Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Goodbye Rabbit Hutch

Farewell then, little boxlike apartment.

You may have been tiny. Tinier even than the lying letting agent told us. You may have been painfully expensive. But you did have a great view.
Living in a box is okay when one of the walls is all rooftops and sky

If you squint you can make out the top of the Chrysler, too. Trust me.

Since one of our London flat requirements is a garden, I imagine we'll be living rather closer to the ground than the 14th floor of Rabbit Hutch Towers. I wonder if I'll miss it, all that sky.

I was talking to a New Yorker recently who complained at how small the London sky is. I don't think that's quite true. London has much fewer highrises than New York, especially in the leafy 'burbs but even in relatively central areas like Marylebone, or Belgravia. The tallest buildings in most parts of town are usually five or six stories. So there's plenty of sky.

But the sky in New York is so often that lovely clear, bright, crisp blue. In London a fair amount of cloud cover is the norm. And that blanket of cloud makes the sky seem closer.

Call me crazy but I've missed those grey London skies. I can't wait to get back to them.

Monday, January 30, 2012

It hasn't been completely unbearable

As we make our goodbyes, our New York friends have been asking us if we've enjoyed our time here. With puppy dog sad eyes, they say things like 'we get the impression you might not really love New York'. And then we feel bad.

Because we're always harping on about how great Malibu was, and how excited we are about settling in London. Poor New York seems to be no more than an inconvenient stepping stone. And we moan about our rent and the size of the apartment and the smart Manhattanites nod sagely as if to say 'if you're still moaning about that, you haven't really 'got it' yet...'

So allow me to set the record straight. New York, we like you. We like you a lot.

We like your excellent coffee shops and bars. We love our neighbourhood, the High Line, and all our favourite local restaurants. TLOML really likes all the good pizza slice places. I really like running along the Hudson riverside. We love Tribeca, especially when combined with afternoon drinking. We like always being able to pay with a card in a cab, and I like those little TV screens in the cabs too (TLOML not so much...). We like a lot of buildings, especially in Chelsea. So many that the phrase 'I like that building' is spoken almost as often as 'Want to grab a slice?'
We like this building

We like walking everywhere. Especially walking home from dinner in the West Village, feeling smug about our neighbourhood. And wandering down Fifth or Madison late at night after an Upper East Side dinner, and looking in all the shop windows. TLOML likes the quality of the steak houses. We both love the bagel options near us. And the diversity of people who live here (especially after LA, where the population of blondes-chasing-dreams is just a little too dominant). We like those bright blue clear skies you get so many of (though we don't love the sweltering humidity or icy cold that accompanies them so often).

And most of all, we like the people. Specifically, those dear New Yorker friends who we have loved being able to hang out with so much in the past 10 months. Now it's back to email and Facebook contact, at least for most of the time. We will miss them more than anything, I think.

Just because we didn't buy the t-shirt, or sign up for a condo... we really, truly, do like New York.
Did my t-shirt send the wrong message?

Glad I cleared that up.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Tipping etiquette

The worst thing about tipping in the US is actually not the amount of money it costs. It's the pretense that it's discretionary, and all the confusion that spawns.

Everyone knows it's a crime against society not to tip a decent amount. And yet clear guidance about what that decent amount is, is hard to come by. If you pay by card in a New York taxi, you are offered the choice between adding 20%, 25% or 30% tip. But New Yorkers usually skip that screen and manually enter what they want to tip. 10% rounded up is the norm, although one New Yorker I know routinely tips a single dollar whatever the fare.

We broke this news to the New New Yorkers recently. They were annoyed to discover they had been overtipping for months. But delighted to think of all the money they'd save not hitting that '20% tip' button.

Taxis, now that I think about it, are pretty cheap. Most services garner a 20% tip. But again, it's not very clear. I usually tip five bucks on a $25 pedicure. But I heard of a friend of a friend who tips $25. Maybe she's getting her mani/ pedi somewhere rather fancier than me.

The 20% rule is fairly safe in restaurants. But not, confusingly, in bars. Then it's a dollar a drink in a dive bar, and anything above that in a fancy bar. Minefield. Especially after you've had a few drinks. As a result of the ensuing confusion I have tipped anywhere from 5% to 50% of my bar tab in the last two years. It's safer if TLOML is left in charge of these transactions (I know, quite the 'little woman' aren't I?).

Personally, I like the approach which prevails in most British restaurants, where a standard 12.5% service charge is calculated for you, but clearly marked as 'discretionary'. Last night we saw an interesting new take on this, at  Jules. It's a scruffy little bistro with great live jazz, in the East Village, run by the same experts in European-style afternoon drinking who run Cafe Noir.

TLOML and our clever finance-minded friend made the necessary calculations to split the bill by an odd number and allow for a couple of non-drinkers. Then added 20% tip, as you do.
At first sight, it's a $805 restaurant bill
 Just before we were about to hand over our cash, we spotted a line on the bill for a mysterious item called 'Autograt'. It was tucked away under tax. On further investigation, it transpires this is a standard 20% gratuity they add to the bill for tables greater than 6. Since the definition of gratuity implies it is freely given, we thought it was a bit cheeky to add it on. But what really bugged us was the unclear presentation.
Nothing says 'discretionary tip' quite like the word 'AUTOGRAT', eh?

