Summer Solstice | 15-210620

Heath

Morning runs on the Heath in sun or drizzly rain, ending up among kids playing football and parents lining up at the Lido Cafe in Parliament Hill Fields, or at Ginger & White after jogging past the abundance of roses and other flowers garnishing the cute facades in the village, for an oat flat white (loved this FT article, by the way, on how London became a city of flat white drinkers) before heading home to start a day of typing, thinking, listening, reading, and meetings, curled up inside, occasionally looking up from my screen and out onto the blue or grey sky and the green canopies, feeling so glad I had the opportunity to dash, jog, sprint, and sip coffee immersed in all of that blue, grey, and green before work. My own little free outdoor space with summer fragrances, maybe a podcast, maybe some favourite tunes, maybe just natural silence.

Cycle

On Wednesday, rather than running, I take out my bright blue folding bike, Brompy, who’s currently spending the majority of his time collecting dust on the landing inside our flat door. It’s 6am, and I’m riding through town, i.e. past Swiss Cottage and St. John’s Wood, down through Paddington and Marble Arch, diagonally across gorgeous Hyde Park, and finally zigzagging through South Ken and Chelsea to meet my friend for a walk on Brompton Cemetery with her toddler. As much as I love Hampstead and keep noticing new charming features on the Heath and in the village, this change of scenery feels so incredibly exciting, thrilling even, haha, just like last weekend’s trip to Greenwich … to be reminded that there’s a world beyond our ‘hood and the, particularly this week, action-packed reality portrayed on the internet. Just … good old physical London. I don’t want to escape or neglect the brutal, unjust, horrible, and positively activist events that are happening around me, in the wider world and in the UK as well, but an easy, breezy, human-void bike ride through the city and its parks is just what I need to charge my batteries for another day of absorbing and acting.

After arriving at the cemetery and before meeting my friend at 8am, I have a work call with a colleague in Zürich and Tokyo, at 7:30am, which I take from a bench in front of a crumbly Victorian gravestone adorned with a marble puppy. For the first 20 minutes of the call, I’m on a roll — smiling when my colleagues tell me how idyllic London looks, communicating smoothly, juggling the Hangouts screen nimbly with a Google Doc in order to capture noticeable notes, and generally feeling smug about my efficient and effective start to the day. Towards the end of the call, though, it suddenly starts pouring down, and I have to seek shelter across the road … the guy in Tokyo exclaims, ‘Are you in a gas station, Camilla??’ ‘Yup.’ That is correct. Oh well. Still a somewhat successful call. And the rain subsides as soon as we hang up and I meet the girls, one eager for a cup of coffee, the other eager to go jumping in the long wild grass between the graves and, in some cases, and only on the century-old ones, on the smooth stones themselves. She, the latter, is 17 months old and making the most of the nurseries and playgrounds being closed. Her mum and I drink our coffee as we circle around and around the perimeter of the beautiful old cemetery, chatting  about thee latest podcasts and books we’ve enjoyed and our similar July plans — holiday in Denmark with friends and family.

Around 9:30am, I head back north, this time taking a call with my video off and only unmuting myself when I speak, a as I paddle through Hyde Park, alongside Regent’s Park, and up through the beautiful, winding residential roads of Belsize Park. Once again, the meeting feels rewarding, and, as traffic is still lockdown-slow, my surroundings feel conducive. Ever since the outbreak of covid, I’ve been quite rigid with my work schedule and setup: 9am-6pm Monday through Friday, in a specific corner of our dining table, trying to be as productive, in as static a manner, as possible. Now, as I slowly start to grasp that I’ll be working remotely throughout 2020, if not longer, and as lockdown is loosening its quarantine grip, possibilities start to flourish … I can break my day up and play around with work environments and discover various ways of being productive while at the same time being positively stimulated. And I will. Slowly.

