[Friday 24th October]
Slightly frustrating day at work today - I spent the whole day doing things for other people, and couldn't get any of my own work done whatsoever. Still, I guess it is all for the greater good and all that, but sometimes it can be a bit frustrating when you have a big pile of your own work to get through, and you don't even manage to get started on it because of a barrage of requests for help from other people. Ho, hum.
On the plus side though, today marked two years since the official launch of the project I work on (which started a short while before I started at the company), and so today's breakfast was, rather bizarrely, a glass of champagne and a doughnut
At the end of the day I went along to the usual beer-and-pizza thing, but following yesterday's health assessment I restricted myself to just-one-beer-and-no-pizza.
It has occurred to me I probably ought to keep some sort of diary if I am going to try and stick to 21 units a week, which struck me as quite a good idea for a web app - although presumably somebody has already thought of this.
I was feeling a bit mopey when I got home - it is getting on for 3 weeks now since my Icesave account was "frozen", I've been following the news pretty much daily since then, and despite the initial guarantees made by the UK government, they still don't seem to be able to sort it out with the Icelandic government, and I am getting the sense this is going to drag on for a very long time, which is really quite depressing.
Add onto that being worried about Vera, plus a looming trip to New York that I don't really want to make, and then the general onset of winter, less daylight and so on, and I'm generally not at my chirpiest right now.
Watched some telly though, and that cheered me up a bit. Particularly Bill Bailey's Part Troll which was tres amusant.
[Thursday 23rd October]
Slightly against my better judgement, Chie had signed me up to go for a BUPA health assessment this morning, just off Harley Street. It was all included in her healthcare scheme from work.
I was initially a little annoyed about the whole thing - I originally thought it would only be about an hour, so I could be back in the office by not longer after 10. However on arrival they informed me it would be a full 2 and a half hours! I did however manage to impress on them I was quite a busy man, and managed to reduce the amount of time I'd just be sitting around waiting, so it was more like 2 hours in the end.
It started off with all the usual stuff: height, weight, waste size, body mass index, blood test, urine test, sight check, hearing check. It then went onto the bit I wasn't particularly looking forward to - the exercise check. They attached me up with lots of wires to an ECG, gave me a hugely uncomfortable snorkel like thing to breathe through, and then had me do a few minutes cycling on an exercise bike. Once I got into my stride the actual cycling wasn't too tough, but the horrid snorkel thing in my mouth meant it was a bit hard to breathe normally and I was dribbling all over the place, which was none too pleasant.
Anyway, the end results were exactly as I expected - in fact they gave me a big form to fill in beforehand, one section entitled "what do you hope to get out of this health assessment?" in which I rather sarcastically listed all the conclusions they were going to come to. Probably a bit facetious but I was right - yes indeed I need to drink less alcohol (although they only said that based on the fact I was very honest about my weekly alcohol intake - there was no actual physical evidence this was causing me any harm), do more exercise and eat less salt and fat. Overall my weight, blood pressure and cholesterol were all in normal safe bounds. However apparently there are two types of cholesterol, and whilst my total cholesterol was not a problem, the balance between the good kind and the not so good kind was a bit less than ideal. Which just means I need to eat a bit less junk food basically. Well, duh.
Well anyway, despite my general cynicism about the whole thing, I suppose it was of some value - it is nice to know there aren't any major health problems I'm not already aware of, and I suppose it probably is a good reminder that now, 3 months on from my hernia operation, it probably is the time to be getting back on that exercise bike again.
In the evening I had arranged a long overdue appointment to meet up with Ali, who was my PhD supervisor. We had dinner at Kulu Kulu - a sushi restaurant in Soho, followed by dessert at the Haagen Dazs cafe in Leicester Square (not the sort of place I'd normally frequent, but Ali seems to like it). It was still fairly early after that so we decided to go for a bit of an evening stroll - across Trafalgar Square, down through Whitehall to Parliament Square, then over Westminster Bridge and along the South Bank from there. We ended up walking all the way back to Ali's university (LSBU, which is by Elephant and Castle), and I then got the tube back home from there.
It was a very pleasant evening - we spent the whole time chatting constantly, mostly about computer science, but also about economics given the current state of the world. It had occurred to me recently that a lot of the technical innovations I've come up with at work in the last few months, which I'm really quite proud of, owe a lot to the ideology I absorbed whilst at university, and whilst doing my PhD - and particularly things I learned from Ali. It was great to be able to talk to him about some of that stuff this evening - and to have the opportunity to say thank you. Hopefully it is a similarly gratifying experience for a teacher to hear that kind of thing.
[Wednesday 22nd October]
Was back at work today after my two days off to look after Vera.
Not much to report really, it was a quiet day at work followed by a quiet evening in.
Had vegetarian sausages for dinner - with baked potatoes, broccoli, and some quick home made baked beans. Which was quite nice.
We attempted to watch Whisky Galore which Chie had got recently from Love Film, but somehow both of us lost interest in it part way through. On the plus side though, being set during WWII, it has some charmingly outdated opinions about healthcare - when the Doctor visits an elderly and bedridden patient he says something to the effect of "well we can't have you giving up smoking now can we?".
Oh and I bought some low alcohol beer this evening, in an attempt to reduce my alcohol intake a bit. It is 0.5% ABV, which apparently means one 330ml bottle contains only 0.2 units. I actually quite like it, it still has that seem pleasant sensation of getting a nice cold beer out of the fridge at the end of a hard day's work, and, unlike regular 5% beer, drinking a couple of these a day won't take me anywhere near the recommended 21 units a week limit.
