I hate Sundays. I really do. I wanted to use Sunday, Bloody Sunday for today’s blog title. It sums up how I feel about this day of rest and it’s also the name of a U2 song, so it’s pretty clever, isn’t it?
Not when it relates to atrocities in Northern Ireland it isn’t. It’s completely inappropriate. So I couldn’t use it. I may have subconsciously stolen that from Alan Partridge, but I’m often unintentionally rather like him. A boyfriend once asked what my favourite album was. I told him it was “The Best Of The Smiths”. I wasn’t trying to be funny. It was my honest answer. He ended our relationship soon after.
I’ve suffered, on and off, from stupidity and general ignorance my whole life. I’ve mentioned before that I’m not particularly well read, and have only a basic grasp of history, politics, current affairs, art, geography, religion, art, science and everything else. I don’t have a specialist subject, although I’m quite good at the real names of Coronation Street actors past and present. Des Barnes was played by Phil Middlemiss, for example. I do try to make a concerted effort to enrich my knowledge from time to time, but before you know it, there’s a new series of America’s Top Model or a documentary about dogging and my good intentions go out of the window.
Most of the time, I don’t intentionally set out to offend people - it’s my lack of awareness, general flippancy, and my desire to be a headliner writer for The Sun that cause problems. I once wrote about a competition prize to win tickets for ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’, called: ‘A Tweet For All The Family’.
I was rather pleased with myself until I received a phone call from the theatre.
“I’m afraid I can’t approve that headline for use,” Helena from Marketing told me, making no attempt to hide her clear disgust. “Have you actually read To Kill A Mockingbird?”
Stupid bloody question, Helena, I thought to myself. Of course I hadn’t. It wasn’t on my GCSE or A Level curriculum, so how the hell could I have done? Before I could respond, and in the manner of someone talking to a complete cretin (she was), she said:
“It’s a serious court room drama about racial tension, so it’s not really suitable, is it?”
How was I to know? If it had been called ‘To Kill A Blackbird’ it wouldn’t have even raised my suspicions – authors need to be more explicit when they come up with book titles…
Yes, Helena was a pompous bitch I instantly hated, but I felt ashamed of myself, so muttered an apology and bought a copy of Harper Lee’s classic on my lunch break to make amends. And I learnt a lot from that book, including where the Boo Radleys got their name from, should it ever come up in a pub quiz.
But back to Sundays. I’m writing about them because they depress me. They’re supposed to be part of the weekend, so should be a great lark, but they’ve got a really sinister edge. By mid-afternoon, it’s game over. They then offer nothing more than a sense of impending doom. The working week beckons. The office tasks I said ‘Oh, fuck it, it’s Friday’ to, start to prey heavily on my mind. It’s time to head back to responsibility, professionalism, and only drinking in moderation before noon. What fun is that? At around 5pm Sunday becomes a school night and loses every last scrap of its weekend appeal.
I remember hating Sundays as a child too. Of course, I didn’t have an issue with Sunday dinners. They involved gravy and mashed potatoes. Followed by left-over Yorkshire pudding with jam and sugar on. I can’t complain about Sunday grub. And, up until about 4pm, I’d have plenty of things to do to amuse myself. I would go down to Cleethorpes beach with my friends, play on the arcades and visit the Sunday market at Wonderland. Ah. Wonderland. Another misleading name if ever there was one – http://farm4.staticflickr.com/3547/3522553038_b134a189a0_z.jpg?zz=1
To be fair, you could get a pack of five white towelling ‘Reebot’ (sic) sports socks for a quid, so that was pretty wondrous – I’m selling the place short.
But I’d get back home with my pack of socks and have to endure Sunday TV with the family. I’d be bored to tears by The Antiques Roadshow within 15 minutes – sooner if there wasn’t a cheeky Battenburg doing the rounds. My serotonin levels would drop dramatically during Songs Of Praise. Jesus, I’d think, even God himself wants to make Sundays shit.
Songs of Praise heralded the start of making preparations for school, so I’d have to get my pencil case in order, along with my excuses for not completing my maths homework, while listening to hymns. Brilliant. It also meant having a bath, which felt like an annoying chore rather than a pleasant, relaxing experience.
I should have enjoyed Sunday baths, because it was one bath of the week where I didn’t have to use my dad’s dirty water, complete with Imperial Leather soap scum (the closest I came to experiencing Mr Matey – there was no way my mum would have splashed out on kids’ bubble bath). The murky water did manage to hide most of the pubic hair that was also floating about beside me, so I shouldn’t really complain. To think I used to enjoy sucking wet flannels in there makes me feel sick to the stomach. I can barely finish my fifth Yorkshire pudding with golden syrup.
Having a Sunday night bath did buy me a bit of extra time. I couldn’t go to bed with wet hair, so could faff about downstairs for an extra half an hour. I must ask my mum why we didn’t own a hairdryer. I’m sure they existed in the 80s. But so did Soda Stream and Operation, and as I’ve said before, they were nowhere to be seen either.
But what I detested most about Sunday television as a child, even more than Songs Of Praise, was Last of The Summer Wine. Now, I’ve pleaded for sex in the past, and for boyfriends not to dump me, yet I am more ashamed of the fact that I used to literally beg to stay up to watch that programme.
