Monthly Archives: August 2009

Keeping mum

When you tell people that you’re going to become a father for the first time (or in my case, a father to a baby for the first time, given the presence of The Young Ones), you suddenly find yourself playing a game of Baby Bingo. As the well-meaning person you’re talking to rattles off platitudes with the staccato regularity of a machine gun, you can chuckle (or over dramatically fake abject terror) like it’s the first time you heard them, and surreptitiously tick each one off your list. Once you reach ten, you scream “Baby Bingo!” and run out of the room with your arms flailing above your head, before returning exhausted two minutes later to breathlessly wheeze “I’m a Baby Bingo winner and I hereby claim my five poundsdollars!”

Some of the bingo boxes are more easy to get than others, of course. “When is she due?” is practically checked before your conversational cohort has opened his or her mouth. I’ve become accustomed to answering “Are you having a boy or a girl? ” with “I certainly hope so!” such is the frequency of its use. And if I had a dollar for every time somebody said “Better catch up on your sleep now!” I’d be a rich man (although not rich enough to pay for even half the paraphernalia you seem to need to deal with the consequences of a steamy night nine months previously).

Other phrases come with perhaps less regularity, although still maintaining a frequency that would be the envy of the New York subway system if translated to trains. “Everything changes as soon as you take the first look at the baby” is a current favourite, while “Have you ever changed a nappydiaper before?” also seems to be a popular one right now. And don’t get me started on the number of differnt variations that people find in order to say “your life is about to come to an end”.

Having had so many questions and comments (solicited or otherwise) I thought I was ready for everything. Until I realiszed that my child is going to be born an American, and is therefore going to say ‘mom’ rather than ‘mum’. And frankly that put a bit of a dampener on my day.

Most Americaniszations I can deal with, to be honest, and I’ve learned to translate in my head before opening my mouth. But the moment I say ‘mom’ or ‘mommy’ will be a cold day in hell.

‘Mom’ just seems as uniquely American as peanut butter and ‘jelly’ sandwiches, or waterboarding suspected terrorists. I’ve already had to accept that the child might grow up to think that Hershey’s is an acceptable form of chocolate, or that there really is any point in (American) football. But there are some boundaries that really can’t be crossed. And that starts with ‘mom’. I’m British and proud of it, and I simply won’t give in to this slow and insidious creeping Yankification.

Now, enough of this chat – I’m off to have a bagel. Have a nice day y’all.

New York City: it’s not that scary

The night before I came to New York for the first time, I cried my eyes out. In part this was because I was leaving my first important girlfriend behind, and didn’t have the age or experience to understand that “three months apart = being cheated on within six weeks”. But at the same time, I was upset because I was a smalltown boy for whom travelling to New York on his own would likely resort in near-instant death. Knowing that you’re almost certainly going to pop your clogs on foreign soil within 24 hours can be upsetting, as I’m sure you can probably imagine.

As it was, three or four beers under the radar of New York’s then-ridiculously lax licensing laws, and two Marlboro Reds hanging out of the window of my room, were enough to calm me down. I don’t even smoke, but cigarettes give you instant cool when you’re 18, until the moment you puke your guts up and suffer prolonged waves of self recrimination. Nonetheless, purchasing a soft pack of cancer sticks was enough to ward off evil spirits in my mind, and New York instantly seemed less threatening.

The fact is that New York just Isn’t That Scary. While it may be home to 8 million people and seem like a teeming metropolis, in many ways (like London) it’s just a collection of small villages and hamlets bound together by apartment blocks and corner shopsbodegas.

When you’re someone who cares about eating and drinking, of course, the problem is that there are so many great places to visit that you might never find, just because they happen to be off your beaten track or because they can’t afford an expensive PR agency. I’m almost certainly missing out on the greatest meal of my life right now, and all because Time Out has neglected to visit some Senegalese hole in the wall in the depths of Queens.

The flipside is that if you ever get the chance to wander, you’re bound to come across something good. And – as it turns out – all it takes is a failed sleepover to open your eyes to what New York has to offer.

Not that my sleepover had fallen apart, you understand. The Special One tends to frown on the concept of me having a sleepover, especially when it’s Drew Barrymore’s mummom who has called my mummom to see if I can come over to play for the night. But The Youngest is allowed much more flexibility, it would seem. Sadly when the birthday party sleepover turned out to be just a birthday party, it was me who was designated to make the long trip to The Middle of Nowhere to pick her up.

Fortunately the long walk to the aforementioned back of beyond began in Chinatown, and given that I had almost two hours to kill, that gave me plenty of time to explore. Luckily I remembered a blog post by NYC Girl Uninterrupted which had made me dream wistfully of dumplings for months. One visit to Prosperity Dumpling later (and only $1 lighter for the experience), and I had five delicious dumplings in a box in my hand. Admittedly ten minutes later I had lost most of the roof of my mouth to hideous third degree burns caused by the dumplings being kept at a temperature which suggested that they were the product of nuclear fission rather than the frying pan. But pain is so close to pleasure, and no more so than when your mouth is handling a perfect piece of pork and chive dumpling filling like a cross between foie gras and a small ball of molten lava.

