That London One, featuring Oliver and Abi’s wedding

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It’s my last night in London before the first flight on our great adventure tomorrow morning, and I really should pack. Instead, I want to sit and blog about the last two weeks at home, because they have been quite wonderful.

Cat and the STP
Cat and the STP

Starting with family, I had a delicious cottage pie cooked for me at Katie’s new flat in West Ham before contributing my Polaroid picture to the fridge and then being beaten very badly at Dominion by Katie and her flatmate Kim. Ouch. On Sunday night, I was back with Tash so that we could all watch Doctor Who together (and a good episode it was too!).

I also scoffed egg sandwiches and chocolate cake at my Grandma’s, lunched with my great uncle Leonard and had dinners with aunts and uncles – making up for my absence at Christmas, hopefully. My mum also got us tickets to see White Teeth at the Tricycle, which was one of my favourite novels when I read it many years ago and was extremely enjoyable on stage, with songs, even if they did rudely relocate some of the Willesden locations to Kilburn.

(“Hey, Dom, wasn’t the Tricycle Theatre recently rebranded to the Kiln Theatre for no particularly good reason?”
“Sure, but I’m still not calling it that.”)

With Paul, Abbi and Tash
With Paul, Abbi and Tash

It goes without saying that I invited myself over to spend the night at Cat and Matt’s – largely to watch more unboxing videos, though not before we had a delicious sticky toffee pudding at a fancy pub nearby.

The next night, I caught the train to Chelmsford to stay overnight with Tash at Abbi, Paul and Jack’s house. Jack – who I last saw on the day he was born – is now two and intensely adorable, although not very keen on wearing clothes. He was very excited to show me all of his toys, and Paul was a little less excited for us to watch the sticky sticky stick stick song from Hey Duggee. Sorry Paul.

It was wonderful to be reunited, and we all found Paul’s curry so delicious that we completely forgot that naan bread was gently burning to a crisp in the oven the whole time. I also had to admit that the centre of Chelmsford was all festively lit and nicely pedestrianised, although later we did realise that we faced a long rail replacement bus back to the mothership of London the next morning. Some things never change.

Chelmsford Cathedral
Chelmsford Cathedral
Just look at those halloumi fries
Just look at those halloumi fries

The other people I managed to see this time around were Simon (who joined me for an excellent brunch at the Bad Egg diner with a server who was either American or else doing a very good impression), Melissa (not enough time for everything we could discuss, but we tried our best!) and Matt, Caroline and Charles for what I continue to describe as a ‘Themes & Sources’ evening even though it’s been a decade since we actually had that class together. 

Themes & Sources
Themes & Sources
Oliver and Abi's wedding day!
Oliver and Abi’s wedding day!

But the absolutely best part of this trip was Oliver and Abi’s wedding on Saturday night. Just typing that sentence makes me smile, because I have known the two of them since our first year of university together and I distinctly remember my very strong encouragement to ask each other out when it was so obvious that that’s what should happen. So it was so awesome to see them so happy on their wedding day, hang out with mutual friends until the early hours of Sunday morning and then stay overnight to spend more time together. Thank you and congratulations! 

Also – a special shout out to Jason Budd, who I haven’t seen since QPCS days but was an early friend of the blog!

Staying up till 2am
Staying up till 2am
A sunny Sunday morning afterwards at breakfast
A sunny Sunday morning afterwards at breakfast

Finally, I went for a Mad Hatter’s Afternoon Tea with Catherine and AJ this afternoon, who happened to be in town this week and wanted to sample the fancier end of the afternoon tea market. They were not on board with the scotch eggs, but I was happy to help out.

Just a regular tea time
Just a regular tea time

OK, enough procrastinating – it really is time to pack five months of clothes into a backpack now. Wish me luck! 

When I moved to Chicago in 2014, I rode the Blue Line with Robert from O’Hare airport to the Damen stop, where I got out and waited for Nolan to ride up on his bike and take me to my new home. So I thought it would be appropriate to begin my final Chicago post with this coupley photoshoot picture at Damen which Randi arranged as a birthday present for me this year. And on a related note, I also wanted to give a genuine and heartfelt thanks to the CTA for being awesome over the past four years. Recently I read this New York Times article on Chicago’s public transport renaissance and it made me very proud.

Our Blue Line photoshoot
Our Blue Line photoshoot
Goodbyes with Toggolyn and Jubert
Goodbyes with Toggolyn and Jubert

As you might expect, our last week in the city has been very busy with a combination of saying goodbye to people, encouraging those same people to subscribe to this blog for regular updates (hi!) and packing. We shared a tapas dinner with Randi’s bosses and replacement at Cafe Ba-Ba-Reeba!, ordered in from Irazu with Jason and Carrie, and then ordered in even more Irazu the very next night at Robert and Julie’s with Todd and Carolyn. (What can I say… Irazu is pretty good.)