“Please, mum,” I’d whine on loop. “It’s still early and I’m not even tired. I love Last Of The Summer Wine. Please let me stay up. Please. Please. I promise I’ll go up straight afterwards. Please”
And she would. And then I’d have to sit there, pretending to enjoy watching three senile, grubby, unfunny fuckers hurtle down a hill in a bathtub week, after week, after week. It was pure torture. It didn’t calm me for restful sleep. It made me angry. And I was already wound up about having to go to school the next day.
I celebrated when that show was eventually cancelled, following the tireless effort I’d put into my campaign, what with the petition and the protest and the death threats I sent to the bloke who played Compo.
You’d think that Sunday programming would have improved over the years. Surely the TV executives understand the pain of having to go to work on a Monday morning? They must know that we need some last ray of hope, something truly entertaining to rouse our spirits. But it feels like they couldn’t give a shit. Everything about Sunday night TV is annoying. Twice as annoying as every other day in the week, which is already infuriating. Here are just a few more painful Sunday television memories off the top of my head:
- Heartbeat. I don’t know where to begin with this. Awful. Depressing. Has resulted in Trisha Penrose lying dormant in my ‘people off TV who get on my tits’ box, but in there for life. In fact, any drama series with, or without, comedic elements shown on a Sunday that is set in another era. Or in present day. So all Sunday night drama series such as The Darling Buds Of May, Where The Heart Is and Wild At Heart.
- The South Bank Show. The music was enough to see me reach for the remote. Far too highbrow for me. And boring.
- Top Gear. I’ve tried to keep my foul language to a minimum today, but this showcases three of the biggest cunts out there. Am I being a bit harsh about James May? Possibly.
- That time on Dancing On Ice when Todd Carty, wearing a straw hat and pastel striped blazer, stumbled off stage, pulling a face a Buddhist would want to punch. I have flashbacks to this day.
- Goodnight Sweetheart. I’m not even sure that this was shown on Sundays. But it feels like it belonged there, because it was so soul-destroyingly shit. I’m convinced that I’ve felt bad at work in the past on a Monday and confident that it was watching Goodnight Sweetheart that caused it. I may have even used it as a reason I was off sick from work once, come to think of it.
I could go on. But I won’t. Because it’s already gone 5pm and I have to start getting myself mentally prepared for the week ahead. I need a shower, I need to iron some clothes, I need to pluck my eyebrows, I need to get an early night.
But I what I certainly don’t need is an episode of new, and apparently improved, Catchphrase with Stephen Mulhern the magician as host. I’d prefer it if they brought back that other presenter who appeared to have a permanent broken leg if Roy Walker is dead. It’s a good job there’s an episode of Time Team on later to cheer me up…
I fucking hate Sundays.
Do you remember what you were doing when you heard that JLS had split up? Probably – it was only this morning. Aled Jones broke the news to me via Daybreak as I lay in bed, contemplating either suicide or getting up and ready for work. Some days, the former seems the most sensible and reasonable option. There is only so much business speak a woman can tolerate. However, I remembered that I had half a mint Viscount in my desk drawer, and as I’d already taken Monday and Tuesday off sick, I realised that it wasn’t going to stay fresh much longer, and I needed to make it back into the office.
My initial thought upon hearing the news, and the one that has stayed with me for the whole of today, is that I couldn’t give a shit that they’ve split up. This development in the world of pop music will have little long term impact upon my life. Actually it will have no long term or short term impact, come to think of it. I’ve got nothing against the lads – in fact, I have more time for those boys than many of their counterparts. I’d quite happily violently scissor-kick every member of The Wanted in their scrotums, for no other good reason other than I don’t particularly like their faces. Not that I could scissor-kick anything. I doubt I could get my legs higher than my knees. Maybe I’d just throw piss bottles at them. If I was the crude sort, which I’m clearly not.
It goes without saying that the one with the googly eyes gives me some cause for concern, but on the whole, they appeared to be relatively harmless, polite young men. I can relate to clubs being alive with the sound of music – after all, that’s what they exist for, and if advertisers can tell me to put my hands up if I use Right Guard, then why can’t JLS suggest that everybody who’s in love do the same? I don’t have a problem with that. Incidentally, I’m more of a Soft and Gentle type of girl. Providing it’s on special offer at Wilko’s, of course.
I turned to Twitter to see what the world of social media was saying about the news. I chuckled at humorous offerings including: “One of them will sing on The Voice next year and not get through” (courtesy of @DarkBeige), but was far more entertained by the outpouring of grief from some of the nation’s young women. One even turned her despair into a death threat:
“If I see anyone hating on JLS I will come to your house and fucking kill you.”
Well, that was an offer I couldn’t refuse. I’ve already mentioned that I didn’t fancy work much today. I immediately responded, advising that I thought they were a bunch of tits and that I’d left my front door unlocked to aid her unlawful entry.
I received a chilling response.
“Well, we live in the same town so I’ll be right there…”
I’ve added punctuation above, such as the menacing ellipsis, to add to the drama of it all. Bloody hell – this girl meant business.
