Dominic’s Big Review of 2021

Annual Review

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.

On New Year's Day 2021 we were still getting used to having our own front door
On New Year’s Day 2021 we were still getting used to having our own front door

January
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.

February
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.

The first time we could host anyone in our kitchen
The first time we could host anyone in our kitchen

March
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…

April
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.

Breakfast on the Capital Ring!
Breakfast on the Capital Ring!

May
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!

Walking to Brighton on my birthday
Walking to Brighton on my birthday

June
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.

Carefully preparing our wedding website
Carefully preparing our wedding website

July
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!

That time Beth and I escaped to the garden with the Hereford gin
That time Beth and I escaped to the garden with the Hereford gin

August
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.

September
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.

A portrait of Roger at his memorial
A portrait of Roger at his memorial

October
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.

November
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!

Happy holidays to the cheerful Chicago man photobombing our tree photo here
Happy holidays to the cheerful Chicago man photobombing our tree photo here

December
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 💉 💉 💉

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…

January
As you could have read about on the newly rechristened dom.blog, 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

February
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 GĂŒell. 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

March
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 cafĂ© 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’.

April
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

May
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

June
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

July
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
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

September
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.

October
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…

November
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
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. 🌈

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!

Camping in Torres del Paine
Camping in Torres del Paine

January
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, CafĂ© Inmigrante!) and beginning our time in Argentina, from the awe-inspiring glacier at El Calafate to the amazing waterfalls of IguazĂș where we avoided the perils of yellow fever. That’s probably enough for a year already, but there are still 11 months to go…

February
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.

Somedays it feels like a mistake to have ever left Koh Lipe
Somedays it feels like a mistake to have ever left Koh Lipe

March
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.

Bangkok: our final stop, just in time for Songkran
Bangkok: our final stop, just in time for Songkran

April
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.

May
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.

Some people I did not expect to see in 2019!
Some people I did not expect to see in 2019!

June
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!

July
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.

From the London LOOP we saw a lot of the city from its outskirts
From the London LOOP we saw a lot of the city from its outskirts

August
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.

September
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.

Amsterdaming!
Amsterdaming!

October
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.

November
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.

Randi vs. the birds
Randi vs. the birds

December
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!

This was a big year. Not only was it my final year living in Chicago – and working for Groupon – but it also ended with Randi and I packing up and beginning our travels in South America.

January
After a nostalgic New Year’s Eve at Josh and Anna’s flat I landed back in Chicago on New Year’s Day without a coat, hat or gloves. [Cue montage sequence at REI where I bulked up for my final Midwestern winter.] Later in the month I saw the future governor of Illinois make his pitch alongside rival candidates at a townhall meeting and met Randi’s cousin (and soon-to-be Chicagoan) Arielle for the first time. I also shared a friendly Friday night with the forensics officer who came to investigate our apartment break-in. It turns out that American police will not accept cups of tea, though.

My last Chicago winter
My last Chicago winter

February
My strongest February memory is from Ashley and Erik’s Super Bowl party. I was sitting on their sofa, eating their chilli cheese and chatting to a fellow Hillary phonebanker when I said how pleasantly surprising it was that everything was working out just fine with Trump as President. He didn’t agree and I had to wait awkwardly for my British sarcasm to show. Close runner-up memories: my awesome surprise weekend in Atlanta courtesy of Randi, which included Jimmy Carter’s terrible Oval Office furniture, the church where Martin Luther King preached, a crazy man on our CNN tour and MARTA. Hurray for MARTA, the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority!  Later we also visited Randi’s family in Dallas and toured the only “book depository” anyone has heard of. We also saw Icarus (crazy Russian doping!) and – television highlight of the year? – the BBC’s documentary on IKEA. (Don’t mock, it was really good.)

March
I spent a chunk of March in California, beginning in Palo Alto for work and then moving to San Francisco where I saw Weightless with Jamie, hung out with Jonah’s family and accidentally scared Nolan’s roommates into thinking that I was breaking in. Finally I flew to Yorba Linda for Randi’s mum’s surprise 60th birthday party and narrowly escaped being mauled by a bobcat. Meanwhile, in Chicago, we drank goodbye to McKenna and Rusty (oh, the giant pretzel!), spent a morning in Evanston with Melissa and Rudy, celebrated Catherine’s birthday at Geja’s and introduced Grace and Charlotte to all of our Chicago dinner staples.

