John Hawkins



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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Recent Entries:
Plan B: Pizza Express
Pies
Monday
Tea Dependency and Alfie
The Duke of York
Doing my own thing
Pet Project Preparation
Wednesday
Tuesday
Back to London
Sunday in South Wales
Off to South Wales
End of the Week Drinks
Parsley Sauce
Pancakes
Whisky Society
Halloumi
Sunday Roast
Fallout
Hiroshimakenjinkai
Thursday
Bebidas con el doctor Lang
America Unchained
Monday Evening at the Club
Another Uninspiring Weekend
Waste of a Day
Drinking at the Office
Mini Pub Crawl
Another flat viewing, a curry, and a late night
Cutover
More Flat Hunting
The North

Plan B: Pizza Express
[Wednesday 27th February]
The apartment complex (or whatever you call it) where we live has a few handy facilities, including a bar and brasserie which we have almost never been to. We did poke our noses round the door once and it was pretty dead, so we never felt that inclined to bother again. It has recently been undergoing refurbishment though, and tonight - we thought - all the residents had been invited along to an opening night with free drinks and nibbles.

When we got there though we realised we'd got the date wrong - the opening had actually been the previous evening and tonight was just business as usual. I suppose we should have just stayed anyway, but suddenly we didn't really feel like it any more (maybe the absence of free food and drinks?) and so decided to go elsewhere instead.

There's a little Pizza Express just a short walk from where we live, so we decided to head over there. I'd forgotten how much I liked Pizza Express actually - the dough balls and all that. So we passed a very pleasant hour or two there.
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Pies
[Tuesday 26th February]
This week we had a visiting dignitary over from our head office in California - a guy who is probably the most pivotal / senior engineer on the project I work on, and also one of the people who has been at the company longest. So as is often the way when we have visiting dignitaries we thought it only proper to take him out for dinner and a few drinks one evening while he was here, and tonight was chosen for that purpose.

We started off at the standard pub round the corner from the office, and after a couple of beers there headed off in search of dinner. Thankfully we had a suggestion for somewhere to go, and so it wasn't the usual hellish indecisive meandering that ensues whenever a group of people try and decide where to eat.

So we went to a Fuller's pub which did the usual pie menu - an ideal opportunity to let our guests (the guy had also brought his girlfriend along) some English cuisine. I'm not sure they were particularly bowled over, but I definitely felt like we had done our duty. After dinner the guy from the US invited us all back to the apartment he was staying in for a glass of wine. He'd made a smart move looking for a serviced apartment rather than a hotel room - it was about half the price and twice the space of some of the hotels people visiting us normally stay in nearby. Go figure.

Funnily enough one of the conversations we had during the course of the evening was how we never have earthquakes in the UK. How poignant.
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Monday
[Monday 25th February]
Chie came to my office for dinner in the evening.

Other than that nothing really to report!
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Tea Dependency and Alfie
[Sunday 24th February]
I hadn't gone particularly crazy with the drinks last night, but woke up this morning with a bit of a hangover. I guess I just can't take my ales any more.

Chie and I dragged ourselves out of the flat for "breakfast" around lunchtime, and decided to go to the little Polish cafe near our flat that we've been to once before, and does rather hearty English breakfasts. So we spent a very pleasant half an hour or so with a cup of tea and a plate full of greasy, carbohydratey food. Lovely.

We then popped to the supermarket to buy a few bits and pieces, and I was overcome with a desire to drink lots more tea. So on arriving back at the flat we then spent the remainder of the afternoon doing just that. I think this is probably fallout from having spent the previous weekend at Vera and Robin's, where I'd drank a vast quantity of tea, however I do seem to have a particular craving for it of late. Another sign of getting old? Perhaps I'm gradually weaning myself of booze and onto tea. Can't be altogether a bad thing.

For dinner I fancied something wrapped up in tortillas, so we had these Quorn fillet things, cut into slice, with some salad etc. Was actually jolly nice.

