I realise these blog posts have fallen into a monthly cycle, which was never the intention! Last time I included a photo of us all at my mum’s house enjoying a farewell meal before she packed up and left for Exmouth… but as it turns out, there have been quite a few bonus farewells at my mum’s since then too. So, a roll call: The One With Beth & Stewart (plus Tash & Cormac as they were just about ready to leave on their amazing world travels), The Brunch One With Sharon (my beloved American adopted-godmother who was treated to lots of arguments over the US constitution plus a trip to the
dump Brent Re-Use & Recycling Centre, which are two things everyone wants from their holiday) and last night’s The One With The Neighbours, at which we learnt simultaneously terrifying yet impressive things about how one of us (not me) once caught a rat using a safety pin and some blu tack.
Back in early October, Randi and I were also very excited to celebrate Cora’s third birthday at a rainbow/unicorn/cat-themed party, at which at one point I became the object of a hunt across the garden by an ever-increasing band of young children. That afternoon, Randi and I meandered back home via Brockwell Park (we miss you, Brockwell Park) in order to go back to the Turkish restaurant Saray (we miss you too, Saray) for dinner with Randi’s parents.
A weekend later, after Beth and Stu had jetted off to Spain and Portugal, I spent the Saturday visiting Exmouth with my mum to see her fancy new seaside home with my own eyes. Not only is it a lovely place – with amazing views! – but I also got a chance to chat to the current owner about the oh-so-casual fact that she was part of a world-record beating rowing team which rowed across the Atlantic.
Last month I also caught up with Matt and Clark at a pub in Hackney, where together we solved all manner of global problems before I managed to catapult a halloumi wrap into myself. I was also very excited to stay overnight in Chelmsford with Abbi (with whom I will always share wine and product manager woes), Rob (who cooked us all a delicious curry dinner and then breakfast the next morning) and Jack (who was super-fun to be around as well as patiently answering all of my Pokémon-related questions).
As a surprise one evening, Randi also took me to Immersive 1984, an immersive theatre experience based (obviously) on Orwell’s novel. There are many, many things to say about this. Firstly: it’s set in Hackney Town Hall and a large chunk of the performance took place with us sitting inside the actual council chamber itself, which was a great deal more majestic and impressive than I typically picture English local government to be. Secondly, it really sharpened my concerns that in a totalitarian state Randi is going to get us both killed with her stubborn truth-telling tendencies. And thirdly – without being too spoilery – there was an incredible moment of accidental hilarity near the end where the audience were all asked to volunteer to carry out a brutal and obviously immoral act. Most people sat uncomfortably, looking around at each other, but one guy stuck his hand high in the air with a self-knowing grin, prompting the woman he was with to put her head in her hands with embarrassed mirth. Thanks for taking one for the team!
But the highlight of October was definitely last weekend’s three day triathlon (© Robyn) of family events, kicking off with a big celebratory lunch for my aunt Carolyn’s very well-deserved CBE. It was especially wonderful to see the Canadian branch of the family (Josh, Cindy and Isaac) in town again, plus I enjoyed some great conversations over lunch with Advia, Tessa, Jackie, Sharon and others. Afterwards, Katie joined me and Randi’s family for an elongated wander around Kensal Green Cemetery (elongated only because one of the gates was unexpectedly locked!) before the four of us walked down to Shepherd’s Bush to see Elephant. This is a semi-autobiographical one-woman show about race, class and Empire, written and performed by an extraordinarily talented Anoushka Lucas who sings, plays the piano and gives a powerfully physical performance throughout.
Then it was back home to rest in preparation for the big event on Saturday: Alix and Adam’s long-awaited wedding! All of the people above – plus many more – were there in Hammersmith to cheer and dance and celebrate together – so hats-off to Alix and Adam for providing a ‘menu of people’ cheat sheet over dinner as a quick-reference to everyone else in the room. Everyone had so much fun together, and many of the people who couldn’t make this last-minute wedding (12 years in the making but only 12 weeks in the planning!) were represented
in spirit in a big-screen video montage. Particular highlights for me included: the spectacular brass brand, the beautiful speeches, the saxophonist accompanying the DJ on the dancefloor and the very tasty Victoria sponge wedding cake.
