[Sunday 30th December 2012]
Mum and Keith's last day in London today. They had breakfast at their hotel, and I met them there when they checked out, and we came back to the flat for a bit. They didn't particularly want to go out and do anything, so we just had a quiet morning in the flat.
I thought it might be convenient to have lunch in St. Pancras before they got their train, and decided to give the Betjeman Arms a go. As it was a "pub" (in so much as a modern contrivance built inside a station can be) it seemed like a good idea, as we'd be able to just sit and take our time - their train wasn't until 4:30.
We waved them off about 3:30 in the end, and went to do a bit of shopping in St. Pancras - Chie also had a quick play on the piano while we were there:
In the evening we had a simple dinner (we had eaten out for all three meals yesterday!) - salad followed by fresh pasta with a home made tomato sauce.
[Saturday 29th December 2012]
Started off the day with breakfast at the Regency Cafe with Mum and Keith.
Adrian and Liz brought the kids into London for the afternoon so Mum could spend the day with all four grandchildren. They arrived at the flat just before midday, and after a bit of a present opening session we headed out, and all got on the number 24 bus in the direction of the centre. We sat on the top deck and hopefully the kids rather enjoyed it - although the weather was a bit naff today, it still offers good views of lots of London landmarks on the way.
I managed to pull of a bit of a coup, and without a prior booking got us a table for all ten of us at Rossopomodoro for lunch. I was rather pleased with myself for that. Again, hopefully the kids enjoyed that too - I think their pizzas are really good.
We then had a bit of a damp trudge from there to the British Museum, which wasn't a huge amount of fun, and once inside the museum we all dispersed to see different bits. It was of course pretty crowded, given that it was raining, and I wasn't actually feeling in a particularly museumy mood today for a change, so probably the nicest part of this was sitting in the Great Court with Erika, watching all the people go by.
We said our goodbyes to Adrian, Liz and the kids at this point, and the rest of us got back on the 24 bus again in the direction of home. I jumped off at Victoria to help Mum and Keith find their hotel again, and we ended up going for a quick pint en route which was rather nice.
In the evening we met up with Mum and Keith again, and went to Roti Chai - the Indian street food place. Neither Mum nor Keith were particularly hungry - so this worked well as we could order lots of little dishes and they could just nibble at whatever they felt like (which in Keith's case turned out to be pretty much nothing at all!). I enjoyed the hakka chilli paneer again, although I suspect chilli is a bit like childbirth, in that it has built in amnesia - it is really fiery and I suspect I may regret that choice the next day.
[Friday 28th December 2012]
Mum and Keith arrived in London this afternoon, for their festive weekend visit. They came to the flat first to see Erika for a bit - actually this was Keith's first time to meet her - and then I walked them to their hotel to check them in etc.
I left them to it for the remainder of the afternoon, and then we met up again at 6pm to go for dinner at Brasserie Zedel, next to Piccadilly Circus. It just opened this year, in the space formerly occupied by the famous Atlantic Grill, and being a grand French brasserie I thought it was the sort of thing Mum would like. I was also keen to see the interior for myself. The decor was certainly impressive - a very high ceiling held up by grand columns, with a gilded ornamentation and a distinctly art deco feel. The food itself was a bit hit and miss, but the service was good, and I really enjoyed the bottle of Pol Roger we had, served in coupe glasses of which I thoroughly approve.
Erika was a little angel throughout as well, which made it all the more lovely, and had all the waiters cooing over her.
[Thursday 27th December 2012]
As we weren't going to be seeing any of my family until after Christmas I decided there was no need to actually buy any presents until after Christmas, when some things might be a bit cheaper. So I actually did the bulk of my Christmas shopping today - at least as far as getting presents for all the family I'd be seeing this coming weekend - Mum, Keith, Adrian, Liz and the kids. It was a pretty efficient operation - I went out in the morning (by myself to make it a bit quicker) and was back in time for lunch. I pretty much did everything at Fortnum and Mason and Hamley's.
[Wednesday 26th December 2012]
Not much to report really. We made an effort to go out in the afternoon to see if we could find any bargains in the boxing day sales, but the weather was pretty miserable and only a handful of places were open (despite there being large crowds of people out on the streets) so quickly our enthusiasm waned and we decided to just give up and go home.
