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:
Mahjong
Dim Sum and The Queen
Day Off
The Day After Boxing Day
Boxing Day
Christmas Day
Christmas Eve
What's the day before Christmas Eve called?
Menheniot and Wotter
First Day Off
Christmas Curry
Last full day at work before Christmas!
Tuesday
Monday
Dulwich
Family
A Brush With the Law
Entertaining Dignitaries
Cinderella didn't go to the ball, but was left to ponder the Four Noble Truths a bit
Stew
Glum
A Long Diatribe About Complaining and a Short Bit about Cambridge and Ely
Cambridge
Knackered
Gnocchi
Avishays
Tuesday
Pewter Tankards
Sunday
Brighton and Trendy Bars
Working From Home (As Opposed to Not Really Working From Work)
On Being Randomised
Sekara
After Work Beers
Burgers
A Stroll Along The Thames
Jinro Induced Hangover

Mahjong
[Sunday 30th December]
As one of my Christmas presents to Chie I'd got her a Mahjong set, as she'd expressed a vague interest in the game a while back. Unfortunately there were two slight stumbling blocks - (A) neither of us had any idea how to play it and (B) you need four people to play. Fortunately both of these issues were resolved when Mika-san, a friend of Chie's, invited us round to her place today to teach us the basics.

So just after lunchtime we headed off to the other side of Richmond where Mika-san and her husband Byron live (or Zone 20, as Mika-san playfully refereed to it).

It took a while to get warmed up to the point where we were actually ready to play Mahjong, and we passed the intervening time with a few beers and a bit of a play on their Wii.

I'd never played Mahjong before. I recall that Vera had a set, as apparently my Grandfather used to play, but seemingly no-one else in the family knew the rules, and my brother and I used to use the tiles for making domino rallies. So today was my first proper introduction. It turns out to be a lot like several card games (poker, or perhaps whist) - there are kind of suits on the tiles, and you have to build up a hand consisting of several sets, where each set could be a run, or three/four of a kind etc. However, there are a number of charming eccentricities about it that make it interesting in its own right - you start off by building four walls with the tiles which, according to the leaflet that came with the set, are supposed to represent the Great Wall of China. The manner of then dealing out the tiles was particularly obtuse - and given that they'd all been "shuffled" (if that is the right word for it) before building the wall seemed to suggest this was more a ritualistic thing rather than something that actually had any real basis in probability. Anyway, I rather enjoyed it all, something a bit different.

Mika-san prepared a very nice nabe for dinner, and very kindly had made the whole thing vegetarian. It was very tasty indeed.
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Dim Sum and The Queen
[Saturday 29th December]
Chie went out shopping towards the end of the morning, generously leaving me to my own devices. I basically just slobbed around the flat for a couple of hours, tinkered with a couple of things on the computer and attended to the now routine interruptions from work.

Around 2 I headed out to meet up with Chie for Dim Sum, as we'd both rather fancied this for a couple of days. We went to our usual Dim Sum haunt - Royal China on Baker Street, and the food was quite exquisite as always. I also bumped into a bloke from work in there - it is gratifying to discover some of the people I work with have similar tastes.

Following this Chie made an attempt to include me in her shopping activities but I was having none of it - especially as it appeared to be one of those shopping expeditions of the vague and meandering type, without any particular focus on really buying anything. So I declared that I was just going over to Rice Wine to pick up Japanese beer etc, and was then going to go home. To my surprise Chie actually seemed to just accept that (albeit that she cunningly got me to stop off at some other shops for more pointless dithering en route).

Back at the flat, in the evening, we watched The Queen. I have to admit to actually quite enjoying it - I can't deny the fact that I do have a bit of a fascination with the royal family and it was very interesting to have this peek into their private lives, albeit largely fictional of course. I did think they missed a trick though - considering the writers presumably entirely invented all of the dialogue within the royal household, you'd have thought they could have really gone out on a limb. I'd love to have seen our Liz really throwing her weight around: "I am the F*#^ing Queen you know!". Etc.

One can't help but wonder if the Queen has actually seen the film (I would imagine so) and what she thought of it.
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Day Off
[Friday 28th December]
Given that I had finished the year with more holiday than I could carry over, I'd had no choice but to take the days in between Christmas and New Year off work. This suited me quite well though, as with the possible exception of when I was working in Japan I don't think I've ever worked over that period. I'd like to say it meant I'd have a complete break from work for almost two weeks, but the reality thus far is that I've been fighting fires just about every day of my "holiday".

Chie went into work today though, as her holiday year goes from April - April, and she wanted to save some for a trip back to Japan (we're vaguely pencilling it in for some time in March).

So with the exception of a couple of work related interferences, for the first time (in the week I'd so far been off work) I actually had a day without any compulsion to do shopping or entertaining or anything. I did gloriously little - a lot of catching up on sleeping, and a fair bit of slobbing about in front of the telly. I watched The Golden Voyage of Sinbad in the afternoon which I assume I'd seen as a kid, and predictably had lost some of its sparkle in the interim. I was able to forgive the stop-frame animated monsters - it was the best they could do at the time - but it was the rather clunky and awkward script I found to be its' biggest let down. I guess I didn't bother about that so much when I watched it as a youngster.

In the evening, when Chie came back from work we had spaghetti for dinner, and we watched a program called Secret Wilderness: Japan. There's an amusing review of it here. I especially liked it as there was a short sequence filmed at the famous gate in Miyajima where we got married - when I checked jut now the BBC had a video on their site (not sure how long that will remain there) and the Miyajima bit features at about 28:30 onwards.

We also watched The Castle of Cagliostro which I'd recorded off the telly a couple of days prior. It seems there was a whole slew of Miyazaki films on TV over Christmas. It's the first film I'd ever seen one of the Lupin series, and I really rather like it.
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The Day After Boxing Day
[Thursday 27th December]
Today Mum and Keith were heading back up to the Midlands, but before doing so the plan was to go down to Guildford and visit my brother and his family. We would have gone on Boxing Day, but as already noted the trains weren't running.

We arrived at my brother's house around 11, and proceeded to distribute presents amongst the kids. Me and Chie had got them these wooden toys we'd found in Habitat - one a London taxi, one a crane, and one an ambulance. The crane had struck me and Chie as the most interesting one as you could move the crane's arm about and pick things up with it etc - however once the paper had come off the kids immediately elected a favourite - the black cab - and then proceeded to squabble over possession of it. You can never tell!

Chie and I headed back soon after lunch - I was being paged with alerts from work (this had been a pretty much daily occurrence over the festive period) and was feeling generally exhausted. What with rushing to get things done at work before finishing for the year, then rushing around shopping, then entertaining for four days, I was tired out. So we headed back to London, I quickly managed to resolve the problems at work, then spent the rest of the day doing as close to bugger all as physically possible, which was great.
[3 comments]

Boxing Day
[Wednesday 26th December]
So today I was back to racking my brains for something to do to entertain our guests. I'm not sure what Boxing Day traditionally consisted of - I have memories of visiting more relatives and eating leftovers. As already noted though we couldn't easily get to see any relatives today, as we were in London and although my brother is only a short train journey away the trains weren't running today.

