When we arrived in London last autumn, I was pretty preoccupied with finding a home, settling into my new job, reconnecting with friends, worrying about, and worrying about worrying about whether Sanoop would thrive in London, and the tediousness and hiccups characterising his visa application process, and in the early months of this year, there was so much travel all over the world, for both of us — he was wrapping up his life in Singapore, I got to spend one week with him there, and then we finally had a few weeks here, only to then go away for five weeks straight, Nigeria-US-India-US, and even if we took it all in strides and loved every bit of this super mindblowingly privileged process, it still felt like … a process … and we’re both currently experiencing this extreme joy of being back here, in London, our new home. Practically jumping out of the taxi from Heathrow on Monday morning, we immediately bounce down the street to do all of the little things we’ve been excited to do: coffee from our local cafe, Biggie Best, a wander through the Heath, grocery shopping in the small organic stores in Belsize Park, marvelling at the green view from our flat, and fixing up the flat: opening the windows to let in fresh fair, cleaning all surfaces, standing still in different spots to acquaint ourselves with every nook and cranny and the feel of it all, moving stuff a millimetre back and forth to make it feel just right, unpacking, doing laundry. The first few days of being back, when waking up in the morning, we both have to think hard to figure out where we are … and we both feel relieved with the immense sense of joy that kicks in when London is the answer. Running to work along the canal, I’m overflown by that fresh energetic feeling … NOW I remember the magic … how deeply I love this city. A new daily rhythm starts to take shape: I’ve got long, lovely days at work, with sweet colleagues, who missed me and whom I missed during those five weeks away, and we take short breaks to wander around Granary Square and Coal Drops Yard, and when I come back home, Sanoop is waiting for me with freshly made smoothies and calm music hugs, meditation, yoga, and tales of the fun he’s been up to during his days of exploring London and getting to know people here. Or we’ll go out — either together, date nights across town, or apart, meeting friends. One night I walk through Bloomsbury, wisteria spilling onto all of the pavements, some people playing tennis in the little garden squares, others nursing rosé outside of pubs, and meet a friend in front of her office, Apple on Regent Street, and we head over to Blanchette in Soho for glasses of wines and tasty sharing dishes while talking about our new jobs, love, life, everything. Friday morning, I go running with the WMNRUN group, starting off at Origin Coffee by Southwark and heading down to the Thames, turning right, and continuing until Tower Bridge, crossing it and circling around St Katherine’s Dock, and tracking back on the Northern bank until we reach Millennium Bridge, which we cross to get back to the coffee shop and order coffee and chat a bit more before starting our day at various home offices across town. Friday is work from home day.
My Fantastic Four. On our first weekend back in London, my parents and brother come to visit from Germany and Denmark. It’s our first meeting since Christmas, and the first time they’re visiting us in Hampstead; when I lived here before Singapore, Primrose Hill was the furthest we ever went North. It’s such a wonderful weekend. The joy of showing them our lovely home, the joy of being able to house all three of them, of showing them the view from Parliament Hill and all of the cute dogs on the Heath, of wandering in the bright Spring sunshine through the Heath with my four most favourite people in the world. My brother spots one of his biggest idols, Ricky Gervais, in a local antique store, and as we sit down for a delicious Sunday roast at our favourite Hampstead pub, the Flask, I spot Dolly Alderton at the next table over, sipping champagne with her friend India (I know that this is her friend India from her novel, Everything I know about love, and from her podcast, The High Low, which I follow with passion). I tell my family everything about my infatuation in Danish, trying to make my tone as cool and casual as possible, sort of successfully concealing the fact that my body and mind are vibrating with a starstruck buzz. When the two pals eventually get up to leave, I gather all of my courage (/ fangirl un-coolness) and tell Dolly that I just want to say how much I love her book and podcast, and to have a lovely Sunday, to which she responds with a big, happy smile, and, eyeing my mum’s dessert, a, “YUM, what is that … it looks DELICIOUS!?” I’m happy. She’s as vibrant in real life as virtually. Later that day, my parents leave for Germany, while my brother stays through the Monday Bank Holiday for an adventure in Notting Hill and Little Venice.
