So long, farewell ….


As L1 and I watched the news last week, it occurred to us that we’d arrived in New York in the midst of the Roy Moore scandal and will leave it just as Brett Kavanaugh is confirmed to the supreme court. What grim bookends to our stay here. Two accused assaulters, one of them, to quote my friend L, “a beer guzzling frat boy creep” who lied repeatedly and behaved like a poisonous, partisan lunatic in a senate hearing, and somehow managed to persuade President Trump and most of the GOP that he, rather than Doctor Ford, was the one deserving of the country’s sympathy and support. In between these two events, the MeToo movement had been unceasingly vociferous, but to what end?  So that a man like Kavanaugh can be allowed to shape the laws pertaining to sexual assault, gay marriage, abortion rights and more for the next forty some years? So that he can rule to protect Trump from being indicted?

It’s all very depressing, and I have an inbox full of emails telling me just how depressing it is. What is there to say except that I hope the Republican party gets a resounding ass- kicking in the upcoming mid-term elections, and that President Trump finally gets his come uppance at the hands of Robert Mueller.

But these bleak bookends to our New York year aren’t the only thing we’ve been contemplating. As our departure date drew near, we found ourselves reflecting on everything we’d loved about the year. One evening a few weeks ago, we were sitting on a bench in Central Park and I asked L1 what he thought he would miss about living here.

“Well, that view, for a start,” he said, pointing ahead.

The view L1 will miss

Thus began a conversation that lasted until the day he left for London. Naturally, I made notes. What will we miss about living in New York?  Let me tell you…

Being close to North American friends and family. This is definitely number one on the list. We’ve seen more of my sister and her family and my parents this year than in all of the three previous years combined, and enjoyed precious catch up time with friends from Rhode Island, Chicago, Colorado, Montreal, Toronto and Ottawa. What joy.

America (and Canada) on our doorstep. We’ve spent time in some exceedingly beautiful places this year – Maine, Long Island, the Hudson River Valley, Half Moon Bay, Napa Valley, Montreal, Wyoming, Florida. It was a bonus to be able to get to them without a transatlantic flight and the attendant jet lag.

Central Park. Especially the bit above 69thStreet. And the bits where you can go and sit on a rock overlooking a lake and imagine you’re in a remote forest location in British Columbia.  Glorious.

The Jackie Kennedy Reservoir in north Central Park

Urban strolling: the fact that we walk virtually everywhere, and that there’s always something interesting to look at on the way. Walking to and from restaurants is a particular bonus. And being able to walk to the cinema means you’re more likely to go, and even go alone, as I did twice this past week.

Everything within reach. There’s everything we could possibly need within two blocks of our apartment – supermarkets, drug stores, wine, gin, coffee, Lulu Lemon, Nike, Occitane. It’s so damned convenient.

The package room boys, who receive all your deliveries from Amazon, UPS and Fedex and hold them till you call, then bring them up to your apartment. So, no schlepping down to the post office with one of those annoying little sorry we missed you cards, only to discover that the package has been returned to sender.

Sunshine and crisp blue skies. Also, hailing a bright yellow cab under a crisp blue sky, which makes you feel as if you’ve stepped straight off the set of Sex and the City.

Halloween done well. In the States, Halloween isn’t just a night, it’s a season. And they really go to town, starting on the 1stOctober, decorating their houses, gardens and shop windows with autumnal, harvest-festivally type features, including more types of pumpkin that you ever knew existed. When the actual day arrives, the streets are filled with joyful children in elaborately constructed costumes, and their equally joyful parents, some of them also in costumes. (We’ll be returning to the UK just in time to witness a Halloween that, in our neighbourhood at least, consists largely of teenage boys wearing ghost masks who throw your pumpkin against the door if you don’t give then enough candy.)


Great Californian wines. They save all the best ones for domestic consumption, apparently, whereas in the UK we get the dregs.

The Frick.I’ve mentioned this before. It’s a museum like no other. Intimate yet breathtaking. And those Holbeins – I could look at them a thousand times and not get bored.

The Michael Kors store opposite Barney’s on Madison. A store? you say. How crass. How superficial. But I’ve had some excellent times in this particular store  –  with my sister and a Montreal friend when my sister was in a spendy mood; with L2 when he decided he needed to replenish his wardrobe

L1 buying jeans and a shirt in Michael Kors

and we became firm friends with the salesgirl; and with Toronto friends R and B, when B was obliged to do an impromptu catwalk show of everything he tried on, and we conspired to get him to buy much more than the single shirt he came in for.

Dallas and Clint at the SCK Salon. They’re ludicrously expensive, but they’re excellent hairdressers and even better company. Clint, I’m sorry I never made it back in for that last trim and to say goodbye.




Our favourite restaurants. The local and walkable August, Cognac, and Boathouse; the Drunken Munkey for Indian; Lupa for Italian; Balthazar for noisy, Soho fun.

Cognac on Lexington

Our only regret is not having tried Tony’s at Sixty Fourth and Third. It’s an old fashioned  Italian trattoria – all red and white checked table cloths, candles in wine bottles, and white uniformed waiters with rococo moustaches. Groups of elated people are forever spilling out of its doors clutching balloons. We walked by it a hundred times and always said, we really should go there, but somehow we never did.


Our NY friends, new and old.You know who you are. We’ve enjoyed helping you to keep the waiters up past their bedtime.

Our apartment. It’s pretty and cosy and furnished just the way we would have furnished it ourselves. We love the wide open street and the gardens, and we love the Upper East Side location, which is like an oasis of civilised calm in what can sometimes be the abrasive rough and tumble of Manhattan.

Cooper, the terrier who lives on our floor, and with whom we had many a pleasant conversation in the lift.

The basement gym in our building. No question, having a gym just an elevator ride away ensures that you exercise more. There are no excuses.

Andy Grant. A few months ago, L1 decided that, despite having access to a basement gym, he wasn’t feeling motivated or working hard enough. So, he engaged Andy Grant as a personal trainer. A former marine and amateur heavyweight boxing champion, Andy is a trainer like no other. After L1’s first session he returned to the apartment with jelly legs and had to lie down for an hour. He soon got used to Andy’s take-no-prisoners, surprise-your-body approach, but the workouts are never less than overwhelmingly challenging.

The great Andy Grant

I made sure to avoid being in the gym when L1 and Andy were in there because I was terrified I might also be lured into Andy land. Which, in the end, I was. During my last week in New York I did four sessions with Andy that transformed the way I think about fitness, strength and flexibility. It’s addictive.  We’re now trying to work out how to keep Andy in our exercise lives via Sky


The Arthur Murray Dance School on Fifth.We’ve had so much fun learning to dance, and spending time with the Arthur Murray gang. They’re an awesome group of people and we’re going to miss them. Although, L1 is threatening to book himself in for lessons whenever he’s back in New York, and I will certainly do the same, so we won’t be entirely without our Arthur Murray fix.

Morning Joe, and the MSNBC news team in general. The handsome Ari Melber in particular. These people are a counter point to Trump’s craziness, a reassuring comfort zone of intelligence, reason and facts within the morality free maelstrom that is the Trump administration.

