It’s Been a Year

Barnes in the Spring

Carissa and I arrived at Heathrow one year ago today. So far, so good. It’s not so much England vs America as it is London vs Springfield. All due respect to the Queen City of the Ozarks, but it has as much in common with London or New York as it does with the moon.

I walk more now than I ever have. Any given day I go to the office is 6000 to 8000 steps. A day out in the city is anywhere from 8000 to 20,000, depending on our schedule and how everyone’s feet hold up.

Not having a car–or at least not needing a car to get everywhere–is amazing. Looking for parking isn’t that much of a pain in Springfield, true, but it’s nice to not even have the worry when going out on the town. Also nice to not have to worry about who’s going to drive us home if we want to have an extra drink or two with the meal.

Springfield has musuems. They are twee and lovely. London has museums that people travel from across the world to visit. They are vast and amazing, and some are also twee and lovely.

I love that Springfield gets an off-Broadway touring show through town every season. I appreciate that Springfield has a lively local theater scene. The West End is phenomenal. The Globe is amazing. I feel like I’ve hardly sampled what London has to offer in the theater department, and I’ve been to more shows in the last 12 months than the previous 12 years. We’re off to the Globe again in two weeks to see A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

There was a lockdown drill at the local primary (elementary) school a few weeks ago. They do one a year, just in case. The school sent a notice to parents:

We just wanted to let you know that we have practised our lock down procedure at school today. The children were told that this was a practice drill and there was no real danger. Their class teachers have explained to the children that just as we have to practise getting out of school quickly and safely during a fire drill, we also need to practise what we should do if we needed to stay inside to keep safe. We have given an example of needing to hide because zookeepers might be trying to recapture an animal and that by keeping quiet and out of sight we would not upset the animal and the zookeepers would therefore be able to catch it easily.

It absolutely breaks my heart that America is still suffering a shot-up school multiple times a year and mass shootings practically daily. It’s just not a thing here. It’s amazing to send my kids to school every day and not worry “what if this is the day a shooter comes to my school?”

The barbeque is suprisingly good.

The Mexican food is unsurprisingly bad.

I still miss General Tso’s Chicken. And Andy’s.

It annoys me that vendors at football matches don’t go around selling snacks and beers like they do at games in the States. It especially annoys me that I can’t even have a beer at my seat. Drunk assholes ruining it for everyone else.

Rugby is weird. I can almost understand it through a lens of American Football and soccer. The atmosphere is lovely. The fans are polite. The food is great. You can even drink beer at your seat. But I hate, hate, hate how destructive the sport is for the people playing it. It’s hard for me to get behind something that profits a few people via the destruction of other people’s bodies. America isn’t exactly on a moral high ground here, either, with the NFL.

Driving here is bananas. Roundabouts everywhere. Cars on the wrong side of the road. Steering wheels on the wrong side of the car. We’re thinking about getting a car this winter so Carissa can get around the borough to teach gymnastics again. I’m told to expect to spend about 15 hours in paid lessons just to get a license. I’m sure she’s going to love that.

The first year has been great. We’ve all enjoyed it, and we’re looking forward to more to come. We’re not looking forward to the inevitable hard Brexist on Halloween, but we’ll deal with that when it happens. The oldest is planning to stock up on peanut butter when we’re in the States in a few weeks, so she’ll be ready. The rest of us will just have to do without rioja and camembert for a while.

Oh, Spring, Where Have You Gone?

I realize you’re all here for London photos and stories, but first you get the writing updates:

The never ending novel-in-progress is still in progress. I’m in the middle of the third major revision. After this it goes on submission. Perhaps it sees the light of day in a couple years. Perhaps it ends up in a trunk after a hundred rejections. I have no idea. Once I start sending it out, I’ll start writing another book. In the meantime, I’m still writing and submitting short fiction. 

It’s been 8 months since Viable Paradise. I am fairly sure I learned some things, if only because the writing comes harder than ever now. I more easily see things that aren’t working in my stories, but then when I think things are working, I get feedback that no, they aren’t quite. Writing is beautiful and terrible in that it’s a never-ending journey of improvement, but that improvement stalls out and splutters backwards and forwards. 

