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!
For the past 15 years I’ve written my annual review in a dense month-by-month format. That’s 180 individual months! But now, in a thrilling burst of innovation, I’m trying something a little different…
The year of the wedding! Five years after our Chicago courtroom marriage, Randi and I had our real/fake wedding (depending on how you look at it!) on a sunny September day.
It won’t surprise you that Randi was also my walking partner when we completed the Capital Ring with our triumphant return to the Woolwich foot tunnel. She also packed our flat with friends for my surprise birthday party, joined me to ride the Elizabeth Line on its first day and smiled when I played the entire Welcome to Mountport soundtrack instead of letting her sleep. Domdi was going strong long before our wedding day, that’s the point. But it was a wonderful way to celebrate.
An odd irony about 2022 is that it was almost entirely a resolutely post-Covid year, and yet this was also the year when we both finally caught it. The timing happened to coincide with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, an event which threw everything up in the air for some people close to me, so it was a weird and unsettling time. It’s a reminder of the sharp turns life can take, as was the sudden death of my great uncle Leonard, who we lost without warning in April. We miss you.
- Suffolk and Cambridge (October) – Family pilgrimage to Knettishall Heath to scatter my dad’s ashes, followed by lots of fun and games in Bury St Edmunds. Cambridge was a bonus stop on the way home for me and Randi, who resisted the lure of the very expensive artwork in the gallery at the top of the Grand Arcade.
- Whitstable (November) – Michelin-starred weekend at the seaside put together by Caroline and Josh.
- Oxford (December) – Outrageously generous seven-course wedding gift paired with a night at St Hugh’s and a Christmas market bratwurst.
- The Book of Dust – La Belle Sauvage (February) – A lovely stage adaption of the first book in Philip Pullman’s newer series, and my first post-Covid play. Randi got very angry at the League of St Alexander.
- The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe (April) – Oliver’s dad is Father Christmas!
- Dear Evan Hansen (April) – A steady growth of nervous tension in the pit of your stomach as you wait for Evan Hansen’s Big Lie to be punctured. With songs.
- The Book of Mormon (May) – For Randi’s birthday, an experiment to see if this musical would still hold up all these years later. It did! Although they definitely softened one of the worst-taste jokes.
- Flightpath (May) – Surrealist stories in the perfect back-of-a-pub small theatre setting, with our neighbour Angela.
- Jerusalem (May) – Probably up there as one of the best plays I’ve ever seen.
- Ramona (June) – Georgian puppet theatre in which a lovesick train joins a travelling circus. Yes, you read that right.
- Underground 2099 (June) – Escape room set in a real abandoned Tube station, featuring giant radioactive rats which I was too squeamish to touch.
- Shamilton (August) – Fringe Show #1, and also the best: a glorious improvised musical on Nicola Sturgeon which brought back very warm memories of Improv Shakespeare in Chicago.
- Any Suggestions, Doctor? (August) – Fringe Show #2, and a Doctor Who-themed improv which was pleasantly enjoyable but no comparison with Shamilton.
- 10 Songs for Geeks (August) – Fringe Show #3 – Silly songs from Jolly Boat playing to an enthusiastic ‘Last Night’ crowd.
- Chris McCausland (November) – Stand-up comedy. One part gentle, one part serious exploration of blindness.
- Monopoly Lifesized (November) – Everything you need to know is right there in the title.
- Ingrid Michaelson (November) – Could there be any better start to the festive season than Ingrid Michaelson singing a mix of Christmas songs and her biggest hits?
- Six (December) – Divorced. Beheaded. Live!
- A Sherlock Christmas Carol (December) – A concept so good that I had very high expectations, and was not disappointed.
- The Wife of Willesden (December) – Post-Christmas update of Chaucer’s ‘Wife of Bath’ from Zadie Smith. Superb performances.
- Doctor Who – A trilogy of specials for Jodie’s final year, featuring an entertaining performance from Aisling Bea in Eve of the Daleks at New Year, Easter’s disappointing Legend of the Sea Devils and the blowout celebration of The Power of the Doctor which was, well, ace. Katie and I also had several classic Doctor Who Nights in 2022 as well, but only one of them attempted to pull off a musical western. So come, you coyotes / And howl at the moon / Till there’s blood upon the sawdust / In The Last Chance Saloon…
- The West Wing – We did it! We finished! American democracy secured, and it only took us four and a half years.
- The Green Planet – I seem to remember at the time we poked fun at David Attenborough running out of animals to film, but some of these plants have really stuck in my head. Especially those intelligent tree roots.
