nw3 to nyc

Observations on moving my family across the Atlantic

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Ageing gracefully

Take a look at this article in today’s New York Times magazine. It’s wonderful. It shows four sisters who have been photographed in the same pose more or less every year for the last 40 years. The online version shows the four sisters ageing every year, but in the hard copy magazine you see just a selection over the years and the impact is much greater. Makes you think about your own ageing.

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Miss you, Guardian

Have I confessed before to being a Guardian reader? Well I am. Or was. For a very, very long time. Reading it online is a poor substitute and I have lapsed since living in New York and only occasionally look at the website. I tried reading the Guardian weekly digest, an A4 size version available for 5 bucks in a newsagent up the road, but that seemed to be just the boring bits strung together and none of the features and writers I loved.

So what brings me to consider this today? R has just returned from a few days in the UK and has returned with a pristine weekend edition (now 2.50, I’m sure it was 2 quid when we left) and Monday’s edition, almost pristine, if R hadn’t looked through it on the way back to New York.

What a pleasure to see it again. How funny the Berliner format seems compared with the large and old fashioned style of the New York Times. How nice to read a story on consecutive pages and not be sent to three different sections of the paper to finish an article (yes, New York Times, that’s you and it’s still annoying).

I read the Saturday magazine in the library this afternoon, with J sat next to me happily ‘reading’ his toddler books. It felt almost sacrilegious to put it in their recycling bin when I’d finished it. I was sure another Brit would be along shortly to love it like I did. But they didn’t, so I did (throw it).

And this evening R and I raced each other to finish the Monday quick crossword, just like old times. So close, he beat me by 2 and a bit clues. Good to see Lenin in the answers, good old leftie Guardian.

So if you’re visiting us, make sure to bring a copy of the Guardian and some Sainsbury’s Highland Shortbread Fingers (family size pack of course, but they are only for me) and you’ll make me a very happy nyc-newbie.

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RIP Avonte

I wrote a while ago about a young autistic boy who went missing in Queens. Months went by and no sign until this week when his remains were found on a beach in Queens. The reporting in the New York Post was shockingly graphic and I don’t think you would ever see such detailed descriptions in the UK press.  I often thought about Avonte, wondering what happened to him. Now at least his family knows and can say goodbye. Rest in peace, Avonte Oquendo.

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Levering for votes

You’d think that a sophisticated city like New York would have a sophisticated system for dealing with elections: no pieces of paper folded up and shoved into antiquated boxes in musty church halls here, you’d think. Err, well you’d be wrong.

“Dented, dinged and dated, New York’s battleship-gray lever voting machines have been hauled out of retirement because the city can’t seem to get the hang of electronic voting.”

This is what the New York Times had to say on in its front cover story in today’s newspaper. Machines from the 1960s have been dusted down, lubricated, given some TLC and shunted off to the 1200 voting locations for tomorrow’s primary elections. The primary elections are to decide who gets the Democratic and the Republican nominations for the race for Mayor and the other election in the city (that’s five Borough Presidents, the Public Advocate, the Comptroller and various City Council seats). You cannot escape the candidates and their supporters as you walk around the city, the number of trees that have died because of election literature must be huge!

The Executive Director of the Board of Elections, Michael Ryan – appointed a month ago –  goes on to say on a more cheery note in the same article:

“The machines have all been tested, and they’re functional. I think that there are naysayers in every walk of life, and some people just like to harp on the darker side of life. We’re a lot more optimistic here about this election coming off, and the election coming off successfully.”

Fingers crossed, eh?

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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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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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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.

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Smoke alarm

Today’s papers are focusing on an announcement made by the New York City Government about plans to increase the age at which you can buy cigarettes from 18 to 21. As a non-smoker, this sounds good to me. Any disincentive to smokers has to be a good thing. I have been surprised at how little smoking you see in New York. In London you would see gaggles of people outside buildings, puffing away during office hours. The smoking ban in pubs and restaurants back in 2007 made a huge difference to anyone who hated coming home stinking of cigarettes. It was a relief not to have to air my clothes on the radiators after a night in the pub. Here, you aren’t allowed to smoke in parks, beaches (not many of those in New York City!) plazas and other public places. The argument here against raising the age for buying cigarettes is all about liberty: the freedom to buy cigarettes when you are old enough to fight for your country, you’re old enough to decide whether it’s a good thing to smoke. On a more political front, the New York Times observed that the announcement made here on Monday about these proposals was fronted by Dr Thomas A Farley (they are big on using the middle initial here) who is the city’s health commissioner and Speaker Christine Quinn. Previously anything health related would have been announced by Mayor Bloomberg. The Times speculates that this is him passing the mantle to Quinn, in her bid to be Mayor. Whatever the truth, the New York Post has the best headlines as ever: “The Cig is Up. Quinn Bill to hike cigarette age to 21”.

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Give me an A

Yep, that’s what all the restaurants in New York want. Mayor Bloomberg introduced a new health inspection regime in July 2010 that means that each restaurant now displays a ‘Sanitary Inspection’ grade by the front door. An A is very good, means that the inspectors only turn up once a year; a B not so good, as the inspectors will turn up four times in a year to see what you’ve been up to. E and I have been tracking these letters and often comment on them, wondering if anyone would get an A+ and what would happen if you got a Z. I am yet to see a C grade, which is the lowest grade you can get. I had a look at the New York Department of Health guidelines on inspection and grading. It’s a thrilling one page read. If you don’t get an A first time round, you get another chance, with a random inspection a month later. This explains the ‘Grade Pending’ notice on a restaurant near us, which has been puzzling us. But given it’s way more than a month, I’m not sure the regime is working perfectly and with 24,000 restaurants to inspect, it’s no surprise.

Today, the New York Post got all in a lather about this, calling the Department of Health staff ‘killjoys’ who walk into restaurants and ruin everyone’s dinner as service pretty much stops as the inspection takes place.  The Post goes on to say “Bloomberg’s blue-coated buzzkills are increasingly invading city eateries during peak times, shutting down service for several hours and leaving diners hungry and businesses broke”. Fantastic alliteration and I suspect total overkill on what’s actually happening, but entertaining as usual from the Post. So watch out next time you fancy a meal out!


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Financing the election

The New York Times produces a fascinating table of how much each candidate for the New York Mayor has raised and spent.

I predicted in an earlier post that Speaker Christine Quinn would get the Democrat nomination, which concludes on 10 September. The golden number is 40, she needs 40 per cent of registered Democrats to vote for her to get the nomination. The papers here are predicting she is pretty close based on various polls. So far she has raised over $6.5 million, nearly double her closest rival, Bill de Blasio. Interestingly they have both spent about the same so far, around $1.1 million.

Unfortunately I can’t get it to look fancy here on this page, but the interactive map is at:


It’s great though, when the best the New York Post can do is print a photo of Christine Quinn walking to work in her business wear and be critical about the fact she is wearing trainers, like that’s news.