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.
- John's Journal / Blog
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Main Index (text only)
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Maison de Stuff
- Recent Entries:
Saturday in Abergavenny
London to Abergavenny
Bintang and Christmas Tree
Two Lunches and Jeeves and Wooster
Nyetimber at the Royal Exchange
Veuve Clicquot Extra Brut Extra Old
Canal Museum and Lunch with Mum
Pub Lunch at the KCI
Wrestlers and the Boot and Flogger
Phone Cover and Science
School Disco and Murder on the Orient Express
Zoe with Zoe
Regency Cafe and My Club
Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese
So it's November
Florence to London
Lorenzo and Olya's Wedding
Friday in Venice
Thursday in Venice
Wednesday in Venice
Tuesday in Venice
Monday in Venice
Sunday in Venice
London to Venice
Playdate, New Phone and School Party
The Lamb and Ciao Bella
Beer and Wine
Chie back from Japan
Zoo and Dinner Party
Kentish Town Sky
The Party's Over
Fortnum and Mason Hamper
Erika Learns to Ride a Bike
The Resumption of Tweed Season
Joseph Drouhin Tasting
Tuesday in Monaco
Monday in Monaco
Sunday in Monaco
London to Monaco
Dimsum and Lego
Zoo and Mheat
Back to London
Last Full Day
- [Sunday 10th December 2017]
Woke up in Abergavenny to quite a lot of snow! Consequently had to leave Abergavenny a bit earlier than originally planned for fear of getting stuck.
- Saturday in Abergavenny
- [Saturday 9th December 2017]
Went for a walk in search of snow in the morning, then spent the remainder of the day indoors with family at Vera and Robin's house.
- London to Abergavenny
- [Friday 8th December 2017]
Got the train from London to Abergavenny after Erika finished school.
- [Wednesday 6th December 2017]
Went to the Kerb steet food market in Kings Cross for lunch and was pleased to see a longer queue at the vegan stall than any of the others.
- [Tuesday 5th December 2017]
Had some Chianti with dinner.
- [Sunday 3rd December 2017]
Wahaca for lunch.
- Winter Wonderland
- [Saturday 2nd December 2017]
Took Erika and her friend to Winter Wonderland.
- Holly Bush
- [Friday 1st December 2017]
Annual festive quaint pub outing (number 1 of 2 this year).
- Bintang and Christmas Tree
- [Thursday 30th November 2017]
Tried a pan-Asian place in Kentish Town for lunch - Bingtang. It was good. In the evening we put up our Christmas tree.
- Lemon Curd
- [Tuesday 28th November 2017]
Erika discovered she quite likes lemon curd.
- [Sunday 26th November 2017]
Spent the morning making a play house for Erika out of the cardboard box my picture frame had arrived in. Lunch at the Assembly House which inadvertantly meant we ended up watching some of a football match. To the garden centre after lunch to buy a couple of things to liven up the garden. In the evening went for visit local friends at their new house which they've just moved into.
- Two Lunches and Jeeves and Wooster
- [Saturday 25th November 2017]
Had two lunches, and picked up my set of Jeeves and Wooster DVDs which I then started binge watching.
- Picture Frame
- [Friday 24th November 2017]
Got the frame for my recently acquired piece of art.
- Nyetimber at the Royal Exchange
- [Thursday 23rd November 2017]
Pub lunch, then snuck out of work early to go and see Nyetimber's take over of the Royal Exchange.
- Windy Day
- [Wednesday 22nd November 2017]
Very windy today! Also on an unrelated note Indian food for lunch.
- Veuve Clicquot Extra Brut Extra Old
- [Monday 20th November 2017]
Received two bottles of this in the post today.
- Hampstead Heath
- [Sunday 19th November 2017]
Hampstead Heath in the morning on a very pleasant Autumnal day, lunch at the Pineapple, then a birthday party in the early evening.
- Canal Museum and Lunch with Mum
- [Saturday 18th November 2017]
Brief visit from Mum in the morning, went to the Canal Museum then lunch in St Pancras. I had a bit of a wander round St. James's in the afternoon.
- [Friday 17th November 2017]
Received the piece of Denis Paul Noyer art in the post today.
- [Thursday 16th November 2017]
Erika playing on the trampoline.
- Gingerbread House
- [Wednesday 15th November 2017]
Made a gingerbread house in the evening.
- Pub Lunch at the KCI
- [Tuesday 14th November 2017]
Pub lunch at the King Charles I.
- [Monday 13th November 2017]
Some random pictures. Started to make the gingerbread house in the evening.
- Sunday Roast
- [Sunday 12th November 2017]
Made a Sunday roast for dinner. Read some Jeeves and Wooster.
- Wrestlers and the Boot and Flogger
- [Saturday 11th November 2017]
Lunch at the Wrestlers in Highgate, then headed down to Borough for some wine at the Boot and Flogger.
- Phone Cover and Science
- [Friday 10th November 2017]
Got a case for my new phone today.
Also yesterday I got a science kit for Erika, with a clock you can power by lemons etc, so that provided some educational entertainment this evening.
- School Disco and Murder on the Orient Express
- [Thursday 9th November 2017]
Erika had a school disco in the evening. She was very excited at the prospect but I wasn't too keen on going. I suppose it wasn't too bad, and not nearly as naff as I remember mine being (Agadoo etc). Afterwards Chie put Erika to bed (most of the time I do this job) and I decided to go out for an evening stroll. I got as far as the Pineapple and once there suddenly decided on a whim I'd go and see new remake of Murder on the Orient at the cinema. After a long hiatus of being quite convinced I didn't really like going to cinema (finding my own home an infinitely preferable environment in which to watch a film), watching Bladerunner 2049 at the Everyman Cinema in Hampstead reminded it wasn't so bad - there was hardly anyone else there for that screening. Orient Express tonight was a fair bit busier, and I was somewhat reminded of why I didn't really like the cinema - being subjected to half an hour of advertising at the start (why, I wondered, have I paid £20 for this?), and then having to listen to someone a few seats away who had fallen asleep snoring through the latter third of the film. Still, it got me out of the house, kept me off the streets, etc.
As for the film itself, it was OK. A bit hammy and overacted, not big on realism, but in places had a pleasingly glamorous atmosphere which I enjoyed.
- Shoe Repair
- [Wednesday 8th November 2017]
Finally got around to getting my brogues repaired today - one of the soles had become partially detached from the uppers, the other sole had a hole in it. So I would consistently get wet feet with even the most lightly damp conditions underfoot. Presumably this would eventually lead to trench foot if action were not taken.
So I dropped them off at "Tony's Heel Bar" in the morning (why are these places called "bars"?) and impressively they were ready to pick up later that day. Tony was an interesting character, missing several teeth, and probably high on the shoe polish vapours. I think he did a pretty good job on my shoes, giving them a new lease of life.
As I was down at the Southern extremities of Kentish Town around the end of the working day, and was being pestered by Jim and Andrew to go for a pint, I arranged to meet them at the Prince Albert in Camden for a bit. Was back home in time to read Erika a bedtime story though.
- Pol Roger
- [Tuesday 7th November 2017]
Erika is supposed to have swimming lessons on Tuesdays after school. Chie was not feeling well, so as I was working from home I offered to take her instead. This was not a very successful endeavour, I got Erika changed, got her to the door of the swimming pool, and, even though she had met a friend there who would also be having swimming lessons at the same time, there were suddenly floods of tears and nothing I could say would persuade Erika to go in (parents aren't allowed to accompany the kids and are meant to just go and wait in the observation area). So I just got Erika changed back again and we went back home.
At work today I launched a feature I had been working on for the past few months. It had been almost entirely my own effort, so I took a particular pride in seeing it released to the outside world. Consequently to celebrate we had a bottle of Pol Roger.
- Kinder Egg
- [Monday 6th November 2017]
Chinese food for dinner, I popped to the little oriental supermarket up the road to buy a couple of things for it beforehand. Including, most importantly, Peking Duck sauce, so Erika could have her favourite (mock) duck pancakes.
Erika had a Kinder Surprise for dessert. She gets these as a reward when she manages to sleep through the night without waking us up. This does not occur very often.
- Zoe with Zoe
- [Sunday 5th November 2017]
Met Erika's friend Zoe and her parents for lunch at the Franco Manca in Kentish Town, then afterwards we all went to the zoo together. Quite a nice autumnal day today, albeit a tad chilly.
After the zoo we went home by way of Whole Foods, where I bought some things for dinner.