[Tuesday 21st October]
Another day in Abergavenny, looking after Vera.
We decided we should try and get out of the house again in the morning - just a trip to the Post Office in the town centre. She seemed pretty fine to start with, but then after the Post Office Vera thought we should also pop in and say hello to the staff of the charity shop where she sometimes works, and whilst in there she began to feel quite unwell. So we came straight back home.
Again Vera managed to eat well at lunch, but her mood was at a definite low until she took the magic little blue pill. Whilst on the one hand it is an absolute delight to see Vera spring pretty much to her normal self we're also obviously fairly concerned that this cycle could turn into a dependency.
My Aunt offered to take over taking care of Vera in the daytime from tomorrow onwards, so I went back to London tonight. Whilst I am obviously quite concerned about Vera's health I had actually found spending two days looking after her to be a very comforting experience. For one thing it is reassuring to be close at hand when someone is unwell rather than at the other end of the phone. Moreover though, at work I am constantly pulled in five directions at the same time, never 100% sure if I'm working on the right thing or not, and I have this constant sense that there is something really important that I'm not getting done. These two days were such a contrast to that, and it was oddly quite relaxing to be able to feel that there was nothing more important in the world than making sure Vera had everything she needed and was as comfortable as she could possibly be.
I got the train back to London around 7. Whilst waiting for the train at Abergavenny station I got talking to a Canadian girl who was a little concerned as she was going to the back of beyond (somewhere like Milford Haven) to meet friends of hers who had a boat there, but wasn't sure if they were actually still there, or if she'd be able to find any accommodation open as it would be quite late by the time she arrived. It occurred to me I had my laptop and 3G card with me, so amazingly we were able to get on the Internet on the platform of an otherwise deserted station. She checked her email, and even found some accommodation in Milford Haven, although it eventually transpired (on checking her mail a second time) that her ship had already sailed, so to speak. So after having already boarded the train she decided she wasn't going to Milford Haven, but was instead heading for Penzance. There was no way she'd get all the way down there by train tonight, so I recommended she spend the night in Cardiff instead.
Anyway, that was quite a fun encounter - and I was quite envious at someone being able to just head to a station like that with no real fixed idea of where they were headed for. Ah, to be young again...
I got back home around 10. It has been quite a while since I've spent a couple of nights away from Chie, so it was really good to see her again.
[Monday 20th October]
Spent today in Abergavenny looking after Vera, who is not very well at the moment.
Robin went off to work around 9, and the only thing on our to do list today was get Vera to the doctor's in the morning for a blood test. We got a taxi there and back, so it wasn't a big problem, but I think Vera was a bit disappointed she didn't actually get to see a Doctor, just the nurse, who didn't really know anything about all of Vera's recent ailments. So we spent the afternoon drawing up a fairly long list of queries, and arranged to have her Doctor call her later on.
We had lunch back at home, and I was pleased to see again that Vera was eating well.
As noted yesterday probably her main problem at the moment is anxiety. The doctor gave her two types of tablet to address this, a longer term one which apparently takes a couple of weeks to take effect, and a shorter term one to fill in the gap in the meantime. She takes the short term tablet once a day and it has quite a miraculous effect - it not only lifts her mood, but she actually seems to get better physically too, in the space of a few minutes. So her mood was definitely sinking after lunch, but she took the magic tablet just after 3, and was then quite bright for the remainder of the afternoon.
We had dinner with Robin when he got back from work, and again Vera ate really well. It was then another fairly quiet evening.
[Sunday 19th October]
We came back from Guildford in the morning and got back to London just before 11. We decided to do some shopping on the way back to the flat, and queued up with a surprising number of other people to wait for Sainsbury's to open at 11. This felt rather depressing - what a stranglehold supermarkets have on us and all that.
Spent most of the afternoon at the flat.
Vera, my Grandmother, is not very well at the moment. She's had a number of relatively manageable health issues for which she has been receiving medication, but it appears either the combination of these problems, or the combination of the tablets she's taking for them, is having a large net effect on her general wellbeing, and she is not her usual self. Above all she has become prone to bouts of anxiety. She lives with Robin (my Uncle), but he's out at work 9 to 5, and Vera is not really up to being left by herself right now.
We're hoping this is more a short term effect of the particular combination of tablets she's taken, and at least one of these is known to actually make matters worse for the first couple of weeks before it stabilises. So fingers crossed this is just a temporary rough patch.
So I offered to take a couple of days off work and look after her. I decided to go tonight, and stay until Tuesday night. So I got on a train some time around 4:30, and was in Abergavenny some time after 7.
On arrival I had dinner with Vera and Robin. On the plus side Vera is definitely eating and sleeping very well, probably a side effect of her medication, and these are two things she has struggled with on and off for years. It was a fairly quiet evening from then on, Vera mostly dozed off.
I had been prepared to find Vera in a pretty awful state, so she certainly wasn't as bad as I had worried she might be - mainly very sedate and quiet, and a bit unstable on her feet - not really her usual bubbly self.
Again though, fingers crossed we are hoping this is just a short term thing.
[Saturday 18th October]
Didnt do much in the daytime. In the evening we went to stay at my brother's house, so we could babysit the kids. The kids were lovely as always of course, and no trouble at all.
