Dr John Hawkins
Welcome to my bit of the Maison de Stuff,
home to a huge load of pictures,
and my daily blog.
My email address is as above - I've put it in an image in a vein attempt to reduce the amount of spam I get.
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Main Index (text only)
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Maison de Stuff
- Recent Entries:
Air Quality Monitor
Dimsum and Regents Park
Breaky Bottom Harvest
Boot and Flogger and Lewes
Negroni and Crisps
Ice Cream and Wahaca
Hassocks to the Devil's Dyke
Cleaning and Pizza
Jeremy and Anne's Wedding
Lunch at the Pineapple
Lewes to Hassocks
Zoo and Wahaca
Buffalo Wings, Refractometer and Sabrage
Food and Wine
Wye to Charing
Deptford, Brockley and Refractometer
Playmobil Beekeeper and Rainbow Science Kit
- [Thursday 11th October 2018]
Erika had some henna done at an event at school this evening.
- Air Quality Monitor
- [Wednesday 10th October 2018]
Recieved an air quality monitor for a project at Erika's school.
- [Tuesday 9th October]
- [Monday 8th October]
- Dimsum and Regents Park
- [Sunday 7th October 2018]
Dimsum at the usual place followed by a stroll through Regents Park to catch the last day of the outdoor sculpture exhibition.
- Breaky Bottom Harvest
- [Saturday 6th October 2018]
Since visiting Breaky Bottom for a vineyard tour and tasting this summer I had rather fallen in love with both the place and the wine made there. It's a magical setting, in a little hidden valley, and Peter Hall, the owner and winemaker had been such a fascinating and charming host that I'd been itching to find some reason to get back there.
Having heard that he relies on an army of volunteers for the harvest each year, I'd asked if I could come along and help out too, and was delighted to be added to the list. So having had the call to action a week or so prior, I had stayed in Lewes the night before (engineering works plus the fact it's an hour's walk from the nearest station meant there was no chance of making it for the 9:30am start otherwise), and excitedly headed down to Breaky Bottom this morning. I had woken to a rather atmospheric misty morning at my hotel in Lewes, and the mist remained throughout my journey from Lewes to the vineyard - on the short train journey to Southease, then the hour's walk from there. It was fortunate that I was already familiar with the route as visibility wasn't particularly good along the way!
I arrived actually a bit before 9:30, but there were already a few early rises out in the vineyard making a start. After a saying a quick hello to Peter, and getting some brief instructions from some old hands (some people had been coming to help with the harvest for over a decade) I set about picking grapes. The section of the vineyard we were focusing on today was, I think, all Seyval Blanc, one of the grapes Peter had started out with when he first planted here back in the 1970s. I initially found it a bit difficult to be confident I was picking sufficiently ripe grapes given the change in colour was a bit subtle at times - from green to a sort of pale golden colour - and I seemed to get conflicting advice on whether, when in doubt, I should err on the side of leaving them on the vine or picking them anyway. It was encouraged to taste the grapes if not sure, and I ate quite a few in the first hour or so while I was tuning my judgement. Peter himself said that it had been such a good year in terms of sunshine, that therefore the overall level of ripeness was so good, the odd slightly less ripe bunch wouldn't matter - and in fact some amount of acidity would be a good thing.
A couple of insights I found quite interesting. The secateurs used for grape harvest are really very sharp indeed, and you need to keep your wits about you at all times. I was naturally being very slow and careful as it was my first time, but one of the "old hands" managed to snip himself and bled rather profusely.
Also, earwigs. I would never have associated them with grape vines, but many of the bunches had an earwig or two hiding in them (they didn't even seem to be eating the grapes, as far as I could tell, just hiding among them). Every bucket ended up with at least one earwig in the bottom, and I'm sure quite a few end up in the press.
Finally, it was very illustrative of the phrase "I heard it through the grapevine" - it was encouraged that we work in pairs, with each person focusing on either side of a row of vines, and naturally then you can chat while you work. Of course, as I was meeting all these people for the first time, the chat tended to be of a more introductory "what do you do for a living?" nature rather than the scurrilous gossip that the phrase suggests, but it was gratifying to experience first hand where it came from.
It was actually quite hard work - unaccustomed as I am to real manual labour - and after four hours and dozens of buckets filled I was actually quite relieved when we were finally all called in for the harvest lunch.
Lunch provided further opportunity to chat to the other volunteers - many as previously noted who had been coming here to help with the harvest for years. It's no surprise that me and the group I visited with back in July were not the only people who had been so captivated by this place. It was also very interesting to have a brief chat with a young chap called Rob, who was currently doing a winemaking course at Plumpton College, and helping Peter out on a sort of apprenticeship basis. I was impressed by his enthusiasm, and couldn't help but be a bit envious of the position he was in, he had really landed on his feet being taken under Peter's wing, and quite possibly had a very exciting career ahead of him.