As you can see, I hung around in North London for a bit after the wedding, staying overnight at my mum’s (really making good use out of it while I still can) along with Katie and our American cousin Sharon (but not the American adopted-godmother Sharon from earlier). This meant that Katie and I got to engage in some classic Worms Blast action in the morning – which I miraculously got running again on my laptop – before heading over to Carolyn’s official post-wedding Sunday lunch, where there was quite some variation in hangoverness.
I wasn’t hungover, but I was tired – and yet it was important to muster some energy for the afternoon because Randi, Beth and I had an important date in the diary: The Gunpowder Plot. This is another immersive experience running in London, which was a birthday gift from Tash & Cormac and takes place in the vaults beneath the Tower of London. I was both excited and a little nervous (there is such a thing as too immersive) so was relieved when our group included a boisterous set of kids who could take the lead on deciding whether or not to assist Guy Fawkes with his treasonous plot. Quite a lot of the script – which takes place across a mixture of VR and real-world actors while moving from room to room – aims to ignite an ethnical debate about ‘terrorism vs. freedom fighting’. Rest assured that none of the 8-year old boys with us had even a glancing interest in this question, and just wanted to blow stuff up as quickly as possible. Fair enough!
The VR stuff was fine – especially at the end, when there was a brief amount of full 360° immersion – but the in-person interaction with the actors was better. Also, I was very amused at the mum who suddenly realised during the ‘intermission’ at a seventeenth century tavern (contactless cards still accepted) that there probably wasn’t any minimum drinking age in 1605, but sensibly resisted trying to put this to the test. For me, the most daring piece of immersion was being forced to hide in a priest hole at a Catholic safe house – alone, and in the dark – while the King’s agents raided the place. For a piece of touristy entertainment with lots of families involved, they didn’t pull their punches.
Finally – this week, Randi and I enjoyed a celebratory Georgian dinner at Kartuli, while the night afterwards Randi cooked up a batch of cheesy pasta for Reema and Sam while we all drank wine and argued about the ‘right’ way to do trick or treating. (This year, as every year, I refused to give out treats until at least one child in the group was brave enough to ring the spooky doorbell with the dropdown spider and deep bellowing laugh. Those are just the rules.)
See you next month…? [Editor’s Note: Yes, of course there are more photos from the wedding. But if I waited to get my hands on them it’d be 2024 before I could post anything.]
We’re back from our summer Chicago trip! The last time Randi and I visited the Windy City together was just after Thanksgiving 2021, so this was the first time since leaving in 2018 that I’ve experienced the city in its sunny, joyful, everybody-doing-things-outside mode.
Digression: on the flight there I took Kira’s recommendation and watched Groundhog Day from 1993. I’ve used the term ‘groundhog day’ as a synonym for ‘ugh, here we are again, stuck in this never-ending loop’ for as long as I can remember, so it was weird to realise that this meaning (rather than the actual groundhog day tradition to predict the first day of spring) originated with this film and is younger than I am! Overall, it’s a really fun movie about a conceited and curmudgeonly weatherman who inexplicably finds himself repeating the same day over and over again, and it makes me somewhat nostalgic and sad to live in a world where it feels like these mid-budget films no longer get made. To somewhat balance this feeling out, it should be noted that the ‘sexual entrapment’ angle of this already quite sexist film gets creepier and creepier as you go along, and so I am glad that this mid-budget film would no longer get made today in this particular way.
Also, hats-off to the hilarious moment where the mere knowledge of what an ‘espresso’ or ‘cappuccino’ might be is used to contrast bougie, urban culture with small town, down-to-earth America. The hipster frontier is always moving!
Anyhow, back to the epitomie of boughie, urban culture that is ‘staying with Catherine & AJ and their toddler’. It’s always so much fun to be with these three, and this time we really got to appreciate their local park – Winnemac Park – as well as our traditional Channel 4 documentary viewing; this time we binged through Sixteen, a series about Year 11s in Dudley sitting GCSEs (kinda) in the middle of 2021’s Covid-era lockdowns. We also watched the first Republican debate, which was notable mostly for kicking off with a confusing and unnecessary indoor drone sequence.
Aside from an exciting tour of Jason and Carrie’s new home, followed by a very fancy dinner at Parachute (Korean-American, sharing plates, controversial cocktails), we left our other Chicago reunions for the second week because we had a very, very exciting long weekend planned: a return to the Minnesota State Fair!
