Dominic’s Big Review of 2016

Annual Review

Let’s be honest. For the world as a whole, 2016 will not be remembered as a vintage year. But if the world is ending, then all the more reason to celebrate my crisscrossing of it while it was still there. Here’s my annual review!

Clambering at the Wentworth Falls

Clambering at the Wentworth Falls

January
As 2015 passed into 2016, I was asleep in California. Apologies for the slow start here. Later on in January I tried and failed to escape from a CTA-themed escape room adventure, watched an unhealthy sibling relationship dissected in Bruise Easy and almost poisoned Kevin and Grace with out-of-date vegetable broth. Sorry! It was a good time to escape cold Chicago and head to Sydney for Claire and Mitesh’s wedding. Family reunions aside, my favourite Australian experience was my day in the Blue Mountains, before I flew to Wellington and geeked out with the wonderful Jen.

February
My all-too-brief journey around New Zealand continued with Christchurch, a train across the South Island, beach-friendly Hokitika (home to my favourite airport in the world) and finally Auckland, Tiritiri Matangi Island and – most importantly – The Shire! Back at home, Randi and I hung out with her mum at the Art Institute’s Van Gogh exhibit, saw my favourite play of the year – Byhalia, Mississippi – and visited St. Louis, including the incredible City Museum, with Jason. More ominously, with the benefit of hindsight, we also spent pancake day watching the New Hampshire primary with Catherine and AJ while flipping pancakes and laughing. Oops.

Snowmobiling

Snowmobiling

March
I saw a bunch of good shows in March: ineffectual-corporate-superhero dance troupe Trip The Light Fantastic, classic Othello, the first half of creepy Interrogation – the conclusion had to wait – and the wonderful Chvrches. In between, Kevin left for LA and we played a lot of Fibbage with Toggolyn. I also began corresponding with the elusive owner of Columbus’ Curry. But the highlight of the month was our jaunt to Iceland with my family, especially the steamy public baths and snowmobiling over the snowy plains!

April
This was the month I caved and bought an iPhone. That bombshell is probably enough to stop, but just for good measure, it was also the month I finally saw the first Indiana Jones film. Also in April: Marti’s Mai Dang Lao, building a hardy spaceship at the Adler Planetarium, and reuniting with Lauri over drinks. Sam Carter visited Chicago and discovered burgers at Kuma’s, we enjoyed musical improv group The Deltones with Karol, and Randi and I spent a weekend with Rachel in Providence where – amongst other things – we saw and loved Zootopia. (Apparently known as Zootropolis in the UK…. who knew?)

Llama problems

Llama problems

May
One of my favourite trips this year was to Memphis, which I booked as a surprise for Randi’s birthday. We travelled on the overnight Amtrak in a cosy roomette, stayed at the fancy duck-themed Peabody Hotel and generally had a wonderful time. But we were especially spoiled in May because we also went to Ohio with Jason: eating at Yats, ziplining at Hocking Hills and losing llamas. In Chicago, I saw my first Cubs game at Wrigley Field with Todd and Carolyn, enjoyed the immersive storytelling at Even Longer and Farther Away and threw a successful Eurovision party with a bunch of first-time Eurovision newbies.

June
As usual, June breaks this format because too much happens to be succinct. There were a plethora of overseas visitors to Chicago – including the famous Malaysian couple Robert and Julie – and we herded most of them to a White Sox game (Steven: “why are they wearing black socks?”). Alex, Nolan and Kevin all said farewell (yes, if you’re following closely, that’s Kevin’s second turn) while Carrie invited us to ‘review’ Ethiopian food with her and [drumroll] Randi graduated! This freed her up for a big family holiday to Ireland and the UK, which I met in York in time for Caroline’s amazing wedding. For my birthday we migrated from York to Willesden Green to Sanzio (try the gorgonzola gnocchi) and then over two weeks rolled on to: The Invisible Hand at the Tricycle, News RevueHarry Potter and the Cursed Child, Maggie Jones’s, Brick Lane and climbing the O2. Plus I met up with Cat and Matt, Daryl and Ermila, Oliver and Abi, Simon, Christa, Clark, Melissa and – joyously – Abbi and newborn Jack as well as Josh and slightly-less-newborn Isaac. Oh, and I voted in person for Britain to remain in the EU. As you may have heard, this was an unsuccessful play.

Moving day

Moving day

July
I know what you’re thinking: that was a nice London list, but where was the London Transport Museum? No fear, we ticked this off in July with Randi’s friend Villy, as well as an old-fashioned Kilburn High Road night out with Josh and Anna. And I finally (finally!) got to meet Cindy, who is awesome, before flying back to Chicago and then trying to find somewhere to live and somebody to live with me and Randi. Amanda agreed to join us despite being taken to dinner at a creepy bathhouse, which we’re still very grateful for. Amidst all this, I was lucky enough to go to Tokyo for work and for great food with Robert and Julie. On my return, Randi went on a killing spree on an Iowan murder mystery night and we ducked under the Maquoketa Caves. Also in July: 12 Angry Men, Lauri and Calvin’s birthdays and lots of Race for the Galaxy.

