What 2020 Taught Me

2020 was full of memorable moments. Most weren’t the sort I usually reminisce over – hikes, trips away and the like – but they were memorable moments nonetheless.

Moments that sparked laughter, or joy.

Moments that, in a normal year, would be long since lost to the murky depths of my memory.

Like the time we saw two ducks waddling round M&S. Or the time we ended up with flakes of non-stick saucepan in the crème pâtissière. Or the day we saw a peacock preening in front of a car on someone’s driveway in Little Eversden. Or the time a cat tried to jump through our bathroom window. Or the first time we saw the Brampton Road Safari Park. (Not a real safari park, I hasten to add, but rather an eclectic front garden filled with artfully arranged toy animals.) Or the day we found a frog in my parents’ garden.

There was more to 2020 than culinary blunders and animal encounters, though. Laurence and I spent countless weekends and days off cycling around East Anglia. (With the roads devoid of traffic for months on end, I went from barely using my bike in 2019 to cycling 2,242km in 2020.) Places like Wicken Fen and Wimpole, which had long sat on our doorstep, finally found their way to the top of our agenda. We cycled to Norwich to spend a few days with Laurence’s parents, and squeezed in a trip to my parents in Chester just before new restrictions came into effect.

Along the way, I discovered that there are wild snakes in Cambridge, that my plants don’t need watering nearly as often as I think they do, and that bagels are surprisingly easy to make. Here are a handful of other things 2020 taught me:

Go outside. Even if it’s cloudy. Even if it’s drizzling. Especially if it’s snowing. Sometimes it’s very tempting to curl up on the sofa with a steaming mug of tea, but I always feel better for a short walk. A brisk walk around the block is enough to blow the cobwebs away; a stroll around Coldham’s Common better still.

Find a creative outlet. Back in the early days of the first lockdown, my Brownie unit did ‘catch-a-story’ comics over Zoom. We started with the classic opener ‘Once upon a time…’ and, one by one, each girl added a few words to build a story. (Our protagonist was a flamingo-turned-slug-turned-dragonfly… quite the transformation!) A few rounds of the virtual circle later, we told the girls to draw their own endings to the story in comic strip form. I enjoyed it so much that my one-line-a-day scrapbook became a comic strip project, each day a colourful snapshot of virtual quizzes, walks, bike rides, bakes and more.

Put your work laptop away at the end of the day. Or close the door on it, if you’re lucky enough to have a spare room to work in. Out of sight, out of mind.

Chocolate bananas complete a BBQ. Slice a banana in half, put a few chunks of chocolate in the middle, wrap it in foil and leave it on the embers. Once you’ve polished off your burger or hot dog, you’ll have a warm banana with melted chocolate waiting for you. Yum. (Credit to Laurence’s friend George for this idea; it was something we turned to on many occasions last summer.)

Save little and often. Over time, the pennies add up. Life throws curveballs (2020, I’m looking at you), and a rainy day fund can help you weather the storm. (Side note: I’m very fortunate to have worked from home and consequently saved considerably more than I would usually be able to over the past ten months.)

Move more. It’s so easy – too easy – to spend the entire working day hunched over your kitchen table and glued to the screen, and I for one don’t fancy ending up like Emma, dubbed the work colleague of the future. (Google it – it paints a pretty grim picture of office life.) Build a fake commute into your day, even if it’s just a fifteen minute walk, or stack a few shoeboxes on an ironing board for a half-decent standing desk.

Spend time with those you love. 2020 made me realise I don’t travel home nearly as often as I should (in an average year, I’d go home for a long weekend over the summer and a week or so at Christmas). Sure, trains can be hideously expensive and annual leave is finite, but time with family is priceless.

Don’t be afraid to spend money on yourself. I enjoy choosing presents for others, but I can rarely justify treating myself to anything – beyond a bag of Haribo or a slice of cake from my favourite café, that is. After deliberating for five (yes, five) months, I took the plunge and bought myself a pair of Lucy and Yak dungarees. They’re super comfy, and my only regret is not buying them sooner.

