Dr John Hawkins
Welcome to my bit of the Maison de Stuff,
home to a huge load of pictures,
and my daily blog.
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- Recent Entries:
- Monaco to Nice to Paris to London
Saturday in Monaco
Girls off to Japan and Cocktails in Paris with Benoit
Doctor and Coffee
Breakfast in Green Park
Andrew's House Party
Cocktails with Al
Nursery and Pizza
Pie and Mash Shops
Coach and Horses
Knightsbridge and Belgravia
Country Life Fair
Dimsum and the Transport Museum
Are you at work?
Leon and Japan
- Monaco to Nice to Paris to London
- [Sunday 26th October 2014]
Despite my very comfortable bed and very pleasant hotel room, I hadn't managed to sleep all that well, and rather pathetically had started to really miss the girls. In the end I think I might have been better off going somewhere completely new this weekend - seeing lots of places where I'd recently been to with them, but them not being there, actually made me a bit sad.
Still, breakfast at the Hermitage was pleasant enough, I ate outside which was an unexpected treat for the time of year. As I had a while before my train, before checking out I went for a morning stroll around Monaco, heading over to the market at La Condamine, thinking I might sit in one of the cafes there and have a coffee, and maybe buy some porcini or something to take back to London. In the end though I didn't seem to be in the mood for either of those things, and just wanted to get back home as soon as possible.
Given the problems I'd had with trains yesterday, I decided to get on a connecting train from Monaco to Nice an hour earlier than I'd originally planned, which gave me time to have lunch in Nice. I got off the train at Nice Riquier, given that it was a bit closer to the old town, and walked from there to Rene Socca, which I'd really enjoyed on our previous trip. Even though I arrived there before midday, and it was now late October rather than early September, there was a similarly long queue for the socca counter. Whilst the socca and beignets de fleurs de courgettes were very tasty like before, it was twinged with a bit of sadness as again it was a place I'd been to with the girls, but they weren't there this time.
I walked from there to the main station in Nice, where I got on a TGV to Paris around 1:30. As it turned out everything ran to schedule today. Sitting across the aisle from me were a Japanese woman and her young half Japanese / half European daughter, which seemed like a funny and perhaps poignant coincidence. They spoke to each ohter in a mixture of French and Japanese, and it occurred to me I understood pretty much everything they said.
Arrived at Gare de Lyon just after 7, and proceeded directly from there to Gare du Nord. I wandered around outside the station a bit looking for something quick to eat, but didn't find anything which really appealed, so instead made the usual mistake of going through check-in / security for the Eurostar to find an even more bleak environment there. Funnily enough I spotted the three people I'd sat with on the train on the way here - I actually sort of predicted I probably would - but didn't feel in the mood to talk to them, so just went and hid at the other end of the departure lounge.
My return Eurostar left about 8:30, and the carriage my seat was in was ridiculously cramped - there were about 2 inches between my knees and the kness of the person sitting opposite me, and it felt very claustrophobic. So after a few minutes of that I gave up my seat, and wandered the train to try and find an end of a carriage without anyone else in. I actually ended up walking through the business class section, and sitting on a fold down seat in the end of one of those carriages. Amusingly the staff serving the food and drinks to the business class passengers offered them to me too - me being me I turned it down, but it was interesting to see that once the train has left nobody really checks whether you're actually meant to be in business class or not.
The train got back to St. Pancras at 10pm, I jumped on the tube and was back home by 10:30.
- Saturday in Monaco
- [Saturday 25th October 2014]
I had an early start this morning as I'd booked a seat on the 7:45 TGV from Gare de Lyon, hoping to maximise the time in Monaco. This made the hotel in Gare de Lyon not seem like particularly good value for money, as I only spent about 6 hours in it. Ho, hum.
Despite having a bit of a hangover it was a very pleasant journey on the TGV, at least to begin with. I was in first class, on the upper deck, in a mostly empty carriage so I had lots of space to spread out. It was still dark when we left Paris, and as the sky brightened it revealed a surprisingly misty French landscape, with church spires in little valleys poking out of the mist, which was rather picturesque to watch hurtling by through the train window.
Whilst that was all very pleasant, it became apparent a couple of hours in that I wouldn't be arriving in Monaco just after 2 as hoped - first an animal on the tracks, then an electrical fault, and finally a cancelled connecting train at Nice all conspired together to make me about 2 hours laters than I was supposed to be. Which was a bit frustrating.
I eventually got to Monaco some time after 4, and proceeded directly to the Hotel Hermitage, where I'd be staying this evening. I'd booked a room with a terrace, as I'd remembered last time we stayed at the Hermitage really enjoying sitting on the balcony overlooking the harbour, watching the yachts bob about with a glass of Champagne in hand. This time I'd gone for a smaller room, but it still was of a decent size, and the terrace was almost the same size again, with two sun loungers and a couple of chairs and a table. Slightly surprisingly there was just a sort of hedge either side separating it from the terraces of the neighbouring rooms. I suspected the person on one side was some kind of rock star - I could see tattoos through the hedge - which was a tad disappointing, not really the sort of guest I hoped I'd be sharing the hotel with, having imagined it might be a member of some ancient European aristocratic family. However thankfully whoever they were, they were very quiet and well behaved throughout my stay - I did not bear witness to any television sets being ejected from the window, etc.