Connections. Tuesday. Breakfast with a former-colleague-turned-friend at my office. Mingling evening with colleagues. Wednesday. Breakfast with a few of the folks on my wonderfully international team, talking about how enriching it is that we’ve got all of these perspectives and experiences gathered around one long desk — Indonesian, Indian, British, Irish, American, Canadian, Argentinean, and Mexican. Dinner with some of my oldest and dearest friends, one of them based here, and working freelance as a digital producer, currently busy setting up AI: More Than Human at the Barbican, and the other one visiting from Stockholm, where she works for Spotify. We all used to live together in a little house on Swanfield Street in Shoreditch, and our lives have been so intertwined, charging the air tonight with magnetic happiness: we’re just beaming at each other, repeatedly hugging each other, sharing big, small, high, low stories without hesitation — it feels like yesterday that we all shared a kitchen and a living room and shoulders to frequently cry on and a cleaning rota. Thursday. Physio session with my therapist from Singapore, who helped me through my ACL tear shenanigans, and who also relocated to London recently. What are the chances! On Friday, we’ve got a second Swanfield Street reunion dinner. On the weekend, I catch up with another old friend, pacing the distinguished Brompton Cemetery near her home with her cute little toddler. My only London-friend to have become a mother. I admire her greatly, and I love this setup — meandering around the substantial mausolea of this urban haven while talking, talking, talking, laughing, sipping coffee, cuddling the baby. Picnic on the Heath with Sanoop and a friend — pizzas from Franco Manca and red wine from the local Wine Rack.
Stockholm is light from 4am to 10:30pm.
On Monday, we head to Sweden’s capital, Sanoop accompanying me on a work trip. Glimpses of sunshine, blue skies, neat, scenic streets / plazas / parks / canals, and beautiful people, as we drive to our adorable base for the week, a former school that feels like home — Miss Clara clean, charming, chic, character-filled, cosily lit, centrally located, culinarily gifted, and she has a sauna … and Byredo shower products! In the week that follows, I start each day with a beautiful sightseeing morning run in the small, clean, un-overly crowded streets and delightfully balmy air, and then head to work after meeting colleagues for coffee at Gast Cafe, Pom and Flora, Drop Coffee, Cafe Pascal. On one of the mornings, I combine my run with a lovely yoga class at Urban Om, joined by a colleague. Sanoop spends his days sightseeing and sending me photos from beautiful nature areas, galleries, and street corners. Happy hour at the office, followed by drinks at Hobo hotel. Date night at Nordic-rustic-charming Knut, where Sanoop has slow-cooked elk with juniper berry gravy and extra lingonberries on the side, while I have al dente steamed cabbage stuffed with other juicy greens. We share a dollop of lingonberry sorbet for dessert. Another date night starts at Strandvägen, where we meet for drinks (and people-watching) at one of the posh bars, before moving on to Tures for a scrumpy serving of traditional fish stew. On the final evening of the work week, I go for a wander with my two best friends at work in the idyllic Djurgården, where we have dinner at Oaxen Slip, a Sweden summer night’s dream of a place, whose wholesome vibe, smoked mackerel, smoked mayo, beetroot and sea salt sorbet, and maritime decor and setting, plus and the shrieks from the amusement part next door, just make us smile!
Environment. On Friday, my work thing over and done with, I spend the morning working from the beautifully designed national library. Around lunch time, I join Sanoop at Greta Thunberg’s Fridays for Future strike at the parliament building. He has befriended a passionate climate activist, a guy around my age, who invites us for lunch at his girlfriend’s vegan Södermalm cafe, where we sit in the backyard and eat our raw salads while talking about the environment, and how bad it is that I fly so much, and then Sanoop and I hug him goodbye and head over to Stikki Nikki for dairy-free ice cream. Friday night, we take the bus to the suburbs, meeting his Swedish friend from Hong Kong at his parents’ house. They welcome us with champagne in their neat, sunlit garden, and then we have a lovely dinner of freshly caught fish and new potatoes. The two guys and I spend the weekend at the Swedish family’s summerhouse by a forest lake a bit further north, and my friend, the one who came to London last week, who works in Stockholm, returns from a business trip to New York on Saturday morning and joins us at the cabin. We take quick dips in the cold, clear lake, go for slow rowing trips on the calm water, cook food, drink wine, play games, read books, go for long walks, do morning yoga on the deck, and chat long into the white nights.
