Tag Archives: Brooklyn

A man walks into a bar (and other clichés)

I love a good cliché. With my unrivalled ability to roll out a casual inanity for every occasion, I could probably have been a football managercoach were it not for a terrifying lack of ability and an underlying loathing of anyone whose ego is so large that it can’t even be carried on to an airplane as hand baggage.

Nonetheless, I consider it a personal failure if I don’t manage to crank out at least one over-used phrase per day. You’ll simply not see me happier than the moments after I’ve just managed to slip a cliché into an otherwise normal conversation. Well, unless you happen to catch my pumped-fist salute coming out of the toiletbathroom, after a painful four day bout of constipation has triumphantly been brought to an end, that is.

Personal favourites include ” actions speak louder than words”, “the road to hell is paved with good intentions”, “it ain’t over til the fat lady sings” or “no pain, no gain”, although try as I might, I’m yet to find a way to fit “there’s a thin line between love and hate” into a meeting without being given the look generally reserved for the moment when you realise that the falafel you just bit into was actually a breadcrumbed sheep’s testicle.

The fact is though that most clichés are borne of the truth. And none more so than “it’s a small world.”

Last night I walked into a perfectly everyday American bar just around the corner from where I live in the depths of Brooklyn. Faced with the choice of American beers that look and taste like water (or, worse still, look and taste like urine), I opted for a taste of Britain, in the shape of a ‘pint’ of Bass.

Bass is a strange thing. I’m not even sure that there still is a beer sold under the Bass name in the UK, and if there is, I probably wouldn’t order it (although to be fair, drinking canned Shandy Bass as a kid was one of my great not-as-illicit-as-it-seemed pleasures). But here, Bass seems to have a connotation of high quality – a seemingly safe bet when faced with mountains of six packs of Coors Light, Bud Light, and that weird lime tasting beer that I’ve never quite understood the point of.

Reader, I digress. Having downed my first beer with a speed that would make Usain Bolt’s face blanch, I walked to the bar to buy my second libation.

“Where in the UK are you from?” asked Woman Who I Would Call A Barmaid In The UK.

In the United States, being asked this question fills a Brit with joy and unabandoned glee because it means three things . Firstly, it means they’ve heard of the UK (not a given, trust me). Secondly, they haven’t confused you with an Australian, a Swede or a Canadian. And thirdly, there’s a vague chance that they’ve heard of some British city that’s not London.

“I come from a place called Chester,” I said meekly, readying myself to give directions from London or – at best – Manchester.

“Oh right. I spent my first day in the UK in Chester. My husband’s from Liverpool. I like Chester, although it’s a bit strange.”

I laughed at the thought of an American being confused by a city that has anything older than 500 years in it, and walked back to my seat.

A few moments later, a completely unrelated guy came over to our table.

“Excuse me, mate. Did I hear you say you’re from Chester? I’m from Wrexham actually. Nice to see you,” he said, before wandering out of the door.

Wrexham’s probably eight miles from Chester. I used to date a girl from Wrexham, and one night drove all the way home without realising I didn’t have my headlights on. I rarely came across someone from Wrexham when I was living in London though, let alone in suburban Brooklyn.

I’m now on eager alert for the random appearance of somebody who lived on my street as a kid, or who used to drink in the pub I used to work in and remembers the low cut Hawaiian style shirt I was forced to wear. After all, don’t these things come in threes?

Or would that just be a cliché?

The real price of food in America

It’s the time of year when American turkeys are looking nervously over their shoulder every time that the farmer comes anywhere near them. If their heads are not already hundreds of miles away from their shoulders, that is. With Thanksgiving less than ten days away, old family recipes are being dug out of dusty drawers across the country as people prepare to make stuffing or cranberry sauce for their gathering of relatives.

The weird thing is that for a fair number of people, Thanksgiving dinner is one of the few that they actually bother to cook, or indeed where the family gathers together around one table. Mainland Europe still tries to cling on to the principle of the family dinner, but in the UK and (especially) the US, the concept of sitting down as one at a given moment is sadly disappearing quicker than ice cream at a five year old’s birthday party.