“I’ll pop the kettle on, sweet cheeks,” I replied with bravado, safe in the knowledge that she ridiculously believed I still lived in Grimsby, while at the same time hiding my kitchen knife block under a cushion on the sofa.
“People who are making idiotic remarks don’t know what it’s like to have their favourite group split up, so should just fuck off.” another inconsolable teenager added.
Oh, but I do, my young girl, I thought to myself. I know all about being infatuated with pop stars. But as I’m now middle aged, of course I’m going to take great joy in laughing at your misery. I’ve got fucking wrinkles and dark circles under my eyes and a mortgage to pay. You’ve got youth on your side and probably don’t even know what a Tena Lady is – why wouldn’t I take some comfort in your despair? Incidentally, I have never had to use a Tena Lady and have excellent urinary control. Apart from when I’m drunk or have held myself for too long, of course.
I remember being 12 years old and crying myself to sleep because I realised that I would never get to marry Michael Jackson. To be fair, as I looked like a fat titted boy at that age, I was probably in with a reasonable chance of at least getting off with him. I went to see Moonwalker three times in the space of a week, even though I knew in the back of my mind, even then, that it was the biggest pile of shit going.
I loved New Kids On The Block with a ridiculous passion too. I even travelled all the way to Whitley Bay Ice Rink to see them in concert. Where the fuck is that? My friends and I made CND signs in our CDT class to wear around our necks like Donnie Wahlberg, without having a clue what CND stood for or realising that we’d end up in detention for stealing school craft materials. I had a video tape of all of their TV appearances, including 32 copies of ‘The Right Stuff’ video that I’d captured from The Chart Show and Going Live. I even went through a stage of pretending to like Danny Wood the best, because it was clear my prettier friends would get Jordan or Joe, so I thought it would be a good idea to hedge my bets, despite him looking more like Herman Munster than even Herman Munster did. And I didn’t fancy Herman Munster. Although I did quite like Grandpa. And Marilyn.
So I do understand. I really do. But if there was one message I could give to those girls who are currently feeling distraught and hysterical, it would be this:
Pull yourselves together, you daft cows. More serious things have happened today in the world. Someone took my fucking Viscount. And, when I find out who it was, I will go to their house and kill them.
“I caught up with your blog last night,” my friend told me this morning. “It’s very self-serving.”
“Well yes it is,” I replied. “Because I’m writing about myself. That’s the point. I’ve made no bones about the fact that I’m self obsessed and somewhat neurotic. Write about what you know, they say. And I know about me.”
Although I tried to sound indignant, as though I didn’t care for his opinion, I was actually a bit upset to be honest. I thought I was providing a service to the nine people who’d read my recent New York travel guide posts. They contained links and everything.
“It amused me that you’ve put links to places you visited in New York,” he continued. “It was as like you thought you were writing a proper travel guide that people might use.”
Rather than be put off by his disparaging remarks, they have only made me more determined than ever to continue writing about myself and my experiences. I know of at least three people who’ve enjoyed reading my offerings, so I’m doing this to make them happy. Granted, one of those three people is me, but I’m not entirely selfish. I’m not a bad person. I’m allowed a hobby. Other people do things they enjoy but are crap at: Halliwell, Hart, Harkishin. If I enjoy writing about myself, then I shall continue to do so. I’m not hurting anyone or anything, other than perhaps my future career prospects if I inadvertently link this blog to my LinkedIn profile. Nobody wants to employee someone who freely admits to shitting themselves in the street. Unless that’s part of the job description, I suppose.
OK, I accept that travel writing isn’t my forte. And as someone who is fast approaching forty, perhaps I need to make a decision about what it is I should concentrate my written efforts on. And so I will. Right now.
From this day forth, this blog is going to attempt to help others who, like me, suffer from neurotic tendencies and self obsession and are reaching an age where they should know better. And would like to change.
Last Friday I turned 38. I have two years left before I reach the age where they say life begins. I’m good at simple maths. And talking about ‘them’ saying things. I realise that I’ve pissed about for too long now and there’s no excuse for it anymore. And, if I can make a success of this mission, then let me assure you that anyone can.
By the time I reach my fourth decade, I intend to have turned my life around. To have become a better person. To be calm, controlled, confident and caring. I am committed to leading a healthier lifestyle. To losing weight. And giving up smoking. And taking more exercise. And having a successful career I enjoy. And being less highly strung. And taking my make-up off at night. And visiting my friends who I haven’t seen in ages. And moisturising daily. And moving house. And drinking more water. And doing charitable acts. And swearing less. And a whole host of other focused, positive things. Oh yes. I’m on a journey of self improvement.
If you know me, you’ll know that tend I make these kind of wild claims at the beginning of most weeks. And will have usually failed in my efforts by Tuesday afternoon at the very latest. But not this time. I’ve already made it through to Wednesday. Yes, I had six mini flapjacks at work on Monday. But I only had one biscuit on Tuesday. Apart from the two real ones I smoked on Monday morning, I have only used my electronic cigarette since then. Oh fuck, I did have another on Monday night, but hey, it’s still only three. I haven’t touched a drop of alcohol – possibly the biggest achievement of the week so far, although I am booked in for a big session on Friday. But that’s practically the weekend and I can’t completely deprive myself of nice things. Plus, if I get completely rat-arsed, it’s unlikely that I’ll eat much on Saturday and, all being well, will probably throw up what I eat on Friday. So that’s a double win in many respects. I’ve also used my cross trainer. And looked on Right Move. I think it’s fair to say I have made a reasonable start.
