le mois de juillet, le premier épisode

Today marks the final day of July. Even when it comes to writing, I can get so lazy, because there are some things I would like to share but haven’t found the energy or time to. Time is probably an excuse, the energy reason is more easily justifiable because I still cannot get a good rest.

About half of this month was spent away in the UK where I was there for a project. I guess the easiest way out of the updates would be a summary, and what better way than to do a photo-collage.

whilst waiting for the national rail train to London Waterloo at Wokingham station // view out of my room window of the neighbourhood // view of the room i stayed in for ten nights from the door // along the walk to the office one sunny morning

groceries from marks & spencer that i wished we had here too // the day tickets that took me to london and back that included unlimited rides on the underground // coffee break with a tasteless muffin // favourite meal of the day.. breakfast

dinner at the kaglan pub near the ‘hotel’ // morning coffee break during the weekend at caffe nero // vongole pasta for dinner at jamie’s italian in reading // lunch in the office cafeteria of quiche, tomato salad and peas

first drizzly sunday out at bond street // second sunny sunday out at piccadilly // london eye // trafalgar square

the birthday present for the year // fries with truffle oil and shaved parmesan at jamie’s italian // poached eggs with toast and tomatoes at the modern pantry // bear keychain from harrods at knightsbridge

the Modern Pantry

While in UK, I took the chance to meet up with a friend who’s now living and working in London. Since I was not going to spend the weekend in boring old Wokingham where I stayed for the duration of the work trip, it was a great opportunity to discover a bit of London with her. We decided to check out the Modern Pantry, a place she had visited and felt was pretty good. There was another place she suggested but I preferred brunch so we made a reservation at the modern pantry instead.

It was not really easy for me to get there just based on Google Maps, an address and perhaps my limited skill maneuvering the streets of London on a cold, wet morning, thereby having a less than pleasant encounter along the way and deliberating my opinion of it being safe to travel solo. Nevertheless, I did get there eventually, safely.

Alternating between browsing the menu and eagerly catching up, we finally placed our orders, and both of us decided on eggs and toast. My friend had poached eggs with toast and bacon, mushrooms plus a grilled tomato, while I chose to have mine with grilled chorizo that came with caramelised bananas (which you can’t see very well in the second picture below).

I rather liked the place, which looked fresh and breezy, with the restaurant contained in a old-style English townhouse of sorts that had a staircase along the middle of one side of the wall. It was dressed in pastel blue colour on the walls interspersed with white, maybe lending itself to the whole brunch experience of bright and light. There are three storeys in the building, with private rooms (for hire, I suppose) on the second and third level. It was rather busy and cosy, plus noisy, when we got there, so it made talking a little difficult without raising our voices. My friend mentioned that it used to be much better in the past when it was not to popular and crowded yet, so I guess with increasing popularity, food outlets tend to become a little commercialised and maybe even tired, and then lose their original charm of being a quaint little spot serving good food.

I thought the food was decent, although the sausages I had reminded me of Taiwan sausages; though they were supposedly grilled, it just felt rather oily. The bananas were not too sweet, and generally I am a fan of bread/toast/whatever so that was alright. Perhaps it took me too long to get to the eggs because by the time I started eating them, parts of the egg yolk had coagulated and lost the flowy consistency that I preferred, so I tossed out some of the hardened yolk.

Coffee was nice, comparative to the daily black coffee I had where I stayed, and of course, way better than the Starbucks latte I had on the Sunday I arrived in the UK.

We decided to share some dessert, in the form of chocolate truffles. Chocolates are always great, and these are definitely small enough to fit in a full stomach.

This is the address of the place, together with its location, courtesy of Google Maps. It is actually along Clerkenwell Road, and its signage is visible from across the street; also there are various other eateries around it, with them kind of lining a smallish square of sorts. It just somehow took me a bit of time getting there from Farringdon station because I took a wrong turn after exiting.

so tired of being here

Aside from dinner at the Kaglan in the town centre near the hotel, the only other proper dinner I had was when the colleagues decided to head to Reading for dinner one rainy evening. It really rained a lot that day and honestly I was very reluctant to join, especially when half the time I have no idea what the conversation going on was about since I don’t speak the language and yes they are all so considerate.

Besides, having to sit in the car cramped in the backseat with two bigger-sized human beings on either side, travelling to Reading that was supposedly about 10 minutes drive away that actually was more like 30 minutes, I started to feel sick in the car already.

It was decided then that we should check out Jamie’s Italian, even though there were other choices. But the others that were available weren’t as interesting, such as Wagamama, and the others I cannot recall now.

