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:
Final Slog
Night Market
In Need of a Holiday
A Visitor from Dublin
Bank Holiday
Proms
Three Hats and Seven Sisters
Further Dabblings in Second Life
Telly and Obama
Risotto
Long Day
EyeTV
Cornwall for Dummies
Whisky Tasting
Virtual Beer
John's New Club
In The Middle
An Easily Forgotten Day
Gourmet Oriental
Picnic on Primrose Hill
Karaoke and Okonomiyaki
Hot Fuzz
Thursday
It's a Small World
Stage Fright
Why are there no whisky bars in London?
Roger's Place
David's Housewarming Party
Jokki
No Cause for Alarm
Long Day
Tuesday

Final Slog
[Friday 31st August]
Today was the final slog at work to get the stuff I needed to have finished off before going away on holiday. It seems taking a week off can actually be something of a false economy - you just end up working twice as hard in the week before and after you go away to make up for it.

Anyway, I was quite pleased with myself - I just literally got it all done by about 7PM, and then was able to go home somewhat triumphantly.

As Vera would be joining us for the first few days of our Scotland expidition, she had arrived in London today, had lunch at my office, and then we met up again back at the flat. Feeling a bit lazy the night before going away I just went and got pizzas from our nearby Pizza Express for dinner (which had been successful last time Vera came to stay) and we had a bottle of fairly pleasant Corbieres to go with it.

It felt really great to have got all my work done and have a week's holiday ahead of me, and I was in a somewhat jubilant mood this evening!
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Night Market
[Thursday 30th August]
Again I felt really knackered at work today - that holiday can't come soon enough! I couldn't really face staying late, so left at a reasonable time, feeling generally pretty run down, and got onto a bus towards the city centre, which gave me a much needed time to just sit and reflect on life, the universe and everything - without really having to do anything. There was a time when I wasn't all that keen on taking buses in London, but now I find myself rather warming to the ability to sit up top and watch the world go by.

Anyway, I met up with Chie in Covent Garden, so we could go and see the "night market" - basically a farmer's market held in the evening. It didn't take long to walk round it, and basically we were a bit underwhelmed - Covent Garden is just too busy at the best of times, but put any kind of remotely special event on and it gets really over the top. Each stall had a modest selection of vaguely interesting goods, but with throngs of people jostling around them to take a look. So we quickly lost interest in that.

After this, we went for a quick pint at the Coach and Horses - a pub near Covent Garden I had read about in my book on historic London pubs. It was OK I guess - I was pleased to see the sign boasting 70 different whiskies, but wasn't sure I could actually count that many behind the bar.

For dinner we were feeling lazy and unadventurous so just went to the vegetarian Chinese buffet place on Greek Street. I had the same experience of usual "Mmmm this is really nice, but the meat eaters who come in here and don't understand it is all vegetarian are quite annoying, and I'm quite concerned about other people's hygiene standards".
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In Need of a Holiday
[Wednesday 29th August]
Spent all day today feeling rather tired - partly down to having been out the night before I suppose, but I think it was mostly a symptom of it being too long since I last had a holiday! Fortunately only a few days left until mine and Chie's trip to Scotland...

So basically just had a quiet night in, and made a very nice spaghetti bolognese (obviously of a vegetarian variety) for dinner. Not much else to report really!
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A Visitor from Dublin
[Tuesday 28th August]
So we were into the last week before our week off now - and only a short four day week.

A guy who works at my company's Dublin office, who I had met in California while we were both doing our training out there, was over in London this week. Remembering that he was of a very sociable persuasion, and seemed to quite like his beer, I immediately lept on the opportunity to offer him an introduction to some of London's best pubs, and to my delight he seemed very keen on the idea.

So in the evening the two of us headed over to the Chancery Lane area. We started out at the Cittie of Yorke, then went to the Seven Stars, before making a slight detour to The Old Bank of England, and finaly ending up at Ye Old Mitre. All of these places were really quiet tonight which I found quite odd, but also nice, as it made it easy to have a conversation. We chatted about various things, including the relative merits of our UK and Ireland offices, and I made a mental note to try and visit Dublin at the first available opportunity ( and in fact I may have just such an opportunity in mid-September for a training course).

A very pleasant night out - I just wish I knew somebody like this actually in London!
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Bank Holiday
[Monday 27th August]
Contrary to the rest of the reasonably well planned and eventful weekend, on the third day of our three day break we didn't really do much at all. We ventured out to the shops for a bit in the afternoon, and I bought a long overdue new pair of jeans. We also popped into Rice Wine Shop, as I really fancied some kimchi and a few other odd bits and piece of Japanese food.

As August Bank Holiday sort of marks the end of the summer, we decided to have a jug of Pimm's when we got back to the flat. It was jolly nice indeed.

