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:
Aso
Takachiho and Jikoku Onsen
Kumamoto, Kagoshima and Sakurajima
Fukuoka and Kumamoto
Kyoto and Osaka
Ege-san
Miyajima
Hiroshima
Tokyo to Hiroshima
Shinjuku and Takaosan
First Day in Japan
London to Tokyo
Friday
Lasagne and Laundry
Martinis at Duke's Bar
Chinese Food in Earl's Court
Mr and Mrs. Zagat
Sunday in Chepstow
Saturday in Chepstow
Friday
Pizza, Perry, Pad Thai, Pocket Squares
Wednesday
Tuesday
Monday
Bookcase and Nozaki-sensei
King's Road
Suit
Not going to the Cinema
End of August
Mr. Kong
Bank Holiday Monday

Aso
[Wednesday 28th September 2011]
After a final dip in the baths (and then a thorough shower in normal water to get rid of the smell of sulphur) and breakfast we left Jikoku Onsen and drove towards the centre of the Aso caldera, for what would be the highlight of the trip to Kyushu for me - a visit to the Aso crater.

It's actually very accessible by road, there's (as always in Japan) a big car park with souvenir shops near the top, and for the last section it's either a 30 minute walk, or there's a ropeway (or in fact, it turned out, you could pay a toll to drive your car very close to the top). We chose to walk, as the ropeway was closed for maintenance, and the weather was quite pleasant. We were treated to some very nice views of the surrounding landscape on the way up, which was actually surprisingly green and pleasant, until we got to the top where it all started to look a bit alien.

The actual crater is filled with blue tinged water (just like the onsen) and has steam billowing out to remind you it's a volcano, but the nearest magma is apparently something like 7km below the surface. Still, despite not actually being able to see any actual lava, it's still a pretty impressive site - given the Japanese habit for covering nature in tarmac and concrete it's quite spectacular to see something so raw and untamable. I hope the pictures do it justice.

Spent the afternoon after that gradually wending our way back to Kumamoto, where we were going to be dropping the car off, and stopped off at a few places en route to take in the view.

We were at Kumamoto station before 5, and so had a couple of hours to kill before our train, which was at 7. Kumamoto station doesn't really have a huge amount to offer in terms of places to eat and drink, but we somehow managed to pass the time.

The shinkansen back to Hiroshima from Kumamoto was about 2 hours, and mostly fairly quiet - the only noteworthy point being that I discovered they serve draught beer from the little trolley they have on the train. Quite impressive.

Got back to Chie's parent's flat in Hiroshima some time after 9:30, and spent the remainder of the evening uploading photos, etc.
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Takachiho and Jikoku Onsen
[Tuesday 27th September 2011]
Today we eschewed the shinkansen as we'd planned to go a bit more off the beaten track and explore some other parts of Kyushu. So instead we picked up a hire car in Kagoshima, and motored North, heading for Takachiho, a famous Kyushu attraction where there are some very scenic waterfalls.

We arrived in Takachiho around lunchtime, ate lunch quickly in the car (we'd picked up things at a roadside shop en route), and then ventured out to see the waterfalls. They were rather nice, but as always in Japan we were jostling for the view points with bus loads of Japanese tourists.

From there, our next major destination for the day was the Jikoku Onsen (jikoku literally means "hell"!) where we'd be staying the night, but en route we stopped off at a few places, including an odd sort of art museum thing in a partially constructed railway tunnel, which had to be abandoned when they hit an underground river. The river now flows through the tunnel, and most of the exhibits are suspended above it. It seems the current exhibition is a series of things made for one of the summer festivals by local people. It was a bit odd and quirky, and I kind of liked it for that.

We eventually reached the Jikoku Onsen around 5, where we then stayed for the rest of the evening. It's a fairly traditional style ryokan, our room had sliding doors, tatami mats and so on. After a quick drink on arrival, we had time before dinner to go for our first dip in the baths. We decided to start with the least culturally awkward approach - they had two rooms with private baths in, where you could have sole occupancy. The water was very hot, and quite sulphurous - it also had a distinct milky blue tint to it.