- Regency Cafe and My Club
- [Saturday 4th November 2017]
To my surprise Chie declared this morning that she wanted to go for breakfast at the Regency Cafe, and seemed quite determined. Erika too was keen on the idea. I attempted to advocate just being lazy and going somewhere a bit closer to home but it was two votes to one. So, with my stomach already rumbling, we headed out, got on the tube down to Pimlico, and then had a long wait in the queue at the Regency Cafe, which seems to get more popular every time we go there now. Thankfully after we finally made it to the front of the queue (a good half hour wait) and ordered our food arrived very promptly, and bizarrely despite the queue being out the door, after we ordered there was a free table waiting for us - I've never quite figured out the maths behind how this actually works, but it always seems to.
Breakfast at the Regency, as it always has been, excellent, and I'm really glad to see Erika is starting to develop a bit of an affection for the place too (she was a bit lukewarm back when we actually lived locally).
After breakfast we fell back into what used to be our standard routine on Saturday mornings when we lived in Pimlico - we took a slow amble in the direction of St. James's Park. Although the weather wasn't at its best today - quite damp in fact - the park was very autumnal and quite atmospheric, and the girls spent a while chasing after leaves as they fell from the trees, trying to catch them - it is surprisingly difficult.
From there we went to my club, which looks out onto Green Park, for a cup of tea. Erika has technically been once before, but she slept through it, and I thought it might be nice to show her around quickly, as recently, perhaps partly as a result of our trip to Venice, she has started to develop at least a slight appreciation for grand buildings.
We dithered with the idea of gong to the Tate Modern next, as Erika had been learning about Matisse at school (yes, she's only 5!), but in the end she went off the idea and we headed back to Kentish Town instead. Had a late-ish lunch at Wahaca, then I popped down to Camden to do a bit of shopping (most importantly coffee beans) and then we spent the remainder of the day back at home, having satisfied ourselves we had done enough on what was after all a bi of a wet and grey sort of a day.
- Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese
- [Friday 3rd November 2017]
Worked from home, baumkuchen in the morning for elevenses, then a pub lunch at the Pineapple.
Andrew had been having a bit of a tough week at work, so I arranged to meet him at Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese in the evening to give him a chance to chew the cud a bit. Despite arriving pretty early - before 5pm - the nicest bar by the entrance was already full, so we consigned ourselves to the cellar instead.
Didn't stay out very late, I was home by around 8:30.
- [Thursday 2nd November 2017]
Went into the office again today, two days running this week which is probably more than average for the past few months. I don't have anyone I work with directly there (everyone else working on my project is either in California or New York), and I've realised I can actually be pretty productive - more so in fact - from home. Plus, to be honest, I don't really like the new office very much - the food is awful, and even the coffee is better at home. Plus I have an increasing sense of alienation there, I hardly seem to know anyone any more.
- So it's November
- [Wednesday 1st November 2017]
Went into the office today as I had my annual performance review with my manager. Usual story, seems I have nothing to be concerned about.
Being in the office really drove home the fact that the clocks have gone back as I watched the sun setting through the window by my desk at about 4:30. It does seem to have a bit of an impact of my productivity for the first week or so until I get used to it again - as soon as it gets dark outside I think "I should be at home!".
- [Tuesday 31st October 2017]
I can't say I ever particularly liked the idea of making a big deal of Halloween - it just felt like giving in to American cultural imperialism. Kids of Erika's sort of age do seem to get very excited about it though - and I do have to concede I can see why it's fun for them. Imagine a day of the year when adults could go and knock on random stranger's doors and be given a glass of wine? That would be great.
So, purely for Erika's sake, we made a bit of an effort again this year like we'd done two years ago (Chie and Erika were in Japan for Halloween last year). We carved a pumpkin yesterday, put it outside this evening, and Chie had bought a few bags of sweets to give out. Like two years ago, absolute hordes of kids showed up, and we very quickly gave away all our sweets. After that, I took Erika out for a bit of a walk around the neighbourhood with her friend Frances so she could see the other side of the trick or treating experience, and we managed to find a few houses which had not yet ran out of sweets (plus a few which already had). Some people had made a huge effort decorating their houses, and one of the nearby streets had got together and even put decorations along the pavements etc. I thought that was pretty impressive, and Erika had a great time.
- Pumpkin Carving
- [Monday 30th October 2017]
First day back at work and school after our week in Italy. I thought I might find it a bit of a shock to the system - I've noticed in recent years when I go on holiday I completely switch off, and tend not to think about work at all - but I actually I seemed to ease back into it fairly well today. Perhaps helped by working from home.
In the evening Chie and Erika carved a pumpkin ready for Halloween tomorrow.
- Florence to London
- [Sunday 29th October 2017]
Considering it was a later addition to the original itinerary for our Venice trip - in fact I had already booked our flights to and from Venice when I heard Lorenzo was getting married - I am quite proud of how well organised our little Florentine adjunct had been. The Hotel Baglioni was both very comfortable and extremely convenient for our arrival at the station yesterday, and our subsequent quick dash to the Palazzo Vecchio for the ceremony.
Moreover I had predicted we might be a bit tired at the end of our week away - and that the wedding reception might be a bit of a late night - and conscious of the fact Erika would be back in school tomorrow I was keen to ensure we didn't have too early a start today, and that our travel arrangements would be as easy and comfortable as possible. I had originally toyed with the idea of even going back to Venice this morning, which would potentially have allowed us to reschedule our original return flight rather than abandon it altogether, but that would have been quite a faff, and as it turned out those flights were already fully booked anyway. Flying back from Florence airport was by far the quickest and easiest option, which almost translates to the most expensive, but I just decided it was worth the expense in the end.
We still had one little treat left in store for us before we left Florence this morning - we went up to the roof terrace of the hotel from where there were spectacular views of the Duomo and the rest of the city, and we continued to enjoy these over breakfast.
Then it was just a quick and easy taxi ride from there to Florence airport. I'd got us business class tickets for our return journey based on the slightly questionable rationale of "I'm already paying quite a lot, so why not pay a bit more?" so we were able to wile away a bit of time in the business class lounge before boarding. I love that at age 5 this is already the third time Erika has been in a business class lounge, and she is already starting to compare their relative merits, like a seasoned executive.
Erika sat next to me on the plane, Chie having craftily manoeuvred herself into the seat the other side of the aisle from the two of us so she could have some peace and quiet. We'd bought a fairy sticker book in the airport which kept Erika entertained for at least some of the flight. My meal was the exact same thing I'd had on the way back from Nice - a sort of oriental salad with some Japanese mushrooms and pak choi. I think I preferred it first time round when it was novel, but it wasn't bad. A bit odd cold perhaps. Erika opted for the cous cous and falafel, of which she only really ate some of the cous cous.
The flight got us back to City airport, again the same as our return flight from Nice in September. As I've probably said before, I can't ever imagine going as far as to say I like an airport. A good airport is one for me that I spend as little time in as possible. City seems to fill this brief pretty well, and we were back home by 4pm.
On arrival at home I immediately set about laundry - the malfunctioning washing machine in the apartment in Venice had resulted in a bag of superficially clean clothes but which actually had a faintly unsettling odour to them, and I was keen to get rid of it ASAP!
- Lorenzo and Olya's Wedding
- [Saturday 28th October 2017]
Chie, Erika and I had an early start this morning, and were out of the apartment before 7:30. We took a vaporetto from Fondamente Nove bound for the station, a journey which gave us the chance to say goodbye to Venice from the sea, which somehow seems a bit more fitting.
This trip had definitely had its ups and downs. Apart from the hospital drama, we'd had noisy neighbours keeping us up for several nights of the week (only audible in our bedroom, I did at one point bang on the wall, and the noise stopped immediately, but then I felt guilty for being a party pooper), I was covered in mosquito bites (some of which had swollen up alarmingly), the washing machine didn't work and I'd ran out of clean shirts, and the challenge of meal times with at peak 5 children with differing likes and dislikes (not to mention allergies!) had occasionally taken its toll. I think Chie in particular, who was sceptical in the first place about going on holiday with a large group like this, will prove difficult to convince to repeat the exercise in future. I do have to admit that towards the end of the week I had started to yearn for my own bed / washing machine / mosquito free climate.
Still, as I was on the vaporetto and metaphorically heading out to sea (although actually to the station) I couldn't help but feel a twinge of sadness to be leaving. Venice has done this to me before - on my last trip, after feeling like I'd just been retreading old ground for that short visit, and then there was that spectacular sunrise just as I was leaving.
It was a pleasant train journey from Venice to Florence, with a brief change in Padova, giving Erika the chance to buy some garishly coloured marshmallows on a stick.
On arrival in Florence that sense of wanting to be back at home and sleep in my own bed etc, seemed to go straight out the window, and my sense of wanderlust was almost immediately rekindled. Of course, Florence and I are old friends - just as (and precisely because of the fact) Lorenzo is. I first came here 20 years ago!
