Category Archives: Celebrations

A long overdue Halloween missive

It’s pretty astonishing how being a father to a month old baby can change your perspective on the things that matter in life. Although, for the avoidance of doubt, I will never like peanut butter, no matter how much my daughter comes to believe it to be the lifeblood that keeps her in existence.

Nut spread issues aside, all other opinions and theories are now officially open to change. And that was never more evident than in my reaction to Halloween this year.

Now, bear in mind that I am the man that wrote this. I think it’s fair to say that I have never been the biggest fan of Halloween. Most Americans tend to take it more seriously than, say, breathing. In the same way that the likes of Hallmark have managed to persuade us that Administrative Professionals Day is a worthy use of our hard-earned cash, so costume manufacturers have managed to convince Americans that a pagan ritual is a good reason to provide extensive job creation for 7 year olds in Indonesia.

But then introduce a small child to the mix (one too young to even see a pumpkin two feet away from her, let alone participate herself) and everything changes. Suddenly when Halloween arrives, you’re focusing on whether you’ve got enough sweetscandy for everyone, and pondering whether you should probably go out and buy another three tons of mini Snickers bars just in case.

Of course, the presence this year of She Who Was Born To Worry probably helped foster the festive spirit. Particularly as after a couple of visits from local kids, she designated herself The Candy Witch, refusing to dole out more than one sweet per child, and giving venemous looks to anyone who failed to say thank you.

So while I resisted costume this year, and instead dressed merely as ‘confused new father operating on two hours sleep’ (a look that I pulled off with comparative ease, if I’m honest), I nonetheless entered into the spirit of the occasion. Fortunately enough questionable events occurred to ensure that I could maintain the healthy dose of overarching cynicism that you all have come to expect of me.

1. The little princess with dietary restrictions
The very first knock at the door came from a tiny princess, who could have been no older than six. She immediately endeared herself to us by pushing her nose up against the screen door to peer inside. Indeed, she was so sweet, I even managed to fight off the overwhelming need to get some spray cleaner and wipe off her smudgy little paw prints from the glass.

And the first thing she said as The Special One opened the door and proffered the bowl of many delights? “My mommy says that I’m not allowed any chocolate.” This came as a blow, given that the “many delights” in the bowl were solely chocolate-based. Thankfully The Special One managed to convince her that the Reese’s Chocolate Peanut Butter Cup (the root of all candy evil, by the way) actually contained no chocolate, and sent her on her way with a smile on her face. But what parents send their kids out with specific dietary restrictions? “Now, little Elsie, remember that high fructose corn syrup and artificial flavourings are fine, but chocolate and gelatin are out. And don’t ring number 87’s doorbell this year – you know your brother’s never been the same since the electric shock.”

2. The little brothers and sisters
The age range of the trick-or-treaters varied wildly, from the three year old who practically had to be dragged up the steps to the door, to the dubiously aged teens whose skirts were short enough that their parents felt the need to accompany them. As a side note, I’m all for the principle that Halloween is an opportunity for women to show some skin, but I live by the motto that says if your parents need to come with you, you’re not old enough to show some skin. And as a further side note, if my daughter is reading this in – say – 2025, the age at which you are old enough to show some skin at Halloween is approximately 35.

Anyway, I digress. Kids of all ages came round, and they all received candy for their efforts. Even the ones who had dressed as “a kid wanting candy”. But on at least six separate occasions, once they had received their bounty, a kid would proffer another bag and say “Candy for the little one – she’s too young to come.”

Now, I’m still new to this parenting lark, but I tend to believe that if you’re too young to trick or treat with your whole family in tow, you’re too young to be eating sugar snacks. Leading me to the inevitable conclusion that “the little one” is a Halloween scam, with kids taking advantage of doting parents who sigh wistfully at the thought of poor little Johnny in his Merlin outfit, crying at home on his own while the older children go out to forage for him.

Next year, “the little ones” will be getting a bag of raisins and somw dried apricots, mark my words.

3. The double dippers
I appreciate that I’m getting on a bit now, but I’ve still got all my own teeth, and most of my mental faculties are intact. Sure, I forget the occasional thing or two, but The Special One’s electro-shock punishments are having a positive impact on my will to remember, I can tell you.