April
We started April with a combined Easter and Passover brunch (I ate most of the chocolate) before a little light Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri at Joe and Julie’s. The other really good film we saw this month was The Other Side of Everything about Serbian activist Srbijanka Turajlić, after which she made a guest appearance. I also wrote a cathartic essay to Jewel, saw Ed Miliband at a University of Chicago event and spent my accumulated Groupon Bucks on a weekend in Milwaukee. Highlights there included the Domes, the cheese, the Chudnow Museum, the surprise birthday party which the hotel struggled to hide from their electronic board in the foyer and – of course – the amazing Forged In Fire: Knife or Death.

Our flatmate Amanda at Randi's surprise birthday party
Our flatmate Amanda at Randi’s surprise birthday party

May
One night – I don’t remember exactly when – Randi, Amanda and I had let ourselves into the empty apartment opposite to nose around. It turned out to be lovely and spacious, and by May we had successfully persuaded our landlord to let us move across the hallway. This upgrade was soon put to good use hosting our best-attended Eurovision party to date. Other achievements in May were seeing Haim at the Aragon Ballroom and somehow beating Marte at Mario Kart. But the biggest thing of all was Randi’s surprise 25th birthday party at Carnivale, which had involved a lot of lying / organising / secret meetings with Catherine and AJ in the lead-up, but came off very successfully!

The dance which would never end...
The dance which would never end…

June
My last Chicago summer! As usual, it was a busy time and included rock climbing with Catherine and AJ, a swim in the Pulaski Park pool, a brief reunion with Jonah, burgers at Au Cheval with Gonzalo and Francisco and a failed baseball outing with Toggolyn and Kevin. We hosted Christa, throwing in the Incredible Burger at Kuma’s and Death by Chocolate at Improv Shakespeare, and were the very first guests at Francisco and Carolina’s new home where they fed us Chilean hot dogs and vetted our South American plans. I had not one but two birthday dinners: at the terrifying Red Square (for nostalgia purposes) and the amazing Spacca Napoli. I also went back to Palo Alto – this time with Robert and Shelby – and satisfied my curiosity by wandering around Google’s Mountain View campus. Randi and I also flew to Charlottesville for Chelsea’s wedding where we stayed with our mutual friend Villy and toured Monticello. Afterwards, Randi and I hung out with her cousin Ben in DC and passed judgements at the National Portrait Gallery. Finally, I will remember June as the month where (a) Todd showed me Terminator, and (b) I caved and purchased a ridiculously large Dominion box. A great purchase decision, even if it is currently stranded in Chicago 😼

July
The World Cup moved up a gear in July and we persuaded Elana and Steve to join us for England’s victorious quarter-final match against Sweden. Things did not go so well at the semi-final and at an (otherwise lovely) morning at Karol’s I laid my football interest to rest for another four years after the unhappy play-off against Belgium. You know who was a winner in July? Me, in a game of Catan with Chloe and Aaron – that never happens! This month we also tried Gloomhaven with Jason and Carrie plus a whole host of other games at Joe and Julie’s, celebrated 4th July at Robert’s, saw Ocean’s 8 with Ellen and Lou and rode the new Navy Pier Ferris Wheel with Randi’s cousins from Philadelphia. Francisco patiently answered all of my Spanish questions over WhatsApp, Randi was mistaken for Millie Bobby Brown at Margie’s Candies, I absolutely loved The Pirates of Penzance and our flat had many nights in with Mrs. Maisel. I also saw Incredibles 2 with Amanda, Terminator 2 with Toggolyn and Three Identical Strangers at the Music Box Theatre. There was my final work trip to Palo Alto for an offsite, while in Chicago we finally made it to a Steppenwolf play (The Roommate) and also Devon Street after Randi practised her camerawork on Loyola Beach. Finally, there was a very popular video of me killing a fly. I killed many flies in July, but this one in particular was pretty special.

The incredible Grand Teton National Park
The incredible Grand Teton National Park

August
A few Chicago things took place in August, including Erik and Ashley’s block party (where I think we detained their state senator for a good 45 minutes), Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again and a stroll through Humboldt Park with Carolina and Poncho. But the majority of the month, and a real highlight of the year, was our trip to Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks. Randi and I were joined by both of our mothers in the brightest green Jeep you’ve ever seen on an amazing journey of lakes, caverns, geysers, bear spray and Huckleberry ice cream. The hikes in Grand Teton were our absolute favourite and after many, many family holidays which my mum had planned for me it felt good to invite her on a trip where everything had already been worked out. Including the Idaho Potato Museum. I also want to note that Randi and I cleverly left ourselves an extra weekend day after we got back home so we could blog about it all.