This list is all very well. (And apologies to L1, who dislikes listy sorts of articles). But putting  the list aside, there’s something bigger that we’ll miss. It’s the experience of doing something new and endlessly interesting, and doing it as a couple, without much having to consider anyone else. It has reminded me of being new to London and newly married, living in the first flat that we could call our own. It also convinced me that L1 and I will be alright in our empty-nest years. We won’t be looking at one another across a table and wondering what to say to one another, or worse, wanting to throttle one another. Phew.

We expected to be sad when we actually closed the door on the apartment for the last time, and indeed we were. L1 left a week before I did due to business commitments back in Europe, so we both felt sad in different places. His early departure seemed to me to underline the poignant finality of our NY experience. I’m not going to lie – I had a day or so feeling very weepy and crying actual tears.

But I had to pull myself together because there was stuff to do – more stuff than I’d anticipated. Despite having moved into a furnished apartment, we’d managed to accumulate an awful lot of clobber – books, pictures, small appliances, clothes – that had to be organised and shipped back. Once that was done, I had a fitting send-off in the form of an Arthur Murray competitive dance evening, during which I was paired with world champion Gherman to dance the hustle. You’d have thought that dancing with a world champion would make things easier, what with all that expert leading, but in fact I felt all at sea. Gherman’s hustle style bore little resemblance to the one that L1 and I had developed, and his feet moved at three times the speed. I just about made it through with my dignity intact.

The Arthur Murray gang on competition night – that’s our instructor third from left and Gherman the hustle demon on the right


On my very last night in New York, our dear friends C and I took me out to the very swanky Standard Rooftop Bar, where we sipped martinis while watching a spectacular sunset. We then went to dinner with some people from their building (who, alarmingly, were all under the age of thirty-two) and stayed up far too late, which meant that I was decidedly below par as I prepared to leave the apartment the following morning.


After the doorman came up to collect my bags, I took one last look at the apartment, feeling wretched with heartache, then closed the door and went down to the lobby, whereupon I proceeded to dish out twenty-dollar bills to the various doormen who had played a role in getting my bags downstairs and into the taxi. At least I won’t have to do this anymore, I thought. I certainly won’t miss the constant tipping, and the constant wondering if you’ve tipped enough. Of course, the timing of our departure means that we will be spared the hemmorhaging of cash that is the Christmas tipping season. Perhaps we ought to have put a few thousand dollars into an envelope and given it to the building manager to put towards the Holiday Fund, but we skipped town instead.  What would you have done?


So, this is it folks. The last L2 blog. The last time I’ll have the pleasure of sharing our New York experiences with you all. Thank you for reading, and for writing me back. It’s been a blast.

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Excuses, excuses


“So you’ve been slacking off a little,” our friend, T, said as soon as he arrived from Colorado for dinner and a short stint in the spare room. “What’s going on?”


T is right. The once weekly blog posts became twice monthly and then, more recently, monthly, and now they are more infrequent than that. A quick recce confirms that my last post was at the end of August and we are now approaching the end of September.


So what is going on?


First up in the line of excuses is visits from the likes of T, the frequency of which has  escalated in the run up to our leaving New York in October.  The steady stream of visitors started with the son and nephew in late August, and ended with daughter number one and the great Nanny J, who looked after all our kids when they were young and came to New York as part of her eightieth birthday celebrations.  Touring New York with close friends and family in a cocktail induced haze is enormous fun, but hardly conducive to blogging productivity.


Excuse number two is that I seem to have spent much of the last month entangled with the US medical establishment. Please don’t be alarmed. There’s no bad news at the end of this paragraph. But there is a story about the peculiarities, both good and bad, of US style healthcare.


It all started back in May when I had some routine blood tests and a mammogram. These were all conducted as part of the health check mandated by our insurance provider. (Quite how I made it to late May before having them is something of a mystery.) Anyhoo, up I rocked for my tests, smugly expecting to be awarded an A* for all of them. Trips to the UK and Wyoming intervened, meaning that I didn’t follow up on the test results until late August. Then the fun began.


Not all A*s after all. Much of the blood test report was incomprehensible to me (Leukocytes, anyone? Squamous epithelial cells? Methyllemonic acid? Me neither.) But a follow up discussion with the doctor confirmed that my cholesterol was a smidge out of whack and my blood glucose levels a trifle high, and that I was deficient in a couple of vitamins. And my mammogram looked “odd”.


The vitamin issue was easy to fix. And Pink Robe prevented me from becoming overly concerned about the cholesterol readings. She sent me some pretty convincing evidence that worrying about LDL is so very last year; it’s the Triglyceride/HDL ratio that’s the key, and mine’s in pretty good shape.


But the rest of the abnormal results would require looking into, and that meant being sent for a follow up mammogram, a couple of CT scans, a cystoscopy, a stress test and consultations with no fewer than four different specialists. And that’s where I’ve been for much of September. I kid you not.


Let’s talk mammogram’s first. Every woman who’s ever had one knows how ghastly they are. For any male blog reader who might be unversed in this particular method of torture, a mammogram involves compressing the most sensitive part of your body inside a machine that’s akin to a giant toastie maker, whereupon the technician says, hold your breath! (You can’t breathe for the pain anyway), and then, “stay there a minute until I see if I’ve got everything”. (You couldn’t move if you wanted to, for fear of ripping your breast off) You then wait in an attractive paper gown while they check the images, often to be told that the technician would like to take a closer look from one particular angle, at which point you are forced to spend another excruciating few minutes trapped inside the toastie maker.



So. One mammogram every eighteen months is bad enough. To be asked to repeat it within weeks is enough to make you jelly kneed with dread.



These sorts of interventions are not only uncomfortable; they’re also a huge time sink. By my estimation, any thirty-minute consultation with a US specialist requires you to set aside an additional six to eight hours to deal with the attendant bureaucracy, including the before and after communications with the insurance company, the mountains of paperwork, the three assistants whom you must see before getting access to the specialist, and any pre-intervention assessment procedures deemed necessary. The specialists, once you get to see them, are invariably top notch, but my goodness, what a palaver.


To give you an example, before one of my exploratory procedures (which, admittedly, would involve a very brief period under general anaesthetic), I was required to spend three hours in a pre-procedure assessment exam that involved in depth questioning about my lifestyle and every illness, minor or major, that I or anyone in my family had ever had, extensive blood tests, blood pressure monitoring, an ECG and an ultrasound of my heart. By contrast, a friend who was to have a much lengthier and more complicated operation in Canada recalls having had her heart rate and blood pressure taken and… that’s it.


Another example. L1 went for a routine eye test because he needed a new supply of contact lenses. The visit – which, in the UK, would have taken fifteen minutes and cost forty quid – involved seeing three different people and spending an hour having weird liquids squirted in his eyes and cost eight hundred dollars. Eight hundred dollars! “But the opthalmologist was excellent and gave me some very good advice,” he said afterwards, still unable to see me clearly because of the lingering effects of the weird liquids.