I started my plan by writing a ‘TO DO’ list on Sunday for the week ahead, which is something I’d highly recommend. It gives me a sense of satisfaction and achievement when I tick off the missions I’ve completed. I’ve already managed to do fourteen of the twenty three things I am committed to achieving during these initial seven days. Granted, I ended up delegating some of the duller tasks to my mum – she likes mopping floors and worming dogs. I imagine. And some weren’t particularly taxing – ‘Get rid of ‘tache and pluck eyebrows’, for example. Which is actually two tasks, so I’ve done myself out of an extra tick there. I suppose they’d come under the heading of ‘Stop fucking looking like Teen Wolf’ though, so perhaps it is just one task after all. I’m flattering myself there as I look nothing like a teenager. I’m nearly 40, as I’ve already pointed out.
So, to conclude, I will continue to write about my two year plight on these pages, regardless of what anyone else thinks or says. My determination has already been tested.
“It’s a bit shit,” my other half just said. “I suppose it’s ok if it’s just an introductory piece, but it’s not funny. And who is Hart? People won’t know who you mean. Tony? Joe? I wouldn’t post it if I were you.”
Well you’re not me, sunshine. And it’s Miranda, of course. Who wouldn’t realise that?
5. A night on the Lower East Side
We’ve already covered how to get there, where to eat, what off-Broadway play not to watch, the perils of tipping and Tilda Swinton in a box so far. Comprehensive. But what of your nights on the tiles, Ms W? I hear none of you ask. Despite that resounding silence, here’s the low down on a night in the Lower East Side.
I’m assuming I’ve already made it crystal clear that I’m not the type who’d spend my evenings sipping cocktails at the Four Seasons, so please don’t expect glamour. Even if I was a Euromillions winner, I think I’d still complain about the price of a Cosmopolitan and the fact they don’t do Scampi Fries or pork scratchings there. I’d be very much out of place somewhere like that. To help you understand exactly where I stand, I’m too good for Wetherspoons, but punching slightly above my weight at an All Bar One. When I was younger, I stole a pepper pot from the latter in an attempt to recoup some of the cash I’d spent on what I believed was an extremely overpriced bottle of wine there. I say younger – it was a fortnight ago. So still technically correct, but rather more unacceptable. I’d like to tell you I took it back the following week, but that would be a lie.
No, the dive bars of NYC, with their bohemian clientele and undiscovered musical talent are more up my street. If I was in a street 20 years ago, that is. But hey, there are a few years left in this old dog yet. I can still hang with the hipsters. Well, I can still watch them from a dark corner, seething with jealousy at their youth and good looks. I think my other half was secretly hoping to see The Strokes play an impromptu gig, or get to jam with The Yeah Yeah Yeahs. That, of course, wasn’t to be. I’m not particularly familiar with the term ‘dive bar’ to be honest. I can only assume that it translates as ‘a bit of a shithole’. Which is fine. And not to be considered an insult.
But before I had chance to experience live music I was dragged along to Two Bits (https://foursquare.com/v/twobits-retro-arcade/4fecad7d011c223bce1ad061), in the Lower East Village on the pretence that it was where Carrie and Big enjoyed a date in Series Two. Please note that I refuse to use the word ‘season’. Because I am not American. Or a cunt. My other half, who has told me that I swear too much in this blog (so that last sentence was for him), tried to annoy me during our vacation (see what I said there?) by repeatedly using words like faucet, sidewalk, real estate, sneakers and elevator. Oh, and by farting incessantly in our hotel room which was already so baking hot that I had to sleep with a cold flannel on my face. There was many a morning I woke up in a sweaty rage, seething and greeting him with the romantic ‘You dirty, horrible, bastard’. Although used to it at home, I had hoped that as we were staying at the hotel voted the sexiest in the USA, (www.nighthotelny.com) he might have tried to reign it in a bit. To be fair, there was one night when I did a bit of wee on the bathroom floor, because I was drunk and didn’t make it to the seat on time, so I’m hardly oozing wanton sensuality. But still. He tells me it’s a medical condition, because he doesn’t have the ability to burp. I remain sceptical and will forever pity the maid responsible for tending to our room each morning. Don’t get me wrong, I did clean up my puddle, but the air was thick in there after a night of his wind machine. I wouldn’t have left us a chocolate treat each day.
But back to Two Bits. As well as being an habitual farter, my bloke is quite the gamer, so this was somewhere he had to visit. It’s basically an arcade from the 1980s, featuring such classics as Pacman, Street Fighter 2 and Galaxian that also serves booze. I’m fairly proficient at these kind of games after spending many a day down the seafront at Cleethorpes as a child. It’s the modern ones I can’t handle. When I attempt to play something like Gears of War, I basically end up stuck in a corner pointing my Hammerburst at the top of a wall, going absolutely nowhere but insane with frustration.