Anyway, the point is, if you come and get candy from The Candy Witch while dressed as a purple fairy, and then you come back twenty minutes later to try to get some more, we will remember and we will send you away with a flea in your ear. If you come back as something completely different (say, a pink fairy), we will almost certainly not rhave any recollection of you whatsoever and will lavish you with as many Twizzlers as a girl can eat.

4. Commuting to Trickortreatsville
Despite my cynicism, I have to say that Halloween promotes a healthy sense of community, with all the residents of a neighbourhood interacting with each other on a level that’s more harmonious than “for the 837th time, can you sodding well turn that music down?”

But when you’ve got carloads of kids being shipped into an area by their parents because it looks like a place where you might get Toblerone rather then Tootsie Rolls, it’s suddenly less about community, and more about a 12 month campaign of reconnaisance and intensive evaluation of candy sales across the five boroughs. The kids probably sell their swag in their schools for the next year. Or save it for the next Halloween, to provide the gift of gastroenteritis to unsuspecting locals.

Still, I’m starting work on my Halloween costume for 2010. Like a born-again convert, I’m going to put some serious effort into getting it just right. I’m thinking ‘new-ish father operating on three hours sleep rather than two, but still as confused as ever’. Better start working on those bags under my eyes right away…

Some mothers do have ’em

For the first eighteen months or so of my relationship with The Special One, I became an expert at sleeping in two sessions. Given that we were on opposite sides of the Atlantic, and she would often be working until well into the night, our first opportunity to speak might not come until 11pm in New York, which was 4am in the UK. Being the perfect partner that I so clearly am (ahem), I was willing to go to sleep for a few hours, be woken by the phone at ungodly o’clock, and then put my head down for another three hours or so of kip when we were done talking.

Though I was generally pretty good at it, there would obviously be occasions when I wouldn’t get back to sleep at all, and as a result I’d turn up at work the next morning looking like a cross between Bernard Madoff and Widow Twankey. Sometimes (particular after one too many port and lemons), I’d sleep blissfully through the repeated phone calls from The Special One, happily snoozing as my beloved tried to get in touch. Coincidentally, the amount of alcohol necessary to reach that point was enough to create a hangover the next morning that made me look like a cross between, well, Bernard Madoff and Widow Twankey.

The key – when I actually managed to be awake enough to take the calls – was always ensuring that the two sessions of sleep were roughly similar in length. The closer the phonecall came to the time that I was due to be getting up anyway, the less likely it was that I’d get a good night’s sleep. And as a result, the periods when there were only four hours time difference between New York and London – as we’re experiencing at the moment – were always like manna from heaven.

Time is, of course, a key difference between life in the US and life in the UK. For example, we’ve finally reached the point here in New York where it’s still joyfully light outside as people leave work (unless you’re a lawyer working late, but there’s probably not many of those left these days unless playing Solitaire has become a billable event). But as the year wears on, I know I’ll become wistful for the days of sitting in sunny and light London pub gardens until 10 or so at night.

More pertinently right now, it’s Mother’s Day in the UK on Sunday, and given that there are still six weeks or until it happens over here in America, it is pretty damn impossible to get a card to send to your mum. Last year I think I crossed out the word ‘birthday’ on a card intended to wish someone many happy returns, and this year I’ve opted for a nice view of New York. But it’s hardly the best way to tell your mum that you love her, let’s face it.

Fear not though, I think I’ve come up with the perfect solution.

Mum, if you’re reading this, can you buy maybe three or four Mother’s Day cards from the shops this weekend, and then post them to me so that I can send them back to you each year from here on in?

Pick some nice ones, though – I don’t want you thinking I’m cheap.

The luck of the Irish

Now, before I start, I need you to know something: I have nothing against a good celebration. I am, after all, the current holder of the South London All-Comers record for Most Wine Glasses Inadvertently Smashed On A Good Friend’s Floor In One Night, a record I’ve held since New Year’s Eve 2002. And I’ve forgotten more summer bank holidays than most of you have had hot dinners, thanks to a predilection for the occasional babycham and lemonade.

Put simply, give me a poor excuse to party, and I will rip your arm off and swing it around my head like a spring break reveller with an eighteen year old’s thong in his hand.

But you have to draw the line somewhere. And for me, that line stops right before St Patrick’s Day.