For dinner we had a sort of Japanese meal, involving inari sushi, kimchi, and a surprisingly tasty dish of cucumber, (salted first, left to soak for a bit, then washed and drenched in rice vinegar). Very nice.

In the remainder of the evening we watched Breaking and Entering - yet another film with Jude Law in. It was really quite cleverly written, and well acted and directed, and despite having what basically amounted to a happy ending, I somehow found it a bit depressing. I guess you'd probably have to watch it to see what I mean.
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Proms
[Sunday 26th August]
Spent most of the daytime indoors today - I hacked away industriously on the computer trying to get support for geo-tagging into Cheese, although by the end of the day it still seemed like a lot more work was required.

The main event of the day was in the evening, when, in a rare fit of being cultural, we decided to head over to the Royal Albert Hall and attend the proms.

I can't say I recognised the piece we listened to, and have to admit to being somewhat concerned at the prospect of being stuck in a concert hall and having to remain quiet and sit still for a couple of hours... but I muddled through. A drunk bloke (no, not me) started shouting near the start, and caused a bit of a scene, which was quite entertaining - the composer even stopped and turned around to look and see what was going on. It turns out this chap was later on given a better seat "to stop him disturbing anyone" - what a topsy turvy system, where you're rewarded for being a nuisance.

It occurred to me in the latter half (following a couple of much needed glasses of wine) that an orchestra was a lot like mapreduce, a rather impressive bit of infrastructure for large scale data processing used by Google. Orchestras have a controller (the conductor) and multiple redundancy (each of the workers, sorry, musicians, is duplicated - if any of them stop playing you generally don't notice), and they all need to contribute to produce the end result. It may have just been the wine, or the desperation to find some element of classical music I could actually relate to, but I found this analogy particularly pleasing at the time.
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Three Hats and Seven Sisters
[Saturday 25th August]
A few weekends ago, Chie had mentioned that she'd like to go and see the Seven Sisters, and so after a bit of research on the web, I'd planned us a walk from Seaford to Eastbourne (with the option of doing the last bit by bus).

As has always been the case, early starts on weekend excursions are not really our strong point, but by a reasonably respectable 1PM we were in Seaford, and after a brief stocking up on provisions at the supermarket there, we were on our way.

Our walk started out along the pebble beach at Seaford, which was all very pleasant. The weather was really quite hot - in complete contrast to the rest of this rather wet and miserable summer - but we were reasonably well prepared. We had suncream, a big bottle of water, and most importantly, hats. In fact, I even brought two different hats just to be on the safe side (and thus the otherwise meaningless title for this entry, a string of words which had a cadence that appealed to me).

After the very agreeable outset to our walk, a steep coastal path quickly became involved, and a combination of that along with the really hot weather, and the fact that I'm not as fit as I used to be, made it a little tough going. In fact I might have chosen some rather more heavy duty adjectives had you asked me what it was like at the time.

Still, that aside, once we'd got up into the cliffs, a short way out of Seaford we were treated to a really rather spectacular view of the Seven Sisters - only slightly spoiled by the mildly daunting thought of having to repeat those steep climbs seven (funnily enough) times over.

We then had to dip down back to sea level again at Cuckmere Haven, and decided to attempt to ford the river that runs into the sea here rather than making the fairly long diversion inland to the nearest bridge. Not keen on completing the rest of the walk with wet shoes, we decided to do this bare foot, and given that this was another pebble beach we were both immersed in a form of pain which was oddly pleasurable, given the nostalgia it invoked of beach holidays we had when we were kids.

After fording the river, we continued back up on the cliff tops. I suppose we eventually got into something of a stride, and settled into a pattern of the ups being rather oppressive and genuinely quite hard work, but then with a period of "oooh, look at the view" once we'd reached the top of each bump, followed by a very leisurely "what was all the fuss about?" stroll down the other side of the bump.... and then repeating that all over again.

The Seven Sisters end at Birling Gap, and here the largely unspoilt coastline gives way to a fairly well commercialised beach, with, somewhat thankfully, a place where we could buy overpriced ice creams. I had a Strawberry Split - a similar experience to walking bare foot on the pebbles earlier on (i.e. delightfully nostalgic and yet in itself not actually particularly pleasant).

We'd made it in reasonably good time to Birling Gap - about three hours (despite plenty of stops along the way - one guide on the web suggested this walk would be four-and-a-half), and whilst I was prepared to go on the rest of the way to Eastbourne on foot, I think Chie was much more keen on the bus option. I suppose I didn't take that much convincing either. Whilst it had probably only been about seven or eight miles, all those ups and downs had taken it out of me somewhat.

So we got the bus to Eastbourne, and spent a short while there - just over an hour. We had a walk along the pier, and obviously the obligatory bag of chips, before getting a train back to London around 6:30. It was pretty crowded on the train on the way back, I had to stand most of the way which was somewhat less than ideal as my feet were already quite tired...

