nw3 to nyc

Observations on moving my family across the Atlantic

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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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Now that’s fancy

In what I hope will be one of the last winter-related posts of this winter at least, I am amazed at the ingenuity of some people who live in New York. They have everything and now they have heated pavements! Yes, some buildings are so fancy that they have paid the city for the rights to dig up the nearby pavement and install a heating system so that when it snows they don’t need anyone to shovel the snow. Now that’s what I call lazy. The New York Times will tell you all about it, but it will say sidewalk and not pavement, of course. Have a read. And laugh.

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I don’t mean to be inane, but

I will, because I need to share this. I have terribly dry hands, mostly because of the weather but also because with a snotty two year old I wash and dry them a lot. I have given up having manicures because they don’t last, so I have horrible British hands. Until today. Someone told me about a magical place that washes and exfoliates your hands and makes them like new. Could such a place repair and renew my hands? Why yes it did. Courtesy of Sabon, an Israeli firm that makes body lotion, soaps etc.

I had always ignored the people standing outside their shop on 86 and Lex as they handed out pathetic sized samples of soap. But not any more. Having hauled J’s buggy into the ridiculously narrow door (they all face outwards – why is that?) I was taken to the font of soft hands, a large round font-like brass coloured sink in the middle of the shop. A very nice man washed my hands, used a creamy liquid with bits in to slough off the dry skin and then a brutal gel with what felt like rocks to just beat my hands into submission and followed by a funny oil and then a lovely moisturiser. Bliss. My hands are like new.

And yes, I bought some of the stuff. And no, I won’t ignore them any more.

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Sun, snow and sadness

I’m getting used to running in minus temperatures. It’s bloody hard to start with, but once you get going, you warm up a bit and with just my face exposed to the elements, I’m covered from head to toe. Running along the streets, it’s cold and sunless, despite the fact that I know it is a beautiful sunny day and not a cloud in the sky.  I pop out on to Fifth Avenue and breath a sigh of relief as the light returns and the pristine snow of Central Park beckons. It is lovely.

The 6 mile inner loop road used by runners is clear but the bordered by walls of snow. Vast swathes of the park are just covered in a blanket of white snow and everyone just seems quite happy. I run the bottom half of the loop road from north to south, all the way past the ice rink at 61st Street which looks great in this weather. Too cold to hang out at the reservoir for some stretching today, so I tootle back down to Fifth Avenue and the sun disappears in the shade of the tall buildings of Manhattan.

I pause at Park Avenue as I just miss the lights and am faced with a wall of photographers and TV cameras camped out in the central reservation of Park Avenue. What’s this? I quickly realise it’s the funeral of the actor Philip Seymour Hoffman. It’s not yet started, but the press are out in force, flanked by many NYPD officers. In the few minutes I wait for the lights, I see no one arrive but the anticipation is great and they clearly expect Hollywood stars to appear at some point to pay their last respects.

The lights change and then I’m off. It’s a surreal pause in my journey today, where sun, snow and sadness mingle together in the freezing streets of New York.

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What is it with the weather?

I still haven’t adjusted to living in a New York winter. I keep expecting it to just rain and be a bit cold. I’m sure it was like that last year, bar one snow episode. But this year, it’s all snow, freezing temperatures and a bit more snow. New York was on tenterhooks last week as the Super Bowl was due to be played at the Metlife Stadium across the Hudson in New Jersey. Jointly hosted between the states of New York and New Jersey, but mostly seemed to be about New York City, not New Jersey  at all; in fact, I can’t remember the name of the town where the stadium is located.

Bitter weather hung on for a long time and I got used to saying, ‘oh yes, it’s minus 10 today’, like it’s normal. I have become a weather obsessive, frequently consulting the weather app on my iPhone. I get excited when the app tells me it’s going to be above 0 degrees Celsius, ‘that’s quite warm!’ I respond. So by yesterday afternoon, as New York bathed in 13 degree weather and it was  sunny and really quite pleasant, I thought that’s it, we’ve turned the corner, no more snow.

Err, no. It appears that the Super Bowl was so powerful, mostly the advertising, that it got the weather to get warm enough to satisfy the players and the audience, melt all the residual snow and encourage me not to wear a hat yesterday. But all that lovely warmness stopped as soon as the game did last night.  When I woke up this morning it was white outside. Snow, lots of it, falling fast. We are due 8 inches today. It hasn’t stopped. Time to hunker down, it may be some time before my hat comes off again.

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The ire of the Upper East Side

It’s been pretty cold again. So cold today that after spending 45 minutes in the local park watching E sledge down the hill I couldn’t feel my nose any more. J wasn’t best pleased either as his hands were frozen, despite his gloves but when you’re 2 years old and getting to grips with the English language, it’s hard to vocalise that, apart from crying that it is.

Unlike my fellow Upper East Siders, who took no time at all yesterday to complain bitterly to the press that the new Mayor was ignoring them. The snow ploughs (plows here) were nowhere to be seen in my bit of the Upper East Side and looking out from our high floor apartment, the avenues near us remained white and the traffic very slow late into the night.