Catherine has been to every State Fair that she’s been alive for, and surely a lot of this credit must go to her mum Juli (or mom, I guess) who very generously hosted us all in the suburbs of Minneapolis. (I’m not entirely sure how workable this is, but I think forming a book club with Juli is now a life ambition of mine.) While Catherine flew, AJ drove me and Randi up there in order that we could (a) revisit the authentic American roadtrip experience, (b) listen to some extremely violent conservative talk radio in the forlorn hope of hearing some Republican debate analysis (it was all about cultural Marxism instead) and – most importantly – (c) make a mandatory stop for burgers at Culver’s. Yay for Culver’s!
Anyway, when I wasn’t staying up until 1am discussing books, we spent a solid majority of our two days at the fair. I’ve evangelised about the Minnesota State Fair to so many people in the UK, but mostly to bemused faces. So, to repeat, you should go. The food is incredible, and the best things – the cheese curds, doughnuts and cookies – really do come in buckets. On top of that, we tried a bunch of the ‘new for 2023’ offerings, including the bagel/croissant ‘basant’ hybrid and some delicious crab fritters. But we also enjoyed the craft beer, seed art, prize vegetable displays, lumberjack & lumberjill competitions, high school marching bands and overall intensely friendly and welcoming fair atmosphere.
The other thing which really stands out to me about the Minnesota State Fair is the politics. As you can see, we had fun in the Democratic booth voting for our favourite Democratic Minnesotan policies with pieces of corn, but over at an entrepreneurial ‘Dump Biden’ stand other fairgoers were casting their own corn votes for their favourite Republican challenger to take on Biden in 2024. (Spoiler alert: the polls you read are all correct. They want Trump, again, and overwhelmingly so. I’ve seen the corn jars with my own eyes.) It’s not all happy-go-lucky; in fact, even wandering into the official Republican booth now feels physically intimidating, especially when it’s packed with t-shirts glorifying guns. But it’s precisely because the cultural divide is so stark that at least seeing Americans enjoy a fair together is so lovely.
Talking of cultural divides: on Friday night, the four of us celebrated the end of our first day at the fair by going to see Barbie together. This had been planned for a while and I’d deliberately avoided a bunch of spoilers, which was great because I really enjoyed seeing the film’s counterintuitive twists and turns through fresh eyes. This included the refreshing discovery that Will Ferrell’s Mattel boss character wasn’t just a straight rehash of Lego Movie boss, as well as the surprising unfolding of what the tagline (“She’s everything. He’s just Ken.) was actually all about.
It’s all very good, very funny and very meta, and the only thing which gives me pause (aside from a general observation that audience applause in a cinema is always cringe) is that Barbie, unlike the Minnesota State Fair, will never reach across the US political chasm. And I’m not saying that because I think conservatives should watch it “to learn something” (although perhaps they should). Barbie is at its best when its skewering itself, and in a better world Republicans who can’t stand American corporate culture would find a lot to love there! But in all likelihood they won’t, because either they won’t see it or they’ll only hate-watch in a way which strips out all of the movie’s nuance and humanity. (And let’s face it, nuance and humanity are not really in vogue with that crowd right now.) This isn’t Barbie’s fault. But it still makes me a little sad.
Back to the fair and my final story from day two: I had expressed some prior interest in riding the super-cool giant spinny thing (the ‘Skyscraper’, if you want the technical name) but these hints generated zero uptake from anyone else in our group. Nonetheless, Catherine in particular decided that she was keen to see me ride the super-cool giant spinny thing (which, in her words, might also have included the word “horrific”) so I paid for my ride tokens and joined the queue in the hopes that I would find another solo traveller. Happily, a young woman from Texas was also the only person in her group with an interest in flying through the air, and I was very, very grateful to be able to have someone to talk to during my least favourite part of the ride: the “be suspended very high in the air for an indeterminate length of time while new riders are loaded at the other end” phase. She also said she was pleased to have someone else to ride with, but had trusted that God would be looking out for her. Ah, America.
On our last night in Minneapolis I broke away from the others to spend the night with Jill, Nate and their three wonderful kids. Jill was a colleague of mine at Groupon back when I first moved to Chicago in 2014, and the person who I had some of the loveliest, most interesting philosophical conversations with in my life over Gchat (remember Gchat?) when we were supposed to be working. She’s also absurdly talented and a massive Sate Fair fan, not only winning the grand champion prize this year for her seed art but also a bevy of ribbons for her jams. I had the blackberry jam on toast at breakfast the next morning, and I can confirm it’s delicious.
