It’s our last evening in Manhattan and so here it is, the final posting in this blog about a Fat Bald Bloke in NYC. We’ve been here nearly 3 months and the time has just flown by. I’ve done more than 70 postings on the site in that time which I’m quite chuffed with really as it was such a struggle getting stuff posted at first on this little machine on this platform.
I’ve re-read a few of them and I think one or two actually did what I intended. And what was that? Well I didn’t want to this to be a mere diary of our time here because I thought that’d just get tedious and boring to write and follow….got up, fed the kids, did the ironing got showered, went shopping, had lunch, went to the park, had dinner, went to bed. Snore.
As it says in the introduction on the home page I was hoping to try and get under the skin a little of this incredible city and write something hopefully interesting and insightful about what it was like to experience living here. And if this doesn’t sound too twatty, I think in the process we’ve found out a little bit about ourselves too.
So what have I learned? Well first up I’m in awe of my daughter Sarah and husband Ian. They had a very nice lifestyle in beautiful Chiswick with nice schools in the offing and wide circle of friends and close loving family nearby and they’ve picked up this challenge to establish a new business, living in an apartment in the grittiest part of the city with kids in tow and the old buggers along to nanny, bottle wash and tidy up. And she’s doing bloody great and making a shed load of difficult decisions each and every week – how to build the client’s business, where to live, city or burbs, where to send the kids to school, private or public, where to locate the company’s new offices, who to get to look after the kids once we’ve gone, how to manage the expanding business in San Francisco etc etc. And they’re still smiling. And we haven’t had one cross word. Awesome.
Our grandsons have shown themselves to be so engaging and resilient – kids are aren’t they? They’ve taken to the place so brilliantly and have never moaned or complained and are just loving the experience and developing so quickly. They are delightful, loving and funny lads and we are so, so proud of them.
As for us, well I can honestly tell you that we are pretty twotted. It’s been exhilarating but also pretty tiring. Long days and 5 days a week and we’ve been trying to take as much pressure as possible off Sarah and Ian by doing all the domestic stuff that we can handle. It’s been relentless and we’re not as resilient as we thought perhaps. We’ve no car here and we walk everywhere or catch the subway/bus for longer journies. It’s seriously toned us up but been good and tough on Carol’s knees in equal measure. But we’ve so enjoyed the whole experience too. How many grandparents get to spend such quality time with their kids at such a formative age? We feel privileged to have had this time with them. It’ll never happen again (and I mean that with a sense of regret of course).
Physically I’ve staved off the pleurisy thanks to the horse pills though I’ve had a crown come out thanks to chewing on one of Ian’s ginger pastilles. Ahh! I plugged it back in and it’ll have to wait until we get home and I get back to my great pal and dentist Pete. Dental charges here are off the frigging neutron scale. Carol ran out of her drops for her glaucoma eye condition about 3 weeks ago and, because she has to apply them daily to prevent deterioration, it cost a bomb to get a new prescription here (including a medical assessment). We’ll try our hand and appeal to get it back on the insurance cover but it’s a pre-existing condition and the chances look pretty slim.
What about the city itself? Well in all honesty I haven’t seen as much of it as I’d intended. I’d have liked to have taken in a baseball match or other big sporting occasion, seen what they’ve done with Ground Zero and we simply haven’t touched Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx hardly, let alone New Jersey and places wide afield like Philly and the Amish country and the Hudson valley that we hoped to visit. Huge swathes of Manhattan we’ve left unvisited too. But you know what, if I was desperate to see them I would have gone.
I have taken a lot of pleasure visiting places I’d had on my to-do list like the cable car to Roosevelt Island or completely off-the-beaten track locations like Grant’s tomb, the super parks and lesser-visited museums. But if I haven’t got under the skin of the whole city, I do feel I have explored Harlem pretty extensively and gotten to know it pretty well. What’s it like? Well the other evening I went to try and meet Carol’s nephew at the local subway station. It was 6pm but still hot as hell, the rush hour was in full flow with people milling everywhere. There were 20-30 fire trucks lined up along Martin Luther KIng Boulevard, the main thoroughfare, dealing with a major incident. Sirens and flashing lights were going off everywhere. The road was jammed so all traffic was being re-routed. Major snarl ups with car drivers blaring their horns in frustration everywhere. It looked and felt like a scene from Dante’s inferno but it was thrilling, mad, crazy, alive. In fact I’ve come to appreciate it as just another day in Harlem. Anywhere else this would have been headline news on the tv. Not here. I got home and met the boys there I asked what they thought of old Harlem. Ear-shatteringly noisy, scary, intimidating they said. There you go. It was the same scene interpreted differently. Love it or hate it. Marmite town. And on the whole I’ve come to love the place and will be sad to leave.
