[Friday 23rd November]
Jinro, for those not familiar with all things Far Eastern, is a Korean drink made principally from rice - so kind of like a strong sake I suppose.
Tonight me and Chie met up with my friends Leon, Stew, Gav and Kyle for a night out in London, starting off with a film, and then going decidedly Korean from that point onwards.
The film was The Darjeeling Limited - Stew is something of a Wes Anderson fan apparently, so was keen to see it soon after it was released in the UK. We went to a rather nice little "independent" cinema (not sure if you can really call it that as it is part of a small chain) - The Screen on Baker Street. They were very civilised there - they even had a bar.
The film was rather enjoyable - I'm not sure that it was laugh-out-loud funny, but it certainly had a strangely entertaining character to it.
After the film we headed over to Holborn for dinner at my favourite Korean restaurant (OK, I only know 2 or 3) - a place called Asadal. Therein we were met by Leon who hadn't been able to make it to the film due to some work thing, and to our delight arrived already fairly hammered. Nice work. The food was every bit as good as it had been the previous time, and the Hite (Korean beer) and Jinro flowed freely.
We'd been collectively very keen on trying to squeeze a spot of karaoke into the evening - but our usual haunts - Karaoke Box and Lucky Voice - were all booked up. Actually the latter did have a room, but it was for 10 people and we were only a group of six, so it would have worked out hideously expensive. Luckily though we had some very resourceful people with us, and Gav managed to secure us a room at Assa - another Korean restaurant - which was much more reasonably priced, a lot more authentic than Lucky Voice, and had the added benefit (?) of being able to provide us with more Jinro.
So we then had a good hour or so at Assa, wherein the Jinro flowed freely again, and we had a thoroughly great time trying to fathom the controls on the karaoke system which were entirely in Korean. This was a really great place for karaoke - much more like the down-to-earth places I'm used to from my time in Japan.
I don't recall exactly what time we left, I think we then got a night bus back towards our flat, with Leon and Stew in tow, who had opted to stay over at our place as the last trains had already gone some time ago. Back at the flat, around 3AM, Leon and Stew discovered the electric keyboard we have (but pretty much never use). I can't help but think our neighbours probably hate us now. Ho, hum.
I'll leave you with this little video delight, taken in the karaoke place. Enjoy.
[Thursday 22nd November]
Chie decided to come and meet my at my office tonight after I finished work so we could grab a quick dinner there. After that we went for a quick drink at the pub round the corner where people from my office go to on occasion. Then we went back home. That's it really.
[Wednesday 21st November]
The second word in the title is meant to be pronounced with a hard 'g' (not the soft g as in the English word "age"), and is the Japanese word for fried. This was the dish Chie made for dinner tonight. There's a particular kind of soya chunk which so far we've only really seen in Japan (I believe they're actually more like Taiwanese), which Chie rehydrates, coats in this special seasoning and then sautees. I know from a meat-eaters point of view it is hard to imagine anything particularly exciting can come from soya, but trusted me, they are absolutely delicious.
[Tuesday 20th November]
Further to my somewhat disappointing review meeting yesterday, today I actually had a chance to read through all the individual peer reviews that had contributed to my overall assessment. This is the first company I've been at that has had a proper peer review process, and earlier in the year when we were tasked with writing these I have to admit I had found it something of a daunting process - having to write honest feedback about the people you work with on a day-to-day basis is not always easy, especially when they'll be able to read what you wrote, with your name attached to it.
Still, that aside, I found reading the things people had written about me a thoroughly uplifting experience - I guess I really should have gone through this yesterday straight after my official meeting, which would have changed my reaction to the process considerably. I guess there's something of a bias towards the positive - people naturally don't want to write anything too critical out of politness, knowing that you're going to read it and know it was them that wrote it... but even still, the 10 or so people that wrote my reviews seemed to have a lot of good things to say about the work I'd done this year, and that was very encouraging.