Back at home we had showers and a change of clothes (we were both surprisingly stinky after all that sweating) then had a very restful evening. We watched Life of Brian on DVD - Chie's first time to see it. As with the Holy Grail I'm not entirely sure what she made of it.

Anyway, although we probably picked too hot a day for it, it was still a very nice outing.

P.S. - I took my GPS receiver along with me to record the route, but still haven't yet come up with a good software solution for geotagging the pictures - so insteadI've used a pit of JavaScript I bodged together a while back which just plots all the points in the track log directly - so you can click here to see our route (although it take a while to display, and may not work in browsers other than Firefox...).
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Further Dabblings in Second Life
[Friday 24th August]
Chie wasn't feeling so great today, so pretty much went straight to bed when she got home. I was feeling generally quite lethargic, and so as a combination of these two factors we didn't actually have any dinner. Given that the norm of late seems to be to over-eat almost every day, I doubt it will do us much harm!

I wiled away a fair part of the evening in Second Life. For the first time I had a go at building objects - I made my own little version of Stone Henge, although rather more tastefully than the original I rendered it in marble. It actually seemed relatively straightforward to do, although I imagine extremely time consuming to make anything worthwhile.

I have now amassed the small fortune of 21 Linden (i.e. virtual) Dollars by "camping" - bizarrely you can get "paid" for just sitting in certain places for a while. I really don't get the business case for it, but still. Even more to my surprise, I discovered that Linden Dollars can actually be changed for real money - my amassed fortune of L$21 could apparently be exchanged into $0.08 of real hard cash. OK, you can't exactly buy a lot with 8 cents, but to think that I "earned" that money by just sitting down, in a virtual world... it's all a bit odd.

I did look into buying a bit of "property" in SL, but it seems my 21 dollars won't really stretch very far in virtual real estate terms.
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Telly and Obama
[Thursday 23rd August]
Spent part of the evening playing with my new EyeTV - I discovered the tool for editing recordings, which is really neat.

I also watched a recording I'd made of The Daily Show, which I'd seen once or twice over the net, and appears to be actually quite funny. This particular show featured Barack Obama, and I think I've had my head buried in the sand a bit, as this was actually the first time I'd heard him speak. He is a hugely charismatic man, I immediately liked him, and was glad to have that backed up with what appeared to be a very level headed approach to politics. I can't think of a better way to improve the often gloomy outlook of the world right now than to get that man into the Whitehouse as soon as possible. Of course, not being an American citizen I can but stand back and watch.
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Risotto
[Wednesday 22nd August]
I made a porcini risotto for dinner tonight, which was rather tasty, although I say so myself. There were several factors which contributed to its' success.

First, I used a generous helping of dried porcini (and no other mushrooms), and also used the liquor created by rehydrating them as stock. Second, instead of white wine I used some Pineau my Mum had brought back from France, which imparted a very sweet flavour to the sauce. I also used a fair amount of butter, and some very good olive oil my Dad had brought back from Spain. The final thing was a very generous helping of the excellent Twineham Grange cheese.

Other than that, not much to report really!
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Long Day
[Tuesday 21st August]
Today turned into a bit of a long slog at work - I (perhaps ill-advisedly) offered to help a colleague in the US with generating some reports for one of our partners, thinking it would be a fairly simple task as I had done something similar before. As is always the way with these things, the devil was in the detail, and that combined with me making a mess of it on the first attempt, meant I was working well into the evening. Although on the plus side I could at least do the last couple of hours from home.

Chie made dinner tonight - halloumi and cous cous. Haven't had halloumi for a while actually, and was reminded just how nice it is.
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EyeTV
[Monday 20th August]
Today my EyeTV Diversity arrived. For those of you who haven't heard of it before, and can't be bothered to click the link, it's a TV tuner for the Mac.

There were a few tense moment after opening up the box, as I wasn't really sure if I'd be able to get any kind of Freeview reception at my flat - we don't have a roof aerial or anything here, so I was relying purely on the little indoor antennae that came it with. Luckily though, this is one of the selling points of the Diversity - it has two tuners, which can either be used independently, or, via some kind of black magic I don't fully understand, can be used together to improve reception. To my delight, it worked - I was able to pick up all six Freeview multiplexes.

I then spent the remainder of the evening playing about with EyeTV. The supplied software is really slick, and compared favourably to similar things I had used on the PC. Although I do of course have a certain amount of bias here, for one or two (hopefully) obvious reasons! I do think there are a few areas for improvement though - the Picture-in-Picture control was somewhat baffling, and the program guide only has the subset of Freeview channels covered by tvtv - which is a shame when 7 days of schedule listings are available in-band in the Freeview signal. Still, these gripes aside, it appears to be a generally well rounded and very nicely integrated app. Some overnight tests showed that scheduling recording seemed to work very well - it would even wake my Mac Mini up to do a recording.