I'd decided on the train down that I was looking a bit scruffy so had determined to try and get my hair cut on arrival. Les Thermes Marin, the spa attached to the Hermitage, had a "coiffure" so I'd emailed the concierge from the train to book me an appointment there. That was all pleasingly efficient both from a technological and service point of view. So at 5:30 I popped over to the spa, to have my hair cut in the salon there. I'm not sure it's the best cut I've ever had, but it was certainly the hair cut with the best view I've ever had. I attempted a bit of conversation with the chap who was cutting my hair, although it wasn't very successful as I realised I lacked a lot of French vocabulary when it came to folicular matters. I did point out my usual barber was "quatre vingt dix ans". He also said that London must be an exciting place to live compared to Monaco, which he described as very "tranquil". Perhaps not exactly what I wanted to hear having come here from London for a bit of excitement and glamour.
I returned to my hotel room after that, for what was quite possibly the nicest bit of the trip - and what I'd hoped to have spent a couple more hours doing had my train not been delayed - just sitting out on the balcony, glass of Champagne in hand, taking in the view. Rather ridiculously I'd actually brought a bottle of Champagne with me - perhaps some version of taking coals to Newcastle - but remembering that the mark-up can be exorbitant here. It is after all something of a fungible commodity. For further irony I'd bought it in Belgravia. I caught the end of the sunset whilst out on the terrace, which, combined with the lights from the fun fair that was rather incongruously on this weekend ("hook-a-duck" is not really the sort of gambling one associates with Monte Carlo) made for a very colourful display. I'm really pleased with the photo of all these hues and reflections seen in the stem of the Champagne flute.
Whilst I could quite happily have sat there for the rest of the evening, I thought since I was here I really ought to make the most of it and head out on the town for a bit. So I had a quick bath, and got changed into my suit (I'd brought my Savile Row suit with me, for full effect - and thankfully given it was late October it had just about cooled down enough to wear it comfortably).
I started my evening out with a drink out on the terrace at the Crystal Bar, the bar in the Hotel Hermitage. This of course seemed slightly daft as the view was not entirely dissimilar from the view from my room, where I still had plenty of Champagne left - but of course the point was to mingle with glamorous Monaco types. I'm pleased to report that whilst the bar was relatively quiet, that well heeled, well dressed demographic were definitely present here. I ordered the Sweet Maya, one of the bar's signature cocktails, a Champagne cocktail flavoured with violet. Perhaps a tad on the sweet side for this stage of the evening, but pleasant enough nonetheless.
For dinner I'd had a list of recommendations from the concierge - having requested somewhere with good vegetarian options. Whilst I'd really liked the sound of Elsa, the predominately Italian restaurant at the Monte Carlo Beach hotel, it was a bit of a trek, being technically in France, and so as a plan B I decided to go instead to the brasserie at the Cafe de Paris, very conveniently located on the casino square. Like many restaurants in Monaco, here the menu was French but with Italian influences, which I think probably helped its vegetarian compatability. The meal started with some amuse bouches, including Barbajuans - very Monegasque - and then I had the cream of vegetable soup, followed by the canneloni, with, rather unoriginally, some more Champagne. It was pleasing to see there appeared to be lots of regulars/locals here - perhaps more so now because it was a bit out of season, and I found the general hubbub plus the art deco interior made for a very nice environment.
The next item on the agenda was a visit to the casino. On this occasion it did not turn out to be particularly financially rewarding - my expectation that I will always come away with more money than I had when I went in is of course a bit unrealistic, and not really supported by probability theory, or indeed straightforward economics. Nonetheless this caused the evening to flounder a bit, combined with the fact I hadn't really figured out what I was going to do next.
So I went for a wander to try and find somewhere else to go, hoping to find somewhere lively and upbeat to end the evening. The area around the casino square seemed a bit dead, so I decided to head to Port Hercule. I took a look at the Brasserie de Monaco and "Stars n Bars", both of which did still seem to be quite busy, but didn't really feel in the mood for either, so eventually just decided to call it a night, and head back to my hotel room for a bit more Champagne on the balcony, then bed.
- Girls off to Japan and Cocktails in Paris with Benoit
- [Friday 24th October 2014]
We'd vaguely planned to go to Japan this Autumn since the early summer, but it had taken some time to pin down the precise arrangements. At the moment I don't have so much of a work reason to be in Tokyo, plus have also close to ran out of holiday days for this year. So whilst Chie was very keen to go to Japan for three weeks, I couldn't really make it work for more than two. So we settled on what seemed like the best compromise - Chie and Erika would go a week earlier than me, I'd follow along for the latter two weeks, and we'd all fly back together. So that meant for the first time today Chie and Erika would be doing the long flight to Japan without me, and I'd have a whole week left to my own devices in London.
In the morning before work I went with the girls to Victoria coach station - it seemed like the easiest way to get to the airport for them to avoid Chie having to lug both Erika and her luggage about - and waved them off. I'd tried as best I could to explain to Erika what the plan was, and that I'd be coming to Japan a week later - she'd sort of nod and repeat what I said but I'm not sure she really got it. Still, hopefully the fun of spending extra time with Chie and seeing "Jiji and Baba" would compensate for the fact I wasn't going to be around.
