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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Main Index (text only)
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Maison de Stuff
- Recent Entries:
Olympics Opening Ceremony
What does the 'C' stand for?
Kimchi and Keyhole Lapels
Goring and Pangbourne
Dinner at Santini
Sunday in the Midlands
Saturday in the Midlands
Portland to Vancouver to London
Monday in Portland
Vancouver to Seattle to Portland
The Chap Olympiad... Then I think I might go to Canada
Night Out with Simon
Sunday in Abergavenny
Saturday in Abergavenny
Office Summer Party
Filming and Chie's Aunts
- [Saturday 28th July 2012]
The main focus of today was about getting a pram / stroller / pushchair / buggy / travel system / whatever you call the bloody things. Unsurprisingly Chie and I had a bit of a difference of opinion over how we should go about it - Chie wanted to get one second hand from a friend, I wanted to buy something new and top of the range.
So, in the morning, we ventured out in the direction of Sloane Square, stopping off en route along the Pimlico Road, for a leisurely breakfast on the little terrace outside Daylesford Organic, and then a wander around the farmer's market where we picked up some samphire, courgette flowers, and batavia - you know, just the usual staples really.
We spent a little while in Peter jones on Sloane Square looking at prams (having already done some research on the web and by talking to people at my office who have kids). The shop assistant who gave us a demo was surprisingly a "yoof", presumably in his early twenties. Somehow I'd pictured this scene involving a middle class middle aged woman from middle England, so that was a bit of a surprise, but I suppose he did seem to know what he was talking about, and wasn't pushy at all.
We came back home for lunch before heading out again in the afternoon to North London - Harringay (or is it Haringey? I'm never sure) to be precise. Chie's friend Naoko-san lives there, and had a pram her two year old has grown out of. So we took a look at that, but I wasn't really convinced. We spent the remainder of the afternoon and into the early evening there. Their little girl was much more animated and quite talkative compared to the last time we'd seen her in Finsbury Park, and it was nice that towards the end of the afternoon we all went out to the pub together. Apparently they'd first taken her to a pub when she was just three days old (on the way back from the registry office), so the notion that having a baby means you'll be stuck indoors all the time is a myth - or at least it's down to individual parents to make it happen the way they want it to happen.
We rounded off our visit to Harringay / Haringey with a meal at one of the Turkish restaurants there. The mezze was OK, but the pide I had as a main course was a but disappointing - and everything (even the bread) had a vague and slightly worrying sort of kebab flavour to it. Still, it was vibrant, and felt a bit exotic, and was also very reasonably priced, so I suppose I can't really complain.
- Olympics Opening Ceremony
- [Friday 27th July 2012]
I'll openly admit I've been something of a curmudgeon when it comes to the Olympics. The constant dire warnings about the disruption to public transport have made me dread the whole thing, and given that I don't really like sport anyway, there's no particular upside.
That said I was keen to watch the opening ceremony this evening (on the TV of course) if nothing else than out of a kind of nervous apprehension that it would be a complete flop and the rest of the world would me mocking us over it for the next decade. Thinking back though, although China had set quite a high bar last year, most other years it has always been a bizarre and farcical spectacle, and so perhaps having one which was comparatively decent wasn't such an unachievable aim. I definitely enjoyed some bits of it - although you can't help but wonder how much of it came out of a focus group trying to answer the question "what do other countries like about Britain?" to which the reply was clearly The Queen, James Bond, The Beatles and Mr Bean. OK then, let's get all of them. Nonetheless well done to Her Majesty for having a sense of humour.
On the downside it did at times take what I considered to be an unacceptably militaristic tone. At a peaceful international sporting evening there is absolutely no place for Dambusters, and, I'm sorry, even Churchill is crossing a line in my opinion. It depresses me that in a global forum like this we still can't stick to Basil Fawlty's advice of "Don't mention the war".
- [Thursday 26th July 2012]
The weather has finally started to feel summery these last few days, and as it was a particularly pleasant evening I decided to take a stroll after work, in the direction of the centre. I took a now familiar route past Buckingham Palace and through St. James's.
Met up with Chie, who wanted something healthy for dinner, so we decided to go to Tibits. This was nice as always.
- What does the 'C' stand for?
- [Wednesday 25th July 2012]
Another ante-natal class this evening, and I have to admit I'm glad we're nearing the end of the course now. Parts of this evening's class definitely veered away from hard scientific fact. I absolutely understand the importance of breathing properly, but it's unclear to me why exactly we had to practice this in a darkened room with our eyes closed whilst the instructor spoke in what she presumably considered to be a rhythmic soothing tone (and I just found rather grating) saying things like "imagine your baby in your uterus, being nourished by all the positive energy from each breath". Please.