In the United States at least, that’s hardly surprising. At the end of my road in Brooklyn are a butchers and a diner. On the diner’s window, there’s currently a big sign advertising their Thanksgiving Dinner for 10-12 people, listing all the trimmings including stuffing, potatoes, vegetables, cranberry sauce, gravy and so on, at an all-in price of $169.99. The butcher has a similar sign on their window for their Thanksgiving deal, featuring a turkey big enough for 10-12 people and all the various sides that you could hope for. Hell, they’ll even cook the turkey for you so that you won’t have to spend three days soaking the roasting pan afterwards.

And the price for this do-it-(vaguely)-yourself feast? $199.99. That’s thirty dollars more expensive than cooking for yourself at home, even though the restuarant will be providingyou with all the cutlery, crockery and waiter service – and doing the washing up afterwards.

It’s not true outside the big cities, but in New York and other metropolitan centrescenters, there are plenty of people who don’t cook their own food because it’s cheaper to order it in. Sure, they may be eating meat made primarily of corn, and consuming their own bodyweight in monosodium glutamate, but who cares when you can get a giant helping of General Tso’s Chicken for six dollars, eh? Ordering in food is a treat for me and The Special One – for many people in New York, it’s become a way of life.

Can anybody tell that I’m reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma at the moment?

Now, time to dig out my world-famous gravy recipe in preparation for next week. Oh, and spare a thought for those (pasture raised) British turkeys who are currently sitting around in their barns laughing smugly at the fate of their American counterparts, and haven’t yet realised that December is just around the corner…

Putting a price tag on health

After twelve straight hours in the ER last Friday, my friend was finally admitted to the hospital. I manfully stifled my laughter as he was put in a wheelchair and slowly wheeled around the medical corridors like an 85 year old war veteran by a man in maroon overalls. I wouldn’t normally have controlled myself so well, but the look on the face of my friend suggested that he wouldn’t have been averse to getting out of the wheelchair and putting me in my own ER cubicle if I didn’t keep quiet.

Wheeling through the hallways of the ER, and into the main hospital itself, I looked puzzledly at the porter. Had he possibly made a wrong turn, and accidentally taken us through an adjoining door into the Brooklyn Hilton? After all, the floors seemed to be vaguely marbled, and the walls had dark wood panels that wouldn’t have looked out of place at some gentleman’s club in Pall Mall.

To be fair, the presence of a number of wheezing old ladies suggested that we’d either wandered into the host venue for the “Lucky Strike for Seniors” convention, or else the guy knew what he was doing. Before we knew it, he’d put the brakes on the wheelchair and left us infront of the door to one of the rooms.

Now, I’ve stayed in a few hotels. This time last year I was kicking back in a two floorduplex affair in the Greek islands, with an infinity pool just outside the French doors and the sea only a few short yards further away. I know the things that hotels can include just to make you feel like you’re in the greatest place on Earth.

Last time I checked though, that list of perks did not include ‘a bed containing an old bloke with a hacking cough’. Admittedly you could only rarely hear the cough, but that was largely because his television was loud enough to be audible in Georgia.

Given that it was almost midnight by now, I had to make my way back home. But before I pushed off, my friend asked if I could make my way down to the foyer to pick up some bottles of water for him. After all, we’d already watched in horror as the old man had drunk directly from the water jug provided for the room, and neither of us fancied supping on ‘eau de pensioner’.

With a security guard having given me the dubious stares reserved for somebody who seemed to be visiting four hours or so after visiting hours had finished, I wandered the corridors looking for some Poland Spring. It was only then that I truly realised that I was in America.

Firstly, the vending machines contained every manner of crisppotato chip known to man. From TGI Friday’s cheese and bacon flavour potato skins to onion and garlic snacks, it was a veritable high fat, high cholesterol temple. Don’t get me wrong, I grabbed myself a bag of something salty and sickeningly unhealthy for the trip home, but that doesn’t mean I condone it.