We took a look around on the web to see if any museums etc might be open, but they were pretty much all closed. Mum had suggested she'd like to go out for a walk somewhere, and so after some deliberating I decided we ought to head for Primrose Hill, given that it was relatively nice weather and we ought to be able to have a good view out over London.

As an added bonus there's a single bus route that takes us all the way to Primrose Hill from where we live, taking in a lot of sights in central London on the way - and all that for 90p.

On arrival at Chalk Farm (the nearest stop to Primrose Hill) I spotted the Belgo Noord there was open and it occurred to me this would probably suit us all quite well for lunch. They do an express lunch for about six quid (which includes a beer) which is realy good value, and seemed to go down rather well. I couldn't resist the temptation whilst there to indulge in a few more Belgian beers including a particularly fruity Floris Ninkeberry with dessert. Very nice.

After lunch we headed over to Primrose Hill to take in the view. It was particularly clear today, and having spent this year in London I noticed a lot more landmarks than on my previous visits.

Back at the flat in the evening we had the traditional ad hoc meal of leftovers - Chie and I had a Japanese curry (including sprouts!) which went down very well indeed.
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Christmas Day
[Tuesday 25th December]
As noted in yesterday's entry, when entertaining guests over the festive period, in many ways Christmas Day itself is the easiest one to manage - it sort of carries itself with its own momentum. As long as there are presents to open, you cook a reasonable meal and have plenty of booze on hand (as well as the telly to fall back on when there isn't anything else happening) you can't really go wrong.

We didn't get up particularly early (given that the average age of the occupants of my flat this morning was somewhere in the upper 40s this isn't that surprising), and after a simple breakfast we set about opening presents over a bottle of Veuve Cliquot. Presumably this tradition of drinking champagne whilst opening presents is to encourage more animated responses and heartier thankyous.

Despite there only being the four of us we managed to take quite a while over opening our presents, and following that and the usual Christmas morning phonecalls, it was already time to start thinking about cooking.

Duck had been chosen for the meat eaters (which I put Chie in charge of, what with me having neither the knowledge nor the inclination to cook meat properly), as we thought it would be something of a faux pas to give our guests avian flu - and besides, no-one seems to actually like turkey anyway. In addition to this we had all the usual trimmings - roast potatoes, stuffing, roast parsnips, brussel sprouts, red cabbage with port and redcurrants, broad beans, carrots, two different gravies and of course cranberry sauce.

Given that meat was involved cooking took a fair old while, and so we didn't eat until some time after 3 - although I believe that is fairly typical on Christmas Day. I had forgotten that we didn't have a microwave, and that Christmas puddings take an inordinately long time to cook by any other means, so there was a long gap between the main course and dessert, albeit punctuated with a cheese course (I personally prefer to have cheese before dessert rather than after anyway). I went the whole hog and set light to the Christmas pudding (using whisky rather than brandy) - Chie was very concerned about this so it didn't stay alight very long, but I enjoyed this little bit of frivolity nonetheless.

The remainder of the day then passed in that typical Christmas day evening overfed haze. Once the mountain of washing up was done I sat down with a wee dram, feeling rather pleased with myself.
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Christmas Eve
[Monday 24th December]
I had racked my brains for some time trying to work out what I could do to entertain Mum and Keith who were staying with us for a total of four nights over Christmas. Christmas day itself was going to be relatively straightforward - what with opening presents, then a protracted meal, and finally the inevitable slobbing about in front of the telly - I was fairly sure the time would pass. However, for Christmas Eve and Boxing Day I was a lot less confident - there aren't really the same rituals to go through on these days, we didn't have anyone close by we could easily visit (the trains weren't running on Boxing Day so we had to postpone our trip to see my brother until the day after) and just about everything in London seemed to be either closed or was likely to be hideously overcrowded.

Eventually I hit upon the idea of going for a cruise along the Thames. To my relief I found there was at least one of the companies that only closed on Christmas Day itself, and apparently no booking was required, we could just turn up.

So we got on board at Westminster pier around midday, and tootled off down the river in the direction of Greenwich. Not that we had any particular desire to go to Greenwich, but that's just where it seems all the boats go to.

The cruise seemed to be well received by our visiting dignitaries, particularly the commentary which was more like a stand-up routine ("London has many interesting bridges... this isn't one of them", etc). I also made a mental note of several interesting looking riverside pubs which I must go back and visit some time.

Upon arrival in Greenwich I set about trying to find somewhere for lunch, and quite by chance stumbled across a nice little pub conveniently located at the corner of a market, which seemed to suit all of us - Keith and I could sit in the pub with a pint whilst Mum went and wandered round the market a bit. We had lunch there, which was quite nice albeit that the vegetarian option - a goats' cheese salad - fell into the standard "you're vegetarian? oh you must be a woman with a small appetite then." school of catering.

Although the boat trip had been interesting, the general consensus seemed to be that for the sake of variety we should go back by land instead, so we got the DLR to Canary Wharf, and then the tube from there. I suppose this worked out quite well - although it is basically just office blocks, Canary Wharf is still something of a sight to behold, more like Tokyo than London in a sense.

Back at home in the evening we had a simple Christmas Eve supper, with baked potatoes and a cheese board.
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What's the day before Christmas Eve called?
[Sunday 23rd December]
Today was pretty much yet another day of shopping in the daytime. Having concentrated mainly on presents the previous two days, today was more focused on food. We ended up going to a total of three supermarkets - Marks and Spencer, Waitrose and Sainsbury's - because I wanted slightly different things from each one.

By 4 we were back at the flat, with bulging cupboards and a well packed fridge, waiting for Mum and Keith to arrive, who were going to be staying with us over Christmas.

In the evening the four of us went out for dinner at the tapas place just round the corner from our flat. I'd expected it to be busy for some reason, but there was hardly anyone in there. Still, the food and wine was good (as usual) nonetheless.
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Menheniot and Wotter
[Saturday 22nd December]
Another day of Christmas shopping, a lot like the previous one, but this time with Chie in tow as well. We concentrated mainly on King's Road, thinking it might be a bit quieter than Regent Street etc. This did seem to pay off to a certain extent - it was fairly quiet - although we didn't seem to actually get as many things as I'd hoped for.

To that end, a new Meaning of Liff term occurred to me today, which I shall dub Menheniot - it's the feeling of despair you get when Christmas shopping that you've been wandering around for a couple of hours and haven't actually managed to find a present for anyone yet. Having also gone out and attempted to do Christmas shopping yesterday - not entirely successfully - I've had something of a double Menheniot.

