John Hawkins



Dr John Hawkins

Welcome to my bit of the Maison de Stuff, home to a huge load of pictures, and my daily blog.

My email address is as above - I've put it in an image in a vein attempt to reduce the amount of spam I get.

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Recent Entries:
Soho with Ricardo and Jim
Garden Centre, Hampstead Heath and Keats House
Herb Stand, Ramen, Macarons, Truffle
Leon in London
Anniversary
Wednesday
Nest Thermostat
Tooth
Swimming
South Downs Way: Petersfield to East Meon
The Harrow Inn
Thursday
Wednesday
Tuesday
Vinegrowing Course Day 2
Twelfth Night
Veggie Karaage
Highgate
Shakesperience
Wahaca and Plunger
New Year's Day
Cocking to Petersfield
Winter Wonderland
Bec and Jessica
Abergavenny
Thursday in Bristol
Boxing Day at the Zoo
Christmas Day
Christmas Eve
Christmas Party

Soho with Ricardo and Jim
[Monday 21st January 2019]
Had an evening out with Ricardo and Jim in Soho.
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Garden Centre, Hampstead Heath and Keats House
[Sunday 20th January 2019]
Went to the garden centre in the morning to buy more potted herbs to put in the newly assembled herb stand. Took a stroll across Hampstead Heath around lunchtime, and stopped for lunch at the Parliament Hill Cafe. After that went to a kids event at Keats House in Hampstead.
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Herb Stand, Ramen, Macarons, Truffle
[Saturday 19th January 2019]
Quite a mixed bag of a day. Jeremy came round in the morning to assemble thhice herb stand Mum had given me for Christmas (which I'd struggled with myself). Ramen in Soho for lunch. I bought a white truffle from Gelupo, and also got my hair cut. Back at home we had afternoon tea including some macarons. Then truffle pasta for dinner.
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Leon in London
[Friday 18th January 2019]
Leon was working in London today, so we met up for some late afternoon / early evening pubs around Farringdon.
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Anniversary
[Thursday 17th January 2019]
Erika decorate a cake to celebrate the anniversary of when Chie and I first met.
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Wednesday
[Wednesday 16th January]
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Nest Thermostat
[Tuesday 15th January 2019]
Had a Nest Thermostat installed today, and then spent the evening obsessively looking at thermometers because I wasn't convinced it was working properly.
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Tooth
[Monday 14th January 2019]
Erika's second tooth came out today!
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Swimming
[Sunday 13th January 2019]
Took Erika to the swimming pool in Finchley in the morning - it has a wave machine. After that, shock horror, lunch at McDonald's (!!!) then back home for the rest of the day.
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South Downs Way: Petersfield to East Meon
[Saturday 12th January 2019]
I had stayed the previous night in Petersfield, thinking I could then make an early start this morning and cover a lot of ground despite the limited daylight hours this time of year. I had an ambitious goal (which I did not achieve) to get all the way to Exton.

Although I did manage to set out from my hotel at 8am, my choice of accommodation (influenced by not wanting to be too far from the marvellous Harrow Inn) meant I spent the first hour just getting back to Buriton, which was still not even quite on the South Downs Way. This would probably have been a more sensible place to stay the night in terms of getting on the South Downs Way as quickly as possible this morning, but trying to get here in the dark last night after several pints of cider in the Harrow Inn would probably have not been a great idea.

It was rather a grey and dreary day today, and in addition to this my enthusiasm to be out walking was further dwindled by the mostly urban character of the start of the walk, as well as having perhaps ever so slightly too much cider at the Harrow Inn the previous evening. So that first hour to get to Buriton definitely felt like a bit of a trudge.

It was nice to pass through Buriton again though, it's quite a pretty village, and thanks to a tip off about one footpath underneath the railway being closed, I took a slight detour by way of the pond, down a little country lane leading out of the village, under the railway, and through Appleton's Copse, where there were some signs of a former chalk mine. That was all pleasant enough.

