Tag Archives: Bay Ridge

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.

Baby you can park my car

I don’t think it’s unfair to say that Americans are obsessed with their cars. Having recently flown cross-country to Los Angeles, it’s not hard to see why. Popping next door for a cup of sugar must be a whole different kettle of fish when your closest neighbour lives thirty miles away. Of course, abject fear of walking doesn’t help either. After all, most LA residents think that legs were made for making sure that your torso doesn’t drag on the floor.

When you admit in public that you haven’t driven for fourteen years, you get the kind of look reserved for hired cat assassins. And that’s just from The Special One, I can tell you. People who don’t know me attempt to get words out of their mouths but eventually just give up and walkdrive off.

The problem is that I was never the world’s greatest driver in the first place. As I’ve said before, I spectacularly failed my driving test first time out. What I neglected to mention was that even the second time I took it, I was lucky to get away with a pass. After all, a three foot skid on your emergency stop is never designed to impress the examiners.

Anyway, I’ve come to terms with being a social leper now. And to be fair, New York is probably the one city in the States where you can definitely get away without a car. It’s clearly disappointing that I’m excluded from the merry-go-round fun when everybody has to move their cars at certain points in the week to allow the roads to be cleaned (and to avoid getting fined in the process). But it’s a disappointment I’m prepared to endure for the sake of my own sanity, and for the security of drivers and pedestrians across the city.

Outside New York, dealing with drivers is a vital task for businesses that rely on a high turnover of customers, but which don’t have access to huge on-site car parksparking lots. In high traffic areas, certain places know that their patrons won’t bother turning up if they find it impossible to park. So they make the problem disappear by offering to park the car for them – for a small fee, of course.

Valet parking is an essential part of restaurant life, and most swanky hotels offer the service too. In Los Angeles, it seems that every second place offers you the chance to put your keys into the hands of somebody you’ve never met and watch them drive off with your pride and joy. In New York they call that process a mugging.

That said, the further away from Manhattan you get, the more likely you are to find valet parking an option. Here in Bay Ridge, plenty of restaurants will happily park your car for you, and I’ve even seen the option at babywear shops.

It’s all about competitive advantage I guess. And maybe with the current recession, we’ll see even more businesses begin to offer to park your car, if only to make their service stand out from the crowd. Infact, I think that process has already begun. Last night on my walk home, I saw a man step out of his car and hand his keys over to a smartly dressed young man who immediately took his place and drove the car around the corner to join another thirty or so crammed into a small space at the side of the premises. But what was the place, I wondered as I looked for a sign? A new restaurant, or a bed and breakfast inn maybe?

No, it was the local funeral parlour, welcoming friends and family to a viewing.

Next it’ll be drive-thru weddings, mark my words.

A lesson in money management

I still vividly remember the feeling I had when I first lost a substantial amount of money. I was probably about twelve years old, and my sister and I were visiting my grandmother’s house with She Who Was Born To Worry (aka my mum). My grandmother lived just outside Chester, and I often used to be allowed to take a short walk to the corner to get a newspaper or some sweetscandy. Walking back from one such mission – no doubt with a sherbert fountain or a quarter of chocolate limes in my hand – I reassuringly patted the back pocket of my jeans to check for my money, only to find it was no longer there.

Obviously, I retraced my steps in an attempt to find the little leather wallet, getting more and more frantic as I remembered the £10 note (a birthday gift from one relative or another) that had been neatly folded up within. But it was nowhere to be found. I tearfully walked back to my grandmother’s house, and dutifully received the ten minute lecture on looking after my money. All I could think about for the next five days was the lucky git who had picked up my wallet, and was now probably sitting smugly in their house surrounded by what felt like a lifetime’s supply of cola cubes or wine gums.

Of course, since that day I’ve lost plenty more money. Sometimes it’s fallen out of my pocket, and on others it’s been willfully extracted by The Best Man, The Beancounter or Sickly Child playing poker on a trip up North to see Manchester United. I’ve also found money, although wherever possible I’ve tried to hand it in just in case it belonged to another forlorn 12 year old with an inability to keep his cash safe. That’s not to say that I haven’t seen a twenty quid note floating on the breeze with no one else in sight, and deftly pocketed it. I mean, I’m an idealist but I’m not a fool.

As a result, maybe last night was karma wreaking its revenge.

Picking up a few items at the local supermarketgrocery store in order to feed a sickly Special One, I pulled a twenty dollar note out of my jeans pocket at the cash desk. Given that the dollar is like toy money, and you can pick up a notebook worth of dollar bills in any one day, I have a startlingly bad habit of stuffing all my bills into a pocket in one giant (but worthless) wad. Sadly that wad sometimes includes a few coins, and last night three or four quarters came flying out and scuttled across the floor.

More embarrassed at the noise than anything else, I quickly picked up the three coins that had fallen at my feet. Another had rolled no more than a couple of yards away, and a man in his fifties kindly bent down to pick it up for me. I smiled self-consciously at the shop assistant, paid for my shopping, then turned to the good samaritan for him to return the coin.

Except the man wasn’t there any more. He’d picked up my quarter and walked off with it.

Community spirit – you can’t beat it.

When the chips hit the fan

It’s always strange to find out how other people view your nation. For example, every single day, somebody talks to me in a faux British accent that suggests they’ve come straight off the set of Mary Poppins or Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. To the majority of Americans, the British are posh and haughty. Even the fourteen year old from the council estate who was knocked up by her drug dealer and now pushes around baby Britney in a pushchairstroller all day talks like the Queen as far as most residents of this fair land are concerned.

Why people feel duty bound to talk to me like I’m a Cockney is beyond me. I don’t go round talking to people in their particular accent or dialect, however tempting it might be sometimes. I tried it in a WalMart in Tennessee, and it almost led to the cashier refusing to sell me a cheese ball – a harsh punishment if ever there was one.

The slightly unsure attitude to Britain is particularly apparent in the world of entertainment, where the baddies are almost exclusively played by Arabs or the British (just watch 24 if you want confirmation).

And who cares about our history or beautiful countryside when you can obsess incessantly about Princess Diana? I still get asked about the ‘People’s Princess’ to this day, as if somehow we were close and my insight could prove useful to laying her ghost to rest. At that point in the conversation, it seems difficult to confess that Mr MacBottom and I didn’t even cancel a barbecue on the day of her death as, well, we’d already bought the meat and it wouldn’t keep for another day.

Of course, when it comes to food, everybody thinks Britain is a third world country. That is, until they go there and realise that some of the best cooking in the world now takes place in the UK.

Such high culinary arts caused a problem for the “Bizarre Foods” series on the Travel Channel. The basic concept of the show is that Andrew Zimmern (of whom it was famously once said “Who?”) travels the world eating strange and disgusting food. And when it comes down to it, the UK just doesn’t produce enough gruesome food.

Admittedly sheep intestines don’t look great when raw, but in haggis they seem pretty appetising. Eels aren’t my bag, it has to be said, but do they really require a dedicated segment in a bizarre foods show? And pigeon, cockles and hare just don’t seem to compare to deep fried rat if you ask me.

The show reached a new low on the bizarreness scale when the show turned its attention to Christmas pudding. I mean, dried fruit, nuts, peel, eggs, flour and sugar may not be everybody’s cup of tea, but it’s hardly monkey brains is it?

Strangely there was no sign of black pudding, although given that even The Special One has tried that now, maybe it has begun to lose its bizarre charms? Thankfully, she’s a full convert to the Great British Banger, and didn’t even bat an eyelid when I ordered sausage, chips and beans for Sunday lunch in Bay Ridge.

Now that’s love.