Whilst Monday to Friday next week I'd of course be working in London as usual, for this coming weekend I had the opportunity to do a bit of travel, and had spent quite a while deliberating over what I could do. Very early plans involved going to Edinburgh, then I considered York for a while, then changed to Liverpool when it seemed like some friends from wok might come along to, but when it eventually turned out nobody else could really make it, I thought sod it, and went back to thinking about where I would most like to go given any possible destination.
So earlier this week I'd come to the perhaps surprising conclusion that I wanted to go back to Monaco. Yes, we had just been there at the start of last month, but I'd really enjoyed it, and wished at the time we could have stayed another night or two.
Planning that had been a bit of a challenge, as it was quite last minute, and the whole point of me staying in London rather than go to Japan was to not use any more holiday, but as ever I was determined to not fly. So I figured out probably the best plan would be to break the journey up a little bit on the way there, and have a night in Paris.
Thus after work today I headed off to St. Pancras to get the Eurostar to Paris. I took some Champagne to help the time pass on the train, and as it turned out I was sat on a table for four, and therefore made three new friends for the duration of the journey. So that was rather fun.
On arrival in Paris I headed to Harry's New York Bar, near l'Opera, to meet up with Benoit for a drink - we'd worked together a few years back, and had often spent evenings exploring London's many fine drinking establishments during that time.
Harry's was a haunt of Hemingway and chums, apparently the birthplace of the bloody mary. So rather ridiculously I had brought with me my own bottle of Worcester sauce substitute - Henderson's Relish - and on ordering our first drink presented that to the barman and asked him to use it instead. He didn't really bat an eyelid, suggesting this probably wasn't the first time this had happened. Benoit pointed out it was a bit odd drinking a bloody mary at this point in the proceedings, and that he was more familiar with it as a hangover cure the next morning. So we decided it was more of a preventative measure.
We folllowed the bloody mary with a couple of Negronis - apparently this was the first time Benoit had had one. Not sure if they're as popular here in Paris as they are in London these days.
I hadn't really had any dinner, apart from a few nibbles shared with my new found Champagne friends on the Eurostar, and a bloody mary, if that counts. So at this point my thoughts turned to finding some kind of late night snack, and we decided to head to the Rue des Rosiers as it wasn't that far away from l'Opera. Of course what we hadn't really thought through beforehand is that the falafel places are Jewish ran, and the sabbath starts Friday evening. So on arrival we found Rue des Rosiers, usually a throng of pita holding guzzlers, mostly deserted. Fortunately one place was still open, which in a pleasingly ironic way had a large sign saying "AUTHENTIQUE FALAFEL" - a claim which of course has to be called in question when it's the only place open in the Jewish quarter on the sabbath. Still, I'm pleased they were open regardless of any doubts over their authenticity - I was hungry.
We rounded off the evening with one final drink in a random bar we happened to be passing, by which time it was after midnight, and I decided after that I really ought to head to my hotel near Gare de Lyon as I had an early start in the morning.
- [Thursday 23rd October 2014]
The girls would be heading off to Japan tomorrow evening, with me following a week later. So this would be my last evening with them for a while.
Consequently Chie was quite busy at work and so I went to pick Chie up when she finished nursery, and went by way of the Little Waitrose on the way home, where I rather lazily bought a ready made pizza (and some fresh pasta, I think) for dinner as I wasn't feeling in the mood to cook properly. As we have done several times in the past, we ended up eating dinner sitting down in the corridor outside the kitchen - it's normally the case when a meal ends up arriving in stages, and Erika likes to see what we're doing while we're in the kitchen.
- [Wednesday 22nd October 2014]
Chat history in GMail suggests we probably has spaghetti bolognese for dinner, which would be very typical for a Wednesday.
Later on in the evening I was overtaken with a ridiculous whim, and booked my trip for this coming weekend to Paris and Monaco.
- Doctor and Coffee
- [Tuesday 21st October 2014]
Erika had another bad cough again, which had been interrupting her (and therefore our) sleep. Assuming it was probably yet another chest infection, we decided we ought to take her to the doctor, especially with the girls' upcoming flight to Japan. It wasn't particularly successful - there was a temporary doctor who didn't seem particularly child friendly, and Erika burst into tears almost as soon as she got through the door, and wouldn't stop the whole time. As we've observed in the past, stethoscopes are not a particularly effective diagnostic instrument when the patient is making a lot of noise. As it happens this probably worked in our favour, oddly, as the doctor was unwilling to proscribe anything, and as it turned out in this instance the cough cleared up by itself a few days later.
Before the appointment with the doctor we had a bit of a wait so tried out the new coffee place in Pimlico. I had been a bit frustrated that all the time we'd lived in Pimlico there had never been a really good independent coffee shop, only then to see one open up just a few months before we'd likely be moving away. For that reason I'm actually pleased to report the coffee wasn't particularly great.
- Erika Ill
- [Monday 20th October 2014]
Erika had been coughing a lot in the night and hadn't slept that well. This morning she had a mild fever and seemed to not want to go to nursery. So I took the morning off to stay home with her. I went to the chemists in a futile attempt to buy some kind of cough syrup, but at this age they're really just sugary water.
In the afternoon Chie came home from work to take over looking after Erika, and I headed off to the office, but Erika being ill again had made me a bit upset and I wasn't really very productive.
