Last weekend we spent a gorgeously sunny weekend in Cardiff – a place which Randi has now totally fallen in love with and is angling to move to, despite my warnings that the weather might not always be so spectacular. Still, nothing beats the Friday evening feeling of catching a train out of London to begin a weekend adventure, and although I’d been to Cardiff once before my main/only memory of the city was hanging out at the Torchwood fountain. This time, we stayed in an Airbnb in the trendy Pontcanna area, and we were both impressed by the massive expanse of rolling parks which surround the banks of the River Taff nearby.
Our primary purpose for visiting was to spend time with Randi’s former colleague, Tom, and his family. After meeting up near the castle, we caught a boat/bus down to Cardiff Bay, walked along the coast, stared enviously at people with tickets to the Aqua Park (basically a bigger and better version of the infamous WoahZone on Lake Michigan which we also failed to get into) before making up for it with ice cream sundaes. Finally, Tom, Demelza and Ralph invited us back to their house for a highly impressive barbecue production, over which- since we’re basically all transport nerds – we all swapped notes on Geoff Marshall videos. Thanks, guys!
The other surprising thing to note about Cardiff was that somehow we fell into eating delicious Mexican American food – not once, but twice! Not only did we enjoy the “unauthentic” (but still delicious) tacos at La Pantera, but for breakfast on Sunday morning Randi scouted out the American diner-themed Hard Lines café, complete with breakfast burritos and by far the best huevos rancheros Randi has found this side of the Atlantic.
All the talk of buckling steel on the railways made us question whether we’d actually be able to get home on Sunday, but thankfully (or regretfully) we did make it home before the extremes of the heatwave on Monday and Tuesday this week. It wasn’t unbearable (thanks to our fan) but we still celebrated Tuesday evening’s rainfall with a bottle of white wine on Blythe Hill. Today we were back to pleasantly-sunny-but-not-absurd temperatures, prompting Randi and I to lie and read in Hampstead Heath for a bit before moseying down to the other exciting part of this post: this afternoon’s escape room adventure, Underground 2099, set in the abandoned South Kentish Town tube station!
An escape room in a disguised Underground station was my extremely well-targeted birthday present from mum, Tash and Cormac this year, and as a group we were in boisterous enough spirits during the orientation that our game master seemed a little taken back. (“I’ve never seen a group start arguing about Tube facts before the game has actually started… I don’t know whether I love you or hate you.”) However, once the game got going we settled down into some excellent teamwork to defeat the radioactive King Rat in a time-travelling trip to a post-apocalyptic 2099. It was a lot of fun, and I’m thrilled that we actually succeeded in our quest with barely a minute and a half spare, although I’m not ashamed to say that I jumped more than once as the mutant hordes advanced. London Supper Club 1, Rats 0.
Whenever people ask how wedding planning is going, I get a little burst of nervous energy that we’re supposed to be doing more wedding planning than we are. Essentially, you’re being assessed on your project management skills as a couple, and that would be a little embarrassing to screw up. But we have been doing wedding planning! Lots of it, in fact, and this is one of my excuses for falling behind on my blog. Excuse number two is that we’re in full-on summer mode, and isn’t it better to spend a glorious summer evening sitting out in the garden drinking wine with Promise rather than typing furiously into WordPress? Yes? No? Maybe?
Well, either way, our evening with Promise was over a month ago now but we were very happy to have her over, especially as the tone in which she asks “South East London?!” is as incredulous as if we had moved to the moon. Some people are just North West to their bones. (Side-note: a few hours earlier, while I was picking out the evening’s wine from a quiet Sainsbury’s aisle, a man approached me with nothing but a large box of Thornton’s chocolates in his shopping basket and a desperate look in his eyes. Turned out that tonight was the night he was due to meet his new girlfriend’s family and had been asked to bring a bottle, but he “didn’t drink alcohol” and really wanted some guidance on what to buy. “You mean… you don’t really drink much, or you’ve literally never drunk?” I asked. He’d never drunk alcohol in his life. Despite having very low wine credibility myself, I steered him to the reds (“more romantic”) and he left with the most expensive bottle he could find. He really was very sweet, and I got very invested, so I really hope the night went well.)
