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:
Mixed Bag
Venturing Out
Working From Home Again
Back to Work (from home)
Recovery Day Four
Recovery Day Three
Recovery Day Two
Recovery Day One
The Operation
Fretting
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead
Laphroaig Lasagne
In By Myself
Bye Bye Benoit
Lunch with Simon
Radstock Reunion
Lorenzo and Chiara
Leaving Do
Another Forgotten Day
Anonymous Tuesday
Dress Up Monday
Hair Cut
Aquascutum
Back to London
Heligan and The Smuggler's Cottage
The Eden Project and St. Anthony's Head
In Search of Buried Footwear
St. Michael's Mount, The Minnack Theatre and a Barbeque
Veryan, Portloe and Gorran Haven
St. Just and St. Mawes
Travelling to Cornwall, and Dinner at the Tresanton

Mixed Bag
[Sunday 27th July]
There was no specific agenda for today, and we didn't really do very much, but it turned out to be a delightfully mixed bag sort of a day.

I had a mail from a lady in Canada, who turns out to be a relative (something like a third cousin, once removed) - we share common ancestors in Michael and Elizabeth Hogan (my great great great grandparents), the couple from which the soupçon of Irishness in my genetic make-up comes. I've had all the family tree stuff on the web for several years now, and although having new relatives get in touch with me like this has been a relatively infrequent occurrence, it has happened a handful of times and it's a delightful surprise.

As a result I spent a good chunk of today trying to transfer all my old mail folders that had been on my old Windows laptop, onto the Mac. I recalled that I'd had another mail from another relative in that part of the family tree, and so it made sense to try and put the two of them in touch with each other.

Those two things, along with writing a couple of scathing reviews for my vegetarian blog, occupied the majority of the daytime.

Towards the end of the afternoon I was starting to experience that typical sense of weekend guilt which is brought about by having stayed in all day when it is quite nice weather outside. This sounds like it needs a word for it - so in Meaning of Liff style I shall stick a pin in a map and find one. There: Narkurs.

So we did go out for a short stroll, albeit just down to the river Thames and back again.

On our return I decided I fancied a spot of whisky. The last week I'd been laying off the drink, partly because I was taking anti-inflammatory medicine and pain killers, and partly because I thought it would probably help me to recover better. During the week though, I had ordered an SMWS bottling of a Laphroaig, which I'd on the night I took Benoit to the whisky society, and rather enjoyed. It had been taunting me all week, sitting their in the kitchen unopened, and by tonight I couldn't resist.

In fact, for a bit of fun, I actually decided to take this and two other whiskies I'd recently bought (a Berry Brothers and Rudd bottling of Caol Ila, and the Port Charlotte PC6 from Bruichladdich) and do a bit of a tasting - sampling them all with an eye to make tasting notes. Here are the results:

Berry Bros. and Rudd Caol Ila Casks 10018/19 - Distilled 1995, bottled 2008
Unreduced nose: initially something citrus, almost vinegary, but that then seemed to disappear, giving way to a big waft of peat, some malty/cereal notes, a hint of something perfumey - perhaps parma violets?
Unreduced palate: zingy peat, peppery, a touch of honey
Reduced nose: creme caramel?
Reduced palate: creme caramel again, decidedly creamier. The "zingy peat" comes later in the finish.

Port Charlotte PC6 (Bruichladdich)
Unreduced nose: toffee, fudge, peat behind that (fairly gentle though - surprisingly as this is supposed to be heavily peated), some butter notes - perhaps sautéed or glazed carrots, perhaps butterscotch (Angel Delight!?). Also a hint of vanilla ice cream.
Unreduced palate: not so sweet strangely - the sweetness seems to mostly be on the nose. Peat definitely there. Why am I reminded of Brazil nuts? Dry, savoury finish.
Reduced nose: Adding water didn't seem to do much to the nose.
Reduced palate: Sweeter, brings out a hint of spice - paprika perhaps?

Laphroaig SWMS bottling cask 29.66
Unreduced nose: sherry, clean sheets on a line - perhaps in a sea breeze?, demerera sugar, slightly liqueur-ish notes.
Unreduced palate: interestingly there's a lot more going on in the mouth than there was in the nose. This is classic Laphroaig - syrupy, oily and carbolic. Phenols open up on the nose after the first sip. Gutsy and satisfying.
Reduce nose: more of those sherry notes - perhaps even winey, hot cross buns? dried fruits? berries?
Reduced palate: smoother but less carbolic. I think I preferred it without wanter.

Chie also tasted the SMWS Laphroaig, and independently found similar sherry notes - I guess that was pretty hard to miss, but also those hard to pinpoint outdoors sort of smells - as she put it "DIY on a nice day". She also found dried druit notes, and described the palate as sort of meaty - like bacon perhaps.

For dinner Chie made Japanese food, including one of my favourite things ever - veggie age. These are a vegetarian version of karaage made using these Japanese (or perhaps Taiwanese) soya chunks and a particular Japanese batter. I doubt they sound very enticing to meat eaters, but I find them ridiculously moreish!
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Venturing Out
[Saturday 26th July]
So it had now been one week since my operation, and for the first time I thought I might actually attempt to venture out more than a few metres from my flat. Our friends Leon and Yukari were coming to London, and we'd decided to meet up for lunch.

The original plan was to go for lunch at Matsuri St. James's, but that went rather badly wrong.

So, as plan B we went to our old favourite Abeno Too, just off Leicester Square, which, despite being a bit too hot to be eating a good where you all sit around a giant griddle, was actually very nice.

After lunch Leon, Yukari and Chie headed off to some sort of music festival in London, but I decided I shouldn't overdo it on my first outing, so just headed back home at that point, and had a restful afternoon in by myself.

In the evening, when Chie got back from the festival, we had a veggie chilli for dinner, which was jolly nice.


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Working From Home Again
[Friday 26th July]
Did another day's work from home, although I think I had probably overdone it a bit the previous day (what with having fires to fight and everything), and so today I took it a bit easier.