Towards the end of the session we were given a list of questions on caesarean births which you couldn't possibly expect the average person on the street to know the answers to, and yet when any of the men read out their (understandably incorrect) answers the instructor decided to laugh. Thanks for the encouragement and reassurance there. Do you know what the rate of caesarean births is in the UK? I took a guess at 10%, which the instructor apparently found hilarious because it's actually 20%! HAHAHAHAHAAHHA!
It turns out there had been some confusion over what the 'C' in NCT had stood for. We'd both assumed it was the National Childcare Trust, and had thought these classes might have more to do with how to look after your baby than just what to expect during labour. It turns out the 'C" is in fact Childbirth, which probably explains why up until now they'd spent about 10 hours telling us about all the million things which might - and (therefore most of which probably won't) happen in labour. Not undermining what an intense and challenging experience that is, we both thought there's too much focus on that - a period of time when you're surrounded by medical professionals who deal with that situation every single day - and not enough on the bit when you get home and are suddenly all by yourselves and expected to know what to do.
All of that said, after this evening's class I'd decided we got that 'C' wrong again, and it is actually meant to be Condescension.
We'll be doing the NHS antenatal classes as well, and I've heard from other people these can actually be better (and they're free- the NCT classes are actually quite expensive). They're a lot more factual, and as they're typically ran by the actual hospital you'll be giving birth at the information is much more tailored to "this is what will happen" as opposed to "here are some things which might happen... and a recommendation for the type of homeopathic remedies and crystals you might want to use to counteract them".
I was glad when it came time to leave tonight's course, and having not really had a proper dinner we went for some late night tapas which helped to cheer me up somewhat.
- [Tuesday 24th July 2012]
I had a call from Dad this afternoon, who told me they were in Surrey visiting Adrian, Liz and the kids, and so in a pleasingly spontaneous fashion an hour or two later we were on a train heading down to Guildford.
They'd decided to go for dinner at a pub called the Gomshall Mill, which, as its name promised, was in fact an old water mill, and in fact the waterwheel was still operational, in the middle of the building, which was rather nice.
It was a very pleasant evening overall although I couldn't help but be very slightly peeved when the conversation turned to the upcoming birth. Naturally as it's our first time we're a bit anxious about the whole thing, and in the absence of any words of comfort from my family on the issue I said something along the lines of "well, everyone else manages" to which they responded with that "oh you have no idea what you've got coming" facial expression I'm now depressingly familiar with. I really felt like this would have been an appropriate juncture for a bit of gentle reassurance from my family. I don't really get why existing parents think it is somehow beneficial to make parents-to-be more anxious than they already are.
- Kimchi and Keyhole Lapels
- [Monday 23rd July 2012]
I'd made another batch of kimchi over the weekend (as rather sadly the recipe of the main brand available in shops in London seems to have changed - again - to include anchovies). I also thought making it myself was a good opportunity to reduce the amount of salt in it, so this time I used about half the amount of salt cited in the recipe I had been roughly following. So I used 50g of salt to make the brine in which I soaked just over 400g of Chinese leaf (a whole one, but the ones in supermarkets here tend to be relatively small). The experiment wasn't quite as scientific as it should have been though, as I left the cabbage in brine over night by accident rather than the usual four or five hours, so maybe it ended up absorbing more salt. Anyway, the eventual taste was pretty good, and certainly less salty than the shop bought stuff usually is.
After dinner I spent some time reading about keyhole lapels, having stumbled across an article which bemoaned their use, and singled them out as a sign of cheap production quality. Naturally I wanted to then check the various suits and jackets I had in the wardrobe to see if any where guilty of this. I found two examples - one on the cheap suit from Next I'd probably bought almost ten years ago (long before I was interested in sartorial matters), and surprisingly one on the most recently acquired jacket from Hackett. On further inspection though I realised this was actually not on the lapel, but on the "throat latch", which I discovered actually works, and at least in theory allows the jacket to be done up around the neck. One rule of thumb I'd read was that keyhole buttonholes are acceptable where they actually have a button to fasten up with - and this jacket has one on the underside of the opposite collar. I say "in theory" because I figured out I'd need something like a 12 inch neck in order to actually fasten this up whilst wearing it.
Anyway it was an interesting little diversion and I find these quirky little tailoring flourishes - and the perceived values associated with them - very interesting.
