February, aka WHY IS IT STILL COLD Month

Right, so. Survived January, only just. I will have you know that the Dry January was under hilariously loose terms and that I only drank eight days out of the entire thirty-one. I have excuses at the ready and everything. There were two days with leftover champagne or prosecco, and we all know that it’s a travesty to pour these things down the sink. There was one Really Long Week that was rewarded with two pints of cider and a tot of rum. Our wedding anniversary was of course accounted for, and there was a birthday celebration in there at work.

Basically, my “dry” January should really be what the rest of the year looks like. I’m aiming to continue only indulging when there’s actually a social event and not just because I’ve made it to the weekend. My sleep is a much better quality, and weight loss is actually much easier to achieve. Shocking, right?

I tried starting up doing some jump rope this last weekend, but it was still raining/snowing and COLD AS ALL GET OUT. I did have plans to start with the new year, but I then managed to fall down a flight of steps at Liverpool Street and shredded my knee, so had to wait for that the heal up. Then the office head cold hit and I sat/slept on the sofa most evenings and complained bitterly about my lack of breathing out of my nose.

Final results at the end of the month: 1.7 kg (3.7 lb) lost

So what else happened this month?

Well, we discovered the BBC Big Cats programme was on, and Ophelia was ALL ABOUT IT. We’ve had to save the download as she loves watching it so much. Guys, we’ve turned the cat into a TV addict. We’re bad cat parents.

As mentioned earlier, our two year wedding anniversary came up! It’s hard to believe it’s been two years, but hopefully it always stays that way. We had a great week of festivities, and even managed to somewhat stay in the anniversary present tradition of cotton for the second year. Though I think really we ended up getting wool for each other. Eh, clothing. We’ll call it good.

Dippy finally went live on the museum’s website, so I’m finally allowed to talk about the 3D scan and print we did of him. Honestly, the print has been sitting in our office window for months now. He’s very popular to take selfies with. Been doing lots of scanning on another two projects in the meantime, which hopefully will be hitting the airwaves soon so I can tell you all about it. Needless to say, they are Pretty Cool.

In Boring Adult Life, we got a new IKEA wardrobe for the spare bedroom, and M heroically put it together over a Saturday afternoon. Slowly, our house is looking less like a visible hoarders home. Just don’t look under the beds or in the wardrobes. It did make a huge improvement to the room though, and has now banished all the cardboard boxes from the house except for the in the office. That will be the final frontier in our house for making a massive storage difference I think. All the remaining cardboard boxes need a sort through, and we probably need another bookshelf. After that though, the remaining piles of stuff around the house should evaporate. From there, we might even consider proper decoration of the walls and things. Heady times.

I suppose I’ll round it out with the weather, being an English institution and all. It keeps snowing and upsetting everyone, except children of course. So far the snow has gotten me stuck at home for two days because the trains were so bad, and ended up with a cancelled driving lesson. Even the cat is having none of this weather and has basically given up on any major adventures into the back garden at the moment. Storm Fiona came breezing in towards the end of the month and caused absolute havoc with all the London commuters, knocking down multiple trees, blowing cars around a bit, and gusting with such force that one had to walk with a forward lean to get anywhere. If it were in America, Jim Cantore would have been spotted nearby, reporting the current conditions to the Weather Channel.

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Finally though, it looks like there may be a hint of spring once this current frozen week ends. The daffodils and snow drops are sprouting, and the trees are showing a slight hint of buds on the tips of the branches. As of 10 February, the sunset won’t begin until 5 PM, meaning I may actually get to leave work with sunlight again. Definitely not counting down or anything (I am totally counting down), but by mid-March the sun won’t set until 6 PM and I might even get to see scenery on my train ride home!

So, this month is the No Snacks month. Wish me luck. Actually, wish me impressive weight loss. That would be much more useful than luck. Hopefully will write again before the end of the month!

 

— Kate

New Year, but not new resolutions as such.

