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:
The Peak that Followed the Trough
Overworked
A Collection of Irritating Things
The Crappest Bank Holiday Monday Ever
On the Technical Miracle that is GPS, and Hollywood's Depiction of England
Leon's Hat Party
And More Overtime
More Overtime
Overtime
Dinner with Ali
Tapas-ish
Hair
Stayed In
Drinking at Work
Macaroni
Spamalot
Out with Dad in London
Are Wild Mushrooms Really Wild?
Yorskshire Puddings and Roast Potatoes
Joi Buffet, the British Museum and Eurovision
Avenue Q
Thursday
Hoikohroh
Cheese Released to the World
Bank Holiday Monday
Tea and a Walk along the Thames
Harrod's
Chie's Birthday
The Night Before Chiestmas
Occam's Razor
Late
Chie's First Day at Work
Dim Sum and a Long Walk
South of the River
Mum in London

The Peak that Followed the Trough
[Thursday 31st May]
I worked damn hard today - started before 9, and didn't finish until after 10, with just a short break for lunch and dinner. However, unlike yesterday's general tone of abysmalness (abysmality? abysmalation?), today everything seemed to go my way, and I managed to get to the bottom of a really major problem, which had up until now seemed pretty unfathomable, and was jeopardizing the whole project. The "Eureka moment" was really quite ecstatic, having spent weeks of slicing up the data, generating endless graphs and histograms, to finally have something just click and realise what was going wrong was utterly fabulous. I was almost getting teary over it.

As Jimmy used to put it, today I had the success token.

One of the nice side effects of this is that it now seems pretty unlikely that I will have to go to the US to sort this out, as was proposed yesterday. As a double whammy my superhuman performance today may have also made reparations for any "bonus damage" incurred yesterday as a result of showing resistance to another business trip. A superb result all round!

Whilst I am quite concerned my job is becoming my entire life, at the end of day I felt absolutely great. On return home I had a couple of "otsukare sama" beers, which tasted so much better for having really earned my wages today.
[2 comments]

Overworked
[Wednesday 30th May]
Today started well but unfortunately went rather sharply downhill from there.

So the good bit first - upon arrival at my desk I found a brand new box of Kleenex Balsam (my previous half empty box had gone missing yesterday). The note attached was vague and anonymous, so whether this was the original culprit overtaken by a fit of guilt, or simply a very kind person who had read my mail yesterday and took pity on my plight, I'll probably never know. Still, either way it was a nice touch.

Other than that though it was a pretty awful day at work. There are a couple of key people on holiday this week, and so predictably their highest priority we-lose-buckets-of-money-by-the-minute-when-it-isn't-working stuff all broke. And guess who was assigned the utterly thankless task of trying to fix it? Yes, me. I just about managed to get this stuff working again, but it was one of those days where everything you do with good intentions seems to be met with hostility - "Why are you trying to fix this?" - "Errr, because it's broken, and it pays our wages".

To compound matters, towards the end of the day I was threatened with being sent to the US again, maybe even next week. I'm really hoping they'll find another way to solve the issue in question though - it is just ridiculous to me that they need to keep dragging me over there like that. You know, I work for an American company, who has most of its staff in the US, and we have an issue with another American company who are entirely based in the US. So we plan to bring someone all the way over from our tiny little UK office to fix it. Go figure. It's like the London office of a UK company having a problem with a partner in Bristol, and getting someone in from their Delhi branch to solve it. Crazy.

Whilst generally speaking I've been quite liking my job of late, today was a definite low, and I really felt I needed a holiday.
[4 comments]

A Collection of Irritating Things
[Tuesday 29th May]
Yesterday's crappy bank holiday did unfortunately appear to mark the start of a generally less-than-great week.

Today I found myself getting irritated by lots of things.

At work, I discovered somebody had stolen my box of tissues. Whilst this isn't really the end of the world, it did wind me up somewhat, as for me it is actually quite a big deal to go out and buy a box of tissues - usually I just make do with paper napkins and toilet roll. A couple of weeks back though I'd had a particularly irritating runny nose so had decided to actually invest in a box of Kleenex. Expensive ones too - the ones with some kind of balm on. I retaliated in the only way I knew how - with a long, self pity ridden email full of whinging to the largest distribution list I could find for my office. That showed them.

We couldn't be bothered to cook for dinner so decided to go again to one of those vegan Chinese buffet places we have recently discovered. Whilst the food was very good as always, I fear it may be our last visit. Some idiot girl came in, clearly not getting the point, and asked where the sweet and sour chicken was. As if that wasn't irritating enough in itself, she then proceeded to stick her fork directly into a couple of the big serving dishes, screw her face up, and then put a half chewed bit of food back in the dish. I was reminded why I had stopped eating at buffet places a few years back. I had hoped that this sort of place would attract a more intelligent and considerate clientele (as vegetarians are well known to be), however unfortunately it seems there is a good supply of non-vegetarians who are too stupid to understand, and come in anyway, spreading their filthy carnivorous germs all over the place.

The final source of irritation was directed at another of our country's social undesirables - dentists. Chie had managed to get a bit of dental floss stuck inbetween her back teeth at the weekend, and so today went to the dentists to get it removed. She had already spoken to the company who manufactured the dental floss, and they'd agreed to foot the bill (as it isn't meant to get stuck like that). So (hopefully) we won't have to pay anything, but still the final amount was a bit of a shock. Around three hundred quid. Less than an hour's work. I wonder how dentists in this country can sleep at night.
[3 comments]

The Crappest Bank Holiday Monday Ever
[Monday 28th May]
OK maybe the title is a bit of an exaggeration - but it was a pretty dreary and disappointing day.

