Category Archives: Weather

Heat pushes New York over the edge

Walking in New York right now is like stepping into the welcoming heat curtain that greets you in department stores in the winter, only to find that you never make it through to the other side. Shirts are drenched through within seconds, and your only hope of looking vaguely respectable at work is if the laws of evaporation kick into major effect in the sub-zero climes of the air conditioned subway cars and offices.

Of course, in the near 100 degree heat/100% humidity that New York has been experiencing recently, thermometers aren’t the only indication of temperatures are rising. Everybody may be in a good mood in the warmth of the sun on a day off, but when you’re weary after a day at the coalface, the punishing heat can be enough to send people over the edge.

Right now, New Yorkers have approximately 37% less patience than they would on a normal grey day in the city, according to official government studies. That means that they honk their horns at cars that fail to move off from traffic lights within 0.04 seconds of the light turning green, rather than the normal 0.06. The pavementssidewalks are littered with tourists who’ve been skittled out of the way for walking slowly, rather than just being shoulder-barged and sworn at in normal circumstances. And insurance companies are refusing to cover Starbucks baristas, just in case they forget to leave the whipped cream off a customer’s iced soy vanilla macchiato.

But it’s on the subway that tempers flair most, largely due to the fact that the stations are hotter than an out-of-condition Bulgarian weightlifter’s armpit. The subway system is hardly the most convivial place in the first place, but right now it’s how I would imagine the atmosphere to be at the Jerry Springer Show if the whole audience had just been told that each of their mothers had been sleeping with the 17 year old greasemonkey who’d just wandered on stage chewing tobacco.

Last week, as my train pulled into the furnace that they laughingly call a station, a middle aged woman attempted to barge past a younger woman so that she’d be ahead of her when the doors opened. The younger woman gently but firmly reasserted her position, and stepped on to the train first.

Behind her the middle aged woman tutted loudly, and then turned to a seeming stranger, and launches into a vicious fifteen minute tirade about people who only look out for themselves.

“The problem with people is that these days they’re all about themselves. I used to let people on first, but it got me nowhere. Everybody would take all the seats. Now I make sure it’s all about me.”

Clearly I gave her my best ‘you realise that what you’ve said makes no sense, right?’ look, but to no avail. She continued apace.

“You know, it’s not the New York City people who are like that.”

Given that she’d by this point given the coffee cup-toting woman next to her (who happened to be wearing a hijab) a mouthful about not spilling it all over her, I mentally readied myself for the worst.

“No no, New Yorkers have been brought up properly. They know how to behave. No, it’s the people from elsewhere you have to watch.”

Here we go, I thought. Which ethnic group is she going to have a pop at first? My money was on the Indian sub-continent, although you never can rule out the Chinese in circumstances such as this. I braced myself for the xenophobic onslaught.

“You know, like people from Ohio. Or Kansas City.”

She may not have had much of an understanding of the world at large, but the ranting misanthrope had a fairly clear understanding of her future direction of travel when she finally pops off this mortal coil.

“I’m going up. That’s my plan. I’m looking out for myself, because I’m going upstairs.”

Personally I reckon the universe might have something a little warmer in store for her.

An eternity spent on New York City subway platforms would seem to be a good start.

Britain is closed for business

Almost as if to prove my point, Britain has been deluged with snow overnight, and everybody is over the moon about it. This can only be the result of two things:

1. Nobody felt any need whatsoever to clear the pavement outside their house, to put salt down, or to take any action which may make it easier for people to walk past their house. Instead, most people will have gathered at their front window (possibly with popcorn or other suitable snacks) and watched happily as a constant stream of people fell on their arseass outside.

2. The UK rarely gets snow that doesn’t melt within three seconds of falling, and as a result is uniquely unprepared for a proper snowstorm. Trains have been cancelled, buses can’t run, and most people appear to have lost the use of their feet. Duly, most of Britain is closed down today, with workplaces apparently half full at best. It’s like an impromptu public holiday, without the need to sit in traffic for four hours en route to see your in-laws.

Typically on Britain’s first proper snow day in living memory, I’m in snow free New York. My journey to work won’t be impeded, the trains will be running, and I should be in the office on time. Where’s the justice?

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow

Living in the UK, I used to love snow. We didn’t seem to get it very often, to be fair, hence the unprecedented excitement about whether a few drops would fall on the Met Office’s roof on December 25th (the official British definition of ‘a white Christmas’, apparently). But back in my childhood, we’d all head out into the street and play until every last bit of virgin snow had been trodden in or thrown.