It was so, so wonderful to be able to catch-up with her and Nate after all these years, and I was very pleased that my Cadbury Heroes and Jelly Babies made it over the Atlantic in one piece so that I could try and sell the family on British confectionary. (There weren’t many left the next morning, that’s all I’ll say.)
As a bonus treat, our drive home through Wisconsin gave me and Randi the chance to stop by Cat and Brian’s new home just outside of Madison. By this point we were yearning for a meal with some fresh vegetables, and Cat responded to our prayers with an amazing spread – combined with Brian’s homemade bread! – which we were very grateful for. We also got a tour of their home, which included the most adorable couple’s jigsaw set-up I’ve ever seen. Aside from the awkward moment when I almost drank out of Cat’s fox mug (and risked ruining our friendship forever) this was a wonderful playdate for me and Randi, and we were fully refreshed for the rest of the journey back to Chicago when our pseudo-dad AJ swung by to pick us up again.
Last year, after we got married for the second time, Todd and Carolyn sent us an outrageously generous quantity of gift cards for our favourite Chicago spots. So, for our second week, Randi and I spent our days making excellent use of them: Antique Taco, Open Books (one of those old-fashioned bookshops where you’re still allowed on the sliding ladders!) and Janik’s, one of two brunch places which will always be very dear to our hearts. The other one is Windy City Café, which – don’t worry – we also made it to. There I got my usual order of corned beef hash with added blue cheese: an underrated combination. Huge thanks to Toggolyn for our amazing gift card guided tour around the city!
During our second week here we also found time to walk around areas of the city where we each used to live, enjoy an impromptu beer flight at the bar where we had our very first date and cheer on the Cubs at a Cubs vs. Brewers game at Wrigley Field. Much to AJ’s consternation the Cubs won, but the rest of us were delighted. In the evenings we were so lucky to be able to schedule time with so many people we wanted to see, culminating in a big group outing on our final night to Improv Shakespeare. Long-time blog readers will know that this is our favourite thing to do in Chicago, and we were very excited to learn (via a chance conversation with the cast of Shamilton in Edinburgh!) that it was back in the city. This time the audience prompt was Sarah’s Wedding – presumably as part of an inspired bachelorette party – which resulted in a stirring tale of suitors competing for Sarah’s hand via the noble sport of jousting chess. Afterwards we sat outside drinking craft beer in the warm summer air with Todd, Carolyn, Jason, Carrie, Melissa and Rob… a perfect Friday night.
I could probably keep writing forever about how much fun (and weight gain) we had in Chicago, but seeing as it’s already a week later and I’ve had to lock myself away in my old childhood bedroom at my mum’s house to finally finish this blog, I’ll stop here. Huge thanks, as always, to Catherine and AJ for putting up with us while they were trying to work from home, introducing us to the whimsical doughnut guy at their local farmer’s market, taking us to Half Acre for drinks, showing us the best sandwich place in Lincoln Square and generally making us feel like we’ll always have a home in the city.
Also, as usual, I want to quickly note all the fun evenings I had in the run-up to this holiday which I never got a chance to blog about! So thank you to my uncle Andrew for drinks at the Waterside, to Angela for our late-night garden party (with improv dinosaur impressions) and Reema for sending us off the night before we flew with some amazing tapas near London Bridge. And our post-Chicago adventures will have to wait until next time…
Every few months I read the same basic article about the ‘rebirth’, ‘rediscovery’ or ‘renaissance’ of the sleeper train, but I’ve never ‘forgotten’ about them in the first place! I’d take every trip by overnight railway if money, time and tracks allowed.
No surprise, then, that Randi got us tickets for the Caledonian Sleeper from London to Fort William for my birthday. We met after work by one of Euston’s unglamarous platforms, stashed our bags in our Club Twin room and headed staight for the Club Car (as you do) for a sumptuous dinner, drinks and dessert while the outside world faded into darkness. I’m not 100% sure if I’ve ever eaten haggis before – this blog doesn’t say – but that evening really kicked off a haggis streak over the next week or so. It was all excellent, as was the Highland Breakast the next morning, by which time the scenery outside had transformed into breathtaking Highlands beauty. Surely plenty more people would ‘rediscover’ sleeper trains if there were more of them.
Our train pulled into Fort William at 10am, after which we checked into our Airbnb and took a walk along the Cow Hill circuit trail, which offers great views from the summit and then a walk through the woods on the way back.