Anyway – that weekend was my birthday weekend, so on Saturday night Randi took me on a mystery walk along the New River until we arrived at Tierra Peru, which was absolutely the best Peruvian restaurant we’ve found in London so far in terms of feeling like we were back in that country. Everything was delicious – and I was very happy to have aji de gallina again – but we ended on an even higher note by combining dulce de leche-filled biscuits with caramelito ice cream. We definitely needed the New River walk back to Canonbury afterwards.
The next day I had been promised a mysterious birthday activity from Tash, which started out with a local brunch (see a next-level egg and beans on toast, above) before swinging back home for ‘reasons’ which, it turned out, really meant a ruse to be able to usher a surprise party which Randi had organised in place while we were out.
For a moment as I stood outside our front door I thought we had caught someone who had brought their own guard dog to a burglary after I heard barking coming from inside the flat, but after peeking through the letterbox I discovered Diva – Erin’s dog – and a host of wonderful humans gathered on the staircase instead. Thank you all! It was such a lovely crowd to have brought together, but it was especially magical that Conor, our downstairs neighbour, could share his toys with the full complement of my friends’ babies whose names all begin with C – Cora, Cress and Cleo – and I was very touched by everyone who went out of their way to get here. ❤️
Talking of babies: in the last few weeks we also met baby Isabel for the first time over Skype (she’s amazing) and later I got to go on an impromptu swimming session with Adam and my baby cousin Austin. Turns out it’s pretty tiring to keep up with him while walking backwards through the children’s pool! Not talking of babies: recently Katie and I also had another Doctor Who night (1982’s Kinda this time, in which the Doctor is definitely not perturbed enough by what goes on) while last weekend Randi and I welcomed my colleague Patricia to our area to give her the hard sell on moving to a flat around here. (It seemed to work!) I also spent an exhilarating evening on my local Labour Party Zoom meeting just in case there was a big fight about candidate reselection. (There wasn’t – it was total unanimity.) And then, of course, like the rest of the country I then spent a few days wondering “wait, what actually happens if Boris just refuses to resign?” before he finally (and rather petulantly) did so Thursday. (Note to Editor – I kept this bit in the baby-themed paragraph for a reason.)
With the constitution unblocked, Randi and I could go back to the important things – more wedding planning! – and had an extremely productive day yesterday hoovering up train tickets for overseas guests and planning our ceremony while enjoying the sun on a picnic blanket in Bushy Park. Sure, Bushy Park is not exactly our patch but we’d always wanted to go back there after walking through it on the London Loop and returning my colleague Tim’s water bottle to him was the perfect excuse to go. After meeting up with Tim over lunch to return said water bottle and chat, we then walked over to Teddington Lock and finally along the river to Richmond, officially connecting the London Loop to the Capital Ring and feeling proud of ourselves.
Finally, today we enjoyed another stunning day with the fam outside in Greenwich Park to see Daryl and Ermila on their latest UK visit. (Standing on the bank at Greenwich Pier and waving as they arrived off the Thames Clipper did make “visiting South London” feel more like a scene from a continental voyage.) We walked, all had a great outdoor lunch, and to top it off on the way home I spotted some kids in Ladywell Fields with water pistols who agreed to give me a refreshing blast on demand. As discussed: it’s most definitely summer.
In my job I’m lucky enough to work with a truly awesome development team, based in many different countries, and for a long time I’ve tried to get a group together for an in-person meetup. For a while this was impossible thanks to the pandemic, and then the war in Ukraine, but last week were able to gather in Georgia’s capital, Tbilisi, which meant that I could finally hang out with Kira, Maria and Hanna IRL and (spoiler alert) drink a lot of wine.
The scheduled options into Tbilisi’s airport are not fantastic, so by the time Maria and I had completed our overnight flights, met up at the airport and taken a Bolt back to our Airbnb it was already 5am and the sun was coming up. Thankfully, Kira was waiting for us with our inaugural bottle of sweet Georgian red wine, and we all sat on the terrace pretending that we’d all had more sleep than we’d actually had.
A few hours later Kira took us on a short tour of Tbilisi’s Old Town, which at 9am on a Saturday morning felt more like a film set than a real city. The streets are narrow and hilly, with plenty of quirky street art and gorgeous views over the rest of the city, but almost no other people to be seen. It soon became clear what should have already been obvious by looking at a world map: Georgia is pretty far south, hot, and therefore has the same late-rising, late-sleeping culture you’d expect anywhere else at this latitude. Only tourists would wander around in the morning, duh.
