John Hawkins



Dr John Hawkins

Welcome to my bit of the Maison de Stuff, home to a huge load of pictures, and my daily blog.

My email address is as above - I've put it in an image in a vein attempt to reduce the amount of spam I get.

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Recent Entries:
Saturday, Lots of Pubs etc
Radiators and Diwana
Thanksgiving
After Work Drinks
Light at the End of the Icesave Tunnel
Back at Work
Taking it Easy
British Library
Off Sick
Not Feeling That Great
A Very British Leaving Do
Thai Pink Curry
Antiquarian Bookshop
Korean Food and Sir Frederick Seager Hunt
Researching the History of London Gin
The Mitre and The Society
St. George's Tavern
Curry
Tachninomiya
Dirty Pretty Things
The Day The Kids Came To London
Saturday with Mum
Back to the UK
Last Night in New York
John's Pizzeria
History in the Making
Monday in New York
What a Waste...
Off to New York, New York, America
Night Before the Trip
Expedition Preparations
Pub Therapy and My New Korean Friends
Arguing with the Boss
Monday
Sunday with Junchan
Saturday with Junchan

Saturday, Lots of Pubs etc
[Saturday 29th November]
Chie and I headed into the centre of London in the afternoon, to do a bit of shopping, and with the intention of later on meeting up with our friend Andy.

We also met a colleague of mine in the Jack Horner on Tottenham Court Road to get some spare tickets he had for Monkey: Journey to the West for tomorrow afternoon.

After that Chie and I continued our vague meandering shopping, and I bought myself a new coat. After that we stopped off briefly in the Red Lion, the main reason being it was rather cold and wet outside. This is quite a nice little Sam Smith's pub, tucked away in that little street behind Hamley's. A good one to remember.

Then we headed back to Tottenham Court Road again to meet up with Andy. We started off the evening with a drink at the rather lively Fitzroy Tavern, and from there headed on for dinner at Yoisho on Goodge Street (with a second dinner just for me at Icco, the ridiculously cheap pizza place on Goodge Street, as there wasn't a lot on the menu at Yoisho that was vegetarian). We wound up the evening with a final drink at the One Tun on Goodge Street, apparently a one time regular after work haunt of Andy's.
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Radiators and Diwana
[Friday 28th November]
We've been having problems with our radiators recently - we didn't seem to be able to turn them off, and sometimes it was very hot indeed in the flat. Yesterday somebody came to "fix" them, but we ended up with two radiators which were now permanently off, not quite what we'd wanted. Oh, and one of them was leaking. So we phoned up several times today and suggested something really ought to be done about it, but it didn't look like anything was going to happen until after the weekend.

Feeling somewhat irked by this, we decided to go out for dinner in the evening, partly just for the sake of going somewhere warm. We didn't have any particularly firm ideas in mind, but somehow ended up getting on the Victoria Line to Warren Street, and on arrival there I thought we should probably go and take a look at Drummond Street, which has an interesting enclave of South Indian restaurants, most of which are also entirely vegetarian.

So it was that we gave Diwana a try, and we were very pleased with it indeed. The food was very reasonably priced, whilst also being varied, interesting, and a bit different from bog standard Indian fare. Chie had a dosa for her main course - a sort of big filled pancake, whereas I kept in slightly more conventional territory with a thali, but a very good thali it was too. We were impressed to find mooli (or daikon as we know it) in some of the dishes - that long white raddish. It is widely used in Japanese cuisine, and whilst I was aware it was also used in some parts of Indian, I'd never had it in any Indian food in the UK before. The dal was also very good, as were the poori, and I even enjoyed the little sweet dish you often get in a Thali - it was almost like a lemon cheesecake. Lovely.

So that cheered us up somewhat, and even better still when we got back home later that evening we found the on-duty engineer had been and managed to get our radiators working again, which was great.
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Thanksgiving
[Thursday 27th November]
Today was Thankgiving in the US, which made for a fantastic day at work for me - as all of my US counterparts were on vacation. So I had a whole day with almost no interruptions whatsoever, no end-of-the-day sync up meetings, no awkward emails to deal with. It was great - even the London office was very quiet - I guess we must have more US staff working in London than I at first realised, or maybe a lot of people just decided to work from home for the day, knowing that there wouldn't be any of the usual "swirl" to deal with.

I got absolutely loads done, it was very satisfying indeed. I was in the office before 9AM, and didn't leave until after 9PM, as Chie was out for the evening with people from her office, and I was just getting so much done that I didn't want to lose that momentum. Really great.

A fellow colleague was also around until quite late, and suggested we go and find some dinner somewhere around 9:30ish, as by that time the cafe in the office had long since closed. So we trotted along to nearby Oliveto, had a couple of excellent pizzas (yes, I know, I've been eating too much pizza this week) and a bottle of wine.
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After Work Drinks
[Wednesday 26th November]
Today marked one of my colleague's one year anniversary since joining the company. It's a nice custom at my company that we tend to actually mark these events.