Yes, but what fun things have you been up to in Europe? 

Well, a few. Mom left in February, so we didn’t do a tremendous amount in March and April. In March I took the oldest child to The Globe to see Romeo & Juliet. The theatre was brilliant. The cast was excellent. We stood two meters from the stage for the entire show. For 5 quid a ticket, it might be the best value of anything (paid) in London. 

The Globe Theatre, as seen from the second floor balcony

In April I went to Eastercon on the Saturday before Easter and chatted with one of my VP instructors and a VP alumnus from a previous year. For Easter dinner I made a roast leg of lamb for the first time. It’s a traditional English thing to make for Easter, I’m told. It was good. Carissa might have preferred steak, but she definitely enjoyed the lamb. 
In May a big round of visitors came. My brother and his wife were here for a week early in the month, and one of my board games pals from Missouri and his wife came for a week late in the month. Oh, the places we saw. Oh, the food we ate. Oh, the walking we did. 

The birth of the tank

Highlights included:

  • The cliffs at Dover
  • London Bridge and Tower of London
  • The Spirit Tour at the Natural History Museum
  • A day in Richmond to watch football and consume schnitzel and hefeweizen
  • Kebabs x2
  • The Churchill War Rooms
  • The HMS Belfast
  • The Tank Museum in Bovington
  • The League 1 playoff final where Charlton scored in the 90th minute to gain promotion
  • The Merry Wives of Windsor at The Globe 
The white cliffs of Dover. Missing iPhone not pictured.

We rented a car and drove to Dover to see the cliffs. It absolutely gushed rain on us on the way out, but when we arrived it was a beautiful day with scudding clouds and a nice breeze over the English Channel. My colleagues were not impressed with our plan to visit the cliffs, but the way I see it, if something is a Wonder of the World in Civilization, that means it’s worth seeing. The highlight of the trip was when the girls and I decided to sit at the top of the cliff pictured above. My eldest was sitting quietly, taking pictures of France, when I heard a screech and looked up. Her iPhone tumbled forward, bounced once, and went right over the edge. It seems she encountered a spider, and her response was to panic and toss the phone. Over. The. Edge. Of. The. Cliff. Kids these days. On the plus side, she’s fine other than a bruise to her pride.

London Bridge on a sunny May afternoon
London Bridge

With all that behind us, the summer will be no less busy. We’ll be in America for two weeks to see friends and family. The day after we get back to London we’re moving to a new place a little further from the city center. We’ll be a few minutes’ walk from Twickenham Station, so my commute will actually go down due to the faster trains, but the biggest thing is that we’ll have more school options for the girls. 

A storage room at the London Natural History Museum.

Amongst all that, I read a few books. Kameron Hurley’s “The Light Brigade” was brilliant. It’s a vicious deconstruction of military science fiction and neoliberal capitalism. It’s science fiction using the elements of wonder to shine a light on the present day. 

I also did something unusual for me: I watched television. Not just a little, either. I binged seasons 2 through 7 of Game of Thrones so I could watch the final season with the rest of the world. After watching them all in about a month, I think the series peaked in episode one of season seven. “The north remembers” was such a brilliant line and the culmination of years worth of character development for Arya. After that, it felt like a rush to the conclusion. A series defined by the characters turned into a chess match of moving pieces into place, and the resolutions for Brienne, Cersei, Jaime, and Daenerys didn’t work for me. Dany’s felt rushed, but it might have worked with more time to setup. The others I just plain hated. The Starks, at least, seemed to do okay out of the deal. 

January & February Update

Unrelated to the travel journal parts of this blog, but I have a new short story out in the “Gorgon: Stories of Emergence” anthology published by Pantheon Magazine. My short story “Of Talons and Teeth” is included along with fellow Viable Paradise alumnus Aimee Ogden’s “Psalms.” “Of Talons and Teeth” even includes an illustration!

You can find a list of my publication history on this very website.

