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:
Back to Belgravia
Big Family Get Together
Inbetween Day
Boxing Day
Christmas Day
Christmas Eve
Beaufort Arms
To Abergavenny
More Christmas Shopping
Android Phone and Christmas Shopping
Last Working Day of 2008
Okonomiyaki
Sisyphus
Meals for One
Engineering Christmas Drinks
Dodgems and Fortnum and Mason
Ken Tanaka
Chewing the Cud
Stew and Dumplings
Christmas Party
Root Vegetables
Monday in Paris, and a Rant about French Food
Hotel Raphael
Saturday in Paris
Indefinite Leave to Remain
Porkless Pie
Chancery Lane
Tuesday
Money Won't Make You Happy
Monkey: Journey to the Waste

Back to Belgravia
[Monday 29th December 2008]
Chie and I said our goodbyes to Vera, Robin et al, and got the train back to London towards the end of the morning.

We got back home around 2, and after a nice cup of tea and a bit of a rest we decided to go out to do a bit of shopping. It had been lovely to spend the week in Abergvenny, but it was also nice to be back "in town", where everything was on tap. In fact I had an odd hankering to head to Belgravia, and was reminded by a couple of lines from "I went to a Marvellous Party" by Noel Coward:

People's behaviour
Away from Belgravia
Would make you aghast,
So much variety
Watching society
Scampering past...

So we walked to the Waitrose in Belgravia, which made for a charming stroll through the marvellously grand abodes to be found in that neck of the woods.

On the way back I fancied a quick drink, so persuaded Chie to pop into the Nag's Head, which I had first discovered on my Belgravia pub crawl earlier this year. It had been the surprise highlight, and was even more charming than I remember it - they even had open fires there. Well, I assume being in central London they must have been some sort of mock gas fire, but they looked pretty realistic to me.

Back at the flat, by Chie's special request, I made a Thai red (well, sort of orange) curry for dinner.
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Big Family Get Together
[Sunday 28th December 2008]
For assorted reasons it transpired that today was the day when the most members of the family could manage to be in the same place at the same time, so, two days after boxing day we had the biggest family gathering of the Christmas period.

So it was that Dad, Janie, Louise, Ian, Aileen, Adrian, Liz, William, Katie and Daniel all descended on Vera and Robin's house today.

Not much else to say here - go and take a look at the pictures for a fuller account!


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Inbetween Day
[Saturday 27th December 2008]
Today was a fairly quiet sort of a day sandwiched between all the busy family gatherings of the Christmas period. Chie and I went into the centre of Abergavenny in the daytime to do a bit of shopping, then I spent some of the remainder of the afternoon preparing a couple of dishes for tomorrow's family gathering.

In the evening, as a thankyou for inviting him for Christmas, Robert took us all out for dinner at a restaurant near Abergavenny called The Hardwick. The vegetarian options weren't much to write home about, but apparently the rest of the food was very good and there was quite a nice atmosphere there. I got the impression this is where Abergavenny's smart set go to dine.
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Boxing Day
[Friday 26th December 2008]
The plan for boxing day was to go to my Aunt Louise's house. As we were a bit early we decided to go by way of the Wye valley, and stop off for a quick look at Tintern Abbey. I've had a real hankering to go to the Wye Valley recently, unfortunately since Vera moved from Monmouth to Abergavenny we don't really have cause to go there any more - even if we drive to Abergavenny from London it's a bit out of the way. Driving over the old Severn Bridge, then up the Wye Valley, always used to be quite a spectacular way to arrive in South Wales.

I'd love to take Chie on a walk along some of Offa's Dyke - there are some really magical stretches along the Wye Valley between Tintern and Monmouth which feel very other worldly. We didn't really have a good opportunity this week what with all the family visits, and not having our own means of transport with us, however I'm determine to come back in the New Year, maybe when the weather is a bit nicer, and make a point of doing this.

Anyway, I digress, we arrived at Louise's at lunchtime, and were treated to the usual exquisite feast - Louise really is a rather excellent cook. She made a few hot dishes, including some meaty ones I obviously wasn't that interested in, and a vegetable lasagne that went down a treat. There then followed the dessert course(s), where Louise particularly excels - so much so I had to try both desserts on offer. First the lemon pudding which was ridiculously sumptuous, and then Eton Mess which was also quite fabulous. Actually I believe Beck made the latter - it is very reassuring to see Louise's cooking prowess is being passed on!
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Christmas Day
[Thursday 25th December 2008]
It was a fairly quiet Christmas day in Abergavenny - just the five of us - me, Chie, Vera, Robin and Robert. Chie and I got up fairly late, just in time for brunch with the "grown ups". After brunch it was time for a bottle of fizz, and then the obligatory present opening session.