I made a point of taking a decent break at lunchtime, and going for a gentle walk - as I had been advised by the nurse. I didn't go very far, just walked around the gardens in the square where we live, and poped into one of the little shops to buy some coffee - we had run out, and a week away from the office (where coffee runs freely) was giving me withdrawl symptoms!

I attempted to cook dinner for us both again this evening - although nothing very adventurous, just veggie burgers and oven chips.
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Back to Work (from home)
[Thursday 25th July]
I decided today to try getting back into some work, albeit from home. I'd been signed off by the consultant for a full two weeks to recover from the operation. My company had been made well aware of that and were quite comfortable with it. So I could have just done nothing for the fortnight and probably no-one would have complained.

The decision to start working again today wasn't really driven by any desperate desire on my part to get back to work - or any pressure from the company - I guess it was just my usual working class morals. It didn't seem right to be getting paid when I was more or less capable of providing some useful service to the company. By this point I was more or less comfortable enough to sit up and type for short periods, which is all I really need to be able to do for my job.

I put in a really decent day's work actually - there were production issues to fix which I jumped right on. Once again today I was impressed by how well I can actually work from home, or indeed anywhere - all I need is my MacBook and an internet connection.

In the evening we had pizza for dinner, for the first time ever Chie actually went to pick them up (from our local Pizza Express) instead of me, albeit under some protest.
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Recovery Day Four
[Wednesday 24th July]
Yet more of the same really, skulking around the flat, waiting to get better.

I did have a bash at some cooking today - largely motivated by the fact that there wasn't anything in that I could just eat straight out of the packet. So I examined the contents of the cupboards, and found a tin of lentils. With this I made a "Mediterranean lentil and tomato soup" - Mediterranean on the basis it had olives and Herbes de Provence in it. It was actually very good, really hearty.

I also attempted to cook dinner for Chie in the evening - we had some of that left over soup for starter, followed by a porcini and black truffle risotto for main course. The latter sounds quite gourmet, but it was just made with some dried porcini and truffles from a jar that were hanging around in the cupboard, and weren't particularly flavoursome. The soup was probably the highlight.
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Recovery Day Three
[Tuesday 22nd July]
Today was my first day at home all alone (although Chie had been out for a lot of the previous afternoon), and so my first day to have to fend for myself for lunch etc. Definitely lots of things like standing up, sitting down, etc were still a struggle, but I more or less managed.

I watched a lot of daytime TV in the afternoon, which was apallingly dreary.

Other than that not much to report really!
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Recovery Day Two
[Monday 21st July]
Chie had booked today off work, having not known prior to the operation how well I was likely to be able to cope on my own. As it happens by today I probably was more or less OK to be left alone by myself, but obviously it was nice to have the company.

I woke up early again this morning - before 7 - and couldn't get back to sleep again.

Charity has been weighing on my mind somewhat recently - it had occurred to me I am relatively comfortably off at the moment, and yet have been very selfish with my money. It all either goes in the bank, or gets spent on enjoying ourselves (largely on extravagant food and drink). This would not do.

I recently watched a program about Islam where they mentioned the concept of Zakat. The modern interpretation of this seems to be that every Muslim should give 2.5% of their income to the poor and needy. I rather liked the sound of this, particularly that they were bold enough to stipulate a specific figure, so I decided I would adopt this custom. So this morning I set about looking for worthy causes to donate some of my income to on a regular basis. No big surprises really - I just divided up the cash between four well known charities - Oxfam, Cancer Research, Save the Children and Amnesty. Of course, I am always a bit concerned with some of these bigger and more well established organisations about how much of the money just gets swallowed up in the organisation itself, rather than actually going to the people they are trying to help, but then I suppose you have to just take that on good faith. Even if only half the money ends up feeding starving children etc, I guess that is still a lot better than nothing.

All that altruism tired me out, and by around 11 I decided I should go back to bed for a late morning nap. I woke up in time to have lunch with Chie (we had instant ramen) before she headed out for the afternoon, to get her hair cut and do a spot of shopping. I was then faced with the first significant chunk of time spent alone since I've had my operation, and blimey it was tedious. I still wasn't really up to any singificant computer use, so instead just slobbed out in front of the telly, and with the exception of a couple of Keith Floyd cookery programs I can report that daytime TV is just as awful as it always has been.

Chie got back just after 5, and I thought I should probably go out for my daily walk then, as recommended by the nurse. I think I've definitely improved on yesterday - I was able to walk a bit further (albeit still just round the gardens) and it was less of a strain, but steps were definitely still a bit of a challenge.

For dinner we decided to order in Chinese takeaway, and in the evening we attempted to watch Kagemusha, although I didn't quite make it through to the end before deciding on an early night.


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Recovery Day One
[Sunday 20th July]
Today was the first day spent recovering at home following my operation. Not much to report really, I pretty much just stayed slumped on the sofa all day. Although following the advice of the nurse I did go for a short and gentle walk around the gardens in the afternoon. Walking is actually quite an effort, as is getting up out of a chair, and sitting back down again. Similarly getting in and out of bed and getting dressed are all quite a challenge. It has been a reminder how much you rely on your stomach muscles for, and when that area is all a bit painful it makes pretty much any kind of movement somewhat challenging. Shortly after the operation yesterday I coughed, just the once, and that was really quite painful too, so I spent today very diligently trying to avoid coughing.

Chie did a great job of looking after me (although the signs of her patience wearing a bit thin were very soon apparent!), and made all three meals today, although I did help out a tiny bit with dinner. We had toad-in-the-hole and cauliflower cheese.

Not unsurprisingly I watched quite a lot of telly today, including The Secret Garden, which seemed a thoroughly appropriate sort of a film for someone in my current convalescent state.
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The Operation
[Saturday 19th July]
So today was the day of my hernia operation, which, as per yesterday's entry, I was somewhat anxious about, despite it being a very routine surgical procedure. The hospital had requested that I show up at 7AM, which meant getting up at 6AM so I could have a shower and get my things together. We actually walked to the hospital, given that it is only about a 20 minute stroll away, which felt a bit odd, knowing that later on that day I'd be in no fit state to walk back.

