Adulthood

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It’s time to wish this blog a happy 18th birthday – a little belatedly, because it officially reached adulthood on 27th April 2022. For years I’ve had an annual tradition of linking to the various stages of child development and later legal rights by age, but 18 really is the big one. dom.blog is now free to get married as it wishes, vote, buy alcohol, sit on a jury, acquire as many tattoos as it wants and be elected to parliament to represent its fellow blogs. Hurray! It’s sorta wild to think that this is the equivalent length of time it takes to parent a child…

Anyhow, at the final hurdle I’ve been a neglectful parent since my last post was about Easter in Malta and there’s a lot to catch-up with. After Malta, Randi and her parents continued their holidays in Italy with food-filled trips to Rome and Florence, but I returned home to work and so – since this is my blog – you’re going to have to come with me down the less-exciting Choose Your Own Adventure path and skip out on the Colosseum, pasta making classes and wine tasting in Tuscany. Sorry.

Instead, Katie came over and we caught up on the disappointingly flat Doctor Who Easter special (which was a shame, because I really liked the New Year episode) before making up for it with 1966’s incredibly entertaining The Gunfighters in which William Hartnell’s Doctor blunders into the events leading up to the shootout at the OK Corral in America’s Wild West. Most notably, the episodes are tied together by a very-very-very-long and repetitive song, Ballad of the Last Chance Saloon, which forms both an off-screen narration (to confirm that what you’ve just seen happen has indeed happened) and – even more bizarrely – also performed on-screen in the eponymous saloon by companions Steven and Dodo after the bad guys decide that to threaten them at gunpoint to play the piano and sing. Point being: this is a totally marvellous story and it is my official view that Legend of the Sea Devils would have been greatly improved if Yaz and Dan had been forced to do a musical number midway through for no apparent reason.

Cha cha real smooth
Cha cha real smooth

The other highlight of my Italyless week was a virtual board game night with my team at work on the (excellent) Board Game Arena – shout out to Kim for first introducing me to this – in which our engineering lead Kira crushed Hanna like a bug, and then crushed me like a bug, and then defeated Maria in a somewhat-more-competitive spirit before we all decided it might be best to try playing a cooperative game instead. In all seriousness: it was really fun, and we’re planning on a follow-up soon.

And then on Sunday, before Randi and her parents arrived back in the UK, I nipped up to Golders Green with Josh, Anna and Cora to buy some surprise welcome home challah and play in Golders Hill Park. There is something magical about seeing Cora dance around in the same ‘Gazebo’ sculpture thing which we all enjoyed as kids ourselves.

A few days later we held the funeral for my great Uncle Leonard at a Jewish cemetary up in Hertfordshire. The service itself was short and impersonal, with men and women separated and lined up on either side of the hall which (given normal actuarial disparities) made me feel like I was on the losing side of a particularly vicious game of dodgeball. On the other hand, the building was much less oppressively ‘indoors’ than any other funeral I’ve attended, with doors opened to the outside throughout. “It’s beautiful out here” said Leonard’s closest friend to me as we walked through the open air to the graveside. “Leonard would have hated it – he never liked walking through the countryside.”

Me and my great uncle Leonard
Me and my great uncle Leonard

This is definitely true: Leonard was a city person – a London person – and while he enjoyed the popular pastime of bemoaning the current state of <insert institution here>, he never showed the slightest inclination to escape to the country. He was much too connected with the family for one thing – at every birthday and Christmas I remember, always bringing the biggest and most exciting gifts when we were young – and when I got older I would visit his flat, close by Pimlico station, to answer his latest computer questions before he took me out for lunch.

In fact, Leonard was always impressively determined to keep up with technology and was specifically a big collector of digital and Internet-connected radios, back in the day when this was all new, because it thrilled him to be able to tune in to some local station from an obscure US town. We enjoyed arguing about most political topics (I once printed out some British Crime Survey data and brought it round to him in person to prove a point) although I’m not sure I was ever very successful at persuasion. But he always indulged all of his nieces and nephews with a lot of time and attention and love, and I’m grateful for that, so thank you.

