London eats

London Road
Borough of Twickenham – London Rd

We’ve been in London for a year-and-a-half, and we’ve tried enough restaurants that I feel like I can offer an informed opinion. Before going any further, you should understand my biases. My favorite meal is my next meal. I like good food, and I don’t care where it comes from or how “authentic” it is. There is no particular style of cuisine I prefer, and there are few things that I dislike. (Mushy peas are one of those things.) I have settled on four different places as my “favorite,” all for different reasons.

Dishoom

If you really, truly wanted me to name my absolute favorite place in town, Dishoom might win it. I even bought their cookbook. The food is Bombay-style street food with an Iranian influence. It’s basically a little slice of heaven on a dinner plate. My favorite items on the menu are the chili chicken and the cheese naan, but don’t sleep on the chicken ruby or the lamb biryani. Dishoom works best if you treat it as a family-style restaurant, order a couple dishes per person, and share around the table. Which is fortunate, because that’s my favorite way to enjoy dinner.

There are multiple locations in London, and they almost always have a queue. Definitely do reservations, and if you’re making them on short notice and struggling to find a table, check the South Kensington location. It tends to be the easiest to get into, in my experience. The restaurant is a short walk from the South Kensington tube station.

Din Tai Fung

There are plenty of excellent Chinese restaurants in London, and if you know me, you’ll know that I avoid chains whenever I can. I’ve made an exception for Din Tai Fung. It’s a chain with limited locations, and their London location is one of their most recent. They’ve been in Covent Garden since the autumn of 2018. I wandered in with my girls one day when we were out in the city, and we were blown away at the quality of the food, the quality of the service, and the quality of the atmosphere. Typically you get to choose two out of three at a Chinese place in London (and in China, in my experience), but Din Tai Fung delivers across the board. Great food, professional service, and a spacious interior. They are best known for their xiao long bao, and I can confirm that they are excellent. I also enjoyed the shrimp and pork shaomei and the hot and sour noodle soup. This is another place where family-style dining works well, though it can be harder to share the bowls of soup. 

Shrimp and pork shumai
The shrimp and pork shumai at Din Tai Fung

Steins

I understand that there are two locations for Steins, but I’ve only been to the one in Richmond. The food is excellent, the beer is excellent, and the location is superlative. The bratwurst and pretzels are both worth trying, but the weinerschnitzel is my personal favorite. The enormous cutlet would be enough on its own, but it’s served atop a mountain of German-style potato salad that is :chefkiss: I’ve long been a fan of German beer, and there’s something to be said about getting a two liter stein the size of your head that’s full to the brim with hefeweizen. And then the location. Stein’s in Richmond is right on the Thames path, a quarter mile from Richmond bridge. The seating is all outdoors, so if you’re there on a warm, dry day (and there are plenty of those, contrary to London cliches), it’s one of the best places in the city to sit out and eat and drink until you’re stuffed fuller than my cat. It is not family-style, but but it is family-friendly.

Wolkite

This is a small, family-run Ethiopian place near the Emirates Stadium in North London. I’m not sure if there’s any Ethiopian food in the state of Missouri, but there certainly wasn’t any in Springfield when we made the move. Which is a shame, because it’s amazing. We’ve tried a few Ethiopian places in London, and we’ve settled on Wolkite as our favorite. This is 100% a family-style place, and if you aren’t accustomed to Ethiopian food, get ready for a (pleasant) shock. I suggest asking your server about the sampler. It will come with a huge platter of injera (bread) and vegetables on top. Then add some doro wot (chicken), godin tibs (lamb ribs), and whatever else catches your fancy. If you want something wild on the beverage front, try a berele of tej, the Ethiopian honey beer.

Platter of Ethiopian food
The sampler at Wolkite

Bonus recommendations

I travel a good bit for work, so I’ve found some go-to places in various other cities. If you’re in Dublin, check out Klaw for amazing seafood (oysters and Jamaican Rundown) and The Pig’s Ear for equally amazing farm-to-table food (pork belly). If you’re in Lisbon, I’m a fan of Butcher’s for phenomenal steak and Da Prata 52 for Portuguese-style tapas. If you’re in Leeds, don’t miss Iberico for Spanish-style tapas that hold up extremely well to the tapas I’ve had in Barcelona. 

A plate of oysters
The oyster sampler at Klaw

Fix Democracy in America with this One Weird Trick

Photo by Ian Baldwin on Unsplash

Turn off cable news.

That’s it. Cable news has no redeeming qualities. They stretch a 5 minute sound bite into 4 hours. They parade opinions as if they are facts. They try to gin up outrage in order to keep you on your sofa and watching advertisements. 

If you want to save democracy in America, turn off Fox News. Turn off CNN. Turn off MSNBC. 

But Brent, you’re saying, how will I learn what’s happening in the world? How will I know who the bad guys are? 

The bad guys are:

  • Accumulating most of the wealth in the country while your wages stagnate and your health insurance and college tuition keep sky rocketing
  • Telling you that brown people / gay people / Muslim people are your enemies
  • Engaging in voter suppresssion

Okay, fine, you’re thinking. Maybe Scooby Doo villains aren’t really the political and religious leaders we need. But I still want to know what’s happening in the world. 

Great! Me, too!

I have two easy suggestions. 

  1. Subscribe to your local newspaper 
  2. Subscribe to a large national newspaper

Do the digital subscriptions and read on your phone. You get to save trees and it’s cheaper.

Subscribe to your local paper because you want to know what’s happening in your community and because baby reporters need jobs. A strong, independent media is the guardian of democracy, and it starts with the gal down the street going to city hall and school board meetings and letting you know what’s happening. 

