Lost in London

A look at London and life in general through the eyes of someone who sometimes can't bear to watch.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

I want to hold your hand

I hate queuing, especially in the little Sainsbury’s near my house. When the shop is busy, the queue snakes down past the chilled alcohol, along past the ready meals and down another aisle with frozen pizzas on one side and red wine on the other. The aisles are so tightly packed there’s nothing to look at while you queue and if you want to buy anything on the shelves adjacent to the queue you have to deal with lots of ‘excuse me’s and accusatory stares.

Last night I found myself in such a situation. Having already begun queuing, clutching some mushrooms and peppers, I realised I wanted white wine too. The queue would eventually take me past the white wine, but I would have to physically step out of the queue to get the wine and then attempt to regain my original queuing place. I looked behind me and surveyed my fellow queuers. It wasn’t hard to imagine them brandishing pitchforks and toppling some kind of dictatorship, so I didn’t fancy my chances arguing my way back into line. I settle on red wine and waited patiently.

The queue was mainly quiet save for a couple a few spaces in front of me. The female had auburn hair and a prominent chin and was wearing a floaty skirt with huge hulking Nike Air trainers. Lily Allen devotee? More likely that she didn’t like walking to work in slingbacks. The male was utterly plain and devoid of anything interesting or distinguishing. Were he to be found murdered (no doubt by his increasingly agitated spouse), his nearest and dearest would be hard push to identify him. I couldn’t hear their conversation but the queue was dull and I decided they should be the focus of my attention while I waited. They seemed to be having a well-worn debate about what to buy. He made two further trips out into the shop while his other half waited in the queue. She kept making dry comments like ‘Hurry up, I’m just about to be served”, even though she was ten miles from the checkouts. When this part of their shopping trip was over, the female seemed to want some attention. The couple started kissing each other on the mouth (no tongues) and making really squelchy sounds as their lips parted. They did this about five times. I started to feel my face changing involuntarily into a pained expression. The male started to turn his head away as his partner continued to come in for the kill. She was not deterred and planted kisses on his neck. I began to feel like a virgin aunt. Why, of all places, pick a supermarket queue to show your undying love for each other? Why do it so loudly? Eventually, he moved away from her completely, at which she protested and then started to sulk. ‘Thank fuck’ seemed to be the general consensus of the queue.

I don’t really understand public displays of affection. I’m not an android, but I don’t get why anyone would want to kiss anyone in the queue for a supermarket. I get it when pissed people slobber over each other in clubs and I just about understand people walking hand in hand (although I wish they’d get the hell out of my way) but all the necking in the street and walking down the road with your hand in the back pocket of each other’s jeans like you’re hot young hipsters in some French movie and not two drudges in filthy underwear from Godalming is totally alien to me. My other half has often protested about my reluctance to hold hands in public, but aside from the fact I don’t want to be disembowelled by a gay-hating neo Nazi, I just don’t want to do it; it doesn’t come naturally; it is not me. I like having both hands available at all times. You never know when you’re going to need a firm grip.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

NYC 101 (2)

OK, here's the rest if my 101 whimsical observations about my trip to NYC.