Still, I hadn’t brought my hiking boots for nothing, so the next morning we made another early-ish start so we could meet up with Hanna and climb up to the ancient fortress which overlooks the city before it got too impossibly hot to walk around. (Don’t worry, we’re a good team. Everybody came prepared with hats and sun cream.) After a while on the hills we descended into the National Botanical Garden, which was beautiful, even though I’m sure we only saw a very small portion of it. Shout-out to the large group of children, all dressed up in matching outfits, who were being filmed singing and dancing by the base of the waterfall where we were sitting, and apologies to whoever’s job it will be to edit us out of this particular music video.
Tbilisi is a fascinating place, and if you’re looking for a relaxing balance of nature plus tourist amenities in a friendly atmosphere then I would totally recommend it as a city break option. It very much feels like a place in flux. For example, the streets are lined with Soviet-era apartment buildings which feel a little abandoned on the outside, but also house one or two shops, bars or restaurants inside which are buzzing with energy and life. I was fascinated by the haunted-house foyers of these buildings, and I very much wonder what they will look like in a decade or two.
During the week we were, of course, working from our (thankfully air-conditioned) apartment, so we only scratched the surface of things to do in Tbilisi. That said, we did manage to tick off some other items, including a visit to the Gabriadze theatre on Wednesday night to see a marionette performance of Ramona. Ramona is a beautiful locomotive engine who is separated from her lifelong love, and – despite the meddlings of an officious Soviet bureaucrat – joins a travelling circus troupe and learns to walk the trapeze. It was genuinely extraordinary and moving, and although obviously the English surtitles aren’t capable of communicating all of the history and nuance of the text, listening to the Georgian voices was also beautiful. My only recommendation, if you decide to visit, is to sit further back than I did so you don’t have to crane your neck to combine the text with the puppetry!
We also made it to a jazz club on Friday evening, which I also really enjoyed. And, to make this a fair cultural exchange, I also tried to provide the very best of Britain in return: namely Jelly Babies (which went down very well, albeit with initial qualms that “it seems weird to eat babies”), Dairy Milk, Crunchies, multiple episodes of Would I Like To You? and a rewatch of one of my very favourite films – Four Lions – on the last night with Kira. Oh, and of course everyone thought I was weird to add milk to my tea.
We also watched Encanto together (which was good and all, but I’m not convinced that it’s OK for poor Mirabel to be put through intense childhood trauma just because it serves some cosmic bring-the-family-together ends-justify-the-means grand plan!) and I introduced everyone to Dominion. Since Kira is a highly competitive board game expert, this inevitably led to several more games of progressively more drunken Dominion until she could beat me – but I did enjoy my brief winning streak while it lasted.
The other obvious reason to visit Georgia is the food, which is both (a) very delicious, and (b) extremely affordable for tourists. We ate very well, including a decent fill of the ubiquitous cheese-filled khachapuri!
Overwhelmingly, though, the purpose of this week-long adventure was to spend time with some of my favourite people beyond the confines of a Zoom call. I’m super-grateful to everyone for making the effort to congregate in Tbilisi, and I hope it won’t be too long before we can all play Dominion together again.
Greetings from Warsaw airport!
I’m just passing through on a long layover on my way to another adventure, but (naturally) this presents a great opportunity for a blogging catch-up over a pierogi lunch. I last posted in final run-up to the Eurovision Grand Final, for which Randi and I were very excited to be joined by our neighbour Angela, who hadn’t seen Eurovision in years and – for UK purposes at least – picked a very good year to dip her toe back into Eurovision waters. (As everyone says, I really don’t think it would have been a great idea for anyone to have beaten Ukraine so coming second was the ideal outcome…)
A really lovely thing for us recently has been a resurgence in theatre-going. Over the last few weeks we’ve seen not one, not two but three things:
- For Randi’s birthday, I got us tickets for The Book of Mormon. I last saw it in 2013 (my blog from the time reminds me that I had a work trip rescheduled around it!) and it had been a similar gap for Randi, but we’ve both found ourselves listening to the soundtrack off-and-on over the following decade and it was so much fun to be able to go back and relive it. There’s something very relaxing about seeing a musical for the second time – when you already know all the songs – and then of course you’ve forgotten all the dialogue between the songs so it’s a mixture of familiarity and surprise.
