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:
Moving Yet Again
Friday with Kurihara-kun
Dim Sum and Primrose Hill
One Month In...
Back at the London Office
Back in London
San Francisco to London
Last Day of the Business Trip
Into the Last Week
- [Monday 26th February]
Sorry for my very low budget pun there - I was simply trying to convey that the main event of the evening was going to a pub near our flat so we could use their free wireless internet access. It turned out to be quite a nice little pub actually, and so pleased was I about their hassle free internet offering, that we also decided to have dinner there.
So we passed the evening supping London Pride, nibbling on Paninis and browsing the great big world wide web. It is quite painful to have not had any proper internet connection at home for the last two months (partly of course because we didn't really have a permanent place to live, but still the temporary places had shockingly poor provision too), but for this evening at least that frustration was lessened by this very pleasant boozer.
- Mixed Bag
- [Sunday 25th February]
Today was something of a mixed bag. Having let it lapse far too long I finally decided today that I really must get my hair cut. I still have no idea where is a good place to go in London, but remember seeing a place in Soho open on a Sunday recently, so headed over there. They were very efficient and surprisingly cheap (a snip at 6 quid, if you'll pardon the pun) but on the downside my head has been somewhat itchy since, so they've probably given me nits (knits? gnits? pnits?).
Whilst there I also popped into Arigato, the Japanese shop, and bought a few essentials - tofu, miso paste, aburage, umeboshi and some proper imported Asahi beer. Whilst Chie only returned from Japan a couple of weeks ago, I've been away for over two months now, and so found I was quite missing Japanese food.
After a late lunch cobbled together from these Japanese delicacies, we decided to head out for a bit of a walk. Chie was planning to meet some of her friends at Victoria station later on, so I determined to get there by a very roundabout route - along by the river, via the Houses of Parliament etc. It was quite a pleasant stroll through some parts of London we wouldn't normally see, but it was a bit on the cold side, and having been a bit poorly recently I eventually decided I would have to head home and spend the rest of the evening in the warm.
Chie and I both had M and S ready meals for dinner, very lazy I know, but we don't really have any proper cooking utensils yet.
Ah yes, there is one slightly more eventful thing to mention about today - I'm in print! Well, sort of. A while ago I had written a couple of pub reviews for BeerInTheEvening.com, and, although I had long since forgotten about it, I had received an email saying that they were planning to turn extracts from the website into a book, and wanted my permission to include my reviews. So today whilst browsing in a bookshop (looking for an Icelandic phrasebook, as you do) I just happened to come across said book, and lo and behold the couple of paragraphs I wrote on the Cittie of Yorke are in there. Reading it back now it wasn't exactly my most flowery bit of prose but I like to think it conveys a bit of genuine emotion about a pub which is very dear to me. If you're really interested, you can find my short review (if you can call it that) on this page - if you can't be bothered to read all the way through, just search on that page for jhawkins. Oh and no, before you ask, we don't get a share in the royalties or anything.
- [Saturday 24th February]
A couple of guys from work were getting together this afternoon to have a play on Nintendo's new Wii. Whilst this wouldn't normally be my sort of thing, Chie seemed to be quite keen, and so in the interest of expanding my horizons etc I thought I should give it a go. I suppose I did quite like the sports (although I was apalling bad at golf), but we then played some other game called Wario Ware or something which was just too weird to bare.
After that we went out for dinner together, and as it happened ended up at Eat and Two Veg (which I'd been to a few weeks ago).
- [Friday 23rd February]
Unusually I actually had quite a good day at work today. Well, I say good, it still wasn't hugely inspiring or anything, but I managed to make good progress on the current project, which did feel quite good.
In the evening Chie and I went for a bit of a wander in the area around our new flat, and found a slightly unusual Sainsbury's (it was very posh looking), where we bought things for dinner - actually largely just a selection of cheese.
Our cheeses of choice were Emmental, Yarg, Sage Derby and Y Fenni, if anyone is interested.
- First Visitor
- [Thursday 22nd February]
So today was our first full day in the new flat. It was nice to be able to walk to work in the morning, a fairly pleasant (and certainly not taxing) 15 minute stroll.