- Goring and Pangbourne
- [Sunday 22nd July 2012]
My friend Andy is leaving the country (again!) to move to Japan, and today would be my last chance to see him before he was off. So I thought some kind of fitting pub themed send off would be appropriate. We've extensively covered all the interesting parts of London on our jaunts over the past few years, and, since he's been living out in Berkshire we've also given Henley, Marlow, Oxford and Windsor a fairly thorough treatment. So I had initially scratched my head a bit for where else we could go, but eventually realised I had a bit of a craving to return to an old stomping ground - the stretch of the Thames around Goring and Pangbourne. More so as Goring (and to some extent Pangbourne) is the quintessential English rural idyllic village which seemed an appropriate sort of venue for a farewell to someone who'd soon be leaving our green and pleasant land.
We met on the train at Reading, and proceded from there to Goring, where on arrival we walked through the village, and over the river to Streatley. The Bull at Streatley is famous in my family for the ancient incident (in the 1950s or 60s?) when Vera had one too many "gin and Its" and ended up rather unwell. I have only been once before almost a decade ago now, and also managed to embarrass myself somewhat by getting into an argument with the management (over the fact they would no longer serve a "gin and It"). I was sufficiently ashamed of my behaviour that I'd never felt I could go back in all the subsequent time we lived in the area, or since. Nine-and-a-bit years on though that seems very much like water under the bridge (or perhaps more importantly the management have changed several times since then) and it felt good to finally put that ghost to rest.
After that, back across the river to Goring and to the highlight of the afternoon - the John Barleycorn. I first came here with Dad actually - I'm not sure what brought us to Goring on that occasion, and have a feeling it might even have been before I was living in Pangbourne. I recall we went for a walk along the Thames, and then he just sort of instinctively homed in on it.
Of all the five pubs we visited today this was the most like I remembered it, and a superb example of what a rural pub should be. Beautiful low hanging beams, a unique and interesting shaped timber framed bar, but all of it just unfussily let be, and no attempt to tart it up or exaggerate it. The management here have changed a once or twice since I was last here as well (which must be at least seven years ago) but the current landlord and landlady are a lovely old couple, who are apparently also locals. The food was good - simple unfussy country fare - and pleasingly they still had the bar billiards table, which we of course had a game on after lunch. I could happily have stayed in this lovely pub all day.
Next we went to the Catherine Wheel, very nearby, which perhaps hasn't fared quite as well as the Barleycorn. I think it's undergone some kind of refurbishment / extension since I was last here, which wasn't entirely sympathetic in my opinion, and it has definitely lost some character as a result. I suppose you can't blame them if it helped them stay in business, and having one out of the two pubs I remember in Goring be unchanged after this stretch of time is probably more than I could have hoped for.
We got the train from Goring to Pangbourne after that, to finish off our afternoon with two of my old haunts there. First, the Cross Keys, probably the pub I used to go to most when I lived there, which felt a bit rough around the edges compared to how I remember it. I suppose the garden bit out the back was still quite pleasant.
Our final pub (consistent with the denouement of Three Men in a Boat) was the Swan in Pangbourne, which I suppose was more or less the same as it has always been since I've known it - because I've always known it to be a very attractive historic building in a great riverside location, but with disappointingly bland pubco ownership. I suppose that's easily forgotten when enjoying the very pleasant riverside terrace, overlooking the Thames, where I'm always reminded of the very first time I came to this pub - and to Pangbourne in fact - arriving in Rob's Dad's boat, mooring up directly beside the terrace, and walking straight off the boat, straight into the pub. That's the way to do it.
We got the train back after that, and I said my goodbyes to Andy at Reading, where I changed to a faster train to London. I hope it won't be too long before we meet again, and it's obviously a plus that he's emigrating to Japan rather than anywhere else, as obviously we end up there pretty often!
- [Saturday 21st July 2012]
We were going to have viewings of a couple of flats this morning, but both had sold already since they went on the market, two days earlier. You've really got to move fast with anything that's actually worth buying in London at the moment.
So we spent the morning lolling around at home instead, and in the afternoon ventured out to Sloane Square / Kings Road to do some baby related shopping. There seems to be a million things we're apparently supposed to buy, particularly the oppressively long list of things we need to take to the hospital for the birth, and although we came home laden with more shopping bags than we coule practically carry, it still felt like we've only scratched the surface. I can't pretend I'm really enjoying this aspect of the whole thing.
In the evening I made a strange variant of the classic mozzarella and tomato salad - with radishes - followed by a strange pasta dish with runner beans and borlotti beans, which wasn't entirely successful.