Not many people were free this evening though, so just a small group of us went to the St. George's, which, given this is now the third time I've been there with people from work, I think is now successfully well on the way to being instated as our new default pub.

It was a bit busy there this evening though, so after a while we decided to change venues and instead go the Jugged Hare, a Fuller's pub, which was somewhat quieter.
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Light at the End of the Icesave Tunnel
[Tuesday 25th November]
Was feeling lazy so for dinner I just picked up a couple of pizzas on the way home.

In other news, today I got the all important second email from the FSCS, and in the evening I initiated the transfer. So that hopefully means I'm just a few days away from getting my money back - marking the end of almost two months of financial worry since the notorious Black Tuesday.
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Back at Work
[Monday 24th November]
Was back in the office today, although still wasn't quite feeling 100%, so it wasn't one of my most productive days.

In the evening Chie made an imitation "katsu kare" for dinner. In place of the tonkatsu (pork cutlet) we used a couple of Quorn fillets. That actually seems to work quite well. Accompanied this with some low (0.5%) alcohol beer. All very healthy.
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Taking it Easy
[Sunday 23rd November]
I decided to stay in and take it easy today to try and get completely over my cold before going back to work, and besides, it wasn't a particularly nice day to be out and about. Chie went out for a bit in the afternoon to do some shopping with a friend of hers.

Not much to report really other than that. I made a toad in the hole for dinner, the roast potatoes came out particularly well.

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British Library
[Saturday 22nd November]
By this morning my temperature was pretty much back down to normal, and I think I was probably over the worst of it. I managed to sleep much better last night, at least until about 6:45 in the morning, at which point I woke up and couldn't get back to sleep.

Owing to my recent interest in Seager Evans and Co. I'd been keen to visit the British library. I'd found in their online catalogue they had two relevant publications about the company.

I was initially a bit unsure about leaving the flat today, but apparently you have to be a registered "reader" to use the British library, and the registration office is closed on Sunday. Given that the tube would take us pretty much door to door, and I was fairly sure it would be nice and warm in there, I thought I'd give it a go.

Whilst I'm glad to say I've been there, I found the experience a bit of a disappointment to be honest. The whole thing just seemed very bureaucratic. It's not anything like a typical library where you can just wander in and browse casually through the shelves. One requirement of registration is that you already need to know the particular "shelf marks" of the titles you're looking for, and it seems most books are not out on public display, they have to be ordered. I suppose that's just a practicality given the sheer amount of books they have, but still, how often do people go to a library or bookshop with the intention of borrowing / buying one exact book in mind? It sort of takes the fun out of it somewhat. Moreover there's a deathly silence in the reading rooms that I found quite uncomfortable. It typically takes about an hour for a book to be retrieved from storage, but I found I had to leave the reading room for at least some of that time as (A) it wasn't as though there were other books I could be idly browsing while I was waiting and (B) there was a bit of an unpleasant atmosphere in there.

Anyway, I managed to get one of the two books I was looking for - the other had apparently been "mislaid", and upon enquiring was told there was no realistic prospect of it ever being found. The book that they were actually able to locate had a few interesting bits and piece in it, but most of it I had found on the web already. I'm sure there were probably other books in their collections that would have had relevant information, but how would I ever find them? Their catalogue search is limited to effectively looking for authors or titles, and given that there is no way to just browse by subject area (at least not for the majority of books which were in storage), then all these other potentially valuable sources might just as well be mislaid as well. It seems a shame really.

Back at home in the evening I made spaghetti bolognese (a vegetarian version thereof, of course) for dinner, and watched a load of mostly fairly crappy TV.
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Off Sick
[Friday 21st November]
Given the awful night I'd had, when it came to this morning there was no real question about going into work.

I actually managed to get some sleep between about 9AM and 1PM, by which time my temperature had come down a bit. I had another nap a bit later on in the afternoon. Inbetween bouts of sleep I had the usual excitement of being off sick of being able to watch daytime TV. Hmmm.

I didn't have any appetite in the daytime, but by the time the evening came I more or less felt like eating. I instructed Chie to get tomato soup, macaroni cheese and lots of orange juice, as these were the only things I really fancied. Oh and we had some garlic bread - I guess I vaguely remembered someone mentioning garlic was good for colds.
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Not Feeling That Great
[Thursday 20th November]
I woke up feeling a bit unwell - not, I hasten to add, a hangover of any form (I'd been deliberately quite reserved the previous evening in that respect), but it looks like I'd developed something of a throat cold.

I didn't feel that bad to start off with, so decided to go into work as usual, but my condition deteriorated throughout the day. I was starting to get feverish and couldn't concentrate, I kept making lots of stupid mistakes. Eventually by around 3 o' clock I decided I was potentially doing more harm than good, so decided to just go home.

Had a good old red wine stew for dinner, thinking this sort of hearty food would buck me up, but it didn't seem to make much difference, and I continued to feel worse as the evening wore one.