A well-intended attempt to clear up the service confusion, or just a sneaky way to inflate the bill? I like Jules, so I'm inclined to give them the benefit of the doubt. But judging by the reactions of our dining companions, I can't see this 'hidden tip' approach going down very well in New York. These Manhattanites won't be hoodwinked into paying any pre-determined charge.

I honestly think they prefer the confusion - for in confusion, there is freedom of choice.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Craig's List Crazies

TLOML and I have entered the twilight world of Craig's List. No, not the swingers section. The section for people who are leaving town and want to make a few dollars selling the stuff which isn't worth packing.

We did this once before, when we left Malibu for New York. Maybe I'm looking back with rose-tinted glasses (as I often do) on our Malibu experience, but I don't remember there being nearly so many crazies out there in SoCal.

The Big Apple is a different story. Well over half the New Yorkers who respond to Craig's List have abandoned the use of sentences all together. If they're really advanced they string a couple of text symbols together, to make a phrase like 'U still wan2 sell?'. One word emails like 'interested', 'yes', or '$50' (in response to an ad for something we've listed at $100) clutter my inbox. At first I'd reply in sentences, in an attempt to educate these chumps. But they didn't play the game, and kept coming back with their strangely abrupt emails.

My new rule is not to respond at all to people who don't write in sentences. They don't deserve it and I don't need the money that badly. Their loss is Goodwill's gain.

Of the New York Craig's Listers who can write in sentences, half of them are basically idiots with no spatial reasoning or common sense. (And this is coming from someone who has pretty limited spatial reasoning.) But what kind of fool thinks they can get a 2.5' x 2' x 5' chest of drawers in the back seat of a NY cab? Or that they can take a desk home on the subway?
I would love to meet the NY cab driver who'll pick you up on the street with this item

The desk guy was actually my favourite loonie. He was without a doubt the flakiest person I have ever met. After a barrage of flakey emails he finally showed up to buy the desk he had told us was 'just what I'm looking for'. He admired it, opened and shut the drawers, and stroked the veneer.

Then he stepped back and said. 'The thing is, I haven't really thought this through. Like I don't know if it will actually fit. I guess I should measure the space I have for it.'

We concurred. He went on to say, 'I could just take it. It'd probably be fine. Only, I was thinking I could take it on the subway but I guess that would be kinda awkward.'

It would be. The nearest subway is a fifteen minute walk away. The desk does not have castors.

Again, we concurred. TLOML pointed out the U-haul over the road. 'Oh, do you think they have someone who will drive for me?' said the muppet.

Hmmm. Last we checked U-haul don't offer a chauffeur service, no. At this point, TLOML was at his wits end, but I was starting to warm to this poor, hapless boy.

The hapless one admitted, 'You know, I guess I didn't really prepare for any of this. [exaggerated sigh]'. And we showed him the door.

Fortunately for every 3 crazies, muppets and flakes, there is 1 solid person who shows up with the cash and transportation. Some of them have nice stories or a firm handshake or both. They restore our faith. And they fill up our little Craig's List bounty envelope. Hopefully it will stand us a good NY strip steak before we leave.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Flat hunting deal breakers

Last weekend TLOML and I went to the countryside, aka West Hartford, Connecticut. West Hartford is my image of a quintessential New England town. All sweet wooden houses, pretty Episcopalian church spires, and people leaving their cars unlocked.

We were there to visit the best family in Connecticut, old friends of TLOML and new ones of mine. They are my image of a quintessential New England family: four adorable, smart kids, a hot mum, a dad who knows how to wrestle, and a Portugese Water Dog.

They live in, of course, a quintessentially New England house. Red brick and white clapboard and with a pond at the bottom of the garden.
Kinda like this but with better chimneys

It looks like its been there for about two hundred years, but is a 1940s build. A fact given away by one brilliantly modern feature: the laundry chute. I actually thought they were kidding, when they said the strange little door outside the guest room was a laundry chute. They were not.
Upstairs, laundry goes in

...makes its merry way down the chute...

...to arrive in the laundry room downstairs
Isn't that genius? I've never heard of such a thing but I now consider it essential in any home with stairs. Imagine, saving all that hard labour lugging the laundry basket contents downstairs. Phew!

It's one more thing to add to the 'deal breaker' requirements of our London residence. In addition to two bathrooms (TLOML's request), a garden (mine), and stairs (we hanker after stairs), we now need a laundry chute too.

I can't wait to start hunting!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Living in a box

Once you take the sofa, our battered old screen, and some of the other random stuff out, it becomes even more painfully apparent how boxlike our apartment is. Not just in its size (shoebox) but its shape. Rabbit Hutch is being too kind, in that it suggests a nice rustic, indoor-outdoor vibe. Nope, our place is just a box. A small, oblong box.

I'm sure we'll miss these clean straight lines when we move into a London flat. Those old London houses don't have a right angle anywhere, and sloping floors and doors that don't quite shut right are common. All part of the charm though...

For the next few days, though, we are in a rather charmless environment of blank walls and newly exposed pieces of perfectly parqueted, straight-edged, flooring.