But even the snack factory couldn’t prepare me for the sight of the gift shop. Yes, you read it right. The gift shop. Stand aside Disneyland, back off Alton TowersSix Flags. You’ve got nothing on the American medical system and its desire to shift souvenirs on the ill and infirm. And what better for the friends and family of the sick to take their mind off their troubles than a little bit of retail therapy?

Given the late hour, the gift shop was sadly closed and as a result I can’t comment on the range of products available for purchase. I might go back this weekend though, and if they don’t have “Welcome To Brooklyn” colostomy bags and clothing with the slogan “My Grandma Had A Heart Attack And All I Got Was This Lousy T-Shirt”, I’m going to be very disappointed.

General Hospital: a lesson in the difference between fact and fiction

Luckily enough, I’ve never had to spend much time in hospital. There was the time I fainted and fell back off my stool in a physics class at school, although walking in with a suspected fractured skull and walking out with a fractured thumb was frankly embarrassing. And when I was a toddler, I naively put my hand on the side of a hot oven and had to be raced off to casualty. It wasn’t a lesson I learned particular well either – a couple of years ago I cooked Christmas dinner for fifteen friends, badly burnt my hand as I served up the food, and spent the rest of the evening watching other people eat while I sat in excruciating agony with a bag of frozen Thai green curry in my rapidly blistering hand.

Given that those were my only two visits to an A&E department, I’ve generally had to look elsewhere for my understanding of medical emergencies. And by ‘elsewhere’, I’m clearly referring to hospital dramas on TV.

In the UK, hospital drama means ‘Casualty’, the gritty weekly show based in the fictional city of Holby. Famous largely for the presence of the world’s worst actor (Derek Thompson, who plays Charlie Fairhead, somehow manages to make David Caruso look like a Shakepearean veteran), Casualty is apparently the longest running emergency medical drama in the world. I appreciate that this might not be the most expansive category in the world, but bless ‘em for coming up with the stat anyway.

In the US, Casualty’s equivalent is ER, the George Clooney-launching monolith that has just lumbered into its fifteenth and final seriesseason. For a while back in the 90s, ER seemed to be the biggest show in the world, although if you ask me it was just Casualty with more money and less wooden acting.

Anyway, the point is that as far as American emergency rooms go, my experience was limited to the times when I happened to watch ER. With flying trolleys carrying half-mutilated traffic victims, and surgeons bearing high voltage defibrillators asking passers by to stand back, the US emergency room always seemed to be the pinnacle of unbelievable tension. Especially compared to the early years of Casualty, when the most exciting injury of the evening was generally a pretty nasty paper cut.

However, having spent much of Friday night sitting with a friend in a Brooklyn ER, I can’t begin to sum up my disappointment at the grim reality. That the biggest piece of excitement seemed to be the moment one woman breathed in on an asthma inhaler would probably best sum it up. No dashing trolleys, no electric paddles, and not an Alex Kingston or Anthony Edwards in sight. Hell, I’ve been in more exciting shoe shops.

In fact, it’s difficult to imagine a situation in which there could have been less of a sense of urgency. It’s almost as if hospital staff were trying to bore patients into curing their own illnesses. Although given that most patients appeared to be founder members of Brooklyn’s ‘Why Take Up One Chair When You Can Put On Enough Weight To Take Up Two’ society, it would have taken more than casual nonchalance to shift some of these folk.

At least I wasn’t in a British A&E on a Friday night, I guess, watching a succession of dishevelled and dirty individuals, almost certainly over the legal driving limit, and ready for a fight at any moment. And that’s just the staff.

Still, with Charlie Fairhead and Doug Ross as examples, what can you expect?

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.

All is not what it seems

As you’ll see from the counter over on the right, I’ve now been a Brit Out Of Water for 400 days. During that time, I’ve penned a little under 250 posts. Which means, inevitably, that there have been just over 150 days when I haven’t posted at all. Now, on most of those days I was probably, you know, having a life. But on some of the others, if I was being truly honest, I probably just couldn’t think of something to blog about.