[Friday 17th October]
Today marked two years since the day Chie and I "officially" got married.
I personally am less keen on celebrating this one, and would much prefer to remember the actual wedding day, which was a lot more special.
Chie, unsurprisingly, is determined we'll celebrate both.
Whilst this is only our second "official" anniversary, it seems we already have a well established tradition to go "someplace nice" (i.e. expensive!) for dinner. Last year we went to the Boisdale - a Scottish restaurant in Belgravia, and thinking back to it the actual day itself, we went out for a fabulous bout of gastronomy in the evening at L'Atelier de Joël Roubuchon in Tokyo, of which there is no mention whatsoever on the blog post for the day. At the time I think I felt an account of a very nice dinner would diminuish the credibility of the rest of the post, with it's stark existentialist outcry.
Anywho, to cut a long story short (was it Mark Twain who said "It's already too late for that!"...?) this evening we decided to go to Manna, a rather chic vegetarian restaurant in the Primrose Hill area. I have written a full review on my vegetarian blog, so I won't repeat all the details here and instead offer a somewhat abridged version: it was quite nice.
After dinner we took a quick stroll onto Primrose Hill itself, to catch a rather nice night view of London - sort of appropriate I suppose, as this is where we'd got engaged just over four years ago (although you'd never guess from reading that post - at the time I didn't feel the blog was really the best way to announce it!).
[Thursday 16th October]
The Queen and Prince Philip came to my office today, which was all very exciting. I didn't actually get a chance to talk to her, but she did walk past my desk and we exchanged smiles. Prince Philip stopped to talk to one of the guys on my team, enquiring as to how he avoided "getting square eyes".
They both look much shorter than I expected in real life.
Today also marked two years since the two longest running members of my team joined the company, so we decided to go for a pub lunch to celebrate.
Towards the end of the day I was starting to feel a bit out of sorts, possibly a combination of the come down after all the excitement of The Royal Visit plus the fact I'd had a pint at lunchtime and had been feeling drowsy all afternoon. So I decided to leave the office at 5:30 and go for a wander.
I initially headed out past Buckingham Place (where incidentally I think I might have seen Lady Camilla in a car), across Green Park, and then to Piccadilly... but I kept walking from there, up through the fascinating streets at the back of Mayfar, all the way to Bond Street. I then decided to take a right there and head in the direction of Holborn. I think I walked about 3 miles in total.
I eventually ended up at the Cittie of Yorke. I let Chie know where I was and parked myself there to wait for her. Whilst waiting I had a group of office workers come and stand next to me, and overheard the women in the group complaining about this beautiful, magical place - describing it as "an old man's pub" and whinging about the fact they didn't have the particular brand of shitty mass produced lager or Bacardi bloody Breezers or whatever it was these banal uneducated Philistines normally drink. I resisted the strong temptation I had to interrupt their conversation and inform them they had no soul.
Chie was hungry and a tad irritable when we met up, so I hurriedly looked for somewhere to find something to eat, which in hindsight was ill-advised. We went to an empty Thai restaurant on Red Lion street, which was altogether pretty naff - one of the dishes I ordered was tofu with bean sprouts. They brought it to the table and it turned out to be just a dish of bean sprouts. On enquiry they informed us they had ran out of tofu. The fact that they'd hoped we just wouldn't notice or something really got my back up - especially as I don't even particularly like beansprouts. So we sent it back, and had it struck off our bill. One wonders if they would have said anything if they'd also ran out of bean sprouts.
After dinner we had one quick drink at the Old Red Lion on the corner of Red Lion street, and then went home.
[Wednesday 15th October]
Not much to report. We converted some leftover leek and potato soup from the weekend into a kind of Japanese curry, which was surprisingly nice, and ate that with some leftover pizza from the night before.
I think I also watched a couple more episodes of Monty Python.
[Tuesday 14th October]
In the evening I was feeling lazy so decided to order in pizza. Amazingly I actually got home before Chie for once, so the pizza was ready and waiting when she got back.
We decided to watch a film we'd recorded off the telly recently - Bombon El Perro. It was an Argentinian film about a man who loses his job, but by chance is given a dog in return for mending a woman's car. It turns out to be something of a pedigree, and he finds a new life for himself taking his dog to shows. Whilst it doesn't sound like a sure fire scinitllating plot, it was very enjoyable - utterly charming. The main character had buckets of charisma, and the whole thing was gentle, endearing and just generally very lovely.
[Monday 13th October]
I gave a presentation at the end of the day today to all the engineers working on our project, somewhere in the region of 50 worldwide. It was about (what I had thought was) a really good solution to a whole swathe of problems we'd been having in one particular area, and ought to make a lot of other engineer's lives easier, plus let us do a lot of things we could never do previously. This was one of the bits of innovation I'd been most proud of this year, so I was more than a little disappointed when it seemed to meet with a very lukewarm reception.
I guess partly it was fear of the unknown - I was proposing quite a big change to a very significant part of our architecture - but I had come armed with a whole 14 (yes, 14) reasons why it would be better.
I imagine Brunel faced similar difficulties when he first tried to introduce the screw propeller instead of the traditional paddles. So I guess what my presentation probably lacked was an irrefutable demonstration, like the famous tug o' war experiment Brunel conducted.