- Dinner at Santini
- [Friday 20th July 2012]
Having been mostly confined indoors this week, I was keen to go out for dinner this evening now that I actually felt up to it. I also wanted to do something that at least pretended to feel summery, so despite it not being particularly warm (and it started to rain later on) we dined on the terrace at Santini, an Italian restaurant in Belgravia.
It was a Friday in the latter half of July, but we were the only people dining outside on the terrace.
Somehow that rather added to the ambience, it felt like our own private dining space, and we had a really lovely evening of it.
- [Thursday 19th July 2012]
Doggedly returned to the office today, even though I wasn't really feeling 100%, and put in quite a long day as well.
Left the office after 8, to go to the pub (the Star Tavern in Belgravia) to celebrate a colleague who had transferred from being a contractor to a full time employee.
- [Wednesday 18th July 2012]
Another day at home with the cold I'd picked up at the Midlands.
Went along to our second antenatal class this evening (after consultation about the course leader, as to whether that would be ok with my cold - they helpfully confined me to a corner). Despite not being a picture of health I found the whole thing a bit less daunting/intimidating than the first session had seemed, and am getting to know the other participants a bit better now.
- [Tuesday 17th July 2012]
Had picked up a cold (presumably in the Midlands, although it did seem to have come on very quickly) and felt distinctly grotty today, so stayed at home.
- [Monday 16th July 2012]
Chie had the last of her evening classes today (she'd been doing an English pronunciation course) and I went to meet her in Holborn after she finished so that we could do a bit of shopping and then head home together. Not much else to report really.
- Sunday in the Midlands
- [Sunday 15th July 2012]
Chie wanted to go for a walk in the morning, so we headed out from Mum's house and ventured as far as the Aeropark, a sort of outdoor aviation museum on the perimeter fence of East Midlands Airport. Not really my sort of thing, but I suppose it was a bit different at least.
Back to Mum's for Sunday lunch, and then a leisurely few hours sitting around afterwards before getting the train back to London.
- Saturday in the Midlands
- [Saturday 14th July 2012]
Went to the Midlands to see Mum this weekend.
Got the train to Nottingham in the morning, went to Ye Old Trip to Jersualem for lunch (the food was pretty bad) and did a bit of baby shopping in the John Lewis there (which is still Jessops to me).
From there we got the bus to Ruddington, to meet up with Mum and Keith, who were originally going to be there for the Ruddington Festival, but that had been cancelled due to bad weather. So instead we had a quick whizz round the Framework Knitting Museum, where Mum helps out as a volunteer sometimes, and a drink in the pub next door, where they were having a beer festival.
In the evening we went for dinner at Golden Dragon, which was good as always. Although I think I ate too much.
- [Friday 13th July 2012]
Not much to report really. Went along to the end-of-the-week beer and pizza thing for a bit.
- [Thursday 12th July 2012]
Back in the office after the Portland trip, and actually quite pleased to be back to the normal routine again.
- Antenatal Class
- [Wednesday 11th July 2012]
My flight landed at Heathrow some time around 2 or 3, and from there I headed back home to get at least a couple of hours sleep, as obviously I hadn't been able to sleep on the plane at all. I'd really made an effort this time, but as soon as my eyes started to close the plane would shudder slightly or somebody would walk past or there'd just be a noise and I'd be awake again. I just can't relax in that environment.
Chie got home from work just before 6, we had a quick dinner together, then headed out for our first antenatal class.
(Yes -i n case you didn't already know, we're having a baby! It's due in September).
I found the whole experience a bit intimidating, no doubt compounded by the fact I was jetlagged and sleep deprived. There seems to be a massive amount of facts they try and pack in, so many bits of advice on things you should or shouldn't do. I also found the directive that "you will become friends with the people in your class" a tad jarring, I think I'd probably like to make that decision myself.
Anyway, I was relieved when that was over so I could go home and have the first proper night's sleep I'd had since Friday.
- Portland to Vancouver to London
- [Tuesday 10th July 2012]
Another sally out from the hotel for breakfast this morning, with a couple of colleagues (including Ben, who used to be based in London and had been a co-conspirator on a number of fun nights out during his time there). We decided to investigate Portlands food truck scene, apparently this accounts for about 30% of the eating out market there, and as it's something we don't really have in the UK I was keen to see what all the fuss was about.
This was probably the best meal of the trip - we went to a truck (more of a caravan really) called Brunch Box, which did greasy fried things in English muffins and bagels. They had a veggie sausage which I had in a muffin with cheddar, mushrooms, and the apparently obligatory omelette. Unhealthy but actually very tasty. We followed this up with a second visit to Stumptown for coffee.