Subscribe to a national paper because good investigative reporting is what keeps your representatives and the companies that govern all our lives accountable. The largest papers in the country do much of the investigative reporting. But Brent, you’re saying, the New York Times is a trash fire. It’s Fake News. Well, yes and no. It is, indeed, a trash fire in its opinion pages. But this is the beauty of reading a paper–you can just turn the page or scroll down. Read the news parts and skip the op-eds!

2016 called and wants its meme back

And also, that Fake News thing? Fake news is junk Facebook pages feeding you political propaganda from Eastern Europe. Fake news is a talking head peddling opinion pieces as facts. Fake news is anything originating with a state-sponsored propaganda organization. But NPR, the BBC? I love Nina Totenberg and Gary Lineker, too. Both organizations have their faults, but they are at least trying to be news orgs, most of the time. Xinhua? Be dubious. Russia Today? Be dubious. The key, in my book, is the motive. Are they trying to peddle advertisements without any investigative reporting component? Probably crap. Are they sponsored by a totalitarian state? Probably crap. Are they paying reporters to read financial records, ask politicians and businessmen hard questions, and generally hold power to account? Probably decent.

Well, fine. But I still don’t want to give Jeff Bezos any more of my money. You need to take baby steps; I get it. It pains me to say this, but consider the Wall Street Journal. It has plenty of warm, snuggly conservative bias, but at least it tries to present plenty of actual news from actual reporters, which is more than can be said for the Murdoch empire and the cable channels. (Maybe avoid the op-eds.)

Please join me in turning the page on trash fire media outlets. Now that you’re saving all this time not listening to some overpaid schmuck spout nonsense, you can spend it reading my books!  

Autumn Has Arrived

You can rely on two things in England: delayed trains and punctual weather. Both come to a head in the summer as the heat creeps toward 30 (mid-80s for you colonials) and the industrial actions (strikes for you colonials) commence every fortnight. You can rely on a third thing here in the summer, though it’s not English–my American pals trolling me on July 4. Nothing like having your phone blow up in the middle of a meeting with a dozen memes about the king. Love you all! 

After the non-holiday, we had a family trip to The Globe Theatre and saw A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The Globe in London does some amazing work with sets, and when Titania rolled in on a golf cart that looked like a Mardi Gras float, my jaw dropped. It was a heck of a spectacle. The Globe continues to be one of my favorite days out in the city. You may have to book a few months in advance, but it’s sooo worth it. One of my favorite outings in the city.

Titiania on Stage

July also marked The Great Packing. We packed our entire house (all 1050 square feet of it) over a couple weekends just before we flew back to the US on holiday. On the final Sunday of packing, English television was airing both the Wimbledon men’s final and the Cricket World Cup final. I had the cricket on most of the day, but for about an hour I had to abandon the packing and flip back and forth between tennis and cricket. The tennis was compelling (Federer should have won, but Father Time catches up to everyone), but the cricket was phenomenal. Now, you have to understand, I didn’t know *anything* about cricket a week before the final. I barely know much now. 

https://www.cricketworldcup.com/video/1279178

Click through for cricket highlights

England were down 248 runs, and after a few outs, they didn’t have a hope of catching up. Through a sequence of events that would not have been believable in any work of fiction, they managed to get even 248-248, which took the final to a “super over.” At the end of the super over, both sides had scored 15 runs. England won on a tiebreaker because they had scored more boundaries through the match. It’s basically like getting to the end of the World Series with a tie game in the bottom of the 10th, but instead of continuing on, the team with the most home runs wins. I started the match mostly in ignorance, and now I’m looking for a T20 (aka 20 overs, aka 3 hours) match to attend sometime. Carissa can call me a traitor all she wants.

And then there was the trip to America for two weeks. 

Moment: clearing Customs in Dallas, the kids asking for Chik Fil A as their first meal in America, and DFW having a Chik Fil A 50 yards from us. 

Moment: driving a carload of teenage girls to Silver Dollar City while they played BitLife in the back seat and made some extremely dubious life decisions

Moment: Ollie (the family poodle that remained in the US) running to the girls after a year of not seeing them

Moment: The first bit of sugary-sweet General Tsos chicken on a rainy Friday night 

Moment: Sending my first-ever agent query for the completed and revised novel

Sub-moment: Receiving my first-ever agent rejection for said novel

Moment: Walking down a country road with no cars and no people in sight

Many Moments: seeing all the friends and family I hadn’t seen in a year or more

While we certainly missed seeing everyone in America, we were all ready to get back to our home in London. 

Empty Missouri road

Speaking of our home in London, we arrived back on a Friday, accepted keys to our new house that afternoon, and moved the next day. It was intense. But the new place is wonderful. It’s further from work (though paradoxically a shorter commute) and more space. We love it, especially the kitchen with an America-sized refrigerator. The granite countertops with plenty of working space are amazing. I’m thinking about homemade pizza again, which was impossible in the last house due to lack of space and unfinished wood counters. 

Our new garden, complete with escaping cat

After the move, it was right back to work for me, though I did get to spend the weekend at Worldcon. I was able to hang out with some of my classmates from Viable Paradise plus meeting a bunch of other VP alumns and Codex (writing forum) members. 

After what amounted to basically a month of travel, it’s been good to be back home and have some lazy weekends. We’re now mostly-settled into the new house. Still a few boxes that need unpacking, and we probably need another bookshelf in the living room since we don’t have the built-ins the old house had, but it feels like a home.

The weather, punctual as ever, has turned from summer to autumn as the calendar has turned from August to September. The kids are mentally preparing themselves to go back to school later this week, and we’re all looking forward to seeing Nonna and Papa in late October at mid-term break. 

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.

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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.

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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.