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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Maison de Stuff
- Recent Entries:
- South Downs Way: Amberley to Graffham
Forntum and Mason and St John
Carol Concert and Holborn
City of London
Primrose Hill with Ricardo
Rob and Mark
Christmas Tree and Borough
ESW In the Dark Again
Sunday in Abergavenny
Saturday in Abergavenny
Aperitivo Hour In Winter
Sunday in Devon
Saturday in Devon
Rudy's Dirty Vegan Diner
Drinks with Al
Vinegrowing Course Day 1
Mum in London
Fortnum and Mason and Xu Teahouse
Delaunay and New Tweed Suit
Southampton Arms and Hampstead Heath
Andrew's Leaving Drinks
Korova and Rochester Square
- South Downs Way: Amberley to Graffham
- [Saturday 22nd December 2018]
I wasn't entirely expecting to have the opportunity for a walk today, but I discovered over breakfast that Chie and Erika had plans to meet friends from Japan in the daytime, and as the weather was surprisingly nice for the time of year I thought I should make hay while the iron's hot so to speak. So it was perhaps a later start than was ideal, which matters particularly this time of year in terms of daylight hours, today being the day after the shortest day. Anyway it still seemed worthwhile making a go of it, and I was on the 10:36 train from Victoria down to Amberley to pick up where I left off last time.
Given that I only had at best 4 hours of daylight from arrival, I decided there was no time to squander on such fripperies as lunch, so I had eaten a pasty on the train prior to arrival, and once I got to Amberley at midday I purposefully set off on my walk. Thankfully the South Downs Way passes by the station here, so in a matter of minutes I was on it, and in open countryside.
The first section was actually familiar, given that I'd walked a little bit of the South Downs Way with friends two years ago when we came down to Amberley for a festive lunch at the Bridge Inn. That day there had been thick fog though, so we
didn't really have much sense at the time of being amidst the South Downs. Compared to today's glorious blue skies and surprisingly mild temperature for the time of year the surroundings were barely recognisable.
That familiar section only lasted the first 15 minutes or so though, and after that I was venturing into pastures new. Not long after that first fairly flat section I started to head up a hill, with corresponding wonderful views of the surrounding landscape.
Today's walk was a less "wild" section than some previous parts of the South Downs Way - the path was flanked on one side or the other (often both) by farmed fields pretty much the whole way, although apart from one farm where I crossed a road I didn't pass through any human habitation for the whole route in between Amberley and Graffham. The views were pretty much uninterrupted throughout, enhanced by clear winter skies.
It was also the most mud I had encountered to date on my journey along the South Downs over the course of the past few months. In the summer the ground had been baked hard by the heatwave in July and early August. It must not have been a particularly wet Autumn as this distinctive grey downland mud, born of the chalky soils, was something of a novelty today.
I was a little unsure where to end today's walk. I'd originally considered trying to get as far as Cocking, from where I might hopefully be able to get a bus into Midhurst, and from there to Pulborough, but getting to Cocking was apparently going to take in excess of four hours of walking, and having only started at midday it would be dark before I got there. The original compromise I'd come up with had been to walk as far as Upwaltham, where there appeared to be some kind of bus service (the 99 between Petworth and Chichester) - but it sounded a bit of an odd system, you had to prebook at most stops, so when I got to the bus stop where the South Downs Way crossed the A285 I decided to just press on, and try my luck at Graffham instead.
So I continued for a while longer after crossing the A285, for a distinctly muddy section up Littleton Down which offered nice views back towards some of the rolling hills I'd been walking over earlier on. It was just after 2pm by this point, but already the winter sun seemed to be hanging a little low in the sky.
Just after 2:30 I got to the point where I'd be leaving the South Downs Way for today, to follow a footpath down the hill into Graffham. This turned out to be quite a steep descent, through a wooded hillside, and made for an interesting bit of variety from the hilltops I'd mostly been walking on this afternoon.
The entry into Graffham reminded me of arriving in Kingston near Lewes - a track eventually turned into a street, and one of the first buildings I saw was the rather picturesque church. Part of the reason I wanted to come to Graffham today is that I'd found on the web that there's a holiday cottage next to the church, which looked rather nice, so I thought it would be good to come and take a look with a view to possibly staying there a couple of nights in the New Year for the next section of the walk. Graffham was a pretty little village, particularly the older parts near the church.