So I guess all's well that end's well. Recently I've noticed I've become a lot more money concious than I used to be, and regrettably that part of me did rear its ugly head again, in a somewhat vexed state owing to the fact that I still hadn't heard anything about bonuses, payrises, etc etc... Still, I guess I've just got to keep my nose to the grindstone, forget about that for the time being, and hopefully good things will come to those who wait.
[Monday 19th November]
When I first wrote this entry it was just a title with no body, and this seemed to garner some concerned enquiries from a few people. So I'm now filling it in a couple of weeks hence, with the benefit of hindsight and so on.
The title - review - refers to the fact that I had the official feedback from the annual review process at work today. Or at least, it was the bit where my manager sits down and provides a high level summary. As it happens my manager changed a few months ago, so I actually had a meeting with both my old and new managers at the same time - the former via video conference, and the other was actually in the office.
The general tone was very positive, and yet I left the meeting feeling somewhat dissatisfied. I think part of the problem was that it was so short - my old manager had loads of people reporting to him, so he could only really spend 20 minutes or so with each person. On top of that there was no point at which they said "so how have you found this year?" or anything similar - i.e. I didn't really have any opportunity to air any of my concerns.
Another gripe I had was to do with the bizarre job ladder structure we have at my company. Apparently on joining you are assigned a job level, presumably based on your previous experience and qualifications (although in practice from talking to other people on my team there seemed to be a certain amount of randomness in this). However, to start with this assignment is only tentative - the idea being that at the first major annual review after you join a committee will look at how you've performed and then make a firm decision one way or the other - you might go up or down a level, or alternatively they might decide that the initial judgement was right and then you'll stay where you are. In my case, the committee had decided to defer the decision until the next review cycle, which is apparently a bit of an unusual outcome, and left me feeling a bit like I was floating in limbo. I guess the initial level I'd been assigned did seem a bit on the high side to me, but then all the feedback I'd had was that I am doing a great job. So a bit of a mixed message really - on the one hand they were saying I was doing great and exceeding expectations. It was a glowing review sprinkled with references about how I'd single handedly saved the project from almost certain collapse etc etc... but then on the other hand there was this uncertainty about whether or not I was really up to the level I'd been hired at. Oh well, I suspect it probably doesn't actually matter - these job levels seem to be pretty much meaningless - the level that you're on never really comes up on a day-to-day basis, it doesn't give you any extra power, it doesn't particularly define your role, and seems to have no real bearing on salary either - it seems there are wide overlapping ranges at each level, so somebody on a lower level could quite possibly be earning more money than you. I couldn't help but wonder what the point of it all was. I guess that only added to my frustration with the meeting, that a significant portion of it was taken up with that conversation about levels which, as far as I could tell, was essentially meaningless.
So I guess that was the other thing I was a bit disappointed with - the subject of filthy lucre didn't come up in the meeting at all. In the equivalent meeting at my previous company I'd been told straight off about my bonus, stock award, pay rise and so on. In this meeting though that didn't come up at all. I learned later on that apparently I wouldn't actually find out about the money side of things until next year. I found this a bit frustrating really, when technically the decision has already been made - or at least my annual performance score (or however they rate it) had been determined.
I guess the take home from this is that getting this kind of HR stuff right is actually very difficult, and no company is perfect in that respect. Despite the place where I work being progressive and ground breaking in so many areas of how they treat employees, it seems it is pretty much impossible to do a perfect job of it. Oh well.
[Sunday 18th November]
Chie had found out that Liane Carroll, quite posibly my favourite living jazz performer (well it's a toss up between her and my friend Tanaka-san) was going to be playing at the Royal Opera House, of all places, this afternoon. So we had bought tickets yesterday, and I was rather looking forward to it.
It was a late afternoon performance, and we didn't do much else in the daytime prior to that.