- Breakfast in Green Park
- [Sunday 19th October 2014]
Chie had wanted to go for breakfast at the Wolseley again for some time now, but it was one of those things we never seemed to quite get round to. Today she seemed really determined, and so we set out only to find they were full. As the thing she particularly wanted to eat was their basket of viennoiseries she had the insight to ask if that was available for take away, which it was, so in what turned out to be a rather lovely Sunday morning we ate assorted pastries in Green Park, which we had pretty much to ourselves, except for a very brave squirrel, and a gaggel of excitable middle aged Spanish ladies who followed behind him.
Did a bit of shopping after that, then Erika dozed off in her buggy, so me and Chie had the opportunity for a very peaceful and quiet lunch. We decided we fancied Mexican, and went to the new branch of Benito's Hat near Oxford Street, which was nearly empty turned out to be very pleasant.
Headed back to the flat later in the afternoon for tea and cake, then if I recall correctly I think we had toad in the hole for dinner.
- Andrew's House Party
- [Saturday 18th October 2014]
Bought a new tie to go with my tweed suit in the daytime, rather ridiculously because I'd been invited to a house party this evening by Andrew from work, who'd thought it would be hilarious if I arrived in a tweed suit carrying a crate of Champagne.
So I headed off to Brixton in the evening, where my dramatic arrival was perhaps a bit compromised by the fact it was really hot inside Andrew's house, and I almost immediately had to remove my jacket, waistcoast and tie.
Still, the Champagne seemed to go down very well regardless,
- Wedding Anniversary
- [Friday 17th October 2014]
Today was our wedding anniversary, or should I say marriage anniversary - this was the day we filled in the forms in Japan. So we've been married for eight years now.
I don't think either of us particularly felt like making a big deal of it, but we did think it would be nice to eat out somewhere, and in particular somewhere Erika friendly. Erika had apparently requested we go for sushi in the day time (possibly just because I'd mentioned the idea to her in passing in the morning). I have the impression kaiten sushi (the ones with the conveyor belt) is probably quite fun for her, and it's also easy to order according to her appetite, but last time we'd attempted to go to Yo! Sushi (last month) she'd fallen asleep. So we attempted that again this evening, this time trying out the one in Victoria station (with expectations set quite low accordingly. It turned out to be quite fun actually. For some reason though I didn't get round to taking any photos, which is a bit of a shame.
- [Thursday 16th October 2014]
Attempting to write this a month hence!
Chat history tells me I had a late meeting at the office, and didn't leave until 7. Apparently we had some kind of Mexican food for dinner, I think I vaguely recall making some kind of fajitas / wraps.
- [Wednesday 15th October 2014]
Had a fairly terrible hangover, to be honest a bit unexpectedly, as I really don't think I overdid it that much the night before. I blame that Negrita, which had tequila or rum or something like that in it which I don't normally drink.
I just about managed to take Erika to nursery, but couldn't face going to the office so chose to work from home today instead.
- Cocktails with Al
- [Tuesday 14th October 2014]
Went out in the evening with Al. We met at the Nellie Dean in Soho, which I'd only been to once before and have a lingering memory of it smelling quite bad. Since then it has had a bit of a makeover, and now looks like one of those slightly irksome modern style pubs with exposed brickwork and all that - but I think for once, on balance, it's actually a better pub for it.
From there we headed to Peyote in Mayfair, where as we didn't have a reservation we were seated at the "Taco Bar" downstairs, and hilariously on our way in another customer was complaining "it's like a morgue down there". It did liven up slightly during our stay. I'd wanted to go here for a while, being intrigued by the notion of an upmarket Mexican place, and the menu had looked quite interesting when I'd seen it a few months back. Not sure if it had since changed, or if it was because we were seated at the "Taco Bar" but we ended up with a very different menu to what I recalled which I found a bit confusing to choose from. My starter came out just wrong - but I didn't realise and just assumed Al had ordered two starters - and my main course seemed to be essentially a bowl of cheese. So the food didn't really impress, but it was interesting to be amongst the rich young things of Mayfair (and probably further afield) amongst whom this place seems to be very popular at the moment.
As seems to be a bit of a tradition when Al and I go out for dinner, Al ordered a bottle of Champagne, which added to the regret I felt the next day at also ordering a cocktail here - the deadly "Negrita" - supposedly a Latin American twist on a Negroni.
Al needed to head home after dinner as he had an early start the next day, but it was on;y 10ish, and as I had earned the required credit for an entire evening out it seemed a bit of a waste for me to do likewise. So in a further lapse of judgement I pressed on to Mr Foggs, another Mayfair-haunt-of-rich-young-things which I'd been wanting to try out for a while.
- [Monday 13th October 2014]
Sat on a promotion committee at work today, which is an all day affair, and usually rather exhausting. Once again I was chosen to be the chair, by whatever mystical process HR uses for that, which was a bit odd this time in particular as one of the other members of the committee was the guy who had been the chair on the first committee I sat on.
- [Sunday 12th October 2014]
Chie wanted a bit of time off to do some shopping by herself this afternoon (she was planning to buy a new suitcase) so I took Erika out for a bit, just the two of us. I decided we should go to Whole Foods in Kensington, we haven't been there for a while, partly because I wanted to get some new soap for her and some new toothpaste for us, and they're pretty good at stocking these kinds of things which are kid friendly / animal friendly / etc.
