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:
Kobe
Tuesday in Tokyo
Monday in Tokyo
Nozaki-Sensei and Ikebukuro
Boxing Day - Flying to Japan
Christmas Day in London
Christmas Eve
Dartmouth to London
Dartmouth
Travelling to Dartmouth
Sunday in the Midlands
Saturday in The Midlands
Last Day in the Office of 2009
Cheese is Low in Sugar
Antelope with Kyle
Dinner with Tom
Random
Whisky Society and A Party Overrun by Small Children
The Day We Ate Out Three Times
Vic Reeves
Company Christmas Party
Out with Gav
Wedding Anniversary
Art
Japanese Test and Chie's Friends
Regency Cafe, Revising and Coco Before Chanel
THIS DAY DOES NOT EXIST!!!!!!!!
Friday
Cheese and Onion
Wimbledon
Revising
Robert

Kobe
[Wednesday 30th December]
A daytrip to Kobe from Hiroshima to visit Chie's university friend Hiromu-chan and meet up with Chie's sister Yuka-chan. Yuka-chan had been staying in Kobe for work, where the ship she works on was currently in port, and she'd be coming back to Hiroshima with us for the New Year. Yuka had arranged for us to go on a tour of her ship, which was really interesting - I don't think I've ever been in the engine room or on the bridge of a ship before.
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Tuesday in Tokyo
[Tuesday 29th December]
Was originally planning to work from my company's Tokyo office today, but when I'd gone in yesterday I found out they'd be on their year end holidays as of today, and the office would be completely empty (and therefore difficult to even get in!). So I decided to work a day towards the end of the trip instead. Chie had already made plans to go shopping with some of her friends in the daytime, and I didn't really feel like joining in with that, so I ended up at a bit of a loose end.

So after checking out of our hotel I went for wander around Akihabara, although I wasn't particularly in the mood for buying any gadgets (I recently got a very nice new phone and bought a new camera on my last trip back in October, and there wasn't really much else left!).

I did however decide to go and try out a rather weird Akihabara institution - the "maid cafe". I think this has it's origin in manga, which would explain why there are so many in Akihabara. The staff are all dressed in cartoon style maid costumes (at the place I went to they were all bright pink, including bright pink hair) and they serve food and drink with a lot of bizarre and cute rituals.

There was a sort of incantation which I was required to follow along with as they served my tea and cake, which went along the following lines:

"Oiiiishikunare, ravu, ravu, PINKY!!!!"

...with corresponding actions. This was intended to make my food taste better (oishikunare is Japanese for "become tasty"). I also ordered a sort of smoothy, identified simply as "green cocktail". It came in a rocket shaped cocktail shaker, and as they brought it in they put on the Thunderbirds theme tune, and made wooshing rocket noises, plus some further exuberant incantations which I didn't really catch.

It was all charmingly nuts, and very Japanese.

After leaving Akihabara I headed over to Harajuku and visited Meiji Jingu - it occurred to me I had never actually been there before. Hmmm can't really think of much to say about it really! From an ignorant Westerner's point of view, once you've seen one shrine you've pretty much seen them all (with the exception of Itsukushima shrine on Miyajima of course, which is rather unique and spectacular).

After Meiji Jingu I met up with Chie and her friends Ai-san and Yuki-san to go for a drink in a cafe on Omotesando (a famous shopping street in Harajuku).

The remainder of the day was spent travelling to Hiroshima, which was pretty uneventful but it was very nice to be on the Shinkansen again.
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Monday in Tokyo
[Monday 28th December]
I was actually working today - in order to cut down on the amount of vacation I'd need to take for this trip (and to avoid having to long a period completely out of touch with what was going on at work) I'd planned to work from my company's Tokyo office today and tomorrow. So I went into the office this morning only to find it nearly deserted - most people had taken the day off to start their year end holidays already.