The actual operation wasn't until 9:30, which meant there was a lot of waiting around, which would probably be my only criticism of an otherwise very well run hospital. I'm sure if I hadn't arrived until 8AM I'd still have had plenty of time to do all the tests and get changed into my surgical gown (or whatever you call those things) etc. Anyhow, it wasn't so bad, thanks to my company's medical insurance I was having the whole thing done privately, which meant it was a very pleasant hospital, and I even had my own private room to wait in. It felt more like being in a hotel really.

Once we'd been through all the tests etc, signed some paperwork, and had a quick chat with the surgeon and the anesthetist, I was then called for just before 9:30 to head down to theatre. Chie headed off to go and do some shopping at this point - I thought it would be better to go and take her mind off it rather than hanging around the hospital.

The staff got me to walk as far as the lift, then oddly asked me to get onto a stretcher in the lift. I was then wheeled the rest of the way, an experience I found oddly amusing - I guess it reminded me of the opening sequence to Police Squad / The Naked Gun. Then they wheeled me into the anesthetic room, which was tiny - just enough space for the stretcher and a doctor to stand either side.

I asked the anesthetist how long it would take for the anesthetic to take effect, and he said "10 seconds, unless you're about to defy medical science".

"Oh", I replied, "is that 10 seconds from now" - as they had just put some sort of syringe in my left hand.

"No", he said presumably after actually pressing the plunger, "10 seconds from now".

I didn't actually get a chance to count up to 10.

The next thing I remember is waking up, what I think was about an hour and a half or two hours later, in the recovery room. I felt surprisingly not that bad at all - I'd expected to wake up feeling in pain and/or feeling sick from the anesthetic, and there wasn't really any semblance of either. I almost wasn't sure if they'd actually done any surgery at all! I also thought I'd be a lot groggier than I was, but it only seemed like a few minutes before I felt comfortable to talk to the nurse.

I have to say, I'm incredibly impressed with modern anesthetics - the whole process was pretty much completely free of any kind of discomfort or anguish. I'd always imagined the healthcare industry as being a lot more like "this is going to hurt and you're just going to have to accept that", whereas in fact, at least in this hospital, the whole thing felt like a really customer focused service - they really went out of their way to make sure I was as comfortable as I could possibly be.

Shortly after waking up, and the nurses performing a couple of tests, I was then wheeled back to my room to convalesce. My first thought was of course to phone Chie, and to my pleasant surprise I'd found I was able to use my mobile in my room - the nurse even fished it out of my bag for me. By this time it was around midday, so it had only been about two and a half hours since I'd waved her off to go shopping, I think she was really quite surprised to be hearing my voice so soon.

I also attempted to phone round all the family and let them know how I'd got on, only discover that absolutely everyone was out! What a cheek! I did however manage to use the internet access on my mobile to leave a couple of messages on the message board - I think I can safely lay claim to the first ever posts from a hospitable bed.

The surgeon popped round after a while to tell me everything had gone according to plan. Apparently (as we'd known all along) it wasn't a very severe hernia, so there wasn't really a huge amount to do. He'd just put the piece of mesh in to help mend the split and it was all pretty straightforward really. A short while later I plucked up the courage to take a quick peek at my wounds - it didn't look too bad, as it was all done by keyhole I just had three small incisions, each covered up with a small dressing. There was a little bit of blood, but nothing too horrendous.

Once Chie had got back from shopping we had lunch in my room. The food was pretty basic, but it wasn't bad - and I suppose I didn't really have much of an appetite for anything very rich or fancy after having just had my bowels cut open! I was quite pleased to discover that I was actually allowed to eat so soon after the operation. The menu mentioned that a wine list was available on request which I found rather impressive - although obviously given that I was still pumped full of a cocktail of anesthetics and other drugs I wasn't even going to consider it. Still, I thought that was very civilised. I guess that's just what one expects from private hospitals in Chelsea!

We then had a few more hours to wait in the room before I was ready to be discharged - the anesthetic takes a while to wear off, and for the first hour or so even getting up to go to the toilet was a bit of a struggle... but I wasn't really in any serious pain, and didn't feel nauseous or anything really. I felt really rather full of beans, all told, I'd imagined it would be much worse than this.

During the course of the afternoon I did eventually manage to get in touch with most of my family - my Dad was on Bardsey Island, so could only call when he was on a certain part of the island where his mobile can get reception. Everyone seemed to have been very relaxed about the whole thing - it seems the only person who had done any serious fretting over it was me!

Eventually around 4:30 the nurse came to hand me a bag of medicine (pain killers and ant-inflammtories) and told me it was ok for me to go home. So I got dressed (which required considerable assistance from Chie) and went down to reception, where we had them order us a taxi to go back home.

We were back home by around 5, and I spent the rest of the evening on the sofa. I found I was pretty comfortable, and not in any real pain to speak of, as long as I stayed pretty much still. However, trying to stand up, or sit back down again, or get in or out of bed were all fairly painful operations... as were coughing or laughing, but I suppose that was to be expected.

Chie made pasta for dinner, and following the nurses' advice I also made sure to eat some fruit - a banana and some yoghurt with cherries in.

We then spent the remainder of the evening watching Finding Neverland, which I'd recorded off the telly a few months back, and hadn't got around to watching until now. It was rather charming, albeit a bit sad, and a generally very relaxing way to round off the big day.

I'd got the whole of the next two weeks booked off work, not sure yet if I'll actually need all of that time to recover. I have to go back to the hospital on Monday 28th for a check-up - I guess if the consultant tells me he's happy for me to go back to the office after that, then I probably will.

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Fretting
[Friday 18th July]
So today was the day before my hernia operation, and I have to be quite honest that I was really quite nervous. I knew it was a very routine operation (I believe I heard somewhere it was the most common surgical procedure performed on men) and thanks to my company's health insurance scheme I was going to a really good hospital and all that, but still, I couldn't help but be anxious. I think the thing that concerned me most was the general anesthetic - having not been under one since I was 6 months old I really had no idea what to expect.