Now, I just want to wrap up things as nicely as possible over the next 2 weeks, and then we’ll be in Denmark for A MONTH, and then I can start being more creative with where and how I work. That’s a nice prospect. For the past few months we’ve been looking at flats for sale all across North London, a fun hobby if, as Sanoop and I, you’re into architecture, interior design, and getting to know a place better. Before lockdown, we really wanted to buy a place around here; now, with everything a little bit up in the air … we’re not so sure anymore: if we don’t have to be in an office, if we can’t easily travel, where do we actually want to be? ‘We’ as in Sanoop and I, but also people around us, tendencies in a wider sense … what’s gonna happen? It’s pretty exciting, but also mind-boggling. We’ve always generally been practicing a ‘home is where you nurture your garden’ sort of zen thinking, but for the first time in a long time, we’re opening up for wider, more external thoughts as well, honouring the fact that we’re in a position to choose … which sort of an environment do we really want around us: city or countryside — of which country / region in the world? We’re fortunate in that we don’t have to make up our minds right now. We live in a lovely (rental) flat in a lovely area, and we both have incomes from wonderful jobs. It is interesting to think, though, that all of the moves Sanoop and I have ever made have been determined by our work, and then we’ve created the lifestyle we wanted around those jobs. How are we going to approach this new reality? For now, we’ll go with the current flow … and continue to check out properties on the way. It can be confusing at times; emotions start to well up when you start imagining and tuning in to examine what feels good and right, so we’re constantly reminding ourselves to stay balanced … doing our best in our day-to-day, looking forward to the summer holidays, and navigating thoughts and actions about the present moment and the future, when it comes to our own situation and those around us, as well as we can.

Family

This week, Sanoop’s mum is celebrating her 67th birthday in Kerala. She looks absolutely radiant on our video call with her, talking about how grateful and happy she is, as she’s about to tuck into her big, white birthday cake. She’s got just one round of chemotherapy left, after 6 months of weekly and biweekly ones since her mastectomy … and guests inside the house — for lots of delicious-looking Kerala lunch treats — for the first time in over 6 months as well. She went into isolation a while before everyone around her, and it’s just wonderful to see her like this … looking like a beautiful and strong rockstar in her green kurta and scarf and with her short grey hair. We miss her, and promise her and ourselves that we’ll come visit towards the end of the year.

In Denmark, my grandmother is hospitalised with stomach issues. She’s been there for the past 2 weeks, and hasn’t been able to eat on her own. She’s lost a lot of weight as a result, but my mum says she’s feisty and strong-willed as ever, and that the doctors and nurses are very caring and observant. They can’t quite seem to figure out what exactly is the matter with her, only that something intestine-related is off, which of course is worrying, but slowly it seems she’s getting fitter. Due to covid, she’s only allowed 2 visitors, my mum and her brother. I call her almost daily on her cell phone, but as she’s quite deaf and her much overdue hearing-aid upgrade unfortunately collided with the hospitalisation, meaning that the new and hopefully improved device is waiting for her at the hearing centre, she is struggling to hear what I say on the calls. I just shout that I miss her, and try to get her to talk, as she’s usually cheered up by her own stories. Sometimes it helps, but generally we’ll just chat for 1-2 minutes. I sent her an SMS to say that Sanoop and I are thinking of her and coming home as soon as it’s possible for foreigners to access the country and flights to Copenhagen pick up post-covid, but her feature phone is so old and complicated that she can’t figure out how to access and read it. My uncle reads it out to her and responds. Now I know that she knows we care, so I’ll just try to be patient and look forward to going home in a few weeks.

Currently at 91 years of age, she is going to be at least 110, my gran, I’m sure. So it’s ok that I live far away. Because there’ll always be more time. Time for philosophical chats about making the most of life, smiling at the world, and how we all have to reach a hand out to touch, help, and meet others, time for reminiscing about hilarious and horrible events of the past, laughing in the moment, dreaming up future events, time for sailing, for long walks, for art exhibitions, for inhaling good books and coffee whilst seated next to each other, time for new experiences, for drinking wine, for family hygge. 