Not only are we living in a box, we are also increasingly surrounded by boxes. Not nany, as the packers will do most of the packing (guess that's how they got their name). But as we Craig's List our furniture, we need a place to put the contents of that furniture. So the desk and the chest of drawers have been replaced by boxes.

This post sounds a bit moany so far, but to be honest I'm perfectly happy. It's only for a few days, and then I'm homeward bound.

Who needs a sofa, or a dining table and chairs, anyway?
And meanwhile, even when we're living in and out of boxes, we do okay. Take last night's 'we're moving, no time or energy to cook, nowhere to sit and eat' dinner: Italian spaghetti sauce with meatballs (courtesy of Connecticut's best family's Italian grandmother's recipe), and a properly decanted bottle of Honig Cabernet Sauvignon (courtesy of our favourite New Yorker). Oh, and homemade dulce de leche for pudding (had to use that tin of condensed milk up somehow).

Yes, we'll survive this box life for a few more days.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

What are you getting your dog for Valentine's Day?

I saw this sign outside a petshop today. FYI this is one of two petshops on this block, and one of about a hundred within a five block radius.

Only in New York, I think, would this not be considered weird. Possibly only in Chelsea, dog poo capital of Manhattan.

Trust me, they are not kidding. These pet crazy luvvies really do think you should treat your dog to a shampoo on Valentine's Day. Just so it knows you care. As if following it around picking up (if we're lucky) its poo or dressing it in one of those ridiculous-but-cute little designer jackets isn't a powerful enough indication of your affection.

Going on the list of things we will not miss about NY? Chelsea dog poo. But I will miss the snigger-inducing pet shops, and the pampered pooches in their snazzy outfits.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Muffs and muffing

As a British cricket lover in the US, I have tolerated my fair share of mockery. It's the same old jokes everywhere you go. People tease the stuffy sounding tradition of stopping play for lunch and tea. They scoff at the physiques of our bowlers. And they snigger at fielding positions like 'silly mid off', and expressions like 'bowled a googly'.
Chunky English bowling legend Darren Gough
Well, last night I paid a bit more attention than usual to the NFL action. It was the Super Bowl playoff between the San Francisco 49ers and the NY Giants. And, in addition to those powerful thighs and firm buttocks encased in tight lycra, I noticed two things.

1. The players wear muffs to keep their little hands warm.
That's right, muffs. Like the fun fur one I had when I was seven, only NFL branded.
Peyton Manning and his muff

2. There is such a thing as a 'muffed punt'.
Quainter than cricket, isn't it? And, as the New New Yorker commented, you wouldn't want to say that with a mouthful of beernuts.

I think I'll let the facts speak for themselves. And will leave you with an image of an NFL player in his prime.

Ha! Take that, cricket mockers!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Grisly Gristedes

New York is home to some fantastic grocery stores, delis and gourmet shops.  You can probably buy whatever you want from anywhere in the world, at any time, somewhere in Manhattan.

But life isn't all Korea Town kim chi dashes, artisan bread purchases from Chelsea Market, or browsing the range at the venerable Murray's Cheese. Sometimes you just need to grab some muesli for breakfast the next day. Or an onion for that sauce. Some last minute lemons, a tin of soup, some so-called 'English' muffins. The basics, you know?

At times like that, TLOML and I go to Gristedes. We go there because it is only a block away. We certainly are not enticed in by the window display:
That packet of crisps has been there since we moved here in April.

I particularly love this display of washing liquid.

Eat your heart out Bergdorf Goodman!

I wonder if the 'neuro' marketing people intended for the red and orange bottles to languish in the footlights like this...
It isn't for the value either. Gristedes combines the prices of Whole Paycheque Foods with the ambience of Penn Station at night. I've seen actual proper furry mould on tomatoes in their veg aisle. And for a couple of weeks back in December it smelt like a rat or perhaps staff member had died and was rotting behind one of the display fridges. The staff, by the way, are pleasant enough but always look kinda grubby. Oh, and the odds of seeing a crazy person shouting to themselves in there are pretty high too.

And yet... and yet it is so close to home. I seem to be in there a couple of times a week, on a lazy week. To be honest, when TLOML is out of town and I'm mainly eating cauliflower and carrots and other substances banned from his presence, I'm in Gristedes quite often. One of the few New York retail experiences I will not miss.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Permission to wed

TLOML has just applied for his marriage visa. Johnny Foreigners need marriage visas if they are to be allowed to marry one of Her Majesty the Queen's loyal subjects. Quite right too.
The marriage visa form is about a hundred pages long and most of the umpteen questions they ask appear to be aimed at mail order spouses. 'Have you met your future spouse?' and 'How many times?' made us chuckle. TLOML's answer to 'Where is your future spouse at the present time?' was 'Looking over my shoulder.' Not sure we needed to be that specific, but it's the truth at least.

Questions like 'How many bedrooms does the house you are moving into have? How many other rooms? How people live there curently? How many people will you move in with?' abound too. I suppose that's how they spot the poor souls who want to squeeze nine relatives into a bedsit.

There isn't a box you can tick to say 'we're just two engaged people, and one of us happens to be a bit foreign'. I mean, we're not getting married for the visa. We're getting the visa so we can get married. So he filled in the forms and tried not to snigger as he did so.

