Tag Archives: New York

The red tape of parenthood (aka “I’m drowning, not waving”)

I promise that normal service will resume shortly, working on the assumption that all babies sleep for 12 continuous hours every single night after the age of 1 month, right?

Anyway, you’ll no doubt be delighted to know that things are calming down at Casa del Brit Out Of Water, although to be honest it would have been difficult for things to get any rockier. After all, there can’t be many newborns who have their first trip out of the house to move house, the second to be rushed to hospital, and the third to go to a funeral. But we always knew that she was going to be special, I guess.

What isn’t so special is the administrative black hole that you immediately fall into as soon as you have a child. Never (knowingly) having had a baby in the UK, I’m not sure what the red tape situation is over there. But frankly as I alluded to in the last post, the paperwork nightmare that is childbirth in the US is enough to convince anybody that one son or daughter is plenty enough, thank you very much. From trying to convince a pharmacy that your doctor didn’t write a prescription for a non-existent child, to persuading your healthcare providers to not send letters addressed to Newborn Child Jones, it’s far from easy to plot your way through the minefield of technicalities and odd requests.

That said, nothing can be as odd as the sheet that has to be filled in immediately after your child is born.

I have filled in some ridiculous forms in my time. And yes, Inland Revenue, I’m looking at you. But nothing can prepare you for the glorious majesty of the “mother’s worksheet” element of the New York birth registration form. It’s the document that is used to put together your child’s birth certificate, so in many ways, it’s pretty important. But when you’re handed the form by your midwife mere moments after the birth of your daughter, and you’re holding a glass of champagne in your hand, it’s kind of difficult to digest some of the questions you get asked.

Of course, there are the expected teasers such as child’s name, mother’s name, date of birth, social security number etc etc. But just after they’ve got you warmed up, they throw in a few corkers.

For a start, they want to know the mother’s ancestry – the nationality, lineage or country which the mother or her ancestors were born in prior to coming to the US. For clarity, even if your family has been in America for a couple of hundred years, you can only put down “American” if you are of native American extraction. Apparently the response should reflect what the mother considers herself to be, and is not based on the percentage of ancestry of any given parent or grandparent. Anyway, don’t tell The Special One, but I put down that she’s British. I mean, she’s been to Old Trafford and she’s been on the London Eye, so surely that’s enough?

Next they want the weight of the mother at birth, and the weight of the mother pre-pregnancy. Now, I’ve only been married for two years, but even I know that you never EVER even mutter the actual weight of your wife, let alone put it down on paper. I can only assume that this question has been placed on the form as a nasty little trick against men. Any unwitting new father who – in the adrenaline rush of the moments immediately post-birth – writes down any figure that is not at least 25% under the actual weight, will find himself sleeping on the sofa until their son or daughter is approaching university.

Somewhat easier, but still perplexing, is the question on whether any illicit drugs were taken by the mother during pregnancy. Among the options are heroin, cocaine, methadone, and methamphetamine. You’ve got to appreciate the effort, but do we really see anybody fessing up to a weekly freebase and the occasional snort of charlie?

Sadly on the question regarding whether the mother had swollen or bleeding gums during her pregnancy, there was no answer box marked “it’s none of your sodding business really, is it?” for me to tick. And on the question regarding whether the mother was at all depressed (‘a little depressed’, ‘moderately depressed’, ‘very depressed and did not receive help’ or ‘very depressed and did receive help’), can I make it clear that any mother who ticks ‘not depressed at all’ must surely have either high tolerance for discomfort, or else made full use of the narcotic options mentioned earlier.

One last question stood out, asking “Thinking back to just before you were pregnant, how did you feel about becoming pregnant.” The four options given are as follows (with my commentary in italics):

1. You wanted to be pregnant sooner (but my joke of a husband was firing blanks, and it took me a while to find a new tennis coach)
2. You wanted to be pregnant then (back THEN I wanted to be pregnant, but boy would I change my mind after the last nine months of hell)
3. You wanted to be pregnant later (what do you mean, condoms have only a 98% success rate?)
4. You didn’t want to be pregnant then or at any time in the future (if it hadn’t been for those 16 vodka cranberries and the glint in the fireman’s eyes, I wouldn’t be stuck with this thing or that stupid lump of a man…hold on, my children don’t get to read these comments in the future do they?)