After dinner we watched Alfie - the original version. We had, of course, seen the remake with Jude Law in some time ago, given that Chie absolutely insists we watch every film he ever appears in. However, neither of us had actually seen the Michael Caine original. I quite enjoyed it actually - it was great to see 1960s London, warts and all, especially as some of the filming locations they chose were places near where we live.
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The Duke of York
[Saturday 23rd February]
Spent more time in the daytime today working on my pet project.

Had an unusual lunch - polenta with bolognese sauce. It was I've made polenta from scratch (which turns out to be very simple indeed - we had the instant variety) and it was actually quite nice, although very filling.

In the evening Chie and I had been invited along to a friend-of-a-friend's birthday. It was for our friend Stew's friend Annie. She was having her 30th birthday party in a very nice little pub in Bloomsbury - the Duke of York. It was really quite an unusual place, tucked away on a back street of Gray's Inn Road, and with an interior done out in a sort of art deco style.

Gav and Kyle also came along for the evening, making it a good chance for a catch up and a chinwag with the chaps (although unfortunately no Leon this time - apparently he was in Yukari's bad books or something and wasn't allowed out).
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Doing my own thing
[Friday 22nd February]
Spent the day at work today working on my own pet project, which is really starting to look very promising and has real potential to turn into my full-time job, which I would absolutely love.

Chie was out in the evening, giving me a good opportunity to just carry on working on my pet project late into the night.
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Pet Project Preparation
[Thursday 21st February]
Spent some time working on my pet project in the evening, in preparation for the following day at work which was all set up for me to sweep aside my usual obligations and work on the stuff I really want to be working on.

Alas I cannot talk about it here... :(
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Wednesday
[Wednesday 20th February]
Another fairly anonymous weekday which I struggle to remember a week hence.

I think I watched some of the Brit Awards, which I didn't particularly enjoy. The Arctic Monkeys went along dressed in tweeds which I found a bit annoying - having bought a tweed cap a while back I thought I was being daring and fashionable, but if I wear it now it'll just look like I'm copying a bunch of teenagers. Ho, hum.
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Tuesday
[Tuesday 19th February]
Am writing this over a week after the actual date, and this was one of those typical anonymous mid-week days about which I can't really remember anything.
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Back to London
[Monday 18th February]
Got the coach from South Wales back to London in the morning. As I got into work late I also felt I ought to stay fairly late, and so didn't leave the office until around 8.

Was feeling particularly lazy so decided to order in Chinese takeaway.
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Sunday in South Wales
[Sunday 17th February]
Still in South Wales today (didn't go back to London until Monday morning). At lunch time we met up with Louise and Ian at the Bear in Crickhowell - another cracking country pub which does particularly good Sunday lunches.

After lunch we went for a Sunday afternoon drive to see some scenery - past the Tal-y-bont reservoir, and the surrounding area.

Then like the previous day we spent the remainder of the day back at Vera and Robin's house, generally feeling very pleasantly relaxed.
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Off to South Wales
[Saturday 16th February]
Went to South Wales to spend the weekend with Vera and Robin.

For a change we went by National Express - mainly to save money - although I can't say I particularly enjoyed the experience. The coach was pretty grubby, it felt very cramped compared to the train, and it seemed to take an eternity to get there.

When we did finally arrive, just after midday, Vera and Robin met us at the coach station, and from there we went for a brief tour of the Roman amphitheatre and baths at Caerleon, before then going for a very nice pub lunch at the Wheatsheaf, a great little pub.

The remainder of the day was wiled away very pleasantly back at Vera and Robin's house, generally lolling about and relaxing.
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End of the Week Drinks
[Friday 15th February]
Had the usual end-of-the-week beer and pizza event, and as seems to have become the norm in recent weeks, a few of us hung around in the cafe for some time - I think it was almost 8 by the time we finally left the office.

Four of us then went on for one more quick drink at a place which had all the hallmarks of a wine beer, just round the corner from the office. Having learnt from the woes of the previous Friday I avoided drinking any wine, and just had one very modest bottle of beer.