The US system is most definitely belt and braces, as in, I think it’s probably nothing, but let’s send you for a CT scan/cystoscopy/biopsy anyway, and if we need to intervene, lets test the Hell out of you first. This seems be driven by two things: money and litigation. There’s always money to be made by referring someone onwards and upwards through the system, so why not make it? And there’s always money to be lost if someone chooses to sue you because you missed something, so why would you risk it?


No whining on the yacht, right? (C, that’s for you.) A lot of people in America would give their eye teeth and right elbow to have health insurance good enough to allow for this kind of over-zealous, over-engineered care. While I am racing all over Manhattan having every exploratory procedure known to medicine, many Americans can’t even afford to get an ear infection checked out. “Don’t even talk to me about it!” exclaimed T, flinging up his hands in anger and almost sending his glass of cabernet flying.  But we talked about it anyway.  T has experience of healthcare in the UK, Canada and the US, and is particularly enthusiastic about the publicly funded system in Alberta, which works, according to him, like a dream, for a great deal less money per capita than the US system and without hampering labour mobility, tying people to jobs they dislike or are no good at simply because they’re terrified of losing their insurance coverage.



These big picture deficiencies aside, I guess your point of view on the efficacy of the US system will depend on how good your particular insurance cover is, and whether or not all the referrals and interventions uncover something nasty that can therefore be dealt with early. No one’s going to resent a just-in-case CT scan or a second mammogram that saves their life.


And occasionally you find yourself dealing with a truly slick and impressive operation. Such was the case last Monday when I went to MEETH – the Manhattan Eye Ear and Throat Hospital – for a procedure that, ironically, had absolutely nothing to do with eyes, ears or throat. The hospital (which, conveniently, was all of a block from our apartment) has near seamless systems and appears to be staffed exclusively by charming and uber-competent professionals. (I was particularly taken by my anaesthetist – or anaesthesiologist, as they say here – and would have done just about anything she asked me to.) I met a lot of those professionals – I think there were no less than ten in the operating theatre when I strolled in for a routine procedure that was to last all of fifteen minutes. I felt in very safe hands indeed.



L1’s experience hasn’t been quite so smooth. There was that business with the eye watering – in every sense – ophthalmology consultation. In addition, after three attempts to have an MRI on his knee (remember the knee that kept him from line-dancing in Wyoming?), all of them foiled by paperwork mishaps or inefficient communications between primary care physician, specialist and insurance company, he’s given up on the system and decided to wait until he gets back to the UK. His knee has all but healed anyway, of its own accord.



But enough about healthcare and how it’s kept me from blogging. There’s a third excuse, and it’s this. Time is closing in on us. We have just a month left here in New York. (L1 has even less than this, as business requires him to be in Europe by early October). And as time runs out, I think we’ve become less interested in exploring new things (and writing about them), and more keen to savour the things we already know and love. We’re going to miss an awful lot about this city. I could list them all here and now, but I won’t. I’m going to save that for the next (and final) blog, just so T can’t accuse me of slacking.


Until then


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P.S. I can’t sign off without saying Bravo to Dr Christine Blasey Ford for her brave and entirely credible testimony in the senate hearing designed to determine whether Judge Kavanaugh is of sufficiently upstanding character to be given a life time appointment to the US Supreme Court. If you watched any of the proceedings, and witnessed Judge Kavenaugh’s petulant outbursts when questioned about his having frequently been drunk to the point of “ralphing” and falling off buses, you’ve probably decided, like a couple of people who emailed me, that regardless of whether or not he assaulted Dr Ford, he is probably not of the ideal temperament to sit on the highest court in the land.

Thank God for the persuasiveness of senators like Senator Whitehouse and Senator Durbin who persisted in making the case for an FBI investigation, and for the fearless persistence of those women outside Jeff Flake’s lift who managed to make that investigation happen.












The Great Escape

Apologies for my absence. We’ve been busy escaping. Everyone said you don’t want to be in New York all summer, it’ll drive you crazy, so we took them at their word and made plans to be in London in late June, then someplace different every weekend in July. Maine followed by Montauk followed by western Quebec.

We drove to Prouts Neck in Maine to visit our Wimbledon based American neighbours D and M, who vacation there every summer. “That’s one ugly drive,” M said. (By which I think she meant long as opposed to visually ugly) “Why would you do that when you could fly there in an hour.” We did it because we wanted to see the countryside, and because, really, when you think about it, an hour’s plane ride always turns into a five hour journey by the time you account for the taxi to the airport, the hour getting through security, the hour or more for the inevitable delays, the long queue for the rental car at the other end. What’s an extra hour when you can spend it cruising along through upstate New York under a cerulean sky, stopping en-route to enjoy one of the two egg and sausage, road-trip McMuffins you allow yourself every year?

Prouts Neck was even more beautiful than we’d anticipated after fifteen years of picturing our neighbours staying there. Stretching out into Saco Bay, with Portland to the North, Cape Elizabeth to the East and the Old Orchard Beaches to the West, it’s a little slice of New England paradise. A long, deep stretch of beach watched over by a white slatted wood beach club, weather beaten steps descending to the sand. New England style beach houses nestling in the sand and long grasses of the gentle slopes behind the beach, or sitting high amidst the rosa rugosa on the cliffs to the West of it. Miles of cliff walks during which you can breathe in the mist thrown up by the waves crashing onto the rocks below, while never being too far from the slip-of-foot-on-loose-pebble that could send you sliding down onto those same rocks.

M, D and L1 ahead of me on the cliff walk. See those tree roots ready to trip you up?

It’s a community – and I mean community, since successive generations of connected families have been vacationing there for decades and everyone seems to know everyone – that feels largely untouched by time. It could be nineteen fifty-three or nineteen eighty three, or indeed, twenty eighteen. There’s no wifi unless you want to make your way to the Blackburn Point Hotel and use theirs. People ride bikes everywhere – not slick racing bikes with the bottom bruising seats, but the kind with baskets on the front, and not sporting helmets and lycra, but wearing sundresses and sun hats, or tennis whites, and with rackets strapped to their backs. There’s a weekly, Sunday evening picnic on the rocks just beneath D’s father’s house (the extended family have a cluster of houses that they all share) to which the regular guests all contribute food and partake in the barbequeing and clearing up while the sun sets spectacularly behind them.

Prouts Neck sunset after picnic on the rocks

After the picnic a large contingent always head off to what’s called Sing, held in the hall of the sailing club.


We’re no singers, but D wanted us to drop by and see what Sing was all about. What it turned out to be was a massive sing-along led by an enthusiastic song master, the white haired and the middle aged and the teen aged and the toddlers all holding song sheets and intoning about never trusting a sailor an inch above the knee. They were all having a whale of a time in what could only be described as a thoroughly joyous and unaffected atmosphere.

“This is the very best of America,” L1 whispered to me as we watched from the doorway.  Another woman, a local who’d introduced herself to us, shaking both our hands with a warmth rarely seen in New York or London, leaned in and said, “It is the best. But it’s also pretty weird. You gotta admit.”