On the travel journal portion of things, we’ve been up to our usual shenanigans. The big family highlight for January was our trip to see Hamilton.

I didn’t go to the theater much when I was a kid, and the handful of times I went in high school and college it didn’t really stick. (I have never forgotten the production of “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” that I saw at Drury as an undergrad, so I’m not sure why it didn’t stick.) It took listening to the Hamilton soundtrack for me to find an interest. The combination of whip-smart lyrics, history, and musical style caught my attention and never released it. I had to wait for it for three years, but I was finally able to see the show in person in London this year.

It was excellent. The production, the staging, the choreography, the costumes were all *amazing.* The cast was really good. They weren’t the same as the cast album that is seared into my brain, but they were all highly talented. I especially loved Rachelle Ann Go as Eliza in “Burn.” My favorite song of the show, and it doesn’t make my top 20 from the cast album.

If you’re into theater, you should see Hamilton. Period. Listen to the cast album a few times, read the Wikipedia entry on Alexander Hamilton’s life, and go when the opportunity presents itself. It will blow you away.

Also in January, I made it out to Griffin Park to see Brentford FC (named after me, obviously) take on Stoke City. It was a chilly afternoon, but a good result for the club. I had a great time visiting some of the local Brentford pubs and talking football with a bunch of people that have been following the clubs for decades.
And… I saw these two delightful street signs.

I was shocked this was the name of the street…
…and then I saw this one a block later. Well played, England.

In February, my mom came to visit, so we took her into the city to see some attractions. We made our first trip to the London Eye.

It was a typical February day in London.
We were back near the Eye a week later, and the weather was *perfect*

We visited the Museum of London, and it remains my favorite museum in the city. It’s the narrative that really does it, I think. I love that you walk in the entrance, start in the Paleolithic era, and make your way chronologically forward through the history of the city.

We also made it to the Sky Garden. It’s a three-story garden at the top of the Walkie Talkie in the City of London. From 35 stories up, you can see much of the city. We had a fairly clear day (by London standards) with wonderful views of the Shard, the Tower of London, the City of London, and St. Paul’s. The Walkie Talkie, you may remember, was the building that was melting cars after it was built. Sadly for us–but happily for the vehicle owners below us–the problem was successfully resolved with metal slats on the southern face of the building, and there were no unsightly lumps of plastic stuck to the pavement.

Back on the writing front, I am finishing a second pass of edits on my novel-in-progress. I started it in late 2017 and have worked on it off and on since then. The move led to some interruptions, but I’ve been working on it steadily since Viable Paradise. I have a few willing alpha readers lined up, and I’m aiming to have it out to them by the end of March. It’s part steam punk, part space opera, with a heap of revolution, and a twist of betrayal. This will be my first novel that I send out to agents and pursue the traditional publishing route, so it will likely be years before it’s available to a broad audience. Hopefully you’ll see some more short fiction from me in the meantime.

Celsius Temperatures, A Scale for Americans

  • Below 0 – Stay inside
  • 0 – Wear a coat, scarf and gloves 
  • 5 – Wear a coat and a scarf
  • 10 – Wear a jacket. Or a coat. Your call.
  • 15 – Wear a jacket
  • 20 – Wear a jacket if you’re standing around
  • 25 – Leave the jacket at home
  • 30 – Wear shorts. Stay hydrated.
  • 35 – We definitely need air conditioning now
  • 40 – What is this, Arizona?
  • 45 – Leave Australia, return in 6 months

Weekend in Paris – Quick Thoughts

We spent four days in Paris the weekend between Christmas and New Year’s. It was beautiful, not very busy, and cold.

The Eiffel Tower: worth climbing to the second floor for sure. The line for the stairs was much shorter than the elevator, so we took the stairs. There’s no choice but to take an elevator further up if you wish to go to the top. We did. No regrets, but it’s not really necessary, either. The second floor is impressive on its own.

