[Friday 22nd May 2020]
I had the day off from work and decided we all really needed some escape from our urban confines. So I hired a car and we got out of London to see some proper countryside - the closest example of which I could think of being Ivinghoe Beacon.
[Sunday 17th May 2020]
I went for a long urban walk this morning by myself, now that time spent outdoors exercising is unrestricted (ridiculous that it ever was). Was roughly aiming for Highgate Wood, but actually just went to neighbouring Queen's Wood instead. On the way back discovered the Southampton Arms had reopened for takeaway, which made my day.
[Saturday 16th May 2020]
Ordered fish and chips for lunch (had attempted to yesterday evening but the place we wanted to order from wasn't available, so had to wait until today). In the afternoon I took Erika for a walk to Hampstead Heath, having discovered there was a Bronze Age barrow there, and I wanted to have a closer look.
[Tuesday 12th May 2020]
Practiced bushcraft firelighting in the garden this evening - made "feather sticks" as a firelighting aid, and managed to start a little fire using just that and my tiny little ferro rod.
[Sunday 10th May 2020]
Video chat with Vera, Robin and Louise in the morning. Lego in the afternoon. In the evening I opened the first bottle from my case of Domaine Fourrier Gevrey Chambertin 2015.
[Saturday 9th May 2020]
Quite a mixed bag, and most of it outdoors - a bit of gardening, I revisited the Monnow Valley 2004 Brut, pizza in the garden for dinner, then a late post dinner stroll to a nearby park where we saw squirrel and a nonchalant fox.
[Friday 1st May 2020]
Another English Wine Night online tasting event this evening. This week the focus was on the Wessex region, so I chose a sparkling wine from Dorset: English Oak. Also some Jelly Belly jelly beans arrived from Mum, so we had a fun time tasting those too.
[Thursday 30th April 2020]
The previous night Erika had some difficulty getting to sleep and I theorised it might be in part down to a lack of activity. Although her school's PE teacher makes workout videos for the kids, and we try to supplement this with our own bits of PE where we can (we've been having occasional games of football in our tiny back garden), the daily home schooling routine is still a lot less active than a normal day at school would be for her. Now and again exercise seems to fall by the wayside a bit and yesterday had definitely been one of those days.
I could see Chie was in need of a break as well, so I took some time out of work this morning to take Erika off to Hampstead Heath for some fresh air and exercise. She sometimes goes to the heath with school, so this seemed to me like an entirely legitimate part of the school day. We went to Erika's usual favourite spots, the "mudslide of doom" (which wasn't particularly muddy today, despite the recent rain), and the den building area. From there, while looking for a place to build a new den, Erika was intrigued by a little path leading off into the thicket, and in following this we embarked on some impromptu jungle exploration. We did eeny meeny miny moe to choose our route at each fork of the path, and in the middle of those dense trees and bushes we could have been hundreds of miles away from London, which feels a bit like an urban prison at the moment.
Of course, our adventure in the rainforests of North London only lasted a few minutes before we ran out of thicket, and emerged back onto the wide open plains of Parliament Hill, but it was lovely, and I think what we both needed. We wandered slowly back down the hill, picking buttercups and dandelions. We bumped into a friend of Erika's (but of course maintained our distance in line with the current ridiculousness) out with his little brother and his Mum. Oddly he and his brother had socks pinned to their hoods. I think this was more a fashion statement than anything practical.
We got back home a bit before lunchtime and I resumed working. Took delivery of some more wine in the afternoon, including another couple of bottles of the fascinatingly weird Monnow Valley Brut 2004 which I had last had at the Welsh sparkling wine tasting I organised last summer.
Quite mixed weather today, and it's good that we got out for our walk in the morning, as it was raining for much of the afternoon - quite hard at times. Clear skies later on though, and I had another go at taking pictures of the moon in the evening, which were unsuccessful as always. I think mobile phone cameras just aren't really capable of this sort of thing - you need a proper zoom.
[Wednesday 29th April 2020]
While I was out for my evening stroll yesterday Erika (with a bit of help from Chie) had used the giant roll of paper we have to draw a big sort of wall frieze to cheer me up as I've really been missing the countryside over the past few weeks. I took a couple of picture of it this morning for posterity. I particularly like the "our house and vineyard" on the left hand side, and the details like the mushrooms and the flowers (including forget me nots, which I'd recently been pointing out to Erika) are really sweet.