[Tuesday 25th December 2012]
After a light breakfast of viennoiserie we set about opening presents on the lounge floor, with Erika observing the proceedings from her bouncer. Obviously it's still a couple of years before she really has any idea what's going on, but I think she enjoyed the activity.
Lunch too was a very simple affair - Chie had given me a toasted sandwich maker (I'd been going on about toasted sandwiches for ages) so I just made one of these, and we decided to have our main meal a bit later in the day.
We went out for a Christmas day stroll in the afternoon, along the Thames to the Houses of Parliament, up Whitehall to Trafalgar Square, then milled around that area a bit before eventually deciding to get a taxi back from Piccadilly Circus as it felt like it was starting to rain.
We ate Christmas dinner around 5ish in the end. I tried to keep it fairly simple - pretty much just like a Sunday roast, but with the addition of a jar of cranberry sauce from Fortnum and Mason. It all came out fairly well today - even the roast potatoes were about a 7/10. I didn't make a ridiculous amount, so we didn't end up stuffed.
No booze either! We both had colds and had taken medicine, so decided not to open the bottle of Champagne we'd bought the other day in Berry Brothers and Rudd, which ws a bit of a shame.
[Monday 24th December 2012]
In the daytime we went for a Christmas lunch with some of the other residents of our square. Apparently they do this every year, the main reason being for people who might otherwise be by themselves for the Christmas period, but the invitation was open to everyone. Several of the attendees mentioned that it was the first time a baby had ever joined them, and she was the youngest person ever to come along. I have a feeling Chie and I were probably in second and third place for that title - we were the only people there under 60. Anyway, it was a good opportunity to meet some other people who live in the square, and hear some gossip about some of the more eccentric residents we have.
We left there just before three, and in the remainder of the afternoon decided to go out for a Christmas Eve stroll. Even at around 4:30pm London seemed desserted, and a lot of shops had closed early. We walked as far as Piccadilly, did some last minute food shopping in Fortnum and Mason in the hour before it closed (when it was surprisingly quiet - no hordes of people panic buying Christmas puddings as you might expect), and then wandered back via St. James's and Westminter. It seemed very dark - perhaps helped by the relative absence of cars - and was therefore very atmospheric.
[Sunday 23rd December 2012]
Started off the morning with a Middle Eastern sort of breakfast - Lebanese coffee (I'd bought a new bag yesterday) with dates and baklava. Somehow it felt slightly Christmassy too - I suppose that's the dates.
We ventured out for a bit in the afternoon - again it was a bit of a rainy day so we weren't filled with enthusiasm for being outside much - and popped to Harvey Nick's, where we had lunch at the Yo Sushi there (Erika enjoyed watching the dishes go round on the conveyor belt) and bought one or two things in the food hall and wine shop. From there we headed to the Waitrose in Belgravia, where we did what I suppose would be our main pre-Christmas shop. Given that it would just be the three of us for Christmas day we didn't go too overboard.
On arrival back at the flat, we found the mattress had been delivered - they'd left it with the porter - a bit confusing as I'd thought they were supposed to be picking up the other one. Guess what? This one was damp too. So we now have two damp mattresses cluttering up our flat, and Erika barely fits in her moses basket. Really, really not happy with John Lewis.
That rather cast a shadow on the remainder of the day.
Ate leftovers for dinner - a mixture of Indian and Lebanese food.
[Saturday 22nd December 2012]
Started the day with an irate phone call to John Lewis about the mattress saga, who were completely powerless to do anything apparently, and had no idea when the delivery company would come. I am on the verge of cutting up my Partnership card and taking my business elsewhere, to be honest.
Neither of us could bear the thought of being stuck in all day waiting for a delivery which may never come, so we just thought sod it, we'd go out, and if we missed it, we missed it.
For an early lunch, we headed to Manze's on Tower Bridge road, to introduce Erika to pie and mash. It occurred to me as we were there, that thus far at least she's a Londoner, born and bred, and so it seemed appropriate for her to be familiar with this traditional London fare. Of course she didn't actually eat any of it herself, but eyed it with suspicion. She may be a Londoner, but having been born in Chelsea and lived to date in Pimlico, she's not really that sort of Londoner.
It was a pretty grey and rainy sort of a day - we'd gone on the bus to Manze's, afterwards we felt like we ought to brave the elements and go for a bit of a walk, but our enthusiasm soon drained (particularly once Chie's feet got wet), so we just got as far as London Bridge station, where we decided to get the tube back home.