I think it's a similar thing to my fear of flying, which derives largely from the complete lack of control. On planes you can't even see the pilot these days, and I find the thought of having to put my safety in the hands of a complete stranger, with no possible chance of me being able to intervene, quite harrowing. So in that sense going under a general anesthetic is really very similar - you're being rendered completely helpless, then cut open by people you won't even see, save for a quick chat before and (hopefully) after.

So that pretty much occupied my whole day - worrying about it. I'm quite embarrassed to admit that, but there you have it. I went into work in the daytime as usual, and in the evening me and Chie watched a DVD (My Blueberry Nights) but the operation was always at the back of my mind, and I didn't really sleep very well either.
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Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead
[Thursday 17th July]
Last month we'd been to see a musical (see here) starring a friend of mine from work who is also a part-time actor. He'd recently told us that he was going to be in another production this week, and as I'd really rather enjoyed it last time round, I was keen to go along and see him tread the boards again.

So I took Chie along, as well as a couple of other people from work, and given that it was in the same venue as before (The Bridwell Theatre), we once again stopped off en route at the nearby Blackfriars pub for a quick pre-theatre dinner and a pint. Which was a jolly nice start to the evening.

So on to the play itself. Well, I have to be honest really, and say I just couldn't get on with it. There was nothing wrong with the performance in itself - the actors (my friend from work included) were all clearly very talented, but they were just working with such an appalling script.

I suppose it is only fair to qualify my somewhat negative reaction to the piece with the fact that my hernia was playing up a bit, and the seats were quite uncomfortable, so I was somewhat fidgety throughout, making me not really at my most attentive and receptive.

Somehow I had thought this play was supposed to be a comedy, but if that was the writer's intention he had certainly spread the laughs pretty thin indeed. I believe others have referred to it as an "absurdist existentialist tragicomedy".

The use of "aburdist" here appears to be an indirect way of referring to the fact that most of the dialogue is entirely meaningless gibberish - honestly, it can't have just been me. Whilst I'm prepared to admit that my somewhat uncultured background would mean a number of the references probably went over my head, a large part of the narrative (if I can be generous enough to call it that) could not have been anything but utterly irrelevant nonsense. Padding, if you will - which was distinctly unnecessary in a play that was already far too long by my reckoning. Consider for example the exchange where Rosencrantz and Guildford are charged with going to find Hamlet, and are deciding how to go about their search. There are several minutes of "you go that way, I'll go this way, no I'll go that way, no let's stick together, no let's just wait here, etc...". It is just thoroughly tedious. Surely absurdism is about non-sequiturs and taking the audience completely off guard. This was exactly the opposite of a non-sequitur, it was just an entirely predictable and formulaic exchange, with no intellectual or novel quality to it whatsoever.

The "existentialist" part presumably referred to the fact that amongst the main character's typically aimless musings they would occasionally say something which purported to be philosophical - i.e. they'd go on about death for a bit. I cannot say I was particularly inspired.

And as for the "tragicomedy" element, this derives from the fact that the whole thing was sort of based on (or perhaps in) Hamlet - the final nail in the coffin which made absolutely sure I was guaranteed not to like it.

I suppose the basic premise had the potential for some sort of merit - for those such as myself who are joyously unencumbered with any knowledge of Shakespeare, apparently Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are two minor characters in Hamlet, and this play is an attempt to fill in the gaps for what is happening to them while they're off stage, along with some pithy observation about the fatalism associated with insignificant pawns like this pair in theatre. However, it then proceeded to shoot itself in the foot in this regard, by making these characters quite unappealing, with personalities that were deliberately overlapping and generally quite vacant. The main characters in the play are generally chosen as the main characters because they are the most interesting. If you take some less significant characters and expand their background to reveal something noteworthy, that probably represents something worthwhile. However, to take these less significant characters and then spend the whole play apparently reinforcing the fact that they are thoroughly uninteresting and meaningless leaves me wondering what exactly has been achieved.

I just fundamentally couldn't get the point. I can happily sit through a film or play with no distinctive narrative if it is just plain funny or some interesting dialogue, or even just some aesthetic quality, but this play really didn't posses any of those things.

One of the slightly ironic things is that a number of the lines in the play appeared to be mocking the play itself, apparently voicing my own opinions as to how bad it was. For example:

"We are tied to a language which makes up for in obscurity what it lacks in style."

At which point I had to prevent myself from standing up and shouting "Yes you bloody well are!" ...and...

"I don't pretend to have understood. Frankly, I'm not very
interested."

...which had me nodding in full agreement. It was almost as if Tom Stoppard had written the entire play as a practical joke on the audience, to see if people would actually have the courage to stand up and denounce the whole thing as bollocks.

No matter how hard I tried to be patient I just couldn't really face sitting through ti. It was a three act play, and by the end of the first act I was already having thoughts of leaving. By the second interval I had made up my mind. Chie wasn't particularly bothered about hanging around either, given that most of the lanugage in it was nigh-on intelligible.

We decided to walk back home, and had a lovely summer's evening stroll along the Thames.
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Laphroaig Lasagne
[Wednesday 16th July]
What with my hernia operation coming up, I knew I was going to be pretty much incapacitated for at least the following week and Chie would end up having to do most of the cooking etc. I already felt somewhat guilty about that, and so thought tonight I should really push the boat out and make a proper dinner for us both. So I decided to leave the office "early" (i.e. 6PM) and go home to make us a lasagne.

In a sequence of events that was gratifyingly reminiscent of an aside in Three Men in a Boat, we had recently acquired some particularly interesting and pungent cheese. Chie had met our friend and fellow whisky enthusiast Sawako-san in London recently, who was on her way back to Japan from another trip to Islay. She was carrying with her three truckles of "Laphroaig Cheese", apparently a new creation, made by Inverloch Cheese on the nearby Kintyre Peninsula, which was a kind of mature cheddar containing Laphroaig whisky. These were intended to be a present for the famous Japanese whisky writer Mamoru Tsuchiya, however unfortunately (for him) they had already suffered somewhat from their journey from Islay to London, and Sawako-san didn't think they'd make it all the way back to Japan. And so they came into our posession.

