Once upon a time, I had a website on Geocities. Then I got my own domain instead, because that was obviously pretty l33t. To justify this minor expense to myself I started blogging so that it wouldn’t be going to waste. But the blog needed a name, and after not-very-extensive deliberation I went with “The Musings of a Red Dalek”. (Ever since, I regretted picking something which would show up alphabetically under T for ‘The’. Don’t do it, kids!)
Now we live in the future: we all own flying cars, nobody remembers Geocities and my hastily-picked teenage blog title has become increasingly confusing to anyone who reads this. So today, the loyal Red Dalek is entering retirement and this whole silly exercise is simplifying to something short and sweet: dom.blog. Many thanks to the kind people at the dotblogger program for entrusting it to me!
The last few weeks have been quiet blog-wise because Randi and I have been taking very tentative steps into the fun world of buying a flat. (Yes, the aim for 2020 is yet more change!) No one in their right mind would enjoy reading a running commentary on this process, but in these early days it has actually been a nice excuse to explore different areas of London where we might want to live and/or actually afford to be able to live. And along the way, I was strangely amused by this sign:
Along with these explorations, this month I had drinks with Clark and surprise special guest Matt Hull, stayed overnight at a fancy hotel in Windsor for a work event and very much enjoyed breaking open the Dominion: Dark Ages expansion with Randi, Katie and Kim. We also watched Hunt for the Wilder People – which was a lovely film and has been filed away in my brain along with Flight of the Conchords as evidence that New Zealanders have a great sense of humour – and, this weekend, hosted Oliver & Abi as our latest overnight guests. There’s no better way to recreate the feeling of university than beer and sleepovers!
Happy 2020! Randi’s parents have now returned home, but I need to dip back into 2019 quickly to round off their visit with our trip to the Peak District. Randi and I enjoyed our visit two years ago so much that we decided to take her parents to stay in the exact same B&B/pub – The Cheshire Cheese Inn – and rejoiced when we confirmed that they were still serving the same incredible cheese and potato pies. Don’t even think about staying anywhere else in Hope.
As we had already done the walk to Mam Tor, this time Randi and I used Saturday’s limited daylight hours to hike from the villages of Hope to Edale, which are also conveniently one stop along the railway line from each other so her parents could hop on a train and meet us there. The next day we took the shorter but muddier field route to Castleton. As I say, the prime motivating factor for this visit was the pies, but it’s important to work up an appetite.
After a couple of hours in Manchester (just time to visit an American restaurant and see the Piccadilly Gardens fountains impressively still going) we returned to London and the next day, on New Year’s Eve, I popped out with Cat and Matt for catch-up drinks and Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker in a ‘4DX sensory cinema’. Essentially, this means the chairs move around and occasionally some water is sprayed, although wussies can opt-out of the water via a control panel on the seat. (This option is clearly aimed at the same sort of people who ride log flume rides in ponchos.) Even though this is clearly all ridiculous, the pseudo-rollercoaster experience is at least quite well suited to Star Wars with its myriad chase sequences. I object more to 3D glasses, which always remind me of Bounty chocolate bars: every few years, I try them again just to confirm that they aren’t very good.
We had a quiet New Year’s Eve in together this year, but did at least manage to stay awake until midnight which – given past performances – is not a guarantee. And on New Year’s Day we watched Doctor Who, of course, with its rather thrilling ending. I am gleefully anticipating the second half tonight.
Finally, today Randi and I walked the ‘first’ section (our eleventh) of the London LOOP from Erith to Old Bexley. We are still a very long way away from the pretty fields overlooking North London, but I have some hope that we have started to clear London’s industrial eastern edge and may soon return to parks, forests and meadows. And if not, at least we keep uncovering more unexplored fringes of the city!
Last time I promised evidence of a fully-decorated Christmas tree and here you can see it in all its finery combined with our Hanukkah decorations and an excitingly train-themed menorah. This last item was a gift from Randi’s parents who are in the middle of staying with us for a couple of weeks over the holidays, which has been really wonderful and a great excuse to eat at all of our favourite local places in addition to all of the regular seasonal festivities.
It’s probably a good thing that all of this stopped me from blogging straight after the miserable election night two weeks ago, during which I felt a surge of rage flow through my bloodstream (you really spoke for me, Alan Johnson) which has now been temporarily blotted out by Christmas. Indeed, the very next day after election night was eviivo’s Christmas party, and although I didn’t have the energy to stay awake for the whole night I did stay long enough to collect my Secret Santa from a (somewhat martial) Father Christmas.