I'd hoped to be able to see Tanaka-san in the evening, but it turns out he was in charge of the kids today. Luckily though he was happy to bring them into the centre of Tokyo in the daytime, so we could meet up for lunch. We went to a "famiresu" (short for family restaurant) - called Saizeriya which served "Italian" food. The kids seemed to really like this place, and were extremely well behaved throughout. It was great to catch up with Tanaka-san, albeit briefly, and hopefully we'll get another chance to meet up towards the end of my trip.

In the afternoon I decided to work from my hotel room instead of the office, given that there was pretty much no-one there. This turned out to be a great idea, as given that I was on the 33rd floor, as the sky cleared and the sun began to set I was treated to spectcular views of Mt. Fuji in the distance. Quite magical.

In the evening we met up with a couple of Chie's university friends - Hide-san and Masashi-san, and went together to an izakaya in Shibuya for a drink, some food (mainly things-on-sticks) and a bit of a chinwag.
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Nozaki-Sensei and Ikebukuro
[Sunday 27th December 2009]
First day of this trip to Japan. After checking in to our hotel in Shibuya we went to visit Chie's university tutor - Nozaki-sensei - out in the suburbs. In the evening we did a quick visit to Ikebukuro for my old favourite haunts, Rohlan and Quercus.
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Boxing Day - Flying to Japan
[Saturday 26th December]
We were getting a 1pm flight to Tokyo today, which is somewhat merciful in terms of what time we needed to get up this morning (around 8 o' clock in my case, although Chie was a bit earlier). It's great living in more or less central London - Heathrow is only about an hour door-to-door.

As always we left packing until the absolute last minute, but I've got this down to a fairly fine art now, and the hour between when I got up and when we left was ample time for me to have a shower, get dressed, and throw some clothes in a bag.

Got the coach to the airport, as I don't think the trains were running today (o if they were it was a very limited service). It was a bit cramped but it's actually quite handy for us, given where we live with respect to Victoria Coach Station.

Had breakfast in the airport, and did a bit of last minute "omiyage" shopping in duty free before clambering aboard our flight. It was a bit delayed in taking off but again I think given the recent travel chaos other people had been subjected to in the UK because of the weather, we were just pleased it wasn't cancelled.

The onboard food was better than it is usually for me on today's flight. I think I understand what the problem has been the last few times I've flown - basically if you order a special meal, it seems to be created by some entirely different process, maybe even by a different company, to the regular in-flight meals.

In Premium Economy on Virgin there's actually always a vegetarian option on their standard menu, which, bafflingly, is normally completely different from the meal you get if you specially order a vegetarian meal (and I always choose the "lacto-ovo vegetarian" option so it shouldn't be the case that I'm actually getting something vegan instead). So I asked if I could just have the vegetarian option from the standard menu instead, which was much nicer than the crap I'd had the last few times I flew. Of course the danger of not bothering to order the crappy special meals is that they can't guarantee availability of the regular menu options. So I hope if I make a habit now of ordering the special meal but then asking for something else they'll get the hint that the indescribable mush the catering company always used to fob me off with just isn't really meeting the bar.

Also watched a couple of films on board. "Up" which definitely had it's moments, and some film called Post Grad, which didn't really appeal to me that much.
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Christmas Day in London
[Friday 25th December]
As we'd be flying to Japan on Boxing Day, we'd ended up deciding the only real practical thing to do was to spend Christmas Day itself by ourselves in London - given that there's no public transport available today (and barely anything tomorrow).

So we awoke this morning, and opened our presents over a late breakfast. Even though it was just the two of us, we still seemed to manage to fill the floor with wrapping paper (and the accompanying sense of guilt at how un-environmentally friendly that all is).

In the afternoon we decided it would be nice to go for a stroll around the centre of London, especially as we weren't planning to have our Christmas dinner until the evening. Perhaps unsurprisingly the streets weren't particularly deserted as I'd hoped they might be - lots of foreign tourists were milling about, although everyone seemed a bit unsure what to do with themselves as pretty much everything was shut. Particularly the pubs! I'd rather liked the idea of following in the footsteps of the male tradition on Christmas day of retreating to the pub whilst dinner is being cooked. Of course, being the enlightened modern man that I am I took my wife with me to the pub, and I did all of the cooking anyway.