The problem is, of course, that the more you’re away from your home, the more you get used to your adopted city. Fortunately, New York is still strange enough to keep me in stories for at least another 400 days, but I do have to pay even closer attention these days just to make sure that I don’t miss any of the ridiculousness of it all.

Caring as dearly as I do about you, my loyal reader, I now find myself walking around the city with my eyes darting everywhere just in case I can see the start of a potential blog posting kicking off in my vicinity. Sometimes I’ve changed my route to work, having witnessed something unusual going on in the distance. Sure, it generally turns out to be a New Yorker walking more than six blocks without using a form of motorised transport, but at least I’m trying.

Tonight while heading home from work, I was standing on the N train back into the murky depths of Brooklyn, standing all the way from Union Square. While I clung on to a metal pole for grim death as the train attempted to throw me around like a pathetic rag doll, an elfin young lady sat down serenely on the chair next to me.

Serene, that is, but for the fact that she spent the next few stops consuming a chocolate brownie with the eagerness and grim determination of someone who hadn’t seen food for, say, three weeks.

It took her so long to eat the aforementioned brownie simply because it appeared to have fallen apart in the paper wrapper in which it was encased. Duly, Miss Elfin dipped her fingers into the bag with metronomic regularity, scooping up crumbs and plunging them into her ever chomping mouth. After about ten minutes, she extracted the paper wrapper from the bag in which it was contained, turned into a makeshift chute, and shovelled the last remaining crumbs down her gullet. And with that complete, she did the same with the outer paper bag, just in case there were a few molecules that she’d missed.

Throughout the whole thing, I could feel myself getting progressively – and inexplicably – more irate about the whole thing. Maybe it was the fact that she was an astonishingly noisy eater, or maybe it was because it was taking her forever to eat something that would have lasted perhaps 3.72 seconds in my custody. But as my anger rose, I was at least calmed by the fact that I would be able to pen a blog about eating on the tube, turning this anonymous character into an example of all that is bad about self-involved commuters.

Next thing I know, the man sat a few seats down from her quietly reading his John Grisham novel falls asleep (to be fair, his books can be a bit samey) and his bookmark drops to the floor. Miss Elfin, her chocolate brownie now firmly a thing of the past, quickly steps up, bends down, picks up the fallen bookmark, and quietly places it back into the book without even waking the man from his slumbers.

Hardly the actions of a superhero, but a happy ending nonetheless, and a good example of why you shouldn’t judge a book by its flour-and-chocolate based confection eating cover. But I was gutted. After all, there was my bitter posting ripped from my grasp. Much more of this good citizenry, and I won’t have a blog to speak of.

Come on New York, pull your act together. Enough of this ‘being nice’ – you’ve got a reputation to keep up, you know.

200 things you simply have to know about New York (part two)