Dinner was a sort of barbecue affair, Chie had already relayed instructions about a vegetable only version for me. As they basically just gave as a plate of raw ingredients and we cooked them over the fire ourselves it was relatively free of the usual risks of stealth meat / fish, but it was just a bit bland really.

After dinner I plucked up the courage to go into one of the communal baths - in particular the one they use on the posters advertising this place, which is in an old timber framed building with beams separating the baths into a few different compartments. It was a mixed onsen after 9:30, so Chie and I could go along together. Again the water had a slightly other worldly blue-ish tinge, and the smell of sulphur was pretty strong, but the temperature was good, and there was quite a special atmosphere to this place. Probably some wabisabi, I expect.
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Kumamoto, Kagoshima and Sakurajima
[Monday 26th September 2011]
Started the day with an early morning tour of Kumamoto Castle. I think it's generally considered to be one of the more impressive ones in Japan, although when it comes to Japanese castles I always find it a bit disappointing to discover how much new material there is in the structure, and how often they end up getting more or less rebuilt from the ground up. I prefer my castles to be completely original, even if that means they have to be a bit crumbly round the edges.

From there we got on the shinkansen once more, heading down to Kagoshima. Rather impressively we were able to book seats on the train just minutes before it left Kumamoto, and moreover as Chie's parents were on the same train, we could actually book seats next to theirs. So the four of us travelled together down to Kagoshima.

Apart from the excitement of using the newly opened Kyushu shinkansen line, one of the other main reasons for visiting Kyushu was to see some volcanoes. Today's focus of attention was Sakurajima, an "island" just off the coast from Kagoshima (which, owing to the last major eruption isn't actually an island any more), which has an active volcano on it. Or to put it more accurately, the island is the volcano.

So on arrival in Kagoshima we had a quick lunch (I ate some so-so Indian food while Chie and her parents went for ramen), and then went and got on a bus tour which would take us around Sakurajima.

I was rather surprised to see the streets of Kagoshima were covered with volcanic ash - Sakurajima seems to spew it out almost constantly, which can't be very pleasant for the local residents. Cars get dirty very quickly, and it seems nobody hangs their washing outside to dry. Japanese shop owners tend to take responsibility for keeping the bit of street in front of their shop clean, and in Kagoshima this seems to mean an almost constant process of sweeping up volcanic ash. At times it gets blown about by the wind and gets in your eyes. It really isn't very nice at all - I couldn't help but wonder why people choose to live here.

The bus tour took us on a ferry over to Sakurajima (although it is connected to Kyushu now, it's over the other side of the bay furthest away from Kagoshima). Unfortunately the weather wasn't particularly great today, so when we got our first glimpses of Sakurajima it was hard to distinguish the ash clouds from the rain clouds, and it pretty much stayed that way all day.

The bus tour was what I imagine a typical tourst bus tour to be in Japan - a busy schedule of stopping at various places where you could take a picture of the view, from a vantage point which just happened to be next to a shop selling souvenirs. It was interspersed with commentary by a typical Japanese tour conductor which I found a tad jarring, to be honest. We couldn't really get particularly close to the actual crater at any point because it was apparently too dangerous, but I couldn't help but wonder if the real reason was that there wasn't a souvenir shop at the top.

We got back to Kagoshima around 5, and from there headed to our hotel for the evening, which was a bit out of the town, up on a hill overlooking the bay, and Sakurajima. From here I was treated to possibly the best view of Sakurajima of the day - the sky had just about cleared enough to clearly make out one particular ash eruption, and I got a very pleasing before and after shot, just minutes apart. Apparently Sakurajima bellows out clouds of ash like this several times a day.