I think I did New Year Resolutions like twice when I was a teenager and they always fail by March at the latest. Writing down something major to change and then just expecting to stick to it through the year is a hilarious and depressing way to start a year. Heck, I’ll be struggling to remember it’s 2018 and not 2017 until April. Why would I expect major life changes to stick so easily?

Instead dear readers, I’ve decided to do a year of 30(ish) day challenges. If I can make it through a month and it sticks, awesome. If not, it’s only 30 days, and that’s something worthwhile in itself. I won’t lie, I’ve done some of these challenges because I wanted to fit it neatly into this blog. Also, I realised a lot of the original challenges were weight and diet related and it looked a bit bleak. Whilst weight is a big issue for me, I don’t want it to take over my life for a year!

There will be some things that overlap and some overlying things that runneth over. For starters, actually sticking to my calorie target for bare minimum weight loss will be in the background this year, particularly in this first quarter of the year, which I have termed the Diet Quarter. Speaking of which, the other three quarters have been named as well – the Willpower Quarter, the Mental Health Quarter, and the Exercise Quarter. Why is exercise at the end of the year you ask? Well for one, M would graciously let me attempt all the cooking over Christmas, but we all know that would end poorly. Secondly, enjoying nature for 30 minutes is much more pleasant when you aren’t cold and being rained on. Also, I’ve got grand ambitions for starting jump rope as an overlying thing that will runneth over throughout.

So here below is the approximate plan for the year:

The Diet Quarter

 

January

A traditional Dry January, with some provisos. Our wedding anniversary is right in the middle of the month, and I want to celebrate it with something more than Diet Coke. I do not want to hear about your mocktail ideas instead. Just let me have this. It won’t be as strict as my Sober October challenge was, as I’m not raising money in my name. If you feel so inclined, I’ll leave a link for one off donations to the UK eating disorder charity Beat throughout the first three months as part of the Diet Quarter. Be healthy in what you do and all that, yeah?

February

No snacks. Sounds easy, will likely be very hard. Having tracked my food throughout the year, I know full well that snacks are the main reason I am not back at the weight I want to be. Mercifully a 28 day challenge, but hoping this one will stick.

March

Mindful eating and all that jazz. Mostly just retraining myself to eat small, slow bites and not eat meals like a starving animal. I’m halfway tempted to buy one of those forks that vibrates if you’re eating too quickly, but may just eat everything with tiny cutlery for children over the first fortnight. That would at least bring humour into the situation. This is also a good challenge to gear myself up with for the next quarter as well.

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Sweet dreams are made of this.

The Willpower Quarter

April

The no-money month. Okay, okay. Obviously some money will be spent, but on things that absolutely have to be had – food, toiletries, train tickets – those kinds of things. Again, looking back over bank statements over the last year, I am guilty of buying snacks at the station, ordering takeaways when we had food we could make, and buying random toys and clothes under retail therapy that while used didn’t need to be bought. It would be really nice to be able to take all that money saved and throw it at some debt.

May

No mindlessly checking my phone when I’m at home. We all do this, and I think we all know it’s not great (especially around other people). So for the month of May, if I’m at home my phone will be allowed to roam the house with me and I can answer calls and texts, but will have to be left in pre-decided Phone Homes where I can’t readily pick it up and scroll out of boredom/fidgetiness. I married a great guy, and I should be using the limited time in the day to actually see and talk to him, not just show the poor soul the latest internet memes. He’ll just get those while I’m on the train. 😉

June

Rolling into the mental health of the next round will be finding something nice to say about myself every day. Listing general good things about the world is much easier than being kind to myself, and that’s incredibly messed up. So to push myself into a new mindset, let’s use all of this newfound willpower to start thinking nice thoughts.

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The cats of the internet will have to wait.

The Mental Health Quarter

July

Spend at least 30 minutes a day outside in nature. Like proper nature, not just a walk around the block or a stroll from one museum down Exhibition Road and into another. I’m setting down the rule that the 30 minutes have to be walking on something unpaved. I’m debating if listening to podcasts whilst wandering is acceptable. We shall see. Regardless, getting out every day and getting some sun while this country actually sees any is going to be important.