Even as an adult, snow in Britain was still an occasion that brought a smile to my face. Sure, I wasn’t throwing snowballs any more (well, not that often anyway), but what’s not to like about the way that the sun reflects off newly fallen snow, or the sight of trees capped with flurries of white. OK, so the occasional train got cancelled, or you might fall on your arseass infront of a big group of people waiting for a bus now and then, but it’s a small price to pay for walking in a winter wonderland.

Now that I live in the US, all that joy has been taken away. Kids still play in the freshly fallen snow, and the setting sun still glows like never before. But now when I see snow, all I see is stuff that has to be moved out of the way so that nobody sues me for all my life savings and my priceless collection of Beano annuals.

See, in the UK, nobody other than businesses really bother to shovel snow from the area around their building. Everybody else just accepts that if you fall on snow outside somebody’s house, you get up, brush yourself down, and move on quickly while hoping that nobody has noticed. Especially not that girl from number 18.

But no, the United States has to take all the joy out of snow. When I notice snow falling as I go to bed, I don’t dream of carefree snowball fights with The Young Ones the following day – I just think about the twenty minutes I’m going to have to spend getting rid of the stuff, or have nightmares about the person who falls and accidentally impales themselves on a stray twig that had coincidentally dropped from the tree above only moments before.

Maybe I’m missing something here. After all, it snows all the time during the winter on the East Coast, so you’d think people would be used to it by now. And contrary to popular belief, snow is not invisible – it’s not as if you can complain that you didn’t know it was there, or that it can sneak up on you when you’re least expecting it. It’s like blaming somebody for the fact that your hair got wet after it started raining while you were walking past their house.

Folks, it’s time to put the fun back into snowfall. Snow is our friend – a cheery visitation that puts everybody in mind of their responsibility-free childhood days. A time to treasure the fact that you can put handfuls of the stuff into somebody’s hood, and then watch in ill-disguised mirth as they unwittingly pull it over their head. It is not a reminder that you need to check your insurance details, or the cost of late night flights to Rio.

Actually, scratch that last one. With snow and freezing cold enveloping New York at the moment, a nice caipirinha on the beach at Copocabana seems pretty damn tempting right now I can tell you.

Now that’s what I call autumn. Or fall.

I always loved autumnfall when I was a kid. Little Sis, The Cousins and I would regularly get taken to Delamere Forest by our grandparents to pick up chestnuts and pine cones from the forest floor, and tear about like loons to run off excess energy. More importantly, we got to eat our grandmother’s chicken soup, the taste of which still lingers to this day, regularly infuriating me that I can’t recreate it. I can only assume that the secret ingredient was nicotine or, say, crack cocaine, such was the soup’s addictive qualities.

Part of the joy of autumnfall was the low strong seasonal sun, and the crisp but not too cold weather that always alerted me to the fact that my birthday and the festive season were just around the corner. Don’t get me wrong, I loved spending time with my grandparents, but the fact that I might soon be getting some new Lego or a new music compilation cassette was far more important at the stage in my life.

But ever since those early days, I’ve always loved that in-between weather – the times when it’s not too cold and not too hot, and everything’s changing from green to brown or vice-versa. I may not be able to have the chicken soup any more, but I’ll take a British autumn day over Now That’s What I Call Music 74 any time.

Last week, as I headed home on the subway, the N train on which I was travelling emerged from a tunnel out onto the Manhattan Bridge, giving me a striking view of the Brooklyn Bridge and the stretch of water down towards the Statue of Liberty. The low sun shone majestically off the East River, casting an ethereal glow over South Street Seaport and the bridge. The particular shade of light could mean only one thing – autumnfall had arrived at last.

Instead, this weekend, we turned the heating on and pulled out the thick coats. It seems that in the north east of the United States, two or three days is plenty enough of autumnfall, and it’s time to get ready for winter. Sure, there might be the occasional balmy day to look forward to, but other than that, it’s snow, ice and soul-chilling winds all the way.

Whatever happened to traditional seasons that lasted for a few months rather than a few days? I can only assume that the credit crunch has hit New York so hard that it can no longer afford to pay its bills, and we’ve duly had our sun taken away by bailiffs. Maybe if we all club together we can have it turned on again by February?

In the meantime, I’m getting the blankets out of the attic.

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.

New York’s 50mph strip show

I’m on a new diet, which I like to call the Subway Diet. No, I don’t mean that I’m eating nothing but dubious meats (all made from turkey, regardless of what they outwardly claim to be) on footlong bread rolls. It might have worked for Jared Fogle, but the idea of eating Subway sandwiches twice a day for a year is enough to send me galloping into the arms of the nearest deep fat fryer.