August
Settling into our new home, we christened the place with games of Would I Lie To You, lots of Olympics and Robot Wars on TV and – most importantly – putting together our king-size bed. (So much space! Never go back.) Taking advantage of the summer to swim and play pool games in Jason’s pool and Pulaski Park, we also saw two Cubs games with Todd and Carolyn at Wrigley Field as they continued their [spoiler alert] historic season. I also saw Star Trek BeyondThis Beautiful CityThe 7th Annual Living Newspaper Festival, a thought-provoking Edward Tufte lecture and – as I mentioned back in March – got a resolution to Interrogation after getting my hands on the script. Carolyn’s friend Beric stopped by for lunch, Randi’s new job merited dinner at Summer House Santa Monica, and at the end of the month Simon and Steve reached Chicago on their marathon American journey.

After the river raft ride

After the river raft ride

September
After a few days together in Chicago, including a night of Improv Shakespeare, we set off with Simon and Steve on the next leg of their roadtrip to the Minnesota State Fair. After a night in Madison (highlights: our Laotian dinner and Simon’s sad air mattress inflation) and many, many renditions of I Feel Like Jeremy Corbyn we arrived at the fair, and it was AMAZING. There was so much there, but my top two were (a) the cheese curds, and (b) the river raft ride. Also in September we hosted Randi’s mum, had brunch with Karol at Windy City and saw a tense Orioles vs. Blue Jays game at a bar with Robert, Todd and Carolyn. I also saw Nolan again, met Debra and Andrew, discovered that Chloe and Aaron are big fans of Indian food and played a lot – I mean a lot – of Carcassonne. And Plants vs. Zombies 2.

October
With the election drawing closer we did a couple of phone banking sessions at Debra’s, during which I chatted with some very nice conservative women in Nevada but avoided talking to one very angry voicemailer from Cincinnati. We also saw a bunch of plays (MergeThe Rhode Island ChapterThe City of Conversation and The Last Wife), defended ourselves against Chloe’s betrayal at the House on the Hill and travelled to Omaha (where we spent a great night in a bar with Cubs fans as they advanced to the World Series) and San Francisco. The latter was primarily for a wedding at City Hall, but it was also especially great to go to Jamie and Paul’s house and meet another new cousin: Lori, their newly confident walker.

Stronger together

Stronger together

November
You may have noticed some story arcs simmering away in my 2016 review, and in November two of them came to a climax. Firstly, the Cubs won the World Series! We watched this in a great room at the back of a brewery with James, Lauren and friends. And then Trump won the Presidency, which we lived through after four days of campaigning in Toledo. At least with the election over we got Catherine back in our lives, and other great things this month included: The Power of the Daleks on the big screen, Four Lions with James, bangers and mash with Luis, a game of Pandemic, some great improv comedy, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them and Arrival. But the best part of November was Thanksgiving – I made my cauliflower cheese! – and our trip to sunny Charleston (or Charles Towne) for the long weekend afterwards.

December
If all goes to plan, this post will auto-publish as I recover from a successful 4-day trek to Machu Picchu in Peru. It will certainly be a contrast to snowy Chicago in which we spent December decorating for Chrismukkah, judging chillies at Ellen’s Master of Peppers contest and loving every minute of Planet Earth II. I also saw Rogue One this month, plus Nolan and friends for another brief reappearance in the city, before we left for our flight to Cusco on Christmas Eve. Not the most typical of Christmases, but a worthy conclusion to another year with plenty of adventures.

Time for 2016 to be over, I think. Happy new year!

Never knowing how long I will be here, this year I wanted to take full advantage of living in Chicago. Not just as a city (although just count the number of plays below!) but also as a base to explore the rest of the country. I think I did pretty well…

January
I celebrated New Year (Central Time) with frighteningly hot punch at Saujanya’s – a necessary antidote after Randi risked hypothermia walking there with bare legs – and won good luck for 2015 by eating Hoppin’ John at brunch the next day. We also took a day trip to Kenosha, saw Jukebox the Ghost and played a whole lot of board games. Todd hosted a stimulating salon on Wall-E, Michele took us all bowling, and everyone benefited from Katie’s decision to compete in a mac and cheese contest. I also derived a weird amount of fascination from going under general anaesthetic for the first time, which compensated for days of eating soup afterwards.

February
There was a whole load of Americana in February: a day out at a Monster Truck rally, the Super Bowl, and New York! Despite the chill we saw a great number of touristy sights and were very generously hosted by Melissa, a woman with such good taste that she owns a toy adipose. She was therefore supportive of my mission to take Randi through every series of Doctor Who since 2005, which began this month. The other wallop of Britishness came on pancake day, which Katie joined us for. I also saw a whole lot of plays: A Map of VirtuePlastic Revolution and post-apocalyptic Mr. Burns.

It's me and Josh. In Texas!

It’s me and Josh. In Texas!

March
The first day of March was spent trekking around snowy Chicago to film something for my grandpa’s birthday. Later, there was a wonderful New Glarus weekend of cheese, beer and board games in AJ’s home state of Wisconsin, a financially unrewarding poker night at Todd’s, FourThe Capitano Must Die and a second movie night at mine to watch one of my enduringly favourite films, Four Lions. And let’s not forget the odd afternoon which culminated in eating soap… the less said, the better. But most of all, March was the month of my reunion with Josh and Anna, roadtripping from Austin to the incomparable New Orleans. Amazing people in amazing places.