After shopping we went upstairs to the food court, and shared a bowl of noodles, then some gelato. Erika usually doesn't mind spending time with just me but on this occasion she was asking for Mummy a lot, although the provision of ice cream did at least partly seem to curb that.
- [Saturday 11th October 2014]
Continuing the pie and mash theme from earlier this week, I was very pleased to discover there was another pie and mash shop with vegetarian options - Goddards in Greenwich. Remembering also how good the playground in Greenwich Park had been when we went back in August, that seemed to be present enough for a day out.
We thought about getting the boat there, but as is often the case by the time we'd got ourselves organised in the morning lunchtime already seemed to be approaching, so we thought we ought to try and get there quicker than that. Thus we got the tub to Canary Wharf, and the DLR from there. On arrival we headed straight to the park, and spent the best part of an hour in the playground there. It then started to rain a bit, which seemed to be a good point at which to head in the direction of lunch.
Goddards was a bit different from the previous two pie and mash places I'd been to, both of which had a customer base almost entirely composed of locals. This Greenwich outpost is quite possibly the only place tourists might actually try London's traditional meal, and consequently the menu was a bit broader than usual, and I noted lots of people opting for gravy rather than liquor. On the plus side it did mean there were vegetarian pies ready and waiting (normally I have to wait for these), and although there was a bit of a queue we were served and sat down in the cramped upstairs seating area fairly quickly.
I was a bit unconvinced by the ice cream scoop style servings of mash potato (whither the unseemly wedge round the rim of the plate?) but apart from that quite enjoyed it. Erika on the other hand really didn't seem keen, and barely ate anything - I think she just wanted to have her afternoon nap.
Erika fell asleep fairly soon after we left the pie and mash shop, and we went for a bit of a walk round the market since we were there. Or to be more precise, Chie went for a walk round the market whilst I sat with a coffee holding the buggy - the aisles between the stalls were a bit cramped.
We hung around a bit longer after that, and I recall sitting by the Cutty Sark for a bit, watching kids splash about in the water feature there, and eventually got back on the DLR around 3:30 and headed back.
It looks like from my location history we didn't go straight home, but instead stopped off to go to Chinatown on the way back, presumably to buy things for dinner, although am writing this over a month hence and don't recall what we had. It seems we then walked back home from there.
In the evening the pictures remind me we set up Erika's princess castle - this was a birthday present which we hadn't got round to setting up until now. Erika seemed to really like it, but our already cramped lounge felt even more so!
- Nursery and Pizza
- [Friday 10th October 2014]
Went to visit another nursery in the morning in the area where our new flat (assuming the sale actually completes) would be. The first one we'd seen had seemed a bit corporate, a stark contrast to the almost family run feel of the place she goes to currently. This one was different again, and felt a bit deserted actually (apparently lots of the kids are off on Friday, as Erika would also be) but on the plus side was in a really nice building with loads of outdoor space. Definitely our favourite of the two we've seen so far.
In the early evening I'd planned a bit of an event for our TGIF thing at the office. A pizza place called Maverick had opened up down the road earlier this year, near Buckingham Palace, right in the middle of a row of tourist trap cafes and tacky souvenir shops. Right from the start I'd applauded their admirable quest to improve the quality of food in that blackspot, but had been sad to observe whenever I'd been it had always been nearly empty. So I thought I'd drum up some support from my colleagues at least by inviting them to the office today to provide pizzas to sample (which if nothing else were a big improvement on those made in house, which are frankly a bit naff).
Erika and Chie also came along for this which was very nice, although I later regretted the folly of holding Erika whilst she was eating pizza, and I was wearing one of my custom made Turnbull and Asser shirts.
(It did manage to come out in the wash, you'll be glad to hear).
- [Thursday 9th October 2014]
Am attempting this about six weeks hence - and my location history tells me I did the normal route to work and back (via Erika's nursery on the way there). Search and chat history just seem to recount a brief conversation with Chie about her possibly going to Bahrain for a business trip, and me not being thoroughly convinced it was an an entirely safe place to visit (I think she ultimately didn't end up going).
- Upsatair Bars
- [Wednesday 8th October 2014]
Ricardo, a friend of one of the Jims from work, today proposed we go to an event at "Coco Bananas", the Brazilian (I think) themed bar upstairs at "Bunga Bunga" in Battersea, as a friend of his was organizing it and could get us in for free. That was all very, errr, lively.
Nobody seemed to want to stay particularly late, and by 9:30 we were all heading off in taxis.
I didn't quite feel ready to call it a night, having not go there until 8, so decided on the way back to stop off in Belgravia, and try out Joe's Bar, which I'd heard about recently and had piqued my curiosity - it's upstairs at Olivocrne, sister restaurant of my favourite haunt Oliveto. It was very quiet in there, just a couple of other customers, but I did have the chance to sit and listen to Mauro Sanna talk to a couple of well heeled middle aged ladies for a bit.