In terms of public transport London seemed to have pretty much ground to a halt today - the Victoria line wasn't running (it often doesn't bother at weekends recently - apparently to do with engineering works), and even the buses seemed to be suffering somewhat. We should probably have got the hint when we saw a total of five buses of the same number we wanted to get on going in the opposite direction before ours turned up. It seems Whitehall was closed, which was causing major delays. Despite having left our flat at 3, for what should have only been a 25 minute journey, we only just got to the Royal Opera House in time for the start of the performance at 4. I'd experienced a similar hold-up on Friday when going to get my haircut, and I think as a result my recent fondness of travelling around London by bus may have dwindled somewhat.
Anyway, the jazz itself was unspoilt by the trials and tribulations of public transport, and I enjoyed it immensely. Liane was performing with a pianist called Brian Kellock, although she did also do a couple of songs by herself at the start. I would love to deliver some flowery prose giving a critique of their performance, but I'm no music journalist, so I struggle to recount just how great it was. It is now the third time I've seen Liane perform, and each time she seems to get more vibrant and animated - this afternoon she was scatting away like some kind of possessed witchdoctor, but as ever punctuating her angelic singing with the occasional quip in her very down to earth speaking voice, as well as the odd break to knock back some wine. In places the combination of her vocals and Brian's piano playing were wild and anarchic, and yet still engaging and melodic - I guess that's what jazz is all about.
Our little trip to jazz heaven finished around 6, which was probably just as well as my stomach was rumbling somewhat. The weather outside was utterly miserable, which did little to enthuse us to wander about a lot in the pursuit of somewhere to eat. So we settled on pretty much the closes place that we knew was good - Abeno Too, the okonomiyaki place near Leiecester Square, which was very good as always. On a whim we also popped into the Ed's Diner next door afterwards for a slice of cheesecake and a chocolate milkshake. You just get these cravings sometimes.
Back at home in the evening, Chie suggested we watch a DVD - and she had recently got a film called Match Point from Love Film. It started out promisingly, but after about half way through it began to drag absolutely appallingly, and that combined with that horrible creeping feeling you get on a Sunday evening that your weekend is rapidly running out, resulted in an excruciating last 30 minutes or so. I guess it did ever so slightly redeem itself with a bit of a twist at the end, but that aside I think I shall be picking the films I choose to watch more carefully from now on!
[Saturday 17th November]
A very good friend of mine (who I won't name, just in case there are other friends of his who happen to read this and he hasn't told yet - it would rather spoil the suprise) phoned me up today on the pretence of being in London for a bit of "shopping", and wondered if I might like to meet up for a drink later. So, naturally, I asked him whereabouts he was going to be doing his shopping, to which he replied Hatton Gardens. What a giveaway. "Oh... that kind of shopping!" I replied. Swiftly I put two and two together, and within moments I was congratulating him.
(For anyone not familiar with London, Hatton Gardens is a road filled with jewellers, where young folk go with a gleam in their eye to buy engagement rings).
So, towards the end of the afternoon, Chie and I headed over to the Whisky Society - conveniently just around the corner from Hatton Gardens - where we waited for my friend and his fiancée to finish their shopping. Once they were done, I invited them over to the club, and as the mood seemed to take us the four of us indulged in a spot of the old Veuve Cliquot, followed by a wee dram each, in the very agreeable surrounds of what is quite possibly my favourite venue in the capital.
Chie had arranged to have dinner with one of her colleagues and her husband, and working on the "the more, the merrier" principle I decided it would be nice to bring my newly engaged friends along too. So the six of us dined at a Turkish restaurant called Kazan, not far from where Chie and I live. Therein we kicked off with some raki and mixed mezze and then moved onto a bottle of Turkish red wine (much to the delight of our waiter it seemed) and our main courses - I don't recall what anyone else had, but I had halloumi kebabs. I'm not sure it was the best Turkish food I'd ever had, but it was lively and I was in a great mood so I didn't particularly care.
In summary a very jolly day out, where the drinks flowed freely, and much merriment was had by all.