Once back in Pimlico we stopped off at Khallouk and Taylor for a coffee, a rather upmarket little cafe we've often walked past but for some reason have never really been in before.
We didn't really leave the flat again for the rest of the day, as it was just a bit too wet and miserable - other than a brief sally I made to the nearby Middle Eastern shop to but things for dinner.
[Friday 21st December 2012]
Quite a frustrating day. We'd ordered a cot and a mattress from John Lewis for Erika as she's getting too big for the moses basket now. It had arrived last night - already with some difficulty thanks to a lazy delivery company (really not happy with City Link). On arrival the mattress had a sort of damp and musty smell. The instructions said we should let it air for a few days, which we had done, but the smell hadn't gone altogether. So Chie had phoned John Lewis and got them to arrange a replacement - they were supposed to be coming to pick up the current one and drop off a new one today. However, they didn't give an exact time slot, so I ended up having to wait in all day, and it never actually arrived in the end. No communication whatsoever, just a completely wasted day.
Chie went out for lunch with friends from work - and given Erika's recent reluctance to drink from a bottle, had to take her with her.
Made curry for dinner in the evening, which came out quite well, and helped to cheer me up at least a bit after an otherwise quite frustrating day.
[Thursday 20th December 2012]
Started off the day with breakfast at the Regency Cafe, which was surprisingly busy for a weekday - and it was fun to see it in a festive mood. Next we went to the Christmas party organised by one of the baby groups Erika and Chie go to. I have to admit to finding this all a bit intimidating at first - they had an entertainer dressed as an elf with a guitar, who slightly later on was also making balloon animals - and there seemed to be about a hundred babies and frantic small children there. Still, Erika seemed to enjoy at least some of it, and I'm sure this kind of stimulation must be good for her. She also got to meet Santa for the first time, which was definitely fun (more for us than for her, at this age of course).
After leaving the Christmas party, a bit before midday, we decided to head into the centre, as we needed to pick up Erika's new Japanese passport from the Japanese embassy. We walked there, and although it was a bit of a damp and drizzly day it made for a pleasant stroll, through St. James's Park and some of Green Park. They were very friendly and efficient at the Japanese embassy, and we were pleasantly surprised to find they also had baby changing facilities there. Again there's something oddly exciting about getting a brand new passport for a brand new person, and we immediately started thinking about going somewhere abroad on a bit of a whim this coming weekend.
Next we popped over to Bond Street - we'd rather liked the idea of buying a silver spoon for Erika. We decided to get one in Tiffany, as Chie had a ring from Tiffany she'd been given by her sister when she first came to England, and we found they actually had spoons by the same designer, with a similar style - so there was a nice sense of continuity to it. We plan on getting it engraved too, but they told us there would probably be a long wait at the moment, so it might be better to drop it back in the new year.
From there we went to pick up some Japanese provisions in Rice Wine Shop, and then from there went to try out a new ramen place called Shoryu for lunch. They had a vegetarian ramen dish on the menu - it was a bit on the healthy side for my liking, but I was still pleased there was at least something on offer. The staff spoke Japanese to us as well, which is always nice.
We gradually headed home from there, by way of Berry Brothers and Rudd, to pick up a bottle of their Champagne for Christmas.
Once back at the flat, we had a delivery of a baby bouncer for Erika, and in the evening I made kimchi nabe for dinner.
[Wednesday 19th December 2012]
Quite a mixed bag of a day today.
We started off the morning with Erika having a video chat with her Grandma and Great Grandma in Japan - it's the first time she's managed to catch Great Grandma on Skype, so that was rather special.
Next up, we had lunch with Iris, one of the Mums we met from the NCT antenatal group, and her baby Ollie. Iris is something of a straight talker and was quite insistent that we need to start planning Erika's schooling arrangements now. It's particularly interesting because a lot of people I've spoken to (mostly people who don't have kids in London) are quite surprised - almost shocked - when we say we're considering an independent (i.e. paid for) school. Iris on the other hand seemed somewhat incredulous that we'd consider anything else in the part of London where we are.
After lunch we all went along to the baby clinic together to have our respective babies weighed and measured. Erika now weighs 6.1 kilos and is somewhere around the 65% percentile for her age, which is all pretty good.