After quickly dropping off our bags at our hotel - very conveniently right next to the station (I had planned all of this meticulously) we headed straight to the Palazzo Vecchio, and met Lorenzo and the other guests as they were gathered outside. It felt absolutely great to be there on this special day.
The ceremony was short but sweet (exactly the way I think wedding ceremonies should be, can't stand it when they're long drawn out affairs), and then we had the rest of the afternoon to ourselves, as the reception would be in the evening. Tummies were rumbling so we headed straight to a sandwich shop, which despite being moments away from the Duomo et al was actually very good - and I also had a glass of Chianti with it, which always tastes fantastic in Tuscany, and almost always disappointing anywhere else. I also paid my respects quickly at Rivoire, sort of the spiritual home of the Negroni, before we headed back to our hotel to check in properly.
After a quick rest there we headed back out again for a wander round Florence. We motivaed Erika to do so with the promise of gelato at Lorenzo's second favourite gelateria - Vivoli - it's a running joke that he has never told us which is favourite is. I suspect there actually isn't one, he keeps this imaginary place in reserve in case we have any criticisms of Vivoli, but he needn't worry because Vivoli is excellent. I get the impression their gelato is very traditional, and a lot more natural and "real" than many other places - it isn't all piled high and there aren't any bright garish colours. The mirto one was spectacular.
Fit in a couple more sights after that, including the usual visit to the Bartolucci wooden toy shop, the Porcellino, and of course the Ponto Vecchio before taking a slow wander along the Arno to meet Lorenzo's friend Matteo, who would had kindly offered to give us a lift to the reception, which was to be held out in the Tuscan countryside.
I was slightly apprehensive about this setup when I realised the logistics - the reception venue was really quite a way out of Florence, and we wouldn't easily be able to get there or back under our own steam. I had a feeling the party was likely to go on until well past midnight, and was a bit worried this might be pretty tough on Erika.
I needn't have worried, she was incredible, and I was so proud of her.
Lorenzo and Olya had set out a Polaroid camera so guests could take photos of each other and then sign them, and add them to a scrap book. This idea mutated in real time into Erika accompanying the official photographer, and Erika taking photos of people at the party with the Polaroid camera while the official photographer also took photos with her camera. This worked extremely well, not only as it gave Erika something fun to do, and a way of introducing herself to everyone, but the official photographer pointed out that eventually wedding guests can get a bit fed up of the photographer asking them to pose for yet more photos, but a five year old girl with a Polaroid is instantly disarming. So at the start, the photographer was setting up the scenes and Erika was then taking a photo as well, but after a few of these it ended up the other way round, and the official photographer started referring to herself as Erika's assistant.
Food at wedding receptions is usually not particularly memorable, but I really enjoyed the food at Lorenzo and Olya's. Two specific highlights for me were the crostini with cavolo nero and some superbly pungent olive oil, and shredded courgettes in a sauce which was possibly a kind of olive tapenade. Also having to make polite conversation with other wedding guests sat at your table who you didn't previously know can be a bit tedious, but at this wedding it was quite the opposite - I really liked everyone on our table (and everyone else I met at the wedding in fact) and was particularly sad to have to say good buy to Sebastian, my new drinking buddy, at the end of the evening.
The only one very slight wrinkle on an otherwise perfect evening was that right at the end Erika picked up a sparkler which had just gone out by the still hot end. I don't think it was a particularly bad burn - I couldn't see a mark the next morning - but the shock of it caused floods of tears, which was partly just a shame as apart from that there hadn't been as much as the slightest grizzle all day. What a star.
We decided it probably best to think about leaving at that point, as it was midnight by then and that seemed about as far as it was prudent to push it. Thankfully Matteo was also happy to leave at that point so we had a lift back and weren't stranded out in the Tuscan countryside!
Unsurprisingly Erika slept in the car on the way back into Florence, and then woke up feeling car sick, but fortunately a quick stop for fresh air seemed to address that.
- Friday in Venice
- [Friday 27th October 2017]
Last full day in Venice of this trip. I got up early and walked down to St. Mark's to see if I could catch any of the sunrise, but only got a glimpse really. Nothing the glorious display I had on the final morning in Venice last year, but still, it was pleasant enough.
Chie, Erika and I went to another pasticceria in the morning at Chie's request, and it seemed slightly sad that she was only just now starting to get into the wing of things a bit, and find things she wanted to do, when we were almost leaving! Today's pasticceria didn't have quite the huge array of pastries and cakes of yesterday's place, but it felt very genuine, filled with locals who all seemed to know the staff. I think actually Erika preferred her chosen confection from today to the one she had yesterday though.
A slightly confusing thing happened when it came time to pay, I asked for the bill (one of the few phrases I know), then the lady behind the counter handed me a little dish with some change on it. The observant among you will notice one fairly key component typically associated with these transactions had not occurred - I hadn't given them any money yet. I had a surprisingly hard time explaining this to them - I tried saying I haven't actually paid yet and they just motioned towards the change as if to suggest I must have, because there's the change. So I tried pointing at the change and saying "It's not my money!" - which prompted another confused facial expression indicating "Well of course it's not the money you gave to us, it's the change!". In the end I just did my best to leave the amount I think it cost behind which resulted in them politely shrugging their shoulders and wondering why I was giving them such a generous tip.
From there we headed to the Arsenale to see a bit more of the Biennale. The ticket always give you combined entrance to the two venues, and you can go on any day, so Chie was very keen to make use of it while we were still there. I have to admit I was a bit less in the mood for it today than I had been when we went to the Giardini - partly I think the Arsenale part is just not as good fun, but also it was lunchtime and I was starting to get hungry.
We didn't stay too long, had a slightly underwhelming lunch not too far from the Arsenale at a cafe/bakery place, and then started to head back.
I had decided by this point, as it was our last day, and we were now back down to just 6 of us, that we should just grab the bull by the horns and get in a gondola. So we found a gondola station not too far from our apartment, met up with Leon, Aiko and Mei (who was feeling a bit better today, partly propped up by Calpol), and clambered aboard the very wobbly canal going vessel. I knew the girls would like it, I was prepared to accept I might also enjoy it, but even the slightly more cynical Chie and Leon had to admit it was actually very nice. There's a surprising serenity down at the water's level, which for some reason just isn't quite the same as walking along the pathways beside the canals. Our gondolier had kids of a similar age to the girls and so knew how to play up to them with a no doubt well honed mixture of charm and the occasional bit of teasing. Plus they loved it when he deliberately rocked the boat - an act he carried out with the carefully measured precision of a professional. I also managed to get some absolutely cracking photos - in my humble opinion - during our ride - I particularly love the ones of Erika and Mei sitting at the front of the boat.
At the end of the holiday Leon asked Aiko and Mei what their favourite things had been, and was very pleased with the answers - Aiko said the food (especially gratifying as the occasionally slightly fraught exchanges with waiters over peanut oil etc had all been worth it) and Mei said the gondola ride. So definitely 80 Euros well spent!
Of course after the gondola ride it was about that time of day when we almost ritualistically had fallen into the habit of a gelato - and for today's we went back to La Mela Verde as it we had boated past there in the gondola (and in fact saw our gondolier again with his next customers while we were there).
Leon suggested we go back to the Bacarando place for dinner tonight, as they had a similar kind of cichetti offering to Cantina do Spade where we'd had one of our more successful evening meals out with the kids on Wednesday, who seemed to enjoy having all the little morsels to choose from. Unfortunately since the last time we'd been to the Bacarando they seemed to have changed their mind about the type of oil they used for frying, and were now advising Aiko shouldn't eat any of the deep fried seafood things. We managed to just bout work round this, but it was a bit frustrating. So a bit of a damp squid (pun intended) of an ending to the last day, but at least the gondola had been a big highlight!
- Thursday in Venice
- [Thursday 26th October 2017]
Yesterday's dramatic events had rather thrown us off our balance a bit - plus partly by this time I had ticked most things off my to do list, so we were a bit unsure what to do with ourselves today.
Chie was very keen to go and visit a pasticceria - I had marked a few on the map when I was doing my research for the trip, so when Chie, Erika and I finally got ourselves out of the apartment in the morning we headed in the direction of one of those. As it happens Chie had also heard about this particular one - Tonolo - from some Japanese source, and sure enough two Japanese ladies entered just ahead of us. This was really good - huge selection of little cakes and pastries and the staff were friendly. I was amazed when I guessed that a cake which reminded me of a Venetian window was called a "la fenestra" that the lady behind the counter knew what I meant straight away - a very proud moment for my limited Italian! Coffee was also very good, so we were all quite pleased with this start to the day.
