Sunday, November 04, 2007

Scooby Snacks

The American sandwich lives in a world unto itself. It's certainly not like anything you'd expect in Europe.

The first obvious difference in the experience is the sheer number of questions that you'll face when ordering what you thought was a simple food item. What kind of bread, what kind of spread, eat here or takeaway, toasted? It becomes an inquisition, and you often wonder what exactly it was that you did wrong.

The concept of butter on a sandwich is alien. It just doesn't exist. I don't like mayonnaise, so I usually take my sandwich dry.

The size of the sandwich is another consideration. Not only is the containing bread usually oversize, but the amount of filling seems to be the result of a competitive spirit in the deli-worker. I counted fourteen slices of ham in my sandwich the other day. I've tried asking people to hold back, but they insist on loading the thing up.

I'm also almost always asked whether I want a pickle with my sandwich.

I almost always answer "no".

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Scary Monsters

Halloween is big business in the USA. Many weeks before the actual event, the shops are full of skeletons, pumpkins, witches, cobwebs and ghosts. Apparently it's the second largest holiday in terms of dollars spent; second only to Christmas.

It's a little disquieting how seriously it's taken over here. The restaurants start putting pumpkin in everything, little kids solicit sweets from unlucky neighbours, and people really enjoy dressing up.

I went to the Halloween parade in Greenwich Village three years ago and was stunned by the scale of the event, and the amount of effort some people put into their costumes. Apart from the one lady I saw whose "costume" consisted of no costume at all. Yep, she was in the middle of the parade with nary a stitch on. That's a different kind of freak show altogether.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

England, Half English

I went to see England's very own Billy Bragg in concert in New York last night. He played a wonderful set of oldies, Woody Guthrie numbers, songs from an upcoming new album, and buskers' classics.

The banter between songs was the usual seemingly ad-hoc mix of anecdotes and political messages, and he somehow managed to resist being too anti-American.

There were lots of English voices in the audience, but also a loyal hard core of US fans, too.

On the way to the gig I was complimented on my apparel, a zippy-top with the ironic word "Marylebone" across the front. The gentleman who delivered the remark was wearing a t-shirt with "Kings Road" on the front. Geography is indeed a common bond.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

"In" Crowd

Manhattan is a busy place.

It seems that no matter what time of day, or where you are, there will be a crowd of people purposefully striding from once place to another.

As some of you know, my job occasionally requires me to get up pretty early. Manhattan is busy. And sometimes I can be a bit of a night owl. Manhattan is still busy.

I'm getting a little more used to the crowds, and weaving my way through them, but it can sometimes still be a pain. Luckily our neighbourhood is one of the quieter ones, especially at weekends.

Pity this poor guy who didn't go with the flow.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Television Man

On the way home from work tonight I passed a homeless man who was propped up against a shop window. Nothing too unusual.

Then I noticed a strange blue light on the pavement which led my eye to a television.

He had somehow managed to remove the cover from the base of a streetlamp, had plugged in his TV, and was busy whiling away his evening watching a few shows.

Pretty enterprising.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Clap Hands

Now that I've taken a few internal flights in the USA I've started to spot a pattern. The passengers like to reward the pilot with a round of applause for a successful landing once they bring the old bird down safely. The level of applause seems to be inversely correlated to the bumpiness of the landing.

I find it all very strange. The pilot is payed top dollar to get that hunk of tin up and down in the right place, and in reality computers probably control most of it.

These people don't applaud the train driver on their daily commute, the newscaster, or the out-of-work actor who takes their order in the local restaurant.

I wonder why planes are different?

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Street Life

Continuing our predilection for off-beat entertainment we went to the third annual New York Street Vendor Awards last night (affectionately known as "The Vendies").

The set up was pretty simple. Take the top five street cart food vendors (as voted for by the public of New York), put them all in the same park, charge people an entrance fee that covers all the food and an open bar, eat, and vote.

We arrived about an hour into the event and chose our first cart: the Taco Guy. The line was long, but the food was worth the wait. We ate slowly and deliberately and then lined up for more.

Shawarmas, dosas, lamb pitas. We ate it all. Everything was good, but the dosas were remarkable. They were fresh and light, and vegan to boot.

The Dosa Guy won the overall event, a well deserved victory.

The other competition seemed to be who could eat the most. I think we made a suitable bid for the title. I'm still full.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Pulling Mussels (From the Shell)

I went to buy some clams on the way home from work tonight. I had a vision of linguine alle vongole that I needed to realise.

I popped into the local "high-end" food store and wandered over to the fish counter. Little neck clams, $5.99/dozen. Perfect.

"I'd like 18 clams, please"

"I'll have to charge you more"

"Huh? Do you only sell them in multiples of a dozen?"


"I'd like eighteen, then, please"

"I'll have to charge you more"

"If I get eighteen, will you charge me for two dozen?"

"No - I'll charge you for eighteen"

"Er... I'll take eighteen, then"

I'm still perplexed by this transaction, but at least I got my clams (all eighteen), was charged the right price, and dinner was good.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

I'll Wear It Proudly

There's a rather unpleasant habit amongst Americans who own portable electronic devices: they insist on wearing them on their belts for all to see.

It doesn't seem to matter what the device in question actually is, nor how many of them are owned. I regularly see people with both BlackBerry and mobile phone proudly displayed side by side on the belt.

There's the obvious security issue with advertising the fact you own one of these devices; but there's also the fact that you look like a dork.

What's wrong with a pocket?

Saturday, September 15, 2007

A Maximum High

For the "long" flight from London to Las Vegas we decided to splash out on a slightly better class of cabin. It turned out that the business-only carrier MaxJet was opening up precisely that route the day before we wanted to travel, so we took the plunge and forked out the small fortune for the tickets.

Check in was pretty casual, and the lounge had all the required amenities (but was perhaps a little busy due to the three MaxJet flights departing in quick succession at that time of day). Our plane was about 90 minutes late in taking off, but that didn't seem like such a big deal when we had 11 hours in the air to endure.

The seats on board were pretty comfortable, and although they didn't recline to full flat bed positions, they went far enough back to allow for some shut-eye. They also give you a portable media player to watch movies on. Whilst in principle this is a good idea, they probably need to invest a little more in the quality of the programming to make it really work. Still, it did help while away the time we were in the air.

The food and wine were good. The service was great - friendly and attentive.

All in all, I think it was worth the money for that kind of trip. We were able to walk off the plane and go straight to the casino and lose some money without feeling too groggy.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Viva Las Vegas

Having just returned from Las Vegas, I'm glad to report that the town is the same town that I visited about four or five years ago.

Same 24 hour city. Same slobby, unhappy people feeding quarters into slot machines. Same free cocktails at the blackjack table. Same ironic anti-gambling posters dotted around the place.