Upon entering Two Bits, I got the distinct impression my other half was semi-erect. I let it go that it had clearly never featured in an episode of Sex And The City. He was happy and I’d been to Magnolia Bakery in Greenwich Village earlier in the day. To be honest, I’ve had better and cheaper cupcakes from charity bake sales at work. Because I don’t pay for them. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that the games were only 25 cents to play too. Yes, they were on the hardest fucking setting imaginable, so I didn’t even get to Tuesday on Paperboy, but hey, it was cheap.
After getting rid of all our spare change, and drinking a couple of pints of Brooklyn Lager, which was on special offer at $5 a pint (so about £3.50 – not so special) at Hi-Fi (thehifibar.com), we headed over to Mercury Lounge (www.mercuryloungenyc.com) for a spot of live music.
It was already 11.30pm on a Wednesday, but the night was still young. We paid $12 entry fee (upsetting) but I almost let out a squeal of delight when I had my hand stamped. That hadn’t happened to me for around 15 years. After collecting our pints of Coors in plastic glasses, we quickly headed through to the stage area, catching the end of a set by Brooklyn trio Roy Orbit, which was very enjoyable, despite their refusal to play ‘She’s So Lovely’ by Scouting for Girls, no matter how many times I shouted for it. Don’t be silly, of course I didn’t do that. It was ‘Elvis Ain’t Dead’ I was screaming for. Next on the bill was something a bit different. Dubstep. For someone who has never listened to dubstep and had to be advised that Skrillex is a person and not a group, I was absolutely loving it. And I had taken no drugs to my knowledge. So much so, that I ignored the 35p plus usual network charge text rate and sent a note to my friend Sian, who I knew would be amused. She once told me she was really into grime and I asked her to name a grime artist she liked and she could only offer me Dizzy Rascal as an answer, for which I still rip the piss out of her to this day. Despite being quite happy there, we left after two tracks and headed for Pianos (www.pianosnyc.com), another place my other half had on his list of bars to visit. I half hoped for something akin to Birmingham’s Duelling Pianos, where two blokes sit belting out tunes on, you’ve guessed it, pianos. I’ve only been there once on a festive night out from work. I had to be asked to step away from the stage by one of the bouncers as I was hassling the pianists to either play A Million Miles by Vanessa Carlton or the Beadle’s About theme tune. And, even though it was Christmas, my pleas went ignored. Arseholes.
It was in Pianos, which is well worth a visit earlier in the day for $5 frozen margaritas during happy hour, that I realised I was well and truly clattered. It was only my second night in NYC and the day had already featured the Staten Island ferry, Wall Street, 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th Avenue, Chelsea and the bone marrow butter episode. We decided to call it a night and popped into Artichoke Pizza (www.artichokepizza.com)on our walk back to the subway. The walk took us over an hour, because we didn’t have a fucking clue where we were going. At $4.50 for a fat 90 degree slice, it was sublime.
“This is the best slice of pie I’ve ever tasted,” my gamer exclaimed.
“Don’t call it pie, you utter knob head,” I replied.
4. Hey MOMA, Ooo-oh MOMA
I always like to start off my posts with a poor pun using the opening bars of a Craig Machlaclan and Check 1-2 song. I think it puts all of us at ease. It doesn’t. It makes everyone, but mostly me, cringe at my utter desperation. Let’s all remember that it’s late when I’m posting this. I’ve had a few drinks. I’ve been listening to his album. We all do it.
One of my friends told me he was unhappy with the disdain for the arts I showed earlier this week in my critically acclaimed review (one other blogger liked it) of the off-Broadway play, Perfect Crime.
“People work hard to put those things on and I find what you’re writing in your blog offensive. A lot of time, dedication and effort is put into these productions,” he informed me. Like I didn’t know. At Brownies, Rachael Pearce and I spent weeks and weeks practising our rendition of ‘I Know Him So Well’ from Cats for the annual show. Hours upon hours of blood, sweat and tears perfecting our performance. And do you know what? It was still a load of fucking shit. Even my mum and nanna walked out halfway through the performance. And they sure didn’t pay as much for a ticket as I did to see Perfect Crime, even taking that 30% reduction into account.
What he said did make me wonder, though. Am I that ignorant – that much of a Philistine (not entirely sure I know what that means) that I have no appreciation of what’s great in terms of art in its many forms?
When I visited MOMA, I felt more annoyed than delighted with what I saw. Yes, I enjoyed seeing Warhol, Lichtenstein, Pollock, Picasso and the like, and I really loved some of the photos I saw there. However, as far as I am concerned, a varnished pink shelf leaning up against a wall is not art. A metal stand with eight hair extensions tied to it isn’t art. Some tights with sand in the crotch isn’t art. A rubber lion’s face in a saucepan isn’t art (but a little bit more like it, to be fair). Some of it is just utter bullshit. Utter, utter bullshit.