[Friday 16th November]
Got the train from South Wales back to London in the morning, and was back in the capital by lunchtime. I thought it might be a nice opportunity to go and meet Chie for lunch in the area around where she works. Actually it's the first time I've been able to do this, as generally speaking whenever I've had a day off Chie has as well, and we've been going somewhere.
Chie works in the City, and I was very much struck by the contrast - not just with the fact that I'd spent the last week out in the sticks, but also the contrast with my own working environment. Mine is very much a jeans and t-shirt sort of company (and I occasionally cast disdainful looks to people who clearly don't get this and turn up for work in "business casual" - agh), but around where Chie works everyone seems to wear smart business type clothes. I can't help but wonder, what actually is the point of that? The company I work for has to be considered among the most successful in the world right now, and yet you'd never catch the founders in suits.
Anywho, we had a nice lunch (although it was a confusingly novelty actually having to pay for lunch for a change) followed by a coffee, before Chie headed back to work. I then went back to the flat to drop off my things, and made an appointment at the hairdresser for later on that afternoon. Didn't do much in the intervening time really - just wiled it away watching telly and generally being quite happy that I had nothing in particular I needed to be doing.
I got my hair cut at 7 by the ever wonderful Tomoko-san, and enjoyed the usual Japanese chat with her. In fact this time I'd even booked my appointment in Japanese (for some reason I find speaking Japanese on the phone particularly intimidating, and so usually chicken out and revert to English). During our little chat I was surprised to learn that Tomoko-san had lived in the same part of Tokyo as us, and went to a lot of the same restaurants we used to - this is no small feat given that Tokyo is pretty much the biggest city in the world, and the number of places to eat is probably in the tens of thousands.
Chie came to meet me at the hairdresser when I'd finished, and we then wandered down the road to Rice Wine Shop to buy some stuff for dinner. We then retired back home and enjoyed a wintery Japanese feast - the centre piece being yudofu (lightly boiled tofu in a seaweed stock), but with many of the usual trimmings like kimchi, umeboshi, and of course Sapporo!
[Thursday 15th November]
In the afternoon today Vera and I were due to get the train back down to South Wales, but rather than just dropping us off at the station, Dad decided we should set out early-ish, and make a bit of a day out of it. So we spent the morning and early afternoon on Anglesey.
I've hardly been to Anglesey proper before, having mostly just passed over the island to get to Holyhead for the ferry to Dublin. Somehow I had got an impression of it as being a rather bland and uninteresting part of Wales (certainly Holyhead feels a bit like a glimpse of the end of the world), but today we saw some really nice parts of the island which changed my mind a bit. First off we went to a place on the East coast called Moelfre which we all agreed was very reminiscent of a Cornish fishing village (and also brought back happy memories of mine and Chie's recent holiday to Islay - particularly Portnahaven).
For lunch we went to Beaumaris, which is also very charming, although I suppose not particularly Welsh (kind of an English colony really).
After our little exploration of the nicer parts of Anglesey it was time to head over to Bangor so Vera and I could get on our train. It was a bit of a long and tedious run - it is always less fun on the way back from somewhere - and was made more so because it was largely in the dark... but still, it served its' purpose, and we were back in Abergavenny in time for a very pleasant meal at Vera and Robin's house.
[Wednesday 14th November]
Another day in North Wales, pretty similar to the previous one. Again the weather was not so great so we just popped out for a short walk, this time to Aberdaron. The tide had just gone out, and left us an expanse of remarkably clean and smooth sand to walk across, with only one other set of footprints ahead of us.
Another of Dad's feasts ensued in the evening, this time some excellent gnocchi in a creamy white wine and garlic sauce. Quite delicious.
[Tuesday 13th November]
Spent the day in North Wales, generally relaxing and not doing anything in particular with Dad, Janie, Vera and of course Yates. We did go out for a brief walk along the beach at Abersoch in the afternoon, but it was pretty cold and windy so none of us were that keen to prolong it. It was that sort of weather that gave you earache if you stayed out in it for too long.