Now, our host, D, is an action man. He can’t really sit still for more than a minute or two at a stretch, and his idea of a perfect day is sport followed by more sport followed by more sport. So the Sunday picnic and Sing represented the culmination of an activity packed weekend. M had warned me before our arrival:

“D has completely overscheduled the weekend. L1 will not have a moment’s peace. But don’t worry, you’ll be safe with me, do-nothing-M.”

Don’t believe it for a second. There’s nothing do-nothing about M. She and D escorted us on a bike ride and a cliff walk the Friday afternoon we arrived before hosting a lobster dinner for twelve that evening. Then she was up with the birds, cycling off to the beach club to pick up coffees and returning to do yoga stretches on the deck before whipping up a delicious corn chowder for lunch, while the boys spent a few hours on the golf course. We had all of about an hour’s down time before we set off for a ferry ride to Great Diamond Island, where we dined on clam chowder and a myriad of delicious fish dishes before returning for a late evening browse through the lively streets of Portland. There was talk of an early boat ride and a fishing expedition on Sunday morning, but the weather failed to cooperate, so we rose a little later and walked the length of the beach (at a clip, I might add, because M doesn’t like to dawdle), stopped to chat with the various friends and family who emerged from their houses when they spotted us, then rode our bikes to the kayak club and kayaked across the sound towards lunch at a favourite oyster bar. L1 and I took the easy option of the double kayak while M powered ahead on her own and the mighty D paddle boarded his way across in the manner of a Viking leading a fleet of longships towards a raid.

“You’re just lucky we weren’t with D’s sister,” M said as we pulled the kayaks up onto the shore. “She’d have had you kayaking all the way up the Nonesuch River and back before you’d be allowed any lunch.”

I think this all qualified as a quite a slack itinerary for D and M. They couldn’t know that L1 and I regularly spend vast amounts of time sitting down, reading. Which we did the following weekend in Montauk. We rocked up to Gurney’s Inn Montauk (I know. It’s a terrible name, isn’t it?) at about noon on Friday after a three hour drive the length of Long Island, during which we passed through all the Hamptons – Westhampton, Southampton, Hampton Bays, Bridgehampton, East Hampton – to get to the eastern tip of the island. We promptly established ourselves on a couple of sun loungers on the beach, ordered two margaritas and opened our books. Every now and again we would spot a para glider overhead, or some kite surfers out at sea, and we would say, that’s probably D. He must have paddle boarded down from Maine to squeeze in a bit more action.

The remainder of the Montauk weekend was much the same. Lying down reading followed by sitting up reading followed by lunch followed by a short stroll along the beach followed by more sitting down reading. The occasional short drive to take in the surrounding topography. No kite surfing. No para gliding. No kayaking. No death-defying cliff walks. Not that we hadn’t enjoyed the cliff walks and kayaking the weekend before, because we had. Immensely. But life is all about contrasts, right?

Montauk, as most of you will know, is the home of The Affair, that addictive Showtime series about Noah and Alison and the affair between them that upends their lives as well as the lives of everyone around them. We did a fair amount of location spotting as we drove around, managing to identify the house where Helen’s rich parents lived, the motel where Alison holed up when it all went wrong, and of course the Lobster Roll, where it all began. The Lobster Roll is insanely popular. L1 and I had seen the cars jammed into its car park and along the adjacent roadside, so we thought we’d be clever and get there early for lunch on Sunday. We rolled up at eleven forty-five to find that we weren’t the only ones to have had that bright idea. The car park was thick with four by fours jostling for the right to claim the next available space, and there was a throng of people waiting for tables. But, being a party of two, we didn’t have to wait that long, and what wait we did have was well worth it. The lobster roll, advertised as the best in the country, certainly was.

The Lobster Roll – where, apparently, you might spot Alec Baldwin or Diane Keaton


The landscape around Montauk is very Cornish, but with softer sand and better weather, and Montauk itself is a bit like Padstow, but on a bigger scale. Surf shops, pizza parlours and fish and chip restaurants, modest hotels and beach shacks overlooking the beach and more modest ones overlooking the car parks.

It’s a different vibe altogether from that of East Hampton, ten miles away, which is more like Rodeo Drive or Bond Street. It’s full of chichi people and chichi shops – the ice cream parlour is tucked between Jimmy Choo, purveyor of the thousand dollar shoe, and Orlebar Brown, home of the five hundred dollar swimming trunk, just to give you an idea. There were also far too many silver foxes looking pleased with themselves in vintage soft top SL Mercedes 500s, which L1 declared to be a sad cliché. We preferred the more authentic, chilled out vibe of Montauk. And on the whole, it would be fair to say that if we had to choose between Prouts Neck and the Hamptons, (which we don’t) we would opt for the former. There’s something very uplifting about being surrounded by people who all wave and say hello, and kids cycling along dirt roads with tennis rackets slung across their backs. (Our only experience of cyclists in the Hamptons was of the ones who shouted ON YOUR LEFT! ON YOUR LEFT! before speeding past and disappearing in a flash of steel and lycra. But I’m sure there are other kinds there too.)

That’s not to dismiss the Hamptons, or our hotel and its beach, which were dreamy. Our room was beyond dreamy. For some inexplicable reason, we were upgraded to a suite that afforded us simultaneous views of the ocean and the TV, which suited L1 down to the ground when it came to sneaking peeks at the British Open.

Genius room design: the British Open AND the ocean in view

And it was on the West side of the hotel complex, far removed and facing away from the beach bar. This turned out to be a real boon when hundreds of twenty somethings flooded in on Saturday afternoon and turned the place into an Ibiza beach club – all impossibly toned, tanned bodies lounging on beach sofas or dancing to unidentifiable, thumping tunes while waving champagne glasses in the air.


Which brings me to telling you about a rather worrying incident which took place in the hotel restaurant on Friday evening. There we were, happily chatting away and minding our own business, when two glasses of champagne were delivered to our table.

“We didn’t order those,” L1 said, gesturing to our still-half-full bottle of cabernet.

“They’re a gift from the next table,” the waiter said.

We glanced over to see a man and two women, all in their mid to late twenties. The three of them waved, then one of the women – no, let’s face it, she was a girl – came over.

“This is so kind of you,” L1 said. “But what’s it for?”

“We just thought you guys looked so cute,” she said. “So enjoy!”

Back to her table she went, leaving us speechless. When we stopped being speechless, we started whispering.

“Cute?” I hissed. “Is that what we are now? Cute?”

“Be quiet,’ L1 said. “It was a nice gesture.”

“But cute? I’d rather be interesting, or cool, or fun. Or terrifying. Anything really, but cute. Tell me, have we reached the age where we’re going to be patronised from now on?”

I think I was particularly sensitive to the cute thing because the word had already been used to describe us back in New York. The lovely instructors at Arthur Murray seem to think we’re cute too. I have no idea why. Is it because we’re old – both compared to them, and generally? Old and still married? Old and still talking to one another? Old and learning to dance?

“Maybe cute doesn’t mean what we think it means?” I said to L1 in a clutching-at-straws way the following morning. “Maybe in America it’s a catch-all word meaning…something else.” I consulted the thesaurus on my phone.  Cute: sweet, endearing, charming, appealing, delightful, adorable.

