This was a quite a year – a year of making plans, reunions and saying goodbye. I’ll always remember 2021 as the year my dad died. But it was also the first year Randi and I spent together in our new home, the year we started to prepare for our wedding and the first time we made it back to the US since 2018.
It’s a sign of how topsy-turvy 2021 has been that I had to find a timeline with all of the UK’s lockdowns to help me remember what on earth was happening at the start of the year. We were all in ‘tiers’, remember? The whole of London was already in ‘tier 4’, so we stayed firmly outdoors during my mum’s sneaky New Year’s Day visit to see our new flat from the outside, swap Christmas presents and do some exercise around Beckenham Place Park. Present exchanges were also completed with Tash and Cormac in Deptford Park – we had gotten used to walking pretty far – before the third national lockdown began. By that point the the mass vaccination programme was ramping up, which was wonderful, but Randi and I had a while to wait, and in January we mostly did that waiting indoors. There were local trips to bury our tree at the Christmas tree graveyard or bask in the one day of snow, while a virtual highlight was Simon’s Zoom night with lots of fun and games and jokes at my expense. Randi and I also did a lot of furniture assembling as various pieces started to arrive (most importantly, a railway information board!) and aggressively congratulated Matt and Laura through the post to make up our greeting card deficit.
This is the most difficult month to summarise, because towards the end of February was when my dad died. I remember my mum’s phone call – when it was not at all clear what was happening – and making the decision to go over that night, which meant catching a train from Forest Hill station for the very first time. (This felt like an important test of where we had chosen to live.) I picked up chips from Big Bite, got home, and over the course of the evening my sisters started making their way home too. Then, for a little while, six of us lived together in a house where every conceivable object became a vase for flowers.
We held a Covid-sized funeral for dad on 19th March, with a larger gathering planned for later in the year. In the meantime, Randi and I continued our extended exploration of the ‘local’ area on foot, making it as far as Kelsey Park in Beckenham and Blackheath. We also hosted my family for a sneaky brunch and/or excuse to see our flat for the first time, followed by a trip down our beloved Waterlink Way to Blythe Hill. March was also the day of the Census (so we can finally stop using population figures on Wikipedia from 2011) and, on 29th March, the end of the final lockdown, which might help to explain why the next paragraphs are about to get longer…
One morning in April I came downstairs to discover that – while I was in the shower – our sofa had arrived early and been placed in our living room, meaning the beanbag days were officially over! Talking of home, this month we were also diligent in having made waterproof (a key attribute for a shower) and retiled (after many hours of tile selection) as well as finding our first Easter Egg hiding spots and welcoming Chris for lunch in the garden. But we also used our newfound freedom to eat at the Mayflower with Tash and Cormac, walk the Chess Valley with Erin (followed by tea, cake and dinner at my mum’s) and enjoy an impromptu pint in Beckenham Place Park after work. April was also when we got to meet Cress for the first time in Matt and Laura’s garden, hung out with Kirsty, Roger and Irn Bru in Peckham Rye Park, and generally blitzed through local restaurants like they were newly legal. Which they were.
Throughout 2021 the age for vaccine eligibility had been slowly dropping… until one morning in May I woke up and discovered my turn had arrived. I booked my jab at Guy’s Hospital, and it was a surreal moment when it finally happened. Josh was already ahead of the game so earlier in the month we had celebrated his second dose with a post-vaccine pint before playing with Cora in her ball pit. In return, they visited us for a wonderful Bank Holiday afternoon at the end of May, also triggering a mad, unsuccessful dash to Twickenham Stadium for Randi’s vaccine afterwards. Vaccine or no vaccine, May was actually pretty packed. We started the Capital Ring walk – shout-out to Oxleas Wood Cafe! – and meandered through the Chilterns with Erin, encountering some sheep and a lot of bluebells. We also turned up to Jason and Carrie’s wedding in pyjamas by mistake, journeyed to Romford to meet baby Cleo, spent an evening with Jamie at Ladywell Tavern, voted in the delayed mayoral election (admiring the primary school artwork as we did), remain disappointed by the other major contest of the month (Eurovision – Italy – really?), met new cousin Austin for the very first time and returned to eat at The Garden after crossing our fingers it was still around. I also had drinks with Steve and Justin, which I felt afterwards, and also with Jill, Lee and Sally for a mini work reunion. And finally, for Randi’s birthday we had a series of celebrations: brunch at Dishoom followed by a walk up Primrose Hill, a visit to the Shard (Randi’s Shard) after lunch at Borough Market with Matt Hull, and a joint birthday dinner for Randi, Tash and mum at The Narrow at Limehouse. Unlocking complete!