Once back at the house we had more Winter Pimm's and another of Dad's artistic creations for dinner. Not much else to report!
[Monday 12th November]
Chie got on a train back to London this morning, whilst Vera and I were bound for North Wales to spend a few days at my Dad's house. Before heading off I popped into the centre of Abergavenny to buy some warm clothes - a fleece and a scarf - as winter seemed to have arrived very suddenly today, and I'd anticipated it would be even more so up North.
We got on the train at midday, and had a very pleasant and tranquil run up to Bangor, taking in the gentle scenery along the England/Wales border, followed by some nice sea views along the North Wales coast. We arrived in Bangor just before 4, and parked ourselves in a coffee shop and waited for Dad, who then took us back to the house, by way of the frighteningly huge new Tesco just outside of Bangor.
Back at the house we had Pimm's Winter (warmed, with apple juice) as a sort of aperitif, which seemed to be quite popular. Dinner was then entirely vegetarian and rather superb - I know from a meat eater's point of view it is probably hard to accept that the words "lentil bake" and "delicious" belong in the same sentence, but it really was fantastic. Despite being a long term vegetarian I am actually pretty critical of a lot of vegetarian food particularly of the variety that uses lots of pulses and grains, but this was deeply satisfying and tasty, full of umami. Apprently the secret was to soak the lentils in red wine.
[Sunday 11th November]
Spent the day in South Wales. Had a nice quiet morning and early afternoon in Abergavenny with Vera and Robin, and then later on in the afternoon headed over to Chepstow for tea with my cousin Beck, her fiance Dave, and my aunt and uncle. We went the long way round so Chie could get a quick glimpse of Chepstow Castle. Despite having had family live in the area pretty much all my life I'd hardly ever seen the castle, and I was reminded how grand and impressive it is, especially when seen from across the valley as we did.
Beck and Dave had a bit of an announcement to make - they'd chosen a venue and a date for their wedding, next Autumn. It has been a while since we'd had a family wedding - not sure mine and Chie's really counts as no-one was able to make it there - so the last one was actually my brother's, which was ten years ago now (we'd babysitted for them back in September so they could go out and celebrate it). So, as everyone seems to be saying, "that's something to look forward to then"!
[Saturday 10th November]
Today was officially the first day of my week off - what with the weekends either side I had 9 whole days ahead of me without having to worry about work. Well, hopefully.
The plan for the weekend was for me and Chie to get a train to Bath, go and visit the new spa there, then meet up with Vera and Robin who would then take us back to Abergavenny. We were then going to spend two nights there, and Chie would go back to London on Monday, whilst Vera and I would go off to North Wales.
So the main event of today was our visit to Thermae Bath Spa - wherein you can actually bathe in the naturally hot spring water for the first time in almost thirty years. Having visited several onsen in Japan I had got the bug for this sort of thing - the simple pleasure of lounging around in natural hot water, and Bath is hailed as having the only real "hot" springs in the UK. Although following a recent conversation with Dad it transpires it isn't the only geothermal spring in the country - but it appears to be the only one where the water is really hot (i.e. over 40 degrees C), and certainly the only one you can actually bathe in.
As for what it was actually like, well I suppose the new spa complex is all very nice, modern and clean - although at 20 quid for a two hour session you'd expect that really. There were two main pools we could bathe in - one on the ground floor, and one in the roof with a view out over the city. The latter of the two was obviously a bit more interesting, but on the downside it wasn't quite as hot as we'd have hoped - it was a cold day with quite a chilling wind, and the water was just a couple of degree short of that "AHHHHH" factor you get when getting into a hot spring in Japan. I'm not sure if they mix in some cold water, or if this is just natural cooling from the fact it has been out of the spring for a while, but if they could somehow keep it slightly hotter it would make all the difference. There was also a floor with steam rooms on, and they were nicely done. There were four steam rooms, each with different scents, and as Chie charmingly put it one of them was "Frankenstein".