Every year in the run up to Christmas my family (like I assume most other families) goes through this ritual of saying "let's not overdo it this year", "don't spend too much on presents" and so on. Even more so this year several members of my family had made a big deal about being very frugal when it came to buying presents, so Chie and I, not wanting to rock the apple cart, had just got token offerings for everyone. This edict had clearly not made it as far as Robin and Robert (or they just ignored it!), as they rather embarrassingly got us somewhat lavish gifts. Even Vera, one of the main proponents of this supposedly frugal Christmas had splashed out on a very nice hardbook book. I'd like to officially record here that when all this propaganda is spouted again in the run up to Christmas next year, I won't be listening!

There then followed the long slog of making Christmas dinner, which despite having all five of us mucking in seemed to take about four hours. So it was about 4 o' clock in the afternoon by the time we finally sat down to eat. The meat eaters had turkey and ham, and I had a "festive nut roast" which was about as exciting as it sounds (by which I mean not very). Still, all the trimmings were nice, the roast potates, parnsips etc.

Having all stuffed ourselves in the traditional manner for the main course, none of us could manage dessert at the time, so it was getting on for 9 in the evening before we finally got around to having a bit of Christmas pudding. Oh, and some cheese and biscuits. Amazing how you can be completely stuffed at 5 in the afternoon, but still manage to feel peckish again in the evening.
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Christmas Eve
[Wednesday 24th December 2008]
In the daytime Chie and I walked across the meadows in Abergavenny for a bit of last minute shopping at Waitrose - most importantly I wanted to get a decent bottle of whisky to quaff over Christmas. Luckily Waitrose had a fairly respectable selection, and I picked up a very reasonably priced bottle of Laphroaig Cask Strength.

Robert came to stay with us over Christmas, and arrived at Vera and Robin's house towards the end of the afternoon. On Robert's arrival we had a rather splendid tea, including some of the excellent Christmas cake I'd picked up in Fortnum and Mason.

We had a thankfully quite light meal in the evening, concious of the impending onslaught of overeating to come over the next few days. Robin seems to be very fond of tarts. There were a selection of tarts - I think the one I had was something like pear and stilton. Dessert consisted of tarts as well.
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Beaufort Arms
[Tuesday 23rd December 2008]
Fairly quiet in the daytime - I popped into the centre of Abergavenny with Vera so she could go to the hairdresser. Chie wasn't feeling so well though so decided to stay at the house.

I took advantage of this to visit Woolworth's for what I assume will be the last ever time. It would be insincere of me to pretend I was particularly emotional about it - I was never a particularly big fan of Pick n' Mix etc - but it is sort of the end of an era.

In the evening went for dinner at the Beaufort Arms in Raglan. I had quite an inventive vegetarian dish - a savoury profiterole with spinach and wild mushrooms. Very flavoursome, albeit perhaps a tad insubstantial - I was both surprised and a tad irked that I was talked out of having a bowl of chips on the side. Still, with the Christmas eating marathon ahead of us it was probably good to have a fairly light meal for a change.
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To Abergavenny
[Monday 22nd December]
Chie and I got the train to Abergavenny today, as we were going to be staying with Vera and Robin over Christmas. After the usual last minute bout of frantic packing we left the flat around 11, and got the 11:45 from Paddington. Trains don't seem to have nearly enough luggage space, and we had a hard time squeezing it all in, what with having presents to carry and everything, but somehow or other we managed.

We arrived in Abergavenny just after 2, and walked from the station to Vera and Robin's house. I am very pleased to report that Vera is looking much better than she did back in October. We're very lucky!

We spent the remainder of the afternoon chatting with Vera and decorating the Christmas tree, which was a very wholesome sort of activity.

Robin came back from work later on and we all had dinner together. Not much else to report really!
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More Christmas Shopping
[Sunday 21st December]
Started out the afternoon with a very cheap pizza and a coffee at a cafe called ECCO near Channel 4's HQ, which happens to be close to where we live. After that I quickly popped back to the shop to change the SIM card in my new Android phone (was having difficulty sending text messages).