Dining options at the hotel didn't look very promising, so we got a taxi back into the centre of Kagoshima, and again split up for dinner. I attempted to find some Italian food, thinking naively that Kagoshima being twinned with Naples (presumably because of their similar proximities to volcanoes) might have had some positive effect. The place I wandered into though was pretty awful, some of the worst Italian food I've ever had in Japan. I didn't really eat very much of the awful spaghetti I ordered (at least partly because despite a very careful process of asking about the ingredients it still had a dangerous fishy taste to it). After that I went and joined Chie and her parents for a drink at the local izakaya place they'd found.
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Fukuoka and Kumamoto
[Sunday 25th September 2011]
Took the shinkansen from Hiroshima to Fukuoka this morning, to kick off our four day trip to Kyushu, the most southwesterly of Japan's four main islands. It's a part of Japan I don't know very well, having only been once before, and then only to Fukuoka. Until this year the shinkansen only extended that far, but now you can get the shinkansen all the way down to Kagoshima in the South of Kyushu, a fact we took full advantage of on this trip.

We planned to have lunch in Fukuoka, to which end Chie had done a bit of research, and found a place called Mana Burgers, an entirely vegetarian burger place. I could barely contain my excitement at this prospect, but had a feeling it was somehow just to good to be true. Indeed my suspicion turned out to be correct - on arrival it was shuttered up, and when Chie tried to phone them there was a vague message saying they'd be closed for some time (presumably meaning days / weeks).

A little later on we met up with an old school friend of Chie's and her two children, on top of a department store, where there was a sort of mini matsuri thing set up for kids. It was a bit of a fleeting visit really - we were only with them for around an hour - but at least it meant our stop off in Fukuoka wasn't a complete waste of time.

From Fukuoka we got back on the shinkansen (and from here on it would be the newly opened section of the line, which Chie was quite excited about) and went down South as far as Kumamoto, where we'd be staying tonight. On arrival in Kumamoto we got on the little tram into the centre, where our hotel was. The hotel had a rather nice view of Kumamoto castle. After dropping off our bags we ventured out, I went to a kebab place I'd seen a poster for on the tram and got some falafel (something I didn't really expect to find in Japan, let alone Kyushu), and then we went for an early evening stroll around the castle walls.

In the evening we met up with Techan, a friend of Chie's from her university days. We started off the evening with a drink at his friend's Korean bar, where we were treated to some Korean otsumami along with our beer (korean nori, kimchi, and some other assorted pickles). We then headed on from there to an izakaya serving food from the region, which Techan said he always takes visitors to. We met his wife there, and also a friend of theirs called Yuko-chan, who was interested in coming to live in England. So I spent the evening acting as a sort of cultural ambassador for the UK.
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Kyoto and Osaka
[Saturday 24th September 2011]
Having spent a lot of yesterday being quite irritable I thought it might be best to spend some time by myself today, and try and remind myself that, frustration with finding anything to eat aside, it was still a fascinating country to visit. I also thought it would be a good idea to make the most of the two week Japan Rail Pass we'd bought for the trip, which allows unlimited travel on all JR trains in Japan, including the shinkansen.

So I left Chie to her own devices, and got on a shinkansen bound for Kyoto. The one slight downside of the JR pass is that it doesn't let you use the absolute newest/fastest shinkansen trains (the Nozomi) so it usually means slightly more changes. I didn't have any particular agenda though, and it was interesting to see all the different types of shinkansen - I ended up using all four types (other than nozomi) that operate on this part of the route - the sakura, mizuho, hikari and kodama (the oldest and slowest).

Once in Kyoto I got on a frustratingly slow bus to Ginkakuji - the silver temple. I had been before (at least once, maybe twice) and remember it as being my friend Leon's favourite temple in Kyoto. The bus, rather ridiculously, took an hour from Kyoto station to Ginkakuji - I think I probably could have walked it in that time.

Given that today was the end of a week with lots of (well, two) national holidays in it, Ginkakuji was particularly busy today, and walking round the prescribed route was effectively like being permanently in a giant circular queue. Still, it was nice nonetheless. Whilst walking round, I heard a Japanese person mention "wabisabi" - the hard to define Japanese notion of spirituality or inner peace or something. If any one Japanese person gives you a translation for it, the next Japanese person you talk to will tell you it's wrong. The wikipedia article describes it as an aesthetic principle, but I'm sure that's debatable.