With my mind still on how I was actually going to get home, I decided the best strategy might be to aim for the village pub in Graffham - the White Horse - and see if they had any recommendations for local taxi firms etc.
On arrival at the White Horse I was surprised by a couple of things - first there were electric car charging points outside - not what I expected from a country pub in a tiny village filled with quaint old cottages - and secondly inside the pub were lots of other people wearing tweed! Normally I expect to be the only one, but I think they'd all been on a pheasant shoot or something.
Anyway, my instinct proved correct, and I was indeed able to call a taxi from here to get me back to Pulborough station, with enough time for a pint first.
- [Friday 21st December]
- Forntum and Mason and St John
- [Thursday 20th December 2018]
Lunch at Fortnum and Mason to meet Kyle and Hannah's new baby, and dinner with the girls at St John in the evening.
- Carol Concert and Holborn
- [Wednesday 19th December 2018]
Lunch at the Pineapple, Erika's carol concert in the afternoon, then in the evening drinks and dinner around Holborn with the usual suspects.
- [Tuesday 18th December]
- [Monday 17th December]
- City of London
- [Sunday 16th December 2018]
Went to Shikumen for lunch, then had a wander around the City of London, and went to see the Mithraeum exhibit.
- [Saturday 15th December 2018]
Took Erika to Bear and Wolf for breakfast in the morning. Chie and Erika went off to a party for most of the rest of the daytime, while I mooched around at home as the weather was too miserable to go out for a walk.
- Primrose Hill with Ricardo
- [Friday 14th December 2018]
In the past few weeks I seem to have developed a constant urge to be outdoors - I think as some combination of my new found love of walking and possibly as a reaction to spending so much time working from home. Unfortunately this time of year isn't particularly conducive to that, both in terms of the weather and the amount of daylight.
To that end today I decided to finish work early, and arranged to meet Ricardo to see if we might catch the last few rays of the day's sunlight from the top of Primrose Hill, with a bottle from the mixed case of English sparkling wines I hadn't tried before that I'd recently ordered. Today I decided to try the Hindleap Blanc de Blancs, from Bluebell Vineyard in Sussex, actually not that far away from the Plumpton College vineyard where my vinegrowing course take place. I thought this was pretty good, and while probably better suited to a summer's day, the 4 degree air temperature did help to keep it chilled!
Although we pretty much missed most of the sunset by the time we arrived, the views from Primrose Hill at dusk as London was lighting up made for a very nice backdrop.
Once the wine ran out and we were starting to get cold, we retired to a nearby pub - the Landsdowne - chosen primarily because it was close by looked warm inside. This turned out to be quite a convivial sort of a place, and we got talking to some neuroscientists from UCL, presumably having their Christmas party here.
After that we slightly oddly went to do some late evening shopping at Morrisons (Ricardo wanted to buy some batteries and some cheese) and then rounded the evening off with a deep fried pizza at Rossompodoro.
- Christmas Party
- [Thursday 13th December 2018]
Actually went to the office Christmas party this year. It was terrible. Only stayed a short while and instead went to the Captain Kidd and a nearby Italian restaurant.
- [Wednesday 12th December]
- [Tuesday 11th December]
- [Monday 10th December]
- Rob and Mark
- [Sunday 9th December 2018]
Went to Reading for the afternoon / evening to see Rob and Mark, who was visiting from the US.
- Christmas Tree and Borough
- [Saturday 8th December 2018]
Put up our Christmas tree this morning. Had lunch at Mercato Metripolitano. Erika went to see Seussical the Musical with a friend, then later on her friend came back to our to decorate our tree.
- [Friday 7th December 2018]
Had dinner at Wahaca with Erika and a friend from school.
- Ice Cream
- [Thursday 6th December 2018]
Took Erika for an ice cream after school.
- ESW In the Dark Again
- [Wednesday 5th December 2018]
Another English Sparkling Wine in the garden (therefore in the dark) this evening - tonight Chafor.
