There was at least a bit of a complication - we arrived at a snowy Newport station to find our connecting train through to Abergavenny had been cancelled. Given that it was freezing cold and I really wasn't in the mood for messing about I decided we should just take a taxi the rest of the way, and, as Vera would say "hang the expense".
So we arrived at Vera and Robin's (Robert was there too) by 7, and I immediately felt like Christmas had begun.
- Yet More Christmas Shopping
- [Thursday 23rd December]
Last full day in London before heading off on our world tour of Wales, and I still had more Christmas shopping left to do. However as before I attempted to break it up a bit, with a lunchtime pint at the Red Lion on Duke of York Street, followed by a nice relaxing late lunch at Tibits.
In the evening I met up with Chie and we went for dinner together at Woodlands - given that we'd be spending the next week in Wales we thought it might be difficult to get a decent curry after today.
- More Christmas Shopping and Visting the Kids
- [Wednesday 22nd December 2010]
Another day spent Christmas shopping. This time I broke the day up a bit with some falafel for lunch at Maoz on Old Compton Street, which is rapidly becoming a favourite of mine.
I decided we should go and visit Adrian, Liz and the kids in Guildford, as we wouldn't see them over Christmas otherwise, and I was mindful of it being Katie's birthday on Friday too. So today's Christmas shopping was largely focused on buying things for the Guildford branch of the family.
Met up with Chie at Oxford Circus in the afternoon, as she was going to see a consultant on Harley St about her teeth. This was handy as she didn't have to go back to the office after that, and we were able to get away to Guildford a little ahead of the rush hour, and did our usual trick of trying to wrap presents on the train.
Once in Guildford, after spending a while at the house with the kids, we all went out for dinner together which was nice, and handy for getting back to the station.
- Winter Solstice in London
- [Tuesday 21st December 2010]
Notionally spent today Christmas shopping, but in practice I only managed to get a present for Chie, which, as it happened to be from Hatton Gardens, then placed me conveniently in the right neck of the woods for some festive visits to all of my favourite pubs - the Cittie of Yorke, Ye Old Mitre and the Seven Stars.
Following this I headed back to the office - several of my colleagues having not taken the whole week off as I did - from where we went out to enjoy some Christmas drinks at the Nag's Head in Belgravia.
- Monday in the East Midlands
- [Monday 20th December 2010]
I'd originally planned to spend two nights in the East Midlands, but with all the snow related disruption I was a bit worried about getting stranded there, so decided to head back this evening instead.
We went out for an earlt dinner at the Chinese restaurant near the village (the Golden Dragon) which was rather good as before, and conveniently on the way to the station. So I jumped on a train around 7:30, and was back home by about 9:30.
- Off to the East Midlands
- [Sunday 19th December 2010]
Got the train up to the East Midlands in the morning for a pre-Christmas visit to Mum, and was treated to some nice snowy scenery en route.
After some soup for lunch, spent the afternoon making Christmas sweets with Mum - see the pictures for the fruits of our labour (pun intended).
Had a Sunday roast in the evening, Mum made a sort of pastry thing with peppers in it, which surprisingly we all ate.