Jabbed

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…and to pick up the vaccine cliffhanger from last time, I’m happy to confirm the exciting news that Randi and I have both now received our first doses.

My experience was quiet, orderly and quite British: I turned up at Guy’s Hospital at the appointed time and waited for a few minutes on a socially-distanced chair at the end of a corridor while a succession of nurses came out of one of the little adjoining rooms, asked “well, who’s next?” and paused until someone gained the confidence that it was legitimately their turn. Before long I was called into a room of my own, read the formalities and finally injected with my new favourite mRNA. Next day: a slightly sore arm, nothing more. Thanks very much!

Not being quite eligible to book yet, Randi had a more entrepreneurial journey. On Bank Holiday Monday, shortly after saying goodbye to Josh, Anna and Cora, they gave us the heads-up that the giant pop-up centre in Twickenham Stadium was throwing open its doors to over 18s for the rest of the day. In the spirit of adventure, we decided to chance it and engaged in madcap dash to the stadium… but by that point, so had everybody else in the 18-29 age group, and by the time we got to the end of the giant queue it was already too late. We consoled ourselves that it was nice to see so much enthusiasm (and it really was a lovely crowd) and went home again. But a few days later, just as work was wrapping up, Randi got another tip-off about another centre vaccinating over 28s until 7pm and then it was a solo dash -> train -> Tube -> sprint -> jab -> job done. Next stop: second dose August 😊

Celebrating many birthdays at The Narrow
Celebrating many birthdays at The Narrow

Before any of these vaccine runarounds, on Friday night we celebrated birthdays for mum, Tash and Randi at The Narrow restaurant by the Thames. I haven’t been around the Limehouse basin much, and had equal love for the food, the cocktails, the view and the company. We also had a chance to finally see Tash and Cormac’s flat in person beforehand, which has been a very long time coming! I think it speaks to our elite Escape Room training that we were able to master the instructions for the building’s doors without using a lifeline.

The long weekend was also perfect for catching up with friends and especially friends-with-babies. Baby #1 took us to Romford to visit Simon, Fleur and Cleo, which also gave us an opportunity to admire their almost-finished house! Baby #2 was Cora, of course, but this time we lured Josh and Anna down to us as part of a general strategy to raise everyone’s immunity to crossing the river. Randi cooked up a vegan storm, Cora repurposed my knee as a drum and we all walked the Waterlink Way to Blythe Hill for some blissful sunshine and fresh air.

Welcoming everyone to Forest Hill
Welcoming everyone to Forest Hill
Looking back over the city
Looking back over the city

To be clear, having a baby is not a necessary condition to hang out. In the last couple of weeks we’ve also met up with Jamie, a colleague of mine, in a Ladywell pub garden and caught up (sadly only virtually) with Melissa in New York. We’ve also walked Capital Rings 3 and 4 on either side of Crystal Palace – and I have to say, Crystal Palace might just be one of the most beautiful railway stations there is – and treated ourselves to dinner at parlez outside Brockley station. (parlez serves brunch by day and Indian fusion by night, which is scarily tailor-made for me.)

Katie and I also ran a successful experiment with Zoom’s screen share to resurrect our Doctor Who Nights virtually, and very much enjoyed the debut outing for both The Master and Jo Grant in Terror of the Autons. If the threat of a Nestene invasion isn’t a good reason to reduce unnecessary plastic usage then I don’t know what is.

Strips of woodland along Capital Ring 3
Strips of woodland along Capital Ring 3
One of the famous dinosaurs in Crystal Palace Park
One of the famous dinosaurs in Crystal Palace Park
You can't tell from here, but inside Crystal Palace is like Natural History Museum levels of grand
You can’t tell from here, but inside Crystal Palace is like Natural History Museum levels of grand
The very beginning of the Capital Ring by the Woolwich foot tunnel
The very beginning of the Capital Ring by the Woolwich foot tunnel

Circular London walking routes: we’re back! After finishing the 24-section London Loop, which roughly tracks the border of Greater London, in October we started this month on the Capital Ring, its little sibling. This route is about halfway into London, so is only 15 sections and (so far) mostly a park-to-park affair, which (a) makes for an easier challenge, and (b) massively increases the chances of stumbling across a café or two along the way. So I’m very optimistic that our hallway which proudly boasts a London Loop certificate (printed, framed and signed) will be gaining another one before too long.