August

Taking over cooking. I should explain. I am physically capable of cooking. I have actually cooked things successfully. I still cook occasionally when M is on night shifts. Generally though, he does the cooking and I’ll help out occasionally and otherwise clean up the leftover mess. It works, and we both like the roles we have. However, everyone always tells me that it’s therapeutic to cook, and that it’s good for the soul and all that. So I thought I’d give it one more go and see if by the end of the month I too have achieved the chef’s nirvana I hear rumour of.

September

Easing out of the mental health months will be a month-long project of writing down the different aspects of my life that I am thankful for. These always start off easy, then get cheesy, then get downright ridiculous before being abandoned somewhere around Day 16 at most. This time, I’d like to finish a full 30 days. It’ll be interesting to see where I end up delving towards the end, and also finding out if there are any themes that emerge.

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See? There’s some greenery.

The Exercise Quarter

October

Actually getting 10,000 steps EVERY DAY for a month. Usually if I’m on a work day, I get all the steps. However, any holidays or weekends are usually atrocious. Right now post-Christmas, my FitBit says I have an average of 5,998 steps per day if that gives you an idea of it. I’d like to add a monetary challenge to this to incentivise myself and make it hurt if I don’t reach it, but I don’t want to give money to some Evil Organisation. Also, if it goes towards something like a gadget for M that would drive me crazy, he’ll likely try to hamper said efforts. I’ll need to think about this one.

November

Stairs only. I will regret this with every fibre of my being with any deep line tube travel. I will definitely regret it with the fact that I currently work on the 5th floor (US 6th floor) of the building. But if this challenge doesn’t fall under exercise, I don’t know what would.

December

Finally, I want to end the year with some extra space in my clothes so I can eat ALL the cheeses. I’ve finally stopped lying to myself and telling myself I’ll run in the winter. Instead, I’ve found a few indoor 30 minutes or less routines. I’ll pick one closer to time and subject myself to it for the month. I may even convince the Significant Otter to join in. Maybe.

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Okay, these stairs could get a pass on grounds of health and safety.

So there we are – game plan for the year laid out. Now to see what madness comes of it, and to see if only taking little steps of 30 days at a time makes it any easier for things to stick. Wish me luck?

 

— Kate

Almost Christmas!

I’ve gotten my yearly reminder that my website renewal is up, and it finally guilted me into coming back to write again. Blogging on the regular is harder than you would think y’all. So what’s been going on around here since?

Well, Storm Ophelia came across the British Isles. Absolutely ravished poor Ireland, tearing roofs off of buildings and sending in gigantic waves. It brought us a lot of rain and winds, but nothing like there. The main feature that stood out was the creepy yellow sky that coloured England for a few hours over lunch. The photos I took didn’t do it any justice, but it looked like something from a doomsday scenario. Of course, science will always explain the magic, and it turned out to be sands swept up from the Sahara Desert that the storm’s winds carried all the way up to England, obscuring the view of the sun. A lot of folks on Twitter that were familiar with sandstorms said it looked exactly the same as they remember.

It was a good thing we survived Doomsday, as soon after was the arrival of our new nephew! He came into the world with all ten fingers, all ten toes, and the sweetest little face. 🙂 Everyone in the new little family is healthy and home now, though perhaps with a bit less sleep these days. I’m looking forward to seeing them all again this week!

October came to an end, and with it my obligations to sobriety. By the end of the month, I managed to raise £175 for cancer support, and we celebrated November 1st with a bottle of champagne. (I would say I had a drink at 12:01, but let’s be real, I’m old now. It was the next evening.) It also helped soothe the pain of my failed driving theory test on the 31st. I missed by ONE POINT.

We managed okay though, with a chill staycation in Essex the next week. Saw the coast, rode some tiny trains, tried some new pubs – it was like Spain without the sunshine or Spanish language. Catching up on sleep though – that was ace.