Versailles was even more ornate than I expected. I’d like to visit in the spring or summer to see the gardens. I booked my tickets in advance, which meant I was able to spend 5 minutes in the queue rather than an hour (said queue is surely much worse in warm weather), but the really pro way to see Versailles is book a tour in your language. That lets you enter with your tour group, and then you can stay inside the gates and view the rest of the palace on your own without needing to back out to the queue. You need tickets to enter whether you do the tour or not, but the tour is worthwhile in its own right, and the ability to skip the queue is a nice bonus.

The whole time I was there I couldn’t help but think about how such ridiculous excess ultimately resulted in the French Revolution.

The Louvre would be worth seeing if all the art and artifacts were removed. The building itself is gorgeous. No one does ceiling moldings like the French. Again, book your tickets in advance. The worst queue here wasn’t to enter the museum itself, it was to get through security. If you enter through the Lions’ Gate or another side entrance, you can drastically cut down the time you wait. You can also book timed tickets, which we did; we had to wait for all of five minutes.

I’m not sure if you can book Notre Dame ahead of time. If you can, and you want to see the inside, you should. We wandered around the outside and skipped the inside due to lack of time for the queue. Basically, if you want to see anything in Paris, book ahead of time.

Also, research your restaurants in advance. We picked a random spot for our first meal just because it was near our hotel. I will charitably call it mediocre and accurately call it over-priced. I spent an extra ten minutes looking for food for subsequent meals with much better results.

Spend the extra ten minutes is pretty good dining advice anywhere. Download Yelp (for the US) or Trip Advisor (for Europe) and look at some reviews. See how a place rates. If it’s not in the top 10% in its city, consider something else unless you have inside info. Also look at the 1-star reviews and see if they are coherent and whether they address the same things. I’m perfectly willing to ignore bad reviews if they are reflective of staff having a bad day, but I’m less inclined to ignore them if multiple people mention quality declining over time.

2018 – Year in Review

An ongoing meme for 2018 was “the last week has been the longest year of my life.” This is frequently in response to some heinous fuckery in American politics, but Brexit is running a close second. On a personal level, the last year has not been the longest year of my life, but it has been the most momentous. I’ve taken on a new role at Ye Olde Day Jobbe and moved from southwest Missouri to London, UK.

[ngg src=”galleries” ids=”2″ display=”basic_thumbnail”]

The first part of the year was much like the previous ten years. As a family we made a few trips to Kansas City, spent most holidays with family, read some books, played soccer, played board and video games, and traveled hither and yon for work. Around March the opportunity to move to England arose, and things went into overdrive. We listed and sold our house, sold our cars, and readied ourselves for the big move. I made a trip to England in May to investigate neighborhoods, finally settling on southwest London as my target area due to a combination of proximity to work (about an hour away), schools (good to very good), and cost (expensive, but not zone 1 or 2 expensive). 

The big move happened in July. By American standards we didn’t bring much with us. A few suitcases each, a few boxes shipped separately, and a whole lot of hard drive space for photos. 

Unfortunately, USPS and the UK Post Office handled our packages with the care I expected. Both PCs were damaged, all three monitors were damaged (one destroyed), and they refused to pay anything. So that was great. On the plus side, it was STILL cheaper than shipping everything via another carrier, even after replacements.

Before we left the States, the girls asked if we were going to do more stuff in England than we’ve done in the US. It really drove home how much we had taken being in the US for granted. The girls had traveled around Missouri, made a few trips to Florida and the Gulf Coast, but seen little else. Travel in the US means either driving for hours (or days) to get somewhere or spending a fortune to fly. With so much to see and do in London plus the ease of affordable travel to Europe via air and train, I assured the girls we would do more in the UK.

London itself has plenty to see and do. It’s one of the top tourist destinations in the world, and for good reason. We have scratched the surface while we’ve been here, and that’s been with trips into the city multiple times a month. 

In addition to London, the girls went to Dublin for a weekend (when I was in the States for Viable Paradise), and we have just returned from a four day weekend in Paris. 
Rather than write out a list of highlights, I’m going to throw in some photos with captions. Y’all are here for the pictures, anyway.

