Dr John Hawkins
Welcome to my bit of the Maison de Stuff,
home to a huge load of pictures,
and my daily blog.
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- Recent Entries:
- Hina Matsuri
Red Trousers Friday
Baby Thai Curry
Erika's New Cardigan
Back at Work
The Windsor Castle
Back to London
Last Day in Japan
Monday in Hiroshima
- Hina Matsuri
- [Saturday 1st March 2014]
I hope today was a really nice day for Erika - we tried to fit in lots of things that would suit her really well.
Started off with breakfast at the Regency Cafe (OK that bit was more for our benefit) then went to the children's play area in Victoria Tower Gardens - next to the Houses of Parliament - which I think was only created last year. In addition to the usual swings and slides there are some really nice touches: a set of musical stepping stones, and a fountain which you can turn on and off with a big switch, which then pours over into a little stream. We more or less had the whole place to ourselves and I think Erika really enjoyed it.
After that I took Erika to the "Just for Dads" session at our local library - Chie has been trying to get me to go to one of these for quite a while now, and for one reason or another it hasn't worked out until now. It mostly comprised of singing, but the chap who ran the session (who we'd seen once before in the guise of a Christmas elf and Santa Clause at the Christmas part we went to with Erika in 2012) was a bit of an all-rounder, and also did some balloon animals etc. Erika was pretty quiet for most of the time, although did join in a bit with a few of the songs, and I hope she enjoyed this too.
We went back to the flat after that so Erika could have some lunch, and then afterwards we headed over to Ashford (the one in Surrey, not the one in Kent) where Chie's friend Mika-san lives, for a "hina matsuri" party. Hina matsuri means girl's day - technically on March 3rd - and it just so happens in that particular group of Chie's friends lots of them seem to have had girls. So Erika had a few friends to play with for the afternoon, which, again, I hope was nice for her.
Popped into the "Little Waitrose" in Vauxhall twice today - both on the way to Ashford, and on the way back. I think it has only recently opened, today was my first time to go there, and it prompted me to comment about the gentrification of Vauxhall - a place I'd avoid altogether were it not for the occasional convenience of getting on a train there. As soon as the words left my mouth we encountered a man urinating against one of the outside walls of the actual Waitrose. Still some work to be done there, Vauxhall.
Had fresh pasta for dinner, and after giving Erika a bath and putting her to bed I spent the remainder of the evening addressing the two week backlog of updating my blog.
- Red Trousers Friday
- [Friday 28th February 2014]
A few people at the office established "red trousers Friday" - for no particular reason whatsoever some people wear red trousers on Fridays. I occasionally observe this too, and was rather delighted that Chie and Erika also joined in today. They came to my office for lunch, sporting their pantalons rouge, and also brought along our NCT friend Iris and her son Ollie, both of whom seemed a little bemused by the whole red trouser thing.
In the evening I stayed at TGIF for a bit, and then popped along to catch some of the (re) opening night of the Finborough Arms, a pub in Fulham that had last closed its doors as a pub in 2006, and I'd heard about through a couple of sources (the West London CAMRA website, and a cider related Twitter feed I follow).
- Baby Thai Curry
- [Thursday 27th February 2014]
Chie went out this evening, so I picked Erika up from nursery for a change and took her back home. I attempted to make a sort of baby friendly Thai curry, which I'd already planned in advance - tofu and some vegetables cooked in some coconut milk, flavoured with lemongrass, galangal and kaffir lime leaves. I thought it was actually quite nice, but Erika didn't seem to have much appetite, so just picked out a few bits of tofu and left most of the rest of it - I couldn't even really get her to eat more than a spoonful or two of rice.
Tonight happened to be bath night as well (we normally give her a bath every other day) so I did that by myself too, and then put her to bed, before getting on with domestic chores - I washed a load of shirts - thus today's rather odd picture.
- [Wednesday 26th February 2014]
I decided to go to the Cheltenham Festival again this year - my ticket arrived today. At least partly because I want an excuse to wear my tweed suit, and it is probably the greatest concentration of tweed of any event of the year. Chie has decided to pass this time round, and alas my friend from work who is into that sort of thing, and came along last time, has just moved to the US. However, I managed to persuade Kyle to come along, so that ought to be fun. We're going to go on Ladies Day again like last time (it's when I imagine people make the most effort to dress properly).
