My birthday weekend began on Friday with a lie in to, gasp, 8.30am as Little Planet went back to sleep after her 7am feed. She had already woken up around 3.30am for a feed. By 9am, she was up and wanting to play so M and I split our breakfasts so we could take it in turns to spend time with her. She spent some time rolling around on her activity gym, rocking in her rainforest cradle (above) and taking a tour of the house and garden with M.
By 10.30am, and after another feed, we popped her into her buggy and took her to Brindisa in Exmouth Market, where she drifted in and out of sleep as we stocked up on lomo, membrillo, Manchega cheese, wine, anchovies, capers, chicken pie, chickpea and chorizo salad and pasteis de nata. Then we pushed her into Islington to buy more all-in-one sleepsuits from Green Baby. Our baby lives day and night in these easy to put on and take off onesies. If we have another baby we will never again waste money on fancy separates as they simply cause little ones more distress than they are worth. Babies like to be dressed quickly and with minimal fuss - something you can do with button-through, all-in-one sleepsuits that do not go over the head.
Little Planet cried on the way home every time the bus stopped but fell asleep every time the bus moved! We were grateful there was minimal traffic. Though our buggy is very narrow, we struggled when another buggy entered onto the bus. I know that the poles in these disabled bays assist wheelchair users, but they sure do get in the way of getting more than one buggy into and out of these dedicated areas.
In the afternoon, M's mother arrived and she fed the baby and put her to bed while M worked a little and I napped. For dinner, M made a tortilla de patatas which we ate with a tomato and basil salad and barbecued chorizo and halloumi outside in the garden. We drank a lovely, complex New Zealand pinot noir and then toasted marshmallows on skewers on the BBQ until Little Planet's last feed of the day at 10.30pm. By which time, we were shattered with all the good food and fresh air. We still had to get up, half-comatose, at 4am to feed her.
Saturday marked Little Planet's 8th week on this earth. The day began with her 6am feed and then another lie in until her cries awoke us all from a very deep sleep at 9am. We then rushed around taking turns to shower, playing with the baby, eating croissants for breakfast in shifts and preparing her feeds for the day as M and I were going to go out while my mother-in-law looked after Little P. Usually I am on my own, so having two extra pair of hands in the morning was great. In India and some other parts of the world hired help is reasonably affordable, plus many mothers live in extended families. But in the UK, unless you have alot of money, a nanny or mother's help is very costly while a mother is still at home and not earning, and most mothers live in a small, nuclear family away from in-laws, parents and other relatives.
The three of us wheeled Little P through the park and then M and I said goodbye to her and her grandma. In town, our first port of call was the British Library where we viewed the small but perfectly formed From East To West: Traditional Asian And Contemporary European Printing exhibition. I was particularly impressed and soothed by contemporary Chinese woodblock artists Li Yitai (the tranquil By The Lake, above), Han Likun (the expressionistic Lotus Pond) and Wu Junfa (On Heavenly Mountain). Then we meandered through the lavish and intricately painted 17th century storyboards of the Ramayana epic also on show at the Library.
We lunched on steak and kidney pie, assorted salads and chocolate tarts at the Peyton and Byrne cafe at the Wellcome Institute. The cafe is one of the main reasons we always end up popping into the Institute to check out the exhibitions. This time, we perused the From Atoms To Patterns: Crystal Structure Designs From The 1951 Festival Of Britain exhibit demonstrating the influence of X-ray crystallography on contemporary 1950s design - from lace and carpets to wallpaper and plates (above).
From there, we took a cab to the British Museum to view the Objects In Focus: Reflecting On Modern Japan - Photobooks From The Post War Period collection, which featured the likes of Hosoe Eikoh's famous Kamaitachi photobook (above) and Takashi Homma's hard-to-find Tokyo Suburbia. The latter is one of my favourite contemporary Japanese photographers and we have a few of his photobooks at home. We also explored some of the Museum's newly acquired collection of 200 Japanese photobooks in their Japan rooms - some of which M and I already own (for example, by Takashi Homma, Rinko Kawauchi (below) and Motoko).