On an unrelated note, for dinner we had toad in the hole, which came out rather splendidly.
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Cornwall for Dummies
[Sunday 19th August]
Mostly a fairly lazy day. Left the flat towards the end of the afternoon to do a spot of shopping. My job has turned out to include quite a lot of statistics work, a field which I realise I know very little about. So, partly for my own education, and partly for the amusement of my fellow colleagues, I wanted to buy a copy of Statistics for Dummies. However, I had a quick flick through it in a bookshop and it occurred to me I would probably never actually read it, so in the end I didn't bother. Instead I bought Raw Spirit by Iain Banks - a book about whisky, not statistics.

Our foray into a couple of bookshops had given us both an appetite, and so we marched purposefully out after this activity, in search of some form of sustenance. A fairly meandering wander took us to Covent Garden (partly because I wanted to find a couple of pubs I'd read about recently). I'm not actually a big fan of Covent Garden - it is of course very touristy. However, one place I had been keen to try was the West Cornwall Pasty Co's pasty and beer place - The Cove. Sure, it was all a bit artificial, and the "Cornwallana" (I'm trying to express a term akin to "Americana" but for Cornwall) was all a bit twee - it was obviously aimed at tourists, and yet I couldn't help actually quite liking it. Beer and a pasty is a real winning combination, there were some interesting Cornish beers there, and the decor, albeit obviously fake, was oddly appealing.

Back at home in the evening I made a lasagne for dinner, which Chie struggled to eat very much of on account of the pasty we'd had earlier.
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Whisky Tasting
[Saturday 18th August]
Mac-san, a colleague of Chie's, had a friend over from Japan who is really into whisky, and wanted to visit the whisky society today. I was naturally only too happy to oblige! Given that the London member's rooms close at 9 on a Saturday, we had decided to make it more of an afternoon event.

We started off with lunch at The Green in Clerkenwell. I think Mac-san was keen for his friend to try some British food, and this place was fairly close to the society, so worked out rather well.

So the main highlight was then a fairly substantial tasting session at the society. We pretty much had the place to ourselves for most of the time, which was really quite nice actually. We tried a very good cross section of malts, and for once I strayed pretty far from my usual set of Islays, Islands, Campeltowns and Highlands. The barman was really great, just like last time, and helped us to pick out some real gems which all seemed to go down very well with my guests. Particular highlights included a Glenkeith (now very rare), a very enjoyable Clynelish, and some interesting Speysides including a Linkwood and a Dufftown.

We left there just after 4, said our goodbyes, and then Chie and I headed home by way of Sainsbury's. In the evening we had Japanese curry for dinner and then watched March of the Penguins, which was without doubt the best penguin themed feature film I have ever seen.
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Virtual Beer
[Friday 17th September]
Had a fun afternoon at work today - in addition to the usual end-of-the-week beer and pizza thing, we also had a live video link-up with our new office in Germany for their end-of-the-week beer and pretzel event... and we even had Bavarian beer and pretzels at the London office. It was quite fun.

Chie went out to see some "modern jazz" in the evening with a couple of people from work. I just went back home and wiled away the evening on the internet.

A bit later on in the evening I "met up" with Kev in Second Life for a virtual beer. We've done this a few times now, and it is oddly quite entertaining, although I find it difficult to articulate why exactly. Ultimately we end up just having a chat in much the same way as we would with a conventional IM client, but the "atmosphere" of the virtual setting really does seem to add something.
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John's New Club
[Thursday 16th August]
In the interests of getting to know a few more people at work, and hopefully cultivating a bit of a social life in London, I came up with the idea of starting a sort of club. I'm sure you won't be surprised to learn that it isn't any kind of sports related activity. It's rather unimaginatively titled "pub club", the idea being to discover new and interesting pubs in London.

So I sent out an email with my idea earlier this week, and to my surprise, so far 15 people have signed up for it. Which was really nice.

As a result, starting next week hopefully, I'll be organising weekly tours of some of my favourite pubs in London (and some that I've read about but haven't been to yet) with assorted people from work. With any luck the other pub clubbers will also have some good recommendations, and hopefully after the first few sessions other people might even volunteer to plan our outings.

The first two tours are likely to be very easy indeed - for the inaugural session I have pencilled in the classics around Chancery Lane (the Cittie and the Mitre), and then on the second outing I planned on venturing to the also-very-fruitful Bank area. For that difficult third tour I thought about going out on a limb a bit, and actually - gasp - going South of the river.

So tonight was a research exercise for that third tour - for which I thought Southwark would be a good candidate, particularly encouraged by the guru-like Aidain's recommendation for this area as a pub crawl destination. Chie to my delight was keen to come along and assist in this endeavour, and so after work we both headed over to London Bridge station, from where our foray began.