For tonight's dinner we had parpadelle with a tomato and Japanese mushroom sauce.
- Spanish Food
- [Tuesday 25th February 2014]
I'd bought a ready made Spanish omelette in Waitrose on Sunday, which we ate for tonight's dinner along with a paella I threw together, containing various vegetables and some Quorn pieces. It turned out rather well.
- [Monday 24th February 2014]
Nice weather today, lovely blue skies.
Tonight's dinner was an odd affair, cobbled together from the leftovers of the previous two nights' meals, which we mostly ate standing up in the kitchen.
- [Sunday 23rd February 2014]
Similar to last Sunday, Chie went to see a friend in the afternoon and took Erika with her, so I had some time off to myself. I decided to work through my list of recommended places on Google Maps and go to one of the several pubs I have on the list which I keep meaning to go to but never quite get round to. So I chose "Ye Grapes" in Shepherd Market, an interesting little corner of Mayfair. On the way there I spotted a Lebanese restaurant called Al-Sultan which looked appealing, and decided to have lunch there. That actually ended up being the highlight of the afternoon, as the pub actually seemed a bit run of the mill.
Went back home by way of Belgravia, popping in to the Waitrose there to buy supplies for dinner. Made something roughly approximating a roast meal - insomuch that it included roast potatoes - but it was a bit lacklustre, at least partly because Chie wasn't feeling very well again, and so it ended up just me and Erika eating while Chie had a lie down.
- [Saturday 22nd February 2014]
Recently I've been considering that it might be quite nice to look at least a bit further afield in our seemingly never ending search for a flat or a house to buy. Somehow or other the idea of Highgate got into my head, and so this week I had found a flat for us to go and take a look at there. If nothing else I thought it would be an excuse to see a different part of London, and while we were there we could have a nice pub lunch and a bit of a wander around.
So we headed up North towards the end of the morning, arriving in Highgate around midday, and made the Flask our first port of call, where we had a very pleasant lunch. We had been once, six years ago, and I'm pleased to report it's still very nice, even if it has in my opinion slightly regrettably gone a bit too far down the gastropub route - I don't think anyone there was just having a drink, which always makes pubs feel a bit less pubby to me. Still, the food was actually good (I had an interesting vegetarian option - stuffed savoy cabbage with mushrooms and pearly barley) and they were very child friendly - lots of other families with young kids there.
The flat viewing wasn't until 3:30 which left us at a bit of a loose end. We wandered vaguely for a bit until we found ourselves down the hill at Archway, where we were planning on getting on a tube down to Kentish Town (another area I had my eye on), but then Chie started to feel a bit unwell, and in the end she decided to just head home instead.
I kept Erika with me to give Chie a bit of a break, and she actually nodded off soon after that, so I went for a walk with her over to Crouch End - the flat we were going to look at was inbetween there and Highgate. Crouch End is one of those almost fictitious places to me - I've heard it mentioned in various places over the years, and have an image of it being full of actors and comedians - but because it's a bit out of the way I'd never been there until today.
I have to admit I was actually a bit disappointed, at least by the "centre" of Crouch End, which mostly seemed to be all the usual chains you'd find anywhere else, and certainly as far as coffee shops went I couldn't really find anything independent. I ended up having to go into a Starbucks, because I really wanted to use the toilet and couldn't find anywhere else (particularly as I had a buggy with a sleeping toddler with me). As I'd made use of the facilities I felt compelled to buy something - I ordered a macchiato and it was just foul. I only had a few sips and left the rest, then, despite not having really been looking for a coffee in the first place, felt I had to find somewhere to take the taste away, so unwittingly went into the Harris and Hoole next door. To the untrained eye it looks like it might be a credible independent coffee shop, but only after I'd been in there a few minutes did I remember this is in fact that chain owned by Tesco, which rather cynically attempts to pretend to be an independent coffee shop. The macchiato here was an improvement, but still not great.
One way or another I suppose these escapades at least killed time, and eventually it was time to go and look at the flat. That turned out to be a disappointment too - it had seemed huge (by London standards) in the brochure - 4 bedrooms (!) - but it was all carved up into lots of pokey little rooms, and it felt cluttered and not particularly big once I was actually in it. The current owners didn't actually seem to have a dining table anywhere which I found particularly off putting. Oh and the garden was a bit water logged, so that was hard to appreciate too. On top of all of that it turned out to be at least a 15 minute walk to Highgate tube station, which made it feel really rather remote.