I still don’t like it. And here’s my pledge to all the seventy, eighty and ninety-year olds I know: I will never, ever refer to you as cute so long as we both shall live.

But I mustn’t obsess. Or so L1 tells me. Move on. And we will. Back to Manhattan, and then on to Chateau Montabello in Quebec next weekend, where we’ll spend time with my family. Ten days after that we’ll face the moment of truth in Wyoming: have all those dance lessons paid off or not?

Time is flying, and I’m both happy and sad about that. Happy that October will soon be upon us and we’ll be moving back home. Sad that October will soon be upon us and there’s so much we still haven’t done in New York. The Lincoln Centre. Sylvia’s in Harlem. Harlem. The Hudson River Boat tour. The Standard rooftop bar. So much theatre.

L1 says I mustn’t obsess about that either. “The way to look at it,” he said, “is that we could have been going to the Lincoln Centre twice a week but we chose to learn to dance instead. You can’t do everything.”

Spoken like a wise man, not a cute one.


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P.S. To our son and his friends, you might want to think about applying for a summer job at Gurney’s Montauk Inn. We met six twenty-one year olds from Cork who’d come over on J1 visas after graduating from university, and claimed to be having the time of their lives, doing everything from setting up beach chairs and umbrellas to delivering the (fantastically overpriced) room service meals in open topped buggies. An American boy claimed to work there every summer because he could make “upwards of twenty thousand dollars in just a few months.” Hmn. Might not have been the most diplomatic thing to say to two people who were growing weary of handing over ridiculously large tips for every mortal thing that was done for them, tips that undoubtedly made up the lion’s share of the twenty thousand dollars earned by each of the summer staff. Still, it was useful information to pass on to all you English boys and girls looking to make a killing in the summer. Better start applying for those J1 visas.

All about shoes


An expat organisation recently stumbled across this blog and asked me if I’d like to be interviewed. The interview was carried out via email, which my journalist friend tells me is common practice these days. I answered five pages worth of questions about my experience of moving to New York: why had I come, what did I enjoy most about my host city, what did I miss about home, what adjustments had I had to make, what was the cost of living like, how was the public transport system, and healthcare?

These were all relevant and interesting questions, but a few weeks after I’d whizzed off my answers I realised that there was one very important question that had been missing from the interview. A question about shoes.

It might have been posed thus: how have you navigated the footwear dilemmas posed by your host city? Or perhaps thus: what is your footwear strategy for your host city given that you have no car and walk virtually everywhere?

It turns out that I do actually have a footwear strategy. I wasn’t fully aware of it until my sister and a Montreal friend came to visit (let’s call them C1 and C2, although C1 also goes by the name Pink Robe). During the course of their three days here we had many fleeting conversations about what shoes would be most appropriate given the activities we were planning for that day. We also spent a lot of time buying shoes. (C1 was in the mood to shop.) And while we talked and shopped, my footwear strategy came to light. I think I said something like the following when we were in Bloomys:

“I’ll have to go back to the apartment for a minute because I’m wearing my five block shoes and I’m going to need my fifty block shoes for this afternoon.”

C1 and C2 had not heard of this block-based approach to shoe choice. They asked me to articulate it. And so I did, and so I will do here and now.

Your fifty-block shoes are the Nike trainers or the white, Fit Flop trainers (a Godsend of a gift from our eldest daughter). In fifty-block shoes you can walk anywhere, for any length of time. North to Harlem. South to Soho. Across to Central Park, around and back again. (I had hoped that my very expensive, chic, black, Zadig and Voltaire walking boots would be fifty block shoes, but alas, the leather is too stiff and they start to torture my feet before I’ve even reached the lift in our building.)

Your ten-block shoes are those pretty flat sandals or ballet pumps. They’ll serve you well for a walk to Barneys to have lunch, or a stroll to Bloomys or the Frick, but anything further afield and they will begin to rub and pinch and make you long to slip your feet back inside those Fit Flops.

Your five-block shoes have heels. Not stiletto heels, but those chunky two-inch heels that have (thank the Lord) come back into fashion . These five block heels will just about get you from East 66thstreet to a dinner at August on Lexington, or Le Cognac on 70th. Or you could happily stand in them at a cocktail party for several hours without wanting to saw your own feet off.

Then you have your one-block shoes, which, if we’re being honest, are really taxi shoes. These are basically anything with a thin, high(ish) heel and a pointed toe (or, it turns out, Zadig and Voltaire walking boots). You can’t walk any distance at all in one block/taxi shoes, not even a block, really, unless it’s the block between the door of the taxi and the entrance to the restaurant. I own one pair of these shoes. I purchased them in London because I thought they would be perfect for my new New York life, whatever that was going to be. They sit on the top shelf of my closet, unworn.

(I should add, however, that you do see the odd woman walking through Central Park in one-block shoes. These women are usually young and hanging onto the arm of a man, and I guess they must either have bionic feet, or be so keen for passers by to liken them to gazelles that any amount of pain can be borne.)

Last but not least, you have the shoes that have nothing to do with either blocks or taxis. They’re your specialist shoes. In my case, they are the black lace-up Cuban heels I wear at the Arthur Murray Studio. They are soon to be joined by a pair of low heeled suede cowboy boots (L2’s will be mid-brown leather) designed to improve our line dancing technique and help us to cut a dash around the camp fire in Wyoming later in the summer.

Left to right: Fifty-block shoes (a bit of a disgrace, I now notice), ten-block shoes, five-block shoes, one-block shoes (unworn, waste of money), and speciality shoes.


That’s a lot of shoes. Because it isn’t enough to own just one pair of shoes in each category. Obviously.

Of course everyone has some sort of shoe strategy, no matter where they live. But I’d wager a bet that if you live in a city centre and you mostly walk rather than drive, your strategy will be more or less block based, even if you’ve not articulated it as such. As for living in Wimbledon, where I drove or took taxis almost everywhere, I could pretty much wear whatever shoes I felt like on any particular day, without giving more than cursory consideration to what the weather was like or where I was going.

As it happens, the shoe theme that coloured the days I spent with C1 and C2 also coloured the days that followed. I flew up to Toronto to spend the weekend with my old college housemates, and as we strolled along Queen Street we found ourselves being lured into one shoe store after another. The best of them, by a long shot, was the fabulous John Fluevog store,

The John Fluevog store in Toronto

which sells colourful, quirky shoes and boots that are hand-made in Vancouver. I very nearly succumbed to a pair of turquoise cowboy boots, but L1 sent me an in-the-nick-of-time text reminding me that we had already purchased our cowboy boots for the upcoming Wyoming trip.

The cowboy boots that were so very nearly mine

As if we hadn’t had enough of shoes, we then spent Sunday morning in Toronto’s Bata Shoe Museum, where we took in a Manolo Blahnik exhibit and learned about all the shoes in the world that came before his, everything from Alaskan boots made from salmon skin cured with urine to Tibetan sandals on stilts. It turns out that most cultures have relied upon variations of the block strategy for footwear – the African king who wore the ornate gold sandals with the enormous chunk of metal between his toes while sitting on his throne certainly wasn’t planning to walk anywhere.