- [Tuesday 4th December]
- [Monday 3rd December]
- Sunday in Abergavenny
- [Sunday 2nd December 2018]
Morning and lunch with Vera and Robin in Abergavenny then back to London in the afternoon.
- Saturday in Abergavenny
- [Saturday 1st December 2018]
Took the train to Abergavenny in the morning and spent the afternoon and evening with Vera and Robin.
- Aperitivo Hour In Winter
- [Friday 30th November 2018]
Was determined to have an early evening drink out in the garden, even though it was dark (and also a bit cold) - I perservered for a short while with the aid of some candles.
- Brasserie Zedel
- [Thursday 29th November 2018]
Took Erika for dinner at Brasserie Zedel. It was a lovely evening.
- ESW Again
- [Wednesday 28th November 2018]
Tried the Plumpton ESW this evening.
- [Tuesday 27th November 2018]
Received two cases of English Sparkling Wine today.
- Kings Cross
- [Monday 26th November 2018]
Some random photos of Kings Cross.
- Sunday in Devon
- [Sunday 25th November 2018]
Morning and early afternoon at Dad's new house in Devon (with a quick pre-lunch foray to the Anchor at Cockwood) before getting the train back to London.
- Saturday in Devon
- [Saturday 24th November 2018]
Took a morning train to Exeter and spent the remainder of the day inspecting the results of the refurbishment work of Dad's new house.
- Rudy's Dirty Vegan Diner
- [Friday 23rd November 2018]
Tried another vegan eatery for lunch (rather lazily had it delivered). It was not great.
- Night Sight
- [Thursday 22nd November 2018]
Some random photos trying out the new night sight mode on my phone's camera.
- [Wednesday 21st November]
- Drinks with Al
- [Tuesday 20th November 2018]
An evening out with Al. Made a second attempt to try the new vermouth bar in Coal Drops Yard, and it was actually open this time.
- Vinegrowing Course Day 1
- [Monday 19th November 2018]
Today was the first day of the vinegrowing course, ran by Plumpton College, which I had enrolled on. The course runs over the growing year, roughly one day each month. I'd been inspired to learn a bit more about the subject by my forays down to the South Downs this year - particularly the tasting and harvest at Breaky Bottom - and to some extent by the simple pleasure of watching my own three vines grow in my back garden this year. Having had a go at winemaking with my grapes, an endeavour which looks to have been distinctly unsuccessful, I realised it was much more the viticulture side of things I was keen on. Winemaking seemed to be at least 50% cleaning!
I've also added to my long held daydream of having a house in the countryside some day the idea of having a patch of land I could turn into a little vineyard - not on a commercial scale (there's that old joke the course leader today repeated - "What's the best way to make a small fortune? Start with a large fortune and buy a vineyard."), just enough to make a few bottles of wine a year for myself and maybe to share with friends and family. In addition to the orchard for cider production along similar lines. So anyway with that in mind I thought it might be good to get some training on how to manage a vineyard.
The course was held in Scaynes Hill, just outside of Haywards Heath, where Plumpton College has their Rock Lodge vineyard. There was a theory session in the morning, in the function room of the pub in Scaynes Hill, followed by a practical session out in the vineyard after lunch.
It was a 9:15 am start, and given that the pub was a three mile walk from the station, it meant rather an early start for me! Fortunately the trains were relatively convenient, and I was able to go from Kentish Town, with just one change en route. I made good use of my time on the train to read much of the first chapter of Stephen Skelton's Wine Growing in Great Britain, one of the recommended texts for the course, and today's topics tied in well with that material.
The first session focused mainly on vineyard site selection, a fascinating complex field of study in itself. It was interesting to hear myths about the importance of soil type mostly debunked - both by Skelton's book and the lecturer - just about any soil type can be made to work for vinegrowing with the right preliminary work to address drainage and mineral composition, and with the possible exception of nitrogen (which is absorbed by the grapes and has some effect on fermentation), no other mineral present in soil has been scientifically proven to actually change the chemical composition or flavour of the grapes. Any talk of flinty, mineral qualities in some wines having been somehow imparted by the particular type of soil the vines were grown in is very likely bogus. Similarly the Champagne region's talk of the importance of chalky soils (which has spilled over to some English Sparkling Wine producers, particularly in the similar soils of the South Downs) is likely overblown. The only real benefit of chalk soil relates to water - it tends to drain reasonably well, and retain pockets of water deep down which the roots of the vine can access in drought conditions. Hardly a problem most years in England (although perhaps that was of some benefit this year). However in non-chalk soils these benefits are easily compensated for with other measures.