I think I probably hit the peak of it overnight, I was feverish and spent the whole night unable to get to sleep properly, in that horrible half asleep, slightly delirious state you get in when you have a bad fever. Pretty awful really!
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A Very British Leaving Do
[Wednesday 19th November]
A guy who works on my team was leaving the company this week - going to work for a startup. Whilst Friday would be his last day, it always seems difficult to get people to commit to any kind of post work event on a Friday, so instead it was decided we should go out on Wednesday.

Whilst I wasn't the official organiser, I ended up choosing both of the venues. First, for a few pre-dinner drinks, The St. George's Tavern (all part of my evil plan to install this as our new regular) which again seemed to meet with general approval.

For dinner, I then went out on a bit of a limb and suggested British food - a place called Chimes which I've been to a couple of times now. This too seemed to go down rather well, particularly the fascinating drinks menu, from which we had an interesting mixture - perry, cider, silver birch wine, and finally mead. All in all I was very pleased with it - a bit of a break from the norm, and hopefully a fitting send-off for our departing colleague.

During the course of the evening, I noticed my voice was getting a little hoarse. I initially assumed this was just from having spent the evening speaking constantly, but by the time I got home I realised this was actually the beginnings of a rather unpleasant sore throat.

You'd have hoped the mead would have done something to help prevent that.
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Thai Pink Curry
[Tuesday 18th November]
I felt the urge to cook this evening, so left the office relatively on time, and headed to the supermarket, wherein I bought all the necessary ingredients to make a Thai curry.

I was aiming for a red curry, but it seems the colouring potential of the red curry paste was somewhat overpowered by the coconut milk, and so it ended up more like pink. It was quite nice though. I put a lot of chopped chilli peppers in it, and then when I came to eat it I ended up picking them out of mine and leaving them on the side of the dish - my stomach doesn't seem to be able to process chilli any more.
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Antiquarian Bookshop
[Monday 17th November]
During some of the time I spent yesterday researching Sir Frederick Seager Hunt I discovered that he'd had his caricature drawn for Vanity Fair in 1893. This was quite a famous series of caricatures it seems, and so quite a lot of antiquarian bookshops had these prints for sale. Searching around on the web I found one in particular - Robert Frew in South Kensington had it in stock, and was only a short tube journey from my office.

So at lunchtime today I took the unusual step of actually leaving the office, and headed to South Kensington. After a quick search in the backroom the chap in the shop found the print in question, and rather pleasingly it came with a fairly detailed biogrpahical passage about Sir Frederick (see here or here). It wasnt mounted, so they asked me to pop back in 20 minutes, giving me a good opportunity for a stroll to Knightsbridge and back, and to grab a quick bite to eat for lunch. Upon returned I claimed my prize, and what a fine looking thing it is - drawn by a very talented gent by the name of Leslie Ward.

It was great to get out of the office at lunchtime, especially to then be briefly immersed in such an entirely different world. Must do that more often.

One of my colleagues got a promotion at work today, and so it seemed appropriate to accompany him to the pub for a couple of celebratory drinks. I proposed the St. George's Tavern, which I'd rather enjoyed the other night, everyone was happy to give it a go, and pleasingly it seemed to meet with their approval. I've been trying for some time now to supplant our default regular pub (basically the nearest one to the office) as it is often inexplicably overcrowded, but despite that I find it generally a bit soulless. I am pleased to see there appears to be some initial support for the new proposed venue.

Once back at home I updated the wikipedia article on Sir Frederick with a picture and the biographical passage from Vanity Fair. I felt really rather pleased with the end result.
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Korean Food and Sir Frederick Seager Hunt
[Sunday 16th November]
(If anyone lands on this page having searched for both of the things in the title I'll be quite amazed!)

Spent more time researching Seager Evans, the one time Pimlico based gin distillers. I focused particularly today on Sir Frederick Seager Hunt, who ran the company from the 1870s to pretty much the end of the 19th century, as it turned out he was also an MP, and therefore it was somewhat easier to find out information about him. I added all of my findings to this wikipedia article, and was rather proud of the end result.

I was determine not to spent the entire day indoors though, so in the afternoon Chie and I headed out with the purpose of finding a Korean food shop. We originally considered going to New Malden - London's Korean district - but when we checked the train times it looked like they were doing maintenance on the rails or something. So instead we went to the Korean food shop next to Centre Point, Tottenham Court Road. It was pretty good actually, and made a nice break from the usual Japanese food shops we go to.

In the evening we had, unsurprisingly, kimchi nabe. Very nice.
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Researching the History of London Gin
[Saturday 15th November]
Chie went off to Bicester Village with some of her friends today, and impressively was out for somewhere in the region of 11 hours - even with an hour-and-a-bit's travel at either end, that's still something like 8 hours of solid shopping.

Particularly impressive as she hardly bought anything! Needless to say I was quite relieved that my presence was not required.