More meetings back at the hotel in the morning, and then for lunch a larger group of us returned to the food trucks, although I didn't do as well on my second attempt, and had some unremarkable tacos and a fairly bad stodgy burrito.
I was going to miss the afternoon session today, as I needed to be back in London for Wednesday evening, which meant taking an afternoon flight from Portland to Vancouver, then an evening flight from there back to London.
I actually cut it a bit fine, and slightly worryingly when I arrived at Portland airport with just under an hour to go before my connecting flight, was greeted by a sign saying Air Canada checkin closes 60 minutes before departure. Luckily this turned out to be irrelevant, and the flight was delayed anyway so I had plenty of time to get through security, and even managed to get a bit of work done before I boarded.
It was a slightly scary propellor type plane from Portland to Vancouver, but I think my nervousness at this was distracted by the very fat and rather bad smelling woman who was sitting next to me, taking up some of my seat. I was bizarrely thankful for this - being annoyed for an hour is much better than being tense and anxious, it turns out.
I had quite a long wait in Vancouver, which I found to be a surprisingly pleasant airport. I particularly liked the BA lounge there, where the staff seemed genuinely friendly, and were very helpful in ensuring my bag got checked through from the earlier flight correctly. Also they had a good range of drinks which they let you just help yourself to, so I made a rather good Negroni, and then later on a Pimm's with Canada Dry
I flew back in Club World (BA's business class) rather than First, which I think was actually slightly better - the seats were much newer and cleaner, and on the upper deck it actually felt a bit more spacious. Plus the in flight entertainment was on demand. I was also really pleased to discover they had Campari on board (I vividly remember them not having it on my last Virgin Atlantic flight, and having to endure some derision from fellow passengers at the bar in Upper for having ordered it in the first place). So I got the cabin attendant to make me a spritz, which made a rather nice change from the usual samey selection of drinks you normally end up confined to on planes. The food wasn't quite as good as it had been in First, but I wasn't particularly hungry anyway.
- Monday in Portland
- [Monday 9th July 2012]
Started off the day by trekking over the river from the hotel to a famous coffee place called Stumptown. I'd had their coffee in New York on my last visit there, and everyone in the US seems to rave about it. It was a fairly decent macchiato I suppose. Portland is apparently a kind of mecca for hipsters, and this being one of the most iconic Portland venues I had hoped we might spot some here. There were none apparent - either they've toned down their ridiculous clothing habits or they don't frequent this place because it's now too well known. Or maybe it was just too early in the morning for them.
Most of the daytime was spent in a conference room discussing the future direction of my project. We had a break for lunch which wasn't particularly successful - I decided to go to Portland's Chinatown, and try a vegetarian Chinese place there. They had a lunchtime buffet on, which was a very sad affair indeed.
In the evening we'd been divided up into groups and assigned restaurants to eat - on the basis we were probably too large a group overall to fit into any one place. Our group went to a place called Noble Rot, where I had some very bland soup and some very bland macaroni cheese.
Everybody else seemed to be really excited about being in Portland for this trip - it's apparently known in the US as a place which is really good for food and drink, but I was really failing to see what all the fuss was about.
- Vancouver to Seattle to Portland
- [Sunday 8th July 2012]
I had an early start this morning, as my train left Vancouver at 6:40am. Of course, being jetlagged I had woken up at 4:30am anyway.
I had slightly underestimated how early I should arrive for my train, not having given adequate thought to the fact that there would be border checks before boarding. It actually took about half an hour between arriving at the station and actually getting on board the train, but fortunately as the border checks were there purely for that train, they didn't leave without us.
The train journey from Vancouver to Seattle, where I'd decided to stop off for lunch, was about four and a half hours. The scenery was fairly pleasant, much of it coastal (or at least lakeside, it's a bit hard to tell in this part of the world). I spent a while sitting in the buffet car, which was also quite pleasant, and I was reassured to see the standard of food and drink on trains in the US was no better than it is in Europe.
I arrived in Seattle just after 11, and shortly afterwards met up with my friend David, who I used to work with in Tokyo, and has recently moved back to the US. We went to a place for lunch which I presumed to be a bit touristy, but nonetheless it was nice to be out in the sunshine on the waterfront. We had a long catch up about what we'd respectively been doing the past couple of years, and in particular David told me about the ordeal they'd been through last year after the tsunami in Japan. I really admired his ability to stay positive in the face of what must of been a really harrowing time - he even apologised later on that he had spent the time "complaining" as he put it. Anyway it was very nice to see a familiar face, and I hesitantly add a familiar place (this will be my fourth or fifth visit to Seattle, I lose track) part way through my journey through otherwise largely unknown territory.
