Dr John Hawkins
Welcome to my bit of the Maison de Stuff,
home to a huge load of pictures,
and my daily blog.
My email address is as above - I've put it in an image in a vein attempt to reduce the amount of spam I get.
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Maison de Stuff
- Recent Entries:
- Back to London
Abergavenny Food Festival
Working Late Again
Entertaining the Japanese
Mind the Gap
Cookham, Marlow and Bourne End
Awards Ceremony and Hiroshimakenjinkai
Someone Else's Work Night Out
Lobster Thermador au Crevettes with a mornay sauce served in a Provencale manner with shallots and aubergines garnished with truffle pate, brandy and with a fried egg on top and SPAM
Passport to Pimlico
The weekend is here, and somehow I'm not that excited
After Work Beers
Out by Myself
Eating at the Office
- Back to London
- [Monday 22nd September]
Got a lift into Newport with Robin in the morning, and then got the train from there back to London. Chie came with me to my office for a spot of lunch.
Stayed at the office quite late in the evening to make up for my late arrival (although having spent a few hours over the weekend finishing off my performance reviews I hardly think I was that much in debt). Chie was out in the evening for a nomikai with some people from her company.
I got back some time after 9 and decided I fancied some poor man's Boston Baked Beans, and so modified a tin of regular broad beans with molasses etc. It was actually quite nice.
I then spent the remainder of the evening watching Monty Python (a few episodes from the TV series).
- The Bear
- [Sunday 21st September]
Had lunch at the Bear in Crickhowell with Vera and Robin, which is becoming a bit of a tradition. It was very nice as always - great food (albeit that my dish was a tad insubstantial) and a fantastic interior to soak up the atmosphere of.
Spent the rest of the afternoon and evening generally relaxing back at the house.
- Abergavenny Food Festival
- [Saturday 20th September]
Spent the daytime at Abergvenny Food Festival. It was quite interesting in places (I liked the cheese and wine area), but a little disappointing in other places - a lot of it was very meaty (as these sorts of things often tend to be), and I was quite disappointed there wasn't a wild mushroom in sight, especially considering the time of year.
Inspired by this we had a somewhat gourmet meal back at Vera and Robin's in the evening (although we ended up buying most of the ingredients from Waitrose), including a whole artichoke a la vinaigrette, a spinach and feta tart, and some very nice baked mushrooms (even though I do say so myself).
- Horrible Sayings
- [Friday 19th September]
We had decided to go to Abergavenny this weekend, to visit Vera and Robin, and also to go to the Abergavenny Food Festival.
To beat the rush Chie and I both left work at lunchtime today and headed over to Paddington to get the train to South Wales. Thanks to my 3G dongle thingy I was actually able to get a bit of work done on the train as well.
Arrived at Vera and Robin's house not long after 5, and then had a very pleasant and relaxing evening.
The highlight of the evening was Vera producing a piece of paper entitle "horrible sayings". She had enumerated a set of all the phrases that are commonly used on TV which really annoy her. Top of the list was "over the moon" and another high ranking contender was "ticked all the boxes".
It was quite splendid.
- Working Late Again
- [Thursday 18th September]
Worked late again this evening in the knowledge that I'd be leaving early on Friday to go away this weekend, and I had rather a lot on my plate. Didn't get home until some time after 10.
- Peer Reviews
- [Wednesday 17th September]
It's performance review season at work, which means we're all required to write peer reviews of the people we work with on a day-to-day basis. It ends up rather a long and tedious process, and fraught with moral wrangling, but I do also believe it's fundamentally the best way to do this sort of thing - you get a much more balanced opinion and it's a lot more democratic.
To get this done I decided to work from home today - which was doubly a good idea, both as I needed a solid block of time uninterrupted to get this done, and it's also rather awkward to write constructive criticism about someone when they're potentially peering (almost a pun there) over your shoulder.
- Working Late
- [Tuesday 16th September]
Apparently I was in a bit of trouble with Chie this morning as Niimi-san was somewhat hungover after our mini pub crawl the previous evening. Not really clear to my why this was my fault, but there you go! I seemed to be able to make amends by inviting our guests to my office for breakfast.