For lunch we went to a pizza place Chie had heard about from another Japanese source (I think) called Il Refolo. It was in a lovely spot - in a little square, with tables outside, by a canal, with a little bridge over it (yes I know that sounds like just about everywhere in Venice but it was a particularly nice example of the kind!). When we arrived we had the whole square to ourselves. Erika had the "Peppa Pig" pizza, which had sausages and - shock horror - chips on! It was actually very good though. I had something with pesto on I think. I very much enjoyed watching the rippled reflection of the sunlight from the water projected onto the underside of the bridge - one of my favourite things in Venice.
We meandered back to the apartment after that. Mei was starting to feel a bit unwell now - although thankfully not anything stomach bug-ish, she just had a cough and a bit of a fever, so while she was having a nap in the afternoon, we took Aiko out for a little bit.
One of the things I hadn't yet ticked off my list for this trip was a visit to the Acqua Alta bookshop, which wasn't too far from the apartment as it happens, so having promised the girls we'd go to a gelateria, I made an only very slight detour to go there first. As it turned out, it was such a special place that even the kids really enjoyed it - particularly the stairs in the little yard at the back made entirely out of books. A bookstaircase if you will. I rather enjoyed sitting on the chair by the water door, and pretending a was a Venetian noble.
The gelateria - La Mela Verde (the green apple) - was, in my opinion, a particularly good one. They were very good on their allergen information for Aiko's sake - I had really tried to make an effort on that front this week - and their stracciatella was one of the best I've ever had. Aiko had never tried this before and I felt quite proud that I had introduced it to her.
Headed back to the apartment again after that. In the evening we decided to try and all eat out together, but this was a slightly ill fated plan that didn't really go very well. We didn't really want to go too far from the apartment, which constrained the options a fair bit, and although I was tempted to just go back to the pizza place we'd been to the first night - because we knew it was decent and worked well for the kids - I thought it might be boring for those of the group who went before. So I attempted to choose a different place and misjudged it somewhat - when we got there we realised it was quite upmarket and I for one felt a bit uncomfortable being the only people there with kids. After sitting down Leon decided it was a bit too fussy and would be awkward to order for his two, so the three of them did end up going back to the pizza place from the first night after all. Oh well, you can't win them all. On the plus side they did have an explicitly vegetarian section of the menu, which is a rarity in Italy, and I managed to have a dish with bigoli, a very typically Venetian type of pasta.
- Wednesday in Venice
- [Wednesday 25th October 2017]
One of the things I wanted to tick off my list on this trip to Venice was to visit Torcello. It's the island further North in the Venetian lagoon which the Venetians first settled before they eventually figured out how to build Venice proper. It's also somewhere Nancy Mitford would occasionally retreat to in the summer months for some peace and quiet when she was trying to work on one of her books. So going here had a sort of pilgrimage like feeling to it, and I also thought it would just be nice to get out on the water and see a bit more of the wider Venetian lagoon.
Unfortunately I didn't actually make it there!
Alice had apparently been quite sick in the night - maybe food poisoning, maybe a stomach bug, we weren't really sure. I'd just assumed she needed to rest it off in the daytime, so we'd left Jeremy and Alice at the apartment, and the rest of us had headed out for the day. Leon, Aiko and Mei decided to come along with us on our trip to Torcello, while Joe, Jenn and Zoe were going home this afternoon, so went out in the morning to do some souvenir shopping.
To get to Torcello from the main island of Venice, you need to first get a vaporetto to Burano (stopping off at Murano en route). Almost at the exact moment that the vaporetto arrived at Burano I received a message from Jeremy that he was actually quite worried about Alice, who was still being sick, and asked me if I could go with him to the hospital. So I just had a few minutes wandering around Burano before the next vaporetto back to the main island came, and jumped on it and headed straight back to Fondamente Nove.
I think I'm actually pretty good in a crisis, and spent the boat journey back to the main island reassuring Jeremy over the phone and also Alice's Mum, who was back in London and had heard about what had happened and was also panicking a bit. It can be difficult in circumstances like this to judge what is an appropriate tone to take. I was quietly confident it was just a tummy bug, and she'd be better in 24 hours, and so sent Jeremy a message betting him 20 Euros that this was the case. Of course this attempt at lightening the mood a bit could have been misjudged, and may have even caused offence that I didn't appear to be taking it seriously, but I think in hindsight it was just about right.
On arrival at Fondamente Nove I jogged back to the flat, and then escorted Jeremy and Alice to the hospital. Knowing that we had a number of small children with us, I'd actually looked on the map before the trip to figure out where it was and how to get there - which at the time I thought was a bit ridiculous.
Of course once actually at the hospital I didn't really provide much apart from moral support - it's not as though my Italian is good enough to translate or anything, but my presence did seem to provide some reassurance. The hospital staff actually spoke pretty good English, and after not too long we saw a doctor, who confirmed my suspicions that it was probably just some kind of stomach bug, and I was soon to be 20 Euros better off.
After a couple of hours, when I was confident Alice was on the mend, I left them to it, and went to meet up with Chie et al again. It turns out they had carried on to Torcello without me, had a quick look round, and were now back on the main island again. It's funny because I'd half tried to talk everyone else out of joining me on the trip to Torcello, thinking it might not be that interesting for everyone else, but in the end they went and I didn't!
After meeting up again, we had a late afternoon / early evening drink and a snack at a bacaro, of sorts, called "Bacarando in Corte dell'Orso". I'm intrigued by these variations on the word bacaro - in addition to this "bacarando" there's also a "bacareto" (da Lele). The latter sounds to me like a diminutive, so is bacarando the opposite? This place does have a sort of restaurant area upstairs.
There had been some ongoing discussion about whether or not we should have a ride on a gondola during our stay. Erika, Aiko and Mei all seemed keen, I was in favour of at least trying it once to say we'd done it, to date though Leon and Chie seemed unconvinced, thinking it a touristy extravagance. So as an initial compromise I proposed having a go on a traghetto, which is the cheap and cheerful alternative - just a simple gondola ferry across from one side of the grand canal to the other. It's all over in a couple of minutes, and only costs a couple of euros (plus I think we only paid for the adults, or they forgot to ask Leon). So that was a brief bit of excitement.
There seemed to be a general reluctance, particularly from Chie and Leon, to go back to the apartment for dinner as the possible spectre of norovirus was looming there, so we stayed out until dinner time, and ate at Cantina do Spade, which worked quite well for the kids as they could try a few different cicchetti. So it was pleasing we had in the end managed to fit in two bacari today, even though they were both of the sort more leaning toward restaurants.
Back to the apartment after that, and bedtime for the kids, whilst their respective parents got thoroughly OCD about them washing their hands etc.
Anne (Alice's Mum) had decided to fly out to Venice, having made the decision earlier in the day when the poor little girl had seemed really quite unwell. By this evening of course she was already starting to get back to normal, albeit quite tired. I sat with Jeremy in the kitchen for some of the evening, talking over the day's dramatic events, while Chie and Leon seemed to both have quarantined themselves in their respective bedrooms for fear of the plague. As Alice had woken up a couple of times during the evening we decided it best if I go and meet Anne, and so for the third time this week I walked to Fondamente Nove to meet an arriving guest off the boat. Strangely I think I was going to miss this little ritual.
- Tuesday in Venice
- [Tuesday 24th October 2017]
On previous visits to Venice I'd seen all the wonderful produce on offer at the Rialto market and wished I had some means of cooking - we'd always previously stayed in hotels. So this was one of the things I was looking forward to on this trip, for the first time we were staying in an apartment with a fully equipped kitchen.
Jeremy offered to cook this evening, so he led the shopping expedition at the market this morning, and seemed to more or less buy a bit of everything. Meanwhile Chie, Erika, Zoe, Joe and Jenn had gone off to take a proper look at St. Mark's Square, as we'd only really whizzed past it yesterday.
For lunch I met up with Chie, Erika et al at a cheap and cheerful takeaway pasta place conveniently located half way between our apartment and St. Mark's. We sat in a little nearby square to eat it. The little square also conveniently provided us with a gelateria for dessert for the kids.
From there we headed to the Giardini, to see some of the Biennale. This had been part of the original idea when planning this trip. Jeremy and I had got into the habit of occasional late evening pub visits mid-week after our respective offspring had gone to sleep, and we'd got to talking about the Biennale. Jeremy is part of the art world and it turned out is a friend of Phyllida Barlow who was representing the UK this year, so he was keen on the idea of coming to see it, particularly as the slightly more kid focused natured of this holiday would mean being able to do so without having to abandon his parenting responsibilities.
