Defining messages of the year

Dominic’s Big Review of 2020

Oh, 2020. This is the year which really breaks my ‘Annual Review’ format since everything pre-Covid will read like a drinks menu from the Titanic. I’m very lucky and fortunate to have had a more positive subplot, however, as (spoiler alert) this was also the year we managed to buy our first home…

As you could have read about on the newly rechristened, we celebrated New Year at home with Randi’s parents and a thrilling Doctor Who season opener – so good that Randi’s mum kept watching the series on her return to California until being kept awake by too many behind-the-sofa moments! In January we also flung ourselves into flat-hunting with visits to far-flung places like Rayner’s Lane, Turnpike Lane, Kingston and Pinner… before we eventually had an offer accepted on a flat in Norbury, i.e. the flat that was not to be. I also watched Hunt for the Wilder People with Katie and Kim, started playing one of my favourite Dominion expansions (the very trashy Dark Ages) and saw the unconvincing play Leopoldstadt with my mum and Alix. There was also drinks with Matt and Clark, a Windsor work outing and – on the evening of Brexit Day, 31st January 2020 – I made my way to Gatwick Airport in soaking wet shoes, ordered a pie to the wrong Wetherspoons and boarded a plane to a happier, sunnier place.

I look back on Barcelona very fondly
I look back on Barcelona very fondly

Oh, Barcelona! In retrospect it should have been a more disturbing sign that more and more countries kept pulling out of the international health conference Randi was working on. At the time, it was just a great opportunity for me to join her for a brilliant post-conference weekend of sun, food and the beauty of the Park Güell. My final overseas trip of 2020 was actually a flying work visit to Dublin later in the month (my first time in Ireland!) which included an extravagantly good dinner at which I was the only one to order dessert (whoops). Back in London, Randi and I made the foolish decision to book a week-long staycation (“since we’re about to go on a big US holiday”) which did at least include the excellent Parasite at the Peckhamplex followed by amazing burritos, a trip to St. Albans and a wonderful night seeing Tabi and others perform at Soul Stripped Sessions. This month I also made my first and only platelet donation, attended the QPCS Celebration evening, saw Vice, attended an Amnesty International screening of The Personal History of David Copperfield with Tash and Cormac and Armando Iannucci (I just like running those names together) and enjoyed a bespoke tour of Walthamstow (from Sodo Pizza to Spar) from Randi’s colleague Vici. And (even more socialising!) we also celebrated Pancake Day with Matt and Laura and multiple pancake styles. Truly the month before the storm!

Despite an interregnum, we finished the London Loop this year
Despite an interregnum, we finished the London Loop this year

Like everyone else, my memories of March are a vivid sequence of escalations. I remember the news stories about the cruise ship. I remember the phase of trying not to hold the handrail on the escalators at Brixton. I remember bumping into Nathan Godleman (former History teacher, now rabbi) on the platform, shaking hands and then both remembering we weren’t supposed to anymore. On Randi’s first day of working from home I went to the office as usual but then watched the Downing Street press conference from my desk that afternoon and suddenly office life was all over. “The worst thing is going to be working from a laptop screen” I said to Eric. “Take the monitor!” he replied – and I have been grateful ever since. Over the weeks that followed we gradually assembled the missing pieces of our new home office. The novelty was tinged with a bit of a “war on the Home Front” vibe: this was the era of lots of impromptu Zoom calls and games, the beginning of Katie and Kim’s lockdown quiz and the claps for carers. As it happened I already had an appointment to give blood in the West End, which meant a surreal Tube journey and sight of a deserted Oxford Street. But my favourite memories from March are the two ‘final’ things we did, pre-lockdown. One was a London Loop walk through Happy Valley, culminating at The Full Monty café where I devoured their eponymous breakfast. The other was our deep-dish pizza outing at Japes with Simon, Fleur and Steve. It was such a silly, fun, happy evening with friends and is now permanently etched on my mind as the ‘last one’.

