nw3 to nyc

Observations on moving my family across the Atlantic


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All the way to the end of the Q line

Hot dog! Yes, it is possible to eat 69 hot dogs in 10 minutes. Every year, Nathan’s Famous Fourth of July Hot Dog Eating Contest takes place on Coney Island. Sadly we missed the competition itself, but we did visit Coney Island to admire the results.

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So excited are Nathan’s that they have a digital countdown going until the next competition in July 2014.  Joey “Jaws” Chestnut won this year and is a serial winner of this competition. I only found out about it because when I bought frankfurters in my lovely local butchers they said “they’re the best, Coney Island Franks”. They then proceeded to tell me, with great glee and pride, about the annual hot dog eating competition held on Coney Island and how I should go. I tried to persuade R, but he was having none of it. But today we got here, R queued for 20 minutes to watch inefficient service eventually give him three ‘franks’ and a pretzel dog! Yes, a pretzel dog – it tastes good, just looks like a slightly loose pastry jacket twirled around a pink sausage.

Coney Island is of course not just about scoffing hot dogs. It’s home to a huge fun fair called Luna Park that’s well worth a day out from the closely packed streets of Manhattan. Set off from the board walk it’s a mix of new and old rides, it could be a UK seaside resort but without the fish and chips and not a seagull in sight.

Oh, and the end of the Q line is a very long way from our part of Manhattan, especially on the local line, best bring a snack, but not too much as you’ll not want your hot dog.

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What is he up to now?

Blimey. I thought old Anthony Weiner had got over his leacherous ways, but apparently not. The press here has been all over the confessions of his sometime ‘sexting’ partner, Suzie Leathers – what a great name, it has to be made up. Seems that he created an alias for himself – Carlos Danger (!) so that he could carry on his pervy ways. I’m not sure whether the UK press would have done what the New York Post did here. Through their Twitter account they published the text ‘conversation’ between Carlos and Suzy. They blacked out the rude words, but you didn’t need to think very much to know what they were. It was soft porn for the masses. Apparently he has a thing about high heels. Naturally there has been intense speculation as to whether he can continue in the race to get the Democrats to nominate him as their candidate for the election for Mayor of New York. So far he is still in, but his campaign manager has legged it, but he’s only 31, so I’m sure he’ll be just fine. It’s hardly comforting when your main man clears off a few weeks for the all important primary election on 10 September. I am quite addicted to following Mr Weiner now, shame I can’t vote.


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ok, ok, I’ll say something about the royal baby

It would be remiss not to, not that I’m any kind of royalist, but you can’t fail but be a bit interested in the birth of a future king. I bought today’s papers here in New York to see what New Yorkers had to say.

First, the New York Times. Blink and you’d have missed it. They put a small photo on the front page, a second one, as they normally only carry one rather boring picture on the top left on a normal day. It shows a policeman outside Buckingham Palace and the crowds near the gold trimmed board that officially announced the birth. ‘An heir is born’ it says, followed by ‘Crowds at Buckingham Palace after the Duchess of Cambridge gave birth to a boy.’ And in true New York Times fashion it refers you to another page. They then deign to provide half a page on a rather snidey, yet bemused overview of the day’s events. They get Lionel Shriver, author of ‘We need to talk about Kevin’, who is US born but now lives in the UK, to do a piece on the baby later in the paper. You get the feeling she’s not keen when she says ‘the firstborn of the Duchess of Cambridge (that’s Kate Middleton to you) being third in line for the throne is of no more import than my being third in line at my local London Tesco’. You kind of wonder why they bothered.

Then the Daily News, a good old fashioned tabloid, sells for 75 cents and really isn’t worth buying normally. Its headline  shouts ‘Let’s heir it for the boy!’ and follows with ‘Wills and Kate baby joy’. It then refers you to pages 6-7 and a double page spread shows a very glum looking Queen and a town crier, looking ridiculous. I thought they’d be pretty into the baby thing, but half of page 6 is devoted to a really anti royalty piece called ‘No thrill among moms who feel royally shafted’. Denis Hamill, their columnist, goes on to say ‘the world media fawn over the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, who live on public assistance in public housing in Great Britain, where they welcomed another royal layabout son’. Not keen then? It’s a shame it was quite so rude about the royals, as it does actually make some solid points about the poverty many New Yorkers live in and yes, it’s incredibly hard and expensive to raise a child.