I've already been to the George a few times, and know it to be rather fantastic, so decided to skip that tonight and concentrate on pubs I hadn't been to before. We started off with the Globe, which, whilst not quite on the star player list, was certainly a very decent little drinking hole. The woman behind the bar referred to me as "love" when taking my order - something of a rarity in London - and a facet which immediately scored it extra points.

Next off we tried out the well known Market Porter, which I believe to be something of an institution, and was very lively indeed. The crowds were spilling out all over the streets, which was kind of fun actually, but despite the huge amount of people there it didn't actually take that long to get served at the bar, which was good.

Feeling peckish, we took a quick break after that from the pub reviews, and popped into some restaurant on Stoney Street whose name I don't actually remember. We each had a veggie burger there - the burger itself was of the crappy mashed up veg variety, but the trimmings were all quite nice.

After dinner, we then looked at a couple more pubs - we poked our nose in at the Wheatsheaf and the Old Thameside Inn (which I think I'd been to before), both of which looked reasonable but nothing that out of the ordinary. We then finished up with the Anchor, which was a bit on the touristy side, but being able to enjoy a beer watching the late evening sky over the Thames was nice nonetheless.

Quite aside from the necessary research aspect, it was a really good night out, and I am reminded we really ought to get out of the flat in the evenings a bit more often, and take advantage of this vibrant and fun city we live in.
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In The Middle
[Wednesday 15th August]
Again a day I hardly remember.

The only thing of note is that I ordered an EyeTV tuner, actually partly for work purposes, but I'll give it a go at home and if I can get a signal I may set up a basic PVR type system. I don't really want to get into the habit of slumping in front of the TV because I am too lazy to do anything else, however I did quite like the idea of being able to record stuff and watch it when I feel like it - perhaps on my iPod if I feel that way inclined.
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An Easily Forgotten Day
[Tuesday 14th August]
Almost every week seems to consist of a day like this, in terms of this blog. I don't get round to writing anything for a few days, and then when I finally do there are a couple of days I can hardly remember.

I think Chie came and had dinner at my office tonight. Other than that I guess pretty much nothing happened!
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Gourmet Oriental
[Monday 13th August]
...is the name of the company which provided our dinner tonight. We get rather a lot of takeaway menus of various types delivered to our flat, but this one was considerably larger, and looked rather upmarket so stood out somewhat above the rest. I was also rather impressed with the more-than-usually careful labelling on the vegetarian dishes - they specifically noted they used a vegetarian alternative for oyster sauce, for example.

Ordering takeaway food (delivery food?) from a new place for the first time can be a worrisome process. Not that I am a particularly proficient complainer in restaurants either, but there is something particularly demoralising about opening up takeaway containers and realising you've just had fifteen quid taken off you for a load of tasteless gruel, and then having no-one around you can complain about it to.

Tonight was not one of those experiences though - the food was very good. What I particularly liked is that it wasn't all just the same old dishes you can get everywhere, there were a lot of things on the menu that were slightly different. So we started off with some hot and sour soup, then had three main dishes - red braised aubergine, stir fried choi sum, and ho fun with tofu and peppers in black bean sauce. All were done to a very good standard, and all had slightly different flavours to those I was used to. All in all very good. Perhaps a little bit on the pricey side - getting on for twenty quid, although saying that we did have way more food than we could eat in a single sitting.
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Picnic on Primrose Hill
[Sunday 12th August]
One of Chie's friends from work invited us to an afternoon picnic on Primrose Hill today. So we had a lazy morning, and then headed up towards this old haunt of ours some time after 1.

I didn't really know anyone there (and in fact neither did Chie, apart from the one girl she works with) but they were a nice crowd and it didn't really seem to matter.

There were a mixture of Japanese and non-Japanese people there (which seems a strange thing to say given that this is actually pretty much automatic at any event where both Chie and I are present, but still...). Anyway, In these kinds of situations I always find it curiously entertaining the way the Japanese people present will very curtiously speak entirely in English - even when at some part of the conversation you end up with two Japanese people talking to each other. It is hard to imagine the same thing occurring amongst native English speakers who find themselves in mixed Japanese company.

After a few hours lounging around on the slopes of this very pleasant spot, we decided to start wending our way back, and our group rounded off the afternoon with a quick drink at the Princess of Wales, of which I completely approved - a thoroughly decent pub.

Back at home that evening, Chie and I had a strange sort of a meal - some Quorn things with sort of potato wedges (we let the Vidalia Chop Wizard decide the shape for us), an assortment of vegetables and parsley sauce. Actually it was rather good.

We then spent the remainder of the evening watching Rear Window - which Chie had rented from Lovefilm. It's a bit unusual for us to watch old films like this, but Vera had mentioned it a while back and somehow perked our interest. It turned out to be very entertaining indeed - I have to admit to having been somewhat cynical in the past - when people went on about "classics" like this I had assumed it was driven more by nostalgia than any real greatness in the work itself.
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Karaoke and Okonomiyaki
[Saturday 11th August]
Our friend Yukari-san came up to London from Canterbury today for a daytrip, and brought along her friend Eri-san. Together the four of us had planned a very Japanese themed day, with an afternoon's karaoke session, followed by okonomiyaki for dinner.