OK, so here’s where time starts to fall down. We stayed at home, obviously. I kept filling up the cupboard with new deliveries of classic Doctor Who DVDs – taking lockdown as a good moment to finally complete the collection I started 20 years ago. I showed Randi The Usual Suspects and thoroughly enjoyed seeing it again with foreknowledge of the plot. We watched The Dawn Wall and, if I remember, every single mountain-related documentary on Amazon after that. We played more games (including Codenames with Christian and Erika!) and had more calls (including with Toggolyn!) and I even went for a virtual walk around Logan Square with Robert, Bernie and Willow. The highlight of April, though, was waking up to Randi’s amazing in-house Easter Egg hunt and brunch. Not the Easter we had planned (sniff, lost American holiday) but a great one nonetheless.

We also spent a lot of 2020 in this room
We also spent a lot of 2020 in this room

By May our quiz team had grown substantially in size and competence, rebranding as the New Kinglanders to respect the dominance of the lovely King family. As it happens, Erin (King) was also the first person in months we hung out with in real life when picnic weather arrived and we could lunch by the Serpentine in Hyde Park. I enjoyed a brief ‘Coffee with Bill’, marvelled at the SpaceX rocket launch and celebrated the one-off return of Charlie Brooker to our screens. This was also when lockdown birthday season began in earnest: I exhausted my lung capacity blowing up balloons the night before Randi’s and we both got into semi-costume for Tash’s exceptionally well-organised multiple Zoom room festivities. And it was a big month for me work-wise too, with some team changes which would reshape the rest of the year. Randi and I also watched Argo (still the tensest, most stress-inducing climax to a film I can think of) and Portrait of a Lady on Fire (slower paced) and Eurovision sorta-but-not-really. Maybe next year?

My wonderful birthday in Burgess Park
My wonderful birthday in Burgess Park

Undoubtedly the best part of June was my birthday, which stretched out over a long weekend and included knocking over beers with Sam in Crystal Palace Park, a pigata in Amy and Adam’s garden, a big surprise family picnic to play Throw Throw Burrito, a beautiful replacement Dominion box and a wonderful Chicago Zoom catch-up. It was only a week or so before that we’d first discovered the fire-pit delights of Amy and Adam’s garden in the first place, and being able to ‘walk home’ in 60 seconds after an evening together was an especially joyous thing this year. This was also the month that Katie first addicted me to 80s remixes, the whole giant Glamily gathered on Zoom for Lori’s birthday, Randi and I loved watching Onward and the first and only time our team actually (joint) won the weekly quiz when special guest hosts Mairi and Sami were in charge and really rewarded knowledge from Jay Foreman videos.

Filming in Brockwell Park
Filming in Brockwell Park

In early July I reached an oddly emotional milestone: my first haircut since the pandemic began, complete with temperature checks, masks and hand sanitiser on the way out. As things opened up again Katie and Kim hosted their final quiz, and for Katie’s birthday Randi and I produced our own ‘Film Plot Acted Badly’ in tribute as well as joining the family picnic in Victoria Park (at least once Randi found the right canal). We also really enjoyed watching The Devil Wears Prada. The most amazing part of July, however, was our week away in Church Stretton! After a feverish attempt to find some self-catering accommodation which met our requirements we were rewarded with the perfect getaway and a chance to do lots of outdoor walking, pub gardens and some (brief!) swimming after being cooped up in our flat for so long. It was perfect timing for the perfect 2020 holiday.

August was the high point of freedom and social interaction during the pandemic: a combination of long summer days and a relative lull in cases. This was the time we were joined by Caroline in Matt and Laura’s amazing garden, ate fish and chips in Brockwell Park with Amy and Adam and even had Erin over for a Mamma Mia pyjama party. Our biggest venture was our trip up North (London) via Cat’s fancy birthday brunch, Regent’s Park, catch-ups with colleagues around Queen’s Park, dinner with my mum and Alix and finally lunch the next day with Josh and Anna. I guess this was probably the least useful time to be randomly selected for a Covid test! This was also the month of Eat Out To Help Out (thank you, Tulse Hill Hotel), some really excellent film recommendations (My Cousin Vinny and Waking Ned) and a certain flat on Zoopla which Randi got really excited about and then passed the enthusiasm bug on to me. After a quick viewing confirmed the love was real and then some nervous bidding we soon had our second accepted offer on a home this year…