And my favourite. The New York Post. The entire front page is devoted to a random baby in nappy, waving whilst wearing a gold crown and holding a silver spoon, next to the headline ‘Crown Jewels. Kate delivers a baby king’. Fabulous. The New York Post loved their front page so much, they tweeted a picture of it and asked readers what they thought. Not quite in the same league as the UK’s Sun tabloid newspaper that renamed itself for the day ‘Son’. Classic.

Now can we obsess about something new, please.


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Searching for Alice

In the New York Public Library, “The ABC of it: why children’s books matter“. What a fabulous new exhibition on the history of children’s literature. From an original water colour done by Beatrix Potter and given to the NYPL Children’s Librarian of the time to the ever expanding neck of Alice in Wonderland, this is a wonderfully curated gem in the heart of the 42nd Street library. If you are less than 4 feet tall you too can fall down the rabbit hole – or keep going in and out, as J did repeatedly. Or you can snuggle up to the furry Gruffalo and be grateful he’s only there in outline. And I was pleased to see that Winnie and friends had been let out of the their rather sad home in the Children’s Library, to be propped up in much nicer surroundings at the heart of the exhibition. Free and on until March 2014, catch it, if you can.

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Some observations on summer

Here are my thoughts on how to survive the summer so far:

  1. Don’t wear very much
  2. Wear a colour that doesn’t show up sweat, because you will, a lot
  3. When crossing avenues or streets, lurk in the shadow of the nearest building and don’t boil in the sun waiting for the crossing
  4. Like iced drinks, tea or coffee, everyone is clutching one
  5. Don’t be in a hurry
  6. Carry a lot of water or a lot of dollars in order to top up at the many kiosks and carts selling water – most expensive so  far has been $3
  7. Visit museums, galleries and other tourist attractions for the air conditioning – but be prepared to elbow your way through the crowds of people doing exactly the same thing
  8. Be grateful you don’t live in the UK where a heat wave is greeted with mild panic and with little air conditioning, it will be awful
  9. Be thankful you live in a city that knows that every year for around 4 months it will be very, very hot, so it’s geared up for it
  10. And don’t breathe through your nose: NYC really smells in the heat


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What is a cronut?

At the suggestion of R, I introduce you to the cronut, half croissant, half doughnut with an injection of cream to really up the calorie count. This is a pastry developed by a chef called Dominique Ansel here in New York City. Unleashed on the world on May 10, 2013, I am slightly behind the curve on this one and I suspect R only found out about it because someone mentioned it on Reddit, his favourite website. Anyway, I have researched the artery hardening lovely and found that you have to get to Spring Street, to their bakery, which is way down town in Manhattan. You have to be there around 6am in order to have a chance of getting one, as you have to join the incredibly long queue of pastry diehards. The bakery opens at 8am, they only make 300 and only sell you 2 at a time. So you do the maths to know where in the queue you need to be to be successful.

Whilst I like croissants (I had one from Dean and Deluca only earlier today) and I like doughnuts, I don’t think my dedication stretches this far. I could order 6 by phoning up after 11 on a Monday in the hope of getting them in the next two weeks, but I just can’t be arsed. Check out the Dominique Ansel website to see if you would make the effort.


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A house tells the story of a changing area

I quite like reading about New York history, how areas have evolved over the decades and the personal stories that come with this. The Museum of the City of New York is a great place to indulge this and it, housed in its grand building on 5th Avenue way up on East 103rd Street, does this with great aplomb. I highly recommend a visit if you’re ever here. Reading the New York Times this weekend, I found a heart warming article in the Metropolitan section, which focused on one house in the little known area of Crown Heights, which is in Brooklyn. The article tracked the house move of the current owner (selling for $1.3 million) and recalled the past by digging through city records to see who had lived in this grand, turreted building. It was the best thing I read this weekend and well worth a look. It’s not all about Manhattan, it seems.