As is often the case we only have ourselves to blame. Well, mostly only ourselves to blame. We didn't really plan anything in advance, so did the usual thing of getting up late, then starting to panic we'd already wasted half the day, whilst engaging in a futile quest of looking on the web to try and find something to do.

In the end we thought we'd just go out for a "nice lunch" some where and do a spot of shopping. However, even this relatively low-risk plan was notably less than successful. We randomly headed for Marylebone High Street, having an image of it as being bursting at the seams with nice restaurants with convivial atmospheres, but on arrival we found an icy cold and windswept road where places alternated between being closed or packed out (probably because the other places were closed). We eventually settled on a branch of Giraffe, which in fairness wasn't bad, but somehow I couldn't seem to pick my enthusiasm up off the floor.

When we got back outside again it was bitterly, bitterly cold. And wet. We decided it might be nice to go to Fortnum and Mason's, and ill-advisedly we braved the terrible weather and walked there given that the public transport links would have been a bit awkward. On arrival we found it was closed - we should have guessed really. After that our general lack of enthusiasm and ability to bear the cold got the better of us, and we basically just headed home.

It was just so hard to believe a day with weather as wintery as this could occur at the end of May. Oh well.

Had several nice hot cups of tea on arrival back at home, which did seem to cheer me up, and Chie set about on something of a frenzy of cleaning, which seemed to work out her frustration a bit too.

Had sausages and mash for dinner which came out quite well. I did that old classic the Pineau reduction with mustard, garlic and shallots. OK this isn't a classic, I think I invented it, but it definitely makes a good base for a gravy.

Spent the remainder of the evening daydreaming about going somewhere nice on holiday.
[3 comments]

On the Technical Miracle that is GPS, and Hollywood's Depiction of England
[Sunday 27th May]
Had a generally pretty lazy day today, and didn't leave the flat at all.

Started with the (semi) usual weekend big cooked breakfast. Actually we didn't have a lot of the bits in, and as I burnt the toast (yes, that smoke alarm does work, it turns out) it ended up just sausage, beans, a fried egg and some fried potatoes. Still, nice enough nonetheless.

I spent the majority of the afternoon writing a webpage for displaying track logs from my Sony GPS. I spent a good hour or two quite simply in awe at the state of modern technology - GPS and Google Maps make a fantastic combination.

Knocked up a quick curry for dinner from odds and ends we had in the cupboards. It wasn't one of my most successful creations, but at was just about edible I suppose.

In the evening Chie and I decided to watch a DVD - and opted for an utterly aimed-at-a-female-audience film called The Holiday. This forms part of Chie's extensive collection of films featuring Jude Law - her favourite actor. I am quite embarrassed to admit I actually really enjoyed this "romantic comedy". It was set half in the US, and half in the UK, and as one might expect the depiction of England was achingly twee - and yet I found myself particularly liking this aspect of it.

Perhaps I too long for this imaginary fairy tale land, in which moderately paid office workers can afford to own delightful little cottages in charming unspoilt villages within commuting distance of London. A village with an adorable little pub, smoking chimneys, hardly any cars to speak of (err, and did I mention easily commutable from London?) and where it is guaranteed to snow at Christmas.
[No comments]

Leon's Hat Party
[Saturday 26th May]
Leon had a bit of a birthday do today - it was his 30th in fact. He had deemed it was going to be a hat party, and all attendees must arrive wearing suitable headgear.

As always with this sort of thing, Chie and I left it until absolutely the last minute to get our hats. After a bit of research on the web I came across Bates Hats - a Gentleman's Hatter near Piccadilly. This was a suprisingly fun experience - it's a lovely old shop and they had, unsurprisingly, quite a lot of hats there. I settled on a tweed cap, and have to say I am rather enamoured with it.

Anyway, after buying our hats, we hopped on a train and headed down to Canterbury. As a small aside, I took my GPS receiver with me, and to my delight it actually was able to get a signal on the train itself. So if you're really interested, you can click here to see the routed plotted with good old Google Maps. OK I know this in itself is pretty pointless, but the technology underlying all of that is pretty amazing - to me at least.

We got to the pub - the Dolphin in Canterbury - around 3 o' clock, and settld ourselves in for an afternoon of drinking, chatting, and of course the inevitable swapping of hats. There also seemed to be something of an oubreak of board games. The old pub staple Jenga, and a "guess what this thing is" game called Articulate. Usually I'm a little wary of this sort of thing, but I suppose it was actually quite fun.

The food at the Dolphin was very good too - Chie and I tried their vegetarian burgers, which were of the Quorn variety, which to be honest I far prefer over the other types you often get (either something overtly beany, or those strange things made of what appears to be the kind of chopped mixed veg you can buy in tins - eugh). Oh and they came with brie and mushrooms - very tasty.

As it was largely a daytime event, we decided not to stay the night in Canterbury, and so we headed off some time before 10 to get the train back to London.

It was an odd sort of a party, but a fun one nonetheless.
[3 comments]

And More Overtime
[Friday 25th May]
...and another similar day to the previous two. Actually Chie went out in the evening with some people from her new job. So I just stayed even later than usual at the office. Whilst people often seem to work long hours at my place, Friday night is a notable exception. We have a kind of beer and pizza event every Friday at 5, with a round-up of what happened during the week, and then basically it seems like most people bugger off home. I was there until getting on for 9, and it felt like a ghost town.

Did a little bit more work when I got back home, but eventually I did decide to hang up my hat for the week. I thought I'd even go so far as to give myself the weekend off, having worked a number of hours in Wednesday to Friday alone which would have been illegal in France.