Chie made Gyoza for dinner. This is a Russian roulette sort of a meal, as now and again given the highly variable performance of our supposedly non-stick frying pan they go wrong, stick to the pan, and fall apart - causing Chie to be in a very bad mood. Thankfully tonight was not one of those occasions, and they came out very well.
[Tuesday 28th April 2020]
I made a lazy / unimaginative pasta bake for dinner. Although I did think it was quite nice.
After dinner, following some prompting from the other members of my household, I went for an early evening walk to Hampstead Heath. Much gloomier weather than either of last week's forays to the heath, but oddly I rather liked it for that. Perhaps mainly because it meant there were fewer people and I had a much greater sense of an escape from the sense of immuration which has become particularly exacerbated in the current situation.
[Saturday 25th April 2020]
A much more successful barbecue than the previous one this evening! The main reason of course being that I actually used charcoal this time.
So dinner was (from the barbecue) burgers, halloumi, peppers, a grilled leek in soy sauce (nicer than it sounds), a grilled onion, then later baked potatoes and I even cooked a bit of pasta in the kettle pot which came with my Biolite campstove on the residual charcoals for fun.
[Friday 24th April 2020]
Joined in an online tasting of Welsh wines this evening. I felt like I was already an expert on the subject having conducted a tour of the vineyards of Monmouthshire last May/June followed by organising probably the most comprehensive tasting of Welsh sparkling wines ever held last summer... but of course the wine world is a rather cliquey environment, and nobody "in the industry" seems particularly interested in the opinions of amateurs like me. Still I set that ego to one side, and listened in to the talks online as a quiet bystander, and enjoyed the event regardless. I have been really appreciating this series of WineGB online events (starting with the Big English Wine Good Friday two weeks ago), as it has given me something to look forward to in these strange times, where otherwise one day would feel very much like the previous one...
Spaghetti bolognese for dinner - which sounds like an unimaginative lazy cop out - but it was actually quite an involved sauce cooked for a long time with more ingredients than usual, as we happened to have a well stocked fridge: onions, garlic, celery, mushrooms, tomatoes, Quorn mince, a bit of tomato stock cube, and a bay leaf from the garden. I thought the end result was very tasty.
[Wednesday 22nd April 2020]
Our weekly veg box arrived this morning, including a large amount of leeks (which to us is any number of leeks greater than one). So I decided to do the obvious thing make leek and potato soup for lunch. I put a lot of effort into preparing all the vegetables (so much peeling and chopping), and yet neither of the other members of my household seemed to like it. I vowed not to make soup again for the forseeable future, observing that essentially most people don't actually like healthy home made soup, they only seem to like the vaguely vegetable flavoured hot brine you buy in shops.
Went for an evening walk to Hampstead Heath.
[Saturday 18th April 2020]
I went for a morning walk to Hampstead Heath, and found it quite envigorating. Lots of flowers blooming at the moment. Some of the remainder of the day spent cleaning.
[Friday 10th April 2020]
Actually ventured out into a shop in the morning, for the first time in nearly three weeks. Spent much of the afternoon out in the garden, then in the evening joined in with an online English wine tasting event.
[Saturday 4th April 2020]
Predicting that we might run out of coffee at some point, and wanting to keep trips to the shops to a bare minimum, I'd bought some green coffee beans a while back. These seemed like a good idea because they last longer (after roasting the beans will eventually dry out and go stale, but prior to roasting presumably they last for years...?). I'd read that roasting is a smokey process, and best done outside, so thought having a go over my campstove in the garden would make for a fun activity.
I made a video of it:
Peter Hall from Breaky Bottom called while I was out in the garden, which was a nice surprise - I think he'd just wanted to clear up a confusion over some misdirected emails, but we ended up talking for 45 minutes, one of those lovely rambling conversations like we have when I go to visit BB. Sometimes wine, sometimes viticulture, sometimes Hilaire Belloc, sometimes anecdotes from Peter's fascinating life history.
Erika attended a friend's birthday party over Zoom, where they just about managed to play a game of Harry Potter Top Trumps remotely. This partly spanned lunch, so Erika had her lunch sat in front of the laptop while talking to her friends.
We hadn't left home since last weekend, and that had just been a quick walk around the block, so we decided in the early evening we ought to make a concerted effort to get to some green space. By 6pm Hampstead Heath was relatively quiet, it was a warm spring day and under normal circumstances it would have been lovely, but the people dodging and the sense that we might be told off if we lingered too long in any one spot rather marred the experience.