After that we waved off Iris and headed in the direction of Victoria Street to do a bit of shopping.
For dinner I made a stew with dumplings - the weather seemed to necessitate this sort of food - and also started work on a new batch of kimchi. It has been a while! It being the festive season I also decided to experiment with making brussel sprout kimchi. I expect the shape/density of these will mean there isn't enough contact with the paste, and it just won't work, but it seemed worth an experiment.
Chie went out for a bit after dinner to go to a yoga class, during which to placate Erika I spent the time dancing around the living room with her in the Baby Bjorn, listening to jazz. When Chie came back we swapped, and I went out for a little while to join in with a karaoke session that I'd been invited to weeks ago, and had managed to forget all about.
[Tuesday 18th December 2012]
Day two of my pre-Christmas week off. In the morning I popped out to get my hair cut, and as I wanted to get it done quickly I tried a little local place which, to be honest, I wasn't very happy with. Still, I suppose it is now at least a bit shorter and neater.
The main event of the day was lunch at Fortnum and Mason with Kyle, which is turning into something of a Christmas tradition. Like last year we headed for the wine bar, and whilst the service was at best patchy, and the vegetarian offerings on the menu were not entirely remarkable, the wine at least was excellent - I thoroughly enjoyed the Bollinger flight.
Whilst there both Kyle and I did some shopping for various festive requisites, and then afterwards, as I'd generously been given the whole afternoon off from parenting duties, rounded off with one last drink at Dukes Bar. I'm afraid to have to report that the calibre of clientele there on a weekday afternoon in the run up to Christmas rather left something to be desired, when compared with the sorts of people I'd rubbed shoulders with on previous visits. There was one group in particular who were quite uncouth, and using the sort of language I'd have expected in a rough Wetherspoons, and not a refined St. James's institution like Dukes. Oh well.
[Monday 17th December 2012]
I was off work for all of this week - and all of next week - as I'd had some holiday I had to use up before the end of the year. Today we thought we might make a bit of an effort to resume flat hunting, and so I phoned lots of estate agents, although in the end we only actually managed to arrange one viewing. We thought we'd try something different than the usual area, so took a look at the City of London. The flat we looked at today was just off Fleet Street - a really fascinating location, and I actually got quite excited about it but there were enough ifs and buts that we didn't put an offer in straight away, which in London tends to me forgetting all about it.
Anyway, we were then in an interesting part of town from which to commence an afternoon stroll, so we meandered from there in the direction of a Vietnamese cafe Chie wanted to go to for a late lunch - a place called City Caphé. My past experience with Vietnamese food had been a little underwhelming, as it doesn't really have a lot to offer for vegetarians. This place did seem a bit more promising though - and despite the setback that they'd ran out of the vegetarian pho, I had a fairly simple lunch of spring rolls with rice which was surprisingly nice.
After that we did a few museums - firstly the art gallery and the little clockmaker's museum at the Guildhall, and then after that the Museum of London. They were all fascinating in their own way - the old paintings of London in the Guildhall, the rolling ball clock in the clockmaker's museum, and the recreation of Victorian shops (and a pub!) in the Museum of London. A very enjoyable afternoon!
[Sunday 16th December 2012]
We Ai-san at one of the ante-natal classes we went to - it's great that Chie has a Japanese friend with an almost identically aged baby (they're just a week apart) who lives just round the corner from us.
Today she invited the three of us to a Christmas party at their flat, with a few other Japanese friends of hers, and a total of three babies.
I popped out for a bit in the middle to do a bit of Christmas shopping, and ended up having to go to four different department stores to find what I wanted to buy for Chie - Liberty, Fenwick, Selfridge's and then finally Harvey Nicks. This seemed slghtly ironic - surely the point of department stores is that you go to one shop and are able to buy several presents, not that you go to several shops and only manage to buy one present.
[Saturday 15th December 2012]
I continued to feel pretty glum this morning after last night's unpleasantness, and coupled with the fact that I effectively had an 18 day long weekend ahead of me, I didn't really feel particularly enthusiastic to go out and do anything. I could have quite happily just stayed in bed.
Still, we thought Erika could probably do with some fresh air, and I thought looking around for a new tweed jacket might cheer me up a bit, so we eventually decided to head out in the afternoon in the direction of Piccadilly, on foot - taking in St. James's Park on the way.