What's not to love? At least for 24 hours at a time...

Monday, September 10, 2007

Leader Of The Pack

I recently undertook a slightly aggressive travel schedule that required me to fly from New York to London to Las Vegas to New York in the space of just nine days. The trip saw me attending the wedding of a good friend, playing blackjack badly, and hiking in a couple of national parks in Utah. My packing would need to be eclectic.

The hiking/Vegas part was easy - the dress code is not too dissimilar in either place and I just threw a few things in my bag. The suit for the wedding, however, was going to be a bit more of a challenge.

Having decided not to take another bag on to the aeroplane, I did some Googling on the Internet Machine and came across the following solution.

The clever combination of inversion and gentle folds allowed the suit to travel the 11,ooo miles in the hold of an aircraft and still be ready-to-wear.


Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Tailor Made

I've been wanting to get a bespoke suit made for a number of years now, and I've finally decided to engage the skills of a good tailor.

I went to get measured the other day which was a somewhat bizarre experience. The little Italian man was barely tall enough to reach my shoulders, and as he buzzed around he converted from inches to centimetres by turning his tape measure over and over.

He also had a special secondary tape measure for my inside leg. It had a stiffened end so that he could post it towards the top of my leg without having to actually get his hand too close.

Didn't stop him from touching my bottom, though.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Guitar Man

Some of you may have detected a distinct "air guitar" theme in our lives.

We went to the national finals in the UK last year, and to the regional finals in New York back in June. This month it was time for the American national finals.

The setup was the same: one minute performing to music of your choice, acerbic judging, the top 5 contestants going through to a final round performing free-style to music they hadn't heard before. There was an enthusiastic crowd and a high density of groupies.

An interesting twist this time round was that one of the judges was non other than Malcolm Gladwell. Whilst he's not particularly famous as a proponent of the genre, he certainly seemed to judge fairly and attentively.

I found myself firmly rooting for the New York finalist, William Ocean, who put in a sterling performance. I'm very pleased to say that he won the whole contest and will proceed to represent the nation at the world championships in Finland in September.

You can't make this stuff up.

I do face a minor dilemma, however. Do I support the US or the UK in the finals?

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Ain't Going To Goa

We went for a curry last night. The restaurant is a single block from our apartment and we've walked past it many times, but never gone in.

As we sat down I noticed a higher than normal density of English accents amongst the patrons.

It's funny how some people revert to type when they're travelling.

Oh, and the food was pretty good.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Stuck With You

Once you start to notice them, they're everywhere.

The streets of New York are covered in literally millions of small black marks where people have discarded chewing gum that no longer has any flavour. The density of the spots is particularly unnerving in the subway stations. Just how long does this stuff last?

I've seen little men valiantly attempting to clean up the debris using high pressure hoses. Their machine seems to be reasonably effective, but the sickly sweet smell that it unleashes is equally frightening. Presumably the gum that is prised off the pavement is sent to some god-forsaken landfill to while away eternity next to a myriad plastic bags and nappies.

Given the longevity of the little skid marks, I hate to think what happens if you accidentally swallow some gum.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Deeper Underground

New York is a city that is never quite "finished", it's always undergoing repairs of one sort or another. I spotted an open manhole cover the other day, and nearby was a van from the local electricity supply firm. A very large, round man was waddling around in company overalls and looked intent on getting in the hole. There was clearly no way he was going to fit.

This isn't the first time this has happened. Last year I was walking by Macy's with my parents when we saw pretty much the same situation unfolding. Again, the man was never going to get through the hole. Or at least wasn't going to get back above ground if he did manage to squeeze through.

Unfortunately I haven't quite been in the right place at the right time to see how the endgames of these scenarios play out - but it does seem like a hazardous occupation for a gentleman of a larger than average girth.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Walk This Way

I am fortunate enough that I can walk to work. I manage to do this about 90% of the time, with the odd subway ride mandated by inclement weather, or simply by being late.

On my 25 minute walk I see a bunch of familiar faces, and sometimes some very odd behaviour. This blog entry begins an occasional series chronicling the things I see.

This evening on the way home I saw a delivery man on a bicycle. He was ringing his bell rather aggressively at a small group of people who were crossing the road in front of him when the pedestrian crossing was clearly indicating that they should wait.

Good man, I thought, until he turned the wrong way into a one-way street and was nearly squashed by a truck.

So much for the rules of the road.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007


Some of you may have read about an explosion that happened in midtown a couple of weeks ago. First indications were that a generator had blown up, but it later emerged that the loud bang was actually due to the rupturing of a steam pipe under the city. The explosion erupted with such force that a nearby building lost 16 floors of windows to the blast.

New York runs on steam. Apparently it's an efficient way both to heat and to cool high rise buildings. There are seven steam manufacturing plants in the city pumping some 30 billion pounds of the stuff through a system of old, rickety pipes. (Can you tell that I've been reading wikipedia again?)

In the wake of the explosion, the local power supply company is now checking the steam supply to our building, and this might cause interruptions to the hot water, heating and air conditioning services next week. Oh, joy.

Who'd have thought steam could be so disruptive?

Tuesday, July 24, 2007


We lost our Internet and telephone service for 48 hours last week. It's very weird how dependent I seem to have become on the electronic world. How was I going to find out what was happening back in the UK? How was I going to find out what was on at the cinema? How was I going to find a suitable restaurant to eat in that evening?

I spent a good few hours angling my laptop in various positions around the apartment and out the window to try and hijack a neighbour's signal - a feat I managed for about 5 minutes at a time.

The nice man from the cable company came as promised on the Friday afternoon, unplugged the modem and plugged it back in again, and we were back in business.

How embarrassing. I probably should give up the day job.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Pump It Up

On my way to work the other morning I saw something that made me shudder.

We live in an apartment block that has a 24 hour McDonald's on the ground floor. As I walked past I noticed a truck with a hose running out the back to a connector on the wall of the "restaurant". I looked a little closer and noticed that the truck was delivering cooking oil. A lot of cooking oil.

Rationalisation is easy. McDonald's fries a lot of food, they're going to need a lot of oil. I just think that seeing it all in one place conjures up a rather unpleasant image.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Hot In The City

Preserving the theme that an Englishman can always talk about the weather, I am pleased to report that it's hot. Damned hot.

Forget all this "dry heat", "humid heat" nonsense: it's just ridiculously hot. Temperatures are well into the 30s, and show no sign of respite.

It still seems odd to me that, due to the air conditioning that is absolutely imperative in these conditions, my electricity bill is higher in the summer than the winter.

I'm melting.