Ho, hum. I headed home shortly after that, muttering "Philistines!" to myself somewhat bitterly under my breath.
I don't recall much about the evening, I think we had spaghetti for dinner.
[Sunday 12th October]
Stayed in for the bulk of the daytime, but towards the end of the afternoon we were struck with that familiar sense of Narkurs (my own Meaning of Liff creation - that sense of guilt at having not done anything all day at the weeknd - see here).
As it was quite a nice day, I suggested we should go and find a nice spot by the river somewhere for a quick drink. I remember one of my books about London pubs had a whole section entitled "Boat Race Pubs", and from this I decided Hammersmith might be quite a good bet, as there were several nice looking riverside pubs there, and neither of us had ever been to Hammersmith before.
So on arrival we strolled down to the river - with seemingly quite a lot of other people - and parked ourselves outside the Blue Anchor. The pub apparently dates back to 1722, although it felt quite modern on the inside. Still, this was made up for by the rather nice location, and a good view of the handsome Hammersmith Bridge.
Chie recalled that her friends of hers - Hiroka-san and Dan - lived somewhere nearby in Hammersmith, so on the off chance gave them a call, and it turned it they were at home and not doing anything in particular, so came along and joined us. By chance we even managed to grab ourselves a table.
We didn't stay very late - I think we headed off around 6 or 7. Back at home in the evening we had Quorn and mushroom pies with some surprisingly successful roast potatoes for dinner.
[Saturday 11th October]
Had quite a touristy day out in London today, but a very nice one nonetheless.
Chie had somehow got wind that the Sherlock Holmes film currently being made by Guy Richie would be filming in St. Paul's around this weekend. Given that she has long running obsession with Jude Law (and in her defence I'd like to add this goes back probably a decade long before his current uber-fame) she wanted to go along just on the off chance she might bump into him. So, in a similar vein to a grumpy father escorting his daughter to a pop concert, I agreed to go along as well.
Well, Chie didn't get to see Jude (it turns out his bits at St. Paul's had already been filmed the day before) but it did make for a jolly nice day out.
Given that St. Paul's is just across the Millenium Bridge from the Tate Modern, and we live within walking distance of the Tate Britain, we decided to take advantage of the "Tate to Tate" boat service was a nice alternative way of getting there. This was really nice - for a mere £4 each we had a lovely 20 minute trip along the Thames, with some great views of the Houses of Parliament etc.
As it happens a friend of ours works in St. Paul's, so we thought it would be nice to pop in to see him and go for lunch together. On this particular day as it turns out he was working in the golden gallery - the bit right at the top of the dome - which meant climbing the full 530 steps all the way up. I was a bit out of breath by the time we got to the top, but we did it in impressive time (about 10 minutes), and if anything it actualy seemed easier than last time I did it a few years ago.
We then went back down to ground level again, had another bit of a wander round the cathdral (it is really impressive isn't it?), and then met Kyle on his lunch break. We just got sandwiches from Paul, and went and sat out in the square to eat them. It was actually quite nice weather today, so this was very pleasant.
Chie and I then slowly meandered our way back home. From St. Paul's we walked down Fleet Street until it turned into the Strand, and then diverted off the Strand at Somerset House for a quick coffee on their rather nice Riverside Terrace. From there we then continued on towards Chinatown, where we popped into our usual supermarket (See Woo), packed to the gills as ever, and bought some interesting and unusual vegetarian Chinese ingredients. Including, this time, some vegetarian fish flakes (handy for Japanese food), and some strange "BBQ flavoured fried dough" bits which were sort of a vegetarian answer to pork scratchings.
Back at home we had sushi for dinner, I made inari sushi and a couple of types of maki sushi, along with a Japanese omelette, some avocado served "sashimi style" and a few other bits and pieces. All very nice.
[Friday 10th October]
Quite a long day at the office today, for a Friday. I had two hours of meetings from 4 until 6, which meant I missed the usual beer-and-pizza thing. Instead after my meetings were finished I had a quick tot of rum with my Venezuelan colleague. He had covered for me Wednesday night while I was at Ronnie Scott's - not that I was actually on call this week or anything, but we were getting a new data feed from one of our partners which needed someone to stand by in case anything went wrong. Anyway, even though this is just as much his job as it is mine, I was very grateful for the fact he hung around so I could go off. So I found a bottle of Venezuelan rum (in one of those shops on Old Crompton Street) as a thank you present. It was Santa Teresa 1796 (no that isn't the date), not that I know anything about rum, but my colleague told me it was one of the best. I've never really drank rum before, but I actually quite liked this one.
After my brief rum dalliance, I went back to work, to finish off a big document which needed reviewing by people in the US before the end of the week. I eventually left the office around 9:30.
Chie was out for the evening at a a work night out, so when I got back I made a late dinner for myself - spaghetti with my old favourite that Sacla olive and tomato sauce.
[Wednesday 8th October]
Well my mood had managed to recover somewhat since yesterday's financial catastrophe, and after an initially slightly bitter outburst when I first arrived at the office I was more or less able to just put the whole thing to one side and get on with my job. I felt quite proud of myself for this - the money I had (potentially) lost yesterday was fundamentally the reward for all my hard work in this job, and definitely the previous day I had been filled with lots of "what is the point?" type of thoughts. It had been hard to muster the motivation to work having just lost such a big chunk of the pay I'd been given for doing that previously.
Today though, I very much got back on my horse.
