Yesterday we made a very exciting return to our London LOOP walks after a hiatus of over five months. We celebrated with a double bill by combining the short sections 6 and 7 into one, and although they are not the most majestic or visually spectacular pair – section 7 is basically just a walk through the ultra-suburban streets of Epsom and Ewell – the weather was perfect for an afternoon picnic and ice creams in Oaks Park. We’ve now completed 17/24 sections of the LOOP and I am hopeful that we can build up some momentum again without a pesky pandemic getting in the way.
Epsom and Ewell is a place with quiet significance. By rights (just look at a map) it should be part of Greater London, and indeed this was the plan when London was expanded in the 1960s. But the locals kicked up a stink on the basis of “civic pride” and “the standard of planting of roundabouts and flowerbeds” and – just perhaps – a reluctance to pay any council tax to London even if, as commuters, they relied on London services. The government relented and the borough was allowed to remain with Surrey.
In a spirit of ingratitude, the borough continues to agitate for its rail stations to be included in London’s Zone 6 (thus benefiting from cheaper fares) and elects Chris Grayling as the local MP. This is the very same Chris Grayling who – as Transport Secretary – blocked TfL’s takeover of London’s suburban railways on the basis that areas just across the border – like Epsom and Ewell! – wouldn’t have any democratic input into TfL because they can’t vote for London’s Mayor. Because they’re not in London. Because… they didn’t want to be. Sigh.
So I’m not well-disposed towards Epsom and Ewell. But – wait – there’s a “who are the real monsters?” twist coming! Because at least Epsom and Ewell is honest: they want all of the benefits of London services but don’t want to be part of London, thank you very much. Absurd, but straightforward. And it is on the border, it does feel more like Surrey than London, and drawing the line around the edge of the city is always going to be a little arbitrary and messy. In contrast, nobody could be confused about where I live, right? It’s Tulse Hill, in the London Borough of Lambeth. It’s Zone 3. Over 70% of households live in flats.
And yet, just a few streets away from me, local residents are busy opposing planning permission for a 7-storey apartment block on derelict land. Some choice quotes:
- “This application is not exactly sympathetic to its Georgian and early Victorian neighbours […] This area has a certain charm about it that is historically linked. Our children and young people need to see the restoration is sympathetic to the original architecture.”
- “Balconies that receive little light and are part of small plan area flats are likely to be used as storage areas which rapidly degrades the appearance of a building.”
- “My greatest objections to this development is the lack of parking in an area with hardly any provision for parking. would underground parking provision be feesible [sic]?”
Guys: I love Victorian and Georgian homes too. But when the Victorians and Georgians built their homes they were also “not exactly sympathetic” with the surrounding area, i.e. the fields. And newly-built blocks are much greener and more energy-efficient than poorly-insulated terraces from a century ago, as well as providing more homes for more people on a much smaller land footprint. But beyond all that: your Victorian house is not going to disappear just because someone else is living in something new.
I am tired of anyone posturing that they “care deeply” about the environment / the cost of living / welcoming immigrants / protecting the countryside if – in practice – they always find some reason to object to building homes for people in dense, well-connected urban areas. The more sophisticated objectors will usually cloak these complaints under a superficial language of “affordability”, as if the affordability of a flat is built into the brickwork. Pick any progressive housing policy you want: none of them will work if there aren’t enough homes.
So maybe I’m too harsh on the good people of Epsom and Ewell. NIMBY nonsense knows no borders.
Anyway! Last weekend was the very welcome three-day Bank Holiday and we kicked it off on Friday night by watching the incredible My Cousin Vinny. Randi’s boss had been recommending it for ages and we immediately realised why: Mona Lisa Vito (the standout character in a crowded field of great characters) is basically Randi in a thick New York accent. Highly recommended.
The next day we set off on an epic journey to the North (…of London) starting with a delicious fancy breakfast with Cat and Matt at The Wolseley near Green Park to celebrate Cat’s birthday. (Non-food highlight: Randi getting her temperature checked on entry but having no frame of reference for normal body temperatures in celsius.)
We then wandered as a group to Regent’s Park before Randi and I took the canal route to Queen’s Park for novel in-person catch-ups with our respective colleagues Jess and Jill and their families. By the time we made it to my mum’s for dinner with Alix (and a really delicious fish pie) I was happy but regretting my lightweight choice of walking shoes.
The next day we visited my dad and then pushed on to the veritable extremes of northernness (i.e. Kingsbury) for a Bang Bang lunch delivery at Josh and Anna’s. They provided our next film selection (Waking Ned, which we also both loved) and in return we gifted them with their own incarnation of my favourite activity fox which joins their impressive collection of baby paraphernalia. I’m very excited about this baby and regard it as a deep and personal triumph that it will grow up on the Jubilee line rather than the Bakerloo.
All in all, the Bank Holiday was a really lovely last hurrah of summer. This weekend, other than walking the LOOP and becoming furious at the comments on the council’s planning website, the social highlight was a more autumn-appropriate evening of melty Raclette from Katie and Kim’s authentically Swiss raclette grill. They also both demonstrated their much-trailed Rubix cube solving powers, fed us giant slices from Katie’s “I only have one baking dish!” chocolate cake, printed me receipts (because I was excited by Kim’s real-life payment terminal) and gifted us Pierre, a penguin teapot. We promise to take good care of Pierre.