- [Tuesday 7th October 2014]
Last night I'd somehow ended up reading about London's pie and mash shops, a subject I'm slightly fascinated by, in part because my job at the moment has got me thinking about local specialities, and I was trying to think what that would mean for London. Of course London attracts a lot of foreign tourists, many of whom seem to associate English cuisine almost exclusively with fish and chips, but I think if you asked English people that's more something they'd associate with seaside towns and/or the north of England, not something London is particularly noted for. Similarly English breakfasts - which although fine examples thereof can be found in London (I am of course thinking about the Regency Cafe) don't really seem particularly unique to the capital. Perhaps afternoon tea might be something more strongly associated with London, what with all the posh hotels here which are famous for it, but again that seemed to not quite fit the bill as it isn't really everyday food for the average person.
So that only really leaves pie and mash as something really specific to London. Whilst of course these two components could just as easily exist elsewhere, the particular style found in London's pie and mash shops is really quite specific and consistent between establishments - the "liquor" (parsley sauce), eels in one of two formats (which nobody ever seems to actually order, in my experience) and the presumably slightly more recent addition to the cuisine of chilli vinegar. Oh and the accompanying sarsaparilla to drink.
As a vegetarian, prior to discovering Manze's I'd just written this whole cuisine off as something which would never be relevant to me. I was delighted and surprised to discover they had a vegetarian pie, but also assumed it to be a one off oddity. In my reading around last night though I discovered two other pie and mash shops also offer a vegetarian pie - G Kelly in Bethnal Green, and Arments in Kennington.
So at the earliest opportunity - lunchtime today - I popped down to Kennington (really quite a trek from the office as it turned out) to sample their wares. Despite Arments celebrating their centenary this year, the interior of the shop doesn't really have much of a sense of history, but regardless it does seem to have a very loyal following, and there was a continuous stream of what I presume to be regulars while I was there. The veggie pies had to be cooked (or at least reheated) to order, and it took a while to do so, but when they finally arrived, with the accompanying mash and liquor, it made for a very satisfying lunch indeed.
- Pie and Mash Shops
- [Monday 6th October 2014]
Calle Mum on Skype (or actually Google Hangouts I think) in the evening as it was her birthday today.
Spent some of the evening reading on the web about London's pie and mash shops. Not much else to report
- Coach and Horses
- [Sunday 5th October 2014]
Took some clothes to the recycling bank in the morning, including a pale blue Harvie and Hudson shirt which was very much an old favourite, but now had an embarrassingly frayed collar, and was really past its best.
For lunch, I was really keen to have a decent Sunday roast in a pub somewhere, and so decided to introduce Erika to the Coach and Horses in Soho. Despite its potential to be quite, um, unruly in the evenings, at lunchtime on Sundays I'd several times seen kids in there, and I think since becoming an all-vegetarian pub it has generally become a lot more relaxed. It was very quiet in there this lunchtime, perhaps a bit too quiet, and for once I think I would have actually liked a bit of piped music so that the small handful of other customers wouldn't notice Erika's babbling - she wasn't exactly yelling and screaming, but she's also not yet learnt to moderate her volume, so in a quiet environment her normal voice can actually sound a bit loud.
I ordered a roast, Chie ordered the "tofush and chips" and we also got a veggie scotch egg, and shared all three. As I still have a pathological fear of boiled eggs I just ate a bit of the coating of the scotch egg, which was quite pleasant. The "tofush" pleasingly tasted of the sea, thanks to some nori mixed in with the batter.
Did a bit of shopping after that, as we were in the centre, including a visit to the newly refurbished Foyles, the childrens section thereof being particularly nice. I had a very pleasant quarter of an hour or so in there with Erika choosing a new book for her, followed by a coffee in the cafe upstairs.
Also bought some new cocktail ingredients in Gerry's on Old Compton Street, including Nardini's Rabarbaro liqeur (as I'd tried in the rhubarb Negroni at Princi) and some orange bitters. Experimented with these in the evening.
- Knightsbridge and Belgravia
- [Saturday 4th October 2014]
It rained a lot today, so I'm impressed we managed to get out of the flat at all really.
Towards the end of the morning we decided to head out of the flat, largely with the aim of going to Waitrose. Once we arrived in Belgravia, given the rain and both of us feeling a bit tired, we wanted to go somewhere for a coffee. For some reason the usual stalwart of Tom Tom didn't appeal, and instead we pressed on to Knightsbridge where I proposed going to Chapati and Karak so Chie could try it.
It was full inside, so we sat outside under the awning where we were more or less sheltered from the rain. Perhaps that was for the best, as judging by the looks from the entirely Middle Eastern clientele inside when we initially went in they didn't seem particularly thrilled at the prospect of us "foreigners" going in with a small child. Erika seemed to really like the chapati, and both Chie and I enjoyed the karak, (despite burning our mouths).
After that we went for a wander round Harrods, and in particular the childrens clothing department. I'd last been in there in the January sales, when we bought Erika a surprisingly reasonably priced Gucci cardigan. It was interesting to see as a contrast this time the prices these kinds of designer label kids clothes sell for outside of the sale. We bought a present for Chie's friend Ai-san who recently had a baby - a rather sweet baby blanket (not a designer label I hasten to add), but on this occasion decided not to buy a ~£300 garment for Erika.
We carried on from there to the Waitrose in Belgravia, the original object of our mission, and bought a larger than usual amount of shopping, at least in part because we wanted to use a trolley so Erika could sit in it.