We then did a bit more Christmas shopping today, but this time on King's Road rather than Piccadilly.

In addition to the Christmas shopping we also popped into the Waitrose there to buy things for dinner. We walked back home, and enjoyed the subtle charm of the illuminations along the Pimlico Road.

Was rather proud of the dinner I threw together - started with a tomato and mozzarella salad, then for main course some tomato and cheese ravioli on a bed of cavolo nero, topped with sauteed chanterelles and drizzled with our own home made truffle oil. Very gourmet!
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Android Phone and Christmas Shopping
[Saturday 20th December]
Fittingly I am writing today's entry with my new Android phone, which also means I'll be keeping it short as I'm not yet that adept with the little keyboard.

So, a brief summary of today:

A) Got my hair cut. As always it was somewhat overdue.

B) I got myself a new G1 - the first phone to use Google's Android platform. I am really impressed with it - by far the best web browsing experience I've ever had on a mobile (I.e. really genuinely usable) and all the maps stuff is really impressive.

C) Had a late lunch at a vegetarian restaurant called Tibits. It was a serve yourself buffet place, but rather than the usual guilt inducing eat as much as you can paradigm, you put what you want on on your plate and then pay by weight. All the dishes on offer were very tasty and interesting too.

D) Did some more Christmas shopping, mainly at Fortnum and Mason.
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Last Working Day of 2008
[Friday 19th December]
Having booked a whole two weeks off work over Christmas and New Year, today was my last day at work for 2008.

To my great relief, during the course of the day I think I managed to confirm I had a solid solution to the blighted "Sisyphus Bug" with which I'd been encumbered for most of the last two weeks, helped greatly by the late night exertions the previous day. From a quick straw poll of my team mates it seemed to meet with general approval.

It was about 2 or 3 in the afternoon when I managed to satisfy myself that my solution really did fix the problem, and was valid and defensible, and other than doing a bit of a write-up and helping out my team mates a bit, I pretty much downed tools for the year at that point.

We had the usual beer and pizza thing at 5, and people hung around until 7 when they said their Merry Christmases and Happy New Yearses and then went their merry way. As Chie was out for the evening, and I had no intention of going back to work, I was hoping I might find someone to go to the pub with, but alas everyone just vanished.

Undeterred I went out by myself - started with a quick pint at the Cittie of Yorke, then headed over to the whisky society for a dram or two there. Unlike Monday it was very busy this time round.

So that's it then, the working year is over. I suspect it'll take me a few days to wind down after the stressful couple of weeks I had towards the end. I anticipate I'll probably start to actually relax by around next Tuesday.
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Okonomiyaki
[Thursday 18th December]
Chie had observed that work had been getting me down somewhat the past few days, so endeavoured to provide a change of scenery this evening. So we met up at Oxford Circus after work, and, after a cursory bit of shopping (Chie wanted to buy a new dress for her company's Christmas party the next day) we headed over to Abeno Too for some okonomiyaki.

This made for a good distraction from the stresses of work, and along with the usual kiso mix okonomiyaki (mushrooms, lotus root, garlic and cheese - very good as always) I had some sake, served in a traditional masu, which I enjoyed a huge amount.

Alas though, after leaving the restaurant my thoughts returned to work, and I decided to actually go back to the office for a couple of hours on the way home. Despite it being late, and being slightly the worse for wear for sake I managed to make promising strides on the accursed "Sisyphus Bug" (see yesterday's entry). I left the office around midnight, went back home, and was able to sleep somewhat more soundly with the knowledge that there may actually be light at the end of the tunnel.
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Sisyphus
[Wednesday 17th December]
What with assorted Christmas parties etc, tonight was actually the only night of this week that Chie and I had dinner at home together.

I suppose given that we really should have put a bit more effort in and made something a bit special, but I've been having quite a hard time at work this past couple of weeks, and really couldn't muster up much enthusiasm to cook.