Thursday, July 05, 2007


The 4th of July seems to be quite a big deal in the United States. I was just looking forward to the day off work, but ended up being impressed by how "into it" people seemed to be.

Flags were fluttering on every possible pole and building, the local news showed various barbecues and parades, and I read somewhere that America would be spending $2 billion on food for the occasion. Mostly burgers and hotdogs apparently.

At 9:20pm Macy's sponsors the country's biggest fireworks display. 40,000 rockets were fired upwards from four barges in the East River over a period of about 25 minutes. Not even the rain could dampen that show.

The odd part is that fireworks are illegal in New York State (along with a reasonable number of the other states, too). Maybe that goes some way towards explaining why 3 million people turned up to view the spectacle last night.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

London Calling

We had dinner at Gordon Ramsay's first New York venture, a restaurant called Maze at the London Hotel. Large fluttering Union Jack flags welcomed us as we stepped into the elegant hotel space. We were dining in the bar (rather than the full restaurant), and this gave us opportunity to sample more of the smaller plates that are offered in this area.

The food was really good. Rich flavours and well sourced ingredients gave each small plate a real lift. Highlights included a verdant asparagus risotto, perfectly fried sea bass, and the "essences" of a BLT served in a martini glass. This may have been Ramsay-by-numbers, but that's not necessarily a bad thing.

The price was right and the service mostly spot-on, yet the place was surprisingly quiet. Maybe it's the location in an anonymous part of midtown, maybe it's the fact that Ramsay's reputation in the states is based only on the US version of his foul-mouthed and abusive Hell's Kitchen, rather than his cooking. Either way, I can't see the restaurant lasting a long time in its current incarnation unless a few more guests show up.

If you're in town soon, snag a table.

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Sell, Sell, Sell

New York City has a remarkable number of opportunistic salespeople. I often see clusters of men selling surprisingly realistic fake handbags and sunglasses out of cardboard boxes around the World Trade Center site, and whenever it rains people pop up at the entrances to many subway stops selling super cheap umbrellas.

I saw an innovative salesman last weekend. It was pretty hot in NY, and downtown was busy with open top tour buses. This gentleman had fabricated a stick with a collection of small buckets at the end, and was waving bottles of ice-cold water under the noses of the folk on the top of the bus, asking only a single dollar for instant refreshment.

I didn't hang around to witness a transaction, but I would imagine that the dollar bill was placed into the same receptacle that the water bottle came from. Genius.

America. Land of opportunity.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Weather Report

The weather in New York appears to be remarkably predictable. When the man in the radio tells me that it will rain in the early afternoon, lo and behold the skies open up at 2:30pm. When he says that the temperature will reach 73 Fahrenheit, it rises to within a degree or two.

This is in stark contrast to my experiences of London's weathermen who seem to wave their hands about a bit and say that it might rain a bit sometime later in the week (maybe), and the temperature could be "seasonal". Perhaps.

Apparently it's to do with the fact that New York's weather is mainly driven by the American land mass, whereas the UK's is at the mercy of the vagary of the surrounding waters.

I now have a Pavlovian reaction to the word "rain" in the weather forecast and pack an umbrella: I know I'm going to need it.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Move Over Darling

I took a domestic flight this weekend from New York to Portland. The thing that amazed me most about the procedure was the length of time it takes to get from one side of this country to the other: a good six hours.

Thanks to the power of modern technology I was able to check in online, and also select my seat with the help of that marvellous website seatguru. This site suggests which seats on a particular carrier's aircraft are better or worse than average. I snapped up 5E for the extra legroom it provided (forgoing a clear view of the movie screen).

They called the passengers to board from the back of the plane first, and by the time the last five rows were beckoned forward the plane was pretty full. As I made my way on board my heart sank.

The lady in 5D was enormous.

She was so big that she literally oozed into half of my seat. SeatGuru had already warned me that the middle seat in row five was a little narrower than normal, but that was a small price to pay for the extra legroom provided by the shift in configuration from steerage to business class at that point of the plane. It was going to be a long flight.

I eased myself into the seat, wedged myself under a large part of her torso, and tried to focus on pleasant thoughts. I think I managed to snooze for a while, and she periodically shifted around just enough to give me some breathing space.

The real moment of truth came at about hour number four. "Am I squashing you?". At this point any flag waving American would have felt obliged to let rip. Not the Englishman. "Oh no, it's quite alright". What was I thinking?

This place clearly isn't home, yet.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Anyone Can Play Guitar

Having enjoyed the UK Air Guitar Championships in London last year, it didn't take much encouragement for me to think about attending the New York regional competition.

The event was held at the Bowery Ballroom, and was hosted by serial air guitar failure Bjorn Turok. It took a little while for the things to get going, but once they did the usual mix of hair metal and mayhem was unleashed on an unforgiving audience.

Highlights of the evening included a 65 year old who should really have known better, a man in a complete cow costume, an air-violin interloper and lots of very tight spandex. The stage names were also pretty inspired: Shreddy Mercury was a personal favourite, and Bobba Frets (including full helmet) gave a damned good workout.

The overall quality of the competition didn't seem to be up the same standard as the UK event, but I'm holding out hope for the national finals in August.

For those about to rock, we salute you.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Credit to the Nation

It looks like I've finally managed to secure a credit card in the United States.

I applied shortly after I got here, and because, to a large extent, I didn't exist, I couldn't get one. I recently received another invitation to apply and this time it looks like I was successful. I haven't actually been sent the plastic as yet, but my online account now shows a linked credit card.

The mildly amusing thing about this application is that my credit limit is almost exactly 2.5% of the amount I have in the UK. I understand the reasons for this, but it does all seem a little pointless.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Soul Man

I took a couple of pairs of shoes to the local cobbler this week. I'm a big fan of owning a good shoe, and having it repaired as appropriate.

I was very pleasantly surprised by both the level of workmanship, and the price. I asked for a small rip to be repaired, and they not only fixed that hole, but relined and strengthened all three other sides of the pair of shoes at the same time. And they were shined to within an inch of their lives, too.

When I went to collect my shoes I had to wait a good ten minutes as the little man hunted through his collection of finished work. Each bag of shoes had a numbered ticket attached, but for some reason they were not sorted in any logical order. He inspected the ticket on each bag until he found the right one.

An interesting approach, but room for some improvement.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Food Glorious Food

Last Saturday we went to a street fair just outside the apartment. $40 bought us a ticket to the Taste Of Tribeca festival where 60 neighbourhood restaurants set up stalls to allow us punters to sample their food.

The proceeds from the entrance ticket went to local schools, and gave us the opportunity to have six "tastes" from whichever stands we chose. In between the light spring showers we wended our way from stall to stall to see what we liked the look of.