I had a very thorough look at the tweed jackets in Cordings on Piccadilly, but couldn't quite make up my mind. I think part of the problem is that I really want to get a full tweed suit, but they only had the matching trousers available in a couple of their tweeds, and I didn't particularly like those designs.
We retreated to the Whole Foods in Soho for a bit - Chie likes the fresh juices there - which also gave us the opportunity to feed Erika. Afterwards we took a stroll down Jermyn Street looking for more tweed jackets there, and did eventually return to Cordings, but I still couldn't make up my mind.
So our rather fruitless shopping expedition ended with a quick visit to the Japan Centre to pick up supplies for dinner, and then we got the bus back home.
Japanese food for dinner in the evening then - I'd managed to find some vegetarian compatible kimchi in the Japan Centre, and so we started with a course of assorted nibbles, followed by vegetable korokke, rice and miso soup.
[Friday 14th December 2012]
Last day at work of this year - I had saved a lot of my holiday this year thinking I might need to take extra time off after paternity leave, but in the end we'd managed to cope pretty well with just the odd half day off here and there. So I had five days I had to use up before the end of the year (after I'd already taken the standard days off around Christmas week) which meant taking all of next week off.
I stayed in this evening to look after Erika while Chie went out to her Hiroshimakenjinkai group's annual bonenkai party. It started out reasonably well - I managed to keep her entertained for a while with various rattles and her mobile - and then we popped out together for a bit to pick up a pizza for dinner - she happily dozed off in the Baby Bjorn.
When it came time for her feed things went downhill rather rapidly though - she seemed to have decided as of this evening she won't accept milk from a bottle any more. This had mostly worked in the past without issue, but tonight all of a sudden she wasn't having any of it. I'm pretty sure she was hungry/thirsty - and I'd tried all the other usual remedies first - but after half an hour of trying to get her to take the bottle (amidst constant crying) I was out of ideas. I didn't want to make Chie come home early, so I just sent a text message to see if she had any advice, but that prompted her to head back. Of course, as soon as Chie arrived home, and standard milk provision arrangements were resumed, she stopped crying and was then quite relaxed for the rest of the evening. Her parents however didn't recover so quickly - it had been pretty harrowing for me, and Chie understandably was rather disappointed to have had her night out unexpectedly cut short.
[Thursday 13th December 2012]
Chie had a friend coming to visit this evening, so I was given some of the evening off from parenting duties, and had arranged to meet up with Al for a quick pre-Christmas drink. We met at the Lamb on Lamb's Conduit Street, and then proceded on to the Viaduct Tavern. Al was meeting another friend there, and I imagined Chie's friend wouldn't stay very late, so i just stayed for one drink and then headed home (poking my nose in at Ye Old Mitre very briefly on the way).
[Wednesday 12th December 2012]
Erika seems to have recently started to use her hands a bit more. Rather than just flailing her arms about randomly, she chews her hands a bit, occasionally grabs things, and puts her hands together. Sometimes it looks like she's wringing her hands, and sometimes it looks like she's cracking her knuckles like a mobster.
[Tuesday 11th December 2012]
Went for lunch at Oliveto with Iain and Gemma today - I went for the special rather than the usual pizza: tagliarini with white truffles. My first white truffles of the season. I still think I prefer black truffles in terms of cost performance, but it did help to inject a bit of glamour into an otherwise fairly mundane week.
[Monday 10th December 2012]
The previous one had been just for engineering, this one was company wide - and usually each year this is the worse of the two. I went home for a bit first so I could help give Erika a bath and make dinner. I decided to make a bit of an effort and get dressed up for the party - so I went in my suit.
On arrival, as it had been the last couple of years, it was in a grotty nightclub - and it was dark, loud and absolutely packed. I made a brief effort to have a wander around and find people I knew. I did find some friends, and then went to the bar to get a drink, but there was a ridiculous queue, so I decided to just give up and leave instead. I couldn't stop worrying given the cramped conditions somebody might spill something on my suit.
I think I managed about 15 minutes - a personal record for the least time I've ever spent at one of our Christmas parties.