On Saturday night, Randi and I were joined by Irfan for an incredible dinner at Sophie and Naomi’s astoundingly tasteful and beautiful flat. Feeling too lazy to go home in the rain aftwards, and/or just wanting more time with their adorable dog Lottie, we crashed there overnight before rousing ourselves the next morning for our final London LOOP walk of the year. By coincidence, this walk – section 24 – is technically the ‘last’ one if you decide to walk the route in order from the start. But as others have noted, it’s not exactly the most inspiring finale. Most of the path is very industrial – exemplified by the scent of the Tilda rice factory – and there’s no grand monument (or even a sign!) at the end to celebrate the whole thing. I’m glad this won’t be our lasting memory of the LOOP.
A week later, I popped down to Hassocks for Simon and Fleur’s wintery wedding day. They added a few Christmassy touches which lent an extra special feel to an already special day, including a welcoming mug of hot chocolate at the start, mulled wine in the evening and a giant and beautifully decorated tree in the barn where the ceremony took place. One of the things that everybody loves about Simon is his gift for bringing people together, so it’s totally unsurprising that at his wedding I had such a good time chatting with old friends and new acquaintances. My only complaint is that as I took my place at the Bakerloo line table for dinner I was confronted by a very sad-looking incarnation of me. If you look closely, you’ll see he’s now bringing his misery to our Christmas tree too 🙁
Back in London, last week we saw Come From Away with Randi’s parents. This joyful and uplifting musical is based on the true story of the 38 planes which were grounded in the remote Canadian town of Gander on 9/11. I wasn’t expecting anything based on 9/11 to be so enjoyable, but this was a perfect feel-good show for this time of year and I’ve had much of the soundtrack stuck in my head ever since. Then, on Christmas Eve Eve, we joined up with my mum for the Christmas at Kew event at Kew Gardens. Essentially, this is a very middle-class version of Winter Wonderland but thankfully the weather stayed dry for us and we enjoyed a very nice stroll around the festive lights and sounds of the gardens.
And then – finally – it was Christmas! On Christmas Eve the whole family assembled at my parents’ house, guzzled down the latkes fried by Randi and her mum and played a few (generally successful) rounds of Codenames before laying out the stockings and going to bed. The extra guests obviously gave the magic a boost because it was a particularly strong haul of presents this year! On Christmas itself we enjoyed the traditional large family gathering at Carolyn’s with amazing food, a tough quiz and a very violent game of mafia (or ‘slaughter of the innocents’). Ah well. Merry Christmas and Happy Boxing Day!
It’s December, and the windows of our (hard-won) Percy Pig advent calendars which stand between us and Christmas are falling open with alarming speed. Last weekend we selected this year’s Christmas tree from the tree sellers in Brockwell Park, carried it home and adorned it with coloured lights… photos to follow once we finally get around to adding the baubles, assuming we don’t miss the deadline.
Everyone is certainly busy enough without needing a ridiculous December election thrown in. But since we do, and since I’ve been deeply undecided about who to vote for, I thought I’d do the responsibly civic thing this week by attending the Herne Hill Hustings with Randi to hear from the candidates themselves. As the Lib Dems are standing aside here as part of the ‘Remain Alliance’ with the Greens – and both the Brexit Party and UKIP candidates failed to show – we had four people on the panel: the incumbent Labour MP, Helen Hayes, plus the Greens, Tories and Christian People’s Alliance. Helen Hayes won over 69% of the vote in 2017, so the result is a bit of a foregone conclusion, but nonetheless I was impressed by her performance and – thanks to a generally-reasonable debate – left feeling just a smidgen better about the state of democracy. We live in a bubble of near-absurd proportions, though; the vote to Remain in 2016 in Lambeth was almost 79%.
In comparison to the townhall I attended in Chicago, two things really stood out. The first was that – in the name of the environment – the leading candidate was willing to take a brave position against wood-burning stoves. And secondly, the straw poll at the end was conducted by meringue, as the organisers had prepared a bunch in each party’s colours in advance before inviting us to pick our winners through the power of eating. This is a truly excellent innovation and something that I think could be extended much further.