I instead had a somewhat lazy day, just slobbing around the flat by myself. Spurred on by a sudden spark of interest in local history from the other night I spent some time researching Seager Evans and Co. Ltd, the company which had once had a gin distillery very close to where I now live. You can see some of the fruits of today's labour in this article although I expanded that bit by bit over the following few days.

It was all very interesting, however at the end of the day I had that standard feeling of guilt that I get at the weekend when I don't leave the flat all day. Oh well.
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The Mitre and The Society
[Friday 14th November]
Chie went off to her Hiroshimakenjinkai thing this evening. I decided to leave her to it again, and instead stayed late at the office to try and finish off a slightly thorny theoretical problem I was wrestling with.

I finally left the office around 8:30, and didn't really feel like going home, so instead I thought I'd go to my favourite part of London - Chancery Lane - and pop into a couple of my usual haunts. I had a quick pint at the Mitre, and spent a short while there soaking up that magical atmosphere, before then heading round the corner for a visit to the Whisky Society. A new bottling list had recently come out, and I was keen to try some of the new bottlings on offer. Rather predctably I started off with two non-Islay malts which were good but didn't quite hit the spot, and then finished off with a Laphroaig which was fantastic. I guess you could say I'm horribly stuck in my ways, but the great thing about the society is that even if I only ever drank Laphroaig, I could probably have a different single cask bottling every time I visited (assuming I only went once every month or two), and even within this highly recognisable malt there is huge variety to be found.
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St. George's Tavern
[Thursday 13th November]
Not a huge amount to report really. Chie came to my office for dinner this evening, for the first time in quite a while. We really ought to do that more often - you certainly can't argue with the price, not to mention the total lack of effort.

There's a pub - the St. George's Tavern, that I've walked past pretty much every day for the last nigh-on-two-years on my way to work, but for some reason or another have never got round to going in. I think when I first moved to London it was somewhat shabby, and even though it has since undergone a refurbishment, I suppose I hadn't ever really got over that initial impression. A couple of weeks ago though, I'd happened to peek through the window on my way past and thought it actually looked more or less OK. So tonight, on my way back to the flat with Chie, seemed like a good opportunity to actually try it out.

It wasn't too bad, surprisingly crowded considering the fairly quiet area it is in, and it being a Thursday night and everything. They even had live music there - well a guy playing a guitar - and whilst it was a bit too loud for my liking I suppose that was on some level a nice touch. I was surprised to read in the blurb on one of the menus that the pub actually dates back to at least 1840, and had some involvement in the whole music hall era.

So anyway, I was moderately pleased with it, and will probably go back again.

Spent the remainder of the evening back at the flat, on the computer. I finally got my travel pages up to date.

After that I spent some time looking at old London maps, and rather wonderfully, looking around the area where I now live, found there used to be a distillery very near here. This sparked a mildly obsessive bout of local history research which would consume much of the next couple of weeks... (See here, here and here for details)
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Curry
[Wednesday 12th November]
I was feeling a bit down in the dumps towards the end of the day at work and didn't really feel like just going home and cooking. I actually went to Sainsbury's on the way back and had a good wander round but couldn't find anything that appealed.

So I went back to the flat, met Chie there, and we decided to go out for curry.

It wasn't a particularly fabulous curry but it sufficed to get me out of my temporary slump.

I guess this is probably just a reaction to settling back into the (wake up / go to work / go home / have dinner / go to sleep / repeat) routine after spending a week away in New York, which, I suppose in hindsight was, in parts at least, actually quite exciting.

Oh well.
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Tachninomiya
[Tuesday 11th November]
Tachninomiya is the Japanese word for a standing bar. This is what Chie set up in our kitchen tonight - she had decided to make okonomiyaki, and given that they're best eaten straight out of the pan, we decided to eat in the kitchen, accompanied of course with some cool refreshing beer.

Not much else to report really - after dinner I got on the computer and did a couple more hours work.
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Dirty Pretty Things
[Monday 10th November]
Was back at work in the London office today. Despite having spent all of last week in continual meetings with everyone else involved in my project, there still seemed to be a lot of meetings today, which struck me as a bit odd, but there you go.

In the evening had sauasage and mash for dinner. It was a particularly successful whisky and onion gravy.

After dinner we watched Dirty Pretty Things, a film about illegal immigrants dragged into the underworld in London. Whilst I suppose it was actually a happy ending, I found the whole thing a bit upsetting - I'm not sure how representative it was but I'm sure there are a lot of people who come to this country and are horribly exploited because of their vulnerable immigration status, and one wonders if they ever really feel it is ultimately worth it given that actually a lot of people have an extremely poor quality of life here.