Came back to the real world again and straight into another conference. This time, it was to the British Museum for the first 3D conference they’ve held. It was a wide variety from arts to sciences, tiny to massive scales. Saw some folks I’ve gotten to know over the year, and met some new ones that were pretty darn cool.

Back into the daily grind, it’s been all hands on deck at work. Something about the magic of Christmas means everyone needs to get things wrapped up or begun before we all disappear for the holidays. It’s been good though. It’s nice to be busy and useful! When possible, I was cramming in more studying for this next driving test. Nothing says cool kid like reading a theory test study guide at lunch break. After failing the last driving theory test, M booked the next one on a weekend straight away, and it turns out the second time was the charm! We celebrated by going home and going back to sleep after an 8 AM pass.

Before you know it, it was the end of November. My parents enjoyed being empty nesters by going to Las Vegas for Thanksgiving, and as usual we held our feast the Saturday after. This time around, our warnings were heeded and our guests came properly hungry. Everyone still had to be rolled to the sofa afterwards, but it was a definite success.

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The next few weekends had been booked full. We went up to Leeds again to catch up with friends and got to witness the Leeds Christmas Festival in all of its German Market glory. Hopped about the city centre at various bits of nightlife, and even ended up in an old industrial mill that’s been turned into a bit of an events place. That evening it happened to be an Apres Ski theme.

The next weekend was not quite so exciting. Well, maybe snow is exciting for some, but not when you used to live in what felt like Snow Central. Yes, it snowed in England. And properly this time. It started snowing in the night on Saturday and continued nearly all day on Sunday. Not only did it snow heavily, but it didn’t melt. And then it started snowing again on Monday. All the while, I sniffled and coughed on the sofa with a steadily worsening cold. Of which I then passed on to M by Tuesday. I don’t know what’s up with this year’s variety of cold, but it is akin to the flu in severity. You only really get to miss the aches and constant fever sweats. Wash yo hands ladies and gents.

On the brighter side of things, the snow finally melted away completely today, the two of us seem to be functional (if coughing) humans, and in a new Christmas record all the gifts are wrapped by the 17th. So there we are, caught back up on life and the universe. I’ve got ideas and plans for this blog in the coming year, and of course would always welcome ideas from the peanut gallery. Chat more later?

 

— Kate

 

No one woke me up when September ended!

But seriously, that Green Day song has been the bane of my birthday for YEARS now. Oddly enough, no one mentioned it this year. This was finally the year I was allowed to sleep through September ending. Wild. So, what’s been happening?

Well, for starters we have a new and furry family member in our house! Her name is Ophelia and she’s the prettiest kitty in Colchester. (Significant Otter will argue the prettiest ever.) She spent the first week in our house hiding behind the sofa, and the next two only hanging out with us when we were sitting. Nowadays, she goes where she pleases and loves hanging out with us. This does lead to some comedic moments, like this morning when she accidentally fell in the laundry basket and nearly destroyed it getting out. However, she came out unscathed and came to purr on M’s legs whilst he tried to sleep a little longer.

I’ve also been on a bit of a museum binge (Surprising, I know.) recently and been to some new ones. My colleague managed to score some tickets to the Bart’s Pathology Museum, which is only open a few times a year. It’s a room filled with jars of human bits and skeletal remains. Basically, it’s disgusting and fascinating in the same go, and each jar has a little blurb of information on it, so you could easily spend a lot longer than your allocated hour there. It was originally used by the university as a teaching collection, but now the room is only ever used for exams. M says he’s sat some there and was wholly unimpressed. I loved it. Unsurprisingly, they don’t let you take close up photos of the specimens, but you can take room-wide shots. The room itself is cool just for its architecture.