It occurred to me that wabisabi for me was sitting in Ye Old Mitre. When I put that to Chie and one of her friends later on in this trip they both screwed up their faces and said no. So, nuts to wabisabi. In the end I think it's just a Japanese version of Mornington Crescent.

Stopped off in Osaka on the way back from Kyoto, which, as predicted, wasn't very interesting.
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Ege-san
[Friday 23rd September 2011]
Stayed in during the morning again. In the afternoon we headed out to a little mountain called Ege-san, to take in the views to be had from there out over the bay of Hiroshima.

On the way back we got dropped off in the centre of Hiroshima. Chie went and did a bit of shopping whilst I went for a strangely timed mid afternoon meal at "Grazie Gardens" the Italian themed "family restaurant" chain which sells ridiculously cheap food, that I occasionally frequented when I lived in Japan. They had a pasta dish on the menu which we'd always thought to be vegetarian, but now I'm not so sure. I had almost forgotten before this trip what a frustrating experience it is to try and find vegetarian food when eating out in Japan. It's nigh-on impossible in any restaurant serving Japanese food (with the possible exception of tempura) and even in places serving non-Japanese food it's usually a challenge - they seem to think no meal is complete without at least some parts of a dead animal in it.

Consequently I found myself getting somewhat irritable this afternoon. We stayed in Hiroshima into the evening, which was probably a bad idea in retrospect, and met up with Chie's friend Nagi-san (who had stayed with us in the UK recently, and I'd cooked a rather sumptuous Italian feast, even though I do say so myself). Alas I think she bore witness to some of my frustration at not being able to eat properly in Japan. I was not a very fun person to be around this evening.
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Miyajima
[Thursday 22nd September 2011]
Chie and I headed out around midday and got the train to Yokogawa, a station in roughly central-ish Hiroshima, where we'd planned to meet Chie's friend Mana-chan. Whilst waiting for her we went into a particularly impressive 100 yen shop (Daiso is the name of the chain I believe) wherein I found a selection of quite decent looking ties for a mere 100 yen. I couldn't resist buying one, and liked it so much I wore it for the rest of the day.

After meeting Mana-chan, we got in her car and she drove us to Miyajimaguchi, the ferry port from where the ferry to Miyajima goes. A visit to Miyajima seems to be another fairly mandatory component of any stay in Hiroshima for us.

On arriving on the island we tried "ice momiji" - a version of Miyajima's famous little cakes (momiji manju) with ice cream in. I wasn't really a fan - I think I'll stick to the originals. Next we went to take in the views of the famous umi no tori, and visited the shrine. After that we went to the aquarium - which I haven't done before. It has been recently renovated and I suppose was quite impressive, but I couldn't help but feel sorry for the fish.

On the way back to the ferry we stopped off for some maccha kakigori (green tea flavoured crushed ice) and also decided to buy as many momiji manju from different shops as we could, so we could later on do a taste test. We got seven in the end.

Back to Chie's parents for dinner in the evening, and after dinner we commenced our momiji manju tasting. The winner was a shop called Fuji.
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Hiroshima
[Wednesday 21st September 2011]
Spent the day in Hiroshima. Lolled around Chie's parent's flat for the morning, enjoyed Chie's Mum's excellent miso soup for breakfast, and then had some "wafu" (Japanese style) spaghetti for lunch.

In the afternoon we headed out to visit Chie's grandparents (on her Mum's side). Her Grandfather is in hospital at the moment, so we started off by visiting him. It's in a suburb of Hiroshima where the houses are interspersed with rice fields, and surprisingly despite all the time I've spent in Japan I've never really seen rice fields up close at this point in the lifecycle of the plant. Some of the fields were just about ready to harvest, and some had already been cut and stacked up to dry. The hospital was within walking distance from Chie's grandparents home, so we were able to take a stroll through the rice fields to get there, which was nice.

Spent a while with Chie's Grandmother, oddly enough watching sumo on the TV. It occurred to me what a strange "sport" this is - the referee is actually a kind of shinto priest, and the ratio of preparation and ritual to the actual action (which is often over in just a few seconds) is very high. Not to mention the fact that the "athletes" are all dangerously obese.