That night we were joined by Katie and James, who drove up from Edinburgh to hang out for the weekend. James had already staked out Steall Falls as a place he really wanted to revisit, so on Saturday afternoon – after Katie, James and Randi ran parkrun in the morning – we set out on this popular hike to the promised waterfall.
The most unusual part of the Steall Falls trail is the option of crossing the river on a wire bridge at the end. This isn’t necessary to complete the walk – it’s a there-and-back, so you can always turn around here – but it is the only way to get close to the waterfall itself. In my case, I took full advantage of the sibling dynamic: clearly, once Katie had decided to cross it, I wasn’t going to miss out and had to follow her. (Everyone we saw seemed to have a different method for moving their feet, but nobody fell in.)
Once we got to the other side, Katie and I enjoyed the close-up views and swapped notes on how badly we expected to be hurt if we’d fallen off the wire. Then thoughts turned to getting back. After my initial suggestion (cross the slippery rocks over the fast-flowing water) was rejected, I was proud of myself for spotting a useful tree further downstream which could serve as a useful river-crossing device. Imagine my disappointment when I discovered that this was merely stream #1 and there was in fact another river to get back to, at which point ‘just taking my shoes off and wading back barefoot’ became the chosen strategy. Cold, but effective.
Tash had recommended the Highland Cinema as a good lunch spot in Fort William, and while eating here Randi and I had decided to buy tickets to see Oppenheimer on Saturday night after Katie and James returned home to Edinburgh. I hadn’t actually been all that enthused by the trailer, but Christopher Nolan’s name is a draw and I did really enjoy the film itself. In some ways it has a surprising focus: it’s not really about Oppenheimer’s leadership of the US’s atomic bomb programme, or their use against Japan, and is centered more on his later struggles with the US government and the political manoeuvrings of the Atomic Energy Commission chair, Lewis Strauss. Stauss is the villain of the film and, like all good villians, he makes some good points. But the audience’s sympathy lies, I think, with Oppenheimer – and that’s a strange place for the “father of the atomic bomb” to end up.
Instead of heading staight back to London, Randi and I both worked the next week from Edinburgh, where we were also joined by Kira on her first visit to Scotland. (Shout-out to the lovely American couple from Cleveland on the train back from Fort William after taking a week to walk the West Highland Way. I’m pretty sure they had intended to play a nice game of cards together, but never got the chance as we just kept talking to them.) Other than working, the three of us mostly spent the week walking, drinking and watching many episodes of Scotland’s Home of the Year on BBC Scotland, a show in which one of the three judges pays brief lip sevice to recognising “environmentally friendly” homes during the intro but then always awards the highest marks to the largest, most energy-intensive houses in the middle of nowhere.
Then, on Saturday, we got to Fringe!
- Enquiry Concerning Hereafter – a loving tribute to the friendship between David Hume and Adam Smith, set in Smith’s old house and with very intimate staging. Objectively, I didn’t think it was the greatest drama in the world because the problem with “you’re brilliant because of this” and “no, you’re brilliant because of that” is an obvious absence of dramatic tension, a problem not fully ameliorated by adding Charon (y’know, the guy who ferries souls to the underworld) to the mix. Subjectively, stuff all that because I obviously loved it. It’s a play about my two favourite philsophers talking about their philosophy! If you are already a fan of something, there’s nothing wrong with fanservice. And the best part was Adam Smith’s interrogation of Charon on the monopolisitc practices of his boat service.
- Shamilton – you know what this is, because we saw it last year, but for the record: an improvised Hamilton-esque hip-hop musical about a public figure nominated by the audience at the start of the show. This time we got the (slightly sanitised) life of Kanye West, with a healthy dose of Taylor Swift rivalry. It was fantastic, as usual, and inspired us to book a showing of Improv Shakespeare for our upcoming Chicago trip.
- What The Veck? Songs in the Key of Strife! – to almost exactly replicate our pattern from last year, the five of us (Katie, James, Kira, Randi and I) decided that we should squeeze in one more show, chosen semi-randomly from the Fringe app just a few minutes before it was due to start. This turned out to be the low-key but delightful Tom Veck singing silly songs and handing out naff raffle prizes (the naffle) from which our group won repeatedly.
Back in London, Kira had persuaded me and Randi to see The Pillowman with her on Friday night. My expectations were very uncertain not because I thought it would be bad, but because with my history of going blind triggered by certain types of content I might only get to enjoy the first few minutes of this “gruesome”, “macabre” play about torture and mutiliation. I prepared myself by booking a seat at the end of the row with the perfect escape route, and we had dinner together first at Toyko Diner (where my mum took us before seeing Patriots) so that, y’know, we’d still have had a nice evening.