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An all-perv ticket

Ah, what a great headline on the front page of this week’s New York Observer. ‘Dems brace for an all-perv ticket’. This is reference to two politicians here who have recently tried to resurrect their political careers after some rather dodgy behaviour in their recent pasts. Anthony Weiner is a former New York US Representative who resigned after he sent sexually explicit pictures of himself via Twitter to one of his followers. He is now, two years on, trying to get the democratic nomination to become Mayor of New York and giving Christine Quinn a run for her money. He is also interesting because he is married to Huma Abedin, who is a key aide to Hillary Clinton. There was an article in the New York Times Magazine earlier this year about them, which is worth a read, if you’re interested.

And just this week Eliot Spitzer, former Governor of New York, also put his hat into the ring for the race to become Comptroller of New York State (the chief fiscal officer of the state, responsible for pension funds and payroll amongst other things). His controversy stems from 2008 when he had to resign the Governorship after he was found to have a bit of call girl habit “costing him tens of thousands of dollars in legally questionable transfers” according to the New York Observer. I’m not entirely sure that’s a great CV for a finance post. The Huffington Post confirmed that he had got the required number of signatures to get on the ballot for the democratic primary in September, so someone obviously thinks he can do the job. It’s a hilarious part of this year’s elections and I’m sure will have plenty of food for the headline writers as we get closer to voting day.


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1000 steps to Queens

That may be a slight exaggeration, but not much. I bravely ventured out with J and E to the New York Hall of Science. This rather grandly named attraction is based way out in the Flushing Meadows area of Queens. Practically at the end of the 7 train line, this is a world away from our part of Manhattan. And when you are doing this with a heavy toddler in a buggy in the hot, humid weather of NYC it’s hard work. Not one person helped with the steps all the way there and there are a lot.

The Hall of Science is based in a converted 1960s building that was originally built as a pavilion for the 1964 World’s Fair. It’s a great hands on space for young kids to learn about science and has an excellent playground, which is great for 7 year olds and hopeless for toddlers. Just hope they are asleep so they don’t get jealous.

Next door to the Hall of Science is Flushing Meadows Corona Park, an oasis of greenery and calm in the heart of Queens and home to the Queens Zoo, sister to its more famous sibling in Central Park. It’s lovely. Small, but lovely with a rather impressive elk with the biggest antlers I’ve ever seen. There’s an old fashioned carousel and a petting zoo with some very friendly goats who love to be stroked. And in the middle is the most peculiar building called Terrace on the Park.

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I have just looked at the website for it and it appears to be much flasher in its Internet form than in real life. From the outside it looks really run down, a bit unloved and frankly a bit of a concrete monster. It completely dominates the park, looming over the zoo. Not sure I’d fancy getting married there, but I suppose the views must be good.

Oh, and on the way back I managed to look pathetic enough to get help with the buggy up all those blasted stairs all the way home. Just don’t be on the subway past 4.30 in the afternoon as it’s as packed as the London underground and deeply unpleasant.


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Crazy world of the New York property market

When we left NW3 the property market was mad. House prices just kept going up and up and most flats in the area were going for well over 1,000 pounds per square foot. It was unaffordable to many but very attractive to a lot of foreign money, with many overseas buyers looking for havens for their spare cash. I still subscribe to a few estate agent websites and see the jaw dropping prices of flats near where we used to rent in NW3. It comes as no surprise then that New York is pretty much in the same position: little inventory, lots of demand. There was a front page article in the New York Times yesterday about this. Property selling works a bit differently here. The buyer has an agent and the seller has an agent. So often the buyer and the seller don’t even meet, it’s done through their representatives. Open houses are common, with the seller’s agent arranging viewings with the brokers representing the buyers. The New York Times article talks about 100 buyers crammed into open houses for one bed flats; with dozens of above asking prices offers; and the level of all cash buyers is stunning. It’s  a crazy world. I’m so glad we aren’t buying here.