I decided to head out to the Seven Stars instead, which was surprisingly quiet - it being in the run-up to Christmas I expected it would be busy even on a Monday night. I had one quick pint there, then headed off again, in the general direction of back home, but decided to stop off en route to poke my nose in at the newly reopened Cafe Royal Hotel, which I've been hearing a lot about recently. Most of the bits which are currently open to the public are bland, modern and generic, but I did manage to get a member of staff to let me take a peek at the famous Grill Room - as frequented by Oscar Wilde and chums - which has a rather lavish gilded interior. Headed home after that.
[Sunday 9th December 2012]
We went down to Forest Hill this afternoon, to meet Chie's friend and former colleague Akino-san, her husband Tim, and their baby girl Ayla, who was born around the same time as Erika. It was a bit difficult getting there - it seems trains to that part of the world aren't very good on Sundays, so we had a long ride on the 185 bus. Part way through I realised we'd done almost exactly this journey before, when we went to the Horniman Museum.
We spent most of the afternoon at their flat, eating nachos and talking about babies and buying flats, etc.
[Saturday 8th December 2012]
Today was our wedding anniversary - 6 years - can you believe it?
As we got married by the sea (and Miyajima's famous "umi no tori" or sea gate), and had our reception on a boat, we've had this sort of running theme since then that our wedding anniversary has to involve water somehow. It gets more and more tenuous every year, but this year we thought it would be a good opportunity to go and try out the Emirates Air Line - the new cable car / gondola crossing over the Thames built for the Olympics.
So in the morning the three of us headed out, and got the tube to North Greenwich. - where the Millenium Dome is. From there it was a short walk to the terminal for the cable car. I was surprised by how tall the whole thing was - somehow I'd imagined something a bit naff and half arsed - it being modern Britain after all. But it's actually a rather impressive towering construction, as hopefully the pictures give a feel for. The ride is relatively short but we really enjoyed it, and I like the fact we could pay with our Oyster cards (and, like the rest of the Transport for London network it was cheaper than paying in cash). The views from the top were quite impressive, although it was a bit difficult to take pictures as there were other people sitting on the side with the better views.
From there, I thought it would be nice to have lunch at one of the riverside pubs along the North bank of the Thames in East London, so we got the DLR from Canning Town to Westferry. I had originally planned to go to the Grapes, but rather disappointingly on entering were told kids weren't allowed - it's the first time this has happened actually, and I'd started to think kids not being let into pubs (at least the sort of pubs where food is served) was a thing of the past. Undeterred we pressed on to the Prospect of Whitby, where we were quite welcome, and ended up probably being a bit nicer anyway. As it's a Taylor Walker pub they have the standard menu including vegetarian fish and chips (fried halloumi in batter!) and theirs was a particularly good execution of it. We managed to get a nice table by the window, overlooking the river, so this was all rather lovely.
Next, as we were in the area, we popped over the river to Rotherhithe to take a quick look at the Brunel museum there - the site of the engine house for the Thames tunnel, which is actually now used by the Overground line (formerly the East London line) which we'd just used to cross the river. It's actually the oldest section of tunnel on the whole London underground - as it was built for a different purpose and predated the rest of the underground - and was the first ever tunnel under a navigable waterway in the world. The museum was pretty small, and fairly light on actual exhibits, but I like anything Brunel related so I was quite happy. The Thames tunnel of course was a joint effort of two Brunels - father and son. To that end, there's a lovely picture in there of a dinner held in the tunnel to celebrate its opening, and the note attached to it rather touchingly explained that although Brunel senior is included in the painting, he apparently didn't actually attend, because he didn't want to steal the limelight from his son Isambard. Considering how incredibly well known IKB is today, that was a pretty magnanimous gesture by his comparatively lesser known Dad.
From there we headed back over the river again to Hackney. Chie's friend Christina was visiting London from Athens, and had said she was going to be in Hackney until 3ish, but owing to communication difficulties we ended up not actually managing to meet there. Despite this setback we took the opportunity for something of a cultural safari to a part of London I've often heard about, but have never been to - it being somewhat hipster central. On arrival we did what I assumed to be the done thing when in hipstery neighbourhoods - and find a coffee shop. It was rather pleasing to achieve this by technological means - to determine where those in the know about this neck of the woods considered to be the best place for coffee - and moreover by use of technology I had helped to build. Our first attempt was unsuccessful - through no real fault of the technology the cafe in question was closed for a private party. However, it did cause us instead to stumble on a bizarre little cluster of high end brand outlet shops (Pringle, Burberry and Aquascutum), which didn't really fit with my mental model of Hackney and its hipster demographic, but did provide a good place for Chie to buy a nice pair of gloves and a scarf. Our second attempt at finding a cafe was then more successful, and we had a pleasant late afternoon coffee in the Wilton Way Cafe, which the wonders of modern technology had already informed us was child friendly.