Can someone tell me what use any of these statistics are? My guess is that the public relations industry lobbied hard to include them, simply so that it creates a much-needed job for a PR flunkey who gets to issue an annual press release saying that 27% of New York babies are unwanted accidents.

Oh, and one thing the form makes very clear is that the father is of no importance whatsoever in this process. All they want to know is his name, date and place of birth, and social security number. Essentially it’s a case of ‘who are you, and can you pay for this thing?’ No questions about depression, nothing about my ancestry, and not even a passing interest in the state of my gums.

To be fair, I’m kind of glad they didn’t ask about my pre- and post-pregnancy weight. It’s not easy eating for two, you know.

Two years and counting

I often tell people how easy it is to forget that I live in New York. I mean, when your morning consists of getting drenched by torrential rain, squeezing up into somebody’s slightly musty armpit on the subway, and getting delayed exactly seventeen minutes more than is strictly necessary, it’s difficult to believe that you’re not actually in London.

Infact, the cities are so eerily similar at times that the recent second anniversary of me being a Brit living out of water passed without comment – or without me even noticing, to be honest.

Like a petulant child that feels it is being ignored or underappreciated, New York has spent the last two weeks trying to get my attention. After all, no sprawling metropolitan area likes to be taken for granted. As a result, the city employed three agents to provide me with a vivid reminder that New York’s like no other place on earth:

1) The deathwish biker
As I think I’ve mentioned, I don’t drive. I’m also pretty environmentally conscious, although my refusal to drive is more to do with a casual unwillingness to kill people than it is with a distaste for excessive emissions. But even as a non-driving eco-warrior, people on bikes can irritate the living bejeesus out of me. Don’t get me wrong, some of my closest friends ride bikes, and I preach transportational tolerance at all times. But come on, let’s be honest, there are some people who get on bicycles and turn into idiots. That doesn’t excuse the time that I opened a car door, and accidentally twanged a speeding biker into a brick wall, but it does maybe explain it.

Cyclists in cities the world over are bound by a common code to give the v’sflip the bird to at least twenty pedestrians a day, and to use pavementssidewalks to scatter passers by in their path. Nothing unusual there. But most of them at least have a vague desire to stay alive.

Not the New York cyclist that I spotted recently though. Waiting to cross a busy avenue, I stood patiently at the junctionintersection as uptown traffic slowed to a halt, before I stepped out into the road. I casually glanced up to see a cyclist approach the head of the stopped line of cars at speed, shout something along the lines of “parp, parp”, and plunge headlong into the traffic heading across town at high speed. Screaming “wheeeeeeeeee!” as he swerved through the cars as they screeched to a halt around him. With a triumphant wave over his shoulder to stunned onlookers, he carried on with his journey.

2) Shouty Bagel Guy
The bagels in our local bagel place are without doubt the best that I’ve ever had in New York. And trust me, I’ve spent many hours and piled on many pounds to check the veracity of that assertion. As a result, I’m more than happy to queuewait on line for five or ten minutes over the weekend in order to get my hands on some.

Last weekend, loaded up with bags of fruit and vegetables, I stopped by to pick up breakfast. Ahead of me in the line stood a heavy set man with his stunningly indecisive girlfriend, who took around five minutes to decide she only wanted a small coffee. Having reminded myself that I’m not a New Yorker and can therefore have a modicum of patience, I bit my lip, waited my turn, ordered my bagels, and turned to walk to the till to pay. As I turned, my bags knocked with all the force of a particularly venomous feather into the leg of the guy ahead of me. He turned, and sneered at me using his top lip in a way that would have made Elvis look like an amateur, and turned to his girlfriend while shaking his head.

In a voice that almost certainly made me sound like a kid that was beaten up at Eton for “sounding too posh”, I looked at the guy and said “I’m sorry, but it was an accident you know.” And in a thick Brooklyn accent that could probably have been heard in New Orleans, he responded with “Yeah, well you got your bags right up my ass, haven’t you?”

Obviously I retorted with “that’s because your ass is so big that it’s practically impossible for anybody to walk into the store without hitting it.” In my head, that is. In real-life, I went red, paid for my bagels, and walked out of the shop in fury.