Still, we had a hard time finding a pub that was open, until eventually we came across the rather lovely Coach and Horses on Greek Street in Soho, which according to the landlady was open every Christmas day, 12-3pm. It was very nice indeed in there, it had a quite but nonetheless festive atmosphere, and rather nice interior too - a sort of 1960s (?) brewery pub decor.

We headed home after that to make a start on cooking, and also tidy the flat up a bit. Chie had invited a colleague of hers and his wife over to join in with our Christmas dinner - being Japanese they didn't really know what to do with themselves on Christmas day, and so seemed quite grateful for the invitation.

I made a relatively traditional Christmas dinner, albeit with fake turkey and fake little sausage things, but otherwise pretty standard fare - roast potatoes (two types no less!), brussel sprouts, carrots, roast parsnips. Oh and also a couple of not-so-traditional extras - roast beetroot and Yorkshire puddings. Yes I know they're only supposed to go with beef!

It seemed to all go rather well, suprisingly our Japanese guests actually rather liked the fake meat, and it was all polished off. For dessert I served a "St. James's" christmas pudding, from Fortnum and Mason, and made a token effort to set the thing on fire with some warmed whisky.

I think our guests enjoyed it all. I did start to think towards the end of the evening that we probably ought have spent some of the time getting ready for our flight the next day somehow, but sod it, it's Christmas.
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Christmas Eve
[Thursday 24th December]
In the morning did a bit more Christmas shopping, and got my hair cut whilst Chie was at work. Chie didn't have to work in the afternoon off though, so I'd decided on the spur of the moment we should go for a flying visit to Guildford, to visit my niece whose birthday it was today, and drop off some presents. We got her a princess dress from Hamley's (thanks for the suggestion Rob!) which seemed to go down rather well, as she even wore it out to dinner. Felt very pleased with myself that we managed to fit this visit in.

We only stayed in Guildford an hour or so, and by around 6ish we were back in London again. Did a bit of last minute Christmas food shopping at the Marks and Spencer in Waterloo station, and then headed home for the evening. Had a sort of "warm up" semi-Christmas meal - some Quorn fillets with roast potatoes and brussel sprouts.
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Dartmouth to London
[Wednesday 23rd December]
Once more on the train again this morning, this time from Totnes back to London. Almost didn't make the train actually - the roads were really icy which caused some very long traffic jams in the centre of Totnes and in the end I had to jump out of the car and walk as briskly as I dared (given the solid ice on the pavements) the rest of the way to the station.

I arrived back in London around 3ish in the afternoon (again the train was delayed, but I just was grateful it was even running), and popped back to the flat to drop off my bags, before heading out once again to do some more Christmas shopping.

I hadn't yet actually got anything for Chie for Christmas, so had to concentrate my efforts fully on this from this point on. I'd decided some jewelry might be nice, so headed over to Hatton Gardens for a thorough look round. After finally settling on one necklace, I treated myself to a congratulatory pint and toasted sandwich at Ye Old Mitre - it's one of those pubs it's nigh on impossible to walk past. It's always lovely in there, but it was particularly nice today with a bit of festive spirit in the air.

After that I headed into the more conventional centre of London (i.e. Oxford Street etc) to look for further gifts for Chie.

Met up with Chie when she finished work - we fancied going to Royal China for dinner, but alas it turned out to be closed for a private function. Ho, hum. So instead we headed back home and I scrabbled around in the cupboards to find something to cook. Ended up making spaghetti with some vegetarian "meat" balls we had in the freezer, in a simple tomato sauce. I believe this dish would offend Lorenzo on more than one level. :)
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Dartmouth
[Tuesday 22nd December]
Had the whole day in Dartmouth, with no particular agenda, which turned out to be rather nice. After a late and lazy breakfast, the four of us went out to do a spot of shopping in Dartmouth in the morning. We then went back to the flat for lunch, but I decided I was determined to have a bag of chips out on the quayside, so I did just that. Amazingly (considering the plight of the rest of country weather-wise this week) it was sunny and not particularly cold in Dartmouth - so much so that eating outdoors was actually quite pleasant (albeit with a thick coat and a scarf of course!).