In the evening, Chie entertained our guests (I think she took them to a musical, followed by a meal in Chinatown) whilst I stayed in the office and worked late as I seem to have rather a lot on at work at the moment. I didn't leave the office until around 10 o' clock.
- Entertaining the Japanese
- [Monday 15th September]
A couple of Chie's Japanese friends came to stay with us for two nights from tonight. Mami-san was a high school friend of Chie's, and she also brought along her husband Niimi-san. Oddly enough they actually live in France at the moment, which made their flying visit to England seem slightly less ridiculous.
To my pleasant surprise, Chie actually proposed that we take them on a bit of a tour of London's pubs for their first night - I suppose it is something very English indeed, for which there isn't really an exact parallel in France (or Japan for that matter).
So we kicked off the evening at the Black Friar, where we also introduced the couple to the delights of English food (they were surprisingly less repelled by the concept than I had anticipated). After that we then did a standard tour of my favourite pubs around there, including the Old Bank of England and the Cittie of Yorke. Despite some slight protests from Chie, we finished up the evening at the Whisky Society.
- Mind the Gap
- [Sunday 14th September]
Went out in the afternoon to do a bit of clothes shopping, and I rather unadventurously bought a pair of jeans, a shirt, and a jumper in Gap. Shopping there saves having to actually thing for myself about these kinds of things.
There was actually an American shop assistant in this particular Gap (I theorised she might have been there to provide training or something) and I was forced to begrudgingly acknowledge that the American are much better at customer service than we British are. So much more polite, happy, upbeat, and generally personable. Having worked for American companies for the past few years now, I have definitely been through periods where I've been oddly quite proud of our cynical and somewhat dour attitude in a work context when compared to our North American cousins. Recently though, the more I think about it, even though the tirelessly upbeat and positive attitude of the Americans may occasionally be a little sickening, all in all they've probably got the right idea, and it is people like me who need to learn to be a bit less cynical.
Anywho, after a bit of shopping we went for a very late lunch at a new dim sum place that had opened up near where we live. It wasn't bad I suppose - we had a couple of little steamed dumpling type things, followed by soup noodle dishes.
- Cookham, Marlow and Bourne End
- [Saturday 13th September]
A few people at Chie's company had organised a day out walking for today, and I was also invited along.
The plan was to follow a circular route from Cookham, going via Bisham, Marlow, Cockmarsh and then ending up back at Cookham again. Although in the end we stayed a bit longer than expected in Marlow, so decided to cut our walk short at Bourne End on the way back.
It was a jolly nice day out, quite an interesting and varied walk, a nice group of rambling companions, and pleasingly punctuated with pubs along the way! Although having said that, we were actually turned away from the first pub we tried to go in (the Bull Inn in Bisham), as it appears it has been converted into more of a restaurant, and the rather snotty waiters were worried about the carpet. That struck me as a bit short sighted on their part - the place was empty otherwise, and it seemed a bit daft to turn away 11 covers just for the sake of having to possibly push the hoover round afterwards.
Oh well, their loss. Instead we wandered into Marlow and lunched somewhat unadventurously at the Slug and Lettuce there - unsurprisingly it's quite hard to find anywhere that can seat 11 people (with muddy shoes).
We made up for the somewhat unexciting chain pub at lunchtime with a delightfully eccentric pub at the end of the walk - The Bounty in Cockmarsh, just over the bridge from Bourne End station. It was like the sorts of seaside pubs I remember going to as a child in the 1980s - sort of endearingly tacky. It was covered in signs of the ilk of "you don't have to be mad to work here, but it helps", and the sign on the outside described it as part of "The People's Republic of Cockmarsh" - so clearly the owners here are subscribers to the Hay-on-Wye brand of eccentricity, of which I thoroughly approve.
The weather was actually quite reasonable by that point in the day, and so we took advantage of this, sat outside, and had what would probably be the last Pimm's of the season.
Incidentally when I went to the bar to order two jugs of Pimm's, the people behind me in the queue said "oooh, I fancy Pimm's too", and then the people behind them also said "yea, I think we'll go for Pimm's". I tried to make a joke at that point by pronouncing "I'll have a Babycham!" (a reference to that 80s TV ad), which no-one seemed to get. Ho, hum.