Cambridge Chronicles #6 | September 2020

I was struggling to find words to describe the past few months, to piece together how life as we know it became life as we knew it.

And then, on an episode of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? of all places, along came this quote:

‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.’

Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

I could, so easily, write off this year. I’ve seen only a handful of friends in person this year; I’ve not seen my parents or sister since Christmas. I’m still living in Cambridge (which is picturesque and rather nice sans touristes, but not somewhere I’ve ever felt especially at home). I’ve not gone on a single hike.

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The Glad Game

Many moons ago, I made a list of places to go, recipes to try, hikes to fill my weekends with and the like. ‘Cairngorms.’ ‘Seven Sisters hike.’ ‘Run a half marathon.’ ‘Bake a vegetable-based cake.’ ‘See Les Misérables.’

I didn’t want 2020 to slip through my fingers.

But 2020 had other ideas.

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My Bookshelf #14 | June 2020

Blink and you’ll miss it. That’s 2020 for me – and for you, too, I imagine. (I can’t be the only one looking at a sea of blank squares on the calendar and wondering how it’s the end of June already.) Although I’ve not motored through quite as many books as usual, I’m not short of gems to recommend. Dip in – there’s something for everyone on this shelf – and share your recommendations in the comments.

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Alphabet Adventures: An A-Z of Adventures at Home

Life as we know it has changed, almost beyond recognition, in the space of a few short weeks. Staying at home – day in, day out – and only venturing out for food supplies or exercise is strange. Seeing Cambridge sans tourists on said outings is stranger still. Like you, I have good days (which mostly involve baked goods, calls with family and friends and sunshine) and bad days (which tend to feature stress-inducing supermarket trips and runners who don’t seem to know what two metres looks like).

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My Bookshelf #13 | March 2020

What a month it’s been. Exactly a month ago, I was admiring King Tut’s treasures at the Saatchi Gallery. Today, I’ve read a few chapters of Unnatural Causes, been on a rather brisk walk across Grantchester Meadows for my daily dose of exercise and eaten half a packet of Tangfastics. Pre-lockdown, I found some gems in Cambridge’s charity shops: Cheryl Strayed’s memoir Wild; The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion; Celeste Ng’s début Everything I Never Told You; The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith (aka J.K. Rowling); and Peter Crouch’s autobiography How to Be a Footballer. I also stocked up on books from Cambridge Central Library, and bought a copy of The Murder of Roger Ackroyd from Heffers (ahead of what turned out to be our first virtual book club). Wherever you are, I hope you’re keeping well. If you’re after some book recommendations to get you through the next few weeks, you’ve come to the right place.

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Cambridge Chronicles #5 | March 2020

Some months flew by; others crawled. (And now? The UK is virtually grinding to a halt and we’re down to our last six loo rolls. Not words I ever thought I’d type, it must be said.) I’ve spent some lovely evenings with work friends, including a delicious (and very reasonably priced) meal at Cookhouse Joe. I followed that particular meal up with a detour to Carnaby Street: their Christmas lights installation, a collaboration with Project Zero, was something else. Closer to home, Laurence and I (finally) went for food at The Blue Ball in Grantchester, saw the Fitzwilliam Museum’s Feast and Fast exhibition, and returned to the ADC Theatre for Footlights Spring Revue 2020: Crossed Wires.

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2019’s Memorable Moments

2019 sped by, and was gone in the blink of an eye. (I’m sure the older I get, the faster time goes.) Chers lecteurs, thank you for taking time out of your day to tune in to the various adventures – on home soil and abroad – I’ve chronicled this past year on La Grenouille Anglaise. Without further ado, here are some of 2019’s most memorable moments.

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My Bookshelf #12 | December 2019

I’ve only read a handful of books over the past three months; fatigue from my (too) long commute set in and had me reaching for the crossword or a copy of Time Out instead of a book, and a string of busy weekends left me with few opportunities to re-stock at the local library. That said, those I did find time to read were well worth the brainpower – and the three titles below are my top picks. If you’ve got any recommendations, I’d love to hear them in the comments. Merry Christmas one and all, and until next year!

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