[ngg src=”galleries” ids=”4″ display=”basic_imagebrowser”]

Friends and coworkers have asked what’s different. The answer: nearly everything. Springfield and London have about as much in common as Springfield and the moon. The differences, though, are more city vs rural than American vs British. We used to have a yard, and now we have a “garden” with no grass. Going somewhere used to mean getting in the car; now it means catching the bus or the train. Distances are no longer measured in miles (or kilometers), but in minutes and hours. The food is good in both cities, but there’s so much more variety in London.

And yet… London and Springfield aren’t so very different. People are people everywhere. Regardless of language or religion or skin color, people are opinionated, caring, flawed, indifferent, busy, generous, self-centered. 

There is a very real core of American exceptionalism that thrives in the Midwestern United States. This belief that our innate Americanness makes us special. That our religion or our culture are superior. Folks, those things are not only untrue, but the very belief isn’t even exceptional. It’s delusional. The Brexiteers over here are preaching the same toxic narrative as the nationalists in the US. The nationalists in France, Italy, Germany, Hungary, Sweden, etc are doing the same thing.

America, as a country, has done amazing things. Exceptional things. It has spawned great thinkers, great artists, great leaders. It has also participated in its share of atrocities and crimes. None of which is to say that an individual American is special because they were born in America. Are you special because your team won the Super Bowl or the World Series?

SPOILER ALERT: You’re not. You’re special or not because of the things you have done and the way you treat people. And if 2018 taught us nothing else, it’s that treating people poorly overrides any celebrity or accomplishments a person can have. Just ask Bill Cosby.

Look, we’re all on this planet together. We’ve got one little blue pebble floating amongst an enormous, uncaring cosmos. The ice caps are melting and Americans are talking about building walls. How about instead we all try to be a little nicer to each other? My goal for 2019–and I know I’m setting a high bar here–is: don’t be so much of a dick. I hope you’ll join me.

Viable Paradise – Bonus Advice

Take some binder clips to hold your packets together. There’s lots to read, and you’ll be dragging papers around.

Take warm, comfy clothes. It gets chilly downstairs. I bought a hoodie on the island and wore it practically every day. No regrets.

Take good walking shoes. You’ll likely be doing a fair bit of walking, whether it be to town and back or out for your 1 on 1s.
Take the time you need to meet your critique and creative obligations, but don’t be afraid to take that time in the common room with headphones on. If I have one regret, it’s that I spent Wednesday afternoon–and especially Wednesday evening–holed up in my room getting work done when I could have been more social while still getting my work done.

Do not miss out on Steven’s pies. Or the fudge.

You’ll have a chance at leftover curry, but go back for seconds, anyway. It’s worth it.

November 2018 – A Month in Review

The calendar says that it is nearly winter, but the weather feels as if winter has already arrived. At the same time, it’s hard to believe we’ve been here for five months and that Christmas is only two weeks away. The girls were having a similar conversation last night, and it made me think about what we did in November. 

On November 1, I captured a video of the autumn rain. I didn’t record this thinking it would make a good intro to a blog post, but play this thing on loop. It’s incredibly relaxing. 

Technically, bonfire night was on the 5th, but London celebrated in style on Saturday the 3rd. The girls and I went to Battersea Park and took in the biggest fireworks show I’ve personally seen. It was truly a delight. 

The following week took me to Dublin for work. Traveling for work generally means long days and little time to enjoy the place I’m visiting. The museums and cultural attractions are typically closed by the time I leave the client office, but I usually manage to find a decent meal, a drink, and then see whatever I can. In Dublin that meant this guy:

And of course a pint of Guinness. 

I didn’t like Guinness in America. I tried it a few times, but it always tasted slightly burnt. When I came to London, I tried it again. It was better! Creamier and that burnt flavor was gone. Then I tried it in Dublin. Reader, a pint of Guinness in a busy pub in Dublin might just be the best pint of beer of in the world. (I am open to suggestions otherwise!) It’s like drinking a hug from an angel. Like warm sunshine on a cold day. Like a nice, long piss after… well, you get the idea. It’s not remotely the same beer as America. I realize folks have lots of reasons for not consuming, and I respect that. However, if you enjoy a pint now and again, you’ll be hard pressed to find a better pint anywhere. 