- F@ck This Job – The inside story of what it takes to run an independent TV station in Russia, until it gets shut down.
- Succession – Recommended by Tash, we managed to complete the first two seasons this year. Great fun in itself, but also good because it set me up to chuckle when someone set Rishi Sunak’s leadership video to the theme tune.
- Oxide Ghosts – “Hiya did I remember correctly that you really liked Brass Eye? Did you hear about the outtakes screenings?” (thanks mum!)
- Eurovision – Joined by Cat for the final to enjoy the UK’s shocking reversal of fortunes.
- Football Dreams: The Academy – Unexpectedly moving series about Crystal Palace’s youth academy.
- Our Friends in the North – Started this year after a gift from Randi’s former boss – but we haven’t yet reached the 80s, so I fear the worst may be yet to come.
- Glass Onion – Our only actual-proper-film-in-a-cinema outing this year… and if you’re only going to have one, you really should make sure it’s a great one. Fortunately I loved this Knives Out sequel featuring Detective Benoit Blanc and a murder mystery party on a billionaire’s private island.
That Moment When…
- …in the wave of Wordle clones which sprang up this year, the one Randi and I spent many nights puzzling over together was Redactle
- …you sit for ages through a virtual Labour Party re-selection meeting for the results of the secret ballot to be revealed, only to find out that everyone’s voted the same way. Like playing Mafia without any mafia
- …Randi freezes her hands playtesting Tash’s scavenger hunt birthday gift in the pouring rain
- …you become intensely paranoid during a tense cat-and-mouse hunt around Bury St Edmunds after rashly promising to Katie that she can’t poke you without you spotting her first
- …you arrive too early, leave half the cork marooned in the wine bottle, break the fairy lights in the garden and seriously consider faking a sudden illness
Wishing everyone a very happy and healthy 2023!
And remember, no home run is worth it if you can’t run home to a home you love…
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 💉 💉 💉
Oh, 2020. This is the year which really breaks my ‘Annual Review’ format since everything pre-Covid will read like a drinks menu from the Titanic. I’m very lucky and fortunate to have had a more positive subplot, however, as (spoiler alert) this was also the year we managed to buy our first home…
As you could have read about on the newly rechristened 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.
Oh, Barcelona! In retrospect it should have been a more disturbing sign that more and more countries kept pulling out of the international health conference Randi was working on. At the time, it was just a great opportunity for me to join her for a brilliant post-conference weekend of sun, food and the beauty of the Park Güell. My final overseas trip of 2020 was actually a flying work visit to Dublin later in the month (my first time in Ireland!) which included an extravagantly good dinner at which I was the only one to order dessert (whoops). Back in London, Randi and I made the foolish decision to book a week-long staycation (“since we’re about to go on a big US holiday”) which did at least include the excellent Parasite at the Peckhamplex followed by amazing burritos, a trip to St. Albans and a wonderful night seeing Tabi and others perform at Soul Stripped Sessions. This month I also made my first and only platelet donation, attended the QPCS Celebration evening, saw Vice, attended an Amnesty International screening of The Personal History of David Copperfield with Tash and Cormac and Armando Iannucci (I just like running those names together) and enjoyed a bespoke tour of Walthamstow (from Sodo Pizza to Spar) from Randi’s colleague Vici. And (even more socialising!) we also celebrated Pancake Day with Matt and Laura and multiple pancake styles. Truly the month before the storm!
Like everyone else, my memories of March are a vivid sequence of escalations. I remember the news stories about the cruise ship. I remember the phase of trying not to hold the handrail on the escalators at Brixton. I remember bumping into Nathan Godleman (former History teacher, now rabbi) on the platform, shaking hands and then both remembering we weren’t supposed to anymore. On Randi’s first day of working from home I went to the office as usual but then watched the Downing Street press conference from my desk that afternoon and suddenly office life was all over. “The worst thing is going to be working from a laptop screen” I said to Eric. “Take the monitor!” he replied – and I have been grateful ever since. Over the weeks that followed we gradually assembled the missing pieces of our new home office. The novelty was tinged with a bit of a “war on the Home Front” vibe: this was the era of lots of impromptu Zoom calls and games, the beginning of Katie and Kim’s lockdown quiz and the claps for carers. As it happened I already had an appointment to give blood in the West End, which meant a surreal Tube journey and sight of a deserted Oxford Street. But my favourite memories from March are the two ‘final’ things we did, pre-lockdown. One was a London Loop walk through Happy Valley, culminating at The Full Monty café where I devoured their eponymous breakfast. The other was our deep-dish pizza outing at Japes with Simon, Fleur and Steve. It was such a silly, fun, happy evening with friends and is now permanently etched on my mind as the ‘last one’.