Two of my colleagues went home after that, leaving just me and one other guy (the young French bloke who recently started an internship at the London office) to go for one last drink at another pub round the corner.
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Parsley Sauce
[Thursday 14th February]
Had vegetarian kiev things with sauteed potatoes and broad beans in parsley sauce for dinner.

Watched some telly in the remainder of the evening, including the enthralling Baby Bible Bashers about young evangelical preachers in the US.
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Pancakes
[Wednesday 13th February]
I suppose this evening was a bit of a tip-of-the-hat to Valentine's Day, which both me and Chie seem to have gone off somewhat, for all its commercialism and everything. So we did the nice meal and the bottle of wine tonight instead as our very feeble way of rebelling against it.

I'd bought us a bottle of rose sparking wine (English!) and made some rather nice savoury pancakes for dinner - filled with Japanese mushrooms (shimeji and shiitake), spinach, blue cheese and capers. Very tasty!
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Whisky Society
[Tuesday 12th February]
Took a couple of people from my office to my club tonight, which was rather nice. Sampled a few of the usual excellent malts, including a Laphroaig, a Caol Ila, a Miyagokyo and a Clynelish.
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Halloumi
[Monday 11th February]
Not much to report really. Quiet night in, had halloumi and cous cous for dinner.
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Sunday Roast
[Sunday 10th February]
Another fairly lazy day, although this time it was one gloriously free of any hangover.

Chie was going out with some friends in the evening (to see Cirque de Soleil - not really my cup of tea) so I decided to have the usual Sunday roast at lunch rather than dinnertime. Well, about 3ish. I did a toad-in-the-hole as well as a some separate Yorkshire puddings, it came out rather well.

Spent the rest of the day being nerdy and watching telly.

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Fallout
[Saturday 9th February]
The excesses of last night - particularly the nasty cheap white wine and the lack of any proper dinner - very much caught up with me today. It was an utterly atrocious hangover, and led to a completely wasted day.

I finally managed to bring myself to get out of the flat about 4 or 5, and went to the nearby shops to get some stuff for dinner.

I made a lasagne for dinner. Despite it being a bit of a struggle to cook, it was rather nice.
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Hiroshimakenjinkai
[Friday 8th February]
Has the usual end-of-the-week beer and pizza thing after work today, at which a few of us hung around for a fairly protracted length of time, and consumed a few beers in the process.

Once finished there I headed home, where I met Chie, who persuaded me into coming along with her to the Hiroshimakenjinkai - the monthly night out for Japanese people originating from Hiroshima but now living in or around London. It started off at the usual venue - a pub near Marlyebone - but thankfully this time round there were no bag thefts or visits to the police station.

We stayed at the pub for a couple of drinks, before the general consensus was formed that we should all move on to a Chinese restaurant nearby - apparently a semi regular occurence at the 'kenjinkai. The place was called Phoenix something or other (Palace perhaps?) and was apparently a one time favourite hang-out of the Blairs (well, at least there were pictures of them on the wall). One of the senior members of the 'kenjinkai took it upon himself to do the ordering for the whole table, and consequently I didn't end up eating very much, instead drinking a lot of nasty cheap white wine which I also didn't order (it was one of those places where the waiters kept filling up your glass). I didn't feel particularly the worse-for-wear at the time, but the next morning the folly of this arrangement became painfully apparent.

Anywho, throughout the course of the evening I found myself sat next to a guy, who as it turns out wasn't actually from Hiroshima, but actually hailed from Tokyo. As fellow outsiders we ended up talking quite a lot, and our new found friendship developed into a bizarre dynamic. He, it transpired, was an estate agent (I have made my views on these people clear on a number of occasions), and inevitably it came out that I was a vegetarian, which seemed to engender in him an apparently equivalent desire for critical observation. So in an odd way we spent most of the evening being really quite rude to each other. What was odd is that we would both switch backwards and forwards between English and Japanese, whenever we were speaking Japanese we'd both be extremely polite and formal with each other, but should we want to say something offensive we'd always do that in English.