It turned out Adrian (that's my brother, for any non family members reading this) was also in London this afternoon, so we arranged to meet up after work. We met nearby my office, then popped to the new flat so Adrian could see what it was like. He's the first visitor we've had in the new flat, and whilst I'd presumed he would remind us of how (relatively) small and hideously overpriced it was, he actually seemed to emit vague murmurings of approval, perhaps realising that that's just the way things are in London. Sometimes this kind of pragmatism is a much appreciated commodity!
Anywho, after the inspection, me Chie and Adrian went out for a bite to eat - a Pizza Express near the station for convenience. It was all very nice.
- Moving In
- [Wednesday 21st February]
Finally today, after two months of being at no fixed address, we moved into our new apartment. I had been a little concerned there would be some kind of last minute hitch or something, but actually it all went very smoothly. We signed the contracts, picked up the keys, and by about 11 in the morning we were in our new home (and then I had to head off to work).
Whilst the flat came furnished, there are of course always a few bear essentials you need when you move into a place, and given that we basically just had clothes in our luggage, we realised we didn't have any sheets for the bed or towels or anything. Chie had been out shopping while I was at work in the afternoon, but it turned out the sheets weren't the right size, so we in the evening we headed back to the shop again to change them. This was probably just as well, given that we didn't really have any food in (or utensils to cook with) we needed to go out to eat anyway.
We went to a Caffe Uno - a chain we used to go to a few years ago, and despite it being a bit on the noisy side (apparently some problem with one of the fridges, which I eventually persuaded them to turn off) it was all very pleasant.
Anyway, it was very nice to finally be in somewhere we could properly call our own (albeit rented, of course!).
- Indian Takeaway
- [Tuesday 20th February]
Another takeaway requirement this evening as Chie still wasn't feeling quite 100% - so again I headed over to Earl's Court, and this time settled on Indian instead. It was a funny little cafe place, that had all the curries pre-prepared, and they basically just microwaved them as you ordered. I was a little dubious about this, but the food actually turned out to be really nice again.
...and of course more Japanese TV again, we're both going to miss that!
- [Monday 19th February]
Chie had caught a cold, and wasn't feeling all that great today. This (and possibly the lure of Japanese TV) meant that she didn't feel like leaving the hotel in the evening, so I was tasked with trying to find us something we could eat in our room for dinner. There wasn't really a great deal in the way of takeaway food in the area immediately around the hotel (Gloucester Road) so on the way back from work I took a gamble on getting off at the next tube station along - Earl's Court - thinking it to be the sort of place that might do better in that department. I was rather pleased with this decision - I came across a Chinese restaurant which did some takeaway which was very good indeed.
I'd found the hotel room a little claustrophobic the previous evening, but tonight as we munched our way through a few cartons of Chinese delicacies, to the background of Japanese TV, I actually found it rather cosy.
- Moving Yet Again
- [Sunday 18th February]
Our two weeks at the temporary flat laid on by my company had come to an end, and as we couldn't move into our proper apartment until Wednesday, we had a three night gap to fill in. As we didn't have anything booked, I decided it might be easiest to initially take all of our luggage to my office, and then once there I spent a while looking for a hotel on the web. By an odd coincidence the hotel I ended up booking was actually just a very short walk from where our temporary apartment had been, so taking all the stuff to the office was a bit of a wasted journey, but that's just one of those things.
Anyway, by lunchtime we had a place to stay, and were liberated of our belongings, so could concentrate on having a nice day out. Chie had arranged for us to meet up with her friend Mika-san, and so we spent a very pleasant afternoon with her.
After meeting up we decided to go for a spot of afternoon tea at good old Fortnum and Mason's which was very pleasant as ever. The scones and clotted cream tasted particularly good today, and the tea was very refreshing - just what was needed after a morning of packing and lugging large bags about.
After that we were at a bit of a loss for what to do, so we went for a long meandering stroll, down to the Thames and then along as far as the Tate Modern. We went for a bit of a look round there, and then headed over to "a nice little pub just around the corner from here" as I put it. It was in fact a bit of a walk over to The George by London Bridge - but I thought it was worth it at least - a lovely pub as always.
Mika-san headed back home after this, leaving Chie and I to go and check into our hotel. I was a little concerned it would be a bit naff, but it didn't turn out too bad - it was quite a tall building so offered some nice views out over the city. Better still they had JSTV - the Japanese satellite channel - meaning Chie could watch lots of Japanese programs which she seemed very pleased about! Given how generic hotel rooms are the world over (particularly this one, a large chain hotel), for all intents and purposes we could just as well have been in Japan.