A couple of days later the forms got returned. It seems the passport photo TLOML had enclosed was not up to scratch and we needed to send a different one.

TLOML was out of town so I was in charge of this simple job. Reprinting the photo meant operating his Mac, and changing our printer settings, and feeding photo paper in, which I know isn't that complicated but it was a bit beyond me. Then I had to buy a Money Order to pay the visa people for the extra postage costs they had to incur in returning the unprocessed visa form to us, which in itself meant googling 'what is a money order?' and then standing in line at the post office. Finally I had to FedEx the thing, which required me to print a FedEx label out, which kept printing out weird 'cos of the new photo settings, and then finding a FedEx envelope with an address label pouch on it, which again, is not that complicated but was just beyond my capabilities.

The whole operation took about half a day. And several increasingly tense calls to TLOML for guidance in printer settings, where the photo paper is kept, how the FedEx thing works etc etc. I must say, I don't know how anyone with a full time job and poor internet access can apply for the visa at all. Which presumably is part of the point. Pause to reflect... if I had to apply for a British visa for myself, would I meet the standard? I almost failed at the first hurdle, putting the damn form in the post.

Anyway, it's done now and our fate is in the hands of the good people at the British Consulate. Keep your fingers crossed TLOML gets the visa. For one thing, we've put a deposit down on the venue, and I'd hate to lose it. And since he truly is The Love of My Life I don't think I'll find another groom who's even half as good.

Meanwhile, TLOML has announced to me he would like to be a 'non dom'. Grr. (American readers - non-doms are evil Tory taxdodging jet set types, who avoid paying tax by claiming they are not 'domiciled' in England). In my (left wing, tax-loving) mind that's almost grounds for divorce. But I suppose that's a bit premature...

Thursday, January 19, 2012


Contemplating the reality of our move to London, I wonder what we'll miss about the American way of life. Besides the people, our dear friends, of course. I'm talking about the superficial and yet important things.

For starters, I know I'll miss the incredible service. The smiles, the unprompted provision of water, the professionalism. But then again, I won't miss tipping them 20%. On balance, I'm prepared to swap out amazing service at 20%, and in its place take indifferent service at 12.5%.

I will miss cornbread and biscuits (those fluffy scones). But I'm happy to swap those for Yorkshire puddings and proper scones (not those chewy Starbucks ones, I mean good ones like my mum makes).

I'll miss the abundance of perfect cocktail bars serving perfect Perfect Manhattans. The choice of ryes, too. But I'll gladly trade them for a good honest London boozer serving proper, room temperature bitter and cheap Spanish plonk. And if I ever miss table service I'll just upgrade to a hotel bar and imagine I'm back in Manhattan.

I'll miss the subway. Well, not the dank, dirtiness of it. Nor the confusing routes, all those trains that go on the same track but don't stop at the same stations. Grr.  But the cheapness. A week's subway pass costs $29 (£20)... the London equivalent is more than twice that. Not a good swap. You can keep your shiny new stations and your fast and frequent services... I'd rather pay half as much, frankly.

Mind you that brings me to another swap. I'll get my bike back. AND a bus system I am not intimidated by. That's not even a swap, it's a bonus. As well as walking, catching cabs and taking the tube, I can cycle around and hop on and off buses. Hurrah for Transport for London!

The dry cleaner and the mani/pedi places here are really very good. The shirts always look new, and I love being able to walk into one of five places within a couple of blocks of us and get a cheap, fast nail job. But... my old dry cleaner in Kentish Town, who smelt a bit, was always so smiley and friendly. And cheap. And the mani/pedi place next door, with the overly aggressive massage chair (so violent it almost pushes you out) and out-of-date copies of Now! magazine, well, I did go there once a month for about 7 years. I wonder if they'll remember me. I'm happy to swap back, pay a little more, but feel at home again fighting that crazy chair.

I don't think I'll miss the fancy coffee shops. They were wasted on me, frankly. I'm looking forward to getting back to a country where normal, proper tea is not labelled like some exotic item:
(Presumably in the supermarkets of Chelsea and St John's Wood, to cater for the US expats, they have boxes of lame-ass weak tea labelled 'American blend'?)

All in all, for everything I know I'll miss, there's something I'll gain. Yup, still pretty excited to be heading home...

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The New Restaurant Confessions

I finally worked out where all our money went. And found a use for the spices we will not get through in the next couple of weeks.

I was musing over how much we eat out in New York. It seemed like a lot, so I decided to make a list, looking back over our Open Table reservations history and flicking through Zagats to jog my memory.  As a result of this scientific research I can shamefacedly confirm that we've eaten at over 65 different delis, diners and restaurants. Over 60 if you don't count pizza slice shops.

Gosh. We've only been here since April - that's one or two new places every week. Can it really be true? And if so how on earth did we manage to eat anywhere more than once, let alone dine repeatedly at Tipsy Parson and El Quinto Pino.

The cliches are true, people really do eat out here as a matter of course. It's incredibly rare to go over to a friend's house to eat. In fact, we haven't had dinner at a friend's even once, and nor have we cooked for others at our place. The closest we've come has been some hastily produced cheese biscuits to eat with drinks at our place, before going out to eat at... Tipsy Parson or El Quinto Pino or some other neighbourhood favourite.