I've been wrestling with a very high profile bug that I'm under pressure to get resolved before the end of the year. It's a bit like the Greek legend of Sisyphus - that guy who was cursed for all eternity to perpetually push a rock up a hill, only to have it roll back down again. It's a very complex bug to do with a large scale statistical system, and it means running hundreds of lengthy and tedious experiments with some small tweaks to the model, only to find the apparent solution is flawed for some reason or other, and it's back to the drawing board again. What's particularly demoralising about the whole thing is that even if I do eventually manage to fix it, that success won't be greeted with a fanfare of applause and celebration, because I'll have just got the system back to doing what it is supposed to do in the first place. It's really all just about saving face, which is somehow a bit difficult to get particularly enthusiastic about.

So that's a long winded way of explaining why dinner wasn't very lavish this evening. We just had some spaghetti, with some Quorn fillet things on the side. I did at least make a salad though.

Found it very hard to take my mind off work for the remainder of the evening - and ended up getting back on the computer after dinner and putting a couple more hours in. This bloody bug is really getting on top of me.
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Meals for One
[Tuesday 16th December]
Tonight was Chie's turn for a work night out, and my turn for a quiet night in by myself. I was disgustingly lazy - had a microwaved vegetable lasagne (which wasn't actually very nice) for dinner with some garlic broad. I think I'm starting to get another cold again, and the garlic seemed to help somehow.

I'd bought these slothful items of sustenance at the supermarket that evening on the way back from work, and it occurred to me what a lonely sensation it is to have a shopping basket containing a meal for one.
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Engineering Christmas Drinks
[Monday 15th December]
Like last year there was a second, lower key work Christmas party just for the engineers. This year I was pleased to discover they'd chosen one of my favourite pubs - The Old Bank of England on Fleet Street. Somehow though I think last year's one had a better atmosphere. Maybe that was just the pewter tankards though.

Towards the end of the evening I managed to persuade a couple of my colleague to accompany me to the whisky society, wherein I enjoyed a Springbank followed by a Clynelish. The place was deserted - we had the whole bar to ourselves. It seems to be very unpredictable - sometimes I go on a Friday night and it is empty, sometimes on a Tuesday night it is full to the brim.
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Dodgems and Fortnum and Mason
[Sunday 14th December]
There were dodgems at my company's Christmas party on Wednesday. This led to something of an altercation with Chie the following day. Apparently she had expressed considerable interest in having a go on the dodgems and I had been somewhat dismissive. Although I don't really recall this discourse myself. Anyway, Chie had left the party a little earlier than I did, and later on I did actually go on the dodgems without her.

In order to pay my dues for this heinous crime I had done a bit of research to try and find some dodgems in London, and this afternoon when we set out from the flat with the aim of going to do some shopping, I took Chie on a "mystery tour" which ended at the "Namco Experience" in County Hall, near the London Eye. It's the sort of place I'd usually give a very wide berth, but desperate times call for desperate measures.

Therein we found the dodgems, and for the relatively reasonable sum of just £2 I was able to buy my way out of Chie's bad books. These were surprisingly violent and aggressive dodgems, lots of head on collisions, every one of which gave us a pretty severe jolt. I was glad of my seatbelt.

It occurred to me part way through that the guy supervising the whole thing probably had some kind of override switch, and from his little control panel could influence the course of all the individuals dodgems - for one thing there was no reverse pedal, and yet when we got stuck in a corner we'd magically get backed out again. Moreover I think Chie was actively trying to avoid the other dogems, and yet occasionally would swerve off course involuntarily and a crash would ensue. The controller was of a somewhat sadistic bent in my opinion, he didn't impose any rules on the proceedings whatsoever, and seemed quietly very satisfied every time there was a high speed collision. It's reassuring to think that in our society, his particular skillset and personality can find a vocation in life.

Still, it was surprisingly quite fun.

From there we headed into the centre for some shopping, on foot, which made for quite a pleasant stroll. There was a bit of a Christmas market on the South Bank, and crossing the Thames on foot is always a pleasure.

We had lunch at Food for Thought, the vegetarian cafe near Covent Garden, which is exactly like vegetarian cafes everywhere - bare wooden tables, tiled floors, whitewashed walls, the same sort of rough and ready presentation of the food, and amicable but mildly flustered staff reminiscent of that Armstrong and Miller sketch - "It's kicking off Pru!".

The main shopping highlight of the shopping expedition was a visit to ever wonderful Fortnum and Mason, which really comes into its own at Christmas time. There were just so many desirable and luxurious things I wanted to buy there, and their presentation is consistently immaculate. We bought quite a lot actually - a Christmas cake, some potted blue cheese, a fantastically presented bottle of Champagne, and so on.