We took Chie's Grandmother out for an early dinner, at Sushi-Tei, the family's favourite sushi place in Hiroshima. It's kind of a tradition that we go there every time we visit Chie's parents. I had the usual (surprisingly large) assortment of quite-by-accident vegetarian compatible sushi, including tamago-yaki (Japanese omelet, served here with rice inside), umibudou (literally "sea grapes" - a kind of seaweed) and hawasabi (leaves from the wasabi plant - probably my favourite.

On the way back we went by way of Soleil, the giant shopping centre complex in Hiroshima. I always find this place particularly banal and will-to-live sapping. Even more so as the former Kirin beer museum (with attached bar which was often a reprieve for me whilst Chie was shopping) seems to have closed down. Oh well.
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Tokyo to Hiroshima
[Tuesday 20th September 2011]
It has become customary on my last few visits to Japan for me to spend at least a day at my company's office in Tokyo - it helps to lessen the impact when I return to work after a two week break, and I don't particularly mind, as there often isn't much to do in Tokyo in the daytime anyway. It's also a good opportunity to sync up with a few people who I work with in that office.

We have a new office in Roppongi Hills now, which is a bit nicer than the old one, and has a better cafe.

Around 5:30 Chie and I met at our hotel in Shinjuku, where we'd left our bags for the day, and headed off in the direction of Shinagawa. Using the Yamanote line with luggage in rush hour wasn't much fun, but it only got really bad for the last couple of stops before Shinagawa.

From Shinagawa we took the shinkansen to Hiroshima. As we were using JR passes, we couldn't take the fastest non-stop shinkansen (the Nozomi) and instead had to use the slightly slower Hikari, which also meant a change at Shin-Osaka. On the plus side from Osaka onwards we were on one of the new Kyushu shinkansen trains, which are even more luxurious than normal.

We arrived quite late in Hiroshima, after 11, but were still greeted with the usual warm hospitality by Chie's parents and ended up staying quite late to chat, drink beer, and eat monkey nuts.
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Shinjuku and Takaosan
[Monday 19th September 2011]
Slept very well overnight - I think my jetlag beating strategy of absolutely staying awake for the first day worked excellently. Spent the morning in Shinjuku, not venturing too far from our hotel, started off by getting some bread for breakfast from a pan-ya (Japanese bakery), and then had a bit more of a wander around to do some shopping. We spent some time in Bic Camera looking at electric toothbrushes (our UK one is 240v so we can't charge it in Japan), and ended up just buying a battery powered one.

I also bought an Eye-Fi card - rather amazingly it's a memory card for a camera with a built in wifi connection, so it automatically uploads your pictures to the Internet whenever a wi-fi connection is available. It also uses the unique identifiers of wi-fi networks (SSIDs) to geotag pictures. I was quite impressed.

After a quick lunch (an unsuccessful attempt to find anything vegetarian in a soba place, followed by the usual back up plan of buying rice balls in a convenience store) we got on the train and headed in the direction of Takaosan, about an hour from Shinjuku on the Keio line.

Once at Takaosan station we met up with Chie's friend Yumi-san (who was at Reading University the same time as us) and took the chair lift part of the way up the mountain, which is always fun. From there we made a fairly hurried ascent to the top, followed by an even more hurried ascent back down to the place where the beer garden is.

In the beer garden I met up with Tanaka-san again, this time with hid family in tow, who were there for the first hour or so, before they headed off, and I then went to join Chie and her friends. It was a lot of fun here as always.
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First Day in Japan
[Sunday 18th September 2011]
Landed at Narita airport in the morning, and got the Narita Express to Tokyo, which, amazingly, was delayed by 45 minutes owing to some problem on the tracks. Not the usual perfect Japanese train service I'm used to.