So when it came to making tonight's lasagne, I decided as an experiment to try using one of the truckles which appeared to have suffered most in the cheese sauce, on the dubious basis that cooking it might be safer than eating it raw. I had initially assumed Laphroaig cheese would be yet another gimmicky whisky by-product, like whisky liqueur chocolates or whisky fudge. To my surprise and delight (and quite possibly aided by its' unrefridgerated transit from Islay to London) there was a fabulous odour of whisky - and not just any whisky - the unmistakably pungent aroma of Laphroaig. To my further surprise and delight, the aroma did not disappear once it was added to the cheese sauce, and even in the finished lasagne it was immediately obvious. The end result was ludicrously delicious, quite frankly one of the best things I have ever cooked.

See here for a post with the rough recipe on my vegetarian blog.

Well, even if I don't cook for a week and a bit, I think tonight's gastronomic treat ought to go a long way towards making up for it!

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In By Myself
[Tuesday 15th July]
Chie went out to the opera this evening with a friend of hers. I on the other hand wasn't really keen on going, following my experience of Simone Boccenegra a couple of months back, so instead stayed at the office a bit late (had a lot of long phone calls with the US to make) and then went home and had a quiet evening in by myself. I had a ludicrously cheesey pasta dish for dinner, which was very tasty indeed, although probably quite unhealthy! Erm, that's it really, not much else to report.
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Bye Bye Benoit
[Monday 14th July]
Today was the final, final leaving do for Benoit (see here for the "offical" one, and here for one prior to that) as this was the last day of his internship. I'm always worried about these sorts of things turning into a bit of an anti-climax, particularly as in the daytime nobody really organised anything (I guess because our manager was in transit, and that sort of job would normally fall to him). So I was determined to make up for that in the evening. Despite having been on a constant mission to introduce Benoit to some of London's finest old pubs over the time we've been working together, it turned out I had never actually taken him to my absolute favourites - Ye Old Mitre and the Cittie of Yorke. Neither had I taken him to the Whisky Society, just around the corner from there. So tonight seemed like exactly the right occasion for that.

We did have a quick drink at the bog standard pub nearest to the office first, which a few other people from the team also attended, but when it came to going a bit further afield it turned out most of the rest of them were just going to head home instead. So there were just the three of us that headed in the direction of Holborn - me, Benoit, and one other chap who I haven't really been out with in the evening much, but it turns out is quite keen on whisky.

So we started off at Ye Old Mitre, which I'm pleased to report has finally rid itself of all the scaffolding in the alleyway, and as a result was looking particularly lovely. It was also unusually quiet - partly because it was a Monday I assume - although when I asked the barman he (jokingly I think) put it down to the credit crunch.

After that we headed round the corner to the Cittie of Yorke, where I permitted Benoit to buy a round as it would be by far the cheapest of the evening! Here too it was looking fabulous as always, but we didn't linger too long, conccious of the fact that time was quickly going, and I was keen to get a decent chunk of time in at the Whisky Society.

It's always a pleasure taking guests along to "my club" particularly people with at least a passing interest in single malts. I had a gloriously self indulgent time boring my companions with the nuances of single cask whiskies, and we were treated to a particularly fine bottling list. We started off with a 27.68 (Springbank), then moved onto a 4.126 (Highland Park) and finished off with what was perhaps unsurprisingly my personal favourite of the evening - the 29.66 (Laphroaig). I had just been explaining to my guests that certain whiskies weren't actually that well suited to single cask bottlings - in my opinion. Most of the single cask Laproaigs or Highland Parks I'd had before were distinctly lacking something, and didn't have the depth and variety to be found in the distillery's own bottling, which are presumably vatted from several differing casks to produce the final character. Tonight though I was proved wrong - whilst the Highland Park was interesting but still not perhaps as rich and full flavoured as some of the better distillery bottlings, the Laphroaig really stood up in its' own right. It was wonderfully carbolic, robust, industrial - as I described it at the time, it was like sucking an exhaust pipe. Quite fabulous.

Anywho, I certainly had a very pleasant evening of it, and I hope it was a fitting send-off for Benoit too.
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Lunch with Simon
[Sunday 13th July]
Woke up at Rob's house in the 'burbs of Reading following the previous day's reunion extravaganza. Tom and Jon had gone back the previous night, but Tim, Lorenzo, Chiara and Chris (and of course Rob and Kate) were all still around in the morning. Tim and I were the first to get up, and I particularly enjoyed our early morning chat over a few cups of tea in the kitchen. Very reminiscent of time spent in Radstock Road, albeit that the subject matter had changed somewhat (work, rather than university). Then gradually the rest of the group woke up and came downstairs in drabs and drabs, and we all had a long drawn out breakfast and more chatting in the kitchen. That was all jolly nice.

Simon (resident of Radstock Road in the second year we were there) had been in Hungary on the actual day of the reunion, and was just flying back this morning. Unfortunately Tim and Chris had to head off before lunch as they both had long journeys back up North ahead of them, but Lorenzo and Chiara's flight was not until the evening, and I only had to get back to London, so we at least had the chance to go out for lunch with Simon. We attempted several venues in the centre of Reading for lunch on Rob's recommendation, all of which were closed, and eventually gave up and went to Nando's. Which I actually thought was quite nice (there's nothing like a South African chain of Portugese restaurants for mixing it up a bit culturally).

After lunch we headed over to the station for the final round of goodbyes - Lox and Chiara headed off to Gatwick, and I headed back to London (despite Simon making a stirling effort to get me to remain in Reading for a boozy afternoon - unfortunately after the previous days' excesses I was just a bit too knackered!).

