I love tea. I don’t drink coffee at all, never have. I love tea so much that I subscribe to a tea delivery service called Teahorse (check out teahorse.co.uk to see how great it is). I take huge pleasure in opening the long, slim box of tea that arrives at the end of the month with its green tissue paper covering 4 new teas to love and sometimes chuck in the bin (that’s you, lapsang burning mouth tea). I am disgusted when I order tea in a cafe here in NYC and I get a tall glass of hot water with a teabag in a sachet for me to put into the water. This just isn’t right. I think I may have gone too far with trying to maintain my Britishness through copious consumption of tea when after only 4 weeks in New York my teeth are stained. This results in a very expensive trip to a dentist for 45 minutes of scraping horror to reveal my teeth’s true colour. Must find other ways to maintain my Britishness.
This may be a theme, being reminded of old UK TV shows whilst living in New York, but the image of Del Boy and his faithful yellow Robin Reliant bearing the words New York, Paris, Peckham comes to mind every time I see the three wheeler NYPD cars that litter the streets of New York. As far as I can tell they are for the Traffic Enforcement Agents (that’s parking wardens to us), which are part of NYPD. To me the New York police is NYPD Blue. I was a big fan of NYPD Blue, with the handsome Jimmy Smits playing Detective Bobby Simone alongside the not so handsome Detective Andy Sipowitz played by Dennis Franz. It stopped in the mid 90s with Jimmy Smits popping up more recently in an implausible plotline in Dexter. Every time I see an NYPD cop on the street I think about the show. I’m sure the novelty will wear off soon, I certainly didn’t think of the now defunct ITV series The Bill when I walked around London and saw the Met police! In New York, NYPD officers rather dangerously stand in the middle of avenues, directing traffic (even though there seem to be perfectly good traffic lights working) wearing masks over their mouths to protect them from the exhaust fumes. They tell you to cross when the pedestrian lights don’t agree. Here, when the orange hand is still it means ‘no, don’t cross, you may die” and when it flashes it means ‘maybe you can cross, but you could get run over and still die’. When it changes to the white lit outline of a person of indeterminate sex it means ‘walk, but if a car wants to cross the crossing, turning left or right, it will and mostly ignore you, so watch out’. The safest place seems to be the three wheelers where the agents spend their time drinking coffee and keeping warm watching the traffic go by.
So I’m sitting on the subway reading the advertising and looking around and through the carriage door between the cars comes a man looking very confident, wearing a suit and looking a bit like a ticket inspector. He walks purposefully to the other end of the carriage and stops, pauses to look out of the window and then marches back down the carriage to alert us all to the dangers of sin. He proffers that we are all breathing therefore we can be saved. He is zealous in his assertions and starts to tell us (well, those not wearing headphones or looking down to avoid any eye contact) that there is a computer held by the Pentagon called Huck (sic?) and that it controls the weather (I kid you not), it determines when there are to be earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and hurricanes. He stays with us for two stops and then thanks us and moves on to the next carriage. He’s still there on the train when we get off, same act, same words. Impressive. Still, I think I prefer to the two man Mariachi band I experienced last time I went on the subway. Thankfully Boris seemed to get rid of all this entertainment from the tube in London. What’s next?
No one says Happy Christmas in NYC. There are Christmas trees, Santa is around and stores said they were open Christmas Eve and closed Christmas Day, so it does exist. There is no Boxing Day, it is all back to normal on 26 December (to the extent that I am going to the dentist in the morning, which just seems strange). The mad post Christmas sales rush isn’t quite the same either as the big sales day here is the day after Thanksgiving, ‘Black Friday’, which sounds pretty ominous. So all back to normal tomorrow. Oh, and the 24 hour Christmas tree seller has gone.
In search of the perfect Christmas tree in New York City. Having dismissed the Rockefeller Tree as a bit too big, we search for the slightly smaller one for our apartment. Down the avenues of New York are the tree sellers, lines of trees all standing slightly at an angle against wooden teepee style structures, snuggled up together, waiting to be claimed. Two days before Christmas and there are plenty to still to be had. We enquire about what time one of the bigger sellers shuts. We are stunned by his reply. “We don’t”. In the 24 hour city of New York you can even buy a Christmas tree at 4am.