Then to Selfridges where M gifted me with an exquisitely elegant Burberry watch. We then checked out the sales at Browns, Martin Margiela and Albam where M bought a pair of Japanese denim jeans and I bought a limited edition rain jacket and chatted to the owner about the items' provenance.
We finally caught our breath at Postcard Teas, where we sat down and sampled some new green teas, chatted with the owner and his wife, and bought some fermented Pu Erh, first flush Darjeeling, green Sparrow's Tongue and garam Assam chai tea leaves. We also bought a brass tea caddy (above) to commemorate Little Planet's birth. It was handmade in Kyoto this year. The brass will age and turn colour as she ages. It's the commemorative equivalent of seeding a tree for a new baby, which we won't do as it's unlikely we will stay in our house all Little Planet's childhood. The caddy is engraved with the symbols for pine (everlasting), bamboo (flexible) and plum (hardy) and the owner will let us know when the makers visit London from Kyoto in November as they will engrave Little Planet's name with its Japanese equivalent (her Indian name has a Japanese equivalent, coincidentally).
By now I was hungry and we jumped in a cab to West Smithfield for cocktails - mojito and caipirinha - at Smithfield Bar & Grill. It was my first cocktail since before I fell pregnant so I savoured it. I stuck to just one cocktail though as I had a little baby to look after when I returned home! And then it was dinner time and we went next door to the Saki Bar & Food Emporium where M treated me to a sumptuous birthday meal - the specially prepared, entirely vegan Shojin ryori or Buddhist cuisine. Following a typical Japanese kaiseki order of starter, sashimi, simmered, fried, grilled and sushi course, we ate:
- Starter of sesame tofu in a citron miso sauce
- Sashimi of abalone mushroom, konnyaku root, radish and kombu-infused winter melon with a mustard miso (above)
- Simmered tofu dumpling with ginkgo nut and winter melon
- Fried tempura of shiso leaf, enoki mushroom, shitake mushroom and a yuba tofu roll with broad beans
- Grilled lotus root with seaweed and grilled aubergine with red miso and black and white sesame seeds
- Sushi of tonburi seeds, aubergine, cucumber and other assorted vegetables (below)
Despite being the vegan cuisine of monks, there was nothing delicate or insubstantial about any of the dishes we ate. All the flavours were incredibly refined and at the same time very robust. We were very full by the end. I will definitely return. Incidentally, they also do a more conventional, comprehensive, vegetarian and non-vegetarian Japanese menu.
A wonderful birthday day, even though my actual birthday was on Sunday. Thank you M - you created a very special day for me.
Sunday, my actual birthday, was a quieter affair. We chilled at home with Little Planet and my mother-in-law; we shopped locally for the week's provisions; we read magazines and books; we napped; we did many loads of laundry. The weather was damp and grey and it was lovely staying home, especially with the extra pair of hands to help look after the baby. I opened the rest of the presents M bought me: two photobooks - one by the celebrated Takashi Homma called Tokyo (below) and another by Hiroshi Taniguchi whose delicate photos of interior details are published by the excellent Foil.
The day ended with a home-cooked dinner of roast chicken served with roast potatoes and cabbage with caraway seeds and then a viewing of Hou Hsiao-Hsien's Three Times movie on DVD - an evocative and engagingly shot Taiwanese movie we first saw at the ICA cinema last year featuring three forty-minute stories that take place in three separate time periods (1911, 1966 and 2005), each one featuring a pair of lovers played by the same actors.
But by this time, I was so tired and the movie was so beautifully soporific that I slept through most of the first segment of the movie before Little Planet's 10.30pm feed. I was partially revived in due course by several mouthfuls of Ben & Jerry's caramel chew chew ice cream before, once again, sleep beckoned and I joined Little Planet in the land of nod.