A related term to this is Wotter (vb.) - the act of reducing your initial expectations of how much of your Christmas shopping you'll actually get done as a result of a bout of Menheniot.

Together they form a bit of social observation around Christmas time that sadly never made it into the final draft of Pride and Prejudice:

It has come to my attention of late, that, not withstanding one's best intentions, the occurrence of Menheniot is wont to induce some degree of Wottering, in even the most genteel among society.

Still, I think by the time we left King's Road we had covered the bare minimum of Christmas presents. We'd also stopped off for a coffee at one point and I discovered with some degree of guilt that an "espresso con panna" (no doubt an English contrivance, which is apparently an espresso with whipped cream on the top) is actually very nice.

To my surprise, after getting back home we were actually able to muster the enthusiasm to head out again - and this time right into the centre.

We popped to the Apple store where Chie got a present for me (a new laptop bag). We then went on a tour of an assortment of wine and spirit merchants around Soho - as the other Christmas present from Chie was her permission for me to use my own money to buy a very expensive bottle of whisky (!). I wanted to get my hands on one of the official Port Ellen bottlings - up until now I had only had Port Ellens from the independent bottlers. Diageo, the company which owns the closed distillery and all of its remaining stock, have been producing an official release each year for the past seven years, with prices always North of a hundred quid. Until now I had never quite been able to bring myself to cross that hundred pound barrier - especially as some of the independent bottler's Port Ellens were less than that and of very good quality (well, at least the Douglas Laing bottles were). However, having worked bloody hard this year, and made a fair amount of cash as a result, I could see no reason why not to squander a bit of it in this way. So I settled on a bottle of the 7th release - at £140 it is by far the most I've ever spent on a bottle of whisky.

We also popped to Rice Wine shop before heading back and bought the usual tofu / kimchi / beer / etc so that we could have Japanese food for dinner when we got back home.
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First Day Off
[Friday 21st December]
At the start of this week it had occurred to me I had five days holiday I had to use before the end of the year, and counting back all the working days left until the end of the year meant that I had to take today off whether I wanted to or not.

In the morning, slightly hungover, I decided to make a start on my Christmas shopping. The crowds in the centre of London weren't actually as bad as I thought they might have been - I guess there were still three shopping days after today. I managed to get a few things - all of which seemed to be in big, bulky boxes, and then took a break to have lunch at the vegetarian Chinese place I'm rather fond of on Greek Street. After that I decided to just head back to the flat. I was originally planning to drop off my stuff and then head back out to buy more, but predictably once I got back to the flat, the quick sit down turned into an afternoon nap, and before I knew it it was dark and my enthusiasm to do any more shopping had vanished. Still, it was very nice indeed to just have a bit of quiet time to myself, and a proper rest.


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Christmas Curry
[Thursday 20th December]
As a former colleague used to say "It doesn't feel like Christmas until I've had my curry". The company before last that I worked for had a tradition of going for a curry in the week in the run-up to Christmas, and I was pleased to see my current company (or at least my current team) somehow or other coming up with the same idea. Better still this was one of those Christmas curries where you all go at lunchtime, and then don't come back to the office afterwards.

We went to a place called Imli, which does "Indian tapas". That was quite interesting. We then went to a couple of pubs, and then dinner at the Carluccio's near Covent Garden. People had gradually been whittling away throughout the course of the day, until by the end of it there was just me and the guy who was visiting from the US. I took him to the Whisky Society, and despite not being particularly a Scotch fan he seemed quite impressed.
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Last full day at work before Christmas!
[Wednesday 19th December]
What with the Christmas curry scheduled for the next day (which was going to consume the afternoon) and having booked Friday off, today was actually my last full day in the office - and therefore my last full working day of 2007. Hooray!

Was feeling lethargic about cooking, so ordered some Chinese food from Gourmet Oriental which has been quite good in the past. Was also pretty good tonight, although I think the tofu in lemon sauce was a bad choice - it was literally reqular tofu in a thin lemony flavoured liquid. Still, the ho fun with vegetables in black bean sauce was good, as was the hot and sour soup.
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Tuesday
[Tuesday 18th December]
Just like yesterday, I came to writing this entry about a week later, by which time I couldn't remember what I did any more. So again I guess it wasn't particularly interesting..
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Monday
[Monday 17th December]
Start of the last week at work.

I was pretty busy in the next few days following today (what with finishing off at work, and the run-up to Christmas and everything), and so didn't get to updating my blog until some time over Christmas, by which point I could no longer remember what I actually did today! I guess it probably wasn't very interesting then...
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Dulwich
[Sunday 16th December]
Vera and Robin had stayed with us in London the previous evening, and today before they headed back we decided we should go for a bit of a daytrip. Robin suggested Dulwich, and as neither me or Chie had been before (and we didn't have any better ideas!) we went along with that.

Dulwich is a bit like a Hampstead of South London. It has a sort of villagey feel to it. Very pleasant. We had lunch at the cafe in Dulwich Picture Gallery, and then went for a look at some art. I suppose it was quite interesting - there was an exhibition on called "The Age of Enchantment", but it seems that sort of thing struggles to keep my attention for more than half an hour or so. Anyway, it's a bit different I suppose.

Robin drove us back to our flat before they headed off back to South Wales, and on the way back we drove over Westminster Bridge, which was rather nice as it was dark by then and the Houses of Parliament were all lit up.
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Family
[Saturday 15th December]
It was a very family oriented sort of weekend. Vera and Robin (it occurs to me that not everyone who reads this blog necessarily knows me that well, so for those of you in that category they're my Grandmother and Uncle respectively) were coming to the South East for the weekend, for a combined visit to see me and Chie, as well as my brother and his family down in Guildford.

So Chie and I got the train down to Guildford towards the end of the morning. As we'd done previously, to avoid the crowds at Victoria we got on at Vauxhall, and enjoyed a very pleasant cappuccino from the little coffee stand there. We also had a while to wait at Clapham Junction, which oddly I always enjoy, as there is something bizarrely fascinating to me about this station. It has a certain aura about it, and changing there is always a pleasure, in a similar vein to the fact that changing at Crewe is always horrible.

We arrived at Guildford station around 11:30, where we met up with Vera and Robin and then proceeded to my brother's new house - him and his family had just moved into it a few days prior. I have to admit I am somewhat envious of their new kitchen - it is big enough to have a dining table in (in addition to their separate dining room) and has a rather fabulous range style cooker in it.

We had lunch there and then spent a couple of hours with the kids. They seemed very happy indeed with their new home.

Towards the end of the afternoon we headed off, the plan being that Vera and Robin would drive us back into London and stay the night there. It's more or less the first time I've done the journey from Guildford to London by car rather than train, and I found it all quite interesting. Navigation wasn't as tricky as I'd anticipated, and the traffic wasn't too bad either, so by the end of the afternoon we were back at our flat in London.