The following weekend Carissa and I managed to get out of the house for a few hours for a date night. We saw Dessa in concert, and the show was delightful. 

Dessa has her own, distinctive sound that covers ground between indie, hip hop, and pop. I enjoy music as a neophyte. I do not catch the complexities of composition, and I cannot carry a tune in a bucket. What I do especially love are clever lyrics, and Dessa’s lyrics are razor sharp. We had a delightful time supporting our fellow Yank.

Toward the end of the month I made my first-ever trip to Portugal. As with any work trip, the pictures are A: photos from airplane windows, or B: inanimate objects. I need to work on this.

Lisbon was great. Warm weather, friendly people, great food. 

My biggest challenge was the language. It turns out that all those years of Spanish have left me in a spot where I can almost sort of understand Spanish if people speak slowly, but completely confused me for handling Portuguese and its pronunciation. 

Enter Scene: Brent walks into a small, family-run cafe.

BRENT: Buenos dias. Una taza de cafe, por favor.

WAITER, in English: Sir, this Portugal. We speak Portuguese. And your Spanish is atrocious.

BRENT: Uh, I’ll have a glass of water. Please. 

That story may not have actually happened, but it is true nonetheless. 

The final day of the month saw me back in London, and the girls and I went to Winter Wonderland at Hyde Park. 

  1. Winter Wonderland is lovely
  2. Winter Wonderland is crowded
  3. Winter Wonderland is expensive
  4. We plan to go back next year

The girls went ice skating, and we all went through the magical ice forest. It was cold. It was also magical. There were rides. There was bratwurst. There were CHURROS!

The park is a “Christmas” carnival, which means it is an exercise in capitalism in its purest form. They let you in the gates for free, but everything from there has both a queue and a cost. The place was absolutely jammed with people by the time we left around 9:00 PM, but we still had a lovely time, and the girls want to go back next year. 

If nothing else, for the churros. 

On Viable Paradise

It’s been six weeks since Viable Paradise ended. It feels like yesterday. It also feels like a lifetime ago.

Before I went to the workshop I read a bunch of blog posts from other students. One of the things I noticed was how many of the blog posts occurred weeks or months after the workshop ended. People wrote about how they needed time to process things, how they just weren’t ready to write about the things they had learned. It seemed weird to me then, in the before time. It doesn’t seem so weird now.

Moment: sitting in a critique group with my classmates, listening to people passionately discuss a story about a black woman in prison. Hearing Nisi’s feedback and seeing a glimpse of a world I didn’t realize existed.

When you step off the boat on Martha’s Vineyard, you leave behind whatever else is happening in your life. For that week all that matters is making good art. Work can wait. Family can wait. It’s like emerging from the wardrobe into Narnia where the forest is covered in ice and strange creatures are prowling just out of your sight. Only the island is covered in autumn leaves and the strange creatures make a damned fine curry.

Moment: walking along the beach with The Oracle of the Buses and discussing how trying to twist a trope can still give power to the trope.

The workshop occurs on an island that exists outside the regular flow of time. There are so many people to meet, so many stories to read, so much to learn. I arrived late on Saturday evening, and approximately one month elapsed before dinner on Tuesday . I blinked sometime after dinner, and it was already Friday afternoon, and I was scrambling to escape the nor’easter bearing down on the island.

Moment: reading novel chapters that are so good I can’t believe they aren’t published

I have notes. I always have notes. I write because it helps me order my thoughts and it helps me retain what I hear. Lord, do I have notes.

The staff remind you on day one that you deserve to be there. You were invited to attend because your work was good. There was a conversation one evening about Imposter Syndrome. Every single person in the room had it to one degree or another, including the ones with their names on the covers of best-sellers. That was strangely reassuring.