I resumed my train journey just after 2pm, for the next leg from Seattle to Portland. The scenery was less interesting on this leg - less coastline and more small town America. Still, it was at least a bit shorter - three and a half hours - and again a stint in the buffet car helped to pass the time.
I arrived in Portland just before 6pm, and got a taxi from the station to the hotel, where a bunch of people from my project would be camped out for the next couple of days. I bumped into Walter as I was arriving, and after respectively dropping of our bags, we decided to head out and try one of the local microbreweries for which Portland is famous.
It's a funny sort of a city, Portland. I didn't ever get the feeling I was in the centre of it, it just seemed to a big suburb. Our hotel was in what felt to me to be more like a residential area - and tellingly it was more like a motel than a hotel - my room was on the ground floor and the door opened directly to the outside. There were a few restaurants and bars dotted around in the immediate area, but mostly interspersed with houses. The microbrewery bar we went to was in a somewhat unassuming (and unattractive) building, with a few tables outside in what essentially seemed to be the car park. Still, I suppose the beer was reasonably good. I quite liked the lime kolsch.
A couple more people met us while we were there, and the four of us made a plan for dinner - to go to a Thai restaurant called Pok Pok. This meant a taxi ride to some other part of town (which also looked at first glance like a residential area with nothing in it). We had a bit of a wait for the table so killed time at a bar over the road.
Everybody else seemed a lot more excited by the food here than I was - I had a "khao soi" - a sort of coconut noodle soup, which was really kind of boring. I think I may just not like Thai food all that much.
Headed back to the hotel after that.
- The Chap Olympiad... Then I think I might go to Canada
- [Saturday 7th July 2012]
I had been looking forward to the Chap Olympiad for months - and this year it was a two day event as well - so was rather disappointed when I'd found out I was going to have to go on a business trip to Portland (by way of Vancouver), which, given the rather oppressive pricing policies of airlines, would mean having to leave Saturday early evening, and actually missing most of the event.
The Chap Olympiad officially starts at 12 (although it was closer to 12:30 by the time we got in) and my flight was around 5, so I ended up only being able to stay for a couple of hours. Despite it being far too short I did really enjoy the brief time I was there, and it was also nice to be joined by Kyle and Hannah this year (although Chie, after last year's washout, decided not unwisely to give it a miss). Of course it rained again for some of the time this year - that seems to be pretty much compulsory.
I was there for the opening ceremony and the first few events - including gentleman's golf, the swooning event, butler baiting and not playing tennis. It was all pretty much the same as it had been last year and yet still highly enjoyable.
Rather pleasingly as I left the grounds of the Olympiad, one of the people on the gate asked "Are you coming back?" to which I replied "No, I'm going to Canada". Almost a Fawlty Towers reference there.
I met Chie en route to the airport, who came to wave me off. I got to Heathrow around 4, and as I was flying BA and had been upgraded to First made a very brief visit to the Concorde Room (the First class lounge). Didn't really have long enough to appreciate it before finding out my colleagues had already moved on to a different lounge nearer the gate. I got there just in time to meet them as they were heading for the plane.
I can't say I was particularly impressed by First class on BA, if I'm honest. On boarding, the cabin attendant decided to try and be jovial, and I was greeted with "Would you like some fizzy wine from France, or some water filtered through a peat bog in the Peak district?". I enquired as to what the "fizzy wine from France" was exactly, to which he helpfully replied "Champagne". "Yes", I replied as patiently as I could "...but which Champagne is it?". He said "I should know that shouldn't I?" to which I thought yes, you probably should. He came back a moment later with the bottle of Laurent Perrier Grand Siècle and pronounced it "Grand Seashell". Oh dear.
On top of that the seats were really old and tatty, and the entertainment system wasn't on demand, it was that now laughably old fashioned multi channel system, where you end up only ever being able to watch two thirds of any given film.
The food menu was also rather nauseatingly filled with Olympics references - including the wines which had been chosen "because they'd won gold and silver awards". Although the actual food itself was perhaps the only saving grace of the otherwise pretty naff overall experience. Asparagus ravioli which was actually reasonably well cooked and had a decent flavour to it, followed by a rather impressive chocolate fondant for dessert. I should have taken a photo.
It was about a 9 or 10 hour flight to Vancouver, and the time zone difference confusingly meant we landed, in local time, only about an hour or two later than we'd taken off. So we then had the evening in Vancouver ahead of us.
