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.
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.
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?
I took J to a different playground in Central Park today. It’s quite normal for an early morning playground to be pretty empty with just a few nannies and even less mummies. So when a middle aged man decides to come into the playground without a child and sit on a bench with his mobile phone it’s no surprise that I was a bit suspicious.
I kept my eye on him for ten minutes and as we naturally went near him, I asked him what he was doing there and pointed out the regulations nearby that say adults must be accompanied by children under 12. He was not happy at being asked and said ‘ooo, creepy’.
Then he starts getting all offended, saying he was waiting for friend who has a child. I said OK, but it is unusual for a man to be on his own in the playground. At which point, I expected him to be entirely understanding and for the conversation to end. But no, he gets up in a huff and says that he will wait outside. He is affronted that I confronted him. He then continues to mutter loudly, but I am too far away and cannot hear, but it’s clearly directed at me.
He’s offended. Really? Is he completely unaware? Did he not see every woman in the playground giving him a concerned look as they kept their kids away?
Interesting that when we left to go to another playground about 20 minutes later, he was still outside the playground having animated conversations (presumably with someone) on his mobile phone. No friend with child in sight. An ordinary guy with a tardy friend or something more sinister? You decide, but for me, leaving that playground was the best thing to do. Creepy guy indeed.
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.
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.”
In Central Park:
1. A man running bare foot. But wearing a hat and gloves!? It is minus 2 degrees Celsius with a bitter Easterly wind. It was not the man I had seen previously who ran literally in just his shorts.
2. A man juggling whilst running. I have seen him before, he’s quite old and favours wearing bright orange.
3. A woman wearing a hooded fur coat which was so large she looked like a yeti from behind.
That is all.
Because it is so cold still, I continue to try and to find new and interesting things to do indoors with J, who is now 2 and 3 months. I’ve taken him to the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum a couple of times now. It hosts free toddler classes but they are in Harlem. The actual museum is on 91st Street at 5th Avenue, where it is housed in the enormous, grand mansion that was originally built for the philanthropist, Andrew Carnegie. It’s a beautiful site undergoing massive renovation and is due to re-open later this year. In the meantime, it has moved its educational activities to a modern space on 110th Street overlooking the north end of Central Park. The contrast between the two locations couldn’t be any more stark. Even at 91st Street, 5th Avenue is smart and the park well used. Go up another 20 or so streets and you are in Harlem proper. It feels different and looks different with the large, daunting correctional facility looming over the newly refurbished playground in the park.
This end of the park is also home to a huge statue of Duke Ellington. I am embarrassed to confess I only noticed it today – not sure how I missed it as it’s got to be 30 feet tall. He stands proud on the north eastern corner of the park, in the middle of a roundabout. He stands next to his piano and looks like he’s commanding the traffic going down 5th Avenue. Underneath the plinth he stands on are a number of naked ladies who hold him in place.
I’m sure in the summer it looks good, with the trees in their full green finery, but ultimately this isn’t a great area and not one you’d see any but the most dedicated music enthusiast visit. It’s not one you’d want to hang around in, anyway. Here are some pics from three different vantage points, whilst I was trying not to be run over or lose J; they should give you an idea of the size and setting and to save you the trip.
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.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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).
- 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.