I am developing a real thing for Eau de Nil.

We also went to the new and improved Japan Centre to buy some Japanese food, and when we got back had a typically eclectic mix of Japanese delicacies for dinner.
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Ken Tanaka
[Saturday 13th December]
Aside from a brief foray to the little grocery store in the Square where we live to buy things for breakfast, we didn't leave the flat all day. We both seemed quite content to just slob around the flat all day, wasting time on the Internet.

A lot of my day was lost on YouTube, being entertained by the charmingly funny Ken Tanaka, for example:



...plus I also thoroughly enjoyed this one:


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Chewing the Cud
[Friday 12th December]
Not quite as productive a day as yesterday - I'd found what appeared to be the cause of the thorny bug I was wrestling with, but despite several attempts today I couldn't find a good way to solve it.

At the end of the day I went along to the usual Friday beer-and-pizza thing (although the pizza quality has deteriorated somewhat and I haven't actually had any for several weeks now) with some of the guys from my team.

Unusually, rather than everyone just disappearing and going home after a couple of drinks, one of the guys I worked with was keen to go for another drink elsewhere. So we went to a pub just down the road from the office. We ended up staying there until closing time, and had a long and fairly deep conversation, mostly about his life, and mainly about his ex girlfriend and the astonishingly long time it seems to have taken him to get over her. It was really quite heart wrenching (especially after a few beers) as whilst there is a bit of a dark side to his personality, he's fundamentally a really nice guy, very popular at the office, and I hope no-one would wish on him the three-and-a-bit years of mostly being quite miserable that he's had.

Given that he also grew up abroad, he's something of a stranger to the UK, and as such I feel a sense of responsibility to help him find his feet here. Not that I really know anyone in London either though - and certainly I don't know any women here. Still though, there must be something I can do to help. Poor chap.
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Stew and Dumplings
[Thursday 11th December]
Was quite tired for most of the day following the previous evening's late night, but nonetheless managed to make some significant progress at work on a particularly thorny bug (a bug with multi-million dollar consequences, no less).

In the evening I made a vegetable stew (celeriac again!) with dumplings for dinner. This was really rich and hearty, quite superb.

Err, that's it really.
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Christmas Party
[Wednesday 10th December]
Tonight was my company's Christmas party, held in a big hall in Battersea Park (I think this may have been the same venue my brother went to for the British Academcy Video Games Awards last year).

The party had this "Russian" theme, with Red Square esque decor and circus acts on stage. One of the guys from my team is Russian, and he looked continually perplexed the whole evening - probably much to the same extent as when an Irish person goes into an "Irish pub" in another country.

Still, despite my inclination to be cynical about some of the naffer aspects of it, I shall endeavour to be positive - most of the drinks were paid for, there was food of sorts, and it was a good opportunity to let off some steam with my fellow colleagues.

Chie came along too, but headed off a bit earlier than I did - not long after 10 - whereas I stayed until almost the end, around 1AM. Quite late for a school night! Fortunately it was only a very short taxi ride from there, over the Thames, to where we live.

It occurred to me in the taxi on the way back that I have a "bloke voice". I seem to put this on when talking to taxi drivers, plumbers and other tradesmen, and should I ever accidentally get into a conversation with people who like football. Much like a recent episode of the IT Crowd. I attempt to talk somewhat more gruffly, use less flowery adjectives, and shorter more gruntish sentences.

Conversely I realised I also have a "gentleman voice". This I use when shopping in Fortnum and Mason, taking afternoon tea, or visiting antique shops. In this alter ego I attempt to enunciate very clearly, speak somewhat more softly, use words like "delightful" and "lovely" which I would avoid at all costs in bloke voice. "Cheers" as a substitute for saying thank you is out the window as is "mate" as a general familiar term, and the somewhat gruffly uttered "Alright?" as a greeting.
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Root Vegetables
[Tuesday 9th December]
Partly in retaliation to the awful culinary experience I'd had in Paris over the weekend, this evening I was determined to make something very British for dinner. So I met up with Chie at the supermarket on the way back from work, and bought a selection of interesting root vegetables (including parsnip and celeriac).

I made something akin to a hotpot (a kind of stew with vegetarian mince, topped with sliced potatoes, then baked), with some roasted parsnips, celeriac and carrot on the side. Oh and some tinned broad beans, which weren't very nice - somehow tinned vegetables always taste rather unpleasant. For some reason none of the supermarkets in London have had frozen broad beans at all this year - not sure what it going on there.