- [Saturday 17th February]
Kurihara-kun had stayed with us the previous evening, but today was heading back down to Dorset. So when we finally all surfaced we went out for a very late breakfast (technically lunch) and then waved him off.
We didn't really do a whole lot the rest of the afternoon. Both Chie and I were feeling a bit tired and lethargic, so we just slobbed around our temporary flat place, watched a few episodes of the Simpsons, and I think Chie dozed off for a while in the afternoon.
For dinner I made a determined effort to use up all of the assorted odds and ends we had accumulated in the temporary flat over the past couple of weeks. So we had a sort of pasta meal with Quorn, olive and tomato pasta sauce, green beans, red pesto, that Twineham Grange Parmesan-esque cheese, sun dried tomatoes, etc etc. It actually turned out quite well.
- Friday with Kurihara-kun
- [Friday 16th February]
Another boring day at work, but on the plus side it was a Friday, and as an added bonus we heard today that our references had been approved, meaning we can move into our new flat next week. Which is nice.
Kurihara-kun was still in London, so in the evening we met up with him again. We started off at our temporary flat place, with pizza and a few beers. Then after that we got on the tube and headed over to Blackfriars, from where I knocked up an impromptu pub crawl for his delectation.
We visited a total of six pubs during the course of the evening - starting out at the Blackfriars, then Ye Olde Chesire Cheese, after that the Old Bank of England, then the Edgar Wallace, and then the (non old) Chesire Cheese, before finishing up at the Seven Stars.
I was very pleased with myself for having just remembered all these pubs from previous crawls - clearly all that "research" had paid off!
Anyway, a nice night out - a definite tick in the "it was worth moving to London" box.
- [Thursday 15th February]
Today Chie's Mum's friend's son (and breathe out) was in London again, so we met up with him after I finished work. We decided to get some Indian takeaway and take it back to our temporary apartment place (partly this decision was driven by me and Chie having had a bad run of restaurants recently). Chie and Kurihara-kun had a dangerously looking meaty vindaloo, and I had a couple of somewhat safer vegetable dishes. A slightly different way to spend an evening, and very pleasant too.
- [Wednesday 14th February]
Not much to report. Daytime was relatively uneventful as always, although I did get the chance to talk to a couple of other people I work with, both of whom said they also thought the current project we were working on was basically pretty uninspiring. It made me feel somewhat better to know that I wasn't alone in this respect.
In the evening Chie cooked a kind of yaki soba, and in an attempt to continue with the Japanese theme I got us a bottle of sake at our nearby Waitrose. It has been a while since I've had atsukan (hot sake) and I rather enjoyed it.
- Nine Pounds
- [Tuesday 13th February]
I spent most of today in a pretty glum mood. There were two main causes: firstly my new job is turning out to be very bland indeed. Secondly this general state of malaise was compounded by having been ripped off for crappy food twice in one day.
There was a "team lunch" on today which meant going round the corner to a little Singapore noodle restaurant. It's now the third time I've been there, every time I've had something different, and every time it has been really, really bland. Once a drink and a tip had been added in lunch ending up costing me nine pounds, for a bowl of tasteless watery noodles. I was not happy.
In the evening Chie and I made the mistake of going out for dinner at a nearby Italian restaurant, which I should have known better about. As soon as we got inside I could tell it was going to be crap, but I was too polite to back out. I paid nine pounds again for "linguine vegetariana" which was a bowl of crappy pasta with a sauce made from the vegetable offcuts of a load of other dishes. It was tasteless and had obviously had absolutely no effort put into it at all.
I think I've had just about enough of being ripped off for crappy food already.
- [Monday 12th February]
Nothing to report, very uneventful day at work followed by a fairly uninteresting evening. Chie made dinner - an unusual combination of veggie chili and cous cous which actually worked surprisingly well.
- [Sunday 11th February]
Following yesterday's fairly active day out, today a bout of lethargy set in. We initially set out to visit the nearby Natural History Museum, but it was pretty crowded, and so after 30 minutes or so we were ready to leave. We took a vague meander around the area looking for a place to have a nice sit down, and settled on a Coffee Republic.