Once back in London I met up briefly with Chie and Andy's fiancee (who we had just met for the first time last month) who were out doing a spot of clothes shopping in the centre. After the clothes shopping was deemed complete (although Chie hadn't actually bought anything!) we waved Andy's fiancee off at the tube station, and then Chie and I went to Rice Wine Shop to buy the usual Japanese provisions, including a big bag of rice. So naturally back at home in the evening we had Japanese food for dinner.
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Radstock Reunion
[Saturday 12th July]
It was ten years ago this month that most of the guys I shared a house with at university graduated. This had occurred to me and Tom when we'd met up for lunch a few weeks back, and so in the intervening time there had been a lot of back and forth arranging a reunion, and trying to get everyone to sign up for it. I'd originally imagined it would be nigh-on impossible to get any more than a small fraction of the original tenants to be in the same place at the same time, but in the end the turnout was fantastic. Today we had all six people who had been in the house in our first year there - me, Tim, Jon, Rob, Lorenzo and Chris - plus of course Tom, the honorary* tenant.

* Honorary being a polite way to say "non rent paying". :)

Thanks to Tom and Rob having stayed in the Reading area, I'd seen quite a lot of those two over the last decade. I had also seen quite a lot of Lorenzo, despite him living the furthest away, thanks to our mutual jetset lifestyles over the past few years. Tim and Jon, however, I'd only seen a few times since we graduated, and Chris I don't think I had seen at all.

In terms of actually having all of us in one place though, this hadn't happened since basically the day we moved out (actually, technically the day Lorenzo and Chris moved out, which was a year before the rest of us).

So I guess it goes without saying that it was truly great to be all back together again.

The day started out at Rob and Kate's house, where we all assembled. From there we went to campus, and had a nostalgic wander about, with all the obvious "oh that didn't used to be there" type comments. Nothing was really open, it being a Saturday outside of term time, but I guess in a way that worked to our advantage - had it been filled with students 10+ years our junior we'd have felt pretty out of place.

From campus we headed to our former abode on Radstock road. I loved the way that walking from campus back to the house was just a completely natural and automatic thing for all of us - nobody struggled to remember the route or anything, and we pretty much just drifted there on autopilot.

Of course we couldn't actually get into the house, but we at least posed for a few pictures outside. Which must have been a bit disconcerting if there was anyone living there at the moment. Interestingly, there was actually a sign in the window offering a room to let - for something like £260 a month. Not actually a huge increase on what it had been when we were living there - I was almost tempted!

After leaving the house, we took a wander down the canal into the town centre, another walk we were all very familiar with from our student days. The stretch along the canal seems to have been tarted up a bit now, it was a lot more pleasant than I remmeber it.

The rest of the day then lapsed into a predictably boozy haze - a bit of a crawl through a number of pubs we used to frequent in Reading.

The day finished off back at Rob and Kate's house with a whisky and yet more reminiscing going on into the wee hours - I think it was about 3AM by the time I went to sleep.

I think I've rushed this entry a bit, and it ended up a bit of a factual account of what, as Lorenzo also said, was really quite an emotional event. I guess I could spend ages trying to come up with something deep and philosophical to characterise it, but, and perhaps albeit somewhat predictably, these are truly great people, and it was simply fantastic to see them all again.
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Lorenzo and Chiara
[Friday 11th July]
This weekend was the big Radstock reunion event - ten years on since most of us graduated. Lorenzo, who of course had furthest to travel, arrived today, and stayed with me and Chie in London for the first night.

He brought Chiara with him, of whom I had heard a lot on the Maison, but had never actually met in person until today. She is very nice indeed. Allow me to enumerate some things I like about her:

A) She smiled a lot.
B) She speaks a number of languages very well - not only the obvious Italian, bought also English, French and I even heard some German during the course of the evening.
C) She made polite comments about my sense of fashion.
D) She made polite comments about my choice of restaurant (Lebanese) in the evening.

Based on this assessment I think she is quite perfect, and I heartily endorse Lorenzo's choice of girlfriend.

After dinner, we went back to the flat, where Lorenzo and I endulged in a bit of a whisky tasting session. All very nice indeed.
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Leaving Do
[Thursday 10th July]
Benoit, the young but extremely smart French chap at work was coming to the end of his internship, and although he would have a couple more days in the office, today was chosen for his "official" leaving do. One of three effectively, given that the besuited outing on Monday was partly in his honour, and we also had one final night out on his very last day.

Anywho, this evening commenced with the standard couple of drinks at the pub closest to the office (well, technically the second closest to the office, but anyway, it's the one we always end up going to). A lot of the attendees only stayed for one drink, but there were still a fairly sizeable number of us left behind to go for dinner. The area around the office is not exactly abundant with restaurants, so I decided to fall back to the old faithful - the tapas place. As it turned out the one near my office had actually closed donw, but luckily there's the other one near my flat, which is not too far to walk to from the office.

As has often been the way, after dinner everyone else went their separate ways, but Benoit and I still wanted to have a couple more drinks so proceeded to a couple more pubs from there.
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Another Forgotten Day
[Wednesday 9th July]
...err nope I don't remember today either.
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Anonymous Tuesday
[Tuesday 8th July]
One of those days I had to try and recall over a week hence, and don't really remember at all. Funny how it so often ends up being Tuesdays.
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Dress Up Monday
[Monday 7th July]
Some companies have a dress code, and to give their employees a break from the norm have occasional "dress down Fridays" and the like, where people can turn up to work in whatever they feel like. My company, on the other hand, has no dress code whatsoever, so me and the rest of my team thought it might be jolly to all come to the office in suits one day. That day was today!

see here for some pictures.

It was surprisingly fun, we got a really good reaction from everyone else in the office, and I felt very "empowered". I was proactively leveraging synergy and thoroughly impacting my success vector all day, and probably going forwards.

In the evening after work we thought we should take advantage of our unusual attire, and go and have the sort of night out that we assume sales people usually have, rather than the typical quick beer at the nearest pub.

So we went to a succession of swanky wine bars, and gorged ourselves on champagne and oysters (although not the oysters in my case of course).