Next was a staff field trip to our satellite museum in Tring. Someone described it to us before going as a Dead Zoo, and that’s actually a pretty apt description. Not in a terrible way, but I wouldn’t go if you have issues with taxidermy. It’s a small museum, but absolutely stuffed to the gills with specimens, and really helpful and friendly staff. Tring is a bit out of the way, but it’s definitely worth a stop. We got a fascinating backstage tour of the collections, and saw more eggs and bird remains in one room than I’ve probably ever seen alive in one area. They’ve got one of the best and most diverse collections for each, so if you’re researching birds, you’ll likely end up in the little town of Tring.

After a museum binge, I had two different work trips through September. First was the ToScA 2017 meeting, in which I had to give a talk on my work with the blue whale. It was only slightly terrifying, and I think it ended up okay. Over the three days, I met a load of interesting new people, learned some new tips and tricks in the tomography world, heard some cool new work going on, and got to have dinner on the HMS Warrior – the first ironclad ship built in 1860!

Towards the end of the month, I got to fly on one of the few uncanceled RyanAir flights up to Edinburgh to attend a Standing Up for Science workshop. While there, I learned all about working with the media as a scientist and how best to get work across to someone who will inherently not know what the topic is on. It was a really handy course, and I met even more cool people in varied fields with some fascinating works. It was a good month for meeting people! Unfortunately, I didn’t have the time to wander Edinburgh as I’d hoped, and was on the last flight of the evening home for a weekend with the family.

Towards the end of September of course, is my birthday! I was working late on the actual day, but the Saturday morning M and I had a nice lie in and then wandered over to the nearby village of Coggeshall. It was such a cool place, with over 300 listed buildings and two National Trust sites. I spent the day blissfully looking at old things, and my beloved M came along for the ride, enjoying a scone with me in the garden of the Paycocke’s House and a pint of beer at the medieval pubs I had earmarked. We ended the adventures with dinner at one of the pubs, which had a steak so good that I think we would both gladly go back the 13 miles to have it again. The weather behaved, my gifts from everyone were fabulous, and it was all in all a really good day.

Sunday morning began October, and with it my Sober October challenge. I’ve signed up to be sober for the entire month in order to raise money for the cancer support charity Macmillan. It’s a great cause and a good reason to give up alcohol for the month. I suspect by the end of it I will be a bit healthier and Macmillan will have a bit more to put towards helping people whilst they fight cancer. I’ll be taking donations all month, alongside of sorry looking photos of me in pubs with friends and a soft drink in my hand, so if you feel charitable, donate a pint’s worth to the cause. 🙂

And most recently, there was the car wreck outside of the Natural History Museum that had everyone in a tizzy. Turned out to be just a really bad taxi driver, and nobody had serious injuries. I wasn’t even at work when it happened as it was on a Saturday, and got woken up from a nap with my phone blowing up to ask if I’m okay. Grumpy yes, but okay. Honestly though, don’t let these things put you off coming to London. It’s a wild city with so much to offer. And if you want to see us here at the NHM, we’ve still got the Whales exhibition open where you can stand next to a flipper for a sense of perspective – and the ice rink will be opening soon!

All in all, it’s turning into a fine autumnal season. I’m looking forward to seeing what October will hold. 🙂

 

— Kate

Seaside Honeymoon (January 2016)

For our honeymoon, we decided to stay in the country and enjoy the quiet Cornish seaside town of Padstow. Well, quiet in January anyway, but that’s a story for another day. It’s a long journey and at the time we didn’t have a car, so we took the chance to ride in a sleeper train all the way from London to Penzance and then get a cab across to Padstow. It was a really fun experience, but you should know that each cabin contains a bunk bed for two, so decide ahead of time who’s sleeping on the top bunk.

However, you get two places to sleep, a coat rack, some luggage space, a mirror, a window, and a washbasin with a towel and soap all behind one lockable door. We spent the first half of our evening in the lounge car watching the English countryside at night pass by whilst we sipped beverages and ate crisps. The rest we snoozed away in our bunks. We were woken at 7 with bacon sandwiches and left the train to a beautiful Cornish sunrise off the Atlantic Ocean. From there, we managed to get to Padstow and had a relatively laid back first day with a nap and a shower high on the list.