April
This was the month I was finally diagnosed as ‘extremely withdrawn’ in an in-person Church of Scientology personality test. It was also the month I made a trip of exploration to a Sunday morning megachurch service, where the music was only slightly less catchy than the Bleachers concert which I also saw. Meanwhile, Caius won University Challenge, Randi and I failed to win Windy City Cafe’s Easter egg competition (surely some mistake) and I saw Balm in GileadThe Upstairs Concierge and, at the Palestinian film festival, Eyes of a Thief. Let’s also not forget the stressful, stressful night Todd moved out of his apartment… although to compensate, I did end up with some loot.

May
To be fair to the Scientologists, I probably did become ‘extremely withdrawn’ in May, but only because I was working on Randi’s Campaign Finance Reform Adventure: a video game for the parliamentarian inside. Things went from bad to worse in Britain’s real-life parliament on election night, which rendered weeks of argumentative family emails about how to divvy up our betting pool in various arcane constitutional scenarios completely moot. Beast on the Moon, a moving play about the aftermath of the Armenian genocide, stirred some more sadness into the month. So it was good to escape – and cross off two more states – by visiting Seattle and Portland too!

We built this city.... on sand

We built this city…. on sand

June
This is my tenth year of writing annual reviews, and June is always the month which bursts with activity. I think it’s as simple as the sun coming out, really, as it did for the opening day of Chicago’s elevated trail, the 606. You can also do things like picnic to Back to the Future in Millennium Park, once Randi fights off the family who plonked chairs down in front of us. Indoors, we won two mentions for the legendary ‘Randpig’ during Kannan’s improv comedy Fucked Up Family Reunion, were swept away by The Wind Rises, swayed along to Postmodern Jukebox, got severely creeped out by Ex Machina, educated Jatherine in the ways of trashy British TV, and cheered and laughed for Ingrid Michaelson. Travel-wise, there was wine tasting plus intensive sand dune urban architecture in Michigan, while Randi and I had a great time in Hillary-supporting Iowa. But above all, the two highlights of June were my amazing surprise birthday party (complete with TARDIS and quiz!) and Katie’s visit to Chicago, which included a kayak-based tour down the Chicago river. June is great.

Welcome to Prague

Welcome to Prague

July
I spent the first half of July on a work trip to Warsaw, working with a really great team who were a pleasure to get to know. I was even indulged with a live translation service during Groupon Poland’s anniversary party, as if it were a news broadcast. As beautiful as Warsaw’s Old Town is, I’m also very pleased that Katie and I used our second weekend there to visit Prague. The city is truly stunning, and also home to one of the best walking tours I’ve ever done. (Thanks, Karel!) Back in Chicago, I made the much less beautiful but sadly necessary pilgrimage to IKEA (Schaumburg is no Prague), played giant Jenga with April at Streetfest, and had stimulating drinks with Luis, Marti, Robert and Randi.

August
In the month Jon Stewart hosted his final Daily Show episode (sniff), I had a good chat with ex-President Lincoln in Illinois’s underwhelming capital, went full-on retro bowling at The Fireside Bowl and said farewell to Katie and Brandon before they left for New York. Randi and I also dragged her friend Rachel to Common Room and Improv Shakespeare, laid waste to wine bottles on my roof with Lauri, and saw Loving Repeating and Fabulation. AND THEN HOME TO THE UK! We packed a lot into our week in London: swimming in Hampstead Heath with Abbi, tours of Broadcasting House and Parliament, a large-scale afternoon tea with the family, drinks with Matt, Laura, Caroline, Charles and Maisie, NewsRevue, Time Run and an overnight stay at the Hurley-Hull’s for Cat’s birthday. And if that wasn’t enough, we set off the week afterwards for our Grand Tour of the UK by rail, heading first to Bury St Edmunds (which re-introduced Randi to sticky toffee pudding) and then Cambridge (which introduced Randi to fish pie… and reunited me with Mandler and Calaresu for drinks).

This little guy came on many journeys in 2015...

This little guy came on many journeys in 2015…

September
Our railway journey around the UK continued via Scarborough to Durham (Bill Bryson’s “perfect little city”) in especially beautiful mode, where we stayed with Katie and ate many biscuits. Next was Edinburgh – I had forgotten how stunning the city is – and a climb up Arthur’s Seat, and then finally Windermere in the Lake District (an ideal spot for sheep and stars). Making it back to America in time for Shelby and Benno’s wedding, we enjoyed a boat tour down the Chicago river when Randi’s parents came to visit later in the month, and saw 3033 and TJ and Dave at iO. September was also the month Doctor Who returned, in thrillingly good form, and was keenly appreciated by all the participants in Cat’s WhatsApp chat. In this way, I never fully leave the UK.

October
October was a turbulent month for fans of the Toronto Blue Jays. If this were Todd’s review of the year, he’d probably just stop there. For the rest of us, there was also fun musical Cholesterock, survival tale The Martian and ‘somewhat recommended’ play Home Before Dark. But why pay good money for theatre when you can get invited by the director to a technical rehearsal, as Randi and I did for The Play About My Dad. We also took her cousins around Lincoln Park Zoo, were perplexed by fiendish codes at a Puzzle Night with Karol, dug astronomy at the Adler Planetarium and saw Alastair Campbell down in Hyde Park. Then I headed back across the Atlantic again, first to Warsaw, then Morocco – fitting in a touristy weekend in Marrakesh before working in Casablanca – and then finally Brussels for dinner and night-time sightseeing with my parents.