What then really adds insult to injury, are the descriptions that accompany some of these pieces. “Oh, this is a dystopian take on consumerism’s grip and its juxtaposition with existentialist ideology, which is represented here by wire wool, blue glitter, used tampons and a Cabbage Patch Doll’s eye, is it? You utter knob,” I whispered under my breath to one of the artists, who wasn’t there, because if he had been, I’d have said: “What an interesting and evocative piece.” Or something like that. Ideally, cleverer, but that’s probably the best I’ve got.
I know some of you will agree with my friend. But I know what I like. And, I know what it feels like to be taken the piss out of. And about a quarter of the exhibits at MOMA made me feel like someone was taking the piss out of me. And that’s not a nice feeling. My other half felt the same. I caught up with him as he ogled nude photographs on the 3rd floor. They weren’t on display, no, he was accessing a porn site on his iPad near the lifts using the free wifi. I jest. Of course the wifi wasn’t free. It was $10. Again, I jest. He was just looking at the nude photos on the walls, after all.
We had a chat about some of the tripe we’d seen during our time apart. It was clear that he also had that nagging feeling that something wasn’t quite right about all this modern art stuff. It wasn’t just us being uncultured. I completely agreed.
“Have you seen the one where the bloke is spunking over the woman’s tits?” he then asked. I responded that I hadn’t, asked to be pointed in the appropriate direction and limped off – it was the day of the ankle support bandage purchase, ladies and gentlemen. Another $20 and a not so fast scarper away from a tip jar. I know I could have bought the same thing in Wilko’s for about £3. That’ll stay with me for a while, that one. Still, if I look back and think about the $25 cold sore cream he had to buy, the pain subsides a little.
I was a bit disappointed that I didn’t find out that the woman asleep in a glass box at MOMA was Tilda Swinton until I got back to England. I thought she was a waxwork to start with. And not even a waxwork of Tilda Swinton. Then, when I realised she was a real, live woman having a kip in a box, and after casting my critical eye over the installation and its meaning, I merely muttered: ‘Daft bitch’ and wandered off. That’s not to say that if I knew it was Tilda I wouldn’t have called her a daft bitch. I’d have just looked at her a bit longer before doing so. She was, after all, my second celebrity spot in New York after the bloke who may, or may not have been, one of the lead characters in The Sopranos. Oh, and my other half thought he saw the drummer from Ash at the airport on our way home.
I’m still glad I visited MOMA. I enjoyed 75% of it. I’m exaggerating a bit there – let’s say 50%.
It costs $25 per person entry. What? I’m not saying anything.
Sadly, it turned out to be the only museum we visited during our stay. We did get as far as the entrance to the Natural History Museum, before noticing it was $33 each entry fee. Understandably, we quickly made our excuses and left.
Yes, I’m acutely aware that I’ve done the whole ‘I’m a right tight-arsed northerner’ thing to death, but I couldn’t continue writing about my adventures in New York City without devoting a post to the whole tipping culture. For people like me, it adds a whole new level of pressure and anxiety to the experience. And not just because I find it difficult to work out what 15% is. I’ve always been a bit shit at math. Yes, I said math. A nod to my Stateside pals. Of which I have none. Mainly because I don’t tip them very well.
Before you wrongly believe that I am completely averse to tipping, here are a few situations where I’m happy to hand over a few extra quid in my day-to-day life:
1. At restaurants where the waiting staff have been attentive and pleasant.
2. To hairdressers who charge a reasonable price and don’t make me weep about what they’ve done to my fringe.
3. To taxi drivers who charge an acceptable fare and don’t talk too much during the journey. They’ll even get an extra pound if they don’t talk to me at all. Apart from asking me where I’m going, of course. Mind you, if they were telepathic, I’d probably stretch to an extra 50p, just through sheer wonder.
And here are examples of when I’m not so keen to part with extra money:
1. At a carvery. Especially if I’ve already got a drink. I have to collect my own bloody food, for God’s sake. The waiter/waitress has done little apart from ask if everything is ok with my meal, usually when I’ve got a gobful of Yorkshire pudding. He/she deserves nothing in my eyes, apart from a good old look at the contents of my mouth as I respond.
2. At places where they’ve already added a service charge. I, perhaps wrongly, believe that as I’m paying for a meal out, getting handed my dinner and having my plates washed should already be part of the deal. I don’t buy a new dress and then expect to get a separate charge added for fucking sewing costs.
3. To trades people. If they’re already charging me £400 to repair three fence panels, I don’t see the need to offer them a further £20 for their trouble. Plus the recent men I had here both had two sugars in their hot drinks and I’m not made of money/sugar. No. they were already making a hefty profit. I’ve seen Rogue Traders.
4. When waiting staff add a smiley face and the word ‘Thanx’ to my bill. Oh, they’ve screwed it right up if they do that. I’ll happily give them a lesson in basic spelling, but other than that, they can sod right off.
5. To bar staff. This is quite bad as I use this type of service personnel rather a lot. But I’ve never uttered the words: ‘And get one for yourself’ when paying for a couple of pints. I’ve probably only see that happen in the Queen Vic and the Rovers’ Return, so just assume it’s something they do on the telly and not in real life – a bit like washing your hands after going to the toilet.