Behind the scenes
Behind the scenes

September
As our departure date crept closer, I invested in some travelling luxuries. So I went back to REI for an afternoon of packing and re-packing weights into bags until I found my perfect backpack and handed over my life savings to Apple in exchange for an iPhone XS. I also saw Daryl’s niece Zoe while she was in Chicago, hung out with Karol (for curry) and Zak (for cocktails) and celebrated Amanda’s birthday on the bow of a boat, listening to the soundtrack from The Greatest Showman and mocking Randi’s ghostly night circus which, embarrassingly, turned out to be real. Later we had a last meal at La Scarola with Amanda and Michael – a place which has a very fond place in my heart. We also saw my cousin Alix in The Wife, bookended by British lunches and desserts at the Duke of Perth, and posed a lot on the Blue Line for our photoshoot. Finally, we spent a weekend in AJ’s home town of Hartland where I learned to drive (a lawnmower) and spent hours in the world’s most elaborate corn maze. I was also disturbed to learn that parents of American high school football players aren’t allowed to keep up their spirits by drinking while they stand in the cold and watch the Homecoming game.

October
In October we got our first set of vaccinations for travelling and I started to tell more people that I was leaving, including at John’s cosy Groupon evening (where alas I arrived too late for the chickens) and over multiple Motel drinks. Mike and Melissa visited Chicago just in time, and together we saw Free Solo and Quantum Shark at Improv Shakespeare. I also enjoyed Crazy Rich Asians with Amanda, the start of Jodie Whittaker’s first season of Doctor Who (together with our neighbourly Doctor Who/Bake Off watching group!), an evening of 2nd Story and a trip to the Garfield Park Conservatory. Two other important highlights: winning an escape room (on a team organised by Toggolyn) and arguing about the nature of Jesus with Catherine over fondue. If you don’t think evangelical telephone helplines would be useful in your life, you haven’t lived.

November
And so it was finally here… my last month in Chicago, where I’d lived since June 2014. Randi and I had our last visitors to the city (the Moffitts) with whom we visited the funky Wndr Museum and saw our last Improv Shakespare (What I Learned From My Dog). I went to my last Groupon All Hands meeting (featuring Tiffany Haddish!) and then had my very last day at work followed by a leaving party at Revolution Brewery. Not forgetting my last corn beef hash (with blue cheese) at Windy City CafĂ©! We made latkes and lefse with Catherine and AJ, saw The Crimes of Grindleward with Arielle, left a bunch of stuff at Robert and Julie’s house (sorry!) and then one Monday morning I said goodbye to Amanda and flew home with many bags. While in London I managed an overnight stay in Chelmsford to see Abbi, Paul and Jack, a night with Cat and Matt, a Themes & Sources pub catch-up, brunch with Simon, random sibling fun and also learnt all about the pen licensing system at Salusbury Primary School.

Travelling life
Travelling life

December
Oliver and Abi’s wedding was so much fun and made me so happy. Together with fancy themed tea with Catherine and AJ it was the perfect note to leave London on and begin travelling. The rest of my December has been pretty extensively blogged already! Randi and I started in Lima, Peru and worked our way down to Chile, spending Christmas in Santiago with Francisco and Carolina’s family and ending the year in Puerto Varas in Chile’s Lake District. A particular highlight of December was our stop in San Pedro de Atacama, where we floated in salt lagoons in the middle of the desert and spent a night looking through telescopes at the stars.

2019 will definitely be a strange one. We still have a lot of travelling left, but what exactly I will be writing about at the end of my 2019 annual review is anyone’s guess. In the meantime, have an amazing new year!

We’re still here! It’s time to celebrate another year without a global nuclear war initiated on Twitter.

Kicking off 2017 in Quito

Kicking off 2017 in Quito

January
On the first day of 2017 I woke up in Ecuador, and rode a gondola up the Pichincha volcano to admire the megacity of Quito below. These were the final few days of our South America trip, and an amazing way to start the year. Back home in Chicago the highlight was playing games of Secret Hitler in which Chloe was basically always Hitler. Randi and I also saw the surreal Psychonaut Librarians and thumbed nervously through pocket constitutions. I also took my first work trip to Palo Alto and hung out with Jamie, Paul and Lori.