In the evening we had booked to go to Ronnie Scott's to see my favourite living Jazz pianist / singer - Liane Carroll. We had decided to make it a double date, and invite along a friend of Chie's from work - Ruriko-san, and her husband Yusuke-san - as apparently they were both into jazz too.
It was actually a double bill as well as a double date - in addition to Liane another act was playing this evening - the Babatunde Lea Quartet. I think they were New York based, but had a slightly African flavour to their music.
Liane was of course fantastic as ever, to my delight she played the Tom Waits song Picture in a Frame, which is on one of her albums, and a particular favourite of mine. She sang absolutely angelically - particularly in one song where a fantastic vocal solo was iterrupted by someone's mobile going off - at which point she abruptly stopped and shouted "OH FUCK OFF!" in the charmingly down-to-earth Hastings accent she has when not singing. It was bloody hilarious, and in an odd kind of way only goes to make her singing all the more beautiful. I suppose it is a contrast thing - the idea of someone who can sing and play on a level that most human beings could never hope to achieve, but also having a bit of a potty mouth, is really very endearing to me.
There's a YouTube clip of Picture in a Frame here:
In the gaps between the sets my mind definitely did wander back to yesterday's financial horror, but when Liane and her band were in full swing I managed for a few minutes at least to forget all about it.
[Tuesday 7th October]
A strong contender for one of the worst days of this year. Guess who had £12,000 of their savings in Icesave, the UK arm of Landsbanki, the Icelandic bank which collapsed today...?
It was quite a shock, let me tell you, although the initial sense of panic quickly moved to one of sheer misery and feeling thoroughly sorry for myself. I had felt really proud of the savings I'd been able to amass through hard work over the past few years, and with the recent drop in house prices we'd started to think we might finally be able to consider buying a house. We even went to see a mortgage advisor a couple of weeks ago, and whilst I still wasn't bowled over by getting massively into debt for several decades for a house that would probably be in a grotty part of a shitty London suburb, at least it was looking like a realistic prospect. The key part being that we had our 10% deposit, in ready cash.
I'm writing this post a few days hence (at the end of the week) and there have been all sorts of development since. Currently it looks moderately hopeful that I'll be able to get my money back - the UK government have been very reassuring about that, and whilst I actually was one of the few people who wasn't particularly critical about Gordon Brown before all this happened, I have warmed to him even more now. Similarly Alistair Darling, who I previously had no opinion of whatsoever, I am actually growing to quite like as well. Whilst obviously their main motivation is to keep the UK economy afloat (and 300,000 people losing their savings would be something of a blow to that), I did get at least a bit of a sense that they were really looking out for people like me, and were going to give the Icelandic government a deservedly hard time over this.
Even if Iceland do ultimately refuse to compensate their UK creditors (like me!) the UK government has said the treasury will cover this. Initially I felt a bit guilty at this prospect - why should the average UK tax payer have to cover money that Iceland should really be paying out? So then I worked out how much income tax I'd paid in the last 12 months, and it was double the value of my savings. I compared my income tax bill to that of someone earning the median UK salary, and it transpired I paid the same amount as 6 people on an average salary (based on the non linear nature of tax). So, even if the government effectively refunds me half of the income tax I paid last year, I will still have paid income tax equivalent to 3 average wage earners. I didn't feel so guilty after that.
Still, it's all just talk at the moment, and I won't be fully reassured until the cash is in back in my hands (not even sure this is a metaphor, assuming I do get the money back I have some serious reservations about putting it back in another bank).
In the evening I tried to take my mind off the whole thing, so met up with Chie and went on a mini pub crawl, starting off with a financially appropriate bag of chips for dinner.
[Monday 6th October]
Moved desks at work today - only a few metres away from where my old desk was, but a much nicer spot as it is less of a thoroughfare.
I had a hospital appointment around lunchtime. I'd obviously expected after my hernia repair back in July to have a bit of discomfort for some time, but when I was still experiencing discomfort in late September I was a bit concerned, so went to see my GP a week or so ago. My GP said it was probably scar tissue from the operation, but did notice a very small "cough response" as they call it on the other side, so thought I ought to go back for another scan just in case - hernias do apparently have a nasty habit of going on both sides around the same time. Well fortunately as it turned out today's scan ruled that out, and the radiologist assured me I would not need another operation - it was just scar tissue after all. So that's a weight off my mind - I don't think I'd have been nearly as anxious about going for an operation second time round, but it would have been a huge inconvenience to have to go through all of that again.
In the evening, for no other real reason than there was a lot of swede in the supermarket yesterday, we decided to have haggis, neaps and tatties for dinner. With, as Chie rather endearingly wrote to me in an email during the course of the day, a wee drum. Percussion fans out there may be disappointed to learn this was in fact a typo, and we actually had a couple of whiskies with our meal: drams, not drums.
So that was jolly nice, and even nicer still as Chie pretty much cooked everything, all I did was supervise the microwaving of the vegetarian haggis (which, oddly enough, came in a tin).
[Sunday 5th October]
Having had a proper day out yesterday, and had plans for this evening, we were content today to do not very much whatsoever in the daytime today
Rather oddly we had the leftover kimchi nabe from last night for breakfast. It was actually quite nice.
I spent a lot of the day on the computer, and amongst other things I set up Google Analytics for this blog and a couple of other things on the Maison. (I'm writing this post one week on and apparently we've had about 400 unique visitors in that space of time, on the bits of the site I actually set up analytics for).