Naturally over the past few days I started to wonder if I am becoming a bit of a workaholic. Whilst it definitely feels satisfying to be making progress, and the work is quite interesting at the moment, I'm not sure I love working in itself so much that I want to devote every waking hour to it. I wonder what normally drives workaholics to be workaholics. Do they just really enjoy their jobs? Are they busting a gut for the sake of their bonus? I think in my case the underpinning thing is probably just recognition - I'm in a company with lots of really smart and hard working people, and it feels really important to prove to those people that I can also do a good job.

...but of course it is important to put these things in perspective - doing well at work isn't the be all and end all of a happy and fulfilling life!
[2 comments]

More Overtime
[Thursday 24th May]
Another long day today, following a similar pattern to yesterday. Again I got home some time around 8ish, and tonight Chie cooked.

She made gnocchi in a really excellent cheese sauce (involving Lincolnshire Poacher and Twineham Grange). The last few cheese sauces Chie has made have been really good, and given that this sort of thing always used to be very much my domain as far as cooking went, I have to admit to feeling slightly redundant.

Anyway, after dinner I got back on the computer again, and again was busy until around midnight. I went to bed feeling totally exhausted, but also with that sense of satisfaction you get from feeling you've really earned your wages today.
[No comments]

Overtime
[Wednesday 23rd May]
The latter half of this week was largely characterised by me working very hard. There seems to have been an accumulation of lots of different things that need to get done this week, and there were quite a few people away on holiday (or about to be) so I had rather a lot on my plate.

Whilst I think I got home by around 8ish, after a quick dinner (spaghetti bolognese with fake mince and lots of red wine in - came out very well) I was back on the computer again and continued to work until about midnight. I'm always impressed by how well technologies like VPN allow you to work from home. However the down side of these technologies is that they allow you to work from home.

Gone are the days when the end of the working day was marked by seeing the clock reach 5, and then collecting one's bowler hat from the hat stand, waving goodnight to Curruthers (the doorman at the office), and strolling briskly back home.

Errr.

Still, whilst it is not ideal to be working long hours, on the plus side I do feel a strong sense of ownership in the work I'm doing at the moment, and consequently it is very satisfying when stuff gets done.
[No comments]

Dinner with Ali
[Tuesday 22nd May]
Tonight Chie and I went out for dinner with Ali (my PhD supervisor) and his neice Zena, who I've met before a couple of times, including here. I'd initially planned to go to the Boisdale - a Scottish restaurant (!) but alas it was fully booked so we had to resort to plan B

So instead we went to a Japanese restaurant called Atami. My verdict of this place was very much in the "it was OK I suppose" category. It is hard to describe exactly what was wrong with it, but the menu was a bit, well, scatty, and after ordering some bits of sushi and tempura we'd sort of ran out of things we were interested in. Plus it was clearly one of those Japanese restaurants mostly frequented by people in suits on expenses accounts. So a little bit soulless - or maybe that was just down to it being a Tuesday night.

So we decided to go for a second dinner elsewhere. Thinking that we probably didn't want a full meal, I thought tapas might be a good idea, so we got a taxi over to an old favourite of mine - Navarro's, just of Goodge Street. Unfortunately there was no room at the inn here either. Not really our lucky day. It baffles me why so many places were full on an otherwise inignificant Tuesday.

Ali then suggested this Moroccan place called Ayoush on Wigmore Street. This place looked really busy too - but they managed to squeeze us in, in a sort of cave in the basement. There was some kind of Arabic dance music club night thing going on in there, and it was very lively - people dancing inbetween tables and stuff. Despite this the food was actually still pretty good, and although it made it a little difficult to talk, the atmosphere was quite fun I suppose.

It's a great reminder of what a superb variety of cuisines you can eat in London (as long as you don't mind being turned away from a few places - or booking well in advance!). I wonder how many other people in the world started off this evening with Japanese food, and then ended up with Moroccan?

Anyway, great to see Ali again, must do this sort of thing more often now we're back in London!
[No comments]

Tapas-ish
[Monday 21st May]
Was in the mood for something tapas-ish. Had bought a couple of bits and pieces for this yesterday. I'd planned to make a Spanish omelet etc, but ended up working late so Chie made dinner instead.
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Hair
[Sunday 20th May]
Went out to the supermarket just after midday, then basically ate our way through the afternoon. Started off with a Ploughman"s type lunch (i.e. it involved cheese and pickle but not in sandwich format), and then once our stomachs had made a bit of room we went on to afternoon tea. All very nice.

The main event of the day was getting a haircut though. As always I left it far too long - should have got it round to it a month ago, but better late than never I suppose.

It's interesting (to me at least) that I've come somewhat full circle with regard to getting my hair cut. A couple of years ago, when I was first in the process of moving to Japan, I had serious reservations about getting my hair cut in another country. However I did eventually get past this fear (and one of the great things about having a blog is that I've chronicled this pivotal event), and towards the end I used to actually quite enjoy my little chats with hairdressers in Japan, and the overall quality of service they offer.

...so much so that when it came round to getting my hair cut again, I found myself specifically wanting to go to a Japanese hairdresser. Thankfully there are several of these in London, and as Chie also wanted to get her hair cut it was a good opportunity for us to both go at the same time. Furthermore the place we went to even opened on a Sunday, until 8PM no less.

I really rather enjoyed it - Tomoko-san did a great job (at least I think so), and was also very pleasant to chat to (entirely in Japanese, I might add). It turns out she had lived a stone's throw away from where we were in Tokyo. Small world isn't it?