February
We saw Hamilton in February! And it was Non-Stop for the rest of the month too, during which I finally got My Shot to introduce Todd to the Doctor (the original, you might say) and – although I should have been Satisfied to watch the first three Indiana Jones movies, because people told me That Would Be Enough – we also saw Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Indeed, Toggolyn’s living room really was The Room Where It Happens in February, throwing its doors open for another salon on The Godfather. What Comes Next? Second City with Villy and her mum, a trip to Starved Rock State Park with Randi and her mum, a game night with Robert and Emilie where we finally introduced them to (Wait For It) Carcassonne, a lovely Valentine’s Day at La Scarola and a play about the mathematician Ramanujan, A Disappearing Number, which threatened to Blow Us All Away with its crazy divergent infinite series. (So keen were some people to Say No To This that Katie had to intervene in the ensuing Hurricane.)

March
In sunny Florida I basked in high school sports and free sun cream (seriously, can’t get enough of that sun cream) but also seriously confused suburbanites by walking on human legs. Later, in Colorado, those same human legs took me hiking in Boulder with Jason and roaming around downtown Denver. When not gallivanting around the country we welcomed Francisco to Chicago for the first time, Grace for a brief return visit, and reunited with the wonderful Billy and Taylor for one glorious night. We also gloated over the first of oh-so-many failed Obamacare repeal attempts (the novelty wore off eventually), met Bassem Youssef at a showing of Tickling Giants and watched Spotlight and Gladiator. I’m not writing Randi’s Big Review of 2017, but if I was, I’d imagine that last one was probably the highlight of the year.

Giant Meeple

Giant Meeple

April
If you want your religious ceremony to endure into the secular age, you could do worse than throwing in a scavenger hunt element. I spent a painfully long time hunting the Afikoman at Passover, and in return I hid a gazillion Easter eggs in the garden for Randi, Jason and Carrie to uncover. Meanwhile, Randi’s dad came to town and cursed the Cubs, strangers at the Adler Planetarium awkwardly ensnared us into their foody board game, Todd followed up on his word by screening The Godfather Part II and we finally went to Kingston Mines. We also saw the satanic Scapegoat, cheered Bill’s arrival into Doctor Who at a big-screen viewing (WE LOVE YOU BILL) and visited Toronto with my parents! (Canada: home of Niagara Falls, ice wine and vegetarian hot dog stands on every corner.) But most significantly of all, Catherine and AJ surprised us with giant meeples. Giant meeples. If you want your religious ceremony to really thrive in the secular age, giant meeples are the way to go.

New Mexico: one of my favourite trips this year

New Mexico: one of my favourite trips this year

May
One running theme of 2017 was just how smoothly Brexit negotiations went. Barely a day went by without European governments falling over themselves to grant special favours to the UK, and to celebrate this spirit of togetherness we ramped up our Eurovision celebrations with two mini semi-final parties and then a special final watching party in Lake Geneva. I went back to Palo Alto (actually staying in Palo Alto this time), enjoyed Howl’s Moving Castle, ruined Randi’s birthday by ordering the same main course as her (not really) and kicked off a three-month Improv Shakespeare run with Ellen, Emilie and The Mariner’s Mistake. Randi and I also travelled to my 25th state, New Mexico, taking in Albuquerque and Santa Fe and with an especially great stop to clamber up and down a bunch of ladders at the Bandelier National Monument.

June
“Come watch a British election!” I said. “It’ll be a boring, predictable and depressing result”, I said, “but at least you’ll see a parliamentary system deliver strong government”. With these bald-faced lies I lured James into joining yet another David Dimbleby marathon in June, a month in which we also got locked out of a car in Michigan, saw The 39th at a film festival, went to war with the ants in our flat and sold Chicago to Rhi with Kingston Mines and Like It, Love It, You’ve Gotta Have It. I also tucked into hearty Polish comfort food with Karol, watched Wonder Woman with Toggolyn and visited Philadelphia with Randi and Mike – a trip which included a wonderful lunch with the Youmans, an underwhelming return to the Liberty Bell and some unexpected blessings. Also, for my 28th birthday, Katie unleashed Dominion on our apartment, and things have never been the same since.