So broad beans aside, that was all very nice.
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Monday in Paris, and a Rant about French Food
[Monday 8th December]
Today was our actual wedding anniversary which had been our main reason for going to Paris at the weekend, and we'd both taken today off work to make the most of it.

We somewhat reluctantly checked out of the lovely Hotel Raphael this morning, not before taking a quick peek at the roof terrace which was rather nice.

Our train back to London was at 6PM, leaving us the day to do touristy stuff around Paris. We didn't really get up to much in the end though - the main thing being a boat trip on the Seine. Or two, in fact.

Having had our wedding reception on a boat, Chie has championed this notion whereby each of our wedding anniversaries should also feature a boat somehow. So it was that last year in Cambridge we went punting on the Cam, and this year, being in Paris, a boat trip on the Seine seemed a very obvious choice.

Unfortunately the timing wasn't all that great - we got on the boat around lunchtime, and I was then concious of the fact that most places stop serving lunch at 2, and there was a particular place I had in mind. Fortunately (or perhaps unfortunately) we had chosen the "Batobus" for which you buy a day pass and can then get on and off as much as you want. So after a quick 30 minute trip, we hopped off, and got on the metro.

Knowing that Paris is a very hard place to find vegetarian food, I'd done some research on the web prior to coming this time, and amongst others had found this page about a place called Chez Alexandre, where apparently the chef was somewhat adept at preparing vegetarian meals. I had actually phoned to check before we headed over there, and in hindsight I should have been suspicious then - when asked if they did vegetarian food the woman said something along the lines of "well, we can do...". On arrival there it transpired there was nothing vegetarian on the menu, and they didn't even have any particular vegetarian specialities off the menu either - she just suggested they could put together a "plat aux legumes" (plate of vegetables) with some frites. Given this was the same sort of thing I'd eaten the last two evenings I wasn't really that keen.

I apologise in advance for this next paragraph which is deliberately inflammatory, but culinarily speaking my weekend in Paris was a huge disappointment and I was left quite annoyed. I don't know how France deserves it's reputation for good food. As far as I'm concerned if you're not capable of producing an interesting vegetarian dish, then you're simply not a good cook. Anyone can grill a steak and fry some potatoes, there is no particular skill, talent or creativity in that. Let's face it, meat eaters like meat, and you don't really have to do very much to it at all to make it appealing. A good cook however shouldn't need to rely on a slab of flesh to make a meal. There is a much greater variety of flavours in the vegetable kingdom, and to be ignorant to that shows astonishing naivety as a chef. Equally, to consider that a plate of boiled uninteresting vegetables (with no flavouring and no kind of sauce) is going to be a satisfying meal shows a complete lack of understanding of food.

Other great culinary nations like Italy, China and even Japan are, despite having no vegetarian population, quite capable of producing dishes which are interesting and tasty and just happen to be vegetarian. Why is France so inept in this capacity? I'll tell you why, it's because as chefs they're simply very closed minded and lacking in talent or imagination.

Please feel free to prove me wrong - if on my next trip to France I find even a single decent vegetarian meal I'll happily retract all of the above. However, I'm not particularly hopeful.

So rather downtrodden, we left Chez Alexandre without ordering anything - I think the web page I read had probably got the wrong end of the stick about this place. Instead we went to a place called "Au General La Fayette" down the road, which we'd been to on our previous trip, and I recall did fairly passable mushroom omelettes. I guess that was OK, and was followed by a very respectable coffee. That may have been a redeeming feature of this trip to Paris - whilst the food was awful, the coffee was consistently pretty good.

The remainder of the afternoon wasn't particularly great. Given that we were already near to Gare du Nord and time was running out I wasn't overly keen on going back down to the Seine again, but Chie was determined to make use of the day pass we had for the boat, so we rushed back down there for another 30 minutes along the river. Then we got the metro back to the hotel to pick up our bag, and got a taxi from there to the station. That bit was actually quite fun - the taxi drove past the Arc de Triomphe, over that crazy giant roundabout, which is always entertaining.