...but not as many adventures as this one

…but not as many adventures as this one

November
Robert and Julie’s wedding in November was wonderful, and a fitting celebration of the people who conspired to bring me to Chicago in the first place (thank you!) before they leave on their own overseas adventures. If I were to guess, I reckon they’ll hold on to Thanksgiving. My third turkey celebration was hosted by Jatherine (so, actually no turkey) but no less wonderful for it. Afterwards, Randi and I toured Indiana and Kentucky, watching Christmas parades and going ziplining in an old limestone mine. I also poked my head around 270’s offices, saw Chapter Two and dissected The Breakfast Club in the third salon of the year.

December
Finally, in my third attempt, I became part of an Escape Room team which actually escaped a room (and a hungry zombie with it). In December I also saw Backroom Shakespeare’s Henry IVStar Wars and – at Groupon’s Holiday Party – Salt-N-Pepa. Speaking of holidays, my usual Christmas preparations (bringing home the tree, decorating, listening to Christmas songs on a loop) were joined by Randi’s Hanukkah festivities (including our dreidel drinking game!) and carried over to California, where we spent Christmas itself with Randi’s family. This was a lovely mixture of solid family traditions – opening presents on Christmas morning, playing games, participating in the Regan family quiz – and more Californian innovations such as hiking and walking on the beach. And then to squeeze two more states into 2015, we embarked on a roadtrip to Vegas, where Randi and I saw Britney’s Piece of Me show, and the beautiful Zion National Park in Utah. More on this, of course, in 2016.

Wherever you are, and whatever timezone you’re in, have a very happy new year!

“I’d say this was a life-changing year,” I was advised for this blog today. Well, yes, quite a lot happened in 2014. It was a twisty journey which took me from London to Chicago, but I’ve never been more glad for having seized an opportunity with both hands.

January
For a second year running, I celebrated New Year in the Mile End flat, at a party which – looking back at the photos – was dominated by glow sticks, rooftop views and crouching on the floor of the bus home with Anna. A week later, many of us were doing robot dances together at a Recklings gig, where we also got to see Jen (yay!) again. With the family and cousin Nancy I saw Mandela, with the flat I stayed in to watch In Bruges and went out for Jeeves and Wooster, and with Matt and Caroline I drank a lot of wine at Gordon’s. Also, after a six year wait, I finally got to meet the elusive and mysterious Diamond Geezer.

Cat, Josh, mud and London

Cat, Josh, mud and London

February
As you’ll see, there was a good run for watching terrible films at Drayton Park towers. In February we endured Drag Me To Hell, before embarking on a sequel to our famous Flat Day by hugging trees together in Hampstead Heath. Josh also scored us tickets to The Commitments, and later saw fit to turn 25 and celebrate it. Michele was also in town by then, so we visited Salisbury (where 4.6% of the population are ‘some other kind of white’) and the New Forest, through which we choose the muddier but much worthier paths. Oh, and we all hit up the London Transport museum. Naturally. Red Velvet at the Tricycle was spectacular, the Scan Van fulfilled a long-desired wish to save my parents’ photos from decaying in shoe boxes, and I ended up carrying Vlad’s engagement ring across London in my pocket. Meanwhile, at work, up popped the prospect of a job in Chicago…

March
March was not my greatest ever month. But when Michele and I broke up, lots of people took great care of me: stopping me from doing ridiculous things using the power of flowcharts, and trying to cheer me up instead with LOL (it’s a romantic comedy set in Chicago!) and Disaster Zone: Volcano in New York (it… has no redeeming qualities). I did see good movies this month, too, like The Lego MovieThe Grand Budapest HotelHeadhunters and, yes, Hackers. I also visited Katie during her first year at (beautiful) Durham. But I remember getting restless for a change of scene, which I guess made it perfect timing for my interviews.

April
Writing this has reminded me how drawn-out the transfer process felt, even though looking back it really wasn’t. But yes, in April I got my official offer, which made it pretty safe to start saying “oh, I’m moving to America” to people. People like Maryam, who met up for dinner, and Andy, who came to London for the day and agreed to go see Marx’s grave with me. Also this month, there was a great turn out to Cat’s final Recklings gig, while Biff and Christa lured us to pub to play a strange Monopoly cards game, and Abbi spoke movingly at the launch of Love Letters to the Home Office.  This blog also celebrated its tenth birthday, and at the same time, I got the sad news that someone pretty key to my life ten years ago – Mr. Wrigley – had died. He is missed.

Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka

May
Before I left, there were lots of people I needed to see. Some of them were rather far away, so in May I went on my first trip outside Europe or North America (about time!) to see Sophie in Oman and Josh in Sri Lanka.  Both were pretty wonderful visits, as was a quick day trip to Paris. Back in London, this was the last month in Drayton Park for all three of us, and the end of two amazing years living with Cat and Josh. There’s no better way to spend your early 20s than with your two best friends, and as a parting gift, Josh and I finally had the visit from Jehovah’s Witnesses we’d been waiting for. I also got to say goodbye to Chiara and Matthew in East London, to cousin Julie, to Melissa in the Corrib and to Caroline and Charles. And last but certainly not least, a weekend in Manchester with Robert and Tash.