Sure, it was about five times the price of the place I got my hair cut in London the previous time, but that other place left me with an itchy scalp, and it was a generally dissatisfying experience. It's hard to articulate why exactly, but I left the place today feeling really good about myself, as opposed to the traditional "oh well I've got that out of the way".

Perhaps I might even be able to get out of the bad habit of leaving it three months between hair cuts now...
[No comments]

Stayed In
[Saturday 19th May]
Chie went out to see some friends of hers (who she knew from back when she used to work in Maidenhead) in the afternoon, but I opted to stay in, and in fact didn't leave the flat all day. I spent the day working on Cheese. Most of the time went into adding Unicode support, which means it will be able to handle different languages. So if you want to write Korean comments for your images, then that ought to be no problem. It also means I can now release localised versions of the interface - I'm quite keen to have a version of the program in Japanese, although my first attempt is a little bit embarassing. I guess I'll ask Chie for a bit of help here.
[2 comments]

Drinking at Work
[Friday 18th May]
Everyone at work seemed to be in a more-than-usually sociable mood today. I'm not sure why this was the case, but anyway, once the working day was done I hung around the office for a bit and had a couple of drinks. It is a slightly odd sensation, drinking in the office, but I have to admit I think it's a good idea - within reason - helps to make your place of work a more casual and social environment. Or something like that.

Didn't do much for the rest of the evening. Got back home around 8ish, and we basically had an assortment of leftovers for dinner, including last night's macaroni cheese, which actually tasted better this time round.
[1 comment]

Macaroni
[Thursday 17th May]
Not much to report really. Made macaroni cheese for dinner, which I had high hopes for but turned out a tiny bit disappointing actually - a bit too liquid.

I recall when I was younger going on holiday with Mum in the South of France (near Biarritz) and some friends of hers. Although I wasn't actually all that in to cheesey things at that time, the macaroni cheese we had there really sticks in my mind still. It was probably literally just macaroni and cheese, but was quite fantastic. I think I still aspire to recreating this, and yet always seem to get it wrong by insisting on making a cheese sauce, and then always running the risk of the whole thing becoming a macaroni soup.

[6 comments]

Spamalot
[Wednesday 16th May]
Prompted my my recent trip to see Avenue Q, I booked tickets for Chie and I to go and see Spamalot tonight. It was OK I suppose, nice to do something a bit different in the evening, but if I'm honest I came away feeling a bit disappointed in it.

It's a combination of factors I think. First of all our seats weren't that great - I mean we could see OK and everything but the Palace Theatre seems to have hugely uncomfortable seats with almost no legroom - the Noel Coward Theatre the other day was much more spacious. Apparently we'd been "upgraded" as well, although I'm not hugely convinced the seats they actually gave us were any better than the ones I'd originally booked.

Anyway, petty whinges like that aside, despite being a huge fan of all things Python, I found this production just sort of lacked something. I don't really know how they could have made it work though. It swung from an extreme of being very Pythony in places to another extreme of not very Pythony at all, but in both of these I was left feeling a bit dissatisfied. When they followed the original exactly it felt like money for old rope, and they were at times a little lacklustre in their delivery (as you can imagine having done the same show every day for weeks on end) but the new material (i.e. most of the songs) left me feeling "well this isn't really Python". So I suppose I was impossible to please: they were damned if they did, and damned if they didn't.

It did have some things to recommend it though I suppose. I liked the Finland song at the start, and in a couple of places they did make subtle additions to the original lines which I found quite amusing:

"Where are we going to find a shrubbery?"
"Perhaps we could make one... out of cats."

I also appreciated the reference to the parrot sketch in the "Where d'you get the coconuts?" scene at the start

...and actually I thought the actress who played the lady of the lake was pretty good in places too, she had a really powerful voice and there were a few laughs to be had just out of her unusual way of singing.

Generally though the laughs were pretty spread out for me. Maybe I spoiled it for myself by just knowing the scripts too well - even if I watch the original film now it doesn't make me laugh out loud, more of a sense of warm familiarity. When you have over watched something as much as I have it is obviously going to be the nuances that you start to appreciate, and these obviously get lost when other people play the roles. For example, in the Black Knight scene, the blood and gore and all the variations of "tis but a scratch" are no longer the bits I enjoy, so much as watching the delightfully nonchalant and farcical way that Graham Chapman moves about when fighting. Arthur in Spamalot didn't quite have this same detached air about him that is present in so many of Chapman's characters.

Perhaps Python is just something that shouldn't be attempted by other actors. I recall on one of the Amnesty International shows a recreation of the Four Yorkshiremen sketch done by Harry Enfield, Eddie Izzard, Vic Reeves and Alan Rickman. Harry Enfield to my mind just didn't get Python at all - he just did a silly voice and added "T'" to the start of all the nouns. Eddie Izzard is clearly a devotee and was making a concerted effort to do an authentic recreation. Vic Reeves adlibbed an assortment of juxtapositions and non-sequiturs which whilst deviating from the original script were Pythonesque in nature, although perhaps a different brand of Python to that we see in the Four Yorkshiremen.

So that's the sort of thing I'd like to have seen from Spamalot - new material but in the style of the original Python.

Perhaps one has to accept that Python was a finite thing, a product of a particular age and so on, and it just couldn't really be the same if we tried to re-create it or add to it today. Still, if nothing else Spamalot is a pleasant reminder that it isn't just a minority interest of university types - it was a well packed theatre and a very mixed audience, even on a Wednesday night.
[3 comments]

Out with Dad in London
[Tuesday 15th May]
Dad came to stay the night, as he was "passing through" en route from Guildford to Manchester. There are a few of my favourite places in London I'd been wanting to take Dad to for some time now, and this was a great opportunity to do just that.