After leaving the spa, we met up with Vera and Robin and went for an early evening stroll around the city, taking in the lights from across the river, and was reminded what an attractive place this is. We then had an early dinner at a little bistro called Tilley's, before heading off back to Abergavenny.
[Friday 9th November]
Today was my last day at work before my week off, and typically I had so many odds and ends to tie up that I didn't really get anything substantial done. In fact this seems to have become the norm recently - I have somehow got my finger in so many pies, and have so many people who need help from me for odd things, that I sometimes feel my job is more like working in a call centre than as a software engineer.
Since starting at this new job, one of the biggest let downs has been a complete failure to cuiltivate anything resembling a social life with the people I work with. I am essentially a foreigner in London and so was relying on the new job as a means to make friends etc. Now that isn't to say that I don't get on with the people I work with - they're mostly very nice people. However, until recently, I only really had daily interaction with a small team in London, and most of those people weren't really interested in doing stuff outside of work with their colleagues - quite reasonably so, some of them live outside of London and have families etc. Recently though our team has expanded and I was optimistic that among these new people I might be able to cultivate the occasional after work pub visit, which I think are so important for winding down and dealing with the stress of working in a job like mine.
Tonight was a bit of a blow to that though - a number of the new people went out, and I apparently wasn't invited. I took this as an excuse to spend the remainder of the evening wallowing in self pity. I sank into a bit of a malaise, and convinced myself that the reason I hadn't made any friends in London was actually just down to me, rather than the situation I was in.
So I went home around 7ish, had a quick dinner with Chie before she headed out for the evening - because she seems to have had no trouble making loads of friends in London - which only served to compound my self pity.
I cheered myself up a bit with a night of telly, and gratifyingly there seems to be plenty of good comedy on a Friday night - I watched QI, a strange thing called Free Agents, a couple of episodes of Father Ted and an episode of Flight of the Conchords. I even managed to fit in a couple of episodes of Heroes.
[Thursday 8th November]
Made a Japanese curry for dinner, and then spent the remainder of the evening trying to plan the complex logistics for my week off. Basically the plan was just to go and spend the week in Wales, however it was complicated by the fact that we wanted to go by way of Bath on the way there, and that I wanted to go to both South and North Wales, and also that Chie could only really come along for the weekend at the start.
None of this would be that much of a problem if the train system in this country had a simple and consistent pricing structure. However, in reality it is fiendishly complicated, and had we just decided to buy tickets on the day for each of the journeys we'd be making we'd end up spending hundreds of pounds. This largely stems from the fact that singles - when bought on the day - are usually almost exactly the same price as a return - a system for which I have never understood the rationale. So in doing a set of journeys like we wanted to, we'd end up being severely stung.
Recently, possibly in response to this insanity, train companies have started offering cheap single tickets if you buy in advance, but with very limited availability on each train (and even more bizarre and unpredictable pricing structures). So planning a trip like this becomes a complex constraint satisfaction problem, and typically seems to lead to hours trawling through the pages of one of the train companies' websites, searching for the cheapest and most convenient way to make your journey.
It's ridiculous really. The upshot is that, I suspect, if you pick a random group of people on a train, the amount they have paid for exactly the same service will vary massively - it is quite concievable some people will have paid four or five times as much as other people. Buy a single from Newport to London on the day and it'll set you back a wopping 50 quid (for less than two hours on a train) off peak - even more if you want to go before 9. However, book a few days in advance and you can find fares for as little as 15 quid - and you'll get a reserved seat.
So it seems you're penalised for not booking in advance - but like everything else in train pricing structures, I really don't get the rationale for this. Apparently our railways are already at capacity, so I can't really believe they're going to lay on extra services when demand is high, and equally you can't exactly cancel a train on the day because there will always be people who need to travel at short notice. So how does advance knowledge about capacity actually help the train companies? I certainly can't figure it out. It wouldn't seem so mad if the incentive was only small - say 5 or 10% off - but to make the ticket 1/3rd of the standard price seems crazy.