In London I used to cook dinner for friends, and eat at their places, once a week or so. And even in Malibu, many traffic-choked miles away from the throbbing pulse of LA's social scene, we managed to pull off 'eating at home with friends' fairly frequently.

I've asked our few friends in New York about this phenomenom. They reassure me it isn't that no-one likes us. It's that no-one cooks. And as for the absence of invitations we have issued - it isn't that we don't like our friends. It's that we don't have room for a dining table.

We did once get invited to dinner at the New New Yorkers' place. But that's different. They're British. And they live in Brooklyn with room for a dining table and a normal sized kitchen. It's like a foreign land on that side of the water. Happily, London is just as foreign. And since in our absence half our London friends have had babies, I think we're going to return to a social scene that is, even more than ever, about cosying in for a nice home cooked meal in someone's actual home. I can't wait.

Oh, and the use I found for those spices? I decided to make a map of everywhere we've eaten. Using coriander seeds (for BBQ places and ramen shops), peppercorns (for midrange resturants), and cardoman pods (for fancy pants special occasion places).

It's a lot less impressive than I expected. Which is a shame as it took ages. Don't look too closely, by the way: it's not perfect. I thought of half a dozen more places after I took the photo and tidied it away. I also can't guarantee that none of the seeds or pods didn't roll about a bit.

Still, you get the general gist. And it makes me realise what big gaps there are in our culinary map. We've hardly eaten on 'Restaurant Row' (the 40s on 9th Ave) at all! And we've given the culinary hotspots of the Lower East Side and Soho short shrift too.

We've got twelve more nights to eat out in New York and I'm wondering if we can do something about it...

Monday, January 16, 2012

The Great 'No Cable' Experiment

As our time in Manhattan draws to a close, so too does the great 'no cable TV' experiment.

After our noses had stopped bleeding at the thought of our rent, we decided to save a few dollars each month and embrace the digital revolution. With the advent of live streaming services like Netflix and Hulu we could cut the chains that had bound us to Verizon for too long! What was the point of spending $100 a month on umpteen cable channels, when we really only watch about 3 of them?  And as New Yorkers apparently never stay in anyway, we'd probably rarely switch the telly on.

And so the experiment began. We signed up for a Hulu Plus account, and between that and Netflix we were spending about $15 per month on subscriptions. We made a small investment in an Apple TV, and an even smaller one in a 'bunny ears' TV aerial for the free stuff. Then we sat back and rubbed our hands together in smug self-congratulation.

Sadly the 'aren't we clever' bubble was soon burst. It turns out we watch quite a lot of TV. Most nights we will, at some point, curl up on the sofa and look for something amusing and reasonably current (30 Rock, Parks and Rec) or at least classic (Seinfeld). Annoyingly, Hulu Plus is usually a couple of weeks behind the series it does have, and sometimes whole shows disappear altogether. It also has an increasing number of ads, and unlike our old DVR service on Verizon, we can't fast forward through them. The Netflix selection is pretty woeful too.

Fortunately for our wallets and sanity, TLOML got me hooked on Battle Star Galactica. We watch a couple of episodes a week which is great. Otherwise we'd have to spend our nights in playing Gin Rummy (and I'm tired of losing) or watching old period dramas (I liked North and South fine the first time around, but once was enough).

There's a reason people pay for cable. Life with HBO is better.

I'm looking forward to getting home and signing up for a nice juicy Sky/ Virgin subscription so I can watch Test Match cricket and TLOML can still enjoy all the action from the NFL. In fact the best TV in the UK is free - BBC News 24, Grand Designs, One Born Every Minute. Ooof! I'm getting all misty-eyed just thinking about it. And I am reliably informed that Man Vs Food is now showing on an obscure Freeview channel too.

Yes, moving back to the UK will truly usher in a new age of cultural enrichment in our lives. And a lot more staying in....

Saturday, January 14, 2012

'Are we taking this...?'

Is the question that rings out across the Rabbit Hutch with increasing frequency. Sometimes it's asked in all innocence. Rapidly following up with 'I don't mind, I know you like it, we can bring it, I'm just asking...' can deflect an argument.

Leaving the question just hanging in the air has a different effect. Adding in the word 'really', as in, 'are we really taking this?' is even more strongly suggestive.

I've gone through this process with TLOML a couple of times already. The old 'Do you really want to hang on to these?' line enabled me to give the boot to some old pine green towels I disliked to an almost irrational degree when we moved from West Hollywood to Malibu.

When we transplanted ourselves to New York I was less successful: 'I suppose we won't take whatever's in that sports bag, will we? After all you haven't touched it since we moved here 14 months ago...' did not rid us of the golf clubs. To be fair, he said there was more chance he'd use them on the East Coast. 9 months later they are still untouched. We also ended up tossing lots of stuff in when we realised there were dangerous gaps in the container - the swiss ball, an office chair, and the bathmat we had planned to jettison suddenly got wedged in.