I also did the periodic check I do for spam on various bits of the Maison, and am pleased to report that after setting up Akismet a while back we've got it down to a mere trickle.
Chie and I also reorganised the kitchen slightly, based on the observation we couldn't really open the microwave door in its' current location. So we moved all the whisky etc bottles that were lining one side of the kitchen to their own little square of work surface. Somehow bunching them all together like that made us look a lot more like alcoholics.
Went to Sainsbury's a bit later in the afternoon, and did some unusually very frugal shopping - mainly just fresh vegetables.
In the evening, Janie and Lucy (my Dad's wife and step sister) were passing through London on their way to Estonia to visit Alex (my step brother). Their flight left Stansted at some godforsaken hour in the morning, so they thought it probably best to just come up the night before, and spend the night in the airport. As they both came to London by train, and were then getting a coach to Stansted from Victoria, this brought them very close to where we live.
So we met up in Victoria station and headed out for dinner. I originally had a local Chinese restaurant in mind, but had found out on the way to the station that it was closed on Sundays. So instead we went to my favourite pizza place in the area - Oliveto. As always the waiters were a tad on the snotty side, but the pizza was very good (although Chie to my surprise revealed that she didn't actually think the pizza there was that marvellous, and much preferred their pasta). I had the calzone for the first time, which was rather like a giant pasty. Janie, being of Cornish extraction, found this quite amusing.
After dinner we escorted Janie and Lucy to the coach station - in fact it turned out their coach didn't actually go from the coach station itself, but from the road outside - luckily we worked that out in time. We waved them off there and Chie and I headed back home.
[Saturday 4th October]
Chie wanted to go to the Portobello Road market today, so we headed out around 11ish, got the tube to Notting Hill Gate, and then had a wander up Portobello Road from there. As always it was a bit overcrowded which was somewhat off-putting, but we did find a couple of the antiques shops quite interesting - particularly the ones selling old maps and engravings.
We continued right to the end of Portobello road, where it turns onto Golborn Road, and yet more street markets and interesting shops/cafés, but this time with a distinctly Middle Eastern flavour. We had lunch at Maramia Café on Golborn Road - we had their Middle Eastern answer to an all day breakfast - falafel, a fried egg, some very tasty savoury pancakes, another kind of vegetable fritter type thing all served with hommous salad and pita bread (excuse my ignorance - I am embarassed I do not know all the proper names for these foodstuffs). This was extremely tasty, very satisfying, and frankly under priced at a mere £4.95 for a very varied and filling plate. The staff had charisma by the bucket full, and reminded me of my fellow Lebanese research students from the latter part of my PhD. I would definitely go back again if I was ever in the area, although the one thing that might put me off is that their website suggests David Cameron is a regular. Hmmmm....
After lunch we decided to head back into the city centre, but weren't really sure what exactly we wanted to do.
We got the tube to Holborn with the intention of popping in to the British Museum, and on the way there we walked past the recently re-opened Princess Louise. I couldn't resist popping in for a quick half so we could admire the newly refurbished interior. I had often heard about this pub, as it is just on the border of the area in which most of my favourite pubs reside, but I had never actually been in before. I was very impressed - as part of the refurbishment they have apparently re-installed the original compartmentalised layout, presumably a Victorian idea in order to allow the patrons to be somewhat more discreet. Whilst this does slightly impair the view of some of the splendid original Victorian features, I think this kind of layout is probably now unique in London, although presumably was at one time commonplace in the Gin Palaces of old. I found it quite fascinating, and I shall definitely return to this delightful restored pub - very much another feather in the cap for the ever wonderful Sam Smith's.
We then popped briefly into the British Museum - one of the nice things about living in London, and admission to many of the museums being free, is that you don't feel like you have to do the whole thing every time. So we were only there for about 20 or 25 minutes - I really wanted to see the Rosetta Stone, which I had somehow missed on previous visits, and Chie wanted to show me three Greek statues of which she was rather fond.
The rest of the afternoon then devolved into an inevitable bout of shopping, although thankfully it wasn't all clothes, and we managed to fit in a visit to our favourite Japanese food shop - Rice Wine.
For dinner we made kimchi nabe and I watched a couple of episodes of Monty Python, although I guess the week was catching up on me as by 10:30 I was falling asleep.
[Friday 3rd October]
There is an odd little backstreet not too far from where I live / work which has a few restaurants on it, but I had somehow always been a bit dubious about. I'm not sure exactly what it was - perhaps that it was just off Belgrave Road, where there are lots of "cheap" hotels for tourists, and so I had somehow imagine these restaurants mainly catered for that market.
Recently we had taken the plunge and tried one of them - Chimes - which turned out to be surprisingly nice (particularly the very interesting drinks menu). So emboldened by this we thought we'd give another one of them a go this evening - a place called Grumbles, just across the road.
It's a sort of bistro type place, with a style of food you might call "continental" (i.e. vaguely French, but also a bit Italian etc) or possibly "modern British". It was actually very good. It had a nice cosy ambience, the staff were friendly, the prices were quite reasonable, the menu was thoughtfully put together, and the actual food was tasty and altogether really very satisfying.
We shared a halloumi and asparagus salad to start - this sort of thing is right up my street, the halloumi was perfectly cooked (crispy but not dried out) and the salsa verdi with which they dressed the halloumi was succulent and very well balanced - the seasoning was just spot on.