For dinner we went out to a nearby restaurant called Uno (not to be confused with the Caffe Uno chain) which Chie and I had spotted a few times and thought looked rather swish. All in all we haven't had such a great track record of restaurants near where we live - overall they've tended to be a disappointment more often than not. The place tonight however bucked that trend - I thought the food was of a really decent quality, and it was also quite an interesting and creative menu. I started with a dish of polenta and wild mushrooms, and my main course was a particularly tasty and satisfying porcini ravioli. Some of the best Italian food I've had in London (although thinking about it now I haven't really been to a huge amount of Italian places in London as I've been infected with Lorenzo's snobbery over Italian food outside of Italy and there is so much else on offer in London).

So anyway, a jolly nice day all in all.
[4 comments]

A Brush With the Law
[Friday 14th December]
Whilst regular readers will note I often complain about the sheer banality and drudgery of day-to-day existence, every now and again it is disrupted somewhat, by events which are at least a bit out of the ordinary, albeit not always entirely positive. In this vein, I didn't particularly envisage when I woke up this morning that by 10 o' clock this evening I'd be sitting in a police station in Marylebone, acting as an interpreter for a complete stranger.

Allow me to rewind a bit.

After an uneventful day at work I had decided for once I would actually leave early, concious of the fact I was going to be seeing some of my family at the weekend, and hadn't made a start on my Christmas shopping at all yet. So I headed into the centre of London, went to to good old Fortnum and Mason first, before then heading on to Hamley's. After my first pass of Hamley's I emerged empty handed, and determined I should regroup and try again, but this time with Chie in tow. After some careful consideration we did at least manage to find something nice for my Niece, who has her birthday on Christmas eve.

Having acquired the bare minimum of presents, we were quick to throw in the towel - I find shopping is taxing at the best of times, but on a Friday evening particularly so - and decided to find somewhere to have dinner.

In stark contrast to our usual protracted (and often ultimately fruitless) meanderings in search of an acceptable venue for dining out, tonight Chie suggested a place she'd been to with a friend of hers, and we just went straight there. It was a little sushi restaurant called Yoshino, just off Piccadilly, and I was rather impressed. It looked decidedly upmarket when we arrived, and the chef looked suitably stern and official, however it was actually very reasonably priced - we had a good selection of sushi plus drinks for just over 30 quid. The quality was also really good and despite quite a few non-Japanese customers (I guess that is partly down to the location) the overall feel of the place was very authentically Japanese. Furthermore the waiters were very professional and, best of all, they actually smiled! Staff in some of the Japanese restaurants in London look really miserable, and I always find that a bit of a downer.

So that was all very nice. To follow, Chie suggested we pop along to this monthly event she goes along to where people who come from Hiroshima (but otherwise don't know each other) get together in a pub for a few drinks and a chat. Chie has been a few times now, but until now I've never been with her, and so I felt very privileged to be going along.

When we first got there it didn't look like anyone else was there, but gradually the Hiroshima-jin arrived in dribs and drabs, amid me putting on my best Japanese to introduce myself, which, as is often the way, was followed by a premature assumption that I was fluent.

...and so now we get back to the reason why I ended up in the police station. Around 9 o' clock one of the people at the Hiroshima gathering noticed his bag had gone missing. Initially we just assumed it had got pushed under the table or something, but after a thorough search it was nowhere to be seen. We then started to suspect it had probably been stolen, and so I went and told the manager at the pub as they appeared to have CCTV. After going and checking he said it had actually caught some guy walking out of the pub with the article in question. He was obviously long gone by now - and the chances of getting the bag back were next to none - but at least there was a small chance that the perpetrator might come to justice.

Fortunately there wasn't anything like a wallet or a mobile phone in his bag - just a few books and one of those little electronic dictionaries that lots of Japanese people have, although it was quite a nice bag in itself. So whilst I could see he was quite upset about it - and all the other Hiroshima-jin were quite shocked at the event - I got the impression he was ready to just say "shoganai" (Japanese for "shit happens") and accept it. I on the other hand, was not. I was incensed that some local yob had made off with this very nice Japanese guy's personal belongings, particularly as the thought occurred to me that they may have deliberately targeted our table due to all the Japanese people on it. Moreover I hated to think that this would be a lasting memory about England for all these people, many of whom were just here for a relatively short time. Finally I got the impression that part of his reluctance to do anything about it was that he wasn't very confident in English, and a visit to a police station in a foreign country can be a bit intimidating even if you're fluent in the language.

So I embarked on a mission to take my new Japanese friend to the local police station. On arriving there it appeared he spoke pretty much no English whatsoever, so I ended up acting as an interpreter too. It oddly turned ought to be quite fun in the end (well, for me at least) as the police actually ask some quite detailed questions about the nature of stolen items which were a real challenge to translate.

I don't suppose he'll ever see his bag again, and even with the video it is doubtful the thief will be caught, but if nothing else I would like my new Japanese friend to leave Britain thinking that not all of its' citizens are complete selfish bastards.
[3 comments]

Entertaining Dignitaries
[Thursday 13th December]
The engineering director of the (now quite large) project I work on was over from the US for a few days, starting from today, along another guy who has visited us a few times now. So after the usual meetings and presentations in the daytime we had the typical visiting-dignitary-night-out. A few people from my team came along for a drink or two initially, but it thinned out as the evening progressed, and by the time we decided we should get something to eat there was only me and one other guy from the London office left. Given that he doesn't live in London, the decision fell to me to decide on somewhere to eat. I typically dread this sort of assignment but on this occasion I was quite lucky - I had a flash of inspiration and remembered there was a fairly good tapas place near the office, which seemed to go down very well.
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Cinderella didn't go to the ball, but was left to ponder the Four Noble Truths a bit
[Wednesday 12th December]
Tonight was my company's Christmas party (the one for the whole office, as opposed to the one last week which had been just for the engineers). I ummed and arred right up to the last minute about whether I was going to go or not, but in the end I didn't. I was put off by a number of factors. Firstly it was being held in a nightclub (albeit one which was exclusively booked out for the purpose) so I suspect it wasn't really going to be my sort of thing. Secondly not many people on my team were going. Thirdly it was apparently fancy dress and as always I hadn't got my act together on that front. The final nail in the coffin was that Chie had arranged to go and play bingo (no, that isn't a joke, she really actually did). So I just thought sod it, and decided not to bother.

I stayed quite late at the office, and had a long chat over dinner with my manager about the future of the project, and so on. This turned out to be quite a good opportunity for us to have a one-on-one as he'd just got my annual raise letter and took this chance to hand it over to me. It was quite a good raise I suppose, but somehow I failed to get excited about the whole thing. What actual difference is it going to make? Day-to-day life is still going to be the same, just slightly more will go into a savings account which eventually one day will get suddenly vaporised as a deposit on a hideously overpriced pile of bricks somewhere.