After the Chinese restaurant, we ventured off to a sort of Japanese club - a bar that stays open well after normal closing time, but seemingly only for Japanese people. Chie has been several times before, tonight was my first time. It was a weird atmosphere inside, a bit like a secret society or something, and what with it having no windows to the outside world, it was easy to imagine we were actually back in Japan.

It ended up as a very late night - I think by the time we got home it was somewhere around 4AM.
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Thursday
[Thursday 7th February]
Don't remember today at all!
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Bebidas con el doctor Lang
[Wednesday 6th February]
Rob was in London today for some sort of research meeting, so as he was in the neighbourhood, at the end of the working day he came over to meet me at my office. I gave him a quick tour, including a game of pool (Rob won), before we then headed off back to my flat for a wee dram or two, and a chat about life, the universe and everything.

Whilst I am finally starting to feel like I'm getting to know the people I work with a bit better, I still feel like I'm a bit stranded here in London, and don't really have any friends of Rob's calibre nearby, so it is always utterly fantastic when we do have an opportunity like this for a good chinwag.

After some whiskies at the flat, the general consensus was that it would be be prudent to get something to eat. Given that we didn't really have anything in, we decided to pop to the trusty little tapas place near where we live. For the first time we actually got seated in the bar upstairs (normally we end up in the more restauranty part downstairs) which made a nice change, and had the usual very satisfying mix of dishes, washed down with some Damm beer. Lovely.

Poor old Rob had to get all the way back to Reading after that, so we saw him off at the tube station after we'd finished our dinner. Really smashing to see him, a definite "we must do this more often" sort of an evening.
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America Unchained
[Tuesday 5th February]
Another slightly frustrating and unproductive day at work. It felt like my turn to cook dinner in the evening, so I went home by way of Holland & Barret and Marks & Spencer to pick up a few things. Made a sort of hotpot for dinner, and unusually put half a tin of tomatoes and a good slug of red wine in, and it came out rather well.

After dinner I watched a documentary film on the telly called America Unchained featuring the ever entertaining Dave Gorman. The premise was that he wanted to drive across America using only independent motels, gas stations, restaurants and so on, as a sort of protest against how homogeneous America (and the rest of the world) is becoming thanks to the big chains.

I've enjoyed absolutely everything I've seen or read by Dave Gorman so far, and whilst this film was less about comedy and more about getting a message across I still found it hugely engrossing. He seems to embody a lifestyle that I for one certainly aspire to - he doesn't have any kind of regular day job to speak of, and fills his life with often quite daft projects based on bets and whims, safe in the knowledge he can make a living out of it by writing books or TV shows about his experiences.

I was left with a definite sense of wanderlust once more.
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Monday Evening at the Club
[Monday 4th February]
Had a bit of a frustrating day at work, was having trouble concentrating and didn't seem to be able to get much done. So I was quite pleased when the working day came to an end, and Chie emailed me to suggest going to the Whisky Society.

So we met up at Chancery Lane, and ate a quick West Cornwall Pasty Co. pasty (the good old cheese, tomato and basil of which I'm rather fond) before heading over to the society.

Had the usual interesting and eclectic mix of drams there - I had a Bowmore, a Glen Scotia, a Clynelish and a Glencadam, whilst Chie had a Miyagikyo and - gasp - a bourbon (the society does occasionally bottle a cask of the stuff). As I expected, Chie didn't really like bourbon either. Although it is often referred to still as a whisk(e)y, to me it is just a completely different product - taste-wise it is as different from Scotch as, say, rum is.
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Another Uninspiring Weekend
[Sunday 3rd February]
Well it looked like the whole of this weekend was going to be generally pretty underwhelming then. I did at least venture out today - Chie had wanted to go and visit this exhibition called "Destination 2008" (about holidays etc) at Earl's Court, but I somehow wasn't really in the mood to traipse round and look at stands trying to sell us time shares on the Costa del Sol, and generally found the whole thing pretty uninspiring.