I had always imagined that working at a big and successful company would be a bit more like this - not the wearing suits part necessarily - but the extravagant after work pursuits. So I very much enjoyed this evening - a strong candidate for the best work night out I've had in this job - although I suppose from the point of view of personal finances it's probably for the best that the champagne binges are only a once-in-a-blue-moon sort of thing!
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Hair Cut
[Sunday 6th July]
Got my hair cut in the morning by the entertaining Lebanese chap who runs a salon near where I live - he wasn't nearly as fired up as he was last time I went there, and we had a very pleasant conversation, about food and drink (I wisely steered us away from politics).

After that I did a spot of shopping, and then headed back, where Chie and I then spent the rest of the day indoors. I spent a bit more time on my vegetarian blog, which was nice.
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Aquascutum
[Saturday 5th July]
I am writing this well over a week hence, and have a huge backlog, so will be somewhat brief.

The main event of today was buying a new suit, from Aquascutum no less. OK, they had a sale on, but it was still the most expensive item of clothing I have ever purchased.

Oh I also started a new blog today, which I intended to populate with articles about vegetarian type stuff.

That's it. There, I told you that was brief.
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Back to London
[Friday 4th July]
We'd originally arranged to drop off our hire car around 2, and get on a train back to London shortly after that. However, we were up and packed bright and early, and had left the house by 9:30. So given that we didn't have any particular plan for the morning, I thought we'd probably be better off just getting an earlier train back to London.

After a quick visit to the conveniently located Sainsbury's in Truro to fill up on petrol and buy some things for lunch, we dropped off the car, and before 11 we were on a train bound for London.

The train was a bit delayed en route (apparently just because of the number of passengers/luggage getting on at each station) and so in total it was a five hour journey from Truro to London - we arrived in Paddington at 3:45. I think this train goes quite slowly through Devon and Cornwall - given that it's about 300 miles (probably that figure is as the crow flies, but it gives a general indication) from Truro to London that's an average of about 60 miles an hour over the whole journey. Theoretically these trains are capable of 125 mph, although I wonder if they ever actually get to that speed in practice.

For comparison, Tokyo to Hiroshima is apparently 422 miles (I guess that's as the crow flies again), and that's a 4 hour journey - so the shinkansen averages a little over 100 mph.

The interesting thing is that even our fairly old Intercity / HST trains could theoretically manage the same speed, but I guess it's really down to a question of the quality of the lines, points, signals - and the coordination with other trains. It's a bit of a shame to think that while the rest of the world has moved on, train journey times in the UK are not really any shorter now than they were 30 years ago (since the introduction of the HST in the late 70s - see here for sample timetables on the "Cornish Riviera" line over the last century). It doesn't feel like there's any major effort to make them any better over the next 30 years either.

Whilst I actually don't mind the occasional four or five hour train journey, there are a lot of other people who still need persuading to use trains instead of planes/cars, and I'm sure the time is a big part of the problem. The other one of course is the cost, which really ought to be much easier to solve - and yet again I feel somewhat pessimistic that there will be any serious improvement in this over the next 30 years.

Anywho, musings about the British rail network aside, we were back at the flat by 4 something, and I have to admit it actually did feel quite good to be back - as lovely as the house we'd been staying in for the last week, there's no place like home and all that.

We were feeling too lazy to cook, so for dinner we just got some pizzas from our nearby Pizza Express to take away. Having had a fairly disappointing time culinarily speaking in Cornwall* (it's not a place where vegetarians are particularly welcomed) I devoured my Quattro Pomodori somewhat ravenously.

* For a somewhat humorous attempt to improve this image see here.
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Heligan and The Smuggler's Cottage
[Thursday 3rd July]
Sounds a bit like the title of a Harry Potter book doesn't it?

Anyway, today we went to the Lost Gardens of Heligan, which was a significant improvement on yesterday's rather disappointing visit to the Eden project. For a start it was a lot cheaper to get in, and there were a lot less people there. Moreover though it had a much nicer ambience to it - a garden constructed for the quiet reflection of Victorian aristocracy, rather a formulaic tourist attraction for hordes of 21st century holiday makers.

Perhaps most interesting to us were the fruit and vegetable gardens. They grow all sorts of things here, from artichokes to pineapples, originally presumably to feed the family and their guests, although now I'm not sure where all this produce ends up.

So a definite thumbs up for Heligan from me.

On the way back to the house we wanted to stop off for a quick drink at the Roseland Inn in Phileigh - apparently a 16th century inn - although alas when we got there it was closed for the afternoon. So instead we proceeded onwards to the fabulously twee "Smuggler's Cottage" near the King Harry Ferry, a tea room / garden which oddly had a bar as well. It's a beautiful little building set in an absolutely fabulous spot - I hadn't realised that it looked across the river to the Tregothnan estate - the only tea growing estate in the UK. So we absolutely had to have Tregothnan tea. Not sure if it was just down to the ambience, but it was probably one of the best cups of tea I have ever had - it had a remarkable purity to it, whilst also being very deep and full flavoured - lots of "umami", and the tanning was very well balanced. The scones were to an extremely high standard as well - freshly cooked on the cottages Aga just minutes before.
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The Eden Project and St. Anthony's Head
[Wednesday 2nd July]
Against my better instincts I decided we ought to go and visit the Eden project today.

Not unpredictably I didn't really enjoy it - it was mildly interesting in places, and I liked the overall idea, but I don't think it was significantly more impressive than other exotic gardens I have visited. Even the rather slightly lacklustre greenhouses in Shinjukugyoen, added as an after thought to the park, were probably on a par with this.

The other problem was that it was just so touristy. Even on a midweek day, before the schools had broken up for the summer, it was still thronging with zombie tourists, mindlessly trapsing about as though they were on a production line. They didn't strike me as the sort of people who had a serious interest in botany, and were just there because they felt that was what was expected of them. The price was a shocking £15 a head, and with a combination of that and the crowds I just wasn't really capable of enjoying it. The food was crap too - I'd thought with all those exotic plants there they might have some interesting and unusual vegetables on offer, but what my lunch actually seemed to amount to was a drearily bland vegetable pasty and some overdone chips.