One of my favourite moments from June escaped this blog at the time, because it was an early part of wedding preparation and still a secret. For my birthday, Randi had taken me on a surprise trip to Seaford so we could return to The Grumpy Chef. The next day we decided to walk to Brighton, and arrived in our characterically attractive combo of sweaty clothes & backpacks. Lured by the jewellery shops in The Lanes, this suddenly seemed like a great moment to buy a ring. So we ended up inside a fancy ring shop, where after listening to all of Randi’s preferences, the woman gently explained that we would be better served by the quirky, bohemian place down the road. And we were! The next day we went up to Hereford, fell in love with the wedding venue immediately and started to firm up our plans. Also this month: I resurrected Doctor Who nights with Katie virtually, saw my first-ever live football match at the Euros with Lee, got my second MMR jab 29 years late and finally visited Oliver and Abi’s beautiful house and garden. We also celebrated my birthday a couple more times – a parlez brunch, and an incredible tasting menu on an old Victoria line tube in Walthamstow with Tash and Cormac – and had drinks with Eric and Tomas on Eric’s personal tour of his local pubs. Finally, we were very sad to miss Catherine and AJ’s wedding in person, but did livestream the ceremony and cheered them on from afar.
Towards the end of July our house became a prison camp for Randi’s parents during their quarantine phase, punctuated only by trips to Croydon. But we kept them busy with garden work and meeple photography before their release, after which we took the first of several UK mini trips to Brighton to pick up Randi’s ring and get attacked by a malicious seagull. Before their arrival, highlights included watching the Euros quarter final with mum, meeting baby Austin properly at Alix and Adam’s house, having a great catch-up with Promise at Bob’s Cafe in Queen’s Park and having another catch-up for after an even longer gap with Catherine and Hitesh at the intimidatingly trendy Limin’ Beach Club on the South Bank. We also gave Carolyn and Maria a historically accurate tour of Crystal Palace Park, welcomed Caroline and Josh to our flat with a last-minute parasol purchase and had a lovely evening in Streatham with Reema and John. I also grabbed drinks with Clark in Leytonstone (ordered some food, intended to share, definitely ate it all before he arrived) and got my second vaccine dose, which retrospectively seems less exciting now that it’s 2/3 rather than 2/2 but did involve me standing in the rain lamenting to Kira on the phone that everybody else in the queue was smart enough to bring umbrellas. And two more unusual activities: kayaking down the Thames over an evening with Tash and Cormac (which was beautiful) and playing an online Jury Duty game in which we formed a pretty effective team with a group of strangers to (almost!) discover the truth of the case. Obviously I’ll never meet these people again, but I hope they’re doing well!
Having busted out of prison, Beth and Stewart’s top London destinations branched out from Croydon to include dinner at Sanzio in Willesden, Cubana with Katie, The Mayflower with Tash and Cormac and a trip to meet Cora at Josh and Anna’s in Kingsbury. We also ate a lot of tapas and drank a lot of gin in Hereford, returned to last year’s pub garden of joy in Church Stretton and admired Randi’s punting skills along the Cam in Cambridge. While in Cambridge I also swapped notes on my favourite podcasting academics in Peter Mandler’s garden and was pleasantly surprised at the leniency of various porters in letting us slip into college grounds which were otherwise closed for Covid. Once Randi’s parents had left, we also spent a weekend at Denbies Vineyard by Box Hill, hosted Sophie and Naomi for dinner and discovered that our ‘favourite pub’, The Honor Oak, was actually worthy of the title by going for a drink there.