A friend who I regularly dine out with is always happy to tip, but has to hand the money directly to the member of staff involved as she wants to see the gratitude etched on their faces. I imagine she’s secretly hoping for a bit of bowing/hand kissing from them. I don’t like this approach. I’m happy to leave my tips on the table, providing that the people sitting nearby don’t look like the sort who might nick it. So I wouldn’t do it in a Wetherspoons, for example.
The friend I mention is actually a very generous soul. Only yesterday she threw a couple of quid into a busker’s guitar case in Birmingham City Centre. I watched her look up, expectantly, as her coins landed. He didn’t bother to acknowledge her. Not even a slight nod. No eye contact whatsoever. I felt gutted for her.
“He’s lost in the music,” she said, when I questioned how she felt about the turn of events, but I could tell she was a bit hurt. “He was only playing a shitty rendition of Rihanna’s Umbrella,” I reminded her, before actively encouraging her to go and fish her money back out. She selflessly, but sadly, declined.
In New York, there are some brilliant buskers on the subway who are grateful when they’re thrown a dollar or two. I’ve seen them smile and say thank you. Not to me, of course, I just loiter in the background, enjoying the free entertainment. I’m used to hearing the bloke in Centenary Square playing The Lambada very poorly, and repeatedly, on a bleeding accordion, so the talent on display deep underground in NYC is a revelation.
An old guy, belting out soul classics can be found under 42nd St, there’s an acoustic guitar duo under Union Square, covering 90s indie tunes at 2am, a Bob Marley/Jimi Hendrix hybrid at Spring St, and break-dancing crews here, there and everywhere, happily spinning on the ceramic tiles without giving a second thought to the fact that they’re probably covered in tramps’ piss. I actually did contribute a dollar on one occasion. I was worried about their Adidas tracksuits. Tramps’ piss can burn right through polyester. I know this from experience. (I don’t).
But back to tipping for service. During my first trip to NYC in 2008, I was badly burnt. I tried to light a fag off a hot chestnut seller’s grate and lost my eyelashes, eyebrows and the skin off my left cheek. No, that didn’t happen. I wasn’t literally burnt. But I was literally chased down the street for not leaving enough of a tip at a Mexican restaurant.
“Hey,” the restaurant manager yelled. “My waitress is really upset, did she do something wrong?”
There were lots of people dining outside that day, enjoying the Cinco De Mayo celebrations – I forget what day or month it was when this happened, but what I do remember is getting bit hot under the collar at all the attention that was directed at me. She was there, right behind him, with a pathetically sad and hurt look on her face. I couldn’t bear it.
“Not at all,” I said, wishing the ground would swallow me up. “I think I just calculated it wrong. Silly old English me and my maths. I’m really sorry – it was an honest mistake.”
It wasn’t an honest mistake at all. I’d purposely left about a fiver, knowing it wasn’t the correct percentage, and thought ‘Fuck it’. There were a couple of charred kidney beans in my burrito. And the cocktails were really expensive. I thought that would do. Clearly not. I hurriedly handed over more dollars, apologising profusely.
So, during this recent visit, I wanted to make sure that I didn’t get caught out or upset anyone. The offering below helped me to understand, although not particularly agree with or like, what I had to do and when:
I was getting on reasonably well, or so I thought, on the first day. I had, of course, refused help with carrying my cases up to the hotel room. I’d just dragged them 20 blocks, so I wasn’t going to pay a bloke to pop them in a lift for me and wheel them a metre down a hallway. Fuck that. Two dollars saved. Boom.
However, it soon became apparent that there were tip jars everywhere. In almost every shop. I wasn’t expecting this. I was prepared for waiters and bar staff and had decided I wouldn’t use taxis. I didn’t know the rules for shops. Here in England, there’ll sometimes be a tin decorated in wrapping paper at Christmas at local corner shops, with a Post-It note saying:
We would like to wish all of our customer’s a very Merry Christmas
I’ve always just laughed at those, thinking: ‘Piss off – you ain’t getting nothing until you a) learn the rules of apostrophe usage, and b) reduce the price of a tin of beans from £1.20, you scrounging shits’. And nothing bad has ever happened. But in New York, things are different.
When I saw a tips jar at the counter where we’d just bought a couple of bagels on our second morning there, I froze. I was already acutely embarrassed after hearing my other half, who, overwhelmed by the selection on offer, asked the somewhat bemused bloke behind the counter to recommend a filling to him.
“Do you ask them in Gregg’s what you should have in your sandwich, you daft twat?” I asked him. He told me to piss off and walked out, muttering something about me being a bitch.
I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t want to pay more money in this scenario, but did I have to? What would happen if I didn’t? I didn’t want to cause a scene. I begrudgingly popped two dollars into the jar and caught up with my Mr Indecisive.
“I just gave a two dollar tip,” I told him. “I’m scared now. I don’t know how far this tipping business goes.” It was clear he shared my concerns.
One day, when we were in Central Park, looking tired and confused, a man walking his dog asked us where we were heading.