We met at the flat, and from there actually walked a fair part of the way to Holborn. It was jolly nice to stroll past the Houses of Parliament, with it's usual throng of political types outside.

We had dinner at Matsuri in Holborn - partly because it's the only place I know to eat around there. I think this may actually be the first time we'd been to a Japanese restaurant with Dad, and it seemed to go down quite well.

The main event was of course a visit to the whisky society, but on the way there we had to pass the Cittie of Yorke and Ye Olde Mitre and it seemed almost criminal to not at least pop in to both of these fabulous pubs. It seemed the Mitre was more Dad's sort of thing - more "pubby" as he put it. I suppose that's the great thing about that place - it's not just a beautiful building steeped in history, it is also in itself a very well ran pub.

...and the whisky society was great as ever as well. Between us we sampled a good selection - a Clynelish, a Longrow, a Caol Ila, a Bowmore and a Highland Park. Marvellous.
[No comments]

Are Wild Mushrooms Really Wild?
[Monday 14th May]
Had spaghetti for dinner, with a tomato and wild mushroom sauce. Actually it was just a shop bought one as I was feeling somewhat lazy.

As an aside, I have often looked upon things labeled as containing "wild mushrooms" with some suspicion. For a mushroom to actually be wild, surely it can't have been farmed or cultivated, and somebody must have actually gone foraging for it. Having been on such expeditions with my Dad my experience has been that it is very time consuming and often not very fruitful - it's rare to come back with any more than a small handful.

OK so perhaps these things are more prevalent in France or Italy, but still it is hard to believe that edible fungi can be gathered on such a large scale so as to be able to put them in sauces that people like me can buy in ordinary supermarkets.

...furthermore, it's also quite a risky process collecting wild mushrooms - there are a few dangerous pitfalls of highly poisonous mushrooms which look deceptively similar to the common edible varieties. It is hard to believe with all the food regulations manufacturers have to adhere to that some bloke can turn up at the factory with a bag of mushrooms:

"Hey Bob, I found these in the woods, d'you want them?"

"Sure Geoff, bung 'em in!"

I suppose there does need to be some term to distinguish "interesting" mushrooms like ceps and chanterelles from the ordinary boring types like the common white mushroom. However you'd think the best approach to this would be to just name them explicitly. On inspection of the ingredients list on my jar of Loyd Grossman's pasta sauce I note the specific varieties of "wild" mushrooms are not listed - just entered as mushrooms.

Perhaps legally this is one of those things you can get away with as long as 0.001% of the mushrooms contained are actually wild. So perhaps they just get a single dried porcini, hand picked by some guy called Giuseppi from the wooded slopes of a Tuscan hill, and turn it into powder, and then distribute it between a thousand jars.

Anyway, I think I have made my point. Stop calling mushrooms wild unless you really mean it.
[5 comments]

Yorskshire Puddings and Roast Potatoes
[Sunday 13th May]
Pretty uneventful day really, largely spent on the computer.

Had a Sunday roast in the evening, featuring a toad in the hole, but all in all it was a tad disappointing. It seems to be very difficult to get things like Yorkshire puddings and roast potatoes to come out right every time. Would be interesting to hear how other people do it.

Actually the last time I made those small individual Yorkshire puddings they came out really well. I've got one of those trays with 12 little cups in (what are these called?) and I was feeling brave so put a frightening amount of oil in each one, and of course made sure it was very hot before pouring in the batter. They rose perfectly. I think the toad in the hole may have suffered from it being a much larger dish, and therefore somehow I couldn't bring myself to put in as much oil as it probably needed. Oh and it was a ceramic dish rather than a metallic one, that didn't seem to work so well either.

...and roast potatoes. How does everyone else do them? I boil mine first, just for five minutes or so, then do that routine with the colander and shaking them about to make fluffy edges, then put them straight into hot fat... but still they're often not that crispy on the outside. Maybe the variety of potato? Or maybe it's just not possible with vegetable oils (sunflower or sunflower and olive).


[5 comments]

Joi Buffet, the British Museum and Eurovision
[Saturday 12th May]
Today was a really good day actually. In preparation for Eurovision, I had originally planned to finally go out and buy some form of television. However, before actually heading out to the shops I had a quick check on the web and found it was going to be streamed online as well, so I decided to put off buying the telly again.

We did head out into the centre of London anyway, as I rather fancied going to visit one of these Chinese vegetarian buffet places I had heard about. There seem to be several of these in London in a small chain, and today we visited "Joi Buffet" on Percy Street, just off Tottenham Court Road. The food was absolutely fantastic - and rediculously cheap (all you can eat for a fiver) - with plenty of variety. I shall definitely be going again.

Following this Chie and I had a vague meander around the general area. It turns out there are actually a couple of nice little streets just off the not-so-nice Tottenham Court Road. As it was starting to rain, we decided to pop into a little coffee shop for a while, and sitting there with a nice warm coffee, watching the rain through the window, was really quite luxurious.

When it looked like the weather had improved a bit we ventured out, but it was still pretty cold and damp. So I suggested we go and have a little mosey around the British Museum. We took a good look through the Japanese exhibition, as well as a few other bits and pieces, including that room downstairs which is done out like the library of a stately home (apparently Chie's favourite). It's great to have this sort of thing in London to occupy rainy days with.