From there we got a taxi back home, and spent most of the rest of the day in the flat, with the exception of a brief outing towards the end of the afternoon to try and get Erika to go to sleep, as she'd only had a very short nap earlier on.
- Tatershall Castle
- [Friday 3rd October 2014]
Went to visit a nursery in the morning, in the area we'd potentially be moving to should our flat purchase succeed. The process is still rumbling along disappointingly slowly. Up until now visits to the area had been generally very positive, and whilst I'm well aware it is a bit mixed - there are nicer bits and not so nice bits - overall I'd felt generally enthusiastic about being able to explore a new part of London. Today for some reason - perhaps because of facing the reality of having to take Erika away from her current nursery, and having to start commuting - I was a lot less keen on our prospective new neighbourhood. I started to notice the grottier bits more, and felt suddenly quite homesick for the relative pleasantness of SW1 (which, though of course is not also without its grotty bits, like any area of London).
On the plus side, in an odd way this helped me to relax about the flat purchase a bit - given that we've still not yet exchanged contracts, the seller can still of course pull out at any point, and with the frustrating delays caused by solicitors seemingly not wanting to do their jobs, that uncertainty has been dragged out a fair bit. So perhaps seeing some of the downsides of the area was helpful for feeling a bit philosophical about the whole thing.
In the evening, after initially going home and making dinner for the girls, I headed out again to meet some friends from work for a drink or two on the Tatershall Castle, the floating "pub" on the Thames near Embankment. Perhaps because of the morning's activity I wasn't wholly in the mood for it, and the not-really-my-type-of-people that the boat seems to attract didn't help.
The people from work all left well before closing time, so I rounded off the evening with a pint at the Ship and Shovel, wherein I read a lovely account of a barman who had worked there during the 1960s, in the days before that decade killed off the bowler hat.
- [Thursday 2nd October 2014]
Pizza for lunch at Maverick near Buckingham Palace.
- [Wednesday 1st October 2014]
Went to Olivino, the very upmarket Italian deli in Belgravia this afternoon (it's very close to my office), and bought various things including trofie pasta and a jar of Seggiano pesto, which I particularly like. So in the evening I made the classic Ligurian dish of trofie with pesto, including in it also some boiled potatoes and green beans, just like they do in Liguria.
- The Duke
- [Tuesday 30th September 2014]
Went to the Duke of Wellington for a bit after work, with Andrew from work. I think we probably largely talked about our ongoing flat purchase.
- [Monday 29th September 2014]
Writing this a week shy of two months later so don't really remember, but location history tells me I both dropped Erika off and picked her up from nursery today, so I think Chie might have been out in the evening.
- Country Life Fair
- [Sunday 28th September 2014]
Went to the Country Life Fair in Fulham Palace today. This was the first year it had been held.
It turned out to be a bit of a trek getting to Putney Bridge, as we first had to go to my office to print out the tickets (I almost always forget to do this when I'm actually at the office in the week) then the district line wasn't running from Victoria.
Got there just before midday, and were greeted with a glass of Champagne (and a "mocktail" for Erika) on arrival. Then we went for a wander round the stands. Pretty much the first set of which seemed to be all gunmakers, and I was reminded of how contradictory some of my "lifestyle choices" are. I like Country Life for a mixture of its bucolic portrayal of the subject matter to which the title refers, but also the unmistakeable air of posh about it. As a vegetarian though the hunting / shooting / fishing aspect of it obviously sits a bit less well. I think I must be in a really tiny minority of people who like both tweed and tofu.
We headed over to the sort of show ring area, where there was a demonstration of dog handling for children, and also a collection of farm animals. So this was nice for Erika, although as always she likes looking at animals from a safe distance, but under no circumstances actually wants to get close enough to touch them.
We had lunch sitting just outside the big marquis. Although we got a ham and cheese child-oriented sandwich for Erika, she preferred the venison sausage Chie got, combined with some mashed potato from my lunch (surprisingly there was in fact a vegetarian pie on offer, so I can't be the only one). I had a glass of Wiston (an English sparkling wine) to accompany it, which was superbly dry, right up my street.
Continued our wander round the stalls after lunch, and also watched a bit of morris dancing. Managed to get Erika to have a nap in her buggy. We headed off around 3:30.
Not much to report for the remainder of the day.
- Dimsum and the Transport Museum
- [Saturday 27th September 2014]
Met up with a friend of Chie's and her two kids just before midday, the plan for the afternoon being to go for dimsum in Chinatown, followed by a visit to the London Transport museum.
Lunch at Joy King Lau was a lively affair, even though we arrived as soon as they opened at midday the place very quickly filled up, and on our floor in particular there seemed to be lots of hustle and bustle, and lots of kids. To which our table contributed not insignificantly. Whilst I normally might be a bit sensitive about this sort of thing, today I just let it wash over me - most of the surrounding tables seemed to have kids, and I don't think ours were the loudest. Chie's friend didn't appear to be having a particularly relaxing time of it though, and spent the whole time try to prevent her two from fighting, or crawling on the floor, and neither of them seemed particularly keen on actually eating very much. I attempted to lend her a hand towards the end of the meal by having the little boy, the younger of the two, come and sit on my lap for a bit in an attempt to take him out of harm's way of his sister. He did not seem particularly pleased about this, and Erika also cast some indignant gazes in my direction.