This next move to London is a great opportunity to edit our possessions. TLOML has a large amount of cool, exotic masks, prints, and, for want of a better word, objets. Most of them I love, most of the ones I don't love I at least have grown fond of, and am happy they will be part of our new home. But I've never got over my initial dislike of this item:
And so, the question had to be asked. 'Are we taking that Mexican harvest thing?' 'The Mayan calendar, you mean?', said TLOML. Well, it turns out it expires in 2012, so we won't need to refer to it any more anyway. (It has been so handy up until now.)
I'm pleased to say it is now tucked away in the Goodwill trolley.

Fortunately for me TLOML is a lot more generous with my stuff. He let me bring this pretty useless glass bottle from the West Coast, for example.
Cute though, isn't it? And while he might raise an eyebrow at the volume of my wardrobe, he never singles items out for deselection.
I suspect when we get back to London and open up my storage unit - and all the crap I put in there over two years ago - the boot will be on the other foot. Just in case, I'm going to go easy from now on. The golf clubs can come to London... I'm saying nothing...

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Eyelash Dye-lemma

I think I've been pretty relaxed about the uncertainty that surrounds which side of the Atlantic we will be living on 3 weeks time. But last night it really hit home.

I was updating my eyelash tint, a little self-improvement task I need to do every 4-6 weeks or else my eyelashes disappear. Then what happens is that my milky white skin, milky blue eyes and milky white eyelashes all merge into one leaving me looking like a blank piece of paper.

When I moved to the Land of the Free I was horrified to learn that you can't easily buy eyelash dye here. I guess it can only be administered by a salon professional. But it's such a faff to make an appointment for something you can do in 10 minutes at home - so on my next trip to London I stocked up on eyelash dye, buying enough to last me a year or two.
I planned it almost perfectly: I'm down to my last few drops, probably just enough for one more tinting session. Since I'm on a mission to shed (sell, Goodwill, trash) stuff and lighten our packing load, I threw it in the bin. After all, I'll be back in the UK - where blindingly toxic dye can be purchased at any Superdrug - before I need it again.

But wait! What if I do end up in Baltimore? I'll need that final lash tint application. With a weary sigh I put it back in the cupboard under the sink.

It really is very hard to organise, pack and plan when you don't know where you are going. So, some rapid decisions have been made. We're not waiting on the Baltimore client any longer. We're doing the right thing by Big Corp: returning back to London and reporting for work on the first of Feb.

I'd like to say my London-based boss is delighted by this news. But since I told him in November 2009 that I just wanted to be in the States for six months or so (and have called him every few months since and said 'please, let me stay just another six months!'), well, I think 'un-disappointed' is a fairer expression.

On the other hand, I am thrilled. I can throw away that eyelash dye safe in the knowledge that by the time my eyelashes fade I will be living with easy access to a Superdrug.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Life in Limbo

A slightly frustrating trip to Baltimore is over. I had thought the client would be so energised by my dynamic workshop, that they would be galvanised into a firm decision: either a decision to start a project immediately, or to, um, well, not.

A firm commitment to use my post-it note moving services very soon would mean TLOML and I could live on the client/ Big Corp dollar in Baltimore for six weeks, eating Maryland crabcakes for dinner every night and visiting DC at the weekends. Thrift and bucket list opportunities - it's a good outcome. But any hesitation on that decision means I have to go back to London forthwith and offer my services to Big Corp's European clients instead. Going to London sooner and reclaiming my cat and friendships is also a very good outcome.

The absence of a decision means we are in limbo a little longer. The shipping company is booked for the end of January, and it seems fairly probable we will head straight to London. Meanwhile I am 'on the bench' (or 'on the beach' as some consultants hilariously call it, presumably not those who live in a rabbit hutch in chilly NYC). I'm keeping busy with bits and bobs but I'm not exactly flat out.

Life in limbo gives me plenty of time to do important preparation for our move. I am tackling crucial tasks like making lists of 'Friends with spare rooms we can crash in' and 'Stuff worth selling'. I can play 'Can't Cook, Won't Cook' with our dwindling grocery supplies:
The only way to find out what's in that Korean packet I bought in Tokyo 2 years ago is to open it and cook it. Shame you never really need more than a handful of barley, isn't it? And I can't even remember what the chestnut puree was for.
Also I can busy myself filling in the numerous customs and insurance forms our shipping company needs. And loading up the Goodwill trolley:
TLOML laughed when I bought this 9 months ago, but he'll be laughing on the other side of his face as I trundle along to the Goodwill store without fear of back strain.

The other good news is that TLOML is back after over a week gallivating on the West Coast. After the social and travel whirlwind of the past few weeks we will enjoy being homebodies for a short while. We even have time to wander down to Chelsea Market and pick up something nice for dinner - a simple pleasure but somethign we haven't done for ages. That chili, chestnut and barley stew will have to wait.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Translating meats

Not long now till we leave these shores and I'm becoming increasingly concerned about how TLOML will cope with life in his adopted country. He has lived in the UK before, as a schoolboy and a student, but this is the first time he'll be truly settling there.

It's not just access to the NFL and March Madness (in his words 'the best few weeks of the whole year') that concerns me. I'm sure we can chuck money at that problem.