- At Angela’s suggestion, the three of us went down to our small local pub theatre – the Brockley Jack – to see surrealist comedy Flightpath: a play about “things falling out of planes” which begins with the audience being invited to make a paper aeroplane out of the programme and launch it towards the stage… something I did not excel at. Nevertheless, this was an extremely entertaining three-person romp through many interlinked stories (and accents) – and thankfully not so surreal that it put me off. It was also the closest we’ve come to a really intimate Chicago-style theatre since moving back to London, so I’m excited to come back soon.
- Finally, my mum blocked out our diaries long ago for a Friday-night surprise which turned out to be Jez Butterworth’s play Jerusalem. This turns out to be a revival of a 2009 smash hit with the original lead stars, Mark Rylance and Mackenzie Crook, but since I had never heard of it I had absolutely no idea what to expect until the curtain went up. And… it was just fantastic. Such a rich, layered play – often hilarious, sometimes chillingly dark – which leaves you with so much to think about (especially, for me, about Englishness and national myth) without being pretentious. I loved it. And, happily, so did my old supervisor Peter Mandler who I spotted in the audience during one of the intervals. If you have a chance to go see this, please take it.
As you’ve probably guessed already, another May highlight was the long-anticipated opening of the Elizabeth Line, albeit without Bond Street / not on Sundays / not yet connected up at both ends. But none of that matters. It’s here, and it’s beautiful.
Obviously, Randi and I took some highly unnecessary trips on the opening day – Tuesday 24th May – although we waited until after work rather than joining the 6am morning queues for the first trains with the cool kids. That evening we rode from Whitechapel to Paddington, where we picked up our souvenir purple Oyster cards and – as recompense for having to wait a few minutes for a member of staff to come and link Randi’s railcard to her Oyster – some fancy collectible Elizabeth Line pins to boot. But it’s genuinely true that I’ve used it several times since, for mostly-legitimate actual journeys, including to get to Heathrow this morning. (And I do find it highly amusing that by day 3 the 2012 Olympic-style aura of good feelings and wonder had been totally replaced on the train by a sea of hardened commuting faces, whose expressions suggested they had been riding this train every day for the past twenty years.)
Meanwhile, my team at work enjoyed another virtual board game night in which I forced everyone to learn Carcassonne so that I might have a chance of winning something. (I say ‘enjoyed’ – I enjoyed it!) I also spent an afternoon going wedding suit shopping with an incredibly kind and patient Adam, who has strong credentials as “somebody who knows about suits” and agreed to translate back-and-forth between me and, y’know, the people who sell suits. I’m genuinely very pleased with the result.
Randi, Erin, Diva (Erin’s dog) and I were treated to beautiful, sunny weather last weekend for our latest countryside walk along the River Mole – which included a refreshing beer garden pub lunch near Box Hill along the way. I’m very fond of our tradition with Erin of sitting in exhausted silence together on the train home, all feeling reassuringly worn-out and struggling to stay awake. The next day, suitably recuperated, we headed to Andrew and Bonnie’s for lunch (delicious, obviously) and were joined by Frankie, Anya, Lena and family friend Lauren – who I apologise for making sit through my batch of questions about football in which I learnt that Anya has strong feelings about Ipswich.
Recently we also grabbed drinks at the Mayflower with Randi’s colleague Dan, while I am delighted to have successfully introduced Randi to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy original radio series. I have no idea how it came up in conversation, but I really loved Douglas Adam’s classic comedy when I first discovered it (via a Radio 4 repeat in 2001 or thereabouts) and it’s amazing how many references and in-jokes have their origin point in this show.
And finally, my sister Tash turned 30 this week – happy birthday! – and I decided to mark this by constructing a GPS -enabled scavenger hunt along our beloved Waterlink Way. (If you are reading this and thinking “ooh, I would also like to construct a GPS-enabled scavenger hunt” then may I recommend Actionbound?) This was a lot of fun to make and came off smoothly, in large part thanks to Randi agreeing to playtest the whole thing after work one evening even though it was chucking it down with rain. Afterwards Cormac joined us at our favourite local restaurant, Sparsh, for their amazing Indian food, and the next day we reunited – along with many, many others – at my mum’s house for a big 30th birthday party with friends, family and neighbours. It was so wonderful to see everyone there and a perfect end to the UK half of this very-long bank holiday weekend…
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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!