Not much else to report really - with the exception of another trip out to the supermarket we spent the remainder of the day back at our temporary apartment. Dinner was a fairly long and drawn out affair, starting with some nice bruschette and then later on some spaghetti.
That's it really!
- Dim Sum and Primrose Hill
- [Saturday 10th February]
This was mine and Chie's first day off together in London, and so we thought we should try and make the most of it. We settled upon a vague plan to walk from our temporary apartment near Gloucester Road, to one of our old favourite places - Primrose Hill.
It was a very pleasant stroll, and on the way we stopped off for dim sum at Royal China on Baker Street. They had a surprisingly good selection of vegetarian dim sum (at least four different items) which were all very good, and we also followed up with a special ho fun dish, which was even better. I would definitely go again.
Eventually we got to Primrose Hill, which was nice as always, but from there found ourselves carrying on to another old haunt of ours - the O2 centre at Finchley Road. We did a spot of shopping at the big Sainsbury's there and then got the tube back to Gloucester Road.
The evening was pretty uneventful really - all that walking had tired us out - but still, a nice day nonetheless.
- Flat Hunting
- [Friday 9th February]
I had got myself a bit worked up over the whole process of finding a place to live in London. Everyone I had spoken to had told me it was a hellish business, and previous memories of looking for places in Japan and elsewhere in England didn't bode well. Up until today I had basically confined myself to scouring the web, but today we had arranged to actually take a look at some places, so we were making a start in earnest, well aware we could have a long and ardurous process ahead of us.
...and then we decided to take the very first place we looked at.
Well, technically it was the second place - there were two flats available in the same development, but given that we already knew the first one didn't have a washing machine or much of a kitchen to speak of, the choice was a fairly simple one.
Of course, I need to be very cautious about not counting my chickens. Although we put down a holding deposit, we won't actually be able to sign any contracts until we've been through a reference check, which could be a bit of a stumbling block given the irregularity of having recently lived in Japan, and not really having a current address. So, fingers are crossed, but I'm well aware it could still fall through.
In the evening Chie cooked again, and we just had a very quiet night in basically. I'd like to say it was a big weight off our minds to have got a place to live sorted out, but as I feel so compelled to say (so as not to tempt fate etc) it is not definite yet.
- One Month In...
- [Thursday 8th February]
Well, today marked one month since I started the new job. In retrospect it hasn't been all that exciting so far, but I remain optimisitc that things will improve - if nothing else I'm told people change projects quite frequently at this company, and so if my current project does continue to be somewhat uninspiring I may well have the option to do something different after a few months.
After work I just went straight back to our temporary apartment, where Chie had very kindly made dinner. This was accompanied with a bottle of red wine from our neaby Waitrose, and it was all very nice.
- [Wednesday 7th February]
Chie came and met me for lunch which was really nice - the cafe at the office is currently being refurbished, so instead we ate out at a nearby Italian restaurant. As we were leaving Chie got a call from her (breathe in) Mother's friend's son - a chap called Kurihara-kun. It turns out he was in London, and wanted to know if we'd like to go out somewhere that evening.
So I decided to go for "set London night out course A" - my two favourite pubs around Chancery Lane, followed by the whisky society. We kicked off with the Cittie of Yorke, where we also had dinner (Kurihara-kun bravely ordered steak and kidney pudding). Next up was Ye Olde Mitre, and I tried in my terrible Japanese to give him something of a feel for the history of the place. Actually this was also Chie's first time to visit this marvellous place, which I am forever going on about. I'm not sure it made quite the same impression on my Japanese guests as it always does on me, but each to their own I suppose!
We rounded off the night at the whisky society, which was pretty busy for a change (I guess I often end up going there part way through the afternoon or something). We got chatting to some of the other members there, which was nice.
Whenever entertaining foreign visitors it can be hard to know if they've really enjoyed your recommended venues, but I hope at least I showed Kurihara-kun some parts of London he wouldn't have seen otherwise.
- [Tuesday 6th February]
After over a month, today I could finally see Chie again, which was very nice indeed. It worked out pretty well - her flight landed at Heathrow around 4:30, and she got a coach from there into central London arriving at the same time I left work. I went and met her at Victoria Coach Station (what a dreary place that is nowadays!) and from there we got a taxi to the temporary apartment to drop off her stuff.