It was interesting observing the differing attitudes of the children present to visiting an art exhibition. Given that both of Alice's parents are arty types, she was obviously quite used to it, albeit that she seemed at times to find more interest in scooping up handfuls of gravel from the park outside the pavilions. Zoe was, from the outset, only interested in when we were getting out of the Biennale so she could instead go to the playground she'd seen on the way in. Aiko and Mei had arrived a little later than the rest of us but only got as far as the playground. I was therefore quite proud of how actively engaged Erika seemed to be in the art, and toward the end when even I was flagging a bit was still enthusiastically advocating going to see more. I think pavilions at the Giardini part of the Biennale are a really nice way to experience art actually - every time you walk through a new door, it's a new surprise - you have no idea what to expect. If it doesn't appeal, you can just walk straight back out again. Some though seemed to be really captivating - I loved the Japanese pavilion, which would have been made for us, with the wooden models of Itsukushima Jinja and the Umi no Tori from Miyajima. The kids all loved Canada, with it's geyser, and Erika and Alice really enjoyed the Austrian pavilion, which practically insisted that you actually touch and interact with all the exhibits. The caravan was a particular hit.
Jeremy was entertainingly sniffy about almost everything he saw, but did of course like Phyllida's work.
I felt slightly sorry for Jeremy, who was clearly in his element, and I suspect would have liked to linger much longer, but having volunteered to cook tonight's dinner was being subjected to gentle pressure from the other parents to get back to the apartment and crack on with it, given that kids of this sort of age group expect to eat unsociably early.
I gave Jeremy a hand with the cooking when we got back, and I think we managed to turn it around impressively quickly - dinner was on the table by about 6:30. Quite an extravaganza this evening, a risotto at the centre of it, with all sorts of seafood and vegetable side dishes, ans essentially all of it just picked based on what looked good at the market.
After dinner Chie again agreed to stay in and look after Erika, while me and Leon went for another night time wander. It started pretty well, with a visit to the very nice Cantina do Spade, where we had an excellent Valpolicella Ripasso - I had pretty much written off valpolicella prior to this as almost always being a bit naff. However things went a bit down hill after that as Leon seemed to be in search of somewhere a bit more lively (Venice is generally a bit sleepy when it comes to nightlife), so we went to "Bacaro Jazz" which obviously exists purely to milk American tourists out of all their Euros. The spritzes were twice as expensive as anywhere else we'd been, and not as good, and on top of that there were of course all the American tourists. I'd hope one quick drink might be enough to get it out of our system, but Leon oddly seemed to like the place, and we were here until past midnight.
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- Monday in Venice
- [Monday 23rd October 2017]
Looking back it seems like we had hardly done anything the day before, and we almost might as well have been anywhere other than Venice. Perhaps this was partly down to the staggered nature of arrivals of our various guests - and maybe we were waiting for a larger quorum before embarking on any more serious sightseeing. Or maybe we were just finding our feet.
Either way though, I felt we really got into our stride today, helped by quite glorious weather for the time of year. I suggested a candidate itinerary to the others, and everyone seemed happy to fall in with our plans.
We started by walking to the Rialto bridge, posing for a few quick photos, then taking the vaporetto from there down the Grand Canal, with a quick stop off at St. Mark's Square, then over on another vaporetto to San Giorgio Maggiore. We took the lift to the top of the church's campanile and were treated to spectacular views in all directions from there - we really had chosen the perfect weather for it. All of Venice was laid out before us, and we could see as far as the Dolomites, all the better for the wonderful blue skies and blue sea.
It had of course taken a while in the morning to get everyone out of the apartment, and by now it was just after midday and tummies were already starting to rumble. Thankfully I had a plan for lunch close by (at least in theory) at La Palanca on La Giudecca. This is actually a separate island to San Giorgio Maggiore, separated by only a very narrow strip of water - and it's a shame there wasn't a footbridge linking the two as we'd have been able to walk there much quicker. Can't quite remember what went wrong with the vaporetto, I think possibly we had a bit of a wait then accidentally got on one in the wrong direction. Anyway, we got there in the end.
Snack Bar La Palanca is somewhere I remember with great affection. On mine and Chie's first trip to Venice together we had stayed on La Giudecca for part of the trip, and came here a couple of times - once to catch a glorious sunset at aperitivo hour, and then again for a simple but really memorable lunch. On that trip Chie was pregnant with Erika, and I remember the owner, Andrea, being particularly kind to us when we mentioned Chie was expecting. So it seemed kind of fitting to revisit on this trip and introduce Erika to Andrea, who I'm pleased to say hadn't changed a bit - we recreated the same photo of me and him while we were there to prove it.
I think this went down really well with the rest of our group, it's a fantastic spot, right on the water's edge, looking across to the main island of Venice.... but being on La Giudecca it's a bit off the tourist trail, and there's something really genuine and homely about La Palanca. I'm pretty sure a good time was had by all, although finding something suitable to eat for each of the kids was initially a bit of a challenge as always (Erika, I'm happy to report, was the easiest of the bunch - we both had the same tomatoey pesto pasta which was simple but delicious).
We lingered over lunch for as long as we thought we could get away with it, given we had four children in tow, and a glass or two of wine and a couple of spritzes later I begrudgingly agreed it was perhaps time to move on. It's just such a lovely spot, with such genuine warmth from our host, and this was really one of the highlights of the trip for me.
I had not yet exhausted my itinerary though, and next up, after another vaporetto back across the water, was to take a look at another of my favourite spots in Venice - the San Trovaso boatyard, where many of Venice's gondolas are made and maintained. Although you can't actually get in, it just makes for a particularly picturesque setting, seen from across the canal, especially with the added attraction of a spritz from Cantine del Vino gią Schiavi.
It is best with kids, and with larger groups in general, not to try and overdo it, and so this was the final item on my planned itinerary for the day. From there we meandered slowly back towards the apartment, and I stopped off en route to buy some porcini as my small contribution to tonight's dinner, for which Joe had volunteered to do the bulk of the cooking.
Before dinner I went to Fondamente Nove again to meet what were originally intended to be our two final guests (although as it eventually worked out we still had one more to come) - Alice and Jeremy. For some reason this time Erika decided to stay at the apartment with the other girls. I arrived a bit early so treated myself to a spritz at one of the little cafes lining the water front on the Fondamente Nove. I was really quite enjoying the role of the host greeting guests as they arrived by boat.
So we had our full complement of 11 for dinner that evening. Joe's cheese sauce perhaps went slightly awry, but the porcini I made as a side dish seemed to be very well received - I just fried them in a bit of olive oil and garlic and added a splash of prosecco. it seemed to turn out quite well.
In the evening Leon agreed to keep an eye on Erika after she went to bed, so Chie and I could go for an evening wander. We went down to the Rialto bridge, then continued all the way to St. Mark's Square, before getting a vaporetto from there back to the Rialto again. A nice end to what was on reflection quite possibly the best day of the holiday.
- Sunday in Venice
- [Sunday 22nd October 2017]
What with the travel and the late night for the girls yesterday, plus being conscious of the fact we still had the whole week ahead of us, we weren't particularly ambitious today, and didn't throw ourselves straight into any rigorous sightseeing itinerary. Instead we stayed fairly local to the flat, with some light exploring of the surrounding area, and focused more on stocking up with provisions, anticipating that we'd be cooking at the apartment for most of the evening meals.
I ventured out with Leon and the girls for breakfast in the morning, which was a bit challenging as Italian breakfasts tend to veer towards sweet pastries, and Leon was a bit wary of these given Aiko's peanut allergy. We eventually found a place selling sandwiches which seemed to work a bit better. Then we went to the Coop to stock up on supplies, but Erika was being a bit of a handful and wanting to buy every random sweet or colourful looking thing she saw, so it was difficult to focus and buy all the necessaries for actually cooking a meal.
For lunch, after a couple of false starts we ended up in a place called Rosa Rossa, which wasn't bad I suppose. Although I think Leon was already starting to feel a bit worn down by the challenge of finding food devoid of any peanuts - although they don't use whole peanuts much in Italian food, peanut oil is quite commonly used for deep frying.
We then went to one of the gelato places I had researched prior to coming - Suso, near the Rialto bridge, and this was a resounding success, all the girls seem to love their gelato and I thought it was pretty good too.
I went back to the Coop again after that to buy all the things I had forgotten to buy earlier because I was too busy wrangling Erika. I planned to make pasta e fagioli for dinner, which I thought would be simple to make and would scale well to large quantities without too much effort, although I still seemed to end up spending what felt like a couple of hours in the kitchen.
I took a break from cooking part way through to take Erika to Fondamente Nove to meet our next group of arrivals - Erika's friend Zoe and her parents. By the end of the week I would have done this ritual of going to meet people off the boat at Fondamente Nove three times and I grew to rather like it.
Stayed in the apartment for the remainder of the evening - I think dinner went down fairly well, at least among the grown-ups - some of the children inevitably wanted to eat just plain boiled pasta but I point blank refused to let Erika do so, and I think she gets now that this is a red line I'm just not prepared to cross!
