Susie Lau on the joy of spontaneity in London

·3-min read
 (Susie Lau)
(Susie Lau)

ast weekend my boyfriend and

I really wanted to bowl. We were seeking shelter from biting winds in the imagined nostalgia of sleepy bowling alleys, with the lingering whiff of shoe clean spray and Lynx Animal, imagining Elton John’s ‘Benny and the Jets’ would come on mid-game. It seemed like a funky-cute thing to do, to kick-start the latter half of January, after the first half was dedicated to ‘hunkering’ and ‘hibernating’ (can we bury those words along with hygge now?).

Apparently everyone else in north London had the same thought. Twice in one night we were thwarted by Rowan’s in Finsbury Park, put off first by a sizeable queue outside and then again after dinner when it really snaked. ‘Will we get to bowl?’ we asked. ‘Oh you’ll get in, but you won’t get to bowl!’ said the jolly security guard, proud to be working the Rowan’s crowd. At least he rejected us with a smile. Then as a last-ditch attempt, we ventured to another bowling joint out east. There, we were met with guffaws.

I do miss the city at its spontaneous IRL best. When you didn’t have to set Resy to notify you of dinner slots

Well, there goes my plan to unplan, to do things on a whim and be spontaneous, because once again, those are the buzzwords supposedly attached to this year. In 2021, people talked a good game when it came to spontaneity, while secretly thinking and hoping that normal would return. This year, unplanning is just what we now know. With our best-laid plans put to rest, of course there’s the urge to chuck incorrectly weighted balls down an aisle without proper shoes on (they let you do that in Rowan’s ).

The infamous Rowan’s (Rowan's)
The infamous Rowan’s (Rowan's)

While there’s something reassuringly heartening about snaking queues and chipper bouncers, I do miss the city at its spontaneous IRL best. When you didn’t have to set Resy to notify you of dinner slots. When you didn’t have to plan to go to museums/galleries with timed entries, wondering if you were in the right timed portion of a queue that forks off in 10 directions. When you’d just go OUT, not knowing quite where you were going but you’d meet your friend at the NE exit of Oxford Circus and figure it out as you went along.

Therefore in an ode to director, artist and personal heroine Miranda July and Harrell Fletcher’s brilliant 2002 crowdsourced public submissions art site Learning to Love You More, I’m setting myself some spontaneous assignments. Maybe that’s an oxymoron. Before TikTok set challenges, the app set twee tasks such as photographing a scar and writing about it or singing a cover of Crowded House’s ‘Don’t Dream It’s Over’. I’m using it as a blueprint for small acts of achievable spontaneity to get through the last days. How to unplan in a city that demands plans all the time?

I’ll pick up ramen flavours I normally shun in a Wing Yip supermarket and try one every day of the week. I’ll go to a garden centre and pick out a fantasy selection that probably won’t grow in my north-facing patch. I’ll finally ride the 259 bus all the way to its end destination Waltham Cross and find out if Waltham Abbey close by is in fact as picturesque as the name suggests. I’ll take my daughter, Nico, with me and she’ll be quizzical the entire journey. But why? Because these are the last few weeks of heavy-footed winter before the social calendar revs up and chances of spontaneity dry up.

PS. We did finally make it into Rowan’s after waiting two hours for an aisle. We got one game in, when we both knew it would take at least five to get our true inner bowling groove on. But at least we doggedly ticked off that spontaneity box. Totally winning this unplanned 2022 thing.

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