Eventually we did make our way back home, in good time for a night of Eurovision fun. Well, I enjoyed it, Chie didn't seem hugely interested. The quality of the web streaming version really wasn't that great, but with the exception of some slight difficulties at the start it did basically work for the whole event, and we could definitely hear what was going on - even though at times we had to make an educated guess at what was actually on the screen. It's not quite the same without the Terry Wogan commentary, but I enjoyed it nonetheless.

It's a real shame the Ukraine song didn't win - I thought they'd achieved the perfect balance of Eurovision madness. As has been much discussed elsewhere I found the winning Serbian entry a bit on the bland side by comparison, but there you go.
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Avenue Q
[Friday 11th May]
As a bit of a treat to thank us for all our hard work, the big boss had declared an "offsite" this afternoon. The main team in the US went off to spend the afternoon in a park somewhere, whereas we decided to have a few drinks and go and watch a show.

So we set out at around 1PM, went for a pub lunch at a nice old pub near the office (the Albert on Victoria Street), and then meandered our way to the theatre (near Leicester Square) by way of a couple of other interesting historic pubs I had been reading about recently - namely The Two Chairmen and The Ship and Shovel.

For the main event we went to see Avenue Q. I think this is actually the first time I've ever been to a West End show, and thankfully it was a comedy, as I don't think I'd be able to take a genuine musical seriously. It was actually pretty good, and made me think I really ought to get around to seeing Spamalot

Following this we rounded the evening off with a tour of a few more charming old pubs, including The Lamb and Flag, The Lyceum Tavern, The George and finally, of course, The Cittie of Yorke.
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Thursday
[Thursday 10th May]
Having said the other day I was hoping to leave Cheese alone for a while, tonight it seemed I couldn't resist tinkering a bit. Basically I just upgraded the version of wxWidgets I was using, but this required a fair amount of fiddling about, and consequently took up most of the evening.

Oh, and for dinner I made a stew with dumplings - but made the classic mistake of using plain flour rather than self raising for the dumplings, and consequently they were a bit on the stodgy side... but overall the stew was more or less edible.
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Hoikohroh
[Wednesday 9th May]
This is the name of a Japanese/Chinese dish Chie made for dinner this evening. It it traditionally made with cabbage, sliced pork and miso. In our version of course the pork was replaced with a suitable soya product. We used to have something similar at one of our favourites eateries in Tokyo - It's Vegetable.

Other than that nothing much to report!
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Cheese Released to the World
[Tuesday 8th May]
The long weekend's marathon of nerdiness overspilled into today as well, and I spent the evening making a web page and so on for the first release of Cheese. It had become a bit of an obsession recently, but now that I've actually got it to the point of a release I think I can ease off for a bit.
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Bank Holiday Monday
[Monday 7th May]
Although things have recently improved a lot on the job front, it is still a luxurious feeling to awake on a Monday morning with the realisation you don't have to go to work today.

Didn't really do anything much today though - as it was raining we seemed to have consigned ourselves to staying in all day, and I poured even more time into Cheese. This was probably somewhat to Chie's annoyance, however by the end of the day I had a version I was prepared to call 1.0 (and by the following day had uploaded it to the web). So whilst it may not make for very exciting reading as far as the blog goes, I thought it was time well spent - I really have something to show for all that time put in, which I'm sure will be useful to me, and hopefully may be useful to other people as well.

The only other thing worth mentioning was lunch - I made a very rich olive and tomato pasta sauce which came out really well, and served it with penne pasta and the usual grated cheese on top, then bunged under the grill for a bit. A perfect meal for a rainy day!
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Tea and a Walk along the Thames
[Sunday 6th May]
Had another lazy morning and I got some more done on Cheese. By this point it was really on the brink of being a usable replacement for Photo Studio.

The afternoon commenced with an early afternoon tea at home - and the all important birthday cake(s), albeit two days late. I got out the Noritake tea set to celebrate this special occasion, and we had a very pleasant time of it. I was deeply relieved that the cakes were to Chie's liking. She has extremely high standards when it comes to this sort of thing, and there can be hell to pay if she's disappointed. Chie had picked a raspberry and chocolate tart this time - a surprise choice for her actually, as she's usually not into the overly chocolatey items. However it scored well - they had wisely chosen not to make it too sweet, as this is usually the area in which this type of patisserie loses points in Chie's discerning tastes. I went for a kind of cheese cake - I thought this would be a very safe bet. If we're having individual cakes, as we were today, I always have to choose mine within vary carefully thought out parameters. It is important that it is something Chie will like, in case her own is a let down, however for my cake to be significantly nicer than hers would also be a source of frustration.

After the pleasingly successful tea and cake event, we went out for an afternoon stroll. Part of the reason for this was that I wanted to give my new GPS receiver a proper test. So we wandered along to the Tate Britain, and from there went over the river to take a quick look at Lambeth Palace and the Archbishop's Park (which was a bit disappointing). We continued along on the South Bank from there to Westminster bridge, and crossed over with the usual impressive sights of the Houses of Parliament (although today I think the view had probably been better from Lambeth bridge).

We continued our walk all the way up to Soho, and decided whilst there to get an early dinner at Busaba Eathai - the Thai place we'd been to a few years ago (not long after it opened?) but hadn't been back to since as it had always looked far too busy. The food here is still pretty good it seems.

We went back after that and spent the remainder of the evening at home - I think this may have been the evening we watched Team America. Although it was extremely juvenile in places, I have to admit to rather enjoying it - and found the portrayal of Kim Jong Il oddly endearing.
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Harrod's
Sorry, this picture actually has nothing to do with Harrod's - it7s just our breakfast. [Saturday 5th May]
Had a rather good cooked breakfast this morning - it all just seem to come out really well.