For our main courses I had a wild mushroom risotto which was rich and satisfying, and Chie had a fish cake which apparently she liked too. Oh and in the interests of pointless extravagance I ordered a bottle of Perrier Jouet to drink.
We even had desserts - which I don't often do in restaurants - Chie had a very good bread and buter pudding, and I had an equally nice chocolate and brandy mousse.
All in all something of a surprise hit - I would definitely go again.
[Thursday 2nd October]
We'd had another intern working with us the last 3 months, and this week his internship came to and end so he invited us out for a couple of drinks. I hadn't really had much involvement with him in the time he'd been here, but I think he had done some good work for us, so it felt important to take part in giving him a bit of a send off.
We actually revisited one of the pubs from Tuesday's Belgravia Pub Crawl - The Nag's Head - although we caught it earlier in the evening today, and it didn't really have quite the same atmosphere. Just a bit too busy perhaps.
So I then proposed we go for a wander and try to find a different pub, and wandered into Knightsbridge, ending up at the Paxton's Head. It was OK I suppose, but a tad soulless by comparison, and in hindsight I wondered if we might have been better off staying in Belgravia.
The whole evening was a bit of a damp squid really, I felt a bit sorry for our intern - only me and two others (from a team of around 15) actually came along in the first place, and somehow we were all in a bit of a drab mood. So we called it a night not long after 9, and I decided as it was a pleasant enough evening I would just walk back home.
[Wednesday 1st October]
So it's October already then! Which means Q4 2008 is now under way too.
We've had a bit of a reshuffle at work and officially as of today I have a slightly different role, albeit still very much on the same project. The team we have in London, which was previously divided into two sub-teams, has now been re-organised into three sub-teams. I'm still a "technical lead" but now leading a different team, which probably will have a higher profile within the rest of the project in the various offices we have dotted around the US. My team is entirely focused on delivering solid tangible features, no vague waffley open ended academic meandering, which I am rather pleased about. We'll be 100% all about Getting Stuff Done (TM).
I made sure not to stay too late at the office so I could get home and cook for Chie, who was a bit poorly and had taken the day off work (nothing serious, just a cold). Having not really done much cooking recently I decided to push the boat out a bit and make a lasagne. It was jolly nice as always.
[Tuesday 30th September]
Given that my office is on the edge of Belgravia, I had often had the suspicion there must probably be a few nice pubs dotted around in that area, but somehow had never really got around to going exploring for them.
So this evening I decided on a whim to do just that, and was pleased to discover a few people from my office were willing to join me in this venture.
So off we headed, on a carefully planned route that was effectively circuitous around Belgrave Square:
Horse and Groom. Really attractive from the outside, a charming frontage tucked away down a cobbled mews (as in fact pretty much all of tonight's pubs were). Inside however I was surprised (and a tiny bit disappointed I must admit) to find quite modern decor, including a TV in the corner. They had Asahi on tap, which always provides me with mental turmoil in old pubs like this - on the one hand I love Japanese beer, on the other hand though I suppose it does somewhat detract from the traditional atmosphere. Oh well, not a bad start. They
The Grenadier. Another charming little pub tucked away down a mews. Reviews I'd read on the web had me anticipating this place was going to be a bit snobbish, full of retired old colonels - nothing wrong with that per se of course - but of the variety who didn't take kindly to the constant streams of tourists visiting their local. I didn't actually find any of that in practice though, and the woman behind the bar was really quite friendly. She even smiled a bit. It was obviously a popular little pub, and despite the entire interior being the size of a lounge you might find in a relatively modest house, they managed to pack in a lot of people. Somehow we actually got a table which was rather nice. Probably my second favourite pub of the evening.
The Nag's Head. Surprise hit of the evening. I'd actually heard of the previous two pubs previously and had wanted to visit them for some time, whereas this one was only really added to the tour to help complete the route. However, the general consensus seemed to be that this was everyone's favourite pub of the four we visited. Yet again, it was tucked away down a mews, perhaps the frontage was a little less decorative than the previous two, but inside it was delightfully eccentric. The sort of pub that has all sorts of random oddities stuck to the walls, hanging from the ceiling, and so on. The staff were very nice too - very welcoming indeed. I think we arrived at this pub at just the right time, probably around 9 or 9:30, by which point the bustle of the after work crowds had thinned down a bit, and there was still a gentle hum, but it wasn't too crowded and we were able to find a table with relative ease. I love pubs when they're like this.
The Star Tavern. The final pub of the evening and yes, you guessed it, tucked away down a mews. Again, an attractive frontage with hanging baskets and everything, although this was definitely the largest of the evening's pubs and so it achieved a somewhat different effect. Inside it was again quite distinct from the first three pubs, which could all be characterised to some extent with words like cosy, charming, characterful or perhaps quaint or - dare I say - twee - meant in the kindest possible sense of course. This however was more of your clean, relatively uncluttered Victorian brewery ran pub (it was a Fuller's). Perhaps almost verging on the grand side (it had quite a high ceiling I recall). That is not to say it was unattractive, but having been rather spoiled with the bucketloads of character to be found in the previous three establishments, I found this one harder to warm to. Still, a perfectly nice enough pub in it's own right, and not a bad end to the evening.