Later on in the afternoon, I decided I rather fancied hopping over to Kingswear on the passenger ferry for no particular reason other than it's just nice to be on a boat. Whilst in Kingswear, I poked my nose in at the Steam Packet Inn - the only one of the three pubs in Kingswear that we hadn't quite made it to on our visit in the summer. So that was rather nice.

Back in Dartmouth in the evening we went out for dinner at a restaurant called Sails, situated fittingly above Dartmouth Yacht Club. Surprisingly the vegetarian option wasn't actually that bad - for my main course I had a kind of mushroom stroganoff which was rich and quite satisfying.

I rounded off the evening - and my short stay in Dartmouth - with one last pint in the wonderful Cherub. Lovely.
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Travelling to Dartmouth
[Monday 21st December]
The next leg of my pre-Christmas travels to see various members of family would take me from Derby to Dartmouth (this next couple of days I did by myself, whilst Chie went back to work in London).

The train was a bit delayed as you might expect given the weather conditions this week, but other than that the journey was fairly uneventful and again I was treated to lots of snowy scenery, which is so much more easy to enjoy from the warmth of a train carriage.

I arrived in Totnes (the nearest station to Dartmouth) just before 3, and from there hopped on a bus to go the rest of the way to Dartmouth.

Vera, Robin and Robert had rented a holiday flat in Dartmouth for the Christmas week, and I was just going to be joining them for the first couple of nights.

Tonight they'd decided we should eat in, and we had a selection of appropriately Devonish pastry products - pasties and the traditional homity pie.

After dinner "the boys" (as Vera calls them) and I popped out for one very quick drink at the fantastic Cherub, the fabulous and ancient timber framed pub I'd discovered on our trip to Dartmouth this summer. It was splendid as always.
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Sunday in the Midlands
[Sunday 20th December 2009]
Another day in the Midlands today.

Again in the afternoon Chie and I ventured out by ourselves. This time we decided to get the bus to Derby to have a wander round there. We had a nose around the market hall, the cathedral, and the undoubted highlight for me - Derby's oldest pub, Ye Olde Dolphin Inne. Cracking pub this - four separate little rooms, each with low hanging beams and a blazing fire. Food was pretty good too - Chie had a giant yorkshire pudding and I had a vegetarian shepherd's pie.

After the Dolphin we went for a look around the new Westfield shopping centre, which was bland and homogenous and just like every other shopping centre. Still, at least the Dolphin had been a success.

Back at Mum's house in the evening we had an early Christmas dinner, including a very festive nut roast, which was very nice.
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Saturday in The Midlands
[Saturday 19th December]
Got the train in the morning from St. Pancras to the new East Midlands Parkway station, as we'd planned to visit Mum this weekend. Were treated to some rather nice views of snowy landscapes on the way up.

After a spot of lunch, Chie and I decided to head out for a walk in the afternoon. We walked to a couple of the villages/hamlets neighbouring the village where Mum lives. Again more snowy landscapes to take in, which was rather nice. On the way back we popped in to The Cross Keys for a quick pint, the pub my parents ran for the first few years after I was born. It's still rather a nice pub, and it was very comforting to be back there.

In the evening, Mum made a sort of Indian feast for dinner. She'd apparently been cooking curries for it all week. I particularly enjoyed the pickle tray at the start, including some of Mum's excellent home made chutneys.

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Last Day in the Office of 2009
[Friday 18th December]
Today was going to be the last day in the office for me of 2009 (although I was planning to put in a couple of days in Tokyo just before New Year).

As a result work today was very reminiscent of the last day of term at school - people were definitely already winding down in preparation for the holidays.