After taking the train from the airport to the centre of Vancouver, and checking in the hotel, I made the mistake of joining my colleagues for a walk to the waterfront, which, although quite pleasant, meant by the time we'd finished most restaurants seemed to have stopped serving food (at only around 9:30). In particular there was a vegetarian Chinese place I'd wanted to go to. So we had to settle for a slightly naff meal in the hotel bar instead. I guess having eaten reasonably well on the plane I wasn't particularly hungry anyway.
- [Friday 6th July 2012]
Burrito for lunch, Indian food at Chowki for dinner.
- Night Out with Simon
- [Thursday 5th July 2012]
Simon, friend from Softel days, who had started at my current company a few months back, had proposed going out this evening. Even though we're working for the same company again now he's in a different building, and commuting from outside London, so we actually don't see each other as much as we ought to. So it was good that we actually made plans for once.
We started off the evening out on the balcony at the office, where we shared some of the leftover cider I had brought back from the tasting earlier this week. After that we headed to Notting Hill Gate, where, after a quick drink at the Windsor Castle, we tried the pizza at Osteria Basilico, which had recently been given the number 1 spot in Zagat's best pizza in London list. It was OK, but Oliveto really has nothing to worry about!
Cider was very much the flavour of the month this week (?!) so after that I was keen to introduce Simon to the Bree Louise near Euston, wherein more cider was sampled.
- [Wednesday 4th July 2012]
Nothing to report today, was quite glad to have a quiet night in!
- Cider Tasting
- [Tuesday 3rd July 2012]
Tonight was the cider and perry tasting which I'd been planning for the last few weeks. It was to help out my friend and former colleague Robert, who was one of the organisers of a software engineering conference (really nothing to do with cider whatsoever!), and this was a sort of fun "diversion" event as part of that. Apparently they do something like this every year, and try to pick a different drink each year to keep it interesting. They've already covered beer, whisky and even champagne, so when asked if I could lend a hand this year I proposed cider.
This had seemed like a good idea at the time, cider being something a bit out of the ordinary in London, and enjoying a bit of a resurgence at the moment. There's a large number of really small cider producers and just about every batch they make is different, so it seemed like a really good opportunity to introduce people to something which would just about be guaranteed to be novel to them. I had visions of people who'd never really had "real" cider before, having an epiphany during the tasting, and leaving the event as converts.
What I hadn't really accounted for was how many people just really don't like cider.
In fact pretty much the entire evening was taken up with people telling me how much they didn't like any of the ciders or perries I had brought along. There was quite a lot of fervent criticism of the tasting notes Kyle and I had laboured over the evening before.
Despite all of that I remained upbeat, and somehow actually rather enjoyed the event. I particularly enjoyed doing the "reveal" at the end (it was a sort of blind tasting) and giving the little speech about each cider, and it did feel as though people softened somewhat once they learned a bit about each of the things they'd been drinking. Real cider and perry are uniquely artisan products, the antithesis of mass produced drinks. All of the ones I'd brought along were effectively "single estate" family run businesses, and in several cases some of the varieties of apples/pears used were unique to their orchards.
It's the first time I've ever done anything like this "professionally" (by which I mean not just for friends - I didn't get paid for it or anything) and so obviously I was having to marked it up a bit as I went along, but pleasingly at the end one of the attendees asked if I'd do something similar for his company. I assume this meant, at least in that one person's opinion, that it actually went quite well. It's just a shame that most of the attendees really didn't like cider!
- Pre-Cider Tasting
- [Monday 2nd July 2012]
Ahead of tomorrow's cider tasting I set up all the ciders and perries on my desk at work, and along with Kyle and a couple of other people from the office, went through and tasted them all and attempted to write tasting notes.
For posterity here are the tasting notes we came up with:
A) Newtons Autumn Harvest Cider 5.5%
Light, crisp, fairly thin, tart but not too tart. Very satisfying on the palette - the apple notes here are distinctly "russety". Rounded after taste. A summer afternoon drink.
B) Newtons Perry 5.5%
Meaty! Barbecued meat - sweet and sour pork. Sweet and fruity - pineapple, peach, banana flavoured chewy sweets, some kind of tropical fruit? Custard cream biscuits and golden delicious aftertaste. Medium tannins, butter start, tannic end.
C) Ross on Wye Perry 6.0%
Floral and light on the nose - elderflower perhaps? On the palette tart, slightly bitter like pink grapefruit. Light body, medium tannins, quite acidic, bone dry with a round lingering finish. Slightly reminiscent of a dry mead, apple crumble (or is it pear crumble?) aftertaste.