This morning I ticked off another box in the i-SPY: Coronavirus book as I awkwardly swabbed my throat and nose (it’s the same swab, but someone has already done the thinking for you about the right order), struggled to assemble the cardboard container and then placed my test sample in the fridge ready for collection by courier. This test was delivered after I was “chosen at random from the NHS list of patients registered with a GP” rather than for any specific reason, so hopefully it doesn’t show up any asymptotic surprises. But I can sympathise with parents who find it impossible to swab their children correctly – it’s not as easy as it sounds!
In a more pleasant Covid rite of passage, Randi and I finally took advantage of the ‘Eat Out To Help Out’ scheme with a half-price dinner at the slightly-too-pricey-for-us Tulse Hill Hotel. I am keeping my photo of a receipt bearing the words “Government Discount” as a memento of this strange summer. And yes, I know that we are way behind those who have been patriotically filling every August Monday to Wednesday with subsidised meals, but to be honest we’re still a little full from our burst of eating out in Church Stretton.
That said, we have been able to ramp up the socialising last week which has been really, really lovely. Last Sunday we were joined by Caroline in Matt and Laura’s beautiful (and very apocalypse-ready) garden for a very British afternoon of pretending not to notice the on-again-off-again rain showers. I had to check my blog to confirm that it’s been a year since we were all together, but it appears that we are all naturally congregating in a relatively small patch of South East London so I hope it won’t be another year. We also had fish and chips with Amy and Adam in Brockwell Park and invited Erin round on Friday night for a Mamma Mia + Prosecco + cheese slumber party. It freaked us all out to realise that this film dates back to 2008.
And finally: after putting our flat-buying ambitions on hold at the start of the pandemic, we have picked things up again and (at time of writing, fingers crossed etc. etc. etc.) things are looking promising! So at some point this blog might shift into full-on homebuying mode…
A quick mini-post tonight, since I don’t want to fall behind on blogging even though things are still rather quiet. (It’s funny – it had started to feel that pre-lockdown life was a distant memory from many years ago, but now even things which have happened since the pandemic feel like an age away.) The most exciting development was that today we ventured the furthest away from home we’ve been since the pandemic began, catching a quiet weekend Thameslink train all the way up to Hendon and then walking to Kingsbury for a wonderful afternoon in Josh and Anna’s garden.
We’ve been dipping our toes into other little pools of normality too. I was one of those clichéd people who were desperate for a haircut last weekend when barbers reopened, and I promise this was less about looks and more about the annoyance of brushing it away all the time. But in the before-times I would never have believed that I could ever have found a haircut so… exhilarating. Even more excitingly, Randi and I finally found the perfect place for a holiday at the end of this month after many desperate days of trying to fulfil a long list of criteria. So now we are both extremely keen to stay healthy, because we could both do with a break.
Many congratulations to Katie and Kim for completing their epic 17-week run of weekly Thursday-night quizzes! On the final installment, our team bagged a podium finish which we’re very proud of. Off the back of one of Katie and Kim’s ‘Film Plots Acted Badly’ segments I was also introduced to The Devil Wears Prada last weekend, which was very enjoyable but has slightly deterred me from pursuing my dream career in the fashion industry.
I know we’re all struggling with dates and times right now, so let me try a new one out on you: we’ve now been in lockdown long enough for me to go through a whole cycle of blood donation. This means that today I enjoyed another brief foray onto the Victoria line and reassured myself that it’s still there and Tube trains are still running. Hurray!
In truth, it’s been a little easier to remember where we are on the calendar this weekend because it was my birthday on Friday so I’ve been enjoying a three-day weekend of many amazing birthday surprises and activities which Randi put together. Honestly, it feels like I’ve had several birthdays in one so I might have reached my mid-thirties by now.
As you can see, we kicked off with a very disco-inspired redecoration of the living room…
After opening presents – and sampling Randi’s incredible homemade lemon drizzle cake – we walked to Crystal Palace Park for a delicious lunch from the café and shared outdoor beers with Randi’s colleague Sam. After a quick pit stop we then took a much shorter mystery surprise walk halfway up the road to Amy and Adam for another wonderful evening around their firepit, complete with gin, party poppers and – naturally – a pigata filled with chocolate.
For dinner we ordered from Amy’s childhood Indian takeaway with whom she has obtained a special exemption for a slightly expanded delivery zone which is exactly the kind of dedication I most admire. I’m very grateful to both Sam and Amy and Adam for adopting my birthday into their plans!
The biggest surprise came the next day, when our picnic with Katie & Kim in equidistant Burgess Park turned into a giant spread of food with mum, Tash and Cormac driving over to join. This is the first time the family has been all together since lockdown started and it was just really lovely to see each other again, especially while playing Throw Throw Burrito (board game present courtesy of Tash) which – as the name suggests – involves throwing, dodging and catching two very cute burritos.