3) The Seat Snatcher
Nobody likes standing on the subway, but frankly it’s a fact of life in New York. I swear that some people train daily at home so that they’re able to race into a carriagecar and seize any empty seat before someone else sits in it. Even if they get in a good ten metresmeters away. Frankly there are few lengths that some commuters won’t go to in a bid to find a temporary home for their rear.

On one not-so-packed journey home, a man on the train I was on took the art of grabbing a seat to new lows. A small child vacated her seat temporarily to talk to a member of her family a yard or two away, and the lure of the bright orange plastic proved too much for the guy, who promptly sat down in it. The girl returned a few seconds later, looked the man directly in the eyes and burst into tears.

In my defence, I didn’t know she was coming back to the seat, and the tears were a slightly excessive reaction. I even offered her the seat back, but the damage had been done.

Still, if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.

New York City: it’s not that scary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The one where A Brit Out Of Water becomes a criminal

Having been brought up on a TV diet that included regular feedings of ‘Cagney & Lacey’, I have to say that I was pretty nervous on my first trip to New York City. Not because there was a possibility of being forced to spend an evening in the company of Tyne Daly and her long-suffering Harvey, you understand. But for this sheltered youth who had spent most of his formative years in a small town in North Wales, it seemed that the streets of New York were paved with people whose sole mission was to relieve me of my cash. Or my life.

To be fair, New York wasn’t exactly a sleepy little village fifteen years ago. Giuliani had only taken control of the city the year before, and the area around Times Square was still a den of pornographic iniquity. Not that that was necessarily a bad thing for a hormone-heavy youngster, obviously. But while crime rates were beginning to fall across the country, New York still had plenty of hoodlums and gangsters to call its own.

As it was, the only criminal I came across was me, convincing a barman to serve me a beer or three despite the fact that I was only 20. Nonetheless, my perception of New York as a city where crime never sleeps lived on for many a year.

After last night’s commute home, I wonder if that feeling will ever truly go away.

Stepping onto a train at West 4th Street, a tall woman pushed me out of the way as she narrowly avoided the train’s closing door. No crime there, obviously – barging people around is practically a legal requirement in this city, after all. But it did mean that I least noticed her, particularly as she quickly gave me an evil stare as if to question how I had dared to get in the way of her aggressive shoulder charge a few seconds earlier.

The good thing about the New York subway is that if you happen to find yourself in the same carriage as someone slightly irritating, it’s a fair bet that they’ll be getting off in a few minutes. Not this woman though. In fact, she stayed on board for a full thirty minutes, finally getting off at the same stop as me. Still, there are plenty of trains coming through that particular station, and as I stood waiting for my connecting train, I thought no more of her.

Until she stepped through the same door onto the same train as me a few minutes later, that is. And then got off the train at the same station as me about six stops later. And turned the same direction as me once she reached street level. And proceeded right exactly like I did at the first junction. And crossed the road in the same direction as me across the nearest avenue.

Given that I was following her this whole time, I suddenly became convinced that she was going to think that I was stalking her. After all, I had effectively followed her all the way from Manhattan, following her merciless bashing of me in her attempt to get on a train. Now she could easily be thinking that I was tracking her down to exact my revenge as soon as my opportunity came.

Unfortunately for me, my ‘target’ then proceeded to walk directly down the street that leads past my house. Despite being frozen to my core, my paranoid New York crime-aware self kicked in, and I forced myself to take a long detour just to prove to everyone around me that I was no criminal. I almost felt like taking out a loudspeaker and broadcasting “I am not following this woman” in order to clear up any confusion.

Just to be on the safe side though, if anyone sees Sharon Gless in the Bay Ridge area of Brooklyn over the next few days, do me a favour and drop me an email. They’ll never take me alive, I tell you.

Once, twice, three times a New Yorker

New York and its population come with a certain reputation for fieriness. To be fair, some of that is deserved. Hell, I even perpetuate it myself, telling tales of being whacked in the arm by an old man and his umbrella, or being pursued around a supermarketgrocery store by a woman with rage management issues. But like the dog that’s had its teeth removed and replaced with foam molars, New York’s bark is much worse than its bite.

The problem is that it’s not as good a story to say that the people of New York are essentially fine upstanding citizens who love their mothers and do a lot of great work for charity. It’s so much easier to stick with the notion that all New Yorkers are impatient and crazy, and more-than-capable of dropkicking a cat more than 60 metresmeters at the end of a particularly bad day.