I've noticed I've significantly more money driven over the past year or so, and yet at the same time the act of actually getting more of the stuff has become less fulfilling than ever before. This probably shouldn't be so surprising, there's undoubtedly a vicious circle as regards the acquisition of wealth, whereby the more one is desirous of it, the less one is satisfied by achieving it.

It's only a matter of time before I see through the madness of the modern human condition, and make a dramatic conversion to Buddhism.

After leaving the office I went home and spent the remainder of the evening working on my side project, particularly in light of the fact that the big boss of my main project would be over from the US the following day, and I wanted to have something flashy to show him.
[5 comments]

Stew
[Tuesday 11th December]
As always I'm righting this entry almost a week hence, and so don't remember very much about the day other than the fact I made a stew for dinner, with assorted vegetables, soya chunks, and dumplings. It was ok I suppose, but not one of my best.
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Glum
[Monday 10th December]
Despite the generally upbeat tone that our otherwise dreadful anniversary weekend had taken towards the end, today I went into work feeling somewhat glum. I think this is a common sensation experienced by lots of working people, when it is approaching the end of the year, and you're already past a certain threshold of work related fatigue, but you know you still have a couple of weeks of hard slog to go (not to mention the ordeal of Christmas shopping, etc, still ahead of you).

I knocked up a simple dinner this evening, some vegetarian kiev things, with some sautéed potatoes, broccoli, broad beans, and a parsley sauce. It was actually quite nice.

I then spent most of the remainder of the evening getting my blog up-to-date. As a sort of New Year's resolution at the start of 2004 I determined I was going to write a blog entry for every single day from then on. Although it was actually a bit patchy for the first few months, I have basically stuck to that ever since - for almost four years. Throughout I've tended to be a bit bursty, often leaving it a few days before I go and deal with the backlog. Recently though those delays have been gradually creeping up, and when I do finally cave in and update it I'm finding I often have more than a week to fill in for. I guess this is partly just down to being overworked of late and not really having the energy for it (or anything particularly interesting to write about for that matter).

So I have to admit I'm starting to harbour thoughts of giving up on that one-entry-per-day rule. For the sake of completeness I'll at least try and drag it out until the end of this year, but possibly in the New Year I may have to have a rethink.
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A Long Diatribe About Complaining and a Short Bit about Cambridge and Ely
[Sunday 9th December]
I did something quite extraordinary this morning. I complained.

Considering the price I had paid for the hotel we stayed at in Cambridge, I'd really expected something a bit special. In fact it was one of the most expensive hotel rooms I'd ever paid for. I had really been banking on that to lift an otherwise awful anniversary weekend out of complete failure, and yet all too predictably it had turned out to be an utter disappointment. There wasn't anything significantly wrong with the room, it was just small, drab, a bit grubby around the edges, and just generally very mediocre. Had I only paid half of what I paid I'd have just accepted it and not really given it much thought, but given the actual price I was feeling like I'd been completely ripped off.

Yes, I was feeling very miffed indeed, as though I'd been completely conned by this hotel like I was some kind of idiot tourist. It had been bugging me all of the previous day, and I had gone to sleep seething. When I woke up I still couldn't think of anything else, and breakfast past in a haze of repressed fury at the UK hotel industry.

The day before we'd been browsing some "humorous postcards", a number of which were apparently observations by people from other countries of the more curious aspects of British culture. One in particular had a comic strip of a couple at a restaurant. The woman said her dish was cold and tasteless, the man said his meal was plain inedible. Then the waiter came to their table and asked them if their food was OK and they both said "lovely". I almost cried. No, not tears of laughter, genuine tears of sheer misery and despair. As customers, we must be the most pathetic and downtrodden of nations in the world. We get terrible food, terrible service, horrifically over charged, and yet, because we don't want to make a scene, we never complain.

Emboldened by this, when it came to the time for us to check out of our hotel, I thought I simply cannot let this go. Against all my pathetic British instincts to just go quietly and take one on the chin, I decided this was the time for me to take a stand, in the name of every tourist who has ever been ripped off by those unscrupulous and frankly subhuman hoteliers which blight this otherwise fair country of ours.

I had considered making a big scene in the lobby, but thought in the end it would be much better to call the duty manager, and take them on a little tour of our crappy and hideously overpriced room. I didn't want to be fobbed off by some lackey with no authority to do anything about it, and moreover I thought complaining about the room would be much easier if I could actually point to bits of it while I was moaning.

I was, of course, extremely polite about the whole thing, I didn't lose my temper or get personal about it, but nonetheless I was firm and very determined, and quite simply said that I thought the price they had charged me was completely unjustified, and I was very disappointed indeed.

I really wasn't sure how they'd take it. I was thoroughly expecting to just be fobbed off with some crap about it being "peak season" or "a prime location" and therefore it was basically tough luck. In actual fact though, without specifically saying it out loud, the manager basically seemed to agree with everything I said.

So when it actually came time to check out I was given a fairly sizeable refund. Whilst I guess it is no real skin off the hotel's nose - in terms of the previous evening's Christmas party bookings the amount they refunded me was probably a drop in the ocean - I still felt like I had won a sizeable victory. Not only had I got over my own fear of complaining, but I had sent a very clear message to this hotel that at least some of the paying public simply wasn't going to stand for being ripped off.

It was as though a curse had been lifted.

It wasn't really the actual money I was that bothered about - I'm not too badly off at the moment, thank you very much - but it was the feeling that I'd been conned somehow. I had felt like a complete mug, which had only gone to compound an already somewhat crappy anniversary. By actually having the guts to complain about it, having them acknowledge those complaints, and then getting a decent chunk of my money back, my self esteem had been restored, and we could then get on with trying to enjoy what was left of our weekend.

Part of the motivation for coming to Cambridge is that Chie had wanted to go somewhere we could be on a boat (having had a boat for our wedding reception a year ago, and all that). We'd not quite got round to hiring a punt the day before, so decided we ought to instead do that this morning, before leaving Cambridge.

The weather had actually looked quite good this morning to start with. In fact we even got so far as booking our punt whilst the skies were still relatively blue. However, in the intervening time between buying our tickets (by which point we were committed) and actually getting on the punt, the heavens opened and it absolutely tipped it down.

I guess it wasn't so bad for us - we hired a punt along with a guy to do the actual punting for us, so we were more or less able to shelter from the downpour under a collection of umbrellas. Our boatman, on the other hand, must have got absolutely drenched. Oh well - I left him a decent tip. We only had twenty minutes or so on our punt, but despite (or perhaps because of) the terrible weather it was actually very nice. You just can't get quite the same view of all the colleges by land, and seeing them for the first time like this was quite magical.

After finishing our little trip down the Cam, we decided it was probably a good time to quit while we were ahead, and say goodbye to Cambridge.

However, we didn't head straight back to London. I've had a bit of a fascination with nearby Ely for some time, almost entirely because of one of my favourite London pubs - Ye Olde Mitre. The pub was built as part of the London residence of the bishops of Ely, and given some bizarre legal loopholes was actually considered to be part of Cambridgeshire for some time. From this nugget alone I had formed an opinion that Ely must be quite special.

