This was an interesting year! Randi’s life changed more dramatically than mine, with two new jobs and a hell of a lot of commuting between London and Scotland. But I was lucky enough to share in some of the best parts too, with plenty of train travel of my own (plus one overnight coach), some invigorating door-knocking sessions and the privilege of getting to spend time with Kirsty and Roger in their home.
Back in London, I was so delighted to be able to welcome Kira to the UK after years of working together remotely. It was a really, really good year for theatre, especially after Randi and I fell in love with the Bush, and together Katie and Randi successfully conquered the London Marathon. In other family news: Tash and Cormac moved into a flat of their own (and made it beautiful), Alix and Adam threw a wonderful wedding and – in the end of an era – my mum packed up and left London for the coast.
- Chicago, Wisconsin & Minnesota (August) – Ah, to see summer in Chicago again! Plus Cat and Brian in Madison, Jill and Nate in Minneapolis and a return to the Minnesota State Fair – this trip was pretty great.
- Glasgow (October) – I would definitely come back to Glasgow for longer than a day trip, but for now I’m delighted that I can tick off the charming Glasgow Subway from my public transport bucket list.
- Exmouth (December) – A family Christmas by the sea!
- ABBA Voyage (March) – The ABBA extravaganza which splits your brain in two: one half for the Dancing Queen vibes, the other half to ponder obsessively about how it all works.
- Sleepova (March) – Our first show at the Bush Theatre! And, in some ways, it will probably always be my favourite, because this joyous celebration of teenage friendship was the spark which first inspired us to keep coming back for more.
- August in England (May) – Lenny Henry’s powerful tour de force as August Henderson: one man’s life story from young Windrush arrival to love, loss and Home Office disaster.
- Invisible (May) – Electric one-man show from Nikhil Parmar, slipping slowly from laugh-out-loud slapstick to something darker and more violent.
- Patriots (June) – Peter Morgan’s play about Boris Berezovsky and the rise (and sometimes fall) of the Russian oligarchs after the collapse of the Soviet Union. One of the highlights of the year (in a year packed with highlights!) and filled with astonishing moments which all really happened.
- A Playlist for the Revolution (June) – Love story set between England and Hong Kong, exploring themes of idealism and national identity with the aid of a really good soundtrack.
- Enquiry Concerning Hereafter (August) – Fringe Show #1. David Hume, Adam Smith and Death have a nice chat, a.k.a. my ideal afternoon.
- Shamilton (August) – Fringe Show #2. See last year’s entry. A glorious improvised musical on
Nicola SturgeonKanye West & Taylor Swift!
- What The Veck? Songs in the Key of Strife! (August) – Fringe Show #3, i.e. the lower-key one at the end of the night featuring a bloke and his guitar. Notable for being the show in which Randi almost punched a fellow audience member to defend James’s honour.
- The Pillowman (August) – Brutally dark comedy about an arrogant writer’s macabre fantasy stories and an all-too-real police interrogation of her and her brother. Absolutely loved this, and laughed the whole way through.
- Improv Shakespeare (September) – Finally back in Chicago at the right place and time! A fine tale of jousting suitors in Sarah’s Wedding.
- Guys & Dolls (September) – A night of somewhat-immersive theatre with my mum: the classic musical, but performed amongst a roaming crowd of spectators on a very New York stage.
- Unbelievable (September) – Mixed bag of magic and illusions performed by a troupe of actors trained by Derren Brown. But not including Derren Brown. Derren Brown does not appear in this show. Do not buy tickets expecting to see Derren Brown. You will not see Derren Brown. Please confirm your acceptance of these terms.
- Red Pitch (September) – Three teenage boys from South London are about to go their own separate ways after a childhood spent on the pitch together. Beautiful acting combined with incredible stamina.
- Immersive 1984 (October) – “Oh my god Randi please just be quiet and select the obviously-incorrect answer on the Ministry of Truth’s examination paper… or you’re going to get us both killed!”
- Elephant (October) – Anoushka Lucas combines all possible human talents into one stunning one-woman play about the legacy of empire.
- The Gunpowder Plot (October) – A virtual reality romp underneath the Tower of London which is surprisingly keen on trying to engender a complex moral discussion about terrorism between strangers. This did not really land with our group of mostly kids, but we had lots of fun wearing conspiratorial hoods, running away from danger and trying to blow stuff up.