After leaving the Eden project, we took a meandering route back to the house, which made for a much nicer (and cheaper!) way to spend time than any mass market tourist attraction. We went by way of Veryan to see the other round houses that we'd missed the previous time, and then also stopped off at Pendower (?) beach.

From there we headed to St. Anthony's Head, where there's a rather nice lighthouse, and some fantastic views out to sea to be had. The sky seemed so much bigger there than it does back in London, and looking out to sea we could observe a number of different weather fronts, as though we'd been shrunk in sight, and put on the map they use in weather reports. A lovely spot.
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In Search of Buried Footwear
[Tuesday 1st July]
Portscatho is a village on the other side of the Roseland peninsula from where we were staying this week. It's a place Dad took me and my brother to for summer holidays a few years running when we were kids - over 20 years ago now. As such it was the venue for a piece of family history - the time me and my brother buried Dad's shoes on the beach. Somehow we were only able to recover one of them, and poor old Dad had to walk back from the beach with one bare foot. Whilst I maintain that my brother was the main instigator in this crime, I still feel somewhat guilty about it to this day.

So today we visited Portscatho - saw the little shop (now a fairly upmarket deli type place), the little restaurant (where as a child I had non alcoholic cocktails like the "Purple People Eater"), and the house we used to stay in. We then took a walk out of the village to the beach we used to spend most of our days at.

Unsurprisingly, we didn't find the missing shoe today, but it was very nice to revisit the venue for a childhood memory.

After returning from Portsatho we spent the remainder of the afternoon and evening back at the house, enjoying the general ambience. Louise and Ian headed home towards the end of the afternoon today, leaving just the five of us - me, Chie, Vera, Dad and Janie - for the remainder of the week.
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St. Michael's Mount, The Minnack Theatre and a Barbeque
[Monday 30th June]
Drove right down to the far West, taking in a quick view of St. Michael's Mount, and a good wander round the spectacular Minnack theatre, before then heading back to the house in the evening for a barbeque.

See the pictures for more details!
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Veryan, Portloe and Gorran Haven
[Sunday 29th June]
Chie and I decided we should head out on our own today, partly just to make use of our hire car. So we went on a meandering trip along the coast to the East of the Roseland peninsula.

We started out with a quick stop off at the village of Veryan. This is interesting because of the round houses that guard the entrances to the village, apparently there to ward of evil spirits (based on the believe that said spirits lurked in the corners of houses, and therefore a round house would be immune).

From there we motored onwards to Portloe.

We finished up our day's travels at Gorran Haven.

See the pictures for more details!
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St. Just and St. Mawes
[Saturday 28th June]
The weather had definitely cleared a bit today, and we awoke to spectacular sea views, which was a jolly nice start to the day.

Louise and Ian (my aunt and uncle) and their dog Chloe arrived this morning, at an infeasibly early hour considering how far we've travelled. Suddenly it felt like Christmas.

Before lunch, Robin took me and Chie for a wander around St. Just in Roseland, particularly to see the famous church there. It is set in fabulous grounds which sweep down to a lagoon at the side of the Fal Estuary, and there's a slightly exotic feel to the whole place.

After that we headed into St. Mawes for the afternoon. We grabbed a spot of lunch there - chips and pasties, which, in the tradition of all great Cornish holidays, we ate sitting on the harbour steps. We also did a bit of shopping at the very well stocked Spar. It says something about the demographic of the local area that the Spar sells dried porcini.

Chie and I walked back from St. Mawes to the house. It's a lovely stroll along the coast, and the weather had improved further still (to the point that I actually caught the sun a bit - having been caught out by the fact it was cloudy earlier, and thinking I wouldn't need any sun cream). In fact the weather was so nice, that by the time we got back to the house I had convinced myself it would be warm enough for a swim, so Chie and I rushed in and got our swimming things, and rushed back down to the beach.

Normally when swimming in the sea in the UK, there's that bit at the start when you wade in up to your knees, thinking it is a bit on the chilly side, but once you're actually brave enough to get in fully it usually isn't too bad. Today though it remained bloody freezing throughout. I did actually get my head under, but only splashed about for about two minutes before I decided to get straight back out again. Chie very wisely remained on the shore.

Spent the rest of the evening back at the house, generally enjoying the ambience, and the fabulous late evening sea views to be had from the terrace.
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Travelling to Cornwall, and Dinner at the Tresanton
[Friday 27th June]
Today was the first day of our week's holiday in Cornwall. We'd originally planned to get a train around 10 o' clock in the morning, but apparently that was fully booked (!) so instead we went for the next train, just after midday.

It was a pleasant but fairly uneventful journey down to Truro, where, owing to being a bit delayed en route, we arrived around 5. Luckily this was just in time to catch the hire car company.

Once in our hire car, we headed South-ish from Truro. Our house for the next week was near St. Mawes (in St. Just in Roseland to be precise). To get there we had to cross the River Fal by the King Harry Ferry, which was wonderfully nostalgic for me as I well remember using that ferry on holidays as a kid.

We got to Bar Point - our house for the week - just after 6, where we were met by Robin and Vera who had arrived first. The house is quite spectacular - my family have been coming here for a number of years, although it was my first chance to see it, and even in the rather miserable weather we had on arrival I could immediately see the appeal. It is right by the water's edge - the beach is literally at the bottom of the garden - and there's a terrace with great views across the Fal Estuary and out to sea. It's an utterly fantastic spot.

As it was just the four of us staying the first night, Robin had arranged for us to go out for the evening - to the rather swish Hotel Tresanton in nearby St. Mawes. It's another lovely spot - again with great sea views - albeit hard to appreciate given the weather - but still it was very atmopsheric. Generally speaking the food went down very well - at least with everyone but me.

My main course was so bad that I have added the Hotel Tresanton to my "vegetarian hall of shame". Follow that link for the full gory details.

Oh well, everyone else seemed to enjoy it.
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