For the karaoke bit, Yukari-san had picked Karaoke Box on Frith Street, for an altogether more authentically Japanese experience than the other London offerings (such as Lucky Voice, that we went to on my birthday). It was my first time to go to this place, and I found it to be reassuringly grotty - just like many of these types of places are in Japan.

We got there at 2, and Yukari-san had booked us in until 5, meaning we had a whole three hours. I was impressed by how the girls were able to get stuck right in with the singing without any requirement to have a few beers first. All in all it was a lot of fun. The only thing I found a tiny bit disappointing was that there were two separate machines - one for English songs, and one for Japanese songs. I guess most groups that go there just use one or ther other so it isn't really an issue - but given my repertoire of Japanese songs is notable limited we had to switch it back and forth a few times which was a bit of a pain (especially as that meant you couldn't build up a queue of songs on either machine)... but it's a minor point really - and not really Karaoke Box's fault I suppose.

After the singing, we did a very quick spot of shopping at Rice Wine, before heading over to Abeno Too on Great Newport Street. I had been to the other Abeno (near the British Museum) a couple of times before, but this was my first time to visit this branch of the okonomiyaki restaurant. If anything I think I prefer number two over number one - it was really good tonight.

I feel a special mention should be made of our waitress (who also cooked our okonomiyaki for us). I wanted to take a video of her, and show it to all the grumpy, impolite and downright unhappy waiters and waitresses which regrettably fill most of the rest of the UK's restaurants. She never stopped smiling. It wasn't in a cloying, artificial or plain irritating way. It was in an infectiously bubbly way. She was also very efficient, attentive and just all round absolutely great.

The food was also very good too. I went for the "kiso" which in addition to the basic okonomiyaki mix, was topped with shiitake and shimeji mushrooms, lotus root, garlic and cheese. It was probably the best Osaka style okonomiyaki I've ever had (given that Chie is from Hiroshima - the other big okonomiyaki city in Japan, I feel the "Osaka style" qualification here is very important!).

After dinner we headed back in the direction of home, dropping Yukari-san and Eri-san off at Victoria Coach station on the way. As it was still relatively early, Chie to my delight suggested we should round the day off with a drink at the Fox and Hounds, which we had discovered the other day, and had both taken rather a liking too.

A jolly nice day out.
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Hot Fuzz
[Friday 10th August]
Chie had recently joined LoveFilm, which meant tonight we could finally watch Hot Fuzz - we'd missed it at the cinema.

It was of course very good indeed. - it was a great concept and very well executed. I'm not normally a big fan of action scenes, but the action scene in Hot Fuzz with the big shoot-out in Sandford was hugely entertaining.

After a while I realised this film was actually based on Pangbourne, or in fact any other similarly sized village in England.
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Thursday
[Thursday 9th August]
Not much to report really. A late meeting made for a long-ish day at work, and as Chie was going out for dinner with a friend of hers in the evening, I ate at the office.

Didn't really do anything much in the remainder of the evening after getting back home.
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It's a Small World
[Wednesday 8th August]
This week at work a number of my colleagues from the US have been visiting the London office, and this evening there was a bit of a team outing to mark the occasion. We started off with a few drinks round at the flat where my manager's manager's manager (it needs a better name - how about great grand manager - GGM?) was temporarily staying in London.

We spent the early part of the evening there, which was very pleasant. Aside from the people from my company, there were some more silicon valley types there who were friends of my GGM. As is often the way amongst people who work with computers, the conversation at one point got on to retro hardware (that conversation where there is, by law, always one person present who trumps everyone by being able to recall using punch cards).

Anyway, one of my colleagues started talking about a game called Bolo, which I have to admit to not having heard of before, but apparently was quite a revolution at the time. My colleague had evidently very fond memories of it and went on about it for a fair while, until one of the guys there, looking a little embarrassed, said "you do realise I wrote that don't you?". The IT industry is a small world it seems.

We left there about 8:30, and then the evening continued with a couple of people from the London office and a couple of our visitors from the US. We went to a bar/restaurant on Portobello Road, where we had dinner and a few drinks, and then from there went on to another nearby pub whose name I never really paid attention to.
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Stage Fright
[Tuesday 7th August]
Today at work I had been tasked with making a presentation to the rest of the engineers at our office about the work my team does. Although the actual presenting effort was split up between the guys on my team, I had somehow ended up with arguably the most difficult bit - the initial "Why are we doing this in the first place?".

It went rather badly, and I found the whole incident really quite embarassing.