By September our Capital Ring walks had reached the River Thames again, which meant that (a) Randi had to say goodbye to her beloved South London, (b) we could celebrate with riverside German food and mulled wine at Stein’s. This month we also flew down the slide at the Orbit, cheered on Cress’s first crawl up some stairs at our place, ate hearty vegan food at Mildred’s with Oliver and Abi and watched Emma Raducanu triumph in the final of the US Open, even though Randi tried to chicken out and change the channel halfway through because the tension was “too stressful”. I was also fortunate enough to stumble across Open House tickets for some self-built homes on Walter’s Way, discover that Beckenham Place Park was showing Beautiful Thing at an outdoor screening and happen to have a day off work on the very same day that the Battersea Northern line extension opened. (Genuinely unplanned.) But I want to finish with a tribute to the really wonderful couple who run L’Angelo Cafe near Angel. In September I went into the office for a whole afternoon for the first and only time since the pandemic, and discovering that their place was still open was the highlight of my day. They used to brighten up many of my lunchtimes, and I can only hope that one day they decide to relocate to Forest Hill.
We kicked off October with a visit to Chester to cheer on Becca’s marathon run, instantly becoming big fans of both the city’s walls and pierogies. We also took a weight off our shoulders when Randi’s visa was successfully renewed – justifying our decision to plough through the paperwork ourselves – and celebrated with free drinks at our new favourite Indian restaurant. Randi relieved some homesickness by splashing out on tickets to an NFL game at Tottenham, which turned into a amazing day aside from the Atlanta Falcons screech, while I took my latest YouTube obsession to new heights by emailing my linguistics questions to Prof. Dr. Frank. We also had Andrew and Bonnie round for a long-delayed visit on Halloween, followed by an encouraging number of trick-or-treaters, and reunited with Amy, Adam and baby Benji for a walk around Dulwich Park. Finally, on what would have been my dad’s birthday, Carolyn hosted an absolutely perfect memorial in her back garden before we all moved on to The Island in the evening for drinks.
There were a lot of good reasons to take the Jubilee line in November, starting with a belated celebration for Cora’s first birthday during which she played her favourite game of encircling us a lot and making us dizzy. A week later we were back for Anna’s surprise birthday party at the North London Tavern, which was totally lovely, especially because I hadn’t seen their friend Laura for many years. (I should also memorialise the fact that Randi turned up in a jumper, realised it was too hot by the fireplace, and then made a triumphant dash down Kilburn High Road before Anna arrived to intimidate a shop owner into selling her a t-shirt which wasn’t even on sale.) Anyway, November also featured an extension to Eric’s pub tour at Captain Kidd, another Zoom night with uni friends, a really fun work offsite event during which we killed an impressive number of zombies in VR and a quick trip to Chelmsford to see Abbi. But the really big deal was the moment our flight took off from the runway at Heathrow, taking us back to the US for the first time in three years. Having successfully overcome all of the new hurdles to getting on a plane, including a last-minute PCR panic, we arrived in California for Thanksgiving with Randi’s family before moving on to Chicago. Yay!
We were still staying in Catherine and AJ’s new apartment in Chicago when December rolled around, being midway through a series of madcap catch-ups with as many people as we could possibly fit in. I won’t list you all here, because I just blogged about it, but it was very special to be with everyone as we ate, drank, walked and played our way around town. Sadly, before long it was time to be going home, but not before we lent Catherine and AJ our great expertise in Christmas tree shopping and snagged a NASA spaceship for Conor downstairs. Back in London we did particularly well with our own Christmas tree this year, and while everyone became a bit cautious in an attempt to get to Christmas without being forced to isolate, we still got into the festive spirit with a Cora sleepover, Christmas at Kenwood and drinks downstairs before Christmas Day itself at my mum’s, late-night fire pit drinks with Josh and Cindy and an incredibly-not-cancelled Time Fracture experience with Katie. I’m probably jinxing it to say that I made it through 2021 without any positive test result, but (at time of writing) this remains the case. Fingers crossed.
Wishing everyone a very happy 2022 and an even less pandemic-y year than the last one has been. And thanks especially to anyone who helped get vaccines into arms this year. If there’s any emoji to represent 2021, it’s clearly 💉 💉 💉