Last time we saw her in person, in January, celebrating her 91st birthday in Düsseldorf, she ended up dancing about and downing Jägermeister shots with a group of strangers-instantly-turned-friends at a brewery pub. We were in town because our new boat was on show at the annual boat fair there. Back in the day, she and my grandad taught everyone in the family to sail. They sailed together for more than 50 years, starting out in a wooden pirate dinghy back in the 50s, in which they spent their honeymoon. When he passed away 12 years ago, we spread his ashes in Fænøsund, our favourite family sailing spot. Our new boat is named after theirs, De Gæ Nok, a sort of ‘Hakuna Matata’ in their Southern Jutland dialect.

They were the kind of grandparents who always had all the time in the world for us: took us sailing, let us soil their kitchen with our messy cooking attempts and turn their lounge into blanket caves full of lego, drove us EVERYwhere as kids, attended football games and piano recitals, made 100s of cups of coffee for my brother, visited me in Copenhagen and London, VC’ed me in Singapore, paid attention to most things we were into, showed an interest in everyone we were into.

Gran always wants more from life — to read more, tell more stories, travel more, try more new things, learn more (she took up English last year so she could talk better with Sanoop — and have fun with her classmates), work more (she was back working at her charity shop post-lockdown), do more (weekly gymnastics, running errands for the ‘old’ people in her building, gardening …), meet new people (like her boyfriend, whom she met a good 5 years after grandad passed, and with whom she really embraced life and went on loads of adventures right up until his death last year), talk more, and sometimes listen more as well (she has friends of all ages, all over). Her frequent emails were among the most exciting I receive. And they always entail a note about how her driver’s licence once again got renewed, and some probing into why I rarely drive — something to which I couldn’t ever bring myself to reply how truly shocked I was that anyone kept letting her do.

‘Weeds are hard to kill’ being her motto, she never usually lets disease, and there’s been a tonne, or other challenges knock her out, and at times her unflappability was a source of frustration and concern to everyone who cares for her. Though, also a source of admiration and inspiration — her eternal positivity, sense of gratitude, and feisty lust for life. She once told me, ‘there are many doors in life, and you have to knock on them and ask people on the other side in a friendly manner if you can walk through, because if you don’t, you’ll be left in the dark. You have to make an effort. People reach out their hands, and I receive openly, but you have to step forward and be curious.’ As a teenager, it always made me cringe when friends said they’d met gran in town, as that would mean she’d have told them every last true AND embellished detail about my, and probably also her own, life. If a story isn’t thrilling as it is — why not spruce it up a little? No doubt she was proud of us, though, and what’s more, every character trait I’ve ever noticed in her, I’m starting to recognise in myself as well.

Something else I’ve noticed is that I’m quite reactive — when Sanoop’s mum got ill, I immediately wanted us to fly out to see her; now, there’s nothing I want more than just go straight home and if not spend time with my grandmother then at least be as close as possible, physically. In the case of Sanoop’s mum, Sanoop decided it was better to let her and his dad deal with the immediate things that had to be dealt with, in terms of figuring out if, how, where, and when to get surgery and treatment, without them having to worry about the logistics and host duties of our presence on top of this crucial planning, and then we went a few months later, when the dust had settled and she actually really needed and benefitted from our company. She was in safe, caring hands in those first 2 months, and she always knew we cared from afar as well. That’s sort of the same thing with my grandmother now. Part of me is super frustrated that the aftermath — and looming fear of a second wave — of the pandemic continues to complicate travel and demand social distancing. But Sanoop and my mum are more patient, encouraging me to calm down … we really can’t visit her at the hospital, and if she’s well enough to go home in a few days, we’ll want her to settle in at home, calmly and quietly, with just a few folks around here, and she really has the help she needs. So, what does it really mean when I feel tempted to react really impulsively to things? Trying to do the best to my abilities, as quickly as possible, tempted by seeing opportunities and overcoming immediate challenges. Fears of losing control, of being inadequate, and of bad things happening cause me to take action without thinking the important, and sometimes uncomfortable and complicated, thoughts of what might work best long-term. But more often than not, whether it’s personal or to do with work, I fortunately manage to take a deep breath and think twice … to find the best solution. We will get there.