The visit to the museum seemed similarly fraught for Chie's friend, who was constantly trying to stop one or the other of the kids from running off. The little boy in particular seemed to have a particularly bold and energetic temperament in this regard. Again we attempted to help out as best we could, but still we couldn't help but spend most of the afternoon thinking how much easier our lives were for only having the one to look after. That said, at one point Erika did throw a bit of a fit, I don't even recall over what now exactly, and as she was being rather unreasonable Chie pretended to walk off and leave her, prompting almost immediately another Mum to rush up to her and say "have you lost your Mummy?" to which we rather embarrassingly had to intervene and say "no, she's just here, and only pretending to abandon her". The expected disapproving looks were of course forthcoming.
Still, between the tantrums and escape attempts I think the kids enjoyed themselves, the highlights seemed to always involve sitting in the hotly contested driving seat of a variety of trains/buses, and pretending to drive.
We rounded off our day out with Chie's friend and her family with an ice cream, and then a run around in St. James's Park, with the hope of tiring them all out a bit.
- Are you at work?
- [Friday 26th September 2014]
Phone call form Dad this afternoon. He usually seems to phone in the daytime on a weekday, and starts off by saying "are you at work?". I don't think he really has much of a concept of a traditional 9-5 office job, as a combination of having mostly been self employed, and his current vocation in which his busiest day of the week is Sunday. I spent a while updating him on the current (lack of) progress on our flat purchase, currently caught in a frustrating quagmire of solicitors not really wanting to do any work. Our solicitor has actually been really good, although - and you can't blame him for it - has just got back from two weeks vacation, which obviously slowed things down a bit. The seller's solicitor on the other hand hasn't been the most responsive, and took two weeks to let us know they hadn't received an attachment to an email.
In order to actually have something to aim for I suggested to my solicitor that we'd like to try and complete within October, which he said should be "perfectly achievable", so let's see how that works out.
- [Thursday 25th September 2014]
Writing this nearly two weeks after the fact, and struggling to remember anything of note about today at all. Location history says I just did the usual route to and from work (via Erika's nursery in the morning), my web search history is not particularly revealing (I seem to have spent a while in the evening reading about the "Shellshock" bug - unlike me of late to take much interest in computery things in my spare time) and my chat history is similarly unrevealing - one solitary message to Chie "left the office now".
- [Wednesday 24th September 2014]
Popped out at lunchtime to post some paperwork off to our solicitor for the flat purchase, which doesn't really seem to be progressing much at the moment, partly because our solicitor is on holiday (which wouldn't have been so much of a problem if the seller's solicitors didn't need constant prodding to do anything). He's back tomorrow, so hopefully things will pick up again from then on.
Since I was out the office, I thought I would try having a quick lunch at the new cafe which has recently opened round the corner. Frustratingly I ended up waiting something like 25 minutes for my food to arrive, and it wasn't even particularly busy.
Pasta for dinner as seems to be becoming a consistent routine of late on Wednesdays. I can understand why Mum had these day-of-the-week meal assignments, as with kids thinking what to make for dinner every night actually starts to get a bit daunting after a while, with all the pressure to make sure Erika is eating a healthy balanced diet etc. Looking back through my chat history it appears we also had garlic bread this evening.
- Leon and Japan
- [Tuesday 23rd September 2014]
Leon was passing through London today, so I went and picked Erika up from nursery and together we took a taxi to the Red Lion in Crown Passage, where we met him. Erika seemed to really enjoy the taxi ride, it's certainly not the first time she's been in a taxi, but maybe it was partly the break from the usual weekday routine. After a quick drink at the Red Lion, we headed on to a restaurant called Inamo, where we met Chie. I'd chosen it in part because it had interactive tabletop menus allowing you to order dishes electronically. I recall having fun in Japan with Leon on Gav in high tech izakayas, ordering from touch screen menus, and thought this might be similarly entertaining. Perhaps predictably though the English equivalent was a bit naff by comparison. Anyway, it was very nice to see Leon regardless, as always.
When we got back home, after putting Erika to bed we booked a trip to Japan for later on this year. Chie wanted to go for a whole 3 weeks, but I'm a bit short of holiday now, and also have less of a reason to work in the Tokyo office so I didn't think I could really manage more than 2 weeks. So for the first time Chie is going to fly one way, on the way out, with just her and Erika, meaning I'll have a week in London by myself before joining the girls for their second and third weeks in Japan, then we all fly back together.
We'd been a bit hesitant about booking the trip with the uncertainty of our flat purchase - at this stage we really don't know if it'll take another three weeks or another three months (or indeed whether it'll just end up falling apart altogether) but Chie is clearly really keen to get back and see her family, and so ultimately I just made an executive decision we should book the trip regardless. In this day and age there shouldn't be many things which actually require our physical presence in the UK, and can't be resolved other the phone or by email.
- [Monday 22nd September 2014]
Chie cooked some of the Okinawan "ofu" her Mum had sent recently. It's a sort of dried wheat gluten in blocks, usually added to soup etc. Chie cooked it chanpuru style.
- [Sunday 21st September 2014]
A bit of time to myself in the afternoon.
- [Saturday 20th September 2014]
Stayed in the flat most of the day.