So it wasn't until an hour and twenty minutes into my walk - probably about 4 miles - that I saw my first South Downs Way route marker of the day... and then I almost immediately left the South Downs Way again. Here the South Downs Way passes through the Queen Elizabeth Country Park, and takes an oddly indirect route. I had the sense when planning today's walk that anywhere called a "country park" would not comprise the sort of countryside I really like, so decided it best to just take the shortest route through that I could. I was right - it was rather bland, managed woodland, probably fun for mountain bikers (who had some dedicated slalom type runs) but not very interesting as a walker.

Unfortunately the A3 forms a major obstacle here, and what I really would have liked to do is head almost due West from Buriton, and skip the country park altogether, but alas the only crossing of the A3 require heading a fair way South, before then having to head back North again the other side.

The other side of the A3 things did start to improve a bit - a reasonably steep climb up Butser Hill, albeit still very close to the A3, felt a bit more like the wide open countryside I'd come to love along the nicer parts of the South Downs Way. From the top I could see all the way to the sea.

Slightly disappointingly after this the path followed a road for a bit - but it was at least not a very busy one, along a ridge, with reasonable views either side.

It was around this point that I started to weigh up my options for where I should aim to end today's walk. I'd originally thought I might try to get as far as Exton, which would probably have been about a five hour walk in total, but there didn't seem to be much in the way of public transport from there - as far as I could tell no buses run from there to Petersfield on a Saturday. Another option was West Meon, which was almost as far, but at least had buses. The easiest option was to aim for East Meon, also reasonably well served by buses, and the closest of the three villages.

Given a combination of the dreary weather, the long trudge at the start to get out of Petersfield as well as the dull bit going through the Queen Elizabeth Country Park (not to mention the fact I was a bit hungover and also now starting to get quite hungry) I was just not really enjoying the walk today as much as I had some of the previous outings. So I decided to cut my losses, and plumped for the cop out - I would head for East Meon. It would also mean I could get back to London with some of the afternoon still remaining, and spend some time with Chie and Erika, who I felt I'd been neglecting a bit having stayed overnight in Petersfield.

So at Hyden Hill, I said goodbye once more to the South Downs Way, and headed down the hill towards East Meon. I felt emboldened in my choice given that this took me past the source of the river Meon, which felt like a point of interest I might not have seen otherwise. Close to the source little ponds had formed with crystal clear water, and what I almost certainly incorrectly assumed to be wild watercress. Then through farmland, until I eventually reached East Meon, just before midday.

East Meon is a very pretty little village, with an interesting mixture of architectural styles - some thatch, some exposed timerframe, some rendered, some tile clad, some bare brick, and some download stone cladding. A bit of everything. The village has a church, the spire of which I had seen from atop Hyden Hill, two pubs, and a village shop (which I heard some of the locals complaining about later when I was waiting for the bus). I poked my nose in at the shop hoping I might find a souvenir or some interesting local produce, but it seemed to be a Happy Shopper, stuck in a 1980s timewarp, with a lot of half empty shelves, and rather depressing. I can see why the locals were a bit unhappy with it.

I took to surveying the two pubs, to choose where to have lunch. Ye Old George Inn looked a bit gentrified from the outside. Not really my sort of thing. The Izaak Walton seemed to be much more the locals pub, and was a bit basic on the inside - alas not in a charming rustic way. Still, I chose there for lunch, and was glad of the hearty unpretentious vegetable lasagne of the type you only really get in pubs.

Just before 1pm I got the bus (perfectly on time) back to Petersfield. The bus went past the hotel where I'd stayed the previous night on the way into town, and I found it slightly disheartening that thanks to the almost U shaped route I'd taken, my four hours of walking this morning had only actually transported me about 4 miles as the crow flies, and it was all undone with a 15 minute bus journey.