Possibly the least comfortable sandals ever invented
Manolo Blahnik shoes at the Bata Shoe Museum


Shoes, as I’ve already said, are very important to dancing. (I should mention here that I am now segueing, hopefully with a reasonable degree of seamlessness, into a new topic. I feel obliged to announce this because I’ve been told by one or two blog readers that they don’t much like it when I change topics mid-blog because they don’t have enough headspace to accommodate more than one topic in something that’s supposed to take all of three minutes to read. So, my apologies to those readers, and to CC in particular, and this is for you: I AM SWITCHING TOPICS NOW. YOU MIGHT WANT TO CALL IT QUITS AND GO BACK TO THAT REPORT YOU WERE WRITING)

So. Shoes. Dancing. You already know about the Cuban heels and the cowboy boots. I do hope the boots arrive before the end of this week, as we’re having our final batch of dance lessons before going back to London for three weeks, and we’d really like to see how much the boots improve our country and western creds. L1 has gone mad this week, booking us three private lessons, and suggesting that we participate in a couple of the group lessons in addition.

The group lessons can be a bit traumatic for me. Participants are required to change partners every five minutes or so, and some of the men are both rhythmically and stylistically challenged. One in particular, let’s call him G, has what might be politely  described as a frighteningly intense look in his eyes, and what would be diplomatically described as only a passing acquaintance with the deodorant stick.  Also an inflated opinion of his own dancing prowess. Last week, when we were dancing the foxtrot together, he insisted that we should be zigzagging across the floor. I didn’t believe him, but it was difficult to argue, what with the forceful way he was pushing me backwards into a zigzag.  After the group lesson, I sidled up to one of the instructors and told her that one of my dance partners had insisted on zigzagging throughout the foxtrot, and was that correct?

“That must have been G,  right?” she said, rolling her eyes.

“Yes, it was.”

“Well you should know that he and I don’t always see eye to eye. And no, you don’t zigzag in a foxtrot. Nor do you start the dance with one leg outstretched behind you at an angle, like this.” (She demonstrated. I recognised the stance.)

I was vindicated. But that doesn’t help me much in group lessons when G is present. L1 doesn’t know how lucky he is. The worst thing he ever has to deal with is a case of flapping elbows or overactive knees, or – as was the case last week – both at once.

The best group lessons, of course, are the ones with people you know. We enjoyed one of these when C1 and C2 were in town and Jacqueline agreed to teach all four of us together. To the accompaniment of Man I feel like a Woman and Sweet Home Alabama, C1 and C2 were treated to a whistle stop tour through the five or six line dancing steps that L1 and I have been practising for months, They picked the steps up in no time, and danced with amazing dexterity, rhythm and flair. It was most annoying.


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Under the High Line

A random Monday posting, and not the usual L2 fare. In the main, it’s a story, one of three that I’ve written for The Masters Review flash-fiction competition. The story is fictional, but it draws upon the many real-life tales told in a disturbing book titled Vanishing New York: How A Great City Lost Its Soul, by Jeremiah Moss.

Our dear Torontonian friend, SL, was staying with us when I picked up the book in Barnes and Noble.  “Good for you,” he quipped. “Now you can be one of those irritating people who are always banging on about how New York isn’t what it used to be.”

What we didn’t know was that during the course of the weekend we would all become those people who said that New York isn’t what it used to be. Browsing through another book on our coffee table, 111 Places In New York That You Must Not Miss, SL identified Il Vagabondo, a small bar on East 62ndStreet, featuring an indoor bocce court, that was founded by proprietor Ernest Vogliano’s grandfather in the early 1900s to attract the Upper East Side’s Italian immigrants. We made a plan to go there for coffee or a glass of wine, only to discover that it no longer existed. “It’s fun to watch the competition from a courtyard table, sipping wine and savouring scrumptious Italian cuisine,” boasted our coffee table book, published in 2015. Fun we wouldn’t have in 2018. Shame.

Next on SL’s list of places to see was The Essex Street Market on the Lower East Side. According to 111 Places, the market offered “a huge array of edible treats you’d otherwise have to hunt down all over town, and diverse merchants you wouldn’t think could coexist under one roof. Mom-and-Pop grocers, many there for decades, sell oxtails, oranges, cuchifritos and couscous, next to booths run by bankers-turned-bakers.”

Not for much longer they won’t. Moss warns us that The Essex Street Market and indeed the entirety of Delancey Street is about to be eviscerated to accommodate the Essex Crossing, a $1.1 billion dollar “manufactured utopia of the future” featuring hulking glass towers comprising “luxury condos, office space, floors of interior shopping-mall-style retail, glamorized suburban food courts, and some “affordable” housing”. IMG_1578

Moss asks, “In the glitzy future mall, expanded to accommodate more new upscale businesses, will the old school merchants survive?”

There’s a similar story behind the High Line. Who, when visiting New York, hasn’t walked along the High Line and thought, how great is this? What a genius idea, and what a fun way to spend an hour or two. Read chapters 13 and 17 in Moss’s book and you might not feel quite so unadulteratedly positive. I enjoy a stroll along the High Line as much as the next person, but I have to admit that when I look at the immense, luxury condominiums that have sprung up alongside the tracks since the project was completed in 2011, and think about all the homes and small businesses that were wiped out to accommodate them, I can’t help but think that something has gone awry.

Gentrification. Progress. The way of the world. There’s nothing new in that I suppose, except the sheer scale and pace of it in a city like New York. Perhaps it has ever been thus.  Back in the late nineteenth century, the American writer, John Jay Chapman, wrote that “the present in New York is so powerful that the past is lost.”

Even when that powerful present comes up with a genius idea for turning crumbling railway tracks into a raised walkway bordered by wildflowers in the middle of the city, the loss of the past is undeniably sad.  And we are all a little bit complicit.

Here’s my story.

Under the High Line

Number One, Hudson Yards – forty floors of shimmering sapphire. A young woman emerges from its revolving doors into the oppressive late afternoon heat. Joanna, married to Zach, who is at that moment sitting in his sleekly furnished office in Bloomfield Place, cooking up deals and manoeuvring large sums of money in ways that Joanna does not even try to understand. Her work is with words, not numbers.

Joanna walks east, towards the entrance to the High Line at West 30th.  Partially constructed towers of steel and blue glass rise up around her like lumbering titans. She barely registers the intense noise that once overwhelmed her –  the crashing of metal poles, the juddering of Jackhammers, the beep-beep of reversing cranes, the rude blasts of car horns that is the soundtrack to New York life.

There were many things that had attracted them to their building, things that more than made up for the noise and the chaos that surrounded it: the river, just across the West Highway, and the amazing facilities in the building itself – a state of the art gym, a pool, an outdoor roof terrace and an indoor entertainment room, a basketball court, a bowling alley – a bowling alley! Everything you could possibly need, as well as a few things you definitely don’t, she and Zach are always saying to guests.