We also saw Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald on Saturday with Arielle, although I have to say I thought it was a hot mess. Was it enjoyable to watch? Sure. Did I feel like I had failed to revise for a Harry Potter mythology course and was now doing badly in the exam? Also yes. To be honest, I respectfully request that JK Rowling prioritise writing more Cormoran Strike books. 🙂

Amusingly, my last out-of-Chicago trip with Randi while living here turned out to be to the village of Norridge, a weird little enclave which is surrounded on all sides by the city of Chicago. We went there as part of the paperwork for Randi’s UK visa, which is now (after a last-minute trip to the post office this morning) in the laps of the Home Office gods. If all goes according to plan, we will move to the UK together in mid-2019 after we’ve finished our travelling adventures. Fingers crossed.

Technically, this was our last out-of-town trip from Chicago
Technically, this was our last out-of-town trip from Chicago

Yesterday we had a very potato-centric day making lefse and latkes with First Couple™ Catherine and AJ, before our last Doctor Who Sunday night with Joe, Julie and Amanda. Joe and Julie have put so much effort into making our apartment building a friendly place, where people actually know each other and hang out, which is something I wasn’t sure actually happened in real life but has been really wonderful to experience. And living with Amanda has been so incredibly awesome. A few weeks ago, we started leaving spoof passive-aggressive post-it notes for each other on the fridge because we realised that’s the kind of stuff that never happened in this flat and we wanted to give it a shot. Thank you for being so great.

Lefse making with Catherine and AJ
Lefse making with Catherine and AJ

OK. This post has been gestating for weeks but I’m now sitting at the gate at O’Hare, bags checked and ready to go home, so time is up. Randi has already left for California, and we will reunite in two weeks’ time in Peru.

In the meantime: thank you for having me, Chicago!

Boxes
Boxes

Coincidentally, my last day at work on Friday also happened to be Groupon’s 10th birthday. So it was nice to pretend, as 3pm rolled around and the champagne and green cupcakes started to appear, that the party was also for me. Even better was Tiffany Haddish’s guest appearance at our company-wide All Hands meeting the day before. I’ve been at Groupon in one form or another for seven and a half years (despite being rejected for the first job I applied for, fun fact!) so it was a nice note to leave on. I try to keep work largely separate from this blog, but as I wrote in my leaving email, it has been a real privilege to enjoy the company of the people you work with. (Although I was too shy to go up and share the company of Tiffany Haddish.)

A nice way to go out
A nice way to go out

Later that night, Robert very generously arranged a leaving party for me and Randi at the Revolution Brewery Tap Room. Everything felt like it had come full circle after my London leaving party in 2014, which Robert was also there for. I still have a week left in Chicago before a brief homecoming UK trip, so there are still some emotional farewells outstanding. But things are moving quickly, as they always do. And while I am very, very grateful at how lucky I am to be able to travel and live in different places over my life, it does mean that there will always be friends across oceans.

A perfectly staged American backdrop
A perfectly staged American backdrop
The quirky Wndr Museum
The quirky Wndr Museum

Our final visitors to Chicago were Randi’s family friends, the Moffitts, who accompanied us to Chicago’s new ‘experimental’ museum, wndr. It’s a quirky and highly interactive blend of art and science which is super-fun to wander through and play about in. Later we went to our last-ever Improv Shakespeare – or at least, our last for a while! – which turned out to be the rather hilariously out-there What I Learned From My Dog. Murderous dogs devouring cheating husbands and a fabulous mud demon for the Scottish mud dwellers… I will miss you dearly, improvising Shakespearians.

Also, it was great to see Mike Fotopoulos again for a Motel visit the other week with Sara and Sam from work. He is an American who relocated to the UK and is now equally (if not more) excited than me about Crossrail. Amanda’s friend Rebecca also stayed with us this past weekend, and we all gathered on the sofa in our pyjamas to drink wine and watch the first romcom which came our way, Crazy, Stupid, Love. The moral message of the film was kinda appalling. Still fun to watch, though.

Hey there, Japanese Encephalitis! After our final round of vaccinations, I’m not scared of you anymore. Come at me, bro.

People at work keep coming up to me and asking if if I’ve “heard the rumour” that I’m leaving. If the answer was no, this would be a pretty awkward way of firing someone. But yes, after over 4 years in Chicago and over 7 years at Groupon, I will soon be leaving both for new adventures. And “new adventures” here isn’t actually just a euphemism for “changing jobs”. Randi and I will be doing some travelling first, which I will be delighted to blog about… later. I will write about Chicago properly, too. Right now I am caught up in a whirl of transition docs, visa forms and vaccinations. I need to ship my giant Dominion board game box to the UK, sign some paperwork to release my dental records (of which I am sure there are a lot) and figure out the train lines in South East Asia. Lots to do!

For a while it looked like I would outlast Motel Bar in Chicago, which would have been sad. But the bar next to our office has now reopened “under new management”, and after a bit of a dry spell I have been making better use of it again in the past few weeks to have conversations with some of the many wonderful people I work with (case in point: Jason and Brigette) before I leave. 