So we won't be putting an offer in on that place.
Erika and I headed back to SW1 after that, stopping off at Sainsbury's on the way home to buy things for dinner. I made Indian food - sag aloo, dal and mutter paneer. I was particularly pleased with tonight's dal, which was made using individual spices (I usually cheat and use curry paste).
- Erika's New Cardigan
- [Friday 21st February 2014]
Erika got a new cardigan in the post from Grandma today.
- [Thursday 20th February 2014]
Benoit, a former colleague who moved back to Paris a few years ago was briefly in London this week, and so we arranged for an evening out along with some other former colleagues who he'd worked with. We revisited some old familiar haunts - starting at the Cittie of Yorke, then progressing to the Whisky Society where the bulk of the evening was spent, with just enough time left at the end for one final drink at Ye Old Mitre.
- [Wednesday 19th February 2014]
Was craving a burrito for lunch today, and managed to persuade Kyle to come along too. I was rather upset on arrival at my favourite burrito place - Picante Mexican Grill - to see they appear to have closed down, owing to a flood from the apartment above causing them so much financial loss they'd gone out of business. So rather disheartened we trudged back in the direction of the office, but as some small consolation found a new burrito place had opened up round the corner - called Adobo. It wasn't nearly as good as Picante had been, but I suppose it sort of addressed my burrito craving at least.
- [Tuesday 18th February 2014]
Um, don't remember! Am writing this nearly two weeks after the fact, and it's one of the days where I don't have any photos to jog my memory, and my location history for the day just shows the normal routine. So I assume pretty much the same sort of thing as yesterday.
- Back at Work
- [Monday 17th February 2014]
Back to the usual workday routine today after our two weeks in Japan. Erika seemed to go off to nursery with relatively little fuss, and overall I was quite happy to be back in the office. On the plus side it was great to be back in the routine of vegetarian sausages for breakfast, and really excellent macchiatos (I think I've got these down to a fine art now) - plus having my work friends on hand to chew the cud.
On the down side there had been a desk reshuffle while I'd been away and I was now surrounded by a large team on a completely unrelated project, and mostly people who I don't know. My little corner of the office had previously been almost deserted, and I'd really enjoyed the peace and quiet - but I suppose I'd known all along it couldn't last.
In the evening I made Chinese food for dinner, Erika seemed to enjoy eating noodles.
- The Windsor Castle
- [Sunday 16th February 2014]
Thanks to jetlag we all woke up very early - so around 5sm or so I decided to get up and make some bread. We didn't really have the correct ingredients - regular flour instead of bread flour, and the yeast was out of date - but I decided to give it a go anyway, as otherwise we wouldn't have anything in for breakfast. I left the dough to rise and went back to bed for a bit, although don't recall now whether I managed to get any more sleep or not.
So for breakfast we had my freshly baked bread. It wasn't great but it was better than nothing (which was the other option for breakfast) and anything baked is at least fairly pleasant when fresh out of the oven and still warm. A mostly uneventful morning after that, I think we may have done a bit of unpacking and tidying up, possibly some other domestic chores. Towards the end of the morning I took Erika for a wander round the gardens so Chie could have a bit of a break.
In the afternoon Chie had arranged to meet up with a friend of hers, with Erika in tow, so I was left to my own devices for a few hours. So I decided to head over to the wonderfully eccentric Windsor Castle in Marylebone, as of course whilst we'd been off gadding about in the Far East I had been craving the reassuring environs of a decent pub. What a lovely place to wile away a quiet hour or so. Although I did have a bit of a cough, which was something of an annoyance as I recall.
Back at home I was falling asleep by about 7:30.
- Back to London
- [Saturday 15th February 2014]
Despite the fact we'd already experienced travel disruption thanks to the snow yesterday, we'd rather nonchalantly looked at the timetable for the coach service from the hotel to the airport last night and spent a while debating whether we should get on the recommended one, which under normal operating conditions would get us to the airport about three hours before our flight took off, or whether we should get the next one and enjoy an extra half an hour in bed.