53. That we were from London caused no end of fascination in shops
54. Call it jet lag, getting old or just being lazy but by Saturday night I was unbelievably tired. Desperate as I was to go out and sample the ‘party atmosphere’, I was too whacked and in a cab home by 12.30, much to my other half’s annoyance
55. Downtown New York is a bit like London except more exciting. Even a dead end side street has more life in it than one of Soho London’s main thoroughfares
56. If you like shit rock music, then almost every New York bar is for you. MOR crap was spunking out of the speakers of practically every hostelry we visited, save for one that I remember in the East Village
57. The Empire State Building has to be done really. If you need to go at the weekend, go early on a Sunday to get up there with minimum hassle
58. Go on a clear day, though. It was fog central for us and we could ‘only’ see for around 10 miles or so
59. Nervous of lifts? Hold on to your hats in the Empire State lifts then. They’re as rickety as Cher on stilettos and twice as frightening
60. Go to a deli and order a turkey cubano Panini. Paninis aren’t as shit as they are in the UK
61. Everything’s got cornichons in it. I learned to love them
62. It is de rigueur for bars to offer brunch with unlimited champagne or Bloody Marys for a small surcharge. Clearly this is because New Yorkers don’t really binge drink. British ex-pats must spend their entire Sundays pissed
63. I had Eggs Benedict 3 times in NY. It’s on the menu everywhere you go
64. One of my favourite things was just going to a ‘deli’ (we should have those here) and helping myself to a coffee and being charged a mere dollar for it. No waiting for a barista to piss about necessary
65. That said, I found service in restaurants and delis to be less than brilliant. At times I wondered if I’d have been better off wearing a fluorescent green headdress and full drag, such was the difficulty in being noticed and served
66. MoMA is the Museum of Modern Art and kind of NY’s version of the Tate Modern. Except it shits on the Tate from the Moon. I mean, seriously, it really brings home to you how bad the Tate is when you rock up at MoMA. I mean, I know Tate is mainly free and MoMA charges but the Tate really needs to up its game
67. I’m normally allergic to art galleries but I found little sign of my usual art fatigue when it came to MoMA. The art was so magnificently presented that I forgot to be bored
68. It seems New Yorkers will have a parade in recognition of just about anything. While we were there, there was some parade which seemed to be in honour of a Polish general
69. I have never seen such lacklustre majorettes
70. The Meatpacking District seems to be full of British designers. It’s a bit like Shoreditch pre-90s boom. I did not spot any ironic haircuts
71. Chelsea is a predominantly gay area. I didn’t really find any of it remotely appealing, but it had a good branch of American Apparel
72. It also had masses of folically-challenged men. Masses!
73. Arriving at the west side of Greenwich Village was pretty special. It has a lovely square and was full of people chilling out and reading
74. There’s no privacy in ‘restrooms’ in bars or restaurants. Urinals are spaced a millimetre apart and cubicle doors have an inviting ten mile gap betwixt door and wall allowing the world and his wife a view of your ‘junk’
75. I started to feel a bit sad about leaving on Sunday evening, as were due to fly out the next day. I haven’t felt sadness like that since I was much younger; probably, when I think about it, on leaving London when visiting long before I lived there
76. The sushi was brilliant. We forgot how fat Americans are and ordered 3 sushi roll combos. A MOUNTAIN of sushi arrived- nearly 40 pieces I think
77. I don’t drink beer and haven’t for years but it felt like the right thing to do in New York. My tipple was Sam Adams and drinking just two gave me a hangover to rival one of Amy Winehouse’s
78. Our last 2 days were spent in beautiful autumn- sorry, FALL- sunshine. It was roasting so I can only imagine what it’s like in summer
79. The last day of a holiday is pretty rubbish. Waking knowing you have but hours left to enjoy New York is torture
80. Next time I’ll book a later flight. It’s an odd feeling, wandering around in limbo when you have to set off for the airport at 2
81. Decaf coffee inevitably comes to your table cold because nobody drinks it and it sits in a coffee pot all day
82. If you want to complain about said coffee, it’s no use sitting there looking like you’ve sucked a lemon- you’ve got to be VOCAL!
83. When other people around you are eating brunch and being served brunch, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you can order brunch. Waiting staff will deny brunch is still available. They’re bored. It’s quiet. They want to fuck with you
84. Our banks finally cottoned on that we were away on our last day and thus cancelled our cards. I spent about a million pounds on the phone getting my card unblocked so I could withdraw $20, $10 of which I came home with
85. God this is more of a mission than I thought it would be
86. I mean, seriously. I think I’m missing loads out though
87. Things I didn’t do that I wanted to do: Visit the Guggenheim and the Metropolitan Museum of Art; see more of Central Park. I think that’s it. Not bad, eh?
88. Typically, we missed the boat when it came to advantageous exchange rates. Hardly anything was a bargain
89. I brought a half-empty suitcase and left with one which bulged with sweets and toiletries bought from Duane Reade, my favourite fag and frozen food-selling pharmacy
90. Buying tickets for the right overland train line is more complicated than trigonometry. Kind of
91. I’d heard all kinds of horror stories about US airport officials being horrible on the way out but they weren’t at all. Check in was crap though
92. We arrived far too early at the airport and I spent far too long wandering around the different lounges with very sore feet
93. I was a little anxious about the flight home, but resisted Valium
94. We sat on the runway for an hour before taking off, which wasn’t great
95. Mercifully, the flight home is 2 hours shorter than going there, thanks to winds or something. Amazing
96. The one film I wanted to see wasn’t actually working.
97. Braised beef for dinner and a dodgy Barbie-sized croissant for breakfast
98. Landing bleary-eyed at 7am, we were thrilled to be out in the fast track queue at passport control. We were through in about 30 seconds
99. The tube journey home wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be
100. I missed New York as soon as I stepped foot inside the flat
101. Same time next year? Let’s hope so.

