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!
It was Randi’s birthday yesterday, so to add a special celebratory feel to our living room I spent the night before blowing up (and struggling to tie) 50 balloons while it slowly dawned on me that if I was currently infected with coronavirus then I was essentially just creating 50 mini biological weapons. But, fingers crossed, happy birthday! Randi gained an exemption to open her DIY poké bowl present from Tash a few days early in the interests of freshness, so we’d already been feasting on that throughout the weekend, and yesterday evening we celebrated with our first Honest Burgers delivery. Still great! We also had a very special socially-distanced doorstep visit from some of Randi’s colleagues. You heard it here first: in-person socialising is so refreshing, I fully predict this is going to be a hot new trend of 2021.
Of course, old-fashioned Zoom socialising isn’t going away overnight, and for Katie & Kim’s Thursday-night quiz Randi and I have recently hit upon the strategy of inviting people to join our team who are actually good at quizzes. This started a while ago when my colleague Erin joined the team, but we have now also absorbed Erin’s sister Kellianne, their LOTR-expert father and – our newest recruit – quizmaster extraordinaire Todd. In honour of our soaring performance due to the King family, and the fact that our new centre of gravity is firmly in Massachusetts, we’ve also rebranded as the New Kinglanders. Suffolkators: we have our eyes on you!
When not quizzing, we’ve also fallen into a black hole of documentaries about mountain climbing. First came The Dawn Wall, then the more political Sherpa, then A Line Across The Sky and now every other suggestion from the Amazon Video app involves climbing something. I also rewatched Argo so that Randi could experience the incredible tension of that final airport escape scene. (Somewhere in the back of my head I think there’s a bit of Argo playing every time I ever go through an airport.)
And, of course, we enjoyed Saturday night’s special Eurovision programmes to fill the Song Contest-shaped hole in our lives this May, but I’m genuinely excited about celebrating twice as hard next year. Balloons on me!
This week was this blog’s sixteenth birthday, which in the UK brings a raft of new rights including changing your name (which in this case happened a little early, whoops), choosing a doctor, having sex outside of Northern Ireland, buying a lottery ticket and – famously – ordering alcohol with a meal in a restaurant. Congrats! Of course, most of these are off-limits during lockdown so it will just have to wait a little longer. And at the risk of adding insult to injury, I’m a little thin on the ground for blog content to celebrate with.
Last weekend we had a lovely catch-up with the Dietz family and Toggolyn, during which Portrait of a Lady on Fire was recommended as a good film to stream and I had to kick myself for missing the opening to joke about Robert’s age and personal experiences of eighteenth-century France. Nevertheless, Randi and I selected it for our semi-regular Friday pizza & movie night, and enjoyed it on three distinct levels:
- It’s a good film!
- It’s a French film, so there are plenty of gaps in the dialogue where the characters stare meaningfully at each other. I reckon this could make a decent drinking game.
- It enables anyone to practice their literary film criticism by using lots of unsubtle visual symbolism (“the flowers have wilted!”). (Pro-tip: this combines well with #2.)
Todd would not have enjoyed watching this film with us. But we’re still grateful for the recommendation.
Side-note: I’m so glad I found the local cheap-and-delicious pizza place before lockdown! It was thanks to Katie, actually, during one of our Doctor Who/Picard combo evenings when we took a chance on London Pizza – a place so unassuming they haven’t even bothered to create a logo for their JustEat page. And yet they have rocketed to the top of our pizza preference charts, partly because they always phone in advance to clarify our primadonna requests about leaving such-and-such on the left and such-and-such on the right. Truly this is a worthwhile successor to my beloved Metro Pizza of Holloway Road from years gone by, where they once nipped out to buy some missing topping. Local pizza places are the best.
We’re not much of a movie-watching household, whether self-isolating or otherwise. So it says something about the depth of Randi’s disinclination to continue watching the second of BBC Four’s back-to-back Top of the Pops episodes from the month I was born (despite featuring this engaging 1989 remix of Pop Musik) that she brightly suggested we watch a film instead, and I can therefore thank Robin Scott and his suit with “thousands of pounds worth of CDs” for the chance to finally rewatch The Usual Suspects. Note: if you don’t want spoilers for a film which came out 25 years ago, skip the next two paragraphs.
I can’t remember how old I was when I first watched The Usual Suspects, but I know that Daryl and Ermila were staying overnight with my parents and somehow we all ended up watching a VHS recording from Channel 4 with a couple of minutes missing from the middle which had accidentally been taped over with something else. (If you ever need to date someone, check whether that last sentence provokes bafflement or fond childhood nostalgia. Or, in a decade or so, sheer disbelief that friends ever visited each other in person.)
Anyway, like everyone else I thought the ending was cool and mindblowing and everything, but also I was tired and went straight to bed and it was only in the morning with Daryl that I discovered I had formed a completely wrong interpretation of what had actually happened. In my head, Inspector Kujan realises that all of the clues had been around him the whole time: Verbal’s story is all true, except for the fact that he’s also Keyser Söze, and it’s only an untidy office which saves him from getting caught. Daryl convinced me I was wrong – that the vast bulk of the film is all fabrication – and of course this makes much more sense given that the ‘clues’ in the office include the underside of a coffee mug and a manufacturer of office equipment. But it was enjoyable to go back and realise that my initial childhood interpretation hadn’t been totally crazy… after all, something had to have happened to place all the characters there in the first place. In truth, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense either way, but it was good to get some closure on this mid-90s mystery.
This rare film screening kicked off a four-day Easter weekend which, despite being homebound, still managed to feel rather special and lovely. The highlight was waking up on Easter Sunday to find that Randi had hidden an impressive stash of chocolate around the flat to find, followed by a delicious brunch. We also did battle with two wasps and a giant bee (humans 2, insects 0), finally finished Season 4 of The West Wing, caught up with Robert/Bernie/Willow on a walk and played a gender-stratified game of Codenames with Catherine, AJ, Christian and Erika.
But the real point of this post, and to commemorate that next week is my one-year anniversary of moving back to London, is to overshare some graphs! Specifically, graphs like this:
Yes, as you can see, the startling underlying conclusion from a year’s worth of my TfL travel history is that between June 2019 and March 2020 I used to commute to work. But more than just commuting, though, because the minimum Mon-Fri there-and-back commute would only require 10 train journeys, yet most weeks registered more. Very good, very social.
Weekends were a lot more varied, obviously, and a lot more bus-heavy. Note that none of this includes non-Oyster/contactless journeys, so forays to Hope / Stockport / St. Albans don’t count.
But the real purpose of these graphs is to celebrate Brixton station. In 2019, when TfL made yet-another-attempt to take over the forlorn rail franchises of South London, they said this about Brixton specifically:
Each day 33 double-deck bus loads of Londoners living within a 10 minute walk of West Norwood station use a bus to access Brixton Tube station instead of using their local rail service.Strategic Case for Metroisation in south and south east London, TfL
Well, I am one of these Brixton-groupees. Look!
Brixton isn’t just my most-frequent starting station, it’s the clear soaraway winner. There’s no flattening that curve – a combination of a daily commute and the starting point for many weekend journeys too. Conversely, it’s only my third most popular exit station, because frequency and reliability don’t matter so much when you’re coming home.
And from my top 10 most popular bus routes from the past year, the top 5 all go via Brixton too:
Some people long to work from home forever, but I can’t wait to get back to the warm embrace of Brixton and its many buses.