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OAP: Accepted UK abbreviation for Old Age Pensioner (OAP), used in humiliating government forms and the occasional seriously good concession (discount). It’s also used in Wales and Scotland (where it is pronounced Owe-Ape.) It does NOT, however, actually stand for Old Ass Person…

British Trains: (Entertainment included.)

The train was crowded, and the seat reservation system was offline. I’d booked early and reserved a seat—the good one by the window, with the little table and the power outlet. So when I arrived at my reserved seat to find the table occupied by two older couples, I had to choose between the American and the British approach. In America, I would invite them to find other seats because I had a ticket that entitled me to that window seat and a passport that just entitled me. But this was Scotland. I told them that of course they should not move, it was no problem for me to find another seat in the (almost-full) carriage. As proof that I’ve been in the UK too long, I then thanked them. Really.

A lady a few rows down had been watching, and she waved me to seats across the aisle from her. “You should sit here. They don’t reserve these.” She pointed to the seat with the little sign over it requesting that anyone sitting there be prepared to give it up for one of these:

“Oh, I’m not…” I started. Then I noticed it was a window seat. At a table. With a power outlet. I sat down, got out my OAP rail card, and tried to look elderly. As I was opening my backpack, a young man came up and asked if he could use the power outlet to charge his phone. The “since you’ll be knitting and doing your crossword puzzle, Granny” was silent but obvious. This time I was all American. “No. I need to charge my phone and my laptop and my bluetooth noise-cancelling headphones so I can set up my personal hotspot and get some work done. If you come back in half an hour, I’ll plug your phone in.” He backed away (after thanking me, of course).

Two young women came in and took seats facing me across the miniscule table. They proceeded to pile the table with bags of sweets, magazines, mobile phones, take-out cups of coffee, and glossy hard-bound copies of Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House. One of them, a tall blonde with some unaddressed orthodontic issues, also set out three bottles of nail polish. She was just getting out some cotton and a nail kit when she caught my appalled look. She hesitated and returned the manicure supplies to the enormous bag she then set on the floor in the (almost nonexistent) space between our feet.

As I was bracing myself for the next 4 ½ hours, Blondie and her companion—a shorter woman with long brown curls—picked up their books and each read what looked like one page. They put their books down in horror and congratulated each other on not being American. As they continued to chat, I realized they were the gold-plated entertainment equivalent of a writer’s dream. Settling in to enjoy the ride, I channeled Michael Wolff’s intro to Fire and Fury where he admits to using a technique he calls “…deep background, a convention of contemporary political books that allows for a disembodied description of events provided by an unnamed witness to them.”

Confessions of a disembodied unnamed witness. Who might be named Barb. Fair warning that I’m always auditioning characters for my next book…

Blondie: “I can’t wait for that first pint to get this holiday started.”

Curly: “They sell beer on the train.”

Blondie: “It’s only half-ten. Bit early?”

Curly: “We are on holiday.”

Blondie: “Oh right. I heard that in America, they don’t even know to start a holiday with a pint.”

PA System: “Breep-breeeeeeep. Welcome aboard. This train is for Glasgow. Our snack bar is now open.”

Curly: “I’ll get the firsts.” [She returns, arms full] “I got some M&Ms, crisps, and cashews.”

Blondie [Clinking bottles]: “Slàinte. That’s what they say on Outlander.”

Curly: “Did you hear from Tim? Is he joining us for dinner?”

Blondie: “You’ll never believe this! He thought I was asking him on a date.”

Curly: “I thought you just worked together?”

Blondie: “Take a look at his message.”

Curly (reads): “…next time when your little friend isn’t tagalong? Little?” She gasps. “Like he’s some kind of giant.”

Blondie [snorts]: “Me pull Tim? As if… He’s at least two inches shorter than me. But all the men in England are just so…” She appears to give the matter serious thought, then holds up her hands to measure a distance between her thumb and index finger. “…so short. Even if those Kiltie-boys in Scotland are hung like horses, I still want to be able to wear my boots. That’s why I like to go to Scandinavian countries.”

Curly: “Like horses? Really?”

Blondie: “Yeah, but I checked my map before I came. I’ve already got Scotland.”

Curly: “Map?”

Blondie: “It’s on the wall of my loo. I got it from Ben. You remember Ben?”

Curly: “Was he before your last…Algo, right?”

Blondie: “No, he was two before old Algo. We went out for three months, and then on my birthday he gave me this map of the world where all the countries are black, only you scratch the black off places you’ve been to. The next day I found out he was shagging that Binnie down in accounting. I was going to break it off, only I never heard from him again.”

Curly: “Binnie? The one who’s…”

Blondie: “Up the duff. And they’d only been together for a month.”

Curly: “That was pretty fast.”

[Cue the disembodied unnamed witness madly googling. Ah…up the duff = pregnant]

Blondie: “Yeah, so now I use the map to scratch off places I’ve pulled it. I’m good for the whole United Kingdom so I’m branching out for the Commonwealth. Plus I’ve got most of the Scandinavian countries, Spain, and Italy. And Croatia, of course, but everyone’s got that one.”

Curly: “I don’t have Croatia.” After another thoughtful silence, “Tall men there?”

Blondie: “How’s your roommate? She still with that Matt?”

Curly: “I don’t get it. She’s been with him for five years and she could do so much better. They don’t do anything but she introduced him as her boyfriend to people at Neela’s wedding. But last weekend she was bumbling.”

Blondie: “Really? She was bumbling? I mean, she’s okay, pretty and all, but nothing special. And she was bumbling? Did she get the swipe right?”

Curly: “Twice. In the same weekend. And she was all, yeah, I’m bumbling.”

[Cue the disembodied unnamed witness madly googling. Bumble: move or act in an awkward or confused manner. Hmm… that doesn’t seem right. More searching: a dating app like Tinder but the women get to initiate the chats, and are (supposedly) completely hot… ]

Curly: “The Eurostar is going to go from London to Amsterdam starting in April. Do you have Amsterdam crossed off on your map?”

Blondie: “Never been there, actually. Are the men tall?”

Curly: [holds up index finger on each hand, a respectable distance apart.] “They’re brilliant. You’d love Amsterdam.”

Several incredibly amusing hours followed in which Curly and Blondie compared photos of men on their phones, analyzed men of different countries, and bemoaned their jobs, approaching 30th birthdays, and the fact that Brexit is supposed to increase travel costs, making it a challenge to scratch off more countries on that world sex map.

But I wasn’t paying very close attention because I was too busy making reservations on the EuroStar to Amsterdam.