June
Finally! My last drinks in The Island with family, Pizza Express with Lucy and one last News Revue, all rounded off with a Deportation Party in Islington. And then it was a very odd work week: two days in London, one day flying, and two days in Chicago. Chicago! Nolan met me outside the Blue Line station, explained which bars were too bro-y and which did great burgers, and took me to where I’d be living with him and Brett for the first two months. The summer is a great time to explore any city, and there were also a bunch of birthday celebrations: Saujanya’s – where I did the newbie initiation thing of drinking Malort – Todd’s, and my own, at Motel Bar. But one of the strangest, yet nicest, experiences of being new and open to people was striking up a conversation with two country music guys outside a bar, which led to an impromptu late night performance around a bonfire in their back garden.

Finally, the coveted track jacket

Finally, the coveted track jacket

July
4th July is – of course – Independence (from us) Day, which I celebrated by eating a large number of hot dogs on Kristina’s balcony  while people set off fireworks in the streets below. Also up there on the patriotism scale in July was downing Budweisers at Girl Talk’s bizarre Made in America concert. I saw Edge of Tomorrow, which was great, and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes which was less great. Other highlights included the Shedd Aquarium, discovering Twin Peaks (and creating its spiritually similar Furtive Liaison), the very first Common Room – beginning an unbroken tradition of 2014! – and, wonderfully, getting to see Billy Joel at Wrigley Field. Much less fun were the stressful hours spent hunting down places to live on Craigslist. But in the end I found somewhere great, and with the help of Nolan’s U-Haul, moved to my new home at the end of the month.

August
So I settled in with my new flatmate, Billy, and gloried in walking to work in 15 minutes. I also got to hang with cousin Sophia and Al, go sailing with Lauri, watch The Blind Side in Montgomery Ward Park with Suzanne, and enjoy an excessively long White Sox game against Todd’s beloved Blue Jays (who lost). (In general, both my knowledge and appreciation of baseball were hugely improved in 2014.) I was also invited to a really fun pub crawl organised by the League of Chicago Theatres, through which I also scored tickets to a musical adaptation of Coraline. The second half of my August was spent in Kuala Lumpur with Zee, Ellen and the Groupon Malaysia team. This was another really awesome trip, and it’s such a pleasure to be able to travel and work with great people along the way.

September
Back in Chicago, the start of the new school year came with a couple of mentoring programmes to volunteer with. This was also the zenith for going on dates with some really cool and wonderful people: including to Second City, the Improvised Shakespeare Company, the Botanic Garden and simple – but lovely – beers by the beach. I also found my way to a rooftop pool party with a bunch of Billy’s high school friends, saw Guardians of the Galaxy and was delighted that others at work were interested in a day of rollercoasters at the Six Flags theme park.

The photobooth at Jamie and Paul's

The photobooth at Jamie and Paul’s

October
One of the absolute highlights of the year was Jamie and Paul’s wedding in San Francisco. A totally wonderful day, amidst a global family gathering, was made even better by the follow-up Chicago visit of my parents and Tash. Together we did a bevy of touristy things, conjured up suspiciously glorious weather for October and jumped around on the roof a lot. This month Randi and I also struck theatre gold with Alice and Bethany, while I also tried rock climbing, Chinatown and karaoke. Emily Boyd dropped in for pizza and drinks, Brother Matthew answered our questions on the doorsteps of his church, and on Halloween I failed to don an adequate costume but was still allowed to eat sushi and critique Star Wars.

Secular Christmas begins early in Michigan

Secular Christmas begins early in Michigan

November
If I’m still here in 2016, I imagine I’ll view the Presidential elections with a mixture of excitement and dread. Until then, the 2014 Midterms will have to do for my experience of American democracy, and although the night itself was pretty grim, it did at least put paid to the constant TV ads. Thankfully, pretty much everything else in November was utterly glorious. I’m talking about Ellen’s chilli cooking competition, more theatre trips (Strandline and Watch on the Rhine) and my favourite film of the year, Interstellar. Most exciting of all, Cat and Matt came to stay with me, and we packed in a lot of fun, food and Family Feud. Afterwards, Cat stayed on for a fabulous Friendsgiving hosted by Kevin and Grace, and then Randi and I set off on our Michigan roadtrip adventure.

December
Carrying home a Christmas tree is an important tradition to maintain, and helped bathe December with a festive glow. I met AJ, Catherine and Jason, laughed at their unfamiliarity with opening Christmas crackers correctly and played a suitably competitive session of Munchkin. Agata hosted a gingerbread baking workshop, Kristina threw a party with the first, long-awaited mulled wine of the season, and Nisreen and Mike presided over a game of Apples to Apples. Matt and Ben was brilliant while The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies marked a final visit to Middle Earth, not to mention the Christkindlmarket, the Groupon Holiday Party and my first dizzying experience of the futuristic Oculus Rift! And Christmas itself, while low-key in the apartment by myself, was also a surprisingly magical combination of Muppets, chocolate, Skype and reading under a blanket like a happy old man.