So I now have a new unrealistic ambition should I ever become fabulously wealthy - to buy an island somewhere, create my own country and then throw open the borders and invite everyone who was having a hard time in their own country to come and live there. Particularly Okwe from Dirty Pretty Things who seemed like a thoroughly nice chap.
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The Day The Kids Came To London
[Sunday 9th November]
Mum's visits to London are usually combined with a daytrip to Guildford to visit Adrian, Liz and the kids down in Guildford. This weekend however, to my pleasant surprise, Adrian and Liz had suggested that they could all come into London instead.

It was the first time my nephews and niece had been to visit where their uncle John and auntie Chie live in London, and whilst there isn't really a huge amount for them to see at our flat, it was really fun to have them here. On arrival we took them for a good run around the gardens (the lawns had a thick covering of leaves which the kids seemed to enjoy), followed by a bite to eat. After lunch we had a play with the remote control helicopter I'd brought back from last trip to Japan (thanks Tanaka-san!) which seemed tobe a big hit with the kids.

We then headed out to take the kids to the Science Museum - fortunately there is a very convenient bus route which takes us pretty much door to door.

We didn't stay long at the Science Museum, but hopefully the kids had a good time there - some of the exhibits were a bit confusing and meaningless, but the space ships and steam trains (include the Puffing Billy and the Rocket) must have been a sure fire hit.

Mum had to the station straight from the Science Museum, and Adrian Liz and the kids headed back not long after that. It seemed to be a lot of work to manage three kids in a bustling city like London, but hopefully they all enjoyed their day out.

Chie and I had a quiet evening back at the flat, catching up on washing etc.

Had ramen for dinner. Mmmmmm.
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Saturday with Mum
[Saturday 8th November]
Mum had a conference to go to in the daytime, which worked out well as I could sleep in late with impunity. I seem to have tricked jetlag on this trip - I slept for a solid 12 hours without even a hint of the usual rude awakening at 4AM.

Chie and I slobbed around the flat for a bit before heading out in the afternoon to do a spot of shopping on King's Road. After a quick look around the market we had a late lunch at the Lebanese restaurant there which was rather nice, and then followed that by a bit more shopping and then a wander around the Saatchi Gallery. I think I have actually come to enjoy visiting art galleries, as long as it is in relatively small doses.

We headed back to the flat towards the end of the afternoon, and met Mum back there.

In the evening we went for dinner at Grumbles, the bistro near where we live, which we'd discovered a few weeks back - I thought it was the sort of place Mum would like. I think it went down quite well. After dinner we crossed the road and went to Chimes for some interesting beverages from their fascinating drinks menu - including silver birch wine, mead, elderflower cordial and gooseberry wine.
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Back to the UK
[Friday 7th November]
So my time in New York had some to an end, and early this morning I was heading to the airport to fly back to the UK.

It was really rather an early start - I had not wanted to get an overnight flight, given that I can never sleep in planes, and it seemed my only other option was one leaving New York at 8AM - which meant I officially had to be in the airport at 6AM - and so to be on the safe side I left my corporate apartment at 5AM, which meant getting up at 4:30 AM.

In fact I'd been on call overnight as the actual oncall engineer was on a plane - and true to form I got pages at 3:30AM. So I didn't really get a whole lot of sleep, all told.

Anyway, I found it pleasingly very easy to find a taxi at 5AM, and was in Newark airport by around 5:30. This I slightly regretted, given that it turned out to be a pretty small airport, and fairly deserted at that time of day - I'm pretty sure I could have arrived at least an hour later and still made it through security etc in plenty of time for my flight. There was pretty much nothing in the way of cafés, shops etc, so I had a rather boring time hanging around waiting for my flight.

I think my flight actually left early in the end - there were so few people on board, and all of them were at the gate a good while ahead of when they needed to be.

On the plane I watched the usual melange of films, most of which were not really that great. Some parts of Kung Fu Panda were mildly entertaining I suppose.

We landed at Heathrow ahead of time - before 8 - and rather superbly Chie had decided to come to the airport to meet me, which was really nice.

Mum had come to stay this weekend, so we headed back to the flat to meet her there, just popping into Marks and Spencer on the way back to pick up something for our dinner. So we then spent the remainder of the evening back at the flat, chatting with Mum, before I went to bed for a very welcome sleep.
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Last Night in New York
[Thursday 6th November]
Today the conference thing wound up - most of the major talks etc had finished by the early afternoon, and a lot of people were already heading home.

My flight was not until the following morning, so I, along with a handful of other people, had one last night in New York.

It wasn't a hugely eventful evening - I didn't really want to stay out too late as I had a very early flight in the morning. So again we meandered in the direction of Greenwich Village, where it seemed all the interesting bars and restaurants were, and found somewhere for dinner. This time it was a sort of Pan-Asian restaurant wherein I had an assortment of vegetarian sushi. It was very nicely presented, but not particularly inspiring taste-wise.