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” Dickens may have written one of the most well known opening lines in English literature when he published A Tale of Two Cities in 1859, but it was an American writer, Mark Twain, who took a trip to NW10 (just over the border from NW3) in 1900 and opened Kensal Rise Library. In 2012, the local community is fighting to keep the library as a community asset after Brent Council withdrew library services from the building owned by All Souls College, Oxford, in a bid to save money (I note that in today’s local government finance settlement, Brent’s grant will reduce by a mere 0.5%). I checked in on progress with Kensal Rise Library’s local campaign and was heartened to see that All Souls will allow the community to use 1500 square feet of space for a library in perpetuity. Kind, but they will make a lot of money out of the sale of flats above that space when it’s sold to developers. The reason I write about this is the contrast with NYC. Today the New York Public Library published its plans to develop the iconic 101 year old building on 42nd Street and spend over $150 million to bring it up to date and, for the first time, lend books to the public (currently only branches do this). Shutting down and selling the buildings housing two other libraries and using capital money provided by New York City, a modern lending library will open to the public in 2018. I was saddened by the closure of public libraries in the UK and in NW3 the community rallied round and brought the Heath, Belsize and Chalk Farm libraries into the modern age of community resources, run by local people for local people. I just hope they survive past 2018 when New York opens its famous public library, after its extensive programme of works, run by the city for the city.
Sodor is here in New York, well in the massive bookshop near us. They have thoughtfully put two raised train tracks into a corner of the children’s department and it is a mecca for the under twos. Picture a scene of convivial play with Thomas and friends? Err, no. It’s a battle scene of territory, politics and general infant angst. Some fierce negotiation was taking place when I was there between a mother, her crying child and another who was upset at the loss of his train. The shop does supply trains but, as one weary assistant told me, they always disappear – in fact I found one in an entirely different section of the shop later on. I saw children nibbling on books for sale, I’m not sure this is quite what this shop wants, but no one seemed to mind. Why do people bring their kids to this anxiety ridden place? Simple. It is free. There are so many activities for the under twos in New York but they are incredibly expensive – you’re looking at around $40 per 45 minute session and you have to sign up to a semester – around 17 weeks. It’s a massive commitment in terms of money and given how much children change at this age, are they really going to want to do the same thing week after week for this long? The New York Public Library branches put on toddler sessions which I am yet to brave, but at least there the books are meant to be used and you don’t mind so much if it is a little nibbled when it’s free.
According to tonight’s New York Post, Dunkin’ Donuts is the top national food retailer in New York. It has a staggering 484 shops, up 18 in the past year across the 5 boroughs of New York. There are as many people in New York city as there are in London (both just over 8 million). It always amazed me how many branches there were: just how many doughnuts (donuts) can Americans eat? Second on the list is the sandwich specialist shop, Subway. This is the city of the sandwich: it will be freshly made, stuffed with mayo and calories and be absolutely huge! It will come as no surprise that third on the list is Starbucks, with an incredible 272 stores and 200 of them in Manhattan alone. Starbucks is always busy, full of people staring at screens of various shapes and sizes, nursing drinks for hours. Or, what I witnessed this weekend, people sat alone with the New York Times (whose Sunday edition takes all week to read) eating their packed lunch with no Starbucks mug in sight. At least they looked a bit guilty whilst trying to hide it behind the Style section. Not so stylish.
So I go into a well known toy shop and, overwhelmed by the sheer volume of people and the pinkness of it all, I ask the sales assistant where can I find the dogs? She looks at me and says, ‘dogs? We don’t sell no dogs’. I counter this by saying, ‘yes, yes you do, dogs for the dolls, where are they?’ Looking at me like I’m being a bit irritating, she responds, ‘Ma’am, we do not sell dogs’. Exasperated at this point I resort to saying ‘dogs, things that go woof’. Success. ‘ah, over there. I thought you said ducks.’
It’s funny to think about Ronnie Barker on the streets of Manhattan, but it did strike me that Arkwright is alive and well here. The supermarket is open until midnight every night (no Sunday trading laws to scupper business here) and the pharmacy is open 24 hours. The pharmacy has gone way beyond its drug dispensing remit and sells pretty much everything. I am yet to see Nurse Gladys Emmanuel, the object of Arkwright’s affections, in the queue (that’s ‘on line’ here in the US, apparently queues don’t exist here) at CVS. I like it at CVS because it doesn’t have cashiers and the self service tills take all of the change I keep accumulating because I’m too slow to count it out in normal shops.
I love our local deli, open 8am till 9pm 7 days a week, which makes its own cakes in front of you. I think they may start charging me and E for watching them several times a week. So nice. I am gradually trying them all out. In true New York style we don’t cook and get take out from the deli – don’t want to boil those sprouts? Then buy them ready cooked, as the guy in front of me did. Want chicken for dinner? Well, how about 8 different types cooked and ready to eat. I frighten the man in front of me by saying I will have the other half of the chicken he has just ordered; he looks at me like I’ve just proposed to him. Nearly home and there’s a delivery guy in the lift (elevator) with a small brown bag that says Luke’s on it. I ask him what he’s delivering. Lobster. He’s delivering 2 lobster and prawn (shrimp) sandwiches and 2 fish soups. Now that’s true New York. You don’t go out to get your food, you get it delivered. Granville used his push bike, up and down the hills of his Doncaster suburb to deliver barm cakes to local housewives. The delivery guys here use mountain bikes to deliver lobster. Not so different from 1976, eh?