Thanks to everyone who made this year great, and happy 2015!

If 2013 was anything, it was the year of totally unexpected travel. Through a combination of work, love and fun – often at the same time – I made it to seven countries and rather too many airports.

January
New Year in Mile End was marked by Cambridge-work-flatmate melding, a cappella Puff the Magic Dragon and certain people falling onto the kitchen floor. Later on in the month, we’d all recovered enough for snowball fights by the Thames, Underground at the BFI, creepy Wellcome Collection exhibits and a very old steam train filling Baker Street with smoke. I also took the family to Arabian Nights at the Tricycle, brought Sanna along to Ben’s Coja Records launch and caught up with Peter Mandler in Cambridge with Oliver and Abi.

February
Dancing reached an early peak in February (quantity, not quality wise) when Julie came to visit. She also crushed Josh in pool. In fact, it also seems to have been the month for pub games in general, because I remember Chris Ramm – our wonderful visitor from Berlin – furiously taking on a random German bloke at table football in Big Red. I also saw Lincoln with Josh, a Kat-directed News Revue and Carmen at the Albert Hall… until drama in the audience became more gripping than the opera itself. At work, Book Club was born, while at home I gloried in my first new laptop in six years. (So beautiful.)

The HugenBoogie

The HugenBoogie

March
By March I needed a holiday, and had dreams of disappearing into the countryside for a week. Instead, I ended up on what I can only describe as a lovely reunion tour: starting with Lucy’s visit, and then on to Gloucester to see Andy and Flo, Bewts-y-coed to see Josie (and do lots of walking in ‘proper hiking boots’, as the woman in the B&B insisted I buy – these would later turn out to be important) and finally Cofton Hackett to catch up with Lou, Sharon and Martin. By the end of these carefully coordinated train journeys I was much better rested, and actually ‘did something’ for Easter since the days of easter egg hunts when Cat and Josh came to stay at my parents to make a roast and dance the Hugenboogie.

April
Back on 28th March, just as I was leaving work, I received an email entitled “Want to visit Chicago April 8?”. Obviously I said no: I had Book of Mormon tickets for that day – my delayed Christmas present to the flat – and I wouldn’t have missed that for anything. But with some negotiation I went to Chicago anyway, and there began a lot of very happy adventures. I went twice in April, actually: the first was The One With Jamie And Deep Dish Pizza, the second was The One With Nolan’s Burrito Rap. Back in the UK, this was also the month of a good old-fashioned Knettishall Heath ramble in Suffolk and the first time I ever met the mysterious Anna in a packed Blues Bar. (She would also later turn out to be important!)

May
May means Eurovision, and the emergency purchasing of flags! This year, May also meant Star Trek Into Darkness, The Match Box (Tricycle again) and dragging American visitors halfway across London for News Revue. It also meant Chicago again, and Ashley’s very loud and public distaste for the Navy Pier tourist trap meaning that Michele and I were the only ones to go and ride the Ferris Wheel and have dinner. Romantically followed by a day of sudden illness, a slow Motel Bar-aided recovery and walking someone to the bus stop in the pouring Chicago rain thinking “this would go really badly if I sneezed in her face right now”.

June
And once again, everything just sort of comes together in June. There was Emily’s birthday party, a picnic with Holly, the Geffrye Museum with Roger and Lily Ann and John’s May Ball with Simon, Patrick and Ellie. (Top tip: if you want your life to flash before your eyes, sit helplessly on a stranded dodgem car without a token to move.) I stayed with Robert in Manchester and Henry in Borehamwood – the latter including a surreal late-night church service for one. For my birthday, Katie took me to see Joss Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing and Cat masterminded a surprise dinner which was so, so lovely. And at all of these events, the topic of conversation led back to Chicago, and the girl who needed a sofa to sleep on in London 🙂

Shebang speech

Shebang speech

July
Said girl became Facebook official in July, as we realised that – pfft – 4000 miles isn’t really that far. Also: Daryl and Ermila visited, Katie graduated QPCS and Abbi and Paul threw a house-cooling braai as they continued their quest to live in every flat in South London. Having waited until the very last moment, I finally managed to visit Sophie in Oxford, and Cat, Josh and Anna came along in fancy dress to the Self Sisters Shebang: Tash and Katie’s joint 21st and 18th birthday parties in the William IV. Just about everybody else in the world seemed to be there, too…

August
My mad archiving heart got a fillip in August, with the arrival of the smartphone which can actually take nice photos. So, for example, I can tell you that I played board games with Oliver and Abi, went to the top of the Shard with mum, laughed a lot at Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa with Nour, caught up with Matt and Caroline and toured Portobello beer gardens with Josh and Anna. The family rallied for BBQ food, Katie’s exam results and Peter Capaldi’s unveiling (to audible gasps) as the next Doctor. In Norfolk, we stayed at Cat’s ancestral home and uncovered some truly shocking pantomime videos. And not to forget Berlin: yummy food, beer market drinks and – of course – the very weird and wonderful Berghain. Which I might have fallen asleep in. Almost.