We left after not that long, and decided to head back into the centre of London to see if we could find something to amuse ourselves for the rest of the day. We poked our nose round the door of the Royal Opera House, just on the off chance there might have been something on today which we could have picked up some last minute tickets for, but there wasn't.

Oh, I bought a grey jumper round the corner from there though.

We then wandered down to the Strand, where I espied the Coal Hole - I had heard/read about it for some time, but had never actually been in. So I proposed we have a quick drink there. I suppose this was something of a small highlight for the weekend, whilst I wasn't exactly bowled over by the place, it was quite satisfactory, and I made a mental note that should I ever be organising a pub crawl that would come by this way, then this would be a suitable candidate.

We went home after that, and had kimchi nabe for dinner.

In the evening we watched the rather charming Miss Potter on DVD, which was quite nice. Somehow or other, after that I launched into an extended bout of surfing on wikipedia, particularly scrutinising a list of London gentlemen's clubs, in an attempt to choose which one I should consider tending my application to.
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Waste of a Day
[Saturday 2nd February]
Complete waste of a day off really - I didn't leave the flat all day, and just slobbed about, tinkering with odd things on the computer but doing nothing really productive at all.

Chie popped out for a short while to do some shopping in the afternoon, and when she got back I made a very lazy version of Boston Baked Beans - using tinned beans, and only very vaguely adhering to the original recipe. This we ate with some very complicated and time consuming rosti that chie made, and a very lazy cauliflower cheese that I made.
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Drinking at the Office
[Friday 1st February]
Today was one of those wholly unproductive days at the office. In fact a large part of my team spent most of the latter half of the day drinking. We'd had an intern here in London for the past three months, and today was her last day. To my pleasant surprise, everyone on the team (historically not an overly sociable bunch) seemed keen to make sure she had a good send off. So for a kick-off there was a pub lunch, which I actually missed out on as someone had to stay behind at the office and hold down the fort. This was then followed later on in the afternoon by the usual little gathering you always seem to get in offices when somebody leaves, where we handed over a leaving card and some presents, and had a bottle of champagne between us. The usual end-of-the-week beer and pizza thing started earlier than normal this week for some reason, so by 4:30 we were all up in the cafe for yet more drinks.

Nice as it would have been to just stay in the cafe, I had a couple of calls to make and things to finish off, so was back at my desk by 5, and put in another couple of hours before heading home around 7. I walked back to the flat by way of the Tate Britain, as our new intern (see yesterday's entry) has wanted to go and see it and wasn't sure exactly how to get there.

Didn't do much for the rest of the evening, just slobbed about the flat watching TV really.
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Mini Pub Crawl
[Thursday 31st January]
A young French guy working on our project who was previously based at our California office (actually on an internship) has this week started a new internship here in London. He's in his (very) early twenties and a bit of a stranger to London, so tonight I took it upon myself to take him out for a few beers. We had a quick dinner at the office first (always very convenient for this sort of thing) and then headed out.

It ended up as a mini pub crawl - we started at the Plumber's Arms, then went on to the Bag O' Nails, from there ventured to the Cask and Glass, and finished up at The Albert. I had been to the first and last of these before, but the two in the middle were new. The Cask and Glass particularly appealed to me as it was tiny and tucked away down a bit of a back street - both classic hallmarks of the sort of pub I really like. I think I shall probably go back at some point.
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Another flat viewing, a curry, and a late night
[Wednesday 30th January]
Went for another flat viewing this morning, and this one was actually not bad - it was in a nice old Victorian building with high ceilings and a really big kitchen (the sort of kitchen that you can imagine being very popular at a house party). On the downside though it was on a ground floor, and being right on the border of the not-so-nice part of the area where we live it seemed like it was absolutely guaranteed to get burgled. Moreover it was furnished, and the lounge had an utterly repugnant leather sofa - past experience of trying to get landlords to replace (or even just remove) unwanted items of furniture suggests that we'd probably end up stuck with it, and I'd just be sitting on the floor the whole time. So on balance I was still confident the best option was just to stay where we were.