Having realised we weren't going to manage to meet up with Chie's friend in Hackney by this point, we decided to head home.
We had a bit of dinner back at home, and a bit later on in the evening we did eventually manage to meet up with Chie's friend Christina and her husband Vassilis. After all that messing around trying to meet up at the far reaches of the known world (Hackney) it turns out that they were actually staying at a hotel in Victoria! So we spent the evening with them in Le Pain Quotidien across the road from their hotel talking about babies (they have two of their own), Greece, socialism, art and London. They're a lovely couple and it was a very nice way to round off the day.
[Friday 7th December 2012]
Went along to TGIF for a little while, then headed home by way of the little Sainsbury's in Victoria station, wherein I picked up things for making macaroni cheese and - by special request from Chie - mulled wine.
I don't think I've ever really made mulled wine properly "from scratch" before - I've probably cheated and got a sachet of mixed spices for making mulled wine and just dump it in a pan of wine and warmed it up - but I've never individually added all the spices and other ingredients to the wine. So I have that a go this evening - red wine, sugar, bay leaves, a cinnamon stick, a vanilla pod, a whole nutmeg and a few cloves. We were quite pleased with the end result.
[Thursday 6th December 2012]
In the evening we went to the Salvation Army carol service in the gardens. I think we've been meaning to go along to this for several years, but never seem to have managed before. Somehow now that Erika has arrived we feel a stronger compulsion to attend wholesome activities like this.
The weather wasn't particularly nice - it was raining and quite cold - so the band and most of the audience huddled under a sort of loggia out in the gardens. It was cramped but still very nice - other residents of the square were handing out hot chocolate and mince pies, which was very kind of them. Maybe it was just because of the cold damp weather but the hot chocolate in particular was quite delicious.
[Wednesday 5th December 2012]
I headed home initially after work to look after Erika for a bit, as Chie needed to pop out for a while. Then later on in the evening I went and showed my face at the office Christmas party (or to be precise, one of the office Christmas parties - this one was just for engineering rather than the whole company). It was in the earth hall at the Natural History Museum, but despite the impressive venue I just wasn't really in the mood for it. I did get a chance to chat to Simon for a while which was nice, but he needed to leave early and so I decided to do the same.
[Tuesday 4th December 2012]
The picture is of a pub sign being constructed, taken on my way into work this morning.
There was another work relating outing this evening - dinner with a visiting dignitary - but I decided to skip it as I thought three nights out in a row was a bit unfair on Chie and Erika. Beside, tonight was Erika's bath night (it's every other night) and I wanted to be around to help out with that.
[Monday 3rd December 2012]
A load of visitors from other offices descended on our office for the first half of this week for a summit. As has become the tradition when my team gets a lot of visitors, we took them out for a pub crawl this evening. I actually booked space at the first pub - The Black Friar - as we planned to eat there. The rough estimate I'd worked to was about 15 to 20 people, but in the end I counted 32 attendees. Amazingly somehow or other it actually worked - everyone managed to eat at the first pub, and most of the group continued on to the second - with the numbers understandably having dwindled somewhat by the third and fourth.
I had to adapt the typical itinerary I might have adhered to in order to focus on pubs which could actually hold that many people (especially as spilling out onto the street wasn't really an attractive option this time of year), so after the Black Friar headed to Ye Old Cheshire Cheese, the Old Bank of England, and then finished at the Cittie of Yorke.
[Sunday 2nd December 2012]
We went out to Hertfordshire today to visit Chie's friend Akiko-san and her family, who live in a village near to Hemel Hempstead. Despite this only being about 20 miles or so out of London we spent a long time getting there and back again as we seemed to be rather unlucky with trains today. Even the tube to Euston took an age as there was some problem or other on the Victoria line, and the Euston to Hemel Hempstead trains were late in both directions, some sort of signaling problem. The train on the way back was also horribly overcrowded, with people standing in every available inch of space, as some earlier trains had been cancelled outright. This was an interesting experience with a buggy, although luckily Erika slept through it. I have to admit though on some level I was slightly glad - whenever we go out into the country from London I suspect there's always a subtext of "why don't we live here?" and seeing how hellish the commute can be helps to answer that question quickly and definitively.