Moment: hearing critiques of those novel chapters that want to change the parts that I loved

Over the last few years I’ve read a number of books on craft. Dozens. The best books help you see things differently each time you read them. Many of the lectures at VP cover topics that exist in the craft books. There’s a difference between reading a thing a few times, hearing a thing a few times, and discussing a thing with someone that has been doing the thing professionally for decades and has incorporated it into their writing DNA.

Moment: listening to one of my writing heroes discuss the financial realities of a career in the genre.

The instructors are wonderful. There were a few that were not part of my critique groups or one on ones, and they each made a point to chat with me during the week. I don’t know the best advice I received, but I know the piece that felt most real. It had nothing to do with craft and everything to do with the realities of living in a world where obligations and art must compete for the scarcest resource of all: time. The advice was that when you get ready to be a full-time writer, see if you can reduce your hours at your day job to be part-time for a while. This will help with cash flow, but it will also help transition to a new routine without a single enormous shake-up.

It was good that the island existed for a week outside the ordinary flow of time. Not everything would have fit, otherwise.

How to Take Trains: A Guide

There are many things that the locals take for granted, but someone that’s an outsider may find confusing. Riding trains, when you’re accustomed to driving everywhere, is one of those things. Here is a quick guide.

Empty tracks in Central London. The Shard in the background.

Step the First
Buy a ticket. Or don’t. If you’re traveling inside the 6 zones of London transit, you can use your Oyster card. Otherwise you can buy a ticket online via TrainLine or the train company website. Or you can buy a ticket in person at one of the ticket booths or self-service kiosks.

First class tickets cost more, have slightly more comfortable seats, and are near the front of the train. Not every train will have carriages with first class. If you have a second class ticket, it’s on you to not sit in first class. If you do find yourself in first class and a conductor comes along and finds you, plead ignorance and lean on your non-British accent. It might allow you to stay where you are. Otherwise move to a new seat in the regular carriages.

Outbound tickets are typically cheaper if you pick a specific time to leave. Return tickets don’t tend to matter as much. If you know you will be making your return outside of rush hour, get a non-peak return without a specific time. This will enable you to hop on the earliest train if, for example, your meetings end early. Otherwise, if you have a specific return time, you might find yourself sitting in Leeds for two hours while your coworkers abandon you to get back to London earlier.

Step the Second
Get on the right train. If you’re going to a major terminal or junction, this is easy. If you’re going to a stop between major terminals or junctions, be sure you’re not on an express train that will skip your stop.

Two trains on adjacent platforms in Barnes

The trains are ordered by departure time. If you scan down from the destination, you’ll see all the intermediate stops. Say you’re at Waterloo and you want to get to Barnes. You can hope on a train bound for Twickenham, and it will probably stop at Barnes along the way. But there’s also an express that will hit Clapham Junction, Richmond, and Twickenham while skipping everything in the middle. If you get on that train, you’ll speed right past Barnes and find yourself in Richmond, which means you’ll either be waiting on a new train going the opposite direction or walking to the bus stop.

Step the Third
Get off the train before it leaves your destination. Seems obvious, but if you’re standing at the doors waiting on them to open, you might be in for a surprise.

They’ll light up green when the doors are active

Unlike the tube, train doors do not necessarily open on their own. When the button lights up, push it.

Other Things
Don’t be afraid to take an inside seat if it’s empty. People will either scoot over or let you past them. You sitting down means there’s more space for others to stand.
If you’re wearing a backpack on a crowded train, take it off and set it between your feet. It makes more space for others to stand, and it keeps you from smacking people when you turn around to reach the door behind you.
Either hold onto a rail or take a good stance for balance. (Feet shoulder width apart and turned to a wide angle.) Don’t lean on the rail. Don’t slouch against the wall and fall over when the train stops.

Navigating the trains is not hard, but it’s also not intuitive to new people. Hopefully this will help you avoid some of the mistakes I have made.

Cancellations
If your train is canceled, the board at the station will list your alternative trains. Sometimes this means any other train from that line, but if it’s on another line, you lose that flexibility. I can speak from experience when I say that riding the wrong train on another line means you get to buy a new ticket at full price.