Back in the semi-present day, after getting back from Italy we enjoyed a couple more weeks in London with Randi’s parents, including a trip with my mum to see the much-acclaimed musical Dear Evan Hansen. To be honest, I’m probably the one in our group who enjoyed it the most – the others sounded a little more lukewarm afterwards – but I have been looping through the soundtrack a few times afterwards, which is always a good sign for musicals.

On Sunday night we reunited at my mum’s for a scrumptious dinner with an impossibly large number of desserts because everyone decided to bring their own. Not complaining. Indeed, the food situation while Beth and Stewart were here was particularly indulgent because along with taking them to our local favourites (including a return to Two Spoons with Tash and Cormac, and amazing Georgian food at Kartuli!) they also took it upon themselves to become our personal chefs while we were working, cooking up delicious evening dishes in our kitchen. This was a very good deal.

We celebrated Bank Holiday Monday by returning to the Oxleas Wood café – a favourite discovery from the Capital Ring walk – and then walked a fair chunk of Section 2 together. Later in the week we celebrated the thrills of municipal democracy by going to vote together: it was a tight race, but Labour in Lewisham continued to squeak ahead of the opposition by clinching a mere 54 out of the 54 available seats, plus the mayoralty. (I should clarify, in case Priti Patel is reading this, that I was the only person actually voting.) I’m not unhappy, exactly, but it’s a reminder that only a relatively small portion of the country really counts for determining who’s up and who’s down.

Breakfasting with the best view in Oxleas Wood
Breakfasting with the best view in Oxleas Wood

Finally, on Beth and Stewart’s final Sunday in London we went down to Richmond and basked in the beautiful sunshine as we walked along the river. Special thanks to the couple sitting opposite us on the District line on the way there for reaffirming my faith in Russell T Davies’s impeccable judgement: when everyone on the Tube suddenly got the same BBC News alert that Ncuti Gatwa had been cast as the next Doctor, the woman gave a happy yell of recognition and declared that she was now excited to start watching the programme again.

A gorgeous day by the river in Richmond!
A gorgeous day by the river in Richmond!
We reached Teddington Lock before heading home
We reached Teddington Lock before heading home

But wait, there’s more! On the week that Randi’s parents left for home, we were thrown into the joy that is Eurovision week. I know, I know: you don’t watch the semi-finals. Why should you watch the semi-finals? The UK is guaranteed a place in the final anyway, so, really, what would even be the point of watching the semi-finals? Well, (a) you’re wrong, and (b) you’re probably to blame for Brexit. We do watch the semi-finals, and this year we were joined by a very exciting last-minute guest: Cat!

It was so exciting to have Cat stay over at ours, and together we ordered mountains of Indian food and cheered on all the best performances until all of the best performances were eliminated by the terrible, terrible public voting. (Same deal with the second semi-final on Thursday night, too.) Still, not to lose heart, we’re readying ourselves for the Grand Final tonight. Actually, as soon as this epic post is over my next task is to start hunting for the peculiar collection of flags I stole from the Groupon office many years ago. Europe: you’re good to go!

Beaming with excitement at our special Eurovision guest
Beaming with excitement at our special Eurovision guest
Great-uncle Leonard
Great-uncle Leonard

Before I start, I wanted to note that my great-uncle Leonard died suddenly a little over a week ago. He’s been a part of my life since I was born; indeed, one of the first photos I ever took was of Leonard, snapped from the vertically-challenged perspective of a five-year old. I will wait until the funeral to gather my thoughts and memories, but it’s a strange feeling to have someone disappear without warning. We’ll miss you.


“Let’s move to the UK!” I said. “We can go travelling all over Europe! Everything’s so close!” And for a hot minute this plan worked out great – we did make it to Amsterdam and Barcelona, after all – but then Covid happened, and after that we wanted to prioritise seeing old friends rather than exploring somewhere new. This is a long way of saying that it’s been a long time since Randi and I visited a new country together, but now the spell has been lifted after a long Easter weekend with Randi’s parents in a brand new destination for us all: Malta!