Anyway, trains aside, we met Chie's friend Akiko-san, her husband Gavin, and their two children Maechan and Kojikun. We started off with a pub lunch at the Swan in Ley Hill (technically in Buckinghamshire rather than Hertfordshire) - wherein the standard disappointment of Sunday pub lunches ensued - the vegetarian options being pasta or risotto (it's almost never something involving roast potatoes) - but at least the pub had a reasonably pleasant interior, with a big open fire and lots of exposed beams. After that we popped back to their house briefly, before going out for a walk in the fields surrounding their village. It was definitely on the chilly side, but a good opportunity to get some fresh country air.Then back to their house again for a warming cup of tea and some very nice chocolate cake Akiko-san made before eventually heading back to London.
In the evening I made a strange sort of dinner, attempting to do something like bubble and squeak with leftover mashed potato and swede from St. Andrew's Day. We didn't have any cabbage so I attempted to use spinach instead. It didn't really work, but was just about edible with some chilli sauce.
[Saturday 1st December 2012]
I went on a walking tour this afternoon around St. James's and Mayfair, the title was "The Men Who Made Menswear" and it was all about the history of menswear, including people like Beau Brummel, Henry Poole, and various Princes of Wales. It was very interesting - and nice to see some familiar faces from other Chap Magazine type events - but a bit too cold to really enjoy it to the full, and I was also fending off a bit of a hangover thanks to last night's St. Andrew's festivities.
That finished at 3pm, after which I headed straight home and was very pleased to just spend the rest of the day indoors with Chie and Erika - the hot mug of tea I had when I got home was very much appreciated. I made a lasagne for dinner.
[Friday 30th November 2012]
I'd been in Japan this year when we might otherwise have held a Burns Night, and with the recent increase in space taken in the flat by baby things, Chie had suggested it might be good to invite some people round to help finish off a few bottles of whisky which have been hanging around for quite a while. So, St. Andrew's Day seemed like a good opportunity to do just that, and also gave me an excuse to buy Erika a little kilt and a ghillie shirt which I thought she looked absolutely adorable in.
I invited the usual suspects from work round and to my surprise everyone said yes (although at the last minute Al and Charlotte had to cancel because they were ill). I made almost exactly the same meal I always make for a Burns Night - Scotch broth followed by haggis, neeps and tatties. I also made cranachan. I think it all went rather well, and the next morning I was able to throw out six empty bottles of whisky (although I hasten to add all of these had only had a glass or two left in the bottle at the start of the evening).
[Thursday 29th November 2012]
We took Erika to Oliveto for the first time this evening - the staff were very accommodating and gave us a table with the bench at one side, with a couple of cushions for Erika. An elderly and very well spoken couple sat next to us and the lady told us she thought Erika was very cute. How nice it was to receive compliments about our baby from people who were likely landed gentry.
Erika was pretty content to just lay there for most of the meal, but after we'd finished our main course and were thinking about dessert she decided she'd have enough and started crying. I whisked her away as quickly as I could to try and avoid disturbing any of the other customers (particularly the very well-to-do lady and gentleman beside us), but despite pacing up and down in the corridor for a while I couldn't get her settled so we decided to just leave without dessert. Still, we had at least had a rather lovely time eating our pizza and pasta.
[Sunday 25th November 2012]
Started off the day with a Japanese breakfast, followed by mince pies.
In the afternoon I thought we should go for a walk in a park somewhere, so decided to head to Hyde Park - and in fact we walked all the way there and back again, stopping off en route at the Waitrose in Belgravia.
Made a Sunday roast for dinner, I'm still continually striving to make better roast potatoes. They were reasonably OK today, I boiled them for a bit longer than I did last time, and dried them out in the pan a bit before transferring them to the oven. Still not as crispy as I'd like them though - I blame the oven.
We tried out the swimava for the first time for Erika's bath this evening - which meant we put her in the grown-up bath rather than her little baby bath. She seemed to quite enjoy it actually - I think that floating sensation must be quite nice for her.