So we got on a little train from Cambridge bound for Ely, around 10 minutes away. When we arrived it was still pissing it down. We trudged somewhat wearily from the station into the town centre. The cathedral is pretty formidable from the outside, but it wasn't until we got inside (and therefore out of the rain) that I was really struck by it. The effect is heightened by the very modest little doors through which you enter the cathedral. Once inside though it is a vast, cavernous, jaw-drop-inducing expanse. As I've often discussed of late, the word "awesome" is horrendously overused (particularly in the US), but this is one situation where it is utterly appropriate. I'm not normally particularly into ecclesiastical architecture, but on this occasion I was quite literally filled with awe.

We enjoyed a very pleasant light lunch in the refectory there, after which we left Ely cathedral with a sense of deep satisfaction and contentment.

From Ely we wended our way back to London, by way of Cambridge again. We'd obviously picked a time of day to travel when the train system was having its afternoon nap, so we could only get a very slow train back to London, but I didn't mind too much. We wiled away the time reading the copy of the Observer, which we'd got from the hotel.

Back at home in the evening I made a vegetable stew for dinner (the sort of food that seems appropriate in cold, wet weather), and generally enjoyed the sensation of being warm, dry and indoors.
[3 comments]

Cambridge
[Saturday 8th December]
So then, being as it was our wedding anniversary today (we're apparently required to celebrate two a year owing to a technicality of how we got married, and the fact that it seems women want to squeeze out as many of these things as possible) we had decided to go to Cambridge. There wasn't any particular significance to Cambridge, it was just somewhere neither of us had been to before, and we'd been talking about visiting for some time now. Besides that it is less than an hour by train from London, and given that we'd already lost a big chunk of the weekend by not being organised enough to get away Friday evening, that made quite a difference.

It didn't start particularly well. There'd already been a certain degree of tension given the perceived poor planning that had gone into this weekend, and following just missing a train at King's Cross this erupted into a full blown argument on platform nine and three quarters (well, not quite, but close enough).

We spent the train journey broody and simmering. On arrival in Cambridge, around lunchtime, the weather was frankly crap. Cold, wet, and generally miserable. Again,l it didn't bode particularly well.

In an attempt to salvage a potential disaster of an anniversary, I had pushed the boat out when booking the hotel room, and went for the the most expensive room available in what I had assumed to be one of the grandest hotels in Cambridge. This building up of expectations was extremely unwise, as when we checked into our hotel the room was in fact depressingly mediocre, and most of the hotel was overrun by insurance salesman (or some equally banal types) there for their company's Christmas party.

Morale was at something of a low by this point, but despite that we bravely trudged out to see some of Cambridge. The weather was unfailingly awful throughout, but when occasionally we were able to muster a small amount of enthusiasm I suppose the sights were quite appealing. After a general meander we found ourselves walking through the grounds of King's College, which is rather impressive I suppose, and then out the other side we we stumbled upon The Rainbow Cafe. It's a fairly famous vegetarian eatery (I believe Tom has mentioned it a few times), and so despite not being particularly hungry we determined we ought to stop off for a late lunch. Chie had something vaguely Indonesian, and I had a "Latvian potato bake". I can't help but marvel at the way vegetarian cafes are so similar right across the country. They always seem to have the same sort of chairs and tables, the same sort of staff, and of course the same sorts of menus. Still, it was pretty good nonetheless.

Continuing on our aimless wander, we happened upon a pub which is allegedly the oldest in Cambridge - The Pickerel, although I have to admit I wasn't all that impressed. For anyone who knows my extreme snobbishness about pubs, I need only mention that it had a fruit machine. After this we then wandered back to the hotel for a bit of a rest, and to decide what to do with the remainder of the evening.

In the end the plan was somewhat less than ambitious. We took a wander in the direction of a cinema, thinking we might try and wile away the time with a film, but nothing really grabbed our interest. After this we did however stumbled on quite a nice little pub - a placed called St. Radegund's. It was full of character, and we enjoyed a pleasant half an hour or so in there.

By this point we were both a bit tired, and not really in the mood for eating out, so decided to just get a pizza and a bottle of wine and take it back to our mediocre hotel room. The Oddbins we went to for the wine had a very knowledgeable chap, whom to my surprise was actually able to pick me out a vegetarian wine (I only wish I could remember the name) which turned out to be pretty decent.

...and so we passed the remainder of the evening, eating pizza, drinking wine, and feeling generally a bit sorry for ourselves in our very mediocre hotel room.

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Knackered
[Friday 7th December]
The working week seemed to have really taken its' toll on me this week, and by the time the end of the working day came today, I was completely knackered.

The day after today was mine and Chie's wedding anniversary (yes - one year on already) so we'd wanted to go away for the weekend, but couldn't seem to quite make up our mind on what to do. Neither of us seemed to want to commit to any particular plan, so we put it off another day, and decided we'd just go away for Saturday night.

So we didn't really do much this evening. Ordered in a curry for dinner, which was ok I suppose, and generally slobbed around the flat doing as little as possible.
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Gnocchi
[Thursday 6th December]
Chie made gnocchi for dinner, with a blue cheese and spinach sauce. Very nice.

Errr, that's it!
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Avishays
[Wednesday 5th December]
One of the guys was over from our Californian office this week, so as is the custom we decided we ought to take him out this evening. For reasons I don't quite recall, we decided initially that we should head over to the City, with the intention of going to The Counting House, but as it was rather packed there we instead went for our first drink at The Lamb in Leadenhall Market.

There then followed that most unbearable of experiences: a group of people wandering around trying to find (and agree on) somewhere to have dinner. Honestly, this is how I envisage hell, an eternity spent meandering fruitlessly around with a bunch of people, all clearly very frustrated, but trying to be polite, nobody wanting to commit to any one place, and anywhere that may look vaguely acceptable being full (or serving a cuisine that one member of your party is incapable of eating for some reason).

In true Meaning of Liff style, I shall dub this concept Avishays.

As is often the case, eventually one person loses patience and imposes their will on everyone else - and typically whilst the initial reaction of the rest of the group is a hint of thinly veiled annoyance, in actual fact everyone is desperately grateful that they've been offered a way out of that soul destroying agony.

So we went to My Old Dutch in Holborn for dinner. We didn't have any trouble getting a table, despite there being six of us, and the food was rather good.