It was a longer than usual train journey back to London, owing to speed restrictions in the channel tunnel or something (maybe it was on fire again?), so it ended up taking over three hours. So we got back to London around 8:30, and headed back to the flat for a simple supper of cheese and biscuits.
[3 comments]

Hotel Raphael
[Sunday 7th December]
Spent the day in Paris. See the pictures for a more detailed account!

The main highlight of the day was without a doubt this evening's hotel. If you've seen the Darjeeling Limited, you'll probably have seen the short film that accompanies it called Hotel Chevalier. We'd seen the flm last year and the hotel had rather captured my imagination. So I was rather pleased to discover it was in fact filmed at a real hotel called the Hotel Raphael. I was even more pleased when I discovered they had vacancies for tonight, which would make for a perfect anniversary treat.

There's no escaping the fact it was quite expensive, but despite that we both absolutely loved it. The room was just beautiful - hopefully you can get some idea from the pictures - it was almost certainly the nicest hotel room I've ever stayed in.
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Saturday in Paris
[Saturday 6th December]
Got the Eurostar to Paris this morning, having bought the tickets at the last minute yesterday evening.

See the pictures for a more detailed account!
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Indefinite Leave to Remain
[Friday 5th December]
Today Chie had an appointment at the Home Office for the renewal of her visa. We'd been advised that we'd be better off if I went along as well, so we both took the day off.

Chie had got her curent visa two years ago when we left Japan to come back to live in the UK, and that process had all gone very smoothly. We had no reason to believe the renewal would be problematic, but I at least was still a little anxious in the run up to it.

Anyway, I'm pleased to report it all went fine this morning, they gave us the new visa on the spot in fact, and Chie now has indefinite leave to remain in the UK. Hopefully that means she'll never have to apply for another visa again!

After somewhat elatedly leaving the Home Office, visa in hand, Chie decided she wanted to take advantage of the fact that we were in Croydon, and visit Ikea. There's a tram from East Croydon to Ampere Way, where the Ikea is. That was quite fun (the tram that is). We did a relatively quick whizz round Ikea, as fortunately it wasn't all that busy. Didn't really buy all that much, bearing in mind we'd have to carry it back.

We then got the tram back to East Croydon, and the train from there back into London. We popped back to our flat to drop off the stuff we'd picked up in Ikea, and had a nice cup of tea. Then we headed out again - Mum was in London for the day, and we'd arranged to meet up at St Pancras before she got on her train back to the Midlands.

As we had cause to celebrate we decided to go to the St Pancras Champagne bar. It wasn't quite what we'd expected - it is pretty much on the platform - but still it was quite jolly nonetheless. We had a bottle of Perrier Jouet Rosť and spent an hour or so chatting with Mum, which was very nice.

We waved Mum off around 6, and then Chie and I thought, as it was going to be our wedding anniversary this coming Monday and we were in St Pancras we would try to see if there were any last minute Eurostar tickets available. Moreover we still had an offer of a half price return ticket because our last Eurostar journey had been delayed. Our luck was obviously in - despite having checked about a week ago and got the impression all the trains to Paris were already fully booked this weekend, when we asked at the ticket office we were able to get tickets, and quite reasonably priced at that (although I suppose that was largely down to them being half price). So our weekend plans were sorted out.

For the remainder of the evening Chie went off to the Hiroshimakenjinkai's annual dinner, whereas I decided to just head back home and have a quiet night in, and get ready for our weekend away.
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Porkless Pie
[Thursday 4th December]
Today should have been a big day at work - we launched a major component of the system I work on, which had been a pet project of mine since the summer, and had since come to involve a number of other engineers on the team. It even had a slightly daft name which I had come up with, which everyone else had picked up and started using. It was one of the most significant bits of innovation I had contributed to the project this year and was quite a radical rethink of an important part of our system. Alas though, as seems to be the theme for this week, it was a bit anti-climactic. It pretty much worked fine, albeit with a few initial teething problems, but it was a bit hard to get excited about really. None of the long list of benefits of the new approach were particularly flashy or glamorous things, and fundamentally it just achieves something we were already doing, but in a different (i.e. better) way - and from an external perspective the change would barely be noticeable.

Ho, hum. Maybe it is one of those things we'll only really begin to appreciate over time.

Had an odd sort of a dinner. On a whim I popped into Holland and Barrett on the way back from work and bought a "Porkless Pie" - a vegetarian version of a pork pie, with a soya derived substance for the filling. Neither Chie nor I fancied doing any proper cooking so we just had some salad, bread, cheese, and half of a porkless pie each. It was actually quite nice.