A special shout out to the Oxleas Wood Café in the meantime, which sits near the end of Section 1 and so makes a great choice to enjoy English breakfasts and stunning views before Section 2.

We start along the Thames Path...
We start along the Thames Path…
...but quickly veer off to a chain of parks and woods
…but quickly veer off to a chain of parks and woods
Including the Oxleas Wood Café!
Including the Oxleas Wood Café!

I hadn’t seen Steve, my boss, in person for over a year so it was a delight to finally be able to go to the pub with him and his partner one Wednesday night this month. Less delightfully, I allowed all ordering decisions to be made by these hardcore craft beer aficionados and consequently felt more fragile the next morning than I’ve felt in a long, long time.

You could tell it was serious because instead of going to the polling station bright and early – as I’d usually do on any election day! – it was lunchtime before I ventured out with Randi to the primary school down the road to cast my vote for Sadiq. (I wish there had been a supplemental box to tick, for information only, with the words “….and I actually like Low Traffic Neighbourhoods too”.) Anyway, I was a chastened and reformed character a week later during outdoor work drinks #2 with Lee, Jill and Sally. Hangover or no hangover, it’s such a pleasure to see people again.

Randi and I have also been on another countryside walk in the Chilterns with Erin, this time enjoying the (very nicely signposted) Ivinghoe Beacon Ridgeway Circular Walk which starts and ends at Tring railway station. Highlights: magnificent views from the Beacon, sure, but also magnificent sandwiches from Pret for lunch. There’s a lot of food in this post.

Lots of green on the Ivinghoe Beacon walk
Lots of green on the Ivinghoe Beacon walk
It's been a while since we had some sheep on this blog
It’s been a while since we had some sheep on this blog
And never so many bluebells
And never so many bluebells
Back at Tring to catch the train home
Back at Tring to catch the train home

One event which was still virtual – at least for us – was Jason and Carrie’s wedding in Chicago. As much as we wished we could have been there in person, we were still excited to fire up Zoom at 11.30pm on a Saturday evening to watch what we assumed would be a livestream-style broadcast… only to discover that, no, this was actually a full two-way Zoom and we had just catapulted ourselves into the front-row of a wedding ceremony in our pyjamas. Sorry! Still, it was really lovely to be there and have some time to chat to Jason and Carrie afterwards on our ‘table’ of fellow virtuals, the rest of whom were all fully dressed.

Pyjama wedding party
Randi’s Dishoom birthday!

In the past week we’ve also been celebrating Randi’s birthday, which has helpfully coincided with the return of indoor dining, socialising and activities! Following a pre-birthday kickoff dinner at Hattush Mediterranean restaurant, we hosted Randi’s colleagues Reema, Sam and Esther at our place for a generous helping of Honest Burger and cake. For Randi’s birthday itself we were lucky enough to have brunch at Dishoom in Covent Garden for their very first day of reopening. Apparently we were there at exactly the same time as the (thankfully re-elected) Mayor, although we were too focused on our food to notice.

Afterwards we sauntered through the centre of London to Primrose Hill for a good view of a city returning to life. But for an even better view, you need to go higher…

London: still there, just slightly rain specked
London: still there, just slightly rain specked
Randi atop what she insists is 'her' Shard
Randi atop what she insists is ‘her’ Shard

…so yesterday, we took the frighteningly fast lifts up to the top of the Shard for its incredible view of London in every direction. I’ve been before, but Randi hadn’t, and to be honest I’m already looking for an excuse to go again. After over a year of lockdowns and spending most of our time in our local area, it’s especially satisfying to be able to get up there and take in so much at once.