As it happens that was rather a moot point, as the hotel gave us a call at just before 7 this morning to tell us the coach service had been completely cancelled because of the snow. This was the start of a rather challenging morning.
Our initial plan was to get a taxi to Tokyo station, and get the Narita Express train service from there. This plan had two drawbacks. The first of these drawbacks was that there were no taxis available from the hotel. All of the entrances to the Okura require going up or down a fairly large slope, and consequently the few taxi drivers that were actually out on the roads this morning were avoiding it. So we decided instead we'd just have to brave the elements and walk to the nearest subway station - Kamiyacho. This was no mean feat. There was at least a foot of snow on the ground, in the process of turning to slush as a result of the icy rain. Torrents were streaming down the road like the thaw of an arctic tundra, and to add to all of that we had over 50 kilos of checkin luggage, plus our hand luggage, plus Erika. Oh and we didn't have umbreallas. And one of the wheels on the really heavy suitcase was broken (not that it really made that much difference, as I was pretty much dragging it through the snow anyway) Although theoretically only a 5 minute walk, every single step was an ordeal. At one point I have to admit to having a rather ungentlemanly outburst, which did seem to help a bit. A kind American named Joshua who had also been staying at the Okura and was in a similar predicament did at least help Chie with one of her bags (as she was also carrying Erika) , for which I am very grateful.
It was very uplifting to get inside Kamiyacho station, and I felt reassured at that point that we were now in Tokyo's excellent subway and rail network, and no longer dependent on its rather flaky taxi drivers. That was all well and good until we got to Tokyo station, where a machine happily sold us tickets for the 8:30 Narita Express, only to then find out when we got to the platform that the service had been suspended.
Oh dear, I thought.
By this point, a bit like the pied piper, we were amassing a herd of other stranded foreigners along with Joshua, who were also trying to get to the airport, and were at a bit of a loss as to who one was expected to do so now. The JR staff were making themselves conveniently scarce at this point, and eventually we managed to talk to a man on the ticket gate who told us we should go to Nippori station, and try our chances on the Keisei line (a company which runs a rival train service to Narita). This seemed like a bit of a long shot to me - if the Narita Express was cancelled because of the snow then surely another train company following a similar route would be too - but we didn't have any other backup plan so, with our new entourage of foreigners in tow, we got the Yamanote line to Nippori.
On arrival at Nippori we were encouraged to see huge queues at the ticket machines, and the displays seemed to suggest the Keisei line was amazingly still running to Narita. After a while in the queue, a member of staff announced we could use our Narita Express tickets on the next service, and so we all got on (well actually we seemed to have lost the bulk of our gaggle of foreigners at this point, but hopefully they got on too).
It wasn't one of the fastest services to Narita, and it ended up rather crowded as you might expect, but it got us to the airport - amazingly at the scheduled time of 10:16 - well done Keisei. So we were at the checkin desk about an hour and 25 minutes before our flight was due to take off. Loads of time!
I felt a great sigh of relief after having checked in, and was pleasantly surprised that the flights didn't seem disrupted at all - it didn't seem to have snowed around Narita airport, it was just the area between there and Tokyo which was causing all the problems with the trains and coaches.
The actual flight was tedious and irritating as always - and I was already exhausted before we'd even boarded - but at least it was all on time, and Erika was very well behaved onboard.
We landed in London at something like 3:20 in the afternoon, and got on a 4:20 Heathrow Express. Paddington provided the beautiful welcome back to London which Heathrow never does, and from there we got a taxi back home, and were back in the flat around 5.
I managed to stay awake until about 7:30, just long enough to have a shower, unpack, put on a load of washing, and have dinner. Then I thought sod it and just went to bed.
- Last Day in Japan
- [Friday 14th February 2014]
Last full day of this trip. We said our goodbyes to Jiji and Baba in the morning, and got the shinaksen from Hiroshima to Tokyo through a snowy Japan. It's normally a four hour journey - today it was more like 4 and a half because of the snow (the worst bit was between Kyoto and Nagoya, apparently). Two delayed trains in Japan in the same week!
Chie had been a bit worried about taking Erika on the shinkansen, as it's usually very quiet on board, and packed full of salarymen, who may not always be the most forgiving of a noisy toddler. As it happens I don't think she really bothered anyone - although a few times she pointed at the dozing man across the aisle from us and said (quite loudly) "nene!" (Japanese baby talk for "sleep"). The Observer effect in action.