Canada

Canada

September
I’ve wanted to visit Canada for a very long time, so jumped at the chance to go on a camping holiday with Michele and Nisa in September amid the gorgeous and beautiful national parks. We swam in icy lakes, hiked up a mountain to a tea-shop, made friends with a random German man and lay in a tent plotting our takeover of the world: blissful. And then very soon Michele was in London, for a stroll down the Southbank with Tash, more News Revue, Hampstead Heath rambling and lots of Doctor Who indoctrination with my dad. We also saw Handbagged at the Tricycle: quite possibly my favourite thing I saw all year. Also this month, Katie and I finished our long Fringe journey before she went away to uni, and I visited Sanna and Sarah in their new flat for a very Swedish meal.

October
In Milan, the food was heavenly and the hotels accommodating. In Cambridge, we established that Yale has brazenly ripped off Cambridge colleges, before heading to the Granta pub with Simon for drinks. And back in London, we had milkshakes with Lucy (and learnt a lot about bees), a celebratory flat reunion when Josh returned from India and a final farewell night with wonderful AIESEC people before Michele headed back home. Afterwards, Simon kicked off the mulled wine season with the world’s earliest Christmas party and – at Halloween – Matt Hull turned up in the greatest Halloween costume ever.

November
The travelling ain’t over yet… in November I spent a couple of days each in Stockholm and Helsinki for work, being surprised at how different they felt from each other and feeling guilty for eating (delicious) reindeer. And if that wasn’t enough, I came home via a silly, fun and very happy weekend in Paris, staying in Patrick’s luxury pad (inc. harpsichord) and posing next to poorly translated shop signs. My nerdy transport visit of the year was to the closed Aldwych station on the Piccadilly line, but it wasn’t long before I was off again: back to Chicago for my first Thanksgiving celebrations. And also to my nerdy school visit of the year, Stevenson High School, where I failed to sell the merits of socialised medicine but won a pocket-sized constitution for my pains.

The Selfs

The Selfs

December
Back from the ‘burbs to Chicago city proper, I finally got to the awesome Second City improv theatre, knocked things over at the Museum of Science and Industry (sorry) and had mini-Christmas celebrations with all the wonderful people on the Sixth Floor. By the time I got home it was Christmas all around me: Cat’s coma-inducing Christmas dinner of joy, fireworks at Carolyn’s, the second instalment of The Hobbit, the usual family fun and\or screamed quiz remonstrances on Christmas Day itself, and Saving Mr. Banks at the Lexi on Boxing Day. And finally, one of the closing nights of 2013 felt very retro indeed, as Josh, Anna and I weaved a succession of night buses home from Robert’s chilled cocktail evening. I wonder if I’ll ever outgrow that?

Happy New Year to everyone, and may 2014 bring some surprises of its own…

Here we go again: my year, month by month, following the usual Herculean attempt to reconstruct what (and when) on earth actually happened from tweets, photos and even the occasional blog post…

January
2012 kicked off at Speechley’s housesitting party, watching the fireworks and gorging on Indian takeaway before some ill-advised face painting. In January I saw News Revue for the upteempth time – mental note, it’s time to go back! – as well as The Iron Lady at the Lexi and The Lion King in Warwick’s student cinema (a surprisingly emotional evening). I also fulfilled a life ambition I didn’t even realise I had by spending an evening drinking in Parliament’s bars, had a fun day out in Greenwich and made a fulsome and enthusiastic start on Code Academy… which mostly held for the rest of the year…

February
Here’s a memorable moment from February: standing outside Grace’s house in the cold, script and camera in hand, asking Charlotte to “walk more cheerily” before Paul came out to (a) find out what the hell we were doing and (b) put us all to shame with his acting talents. And talking of acting talents, we also saw Tommy Wiseau in person at a showing of The Room, which I enjoyed almost as much as Peter Capaldi in The Ladykillers. This month there was also a tumultuous few days where I wondered if I’d end up in court (I didn’t), I ate more than I ever thought possible at Rodizio Rico, and at work we packed up all of our stuff into boxes and moved to (drumroll) a bigger office with (drumroll x2) bigger desks and (drumroll x3) the river!

March
In March I spent a day hunting giant eggs around London with Abbi, saw Aida at the Albert Hall and visited Cambridge with Oliver for Bill and Sharon’s wedding. It’s an odd experience, watching people your own age getting married, even ceremonially destroying a Hawaiian shirt to mark the occasion. Thankfully there was no such talk when Josh, Robert and I spent a lazy afternoon in the William IV beer garden, nor with Oliver drinking sangria in Camden or over very many chips in The Banker with Matt, Caroline and Laura. Still young.

Beer in Berlin

Beer in Berlin

April
Berlin! I finally made it to that wonderful city, and did all the things tourists are supposed to do: buy lots of Ampelmann souvenirs, eat lots of currywurst, and go see lots of friendly faces from the Groupon office (this last one is maybe just me). Later that month I also visited Tash in Manchester before her first year was out – that moment of mutual relief when you step off a train and find each other both struggling with hangovers – and was a contestant on Deal or No Deal. No, not the awful Noel Edmonds version, but a spectacular reimagining in my living room. As you do.

May
Boo: Boris won, again, in a depressing re-run of 4 years ago. In happier news, we gained a cat from the Mayhew, the indomitable Lyra, and there were a string of good things to watch: Dark Shadows with Abbi, Paul and Karen, The Dictator and (one of the highlights of the year) A Slow Air at the Tricycle. Pretty sure Katie also managed to share her frozen yoghurt obsession this month, too.