No, it's the language barrier I'm really worried about. The meat debate is a good example. It has been running for weeks, but allow me to summarise it here:
TLOML: 'Will you pick up some lunch meats?'
Me: 'What are lunch meats?'
TLOML: 'Lunch meats! Dummy. Turkey, roast beef, you know the stuff I like.'
Me: 'Sliced turkey and beef, okay, why didn't you just say so?'

A few days later...
Me: 'What if you eat those meats for dinner? Or at breakfast? Then what are they called?'
TLOML: 'Lunch meats. They're still lunch meats. Or deli meats, maybe.'

A few more days later...
TLOML: 'So, what do you guys call breakfast meats?'
Me: 'What do you mean?'
TLOML: 'You know, bacon, sausage, ham. Breakfast meats.'
Me: 'We just call them bacon, sausage and ham.'
TLOML: 'So if I say 'breakfast meat' no-one will know what I mean?'
Me: 'People will know what you mean. But they'll think it's weird. Just call them what they are, silly.'
TLOML: 'They're breakfast meats, you're silly.'


We're heading out of here on January 31st, either to Baltimore for 6 weeks, or straight to London. The BigCorp gods will throw a dice and decide next week. Meanwhile, TLOML have some language classes to take. And I need to shape up my own act. The other day I forgot the English word for cilantro. (It's coriander). Yikes! We'll both sound like yankee doodle fools!

Note for the older reader: I understand in your day these sliced cold meats were collectively called cold cuts. No-one calls them that anymore. Just FYI.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Fashion mystery solved

I finally understand why even stylish people wear those long coats that look like sleeping bags.
Blake Lively: officially stylish
I guess I never lived anywhere cold enough to see the benefit before. But at -10c in Manhattan I'm starting to get it.
The sleeping bag coat. Not chic.

I had dinner at Puttanesca with my favourite New Yorker yesterday. The restaurant is a brisk half hour walk up Ninth Avenue and I thought the walk would keep me warm - plus I had my special cold weather clothes on.
The 'cropped' sleeping bag look
What a fool! My coat is too too short. Between the top of my furry snowboats and the bottom of my sleeping bag I lost all feeling. Even my heaviest, cosiest jeans couldn't keep that bitter NY chill out.

I should have known it was too cold to be outside. Earlier in the day I went for a run and lost all feeling in my fingers, so I tucked them inside my hoodie and walked for a while. While I was walking I lost all feeling on my behind, which gave me the odd sensation of walking down the Hudson riverside with a bare bottom. It was so convincing that I had to look down to check the seat of my leggings hadn't fallen out.

Brrr. There's only one thing for it. And it's not to go out and buy a floor length sleeping bag coat (despite Blake Lively's shining example).
Our puppy
Allow me to introduce our puppy. The puppy is a cheapo velour throw thing we bought for emergency crashing-on-the-sofa guests. It is called the puppy because when it gets all crumpled and heaped up and warm on top of you it feels sort of, well, like a puppy. (Guess who's never had a puppy).

Till the weather gets above freezing, I'm staying in snuggled under the puppy. I admit it, I'm too soft for this town. Take me back to the temperate climate of London!

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Hogs, heifers and much hilarity

I recently had the surprising pleasure of drinking at Hogs and Heifers Saloon.

Surprising because I have passed the doorway a hundred times and never felt the slightest inclination to go in. It's a bar in the Meatpacking District with an entrance that is completely obscured by Fire Department, NYPD and Harley Davidson stickers. As a Manhattan sipping champagne socialist (I never mix the two, mind you), I just didn't think it was my kind of bar.
Not terribly appealing, is it?
But when TLOML lines up an afternoon of burgers and divebars - all in the name of entertaining some highly sophisticated West Coasters - who am I to refuse? So, surprise! I entered the forbidding doors of Hogs and Heifers.

Surprise #2! I actually had a brilliant time. It could be the best dive bar in all of Manhattan.

Hogs and Heifers was concieved about twenty years ago as a good honest watering hole for hard working, hard drinking men. Over the years they became famous for their abrasive lady bartenders, who basically call the shots. If so inclined, they'll dance on the bar. But most of the time from what I saw they limit themselves to turning down the jukebox to yell insults at their customers.

(The jukebox, by the way, is pure magic: mainly country and western, with some classic rock and, joy! The Travelling Wilburys. Good times.)

Oh, and if the mood takes them, lady drinkers may also dance on the bar. If they do, they must leave their bra behind, on the wall of grubby old bras.

One of the lady bar tenders and that wall of bras
Sound familiar? Perhaps you're thinking of the critically panned box office hit Coyote Ugly. (I haven't seen it but 22% on Rotten Tomatoes is all I need to know.)

You'd be right. There's some controversy about whether this bar, or the Coyote Ugly Saloon were the true insipiration for the film. Both proudly stake the claim. From what I've seen online Coyote Ugly Saloon looks rather too clean and manufactured and the girls are way too fit. Hogs and Heifers is genuinely filthy and their bartenders sport little beer bellies as part of their signature look.

If you read the reviews online, you'll see phrases like 'disgusting, trashy bartenders', 'it just feels diiirrrrtttty and not in a good way', 'the bartender was unspeakably rude' and 'Can you please get your dirty shoes off the bar where you serve me?

