Welcome to 2021, where you find us back in a national lockdown and watching news footage which veers between incredibly grim scenes from hospitals and the inspiring, hope-inducing scenes of the vaccine rollout. And, once we’re done with that, the new series of Would I Lie To You?, David Attenborough’s somewhat loosely-themed A Perfect Planet and (of course) the Doctor Who special Revolution of the Daleks on New Year’s Day which reminded me how much I’d missed Captain Jack. More, please!
This week Randi and I went back to work from our shiny new desks in our shiny new
guest bedroom home office, completed our bedroom furniture construction (no more sleeping on a mattress on the floor) and finally felt the tide starting to turn in our battle to recycle cardboard boxes faster than they can pile up on our kitchen floor. On New Year’s Day we also managed a walk with my mum – who came bearing Christmas gifts – around Beckenham Place Park and, later that weekend, arranged an outdoor prisoner (OK, present) exchange with Tash and Cormac at a mutually-agreed location somewhere between our two camps.
At most other times, though, you could have found me perched on the kitchen counter opposite our amazing Hanukkah present from Randi’s parents: our very own railway departure board!
Yes, to everyone who has asked, it really does display actual live data for any railway / Tube / bus stop you desire, which means I can safely indulge my deep desire to travel by train again from the comfort and safety of my own cardboard-filled kitchen. Chris at work suggested I work on setting up tannoy announcements next…
Well well well – we actually bought a flat. It was touch and go to get this all done by Christmas, but after a very quick sequence last week of paying our deposit, exchanging contracts and completing we were finally able to walk over to the estate agents on Friday afternoon, pick up the keys and make it inside.
Then, after seeing if our slice of Forest Hill was anything like we remembered after our first and only viewing back in August, we walked back home to re-energise ourselves with our last London Pizza and finished packing before the movers arrived on Saturday morning to take it all away. Owning a home = complete. Phew!
There are a few things I wanted to wrap up about living in Tulse Hill before moving on – my final memories of life as seen from our so-so rented sofa – like the delicious salted caramel brownies Randi concocted, the soothing light of the Hanukkah candles and the amazing Christmas Special Quiz which Katie, Kim and Chris ran which reunited our powerful and/or delightful New Kinglanders team. (Special shout out to Papa King who called in from what looked like a boozy wine-fuelled lunch.)
I also wanted to note our final regular visits to Maxy Supermarket (for all of the essentials which kept us going this year) and Lark (for all of our non-essential essentials whenever we needed to buy impromptu baby gifts or housewarming presents). You are both awesome. We also made good use of our last chance at outdoor dining this year before the latest lockdown, with a totally unplanned but delicious Friday-night dinner in Dulwich Village after a very long week at work for us both, and then a quick trip to The Rosendale pub last week for bangers and mash and a pint.
Obviously the last few days have been a flurry of activity, but unlike the homebuying process itself it’s much more fun since we’re just starting with (almost) zero furniture and working our way up. We were very lucky to squeeze in a trip to Curry’s before Tier 4 was announced to pick things out, and after Christmas was cancelled (what a sentence to write) we also acquired an emergency Christmas tree for the otherwise-empty living room.
Since then we’ve been busy cleaning, unpacking, figuring out the boiler, giving virtual tours, meeting the neighbours, putting together desks and chairs for the office and so on but I also found time to enjoy my very belated inaugural mulled wine of the season (loving Forest Hill’s high street already!) and order burritos from our favourite Mexican restaurant in Peckham, Cravings La Carreta, which delivers to us now! It won’t be the last time.
Unsurprisingly there hasn’t been any interesting new blog material during the second national lockdown, and our December is now fully consumed with just trying to navigate the house buying process. Nobody wants to read about that stress; it’s the same for everyone who does it, although a personal highlight was taking delivery of two enormous bean bags in anticipation of moving without any furniture. (If I do manage to publish any Annual Review this year there’s a pretty high chance it will be written on a bean bag.) We’ve also been scouting for sofas in retail outlets along the Croydon Tramlink (come for the sofas, stay for the trams!) which led to the happy conclusion that Randi and I have pretty compatible philosophies on sofas. So that’s good.
Another bright spot for me has been the second series of His Dark Materials which I am really enjoying and works especially well on dark winter evenings. Randi and I also enjoyed The Heat this week as our Friday-evening “collapse onto the sofa while we still have one and watch a movie” entertainment, with catering by the newly opened and talk-of-the-area Brockwell Kebab. (They do know what they’re doing at Brockwell Kebab. We will be sad to let them go so soon.)
Sadly Thanksgiving was a far cry from last year’s sterling effort but we did at least order American-themed burgers. We’ve also had a long overdue catch-up with Jason and Carrie (plus a truly astonishing Brazilian jiu-jitsu doll) and welcomed Katie and Kim into the Dominion Expansion club. I also had the pleasure of attending Caius’s virtual Empire & Slavery in the Age of Revolution event a few weeks back featuring none other than Michael, another historian in my year at college who used to put us all to shame with his essay-writing and has now written a book, which is very exciting. Congrats!
When Randi and I booked this week off work to follow the US election I didn’t actually think we’d need the whole week to get an official result, but it paid to be cautious. And I’m very glad we had the padding because between Tuesday night and Saturday afternoon it has felt like one long hazy day of watching CNN’s indefatigable John King plough on and on in front of his magic wall, with occasional breaks for me to nap, go on nice local walks, lose to Randi at Dominion (the margins were very close), read about 1970s North Korean kidnappings and watch episodes of romantic comedy Love Life. But now, finally, it’s done. Biden won. The Trump nightmare is over.