For more traditionally festive cheer, look no further than the sixth Secret Vegetarian Festive Dinner which Abbi and Paul hosted last Saturday night. (Well, I say it’s the sixth. Strictly speaking I don’t know how many they might have sneaked in without me while I was away, but at the very least it was my sixth one.) As you might remember from many years ago, this was once the annual pre-Christmas party for my group of London friends, and while the attendees have changed over the years (we’ve never had a three year old before) the tradition of tasty vegetarian food, lots of wine and stealable Secret Santa presents continues. The real innovation was that Randi, Josh, Anna and I all stayed the night rather than taking a series of night buses right across London. I’m not sure why we didn’t think of that before, but it was a great idea 😀
Although I keep inviting myself over to Katie’s to watch classic Doctor Who stories (honestly, The Tenth Planet was incredible – the original Cybermen were so much better than anything from the 80s, and the two of us were mimicking them for hours) Randi hadn’t actually seen Katie and Kim’s flat yet, so on Friday we forwent Doctor Who in favour of a more communal raclette dinner. We also admired their very, very fat Christmas tree and failed to help Katie and Kim progress in their stressful video game about making soup. And as we left, to continue the European theme, we discovered that St. Nicholas had visited on his appointed day and stuffed our shoes with chocolates. Thanks, St. Nicholas!
Yesterday was Simon’s stag do: a packed day of enjoyable/exhausting activities which began with The Crystal Maze Live Experience. I have to admit that the most I’d ever seen of the Crystal Maze was the 15 minutes which Katie had hurriedly prepped me on the night before, but that was enough to get the general idea, and the live experience is so well done that – whether by nostalgia or otherwise – you quickly get sucked in. While I wasn’t stunningly helpful to the team with my individual challenges, overall we won a big victory over our rivals and I was very much a fan of all of the excited running/crawling/climbing from zone to zone with the show’s catchy theme tune playing in the background.
From there we moved on to lunch at Simon’s beloved Wong Kei and several hours of Archery Tag, which I wasn’t very good at (I don’t think shooting arrows is really my thing) but I did appreciate the lack of any actual pain, unlike paintball. Finally, in the evening we gathered together for drinks and pizza and one very extensive multimedia quiz about Simon, which my team won thanks to (a) our amazing insight into Simon, (b) the decent amount of material which I had contributed thanks to my tendency to archive everything for future use. (It has to pay off sometime!) Aside from winning, it was just generally lovely to spend time with so many faces old and new. Plus, it’s always handy to be able to bend the ear of the guy who manages your local Tube station…
Finally, today we celebrated my great uncle Leonard’s 80th birthday with the family. Many happy returns!
After five years’ worth of American Thanksgivings under my belt, this Saturday we had a bit of a role reversal and played host ourselves to a (slightly early) Thanksgiving dinner in London. Along with my family we were joined by Tash’s friend Lucy and our American cousin Tessa, who is away from home while studying here, so we tried our best to recreate an authentic Thanksgiving experience with plenty of food, drink and group declarations of thankfulness. (Randi considers the traditional “go around in a circle and say what you’re thankful for” version unacceptably sentimental, so instead we have stolen Catherine’s family tradition of giving thanks for items in alphabetical order.) For games we played the rhyme-fest Obama Llama, and among the many high-quality dishes I think Katie’s pumpkin pie deserves special praise for fulfilling the Thanksgiving brief. Hurray!
This is obviously a great time of year to squirrel away inside on the sofa and watch TV, and recently we’ve been enjoying both David Attenborough’s Seven Worlds, One Planet and the new adaptation of His Dark Materials. I watched the first episode of Lyra’s great adventure to the North with my sisters and it brought back wonderful memories of us all reading and enjoying the original trilogy of books. There are some images from these stories – especially in The Amber Spyglass – that really will stay with me for the rest of my life, and I hope this time (unlike the aborted film series) that they manage to get to them!
Last week I was also delighted to get to see Tim Minchin at the Apollo after Andrew and Bonnie had a spare ticket going. (Side-note: it is a real flaw of English that there is no collective word for ‘aunt and uncle’. A real flaw.) Minchin’s blend of great musical talent, wit and rationalism is wonderful, and I enjoyed every single performance from the intimate to his grandiose rock opera. That weekend, Randi and I were back with Andrew and Bonnie (see, still no collective word for them) – plus Frankie, Anya and Tessa – to meet my newest cousin: little baby Lena and her adorable (but very judgemental) face. With all of the Americans and pseudo-Americans floating around the family, I wouldn’t be surprised if she ends up at a Thanksgiving of her own one day.