Padstow itself is now a tourist hotspot for foodies thanks to Rick Stein and his series of restaurants across town. Seriously, his fish and chips will ruin all other fried cod for you for life – it’s that good. Originally though, Padstow was an old fishing port that goes back at least as far as the Domesday Book. There are remnants of that heritage in the port tours and nautical themes of art and food around the area, but it’s mostly faded into the tourism industry these days.

We did not suffer for being in a tourist area though. Instead, we feasted like royalty and enjoyed the atmosphere of pubs around the harbour. We wandered the streets of the then-empty town as it was in off-season, then wandered out into the countryside of the Camel Estuary. It was a quiet week for just the two of us where it felt like the town was all for us. I would love to go back again in the winter months and enjoy the peace with my significant otter again sometime.

Sadly, we did have to come back to the real world on the other side of the country, but it was a wonderful week long break to have.

–Kate

 

And we come back to Thanksgiving (Autumn 2015)

Good lord, not even Thanksgiving last year, but the year before that. How embarrassing.

This would be our third Thanksgiving together, and the first with guests. The significant otter was excited to put our larger Norfolk kitchen to use at full effect. He was even preparing a vegetarian main course for one of our guests! In our house, he is definitely the cook – though I did get to make the desserts. (Not pictured is the pumpkin pie.)

Cupcakes and brownies and cookies, oh my!

M has taken quite a shine to Thanksgiving. I suspect this is mostly due to him getting free license to cook an absolutely massive meal full of complex recipes more than a keen desire to bring Americanism into our home. We definitely still avoid the Black Friday sales like the plague. Regardless, he had been relentlessly prepping for this day for weeks. I’m not exaggerating – WEEKS. He had a spreadsheet of foods needed, when to buy them, and when they’d go into the oven. I’m not kidding on the ‘fond of’ bit.

Finally we get to the week of Thanksgiving and it all kicks off. Because we don’t get the Thursday off in the UK (Shocking, right?), Thanksgiving is generally held on a Saturday for us. This works pretty well for frozen turkeys as the actual day of Thanksgiving is a great reminder to take the bird out to defrost if you haven’t already.

Speaking of turkeys… Did you know it is nigh on impossible to get a fresh turkey before mid-December here? Everyone likes to have them for Christmas, so they just aren’t ready before then. Trust me, I called and walked in about five different butchers around Norwich asking about this. They all looked at me like I had lost my mind. Thankfully, you can purchase frozen turkeys from the grocery store, especially around November time.

So Saturday arrived and I quickly became a kitchen widow. You know how I mentioned the whole frozen turkey reminder thing? Yeah, apparently that wasn’t quite enough time for the size of the bird we had purchased. Thankfully it all worked out in the end. There’s an upside to having a ridiculous amount of food – nobody minds waiting a bit, so long as there’s something to nibble on. And nibble on there was, as M had made a metric ton of pigs in blankets for everyone. Fun fact: pigs in blankets are two very different things in the US and the UK. Be prepared to see a few surprised looks if you don’t warn your guests. Being the blend of cultures that we are, we opted for the UK pigs in blankets for our American holiday meal.

All in all, it was a lovely meal with lovely friends, and we ended up sat around the table playing games and drinking wine until late in the evening. As everyone was winding up and going to bed, The Event happened. You know The Event. Every family has something go terribly awry every Thanksgiving. Someone burns the turkey. The sweet potatoes were forgotten. Someone says something horrible at the table and no one is able to make a swift recovery in time. Our guests were absolutely amazing, so the politics was safely not an issue. In fact, it was M and myself that managed the 2015 Thanksgiving Event of the Year.

I went to begin another round of tidying in the kitchen. We didn’t have a dishwasher at the time, so I was having to hand wash all the dishes as we went. As one would expect, it was total carnage in the kitchen at the time when I swept in to clean another load of plates. It was when I reached over the counter to grab a bowl from the back that I managed to catch the tip of our (recently refilled) glass jar of olive oil.