The more famous restaurants had long lines, so we deliberately picked the smaller venues. I had a fantastic pulled pork bun with barbecue sauce, smoked salmon, a country terrine, a wonderful lamb kebab, a ricotta cheesecake, and two empanadas from our local Argentian restaurant. Yum!

It was a busy event and as we negotiated the crowds we were entertained by live bands. My favourite was The Dueling Elvis's (who played alternate Presley and Costello covers). Another highlight of the event occurred when we went up to our local sushi restaurant's stand. We said hello, we were given heaps of food, and they refused to stamp our ticket.

Proof positive that you can inhabit a friendly neighbourhood in New York.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

White Room

I went to a book tour event tonight promoting Marco Pierre White's new biography. White was late and whilst we waited for his car to arrive we were entertained by none other than Mario Batali and Anthony Bourdain. They merrily swapped stories of White and their various experiences with him, and generally clowned around for the assembled crowd.

Bourdain and Batali were a hoot, and clearly enjoyed playing up to the audience. I've read a lot about both chefs and it was great to see them in the flesh.

When he finally arrived, White was something of a disappointment. He spoke quietly, looked at the floor, and seemed to be none too proud of his antics in the 80s. He kept reiterating that he regretted pursuing the Michelin stars so fervently, when he should really have been doing something that was more "worthwhile". He wouldn't even be drawn on the Ramsay reservation-book scandal.

As I stood by a shelf containing a "Highway to Heaven" box set, I wondered quite why he had bothered to turn up. At least he came out in favour of the freedom to eat foie gras, I suppose.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Zeroes and Ones

I thought it was the longer words that might lose something in translation from English to American, so I was surprised when something short and simple caused me problems the other day.

In a meeting about a particular strategy I was working on I described a numeric parameter as ranging from "nought to ten". This drew confused looks from the rest of the table. I looked back at them, and realising that something was not being understood, I said "You know, one, two, three....". Suddenly there were moments of enlightenment in the room as people realised what I was trying to say.

Apparently the word "nought" is very rarely used here, and certainly not in the context of a range of numbers.

It would appear that I still have a lot to learn before I can claim to be fully bilingual.

Monday, May 14, 2007

State of Independence

We spent the weekend in Washington D.C.

Washington is a picture postcard perfect city. All the important sights are strung out along a large green corridor called The Mall, with The Capital Building at the one end, The Washington Memorial in the middle, and The Lincoln Memorial at the other end.

During our limited time there we managed to tick off most of the important things, noting that The White House is rather small, The Vietnam Veterans Memorial was altogether quite moving, and that the return capsule of Apollo 11 was really rather cramped.

It seemed like a fun town, and I'm looking forward to going back later in the year.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Loco in Acapulco

New York can do exceptional Mexican food pretty easily, something I didn't appreciate until I'd been here a little while and had tried a few places. London has a handful of people making an effort to bring this cuisine to the masses, but the results are generally pretty lacklustre.

I've always like chillies, and find the subtle roastings and liberal spikings in Mexican food pretty compelling.

The 5th May is an excuse for a bit of a party in New York. Cinco de Mayo is a national holiday in Mexico celebrating a local victory over the French in 1862, but due to New York's large Mexican population, the holiday is unofficially celebrated here, too.

So, last Saturday was a great excuse for some ceviche, fish tacos, tortilla soup and a few Coronas.

Muy bueno!

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Super Trouper

We live pretty close to New York's bustling Chinatown. It's about a 15 minute walk, and like stepping into another world.

The streets are busy twenty-four hours a day, people sell anything and everything from impromptu stalls, and the smell of food lingers in the air. I recently saw someone buying live crabs from one of the vendors. The unlucky crustaceans were unceremoniously placed into a paper bag with tongs, and the bag continued to wiggle as the lady carried it away. It would have made quite a sight on the subway.

One of my favourite things to order in Chinatown is the soup dumpling. Xiǎolóngbāo (as they are known in Mandarin) are delightful steamed buns with a mixture of meat and rich broth hidden within. At first they are a little tricky to eat: there's a high probability of injury as the hot liquid can have a tendency to squirt onto your lap. But once you've got the hang of it, they are a wonderful thing to eat: the combination of soup, meat and bun is fantastic.

I haven't worked out how they are made yet. I suppose they are the ship-in-a-bottle of the food world.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Sunset and Vine

I was at work a little later than usual today (partly due to my job, but more realistically due to the miniature remote controlled helicopter someone has recently brought into the office).

As I walked home up Broadway I was struck by how delightful some of the buildings looked as the sun was setting. The Woolworth Building was a particularly pleasing shade of orange, and even some of the plainer office blocks looked pretty.

We often see fantastic sunsets from the apartment window. Looking past the construction sites in the foreground you can see glorious oranges and reds as the sun disappears behind the Jersey skyline.

In some ways pollution can be a beautiful thing.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Peace Train

I took my first proper US train ride this weekend. I've been on various trains in America: the Subway, commuter trains to Newark Airport and so on, but no proper long distance adventures.

There were a few things that struck me about the experience.

1. It was quite a slow ride, and the track was pretty bumpy. The train didn't get up to any major speed at all and the track was sometimes so squiggly that I nearly spilt my tea. So far not too dissimilar to the UK. But wait...

2. The train was very punctual, both in terms of departure and arrival. We're starting to see the differences...

3. It wasn't dirt cheap, but it certainly wasn't expensive.

4. You had to sign the top left of the ticket. And provide ID if required. I found this part quite strange until I was reminded of the obvious security threat as trains disappear into tunnels under the Hudson to reach New York.

5. The mainline stations are quite dramatic. You're probably aware of the grandeur of Grand Central Terminal, but Philadelphia's principal station is another art-deco wonder, too.

It looks like a reasonable way to travel short-ish distances. But I think anything over three hours and it's probably worth negotiating the perils of domestic flight instead.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Go Now

Toilets in America are a world apart from what I am accustomed to in the UK.

The principle difference is the minimal use of walling material to enclose the particular hole in the ground. There's normally a good 12-18 inch gap at the bottom, and, for a man of my height, it's very easy to see over the top if I'm standing even vaguely straight.

There is also quite often a reasonable gap between the door and its frame, and a very flimsy lock to keep intruders from your privacy.

I've heard of a number of inventive solutions to the problem, leading from jamming toilet paper in the crack by the door, to walking into the trap with a pronounced stoop to protect your identity.

It all seems a little "public" for my liking. Bring back the hermetically sealed rooms of my youth.

Monday, April 23, 2007

It Only Takes a Minute

It rained pretty hard last Sunday. It was actually the second wettest day in New York since records began. Central Park saw a whole 7.5 inches that day.

