Back in March, I bought a pair of boots from Vegetarian Shoes (specifically Airseal Para Boots). According to the web page: "When ordering Airseal steel-toe footwear, remember that the sizing runs large by almost a whole size. eg: if you normally order a UK size 9 then order a UK size 8." They said something similar for Oxford Shoes: "When ordering the Oxford the sizing runs large by almost a whole size. eg: if you normally order a size 8 1/2 then order a size 8." However, I bought those shoes in my normal size (9) and they fitted me fine; in fact, if anything they were slightly tight. So, I figured that size 9 boots would be a good choice too. Unfortunately, they turned out to be a bit too big. (I've bought these boots before, but I didn't make a record of the size I bought.) The shop offer a free exchange if you buy the wrong size, but I figured that it would be a good idea to go down there in person rather than posting boots back and forth. So, those boots have been sitting in my flat for the last six months (unworn), waiting for me to get round to dealing with them.
Meanwhile, I had a bit of trouble with train tickets in July: a round trip from London to Wellingborough wound up costing me £36 rather than the £19 that I'd seen advertised on the National Rail website. I eventually figured out what the problem was, and it's probably obvious to everyone else. When you search for journeys, then check fares, you see a screen like this:
I looked and that and said "Hmm, if there's a choice between £11, £19, £29, and £36 then obviously I'll go for the £11 option. Duh!" However, I didn't realise that the columns in the price table correspond to the columns in the time table. In this example, if you buy an Advance ticket for the 13:00 train then it costs £11, but if you buy an advance ticket for the 14:30 train then it costs £36. I wound up leaving London later than I'd intended, so that's why the ticket was more expensive. Ah well, lesson learnt.
The other issue was that I didn't buy the ticket in advance, so I now pre-book my journeys on the internet. They have a handy system where you select a particular station, then you can collect your tickets from the automated machine at that station. In particular, this doesn't have to be one of the stations that's involved in your journey. For instance, if I know that I'll be catching the last train from Charing Cross to Clapham Junction, I can arrange to collect my ticket at Selhurst. That way, I've got it all sorted out in advance, and I can pick up the ticket when I'm not in a hurry rather than queueing up just before the train leaves; also, a small local station will tend to have fewer people around, so the queueing time will be shorter anyway. Another benefit is that I don't have to break my journey. For instance, suppose that I have a season ticket that covers part of my journey (e.g. Croydon to Clapham Junction) and then I want to extend that to Victoria. I could get off the train at Clapham, leave the station, buy a new ticket from the machine, and then go back to the same platform to resume my journey, but that all takes a while. It's much easier to just buy the ticket before I get on the train, but you can't do that at a machine unless you pre-book. (I'm not sure whether you could do it at a ticket counter, but it would probably confuse the staff.) However, if you arrange to collect your ticket, make sure that you can actually reach the machine at your designated station! For instance, at Selhurst they lock the main ticket hall in the evening, which includes the ticket machine.
That's all well and good, but it turns out that the National Rail website doesn't give you the full story. It's also worth registering at the websites for individual train companies, e.g. Southern. For instance, if you look at the National Rail website for journeys between London and Brighton, the cheapest ticket is £5 for a single journey. However, using the Southern website that comes down to £3 each way, which is a pretty good deal. You can reduce this to £2 each way if you have a relevant railcard, e.g. the 16-25 Railcard (also available to full time students over 25), but I don't have one. I took advantage of that offer today, and it worked out well, but there are a couple of snags to be aware of:
a) They give you a booking code when you place the order, and say that you need the code and your bank card to collect the tickets. The last couple of times I've collected tickets, I've dutifully taken the code along, but the machine was happy with just my bank card. Today I didn't bother with the code, and then the machine asked for it, so I had to go back home to collect it. (You have an onscreen keyboard to enter it, a bit like the one you use to type in station names. Unfortunately it's optimised for short people, so I had to touch the space below each key.)
b) The tickets are linked to specific journey times, so you have to decide in advance what time you're going to travel. Since I forgot the code, I missed the train I was aiming for, and I had trouble at the ticket barriers; fortunately the staff on duty waved me through, and the ticket inspector on the train didn't complain, but I probably could have been hit with a penalty fare for that.
Anyway, I got down to Brighton, which is actually quicker than my normal commute into work (it took less than an hour). I swapped the boots over, then I had a few hours before my return journey. This was deliberate, since it seemed a bit silly to go down there and then come straight back; I figured that if I got bored I could just sit on the beach and read a book. So, I wandered around the town, to get an idea of what's where, then strolled along the pier. Apparently there's a new observation tower being built near the remains of the West Pier: it's being done by the same company that did the London Eye, and it will work in a similar way, with a big pod that rises up to the top. It sounds interesting, so I think it will be worth a visit when it's finished.