Once dinner was made (and I'd therefore proved to myself we could successfully feed everyone) I started to relax a bit and enjoy the surroundings of the apartment more, which were really quite lavish. The dining room was very spacious and comfortably accomodated our whole group, and (with the possible exception of all the kids present), could just about squint and imagine I was part of some decadent bohemian set holidaying in Venice in the 1950s as Nancy Mitford used to.
- London to Venice
- [Saturday 21st October 2017]
So our trip to Venice was finally happening - I'd been planning it from at least as far back a July, which is a lot of forethought by my standards.
We were flying (yes I'd lost that argument again) from Gatwick, and Leon, Aiko and Mei were going to be on the same flight, which was nice. So we met them at the airport, and had lunch together before boarding our flight, which was of course delayed - they always seem to be. The flight itself was fine, Erika sat with Aiko and Mei for a bit which gave us grown-ups a nice break, and then later on she even had a little nap, which surprised me.
Very long wait for our luggage to arrive at Venice airport, which very tedious as I was itching to get to Venice proper, and the kids were also quite understandably getting bored. I think we were waiting over an hour in the end - apparently they couldn't get the door open on the hold or something.
We took the Alilaguna boat from the airport to Venice, our apartment was conveniently located just a short walk from Fondamente Nove, which is the first stop for that board on the main island. It was after 7pm by the time we got there, and therefore already dark -
I'd hoped we might arrive to see Venice in the last few glimmers of daylight, but never mind.
We were met by the agent at Fondamente Nove, who took us to the apartment and got us checked in. It would have been nice to just lounge about for a bit and appreciate our sumptuous surroundings - it was quite a smart place, with (in my opinion) some impressive antiques, paintings etc, but time was pressing and our thoughts had to turn straight away to dinner. I made a snap decision that we should go to the pizza place we'd seen near Fondamente Nove, and I think this worked out pretty well. Impressively we were able to sit outside - possibly with the help of an outdoor heater, but this made for a great welcome to Venice as we were by the sea, dining al fresco in later October. The chap I assumed to be the owner (who humbly described himself as not the owner but the owner's husband) was very friendly and welcoming, and it turned out the actual owner was called Erika, so we immediately felt right at home. There was a Pizza Erika on the menu, which I of course had to order, and was actually very good - an interesting combination of smoked cheese, sun dried tomatoes and pesto. The girls shared a mixture of pizza and spaghetti alle vongole, and it all seemed to go down really well.
It was nearly 10pm by the time we got back to the apartment so the girls went straight to bed, and Chie kindly let me and Leon go out for a bit of an explore. I showed Leon around the bars around the Rialto market - albeit that sadly my favourite bacari near there had already closed for the evening. It was great that it still felt warm enough (to us at least) to stand outside in the square for a drink.
- [Friday 20th October 2017]
After school I took Erika for an ice cream, then later on we went out into the back garden to blow bubbles for a bit. A good opportunity to try out the camera on my new phone.
Chie got back from Japan in the evening.
- Playdate, New Phone and School Party
- [Thursday 19th October 2017]
Erika had a playdate after school with a friend, then later on in the evening there was a party at school to welcome the new families to nursery and reception.
Also picked up my new phone (a Pixel 2) today.
- [Wednesday 18th October 2017]
Took Erika to the playground for a bit after school.
- Elephant House
- [Tuesday 17th October 2017]
Erika made a house with the elephants and the sofa cushions.
- [Monday 16th October 2017]
Picture of the sky. Whatever it was I was trying to capture it's lost on me now.
- [Sunday 15th October 2017]
More fun with the elephant in the morning, then lunch with Zia at Wahaca.
- [Saturday 14th October 2017]
Erika went to a friend's birthday party in the afternoon, while she was there I went to the pub for a bit then the garden centre. When we got back from the pub we inflated the elephant I'd got for my birthday party.
- [Friday 13th October 2017]
After work pint at the Pineapple.
- The Lamb and Ciao Bella
- [Wednesday 11th October 2017]
Went to the Lamb on Lamb's Conduit Street followed by Ciao Bella with Andrew and Jim.
- Bladerunner 2049
- [Monday 9th October 2017]
I went to see Bladerunner 2049 in the evening. It was very elegaic.
- Yukari's Birthday
- [Sunday 8th October 2017]
Leon, Yukari and the girls came into London for the day on Yukari's birthday. Went to the British Museum then dinner at Dishoom in the evening.
- Garden Cupboard
- [Saturday 7th October 2017]
Mostly lazy day. Went to a burger place in Camden for lunch, then I popped down to St. James's to do a spot of clothes shopping. Later on in the afternoon I went to Homebase and bought an outdoor cupboard for the garden to help with some of our storage issues.
- Beer and Wine
- [Friday 6th October 2017]
Another pub lunch at the Pineapple, this time with Chie. In the evening, wine.
- Chie back from Japan
- [Wednesday 4th October 2017]
Chie came back from Japan this evening.
- Flashy Stick
- [Monday 2nd October 2017]
The flashy stick Erika got at the circus yesterday had broken on the way home, and Erika was quite upset. Luckily I managed to fix it.
- [Sunday 1st October 2017]
Took Erika to see the Moscow State Circus.
- Zoo and Dinner Party
- [Saturday 30th September 2017]
Took Erika to the zoo for a short while in the daytime. As is often the case, despite Erika asking to go to the zoo I questioned whether or not she actually had much interest in seeing any animals - we did a reasonably thorough tour of the reptile house and the aquarium today, but that was it in terms of zoological observation. Also went to the playground for a bit (both the one inside the zoo and later on the one outside), Erika had her face painted, and we had lunch there. I managed to strike a deal of sorts to ward her off the usual temptations of candy floss etc and instead let her buy a small soft toy in the shop on the way out.
Did a bit of shopping in Camden on the way back home, then I spent most of the rest of the afternoon tidying up the flat and cooking, while Erika graciously entertained herself.
I was starting to feel a bit starved of grown-up company after a week of not being able to go out (with Chie being away) so I'd invited some local friends round for an impromptu dinner party. Well actually technically I'd just invited them round for some Champagne but as the only time they were free was around dinner some basic solid sustenance had also to be proffered. I had a whim of trying to recreate John Betjeman's salons, where he'd have other creative types round to drink Champagne from pewter tankards. However I don't own any pewter tankards. Plus of course, given that we collectively also had two small children to wrangle (Erika and their daughter) the conversation couldn't really operate on anything like a Betjeman sort of level, but I was glad of the company regardless.
- [Friday 29th September 2017]
Seemed to feel a fair bit better today, obviously the worst of my cold was behind me.
I asked Erika whether she wanted to go to the after school club again today, or whether she'd just like to spend some more time with me instead - as I'd put in a few hours later on in the evening this week I felt quite entitled to down tools at 3:30 today (and in fact again ended up working more after Erika went to sleep). Erika chose the latter, which was nice.
So after picking up Erika from school we went for a quick drink at the Pineapple, then down to Kentish Town High Street to do a bit of shopping. Erika said she wanted to go into Iceland - I'm not sure I've ever actually been into one before. It's like a different world. We bought some ice lollies there and not much else. We also went into Holland and Barrett, and then headed home.
Made macaroni cheese for dinner, which had a much more favourable reception than the previous evening's paella.
- [Thursday 28th September 2017]
We had ran out of playdates for the week by this point. Erika's school has an after school club for kids with working parents, and Erika was keen to try this out, so that helped to fill a gap today, and I was able to work until about 5:30.
In the evening my cold seemed to reach its peak. Or perhaps that should be nadir. I felt pretty awful - feverish, a sore throat, and generally run down and lacking any energy.
I think this may have been the day I struggled most during the time Chie was away - unfortunately children at age 5 don't really have much in the way of empathy, and so my hope that Erika might see I was clearly feeling quite unwell and give me an easy time of it accordingly was apparently naive. I made some vague approximation of Spanish food for dinner - paella etc - and Erika really didn't seem to like it, it was a struggle getting her to eat anything other than the padron peppers, which I doubt provide a lot of nutrition. Giving Erika a bath was then similarly a struggle, as was getting her to sleep.
- [Wednesday 27th September 2017]
Another similar day to the previous two - I worked from home while Erika was at school, then after school another playdate. This time Erika had dinner (referred to as "tea" which amongst the local parents seems to mean an early dinner specifically for kids, not the general synonym for dinner as it is used up North) with her friend, which was a kids only affair, so I ordered some Indian takeaway for myself for later on when we were back home.
Erika wanted to dress up in one of her princess outfits in the evening.