On arrival at Tokyo station we got a taxi to our hotel - the Okura. It's quite a famous old hotel in Japan, particularly with foreign visitors. We'd decided to stay there this time as we'd noticed on a previous trip it was the last stop on the route for the coach service which goes to Narita Airport, having picked up at some of the big hotels. Since it stops a good 5 or 10 minutes at each hotel, being the last on the route meant we'd theoretically get almost half an hour extra sleep. Although, per tomorrow's entry, that turned out to be something of a moot point.
After checking in we met up with both Tanaka-san and Yuka-chan at the hotel - both of whom had very kindly braved the snowy conditions to come and meet us there. I went off to one of the hotel's bars with Tanaka-san for a bit (Bar Highlander) whilst the girls went for a wander round the hotel's shopping arcades. Tanaka-san left before the rest of us headed out for dinner, but nonetheless it was great to have an hour or two to quickly catch up over a drink or two.
For dinner, Chie had found a macrobiotic restaurant called Chaya, not too far away at Shiodome. As it turned out though getting there was a bit of a challenge, as taxis were starting to become reticent about coming to the Okura - all of the entrances have slopes to go up or down to get to, and the drivers were all a bit worried about getting stuck it seemed. We probably waited almost half an hour for a taxi in the end.
Dinner was then a short but sweet affair, as to be honest I was a bit worried about whether or not we'd be able to get back to the hotel again. Macrobiotic restaurants are often a good bet for having one or two vegetarian items on the menu - I'm still not really sure exactly how or why that's the case, but it seems the macrobiotic diet, whilst including fish, pretty much eschews meat. I had some seitan fritter things which weren't bad, and a cocotte which had a tiny amount of soy "meat" in it, and was mostly beetroot - but was pleasant enough nonetheless.
Again we had a bit of a wait for taxis on the way back, but managed to return to the hotel just before 9. We gave Erika a quick bath, and then went to sleep with some trepidation over what the morning would bring...
- [Thursday 13th February 2014]
Awoke this morning at the onsen hotel - Chie went for another visit to the communal bath whilst Erika and I continued to doze (thus accounting for the very sweet picture at the start of the day). After breakfast we checked out, got the shuttle bus back over the bridge to Obatake station on the mainland.
From there we got back on the Sanyo line, but rather than going all the way back to Hiroshima, we broke our journey to visit Miyajima.
The main purpose was to visit Chie's Grandma there, and we weren't really planning to do any of the usual touristy stuff. As it happened though we arrived just before midday, and thought Chie's Grandma would probably be having her lunch - and also Erika was having a nap. So I suggested we go and have a coffee at coffee shop I'd found whilst searching around for independent coffee shops in the Hiroshima area - called, simple enough, Miyajima Coffee. Whilst the espresso I had was perhaps a bit watery, I liked the atmosphere of the place, and they had a La Marzocco which suggests some level of seriousness to the whole endeavour. After that, we followed on our elevenses with a momiji manju and a cup of green tea at Fuji-ya, my favourite momiji manju producer on the island. It's great that these shops all seem to have a little seating area where you can sit down, enjoy a freshly made momiji manju straight from the production line (which you can also watch through a glass panel), and a cup of green tea, for the embarassingly cheap price of 100 yen. Amusingly tea and cake for four at Fuji-ya came to the princely sum of 400 yen (£2.34 at the current exchange rate) - about the same price as a single coffee in the previous place.
From there we went to the nursing home to visit Chie's Grandmother. As on previous visits she was delighted to see Erika who in return was bubbly and lovely throughout the visit.
Headed back to the ferry port after that, and on the ferry back to the mainland we gave Erika her first ever momiji manju (I'd got an extra of the freshly baked ones when we'd been at Fuji-ya). She's probably a bit too young still to be having anything this sweet, but given that she is one quarter of Miyajima origin, it somehow seemed appropriate to make an exception. She rather liked it, of course.
Back on the mainland, at Miyajimaguchi (guchi means "gate"), we went to an udon place for a late lunch. As it was impossible to find any kind of liquid condiment there which didn't contain dashi, I ate mostly plain boiled udon, but with the addition of some vegetable tempura, some chopped spring onions, and some grated ginger, it was't too bad. Erika seems to really like udon at the moment - she's got pretty good at doing the "churuchuru" action, which is handy as it means she can still eat a piece even if you only get one end of it in her mouth.
