Well, that was a memorable end to the decade. 2019 was a year of amazing travels before returning to London to find a new home and a new job. Words can’t really do it justice… but here are over 2000 of them anyway. It’s the review of the year!
It’s New Year’s Day, 2019. We’re in Puerto Varas, Chile, up bright and early on our rented bikes so we can reach the town of Frutillar for lunch. Of course we’re total fools, and it isn’t until dinnertime that we finally get there, but in a sense our crazy cycle ride was good preparation for the most spectacular phase of our travels: hiking the W Trek in Torres Del Paine National Park. When people ask about the best part of our travels this is always my answer, especially since we got significantly faster and more competent over the course of the trek. Other highlights of January – and it’s crazy to speed through so many – were spending more time with Francisco and Carolina in Punta Arenas, eating the officially best cake of 2019 (looking at you, Café Inmigrante!) and beginning our time in Argentina, from the awe-inspiring glacier at El Calafate to the amazing waterfalls of Iguazú where we avoided the perils of yellow fever. That’s probably enough for a year already, but there are still 11 months to go…
Our time in South America came to an end in February – after some more time in Buenos Aires and a quick diversion to Montevideo, Uruguay – and we then started on the South East Asian portion of our adventure in Singapore. This was definitely the ritziest part of our travels, but I won’t suppress my joy at actually swimming in the pool at the top of the Marina Bay Sands hotel, and we were both blown away by the Botanic Gardens. Plus I got to see Stephanie again! Next up was Malaysia, where our itinerary was interrupted by the exciting news that Randi’s UK visa had come through and she had to briefly exchange Kuala Lumpur for Neasden to pick it up. Otherwise we were busy staring at the monkeys at the Batu Caves, being captivated by the lights of the Kek Lok Si Temple, randomly running into Adrian as I dragged Randi to the upside-down house and eating a lot of roti.
For some people, the perfect holiday is lying on a beach and doing nothing. This sounds pretty fantastic to me, too – as long as I can have my Kindle – but in practice I always choose to run around and see something new. That’s why staying at the Ten Moons Resort on the tiny Thai island of Koh Lipe was so wonderful: there really was nothing else to do but relax on beautiful beaches and watch the sunset. After this incredibly luxurious stretch we returned to a more active schedule, reaching Bangkok via Phuket (and the sea caves!) and then on to Chiang Mai where we went on an awesome jungle trek, fed happy elephants and laughed at each other during the non-gentle type of massage. It also made me very happy to start relying on overnight sleeper trains to get around! Later in the month we arrived in the calm and soothing city of Luang Prabang in Laos on a slow boat and then flew to Hanoi in Vietnam. Despite the crazy motorbikes Hanoi ended up being one of our favourite cities of our travels thanks to its historic streets, pedestrianised lakefront and incredibly filling food tour. Finally, we spent a couple of days by the Imperial City at Hue before reaching lantern-lit Hoi An.
We kicked off April with a less stressful bout of cycling through the Vietnamese countryside surrounding Hoi An. From then on we were into the final few weeks of our travels, continuing south to Saigon and then through Cambodia with stops in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap for the famous Angkor temples. Finally, we wound our way back to Bangkok for the three-day festival of Songkran and its giant public water fights. This was a good note on which to fly home and start the surreal process of returning to real life, including a flurry of reunions and checking out everyone’s new flats. Randi and I also welcomed Melissa to Brighton, celebrated a highly suspicious Passover Seder and kicked off our (genuinely!) long-held ambition of walking the 242km London LOOP.
I had two obvious goals in May: finding a job and then finding a flat. Looking back it all seems to have happened quite quickly, but it felt differently at the time. Randi and I did set up an efficient CV/cover letter/interview/flat hunt operation for ourselves, based first out of Carolyn’s and then as we housesat for family friends. Interspersed with all this we saw Small Island at the National, Rocketman at the Lexi, spent a weekend on Sally’s amazing houseboat, attended two recordings of Would I Lie To You? (which played a part in the oddest job interview I had up in Nottingham) and enjoyed a low-key Eurovision with Josh and Anna. I also caught-up with Diamond Geezer for drinks, swapped Midwestern stories with Cat and Matt and was both captivated and deeply traumatised by Years & Years. As you can see, this was a bit of a rollercoaster month, and the worst part came with the news that Rod, Sanna’s dad, had died. Josh and I were privileged to attend his funeral and share in everyone’s warm memories. A happier occasion, and my own highlight of the month, was my mum’s surprise 60th birthday weekend in a cottage on the Essex coast where my sisters and I could finally present her with our long-planned book of childhood photo recreations.
And so, with an almost suspicious neatness, June was the month I turned 30, moved into a new flat in Tulse Hill and started a new job at eviivo. Everything felt like a fresh start as we swapped the clothes and camping supplies out of our backpacks for plates and wine glasses at IKEA to be ferried home on the tram. Tash took me out for my birthday to see 90s nostalgia-fest Education, Education, Education, Oliver and Abi hung out with us at the Natural History Museum and I finally made a return appearance at PuntCon in Cambridge. And as I entered a new decade, two things really put into perspective how lucky I am to have spent time with so many amazing people. One was Biff and Christa’s wedding in Norwich, which was obviously lovely in its own right (vegan cheeseburgers!) but also a great excuse for an amazing Groupon London reunion. The other highlight was my birthday itself, when I walked into a pub to find Catherine and AJ nonchalantly chilling out. We shared some excellent Peruvian food with my family that night, before heading to a village near Dover for the weekend to hang out, play games and walk the White Cliffs. The best birthday surprise!