Had a late dinner (pasta with bolognese sauce) when we got home, after which we all seemed to be worn out, so we all went to bed at the same time.
[Friday 3rd April 2020]
Today was Erika's last day of term, so her two weeks of home schooling had come to an end. Slightly daunted at the prospect of 16 consecutive days ahead of us without that bit of structure, and with very limited scope to leave home to help fill the time. Probably best not to think about it, and just take one day at a time.
Had a couple of food deliveries this morning, although a passing ne'er-do-well attempted to run off with one while the delivery driver was going back to the van. The driver valiantly grabbed in back off him, and the miscreant (accompanied by a lady friend who was holding his beer for him so he could pick up the box - it was 11am) made out he thought it was for him, as he lived at number 34. There is no number 34 on our street.
Lunch was some of the vegan schintzels we'd taken delivery of, served on tagliatelle (tossed in butter and parmesan) with the rest of the kale buds from yesterday. I was quite pleased with that as a simple but relatively rounded lunch dish.
For dinner Chie made a Japanese "cream stew" using soy milk and some more of the fake meat from today's delivery.
Took delivery of a box of Heck's Kingston Black cider this afternoon. I'd found myself craving cider the past few days, in the hope it would magically transport me out to the countryside. I spent some of the evening out in the garden attempting to teleport via fermented apple juice. It was a pleasant spring evening and I suppose the Kingston Black did help lift the mood a bit.
[Saturday 28th March 2020]
Attempted to keep ourselves amused while stuck at h ome. It was hard work at times. Although highlights include the sofa cushion fortresss / Nerf battle Erika and I had, and the girls made me a belated birthday cake.
[Sunday 22nd March 2020]
Finally discovered how to set up the washing line in our back garden - there had been a coiled up line attached to one wall since we moved in, but I had never figured out where to hook the other end of the line to until now - I was standing and looking at the fence at the back and saw a nail sticking out of the top of the fence post. It was just the right distance.
Spent much of the day out in the garden, inventing new games to play with Erika. Most successful of these was "blind fishing". You have to close your eyes and catch as many balls / frogs as you can from the paddling pool with a fishing net. We then made a more complicated version of the rules in which you get points for the frogs, but points taken away for the balls. Erika was suspiciously good at it.
Later on opened the bottle of Sugrue Cuvee Dr Brendan o'Regan. I had been saving it for a Sugrue themed tasting session with friends, but who knows when that might be able to happen now? So I thought I'd just drink the bloody thing. The cork was moudly, but I read that as long as it's only on the exterior, the wine inside would be fine. I decided it best to sabrage it to be on the safe side, and this led to a particularly satisfying video:
Tasting notes here, on Twitter:
The @DermotSugrue Dr Brendan O'Regan: A fantastic, complex wine, filled with notes of Japanese cuisine. Bitter citrus (yuzu?) on the nose, honeysuckle veering towards mirin, so much umami on the palate (kombu, wakame), and succulent (rice vinegar?) acidity. #EnglishSparklingWinepic.twitter.com/8IgHML8aov
[Sunday 15th March 2020]
Birthday outing, which turned out to be one final hurrah in terms of restaurants and pubs for the foreseeable future - lunch at Oliveto followed by some time at the Pineapple in the afternoon.
[Saturday 7th March 2020]
Had an early start this morning, having stayed overnight in Goring, so I could do the next section of the Ridgeway: from Goring to Wantage.
I'd quite liked my cosy room, up in the roof of the Miller of Mansfield, although I often find it a bit difficult sleeping in a different bed for the first night - just adjusting to the different sounds of the room etc. So I didn't get a perfect night's sleep, but it was good enough. Breakfast wasn't officially served until 8am but I was keen to get going as early as possible, so I went down a bit before that and just helped myself to the cold buffet stuff. Thus I was on the way by 8am.
Like many stretches of the Ridgeway, today's walk generally didn't deliver the most scintillating scenery. The countryside surrounding much of the Ridgeway is generally agricultural in nature, and despite the elevation of much of the route (frequently over 200m) the landscape either side often feels a bit, well, flat.