D) Ross on Wye Medium Dry Cider - Somerset Red Streak
Medium dry, bitter sweet fruit, slightly pungent on the nose initially but then settling down - a hint of mustard perhaps. Softly astringent and quite tannic. On the palette a kind of fruit salad of slightly under ripe grapes and melon.
E) Heck's Kingston Black Single Variety 6.5%
Medium. A bit musty on the nose. Crisp apple, medium sweet, low tannins, deceptively light. Appley on the palette(!). A hint of pine - clean woodland notes.
F) Heck's Dry Farmhouse 6.5%
Really dry, straw, wet leaves. Tart, bitter, beeswax, citrus overtones. Straw. A bit like tonic water without the fizz. Fairly heavy tannin.
- Sunday in Abergavenny
- [Sunday 1st July 2012]
Louise and Ian joined us for lunch at Vera and Robin's house, and Louise brought over one of her fantastic pavlovas.
Got the train back to London later on in the afternoon.
- Saturday in Abergavenny
- [Saturday 30th June 2012]
Got the train to Abergavenny in the morning, to visit Vera and Robin for the weekend.
Spent a quiet afternoon at their house, and in the evening joined Robert and headed over to Crickhowell for dinner. We were planning to go to the Bear Hotel, but all the tables had already gone by just after 6. So instead we opted for a plan B - a little place called Number 18 Brasserie which was surprisingly good (despite my aversion to anywhere with "brasserie" in the name). The highlight was a welsh cheddar and laverbread soufflé - it was exciting just to see a chef actually using laverbread in any form whatsoever, but better still it actually went really well in this dish. Perhaps this will herald a new era of experimentation with seaweed in the UK?
- Cider Delivery
- [Friday 29th June 2012]
The first batch of the cider I'd ordered for the tasting I was organising arrived today. I was rather delighted by the ramshackled packaging it came in.
- Afternoon Tea
- [Thursday 28th June 2012]
This week was rapidly turning into a write off, work-wise, as there was yet another distraction planned for this afternoon. I suppose you could look at it as extended launch celebrations, and, again, I reminded of all the weekends and late evenings I'd worked in the run up to the launch last month.
So this afternoon everyone working on the project in London (plus a few visitors from Zurich) went out for afternoon tea - all at different venues. I was chosen to lead the Fortnum and Mason group, an assignment I was obviously rather pleased with.
- Office Summer Party
- [Wednesday 27th June 2012]
More filming for the corporate video this afternoon, albeit that this time it was a group shot, and I didn't have to say anything, so it was much less intimidating. The theme of the video was meant to be about how my love of pubs had inspired the project I'm working on now, and so the filming had taken place in a variety of pubs. Today's shooting consisted of a sequence with no sound where we supposed to be pretending to be in the pub having a normal pub conversation (which came surprisingly naturally - in fact we quickly forgot the cameras were there) followed by a sequence of doing a big "cheers" to the camera. Given we were filming with real beer this also came surprisingly naturally.
By the time we'd finished filming it didn't really seem worth going back to the office - I had after all worked many late evenings and weekends in the run up to launching this project. So instead we went and visited a couple more pubs, including the Prince of Wales in Cleaver Square, and Zeitgeist, the German pub South of the river.
That followed on nicely into the office summer party, held at Kensington Roof Gardens, which was one of the best office parties we've had for a few years (although in fairness the last couple of Christmas parties have been real stinkers, so there wasn't much competition).
- Filming and Chie's Aunts
- [Tuesday 26th June 2012]
I spent a large chunk of the daytime today being filmed for an internal corporate video. It's the first time I've ever been filmed by a professional film crew, and it was an interesting experience. Even though it was just an internal video the production standards were very high, and I spent a lot of time just sitting around waiting for various bits of equipment to be set up or adjusted.
Once filming finally began it was surprisingly intimidating - I had a big light shining at me, and kept being told to "act natural" whilst simultaneously being told not to move my arms, legs, or head. I don't think I'll be giving up the day job.
Chie's aunts arrived in London this evening from Japan, for a typically Japanese lightning visit (they'd just be staying for three nights). As they'd only just arrived they stipulated they didn't want to go far from their hotel in the Gloucester Road area, and so we had a slightly underwhelming dinner at a nearby pub. Still, I suppose it was all new and "exotic" for them.
- [Monday 25th June 2012]
Really nothing much to report about today, just went to work and then back home again.
- [Sunday 24th June 2012]
Not much to report as far as I can remember, and am attempting to write this about three weeks later.
Latitude history tells me (I think) we headed out from the flat around 4 in the afternoon, and probably went to the Marks and Spencer on Victoria Street. Really not much else to add to that!