Plus, watching the tiny little model trains run along the many train paths is always cool too 😉

Before our time slot, we were also delighted to be joined by Very Special Guest Matt Hull to mooch around Borough Market (“keep flowing, keep flowing!”) and eat doughnuts by the river. And if all that wasn’t enough, that evening we enjoyed the triumphant return of Eurovision! It was, by general consensus, an exceptionally strong final. I had many favourites (Greece, Malta, Iceland to name a few) and a lot more which I would have cheered for (France, Portugal, Bulgaria) and of course one of the very few countries which left me cold – Italy – which won by a landslide. Sigh.

When it comes to the UK in Eurovision, though, I’ve become strongly influenced by Randi’s outsider view and now present my highly controversial and socially unacceptable three-point plan:

  1. UK viewers should actually watch the semi-finals. I know, I know, you think you want to “come to the songs fresh”. That’s what I thought too. But now we’ve gotten into the habit of acclimatising with the semis it allows me to appreciate the final itself much more. Which brings me to…
  2. The UK should give up its guaranteed slot in the final and actually compete in the semi-finals. Yes, this would probably mean a long, sad stretch of failing to qualify. Yes, that would mean pressure to cut Eurovision funding, which is why this might be a terrible idea and you shouldn’t listen to me. But in the long-term it would surely give the country valuable practice on entering performers who can actually win votes. And this is important because…
  3. The UK should actually enter a potential winner. Sure, it almost certainly won’t win. But right now we’re trapped in a cycle of entering songs which “deserve to be mid-table” and then being disappointed when they come last. I’d rather we entered something which actually deserves to come top and then falls short. Everyone always says this is completely impossible because of the fragile egos in the music industry. But I bet France doesn’t regret coming 2nd vs. our 26th place.

There you go: my Eurovision soft power initiative begins here.

Finally, there were a few other things which made this weekend feel totally packed but in a very satisfying way. Firstly – and then I’ll stop talking about eating, I promise – Randi made a surprise booking for us on Friday night at The Garden, an amazing Italian restaurant (the kind staffed by actual exuberant Italians, so maybe I should give their Eurovision winner another chance) which we discovered shortly before the pandemic and have been crossing our fingers would make it through ever since. They have, and their pizza is as delicious as ever.

A surreal, and incredibly privileged, moment
A surreal, and incredibly privileged, moment

Secondly, today we travelled to Andrew and Bonnie’s for a proper family meetup, including with my young cousin Lena and totally-hot-off-the-press new cousin Austin, which was wonderful.

And thirdly, on Saturday morning I woke up to discover that the ever-falling age eligibility for vaccination had now dropped below that magic threshold where it was now my turn to make an appointment. So, next weekend, fingers crossed, another pandemic milestone approaches… 💉

It’s time for the annual tradition of saying happy birthday to this blog. On Tuesday, it turned 17 and can now legally drive (no thanks), be interviewed by the police without an adult blog present (hopefully unnecessary) and give blood!

I’m pretty sure I loved being 17 and – while I wouldn’t want to be 17 forever – I’d certainly be happy to relive it once or twice. This is partly to do with the way Sixth Form works in Britain, or at least for me, which begins in Year 12 as former school pupils emerge blinking as freshly-minted students with more freedoms and a more relaxed, collegiate atmosphere but not yet Year 13’s mad crunch of A-Levels, university offers and the sense of everyone parting ways.

Age 17 with Fabio, Josh and Robert at Catherine's 18th Birthday
Age 17 with Fabio, Josh and Robert at Catherine’s 18th Birthday
If I recall, the spilt beer was not my fault
If I recall, the spilt beer was not my fault

Although I have a decent handful of photos from this era, plus some top quality videos from various beloved Nokias, it’s a lot more scattergun than I remember because this was all pre-smartphone. In fact, I’m grateful to Catherine for recently sending me one of these pictures from her 18th birthday while we were reminiscing about our Eton summer school days. I remember it well (and treasured that brief period when teenagers flirted by swapping MSN Messenger addresses) although curiously I don’t seem to have blogged about it afterwards, probably because it took a while in those days for any photos to emerge onto MySpace. So, consider this a belated post from the lost days of being 17 in 2006.