I managed to hop on a train almost immediately at Petersfield station, and was back in London by 2:30.
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The Harrow Inn
[Friday 11th January 2019]
I had still been mulling over whether I might be able to get to a proper rural wassail somewhere this weekend, and was considering one which would be on Saturday night in Herefordshire, but eventually decided against it as it's just such a big undertaking getting to remote parts of Herefordshire, and I also felt bad for abandoning Chie and Erika for most of the weekend.

As it turned out the girls had plans to visit friends this evening, and also Erika was going to a trial music lesson tomorrow morning, so it occurred to me the ideal window for some sort of jaunt involving an overnight stay would be tonight rather than Saturday night. Thus the original idea of going to a wassail morphed into continuing my fragmented journey along the South Downs Way, with an overnight stay in Petersfield which would have the twin benefits of giving me an early start on the walk the next morning, and affording me the opportunity to return to the wonderful Harrow Inn, which I had fallen in love with when visiting for the first time in February last year.

So I clocked off from work a bit early (it was a Friday after all), got the tube to Waterloo, and from there got the train down to Petersfield.

On arrival in Petersfield it occurred to me that the mile (ish) long walk from the station to the pub, which is just beyond the outskirts of town, was going to be ever so slightly challenging as it was really quite dark, and the latter half of the walk was down an entirely unlit country lane. I did eventually have to resort to using my phone as a torch for some sections, as I managed to trip on potholes a couple of times. I suppose this added to the sense of adventure of getting there.

On arrival at the pub, about 6:20, it was packed! By which I mean there about a dozen people in there, which is enough to fill the main bar room. I found myself a little bit of space in the corner, and very happily settled in with a pint and a packet of crisps.

After a while I got talking to one group of people there, in particular a very nice chap called Phil, who, as it turned out, shared some common interests. He and his group of friends had an ongoing mission to seek out very special unspoilt pubs like the Harrow, and travel round the country looking for them. They have a list they share between themselves, and I was impressed that as I reeled off all the pubs I could think of that might be on such a list they seemed to know almost all of them. Having hopefully therefore proved my credentials as a fellow connoisseur Phil took my email address and offered to send me this much coveted document.

It was a delight to be in these wonderful surroundings, talking about old pubs, morris dancing, and other related topics. After the first beer I moved on to the local cider they have at the Harrow (Herons Crest I think), which was particularly good to accompany one of their excellent Ploughman's lunches (yes I know it was dinner time). I was in heaven.

Gradually the initial throngs dwindled, and eventually a bit before 9 I had the pub to myself. This was also quite lovely, and I took the opportunity to take a few photos, having not wanted to spoil the atmosphere for the other customers earlier on. I also spent a while admiring all the fixtures and fittings, and in particular spotted some prints of the Harrow on the wall for sale. I bought them both.

Eventually I decided I should probably call it a night, aware that part of the point of coming to Petersfield tonight was to get an early start on my walk the next morning.

So, back down the dark country lane, and, as it turned out, more dark country lanes and footpaths around the outskirts of Petersfield to get to my hotel, which was slightly out of town.

Partly because of the appeal of the facelessness of being able to book online, and partly because of uncharacteristic recent outburst of frugality, I'd decided to stay at the Premier Inn. This incredibly bland, banal, modern, chain hotel experience was of course a bit of a jolt after the magic of the Harrow Inn, but at least I had my prints with me to try and brighten up my room a bit.
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Thursday
[Thursday 10th January]
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Wednesday
[Wednesday 9th January]
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Tuesday
[Tuesday 8th January]
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Vinegrowing Course Day 2
[Monday 7th January 2019]
Second day of my vinegrowing course. Following the extremely early start I'd had for the first day of the course, including allowing an hour to walk from Haywards Heath to Scaynes Hill, I decided to give myself a bit longer in bed today, and hoped I'd be able to get a taxi from Haywards Heath. This proved easy enough, I just hadn't seen the taxi rank first time round as I'd left the station from a different exit.