We went almost straight out from there, on foot, to find somewhere to have dinner. We settled on a Lebanese restaurant (based on the criteria of a cuisine that we couldn't have easily found in Japan or the US). Had an assortment of mezze and a bottle of very fragrant Lebanese wine.
It's great to have her back!
- Back at the London Office
- [Monday 5th February]
First day back at the London office after my three weeks in California. Jetlag put in an absolutelyt text book performance and woke me up at 4AM, and I know now from experience that any attempt to get back to sleep is pretty much in vain. So I got up around 6, and was at the office by 7 - the lack of Internet access in the temporary flat I'm staying in meant there wasn't a great deal of point hanging around!
At work I share a room with the three other guys on my immediate team, but today all of them were still in transit, so I efectively had an office all to myself. This was really nice - I closed the door and put some of my own music on, and spent a large part of the day working on my side project which, given that I thought it up myself, I actually find very interesting.
I did a fairly long day in the end - didn't leave the office until around 7 in the evening. I actually don't mind working long hours when I'm not leaving Chie at home by herself, and the work itself is actually interesting.
In the evening I decided to "cook" back at my temporary flat place - which effectively meant going and buying some microwaveable things from Waitrose (this place doesn't really have proper cooking facilities). It felt really quite miserable buying these meals for one in the supermarket! Still, only one day to go until Chie arrives in the UK.
- Back in London
- [Sunday 4th February]
So the flight from SFO landed some time around 11. As is often the case it took quite a while to get out of the airport - the plane had landed at a remote stand (something to do with it being foggy) which meant a bus journey and then a long wait at baggage reclaim. Still, by some time around 1 I was in central London (got the Heathrow Express into Paddington again) and from there set about finding the new temporary apartment which my company had arranged for me for the next couple of weeks.
Recently I don't seem to have had a good run of locating accomodation. The first place in London was a bit of an ordeal - not so much in finding the right area, but in finding the entrance and how to get in. Similarly in the US I had spent a good hour or two driving up and down the same road trying to find my hotel, made more difficult because that road was at least 30 miles long and the numbers kept on resetting. Today was a continuation of that theme - I got a taxi to what I thought was the right address, but it turned out the details I had been sent had the street name subtily wrong. London streetnames often seem to have an XYZ road, XYZ place and XYZ gardens all within the same area. So again I spent a while wandering about, tired, slightly agitated, and with big heavy bags, until I did eventually find the right place.
The new temporary apartment is a lot less impressive than the place I had stayed in for the first week - most notably no internet access. Hard to believe in this day and age, especially considering it was chosen by my company. Back in Silicon Valley internet connections where everywhere and often free - it was a bit like stepping back into the dark ages to come back to London where connectivity is comparatively rare (and certainly not free).
Anyway, on the plus side I guess the fact that this place is not so luxurious will be something of an incentive to find a more permanent place to live ASAP! Moreover it is better if the permanent place is a step up in the world rather than a step down.
I actually popped into the office in the afternoon, because I just wasn't sure what to do with myself in the absence of any internet connection!
Then on leaving there I decided to try and find something to eat - I particularly fancied a Sunday roast type meal (vegetarian of course). A quick consultation on the web pointed me in the direction of a place called "Eat and Two Veg" near Baker Street. Again I had a hard time finding the place, probably made worse by how tired and jetlagged I was. They did indeed have a vegetarian Sunday roast on the menu. It was OK I guess, but I didn't really have much of an appetite, and there were a number of areas needing improvement - e.g. consistency/quantity of gravy, and general lack of "umami". I think they really could have done better for the price - another downside of exchanging California for London!
I headed back to the flat after that, and tried in vain to stay awake for as long as I could, but by 9 I found I couldn't keep my eyes open any longer - fair enough really - I had been awake around 28 hours by that point.
- San Francisco to London
- [Saturday 3rd February]
I took the unusual step for once of starting to write an entry half way through a day, as I'm here at the airport and have some time to waste.
Today has so far been the day of many internet connections. I woke up at the hotel which has been my home for the last three weeks, and before checking out there availed myself of the internet connection a bit. I had a couple of things to drop off at the office on the way to the airport, so also took advantage of that internet connection for a while. Just for kicks, after leaving the office I then sat outside on the grass, and availed myself of the free public wireless they have in Mountain View.