But I’m not in thrall to the place. It is gritty and has its uncomfortable side too. I won’t miss the squalor at 125th Metro North station, nor the anti-social behaviour you see a lot of – littering indiscriminately, spitting, shouting etc. I came across a guy peeing in the street between two cars the other day whilst a lady was walking past with her 3 young children heading home from school. He didn’t bat an eyelid as we all passed him. That is just disgusting.
I’m equally saddened and maddened by all the begging too. It’s systematic and constant and deliberately ignoring people and avoiding their gaze wears you down. It hardens you. Speaking of which I won’t miss the concrete sidewalks which are so unforgiving and heat absorbing. I won’t miss the cost of everything here. It is a far more expensive city to live in than London and don’t let anyone kid you it isn’t. I won’t miss all the straight lines. It’s a very angular city New York with lines running horizontally at street level and vertically with all the tall buildings. I guess that’s why I love the Lipstick building and the Guggenheim as they are the only feminine curvy buildings in town. Every where else is as macho as Roberto Duran on a stag night. It’s just not a sensual city to look at. It is iconic and I love the individual architecture but it’s hard-edged and the people can be like that too. Direct, rude and with real attitude at times. I’ve come to really, really dislike the sales assistants et al who seem to make judgements about me without knowing me. I think that is what reverse racism is all about and I’ve tried so hard not to live like that here.
Finally I like the buzz but won’t miss the unrelenting noise levels. It’s why we have so enjoyed going out to spend week-ends with our dear friends Marta and Shay who spoiled us rotten and offered us a haven of tranquility and peacefulness at their lovely home in leafy Connecticut. A little bit of wonderfuI in New England. I especially liked the curvy undulating roads. Feminine lines. Such a contrast.
The weather has been something else here but it’s really warmed up now and the heat and humidity is beginning to get stifling – many people have said we are leaving at just the right time because the summers here are unrelentingly hot and sticky.
Having said all that there is a lot I will miss. I will miss the genuine warmth of the majority of folks here. There hasn’t the been one day that’s gone past without somebody coming up to say how wonderful the boys are or wish us a Happy Day of the Week (corny but heartfelt), or to talk excitedly to us about life in England.
I’ll miss the lovely parks and I’ll miss a lot of the food options here – Harlem Shakes is the best fun eaterie I’ve ever been in and I love it and the shrimps here are to die for. I’ll miss some of the beers you can get here too but won’t miss the exorbitant price of wine. I just love many of the buildings and bridges here and the pick-up trucks. Public transport is great and good value too IMHO.
I’ll miss the guys I do the funny clenched fists welcome with. I’ll miss the get-up-and-do-it-for-ourselves attitude that people have here. We expect things to be done too much by others I think in the UK; like the council, the Government etc. Here they take personal responsibility for tidying up their parks, planting flowers, putting on concerts and events and so on. It’s so refreshing. I’ll miss the vibrancy and liveliness. There is genuinely never a dull moment and I like all the street parties and music now and the exotic aromas. Life in England will seem dull in comparison I’m sure but we’ll enjoy the rest for certain.
But more than anything Carol and I will miss our family of course. The boys have been a big part of our lives these last 3 years (and I’m sure the reverse is true too) and it will be a wrench to leave them. But we say good bye knowing they are beautiful, strong and well-balanced happy boys and that pleases us enormously. And of course I we will miss Sarah and Ian as much as we have missed our daughters and grandkids and son-in-law back in the UK. The upside is that Sarah’s very strong and resourceful and will succeed here brilliantly I’m sure. Plus we get to catch up with everyone back home and we can’t wait to see them all now.
So farewell NYC. It’s been a blast and I hope you’ve enjoyed these ramblings from across the pond. It’s back to Pasta Paulie now…
for the last time…FBP