Having sated myself on dumplings, I still had 45 minutes to kill, and so wandered randomly to find a coffee shop or bar I could while away the time in. The only place I could find in the area that was vaguely empty was The Ten Bells, a wine bar with blackboards and seating vaguely redolent of something you might find on a back street in Paris. Having taken a seat, and been poured a glass of Rioja by the guy behind the bar, I instantly felt at ease – and only mildly annoyed that I had missed their half-price oyster happy hour by a matter of minutes. Ah, the problems of the bourgeoisie…

As I sat reading a paper and drinking my wine, I reflected on the fact that the evening had been the perfect reminder of all that New York had to offer. Tiny little nooks and crannies filled with great food and drink – what’s not to like?

And then four annoying Sex & The City wannabes sat at the bar alongside me, were rude to the barman, and filled the air with inanity and self-obsession. My bubble was burst.

All idylls must come to an end it would seem, and for all it’s charms, New York’s just another city after all.

Clash of the titans

When it comes to sport, there’s no place for people who sit on the fence. I can understand people who don’t particularly like sport at all, but it’s the sports fans that can’t quite bring themselves to pick a team that are weirder to me. Yes, I know that in a ideal chocolate box utopia where the world is governed by cute little puppies, sport should be about the Olympic ideals and the dignity of sportsmanship. But this ain’t no utopia, and when it comes to sport, tribalism and the desire to win lead the way.

The thing is, I love a sporting rivalry; the above-and-beyond enmity and loathing that exists between two teams, sometimes than for a reason that was forgotten decades ago. The kind of competition between two fierce rivals that has fans of both teams thinking of little else for the week before they clash, and which causes the losers to slink off with their tails between their legs resolving not to read the sports pages for at least a month.

Britain does sporting rivalries particularly well. In cricket, there can be little more exciting than a clash between England and Australia, even if the only thing at stake is a tiny urn containing a bit of burnt wood. Infact, so strong is the rivalry that the avid English supporters known as the Barmy Army (or, as I prefer to call them, the ‘Public School Oiks With Too Much Time On Their Hands After Daddy Died And Left Them A Castle’) have landed themselves in deep water for attempting to put the Aussie captain Ricky Ponting off his game with booing and some polite inquiries into the exact nature of his parentage.

Then there’s England vs Scotland (or indeed England vs Wales) in the rugby – a rivalry more explained by England’s political domination of its two smaller mainland United Kingdom territories. After all, when it’s still effectively legal in my native Chester to shoot a Welshman with a bow and arrow after nidnight, it’s not hard to understand why the Welsh and Scottish might get a little hot under the collar about a sporting chance to redress the balance.

It’s football (or, as I have to insist on calling it in the US, football) where the fiercest rivalries exist. Up and down the land, local rivalries such as Portsmouth & Southampton, Norwich & Ipswich, Chester & Wrexham, Sheffield United & Sheffield Wednesday, and Newcastle United & Sunderland all exist to fill newspaper column inches and the minds of those who support one or the other.

For me though, the fiercest rivalry is that between Manchester United and Liverpool. I mean, I would say that, given that the pain of being a sixteen year old in the away end at Anfield watching my beloved United taking a 4-0 beating at the hands of Liverpool still hurts to this day twenty years later. I’ve sung more songs about my inner contempt for Liverpool supporters (mostly people I’ve never met, let’s remember) than I’ve eaten bags of fish and chips. And let me tell you, I’ve eaten a lot of fish and chips.

Put simply, United fans and Liverpool fans hate each other, and never the twain shall meet. Apart from in the home of my (Liverpool supporting) sister and her (much more sensible and United supporting) husband, obviously.

And to be fair, I’d never have it any other way.

Here in the United States, the level of rivalry in sports just isn’t there. Sure, there are college sports rivalries, and occasional local tensions, but nothing that would inspire more than a vague “Rangers suck” cry in a crowded bar; presumably a reference to the quality of New York’s ice hockey team rather than the sexual proclivities of the state’s country park guardians.

Part of that comes from the fact that there’s really no such thing as ‘away support’ in American sport. Sure, people expatriated from their home city might put in an appearance when their team swings into their new town, but there’s no away section and fans of both teams sit together in relative harmony. Apart from when one or other has had a few Bud Lights too many, obviously. Fortunately the New York Knicks haven’t hosted a game against the Chester Jets yet, so I haven’t seen a need to test the theory out too closely.

There is, however, one rivalry that seems pretty deep rooted – the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox. So, feeling the need for some sporting tension this week – and, more importantly, acutely aware that impending fatherhood means that there will soon be more chance of me being invited to fight for the heavyweight championship of the world than spend a night drinking beer and watching sport – I grabbed a ticket for the Red Sox trip to the new Yankee Stadium to witness the battle for myself.

The sad thing was, the rivalry was muted at best. Sure, there was the occasional t-shirt alluding to the fact that there was never a curse of Babe Ruth and that the Red Sox had actually just sucked for 86 years. But apart from the occasional boo for a Boston player, or a jeer directed at a Red Sox-hatted fan, it could barely have been more harmonious. Of course, it helped that the Yankees battered the Red Sox, although that merely seemed to empty out the stadium way before the end of the game.

Thankfully though, order was restored an innings before the end of the game. A young guy mistakenly walked up the wrong staircase after a visit to the bathroom, and looked around confusedly for his friends who were actually a whole section away. Enjoying his mistake, a crowd of Yankees fans roundly booed and jeered him, and sent him scuttling back to his own seat with his tail between his legs.

Some people would say it was the baseball cap with Boston’s logo on it that caused the heated treatment. But I know that it was actually his t-shirt.

After all, you can’t expect to wear a Liverpool football shirt in public and get away with it.