Family flying photo
Family flying photo
The view of St Julian's Bay from our hotel
The view of St Julian’s Bay from our hotel

Malta is a fascinating place. It’s the smallest EU member state, by both size and population, and everyone we spoke to had a clear pride in their country. For a century and a half Malta was a British colony and some of that influence is obvious: English is one of two official languages, there are British-style plugs and red telephone boxes, Randi could order a ricotta qassata from a ‘Crystal Palace café’ and we even spotted a mysterious Clapham Junction on a map. Meanwhile, the country’s nearest neighbour is Italy – no doubt contributing to all of the delicious Italian food available – while the Maltese language itself is descended from Arabic, and when you’re walking from Mdina to Ir-Rabat it’s very easy to feel like you’re in the Middle East. To be honest, I already want to go back.

An Easter Sunday procession in St Julian's
An Easter Sunday procession in St Julian’s
It got sunny enough for shorts eventually ;)
It got sunny enough for shorts eventually 😉

Valletta

Randi with something for the warmth at the windy Upper Barrakka Gardens
Randi with something for the warmth at the windy Upper Barrakka Gardens

Despite a late arrival, Randi and I forced ourselves to get up on Thursday morning for a walking tour of Valletta. Malta’s capital is very small, highly pedestrianised, immensely walkable and incredibly beautiful, with an impressive gorgeous-buildings-per-square-km ratio and photogenic streets which curve up and down before reaching the sea on three of the city’s four sides. Valletta was built as a walled city, established by the Catholic ‘Knights of St. John’ who ruled Malta from the sixteenth century until Napoleon’s invasion in 1798, and unlike most cities has a very clear ‘entrance’ over a bridge and through the no-longer-an-actual-gate ‘City Gate’.

Our favourite statue
Our favourite statue

Once inside, the first thing you’ll see is the new Maltese Parliament building – which was only completed in 2015 – built in a ‘controversially modern’ architectural style which Malta should be very grateful isn’t just a euphemism for ‘terrible’ but is actually quite striking. In fact, prior to its construction this plot of land was a car park, so this seems like a big improvement, and we were amused to spot a few designated car parking spaces which remain nearby, tucked away on a side street, reserved exclusively for the following named positions only: Prime Minister, Leader of the House, Opposition Leader, Minister for Family and Social Solidarity, and Parliamentary Secretary for Rights of Persons with Disabilities and Active Ageing.

Malta’s Parliament
A view from Lower Barrakka Gardens
A Valletta street
A Valletta street
Just a wonderful place to wander
Just a wonderful place to wander
Our final night at Legligin
Our final night at Legligin

Valletta is also a hub for buses on the island, and since it’s only a half an hour from where we were staying in St. Julian’s we ended up coming back a few times – especially to eat! Special thanks to Lee and James at work for sharing their curated list of Valletta’s restaurants with me. We tried a few places, but in particular I have to mention the amazing tasting menu we enjoyed at Legligin on our final night as our farewell to Malta.

(Since I mentioned the buses, here’s the low-down: they were mostly very good, and easy for tourists as they accept contactless card, but the big downside came when a bus was ‘full’ and refused to let us on. We could have totally squeezed on.)

Gozo

On our second day we headed to the island of Gozo for a quad-biking tour around the main sights. As the non-driver of the group my role was mostly to not fall off the quad bike while Randi was driving – which I managed with a 100% success rate – and occasionally risk taking photos.

Ready to ride
Ready to ride
Shots from the road
Shots from the road
A stop on the beach
A stop on the beach
Appropriately blue water at the Blue Grotto
Appropriately blue water at the Blue Grotto
On our mini boat tour of the caves
On our mini boat tour of the caves
Another gratuitous quad bike photo
Another gratuitous quad bike photo
Randi at the salt pans
Randi at the salt pans
The salt pans were really cool
The salt pans were really cool
Saying goodbye to Gozo
Saying goodbye to Gozo

Mdina & Marsaxlokk

Inside the walls of Mdina
Inside the walls of Mdina

The two other places we visited during our trip were the fortified city of Mdina (Malta’s ancient capital city prior to the construction of Valletta) and the fishing village of Marsaxlokk. Mdina itself is teeny tiny and feels like a well-constructed film set, with a population of less than 300, although it’s surrounded by the larger town of Rabat. From here Randi and I tried and failed to go for a hike through the countryside, having been assured the the path was ‘obvious’, although it was not at all obvious to us where the path ended and the strawberry farms began. Still, we totally forgave everything because the landscape was like walking through a tabletop of Carcassonne tiles.