After that, we rounded off the evening with a drink at the Slaughtered Lamb "pub". It was another American attempt to imitate a British pub which reminded me once more what a special and unique institution the genuine British pub really was.
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John's Pizzeria
[Wednesday 5th November]
Another day of meetings and presentations at the New York office today. I actually gave two presentations today, and I think both of them went reasonably well. A lot of people's talks this week were just "show and tell" - pretty much just a simple description of whatever they happened to work on. One of mine today was a lot more purposeful than that, it was bordering on evangelical, intended to inform other people working on the project how to do more effective analysis of some of the interesting data sources we have at our fingertips. It was great to do a talk like that, with a real message to get across, and moreover with the belief that the audience could really do something useful with the information therein.

In the evening there was a company organised event (bowling or some such) but a number of us decided to skip that, and instead just go out for dinner and a few drinks. A few nights ago I had spotted a pizza place in Greenwich village called "John's pizzeria" which somewhat unsurprisingly had stuck in my memory. I'd had a late meeting with a few other people, and given that other others in the group were equally unenamoured with the idea of going bowling, they came along for pizza too. Rather oddly, on arrival at the pizza place, pretty much everyone else on the project was also there - I hadn't discussed with anyone else that I was planning on going there, and it was a fair distance from the office (and New York is hardly short of pizzerias), so that was a bit odd.

Anywho, we had pizza there which was pretty good - I asked some US colleagues how they thought it rated, and they all seemed to think it was pretty good too. New York has something of a reputation for pizza, however whilst I did enjoy it, it was oddly comforting to rather smugly think to myself I'd had better elsewhere - both at Olivetto back in the UK, and of course on my various visits to Italy.

After John's pizzeria a few of us were still in the mood to go for another drink or two, and so we went to a "pub" stlye bar, which was fairly average, followed by a return visit to the rather nice Japanese izakaya place I had found on my first night in New York. Having been there twice it is now officially my regular haunt in the big apple.
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History in the Making
[Tuesday 4th November]
Another day in the New York office in the daytime. Lots of meetings and presentations today, another nice lunch, but other than that nothing of any real significance when compared with the evening's events.

It was a sheer coincidence that I'd ended up in the US for the week of the presidential election, and I have to admit until today I hadn't really given it a huge amount of thought.

In the daytime no-one really seemed to talk much about it, but as the evening approached it seemed very much to be on everybody's mind.

To start off with I followed a few colleagues on their quest to find a good bar in which to watch the proceedings, however, after a quick drink at the dive bar near the office we'd been to the previous day, it was mutually decided that this was probably not the best venue. A large group of people gathered in one of the corporate apartments we were all staying in, but somehow I wasn't satisfied with this either.

So I was rather pleased when a colleague from the London office suggested we should actually just go to the centre of the action - Times Square - and witness history unfolding from there. So off we went.

We arrived some time around 10, initially fearing it may have already been all over, but fortunately there was still a good hour or two of it to go from then.

I hope it doesn't sound like too much of a literary cop out, but it is hard to put into words what the atmosphere was like on that amazing night in Times Square. The sense of excitement, optimism, jubilation and just sheer elation was so palpable. Being New York I'm pretty sure everyone in the crowd was an Obama supporter (if they weren't they were wisely keeping very quiet about it), and they were all making that fact very well known indeed - chanting, cheering, even singing - he sure is a popular guy in New York.

It was fairly tense to start with though - when we arrived in Times Square Obama was already well in the lead, but a number of states hadn't yet declared - most significantly Florida.

I may very well be over exaggerating here, but I think I actually announced to New York that Obama had won. There were several screens surrounding the square, but no actual audio, and so with everything that was going on it was hard to get an absolutely clear picture of the current status (particularly as the screens were for different news networks which had conflicting numbers). Following a series of gains for Obama, each followed by loud cheers, the crowd had actually fallen fairly quiet at one point, and then I noticed the number on one of the screens had suddenly shot up to 274 - which I think put Obama over the number of seats he needed to win. I fairly quietly pointed this out to my Australian colleague, and the people standing around us heard this and started shouting about it - this rippled outwards and a few seconds later the whole square was screaming.

I think this may have actually been a projected result - it wasn't until a few minutes later that the networks actually declared it, but it didn't seem to matter - the cheering basically didn't stop from that point on.

Here's one of the videos I took:



Click here for some more.

It was an amazing experience, I feel so fortunate to have been there for such a historical moment. I really don't think I'd be overdoing it by saying the whole world changed that evening.
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Monday in New York
[Monday 3rd November]
First day in the office of my week's business trip to New York. The main kind of conference thing wasn't starting until tomorrow though, so today I mainly concerned myself with writing my presentations etc.

The few of us that had arrived a day early didn't have any proper desks assigned or anything. I spent the day sat on an assortment of stools, tables, flimsy plastic chairs, and even a toilet (it wasn't plumbed in I hasten to add).

I'm pleased to report the food is quite good at the New York office - I'm not even sure what I ate at lunchtime, it was a bit of an odd selection of things, but really quite nice nonetheless.