Monday, October 20, 2008

NYC 101

I just got back from a long weekend in New York after taking my first flights in nearly ten years. I decided to write 101 things about the trip. It's taking me longer than I thought so I'm bunging up the first half now; that's the kind of mood I'm in.

1. I was so scared about flying that I went to the doctor and got some Valium. In the end, I didn’t take it at all
2. Terminal 4 is long overdue a refit
3. There’s a certain smell that airports have that I can’t describe. I think it’s recycled air
4. Watching all manner of planes take off successfully before your flight is strangely soothing
5. You can’t take hot drinks onto a flight, although you can be given them when you’re on the plane. Why? Is it in case you scold a stewardess on the way in?
6. That you could get up and go in the overhead lockers pretty much any time you like didn’t occur to me at first and I tried to keep all my ‘necessary things’ with me, despite there being absolutely no room
7. If you’re afraid of flying, sit in the aisle or as close to the middle of the plane as you can; you might as well be on a big bus
8. The landing gear making a crunch as it retracts following take-off does not instil confidence
9. It really is time to bring Concorde back: 8 hours on a plane is boring once the fear subsides
10. Outward inflight movies included Baby Mama (shit), The Corpse Bride (shit) and a plethora of bad and good American TV shows. Only 30 Rock was any good. I watched it twice
11. I played Solitaire on the inflight entertainment system about 200 times
12. Aeroplane toilets are quite frightening and badly lit. I find it hard to believe people actually have sex in them
13. Every single steward on my flight was a homosexual. And my flight was all the better for it
14. When you’re offered ‘beef or chicken’ on a flight, always go for beef
15. Although I could hardly bear to look out of the window during the flight, my stomach lurched with glee when the Empire State building was pointed out to me as we began our descent
16. There is nothing worth seeing or doing in New Jersey. And it smells like the bottom of a skip in a hot July
17. Americans don’t seem to care about signage. I mean, seriously. Misleading arrows and a dearth of any relevant info on where you should go to get where you are going seemed to be the order of the day
18. Caffeine-free Diet Coke is actually nice in America
19. I have never seen so many flavours of chewing gum in my life
20. Ditto toothpaste
21. Favourite flavour was kiss-me-mint flavour, which tastes like minty Ribena and is amazing
22. Before I’d even ascended from the subway and seen Manhattan above-ground, I knew that I loved it
23. That the traffic drives on the right takes a little bit of getting used to
24. For the first two days I was punch drunk from the sheer brilliance of it all
25. That you have to leave a $1 tip for every drink you buy, no matter how much of a cunt your ‘bartender’ is, irked me. Luckily, most of them are lovely. One of them was not, however, and leaving those extra dollar bills on the bar as a congratulation for being surly really smarted
26. New York really is the city that never sleeps. The noise level doesn’t dip that much at night
27. It was the famed vice-presidential debate the first night we were there. Not many New Yorkers seems to rate Sarah Palin, funnily enough. Most newspapers seemed to be calling it a draw the next day, despite the fact that Palin seemed to be evading questions and reading answers off the back of her hand. Apparently, they thought she was going to be much worse
28. There seems to be no shortage of political satire shows on the TV. I’m not really sure who watches them. I suspect it may only be the inhabitants of the eastern seaboard
29. I got up at 7 on the first morning and went out to get coffee and have a nose around. On my short walk around the block, I stumbled upon the site of the World Trade Center and- perhaps more excitingly- a homeless man pissing into a bottle in the street
30. Go to a diner for breakfast and you will get potatoes with almost every menu option