We got to our hotel in Shinjuku around 1pm, but unfortunately were told we couldn't check in until 2. Having spent all that time on the plane, and having arrived in a rather hot and sticky Japan, I was really keen to have a shower and change clothes, but in the end decided to just slum it a bit longer, as we were already a bit late and our plans for the day would be thrown off if we hung around any longer.

From there, we both headed in the direction of Yokohama. I had planned to meet up with my friend Tanaka-san, who had arranged for us to go to a beer festival, and Chie was going to meet her friend Kayo-chan. Given that by this point I was in a kind of sleep deprived trance I'm not sure I was really best prepared to enjoy the beer festival to its' full, but I tried a lot of different Japanese beers (in tiny 50ml measures) and it was kind of fun. Probably the most memorable was a miso flavoured beer from Nagoya. As always it was a delight to spend time with Tanaka-san, even if I was half asleep.

In the evening we went for dinner at a macrobiotic izakaya in Omtesando with Miyuki-san. The highlight here had to be the vegetarian version of "kaki furai" - normally fried oysters, but in this instance they'd simulated the oysters using ofu (wheat gluten). That was quite interesting.

Was very glad to get back to the hotel and go to sleep after that - and quite pleased with myself that I'd (more or less) managed to stay awake all day!
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London to Tokyo
[Saturday 17th September 2011]
Our flight from Heathrow was at a civilised 13:45, meaning we didn't need to get up particularly early, and had a leisurely couple of hours in the morning to pack before heading off to the airport.

The flight was OK I suppose. On the plus side there was only one short patch of turbulence, and the food was slightly less awful than usual (I had macaroni cheese) but on the downside there weren't really any films I wanted to watch, and at one point one of the stewards spilt coffee all down one arm of my mostly white shirt. They got me to change into another top temporarily and impressively did seem to manage to wash out most of the coffee whilst we were still on the plane.
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Friday
[Friday 16th September 2011]
The day before we flew off to Japan. Went along to the usual end-of-the-week beer and pizza thing at the office for a bit, then headed back home, where Chie made Japanese food for dinner. Seemed like a bit of an odd choice as we were just about to head off to Japan for two weeks.

Something of a black mood befell me this evening as is often the case the night before a flight.
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Lasagne and Laundry
[Thursday 15th September 2011]
Made a lasagne for dinner, and spent some of the evening doing laundry in preparation for our trip to Japan.
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Martinis at Duke's Bar
[Wednesday 14th September 2011]
I'd been wanting to go to the bar at Duke's Hotel for a while now, having read a bit about it, and gained the impression that it was a bit of a London institution - particularly famous for their martinis. As it's a fairly smart sort of a place, it also seemed like a good excuse to give my new suit a second outing.

I'd originally invited a few people along to join me, but for various reasons in the end it was just me and Al - so it was more of a quiet, civilised drink rather than a big group outing - but still very pleasant nonetheless. I tried two different martinis whilst I was there - I forget the name of the first, but the second was "Ian Fleming's Classic Vesper".

It made for an interesting experience - I'm not sure I'm exactly falling over myself to go back as soon as possible though. Duke's is probably an even more upmarket venue than Claridge's Bar, where I'd taken my suit on its first outing, but the atmosphere was perhaps a bit on the stuffy side - not quite the buzz that is present in Claridge's. Whilst waiting for a table in the lobby I heard somebody arrive and say "We're here to meet Lord Mountbatten (or some name like that)". I suspect Claridge's bar is more of a venue for "new money" whereas Duke's seems to be a genuine bona fide haunt of the actual artistocracy. Although, that said, I did also spot Simon Cowell here this evening.

After our martinis at Duke's we were both a bit peckish so decided to go and get something to eat. I suggested we go back to Cecconi's near Savile Row, which I'd really enjoyed on my previous visit with Chie. It was oddly ironic that we had drinks at a table in Duke's, but then ate dinner sitting at the bar in Cecconi's. I had a pasta dish (I don't remember the name of the pasta - sort of like a thin spaghetti but a bit different) with black truffles. It was frighteningly expensive for a bowl of pasta, but quite delicious.