It was quite a sight. We hunkered down in the apartment and whiled away the afternoon watching movies and surfing the Internet, occasionally looking out the window to marvel at the spectacle. There were times when you could hardly see the building across the road there was so much water in the air.

Whilst fiddling on the web I remembered we had run a little low on wine (always a bad place to be). I pointed my browser at the local wine store's website and found an intriguing mixed case of reds for a reasonable price. I clicked the links, tapped in my payment details and thought nothing more about it.

57 minutes later there was a knock at the door and a very wet man delivered our booze.

Now that's what I call service.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Two by Two

Now that the great British pound is nudging two dollars, calculating how much things cost has become really easy. I still find it hard to think in dollar terms and perform the calculation frequently.

There are other factors of two in my financial life. I get paid twice a month, and I've noticed that a lot of things in America seem to be roughly half price (however it should be noted that rent definitely does not fall into this category).

So, I get paid in a currency that in numeric terms is twice the UK figure, I get paid twice as often, and consumer goods can often be considered half price.

I certainly feel better off, even if I'm probably not. God bless America.

Saturday, April 14, 2007


Even though I spent only 42 days of the 2006 tax year resident in the United States, I still had to file a full tax return. Actually, I had to file two returns: one for Federal Tax, and the other for State and City Tax. Oh, and I'll have to submit a UK Tax return in due course as well.

Part of my relocation package gives me the "benefit" of having my tax return prepared by one of the Big Four consultancies. This involved them sending me a letter requesting that I fill in all my relevant information on their specially developed website, and then they would do the rest.

I dutifully did this by the deadline they had imposed and then everything went quiet for about six weeks. Three working days before the Internal Revenue Service deadline I received a FedEx package with my completed return, all ready for me to sign and dispatch.

I noted a few things:
  • I wasn't convinced that the numbers were correct. It's too late to delay sending the forms back, but I may have to file an amendment after the fact.
  • Given the very tight timescales, what would have happened if I was travelling in the days before the 17 April deadline?
  • Best of all, the boxes I filled out on the website seemed to map almost exactly one-to-one to the boxes on the form!

It would appear that tax does indeed have to be taxing.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

King Size

I had a very odd experience the other day.

I received a letter from the UK. When I opened it and looked at the piece of paper inside I thought to myself, "My, what an ugly shape and size that piece of paper is."

It was an A4 sheet: something I had previously thought was rather aesthetic.

Constant exposure to US Letter paper has made me grow quite fond of its slightly shorter and fatter aspect. It stacks well, fits easily into my bag, and seems just a little more... I don't know... sturdy.

Which is of course complete nonsense. Any well read person will tell you that the ratio of the sides of a sheet of humble A4 is 1 : √2, meaning that when you fold it in half it retains exactly same aspect ratio (hence A3, A5 etc). Altogether more pleasing to the human eye.

At least I still think US Legal remains much more unpleasant that foolscap.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Leaving on a Jet Plane

We took a flight last weekend from New York's domestic airport, La Guardia.

The car we booked from TriBeCa to the airport was a pleasant enough ride, and cost a remarkably cheap amount. However, as soon as we checked in and went airside it became apparent how desolate the airport really was.

The departure gates were slung out along a long, lonely corridor, and when it was announced that the flight was delayed by an hour we were faced with eating chicken fingers and mozzarella sticks at a crappy sports bar as there was nothing else even vaguely edible in sight.

Once we were herded onto the flight the food had to be paid for, and the folk in front took great delight in reclining their seats into my knees.

Domestic flights in the US are not a pleasant experience.

And to cap it all, we returned from 90F Miami to be faced by a holding pattern over New York due to none other than snow showers.


Saturday, March 31, 2007

Hit Me Baby One More Time

Bars in New York are great places.

I'm used to regulated drinking hours in London. After many years of practice my body is perfectly tuned to the booze stopping at 11pm. New York's bars are typically open until 4am. On a school night. This has already led to a few errors of judgement regarding intake.

Beer costs about the same as London, and cocktails are about half price. You also have to factor in the dollar-per-drink tipping culture. It's coming a lot more naturally to me now, and they make it much easier for you by giving your $10 change as $5 and five $1 bills. Easy.

There is also the almost industry standard acceptance of the "tab". It's so much more civilised to pay for your evening's entertainment at the end of the night without having to leave a credit card as security. It leads to a much more social experience - that extra level of trust making you feel more welcome, perhaps.

We popped into the bar at a local restaurant last night on the way home from dinner. We had a glass of champagne and a few oysters, followed by a cocktail. Just as we were thinking about getting the bill the barman presented us with a round of drinks "on the house". We hadn't been there that long, and we certainly hadn't spent that much money.

Whilst not exactly commonplace, it seems to happen reasonably regularly. If you invest in a place, the tips seem to come back as free drinks. And it's precisely that kind of relationship with an establishment that makes you leave feeling that you had a great time, and already planning your next trip back.

I could get used to this.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Bang Bang

I've always been a fan of a well cooked sausage.

America does not appear to take the humble banger too seriously. The hot-dog is an abomination.

I bought half a dozen chipolatas from Myers of Keswick in the West Village yesterday and have been looking forward to them all day. I just cooked them to a pleasant sticky-burnt finish and wolfed them down with some well-dressed salad and a spot of cous-cous.

There is a corner of New York that is forever England.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Keep on Running

Some of you may remember that I took up jogging for a few months last year. It felt good whilst I kept it up, it's just that it got cold in London, and I lost the willpower.

It was quite temperate in New York today, and I decided to dust off the running shoes once again.

I took it particularly easy, so as not to scare my body too much, and ended up taking a relatively straightforward two mile jog alongside the Hudson River. Two miles of uninterrupted running with a stunning view of Manhattan's skyline. Quite inspiring.

I had New York's finest runners for company - someone simultaneously giving their dog a workout, old people barely moving yet dressed in head to toe sports equipment, and a lady noticeable for her outsized Coco Chanel sunglasses.

I've clearly got some way to go.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Fixing a Hole

I went to bed last night at the slightly embarrassing hour of 10pm. I wasn't feeling so good, and it had already been quite a long week at work.

As I finished with the current issue of Timeout New York and switched off the light, a tremendous noise started from the street below. I put up with it for a few minutes, hoping it would go away, before I padded over to the window to see what was going on.

Turns out that someone had decided that the middle of the night on a Thursday was the best time to dig up a major part of the street. Obviously this makes some kind of sense it terms of traffic density, but makes absolutely no sense in terms of people who need sleep!

They moved in the serious heavy lifting equipment a little later on, before finally taking a perverse delight in dropping large iron plates over the holes they had dug, from what seemed to be a great height.