Anyway, I needn’t have worried because I really, really loved this play, and the dark comedy style was – for me – hilarious rather than panic inducing. This production is a revival of the 2003 original, which starred David Tennant as a short-story writer with the silly name (Katurian Katurian) who is interrogated by two agents of the unnamed totalitarian state in which they live when his terrible tales seem to have been the spur for real-life copycat incidents. In the revival, Lily Allen plays a gender-swapped Katurian, while Steve Pemberton and Paul Kaye play the good-cop/bad-cop policemen Tupolski and Ariel.
Obviously I would love to pop back to 2003 to see Tennant’s performance, but having read some negative reviews about Allen I have to say that I thought she was great. Yes, Steve Pemberton is amazing and steals the show with some of Tupolski’s lines, but the whole cast was excellent and I’m very grateful to Kira for including us in her London theatre spree. Randi and I have spent a long time talking about this play since!
When I last left you, it was (almost) my birthday and Randi had baked a giant lemon cake to celebrate. I am now happy to confirm that (a) as expected, I did indeed turn 34 the next day, and (b) we successfully completed the cake-eating challenge over the next few days with assistance from Reema and Kira. Kira also brought Don’t Get Got, a paranoia-inducing party game in which secret antisocial missions must be undertaken against your friends while you’re supposed to be hanging out and relaxing. (I mention this now because if you happened to be at the Lexi cinema recently and wondered why someone was singing the national anthemn of Belarus behind you, that’s why.) For my birthday itself we enjoyed a pizza night out in central London, while on Friday evening we joined our neighbour Angela to try our local area’s new Vietnamese restuarant. It quickly became apparent that roughly half of our road had had the same idea… like an impromptu meetup for the street’s WhatsApp group.
That weekend we were very excited to head to Tash and Cormac’s for brunch with my something-cousin-something-removed Jamie and her daughter Lori, who were visiting from California and had put an impressive level of planning into checking off the entire London family. Lori and I spent much time on the important task of naming all of the different slimes which she had created on her iPad slime app. (Did you know that kids have iPad slime apps these days? In my day, if you wanted a slime app, it would run in MS-DOS.)
Afterwards, Randi and I had some time to kill before dinner so we made the perfectly normal decision to take the Overground out to the new Barking Riverside terminus (opened July 2022, but without the fanfare of the Elizabeth Line) and walk along the river path for a bit. I found it really uplifting to see this new infrastructure opening up more places for people to live, although the development is very much still ‘in development’ so it’s hard to shake the feeling that you’re still walking through an artist’s impression of a community to come. Definitely a place I’d be curious to revisit in a decade.
Instead of just going back on the Overground in the opposite direction we decided to take the Thames Clipper boat into central London and let Randi pretend she was still in Stockholm for a bit. This was excellent – especially as we bagged one of the coveted outdoor seats – and a great way to pass the rest of the afternoon before we made our way to Shepherd’s Bush for dinner with Kira at a Korean restaurant (very tasty) and then – you guessed it – another play at the Bush Theatre. This time we saw A Playlist for the Revolution, a romantic comedy set in Hong Kong at the time of the 2019/20 protests between a straight-laced economics student and an idealistic visitor from England who tumbles into his life at a wedding. Funny, moving and – as you might expect from the title – it comes with a great soundtrack.
The next day, we rode the Mail Rail! This had been on my obviously-we-have-to-do-this list for a long time, but Katie kindly took the decision out of my hands via birthday gift to ride on the London Post Office Railway and explore the Postal Museum. In case you aren’t aware, in 1927 this little underground railway opened to transport letters and parcels underneath London on driverless electric trains. Remember that whenever somebody asserts that we’re living in some magical era of rapid technological progress: in 1927 you could send actual letters on an underground network around London, and in 2023 you can’t. So, take the next best option and ride it yourself instead.
While Randi was up in Scotland for a bit I played charades with Angela and Conor and saw Asteroid City at the Lexi with my mum and Kira, where – as previously discussed – I successfully manipulated Kira into a rendition of the Belarusian national anthemn. As for the film itself, I think we were all a little… perplexed?… about whether we actually enjoyed it or not. After pondering for a bit, I decided that it was genuinely entertaining (and frequently chucklesome, if not laugh-out-loudsome) with incredible style and visual detail, so I’m going to bank it as a fun night out and not worry too hard about whether I am a real Wes Anderson fan or not.