I'm definitely not someone who is immune to being nervous in situations like this, however I had thought I had gradually got better at presenting over the last few years, and whilst I would certainly never say I was great at this sort of thing, I was at least confident I could put in a respectable performance, when I knew what I was talking about. Towards the end of my last job I'd given a big presentation to a large room full of big cheeses at a well known software company (see here) and as my blog recalls I had got through that feeling rather pleased with myself.

Prior to that, in my previous previous job, I had occasionally given lectures at university on digital TV - and again, whilst mine probably wasn't the most inspiring speech those students will have ever witnessed, I felt it was a coherent and informative presentation, of reasonable quality, and I felt comfortable doing it

I've spent the last six months or so of my new job burying myself in this new project, and I was pretty sure I really understood the motivation for it, and what were the really great things about our approach. When I've spoken to people about it individually I've always thought I was able to do a fairly convincing sales pitch for the whole thing.

...and yet all that said, today, as soon as I got in front of that room full of 50 or so people, it all fell apart somehow. It must have shown that I was rather on the nervous side. My slides had been re-arranged at the last minute, and so I ended up stumbling about and missing some of the really important bits - which my colleagues then rather unhelpfully heckled me about. I only did about 15 minutes or so at the start, but I was so keen to hand over as soon as possible when I got to the end of my bit.

Ali (my PhD supervisor) told me that the great Tony Hoare admitted to feeling nervous before every presentation or lecture he gave, even after a very distinguished career of doing this on a very regular basis.

So maybe it's just one of those things. As I mentioned on the message board it is good to do badly at something every now and again - it keeps one humble.

Still though it is somewhat frustrating, having thought I'd got better at doing this sort of thing, to realise that really you have no control over it. You can't say to yourself "Oh, I'll just stop being nervous then", and when you do feel nervous in that sort of situation it inevitably shows and ruins the whole thing. The specifics of the situation are particularly regrettable - this presentation was partly a means of introducting our team to the wider group at our office... and their first impression of me will be of somebody doing a very amateur job of a presentation.

Oh well, you can't be good at everything I suppose.
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Why are there no whisky bars in London?
[Monday 6th August]
Actually today's entry relates partly to the previous evening, when I came across a rather excellent blog about Japanese whisky called Nonjatta. The blog not only details the whiskies, but also some bars in Tokyo where you can find them. It was a reminder that Tokyo was in no short supply of whisky bars - not just the indescribably excellent Quercus, but I also sampled a number of other whilst I was there - including the other one in Ikebukuro (Malt-Ya), and Refrain in Shinjuku - and there were certainly plenty more I never got round to trying.

...and herein lies the source of tonight's frustration. Why is it that on the other side of the world there are practically whisky bars on every street corner (and some of them very good as well) and yet in the capital city of the country which actualy makes the stuff* there are basically none.

OK, so there's the Whisky Society, and I am of course very fond of this place - they have utterly fantastic malts there, but first of all it's a members only place, and it tends to attract quite a lot of business types who basically just use it as a venue for informal meetings with clients. Sometimes the place bubbles over with whisky types and can be quite lively, often though it feels more like the business class lounge at an airport.

The only other whisky bar we've ever found in London was the bar at the Atheneum Hotel. This was, to me, purely aimed at people on expense accounts. I think the glass of whisky I had cost about twenty quid - OK it wasn't a run of the mill malt (it was a 30 year old Ardbeg), but still it was way overpriced.

Searching on the web this evening all I managed to find in addition were a couple of restaurants that offered a selection of single malts, and some rather irritatingly trendy looking place called Salt. This appeared to be a flashy cocktail bar which just happened to do a range of single malts - and the suggestion was that many of these ended up in the cocktails - shudder. Oh and they had live DJs. No thanks.

Are people in London really that disinterested in whisky, the drink the UK is best known for in the rest of the world? Or is this deemed a hobby for middle aged men, who are content to drink it at home with their pipe and slippers?

Is there really no market for a bar which is all about the whisky, and not just an overpriced and soulless venue for businessmen to test the limits of their expense accounts? A place where people who like whisky can go and talk about whisky. A place where people visiting the UK from abroad can try something which Britain can really be proud of.

I am loathed to say anything negative about London, in light of all the times I've defended the city when other people have been critical... but I feel the core of my argument (the sheer variety of things available) has been severely eroded by this realisation - there is basically nowhere to drink whisky in this city.

So as you might expect, tonight we didn't go and discover a wonderful new whisky bar, because there just aren't any. Instead Chie and I went for a bit of a wander in our local area, and eventually came across a pub called the Fox and Hounds. This was actually a great little pub, and did go some way to repair the damage done by my earlier falling out with London.

Still though, I remain a bit annoyed on this issue. If I had a few hundred thousand pounds lying around spare I'd set one up myself.