51. Your stepsstoop is a much more civilised place from which to get rid of any old crap from your house than the back of a Ford Cortina.
52. Any city that can invent the beer milkshake is alright by me.
53. The view from the N train as you go across the Williamsburg Bridge is as good as any cityscape this country has to offer. I know it sounds strange, but that view of the Brooklyn Bridge just gets me every time.
54. Hipsters really do exist. Their level of actual hipness is only exceeded by their own opinion of themselves.
55. Everybody’s got an opinion in New York. And they’re not afraid to share it with you.
56. That’s an old lady behind you pushing you out of the way so that she can get off the train.
57. Nothing is sacred when it comes to advertising. Anything, anyone or anywhere can be used by big evil brands to get their message across. By the way, this blog entry is brought to you by Taco Bell: Thinking Outside The Bun.
58. The quality of the roads in this country is comparable to those in rural Tunisia. Except a little bumpier.
59. ‘Spicy’ is a swear word in New York restaurants.
60. Someone, somewhere in this city, is getting very very angry right now.
61. Mayor Bloomberg does not control this city. The makers of Boars Head deli meats do.
62. Well, either Boars Head or Chase Bank.
63. Given the number of manicure and pedicure salons in the city, I’m forced to the reluctant conclusion that the average New York hand has at least seven fingers.
64. There’s no shortage of parking in the city, but it’d still be cheaper to park outside Philadelphia and get a taxi back.
65. There must be a world surplus of cream cheese. It’s the only explanation for why delis put so much of the damn stuff on every single bagel.
66. People actually speak to their neighbours here. I didn’t know what the word neighbour meant until I got here.
67. That said, ‘nabe’ as a word is an assault on the soul of the English language.
68. Did I miss a meeting that declared frozen yoghurt one of the five essential foodstuffs?
69. The best day of my life took place in this city.
70. I’m not counting Manchester United’s two most recent European Cup victories in the above, obviously.
71. Hell hath no fury like a Brooklyn resident having a big apartment building built just down the road from their lovely brownstone.
72. If every deli in New York were placed alongside the next, they’d reach from here to Salt Lake City. Or somewhere else quite a long way away.
73. If you want to a scary night out, don’t bother with a trip to the latest slasher movie. Just attend a class play at your local elementary school and watch the parents.
74. Million dollar fines are issued to any New York radio station playing any more than 20 different records in one day.
75. New York apartments are like the everyday living version of attempting to fit 22 people in a Mini. Never in the field of human contact were so many squeezed into so little for so much cash.
76. Jars of sweetscandies seem to feature on everybody’s desks. Did I mention that New York has a collective sweet tooth?
77. Spontaneous combustion has been known to occur in documented cases where a member of the public has managed to find one of the three square yards in the city where a Starbucks cannot be seen in any direction.
78. Should Duane Reade go out of business tomorrow, the resultant collapse in the commercial property market in New York as approximately 67,000 locations instantly went on the market could make the subprime market look like a schoolkid losing their pocket moneyallowance.
79. There’s a truly astonishing sense of community in this city. Even if it’s generally rallied in order to prevent a bar from selling alcohol within an 83 block radius of a school.
80. There really is a hell of a lot less crime here than you’d think given the size of the city.
81. You can always guarantee that the only time you’ll actually see a crime taking place is while you’re showing around a nervous friend or family member who is convinced they’re going to die in New York.
82. On a hot day in June, with a pleasant breeze taking the edge off the sun, there can sometimes feel like there’s no greater place on earth.
83. The amount of time for needed for an outsider to make themselves understood to a native will always be in direct inverse proportion to the amount of time you have.
84. The sudden need for a taxi always rises about five minutes after the 4pm changeover has caused all bar three taxis to turn their lights onto ‘off duty’.
85. Recycling is particularly effective in this city. If London wants to play catch-up, all they need to do is place a 5p deposit on all cans and plastic bottles, and let homeless people do the rest.
86. Fresh Direct is heaven sent – imagine Ocado, but without all the Waitrose stores to make you feel guilty that you’ve had your groceries delivered rather than walking the eighteen yards down the road to get them. Admittedly Fresh Direct’s sixteen yards of foam wrap may be overkill for two bananas.
87. There are maybe only three public toilets in the whole of New York City. And I can’t find two of them.
88. New York is the undisputed cupcake capital of the world. New Yorkers didn’t even know that they liked cupcakes until these shops started appearing randomly on their streets.
89. Brooklyn is the new Manhattan. Queens is the new Brooklyn. The Bronx is the Bronx. And Staten Island is a funny little place that’s difficult to get to.
90. If you can make it here, you can apparently make it anywhere.
91. They’ll hold a parade for anything in this city. 60 years of Israel? Let’s have a parade. Releasing a Disney film? Time for a parade!! A new line of toothpaste now available at Rite Aid? Parade!!!
92. For all its urban sprawl, New York has some of the most impressive parkland of any city I’ve ever been to. Even if the Brooklyn Botanic Garden is a poor man’s Kew Gardens.
93. If I hear “Ladies and gentlemen, we are delayed because of train traffic ahead of us” one more time, I swear I will not be held responsible for my actions.
94. In Britain, your inducement to give blood is a biscuit. In New York, it’s Mets tickets.
95. World hunger could be solved if all the cinema snacks in New York were packaged up and airdropped in major poverty-stricken areas. Obviously dentists and industrial quantities of floss would also be required.
96. The phrase ‘thank you’ was abolished under the state 1883 Politeness Reduction Act
97. People, bacon doesn’t belong with waffles.
98. Strangers have no issue with starting up a conversation with you. Very disconcerting at first. Particularly for the British, who have to run a full background check on any newcomer before engaging in even a stolen glance with an outsider.
99. Salad is not drowned not dressed
100. By my reckoning, Christmas decorations should be appearing around the city in approximately 34 days.