Joanna’s favourite thing about Number One Hudson Yards is its proximity to the High Line, along which she can stroll amidst wildflowers, grasses and trees to get to the Meatpacking District. To her the High Line is an unequivocal marvel.  A peaceful, rural experience amidst the grime and hurly-burly of the city. If she looks ahead, or straight up at the sky, she can forget that she is in a city at all. Of course, the illusion never lasts long. Not with those mega-condominiums (Number One Hudson Yards amongst them) looming on both sides.

This afternoon, Joanna is headed towards The Lobster Place in Chelsea market, where she plans to purchase some fresh sea bass for supper.  Somewhere below her feet, Louisa de Denartis is removing one last tray of Pignolli cookies from the oven at the back of the De Denartis Pasticceria and Caffé, founded by her great grandfather in 1910. Like her father and mother, Louisa has worked in the Pasticceria since she was small, learning to bake Biscotti and Bombolonas, Semifreddo and Sfogliatelle. She is an expert on Italian sweet delights, and on the habits of the customers who buy them. People like Al Baldiccio who ran the auto shop down the road for thirty years, and used to come in for a Cartocci and a cappuccino every morning, or Fran Merkowitz, who brings one or another of her grandchildren in for a hot chocolate and a Cannoli most Saturdays.

“There must be a way,” Louisa had insisted, when her father had told her about the new landlord.

“There is no way,” her father said, already defeated. “When the Big Guys decide to come to town, there’s no stopping them. Look at what happened to Al.”

Progress, people call it. Louisa remembers hearing about the laudable project to develop the disused railway tracks that ran above the heads, homes and businesses of people like them, remembers thinking that it would enhance all of their lives and bring customers flooding into the Pasticceria. What she hadn’t realised – maybe nobody had – was that it would also bring the Big Guys with their money and their grand plans and their unblinking determination to demolish every pasticceria, auto shop, tailor, and coach house that lay in their path.

Development and destruction, breakthroughs and burnt offerings. Bound together as surely as omelettes and eggs, with a logic that is so easy to spout but so difficult to live with if you live on the underside of the tracks.

At four thirty, after closing the doors of the Pasticceria for the last time, Louisa dusts the Pignolli cookies with sugar and places them in a white pastry box. Leaving by the back door, she takes the box up onto the High Line, where she finds the spot she thinks must sit more or less directly above the Pasticceria.

She sits down, cross legged, and opens the box in her lap. Some of the many people walking along fail to notice her until it is almost too late, and she is aware of their stumbled steps as they try to avoid her. She remains undaunted, offering Pignolli cookies with a quietly outstretched arm. A small boy takes one, but most people pass her by without understanding or even seeing the fragile beauty of her gift.

Joanna, on her return journey from Chelsea Market and swinging a basket laden not just with plump sea bass, but with Pignolli cookies purchased from the giant food hall opposite The Lobster Place, sees the young woman sitting on the wooden boards and thinks that perhaps she’s in need of help. She kneels down.

“Are you okay?”

‘Would you like a Pignolli cookie?” the young woman says, opening her palm.

“Actually, I just bought some,” Joanna says, indicating the basket.

The woman ponders Joanna’s basket. “They won’t be as good as these,” she says. “You have no idea what you’re missing.”

She leans back, eyes narrowing as if to examine Joanna more acutely. A kind of silence expands around them, and between them, a thin, weighty line is pulled taught. It feels to Joanna as though she is being challenged, even accused of something.

How ridiculous, Joanna thinks, and forces herself to break free of the young woman’s penetrating gaze. She stands and walks away, keeping her eyes on the path ahead and her thoughts on the fish in her basket, which she must get into the fridge. But she can’t seem to walk fast enough. Her mind is gripped by the idea that it is too late, that the sea bass has already gone off and will be inedible, everything ruined.


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Waddabout spring?


L1 had warned me that New York doesn’t really do Spring. You can be catapulted straight from the icy winds of bleak mid-winter into the intense heat and blazing sun of summer in the blink of an eye. Straight from winter woolies to sundresses without even a nod to the light weight blouses and the perfect-shade-of-taupe raincoat you’d purchased for all those in between days.

And that’s exactly what happened this week.  On Monday it was 46 degrees, with a bone chilling wind and steady rain all afternoon. L1 came home soaked through and grumpy, declaring that he’d just had just about enough of  the New York weather. I hadn’t even bothered to go out at all. I was still sulking about having had to leave the dolphins and pelicans behind at Casey Key. Anyway I had two cases to unpack, a shed load of washing to do, and an apartment to clean (Remember that New York dust I told you about? Imagine how thick it was after a month away). I couldn’t have gone out into the cold if I’d wanted to.

Then on Tuesday the temperature soared to eighty, where it stayed for the rest of the week before hitting ninety on Thursday. And with the tropical temperatures came a transformation, as if the city had emerged from its cocoon. People were suddenly smiling and talking to one another in the lift. Having spoken to precisely five people in our building since November, I spoke to five at once on my way down on Tuesday. An elderly woman announced, by way of warning, I supposed,  “It’s very warm out there.” Her husband concurred eagerly. Another woman entered the lift on the fourth floor wearing a long rain coat and with a pile of clothes over her arm.

“Suddenly we’re all going out!” said the first woman.

“Yes! Well, I’m only going to the valet to drop these off for dry cleaning,” said the rain-coated fourth floor dweller. “But it does look fabulous out there. I’m packing up the apartment. And I’m wearing nothing but long underwear underneath this coat!”

Maybe a little TMI, but it certainly broke the ice. The elderly couple were keen to know about the packing up.

“I spend half the year in Rio,” the woman explained. “I’m leaving tomorrow.”

Bad timing, I thought. Just when the tulips are coming out. And the tulips are everywhere. There are red and yellow ones carpeting the grounds of our building, and red and white ones under every tree I pass on my way to Madison Avenue.

Manhattan House Gardens
The tulips on Park Ave


It’s not just the chatty neighbours and the tulips brightening up the place. The streets now abound with pretty Chanel pumps, striped espadrilles, handbags in mellow yellow and cerulean, floaty floral sundresses and chic linen trousers. Fashion, in general, has come out from under its winter duvet. People don’t bother so much in the winter, or if they did, we wouldn’t see it anyway. We all look the same, in our hooded puffa-coats in various shades of black.

The dog lovers are out in force too. Usually it’s just me bending down to say hello to other people’s dogs, but yesterday I saw others doing the same. It’s as if the warmth and sunshine has melted away all the barriers that normally exist between people in this city and softened the stiffness that passes as discretion. People talk in louder, more excitable voices instead of huddling up against the cold. They gesture, look up and around, and smile.

I know that the residents of any country that has a winter will be celebrating the springing of spring. But I wonder if the transformation in people’s moods and behaviour is more marked when the winter is brutal, as it is in New York. I think that in the UK we get so used to the grey skies and drizzle all year round (except for about a week in June) that we just carry on, not much remarking when the weather shifts. In a place like New York, the contrast between winter and spring/summer is so dramatic that it seems to jolt people into a whole new way of being.