I seemed to have picked up a cold, and was starting to feel a tad under the weather by today. As a result I was struggling to keep up the routine of getting Erika to sleep then doing a couple more hours of work - I think tonight I may have just fallen asleep when Erika did.
- [Tuesday 26th September 2017]
Similar plan to yesterday, I dropped Erika off at school in the morning, then worked from home while Erika was at school. Then I picked her up at 3:30, and delivered her to another playdate which Chie had thoughtfully pre-arranged before her departure.
This time though when it came time to pick Erika up from her playdate, she decided she would like to have dinner with her friend, and the family also very kindly invited me to join. So I had gin and tonics with Joe in his kitchen while he cooked dinner for all of us, and the girls played a bit longer. I was really quite touched this week by how kind everyone was in helping to look after Erika when they heard Chie needed to go back to Japan for a while.
Once back at home I assembled the frame for Chie's woodblock print I'd picked up at the Japanese Gallery in Kensington in July, and I think Erika and I did a bit more drawing together. Then after Erika went to sleep a bit more work again.
- [Monday 25th September 2017]
First day of my extended period of working from home while Chie was in Japan. I'd decided it didn't make sense to travel to the office between dropping Erika off at school at 9 and picking her up again at 3:30, particularly as recently I'd found I could be just as productive at home anyway.
Although Erika had a bit of a temperature last night, she seemed mostly fine today. I asked the staff to keep an eye on her, and although Erika did apparently at one point tell them she wanted them to call me, they checked her temperature and said she was fine.
I received a case of GevCham in the daytime. This was the case of Louis Boillot 2014 I'd bought en primeur from Berry Bros and Rudd some time last year. I was slightly perplexed when earlier this year they'd charged me a cellaring fee - which seemed reasonable enough, but then when I'd requested they deliver after that I'd got a message saying it wasn't in stock.
One of Erika's friend's Mum's had kindly offered to have Erika over after school for a bit, knowing Chie was away, so I took Erika round there and was able to get another couple of hours work done. Before I went to pick her up from her playdate I ordered some Chinese food to be delivered, and it was there waiting for us when we got back. Erika really likes duck pancakes (which we get with mock in fact) and I thought it might be nice for her to have something comforting and familiar like this to keep her spirits up while Chie was away.
After dinner we made menus for a pretend cafe - I think inspired by a game she had been playing at her friends house earlier.
After Erika went to sleep I did a bit more work - a common pattern this week, and I felt rather pleased with myself that I'd done a good job, not just at work work, but also at parenting - and it seems it's possible to achieve both of these by just entirely abandoning any thought of having my own free time!
- Whipsnade Zoo
- [Sunday 24th September 2017]
Kyle, Hannah and Ralph had moved to Harpenden earlier this year, which isn't far from Whipsnade Zoo, and Kyle had suggested we all go there together today. I was very glad of any suggestions for helping to keep Erika entertained while Chie was away, so gladly accepted.
Erika and I got the train up to Harpenden in the morning (very convenient from Kentish Town, there's a direct train), met Kyle, Hannah and Ralph there, and then got a lift with them from there to Whipsnade.
Not long after arrival at Whipsnade we had a picnic lunch, looking out over the surprisingly impressive views that are to be had from there - I'd always imagined that part of the country (Bedfordshire etc) to be very flat, but the zoo is actually on a bit of a hill with the flat bits all laid out below it. It was quite a treat to be able to have picnics two days running in the second half of September and the weather was particularly nice today for the time of year.
We then went for a somewhat random child led tour of the zoo, with Erika and Ralph forging on ahead on their scooter and balance bike respectively. Kyle commented that it was interested to observe the differing attitudes to risk the two of them had - when the path came to a downhill section, Ralph would zoom fearlessly down with his feet practically up on the handlebars, and Erika would be constantly slowing herself with one foot on the ground.
Inevitably we got to the playground which consumed quite a large chunk of the afternoon and I overheard many other parents questioning why they bother to come to the zoo at all when all their kids seem to want to do is play there. I personally was happy with Erika doing whatever she wanted as long as she was having fun, and being ZSL members we hadn't paid to get in anyway.
By about 3pm both kids were starting to flag a bit, Erika hadn't had a great night's sleep either of the past two nights, what with all the disruption to her usual routines etc, and I could see she was starting to get tired and a bit grumpy. So we started to head back. There had been talk of chocolate cookies earlier, which Hannah had baked for the kids to eat at the zoo, then forgot to bring, and Erika was quite insistent that we go back to their house first to pick hers up before getting the train back to London.
Back at home, the evening was a little bit of a struggle. Erika seemed to be coming down with a cold, and was starting to develop a bit of a temperature, which combined with the fact she was quite tired meant dinner time turned into a bit of an ordeal. There were three separate teary outbursts - a very long sustained one when she managed to accidentally bite her cheek, plus she also dropped a bit of hot food on her arm, and somehow scratched her leg. I was feeling the strain a bit by this point - and was only two days in to my 11 day stint of temporarily being a single parent!
- Box Hill
- [Saturday 23rd September 2017]
Chie's Dad had gone into hospital a few days ago and Chie wanted to go there to see him, so she flew to Japan this morning. I would be taking care of Erika by myself for the next 11 nights while Chie was away.
Thinking Erika might be a bit sad at the prospect of her Mum going away for a bit, I decided it would be good to visit family today. Erika always loves going to see her cousins, and I thought for a change it might be nice to meet up with them somewhere for a day out in the great outdoors, rather than the usual plan of going to visit them at their house.
So Erika and I got a reasonably early train down to Box Hill and Westhumble (we were up early anyway as Chie had to wake at practically dawn to get to the airport in time). As Adrian et al had things on in the morning today, we'd planned to meet them at the top of Box Hill (where there's a National Trust cafe and car park), so Erika and I did the walk up the hill by ourselves. She did seem a tad apprehensive about the whole thing to start with - presumably she was already feeling a bit out of sorts what with Chie's departure, and then on top of that my slightly unusual proposal to get the train to the middle of nowhere then walk up a big hill... but she was spurred on by the prospect of seeing her cousins at the top (and asked about every 5 minutes "Are they there yet? Who's going to get there first, us or them?"). I think she also enjoyed the famous stepping stones, even though owing to a slight miscalculation on my part we actually arrived at them having already crossed the river at a nearby bridge, so we ended up going over them once and then immediately back across again just for the sake of it.
I was impressed by how well Erika did going up the hill - she only asked to be carried for one relatively short section. It is pretty steep in places, and must have been quite hard work on her little legs. When we got to the top, I thought the views were rather impressive, but it's hard to gauge what sort of an impact things like this have on a 5 year old - she seemed more interested in the conkers we had picked up at the bottom of the hill.
Shortly afterwards we found Adrian, Liz and the kids, and Erika seemed to breathe a sigh of relief (My crazy Daddy hasn't just made we walk all the way up that hill for no reason). We had lunch on one of the picnic benches with a mixture of sandwiches we'd brought with us and a couple of extra things from the cafe - Erika had a sausage roll (or at least some of it) and I had a vegetable pasty. All 8 of us just about managed to fit on a single picnic bench and it was rather nice.
After that we went for a walk around Box Hill's "natural play trail" - which I think was really nicely done - the walk was punctuated every few hundred metres with things like see-saws and climbing frames, all made from the local trees. It was really delightful to see all of the kids actually seeming to genuinely enjoy themselves outdoors, running through the woods and climbing trees. I wish Grandad Nick had been with us, it would have "gladdened his heart" as he would say.
We were having such a nice time I realised I hadn't really been keeping track of the time, and Erika and I were supposed to be back in Kentish Town for a friend's birthday party in the early evening. We'd originally planned to get a train back around 3:30, which was starting to look increasingly impossible. I discussed this with Erika and she initially was very insistent that we should get to her friend's birthday party on time. However when I reframed the question pointing out that if she didn't mind being a bit late to her friend's party we could have an ice cream with her cousins before we left, it seemed to rather change things. So we decided to get the train an hour later, the kids all had an ice cream, then we said our goodbyes and Erika and I bounded back down Box Hill to the station.
On arrival at Victoria we dashed across London to try and not be too late for the party - and in doing so very stupidly rushed onto a tube train as the doors were closing. No injury was incurred, but Erika did get clipped by the door on the way in, and more for the shock of it than the fact it actually hurt at all was quite upset. I was then very cross with myself for doing this with Erika, which was really stupid just for the sake of trying not to be late to a party. I thoroughly deserved all the judgemental stares I received from the other passengers in the carriage, and made a resolution never to do that again.
As it happens we weren't the last people to arrive anyway, which I could easily have predicted, as one family among our local friends are always late to everything!