I am even happier, though, that before we left Randi and I finally escaped an escape room together (The Escape Game: Special Ops). We were part of a dream team of CIA operatives assembled by Todd, and I’m proud to say that we saved the world with 10 minutes to spare. We did it! Hurray! World saved!

Escape room dream team: Devlin, Amanda, me, Randi, Carolyn, Todd, Anne and Trevor
Escape room dream team: Devlin, Amanda, me, Randi, Carolyn, Todd, Anne and Trevor

In the past few weeks we also went back to Spacca Naopli (which is certainly in the running for the world’s best pizza) with Randi’s cousin Arielle, had a birthday dinner downtown with Arielle’s family and ate an awful lot of fondue with Catherine and AJ. Fun fact: Catherine and I got into an argument about the physical nature of post-resurrection Jesus, so I thought it was an excellent moment to ring up the number from those 855-FOR-TRUTH billboards and get an authoritative answer. The operator took my side, naturally. An invaluable service.

This past weekend, Randi’s friend Mike and his girlfriend Melissa finally decided to visit us in Chicago after a bazillion years, so we took them on our patented Chicago tour (there’s a lot of walking involved, but also a lot of cinnamon rolls) which inevitably concluded in Improv Shakespeare. This time the play was Quantum Shark, and between the ventriloquist puppet show, the amazing song of the sailors and the higher-than-average quota of inside Shakespeare jokes it was probably one of my favourites. Don’t laugh at me, but we already have tickets for another show before we go.

Melissa, Mike, Randi and me
Melissa, Mike, Randi and me

If you can’t get to an Improv Shakespeare performance, though, two things recently which I would recommend:

  • A Dangerous Dynasty: House of Assad (BBC iPlayer) charts the story of Bashar Assad from shy London eye doctor to dictator of Syria. The most fascinating character is his British-born wife, Asma, who adopts a delusional posture as ‘First Lady’ of Syria with all of the trappings of an American First Lady (visits to schools, charity events, soft-focus TV interviews) but no seeming recognition of how the Assad family’s power is maintained. 
  • Free Solo, a documentary about rock climber Alex Honnold who becomes the first person to ascend El Capitan in Yellowstone without any ropes or, y’know, any protection whatsoever if he slips. We saw this in the cinema with Mike and while it didn’t inspire me to do any free soloing myself, it was undeniably beautiful and terrifying and crazy.  
Love the view from Ashland station
Love the view from Ashland station
Randi in Garfield Park Conservatory
Randi in Garfield Park Conservatory

I really love coat weather. A few nights ago, John from work hosted a “casual pizza and beer between colleagues” gathering at his house – it’s been way too long since I last went to one of those – and I persuaded my co-worker Snow to travel there with me via a classic Dom walking/Red Line/more walking route rather than just jumping in a car. And of course I kept apologising because it was slower and colder and I’m bad at directions (we got there eventually) but really I was delighted to be prompted to go home and dig a coat out of the cupboard again.

This afternoon, Randi and I had some time to kill before Doctor Who, so it was coats-on to visit Garfield Park Conservatory (which is lovely and free!) and, look, I don’t know a better way of putting it than that life is just better in a coat. It doesn’t have to be freezing, just brisk enough that you can walk with purpose. And you get more pockets, too.

Oh, yes, Sundays are Doctor Who Sundays now. I really have missed it, and I absolutely love settling down on a Sunday night (a departure from tradition but it really suits) with Randi, Amanda, Joe and Julie to watch it. At the same time I love how fresh this series feels, how everything is being built anew. It looks different, it sounds different. Jodie is great but when I think of “the Doctor” I don’t think of her… yet, and oddly that is exactly what is so reassuringly familiar from regenerations past. It takes time. It takes work. I just checked my blog from 2014 when Capaldi started and discovered I watched it from Malaysia. That feels like a lifetime ago.

I am less emotionally invested in The Great British Bake Off but I am enjoying that too, especially last week when Villy dropped in on Chicago and joined us for an episode. I also saw Crazy Rich Asians in the cinema with Randi and Amanda, which was surprisingly fun and prompted hilariously genuine gasps from the audience at all the right moments of rom-com drama.

Finally, on Friday night I saw a 2nd Story performance in a pub. The concept is four “ordinary people” getting up and telling their personal stories, from the comic to the heartbreaking, but the event is carefully crafted beforehand through workshops and rehearsals so that each speaker delivers an impressive and moving piece of rhetoric on the night itself. It’s really interesting, because I think we have come to associate “authentic” and “real people” with spontaneous, unpolished, off-the-cuff emotion. I appreciated the opposite approach, where the stories which are worth listening to are also worth the work to craft. In particular, I’m glad I heard more from Randi’s colleague Lydia, the final storyteller on Friday night and who has a story worth hearing.