In this weather, I no longer want to sit inside Shakespeare and Co, so I’ve switched my writing spot to the open air Pain Quotidien which sits on the shores of the lake in Central Park – the one with the Stuart Little boats. It can be difficult to find a table in the shade, but when you do, it’s bliss.


It wasn’t so blissful in the Arthur Murray Studio on Thursday, where the air conditioning did little to combat the ninety degree heat. Our instructor, (whom I think I once called Louisa, but who is in fact called Jacqueline) took L1 and I through some challenging swing steps that had us both dripping inelegantly within minutes.  My hair was so damp and flat I looked as if I’d been caught in a rainstorm.  It was not a pretty sight. As we left the studio  I reminded L1 that this, of course, was the primary reason I would never be able to appear on Strictly.

But it wasn’t as hot in the Arthur Murray Studio as it is in the basement of our building, where the maintenance guys are stationed. Terry came up on Thursday to sort out a ceiling light that was misbehaving, and I asked him how it was down there in the bowels of Manhattan House.

“No air conditioning down there,” he said in his Irish slash Brooklyn accent. “And we have to keep the heatin’ on because, ya know, it’s going to go down below fifty at night next week. So we gotta protect the pipes.”

“You must be dying down there,” I said.

He shrugged. “We’re used to it. New Yawk is like that –  goin’ from winta to summa in one day. Boom! Waddabout spring?!  It’s crazy.”

I’d felt a little sheepish about dragging him up to attend to a ceiling light that I should probably have been able to fix myself, but then I realised that I’d actually done him a favour. I’d given him an excuse to escape the inferno for ten minutes. And he must have had thirty or forty of those excuses that day, because he actually looked quite fresh in his crisp white shirt. His hair was certainly in better shape than mine had been after an hour in the Arthur Murray Studio.

Also, of course, he could count on the inevitable tip to lessen his pain. After I gave it to him, he positively skipped towards that lift.

Until next time,


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Searching for Stephen King


Do I actually live in New York City? My dad doesn’t think so, and he may have a point. Since L1 and I officially moved there in late October, I’ve spent five weeks in London, a week in California, and most recently, almost a month in Florida. That’s a sixty/forty split between New York and other places. So I guess our first six months on this side of the pond would more accurately be described as Our Big American Adventure rather than Our Big New York Adventure.

The Florida part isn’t actually new to me – I’ve been coming here at least once a year since I was seventeen, and the kids have been coming since they were babies, courtesy of my parents having lived here part of the time for the past forty years. But the prospect of coming here never ceases to engender a ludicrous level of excitement in all of us, and particularly in daughter number two. (“We all love Florida,” said daughter number one, “but K REALLY loves it, in an almost crazy way.”). Apparently, during the month prior to their flying here, daughter number two’s boyfriend was subjected to the daily pronouncement that she just could not wait to get to Florida, she thought she might die if she didn’t get there soon, accompanied by much hyperventilating, squealing and hand waggling. Continue reading “Searching for Stephen King”

Will the real New York please stand up?

I’ve spent the week lying around, doing my best to recover from the debilitating lurgy that prevented me from making the planned trip back to London to surprise our youngest on his nineteenth birthday. Actually, Norwegian Airlines also did its bit to prevent me from going. Four hours before my scheduled departure at eleven am Thursday, they sent me a text informing me that my flight had been rescheduled to three am on Friday on account of the fact that they needed to comply with rules pertaining to rest periods for crew – rules to which they had, presumably,  suddenly and surprisingly been alerted.  They hoped this would not be too inconvenient.

Thank you Norwegian Airlines. Now we know why your premium economy seats are so much cheaper than everyone else’s. You’re not actually a proper airline, with all that this implies in terms of logistical expertise and professional standards. You’re an illusion, a sham, a fake.

But back to the lying around. While reclined, I did two things, in the main. The first was to  binge watch Grace and Frankie. I know I’m late to the party, but what a party.  Comedy gold. The trouble is, twenty four episodes in, I’m dangerously close to believing that I actually live in that beach house with Jane Fonda, and that I have access to her dreamy wardrobe of pastel coloured knits by Ralph Lauren and St John. At one point, L1 insisted that I leave the bedroom and come in to watch the news, just so I could regain some perspective on the world. I sat there, forcing myself to take in the latest revelations about how the leader of the free world had been paying porn stars to lie while colluding with the thug who’s in charge of Russia and a dodgy UK tech company and an even dodgier US tech company in order to subvert democracy, but I’m afraid none of it really made an impression. I was too busy longing to be back on one of those tasteful striped loungers on Jane’s deck, gazing out at the Pacific.

Wary of getting lost in Grace and Frankie land, and unable to get out into the city to experience it, I decided that the next best thing would be to to read about the city. I happened to have two books about New York to hand – Goodbye to All That: Writers on Loving and Leaving New York, and New York Stories.  And what I read really got me thinking. I thought about the city in the books and the city that L1 and I have been experiencing, and I wondered whether either version is what anyone would call the real New York, or if such a thing even exists. Continue reading “Will the real New York please stand up?”

Old Dogs and New Tricks


When we moved to this great city, we expected to see new things and meet new people. What we didn’t anticipate was that we might become new people.


Please don’t be alarmed. I’m not talking about plastic surgery, or about any upending of character or values. I’m talking about small shifts in what we choose to do, how we opt to spend our time.


Here’s what I mean. Back in London, L1 was not a shopper.  If the trend over the past decade has been towards men making up at least fifty percent of supermarket traffic, L1 hasn’t been part of that trend. He’s been the anti-trend. And yet, within days of moving to Manhattan, he transmogrified into someone who positively embraces the supermarket shopping experience. Could he possibly pop into Morton Williams on his way home from work to pick up some milk and broccoli? No problemo. Does he want to accompany me to Whole Foods on Saturday morning to pick up some grass-fed beef for dinner, and the other twenty items we need for the week? Nothing would give him more pleasure. I’m enjoying this new supermarket persona, but every now and again, catching sight of him wheeling the trolley through the fresh produce aisles or testing the ripeness of an avocado, I have the odd sensation of wondering who he is and what he’s done with my husband.

Continue reading “Old Dogs and New Tricks”

Taste Test

Still dreaming of those verdant hills and robust cabernets in Napa, and inspired by the story of the Valley’s triumph in the 1976 Judgement of Paris, I’ve decided to conduct my own taste test. I won’t be judging wines, but countries. No prizes for guessing which two. My test won’t be blind and the criteria will be a little more random than those used to judge wine – things like flavour, bouquet, tannin levels, acidity, and my personal favourite, legs. But I will be awarding scores out of twenty, just as the judges in Paris did.

I fully accept that judging entire countries on the basis of some randomly chosen factors, using a sample of one (me), and incorporating data from just two cities (London and New York) is in no way fair or scientific. I ought, at least, to try to get some data from some places like Virginia Beach and Birmingham.   But I haven’t got time for a scientific methodology, and neither have you. So I’m counting on you good people to indulge me in a harmless game of compare and contrast.

So. In no particular order, we begin. Continue reading “Taste Test”