It's true, the bartender is very rude.  But funny. The girl serving the afternoon we were in there was an absolute blast. I particularly enjoyed it when she yelled to a couple of Euro-looking tourists, 'Get your hand off your crotch and buy an effin' drink' as they stood in the doorway looking frightened. And 'Hey, brawny guy called, he wants his shirt back', to TLOML in his hipster plaid shirt. Ask for a water, and she'll flip you the bird (then serve the offending drink, to be fair). It's a refreshingly sincere approach to customer service.
TLOML playing air guitar in his brawny shirt, with bras in the background. Picture is fuzzed to protect the innocent (also 'cos if I used flash the bartender would shout at me)

I'm not sure it'd be as much fun on a Saturday night, when it's probably packed with a shouty B&T crowd. But on a chilly, quiet Wednesday afternoon, it's perfect. Aside from the bewildered toursts, who routinely turned on their heels and left, our drinking companions were 3 or 4 shifty looking men drinking solo, a couple of leathery faced old birds, and a couple who looked like they were skiving off work. I especially liked this pair when she got on the bar and danced - and yes, her bra was removed from under her clothes, by the dextrous bartender - with gay abandon in her dowdy office attire. Yeah! That's the Hogs and Heifers way!

So if I tire of fancy cocktail bars, and crave a mid afternoon drink with a bunch of blue collar dudes, and the fun of watching tourists be insulted and drunk Jersey girls take their bras off, I know just where I'll head.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Happy Holidays - what I learned

The holidays are officially over. What was left of the gingerbread house has been thrown out. Courtesy of the good staff of Rabbit Hutch Towers our Christmas tree has been removed to be turned into mulch for New York City parks. And our humble collection of Christmas decorations have been boxed up ready for the move.
'Goodbye baubles. See you in London, December 2012!'
I thought I'd take a moment to reflect on our first New York Christmas. Here's what I learned:

1a. There's never a good time to see the windows on Fifth Avenue.
I'd heard a lot of good things about the windows at Bergdorf Goodman, but was deterred by the crowds. We eventually decided to saunter by after dinner uptown, a little after 10pm on December 30th. A few days after Christmas and the night before New Year's Eve - one might expect the city to be a little quiet, subdued maybe.

How silly of us. It's the city that never sleeps! Or even takes a halfday! Even at that hour there were probably a dozen people clustered around each window. And dozens of handbag sellers and crazy people banging drums, cluttering up the sidewalk.

1b. It's still worth it.
The Bergdorf Goodman windows are absolutely stunning. In fact they sent me breathless for a moment. Till I was jostled. It's hard to see the details here, but if you want a closer look check out the Trailing Spouse's report.Trendland's photos are pretty good too.
My advice? Avoid weekends, avoid the day time, but whenever you go, expect a small crowd.
2. Gingerbread houses last a surprisingly long time.
After the unseemly haste in which I baked and assembled the gingerbread house, I expected it to be unpalatably dry within a couple of days. Au contraire. I took my last bite yesterday, almost a fortnight after it was baked and a week since it was decorated. Crunchy and delicious! Good to know.

3. Calm down. It's only New Year's Eve.
Don't panic! Unless your favourite bar is actually in Times Square - which would be weird - there's a good chance you'll be able to walk in and get a drink on New Year's Eve. I booked a table at Prune a couple of weeks in advance, and when our plans changed at the last minute, called the ever-popular Cafe Cluny the day before New Year's to book a late table for New Year's Eve. Plans changed again, and we ended up having dinner at Porter House and being back in Chelsea at around 11pm.

What are the chances of being able to walk into your favourite bar an hour before midnight on New Year's Eve? Slim, we thought, and we were approached Tipsy Parson fully expecting to fall back on Plan B (a scotch back at the Hutch). We needn't have worried: there were a couple of empty seats at the bar and our favourite waiter greeted us like long lost friends. Well, it has been a couple of weeks...

I told a New York friend about this experience and she laughed and said 'Of course, this is New York, it's like New Year's Eve every day!'

4. There's no need to stockpile.
On a similar theme, there's no need to worry if you haven't stocked up on groceries. In England I always made sure I had bread and milk in the flat over Christmas and the New Year, because nowhere's really open on New Year's Day. You wouldn't want to run out of teabags on Boxing Day now, would you?

TLOML woke up with a rotten cold on New Year's Day, and urgently needed his special medicinal Korean soup. But we were out of kimchi, that essential, lifegiving ingredient. We wandered up to 30th Street and Sixth, and had our pick of all the Korean groceries we could possibly need. They sell teabags and milk there too.

Maybe none of this is news to you. But as someone who has formerly only Christmassed (is that a word? Let's make it so) in Redcar and Palm Beach, I was pleasantly surprised by my discoveries. Just as I'm planning my exit from New York, I'm really starting to see why people like it here so much.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

New Year's Resolution - Make Music

Did you get a new guitar for Christmas? Or include 'learn a new instrument' in your list of New Year's Resolutions?

I didn't but if I had, I know exactly who I'd call.

Everybody surely does know that... I've seen this guy's ads in Korean grocery stores and ramen shops all across lower Manhattan.

There's something about him that intrigues me. And indeed, why would you want to just learn guitar, when you could actually learn to integrate the music you play with the life you live?!