Photos from Dominion could illustrate many months

Photos from Dominion could illustrate many months

July
We spent an intensely relaxing 4th July in Yorba Linda with Randi’s family. (Brief relaxation exceptions: whizzing down the pool slide, holding my breath in the Doctor Who finale and that moment when Randi’s dad almost punched a sleazy guy at an Angels game.) I also caught up with beloved Glamily members Jackie and Jeff in LA. Elsewhere in the country – Indiana, to be precise – we spent a day on the dunes, but didn’t bring our handguns, and also took a failed trip to the Whoa Zone. I also brushed up on my ‘thoughtful films’ repertoire with Following and A Most Wanted Man, saw Pilgrims and  The School for Lies in the theatre, completed my Improv Shakespeare trilogy (The Licentious Wink) and kayaked down the Chicago River at night.

August
My extended family is loud. I guess that’s not so unusual. But what I remember most vividly from August, when I flew home for my Grandpa’s final few days – and then his funeral – were the nights around his hospital bed, talking more softly than usual and losing track of time. I recognise that everyone else had been there for weeks already, and were exhausted. I’m just glad I made it. And, of course, London was as brilliant and beautiful as ever. I drank with Josh, breakfasted with Sophie, lunched with Christa and Amy, reunited with Monty for tea in posh Hampstead and slept on the sofa of actual-real-life-homeowners Cat and Matt. I also saw the whole Cooper clan in Norfolk, accidentally introduced Randi to her new love (fish pasanda) and – very excitingly – reunited Team Adipose for the time-strapped Time Run sequel. And if all that wasn’t enough, August in Chicago involved the world’s absolute funniest silly string surprise at Carolyn’s belated birthday party, Memento, a glass blowing workshop, my first American football game and a solar eclipse! (OK, the solar eclipse was completely obscured by clouds. You can’t have everything.)

September
If I had to list my top three achievements in September they would be, in ascending order: helping to get James assassinated twice during Secret Hitler, redesigning this blog, and finding some fish pasanda for Randi in Chicago. We also celebrated Amanda’s birthday, saw The Audience, went to the Museum of Science and Industry’s ‘After Hours’ event, hung out on McKenna’s rooftop and dined at fancy, colourful Carnivale. Also this month, Cat and Matt received their very own mystery box, I received a custom rap track about dominicself.co.uk and Randi received the ultimate gift of getting to watch Oklahoma! for the very first time.

It's apple picking time!

It’s apple picking time!

October
Cat visited in October! Together we went apple picking, corn mazing, Jack-o’-lantern viewing and ate a lot of diner food. This month I also had some surprisingly fun business presentation training in Palo Alto, saw Blade Runner 2049 with James and did not die of dysentery playing the Oregon Trail. We also saw one of my favourite plays of the year, 1980 (Or Why I’m Voting for John Anderson), met Bernard Edward (dispensing wise parenting advice with a copy of Not Now, Bernard) and saw MisterWives in concert.

November
I firmly believe that the season of mulled wine should be officially inaugurated on Bonfire Night, and we made this happen on 5th November along with a Cat-inspired mountain of potato, sausages and beans. James left for Berlin in a blaze of karaoke, Katie and Brandon popped by Chicago, Ellen’s Master of Peppers left us (as usual) full-to-bursting with chilli, we briefly lived an alternate grown-up life in Robert and Julie’s house with Willow (it was weird: the wine and nice furniture inspired me to put some soft classical music on) and celebrated Thanksgiving in California with gingerbread turkeys and mulled wine batch #2. And on returning home, mulled wine batch #3 at a screening of Voyeur plus the beginnings of Christmas decorations…

Christmas in London

Christmas in London

December
We wrapped up the year in Chicago with a couple of films: The Room plus The Disaster Artist, Star Wars: The Last Jedi and, in preparation for Vienna, The Third Man. And then, after popping off to Palo Alto once last time (three cheers for the Impossible Burger!) we set off for our Christmas holidays: Vienna, Bratislava, London and the Peak District. Indeed, I am finishing off this review from a warm pub in the snowy village of Hope. Highlights of the trip so far have included Oslo (an enlightening play about the Middle East peace process), Carolyn’s Christmas dinner, getting through hosting the Christmas Quiz, a Boxing Day family walk on the Heath and our hike to Mam Tor. And I am looking forward to New Year’s Eve!

Wishing everyone a happy new year and a rewarding 2018!