I then drove to the airport, arriving rediculously early, concious I could also take advantage of my NorthWest gold card and use the lounge there. So yet another internet connection (and free beer!).
I randomly bought a boxed set of The Simpsons at the airport, and spent my time in the NorthWest lounge transcoding episodes so I could watch them on my iPod on the plane (thanks HandBrake!), and also downloaded a few bits and pieces from iTunes for additional entertainment whilst flying. Apparently the flight is an hour shorter on the way back, so that plus the fact I ought to have plenty to entertain me should mean it isn't too tedious!
So, from here on I'm writing after arriving in the UK. As often seems to be the way, the flight started off pretty miserable and, whilst it didn't particularly improve, I guess I just gradually got used to it. Owing to some "policy issues" and a general lack of organisation, I actually had to fly economy this time, which was pretty depressing. I at least paid the little surcharge to get an exit seat, so legroom-wise I was OK, but the seat was still narrow and uncomfortable, and I had to spend the whole flight sat next to a couple who were just frightfully common. An awful business.
Having flown a couple of times with Virgin recently, it seems I had largely exhausted the movies / TV shows in their selection that I wanted to watch. I did find a couple of things I hadn't seen before though, including Borat and that Chinese film called The Promise. I actually quite enjoyed The Promise, I was pleased they managed to resist that strong temptation in East Asian films to have a thoroughly miserable ending where everyone is dead. Yea, sure they had to kill off a large part of the cast in the closing moments, but not enough to leave me with the feeling of "Well what was the point of all that then?".
Also I watched a few of those episodes of The Simpsons on my iPod, which was a resounding success - that sort of animation seems to come out very well on the little iPod screen.
- Last Day of the Business Trip
- [Friday 2nd February]
...well the last full day anyway. Not particularly exciting. Had avocado pizza for lunch which was a little odd. Dinner ended up being pizza as well. Everyone over from the London office seemed to be a bit tired like I was, so rather than going out for dinner we just got a couple of pizzas and ate them in one of the guys' rooms.
That's it really. After dinner I wiled away the rest of the evening on the Internet. I randomly set up a MySpace page, just to see what all the fuss was about. I'm not sure I really get it, but still, it passed the time.
- Dive Bar
- [Thursday 1st February]
Another generally tedious day at the office here in California, although it was punctuated with a nice lunch with a technical writer - a new friend I had made the previous week.
I had made plans to go out for a few drinks with some people from work later on in the evening, which meant I had a solitary dinner in my hotel room rather than the usual meal out.
So later on in the evening I went to what the locals affectionately refer to as a "dive bar" - the place one of my colleagues had proposed to meet up at. I had seen this place before, and it looked pretty scary from the outside, but once inside it was actually really nice. I was the first of the group to arrive, and whilst sitting there I got talking to a guy who turned out to be the lead singer of a band called Flexx Bronco (or go and see his MySpace page if you're into that sort of thing). We had a chat about music and all that. Just like every good up and coming rockstar, he was hoping to make it big in Japan.
Eventually the people from work turned up, and it turned into a bit of a long night.
Anyway, it was a great bar - just goes to show you shouldn't write a place off at face value!
- British Pub
- [Wednesday 31st January]
Another day in the similar vein of business trip days. In the evening had a big team outing to a sort of British pub - it was actually quite a nice place, or at least I thought so. This time I didn't have to drive, so was able to get a couple of beers, although I was concious as ever of trying not to embarass myself in front of my new colleagues.
It has now been a whole month since I last saw Chie. In fact this means I haven't seen her yet this year! It is starting to get to me a bit, and I'm wanting this business trip to be over as quickly as possible.
- [Tuesday 30th January]
More of the same really. Went out for a Mexican meal with the guys from the London office and one guy from the US office. That was pretty good, although I again fell into the trap of driving there, and so no Margaritas or Coronas for me!
- Into the Last Week
- [Monday 29th January]
So today was the first day of my third and final week here in California. The other guys from the London office had come out to join me for a week of meetings etc. So this evening I went out for dinner with them, rather unusually to an Afghan restaurant, which was interesting. Not much else happened really.