I abstained from the more generic wine served with the meal - somehow it would have felt inappropriate to drink anything else in this setting - and held out with the hope at least a glass of Breaky Bottom might be forthcoming at some point. This patience was duly rewarded at the end of the meal. Great to be able to drink it in this amazing place once again, surrounded by some of the people who would have picked some of the grapes for that particular vintage, and looking forward to the time in a few years when I'd be able to taste the 2018 vintage knowing I'd made a small contribution to its production.
It had started to rain during lunch, and although I felt a bit bad for shirking off, I was mindful of the fact it was going to be a bit of a slog getting back to London with the rail replacement bus (as well as nearly an hour's walk just to get back to Southease), and Chie was going out in the evening, so I had to get back. I said my thank yous and goodbyes and purposefully yomped out into the rain. By the time I arrived at Southease I was quite drenched, which felt pleasingly consistent with my first arrival there back in July.
The journey back was indeed a bit of a faff, after the short train from Southease to Lewes I was on the slow and rather cramped rail replacement bus to Three Bridges, which on a day like today looked particularly dreary and banal, and a world away from the rural idyll I had just left. From there, a train back to Victoria, and finally the tube home from there.
- Boot and Flogger and Lewes
- [Friday 5th October 2018]
Went to see a bit of Christian Marclay's The Clock at the Tate Modern with the usual suspects in the evening, followed by a brief visit to the Boot and Flogger before rushing off to the station to get the train down to Lewes.
- Negroni and Crisps
- [Thursday 4th October 2018]
Classic Negroni and crisps in the garden.
- Ice Cream and Wahaca
- [Wednesday 3rd October 2018]
After dinner took Erika for an ice cream then later on the Wahaca for dinner.
- [Tuesday 2nd October 2018]
Another picture of my wine in its secondary fermentation vessel after the sediment had settled a bit.
- [Monday 1st October 2018]
Did some science with Erika in the evening, and transferred my wine to its secondary fermentation vessel.
- Hassocks to the Devil's Dyke
- [Sunday 30th September 2018]
Picked up from where I had left off last Sunday - Hassocks - which happily is a nice easy station to get to, on the line to Brighton. I decided to walk to the Devil's Dyke for this next stretch, having remembered from a walk to there some years ago that there was a bus from there to the centre of Brighton.
After some back and forth on where to stop for lunch I settled on the Plough Inn at Pyecombe, as it was the only option roughly in the middle - the alternatives being Jack and Jill (too early / near the start) and the Devil's Dyke Inn (too late / near the end). Thus I had a couple of miles first before lunch, which was a pleasant enough stroll, although not quite the drama in the landscape of the later sections of today's walk. The pub turned out to be more of a restaurant inhabiting the premises of a former pub, and oddly an Italian restaurant at that. A bowl of pasta was not really what I was in the mood for at Sunday lunchtime whilst out on a stroll in the countryside, but it filled a hole I suppose.
After lunch I had to cross the A23 and get past a rather noisy horse training complex before I finally got back into the peace and tranquillity of what felt like proper South Downs terrain again. There was a hill to walk up which was a bit of a slog, but then the descent back down the other side into Saddlescombe was quite lovely, with the surrounding hills looking particularly verdant and undulating in a very pleasing fashion. I think this was probably the nicest bit of today's walk.
From Saddlescombe, back uphill again to the Devil's Dyke, there was a notable increase in the number of other people I saw out walking - there had been hardly anyone for most of the rest of today's walk.
My arrival at the top of the Devil's Dyke happened to coincide with the arrival of the bus. Mindful of the fact they were not particularly frequent I jumped straight on it, so only got a very brief glimpse of the top if the dyke, but knew I could pick up here again on the next instalment...
- Cleaning and Pizza
- [Saturday 29th September 2018]
Spent the morning cleaning the flat - the first time it had really got fully back to normal since the soundproofing work in the summer - then Erika and I went out for pizza for lunch.
- Jeremy and Anne's Wedding
- [Friday 28th September 2018]
- [Thursday 27th September 2018]
Just one picture of the sky, which seemed interesting at the time.
- Lunch at the Pineapple
- [Wednesday 26th September 2018]
Chie and I went for lunch at the Pineapple only to discover the kitchen was closed for refurbishment. So we had our lunch delivered in instead.
- [Tuesday 25th September]
- [Monday 24th September 2018]
Playing with Erika in the evening.
- Lewes to Hassocks
- [Sunday 23rd September 2018]
When I did my first walk along the South Downs Way back in July, from Eastbourne to Southease, I hadn't particularly envisaged that I would eventually endeavour to complete the whole 100 miles in instalments. However after a couple of slightly underwhelming forays to the North Downs in the interim I had a definite sense of being pulled back in this direction, and by today, the third instalment (Lewes to Hassocks), it became clear I was on something of a mission to walk the whole thing, or at least the bulk of it. If nothing else it meant thinking of somewhere to go each time I want to go for a country walk became a lot easier - I just pick up where I left off the previous time.
