nw3 to nyc

Observations on moving my family across the Atlantic

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When 9 x 3 = loud

In our last few days in New York, I have a moment of weakness where I agree to have a goodbye sleepover for E. She will turn 9 the week we return to London, so this is a birthday sleepover too. Most of the people I mention this too say I am quite mad or very brave. I am neither.

I organise this with military precision, to include dinner at a local burger place and hours of evening skating in Central Park to wear them out and burn off all the sugar from the calorie laden milk shakes. There is something quite special about skating at night in the sub zero temperature with the buildings of 59th and 5th Avenue looming over head. There are lots of British tourists on the ice, so it’s good to hear some familiar accents. The girls are loud, they are boisterous but they have fun, so much fun.

We pile into a yellow cab to go home and they spend far too long chattering in bed before eventually falling asleep. What a great New York way for E to spend an early birthday and remember the lovely friends she will have to sadly leave behind in a matter of days.

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Now here’s something pretty special

Continuing with the cold theme from yesterday, E and I went ice skating in Central Park last night. There’s a permanent rink at the south end of Central Park which is re-used in the summer as a small fairground. We went to the fairground in August on a roasting hot day where I sought out shelter at every opportunity and guzzled bottles of water; this time round I’m freezing and gripping a cup of Early Grey tea to try and restore some feeling in my fingers.

The setting is spectacular: the buildings of 59th Street towering over us and the trees of Central Park nearly bare of leaves. It’s kind of spooky walking into Central Park at night; E wasn’t keen and I sort of knew where I was going after an abortive attempt to cut through the Zoo, which was unsurprisingly shut at 630pm. But we survived and it’s well worth it as a proper New York experience, something everyone should try during the winter.


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Sunday best

In our local park today there was a costume contest for the local dogs in celebration of Halloween. The Halloween Howl was packed with dogs of all shapes and sizes dressed up and prancing around in an attempt to win a prize. Crazy stuff, but there was a great atmosphere and you couldn’t help but smile and go ‘aahh’ a lot. Check out some of the entrants:

This one is carrying a replica of the Roosevelt Island Tram. Came second in its class.

This one is carrying a replica of the Roosevelt Island Tram. Came second in its class.











A super hero and winner of its class.

A super hero and winner of its class.










My favourite. Check out the daschund on the right: yes, he's wearing a leather cap!

My favourite. Check out the daschund on the right: yes, he’s wearing a leather cap!

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Hello Tiddles

Since R brought back six new Peppa DVDs from England in July, I have learnt all about the new characters which have appeared on the show since E stopped watching it a few years ago.  There’s a now a fox called Freddie.  I am highly amused by Brian Blessed, his voice booming as Grampy Rabbit who competes with Grandad Pig for who is best at everything.

But my favourite new character is Dr Hamster. I thought it was Caroline Aherne doing the voice, but it’s not, it’s Morwenna Banks, who mostly does Mummy Pig’s voice. Dr Hamster has a tortoise bizarrely called Tiddles. It clearly thinks it’s a cat because it’s always getting stuck in trees. “I don’t know why he does that, he’s a tortoise,” complains Dr Hamster.

I wanted to share my new found Peppa Pig knowledge with a man in Central Park today. I was out for a morning run, huffing and puffing up a big hill in the north part of the park in Harlem and nearly fell over when I saw an elderly man walking a rather fat ginger cat in the opposite direction. He had a lovely red lead, the cat, not the man. He thinks his cat is a dog. Maybe it’s called Rover?

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$8,000 bench

If you have have been to New York and walked in Central Park, you are very likely to have sat on a bench for a bit of a rest. It’s 800 acres of loveliness, same size as Hampstead Heath in NW3: yet another wonderful coincidence. I was using a bench earlier today to do tricep dips in a vain attempt to combat bingo wings. I am a lady of a certain age and anything I can do to stop my upper arms wobbling is worth a try.

Anyhow, I’m huffing and puffing and trying to recover from running in ridiculously humid New York when a man in a van stops by. He’s from the Parks department according to the words on the side of the van he is the man who sorts out the benches . Adopting a bench is a programme of the Women’s Committee of the Central Park Conservancy. He looks pretty well kitted out for the job with brown leatherish apron and a drill in the his hand. I watch him examine each bench in turn and then he focuses on mine. What’s wrong, I wonder? Have I ruined the bench’s aesthetic with my sweaty bum? No, apparently not. He is there to switch the silver plate that dedicates to the bench to someone who loved the park. Seems like a nice thing to do and not uncommon in other parks, other cities and other countries.