Thankfully, every so often (generally just when you think you’re at the end of your tether) New York musters all its strength to give you a demonstration of why it’s actually not that bad after all (and why you shouldn’t allow yourself to be affected by the stereotypes). And the last couple of days have given me some great examples to reassure me of New York’s loving intent.

1. The car crash victim
Walking to the opticians on Friday, the idyll of a bracing stroll through the streets of Chelsea was broken by the sickening crunch of metal on metal. Looking up, I watched as two cars pulled into the side street to survey the damage caused by an accidental low-speed crash. This being New York, I readied myself for screaming and shouting as the ‘wronged man’ stepped out of his car to survey the damage. With swearing expected at the minimum, and full on flying fists as a distinct possibility, surrounding pedestrians waited for the theatreer to begin.

Instead the driver looked at the minor dent on the bumper of his car, smiled understandingly at the quivering wreck of a man sitting in the car behind, and waved him on his way. New York was robbed of another drama, and Friday evening went on undisturbed.

2. The chorus line
A couple of blocks down the road, I looked up to see a crazy young(ish) woman around fifty meters away, walking towards me ranting at the top of her voice. Here we go again, I thought – I’m about to be verbally abused by a mad woman who hasn’t been seen in the same postcodezipcode as ‘sanity’ since 1987. Denied the opportunity to cross the road by fast-moving oncoming traffic, I readied myself to put my head down and hope for the best.

Then two small children skipped out from behind the woman, and I quickly realised that, far from being crazy, the three of them were actually giving a full on walking Broadway version of one of the songs from Annie. It was like seeing a female Von Trapp trio traipsing through the cold city streets, content in each other’s company and happy to fend off the cold without a care for what anyone else thought. Damn them for their cheeriness, I thought, before quickly self-flagellating myself for my grumpy New York attitude.

3. The patisserie lady
Last night I went into a high-end grocery store to pick up a dessert for a dinner party we’d been invited to. The queueline snaked past the patisserie counter, making it difficult to tell a pecan pie from an apple tart given the vast array of coats, scarves and bags obscuring the view. My plaintive mumblings of ‘excuse me’ were ignored by every single member of the line, with each one clearly fearful that I was using my desire to buy pastry-based products as some sneaky way of cutting infront of them.

Just as I was giving up hope, a lovely looking old lady looked at me, and backed away to allow me room to see what delights were on offer. She seemed to smile as she did so, a knowing glance between us regarding the sad state of affairs that is modern manners these days. As I started to look into the cabinet, I took a second to remember that New York is all too willing to show you its softer side, if you just give it a chance.

Then the crotchety old bag stuck her head right in my face and shouted at me to back off and not push infront of her, before ranting mercilessly about the ‘youth of today’.

Ah New York, it never lets you down.

The true cost of avoiding homesickness

The Special One is more British than she cares to let on. Sure, she might externally appear to be an ‘h’ dropping, zucchini munching, country invading, milkshake swilling gas guzzler, but cut just under the surface and she bleeds HP Sauce.

Now, part of that is that My Esteemed Mother-in-Law’s mother was English, and resolutely maintained her British citizenship through years of living in the deep south. But really The Special One’s Britishness comes from her love of condiments. Whether it’s Branston Pickle, Maldon Sea Salt or mint sauce, she can’t get enough of the things that the British add to their food in a desperate attempt to make it taste of something edible.

Slowly though, I’m introducing her to more and more British products. PG Tips – as mentioned recently – was an easy one, and Ribena wasn’t exactly tough. I expected mushy peas to be more of a struggle than they actually proved to be, while Cornish pasties were the unexpected hit of the winter of 2006. Black pudding is still a bridge too far though, and the less said about tripe the better. Cold cow’s stomach in vinegar doesn’t appear to do the trick for The Special One, for some reason.

One thing that she’s particularly partial to is English sausage. Quieten down at the back, and stop sniggering. Proper meaty British bangers are a world apart from the fat laden patties that she occasionally had with gravy and ‘biscuits’ (or ‘tasteless sugar free scones’, as I generally call them) in her youth. And having been a vegan for some considerable time, there’s now nothing she likes more than minced pig sinew in a crispy shell.