The morning theory session was the first with Chris, the course leader, rather than Greg who had stood in for him the first time. This morning we covered two topics - first was selecting vine varieties. This comes down to determining how well adapted a given vine is to the climate / local disease risks / soil conditions, possible legislative considerations, plus the economic considerations - not least does anybody actually want to buy a wine made of that grape? We then went over cloning and hybridisation.

The second topic was winter pruning, the goal of which is to maximise the yield and quality (i.e. ripeness) of the fruit, while also keeping the vines as accessible as possible to both people and machines. Plumpton's Rock Lodge vineyard, being there partly for education and research purposes, has some vines which have deliberately been left unpruned, to demonstrate what an unmanageable jungle they end up as (and if I recall correctly Chris also said the resulting fruit was not worth using). There are a number of different pruning schemes, however it seems in the UK at least "Guyot" has become fairly dominant, with Cordon pruning also being used in some cases. Both relied on a notion of calculating "charge" - how many ideal shoots each vine on average grew last year, and leaving roughly that many buds on the vine, either from a single cane, or from two canes depending on whether you were adhering to single or double Guyot. There was also the business of a spur, to provide growth for the following year, and that seemed to be the bit which was often most difficult to identify.

In the afternoon practical session, out in the vineyard, we continued on that theme of pruning, mainly focusing on Guyot. Tom, who runs the afternoon sessions as of today, started by going back over the theory again in the vineyard's shed, then took us out to the vines to demonstrate some examples, and finally let us all loose in pairs with secateurs to have a go ourselves. This part was a little unnerving - with somebody else's vines, and of course you can't exactly stick the wood back on if you cut off the wrong bit. I suppose that's all part and parcel of having a vineyard for teaching purposes though. The difficulty came in that the theory just describes the ideal case, often you're at the mercy of whatever state the vine was left in by last year's pruning (quite possibly also performed by students like us!), and it wasn't always easy to go from there to where the vine ideally ought to be. In particular spur selection was often tricky, given the requirement for this to be lower than the cane, pointing in the right direction, below the fruiting wire and so on. I assume this is something which just gets easier with practice!
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Twelfth Night
[Sunday 6th January 2019]
Cleared the Christmas tree away in the morning, then went to the Bankside Wassail in the afternoon.
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Veggie Karaage
[Saturday 5th January 2019]
Chie made the vegetarian version of karaage (Japanese fried chicken) for dinner.
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Highgate
[Friday 4th January 2019]
Walked across Hampstead Heath and had lunch at the Flask in Highgate.
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Shakesperience
[Thursday 3rd January 2019]
Went to see Shakesperience in Leicester Square.
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Wahaca and Plunger
[Wednesday 2nd January 2019]
Took Erika to Wahaca for lunch. Then bought a plunger.
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New Year's Day
[Tuesday 1st January 2019]
Erika's cousins came to visit us in London.
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Cocking to Petersfield
[Monday 31st December 2018]
I was pleased to discover I'd have the opportunity to fit in one last walk along the South Downs Way before the end of the year, as Chie and Erika had planned to go visit friends in the daytime, so I was left to my own devices for the day.

I actually made a relatively early start this morning, managed to leave home around 8:30, and was at Waterloo station by 9, with a full half hour to buy tickets, and also procure breakfast and lunch, before the 9:30 train to Haslemere.

Following some fairly lengthy research into the logistics of how best to get to and from the next section of the South Downs Way, I eventually decided it would be best to get the bus from Haslemere down to Midhurst, then a second bus from there to just South of Cocking, where the South Downs Way crossed the road. This meant buying the rather grandiosely named "Gold AD Dayrider" ticket, which I believe allowed me unlimited usage of buses in the Stagecoach network for the day, for the sum of 8.60.

This did actually mean I'd end up skipping a short section between Graffham and Cocking, a couple of miles perhaps. As there seemed to be no easy way to get back to Graffham by public transport, and not wanting to rely on the vagaries of taxis in rural areas, plus the fact I had fairly limited daylight hours again, I decided to just write that off.