Anyway, see the pictures for more details on the bits inbetween the pubs.
- Awards Ceremony and Hiroshimakenjinkai
- [Friday 12th September]
The usual end-of-the-week-beer-and-pizza was extended this week by a whole extra hour, to include a sort of annual awards ceremony, to recognise people who have worked on particularly innovative / high impact projects. Whilst the project I work on is probably still a bit too new to qualify, I was rather pleased to see that my manager won an award for the other project he's involved with. He's a very hard working chap and I think it was well deserved, plus it's also nice to have a bit of the reflected glory to bathe in. The award is not purely lip service, and is actually taken quite seriously, and has a lot of respect associated with it within the company.
This meant that work for the day pretty much ground to a halt at 4, however I was back at my desk again by 7 as there were things I needed to get tied up before the weekend.
Chie was going along to her Hiroshimakenjinkai this evening, and given that one of the regulars (Kaoru-san, whom I had once spent an hour in a police station with!) was leaving England and going back to Japan, I thought I ought to also put in an appearance. So I left the office around 8:30 and headed over to Baker Street, where the kenjinkai takes place in a local pub.
Most of the kenjinkai attendees left around 10 to head off to a nearby Chinese restuarant, but Chie and I decided to to give that a miss as we had to be up early the next morning and I was already quite knackered. We did hang around for a little bit longer at the pub, and got to know Seiko-san, a Japanese lady who was over here for a course in art history, and rather refreshingly seems to love the UK.
Given that neither of us had really had dinner, we stopped off at Subway on the way home. I have to admit to being rather partial to their veggie patties. Mmmmm.
- Someone Else's Work Night Out
- [Thursday 11th September]
Chie went to see a play (Woman in Black) in Japanese this evening. We'd originally planned for me to go along as well, but it turned out we wouldn't be able to see any subtitles/surtitles where we'd be sitting (Chie makes a point of always getting the cheapest possible seats she can!) and given my recent poor track record of being able to keep my interest at the theatre, we decided it would probably be better to give the ticket to someone else. So Chie instead took a Japanese friend along.
This meant I was left at a loose end, and so Andy, hearing of this, invited me along to a work night out with some people from his company. I think it was someone's leaving do or something. I initially had some hesitation at this idea, but eventually decided I would go along as Andy is always immense fun, and I thought it would probably be interesting to see what other people's work nights out are like.
So I met Andy and his colleagues at a pub called The Albany in Great Portland Street, the sort of pub which was entirely occupied by office workers in their 20s and 30s. I guess it wasn't bad though, and Andy's colleagues were all very friendly, and didn't seem to object to an interloper like me gatecrashing their work night out. They hardly seemed to talk shop at all, which surprised me. I'd always thought the main reason for going for a few drinks after work with people from your office was to collectively whinge about work.
I didn't stay out particularly late, and was back home by 11. Having not really had much dinner I then proceeded to nibble at some biscuits and cheese, which I suppose was ill-advised at that late hour (although I didn't actually have nightmares) but was very tasty. We recently got a cheese called "Lord of the Hundreds" from the Wholefoods Market in Kensington, and it is very nice indeed.
- Truffle Pasta
- [Wednesday 10th September]
Having bought a whole 250 grams of truffles meant that we weren't going to be eating anything else this week. So tonight for dinner I knocked up some truffle pasta. The 250 grams translated to six truffles of varying size, all slightly bigger or slightly smaller than golf balls. Tonight I carefully nosed each of the five remaining specimens (having used one in a risotto the day before) and chose the best, on the basis that they lose their pungency in just a few days, so it was probably best to eat the prime specimens ASAP.
The result was particularly successful this evening - I used a slightly unusual and interesting pasta shape (fusilli lunghi bucati), managed to cook it to a perfect al dente, and then just added some olive oil, a little grated Twineham Grange cheese, and then the shaved truffle, and tossed it all together to give the truffle a chance to warm through but not cook (as that seems to quickly kill off the flavour).