For a final surprise, that evening we chatted with the dream team of Dietzs, Toggolyn & Nolan (who inhabited the most comfortable and relaxed lockdown video conference chair I have seen yet). It was very special to catch up together and makes up a little for the disappointment of not getting to Chicago in April.
A quick non-birthday lockdown update:
Playing: Dominion! We played a virtual game with Katie and Kim last weekend using physical cards and it worked surprisingly well. Since then, Randi’s birthday gift of an engraved Mark II of my giant, adored wooden Dominion box (the original now having found new adoptive parents in Chicago) has rekindled my desire to keep playing again.
Snacking: Cheezels! Our top snack discovery from travelling, now available in our cupboard thanks to specialist importers and a very exciting delivery:
Listening: Katie has opened my eyes to the incredible underground world of YouTube 80s remixes, complete with garish colours, terrible fonts and tracking control problems. The best is Dua Lipa’s New Rules. In the 2020s it’s a passable, immediately forgettable pop song. In the 1980s it’s incredible.
Watching: Pixar’s Onward, which achieved the very rare feat of being an animated film which Randi was actively excited to watch. Not a classic but decently tear-jerking nonetheless.
Time Travelling: I distinctly remember exactly the same concept as Back In Time For the Weekend airing on BBC Four a few years ago, but the conceit bears repeating: stick a family in the 1950s and advance them to the 21st century one year each day. Along the way you’ll laugh (why did wallpaper get so ugly?), you’ll cry (why have today’s teenagers no respect for the dial-up internet tone?) and you’ll want your own Sinclair C5. Technically aired in 2016, but as discussed all time is meaningless now.
If you think it’s hard to keep writing blogs on the theme of “still at home” then spare a thought for the traditional Annual Review at the end of this year: 2020 is going to be a washout. I don’t think I’ve mentioned the phenomenon of compulsive lockdown purchases yet, but while I have been feverishly trying to finish off my collection of classic Doctor Who DVDs (in my defence, this has been going on for two decades now and I need to complete it before DVDs become so obsolete that nobody will stock them anymore) Randi has been stocking the kitchen with ever more specialist pieces of baking equipment. I do pretty well out of this arrangement when it means waking up to the smell of fresh bread 🙂
Still, little green shoots of normal life are returning, which finally means I have small pieces of government-approved outdoor socialising to blog about. Our first picnic was in Hyde Park with quizmate Erin – a trip which took a little under 2 hours each way to walk, but did start to make ‘London’ feel like a real cohesive place again.
Since then we’ve also met up outdoors with Katie and Kim*, Matt and Laura and – most recently – Randi’s colleague Amy, her partner Adam and sister Zoe in their back garden on Wednesday evening. At work I’ve started a new (and busy!) role so I was very grateful to be able to leave the flat at the end of the day and be handed several delicious cocktails. The novelty of going round to someone else’s house was intoxicating, and we had such a lovely evening by their fire chatting and eating fish and chips until it was dark and late and we could walk the 60 second journey back home and go to bed. (The best part was that Amy grew up near here, so I discovered a whole equal-but-opposite parallel universe to my own upbringing where South Londoners talk about North London with a vague and confused sense of where things are.)
May is still the birthday blitz season and for Tash’s 28th Cormac organised a virtual pub crawl with a series of themed Zooms. Randi and I were delighted with being assigned to the Jurassic Park room as it gave us a chance to break out our backpacks which have been lying sadly unused of late. (Fun fact: Randi ordered the butterfly net a few weeks back in her fight against wasps flying through the window and was a little disappointed to realise that it was sized for a young child.) Earlier this week a mass Glamily gathering was assembled across many timezones to wish Lori a happy 101st. Happy birthday Lori! I’m not sure you were able to hear very much; on a 40+ person Zoom you really need a young child to have any chance of being heard.
The timing of Tash’s birthday pub segued perfectly into a live feed of the SpaceX rocket taking its crew to the International Space Station. This was obviously a rare bright spot in a week of horrific police brutality, political meltdown and – obviously – Covid-19, but it’s still captivating to watch human beings physically escape from the planet we were all born on. On a less grand scale, we’ve also been enjoying Charlie Brooker’s one-off Antiviral Wipe (more please!) plus two programmes which cater to our shared love of documentaries about supply chains: Three Years in Wuhan and Inside the Factory. It’s so obvious to us that the story of toilet roll or baked bean production is inherently fascinating (did you know that baked beans are cooked with steam after being sealed in their tins?) that it’s always a little surprising when other people laugh awkwardly at our viewing suggestions like this. But we love it.
Finally: we finally won the quiz! Sure, we have to share this honour as joint-winners with another team, but Mairi and Sami’s guest hosting (and particularly Mairi’s decision to include a lot of questions based on Jay Foreman YouTube videos) was enough to propel our team to the top of the league this week. I am not in a rush for this to end.
*I say ‘we’: technically, the truth is that I met up with Katie and Kim while Randi made a dramatic appearance at the urgent care department of King’s College Hospital. But don’t worry, she’s fine!