Clearly I’m getting more cantankerous as I grow older. Last year, St Patrick’s Day seemed remarkable, but not annoying. Twelve months on, and I’ve crossed to the dark side.

Don’t get me wrong, I have no problem with the Irish (or their close descendants) celebrating their patron saint’s day. But yesterday New York was jam packed to the gills with people wearing emerald green clothing, and buskers playing fiddle-dee-dee music on violins that were last tuned when Nixon was in power. If I heard one more person say something like “top o’ the morning to you” in a voice that makes Dick Van Dyke and Don Cheadle seem like accent experts, I may have been forced into using shamrocks for something that nature certainly never intended.

The fact is that most of the drunken party-goers heading back towards Bay Ridge at about 7 o’clock last night have probably never even met someone from Ireland, let alone have any Irish family background. And that’s despite the fact that 40 million Americans claimed Irish ancestry in the last census.

Let’s face it, those jester-hatted folk throwing up in the gutter probably don’t even know that St Patrick’s Day is a celebration of all things Irish, and the rest of them almost certainly couldn’t point out Ireland on a map of the world. That may be something to do with the amount of Guinness they’ve poured down their collective necks over the last twelve hours, admittedly, but that’s hardly the point.

The strange thing is that I was asked on numerous occasions why I wasn’t wearing green yesterday. I tried to explain that it’s because I’m not Irish, but I just got a slightly quizzical look that suggests the person can I hear that I’m speaking English but is incapable of understanding the words coming out of my mouth.

I’m thinking of finding out when Canada Day takes place, and then going out into the city dressed as a lumberjack and tutting in the general direction of anybody not dressed in red and white.

I’m not eating caribou though, and you can’t make me.

Raining on my parade

After revelling in the glory of a long hot summer, this weekend saw all my gloating catch up with me. Having inadvertently – and inadvisedly – grounded The Young Ones for numerous indiscretions over the course of the previous week, The Special One and I found ourselves trapped inside by fierce rain and wind, with two children doing passable impressions of captive polar bears stuck in an all-too-small public enclosure.

After the 13th teenage tantrum of the day, a trip to the supermarketgrocery store suddenly seems like a tempting option. Sure, it means getting soaked to the skin within three paces of stepping outside the house (regardless of the availability of an umbrella), but that’s a small price to pay to avoid getting into a prolonged discussion about whose turn it is to feed the cats.

Unusually for a murky day in Brooklyn, the streets seemed busier than usual as I walked out into the persistent rain. Then I remembered the street parade due to head down our closest avenue that afternoon, and the advertising posters proudly proclaiming that the event would take place come rain or shine.

Stopping briefly for a moment to take in the parade, I watched as a group of cheerleaders marionetted their way past me, their hairstyles now welded firmly to their heads by their ten block march through the torrential downpour. The stick wielding Jessica Simpson wannabes were followed by a vaguely menacing troop of what may have been army cadets. The rain had forced them to don their matching dark green trench coats, causing them to resemble a maverick group of Eastern Bloc renegades hellbent on taking Brooklyn by force. If it wasn’t for the fact that not one of them was taller than 5ft 3, and that they couldn’t march in time to save their lives, I might have been mildly concerned.

The final group I watched before sense returned to my rain-soaked brain was a marching band, resplendent in white uniforms which would almost certainly have been transparent had I been unfortunate enough to be watching a few blocks further down the parade route. Nevertheless, the ensemble oompah-ed with glorious abandon, bringing to mind the brass bands of the annual street parade that Little Sis and I used to watch when we were kids. To be fair, those bands of old were never blasting out Survivor’s “Eye Of The Tiger” while marching past a branch of Starbucks, but I think you know what I mean.

Thinking about it, I believe that this was actually the first time I’ve seen a proper street parade since the days of watching the Buckley Jubilee back in the 1980s. Saturday’s event may have been on the streets of Brooklyn, but with spectators and participants alike grimly gritting their teeth and getting on with the task in hand despite the driving rain, I’ve never felt more at home.

Wheels of steel

Am just back from a long long weekend in the UK to attend a wedding in the heart of the rather gorgeous Peak District. When you mix a lovely old stately home-type hotel, a healthy smattering of some of your best mates in the world, a seemingly limitless supply of red and white wine, and the marriage of very close pals, it’s not difficult to enjoy yourself it has to be said.