I have incredibly mixed emotions here. It’s really hard to convey, especially to British people, why it matters so much that Democrats likely won’t control the Senate. I think people over here treat this as a minor technical impediment or something akin to a weak parliamentary majority, but it’s much more fundamental. It doesn’t just make legislating next-to-impossible, it also sets up the inevitable backlash in two years if Biden is perceived as failing in the midst of a recession.
And even for Democrats in the US, it’s far too easy for people to fall back to blaming Mitch McConnell’s inevitable ‘obstructionism’ and ‘failure to compromise’ as the reason for gridlock, as if Republicans in the Senate should be expected to help them out. That’s wrong. The problem is not Mitch McConnell. The problem, as ever, is that the US has just held three different national elections (President, House, third of the Senate) with three different sets of rules and so, as usual, it has three different results. Be very wary of anyone who tells you that an elected House of Lords will fix British democracy, kids.
On the other hand, Biden is clearly the best choice for getting something done in these circumstances, and if that something is ‘only’ getting a grip on the pandemic then that will count for a lot. But more importantly, anyone who reads this but doesn’t care about the structural political blah blah blah and just wanted to see the back of Donald Trump also has a point. It matters, and it feels so, so good, that the power and status of the US Presidency will no longer be granted to someone so small, so ungracious and so unkind. It matters that a child who’s just forming lifelong opinions about what’s normal and what’s not sees Kamala Harris as Vice President. So it’s a good week. Much better than four years ago in Toledo.
Originally, we planned to watch the count from an Airbnb in Devon. But when the new national lockdown was announced on Saturday (commencing on Thursday) we did some emergency last-minute holiday replanning (special thanks to the guy in the Trainline call centre who was rooting for Biden from Mumbai) and travelled down to Seaford in Sussex on Monday night for a wonderful ‘last hurrah!’ pre-lockdown restaurant dinner which included cocktails, camembert and multiple desserts. The next morning we woke up early – hours before any polls opened in the US – and set off on an Election Day coastal walk along the Seven Sisters cliffs to Eastbourne. It was a beautiful day (after a short rainy burst) and the ideal way to pass the time if you’re not, y’know, voting.
On a totally non-election note, two weekends ago we were browsing for something to watch and alighted on Knives Out – a really fun murder mystery film starring Daniel Craig as an (implausible Southern) private detective trying to follow the clues to the catch the killer in a big ole’ country house.
It was an especially good watch on a dark and stormy night – lashes of wind and rain against the living room window – which set the perfect ambience. So if you’re looking for an entertaining escape, check it out on your next unforgiving winter’s evening!
We did it! About a year and a half after starting the London LOOP, yesterday we combined our final three sections together and after about 24km of walking our tired legs returned us to Hatch End Overground station where we first set out in April 2019. Hey, at least we’ve crossed off one thing this year.
Between us we also took a lot of photos along the way, so here is our actual route(ish) stitched together from 800+ geotags:
The final walk was a medley of everything great and ridiculous about the Loop at the same time: canal towpaths to cross over and then back again, golf courses with stringent signs about keeping to the footpath, directions which became increasingly obsessed by electricity pylons, beautiful woods with occasional families on a day out, muddy farms with fields of horses, cows and (more curiously) swarms of ducks, patches of pure, undistilled suburbia (“this is a private road”) and border signs beside busy highways welcoming you to the Home Counties. Apparently Hertfordshire is the “county of opportunity” – who knew?
As we approached the corner of the muddy field where Section 14 officially ends I felt a little sad. Notwithstanding the six month lockdown break it has been a really lovely routine every few weekends to wake up early, grab a carefully-timed combination of trains to an obscure station and walk another portion of the city’s perimeter. And while I am excited about starting another of TfL’s Walk London routes (after coronavirus has calmed down again) I don’t think any of them will be as varied or as all-encompassing as the Loop, with the one constant of London’s central skyline forever popping in and out of view as a familiar but distant friend.
Just before we got to Hatch End station, Randi popped into a pub to use the loo and as I was waiting outside I could have sworn that her former boss – who I’ve only met a couple of times – walked by on the pavement. But I knew that she lived near us (making Hatch End about as far out of her way as possible) so I dismissed it as impossible until Randi texted her later to check and – indeed – she really was in Hatch End for the day. At one level it was just one of those weird, funny coincidences but, for me, it was also symbolic of the greatness of the city. Walking the Loop means walking through hundreds of small urban villages (and many not-so-urban villages), each with their own makeup and history and stories. But they are also connected, through all of London’s transport, so that it feels totally possible and reasonable to travel from one extreme to another without going ‘out of town’. I remember that feeling of possibility when I got my first Oyster card aged 16, and I still feel it now.
On Thursday night, with Tier 2 announced but not yet in force, we also had a last hurrah of indoor socialising with Amy, Adam and Paul at a pub comedy night in the Tulse Hill Hotel. On the one hand it was a very 2020 arrangement: try doing stand-up comedy from a spot in the middle of the pub while masked waiters duck and weave around you to direct incoming guests through the hand sanitiser / QR code / text confirmation shuffle. But it was also a fantastically fun, carefree and light-hearted night… like something from one of those olden times films when people went to social events with friends.
Over the last few weeks we’ve also started the new series of Bake Off, tried to be good citizens by getting our flu vaccines (although with stocks running low it was unclear whether we’d actually just made things worse for people who really need it) and visited Abbi, Paul and Jack in Chelmsford for all-you-can-eat pizza where new slices are continually brought to the table and offered around in a revelatory “wait, why isn’t all pizza served this way?!” arrangement. But the absolute highlight of recent times was this afternoon’s trip up to Kingsbury to meet newborn Cora. She is an amazing baby and we love everything about her. Especially her yawns.