I thoroughly enjoyed tonight's little expedition, have discovered some cracking little pubs not too far from the office, and it was also great to have a decent attendance from people at the office without any real advance planning or anything.
[Monday 29th September]
Had stuff at work which I was trying to finish off before the end of the Month (actually, the end of the quarter) and so was really quite busy today.
Back at home Chie made dinner - we'd picked up some interesting ingredients in Chinatown at the weekend, and so we had ho fun noodles with bean curd in vegetarian oyster (actually mushroom) sauce.
[Sunday 28th September]
Another nice and non specific day much like yesterday. Chie and I decided to head out to do a spot of shopping in the afternoon, and as the weather was pleasant and we weren't in much of a rush we chose to walk again.
On the way to the centre we took a slightly unusual route and passed through what we eventually realised was part of Westminster Abbey. I think that part is called The Sanctuary, and at least some of that surprisingly large complex appears to be some kind of school. It was all rather enthralling, amazingly oldey worldey, and great for something we really just wandered into by accident.
We had lunch at my favourite Mexican restaurant - Cafe Pacifico, near Covent Garden. Whilst Chie's choice was a bit ropey, I went for the usual thing I order (the Quesada Grande) which was very nice indeed. After quite a boozy week I decided I probably ought to lay off the alcohol, and so instead went for a non-alcoholic cocktail, which was surprisingly quite nice, albeit containing a bit too much crushed ice.
After lunch we embarked on a spree of shopping, Chie bought some Anya Hindmarsh shoes, and I rather adventurously bought a jumper and a shirt in Gap. I was recently complimented at the office (by my manager) about how I didn't dress at all like a software engineer, which I rather liked, and so I have been spurred on to update my wardrobe further still, albeit, as mentioned, not particularly adventurously.
We meandered back by way of Chinatown (popping into what has now become our "usual" Chinese supermarket for a few odds and ends), and from there on to Piccadilly and St. James's. In fact we ended up walking all the way back home, and again I was in awe of all the fabulous buildings tucked away down otherwise unpromising little side streets.
We stopped for a coffee at what looked like a new Pret on the way back, as both of our feet were hurting. That was surprisingly nice too (not the coffee in particular, but just the little break aspect of it).
In the evening I made a slightly unsuccessful meal - some strange "vegetarian steaks" I had got at the Chinese supermarket earlier, served with some peas, julien carrots, and polenta with truffles (because we didn't have any other staples in). It was one of the two remaining truffles I had from the batch I bought a few weeks ago, and by this point it had definitely lost most of its' flavour. Oh well.
[Saturday 27th September]
Really rather a lovely day today. We seem to be having a bit of an Indian summer this September, albeit only at the weekends. Which is ideal really - it can certainly be frustrating if it's a weekday, and lovely weather, but you're stuck in the office.
Chie went off to see her friends in Maidenhead in the afternoon/evening, leaving me to my own devices. I did a bit of work initially, and then decided around 3ish to head out and get a financial errand out of the way (changing some Japanese Yen into pounds). This took me to Oxford Street, and whilst I got a tube on the way there (wanting to arrive before the banks closed etc), on the way back I decided to take a slow meandering stroll.
I walked down from Oxford Street, through the back of Mayfair, across Piccadilly into Green Park, and from there past Buckingham Palace to Victoria. I really enjoyed this walk, taking in a lot of back streets I hadn't been down before, lined with some really lovely buildings. London is just great for this sort of thing.
As it was a bit hot I decided to pop into my office on the way back home for a quick drink of water, and to tie up some bits of work. As it turned out, the American collleague who was visiting our office this week was also there on a similar basis. After an hour or two pottering away on work related stuff, we had a quick chat and decided as we were both at a bit of a loose end we should go out and get something to eat and drink that evening.
So we had another jolly nice stroll out from the office, through Green Park, across Piccadilly, along Saville Row, over Regent's Street and into Soho. I decided in the interests of being a bit different we should go to St. Moritz - the Swiss Restaurant - and luckily they were able to squeeze us in for an early sitting. It was delightfully twee as always, and I very much enjoyed having almost exactly the same meal as I had last time - ragout aux champignons sauvages to start with, followed by a rosti with cheese and vegetables for my main course. Jolly nice.
After dinner we ventured to a couple of my standard central London pub haunts - the Lamb and Flag, followed by the Coal Hole on the Strand. Both very nice as always.
I really enjoyed today, one of those completely unplanned days out that makes me realise I do actually really like living in London.
[Friday 26th September]
Don't really remember that much about today.
I think I went along to the usual end-of-the-week beer and pizza thing, and I recall returning to my desk, where I had a wee dram with a colleague who had recently ordered a load of wine and a bottle of whisky from the Wine Society.
Went back home after that, and Chie made dinner - a vegetarian ma-po tofu and a very interesting soup with hakusai (Chinese leaf) and some spicy Chinese pickles we'd got in Chinatown a while back. All very nice.
[Tuesday 23rd September]
One of my favourite colleagues from our US office was visiting this week, and tonight we took him out for a couple of drinks near the office. As we also wanted to factor in a bite to eat, we decided on a nearby "gastropub" - the Thomas Cubitt - which, whilst a tad on the snotty side, does at least do reasonable food, and was able to provide us with a table.
I had the veggie burger, which came with fries, served in a tiny little metal bucket. I've seen the same thing in a couple of magazine photos recently, and presume this to be all the rage in London's dining establishments at present.