1 point for a road, 2 points for a city
1 point for a road, 2 points for a city
Lost in the Maltese countryside
Lost in the Maltese countryside
The fishing village of Marsaxlokk
The fishing village of Marsaxlokk
Randi by the water
Randi by the water
A very Dutch dinner
A very Dutch dinner

Two weeks ago I popped over to Amsterdam for a work trip to a Booking.com partner event with my colleague, Lee. Lee is the ideal travelling companion because he will generously offer to arrange all of the flights / hotel / dinner reservations for the trip, and although I was probably pushing my luck by recruiting him as my emergency personal shopper at Gatwick Airport (“Lee, I’m not sure I own enough shirts…”) he rose to the occasion with aplomb.

Amsterdam is such a inviting city to walk around, and although we didn’t have time for any sightseeing we did manage to get dinner at Moeders (Mothers) restaurant, a Dutch comfort food institution in which the walls are covered from top to bottom in photos of mothers provided by previous guests. (Sorry, mum, I should have planned ahead.) Rest assured that I also secured a healthy number of mini-stroopwafels during the trip.

Dream Buildings in the Tate Modern's Turbine Hall
Dream Buildings in the Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall

Back in the UK, last weekend I was feeling a bit restless so Randi and I had a skim through those “lists of things to do in London” written for tourists and decided (helped by the free entrance) to give the Tate Modern a whirl. I haven’t been to the Tate Modern in either (a) a very long time, (b) ever – I am genuinely not sure – and I am really not in their target demographic. But we had fun browsing through several galleries before admiring the latest Turbine Hall exhibition from a safe distance. Currently this is Lubaina Himid’s Dream Buildings in which families can work together to build their own play area out of wood, and it’s actually really cool and uplifting to see relatively young children working with real saws and hammers to construct their own world. Kudos to whatever team shepherded this idea through what I can only imagine were inordinate risk assessment procedures.

Playing on the South Bank
Playing on the South Bank
An apartment block of birdhouses in Norwich
An apartment block of birdhouses in Norwich

In contrast, no impromptu museum visits were required this weekend as we already had a packed agenda – starting with a very special Friday night to celebrate Randi’s final day at her current workplace! (For this we picked Two Spoons, an incredible slice of New Orleans in Honor Oak which we were both very excited about.)

The next afternoon we headed up to Norwich to join Oliver, Abi, Kat, Helen and Jason for dinner followed by a production of The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe in which Oliver’s dad, John, played Professor Kirke (my favourite character) and Father Christmas, amongst others. I’ve known Oliver’s parents for years but this was the first time I’ve ever actually seen John on stage, so I was really excited about finally correcting this after such a long time.

John as the Professor. (Photo credit: Elliott & Harper Productions)
John as the Professor. (Photo credit: Elliott & Harper Productions)

The production itself – which was part musical! – was wonderful, and it’s especially great to be in an audience which includes children becoming enraptured in theatre for maybe the first time. And the Narnia stories don’t pull their punches. One of the reasons C.S. Lewis will always be high on my fantasy dinner party list is because he had serious things to say, and I respect the fact that, in amongst the fun and fauns, The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe is ultimately a story where the child protagonists bear witness to the humiliation and murder of Aslan, the Christ-figure. This is a religious allegory which cuts to the core of Christianity, not a twee morality tale.

But precisely because it’s serious stuff, Narnia has always aroused strong emotions in me and they all came flooding back last night. It’s a massive cliché that atheists are all secretly angry at god, and it’s not true. But since Aslan undoubtedly ‘exists’ within the world of Narnia, I think it’s reasonable for me to admit that I really, really can’t stand Aslan. The White Witch has been ruling Narnia for one hundred years. If Aslan is the ‘true ruler’ of Narnia, what has he been doing for all that time? Does Aslan have responsibility for Narnia or not? If he does, it’s hard to think of a greater abdication of leadership, especially if you are all-powerful. This isn’t an argument about ‘free will’. The White Witch isn’t a regrettably-successful populist. She’s a tyrant who uses magic to turn people into stone. Aslan has the power to free them in a moment, and for a century he chooses not to, and nobody ever asks him why.