Click here for some pictures Al took this evening.
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Chinese Food in Earl's Court
[Tuesday 13th September 2011]
Met up with Chie after work in Earl's Court, and went to Dragon Palace, a Chinese restaurant we'd bought takeaway from once while we were in temporary accommodation, when we moved back to London in 2007. They do quite a good vegetarian set menu.
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Mr and Mrs. Zagat
[Monday 12th September 2011]
Rather out of the blue, today I met Tim and Nina Zagat - the founders of the Zagat guide - for lunch. They regaled us with anecdotes of their last few decades in the restaurant reviewing business, which I found quite fascinating. They also gave me a signed copy of the new 2012 Zagat London restaurants guide.
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Sunday in Chepstow
[Sunday 11th September 2011]
Went out for Sunday lunch to the Newbridge Inn, before heading to Newport to catch the train back to London. We had a little bit of time before the train went, so purely for the sake of it went over Newport's famous transporter bridge - our first time to do so, and rather exciting.
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Saturday in Chepstow
[Saturday 10th September 2011]
Robin was away in Austria and the Czech republic for the first half of September, so Vera had gone to stay with Louise and Ian in Chepstow. We decided for a change to go and visit Vera there this weekend, which had the added benefit of being able to eat some of Louise's excellent cooking!

We got the train from London in the morning, and were met at the station by Beck and Dave who took us to Louise and Ian's house, where we all had lunch together. The summer berry pie (see the picture) was particularly good.

Had a fairly quiet afternoon in Chepstow after that, went for a bit of a walk in the town, around the castle, and down to the river. Louise has lived in Chepstow more or less since I was born, but I realised how little I actually knew the town - normally when we'd visit we just went to her house. It's actually quite a nice little town.

Had a quiet evening in, a light supper of cheese and biscuits in front of Poirot on the telly.
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Friday
[Friday 9th September]
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Pizza, Perry, Pad Thai, Pocket Squares
[Thursday 8th September 2011]
I took the unusual step today of heading into the centre of London at lunchtime, and decided to try out a relatively new pizza place called Sartori. It was reassuringly full of Italians, and the pizza wasn't bad.

In the evening, met up with Chie, and after a quick glass of perry we decided to try out a Thai restaurant nearby. It was OK I guess, but I think I was basically reminded I just don't like Thai food that much.

Spent the remainder of the evening back at the flat, learning various ways to fold a pocket square, and also learnt how to tie a half windsor knot, which was an absolute revelation, having always been a bit disappointed with the naff looking asymmetry of the standard four-in-hand knot.
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Wednesday
[Wednesday 7th September]
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Tuesday
[Tuesday 6th September]
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Monday
[Monday 5th September]
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Bookcase and Nozaki-sensei
[Sunday 4th September 2011]
Spent some of the day filling our new bookcase with books.

In the afternoon, Chie went out to a short session at the proms, with Nozaki-sensei (Chie's tutor from university) and his wife Kaori-san, who were visiting the UK briefly at the end of a trip to Europe from Japan. I met up with them afterwards in Hyde Park, and we went for a quick drink at the Serpentine Bar, before heading over to Haymarket for some South Indian food at Woodlands.
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King's Road
[Saturday 3rd September 2011]
Went to King's Road to pick up our bookcase from Habitat, and en route stopped off for a quick wander around the Saatchi Gallery, and a light Lebanese lunch at Al Dar II.
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Suit
[Friday 2nd September 2011]
It had been three months since I ordered my suit from Norton and Sons on Savile Row - since then I'd had the first and second fittings, each spaced about a month apart, and earlier this week I'd had the call to tell me the suit was now finished, and ready to pick up.

I wanted to make a bit of an occasion of it, so arranged to pick it up at the end of the day on Friday, with the intention of then going out for a celebratory drink, with the suit on.

They actually refer to this last appointment as another fitting, and in theory they might end up making some final tweaks if anything wasn't completely perfect, but as it happens both the head cutter Stephen and I were very happy with the finished article, and so I left the shop wearing it, and feeling rather pleased with the end result. I actually met Patrick Grant (director of Nortons, and a bit of a celebrity in his own right) for the first time on this visit , which was a nice added bonus.