Afterwards, as we were in the neighbourhood, I couldn't help but propose a final drink in the Cittie of Yorke, and it was of course as great as ever. It is a well observed fact that any conversation with people of a similar age group will eventually devolve into the subject of children's television, and tonight was no exception. What I was particularly impressed with though was the way in which this was still able to work despite having participants from three different continents - North America, Australasia and the UK apparently have quite a lot of the same kid's TV shows.
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Tuesday
[Tuesday 4th December]
One of those midweek days where I can't remember anything that happened at all!
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Pewter Tankards
[Monday 3rd December]
There was a Christmas party tonight, just for the engineers working at my office. There's also going to be another one for the whole office, but the venue sounds a bit dubious so I haven't yet made up my mind whether I'm going or not. Tonight's event was a fairly low key affair - we basically just hired a room at the back of a bar - but it was very nice nonetheless. It was a place called Champagne Charlie's near Embankment, which was I suppose more of a wine bar than a pub. Whilst this does not bode particularly well - and the regular clientèle did look a bit stuffy - it had one unarguable redeeming feature - they served beer in pewter tankards.

To my surprise everybody on my team turned out for the occasion - a pretty rare event in itself - in fact it may actually be the first time this has happened since I started this job. Despite the recent stresses at our office, the mood this evening seemed generally quite upbeat and jubilant, and as far as I could tell a good time was had by all. I certainly really enjoyed it.
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Sunday
[Sunday 2nd December]
Had breakfast with Simon and Vanessa, who had stayed over the previous evening. There's always something comforting about being around people (in this case just one person - Simon) who are more hungover than you are. In fact I didn't really have any hangover to speak of - as a result of the venue I hadn't been particularly enthused to drink a whole lot the previous evening. I guess that's a good thing.

Chie and I didn't do a whole lot the rest of the day after seeing off Simon and Vanessa. We went out to do the usual Sunday afternoon food shopping, including an extended visit to Holland and Barrett. We have one not too far from where we live, and quite often pop in to buy vegetarian foodstuffs. Today we also had a bit of a look in the vitamins section, which I found oddly fascinating. As someone who has only ever bought a tub of multivitamins on one or two occasions in his entire life, I found the vast array of supplements on offer quite astonishing. I guess it's a bit like the modern equivalent of those travelling apothecaries they had in the middle ages, who'd sell tinctures curing all known ills, etc.

Made a particularly superb roast meal in the evening. Everything came out perfectly - crispy roast potatoes and parsnips and Yorkshires with exactly the right texture (I'm not sure I really have adjectives for this, but you just know when you bite into on).
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Brighton and Trendy Bars
[Saturday 1st December]
Quite a busy day today. Chie and I went to Brighton in the daytime so I could finally buy a pair of new shoes. I'm not sure I can remember when I bought the last pair, but I think it was before I started work in Japan (i.e. over two years ago) and I'd worn them pretty much every day since then.

In Brighton we did the usual little stroll along the sea front - although it was pretty cold and windy so we didn't drag this out too much. Still, it always feels good to be by the sea, even if only for a very short time. We had a bit of a wander round the Lanes after that, including a spot of tea in a fairly swish looking place called Havana, partly just to shelter from the rather inclement weather that had set in.

We then got to the task at hand - Vegetarian Shoes. We spent a fair amount of time in there - at least 20 minutes - and I tried on a fair few pairs of shoes before eventually coming to a decision. In fact, in the end I actually bought two pairs, and Chie even got a pair as well. It was actually surprising quite fun going shoe shopping together, something I never thought I'd hear myself say.

The weather was still pretty inclement, so we weren't enthused to hang around in Brighton much longer, and were back on a train to London around 3:30.

In the evening I went out to meet my friends Simon and Vanessa at a bar/club called Sway in the centre of London - a night out to celebrate Vanessa's birthday. Chie was originally going to come along too, but was a bit tired and lacking in enthusiasm following her disappointing Christmas party the previous evening, so decided to give it a miss.

To put it diplomatically, the bar was "not the sort of place I would normally go to". It was really big, split up into lots of rooms spread across several floors. We were in the room called simply "bar" rather than any of the more clubby type areas, but still it seemed to have the obligatory loud music meaning it was very difficult to hear what anyone was saying, especially later on. The clientèle were, again, to put it diplomatically, "not my sort of people". I suspect they all had high paid office jobs in the city, probably in things like marketing and middle management, and I suspect very few of them did anything actually tangible or worthwhile. The drinks were quite hideously priced - to try and brighten my evening up I thought I'd try a cocktail - you know, when in Rome and all that - and a very average Bloody Mary set me back an incredulous £8.80. I don't mind paying a lot for drinks when it is something a bit rare and special - single malts being the obvious example - but this was just ordinary "Big Tom" tomato juice and run-of-the-mill Smirnoff Vodka. I've had the original Bloody Mary at Harry's New York Bar in Paris, into which a lot more effort went, using better quality ingredients, and was a fraction of the price. Oh, and they handed me the change from a tenner back on a little plate, as though they expected a tip! What, as though somehow I didn't think they'd charged me enough yet? If my Mum didn't read this blog you'd be seeing some pretty colourful language now. Again, I don't mind occasionally paying a bit over the odds for drinks if the drink itself is something really top notch, or perhaps the venue is really special... but I really couldn't see what the "value add" of this place was - it was noisy, overcrowded, full of annoying people, and in general just appallingly shite.

By about 10:30 I couldn't really bear it any longer, so decided to make my apologies and leave. Then, in a slightly strange move, I decided as it was only a short walk away I should pop into the Cittie of Yorke before heading home. The two experiences couldn't be more different - the customers at the 'Cittie were just a completely different demographic, the atmosphere was immediately warm and welcoming, a pint and a bug of nuts set me back a meagre £2.50, the decor was spellbinding as always, and there was no crappy music playing - just the pleasant hum of other people's conversations for background.

I guess I'm officially a grumpy old man now then. Surely there must be some modern bars that aren't filled with complete morons, have music at a sensible volume, and decent drinks at sensible prices. I haven't ever met a single person who actually claims to like those conditions - "Yea, it was great, I couldn't hear what anyone was saying" - and yet still bars perpetuate this ludicrous environment, presumably because the less you talk, the more you drink... it pains me to think that people are actually succoured in by that in such large volumes.

Simon and Vanessa had arranged to stay at our flat tonight, and they didn't stay on too much later after me either. Before bedtime Simon and I enjoyed a very old man-ish wee dram and the usual chat about the state of the IT industry, which was so much nicer for the fact I could actually hear what he was saying.
[6 comments]

Working From Home (As Opposed to Not Really Working From Work)
[Friday 30th November]
Four days of solid randomisation (see yesteday's post) was getting a bit too much for me, so today I decided to get a bit of peace and quiet by working from home. It was very relaxing to have a whole day without any interruptions (with the exception of a meeting I was asked to dial into a meeting around lunchtime), and consequently I got a lot done, which was quite gratifying.