Despite it being a wet and cold evening, Jamie’s Italian was really crowded but we were lucky to get a round table for the 5 of us, somewhere in the middle of the eatery, and yet it wasn’t so noisy that we couldn’t hear each other. At least I don’t really remember having to shout to get myself heard, not that I had to talk a lot. Jetlag had more or less set in, or I never really got out of being jetlagged, so by 8pm in the evening, I was already in a state of hibernation.

We had some starters, olives, bread baskets, and fries with truffle oil plus parmesan. I have had truffle fries before but this was slightly different. It was just normal fried potatoes with truffle oil and sprinkled with shaved parmesan cheese, so it wasn’t salty like most french fries are, and with parmesan it tasted great.

I was initially undecided about ordering the spaghetti vongole or the risotto but finally chose the former because I hadn’t had any decent vongole for ages. The only one I had before that I really liked is no longer in existence, which was cooked with light white wine sauce that was a little like aglio olio. This was a bit different, it had more taste to it, probably due to the different types of clams used. I think a lot of times I don’t fancy the vongole because the clams they used were of the variety that I don’t enjoy as they had some strong pungent taste. This was not too bad I think. At least I don’t dislike it so I think it’s a fairly good choice.

For dessert, we shared the tiramisu that came with orange mascarpone, and also the crushed ice with limoncello and mint, which was refreshing though perhaps a tad unsuitable for the cold weather. This would have been the perfect weather for things like hot pot or soup but I didn’t get a chance to have any soup.

Despite all that rain and the unwillingness in making the trip, I think it was good to try the eatery and have some proper dinner, because I have been having too much junk these two weeks. It feels really lousy to not be eating well and especially not having the chance, the motivation or the energy to do any exercising. I’m constantly feeling lethargic and tired and everything is just not in a very good state.

happy birthday. alternative version.

Last few moments before the annual day of celebrating growing officially a year older and hopefully wiser. As time goes by, it has just become another day without anything to really look forward to. Usually it’s just birthday greetings that we get on Facebook, text or whatsapp messages. That’s all. I always see people posting heaps of photos of week-long, month-long celebrations with different groups of friends and family, it just feels like an alternate universe to me.

I don’t have that many social groups that I am part of, and even if we count many among the loose term of friends, these are just people who leave messages on your wall to shout out a Happy Birthday when they remember, and those who hop on the bandwagon because they see others wishing you, so they thought they’d just type a message too. It doesn’t take much effort at all to key in a few letters to compose a message on Facebook. I think messages that I receive close to the hour via whatsapp and the usual text, are people who I guess actually remembers when is the actual day that you were born on. Sometimes I will try to stay up till 12 just because I want to be the first to wish a friend happy birthday. Maybe it’s just a silly thing that I do and it doesn’t mean anything to the other person but that’s just what I do for some friends.

So as I have become more anti-social and lost more friends along the way, I don’t have birthday celebrations anymore. Not that many anyway. I always count on one friend who always remembers and always plan to take me to some nice place for my annual birthday treat and I think I’m really touched by all the effort and thought put into it. I don’t need fancy presents because things that I really want cost a lot of money to buy, and I don’t expect anyone to get me pricey gifts (even though I won’t say no if someone wants to), but it’s the whole remembering and bothering that really makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. Thanks.

Last year I was in Mexico City on a job when I had my birthday. It was a coincidence that the colleagues on the team and the country knew about it, and they surprised me with a birthday cake and a Spanish birthday song no less. The entire office crowding around me singing me a birthday song, that’s something that takes a bit getting used to because it’s kind of embarrassing really but it was a really nice gesture from them.

This year it happened again that I was more or less away. I was due to fly back home on the eve of my birthday, so that by the time I reach home and taking into account time differences, my birthday is about over. The 10 or so days that I spent in the UK wasn’t the best overseas trip I had, in fact it counted as one of the worst. Except for meeting a couple of friends I hadn’t seen in a long while that were the highlight of the trip, and getting my birthday present, the rest of the trip was, to say the least, like a nightmare. Something happened that had me seething with fury, that the only thing I wanted was to just leave immediately.

So much for a happy birthday. It just made everything worse.

was it just a dream?

Dinner on the first evening when the colleagues arrived last week. We headed to the village/town centre that was about ten minutes walk away from the hotel and popped into this pub called the Raglan because it looked pretty good.

Well, it was like one of those Irish pubs that we may see in Singapore but according to the colleagues this place looked much more modern than the typical pubs they knew that were English or whatever, because at least the furnishings looked newer. To me, it was still old, if we were to compare them with how we would expect pubs to look like back home. These had lots of wood used in the decor, which lends itself to a darker interior especially when lit with ambient lighting.

Besides alcohol, they serve food of course, and two of them ordered the tower burger, or something like that. It was really tall so it couldn’t be eaten like a normal burger. This had jalapenos, onion rings, mushrooms, beef, etc., stacked beneath the bread patties. Both my colleagues who ordered it kept on complimenting its taste so I guess it must taste rather great.