It was all over by about 4am, but by then the night was pretty much at a loss.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Licence to Ill

When I first arrived in New York City I got pretty sick. It was just like being back at university and it took my puny little body a month or two to get the hang of all those new foreign germs. My second bout of illness was particularly fierce, with a cough that seemed to last about three weeks.

I thought I was over it, immune to all the city had to offer.


I'm currently nursing another bout of congestion and it's all getting rather tedious.

I guess if I move a few more times I'll be so resilient I'll live for ever.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

I Wish I was A Little Bit Taller

I was taken to Madison Square Garden last night to see my first basketball game. This was no ordinary basketball game mind, this was a New York Knicks game.

We had some cheap seats at the top of the arena, affording us the opportunity to leave part way through without feeling that we'd wasted $15. The view was actually pretty reasonable from up there.

What I noticed first was that people were pretty laissez faire about turning up on time. There were spectators dribbling in throughout the game. We ourselves turned up part way through the first period, having prioritised a quick margarita a few blocks away. In the UK I think most people are in place for the start of the game they've gone to watch. And they stay determinedly focused on the game throughout.

Not quite so at the basketball.

The action was noticeably stop-start. Fouls, timeouts, TV timeouts, advertising opportunities and general attention deficit made the whole experience a little bewildering. The noise was constant, from the music system playing riffs and jingles, to the clattering and cat calling from the crowd. Something of a sensory overload.

It perhaps speaks to my general apathy for sport that I found the half time entertainment the most enjoyable part of the experience. There were the Irish dancers (bidding an early welcome to St Patrick's Day), the Knicks City Dancers (an energetic, spangly-dressed crew who flick-flacked around the court and launched T-shirts into the crowd from slingshots), and a professional "Simon Says" caller, who proceeded to work his way through a crowd of about 50 children to finally crown a winner. No, really.

We sloped off part way through the third quarter to scarf down some cheap Korean food in a local 24 hour restaurant. Not bad for a Friday in mid March.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Sign Your Name

I was in a wonderful establishment last weekend - a place that's half wine bar, and half wine shop. Both parts of the equation keep the same business hours, so it's possible to taste and buy bottles of wine way past one in the morning. However, I was there a little earlier in the evening for a quick pre-prandial.

When it came time to pay I found myself doing something I detest: I caught the waitress's attention from across the room and then signed an invisible signature in the air to indicate that I wanted the bill.

Gah! What's happening to me?

I realise that this international standard hand movement has its benefits: it can be discreet (if done correctly), and it prevents the waitstaff from an unnecessary journey to the table and back.

I still think it looks pretty stupid. There's got to be a better way.

Monday, March 12, 2007

If I Could Turn Back Time

Last weekend saw much of Wall Street's technology function hunched over their keyboards, peering at screens, and fiddling with their mice to ensure that the computer systems they operate knew what time of day it was. To the nearest hour, that is.

Two years ago the United States decided to change when Daylight Savings Time would begin. They moved it three weeks forward in an effort to "save energy".

It actuality all it seems to have done is create a lot of unnecessary work for the software industry; and alternately frustrate and confuse people who want to get on with their jobs without the threat of impending computer meltdown looming over them.

It actually passed without much of a fanfare. There were a few minor glitches where I work, but nothing leading to aeroplanes falling out the sky, lifts plummeting down their shafts, or even the failure of a coffee machine.

It was summed up pretty well when I walked onto the trading floor this morning and noticed the patch that had been applied to the big global clocks dotted around the place. The patch was literally that: a folded piece of paper to cover up the local (incorrect) time.

I guess they'll be "uninstalling" it again in three weeks' time.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Everybody's Talkin'

People in New York seem to talk to one another more than Londoners.

I've been spoken to on the subway, in cafes, in lifts and in the street much more than any other place I've ever been. They're either asking for directions (which I'm proud to say I can usually help with to some degree), they're mad, or they're drunk.

Bars are great places to strike up conversations. New York's booze scene is normally arranged with stools set at the bar just asking to be sat upon. That way you get to converse with the barperson and your neighbour.

Once, someone walked with me the entire length of the Brooklyn Bridge telling me the history of its construction and other strange stories from its history, only to vanish at the other side with nary a word.

All quite unexpected for an introverted Englishman.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Radio Free Europe

I'm starting to enjoy listening to NPR in America. It's a little like Radio 4, and is basically a collection of non-profit radio stations that broadcast about half their programming centrally, and syndicate their own homegrown shows to the rest of the network to account for the other half.

"Car Talk" is an amusing show hosted by two genial Bostonian mechanics who give general life advice to callers under the thin veil of helping them with their motor vehicle problems.

"This American Life" is a documentary programme exploring normal people's lives and stories: it's a bit like Blighty's own "Home Truths". They recently ran a fascinating story about a group of puzzle solving geeks at MIT that make even the worst computer nerds I know look positively effervescent.

I do miss the BBC's output, though, and thank my lucky stars that some of their shows are available online. This allows me to keep up to date with favourites such as "The Now Show", "I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue" and "The News Quiz" from the other side of The Pond.

I've even ventured into the realm of the podcast; a wonderful invention that allows me to take my favourite broadcasts with me as I stroll along the Hudson River of a Sunday afternoon.


Friday, March 02, 2007

I'm Only Happy When It Rains

It started raining last night.

It was really raining this morning.

There is a common conception that the UK is a generally rainy place. Whilst I'd agree that it can be damp and foggy for prolonged periods, it never really rains that hard. You can at least walk quickly through it for a short time without being totally drenched.

Not so in New York. Even the rain is bigger here.

I put on my raincoat this morning and ran to the subway, only to find the service I needed had been cancelled due to partial flooding. So I worked out a different route that required a change or two and ended up walking a little further at the other end than I had planned.

I dried out by about lunchtime.

Wednesday, February 28, 2007


One of my company's offices lies on the other side of the Hudson River roughly parallel with the Manhattan financial district. It's clearly visible from many parts of New York, especially downtown, but actually lies in another state: New Jersey.

I occasionally have to go there for the odd meeting or two, and today was one of those days. There's a train that runs under the river from the World Trade Center, but I prefer the boat that departs from the pier at the end of Wall Street.

It was a beautifully clear day today, and as I whizzed across the river I gazed back on Manhattan and was struck with how beautiful New York can be when viewed from a distance. The classic vertical architecture set against the clear azure sky was simply stunning.

Things got better as I peered out of my meeting room window on the 28th floor of the destination building. The whole of downtown and midtown unfurled across the horizon, almost as far as the eye could see.

Next time I'll take my camera.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Live Forever

Food from American supermarkets is generally so well preserved and packaged that it lasts a Very Long Time.

It's actually pretty difficult to buy fresh produce that you can cook with; it's much easier to buy something pre-prepared or microwaveable instead. Once you do find basic ingredients, you often realise that it's cheaper to eat out in a low-key establishment.