My next MySpace profile photo from the Waterlink Way
My next MySpace profile photo from the Waterlink Way

Back in the present, Randi and I dubbed last week our own unofficial London Restaurant Week as we donned suitably warm coats and splurged on a succession of outdoor dining at places both new (amazing gourmet Indian at Babur) and old (including our old friend the Tulse Hill Hotel). Best of all, last Saturday we walked up to Rotherhithe and finally fulfilled our long-delayed plan to visit The Mayflower pub with Tash and Cormac. Sitting by the Thames again was pretty thrilling, although we didn’t get as close to the river as the guy behind us who dropped his phone all the way down to the river through the slats. Fortunately, it landed at low tide and he was lucky enough to have a friend willing to venture all the way down to retrieve it for him.

Over the river at the Mayflower
Over the river at the Mayflower

Meanwhile, our group all kept hold of our phones and enjoyed a wonderful late lunch before admiring the excellent statues of the pioneering Salters nearby and basking in the sunshine in King’s Stairs Gardens. I always thought it was a bit silly when people single out an area for having ‘lots of history’ (doesn’t everywhere?) but walking around the cobbly streets Rotherhithe is more evocative than most. The next day we were delighted to welcome Chris to our very own back garden as our inaugural garden furniture guest. Having watched countless couples lose their shit on Location Location Location over whether a potential garden was south-facing or not I’m amused that we accidentally ended up with a south-facing garden without realising, but now I can see the benefits.

Of course, our garden can never compete with the full-on private café / nature reserve experience at Josh and Anna’s which we visited again today after seeing my mum on Friday night. Excitingly, Josh had his second dose vaccine appointment booked so after eating lots of pancakes and teaching Cora the basics of multi-party democracy (see below) we walked down to the vaccine centre together and hung around semi-enviously outside. It shouldn’t be long for us now, though, and I’m delighted we thought to inaugurate a new tradition of a post-vaccine pint afterwards. It’s not exactly how my 17 year old self imagined the future, but we’ve all come through alright.

Age 31, explaining positive governing coalitions to Josh's daughter
Age 31, explaining positive governing coalitions to Josh’s daughter
A sofa all the nicer for waiting
A sofa all the nicer for waiting

Since Easter things have been looking up on all fronts: sunnier days, legal outdoor socialising and – finally – some more furniture! Our living room now boasts an actual sofa and chair to binge-watch Friday Night Dinner from, while our famous bean bags have been retired to the loft until the day when a still-unimaginable number of guests visit at once.

On Easter Friday we took advantage of some new freedoms to take the Tube to Rickmansworth and join Erin on the beautiful Chess Valley Walk to Chesham. I last went to Chesham in 2007, purely to see what existed at the Underground’s furthest reaches, and since then the little shuttle service between Chesham and Chalfont & Latimer has been replaced by a proper train to carry sleepy hikers back to London. Our energy levels were revived in Willesden Green with afternoon tea and cake at Chateau Self, followed by fish stew, challah and cine film from mum’s childhood and holidays. It’s impossible not to notice that the Californian families looked relaxed and normal at the same time that their British counterparts were still opting to wear suits on a canal boat.

Chess Valley
Chess Valley
Not pictured, because it would bring down the tone: the crossing of the M25
Not pictured, because it would bring down the tone: the crossing of the M25
Chesham! (In case you were wondering, the 11+ still refuses to die here.)
Chesham! (In case you were wondering, the 11+ still refuses to die here.)
Zone neun
Zone neun
We've also picked up some garden furniture, along with the rest of the country
We’ve also picked up some garden furniture, along with the rest of the country

The next day, after a nostalgic walk with my mum to West Hampstead during which Randi scolded us both for not disclosing that West Hampstead is so close by, we returned home to enjoy the rest of the long Easter weekend and totally fail to find the eggs we’d hidden for each other. (Mine was particularly stupid. “I’m not going to look in this box. It’s probably not in a box.” Reader, it was in the box.)

Then, after a short week, we took the socialising up a notch by meeting up with Matt, Laura and baby Cressida Cré (we decided she’s going to need a rebellious teenage nickname at some point, so she might as well have it now) in their five-star back garden. We were absolutely determined to act like it was a scorching summer day, even if we were actually wearing coats, so we bought cider and embraced the post-truth fantasy even when it briefly started snowing. Since then we’ve also eaten fish and chips in Ladywell Fields and stumbled across the outdoor bar within Beckenham Place Park during our post-work walk. Well, it would have been rude not to…

An after-work pint!
An after-work pint!