Close to my office is Myers of Keswick, a British ‘corner shop’ serving the rather large expat community (and Anglophiles) in New York City. I can’t actually let The Special One go there anymore. Partly because she insists on pronouncing it “Myers of Kezwick,” but mostly because she would come back with a lifetime’s supply of Mr Kipling’s Bakewell Tarts if given half a chance.

So today I ventured there alone to stock up with essential items. ‘Essential’ if your idea of essential is Curly Wurly’s and three pounds of Cumberland sausages, obviously. And a bumper box of PG Tips, some HP and Branston, a chicken and mushroom pie and a bag of Twiglets. What more could a man ask for? Apart from maybe a spicy curry Pot Noodle and a bag of pork scratchings.

I reckon if I’d bought that shopping in the UK, it’d probably have cost me about 15 quid or so, depending on the quality of the sausages. Head 3458 miles west, and the price suddenly escalates to 64 dollars. Clearly the dollar is worth next-to-nothing, but that’s one hell of a price to pay for some creature comforts. As a great philosopher once wrote, “Man cannot live on Branston alone.” But after that shopping trip, we’ll probably have to give it a go.

A distaste for the good life

Maybe it’s because I’m British and we’re quick to put down anybody who is popular and successful, or perhaps it’s because I’m becoming insufferably crotchety in my old age. Whatever it is, I’m here to hold my hands up, look vaguely sheepish, and tell you that I just can’t stand The Do-Gooder.

Now clearly I don’t have an innate distrust of anybody who does good in the world. Bob Geldof may have lank hair and dubious taste in women, but you can’t fault his humanitarian efforts. Although, to be fair Bob, none of us like Mondays so it’s probably time to stop going on about it. Mother Teresa, the Dalai Lama, Martin Luther King et al don’t bother me one iota, despite having the temerity to put the well-being of others above their own. And I’ve even been known to do my own bit for charidee on occasion, although the less said the better about the sponsored wheelbarrow race I organised back at school.

But The Do-Gooder is a different beast altogether. The Do-Gooder can’t help but make sure that every last person knows that they’re doing some ‘selfless’ work, and is guaranteed to make my hackles rise, even if the good deed they’re performing is pretty damn good indeed. Actually, the better the deed is, the more irritated I get with The Do-Gooder. You should see how I tear into those cancer research specialists…

The thing is, every community has its own Do-Gooder. Most people tend to ignore them, work around them or – more usually – give them the fancy sounding title that nobody else really wants. If you get introduced to your local community’s Executive Vice Chair of Waste Management Issues, run a mile.

Of course, there wasn’t a single Do-Gooder in sight when The Special One and I attended the first PTA meeting of the year for The Young Ones’ school. Ahem. All I can say was that I was the only man wearing jeans, and that if ever you hear me ask a question about voting procedures in any meeting anywhere in the world, you have my permission to shoot me.

What was particularly interesting about the meeting was actually the number of people who managed to prove themselves the absolute antithesis of the Do-Gooder. Bear in mind that this is a great school with results that outstrip those of better funded schools across the city. There was the goth looking mummom who played her Nintendo DS throughout the meeting. And the ice-crunching older mother who managed to scoff her way through an entire giant plastic cup of ice in ten minutes, and would probably have eaten the cup as well if she’d been given half a chance. And the family of four who may well have inadvertently wandered into the cafeteria, but still decided to eat their dinner there anyway as the meeting carried on around them.

Add in numerous Blackberry-viewing, diary-filling middle-aged folk, and it seemed at times that The Special One and I were pretty much the only ones actually listening to the headmasterprincipal’s (pretty inspiring) words.

Oh no. You know what this means, don’t you? I’m one step away from being a Do-Gooder. Quick, somebody get the rifle.

365 days out of water

I’ve finally made it to a whole year out of water. That’s 365* days of living with The Special One, 365 days of working in the United States, and 365 days of thinking “blimey, what just happened to me?!”

So, other than 365 days, what other 365s has the last year held for me?

365 times that I’ve wanted to have an everything bagel for breakfast. I have only given in on 207 of those occasions.

365 pushes and shoves against me on the subway. That’s approximately 1.83 shoves per journey.

365 times when I’ve been forced to ponder why the UK doesn’t have an all-encompassing commitment to the hot dog too.

365 inadvertent steps into dubious standing water.