This could explain why so few New York apartments have functional kitchens.

One supermarket chain is making a killing at the moment. Wholefoods is very successfully filling the gap, and sells beautifully fresh food alongside organic and luxury pre-packaged items. Every branch is always busy, so they're clearly on to something. This also seems to grant them licence to charge about twice the price of everyone else for the same items. Ah well.

It's also interesting to note that not everything you buy from a supermarket actually has a "use by" date. Maybe "food" here really does Live Forever.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Start Choppin'

One of my biggest fears about moving country was having to face the trauma of finding somewhere new to have my hair cut. I know this might not sound like a big deal, but I don't really enjoy the experience. I've been going to the same salon for about 5 years: it's hard to teach an old dog new tricks.

I've been in New York for three months now, but I was in London around New Year and made the trip to my usual hairdresser whilst I was there. This allowed me to defer the agony for a few more weeks, but recently I've started to resemble the Wild Man of Borneo so it was time to take the plunge.

There are a number of hack and slash places down near Wall Street, but I've grown to be a higher maintenance client than that in recent years. A little tickling of the web suggested that I try John Allan's, a small chain of men's salons that have been serving New Yorkers for some 19 years.

I wandered down there for my appointment this morning and found that I enjoyed the experience immensely. Their Full Service package offers slightly more than a haircut: I also had a hot towel treatment, a manicure (a personal first) and a shoeshine (another personal first). The staff were pleasant and the surroundings suitably "TriBeCa funky". I was also entitled to a drink from the bar. It seemed a little early for a beer, so I settled for an ice-tea instead.

The annual membership program might encourage me to go slightly more often, so as to make the economics viable. They also complimented me on my grey hair. Anywhere that can lie so convincingly has to be worth a second look.

Monday, February 19, 2007

At the Zoo

Today is Presidents' Day in the United States - a public holiday commemorating the birthdays of previous presidents. It started with Washington, then they added Lincoln as his birthday was pretty close to George's. Now it covers all former presidents in a bold swathe of inclusion.

It does however entitle me to a day off work, and we decided to spend it visiting the Bronx Zoo with some friends.

The last zoo I went to was Regents Park Zoo in London. I visited that one in February as well, and have come to the conclusion that they were both quiet for a reason. It was perishingly cold on both occasions; and most exotic animals are sensible enough to stay inside in the warm and dry.

The Bronx Zoo is an impressive place. It occupies a sizeable area north of Manhattan and has some 4,000 animals in residence. We certainly didn't cover all the exhibits, but did enjoy seeing giraffes, frogs, snakes, buffalo and all manner of strange birds. There were also some rather foolhardy tigers flopping around in the snow; I guess they really are as tough as they look.

I think we'll be back when it's warmer and the animals are more likely to be outside. It certainly felt like a happier place that the abject misery that is London Zoo.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Slip Slidin' Away

The weather has been a little more wintery in NYC this week. This makes a change from just having the biting cold to contend with.

On Tuesday there was an ice-storm warning in effect for New York. I've never experienced an ice-storm, and only have a vague understanding of the phenomenon from the Ang Lee movie of the same name. A little Internet research turned up the most amazing pictures. Luckily for us the storm never came.

But we did receive a reasonable snow fall instead, resulting in about 6-8 inches covering Manhattan.

In London this would have been enough to cripple the city for days on end, but in New York it hardly made any difference. Within a matter of hours the snow-ploughs had cleared the major streets, and busy little bees had cleared walkways along the pavements. Salt was deployed to make things a little easier to manage, and the snow was piled up at the sides of the road. People went about their business pretty much as per normal.

Walking in the snow was a little tricky. The temperature dropped back down to the customary -8C and patches of ice lurked in the shadows. I learned pretty quickly to avoid manhole covers and subway grates. The piles of snow at the kerbside were a little tough to negotiate, too, as no-one had the foresight to leave gaps for the pedestrians to cross the road.

The snow made New York look really pretty for a short while, but the pollution and dirt soon turned the scene into a dull grey-brown mess.

I'll tell you one thing: New York in the snow is no place for an Englishman's leather shoe.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Ch-ch-check it Out

American retail banks remain in the Dark Ages.

To move money from one institution to another requires you either to pay a ridiculous "wire transfer" fee both to send and receive the funds; or you can write a cheque.

To pay a utility bill, you have to write a cheque.

To pay your rent, you have to write a cheque.

To pay a cheque into your account requires you to endorse it on the back - because you can trivially sign over your cheque to someone else.

It amazes me that the concept of electronic transfer of funds is nearly non-existent over here. In fact, when you use your online bank account to pay a bill, quite often all they do is mail the recipient a cheque! Instead of investing in technology to provide this simple (and very useful) facility, they've invested in technology that allows them to scan every single cheque that is written and deposited, so that it can be displayed "electronically" via your online bank account - an almost entirely useless feature.

Oh, and they insist of calling them "checks".

America doesn't run on Dunkin', it runs on bureaucracy.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Red, Red Wine

We went to a wine tasting tonight. This was no ordinary wine tasting, mind you. This was a pinot noir special held in the upstairs room of a fancy TriBeCa restaurant called the Tribeca Grill.

We walked in to a room full of New Yorkers wandering around sniffing and slurping enthusiastically, there was a mountain of cheese in the middle, and 25 wines to taste.

Two regions of California, Oregon, Burgundy and "The Rest of the World" were represented by separate tables, and behind each was a designated pourer. We sidled in at the end of one of the tables and set to work.

25 wines in under an hour is a reasonable task, but we did our best. There wasn't much of a system to each table, and we had to muscle in with the rest of the throng to make sure we were represented, but we did well and sampled all of the wines on offer.

Not surprisingly the Burgundies came out on top, closely followed by the Oregonians. The rest came stumbling quite far behind in a bit of a rabble. Oddly, the Burgundy table was by far the least densely populated with slurpers.

I guess the New World, New World rules.

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Land of Confusion

"Bus stop. No standing."

Monday, January 29, 2007

Less Than Zero

New York radio breakfast shows are obsessed with traffic and weather. From the moment the alarm trips it's a constant deluge of information about the various bridges and tunnels, and the current temperature in Central Park.

I grew up with Celsius. My parents were fond of Fahrenheit, but we principally conversed in the sensible 0 to 100 scale that the rest of the modern world has adopted.

Water freezes at zero and boils at 100C. That's straightforward at any time of day. 20C is comfortable. 30C is hot. Fahrenheit is an altogether different proposition. The numbers are all out of whack, and are hard to translate into a nice, round, metric scale. 32 and 212 anyone?