Taking control

Possibly because this is supposed to be the land of opportunity, most people living in America take some kind of ‘you only live once’ approach to life in general. Working on the principle that if you don’t ask you don’t get, the population of New York (and in my experience, most other places in America) makes sure that it always asks. And generally ends up more than a little upset if it doesn’t get.

As a result, most people in this country tend to speak their mind. Given that I come from a country where the majority of people say what is expected of them (and then silently seethe for at least fourteen years afterwards), that comes as a bit of a shock to the system to say the least.

For instance, when asked by a waiter how a (particularly poor) meal was, most Britons would inevitably say “it was great thanks”, “wonderful” or “really good”. In America, such a question might result in a five minute diatribe invoking at least two of the constitutional amendments, and a suggestion that the parentage of the waiter might be in doubt.

Nothing wrong with speaking your mind and not swallowing your pride, though. Such forthrightness and willingness to stand up for what you believe in is why there’s a Stars & Stripes flying over Florida today rather than a Union Jack, after all.

But being deprived of your social norms is difficult to come to terms with, to say the least.

Today I wandered the streets of Brooklyn in search of orange oil. I’ve no idea what orange oil is either (although if pushed I might guess that it was oil derived from an orange). But our new cleaner insists it’s the only thing she will use to clean our floors, so I had little choice in the matter. Only in America can you get bossed around by your cleaner.

But that’s just a disconcerting aside. The fact is that I went into about twelve shops in search of this elusive orange oil, only to be denied every time. Eventually I walked into what looked like an alternative health foods/products store, only to find that it was actually a swanky organic cosmetics and potions place.

Now, placed in the same circumstances, most Americans would turn on their heels and walk out. But given that I was born in Britain, I had to head all the way into the store, pretend to have a look round, and then frame my features in such a way as to say “you know, this is exactly the kind of thing that I was looking for, but I’ve just remembered that an electrician is coming to my house in five minutes, so I’d better hurry back in case I miss him.”

As tends to be the case in these circumstances, the woman behind the counter asked if I needed any help. And, giving a textbook answer, I responded with “No thank you, I’m just looking.”

Now, in any other country, such a response would lead to a polite smile from the assistant, or maybe even a “Well if you need any help, don’t hesitate to ask.”

Not in New York. Barely had the words left my mouth before she countered with “Well you shouldn’t walk so fast if you’re looking, should you?”

Obviously I shot her a look of disgust, told her in no uncertain terms that I would never frequent her store again, and marched out with my head held high.

Oh who am I kidding? I slowed down, started picking things up and reading the ingredients, and almost ended up buying some ridiculously over-expensive white tea.

That showed her who was boss, I can tell you.

Speed bumps

Everything goes so fast in New York. An official city decree in 1967 removed three seconds from every New York minute, meaning that the pace of life is actually 5% quicker than anywhere else in the world (and around 500% quicker than Newark Airport in New Jersey, where every minute spent feels like an eternity). Whether you’re ordering food or having a chat in the corridor, everything seems to be done at breakneck speed. Either that or everybody’s desperate to be in my presence for as little time as possible.

It’s not as if everything in London is slow either. Compared to my upbringing in sleepy Chester (and even sleepier North Wales), London was a veritable Formula OneNASCAR race. After all, even the lunchtime sandwiches are pre-packaged that morning to ensure that you don’t even have to wait for your cheese and pickle sarnie to be made. But nothing can really prepare you for the look of contempt you get from someone in New York if you dare to dawdle over an important life choice. Such as whether to have brown rice or white rice, for instance.