The whole thing strikes me as very, very broken - and I think they ought to throw away the whole system and start all over again.
[Wednesday 7th November]
Made a sort of pasta bake for dinner - a very rich tomato and olive sauce, with some penne pasta, mixed in with some quorn fillets and green beans, then the whole thing topped with a simple cheese sauce. It came out surprisingly well - Chie seemed to particularly like it.
[Tuesday 6th November]
Well, just in terms of food - for tonight's dinner we started off with Chinese food (crispy fake duck pancakes) and then went on to Japanese food. I'm not quite sure what you call this dish - possibly a kind of oden involving stewed daikon and aburage. I hadn't been previously sure whether or not I liked cooked daikon, but tonight it was quite delicious.
[Monday 5th November]
Was still a bit knackered following the previous week's exertions, so this evening I went for the hugely lazy option of buying a load of precooked food from Marks and Spencer. I ended up going to town a bit and bought a three course meal in there - which came to around 20 quid somewhow... but it was all very nice, and gratifyingly little effort. Our slothful feast included a vegetable moussaka, some chocolate puddings and a very nice bottle of red wine whose name escapes me (possibly a Fleurie?).
[Sunday 4th November]
Today was the last day of Mum's stay in London, and we had decided to have a daytrip down to Guildford to visit my brother and the kids. I had an odd sense of excitement about going somewhere by train with Mum, I don't think we've been on a train anywhere together for years, possibly decades, so I suppose I was filled with nostalgia of childhood holidays (albeit that these were mostly done by car - but nonetheless I was definitely nostalgic about something or other).
Anywho, we got to Guildford around 11, and spent a very pleasant few hours there with Adrian, Liz and the kids. Adrian and Liz also made a rather superb roast meal for us - lamb for the carnivores, and a really great lentil dish for me and Liz.
The kids were adorable and full of beans as always, I on the other hand was definitely flagging towards the end of the afternoon - a six day week had really taken it out of me.
We headed back into London around 4 or 5, and then Chie and I took Mum to St. Pancras where she got back on another train to the Midlands. We then went back to the flat and I attempted to do the absolute minimim possible for the rest of the day, on account of being generally knackered.
[Saturday 3rd November]
Mum went out today to some sort of convention, and Chie had also arranged to go to IKEA with a friend of hers. I on the other hand stayed in and worked.
Towards the end of the afternoon I popped out to go to Hamley's, so I could buy a birthday present for my nephew - it was a bit overdue, but we were plannning to go and visit him the next day. It was very busy in there - my guess was that this was parents taking their kids around to try and get an early indication of what they might want for Christmas. Still, despite the crowds and the inescapable consumerism I still found there was a kind of magic about this place. As a kid growing up in the Midlands during the recession of the 80s this was generally regarded as Mecca - as far as we were concerned it was the biggest toyshop in the universe, and those who had actually been lucky enough to have been there were revered in the playground as blessed pilgrims.
Whilst "in town" I also popped into Rice Wine to buy some things for dinner - it occurred to me we had never actually made Japanese food for my Mum, and I decided tonight was a good opportunity to do so.
So in the evening the three of us stayed in again, and Chie and I industriously prepared sushi for dinner. When we just cook for ourselves we tend to be lazy and just eat temaki style - putting all the bits on the table and just assembling and eating as we go. Tonight though, as we had an honoured guest, we actually made maki and so on, and I was rather pleased with the result.
[Friday 2nd November]
Mum spent the daytime visiting museums and things (and apparently had a lovely time of it) while Chie and I were at work today. In the evening we opted for a quiet night in as all of us were a bit tired. So I just popped out to get some takeaway pizzas from our nearest Pizza Express, which seemed to suit us rather well. Naturally we had a bottle of wine with dinner, and we even followed on with a wee dram - I gave mum a taste of the Port Ellen I had brought back with me from Islay. We stayed up quite late in the end, chatting about family history which as usual was littered with tales of the woes of running a pub.