Even when you’re doing some of the DJing yourself.

I’ve always loved wedding discos. For a start, whether the first dance is by Rick Astley or Luther Vandross, it’s always intriguing to find out which track means the most to the happy couple, although statistics do prove that people who choose Def Leppard tend to be divorced shortly before the honeymoon photos have arrived. And of course, it’s always great to see Auntie Ethel and the bride’s mother’s best friend getting their groove on to the likes of Duran Duran, Wham! and Adam & The Ants.

So when you get asked to DJ at the wedding of one of your best friends, there’s only one answer. And it isn’t no.

The problem though is how to assess your crowd, and make sure that you play the right thing to get as many people dancing as possible. The last few weddings I’ve been to have been largely all-American affairs, where the music of choice is far removed from that which you’d expect at a British event. I mean, is there really a place for Menudo at a wedding?

It works the other way, as well. The look of abject horror on The Special One’s face at a wedding in the UK last year, when a stampede of people trampled her underfoot to get to the dancefloor for Vic Reeves & The Wonder Stuff’s “Dizzy” will live with me for a long time to come.

Of course the fact that, thanks to a small inter-marital communication breakdown, all my music had been left in a bag in our living room in Brooklyn didn’t exactly help my cause. I bet that never happens to Paul Oakenfold. With my guaranteed floor fillers left, well, on the floor, I had to rely on the leftover tunes of my fellow DJs to keep the party going. Fortunately, a couple of glasses of wine removes much of your inhibitions and doubts when it comes to playing tracks by Belinda Carlisle, as it turns out.

I even got asked to play ‘I Think We’re Alone Now’ by Tiffany. I wasn’t that drunk, though, I’m pleased to report.

Green with envy

Americans love a bit of excitement. Whether it’s revelling in the downfall of a governor who keeps his brains in his Calvin Kleins, or gathering in bars and homes to watch the ‘world championship’ of a game basically only played by their fellow countrymen, no fuss is too great for the ticker tape-toting people of the United States.

Indeed, such is their dedication to a-whooping and a-hollering that Americans appear to have taken to appropriating the celebrations of other countries in a bid to satisfy their partylust. And let’s face it, there’s nothing that certain Americans love more than appropriating things from other countries.

So today is St Patrick’s Day, and such is the level of green hysteria that seems to have seized New York City that you’d swear that Mayor Bloomberg had promised a free pint of Guinness to anyone sporting a green shirt, tie or giant foam finger. The food hall downstairs from my office was festooned with green and orange balloons, while the bakery attempted to palm off green bagels on me rather than my normal wholewheat everything favourite. In the office, everybody wished each other a happy “St. Paddy’s Day”, while the newspapers are full of shamrock-laden articles on green beer and ‘Oirish’ celebrations.

The strange thing is, I’ve got pretty immediate Irish blood in my family, have lived across the water from Ireland all my life, and have even spent a St Patrick’s Day in Dublin (admittedly one that was effectively cancelled after an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in cattle), and yet I’ve never seen people take the day as seriously as they do here.

I guess it’s not surprising, given that the last US census revealed that 34.9 million Americans claim Irish ancestry – that’s nine times as many people as actually live in Ireland itself. But the same census claimed that there are about 35.3 million people of Hispanic extraction in the US, and I don’t see much of a celebration for them. Even July 4th doesn’t exactly have the same unmitigated enthusiasm associated with it that most New Yorkers seem to have for March 17th.

Happy though they may be to steal Ireland’s national day, most Americans seem reluctant to purloin any national day from the United Kingdom. There’s no walking round with giant daffodils on March 1 for St David’s Day, and no tartan-clad buildings around St Andrew’s Day. And I’m sure some people get dressed up in traditional English costume (Hackett t-shirts and Burberry jackets) on St George’s Day, but where’s the re-enactment of Georgie’s slaying of the dragon when you need it?

Personally, I think it’s time to launch a new celebratory day. After all, if New York’s the melting pot that everybody says it is, there’s got to be a chance that “I’m Not An American But I Really Fancy A Pint Day” could take off.

I can almost hear Hallmark’s designers working on a new range of dedicated cards even as I write.