Recently I also had a rare (but lovely!) day in the office, followed by an even-lovlier pub gathering with Steve, Tomas, Kira and Paul. Randi and I also hung out with Sam on the Chandos balcony and (drumroll please) finished watching Succession! Watching the whole show in a year and a half might seem glacial to most people but it was incredibly quick for us, and now I’m sad that there’s going to be a Succession-shaped hole in my life where Kendall, Roman and Shiv should be. (Apologies to the other characters, but the three sibling dynamic is special to me.)
Last weekend I was in Scotland myself, and (in return for a place to stay and some morning rolls) on Saturday I joined Kirsty’s canvassing team for Labour in Midlothian. It might sound like a cliché, but it genuinely makes me really happy to be able to talk to voters on the doorstep – even when they don’t agree! – because people will endlessly surprise you on what they want to talk about. On Sunday, though, I took the day off to hang out with Katie and James and watch 1972’s Day of the Daleks. This was James’s first classic Doctor Who story so I was a little nervous, but it actually has a cracking plot and pace and was highly enjoyable from start to finish with the one exception of the really, really terrible Dalek voices. C’mon guys. Had you never heard a Dalek speak before?
And finally, this weekend a gang of us had the great pleasure of meeting Cat’s husband Brian (who I actually remember from a Starbucks in Chicago many years ago!) over a couple of beers in the sun. I hadn’t seen Amy and Craig in particular for many years, and the only downside to seeing their wonderful faces again is the short flash of mutual recognition at how young we all used to be back in the heady Groupon days. In a similar vein, I spent the afternoon riding down the Cam today at PuntCon 2023, Bill Thompson’s “tax deductable” geek picnic which I first attended in 2010 and was, in fact, celebrating its twentieth anniversary today. Happy birthday PuntCon!
On the way from the station I had bumped into Dr. Melissa Calaresu, my Director of Studies at uni, who was sweet enough to dismount from her bicycle so we could walk and talk and worry about the fate of the world together. (She also slipped in some proper history about medieval child kings which I will definitely work into conversation elsewhere.) Luckily, the the world still looked pretty good down by the river at Grantchester Meadows on a sunny July day. Future historians should note that a punt pole was briefly abandoned to its fate, but then expertedly recovered by Max’s professional punting expertise.
Happy Bank Holiday 3/3 for May 2023! The second one proved to be both productive and nostalgic, as Kira (and her cats) had just moved into a new flat near where we used to live. After completing some IKEA engineering challenges together we went on a big walking tour of our favourite parks before rejoining Randi’s parents at our old local pub, Knowles of Norwood, which is thankfully still open for business and – in fact – has recently expanded into a larger space.
This was the last week of Beth and Stu’s visit to the UK, so that Friday we celebrated Randi’s birthday a few days early with a fancy dinner and lots of delicious sharing plates at Ottolenghi’s ROVI restaurant. (Fair warning: there are a lot of restaurants coming up in this post. It’s been a very, very good couple of weeks for eating.) The next day we sauntered up to Andrew and Bonnie’s for lunch – always a great dining experience in its own right! – plus some explanations of cricket and somewhat competitive tours of Alexandra Palace and its early TV broadcast history. (We got Bonnie, Beth and Stu got Andrew.) Then, appropriately, we sped home for the definitive broadcast event of the modern day: Eurovision!
It seems odd that in all our years of evangelising Eurovision we’d never actually shown it to Randi’s parents, and while there was a mixed response to the timeslot (“the voting doesn’t end until midnight?!”) they were enthusiastic about completing their official Eurovision 2023 scorecards. Personally, I’m not convinced that previous winners should be allowed to compete again, and would rather Finland’s catchy Cha Cha Cha, Norway’s Queen of Kings or Austria’s tribute to Edgar Allan Poe (there aren’t enough nineteenth century literary references at Eurovision) had beaten Sweden’s (perfectly decent) entry, whose predictable triumph made the whole results section feel less dramatic than usual. Come back next year?