Left the office some time around 8 today. Both Chie and I rather fancied going out for a curry, so we met up on my way home and went to a place nearby our flat that we haven't tried before. The food was quite passable, although I was slightly put off by a number of rather unfriendly edicts in the menu - there was a minimum charge per customer, and anyone ordering only side dishes would be charged a supplement. As it happens I did want to order only side dishes - if Chie and I go for a curry I generally find ordering three or four side dishes makes for a much more interesting meal than two main dishes, given that vegetable curies seem to run the risk in Indian restaurants of being a bit generic. So we ordered a mottor paneer, some sag aloo, some tarka dal and a vegetable bhuna. Predictably the bhuna (the only "main" dish) was the most uninteresting of the four.

Back at home afterwards I got back on the computer and put in another couple of hours work trying to get to the bottom of an issue that had originally looked like fallout from yesterday's drama, but in the end turned out to be unrelated. So it was after midnight by the time I finally finished the day's work.
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Cutover
[Tuesday 29th January]
Along with another colleague from the London office I orchestrated a big production cutover at work today, which meant reconfiguring and restarting just about all of the core servers that make up our multi million dollar project. Whilst there are a few of these that we "own" here in London, and therefore understand the workings of pretty well, there were also components that I had never done this kind of upgrade on before, making this something of a nerve racking experience.

I jokingly said to my colleague that we needed some dramatic music as a background to this potentially catastrophic task, and so he put on The Planets by Holst. It did rather add to the sense of drama of the whole thing.

Anyway, owing to some very careful planning it did all go very smoothly, but meant that we both had to stay in the office fairly late - it was getting on for 9 by the time I left.
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More Flat Hunting
[Monday 28th January]
Went to look at a couple of flats this morning. One was more or less OK, but I was still left with the opinion that for the relatively small saving in rent we could make by moving, it wasn't worth the hassle and the drop in living standard.

Um, don't really remember much else about the day!
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The North
[Sunday 27th January]
Both Chie and I decided today that following a somewhat gloomy week, we very much needed a good breath of fresh air this weekend. So I had decided it might be nice to go up to North London, and take a bit of a stroll across Hampstead Heath. Better still, for some time I'd wanted to visit the Flask in Highgate - so this would be a perfect opportunity - we could get the tube up to Highgate, have Sunday lunch at the pub, walk across the heath to Hampstead, and then get the tube back from there.

So we got the tube to Archway, and then took a pleasant stroll up the gill and along Highgate High Street, and on to the Flask. It lived up well to my expectations - the atmosphere of a country pub, and lots of little nooks and crannies inside. As it happens it was just about warm enough to sit outside - a rare treat for January - and so we had lunch out on the patio, amidst the rather eclectic mix of chairs and tables. Lunch was very satisfying - often for a Sunday roast the vegetarian option is something completely different like a vegetable lasagne, and I am forced to look on enviously at other people tucking into their roast potatoes and Yorkshire puddings. Here though the vegetarian option was some sort of pastry thing with cheese and mushrooms, and besides that it exactly resembled the standard roasts - potatoes, Yorkshires, gravy, and a few token bits of vegetables.

After our hearty lunch we then headed out for our stroll over the Heath, seemingly along with the rest of the population of North London. It was a rather nice day, so you couldn't really blame them. Our walk seemed a lot shorter than I'd anticipated - it wasn't long before we were in the familiar territory that is Hampstead. Once there we decided we'd re-enact an old tradition, and walk over to Finchley Road to go to the Waitrose there (which has recently moved to the building next door and so is a bit bigger now).

Funnily enough we spotted Simon Amstell, presenter of Never Mind the Buzzcocks, on the way - carrying two bags of shopping.

There's also a Japanese and a Korean food shop fairly close to the Waitrose, so we also popped into those.

Back at home in the evening we had nabe for dinner, attempting to recreate a rather tasty one we'd had at Chie's friend Mika-san's house a few weeks back. We ate it with ponzu, a kind of citrusy soy sauce, which is really quite delicious.
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