Chie has her visa application interview tomorrow. The spouse visa she got when we came back from Japan was just for 2 years, and apparently after that it is necessary to apply for a different type of visa. So we spent this evening checking through that we had all the correct paperwork etc.

So, fingers crossed for tomorrow.
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Chancery Lane
[Wednesday 3rd December]
Adrian (that's my brother in case you're the other of the two people who reads my blog that isn't my Mother) had his work Christmas party thing on this evening, and as it was being held in London he came to stay the night.

Given that his party was being held on Chancery Lane, which also happens to be my favourite area of London, I thought it might be nice for Chie and I to also go out in that area, so that we could all go back together. As it turned out though Chie and I didn't feel like staying out particularly late in the end, so we headed back to the flat first.

Chie and I started off the evening with a quick dinner at one of those vegan Chinese buffet places, and then from there headed to Ye Old Mitre. The atmosphere in there was quite magical as always - one of the few escapes I had this week from my otherwise currently very banal existence... but it was also really quite busy indeed. It is sufficiently cold at the moment that even ardent smokers don't particularly want to stand outside, which may contribute to it being so full inside. After one quick drink there, we headed over to the Whisky Society, but only had the one drink as well, as that was also very full.

It was fairly late by the time Adrian got back, and we were all quite tired, so we didn't really see much of him. Still, it was nice to say a quick hello nonetheless.
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Tuesday
[Tuesday 2nd December]
Not much to report really - like yesterday I was in a somewhat dreary mood.

Chie made sort of fajitas in the evening for dinner.

My apologies to anyone who has read this very tedious and pointless entry.
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Money Won't Make You Happy
[Monday 1st December]
So, it's December already then. We officially can't complain about the shops being full of Christmas stuff any more.

My Icesave money arrived safely back in my bank account today, which was obviously something of a relief. So that two months of anguish was now officially over.

However, somehow it ended up being a bit of an anti-climax. Getting my money back hasn't made me instantly happy, it turns out. I'm not suddenly rich or anything, and it's all just money that will probably end up evaporating suddenly one day as a deposit on a house. It's kind of hard to get excited about that somehow.

I think I've been heading into another of my malaises of late. At the weekend I felt particularly despondent, and I couldn't even really put my finger on exactly why. I think I probably have that sensation of treading water again - there's no particular goal or objective I'm working towards, and day-to-day life isn't exactly tremendously fun at the moment. I'm in a routine which isn't particularly satisfying or fulfilling and it seems pretty much like it is going to be this from now on for the next 30 years. One is tempted to wonder what the point of it all is.

Well, that was cheery wasn't it?

Made macaroni cheese for dinner, with some stuffed mushrooms on the side. So at least dinner was quite nice.
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Monkey: Journey to the Waste
[Sunday 30th November]
I don't really want to dwell on today's main event too much - going to see Monkey: Journey to the West because it was just really, really awful. When we went in and sat down I was really shocked at how bad our seats were, considering the ticket price which was frankly quite astronomical. Whilst we were almost at the front, we were right at one extreme edge of the seating, and could barely see the stage.

The show itself really wasn't that great either, it was quite amateurish in places, there was barely any plot, and the whole thing just seemed to be an excuse to string together a load of novelty circus performers. Yes I'm sure it takes a lot of practice to be able to spin plates like that, but it just doesn't make for very gripping viewing. Especially when you can hardly see the stage.

All of that would have been forgiveable had the tickets been, say, five quid each, but considering the actual price it left me really very, very annoyed.

I now bear a personal grudge against Damon Albarn, and will make it my new life's mission to redeem the money he has stolen from me.

To attempt to cheer ourselves up, on the way back we randomly got off at Southwark, remembering there was a tapas bar on the cut. That turns out to not open on Sundays. So we walked from there, over Waterloo Bridge, and took in the night view along the Thames. That was really quite lovely. And Free. And We Could See Really Well.

From there we walked to Covent Garden, and decided to go to the West Cornwall Pasty Co. place there, with its obviously very fake but still somehow rather charming little upstairs bar. Therein we had a pasty, some chips, and some beer. This also helped me to cheer up somewhat.

So we were able to salavage the remainder of the day, but nonetheless:

Albarn - you owe me money.
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