Come on blog readers, you know the drill by now. Posts in late December are a whirlwind tour of food, drink and happy gatherings. Then there’s an awkward silence for a couple of weeks in January until I pop up with a couple of frosty photos from some long walks. If Randi was writing this blog, things would actually be a bit more interesting this year, as she spent the first half of the month hanging out in New York and Chicago. Instead, you’ll have to put up with my stories about lounging on the sofa and binging on the final season of His Dark Materials.
Spoiler alert: it was really good! The third and final series of His Dark Materials, I mean, although our sofa is also perfectly comfortable. They certainly didn’t shy away from the theology at the heart of the books, and it’s funny to think about how much of a fuss this might have caused in an earlier age. I did find the structure of the final episode very odd, although not in a bad way. All of the major story arcs were already wrapped up in the penultimate episode, leaving a whole hour for Will and Lyra to basically hang out and relax – with some very half-hearted jeopardy thrown in – before the plot turned up again and demanded their heartbreaking separation we all remember from the books. I liked it, and it gave the characters room to breathe, but “in my day” of linear TV I don’t think you’d ever have gotten away with that.
(On the topic of not shying away from theology: a guy showed up at our front door the other week, Bible in hand, and I think I must have out-talked him because after a while he just smiled absently, made his excuses and said he really must be leaving now. As if I had knocked on his door!)
Anyway, when I wasn’t either watching or working during 2022’s Christmas/New Year interregnum I was either frantically blogging (you’ve already read those ones) or at the
Kiln Tricycle Theatre courtesy of mum to see Zadie Smith’s The Wife of Willesden, an adaption of Chaucer’s ‘The Wife of Bath’s Tale’ from the Canterbury Tales. The odd thing about this is that I should have loved it. I mean, it’s literally set in a pub in Kilburn, it’s Zadie Smith, and all of the performances – especially the starring role – were fantastic and full of life and wit. But, for me, I’m still just a bit limited by the underlying source material. I like my fiction to be a bit more narrative-driven, and that’s just not what you got in the 14th century.
I spent most of New Year’s Eve working longer hours than a typical workday to finish my annual book review, but then rewarded myself with a dash up the Northern Line to spend the night in High Barnet with Oliver, Abi and Robin. They had spent their evening’s energies on cooking a delicious lamb stew (much more useful than a book review) and we spent the night – and much of the following day – playing Love Letter, Splendor and some questionable rounds of Debatable. As usual it was also really lovely to see Oliver’s parents again – who manage to feel like parents I grew up around even though I only know Oliver from uni – as well as Abi’s sister Sarah, who came round to see us on New Year’s Day.
Of course, by “came round to see us” I really mean “came round to see Robin”, who is already so much bigger than the very, very little Robin we saw at our wedding. A few weekends later in January, after Randi was back in town, Robin was also the star attraction when the five of us travelled to Cambridge for a fabulous mini-reunion with Peter Mandler over a pub lunch. It was a perfect setting: warm and cosy, with plenty of space to sit and talk as we covered all of the major topics you’d expect and barely noticed by the time it was already dark outside.
I did promise a long walk, however, and January’s long(ish) walk comes courtesy of Erin, Antonis and Diva who invited me to join them through the Chilterns from Little Kimble (a station which appears to be an outgrowth of someone’s back garden) to Princes Risborough (bigger, but where the chippy is still closed on Sundays). I particularly enjoyed playing a classic game of #TeamHulme vs. #TeamKant on the train there.
Unusually, last week involved two separate day trips to Windsor for work reasons, so (naturally) I took the opportunity to compare the Waterloo train (for Day Trip #1) to the Elizabeth Line to Slough (for Day Trip #2). This was my first time really using the Elizabeth Line to its full potential rather than treating it as a very very nice Tube line, and it really is a gamechanger to be able to ride seamlessly all the way out from Whitechapel. Not only does it extend the beyond-London zone of places which still “feel like London”, but it also made me think of parallels with US intercity highways which go right through cities. If someone drove from out of town to our flat in Chicago, for example, they wouldn’t have to turn off a motorway until the last few minutes. This is completely different to driving in a city like London (from an airport, say) which quickly requires drivers to hit slow, residential streets.
The downside of building motorways through cities, of course, is that they completely destroy large chunks of it, either by demolishing it directly or through a combination of noise, pollution, neighbourhood severance and general ugliness. The concept of the Elizabeth Line feels like the public transport equivalent of a highway through a city in terms of speed and convenience, except through a tunnel which leaves the area above almost entirely unscathed. It’s so lovely. Can we build Crossrail 2 now, please?
When I wasn’t admiring purple roundels on these trips I was involved in a (pleasingly rewarding) focus group session on Tuesday, after which we had an opportunity to visit Cliveden House for drinks and a short tour. (UK politics shorthand: this was ground zero for the Profumo Affair.) I also had a great catch-up over Honest Burgers with Tim, who I always enjoy conspiring with.
Otherwise, Randi and I have been balancing work, honeymoon preparations (we’re all travel vaccinated up… even with the ones we didn’t really need!) and our unofficial second jobs for Kirsty’s selection campaign in East & Midlothian. With apologies to our local MP, Ellie Reeves – who we were delighted to meet recently at a local gathering alongside some very grown-up chats with our local councillors about road crossings – but our real campaigning hearts lie in getting Kirsty selected, because she is someone we really believe would make a positive difference in Parliament. To that end, we hosted an evening phonebank for volunteers (it being both thrilling and nostalgic to hear the sounds of voter conversations coming out of every corner of our flat) and travelled to Edinburgh last weekend for some old-fashioned door knocking.
After a very full and rewarding Saturday of campaigning, the two of us crashed at Katie’s flat for the night before spending some time with Katie and James on Sunday. While Randi was out running, the three of us hit up the National Museum of Scotland for their Doctor Who Worlds of Wonder exhibit, which feels like the latest in a long line of Doctor Who exhibitions in science museums which make a commendable effort to be educational (“guess what, your cells regenerate too!”) but are really just an excuse to admire the the TARDIS console and hide from monsters. We did also go and see Dolly the Sheep, though!
This week we’ve also had the pleasure of having Sam staying with us in the evenings… which just about brings this post up to the present (he writes, briefly looking up to offer uninformed opinions on Sam’s potential retro trainer purchases). And just in time, since – depending on when you’re counting from – on Friday night Randi and I leave for either our slightly belated or extremely belated honeymoon. I feel like we’ve been preparing ourselves recently by revisiting some previous holiday destinations in restaurant form (amazing Peruvian food at Tierra Peru, Georgian khatapuris on Holloway Road) although in every other way we are probably grossly underprepared. But very excited!