So, when the man in the radio tells me it's going to crawl up to 36F today, it takes a little while to realise what that means. Sure, there's a little more granularity with Fahrenheit, but that all gets swept under the carpet with terms such as "low" 40s and "high" 70s.

I'm having trouble adjusting to a scale based on the temperature of a bucket of ice water, and the body temperature of a cow.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Spice Up Your Life

Last night we went to the Brick Lane Curry House; a restaurant promising a full "East London" Indian food experience.

The restaurant is situated on E6th Street between 1st and 2nd Avenue, a block in the East Village densely packed with Indian restaurants featuring facades and interiors of feeble-looking quality. The Brick Lane Curry House clearly stands out in terms of visual appeal. It looks clean and well presented, there isn't a hawker outside trying to pressgang you into a pakora, and you can also reserve online via OpenTable.

Not much like Brick Lane so far, then.

Once inside we were able to order traditional sounding curries from a laminated menu, drink draught Kingfisher and munch on popadoms until the food arrived. The service was friendly if a little inept, and the music definitely involved sitars. Ah! That's more like it.

The food was pretty good. Not amazing, but definitely worth knowing about.

One peculiarity of the place was the preponderance of London Underground posters and pictures of Big Ben. Another was the wicked strength phall sauce they challenge you to eat with the measly reward of a free beer.

But despite that, I think we'll be back at some point.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Pet Sounds

New Yorkers love their dogs.

This morning on the way to work I noticed a "doggie taxi". Being a curious person, I performed a quick Google and found that this taxi takes your pet to and from a "doggie daycare" centre. The day care centre sounds quite nice; they'll look after your hound all day, in the lap of luxury, all in exchange for a small wedge of cash. I'm not joking.

I also noticed a "doggie gym" a couple of weeks ago whilst poking around the West Village. This place allows your pooch to work out on treadmills, chew rubber rings and hang out in the sauna with other doggies; again all for the simple exchange of some greenbacks. And in true New York gym style, the most glamourous exercise equipment is proudly displayed in the window for all to see.

But in a true show of love for their animals, New York pet owners almost always carry a supply of small plastic bags around with them. This enables them to pick up the objects that appear from the blunt end of their furry companions on a daily basis. Whilst I whole-heartedly approve of the practice, I don't think there's any way I could bring myself to do it. Plastic bags aren't that thick, in most cases they seem to be transparent, and I'm a sensitive sort.

I guess it gets easier in the winter.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Cold As Ice

I'd always been told that New York got cold in the winter, but this year has been unseasonably warm and I thought I'd got away with it. For example it reached a heady 22C (72F for you Fahrenheit-philes) on January 5th and people were skipping round Manhattan in shorts. It's also been warm enough that the cherry trees in Brooklyn have already come out in bloom.

But that's all changed now. It's perishingly cold, and set to get colder.

Now I know it's not a patch on the crazy ice storms that have wreaked havoc across the rest of the country, and certainly not as serious as the weather system that has been ravaging Europe recently, but it is damned cold.

It was -7C (19F) on the way to work the other morning, and it snowed a little over the last few days.

What's more worrying is that people don't seem at all phased by it and are just take it in their stride. I'm guessing that means that it has the potential to get a lot colder.

I'm glad I've got a scarf.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Georgous George

I bought a quick dinner snack in a hole-in-the-wall Indian called The Pakistani Tea House this evening. New York isn't famous for its curry, but this place wasn't too bad. The naan was cooked in the tandoor in front of my eyes, and they had the decency to put the food from the big tray in the microwave before they gave it to me.

And for $6 it was damned tasty.

Amongst my change, I noticed one of the bills had a message stamped on it: "Track this bill at". This jogged my memory about the website it mentioned - I'd read about it a couple of years ago. It allows users to track where US currency "travels" by relying on curious citizens going to the website and entering the relevant details.

So I did:

It'll be interesting to see where it ends up.

Monday, January 15, 2007

It's Only Rock and Roll (But I Like It)

There are a lot of radio stations in New York, and they cover the full gamut of tastes and styles. We've got NPR (which is much like Radio 4), jazz, classical, shock jock, dance and so on. You name it, we've probably got it.

But there's only one "Classic Rock" station.

Now, I like my classic rock, so I've spent a bit of time listening to Q104.3 as I trundle round the apartment.

It's generally good, and plays pretty much what you'd expect. The only downside is the rather narrow playlist. I realise that "classic" is a subjective term, but this station seems to want to redefine it.

It's got so predictable now, that we can often guess which artists they will play in the next hour; and sometimes even the song.

Where's XFM when I need it?

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Polly Put The Kettle On

A kettle is a pretty important piece of equipment for an Englishman. For example it's integral to the tea ceremony; and can make cooking pasta just that little but quicker.

Americans have kettles, but they are most commonly the stove-top variety that take an age to boil and whistle ferociously when they're ready. The convenient electric variety aren't impossible to come by, but seem to represent about 10% of the available market.

I brought a kettle with me from the United Kingdom in the hopes that my meagre power transformer would be able to take the strain. After attempting to boil for about two seconds, the transformer packed up. So much for my physics degree, then.

So we bought a new one from Macy's today (the John Lewis of New York). It's shiney. It looks just like the last one. And above all, it's electric.

I'm celebrating with a nice cup of tea.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Electric Avenue

Having moved house in New York recently (which will be reported in all its gory details in another post) I needed to sign up for some utilities for the new property.

Cable, telephone and Internet had too many complicated permutations, so I opted to start with good old electricity.

After listening to some rather dull hold music for about 20 minutes, I was put through to a very helpful gentleman who set me up with my account. All pretty straightforward, but in true American style I was asked one particularly odd question: "Will anyone at the property be on critical life support systems that require electricity?".

I wonder what happened to all those poor souls wired up to machines during the great Northeast blackouts of 2003?

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Selling England by the Pound

There are small pockets of England hidden away in New York City.

I came across a newsagent shop in Grand Central Station today that had a whole section under a proudly displayed "British" heading. Maxim, Loaded, Horse and Hound, The Telegraph; they were all there.

We passed a shop in Brooklyn yesterday that successfully marries two of Albion's finest culinary delights: curry and fish and chips. One half of the shop was decorated in classic chip shop style (chrome, newspaper, black and white tiling), the other half in flock wall-paper and tapestry curry house splendour. And to get one up on the Brits, they have a fish and chip delivery service. How civilised.

There is also a fantastic little shop in the West Village called Myers of Keswick. They specialise in importing British products. So I can pop along there to get my Walker's crisps, Weetabix, Oxo cubes and Robinson's Barley Water.

It's comforting to find these boltholes. I know that I can get my occasional fix of "home" when required.

Now all I need is somewhere where I can queue for ages to talk about the weather.