In the evening there was a brief outing with the sales team (who are mostly based in New York) organised, at their local dive bar. I wasn't really very much in the mood for it though. Afterwards I went for what seemed like an endless walk through the streets of New York with another couple of colleagues trying to find another bar to go to, and eventually ended up in another dive bar which was pretty similar to the first place. I distinctly remember realising what a great thing pubs are back in the UK.
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What a Waste...
[Sunday 2nd November]
I'd arrived in New York yesterday, and given that I would be flying back on Friday, and spending all the week days stuck in the office, today was to have been my only day to do a bit of sightseeing.

Unfortunately that never really materialised. I'm not sure I really had that much last night, but I did end up feeling distinctly unwell today, and a combination of that plus a bit of jetlag, plus a general lack of any idea where I wanted to go, meant I ended up confining myself to the apartment for most of the daytime today.

I did venture out briefly in the morning - or early afternoon I should say - for a spot of breakfast with my colleague, but I really couldn't stomach it, so soon afterwards crawled back to my apartment and locked myself in for the remainder of the afternoon. I passed the time in a semi-concious haze, intermittently watching the Monty Python DVDs I had brought with me when I felt up to it.

The evening was something of an improvement. When I finally emerged from my afternoon's hibernation I discovered I was sharing my apartment with another person who works on my project, and is based in California. I hadn't met her before, but she seemed very nice - and as she was also at a loose end this evening we decided to go out and find dinner together. So along with my London based colleague from the previous evening's shenanigans the three of us went for an altogether more reserved evening out - a quiet dinner at a vegetarian restaurant called Counter. I was very pleased indeed that both of my non-vegetarian dining companions were keen to try this place without me even having suggested it.

The food was very good indeed. I started with some gnocchi, then followed with a very hearty (and frankly quite British in style) main course, a sort of lentil cake served with spinach, mashed potatoes, and a mushroom gravy. Very satisfying indeed. Even my non-vegetarian colleagues seemed to really enjoy their meals.

Oh, and I steered very clear of the booze, but was very intrigued by their $695 cocktail (no I haven't missed out a decimal point there) which contained Iridium.

So, I do feel a bit guilty about wasting the daytime like that, but then it was a business trip after all - I wasn't there to have fun, and with a busy week ahead of me staying in and getting plenty of rest was probably the right thing to do.
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Off to New York, New York, America
[Saturday 1st November]
Both Chie and I headed out from the flat this morning, both heading for different airports bound for different countries - I was going to New York for a week's business trip, and Chie had decided to go and spend a few nights in France with our friend Junchan.

I actually cut it a bit fine - my flight was at 2, but I didn't leave the flat until after 11. Luckily I can get from the door of my flat to the check-in desks at Heathrow in just under an hour, and there weren't particularly long queues when I got to the airport.

As someone who utterly hates flying, I am never willing to say it was a good flight, but I suppose relatively speaking it wasn't too bad either. It was a bit bumpy, and a bit tedious in places (the movie selection wasn't particularly riveting), but thankfully it was a bit shorter than the sort of flights I'm used to - around 8 hours rather than the usual around 11 hours for San Francisco or Japan. Cutting those few hours off did seem to make a difference.

I arrived in New York some time around 6 o' clock in the evening local time, by which time it was already pretty much dark. I wasn't overly keen on the idea of getting a taxi - even though I was on expenses it seemed an unnecessary extravagance. So instead I got on a bus. It waited around a long time before going anywhere, and then seemed to take an age to get into Manhattan (the traffic was pretty bad). I then had a fair old walk from the buss station (Port Authority?) to where my apartment for the week was going to be, so it was about 8 o' clock by the time I finally checked in.

I got in touch with a colleague who was staying at the same place, and fortunately he hadn't eaten dinner yet, so the two of us decided to go out for the evening.

We wandered down to Greenwich Village and started off the evening at a Mexican restaurant which wasn't all that great, but was at least filling.

Next up we decided to wander around and find a nice bar. By chance we happened upon a Japanese izakaya style place called Rockmeisha which instantly appealed to me. Therein we had some sake. Two types - the first (Yatsukushima?) was served in traditional masu after which we tried a second - Otokoyama. It was nice to have the opportunity to speak a bit of Japanese with the staff in there.

Finally we made what was in hindsight something of an error of judgement - my colleague said he really fancied a cocktail and I, rather ill advisedly, thought "what a great idea - that's absolutely the right thing to do - there's no way that could be considered a bad idea!=.". So we went to a bar called Cafeteria. I started with a Dry Martini, then had another cocktail which had something to do with pears (I don't really recall that well). The bar staff there were all exceptionally camp, and rather pleasingly our check at the end, in the absence of a table number or a booking name, was simply entitled "Brits".

It was a jolly fun night out, and I had to admit my first impression of New York was of quite a fun place... although it did turn out to have some rather unfortunate consequences for the next day.
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Night Before the Trip
[Friday 31st October]
Skipped the usual end-of-the-week-beer-and-pizza thing today, and actually stayed quite late at the office trying to finish a few things off before the trip.