- Lobster Thermador au Crevettes with a mornay sauce served in a Provencale manner with shallots and aubergines garnished with truffle pate, brandy and with a fried egg on top and SPAM
- [Tuesday 9th September]
The rather long title is (if you didn't already know) a Monty Python reference which is appropriate here as today was largely characterised by (A) Monty Python and (B) truffles. This was the only Monty Python reference to truffles I could think of.
At the weekend I'd had a brief frenzy of online shopping, and had ordered for myself:
1) The Monty Python Monster Box Set, containing all of their TV shows, films and everything.
2) 250 grams (the minimum order) of English summer truffles from Truffle UK.
Both of these arrived today, and so the plan for this evening was abundantly clear - eat truffles and watch Monty Python.
So for dinner I knocked up a quick truffle risotto - a very delicately flavoured basic risotto, with truffle shavings added at the last minute.
Then after dinner I watched a whole 5 episodes of the TV series. I was surprised by the amount of bits I hadn't seen before - I certainly have not exhasutively watched all of the original TV series, and am most familiar with their sketches in various re-hashed forms (the albums, the specials like And Now For Something Completely Different and the live shows like Drury Lane and the Hollywood Bowl).
It was a gloriously self indulgent evening and I loved it.
- [Monday 8th September]
Don't remember what happened today. It may come back to me, but in the meantime I'll go and write entries for the rest of the week...
- [Sunday 7th September]
- Passport to Pimlico
- [Saturday 6th September]
Both Chie and I were feeling quite lethargic, so we didn't leave the flat at all in the daytime. When dinnertime started to loom we realised we didn't really have much in to cook (and were feeling too lazy to cook anyway) so decided to go and eat out.
Amazingly there are actually a couple of British restaurants within walking distance of where we live. I'd previously given these particular places a wide berth, given that they're close to an area which is full of "cheap" hotels, and therefore I thought them to be places for foreign tourists who, despite all the bad press our cuisine gets overseas, were determined to try it for themselves. Thanks to encouragement from Chie though we did manage to pluck up the courage to go in to one of them, and I'm rather pleased we did.
So, we dined at Chimes, which describes itself as an "English restaurant and wine bar". I was a little uneasy to start with at the notion of a place which was in part a wine bar, but on closer inspection I found the drinks menu to be really rather fascinating, and quite possibly the strongest asset of this place. They had all sorts of interesting traditional English drinks on there - including ciders, perries, English wine, "country" wines, fruit wines, and even mead. We started out with a jug of English perry, and I later had a glass of "silver birch wine" - both were very good indeed, and really rather reasonably priced. A very refreshing change from the usual formulaic wine menus you find in restaurants.
They had a map on the wall detailing the "Vineyards of England" (including Polmassick which we visited this summer). My Dad has a very similar map on the wall in his house, and I suppose that added to the appeal of this place.
The food was pretty good too. I think I probably enjoyed my starter the most - a baked Somerset brie served with a kind of ratatouille. That was very good. My main course - a vegetable pie - wasn't bad I suppose, but I think I preferred my starter.
All in all a very good experience, I'd happily go again.
Rather appropriately, back at the flat after dinner we decided to watch Passport to Pimlico. Chie had got it recently from Love Film. Several people had suggested we should watch it, and it had taken us until now to actually get round to it.
I'm not sure I'd go so far as to say I loved it, I suppose humour has changed somewhat over the years. Although having said that I spent some time finishing off the Monty Python (auto)biography today, and it occurred to me Python is now very nearly 40 years old.
Anyway, I suppose Passport to Pimlico was quite charming in places, and I particularly enjoyed the joke right at the end of the film - it was almost as if the entire rest of the film was just a build up for that one gag, and I at least was ready to take my hat off to them for it.
- The weekend is here, and somehow I'm not that excited
- [Friday 5th September]
Chie went out with some people from work this evening. I had the usual couple of after work beers at the usual end-of-the-week beer and pizza thing, although I avoided the pizza this time round (having had some excellent pizza the day before).