The next day we were treated to an extremely tasty lunch (and more birthday celebrations!) at Tash and Cormac’s flat, followed by a tour of Leyton including Leyton Jubilee Park and its jolly pirate ship. And that was (almost) it for Beth and Stu’s latest visit to London, aside from the very important business of Stu’s homemade hamburgers on their final night with us. (Public service announcement: burgers go better in rolls of challah.) After they had left, Randi’s actual birthday night was spent in Dulwich’s Megan’s in the Hamlet, where (a) the marmalade cocktail is amazing, (b) the staff are super-fun and willing to share inside gossip.
I have been casually saying “Randi’s birthday” but- excitingly – it was also her 30th birthday. So, that weekend, we pushed the foodie boat even more and had lunch at three Michelin-starred The Waterside Inn. (One star for each decade, you see.) In case you’re wondering, there are only eight restaurants with three Michelin stars in the UK and – weirdly – two of them are just a few minutes’ walk from each other in the small Berkshire village of Bray (population: 9110). Assuming you aren’t one of those 9110 people, the easiest way to get to Bray is to take the Elizabeth Line to Maidenhead and then (ignoring the nonsensical website instructions to take a taxi) enjoy a delightful 35 minute walk through Braywick Park until you reach the restaurant on the banks of the Thames. Easy peasy.
Since I’m not really a foodie person, I have neither the writing talent nor much photographic evidence of the sevenish-course ‘Menu Exceptionnel’ we devoured. (And what counts as a ‘course’, really? There were actually eight lines on the menu if you include the tea & coffee and petit fours, which was brought out to us on the riverside terrace after the afternoon sun came out. But that doesn’t include Randi’s bonus birthday dessert, or the amazing pre-stater-startery things! So I don’t know. It was a lot.) Suffice to say, everything was really, really good, all the way from the mushroom pâté at the beginning to the soufflé with hot rhubarb compote poured through the middle at the end. Would recommend. I would also recommend walking along the river path to Windsor afterwards, especially if the weather was as perfect as it was for us.
The fine food (and drink) just kept on coming this month, including a work dinner with an incredible Indian tasting menu (in a private room with a huge glass window overlooking the kitchen) and, the following night, gastropub delights with Jill, Lee and some partners we work together with. Clearly on a roll, on Friday night Randi and I took my mum out for her birthday at the Tash-starred restaurant Ayam Zaman in Shepherd’s Bush. (I was about to add “…and went overboard on the meze” but, honestly, I don’t regret ordering any of it.)
After dinner we went to the Bush to see Invisible, only a mere fortnight after seeing August in England at the same theatre with Randi’s parents. (Having now seen three shows there within two months, the Bush Theatre is now hands-down our favourite venue and we already have our next pair of tickets.) August in England premiered last month and stars Lenny Henry as August Henderson, a Windrush-era arrival from Jamaica whose life story is told movingly and beautifully from childhood to being threatened with deportation during the Windrush scandal 52 years later. Of course, it’s Lenny Henry so much of the play is also hilarious, but he kept our audience enraptured all the way from boisterous comedy to the most poignant moments.
Similarly, Nikhil Parmar’s Invisible is another one-man show performed with electric energy. The story of a struggling actor, failing to be seen beyond the restrictive racial stereotypes in which he is cast, combines great physical comedy with an undercurrent of deep rage and violent fantasy. It’s hard to be too specific without giving away the twists, but it’s another play which you should definitely catch if you can.
- I managed to kick-off a fascinating and (hopefully productive) evening of political campaign brainstorming by knocking over Kirsty’s vase and emptying close-to-100% of its contents on the floor. This is why I’m not a consultant. But it was a great evening nonetheless!
- After Randi, Reema and I finally got ourselves into the same spot and stopped wandering independently around Brockwell Park, we were able to have a lovely evening of pizza and beer together at Bullfinch Brewery (which we’ve always wanted to go to!).
- It’s been a while (OK, it’s been seven months) but Randi and I walked London Loop Section 3 on Saturday and it was sunny and spectacular. Also, the ice cream van at Keston Ponds is the best.
- Kira came round to play Dominion last night, and I have really, really missed being able to play several rounds of Dominion in a group of three. (We still miss you though, Amanda.) Kira also brought ice cream with her.
- Today, on Bank Holiday 3/3, Randi used Katie’s birthday gift vouchers towards brunch at Dishoom in Canary Wharf (thank you Katie!) before leading us on a walk most of the way home through the Isle of Dogs, the Greenwich Foot Tunnel and then to Lewisham via Greenwich Park and Blackheath. Basically, the perfect encapsulation of all the ‘eating + walking’ stuff I’ve just written.