A man stops by and talks to the parks fella and asks how much it costs to get a plaque on the bench. “$8,000, sir”. The man, clearly not expecting this, looks amazed, slightly crestfallen, and wanders off. The parks man explains to me, because I am still nearby, cluttering up the place, that you get the bench for life and it’s a small price to pay to help with the upkeep of the park. I’m fairly sympathetic to this and agree with a sweaty nod; I bet there are lots of fancy New Yorkers to give them the cash for more benches in the future. Don’t think I’ll get one dedicated to me and my triceps, not quite how I want New York to remember me.

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The Bronx is Burning

More like I was burning. It was so hot today, nearly 30 degrees on the unofficial first day of summer in New York. We were intrepid and headed up to the far northern end of the 6 line, way up in the Bronx, to visit Orchard Beach. This is a wide arc of sand just off Pelham Bay Park, which is New York’s largest park. It’s nothing like its posh cousin, Central Park. It’s a bit more like Epping Forest than Hyde Park, if you like a London comparison. I think every resident of the Bronx and us decided to visit the beach today, which is Memorial Day.

In the UK you got a bank holiday today too, the usual end of May one that coincides with a week off school. Here, Memorial Day is huge. It’s ostensibly about remembering those who served their country, but in reality it’s a day off with an excuse to go to the beach if it’s hot, or take advantage of the vast amounts of sales going on in the various large department stores.

I’m not sure I’d recommend Pelham Bay Park as a tourist destination. It could do with a bit of TLC, a lot of litter clearance and more taxis. It is a long way out and if you want to get anywhere, you have to use the bus. Most of the time the buses are air conditioned to chill factor minus 100 but today, packed to the gills with mostly nearly naked beach goers, it was sweltering. I was hot. Very hot. Poor J, he ended up in the luggage rack, there was so little room to move. E held on to a pole for dear life and I did wonder if one of us might end up going through the windscreen there were so many people at the front of the bus.

The beach was pretty good and long enough at 1.1 miles to compete with the Brooklyn Bridge in length and volume of people on a busy day. When it was originally conceived in the 1930s it was known as the New York Riviera. It has a once grand pavilion, complete with tall columns and a certain art deco feel. But now, it’s unloved, boarded up and pretty much falling apart. What a shame there’s been no investment in it. Although to be honest, I think the New York Parks Department should spend some money and focus on sorting out the toilets first because they are awful.

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S is for Scarecrow and Socrates

Scarecrow is the name of the new installation in the Socrates Sculpture Park in Queens. It’s by a Lithuanian artist called Zilvinas Kampinas and I’m quite obsessed by it as I can see it every day from our apartment. I watched them install it and last week we visited it when it opened to the public on 11 May.

More bonkers art, I’m afraid. It’s two S-shaped curved lines of high metal poles stuck in the soil. On top of each pole is a metal ribbon which is attached to its opposite number. Bit like a washing line. But lots of them. And they move. The vibrate in the wind and make eerie sounds, like a load of pigeons has descended. They catch the sunlight beautifully and when the morning sun catches them in the morning, it’s a lovely sight to start the day.

I like it so much, I’ll be back. And they have a great bubble ice tea place on the way from the subway station, so even more reason to go.

See what you think:




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Where Fifth Avenue begins

Washington Square Park

It’s rather odd standing under the arch in Washington Square Park staring up Fifth Avenue as cars come straight at you but turn right to go around the park. This is the source of Fifth Avenue. What a great place to put a massive great arch dedicated to the first President of the United States. I think he would have been impressed.

Washington Square Park is not square, it’s rectangular; it’s not much of a park because it’s mostly paved over with criss crossing pavements and a great big fountain, but it is named after George Washington. It’s also surrounded by New York University and filled with students.

I sat for a while in the park, the first time I have been able to read outside without freezing whilst J snoozes away in the buggy. The cacophony of noise is impressive: sirens wailing, cars revving, car horns beeping, people chattering, saxophone wailing, babies wailing, birds tweeting and of course dogs barking. It’s somehow a welcome respite from egg hunting, where I have explored from Chinatown via Little Italy into SoHo and down through Greenwich Village. What a fabulous way to explore New York City. Let’s leave all the eggs in place so that all visitors can discover New York this way too.

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Clouds in Central Park

Check out this quirky temporary artwork by Olaf Breuning which is currently residing at the bottom of Central Park, opposite the Apple Store and the Plaza. “Clouds”  is nearly 35 feet high, the clouds are made of aluminium and the supports are made of steel. It is here courtesy of the Public Art Fund, which funds public art across the city and has been doing this since 1977. I quite like it, but I’m not entirely sure I agree with the description of the art that appears on an sign nearby:

“Clouds dramatically transforms the skyline of the park into a playful fictional tableau, inviting us to experience the stage-like quality of a New York City street with a new sense of wonder and possibility.”

Err, ok.

clouds 2











clouds 3