Having done a short-ish arc around Lewes with Chie and Erika in August, today I decided to start from Lewes, and walk to Hassocks, the next station along the path. The weather forecast hadn't looked too promising, but I'd got used to walking in the rain on my various expeditions this year, so was undeterred. The climb out of Lewes was very pleasant, just a bit of drizzle here and there, which I barely noticed, and although the skies were decidedly grey I was finding it all quite exhilirating, passing some intersting sights along the route, including Lewes Prison and Tor Stables on Old Lewes race course, where it appeared there was some kind of open morning or maybe even a horse sale going on, and tweedy types were arriving in Land Rovers and swanning around with glasses of Champagne in hand at about 11am. I was tempted to try and gatecrash but I had walking to do.
By about midday, somewhere around Mount Harry, I was starting to get a tad peckish, and was glad to find a biscuit in my coat pocket, as I had no other provisions with me, and the planned pub stop was not until near the end of my walk.
Around 12:30 it started to rain with a notably greater sense of purpose. The wind also picked up, and the temperature dropped, to the point it started to feel quite unseasonably chilly. Before my first foray to the South Downs I had read that it can be subject to surprisingly extreme weather here, mainly by virtue of being so exposed on the hilltops, and this stretch around Ditchling Beacon was a good case in point - the rain had an almost icy edge to it, and this was only September.
It did eventually start to ease up some time after 1pm, and by the time I reached the Jack and Jill windmills as I started the descent into Clayton it had more or less stopped, although by this time I was quite cold and wet and felt no desire to linger for very long to admire the windmills, instead very keen to reach the (hopefully) warm welcome of the pub named after them at the bottom of the hill.
Although not too promising from the outside, the pub was exactly my sort of thing on the inside - an old pub carpet, farming paraphernalia suspended from the ceiling, hops above the bar, delightfully naff old place mats, and not a hint of Farrow and Ball paint in sight. I devoured a whole three courses of lunch very contentedly.
I then had a final 20 minute walk from there to Hassocks station, by which time the weather had changed quite dramatically, and some blue sky was evident.
Back at home in the evening I decided to harvest the grapes from the vines in the back garden, and had a rather half arsed go at beginning the process of turning them into wine.
- Zoo and Wahaca
- [Saturday 22nd September 2018]
Chie was in Paris for the day, I took Erika to the Zoo and later to Wahaca for dinner.
- Buffalo Wings, Refractometer and Sabrage
- [Friday 21st September 2018]
Buffalo Wings from Temple of Seitan for lunch. More refractometer readings and a spot of sabrage in the early evening after work.
- [Thursday 20th September]
- Food and Wine
- [Wednesday 19th September 2018]
Received a case of Breaky Bottom today. Lunch at Murger Han with Chie, then in the evening I rather lazily had a burger delivered by Deliveroo (Chie and Erika were out for dinner).
- [Tuesday 18th September 2018]
- [Monday 17th September]
- Wye to Charing
- [Sunday 16th September 2018]
Did another stretch of the North Downs Way today, picking up where I left off last time (at Wye) and continuing on to the next station roughly along the route - at Charing. Chie and Erika came along this time, which informed the length somewhat - 7 miles seemed like a reasonable sort of distance for a 6 year old.
Ease of access from London (particularly North London) was a big reason for choosing to go back to the North Downs, even though I decided last time it wasn't really as spectacular as the South Downs. St Pancras is not too far from where we live, and from there the high speed trains to Ashford, with local connecting services from there, can get you from central London to the North Downs Way in an hour, given that the North Downs Way passes right next to Wye station.
Of course, as you might expect, the train station itself is by definition not in wild, unspoiled countryside, and the start of the walk was a fairly bland trek through a large field, punctuated by a farm (which provided some interest for Erika in the form of donkeys), and an orchard (which provided some interest for me) before then another large bland field.
Eventually we reached the edge of the second bland sprawling field, and the path for a while followed a shady country lane which brought us into the pleasant little village of Boughton Lees, wherein I had planned for us to stop for lunch, at the Flying Horse. This was nice enough - a slight menace of the dreaded gastropub turquoise hues in the paint job, but I tried to ignore that and focus instead on the low hanging beams.
After lunch much of the walk was again through large sprawling fields, and pretty much all of the terrain of today's walk felt predominantly agricultural. There was finally towards the end a wooded section, with a little bit more elevation according to the map, and I hoped that might offer some views - but alas the trees mostly obscured that.
Still, we managed to have fun, in a silly sort of way, thanks to the ever fruitful imagination children have - Erika picked up a stick, which variously became a boat or a bicycle or a horse if I recall correctly.
We arrived at Charing station a bit before 5. Somehow the walk OS Maps had predicted would take a little over two and a half hours had taken us more like 4 hours!
- Deptford, Brockley and Refractometer
- [Saturday 15th September 2018]
Went down to Brockley in the daytime, apparently the only part of London which has a shop selling winemaking equipment.Back at home later on I tried out my new refractometer.
- [Friday 14th September 2018]
Usual grape inspection.
- First Apple
- [Thursday 13th September 2018]
Had the first apple from our tree.
- Playmobil Beekeeper and Rainbow Science Kit
- [Wednesday 12th September 2018]
Erika had fun with some of the presents she received for her birthday.
- [Tuesday 11th September]