Still, I did enjoy two bits of the walk in particular today:
First, near the start of the walk, the long country lane leading out of Streatley which the Ridgeway follows, and then the track beyond there. Once I had got onto the track I think I walked for about 2 or 3 miles before I saw another human. That was a wonderful feeling of solitude and as I write this now, several weeks later, I realise how precious that was.
Second, towards the end of the walk, I passed Scutchamer Knob, and paused there for a while to take it in. I enjoyed this spot both because it was one of the first signs of ancient man I'd passed on the Ridgeway so far (beyond Wantage there will be many more of course!) and also because I remembered having been there once before, on a short walk with Dad over 20 years ago. This was a very evocative spot today, and I stood atop it despite the wind, eating the stem ginger biscuit I'd been given on the train yesterday, and felt something or other which I couldn't really put my finger on.
[Friday 6th March 2020]
Received a case of GevCham in the morning. Got the train to Reading in the evening to go aRob and meet up with Rob and Mark while Mark was in the UK. After that I headed on to Goring to check in to the Miller of Mansfield where I'd be staying tonight ahead of my walk along the Ridgeway tomorrow.
[Tuesday 3rd March 2020]
Kodomo no hi (children's day) in Japan. Chie made Japanese food for dinner - chirashi sushi and lotus chips. Also I had a go at Japanese flower arranging. Sort of.
[Saturday 29th February 2020]
Oddly didn't take any photos today. I'm writing this a few weeks later and if I recall correctly the weather looked pretty bad so I didn't go out for a walk (although in hindsight I wished I'd just gone anyway). Chie and Erika were off at Erika's Japanese school in the morning as usual, and looking at my Google Maps timeline it looks like I stayed in for most of the morning, then headed down to Earth, the health food shop in Kentish Town, to do some shopping just before lunchtime. Later on in the early evening I popped out to Theatre of Wine, and I think I bought some Austrian wine, although I forget what it was exactly, as I'd planned to make goulash for dinner, and thought something evoking the Austro-Hungarian Empire would be appropriate.
[Thursday 20th February 2020]
Last day in Flumserberg. Played in the snow a bit in the morning, built a snowman and a snowduck (?). Later on did some more mountain walking, this time to Prodalp (read more here).
Later on in the afternoon we got the train back to Zurich, where we had one last fondue for dinner.
[Wednesday 19th February 2020]
The main focus of today was a skiing lesson, starting at midday. I came to the conclusion skiing really wasn't for me, but Erika seemed to be pretty good at it.
[Tuesday 18th February 2020]
After some faff buying a ticket in Zurich which meant we had a later start than I hoped, we got a train to Unterterzern, at the foot of the mountains, then the cable car up to Flumserberg Tannenboden. Checked into our hotel, and then spent the remainder of the afternoon on various cable cars and chair lifts, with some mountain walking and taking full advantage of the many mountain refreshment stops along the way. Fondue for dinner (of course!), then back to our hotel.
[Monday 17th February 2020]
Took the TGV from Paris to Zurich in the morning. Arrive in Zurich at 2:30, had some macarons from Sprungli for afternoon tea, then a wander round the city. Dinner at Hiltl in the evening.
[Sunday 16th February 2020]
Eurostar to Paris in the morning, late lunch at a creperie, then an afternoon wander round Paris, and spent the evening enjoying the night time views of the Eiffel tower from our hotel room.
[Saturday 15th February 2020]
Day before our half term trip to Switzerland. Wanted to do the next section of the Ridgeway but it was too stormy today, so instead I pottered about at home. In the evening I attempted to use up everything perishable from the fridge for dinner, and came up with a sort of hybrid moussaka / lasagne.
[Sunday 9th February 2020]
Storm Ciara made it a bit of a wet and windy Sunday and we mostly stayed indoors. Just a couple of forays out into the garden between downpours to check on the state of things.
[Saturday 8th February 2020]
Quite a long walk today - 15 miles - and made it all the way to Goring, although did end up deviating somewhat from the official route of the Ridgeway National Trail to make my own way, closer to the original route of the Icknield Way.
[Monday 3rd February 2020]
The day in the Japanese calendar marking the end of winter (or is it the start of spring?) where somebody has to dress up as an "oni" (devil?) and be pelted with dried soy beans.
[Saturday 1st February 2020]
Completed the section I was planning to complete last weekend (but wasn't quite in the mood before) with much nicer weather today. Albeit still a bit odd to culminate a walk at Junction 6 of the M40!