31. There’s always somebody there to ‘take your order’ or help you in shops or restaurants in the US but no-one ever listens to you. When you order something you should not necessarily expect it to arrive, as the server may forget
32. I’ve heard a lot of people say that being in NYC is like being in a movie. I think that’s bollocks: I’ve yet to see a movie that would do it justice
33. Life would be a lot easier in London if our streets were laid out in a grid system
34. Grand Central Terminal is more like a museum than a train station; it’s really lovely
35. NYC’s reputation as a shopping Mecca puzzles me somewhat. There are loads and loads of shops going on for ever and ever selling everything you can imagine, but clothes-wise, unless you’re buying high-end designer ‘gear’, there’s nothing you can’t already get in the UK. Aside from the European stores and American Apparel, they’re clueless when it comes to ‘high street’
36. Food, though, is another story
37. No limp salads or curled up sandwiches for the Americans: sandwiches have towers of tasty filling and there’s nary a shred of browning iceberg to be seen on their scrumptious salads
38. For some reason, whereas UK branches of McDonald’s masquerade as coffee shops and are all ‘wood panelling this’ and ‘sofa cushions that’, American branches are decorated in clashes of horrific bright colours unseen since the early 1980s, like some kind of light and colour therapy for the mentally impaired
39. The subway takes a bit of time to get your head around. Just when you think you’ve cracked it, a train suddenly becomes an express and you’re ten stops further down the line than you wanted
40. The NYC subway also likes to remain enigmatic. There are no displays on the platforms telling you how long the train will be à la London. Oh well, a bit of mystery never did any harm
41. The Staten Island ferry is free and takes you past the Statue of Liberty and gives you a good view of the Manhattan skyline
42. I’m a big fan of the I love NY design and have been for years. This was good news for me as there is I love NY merchandise everywhere in varying degrees of quality, colour and price
43. I don’t really eat sweets but the sheer choice of ‘candy’ out there had me reeling: there are more varieties of Starburst, Skittles and M&Ms than necessary. I had to try them all
44. Chocolate-flavoured skittles have to win as being the oddest, most pointless sweet in the world. I found them strangely compelling
45. The Brooklyn Bridge is a great walk and slightly hair-raising as you negotiate a wooden walkway over the cars. Endless photo-taking ensued
46. There are only so many photos you can take without being bored of pulling the same expression. After a while we started doing stupid ‘thumbs aloft’ poses or pretended to squish buildings between our fingers
47. In Brooklyn, a mad woman called Ruth ‘befriended’ us as we perused a streetmap and very kindly showed us to the promenade and pointed us in the direction of the main street in Brooklyn Heights. She was very American and enthused about our accents. She thought Sarah Palin was a prostitute and was concerned that all British people must think American people were mad for electing such idiots. I told her, yes, we did
48. The only way to see Manhattan is by walking around taking it all in. My feet have never been so sore. I was limping my down to the gate for the plane home
49. They closed Park Avenue on Saturday afternoon and had a street market. You could buy practically everything in the world there. I half expected to see a stall selling the contents of my own flat
50. Macy’s is the biggest department store in the world. It is also shit. Avoid unless you think Debenham’s is cutting edge
51. I can’t believe anyone would voluntarily go to Times Square unless all their families’ lives were under threat. It’s truly awful
52. Bryant Park, however, is just a couple of blocks east and is lovely. There are many tables and chairs where you can sit and a couple of cafes, but it’s not like Britain, where a harassed café worker would hurry you along because you hadn’t bought anything. You can just sit there and idly watch the Empire State Building just be there. Where you are. In New York.