A large part of the day went on the computer - I was determined to make use of the bank holiday weekend to get Cheese as close to a usable state as possible.

We did head out at the end of the afternoon though - Chie wanted to pop over to Harrod's to buy a cake (or cakes) for her birthday. We ended up buying a few bits and pieces while we were there - including:

Lemon pistachios - I can heartily recommend these, although if truth be told I think I slightly prefer the cheaper and more artificially flavoured ones available in a little shop near St. Paul's Cathedral.

We even managed to secure ourselves a jar of Guinness Marmite - I had thought this had sold out all over the country, but either another batch has been released, or else Harrod's were holding some back. I thought I had heard at one point these were going for ten pounds or more on eBay, so had briefly considered buying all the jars they had in Harrod's to sell on, but actually when I checked just now it appears the prices aren't really that crazy. Incidentally I'm not sure I could really tell a huge difference in the taste - Chie presented me with two slices of toast, one with conventional Marmite and the other with Guinness Marmite on, and I couldn't determine which was which. Having said that the test may have been tainted by the fact that brown bread was used.

...and of course we also got the all important cakes, plus a few other bits and pieces.

Overall I was surprised by how food at Harrod's really didn't seem to be that expensive - I guess this is the first time I've ever done anything resembling proper shopping here. On comparing the prices of things in Harrod's to good quality things in a normal supermarket it really didn't seem to be that much more. They just stock a lot more things that are rare or of a very high quality, and so are naturally expensive. Yes the morels were something like a hundred pounds a kilo - but do any normal supermarkets sell morels? (Incidentally, no I didn't buy any, although was severely tempted - but Chie's presence ruled this out)

I have a memory of coming to London as a young child, and visiting one of these big famous department stores - I presume it was Harrod's, although it might have been Fortnum and Mason's. As is the way of young children in shops, I saw some kind of sweets (I vaguely recall them being some kind of speckled chocolate buttons) and determined that I really wanted them. However, I was told "No, the things in this shop are for rich people". After my initial reaction of "Well why the bloody hell did we come in here then, if we weren't actually going to buy anything?", it was something of a shock to realise we were actually relatively poor. I think much of my extravagant nature in more recent years may stem from that single moment. Whilst I don't exactly do my weekly shopping in the food halls of Harrod's, Fortnum and Mason's or Harvey Nick's, I'm not adversed to popping in now and again to buy the odd thing I particularly want. In an extremely shallow and materialistic way it feels great to not have to put that metaphorical bag of chocolate buttons back and the shelf and think "we can't afford this".
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Chie's Birthday
[Friday 4th May]
Neither of us were feeling that well today, but after a short bout of present opening in the morning we both struggled into work regardless.

In the evening I met Chie on her way back from work - given that it was Chie's birthday we thought we really ought to go out and do something, even though we were both feeling a bit under the weather. As it was sort of on the way back from her office, we decided to meet up at the Whisky Society, and sit there for a while with a couple of medicinal drams, reading through the restaurant guide books I'd given Chie for her birthday.

Chie took the Michelin guide, and I took the Time Out guide, and rather pleasingly we both seemed to settle on the same place - a Lebanese restaurant called Noura. It occurred to me how much better these sorts of books are than the web for finding restaurants - recently I've had many frustrating experiences trying to find a place to eat in London on the web, I think there is still a lot of work to be done there.

So off we went to Noura, which turned out to be very much to our liking. We had a big table full of mezze, all done to a very good standard - my particular favourite was the foul moudammas (a rich stew made with fava beans) which despite its name was very nice indeed. Oh and we had a quarter bottle of arak (the Leabanese answer to pastis/ouzo/sambuca/raki) - which despite being only 20CL was hard work to finish (but very nice). The staff were even quite friendly, which was a pleasant suprise as it was a reasonably upmarket establishment and I was pretty scruffily dressed.

So that was a great success. Back at the flat we had a second present opening session. It turned out that of all the presents I gave to Chie, she liked the rather childish looking handmade umi no tori the best. I believe Mum had made a similar observation in the past - in a way it's no real effort to just go out and spent a lot of money on someone's birthday, but to actually sit and make something takes real time and effort.
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The Night Before Chiestmas
[Thursday 3rd May]
Chie was quite poorly today - the day before her birthday, so had to take the day off. I couldn't help but wonder if going back to work had been a bit of a shock to the system!

In the evening after work I popped into the centre of London to buy a couple of extra bits and pieces for Chie's birthday, then spent the evening back at the flat wrapping things up and making a "card" - which actually turned out to be a little model replica of Miyajima's umi no tori (this thing).
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Occam's Razor
[Wednesday 2nd May]
Today I learnt Occam's razor the hard way. There was a large processing task I needed to do at work which was taking ages, so I'd decided to speed it up by throwing a lot more machines at the job. It had looked like it was working marvelously to begin with, until a few hours later I got a very stern email telling me I was killing off a load of production servers (affecting other completely unrelated teams). This was Very Bad. Whilst I think we managed to avoid a complete catastrophe, I think it did basically teeter on the brink of serious financial consequences. Oops.

So, lest we forget:

entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatem

...or in other words, don't use more than you really need.

This little crisis was an unfortunate end to an otherwise very good day at work. We have a lot of meetings with the US team by video conference - the little room I share with the other guys on the London team even has it's own little video conferencing unit, which is really cool. So in the meeting today our boss in the US was congratulating us on getting to this milestone successfully, and pulled out a couple of bottles of champagne. Those of us in London initially looked on enviously, until the boss turned to our screen and said "if you look under your desk there's a bottle there too" - and amazingly there was. What a nice little touch.