A non-exhaustive list…!
- His Dark Materials – I binged on the third and final season of Philip Pullman’s classic trilogy in January while Randi was in the States. Really great to see the books done justice.
- Everything Everywhere All At Once – Ah, just occasionally Randi and I manage to keep in touch with the zeitgeist. This worthy Oscar-winner was totally unexpected and proof that you don’t need a massive budget to make a great film.
- Elena of Avalor – As recommended by Lena (aged 3). High-concept political science drama in which the boundaries of the dignified vs. efficient parts of Avalor’s constitution are continually redrawn and renegotiated around the personhood of the Crown Princess.
- Eurovision – We finally managed to introduce Beth and Stewart to Eurovision after all these years. A decent selection of potential winners outdone by Sweden’s formulaic re-entry.
- Asteroid City – A treat for the eyes, but more ‘heh’ than rofl.
- Succession – We completed it! A superb series which built to a perfect finale, and I was thinking about these characters for weeks afterwards.
- Oppenheimer – Saw this with Randi in Fort William’s really lovely local cinema and we both very much enjoyed it. Not a great film for the reputation of President Truman, though.
- Scotland’s Home of the Year – “Hello, I’m the judge who’s also an architect, and to prove my hardcore architectural credentials I’m going to give 10/10 to any home which resembles the cold brutalism of a Soviet prison camp.”
- Groundhog Day – Intensely enjoyable 90s classic which I’d missed until now. Also disturbingly sexist, so please enjoy it for its time but don’t elect it to high office or anything.
- Sixteen – Lovely Channel 4 series about GCSE students during Covid which we binged with Catherine and AJ as part of our British documentary watching tradition. Felt very warm and familiar, minus the Covid.
- Barbie – We delaying seeing this until we were back in the US with Catherine and AJ so that we could all go together, and it was worth the wait. I am 100% convinced that Mattel will learn all the wrong lessons from its success, though.
- Doctor Who – After a long wait, the final months of 2023 reintroduced us to Russel T Davies’s Doctor Who with four fantastic specials and the promise of a lot more to come in the next few years. I’m beyond excited about all of this. Plus we got Doctor Who: Unleashed as a behind-the-scenes throwback to the Confidential days of old – which I’ve really enjoyed watching with Randi – and a whole Whoniverse of material to enjoy. And all of this didn’t stop me, Katie (and sometimes James!) from slowly making our way through more Classic Who in 2023 either. 2024, bring it on!
- The Muppet’s Christmas Carol – Our inconsistently-applied Christmas tradition, originally stolen from Cat, which this year included Kira, Katie and James as first time watchers on Christmas Eve. Will always be a classic.
- Primer – Intriguing low-budget sci-fi film from 2004, recommended by Katie, about two engineers who accidentally invent a device which permits short trips back in time. Notable for its realism and technical dialogue. I really enjoyed this, even though I got a little lost towards the end, and would like to thank whoever added the explanatory diagram to Wikipedia.
- Nine to Five – A couple of nights ago, Randi and I were about to go to bed but then randomly stumbled across the opening credits to this 1980 comedy on BBC Four… and then stayed to the end. It’s kinda amazing? Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin (i.e. Debbie from The West Wing) and Dolly Parton conspire to take revenge on their “sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigot” boss. It’s part surrealist comedy, part feminist labour relations satire, and Randi keeps humming the song.
- Russell T Davies: The Doctor and Me – Alan Yentob documentary on one of the true heroes of modern British culture.
That Moment When…
- …Randi and I have a very productive conversation on the beach about the upcoming year, all thanks to the peace, calm and (to be honest) rather limited diversions available on Isla Grande
- …during the Remembrance Sunday service at the Cenotaph, the BBC cut briefly to some sombre-looking wild swimmers, and things escalate quickly
- …my all-time high score of 260 on the Big Ben word game is utterly smashed by Randi
- …this argument I’m having about guns is truly bananas
- …we all forget that Covid still exists even as the four of us all get sick, one-by-one
- …I’m in a lift with someone I recognise, although he’s not widely famous, and he’s looking down at his shoes, and I really want to blurt out “I know who you are!” but it’s totally not appropriate
- …when clearing out my old childhood bedroom before mum moved, I find this example of public confession literature on the first page of my primary school RE exercise book
I hope everyone has a very happy new year!