Despite my comparatively early start, the tube, train, and two buses to get to the starting point of the walk meant it was about 11:20 when I was finally underway. I'd planned to walk to Petersfield, and that should apparently take 4 to 4 and a half hours, so there was just about enough daylight to achieve this from that point on.

The weather was a bit uninspiring today, although I suppose for the time of year it could have been worse - it wasn't extremely cold, nor did it rain, it was just unrelentingly grey, which rather subdued all the views along the route. As you can probably see in the pictures everything looked a bit colourless and washed out today, and that never really abated at any point. Regardless, I was still happy to be in the great outdoors, enjoying the freedom of another walk along the South Downs, even if it didn't have quite the same aesthetic appeal I have seen on other walks earlier this year.

Like the previous section, much of this walk was again through a distinctly agricultural landscape, and that was certainly the case for most of the first hour. However, in patches it did break out of this mould. An hour into the walk I arrived at the Devils Jumps, a series of Bronze Age burial mounds. This was the first time I'd really encountered such a notable sign of ancient civilisation along the South Downs Way (or at least the first time I'd really noticed one) - I'm sure the South Downs must have plenty, perhaps the path just doesn't happen to pass directly by so many.

Earlier I had overheard a couple in Marks and Spencer in Waterloo station discussing whether or not to take advantage of the "meal deal". I seem to be struggling to enunciate why exactly, but I found this really depressing, and somehow emblematic of the fact that we as a civilisation have completely no idea who we are any more.

Being now alone amidst the remnants of a society from several millenia ago felt very poignant. The contrast seemed very stark, and it was hard to imagine the day-to-day decisions made by those buried here were ever so trivial.

A short while later, I had a slightly odd encounter, which to some extent dovetails with the pondering of times past provoked by the Devil's Jumps. It is of course common when out walking to encounter other walkers, and as appears to be the etiquette a brief greeting is exchanged, but, in my experience, it's extremely rare for any further discourse to ensue.

So I was slightly surprised, a little after passing Buriton Farm, when I said a cursory hello to a man stood on the path, and rather than a similar cursory greeting, he replied "What do you look like?".

I was a little taken off guard by this, but assuming he was referring to the tweed suit I like to wear this time of year whilst walking out in the countryside, I attempted to make light of the situation by saying "It's tweed, surely everyone in the country wears tweed?".

It's a useful lesson in a situation such as this, in the opening gambit with a complete stranger, to remember that senses of humour are finely tuned engines which need to be calibrated over time. For them to be compatible relies on shared understanding. My jovial remark relied on the assumption that it would be understood I was, for comic effect, adopting the persona of a naive city dweller, with a completely unrealistic image of life in the countryside. I thought I had added sufficient hamminess to my delivery of this statement so as to make the humorous intent clear, but apparently not.

"Nobody wears tweed.", he replied, rather factually. I decided against pointing out that that wasn't in fact true, given the clear evidence he was currently looking at.

Attempting to rationalise, he asked "Did you go to public school?".

"No." I replied, ever so slightly offended by the social profiling that I was apparently now being subjected to, when all I wanted to do was go out for a walk.

"You look like something from a hundred years ago!", he continued to opine. This seemed like safer territory, we had transitioned from an apparent accusation of elite status to a presumed attempt to categorise me under the vintage clothes umbrella. Although as it happens I don't actually own many vintage clothes, and the particular tweed suit I was wearing was modern.

"A happier time, in many ways.", I replied, and given the look on his face in response almost immediately regretted it. Obviously, by just about any objective quality of life metric this would be an extremely hard stance to defend, but I was still thinking about the meal deal at Marks and Spencer. A moment of mental arithmetic later I recalled that a hundred years ago was in fact the end of the First World War.