I went home after that, and spent the rest of the evening at the flat attempting in vain to find somewhere to go away for the weekend, as both Chie and I seem to be in a bit of a low mood of late, and I felt we needed something to lift our spirits. I wanted to find somewhere a relatively short journey away (say 2 hours ish on the train) so looked at places like York and Norwich and even Lille, but it seemed every reasonable looking hotel in all of these places was already booked up. I imagine quite a lot of other people were experiencing a similar post-summer malaise and were also trying to get away for the weekend to cheer themselves up a bit. Ho, hum.
- After Work Beers
- [Thursday 4th September]
Went out for lunch today, to the same pizza place I went to last week, and this time took my ex boss and some other people from the team with me. That was jolly nice.
Worked fairly late this evening, and then went for a couple of after work beers at the local with a couple of guys from my team. Nothing particular to report!
When I got home I had some lasagne left over from last Sunday. Have managed without a microwave quite well for the last year and a half, Chie was more or less given one by a friend of hers from work. I suppose I do have to begrudginly admit it is quite handy from time to time.
- Out by Myself
- [Wednesday 3rd September]
I'd been beavering away the first half of this week to get something done for a deadline, and when I got it finished today a bit of a strange mood overcame me. Something like an anti-climax, or a sense of running out of steam or something - I'm not sure I can really explain it - but by the end of the working day today I was feeling a bit low, and decided I wanted a bit of time alone and a bit of a change of scenery.
So I jumped on the bus, with the intention of heading in the direction of the Whisky Society, but took a somewhat round about route to get there. I stopped off on the way at one of those vegetarian Chinese buffet places for a quick bite to eat, and then from there took a meandering stroll through parts of Holborn/Bloomsbury I wasn't that familiar with. I wandered down Lamb's Conduit Street which was quite interesting. I'd heard of the pub there - The Lamb - and it did look quite nice when I walked past, but somehow I couldn't bring myself to actually go in. At the end of Lamb's Conduit Street I turned right, and wandered down Guilford Street towards Gray's Inn Road. Again I walked past a couple of interesting looking pubs, but didn't go in. I shall store these up for a possible future pub crawl.
I eventually made it to the Whisky Society, but only stayed for one quick drink. It was very busy, and given that it was just before a new bottling list was released their stocks were a bit low - particularly in regards to the malts I normally drink (the Islays etc). So I just had the one and then headed off. I contemplated popping in to Ye Olde Mitre or the Cittie of Yorke but somehow I wasn't really in the mood, so just headed to Chancery Lane and got the tube back home.
- Eating at the Office
- [Tuesday 2nd September]
Chie came to have dinner at the office this evening, so this was another one of those days where I ended up having all three meals there. Other than that really very little to report!
- Toilet Zone
- [Monday 1st September]
There's something satisfying about months which start on a Monday. It's sort of neat and well ordered. I thoroughly approve.
This week my former manager was in London. Around this time last year we got our own local manager which made a lot more sense for all sorts of practical reasons, but I was always rather fond of my ex-boss. Thankfully he is still part of the same project so we still get a chance to work together now and again.
He's rather partial to Indian food, and so this evening he took me and some of the other guys on the team out to the Indian restaurant he visits every time he is in London - Masala Zone in Soho. The Grand Thali there is really rather good.
The title for this entry comes from there - the "XYZ zone" theme is carried all the way through the restaurant, including the toilets, and the notion rather appealed to me. It's a bit like the way Americans avoid saying the word toilet and instead use "bathroom" which has always struck me as particularly daft in restaurants where the facilities on offer very rarely include baths. So, if "where are the toilets?" is a bit too direct for you, why not next time try instead asking "where is the toilet zone?".
- [Sunday 31st August]
Chie did not get back from her weekend away in sunny Wiltshire until this evening, so I had the daytime to myself. I decided as a nice surprise for Chie I would clean up the flat, so I started on the kitchen - tackling the backlog of unwashed dishes, wiping all the work surfaces down, and then giving the hob a clean. I then moved onto the lounge, giving that a good tidy up and pushing the hoover round a bit. I also did some laundry, and so a large part of the day was absorbed in these kinds of banal domestic pursuits.
I went out and did some shopping in the afternoon so that I could cook for Chie in the evening. I made another lasagne with Laphroaig cheese, and also really went to town on the starter - a multi-part salad involving all sort of interesting ingredients like figs and pears.