Obviously this reaction makes me sound completely mad when we’re all standing around afterwards enjoying some post-show ice-cream, but so be it. (Nobody went for the Turkish Delight flavour, which was a missed opportunity.) Then, since Helen and Jason had very kindly agreed to host us all overnight, we went back to their place and stayed up talking until 2 in the morning in a lovely re-run of Oliver and Abi’s wedding. They are one of my favourite groups to stay up and chat with, even though I only get the opportunity once every few years.

An atmospheric Norwich street (Photo credit: stolen from Randi, like all of these photos)
An atmospheric Norwich street (Photo credit: stolen from Randi, like all of these photos)

The next morning, Randi continued her campaign from the last time we were in Norwich of convincing me that Norwich’s buses are actually pretty good, and we rode back into town for an incredibly fun breakfast with her former colleague Rachel. And then we meandered our way back along the rails to London, hop-scotching around some engineering work but still arriving back with plenty of time to enjoy a sunny Sunday afternoon in the city. No endless winter for us yet 😉

Next week Randi’s parents are arriving in town, and together we have some more travels planned!

Together with Randi and Rachel before heading home
Together with Randi and Rachel before heading home

You knew this post was coming: 15 walking sections later, we are now Capital Ring complete! Starting and finishing in Woolwich, the route took us around the city on a circular journey which included full Englishes in Oxleas Wood, the dinosaurs of Crystal Palace, the magical telescope of Richmond Park, the ghostly abandoned platforms of Crouch End railway station and the Olympic Park at Stratford.

Geotagged photos from the Capital Ring in orange, with the London Loop in green for comparison
Geotagged photos from the Capital Ring in orange, with the London Loop in green for comparison
Selfies from each of the 15 sections, with a bonus from the Woolwich Foot Tunnel
Selfies from each of the 15 sections, with a bonus from the Woolwich Foot Tunnel

For our final outing we combined the relatively short Sections 13, 14 and 15 into one triple-bill walk, powered by breakfast bagels in Stoke Newington and finishing at the very same café where we first set out back in May last year. (Dear Woolwich First Choice Cafe & Restaurant: your full-throated commitment to melted cheese on a jacket potato is beyond comparison.) Just as with the London Loop, the official start/end points in East London are certainly not the most spectacularly green portions of the route. But it was interesting to walk through the University of East London campus (on an Offer Holder Day, no less) and emerge right at the river, as well as passing by hitherto-mysterious DLR stations (Royal Albert? Cyprus?) for the first time.

Back at the Thames by the University of East London campus, where we felt very old
Back at the Thames by the University of East London campus, where we felt very old
At the Woolwich Ferry!
At the Woolwich Ferry!

In non-walking news, after finishing The West Wing Randi and I were in the very, very rare position of being in the market for something new to watch and I’m delighted that we took Tash’s advice and picked Succession. We’re now far into the first season and I am really enjoying this corporate/family drama of warring psychopaths which everyone else enjoyed back in 2018.

Meanwhile, on St Patrick’s Day (albeit without remembering it was St Patrick’s Day) I had a really lovely evening with Simon, during which I think we might have regressed quite a bit in age. It started legitimately enough, swapping work stories over several pints by the river, but by the end we had migrated – via Honest Burgers – to (delicious) milkshakes at Five Guys. No regrets, though.

I am mesmerised by how sceptical I look at the visit to the new office
I am mesmerised by how sceptical I look at the visit to the new office

Other recent “hurray, we’re Covid-free!” outings included a final farewell visit to our old office with a group of colleagues, followed by a quick tour of our new shared workspace in Clerkenwell and then drinks at The Slaughtered Lamb nearby. As always, it is totally delightful to see many of the people I work with in person, and I’m torn between wanting more of that and the reality that commuting to an office in order to go on video calls with people who mostly aren’t in the office (because, say, they aren’t based in London) just doesn’t feel like a very productive use of time anymore.