Although July began with a disappointing England vs. USA match in the Women’s World Cup semi-finals, Randi and I mended fences and continued to be impressively social despite, y’know, going to work again. For me this ranged from deep-dish pizza night with Simon, Fleur and Steve to pubbing with Caroline, Matt and Laura, catch-up drinks with Peter Mandler and brief visits from both James and Villy. We also combined the QPCS Summer Festival with Roe Green Day (celebrating the cosy rural village which Josh and Anna have somehow found smack bang in the middle of Zone 4), enjoyed our own local Lambeth Country Show at Brockwell Park (especially the pun-tastic vegetable sculptures), stayed overnight at Abbi and Paul’s and saw both Rosmersholm and Blues in the Night. As a family we also had a movie night out to see Toy Story 4 and celebrated Katie’s birthday with a delicious meal in West Hampstead. Later, Randi, Katie and I celebrated some more with a day trip to Oxford to battle and defeat the Cybermen.
It’s hard to remember now, but in August the evening sunlight was plentiful and one of my favourite memories is Randi issuing mysterious instructions to meet on a specific platform at Blackfriars so that she could introduce me to Sydenham Hill Wood. We did a lot of good walking in August, actually, from the London LOOP installment with the sequoia trees to our Bank Holiday weekend in Dartmoor where we found enough local trails to justify our enormous B&B breakfasts. We also met up with Sophie and Irfan at Mercato Metropolitano, saw Daryl and Ermila and enjoyed a two-for-one family reunion lunch at Carolyn’s with some Australian cousins plus Cindy and little Isaac in attendance. I also bombarded Clark with questions about Brexit (sorry, again), saw Harriet for the first time in many years and was totally blown away by The Lehman Trilogy.
In September I revived two traditions which had been broken in Chicago: giving blood (which I wasn’t allowed to do in the States!) and watching classic Doctor Who stories with Katie (which was impractical because she refused to fly over for the evening). I also got very attached to the ‘activity fox’ at the John Lewis maternity department, reluctantly parted with said fox at Frankie and Anya’s baby shower, had a great pub evening with Tash, poured a healthy dose of custard over my mum’s blackberry summer pudding, was briefly but unsuccessfully IDed outside of Tabi’s amazing gig in Hoxton (as I’m now too old for anyone to really follow through) and played many wonderfully violent games of Worms WMD in Stockport with Rob and Sara.
I was really excited in October to finally visit Amsterdam on a jolly jaunt with Randi, Simon, Fleur and Steve. From our beloved waggon in the middle of a farm we ventured out to discover pancakes and stroopwafels and desks in trams and the amazing Madurodam in the Hague… and I loved it. (I’m even drinking tea out of an Amerstam mug as I write this.) This month I was also back at the National to see Translations, dragged Randi to The Day Shall Come for a remembrance of Four Lions, learnt a lot about Russian noun declensions from Kira, persuaded my old piano teacher to go the pub with me and got way too emotionally invested in having trick-or-treaters visit on Halloween. Randi and I were also given a personal tour of the challah bread of Golders Green by Harriet and Zach and saw Henning Wehn perform live at the London Palladium.
In early November Randi and I got up to Suffolk to see my cousin Julie and her family, and were joined by Tash and Cormac for a nostalgic wander around Coney Weston (including sneaking round our grandparents’ old garden) and a fireworks display at the Abbey Gardens in Bury St Edmunds. Back at home we hosted a wonderful Thanksgiving feast at our flat, met adorable baby Lena for the first time and started watching the new adaptation of His Dark Materials. I also joined Andrew and Bonnie for an incredible evening of Tim Minchin performances, and – as the festive season approached – popped up to Chelmsford for Abbi and Paul’s Secret Vegetarian Festive Dinner whereupon Randi and I became proud carers to Clive the unicorn.
As I finish writing this on New Year’s Eve, the whole ‘December election’ nonsense feels so long ago already. But yes, that’s how December began, with Randi and I feeling sufficiently civically-minded/confused to attend our local hustings. I really hope I never have to attend a Christmas party the day after an election ever again. December also came with plenty of fun, however, including Simon’s incredible stag do (highlight: Crystal Maze!) and Simon and Fleur’s wedding a few weeks later. We also celebrated Leonard’s 80th birthday, jammed our front room with a beautiful mix of Christmas and Hanukkah decorations, walked our last London LOOP of the year and crashed overnight at Sophie and Naomi’s fancy flat. But the main event this month was Randi’s parents visiting from California. We all enjoyed London outings together from Come From Away to Christmas at Kew before spending Christmas Day proper with my family and then escaping to the Peak District for a couple of very well-fed days. And if all goes to plan, my final day of the decade will be spent watching Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker with Cat and Matt before a cosy New Year’s Eve in with Randi’s parents before they have to go home again.
As Tash and Katie have pointed out to me – whatever else happens in 2020, at the very least we can now go back to having proper names for the decades again. So I wish everyone an amazing start to the 20s and a very happy new year!