Defining messages of the year
Defining messages of the year

After being stopped in our tracks since Covid, in September we resumed our London Loop walks before continuing at a steady clip to try and finish while we were still allowed to travel about. We also went on a great out-of-London walk around Oxted with Erin and had a raclette + receipt printer night at Katie and Kim’s before they left for Glasgow, but otherwise everything started to turn inward again. Randi posted her US election ballot, Thameslink refused to sell me a merchandise mug (so I made my own) and we had a lovely night of virtual board games courtesy of BoardGameArena. This was also the month that I started muscling in on Randi’s HelloFresh cooking box subscription, something which (after a few battles with our whiny smoke alarm) I’ve really enjoyed doing for the rest of the year.

To continue the London Loop theme: in October, we finished! After a succession of doubling / tripling-up the sections and learning more about the Grand Union Canal than I ever expected to know (it’s actually pretty cool) we wound up back in Hatch End where we started in April 2019. I genuinely really miss the London Loop now that we’re done. We also got to meet baby Cora for the first time, which was magical, along with a quick trip to Chelmsford to see the Osbistons and a “last hurrah before Tier 2” comedy night at the Tulse Hill Hotel, which felt like a delightful interlude from another era if you ignore all of the jokes about Tier 2. (This seems very quaint now that I’m writing this from Tier 4.) Also in October: we stumbled across the excellent Knives Out and I learnt that if you email the Office for National Statistics “to settle a bet” about the modal average age in the UK they will reply, promptly and courteously, with a full data set and a summary of the answer. Amazing service, much appreciated.

It was also the year of masks...
It was also the year of masks…

If time wasn’t broken enough in 2020, November was when we really fell down the rabbit hole into the timeless twilight of the US election. We both took the week off work, scarpered to Seaford for a hopeful dinner at The Grumpy Chef (we love you) and spent election day itself on a beautiful walk along the Seven Sisters. But after we got home it felt like one long endless day of CNN’s John King’s touchscreen patter until the election was finally called and the Trump era was (almost) over. Of course, by then the second national lockdown had begun but I did enjoy a virtual Caius history event, a long-awaited reunion with Jason, Carrie and their jiu-jitsu doll and the start of the fantastic second season of His Dark Materials.

...and the year of Zoom
…and the year of Zoom

December in two words: we moved! Some days it seemed unlikely, but after a tense few weeks (with distractions provided by The Heat, sofa shopping and trying to explain to the Tulse Hill Post Office that Belarus was a country in Europe and not a region of France) we got everything packed and moved to our shiny new home in Forest Hill just before Christmas. While an in-person family Christmas would have been lovely, of course, we did at least open our presents (or rather, each others’ presents) virtually with my family and played Tash’s amazing Christmas Day Zoom Quiz (go Team Badgers!) with a delicious homemade pie feast in-between. Since Christmas we’ve been enjoying two weeks off work by going on lots of exploratory local walks: Horniman Gardens for the hot chocolate, Blythe Hill and Hilly Fields for speculatular views, Beckenham Place Park for mulled wine and woodland and Greenwich Park to come within striking distance of the Thames. We also went through cycles of marking out furniture purchases with index cards before collapsing onto our bean bags to watch the traditional Christmas Eve The Muppet Christmas Carol, a Christmas Day Love Actually, the conclusion to the struggling season five of The West Wing, a nostalgic trip back through 30 years of HIGNFY, an accidental stumbling across of Rob Brydon acting in The Best of Men and spy thriller Our Kind of Traitor which is a disappointingly one-note film apart from the standout character of Dima. TLDR: we moved!

So that’s where you leave me in 2020: very ready for a gradual return to normality, but with an optimistic feeling of fresh starts and new beginnings too. It’s been a much more difficult year than that for so many people but I sincerely hope that, whatever your circumstances, you find something to hope for in 2021 too. Until then, stay safe and thank you to everybody who worked miracles for us all this year. 🌈

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