Emma June Event

Emma June Event

June
This is my seventh year of doing such an obsessive review of the year, and good old summery June is a reliable peak. Parties and gatherings both big and small: from a delicious dinner at Amy’s followed by a disastrous Mario Kart performance, to that Camden night which ended in loud arguments about canyons and mysterious missing underwear, to Paul’s birthday drinks, Emily’s birthday party and Jubilation: a genuinely unironic Jubilee party which culminated in Twister. Plus trips to Cambridge, for Puntcon and the Emma June Event! And Richard Herring and Francesca Martinez at the Tricycle. And my birthday, where I fell deeply in love with my gorgeous Kindle. And Men In Black III! And starting Dollhouse with Katie! But all of this is small beer compared to the real peaks and troughs of June. The bad stuff was bad, although I can’t imagine a better family to face it all with. The good started on the very last day of June, when months of flat-hunting came to an end and I actually moved out…

July
So, yes, a new home! And for a month it was home to just me and Cat: it seems a long time ago now, but I remember drinking lots of wine, eating my first Cat Hurley roast, and getting absolutely soaked during an exploratory visit to the ecology centre. (How many people can say they have a local ecology centre, eh?) We also sat around the fire on the roof of the Mile End sister-flat, and had an amazing time at Josh’s aunt’s pool party. Also in July: I accidentally saw Bill Oddie sing, we inexplicably had a big pub quiz at work, I moved on to a new job, The Dark Knight Rose, I went back to QPCS and pretended to know anything about personal statements and – oh, yes – the Olympics began! Which meant two things: the big ‘working from home’ experiment, and my first trip to the Olympic Park to see basketball.

August
And what an awesome Olympics summer it was: in July I went back back for handball and then Paralympic swimming. In the midst of this, Josh made the flat complete by moving in, so we threw a big flat-warming party to celebrate. In August I also had a chance to finally meet two long heard-about people when they visited the UK: Abbi’s dad, over an excellent burger night, and Adam Lee of Daylight Atheism fame. And I also had another great evening with the winner of last year’s ‘I finally get to meet you!’ award, Henry.

September
The highlight of September was my long-awaited holiday to Tuscany with Grace, Oliver and Abi, where we stayed in a stunningly gorgeous villa overlooking the town of Scandicci. From there we divided our days into the cultural and productive, i.e. taking the tram to Florence to see things, and the relaxingly lazy: playing cards, lying in the hot tub and drinking nice wine and not-nice witches’ brew. Back in the UK, my final event at the Olympic Park was well worth the wait, finally taking me inside the Athletics stadium. This month I also enjoyed a genuinely awesome trip to Thorpe Park with Tash and Katie, seeing Andrew from uni again after a long absence, Alix and Rosie’s cocktail night, a second wedding in Cambridge of the year – congrats, Bill and Katie! – the London Transport museum (always amazing), Abbi’s curry night and a nostalgic evening in our old post-work pub, the Railway. (I say old: writing this review has made me realise it had only been a mere seven months.)

Tuscany

Tuscany

October
In October we took living together to the next level with our first official Flat Day Out, consisting of the very best things in our lives: a fry-up, Science, cheese, wine, hot chocolate and Spaced. I also saw Cabaret, King Lear and Looper, went in-character as Boris to our work Halloween party, caused local controversy of the Highbury-sort, was genuinely moved by the finale to The Thick Of It, went alternative in Coventry and enjoyed open mike comedy with Josh. Even Soviet Space Bat.

November
To everyone’s great relief – but no real surprise, if you read Nate Silver – we watched Obama win a second term in November. Josh stole a giant purple balloon from a Twin Atlantic gig, a decorative addition to the flat which has survived the rest of the year remarkably well, and we were both a little baffled by the point of The Master. There was also Ra Ra Retro’s Christmassy party late in the month – on a boat, no less – a music+film evening with Abbi and Frightened Rabbit and, on a different note, Grace and I parted ways. Which I realise I neglected to mention on this blog earlier but, as you can see from above, we’d had some great times in 2012. Though only about a third of Buffy

Ending 2012 with the greatest flatmates ever

Ending 2012 with the greatest flatmates ever

December
And finally, a tumultuous year comes to a busy conclusion: Simon’s lovely Christmas gathering in Cambridge, a rather eventful work party, The Hobbit plus a succession of unexpected but really nice reunions: a mini-gathering of Caius historians with Sam and Jerome, coffee with Alice, and two evenings of wine, laughter and silly hats by the Christmas tree with Sanna and Josh. Emily and I enjoyed Kat’s crazed production of Punch and Judy – performed by violent human beings rather than puppets – while I was unexpectedly charmed by the rather more sedate Meet Me In St Louis at the Lexi. At Secret Vegetarian Festive Dinner 5, Abbi and I could proudly high-five for making it five years running, and even older traditions were kept as alive as ever as I rejoined the family home over Christmas for the usual stockings, bubbly, Christmas dinner, argumentative family quizzes, Monopoly and a Boxing Day trek across Hampstead Heath.

Here’s to 2013!