Another thing I found quite surprising was that the growing cycles of vines actually span more than a single year - buds formed in the early summer of one year will go on to produce new growth in the summer of the following year. Bad weather in early summer can be detrimental not just to that year's harvest, but to the next year's - so the bumper crop from the summer of 2018 in England actually had its beginnings in the presumably good conditions of early summer 2017. We had an exercise towards the end of the morning where we had a table with crop outcomes we had to predict based on weather conditions at various times of the year (see here) - it was surprisingly difficult!
The group was quite an interesting mix of people - from people who had a purely amateur interest like me, to people who owned land and were on the brink of planting vines, to people who had already done so, but felt they wanted a bit more training on vine management. Also the winebuyer from Waitrose responsible for English wines was there.
After lunch we had the "practical" session, although I got the impression the lecturers we had today had been shuffled about a bit, and whilst the morning session was quite structured, the afternoon was a bit more ad hoc, with mostly just a wander round the vineyards and some questions and answers. We did at least have an exercise to complete, where we had to make an assessment of the site in terms of suitability for vinegrowing (obviously in the knowledge it was unlikely to be poorly rated overall!)... but it was interesting to see even within one site there were variations in terms of shelter, drainage, protection from pests and so on.
The afternoon session was due to go on until 4:15, but finished slightly before 4 in the end, as the lecturer seemed to have ran out of things to say a bit (and wanted to get back to college for a meeting). I don't think any of us minded particularly though, as it was a bit damp and cold and had felt like quite a long day with the very early start - so I was keen to get on with my journey back to London. One of the other attendees on the course kindly gave me a lift back to Haywards Heath station, which I very much appreciated given it was cold, wet, and getting dark by this point, and I managed to make it home just before 6pm.
- Mum in London
- [Sunday 18th November 2018]
Mum stayed with us last night after babysitting Erika, so we had some time with her today.
- Fortnum and Mason and Xu Teahouse
- [Saturday 17th November 2018]
Took Erika to a friend's party in the afternoon, and while it was on Chie and I took a stroll acoss Hampstead Heath to the Holly Bush.
In the evening Mum came to babysit Erika, Chie and I went out for the evening as a sort of early/late wedding anniversary celebration (depending on which wedding anniversary we're referring to here) - started with a drink in the wine bar at Fortnum and Mason, then went to try out Xu Teahouse for dinner.
- [Friday 16th November 2018]
Tried the vegan fish and chips at The Vine in Kentish Town.
- [Thursday 15th November]
- Delaunay and New Tweed Suit
- [Wednesday 14th November 2018]
Went to pick up one of my new tweed suits, and had lunch at the Delaunay.
- [Tuesday 13th November 2018]
Chie and I went to Woodlands for lunch.
- [Monday 12th November]
- Southampton Arms and Hampstead Heath
- [Sunday 11th November 2018]
Had lunch Iunch of sorts at the Southampton Arms, then went for a walk on the heath.
- [Saturday 10th November 2018]
Had a lovely morning to myself, breakfast at Andrews Restaurant followed by shopping for new tweed suits. Met up with Erika and Chie for lunch at Franco Manca then spent the remainder of the day in and around home.
- [Friday 9th November]
- School Disco
- [Thursday 8th November 2018]
Erika's school disco this evening.
- Andrew's Leaving Drinks
- [Wednesday 7th November 2018]
Leaving drinks for Andrew who would be spending the next few months in the Far East then Australia.
- [Tuesday 6th November]
- [Monday 5th November]
- Korova and Rochester Square
- [Sunday 4th November 2018]
Had "brunch" (despite some protestation on my part) at Korova near Tufnell Park, then later on went to a community bonfire night event in Rochester Square.