It fell over, rolled across the counter, and then shattered into a million pieces, leaving glass shrapnel and a quart of slick olive oil all over our brick tiled kitchen floor.

The crime scene.
The crime scene.

Surprisingly for our inebriated state, no one ended up with cuts from the glass. With the immediate danger cleaned up, the next logical step is to mop up, right?

OH MY GOD NO.

But yes, that is what we did next. Drunken logic dictated that obviously we should just get it up with some water and floor soap, so we mopped the entire floor and went to bed whilst it air dried. But when we came down the next morning, it looked like it hadn’t even dried.

Come find out, mopping is the absolute last thing you want to do when it comes to cleaning up oil spills in the kitchen. M of course was reading this the next morning as we gazed in horror at our new glossy floor tiles. Apparently you want to throw as many paper towels and cloth towels you have at it and then let it soak up as much as possible before blotting away the rest in small increments. DO NOT RUB IT ACROSS THE FLOOR.

It ended up taking about 3 months of twice-weekly mopping and letting our socks soak up the grease before it finally faded away, but at least the fond memories of the night have lasted longer.
— Kate

Trains – Choo Choo?

Came back in last night from Colchester by the train line and I must say, I absolutely adore the train system here. To be honest, I don’t know if it could ever become a thing in the US due to the sheer size of the country, but it works well for the UK. Rather than just gush about how cool the trains are here, I thought I’d just give you an idea of how a typical journey has gone so far (we’ll stay on the rosy side and not go into the fun of when the trains go awry this time).

To begin with, I ordered the tickets online in advance. Not the furthest in advance for optimal pricing this time, but it does make a major difference in cost. Train travel has a lot of options, and booking a particular train for a particular time in advance is typically the cheapest method of traveling on the rail. However, there are also options such as off-peak, super off-peak, or anytime passes that you can buy for a day at different costs if you want some more leeway in when you’re on the train that day. Another fantastic feature is the railcard system. I qualify from age alone to get the 16-25 railcard discount, which takes 1/3 off each ticket I purchase. The card is also good for students of any age, so long as you have proof of student status. There are also a few other schemes such as the Two Together railcard, the Family & Friends railcard, the Senior railcard, or the Disabled Persons railcard. If you’re planning on making at least 2 decent-length journeys while here, these railcards will pay themselves off really quickly. God knows I’ll manage to do it.

So I booked the tickets online through National Rail this time, though there are other options such as the train companies or third parties. If you’re in a small enough place, you may need to have your tickets posted to you overnight or within a week, but living in Leicester means I have the option of picking up my tickets at a self-service machine at the station here in the city. In order to do this, you only need the card you used to purchase the ticket and the confirmation code, which is sent to you via email. When the machine prints out your ticket, it’ll look something like this:

 

Screen Shot 2014-10-13 at 07.25.18 pmWell, actually you’ll get 2-3 little stubs in total, but this is the actual ticket. The others are good to hold on to for advance tickets as they’ll usually have your seat information if you reserved a spot. Now with this ticket, I have to keep my railcard with me as they will check your ticket on the train to make sure you’ve paid for that particular train (and there are some stiff fines if you haven’t), as well as check to make sure you actually have the valid railcard for the discount.