Back at chez Moriwaki in the evening we had another tonyu nabe (soy milk hotpot) for dinner.
- [Wednesday 12th February 2014]
Chie usually likes to plan a little excursion during a stay in Hiroshima. This time she arranged for us all (including Chie's Grandma) to go to an onsen on Yashiro Island, which we could get to via the local Sanyo line which runs along the coast in this part of Japan.
We set out in the afternoon. I think the train was only meant to take a bit over an hour, but as it happened we were stuck for something like 45 minutes in a little station called Fuju, the other side of Iwakuni, as a car had got trapped on a level crossing.
So it was about 5pm by the time we finally got to our hotel - a little shuttle bus came to pick us up at Obatake station, to take us over the green bridge that links Yashiro Island to the mainland.
Dinner was the usual lavish affair that we always seem to end up with in a ryokan, served in one of the rooms (although for some reason neither of the two rooms our group were staying in). By prior arrangement they'd made a pretty concerted effort to make a vegetarian version of the feast for me. There were a myriad of small dishes (I always feel sorry for whoever has to wash up when eating this kind of cuisine).
After dinner everyone else went for a dip in the communal baths - as is typically the case there are separate male and female baths, and Chie said it was a highlight of the whole trip to Japan to be able to go to the baths with four whole generations of her family - from Erika right up to Erika's Great Grandmother. I on the other hand though thought I'd just make use of the "rotenboru" (outdoor bath) we had attached to our room. I sat there in the hot water, with a beer, looking out across a dark sea back to the mainland.
- New Camera
- [Tuesday 11th February 2014]
Chie, Erika and I headed into the centre of Hiroshima in the daytime today to do a bit of shopping. Mainly I wanted to get a new camera. All the pictures from the current one had started to look a bit hazy - particularly if I used the zoom at all.
This is probably one of the quickest camera purchases I've ever made - as we had Erika with us I didn't want to spent ages hanging around in the shop, so after some brief deliberation I basically just bought the newer model of the camera I already have - an Ixus (or Ixy as they call them in Japan) something or other.
For lunch we went to "Grazie Gardens" the Italian "famiresu" (family restaurant) Chie and I have historically always been quite fond of. It's interesting how inconsistent my food snobbery can be - I wouldn't be caught dead in a chain Italian restaurant in London now, but somehow in Japan it's OK. Of course part of our excuse now is that it's a bit harder to find child friendly restaurants in Japan. Indeed, this time we even ordered Erika something from the kids menu - a Japanese curry served on an Anpanman plate.
I switched over to my new camera whilst in there, hopefully from today onwards you can see the difference in picture quality.
I felt a bit sleepy after lunch - I don't think I ever fully recovered from jetlag for the whole two weeks of this trip. So as Erika had also dozed off, I took her and sat in a branch of Tully's (again, I wouldn't be seen dead in a chain coffee shop in London, but here there isn't really much of an alternative). I ordered a double espresso followed by a macchiato (both of which seemed to flummox the staff a bit - I don't think many people order coffee which actually tastes of coffee here).
We ended up staying in the centre of Hiroshima for the remainder of the afternoon, until Chie's Mum came to meet us, and we headed for an early dinner at Kura Sushi - the hi tech sushi place I'd enjoyed on our last trip to Japan. Whilst the vegetarian options are unsurprisingly a bit limited (basically tamago, inari sushi and kappamaki) I enjoyed the experience again, perhaps a little more so this time as Erika was able to eat a bit more too.
- Monday in Hiroshima
- [Monday 10th February 2014]
Fairly quiet sort of a day in Hiroshima today. We headed out to the nearby giant mall complex (Aeon Mall or whatever it's called) towards the end of the morning, and did a bit of shopping, plus had a terrible coffee at the Tully's there (why on earth I thought the "mille feuille latte" would be a good idea to order I do not know. After that we went to Chie's Grandmother's house for a late-ish lunch, and Erika had another quick go on the slide.
In the evening Chie's parents teamed up to cook okonomiyaki - Hiroshima style of course - which was very good as always. Although Erika didn't really eat much of it because she'd filled herself up on edamame first.