Instead, this diet involves no change to your eating patterns whatsoever. No counting of calories, no avoiding carbohydrates, and no high protein milkshakes. Infact, all you need is one New York subterranean transit system and an oppressively hot summer. Add in an extended delay on a platform as you wait for a train to arrive, and you’ll be losing pound after pound in sweat before you know it. Just watch that weight drip off!

By the end of their journey, most passengers – myself very much included – look like they’ve just spent two hours in the wave pool at Rhyl Sun CentreHurricane Harbor. Sure, the carriages themselves are relatively cool, but there’s an ancient New York City by-law which decrees that at least one of the ten or so carriages on every train has to have broken air-conditioning. You might get a seat, but travelling in the transportational equivalent of a Turkish bath wouldn’t make it onto anyone’s list of 50 Things To Do Before You Die.

The heat on the platforms, coupled with the fact that trains are as regular as Halley’s Comet, means that people have started taking extra clothes with them to change into once they’ve arrived at work. I say “once they get to work”, but in reality, most people seem to wait until just before they reach their final stop and then whip out that new shirt or blouse to replace their sodden travel kit.

Essentially, New York has turned its subway trains into high speed changing rooms. With clothes hanging from metal rails, and commuters laden down with outfits for every occasion, it’s only a matter of time before they start installing mirrors in every carriage or ask how many items you’re taking onto the train before you board.

Don’t stop me now

It’s good to be back in New York, although the sweltering heat and humid atmosphere means that I have as much desire to be outside as an agoraphobic slug who has been told that the only way for him to get back inside his garden shed is to slither through an industrial-size outdoor salt store.

The heat does nothing for people’s temper as they make their way around the city. Simple missions such as walking up the stairs from the subway to the exit are turned into Indiana Jones-style fights to the finish, as sweat-soaked crazies kick and punch their way to the top. And that’s just the women.

Earlier today, I saw a cyclist who had clearly determined that the worst possible thing that he could do in this weather would be to stand still. Of course, given the number of pedestrians and traffic lights in the city, that’s pretty much an impossible task. Not unless you take your life into your own hands.

Or in this case, take a whistle into your mouth.

Paying no particular heed for traffic lights, and a healthy disregard for the public, this cyclist simply put a small silver whistle between his lips, blasted out as shrill a note as he could possibly manage, and trusted in his ability to put the pedal to the metal to do the rest. I watched him for about a block and a half as he peeped and parped his way across the city at high speed to avoid slowing down, unsuspecting pedestrians scattering in his path as he frightened the living bejeesus out of anyone within a twenty yard radius.

And you wonder why some people accuse New Yorkers of impatience?

Unless I’m doing him a disservice. Perhaps he had a medical emergency, or he’d realised that he’d left the oven on? Or maybe he had Sandra Bullock and Keanu Reeves in his panniers, and he was having to keep up a constant 50mph for fear of untold damage to his spokes and handlebars?

With New York, you just never know.

The change

When I first moved down to London, She Who Was Born To Worry (or my mum, as I generally know her) took the wind out of my fresh faced and eager sails by calling me a shandy-drinking southerner. The implication being that the north of England was rough, the south was posh, and I’d have to start watering my beer down with lemonade because I’d lose all my gritty ruggedness. Clearly the fact that I was always about as rugged as a baby’s bottom had slipped her mind. Not to mention the fact that my home county Cheshire sells more champagne per head of population per year than any other part of the UK. It’s hardly South Central LA, put it like that.

Of course, a move to New York has done nothing to dampen my status as a shandy drinking southerner. That’s despite the fact that a barman in New York is no more likely to know what a shandy is than Nigel at the Union Vaults in Chester would be able to make a decent Long Island Iced Tea.

But now I’m starting to fear that I am fulfilling the prophecy. Maybe I’m becoming a big softie after all.

I’m currently in the UK on business, and having previously checked the weather in London and found it to be in the high 60sF/20C, I merrily packed no jacket. After all the heat and humidity of New York, it’d be nice to get to the relative normality of British weather. But after walking down Kensington High Street yesterday afternoon, I suddenly realised that despite the sun shining, I was rubbing my arms to keep myself warm. All around me people are in summer gear, and yet I find myself wondering whether it would be a fashion faux-pas to wear a balaclava in June.

If that wasn’t bad enough, when I get inside the office or a shop, I’ve started to feel like I’m overheating, and regularly hear myself internally bemoaning the lack of air-conditioning in this country.