Other than that not much to report really, spent the rest of the evening in preparing (more mentally than anything else) for tomorrow's business trip to New York. Made a semi-successful pasta dish for dinner, with spinach, fake bacon, olive and tomato sauce and a bit of cheese on top.


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Expedition Preparations
[Thursday 30th October]
Both Chie and I had trips abroad looming; I was going to be going to going to New York for a week from this coming Saturday, and Chie was going to be spending a few days in Switzerland and France while I was away.

So today we both decided we needed to have a night in to catch up on our washing, to ensure we had clean clothes to take on our various trips.

Not much else to report really - just a night in getting ready for our upcoming travels.
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Pub Therapy and My New Korean Friends
[Wednesday 29th October]
When women are feeling down in the dumps they go shopping - this is often referred to as "retail therapy". Men, on the other hand, generally prefer going to the pub and sharing their woes with their fellow drinking companions. I haven't heard an epithet for this behaviour yet, so I shall coin the term here - "pub therapy".

I was still reeling somewhat from the previous day's completely unexpected verbal assault by my manager, and, on Chie's suggestion, determined what I really needed was a chance to chew it over with my peers. So, very kindly, two of the chaps I work with agreed to go to the pub at very short notice at the end of the working day today.

The three of us headed over to the Antelope near Sloane Square, and therein I recounted yesterday's traumatic and frankly bizarre events to my colleagues. This made me feel hugely better about the whole thing, and I am forever indebted to the two chaps in question for indulging me for an hour or so to just get it all off my chest.

Emboldened as a result of this therapy session, I decided we should go and find something to eat, and so the three of us went for a wander. On our way we met three Korean tourists, one of whom asked me directions to the nearest station. It turns out what they were really looking for was a place to eat, so I rattled out my only phrase of Korean: chogoomhegopaiyo (which means "I'm a little bit hungry") and rather wonderfully we ended up inviting them to come and have dinner with us.

Unfortunately most of my favourite places to eat in the area were full up, but I did eventually managed to get us a table at a new Italian-ish restaurant. The food wasn't that marvellous, but we had a fun time getting to know our new found Korean friends.

It was fantastically random, and exactly what I needed to cheer me up after the awful day I'd had yesterday.
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Arguing with the Boss
[Tuesday 28th October]
The only notable event today was a big argument with my boss. We'd always got on extremely well up until now, and yet today for some reason he decided to blow up over something really stupid and trivial about project tracking or some such nonsense.

It really did seem to come out of nowhere, and I'm still not 100% sure what he was really angry about. I did probe a bit further at the time, and the only other thing I could get out of him was that he'd asked me to go on a one day trip to Dublin some time last week, and as I saw it had absolutely no relevance to the project I am paid to work on, I refused. Ironic really - he had actually congratulated me a while back on the way I stay focused on what's most important, and don't let myself get distracted with all the boondogs etc that are so prevalent at my company. Apparently it's a different kettle of fish when there's something outside of my line of work that he wants me to do. Ho, hum.

So, a bit of an upsetting day at work really, but never mind, I'll get over it.
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Monday
[Monday 27th October]
Am writing this nearly two weeks hence and don't really remember anything about today!
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Sunday with Junchan
[Sunday 26th October]
Spent most of the daytime with Junchan, had a fairly lazy morning at the flat, after which we all decided we rather fancied dim sum, however on arrival at our favourite place (Royal China) it was horrendously full there must have been 30 people waiting for a table. So we gave up on that, and instead went for Indian food at a place called Woodlands, which was very good indeed.
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Saturday with Junchan
[Saturday 25th October]
Two things today - first of all, Chie passed her UK citizenship test. I was rather proud of her - it contains a lot of really awkward question which would stump most British people. Chie will have to renew / upgrade her visa at the end of this year, and passing this test was a requirement for that. Fingers crossed that the rest of it will all go smoothly too!

Also, our friend Junchan came to visit us. She is currently on a long working holiday in France, and decided this month to spend a few days in the UK and catch up with some old friends. We met up at High St. Kensington (partly just because that was where Chie's test was held) and went for lunch in the food court part of the big Whole Foods there. We saw Ben Fogle in there.

After lunch we decided to go for a wander around the Victoria and Albert museum, which was rather fascinating - I particularly enjoyed the ironworks collection on one of the upper floors.

We then decided to round off the afternoon we should take afternoon tea at Harrod's - albeit in one of the more casual of their cafés. Still, that was rather nice.

We spent the evening back at the flat - having had a late-ish lunch and afternoon tea the girls didn't want much for dinner, so I just knocked up some interesting salads - one was the classic insalata tricolore (mozzarella, avocado and tomato); the next was a slightly unusual grilled bear, brie and honey salad; and the final one was an autumnal green salad with shredded beetroot, russet apple and some sage derby cheese.
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