I ordered the fried prawns with chips and peas, also known as scampi. I didn’t want to have any burgers because they sounded like they would be huge and indeed they turned out so. Besides, scampi sounded interesting, cute even. It’s a silly reason for a food order but sometimes when I can’t decide that’s the best option. Taste-wise it was alright, not exceedingly fantastic or memorable because it is fundamentally fried prawn fingers (if that’s what you can call them).

Rain descended yet again. I was glad I brought along the lightweight black brolly I got in Tokyo years ago. Even though it is tiny and probably useless in the event of heavy rain, I like that it weighs almost nothing and when folded it takes up little space.

I can’t wait to get the job done here and leave already.

lost under the surface

It doesn’t feel like summer at all. For once, I think I failed to bring the sun along with me. I remembered the last two occasions when I visited UK, it was scorching. I wondered then why everyone always talks about the dreary English weather because it felt a little like home, minus the humidity.

On this trip, I fully comprehended what that meant. Each day when I wake up, or when I look out the window and spy the sun peeking from behind the clouds I will be so glad. But that doesn’t last long, it wouldn’t take a while for the cloud cover to obscure the sun entirely, once more shrouding the city in the trademark gloominess that has become part of this city.

Even though I wasn’t in London per se, the weather was a nationwide affliction. Miles away to the west of London where I stayed, the rain persisted and temperatures always hover just above 10. It is nice to have cool weather but when there is rain, it just sucks.

Over the weekend on Saturday it just rained for the good part of the day. I was making my way to an unfamiliar location to meet a friend for brunch, and whilst finding the place I encountered an incident that I hope doesn’t repeat itself again. Someone came up to me and spoke to me and asked to share my umbrella. Knowing that it is obviously not the main purpose I just tried to walk away, especially since the umbrella I had is only enough for one. He just wouldn’t give me following me about and stopping me from walking any way, since I as well did not know which way I should head if I were to not head too far from my intended direction. I ducked into a cafe where the lady behind the counter kindly helped me by pulling me into the kitchen while she tried to deal with him. It took a while of lots of stupid exchanges of “why?”s and whatever before he left the cafe. According to one of the shop assistants he was rather pissed and she seemed to be rather annoyed with me too for bringing them trouble.

I couldn’t care less. When I made sure he wasn’t lingering outside the shop anymore, I confirmed the direction I should head in and left. The rain had gotten heavier, and with the wind, I finally found the place I wanted to, half-drenched. It was really quite a bad experience even though the meet-up with my friend sort of made up for it afterwards. I got reminded about the issue of safety in travelling. Usually we take safety for granted in Singapore, even if these days it may not be that safe anymore, but it still beats many other cities. The thing is, it was noon-time, and it wasn’t like I was in dark back alley or the likes.

Now I just want to put this incident behind me and look forward to going home. I don’t miss what everyone is complaining about the typical Singapore weather but I think I need a break from the rain.

Weather on Sunday was kinder because it was sunnier. And I was back among the crowds, making sure I stayed in popular areas so that I don’t need a repeat of history. Met up with another friend for a coffee in the evening and we opted to sit outside since it was sunny! But then the wind got so chilly that about an hour and a half later we were already freezing.

I didn’t do much touristy stuff this time round other than walking about and taking some tourist pictures of the attractions. I thought it might be wise to stay away from the attractions since with the upcoming Olympics everywhere was crowded, and it being summer, albeit a cold and rainy one, there were many other visitors thronging the city.

chase the rainblown fields away

Last month when I arrived in Zurich, it was raining and chilly. At that point I wished I had brought more warmer clothing. Then a few days into the dreariness, the weather got decidedly sunny and warm and I even complained about it being too warm to be outdoors. It was. In the sun, you feel like your skin burned the moment any part of it was exposed to the sun’s rays.

But sunny weather lends itself to pictures that look wonderful. I hoped for better weather and indeed the weather got better, a bit too good until it got so scorching. Then after that it cooled slightly but it didn’t really matter anymore since I was anyway heading home.

It is amazing that I will ever be thankful to see the sun. In Singapore I will grimace whenever I see sunlight that is too bright because it frequently equates to extremely hot temperatures that coupled with the infamous humidity, are just not best friends with me. Where I am now, whenever I see a glimpse of sunlight I’d be so thankful. I can’t imagine that it is supposed to be summer and the temperatures hover just above 10 deg C. Temperatures aside, the gloominess just kills everything else. I can understand how people get suicidal with extended periods of bad weather.

I got reminded of what someone told me recently about being careful what you wish for. Maybe. Maybe not. I guess there will always be a silver lining somewhere, maybe just not now and not here.