Black Lives Matter

Friday, we celebrate Juneteenth at work: sharing books, articles, podcasts, and talks on issues around race and systemic racism, starting conversations and initiatives to improve diversity and inclusion within the company and externally. The final of a stream of insightful live talks is one of my colleagues in New York interviewing Alicia Keys on her thoughts, feelings, and actions, and it gives me goosebumps. So much genuine love, positivity, and thoughtful kindness. 

Crouch End adventure

Saturday, Sanoop and I wander up through the Heath and Waterlow Park to the creative hub that is Crouch End. We walk with big smiles plastered on our faces and a skip in our step; it’s the first time in a while that we’re experiencing a new hip and happening neighbourhood together, and it’s GREAT. The colourful facades, artsy-looking pedestrians and cyclists, stunning views of Ally Pally, quirky galleries and boutiques, elaborate plant shops, vegan eateries, charming wine bars, and impeccably cool coffee shops. Ahh.

House gathering

Saturday evening, we’re invited to a barbecue party on the ground floor of our building. A family of four, mum and dad and 2 kids, aged 9 and 11, recently moved in, and they took the initiative to get to know us and the family sandwiched between us in our Victorian conversion. For 1.5 years, we’ve gazed longingly down into the garden belonging to and solely accessed via the ground floor flat. This is the first time we get to enter. And to hang out with our immediate neighbours, having otherwise only ever socialised with a sweet couple living in the next door building and never anyone else in our neighbourhood. It’s so, so nice to finally meet our very lovely housemates — an Israeli-German couple, who raised their kids in America/India/South America, and moved here recently because they felt drawn to the UK, and a Bangladeshi-Australian couple with a 2-year-old son, who moved here from Sydney because of work. Everyone has been cooped up in their home for the past 4 months, and the one thing that we’re all looking forward to the most post-lockdown is to travel to our ‘home’ countries. In the meantime, though, it’s nice to really make the most of this home. The sun is shining from a cloudless sky. We’re sitting in the grass in the garden, the adults chatting politely and laughing genuinely, the older kids TikTok-dancing and chasing their dog (cute Boston terrier) around the lawn, and the toddler playing with plastic cars. Later, we move onto the open lounge / terrace area for a lovely summer meal (barbecued meats, various salads, pita bread, hummus, strawberries), sunlight still flooding the scenery in warm golden cascades. Towards the end of the evening, the kids scramble up the stairs to check out our flat, calling it ‘artsy,’ which I choose to take as a compliment although I feel pretty sure it’s a euphemism to explain its difference to their own extremely elegant home. It’s exciting for all of us to see how the others live, haha. After work one day this week, a colleague and I met for a walk on the Heath followed by a few glasses of rosé on our stoop, tonnes of people walking by and stopping to chat for a bit, including all of our neighbours. Literally the first time I’ve ever sat on our stoop. It felt like such a Brooklyn thing to do, a change of perspective, similar to the one served up by this garden party, a tiny exotic layer added to this feeling of being right at home here, during a strange time, with both scenarios coming about because we aren’t allowed to invite people into our homes yet. But in this glorious summer weather, who’d want to be inside anyway? Home is where the sun shines, communal spaces with people coming together and talking high-low style.

Sunday bliss

5 Tibetans, stretches, and strength exercises. Morning walk on the Heath in a light drizzle. Reading the FT Weekend. Yin yoga taught by our friend in Amsterdam. Making shakshuka together while listening to Danish summer music. Eating, drinking coffee, chatting with each other and with friends. 5-6 hours then fly away as I’m completely immersed in editing work, which feels so gratifying and comforting. Sunny evening run up through the Heath in all of its post-rain luminous, super fragrant midsummer glory, to Kenwood House and back. A glass of red wine in the window while WhatsApp-ing with family in Jutland, Kerala, and Hastings-on-Hudson. Heating up a soup of cauliflower, kale, and black garlic, and eating in the window, while the sunlight slowly turns increasingly orange, pink, red. Housework, reading the endearing Queenie, watching the even more endearing Midnight Diner with a freshly made berry and ginger smoothie. And tea. Ahh. Such a perfectly energising day. 

 

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