OK, so here’s where time starts to fall down. We stayed at home, obviously. I kept filling up the cupboard with new deliveries of classic Doctor Who DVDs – taking lockdown as a good moment to finally complete the collection I started 20 years ago. I showed Randi The Usual Suspects and thoroughly enjoyed seeing it again with foreknowledge of the plot. We watched The Dawn Wall and, if I remember, every single mountain-related documentary on Amazon after that. We played more games (including Codenames with Christian and Erika!) and had more calls (including with Toggolyn!) and I even went for a virtual walk around Logan Square with Robert, Bernie and Willow. The highlight of April, though, was waking up to Randi’s amazing in-house Easter Egg hunt and brunch. Not the Easter we had planned (sniff, lost American holiday) but a great one nonetheless.
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?
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.
In early July I reached an oddly emotional milestone: my first haircut since the pandemic began, complete with temperature checks, masks and hand sanitiser on the way out. As things opened up again Katie and Kim hosted their final quiz, and for Katie’s birthday Randi and I produced our own ‘Film Plot Acted Badly’ in tribute as well as joining the family picnic in Victoria Park (at least once Randi found the right canal). We also really enjoyed watching The Devil Wears Prada. The most amazing part of July, however, was our week away in Church Stretton! After a feverish attempt to find some self-catering accommodation which met our requirements we were rewarded with the perfect getaway and a chance to do lots of outdoor walking, pub gardens and some (brief!) swimming after being cooped up in our flat for so long. It was perfect timing for the perfect 2020 holiday.
August was the high point of freedom and social interaction during the pandemic: a combination of long summer days and a relative lull in cases. This was the time we were joined by Caroline in Matt and Laura’s amazing garden, ate fish and chips in Brockwell Park with Amy and Adam and even had Erin over for a Mamma Mia pyjama party. Our biggest venture was our trip up North (London) via Cat’s fancy birthday brunch, Regent’s Park, catch-ups with colleagues around Queen’s Park, dinner with my mum and Alix and finally lunch the next day with Josh and Anna. I guess this was probably the least useful time to be randomly selected for a Covid test! This was also the month of Eat Out To Help Out (thank you, Tulse Hill Hotel), some really excellent film recommendations (My Cousin Vinny and Waking Ned) and a certain flat on Zoopla which Randi got really excited about and then passed the enthusiasm bug on to me. After a quick viewing confirmed the love was real and then some nervous bidding we soon had our second accepted offer on a home this year…
After being stopped in our tracks since Covid, in September we resumed our London Loop walks before continuing at a steady clip to try and finish while we were still allowed to travel about. We also went on a great out-of-London walk around Oxted with Erin and had a raclette + receipt printer night at Katie and Kim’s before they left for Glasgow, but otherwise everything started to turn inward again. Randi posted her US election ballot, Thameslink refused to sell me a merchandise mug (so I made my own) and we had a lovely night of virtual board games courtesy of BoardGameArena. This was also the month that I started muscling in on Randi’s HelloFresh cooking box subscription, something which (after a few battles with our whiny smoke alarm) I’ve really enjoyed doing for the rest of the year.
To continue the London Loop theme: in October, we finished! After a succession of doubling / tripling-up the sections and learning more about the Grand Union Canal than I ever expected to know (it’s actually pretty cool) we wound up back in Hatch End where we started in April 2019. I genuinely really miss the London Loop now that we’re done. We also got to meet baby Cora for the first time, which was magical, along with a quick trip to Chelmsford to see the Osbistons and a “last hurrah before Tier 2” comedy night at the Tulse Hill Hotel, which felt like a delightful interlude from another era if you ignore all of the jokes about Tier 2. (This seems very quaint now that I’m writing this from Tier 4.) Also in October: we stumbled across the excellent Knives Out and I learnt that if you email the Office for National Statistics “to settle a bet” about the modal average age in the UK they will reply, promptly and courteously, with a full data set and a summary of the answer. Amazing service, much appreciated.
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.
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!
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, Café Inmigrante!) and beginning our time in Argentina, from the awe-inspiring glacier at El Calafate to the amazing waterfalls of Iguazú where we avoided the perils of yellow fever. That’s probably enough for a year already, but there are still 11 months to go…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!