I fear that I may have turned into one of those Brazilian footballers who start wearing tights and gloves after their big money move to the Premiership, when they realise that a trip to Blackburn on a wet Tuesday night in January is marginally less appealing than a night at the Maracana.

It’s either that or I’m going through the change. You’ll read about me in the Lancet in years to come, I tell you.

Now, where can I get a shandy?

Summer in the city

If you want to engage in small talk with a Brit, there’s only one thing you’ll definitely need to chat about – the weather. Whether it’s complaining about the rain, or talking about snow coming late this year, the British would be at a loss for words if it wasn’t for the weather. I’ve filled more embarrassing silences with chat about forthcoming snow or sleet than Madison Square Garden vendors have filled bread rolls with Hebrew National hotdogs.

And let’s face it, Britain has so much weather going on that it’s not like people are short of conversation. The only thing that makes the British happier than some unseasonal early summer sun is talking about the unseasonal early summer sun (and how it’s likely to be the only sun they get all summer). The UK is probably the only country in the world that looks forward to forty days and forty nights of rain, just because it gives us something concrete to complain about.

With all that in mind, the British in New York are in their element right now, with stifling 99F degree heat (37C degrees in real money) bringing the city to its (sweaty and blotchy) knees. Walking out of air-conditioned buildings into the open-air is like walking through one of those heat curtains that greet you as you enter Boots the Chemist, except for the fact that the curtain covers the city (and it’s the delicate but unmistakable tones of body odour that lurk behind it, rather than the intoxicating sandalwood with herbacious topnotes aroma of Dior’s latest fragrance).

Yesterday afternoon I stepped out of the office to send a Father’s Day card to Brit Out Of Water Sr from the post office literally across the road. I probably took less than 100 paces, and was away from an air-conditioned environment for no more than three minutes. Nonetheless, I returned to my desk resembling an about-to-be-committed gibbering idiot who had decided to pay a visit to a local water park while wearing full office clothing.

I’d like to say that I was glowing rather than sweating. In reality I was probably lucky to get away without causing an electrical fire when I sat back down at my keyboard. If the next fifty on the 200 Things You Simply Have To Know About New York list is delayed, don’t blame me.

I’ll be out looking for a waterproofed computer.

Gardening leave

Back in the days when I was merely a fledgling Brit Out Of Water barely out of short trousers, I always knew it was summer when I was sitting at a wooden table in a pub garden holding a bottle of Coke with a straw in it. One or other of my parents was always with me, before you start to panic. If they hadn’t been there, obviously I’d have had a vodka in it too.

For some it might be the flowering of blossom or the smell of meat being gently yet irretrievably incinerated on a rusty barbecue, but for me the summer just didn’t get going until I could feel that heady mix of carbonated water, caramel, sugarhigh fructose corn syrup, phosphoric acid and caffeine rushing through my veins. Preferably with a packet of ready salted crisps to chase it down.

Since those days, pub gardens have formed an essential part of my summer experience. I’ve spent memorable nights lapping up the late evening sun in pubs the length and breadth of Britain. I once lost the ability to walk after an afternoon on the grassland outside The Mill in Cambridge (although that was less to do with muscular injury and more the result of the debilitating effects of scrumpy on a person’s physical coordination). And is there really anybody who isn’t capable of enjoying him or herself in a riverside pub garden along the banks of the Thames as the sun slowly sets? If there is, I don’t want to meet him.

For The Special One, the whole pub garden concept has come as a bit of a shock to the system. Most Americans believe that the world will implode if a single alcoholic drink is exposed to light or the outside world. As such, the idea of having an area outside a bar where adults can have a casual drink (and where kids can run around or play on climbing framesjungle jims) is about as socially acceptable as casually plucking hairs from warts on your great-aunt’s chin in public.

There are a few exceptions to the rule, such as the Gowanus Yacht Club in Carroll Gardens in Brooklyn. But given that the GYC is not on the Gowanus River, does not enable yacht mooring, is not a club, and is actually just a back yard selling beer and wine in plastic cups, it can’t actually be held to be a prime example of outdoor quaffing at its best.

New York’s in the grip of an early summer at the moment, with temperatures in the high 70s. You know something unusual Is happening when you see New Yorkers walking around with smiles on their faces. Shorts are becoming de rigeur, while women are shedding clothes in a manner that suggests they’re heading for a girl’s night out in the North of England. It’s like Britain for those ten days in July when everybody’s happy. And it’s only April.

If only there was a pub garden I could go sit in with The Special One, for a quick post-work drink, all would be well with the world.

A bottle of beer furtively wrapped in a brown paper bag just doesn’t have the same cachet, let’s face it.