“Oh, we’re just trying to find the Strawberry Fields bit,” I told him. He explained where we needed to go, but I couldn’t concentrate on what he was saying because I was too busy wondering if I now had to give him some money. Would he be offended if I didn’t? Would he chase me? Would he think I was weird if I held out a dollar bill? Would that be enough? What was the going rate for taking unsolicited directions?
I decided against it on that occasion and thankfully, there wasn’t a commotion. Unlike at the John Lennon shrine, where a busker was murdering Imagine, which wound up the other half something chronic.
And while, by day three, tipping became part and parcel of every drink, meal and shop visit, it annoyed me when I had to hand over tips to people who I can only describe as utter shits. But I was too scared not to.
For example, one barman slammed my $9 pint of ale so hard on the table that at least $2 of it jumped out of the glass and landed on the bar. We’d interrupted his basketball game (he was watching, not playing), and it was clear he didn’t want to serve us. Yet, as we left, I felt I had to pop a few extra dollars down, making it the most expensive pint I’ve ever had. Ridiculous.
However, most people I encountered were extremely friendly and seemed to really like the English, which pleased me greatly. I even gave a fairly generous tip (by my standards, that is) to the waiter who asked: “Is that accent real?”
“Yes, it is,” I proudly told him. “I’m from Grimsby. It’s in the north of England.”
“Is that in Yorkshire?” he enquired. Arsehole. I picked my 25 cents back and quickly left the establishment in disgust.
2. Food, glorious food – Meal one
In the city that is purported to have everything, you’ll be surprised to learn that there isn’t a Gregg’s. But don’t let that put you off. There’ll always be a tepid steak bake waiting for you when you get home. New York does, of course, have many culinary delights, from all four corners of the earth, and one of my aims, aside from the Broadway show visit, was to sample as many different tastes as possible while I was there.
This isn’t because I’m a foodie. It’s mainly because I’m just really fucking greedy. What frightened me on the plane journey, almost as much as plummeting out of the sky and dying, was that I might fall asleep and miss one of the meal servings. I have a soft spot for those little bread rolls that don’t have a soft spot, you see. Thankfully, that didn’t happen and, as per usual, I managed to snap my plastic knife while attempting to spread rock hard butter on the little fella.
I had made a solemn vow not to indulge in the type of food that you can easily get over here during my time in NYC, so it came as a big surprise to me that I managed to fit three Big Macs into the mix. I’m lying – one was actually a double cheeseburger. But they were just snacks, not my main meals. And I needed the energy. It’s knackering out there. I did sample some food joy though. And here’s a taste of what and where.
On my first full day in town, I headed for Colicchio & Sons (85 Tenth Avenue, Chelsea; (212) 400-6699, colicchioandsons.com) for dinner, or lunch you might say, if you’re southern and call it the wrong thing. It’s rated 4th out of 6,009 restaurants in New York on Trip Advisor, so I felt pretty confident that it was going to be half decent. And it was. With a prix fixe menu costing just $25 (which happened to be the same price my other half had to pay for some cold sore cream over there - how I laughed at the herpes riddled one’s pain at having to fork out for that – “BLISTEX IS ONLY ABOUT £5 AT HOME – I CAN’T FUCKING BELIEVE THIS”) - the meal was a great bargain. And cold sore cream isn’t filling or particularly tasty. Not that I know – I don’t have the dirty virus. I was laughing on the other side of my face (and limping) when I had to buy an ankle support bandage a few days later though.
Of course, I avoided the offerings that included face, such as ox cheeks, and plumped for lardo bruschetta with breakfast radish and crispy brussels sprouts for my starter. It was delicious. Well, the topping was a bit sickly, to be honest, but who wouldn’t like deep fried sprouts apart from most people? However, I thought they were great and the little green, cripsy buggers almost made me forget that the bottle of wine was £50. But not quite. The last time I’d bought a bottle of wine for £50 was never. I’d also built up a slight sweat about the fact that my glass of water might not be from the tap. Sometimes fine-ish dining can be traumatic if you’re tight. But, as I refused an H2O top-up, just in case, I pushed the thoughts to the back of my mind and moved on to my main. Niman Ranch top sirloin with Tuscan kale and bone marrow butter. Again, really enjoyable and beautifully presented. But at the back of my mind, I kept thinking about transplants, donations and biopsies. I began to convince myself that someone needed that bone marrow and I’d just eaten it. Yes, I know it’s not the same type (or is it?), but my mind works in mysterious ways. Well, ridiculous ways. And, once it began to repeat on me, I started to believe that it was trying to escape and make its way to the local hospital. But let’s ignore that. It’s not like it remained with me all day. I wasn’t belching bone marrow butter continuously. I didn’t puke in the hotel room that evening. Ok, I did do those things. It was nothing to do with the food, I can assure you - it was my mental illness and the fact that I had continued to drink (considerably cheaper) red wine all afternoon.
The service was attentive and the restaurant’s ambience remarkably didn’t suffer from my presence. And, what made it a bit more special, was that dining across from me was one of the main characters from The Sopranos. To be honest, I’ve never actually seen The Sopranos, but he looked like he was probably out of it. So that was cool.
I would therefore definitely recommend a visit to Colicchio & Sons. Even the glasses of water turned out to be free. I, and my dining companion, were delighted.