Even though it was an early dinner (at 5:30) I'm not sure it really worked for a group of 4 or 5 year olds, it didn't seem long before they were getting over excited then over tired and there were a few near misses with waiters carrying plates of food nearly tripped over by seemingly unfettered children. Although the Wahaca in Kentish Town is very kid friendly, and usually half empty at lunchtime, on a Saturday evening it seems to be packed, and I got the impression everyone else was relieved when our table left.
Anyway, slightly wild and unhinged though the latter part of the day was, I was glad of having been able to provide Erika with a very full itinerary for the day, which hopefully helped to take her mind off the fact her Mum was going away for a bit.
- Kentish Town Sky
- [Friday 22nd September 2017]
Met up with Chie and Erika in Kings Cross after work and got the train back to Kentish Town together. Nice sky this evening.
- [Wednesday 20th September 2017]
Attempted to meet some local friends in the Pineapple in the evening, but failed.
- The Party's Over
- [Tuesday 19th September 2017]
Discovered only too late there was some kind of Campari popup bar in Kings Cross - where was my invitation?
- Fortnum and Mason Hamper
- [Monday 18th September 2017]
Received a Fortnum and Mason hamper as a thank you gift from Bec and Dave for our family summer holiday. Had a lot of fun unpacking it!
- Erika Learns to Ride a Bike
- [Sunday 17th September 2017]
I had taken Erika out for bike riding practice a few times since we got her bike earlier this year, and it had occurred to me even though I obviously know how to ride a bike myself, I had no idea how to teach someone else. When I'd ordered her bike, I also stabilisers to come with it, which in the modern era is apparently not considered to be the done thing. I have to slightly beg to differ here having learned to ride a bike in a period of history when stabilisers were the norm, and I don't exactly come from a generation of people who are incapable of cycling, so I have the impression it does all work out in the end. There was a certain joy both for Erika and for me on the day she got her new bike that she was able to ride it straight away without any struggle, and I can't help but wonder if she might not have such a positive reaction to it had it just caused her frustration from the outset.
However, being the highly impressionable types that we are, Chie and I both soaked up all the dogma and after a few initial outings with the stabilisers on we removed them again. We'd then gone through a brief period of removing the pedals too, so Erika could treat it as a sort of balance bike (again, a modern notion of learning to ride a bike which is slightly lost on me). Finally, the last piece of advice we'd taken on board was to hold onto her rather than the bike, as somehow that makes it easier for her to learn to balance.
Along with a lack of intuition on how to teach someone else how to ride a bike, I also had no sense of how long it would take. So when we went out today I was quite prepared for the fact Erika would pedal a bit while I was holding onto her shoulders, and had no particular expectation we'd get much beyond that stage.
We did a few runs exactly like that. At times I would very briefly let go of her shoulders, keeping my hands nearby to catch her, and she'd wobble quite a lot - I didn't really have the sense she was close to balancing by herself.
The pedestrianised bit of road where we were practising gets a lot of foot traffic from locals, and we saw several of Erika's friends and their families passing by while we were there today. When Erika's best friend at school and her family passed by, I briefly paused the cycling lesson to say hello. While I was just momentarily distracted, Erika decided to launch herself off on her bike all by herself. As if by magic, she suddenly got it and in an instant was able to cycle and balance without any help from me. It was quite an amazing moment to watch.
After that, we went for lunch at Wahaca with Andrew and his two kids, and then went to their house for some of the afternoon so Erika and Zia could play together.
In the evening I made a roast meal which I thought came out relatively well. I have long since resigned myself to the fact that my roast potatoes aren't ever going to be quite what I want them to be - I have tried just about every variant on the recipe out there, and suspect the fault lies somehow with my oven... but these were about as good as they ever get.
- Lazy Saturday
- [Saturday 16th September 2017]
Had no plans for today, and ended up just passing the time either at home or nearby. Breakfast at Bear and Wolf, then pottered arounf the garden for a bit in the morning. Tried the "Moonlight Cafe" (a nearby greasy spoon) for lunch, then back home in the afternoon, passing the time with a combination of marble run and baking scones. Made nabe for dinner in the evening.
- Marble Run
- [Thursday 14th September 2017]
Played with the new Marble Run set Erika had been given for her birthday in the evening.
- [Wednesday 13th September 2017]
Night out with the usual suspects, cocktails at Disrepute then dinner at Mele e Pere.
- [Tuesday 12th September 2017]
Was surprised when I attived home by Chie and Erika wearing masks.
- The Resumption of Tweed Season
- [Monday 11th September 2017]
I decided this morning it was an appropriate juncture (helped by the grim weather) to official call an end to summer, and resume wearing tweed.
Also Erika's first day in reception!
- Erika's Birthday
- [Sunday 10th September 2017]
A fairly low key event for Erika's 5th birthday, the afternoon spent at the Pineapple with friends.
- Joseph Drouhin Tasting
- [Thursday 7th September 2017]
Went along to a Joseph Drouhin Burgundy tasting at Fortnum and Mason, conducted by the fascinating Veronique Drouhin. Dinner at the Wolselely afterwards.
- [Wednesday 6th September 2017]
Last breakfast at our hotel, out on the terrace, before chekcing out, and being shuttled to Monaco Heliport to leave Monaco in style - by helicopter! Then a slightly less glamorous flight on a regular airplane from Nice back to London.
- Tuesday in Monaco
- [Tuesday 5th September 2017]
I ventured out for a bit in the morning to see the Riviera Palace, but other than that we mostly stayed in and around the hotel all day, enjoying the beach and the swimming pool. Dinner at Lo Sfizio in the evening.
- Monday in Monaco
- [Monday 4th September 2017]
Went to the Oceanographic Museum (aquarium) towards the end of the morning, and also had lunch there. I failed in an attempt to go to a bar right on the end of the harbour arm in Fontvielle in the afternoon, while the girls transferred to our new hotel at the Eastern end of Monaco. Spent the remainder of the afternoon on the private beach and in the swimming pool at our new hotel, then in the evening went for pizza on the beach at Miami Plage, and were rather spell bound by the full moon.
- Sunday in Monaco
- [Sunday 3rd September 2017]
Breakfast at our hotel, followed by a dip in the hotel pool in the morning. Headed out after midday for a stroll up to Le Rocher and lunch at Castelroc. After lunch we headed to the Exotic Gardens to admire the tropical fauna, lovely views, and the caves. Dinner at Amici Miei in Fontvielle harbour.
- London to Monaco
- [Saturday 2nd September 2017]
I had caved in for this trip (or else it might not have happened at all) and agreed to fly rather than go by train as we always have done in the past. Managed to get business class tickets for the three of us, which helped lessen the usual unpleasantness of flying somewhat, and Erika got to both sit behind the checkin desk and in the pilot's seat!
- [Friday 1st September 2017]
- [Thursday 31st August 2017]
- [Wednesday 30th August 2017]
A couple of random pictures on a Wednesday.
- Hampstead Heath
- [Monday 28th August 2017]
Met up with a local friend of Erika's for a picnic on Hampstead Heath on the Bank Holiday Monday.
- [Sunday 27th August 2017]
Took Erika to Dreamland in Margate again, where we met Leon, Aiko and Mei.
- St Albans
- [Saturday 26th August 2017]
Chie and Erika went out for some of the daytime, my presence was not required so I decided to go and explore St Albans, and try the pub serving foraged food I had heard about. Back in London in the evening Erika and I had a barbecue in our back garden.
- New Suit
- [Friday 25th August 2017]
Picked up a new suit from Hackett today.
- [Wednesday 23rd August 2017]
A short visit to Frank's which had to be curtailed just as the sun was starting to set.
- Dimsum and Lego
- [Sunday 20th August 2017]
Lunch at our favourite dimsum place, Joy King Lau, followed by a visit to the Lego shop.
- Zoo and Mheat
- [Saturday 19th August 2017]
Took Erika to the zoo in the daytime. In the evening I had tried the new "Mheat" steak.
- Back to London
- [Friday 18th August 2017]
Said out final goodbyes at the house in the morning, drove back to Plymouth to drop off our hire car, then got the train from there back to London.
- Last Full Day
- [Thursday 17th August 2017]
Last full day of the holiday today. Did some group photos in the morning of Vera and all the children, before Bec, Dave and Jessica headed home. Didn't go too far from the house today, stayed in for the daytime, and just headed out for the last supper at the Crumplehorn Inn in the evening.
- Phoenician Meal
- [Wednesday 16th August 2017]
I'd had a ridiculous idea to make Lebanese food for dinner tonight, in honour of the ancient (and probably apocryphal) connection between Cornwall and the Phoenicians. It proved almost universally unpopular with the kids and the fussier adults, but nonetheless consumed almost my entire day, shopping in the daytime, and cooking in the afternoon / early evening. Consequently I didn't take many photos today.