Chie went out for her second company Christmas party of the year this evening. I didn't have any plans for the evening, but slipped out of the office a tad early to do a spot of Christmas shopping. I headed over to Fortnum and Mason, and as I was leaving there was a flurry of snow over Piccadilly - it felt very festive. I was filled with a sense of imagined nostalgia. Very nice.

Didn't do anything particularly for the rest of the evening, a bit boring really.

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Cheese is Low in Sugar
[Thursday 17th December 2009]
Just one random picture.
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Antelope with Kyle
[Wednesday 16th December]
Went for a beer after work to the Antelope with my friend Kyle from the office.
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Dinner with Tom
[Tuesday 15th December]
Rather superbly bumped into Tom in the street on my way home from work today - he often stays in a hotel not too far from where I live when he's working in London.

Ate at a nearby English restaurant called Chimes.
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Random
[Monday 14th December 2009]
A couple of entirely random pictures...
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Whisky Society and A Party Overrun by Small Children
[Sunday 13th December]
Quite a lazy morning slobbing around the flat. In the afternoon, after hearing via Twitter that the Whisky Society's London bar would be rarely open on a Sunday I dashed out to have a very quick dram, and take advantage of a special offer on some "cask end" bottles.

After that, towards the end of the afternoon Chie had arranged for us to go to "Christmas drinks" at a colleague of her's house. I hadn't been particularly briefed on what sort of party it would be, and it was only after arriving that it dawned on me that this was the sort of party where almost all the guests were parents, and all with numerous small children in tow. So naturally all the conversation was about parenting, and it was hard to escape the smell of poo. Not really my scene - we made our excuses after an hour or two and headed back home.
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The Day We Ate Out Three Times
[Saturday 12th December]
Quite a busy day today - was meant to do Christmas shopping in the day time but didn't really get a whole lot done. Instead we ate out a record breaking three times in one day - breakfast at the Wolseley on Piccadilly, lunch at The Antelope near Sloane Square, and dinner at Cafe Sol in Clapham for Simon and Vanessa's birthdays.
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Vic Reeves
[Friday 11th December]
One very blurry picture of Vic Reeves, who came to visit my office today.
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Company Christmas Party
[Thursday 10th December]
I wasn't very good.
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Out with Gav
[Wednesday 9th December]
Completely unplanned night out with Gav tonight. Very fun.
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Wedding Anniversary
[Tuesday 8th December]
Our wedding anniversary tonight, we went to Le Pont de la Tour - a restaurant overlooking Tower Bridge.

It wasn't very successful on two counts. First of all, I'm oncall at the moment, and predictably got paged just minutes before we were due to sit down for dinner, with what looked like quite a big problem. I managed to find make my apologies (it was a wedding anniversary dinner after all) and other people were dealing with it, but still it wasn't particularly easy to relax throughout the meal.

Also the food wasn't actually very good - the vegetarian option (spinach and goat's cheese ravioli) was just plain boring - really not worth it considering the price of the whole thing.

Oh well.
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Art
[Monday 7th December]
For a number of reasons I've started to take a bit of an interest in art recently - particularly contemporary art. Partly this is simply to do with living in London, and having such a wide array of (mainly free!) galleries and museums on our doorstep. Partly it's because of the season of various programmes on the BBC recently about art, including the probably widely despised "School of Saatchi" which I've been really quite enjoying. There's also no doubt some influence from my Uncle who is something of an arty type (being a curator of art at a museum tends to rub off a bit).

My scientific/engineering mindset had until recently predisposed me to the typical view of saying modern art is all just a load of meaningless nonsense, but I've noticed a definite change in that of late. Partly I think I've realised I actually like being confused - possibly this is a reaction to doing a very technical job where everything has it's function and has to be understood - whereas in an art gallery nothing needs to be subjected to cost benefit analysis, and nothing needs to gain the technical approval of a group of engineers before it can be allowed to exist. Yes it may well still be meaningless crap a lot of the time, but I've increasingly come to find that very aspect of it quite appealing.

This evening I rather pithily threw together a bit of stupid mock art: a cider bottle, some wrapping paper, a walnut and a pistachio nut. It was more a homage to Monty Python's "Society for Putting Things on top of Other Things" rather than anything else really.