“Getting back at us” screamed the headline in the New York Post yesterday. Mayor de Blasio was not a fan of the Upper East Side and the voters were squarely against him, particularly as he supported the development of a new waste transfer station in the neighbourhood. And the maps that showed where the snow ploughs were nowhere to be seen were pretty similar to the lack of de Blasio votes from 5 November. However today de Blasio turned up on 86 street and Lexington Avenue to reassure Upper East Siders that he was ‘for all the boroughs’ and that the plough maps were missing GPS data, where some of the snow ploughs were faulty. Apparently. Who would dispute that, eh?

Tonight, the roads are clear. It is still bitterly cold, but not even the Upper East Siders could blame that on the Mayor, could they?


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We appear to be in an episode of Star Trek

Yes, that’s right, we are in a Polar Vortex. No, I hadn’t heard of it either, but according to ABC News this morning, the reason it is so bitterly cold here today is because of a weather condition called a Polar Vortex. There’s a funky video of this on their website showing this loop of cold weather that normally hangs out in Canada but has been pushed down to the northern parts of the US by the Gulf Stream and we are not doing well as a result. Of course the news here talks in Fahrenheit, so I have to keep translating to Celsius. At the moment in New York it is minus 15 Celsius which is about 5 Fahrenheit. But there’s a wind chill so the temperatures on the streets feel much colder. The only consolation is that it’s much colder elsewhere in the US. Brrrrr. Wrap up warm today.

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A different kind of familiarity

Returning to the UK for Christmas and New Year proved to me how much I love the UK. Even though it was mostly wet, mostly grey and dark, it was home. The familiarity of language, accents and culture all came flooding home. And in the most peculiar places. The services on the M1, where the woman behind the counter in Starbucks just said ‘hi, what would you like?’ No asking me how I am, having to ask back and them move on to the transaction. No standing in line, no being called  ‘a guest’, when I am a customer. And lots and lots of ‘cheers’ when concluding any  transaction. Ah, how nice.

I never thought I’d say this, but going into Marks and Spencer was great! Even though the one I went into was a bit rubbish and small, it just felt so British, so familiar. Given that practically every British person owns some M&S underwear, it seemed rude not to get some. And then there’s the classic M&S Cherry Genoa Cake. I love fruit cake and this is the best. Having devoured my mother in law’s one, I went to find another and was sadly disappointed. All gone. So I consoled myself with a packet of 6 mince pies, reduced to 50p (about a dollar). Bargain. I love mince pies too. I should start a new business importing them into the US to replace their obsession with cup cakes.

I had such a lovely time catching up with family and friends, I almost didn’t want to come back to New York. But the funny thing was when we got here (in a treacherous taxi journey in the driving snow from  JFK airport), it all looked so familiar, so normal, that it was good to be home.

Happy New Year to all my lovely readers. Only 18 months to go!

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What to do in minus 2 when you’re 2

Gawd it’s cold today. Clear sky and well below zero with a cutting wind when you least expect it. Here is my guide for what to do when it’s blooming cold and you have a fractious 2 year old:

  1. Take him to an indoor gym class but make sure you’ve been before and he doesn’t have a massive melt down because he can’t rampage where he wants; this lasts ten minutes and you have to leave.
  2. Trek down to the Central Park Zoo with your trusty annual pass; a dead cert for an hour’s entertainment in the children’s petting zoo.  Today it’s your own private zoo because no bugger else is mad enough to be there. Spend 50 cents on some animal pellets to feed the goats and bribe them out of their warm sheds. Leave after 15 minutes including bathroom break where you have to tear him away from playing with the taps in the toddler sized sinks.
  3. Move on to the main zoo and check out the ducks and attempt to see the penguins inside their dark room, but freak out your 2 year old with the too dark room and leave with him in tears. Console him with seeing the seals being fed but fail because all he wants to do is get back in the buggy and be grumpy.
  4. Wrest straps onto your 2 year old and bundle up short of suffocating him to ensure he doesn’t freeze on the trek home. Walk through Central Park in the glorious December sunshine, waiting for the warmth to appear in your frozen fingers. Think happy thoughts about hot tea and sitting reading the paper when he’s asleep.
  5. He’s fallen asleep. It’s just gone midday and you are near the Met so take a gamble and put thoughts of reading the paper to the back of your mind for an hour’s browsing without stressing out whether your 2 year old will knock over some priceless antiquity.
  6. Check out the Carlo Scarpa Venetian glass exhibition and marvel at the fact you actually found it in the Met because it is so buried in the bowels of the place. Gaze admiringly at the incredible work of this artist and curb your urge to touch everything because it’s so wonderfully tactile (it’s stuck behind glass, which helps with the restraint). Take photos and get told off. Try not to forget to wheel the buggy as you go so as to prevent having a 2 year old as a bomb risk (especially thinking of this as you are far into Donna Tartt’s new book ‘The Goldfinch’ which is partly based in the Met and is a great read).
  7. And finally, with your 2 year old still asleep and still breathing, wander home via Dean and Deluca to get that well deserved luxury lunch to munch at home.


I should write guide books.