The pace of life in New York means that impatience is an overriding characteristic of a large number of residents of the city. The car horn must be more utiliszed in this city than most places on earth, with a quick blast being all it takes to ensure that drivers get to their eventual destination approximately 0.5 seconds before they would otherwise have done. Such impatience even affects The Special One, who could walk into an empty Starbucks and still be annoyed that the ‘barista’ had the audacity to blink before taking her order.

The need for speed translates onto the subway, as well. Don’t get me wrong, waiting for a train can be more painful than having your wisdom teeth extracted with only a non-alcoholic beer for anaesthetic. But once you’re on an express train, you get the distinct impression that the driver has just remembered that he’s left the iron on at home, and his favourite TV show is about to start. In particular, the run from Union Square to Canal Street on the N train is vaguely reminiscent of Marty McFly’s De Lorean-powered race against time on the streets of Hill Valley. Certainly, I’ve never been at the back of the train, but I assume that fire tracks are left in our wake.

Of course, the problem when you’re a 6ft 2 bloke with about as much balance as a gin-soaked flamingo, standing on a train that’s racing around the bumps and bends of the transport system can be dangerous. Not so much for myself, but for those standing in the immediate vicinity of my size elevens.

Sadly, there’s a dainty open-toe shoe-wearing young lady in the New York metropolitan area who’s almost certainly walking with a pronounced limp this morning.

‘Sorry’ may seem to be the hardest word, but it’s definitely never felt quite so inadequate.

How to get a red in advertising

There’s a health food store down at the end of the block from us, offering anything from frozen dinners to seaweed extract. To be honest, the ‘health food’ tag is a complete misnomer, given that the price of organic fruit and vegetables is enough to give anyone a cardiac arrest. Only Russian oil oligarchs are likely to walk out of there with any sense that they haven’t just been robbed blind.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for avoiding pesticides on my courgetteszucchini, but do I really need to seek out a sub-prime mortgage in an attempt to buy them? Given the relative strength of the pound, I could probably get a short city break in Amsterdam for the price of a Granny Smith or two.

Last week, The Special One called me as I made my way back to Brooklyn from the office, asking me to pick up a few tomatoes for a salsa she was making. A reluctance to deviate particularly far from my direct path home from the subway meant a trip to the health food store was the only option. And sure enough, when the woman at the counter weighed my chosen selection, I discovered I had to pay twenty five cents short of ten dollars for five medium sized tomatoes.

Biting my tongue to prevent an involuntary attack of Tourette’s Syndrome, I tromped home with my booty (for the avoidance of doubt, that’s a reference to the tomatoes, not my arseass). Once back in the apartment, I took the tomatoes from their plastic bag, and put them on the chopping board in order to cut them up.

And then I noticed it. A small black sticker on the outside of each of my tomatoes. Not your usual sticker giving the shop assistant the necessary code to type into the cash register, no sir. Sure, it had the code on it – 4664 actually, if you must know. But this was a fruit and veg sticker with a difference.

In this day and age, it would appear, nothing is sacred when it comes to advertising. At least, not if you work for Disney. Because there on the side of the tomato was a tiny oval advert for the DVD and Blu-Ray release of animated movie Ratatouille.

In America, billboards, TV commercials and print advertising are no longer enough in a bid to capture our dollars, it would appear. Now they’ve launched an all-out attack on our greengrocers too. I can just imagine the Pixar marketing meeting now:

“Right, how are we going to get people to buy this movie.”

“Well, I’ve had an idea. The film’s called Ratatouille, and one of the main ingredients of an actual ratatouille is a tomato. So why don’t we advertise on every tomato we can lay our hands on? It’s the ultimate call-to-action!”

“You’re a genius! Only over-priced organic ones though – this is a classy movie, after all.”

I thought I’d seen everything when it came to advertising, but clearly not. It’ll be potatoes shaped like Daniel Craig for the next Bond movie, I tell you.