Oh and one other great thing today - my Sony GPS-CS1 arrived. It's a really neat little gadget that keeps a track of where I've been when I'm out and about taking photos, so that later on I can annotate each image with the position it was taken at. So far I've only really charted my course to and from the office, but watch this space for fun with pictures and Google Maps!
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Late
[Tuesday 1st May]
Given that today marked a big release milestone at work there were inevitably a lot of last minute fires to put out, and it ended up being a bit of a long day - basically 9AM to 9PM.

On my walk home I was stopped and asked for directions by some tourists - recently this has been happening really often, and I have to admit I actually quite like it. Nine times out of ten they're trying to find a particular hotel, and as I walk past quite a few on my way to and from work I generally know the answer. It gives me a warm feeling inside to have helped a bewildered traveler get to a good night's rest.

As I got back so late, Chie had eaten already but had put something aside for me - a very Japanese meal involving rice and miso soup. I felt just like a Japanese salaryman coming home late and eating by myself like this.

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Chie's First Day at Work
[Monday 30th April]
Today was Chie's first day in her new job (albeit a temp position). I was actually able to leave the office on time, whereas Chie spent the first part of the evening at the leaving do of the person she was replacing. I took advantage of getting back first to set about on something of a frenzy of internet shopping - knowing that I wouldn't get a chance to get out to the shops properly between now and Chie's birthday (this coming Friday). I actually got a bit carried away and also ordered a couple of things for myself. I found the experience surprisingly enjoyable - like normal shopping but without all the traipsing around.

When Chie got back I knocked up a quick and slightly unusual meal - I wanted to make a kind of goulash, but part way into cooking realised I didn't have any paprika so had to thing on my feet a bit. It ended up a sort of tomatoey stew, which was actually quite nice.
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Dim Sum and a Long Walk
[Sunday 29th April]
Mum had decided to take the 1:30 train back to the Midlands which just gave us time for a quick lunch before she headed off. Knowing my hatred of station food I wanted to get something to eat elsewhere before going to wave them off, so I decided it might be nice to take them for dim sum.

We went to the place which is now becoming a bit of a regular haunt for Chie and I (Royal China on Baker Street). I was surprised to find that when we got there - just a few minutes after 12 - the place was already packed and people were queuing for tables. To my surprise and delight though, I did a small (and dignified I hasten to add) amount of pleading and they managed to seat us straight away. I think the key was that I said we had to leave by 1 - so probably we got a table that had been booked for 1, but they didn't want to give it to anyone else at 12 in case they were planning on hogging it for ages.

Anyway, I enjoyed the food as always, I'm not sure it was really Keith's cup of tea, but Mum seemed to like it.

We then went over to St. Pancras to wave them off. I haven't been there in ages, and what with all the renovation works to turn it into the new Eurostar terminal I basically didn't recognise it.

Chie and I then had the afternoon to ourselves. On leaving the station Chie said she'd quite like to go for a bit of a walk, and in fact we ended up walking a long and round about route all the way to Waterloo. At that point we both decided our feet were hurting, and returned the remainder of the journey by tube.

Back at the flat we had a quiet evening, dining on the leftovers from the previous evening's meal - which actually made for quite a substantial feast.
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South of the River
[Saturday 28th April]
The general consensus seemed to be that none of us wanted to overdo it today, so following a quiet morning at the flat we headed out to go to a sort of market / crafts centre thing Mum had found on the web, called Merton Abbey Mills. It was near Colliers Wood tube - South of the river. It was only about a 20 minute journey away, but felt like being in a completely different city - South London is really foreign territory to me.

At Rob's birthday do the other day I was talking to Dwain about the fact that even though I now lived in the centre, only just North of the river, I still thought of myself very much as a North Londoner, rather than a South Londoner - harking back to my days in leafy Hampstead. According to Dwain there's a simple test to this - he asked me what I order when I go to buy a coffee. I answered "Errr, an espresso?", which apparently was the right answer - South Londoners would ask for "Black with two sugars".

Anyway, there weren't a lot of people at the Merton Abbey place, but oddly it had a little bit of a Glastonbury vibe to it. I suspect a lot of those people led "alternative lifestyles". We got lunch while we were there at a little creperie stall, which was very pleasant (and I suppose the presence of this kind of cosmopolitan food rather negates the above assertion about South London).

We spent the remainder of the afternoon back at the flat and then out shopping to get stuff for dinner. I was somewhat unambitious and decided to just make pasta for dinner, as it seems to be the only middle ground for something all four of us would eat. I knocked up a starter and we also had a cheese course and dessert, so this turned into a long rambling meal, slightly French in style I suppose, which was jolly nice.
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Mum in London
[Friday 27th April]
Mum came to visit for the weekend, and arrived towards the end of the morning today. So we had lunch at the office, and then Mum and Chie went off for a bit of a walk while I went back to work.

In the evening Chie went out to see a play with one of her friends (a Shakespeare play done in Japanese), so I went out for dinner with Mum and Keith. I chose a restaurant called About Thyme, partly on the basis that we could walk to it. The vegetarian options were a bit insubstantial, nut nice enough. There's a school of vegetarian cookery I often encounter in restaurants which seems to be based on the assumption "Vegetarian? Oh, you must be a woman on a diet then.". Anyway, Mum seemed to like what she had so all in all I was pleased with the choice. We finished off the meal with a liqueur called Frangelico which I have to admit to rather liking, although I suspect it is probably generally regarded as a relic of the 1980s and somewhat passť.
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