Whilst that was probably borne more of poking fun at the contemporary art world, I think there was some element of me trying to understand it.

One of the really important revelations for me has been seeing art critics talk about humour in art - I had always thought when looking at a sculpture or a painting or something you had to be locked in some deep existential quandary about it. To realise it is completely ok to stand in front of a sculpture with a bit of a wry smile on your face is very reassuring to me. I've always enjoyed the absurdist imagery of comedians like Vic Reeves (who is now introduced as "comedian, writer and artist"), and of course Monty Python, and a lot of contemporary art is a natural extension of this for me. It is absurd: it's about taking something out of it's normal context and putting it in a different one. This is what comedians like Vic Reeves, Monty Python or The Mighty Boosh are doing verbally (and often visually) a lot of the time - contemporary art, or at least one facet of contemporary art is really not so different.
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Japanese Test and Chie's Friends
[Sunday 6th December]
The big event of today for me was sitting the JLPT level 4 exam - although I've been passively/casually learning Japanese for almost a decade (by the simple virtue of being with Chie) I've never really had any formal training to speak of, and have absolutely no qualifications either. Also whilst being around Chie is useful for picking up some spoken Japanese, I've hardly ever spent any time trying to read or write in Japanese. So the last few months I've been having lessons at work, mainly with a view to trying to improve my grammar and written Japanese a bit, so that I can sit this test. It's the easiest JLPT level there is, but it was probably the right level for me given that they're all much more focused on reading/writing than speaking/listening, and they tend to pick up on a lot of grammatical nuances and technicalities which you'd only really understand if you've learnt Japanese formally.

Surprisingly we don't get the actual results until March, but I am moderately confident I did OK - I guess we'll have to wait and see.

Whilst I was out doing the test, some of Chie's friends she used to work with a few years ago in Maidenhead came to visit her at our flat. I managed to catch the tail end of their tea party when I got back from the test, which was nice.
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Regency Cafe, Revising and Coco Before Chanel
[Saturday 5th December]
Started off with breakfast at the Regency Cafe, followed by a vague morning meander around London. There's something very virtuous about getting out of the flat before 10 on a Saturday morning.

In the afternoon I decided I should go back to the flat and do some revision for the Japanese test I'd be sitting tomorrow.

In the evening, we watched Coco Before Chanel, which I rather enjoyed. I like pretty much everything with Audrey Tautou in, and this was no exception, especially as it was a period piece - the sort of film British film makers seem to love so much, so it was interesting to see a French take on this genre.
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THIS DAY DOES NOT EXIST!!!!!!!!

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Friday
[Friday 4th December]
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Cheese and Onion
[Thursday 3rd December]
Got very annoyed with Sainsbury's this evening for their very limited non-meat filled pie selection. From Twitter:

Sainsbury's pie selection: shit. I counted 4 different formats of cheese and bloody onion and nothing bloody else.

Cheese and onion pies, "pastry slices", rolls and pasties. 4 slightly differently shaped versions of the same crappy bloody thing!

CHEESE AND ONION IS NOT THE ONLY POSSIBLE NON-MEAT PIE/PASTY FILLING.

...so Irked was I, in fact, that I emailed them this evening and mentioned this. I'm writing this blog entry 10 days hence and have to date had no reply.
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Wimbledon
[Wednesday 2nd December]
Ventured South of the river today to Wimbledon, to my friend Kyle's house, where we'd been invited round for dinner. A very pleasant evening.
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Revising
[Tuesday 1st December]
I had signed up for the JLPT Level 4 Japanese test back in October, due to be held this month. So far I had been quite blasť about the whole thing, but I think it suddenly dawned on me today that it was fast approaching (this coming Sunday in fact) and I didn't feel like I'd studied nearly as much as I should have.
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Robert
[Monday 30th November]
Went for a drink or two with former colleague Robert at the Grenadier in Belgravia this evening. Was jolly nice to catch up.
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