I attempted to steer the focus away from this, and instead pointed out that I just have no truck with modern synthetic fabrics. He then pointed out that he can't actually wear wool, because it irritates his skin. I suppose at this juncture we had just agreed to disagree, and he concluded our dialogue with the amusingly sentiment free: "Well all I can say is you look extraordinary.", and we went our separate ways.

A short while later I passed another couple, who just said he cursory hello as usual.

Around 1pm I reached the top of "Beacon Hill", which must be the most oversubscribed name for a hill in English. This particular Beacon Hill had nice views of the surrounding landscape, as I'm sure many of its namesakes also do, and so I decided to pause here for lunch. To eat the sandwich I had bought earlier from Marks and Spencer. Which, I hasten to add, I had not purchased as part of the meal deal.

My peace and quiet was interrupted by a large family group who, I got the impression, lived locally, and were here as part of a New Year's Eve tradition to walk up to the top of this particular hill. I was a bit envious. They were taking group photos by the trig point - I offered to take one for them so they could all be in it, then I continued on my way.

A short while later there was another nice viewpoint, near the car park for Harting Downs, but I chose not to linger - the weather was still a bit too underwhelming to persuade me to do otherwise. After the car park the South Downs Way crossed over the road, and the terrain changed from the open hilltops of the last couple of miles, to a pleasant wooded hillside.

This then opened out into a series of lanes and tracks until it came time for me to leave the South Downs Way for today's walk, and head into Buriton.

I had been to Buriton with Chie once before, back in 2010. It was on a recommendation from Dad for nice old pubs he knew in Hampshire (and indeed somewhere on today's route I had crossed over the border from West Sussex into Hampshire). Although today's visit was very brief - just time for one very quick pint - I am pleased to report it is still very much unspoilt.

I would have liked to stay a bit longer, but was aiming for a particular train back to London from Petersfield, and still had another 2.5 miles or so to go to get there. On our previous visit, in the absence of an Ordnance Survey Map, we had followed the road from Petersfield to Buriton, but I spotted on the map ahead of today's walk there was an alternative path - Hangers Way - through the fields, and thought that would probably be a bit more pleasant.

On arrival in Petersfield I went to the General Wine Company, very conveniently located near the station, as I had done earlier this year when I'd come to the area with friends to visit the Harrow Inn. I picked up a couple of bottles of local English sparkling wine - Upperton and Hambledon.

Had a pleasant train journey back to London, having effectively a small private compartment on the train, and was back at home by 6.
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Winter Wonderland
[Sunday 30th December 2018]
Took Erika to Winter Wonderland.
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Bec and Jessica
[Saturday 29th December 2018]
Bec and Jessica came over to Bristol to spend the day with us today, we went to We The Curious (Bristol's science museum) and then later on back to the Christmas fair for a bit. Towards the end of the afternoon we got the train back to London.
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Abergavenny
[Friday 28th December 2018]
Picked up a Zipcar and drove to Abergavenny in the daytime to see Vera and Robin, picking up Louise on the way. In the evening went for a swim then dinner at San Carlo back in Bristol.
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Thursday in Bristol
[Thursday 27th December 2018]
Got the train to Bristol in the morning, lunch at Stable (cider, pies and pizza), a bit of shopping in the afternoon, then Caribbean food for dinner followed by an evening visit to the little Christmas fair near our hotel.
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Boxing Day at the Zoo
[Wednesday 26th December 2018]
Went to the zoo in the daytime.
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Christmas Day
[Tuesday 25th December 2018]
Presents in the morning, a rather unsuccessful visit to the Pineapple in the afternoon, then Christmas dinner and a home made yule log in the evening.
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Christmas Eve
[Monday 24th December 2018]
Went down to Belgravia / Chelsea in the daytime, mainly because we wanted to try to buy a new fridge in Peter Jones, but while we were in the area had lunch at Olivocarne.
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Christmas Party
[Sunday 23rd December 2018]
Had Christmas drinks for local friends this afternoon.
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