Chie had her company Christmas party in the evening. Given that her company is a bit stingy, it was the sort of Christmas party where other halves are not invited. However, it sounds like I didn't miss much. Chie found it very disappointing indeed - those responsible for organising it were presumably the sort of people who'd be incapable of arranging for inebriation to occur in an ale production facility. They apparently spent half the night queuing up outside in the rain, to then get into a venue that was woefully inadequate (three toilets for 600 people), serving wine that was undrinkable and food that was merciful at least in how easy it was to forget. I believe she referred to it as the worst Christmas party she'd ever been to.

So instead I just stayed in, and continued to work on my pet project - a thing I'm doing at work, but pretty much on my own, which I'd love to be able to write about here, but unfortunately can't. People at work are starting to notice it now - I managed to recruit a small team of internal testers this week, which is really quite exciting, and an important step on the road to this possibly becoming a publicly released product one day (which, following the little daydream to it's logical conclusion, will result in a huge bonus with which I'll buy me an Chie and idyllic little home in the country somewhere).
[2 comments]

On Being Randomised
[Thursday 29th November]
The last couple of months have been pretty tough going at work. The team I work on in London has been hovering at around four or five members for most of the year, however, as the project is now ramping up, and given that we've been seen to be doing a pretty good job, the decision was made to expand our small team to more than double its' original size. Whilst in the long run this ought to make my life easier, as there'll be other people to take on some of my responsibilities, in the short term it is actually making my life significantly harder. There's a lot to come up to speed on, and it means, and quite naturally so, that all the new people have a lot of questions, and need a lot of hand-holding before they're ready to take stuff on all alone. I don't begrduge anyone that - we've all been there - but whilst giving support to 1 or 2 people in that situation is fairly manageable on top of my normal work, having to do that for 6 or 7 people makes it really hard for me to get any of my own tasks done at all. They're often quite literally forming a queue at my desk, and I've had days recently where all I do is sort out other people's problems one after another, without any gaps at all to get the actual stuff I'm supposed to be doing done. The common term for this in the industry appears to be "being randomised".

My manager (and his manager) is very aware of the situation, so I suppose it's not too bad in a sense - it's not as though anyone is complaining at me that I'm not getting my own work done. Plus I suppose there is a sense of satisfaction in being able to help out other people... but I do find this kind of work really draining, and there's a sort of sense of frustration about not being able to control what I work on, because I'm basically just at the beck and call of anyone who needs help from me.

Oh well. I suppose they're paying me for it, so I can't really complain. It may be a bit frustrating at times, but it's hardly coal mining.

Given that this was one of those sorts of days, by the end of it I was pretty knackered and feeling decidedly lazy as regards sorting something out for dinner. So for dinner I just picked me and Chie up a couple of pizzas from our nearest Pizza Express on the way home.
[1 comment]

Sekara
[Wednesday 28th November]
Recently our bath had been taking a long time to drain, which meant that when taking a shower you'd end up ankle deep in water, which wasn't so nice. As always I'd been terrible at getting round to phoning up the maintenance people to come and sort this out, and as a result Chie has become somewhat irate with me the previous evening. Given this extra impetus, today I finally managed to get in touch with the maintenance people and get it sorted out, and so to celebrate Chie and I went out for dinner.

OK, actually that wasn't the motivation for eating out at all really, but I just rather like the notion of celebrating an unblocked drain.

We had both fancied a curry for the past couple of days, and decided to try and find somewhere near my office, so Chie could meet me there when I finished work. Chie had taken a look at Time Out earlier in the day, and had settled upon a place called Sekara, which was actually a Sri Lankan restaurant, under the mistaken belief it would be pretty similar to Indian food. Apparently it is the only fully authentic Sri Lankan restaurant in London. I'm not sure I've ever knowingly had Sri Lankan food before, but it turned out to be markedly different from Indian food.

For starters we had vadai (a kind of lentil cake) and some vegetable pancake rolls, both of which were very spicy, and very tasty. Our main courses - a vegetable biriyani and the "Vegetable Koththu Roti" - were if anything a tad bland by comparison with our starters, but certainly very filling. So my overall impression was quite good, and it was definitely nice to have the opportunity to eat a slightly different cuisine - one of the great things about being in London.
[6 comments]

After Work Beers
[Tuesday 27th November]
A monumental occasion today - I was actually asked out for a beer by somebody at work. It turned out it was actually someone or other's birthday, but that didn't lessen the impact of this joyous event. We just went to the pub round the corner from the office, it wasn't anything particularly special, but given that this is only something like the fourth or fifth time this has happened since starting the new job I was really very pleased.

I was actually quite busy at work today, and wasn't really ready to leave the office at the point at which the beery proposition was made, but these things are so rare nowadays that I can't afford to say no, especially as that might lessen the chance of being asked again. On the downside this meant that when I got back home I had to do a bit more work, as there were a couple of things I absolutely had to have finished today. Still, in hindsight I still think it was a price worth paying.
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Burgers
[Monday 26th November]
Not much to report. I'd been craving a burger yesterday, but Chie also had a craving (in her case for bangers and mash) and hers seemed to win over mine. So today we had menu B - burgers. Oh and some soup first. That's it really!
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A Stroll Along The Thames
[Sunday 25th November]
Following the previous day's utter slothfulness, we decided we really ought to get out for a bit of a walk today. So after the usual lazy weekend morning, we set out in the afternoon, for a long purposeless stroll to the West, along the North bank of the Thames. We got about as far as Wandsworth Bridge - about 3 or 4 miles away from where we live - but then started to get bored and hungry and decided we should head back. We got a bus part of the way back - as far as Battersea Park - and then walked the rest of the way from there. Got some rather nice pictures of Battersea power station on the way back.

In the evening we had bangers and mash for dinner, although I say so myself the mash was particularly good. I mixed in some steamed savoy cabbage and some cheese - sort of a colcannon I suppose.
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Jinro Induced Hangover
[Saturday 24th November]
Not surprisingly today was largely overshadowed by a Jinro induced hangover. Whilst the other member of our party the previous evening had shown a little less enthusiasm for the Korean beverage, my friend Gav and I had knocked back rather a lot of the stuff.

Leon and Stew had stayed over at our flat the previous night, and despite going slightly easier on the Jinro neither of them had entirely escaped the inevitable hangover either. It was probably around lunchtime by the time we all surfaced, and after a cup of tea and a bit of a rest (for Leon to gather the strength to get up) we took them to Victoria station, where they both got the train back to Canterbury.

I was somewhat peckish by this point, as one often is when hungover, so we decided to go for a fry-up at a little cafe we'd spotted a couple of times close to our nearest supermarket. We had a fair old wait for our breakfasts to arrive, and as always the vegetarian version was just a subset of the standard version (and the same price) but the portions were really substantial, and all that greasy carbohydratey goodness made me feel much better.

We spent the rest of the day having a complete rest back at the flat, and I did very little whatsoever. We knocked up some fajitas for dinner and I think in the evening we watched Zatoichi (I'm writing this a few days hence, it may actually have been another day when we watched this). A bid bloodthirsty for my tastes, but that aside I rather enjoyed it.
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