So, dressed in my new Savile Row finery, I then strode off in the direction of the bar at Claridge's, which seemed like a fittingly refined venue for a celebratory drink. I was by myself when I first arrived, and I couldn't help but think the level of service I received from the staff was somehow better as a result of my attire. I sat at the bar to begin with, but happened to mention I'd be joined by friends later on, and without asking they reserved a table for me. I thought that was a nice touch. I began with a bottle of Henriot (there's something excitingly decadent about ordering a bottle of Champagne when you're in a bar by yourself) and after a short while was joined by my friend Kyle from work, and then a little later on by Chie as well. We proceded on to a second bottle (a different Champagne, Thienot, for the sake of variety) when Chie arrived. I absolutely loved the couple of hours I spent here, in the very glamorous surrounds, in the company of lots of very smartly turned out people, and for once not feeling like I was in any way under dressed.

Kyle had to rush off to a friends birthday party before we left Claridge's, giving us a bit of time there to mull over what we were going to do for dinner. I was keen to try out Cecconi's, just off Savile Row, which seemed like an appropriately glamorous venue at which to continue our very decadent night out. I was pleased to discover they serve the full menu at their rather attractive bar, where you conveniently don't need a reservation. So that's what we did. We both really enjoyed the food - and rather superbly they had a special which was right up my street - parpadelle with porcini. As (I believe) it was a Venetian restaurant, it seemed appropriate to have a Bellini there, which was rather good too, and all the better for being mixed by a very smartly dressed bar man.

All in all one of the best nights out I can remember for a very long time - despite the fact we were home not long after 9!
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Not going to the Cinema
[Thursday 1st September 2011]
A large group of people from my office went to the cinema today, but I've realised in recent years I just don't like going to the cinema that much - having to pay to be cramped in to dirty uncomfortable seats, surrounded by irritating strangers, and not being able to pause the film and get something to eat or drink, or go to the toilet. Not to mention having to sit through adverts as well, and having to pay for the privilege. I much prefer watching DVDs in the comfort of my own home - Chie has a Love Film subscription, and there's pretty much no film that we can't wait six months or so after release to see.

I did, however, meet up with some of my colleagues after the film, to go for a drink or two in town (I assume the film they went to see - Rise of the Punnet of the Grapes or something - wasn't particularly engaging, as they didn't talk about it at all). Did a couple of pubs in Fitzrovia and also popped into Benito's Hat for some dinner (although I just sat and watched them for this bit, as I'd already eaten earlier).
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End of August
[Wednesday 31st August 2011]
Well that's it then, the end of August, which I suppose pretty much means the end of summer. What a wash out it has been. Really must spend more of next summer abroad, especially as London will be inundated for a couple of weeks thanks to the Olympics.

Quite a stressful day at the work, particularly the first half of the day - progress on the current thing I'm working on is frustratingly slow, as every little part of it seems to need approval from somebody in another timezone. At one point I got so frustrated I banged my head on my desk. I then subsequently had a headache for the rest of the day, and really regretted having done that.

I really wanted to eat garlic bread for dinner tonight - which we'd often have when I was a kid on Wednesdays, it being pasta night. So I made some garlic butter, in a pestle and mortar (as Mum taught me to do), and used a part baked baguette, as Mum used to as well.
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Mr. Kong
[Tuesday 30th August 2011]
A return visit to Mr. Kong, a Chinese restaurant in Chinatown with a decent vegetarian menu.
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Bank Holiday Monday
[Monday 29th August 2011]
Didn't really have anything planned, and it was a bit of a waste of a day off if I'm honest.

Headed into the centre around 3, toyed with the idea of buying a jacket in the sales, but didn't in the end.

Had a very late lunch / early dinner - some tapas at Tierra Brindisa in Soho. Was a bit underwhelmed to be honest, but did quite enjoy a Manzanilla sherry - I think I'd seen something about tapas in Spain on the telly recently, and had noticed everyone seemed to be drinking sherry.
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