365 wrong turns by taxi drivers with only a passing knowledge of the streets of the city.

365 sightings of the Empire State Building which have prompted an internal response of “crikey, that’s the Empire State Building.”

365 times I’ve been grateful for a summer that lasts more than 365 minutes.

365 passers-by who have stared at me for not wearing a coat in March.

365 occasions on which I’ve cursed the fact that you have to pay a fee to use an ATM that’s not one of your own bank’s. As well as a fee to your own bank for the privilege.

365 minutes in total sat listening to assorted weirdoes espouse their sanctimonious claptrap on the subway.

365 times I’ve struggled to remember which one’s a nickel and which one’s a dime.

365 times I’ve emerged from a subway station and stood on the street corner for ten minutes trying to work out whether I’m facing north or south.

365 people who’ve attempted to imitate my English accent with a passable impression of Dick van Dyke.

365 occasions on which I’ve used a swear word in the workplace (and 364 on which I’ve been rebuked for it).

365 moments when I’ve thought “I’m sure I’ve seen this in a movie.”

365 times that I’ve had to apologisze for alleged anti-American sentiments.

Thanks for keeping me company over the last year, and to all those who have tipped off friends, colleagues and readers about the blog. I’m 365 times more grateful than I can ever tell you.

* If anybody even thinks about saying it’s a leap year and that I’ve been out of water for 366 days, there’s going to be trouble.

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.

Keeping your distance

Back in my rock’n’roll days (now such a distant memory that they appear to be in black and white with no sound), I spent far too much time at aftershow parties for bands I didn’t like, with my good friend Mr MacBottom (don’t ask). One exception though was a post-gig party for Mansun, the band from my hometown of Chester who could only be described as “prog-rock”. I say could only be described as prog-rock, but to be honest some people might have called them “the poor man’s Pink Floyd”, “pop genius all too often punctuated by rambling guitar solos” or “tiresome indie rock”. But not me. I loved them.

I think the band were, in reality, vainglorious arts students who liked the sound of their own music a little bit too much, but that didn’t stop me going to their aftershow upstairs at London’s Kilburn National. After all, where there was free booze, you’d find this still-impoverished recent student. To be fair, nothing much has changed.

Excessive quantities of cheap cooking lager later, and this Brit Then In Water had to make the first of several pitstops at the toilet. Or ‘the facilities’, as I believe I have to call it here. I’ve spent all my life thinking that a facility is an ability to do something, or maybe a hospital. Move three and a half thousand miles and you suddenly discover that it’s something you take a leak in.

As is standard procedure in an empty toilet, I made for the urinal furthest from the door, and began the laborious Heineken-removal process. Within ten seconds, another man entered and – again following the textbook to the absolute letter – he positioned himself at the urinal furthest away from me. Eventually we both looked over at each other at the exact same point, grunted an ‘alright?’ in mutual recognition of the fact that thirteen gallons of beer takes a long time to get rid of, and then carried on as normal.

The fact that the other bloke was Andrew Lincoln (Mark from ‘Love Actually’ to my American readership, but inextricably Egg from ‘This Life’ to most Brits) is neither here nor there. The fact is that in Britain there are very clear unwritten guidelines on personal space that are carefully adhered to by most members of the population. Nobody gets too close to anyone else, a principle which probably explains the stiff upper lip if it’s applied equally to emotions.

I’d always thought that it was all different in the US, with everybody in each other’s face given even half a chance. But recently on the subway, I’ve seen that the same social norms apply even here.

I get on the L train in Manhattan at the end of the line, meaning the train is often empty when I board. This allows me to sit wedged up at the end of one of the rows of sets that run the length of my section of the carriage. Largely without fail, the next person to enter my section will sit on the opposite side of the carriage, and at the opposite end of the row of seats, so that we are diagonally separated by the greatest possible distance. Passenger 3 will sit on the same side as me but at the other end. And Passenger 4 will sit immediately opposite me. All four of us are perfectly spaced. If this had happened just once, I’d put it down to coincidence. But it’s happened so often, I’m starting to believe that I’ve missed a compulsory class on subway seat positioning. The author of ‘Urinal Etiquette: A Textbook Explanation’ couldn’t have organiszed it any better himself.

Ironically, most New York subway trains smell of urine. Maybe people are taking the philosophy a little too literally?