* - I struggled to word this - OK so yes whisky is made in Scotland and Scotland is a nation in itself and the capital is Edinburgh and maybe there are more whisky bars up there, but you know what I mean, OK?
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Roger's Place
[Sunday 5th August]
The main event of today was buying a big picture to put up on the wall. I ummed and arred over it for some time in Habitat, and in fact left the shop initially having decided not to get it, but something made me turn round and go back in again.

I'm not sure Chie was that bowled over with it, but something about it really appealed to me. It's a picture titled "Roger's Place" - a photograph printed out onto a large canvas, stretched onto a simple wooden frame. Roger, apparently, lives in a little shack right by the sea somewhere. It looks like a nice spot.

I think it makes a really big difference to the lounge, we've hung it up above the sofa, and when looking at it from the other side of the room it really helps to break up an otherwise rather blank and uninteresting wall.

I have spent a fair while staring somewhat longingly at "Roger's Place" since hanging it on the wall. I think this signifies that I need a holiday.

In other news today, I made a big batch of Boston Baked Beans in the morning, which made for a very nice dinner.
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David's Housewarming Party
[Saturday 4th August]
My friend David from my previous previous company had a house warming party today, so Chie and I headed over to Newbury to attend.

It was great to see David and a couple of other old faces from back when I used to work in Pangbourne.
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Jokki
[Friday 3rd August]
Left work at 7:30, and then Chie and I couldn't agree on what to have for dinner, so ended up making two meals and then eating a bit of each other's. Chie made a sort of "don" (something on top of rice - in the case a sort of stir fry involving fake mince, enoki and hakusai) and I went for the old faithful - Japanese curry.

The main highlight of today was receiving a parcel - Tanaka-san had sent me a present from Japan. It was a "jokki" - a glass tankard (not really sure what to call these - a beer glass with a handle on it?). He'd got it engraved as well, which was a really nice touch. Recently I'd had a constant craving to drink Japanese beer from a jokki (it's like having the right china to drink tea from!).


I also spent a bit of this evening taking a look at Orkut - it's a social networking site, a la Facebook, but which hasn't really taken off in the US and Europe (yet?). It is however really popular in Brazil and India, which gives it "the vibrancy of Latin America, with the sense of community of the sub-continent" (I've just made that up - and having never been to those parts of the world am not really sure I have any authority on which to make those observations!).

It seems to be more about communities and forums than Facebook - so it seems to be easier to meet new people with similar interests, rather than on Facebook where it is more about getting back in touch with people you already know. I found one community particularly interesting - the tofu community - I presume the membership was largely Indian as the description they gave for tofu was "soy paneer". It's great to be able to see the world from a different angle like that.
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No Cause for Alarm
[Thursday 2nd August]
Similarly to yesterday, a video conference with New York today had meant I thought it would be another long slog. As it turned out though, the fire alarm went off in our building, and the general consensus was that it wasn't just a test (those happen with irritating regularity on Wednesday mornings at 10:30 - they're so loud in the little room I sit in that I'm forced to get up and go get a coffee). So this was a good excuse to go home at a respectable time - just after 7 - rather than the 9ish I'd originally envisaged.

It's always slightly amusing to me, the very relaxed attitude people take to fire alarms - much in the same way people casually ignore burglar alarms in houses and shops, and car alarms. It took a good few minutes for everyone to "evacuate" (read, leave when convenient to do so) the building, and I for one decided to pop to the toilet on my way out.

Oh and by the way, my office hasn't burned down, the alarm was set off by accident by some maintenance people, apparently.

So Chie and I decided we'd pop out for dinner today, as neither of us felt particularly like cooking. We went to the Pizza Express just round the corner from our flat. It's the first time we've actually eaten in there (having once before picked up a couple of pizzas to takeaway there), and it was inoffensive and pleasant, in the way Pizza Expresses always are. Actually I'm being unfairly aloof in my choice of adjectives there - I actually really like Pizza Express, however feel some shame in admitting this given it's unavoidably homogeneous chain restaurant nature.
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Long Day
[Wednesday 1st August]
Today at work had looked like it might have been a repeat of this day - there were similar circumstances where I had to do a rather intricate and disaster prone one-off job standing in for another guy on my team who was on holiday. Somehow though fortune smiled on me today, and the potential disaster I'd had visions of never really materialised.

It was still a rather long day - 12 hours - elongated somewhat by a string of long video conferences with the US.

I got back home about 9:30 in the evening, having stopped off at Sainsbury's on the way back to buy a few bottles of Sol, which were very much appreciated!
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Tuesday
[Tuesday 31st August]
A "not much to report" sort of a day. It was a fairly quiet day at work, which was great as it meant I could get quite a lot done. Chie went for a quick drink or two with her colleagues after she finished work, and then when she'd done there, came to my office for dinner. After that I finished off the stuff I was working on, then we headed back home together. Didn't do much once we got back home really - tried to watch some episodes of Fawlty Towers on a DVD we'd borrowed the other day, but the video was all corrupted, which was a bit of a shame
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