This ticket was actually run through machines at 6 different points, so HOLD ON to these more-orange-than-golden tickets. In this instance I was coming from Colchester back to Leicester which meant feeding it through the gate at the platform to get to my first train, then to get off that train platform in London at Liverpool Street Station. I then fed it through the Underground turnstile to get from Liverpool Street Station (Don’t just call it Liverpool, even if the context is known. You will be giggled at by locals.) to King’s Cross St Pancras International Station and again through a turnstile to get out. (Technically there is King’s Cross Station and then across the street is St Pancras International Station, but the Underground stop is good for both. Trust me, you don’t walk far to get to either – maybe 5 minutes if there’s a queue to leave the Underground?) Pro tip at this point – see the little cross at the bottom middle of my ticket? That means that your fare on the Underground is included in the cost of the ticket so long as you’re going from point A to point B. Just run it through the Underground turnstile like a day pass and it lets you right through. Of course, (as I am coming to see about a lot of things) the Brits kinda just assume you know basic facts like these and it’s not mentioned in any obvious points. Finally, this ticket will be run through a machine again to get on the platform at St Pancras, and then depending on the time of day you get to your destination it’ll go through the exit machine and possibly be eaten. I got in late on this round and they’d just opened all the exit gates so they wouldn’t have to be staffed in case of machine muck-ups. You can also see the stamp on the bottom middle where the train conductor checked my ticket.

So what about the trains themselves? Well, it depends if you end up on a commuter train or a long distance one. From Colchester to London I was in a commuter train similar to this, run by Abellio Greater Anglia, which stopped about every 10 minutes for about an hour to get to London:

This is one of the more spacious commuter trains. There’s been at least one I ended up crammed in the exit passageway by the door, standing for the whole ride. At least you can stick your head out the window?

 

Then when I left London for Leicester, I got on a train with East Midland Trains that only stopped at Leicester, Loughborough, East Midlands Parkway, Long Eaton, and Derby (pronounced Darby). Seeing as I was the first stop, it was a nice straight shot. That train looked more like this:

You can’t fit more than a small duffel bag or a jacket up in those racks btw. RyanAir-sized luggage is even too big. There is a luggage rack on each end of the carriage though.

This all seems pretty straightforward, but then the anthropologist gets let loose and it gets to be pretty entertaining. (For me anyway.) It’s one thing to ride the trains. It’s another thing on how to follow the cultural norms of the trains. Let’s continue with this particular train journey. From Colchester to London, I had stood at the platform and just kinda zoned out until the train arrived. Unlike in the US, it’s pretty odd for a stranger to come up to talk to you. As the train came in to the station a woman had asked me if she had the right one, and we all quietly shuffled into the carriage. It’s not an everyday phenomena, but sometimes when I say something I’ll get people asking if I’m American or Canadian, which happened this time. She said she could never tell the two apart, and a very well-timed Canadian that just happened to be on the train chimed in to represent the Canadian homeland.

From that point, Canadian Jake and I chattered for the rest of the ride into London. If you catch other North Americans on a train and they seem friendly enough, it tends to be fine to talk to them, even if they’re strangers. It can be a nice little slice of home to hear a reference (like “Rocky Top”) that’s totally lost on the locals here. I’m glad I talked to Canadian Jake, as I now know of a promising burrito joint at King’s Cross to check out. Getting on to the train to Leicester was more of the average experience. Everyone is very polite and courteous, but beyond that you really don’t talk to anyone you don’t know, even at a table seat. You just read or write or gaze off into space and hope you don’t accidentally end up staring at someone. Train trips are MUCH faster with friends.

Speaking of friends, I watched two girls out of the corner of my eye at the table seats to the right of me pop open a bottle of wine and have a few drinks while nibbling on snacks on our journey north. Drinking laws are much, much more lax here than they are in the States, and you can not only buy alcohol on the train from the food carriage/trolley (depends on the train), but you can totally just bring your own and drink it – the staff on the train couldn’t care less. I’ve not yet done it, but it feels like I’m being a little wicked and breaking all the rules I’ve grown up with. Give me a month or so though, as it’ll probably amuse me far more than it should. It’s the little things that are fun like that. 😉

Hmm… Have I missed any important bits? Have any questions? Feel free to leave me a comment, especially if there’s something about life here you’ve been curious about. Otherwise you are subjected to my totally random topic choices! Well, I’ve got a field trip tomorrow with the programme to Sheffield at 8 am, so I should probably wrap things up soon anyway. All is doing well here. 🙂

— Kate