Monday morning we walk in a forest in Sweden; Monday evening I check into a hotel in Seattle for a week of work meetings and work dinners (Thursday’s dinner is not a work dinner as such — I meet a companion from the Nigeria trip in March, who lives here, for dinner at one of her favourite local haunts), with Friday morning free to explore the wonderful city and its green and blue spaces (the houseboats and aquaplanes on the lake is the sweetest impression!). Accompanied by my team mate, who’ll become my companion for all important projects this year, here, in London and in India, I check out the beautiful design museum and quirky farmers’ market downtown, and we find a cute indie bookstore to buy each other one of the books that made the biggest impressions on us lately; I give her The Tattooist of Auschwitz, and she gives me Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine. Reading material for the flight back across the Atlantic on Friday afternoon.
Erfurt. I meet Sanoop on a quick stopover in London, and together we continue onto Berlin, landing in the German capital on Saturday morning. At the passport control, the guy asks me, “Is Germany home?,” to which I respond, “Is home where your parents (sometimes) live?” Guy: “yes.” Me: “In that case, this is (also) home…” We head into town for coffee at a cafe in Hackescher Höfe in East Berlin before boarding the train to the city of Erfurt further south, in the geographical centre of Germany, actually, where we spend the evening at my parents’ flat, and the Sunday wandering around the beautiful medieval town and surrounding parks, getting ice cream on Krämersbrücke, sunbathing by the river, talking, talking, talking: they’re so happy we’re here. It’s been a year since I was last here, visiting from Singapore (see here and here). Memorial Day Stadtbummeln. On Monday, my dad is off on meetings in Stuttgart; Sanoop and I hang out with my mum, starting out with her delicious homemade breakfast at their neat, beautiful, inviting flat, followed by a wander across the cathedral square to their neat, beautiful, inviting office, which she proudly shows off to Sanoop for the first time. So lovely to get an insight into their everyday lives. Vegan lunch at a cafe near Krämersbrücke. Checking out the Augustiner Kloster. Coffee at my mum’s favourite cafe, where she often sits alone, wishing we were there with her, she says. In the evening, we meet my dad for dinner at their favourite restaurant, Ballenbacker, where the same waitress as last same I was here (a year ago) is serving us; confident in their taste, she gives us a bottle of wine that’s not on the menu. My dad is elated after a day of successful meetings; my mum is deeply happy after a day with us; now we’re all together, and the bubble of happiness is complete. I feel very grateful — my parents are living their best lives, really thriving, and us being here is only a positive add-on.
Berlin. On Tuesday morning, Sanoop and I head back to Berlin to explore it together for the first time. I take him around all of the vaguely familiar streets and alleyways of Mitte and Prenzlauer Berg, telling tales of those glorious summers between my years of studying German history, literature, and linguistics at university when I’d walk, read, cycle, and dance my way through all of Berlin alone and with friends I met on the way.
We get back to Hampstead around 9pm on Tuesday, pottering around late into the night, reacquainting ourselves with the space, opening windows, listening to the swans in the pond and the parakeets in the trees, drinking a single glass of red wine, moving knickknack around, unpacking, loading the washing machine, showering. On Wednesday, I walk to work along the canal, listening to The High Low on the way, and then I work for 12 hours, and come home for dinner, which Sanoop has prepared. He has also bought white roses, lit candles, opened a bottle of wine. On Thursday, I talk to a friend in Sydney on my walk to work along the canal, and after work, I leave the office with a friend / colleague, walking through Bloomsbury to Covent Garden together, getting our nails done at Mia’s Nails and having dinner at 10 Cases. Lovely springy London vibes. Lots of people in the streets. Meander through Covent Garden and Soho to catch the Northern line home from Tottenham Court Road … ah, London!
Friday morning, sitting on the floor of the landing by the entrance to our flat and looking at me pensively as I put on shoes to go to work, Sanoop blurts out a monologue that sums up the myriad versions of him, the hip fashion spotter to the inner city hobo: “do you know what’s cool? I saw someone wearing your new running shoes yesterday!” “Do you know what else is cool? Today is the last day of May — tomorrow is summer!” “Do you know what else is cool? Plant life (love?)!” “Do you know what else is cool? Tomorrow, we get to explore the thuggish part of London together!” We walk up to Hampstead, get a coffee to go from Morgan and Melrose, and walk down to Belsize Park, where we kiss each other goodbye for the day.