Based on various signs, I gather that today was officially the first day of winter, i.e. the summer opening for various things ended on 30th September. However, it was a surprisingly warm day, and I was wandering around in a T-shirt (I was too hot with a sweatshirt on), so I thought about going for a paddle in the sea. I wasn't intending to go swimming when I left the flat this morning, so I didn't take a swimsuit or towel with me, but it then occurred to me that this needn't be a problem, since there's a naturist beach down there. I've been to Brighton several times before, e.g. on school trips and with groups of friends, but today was the first time I'd been there on my own, so I might as well take advantage of this by acting on my whim and doing a bit of exploring.
The slight snag was that I didn't actually know where the relevant part of the beach was. It's not signposted, or mentioned on the £1 tourist map that you can buy from a vending machine. I had a hazy memory (from several years ago) of someone pointing along the beach, so I wandered off in that direction; even if I turned out to be going the wrong way, it was a nice day for a walk, in tranquil surroundings. It turns out that the naturist section is about 20 minutes walk to the east of the pier. (That's when I walked along the road, so it would take a bit longer if you were walking on the pebbles.) There's a small train that runs along the beach, and that would probably get you there a bit quicker (or at least save you some effort), but it wasn't running today, so I assume that it only runs during the summer.
It's certainly secluded, so you basically need to know that it's there in order to find it. The map/signboard nearest to that part of the beach had an "N" sign on it (identified in the key as "Nudist beach"), and there are a couple of boards up identifying the boundary of the "Naturist beach" (different terminology), with a big ridge of pebbles behind them. That meant that I couldn't see anything until I climbed over the ridge, and I was slightly nervous about what I'd find; would it be full of people "dogging", as reported in newspapers? (I did a websearch when I got home, and apparently the beach does have a bit of a dodgy reputation, e.g. in NUFF.) Still, I wasn't committed to anything, so I could always turn around and walk away if I saw any depravity going on.
As it turned out, there were only a few people there, and most of them were fully clothed. That struck me as slightly odd, but I suppose that it is "clothing optional" rather than "clothing forbidden". A while back, someone asked me whether I was a naturist, and I said no. Basically, I think that there are some situations where it makes sense to wear clothes, and other situations where it doesn't, and I like having the flexibility to choose between them. So, I can't fault other people for exercising the same choice; maybe this was the nearest part of the beach to where they live, or maybe they felt cold. On the other hand, maybe they'd turned up to perve at naked people; I don't know.
Since there were so few people there, I was able to claim a patch of ground with plenty of space around. After the WNBR, I didn't feel embarrassed at stripping off; I only felt uncomfortable in a physical way, i.e. my feet got a bit sore when I was walking across the pebbles and I had trouble balancing when they shifted under me. I wound up doing a "bum shuffle" to get to the water: I'd sit down, with hands/bum/feet touching the ground, then move my bum in the appropriate direction and move my hands/feet to catch up. That way, I reduced the pressure on my feet, and it was easier to balance. Not very dignified, but never mind. If I go to Brighton beach again (any part of it), I think it would be prudent to take sandals along, and wear them up to the water's edge.
Once I got into the water, it was a bit chilly, but I got used to it pretty quickly; my experience at the Serpentine Lido probably helped here. The ground starts to get a bit sandy as you move into the sea, which makes sense (i.e. the water is eroding the stones). However, you need to go a fair way in before it actually feels comfortable; I'd say that I was roughly chest-deep by that point, so you won't notice this if you're just paddling. I didn't go for a major swim, but I did duck my head under a couple of times. The main difference between the sea and the Serpentine is that the sea is salty, and I could taste that even though I kept my mouth closed.
When I got out, I scuttled back to my bag/clothes. I didn't have a towel, but the water evaporated pretty quickly, so five minutes later I could get dressed again. I was sitting fairly close to the sea, and there isn't any real barrier between the parts of the beach down there. That means that if you're in the normal part of the beach, you might still be able to see naked people; if that bothers you, it's probably best to stay closer to the pier. (That's just offered as pragmatic advice, rather than a moral opinion.)
So, would I go again? Maybe. If I go to Brighton with friends, and they all stay in the main part of the beach, I'd rather stay with them than go off on my own. It would also be unreasonable for me to expect other people to make a long detour up to the far end of the beach, when they've got everything they need much closer at hand, and I suspect that most of my friends would feel uncomfortable with naked people around. If I'm on my own, I wouldn't make a special trip to Brighton just for that. However, if I'm in Brighton (or anywhere else that has a naturist beach) on my own, and time/weather permits, then I'll go for a wander.