On Thursday night, the London Supper Club gathered at my mum’s for celebrity guest/cook Katie – making a special appearance from Scotland – and as usual we ate extremely well. But I wanted to end this post with extra special thanks to my mum for our outing on the Sunday beforehand to see Oxide Ghosts at The Gate cinema in Notting Hill. This is a never-to-be-released 60 minute compilation of deleted scenes, bloopers and bonus material from Chris Morris’s spoof Brass Eye documentary series, put together by the original director – Michael Cumming – from his personal collection of raw VHS tapes from the making of the show in the 1990s.

I was slightly too young for Brass Eye when it first aired on Channel 4 but discovered it on DVD as a teenager and (predictably) loved it, as did many of my Sixth Form friends. It only ran for a single season (plus the notorious 2001 special) so if you’d have told me then that many years later I’d be sitting in a cinema to enjoy a whole extra hour of Brass Eye I’d have thought it was the greatest thing ever in the world. Even the Q&A with the director afterwards – moderated at our screening by David Walliams – was less annoying than most Q&As when certain people in the audience feel compelled to ask their question-which-is-actually-more-of-a-comment, and the two of them reflected in interesting ways that while the show certainly stands up today it’s also incredibly of its time, mainly because Chris Morris’s central target of scorn was television itself and television is just far, far less central to culture today then it was back then. It is true that, even by the 1990s, “getting on TV” somehow was still a big thing for most people, even if it was just local news. It feels like an age ago now.

The proud new addition to our hallway
The proud new addition to our hallway
London Walking Routes Blog Index
May 2019: Started London Loop
October 2020: Completed London Loop
May 2021: Started Capital Ring
March 2022: Completed Capital Ring

TfL Guides
London Loop
Capital Ring

Other Promising Entries In The Series
Thames Path? Always a reliable choice.
Green Chain? Although we've walked most of it by accident already!
Lea Valley? The bits by the Lea on the Capital Ring were lovely...


It’s been a strange couple of weeks, and not in a good way. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has directly affected the lives of people I’m close to and care a lot about. They aren’t on the frontline, but they are affected all the time. At the same time, Randi and I finally caught Covid, although in my case I’ve had (almost) no symptoms at all other than a certain quiet satisfaction that, yes, at least I have been administering these lateral flow tests on myself properly all this time. Unfortunately Randi didn’t get off quite as lightly, although she is OK and is now fully on the mend. But the coincidence of these two things has resulted in a weird atmosphere of being stuck inside, worrying about people over WhatsApp and watching news reports of advancing armies and bombed-out cities.

Away from the war itself, I do recommend the documentary F@ck This Job, available in the UK on BBC iPlayer as Tango With Putin, as another angle into modern Russia. It’s the story of independent TV channel Dozhd (or TV Rain) which you may remember from the clip of its staff walking off set together as the station was shut down at the beginning of March. Its founder, Natalya Sindeyeva, is a fascinating leader and the documentary is worth watching for her alone.

We had planned to visit Katie in Glasgow – a city which I’ve still never visited – but for obvious reasons this was postponed. Instead, we have at least been escaping to Victorian London by getting into a nice habit of reading Sherlock Holmes aloud in the evenings. It’s extremely comforting when a character from the nineteenth century rides a familiar train from Norwood to London Bridge.

Before this current phase of isolation, we did have a few lovely get-togethers to write about. Abbi visited us two weeks ago for a Friday night sleepover, followed by a Saturday morning run with Randi and then breakfast together at the Lazy Chef. The next day, we travelled up to Golders Green for the triple delights of brunch with Josh, Anna and Cora at Soyo, a wander around Golders Hill Park and – of course – a trip to Carmelli Bakery to stock up on challah. I also had a much-needed night out in a pub with Clark and Matt, where we only spent some of the time talking about nuclear weapons, and even very briefly went back to the office (!) to link up with Jill and Lee on some work-related visits. (No no, don’t try and amateur track-and-trace this paragraph. I definitely got my Covid from Randi…😇)

Randi at Carmelli Bakery, which now feels like a very long time ago
Randi at Carmelli Bakery, which now feels like a very long time ago