And this weekend the feeling of returning to something-approaching-normal continued to accelerate. With my hair newly cut and teeth freshly cleaned, on Saturday afternoon we made our way to Peckham Rye Park for a picnic and Irn Bru tasting session (other drinks were available) with Randi’s boss Kirsty and her partner Roger. I may have gotten slightly carried away in the adrenaline rush of getting to meet new human people again, since it was definitely night time when we left, but it was incredibly lovely to be able to talk Labour politics (strong agreement) and where Lilt stands in the pantheon of soft drinks (fierce, bitter disagreement) and I am already hoping for a summer of park-to-pub-to-park.

In fact, we were back in Beckenham Place Park today and they even had a band!

The Alvar Tree Frogs playing under a tree
The Alvar Tree Frogs playing under a tree

Thank you to all those who left comments on my last post as well as everyone who sent messages, cards, flowers and (last but definitely not least) plenty of food to our family over the last few weeks. We haven’t all been under the same roof for a year, obviously, which probably exacerbated the thrown-out-of-time-and-into-a-bubble feeling while we all came together at my mum’s. In some ways it even felt like a delayed Christmas, with lots of cooking and walks around Gladstone Park and finally being able to play a game of Dixit. Shout-out to the free and exceptionally well organised on-demand Covid testing being offered at Willesden Green Library now – an excellent thing to have if circumstances force you to travel!

Dad’s funeral was held last Friday – both in-person and virtually – but there will be a larger memorial service held at some point when everyone can mix more freely. In the meantime, if you’re looking for a way to remember him, you can always pour yourself an Old Speckled Hen and put on David Bowie’s Life on Mars? wherever you happen to be.

The Lexi Cinema's tribute to dad
The Lexi Cinema’s tribute to dad
Blythe Hill on a sneaky South London visit
Blythe Hill on a sneaky South London visit
Excited for spring in Kelsey Park, Beckenham
Excited for spring in Kelsey Park, Beckenham

Coincidentally, but talking of Bowie, the ever-expanding radius of what Randi and I consider feasible weekend walks recently took us to Beckenham where Bowie lived for a number of years. We were big fans of Kelsey Park despite the ever-present danger of the ‘Norwegian troll’ which an older man kindly warned us had disguised itself as a tree and parked itself beside the bench where we were currently enjoying our tuna melt paninis. We reassured him we’d be careful. Yesterday we walked in the opposite direction up to Blackheath and (predictably) ate more tuna melt paninis on the redundantly-named Blackheath Heath. There were no trolls this time, but (a) ‘Blackheath Manor’ was the creepy setting for The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle, (b) the queue for Gail’s Bakery was longer than a vaccination centre in Florida so for these reasons Beckenham is currently winning out in our weekend tuna melt league.

Other than this nonsense (can you tell the lockdown material is wearing thin?) I’ve just finished Adam Curtis’s latest ‘documentary’ series Can’t Get You Out of My Head. As usual, it’s more of a late-night semi-psychedelic experience where the whole is less than the sum of its parts but you don’t care because fundamentally Curtis is really good at finding incredible archive footage and cutting it together with music. I’ve been satisfying my own archivist needs with my newly-purchased Doxie scanner – it’s a great solution if you want a really fast way to scan documents and photos but is ultra-small and portable enough to fit in a desk drawer afterwards, and I’m not just saying that because they gave me £20 to participate in a delightful product research call afterwards. (Or am I? Too late, you’ve already read it now.)

I also had virtual after-work beers with Sam Carter and, last Sunday, celebrated Census Day with genuine happiness. Perhaps this is not a universal problem, but it’s annoying (to me) to be on a walk to – say – Beckenham, wonder “hmm, I wonder what the population of Beckenham is?”, pull out your phone to scratch the curiosity itch and then have to rely on figures from 2011 because we’re at the end of a ten year census cycle. Had the Norwegian troll even begun to stalk the land in 2011? The people demand data.