Sunday, April 26, 2009

Being a Part of It (New York, New York)

I didn't come to New York to do the tourist thing, but I suppose it was inevitable that one or two 'attractions' would wangle their way into my itinerary. It's hard not to feel a certain sense of alien wonderment when you are confronted by iconic buildings and legendary road names at every corner; and then there's Central Park, slap bang in the middle of Manhattan and impossible to ignore.

I arrived during a heatwave that everyone was calling the start of summer, a noticeable seasonal spring in everyone's step. Strolling through Central Park yesterday, I felt as though I'd stepped into a parallel universe in which jogging, cycling or blading was the natural way of getting about, and I was unusual for merely walking. Passing the Metropolitan Museum, I thought about going in, but deterred by the huge noisy crowds, carried on South to the ferry port and did the only vaguely intentionally touristy thing on this visit - a boat trip to Staton Island. I'd been told this was a free way to get a seaward view of the Statue of Liberty and Manhattan skyline, and the idea of a sea breeze appealed on what was a meltingly hot day. The boat was absolutely rammed full of people, all craning to get exactly the same photo of that legendary green goddess. Why not just buy a postcard?

Apart from this one excursion, the rest of my (short) time in New York was spent just people-watching, eating and hanging out with friends. The blissfully air-conditioned subway trains are a million miles from the London Tube, and a great place to witness the melting pot of people that reside here. We went to a couple of bars, had a classically hearty American brunch, sat in a secret cherry blossom grove eating almonds and laughing at people with ridiculous dogs, celebrated the 1st anniversary of Harlem's only yoga studio with its adorably cute gay owners and their sausage dog, and generally just appreciated the clement weather and its affirmative effect on everyone.

My favourite New York moment of all though was last night, sitting on the roof of Erika's apartment block with her lovely flatmates - sipping beer, eating tacos, playing guitar and singing Woody Guthrie and Cat Stevens songs. To me, this was much more 'being a part of it' than any number of Statue of Liberty snapshots for the holiday album.

Photo of Central Park (c) Rowan Stanfield - more pictures from my NY trip at: www.flickr.com/photos/rowstar/sets/72157617698561432

Thursday, April 23, 2009

When the Twit Hits the Fan

If you follow me on Twitter you may have been party to an unfortunate 'twincident' recently in which I had to apologise to a neighbour who'd taken offence at a couple of my tweets complaining about his sound polluting activities. Admittedly, my comments were on the scathing side, but if he had ever bothered to get to know me, my neighbour would have realised that the barbed humour on which he found himself at the receiving end is not generally to be taken seriously. Even my closest, dearest friends are accustomed to being insulted on a regular basis - it is just the nature of my humour. In fact the language to which he took particular offence was a quote from a TV programme we were watching at the time - which just goes to show that you should never jump to infer an insult from a statement without knowing its full context.

I'll make no secret of the fact we don't get on with 'them upstairs' - things started out cordially, but far from warm, and lately we've been lucky if we're acknowledged in passing with as much as a grunt. We tried to make the effort in the early days, but our social invitations were never even acknowledged and attempts to be friendly, unrequited. And it's not the first time we've come to blows over noise levels - sometimes it's like living inside a drum, and every now and then they properly drop the bomb. Our attempts to deal with these incidents in a rational, friendly manner have always incurred the most defensive and indignant responses. They have made it quite clear - stated it to our faces, and in company so loudly we could hear it downstairs - that they have no respect or consideration for us.

It was particularly unfortunate that on this occasion they had caught us during an already stressful weekend; for deeply personal reasons which I shall not go into here, we were both feeling extremely on edge. So when the music started thumping out, accompanied by loud stamping around on the ineffectually insulated floor/ceiling that divides us, we threw out a couple of frustrated but hardly serious tweets. Why? Because we know from bitter experience that an hour can very easily lead to eight, neither of us could face another confrontation, and we both needed a decent night's sleep.

In hindsight I admit that my Twitter outburst may have seemed OTT, but was it really any worse than the insults we've often over heard them throwing our way during previous domestic disputes, just because it was published online? If they'd been nicer and more considerate neighbours to begin with, it would never have come to this. Based on our previous interactions, I'm sure they won't see it that way, and of course there's a good chance they'll be reading this and fuming.

It is not my intention in writing this to further aggravate the situation, but I would like them to see it from our point of view. Not content with blitzing our domestic peace on a regular basis, they're out there, reading this and every other online utterance we make, anonymously stalking our every move - when they can't even bring themselves to talk civilly to us in person. We find this disturbing. There's not a lot we can do about it, but I only hope that when and if they read this, they'll realise how completely unreasonable they have been, and we can begin to get back on cordial terms. Once, we had hoped to build friendships, as we have with many other neighbours here and elsewhere over the years. Now we just want a bit of peace and quiet, and not to feel threatened in our own home.

***

With huge thanks to Ant for his contributions to this post, and for the ongoing moral support without which everyday life would be much more of a trial.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Remembering Paula

It hardly seems possible that ten whole years have passed since my dear childhood friend Paula lost her fight with cancer, just months after giving birth to miracle baby, David. Today is the 10th anniversary of her death, and I have been honouring her memory in my own way - thinking about times we shared, playing music we liked and talking to other people who knew and loved her. Last night, reading my sad diary entries from that terrible time in 1999, all the grief and heartache came flooding back. Even up to the very end, she was such a forceful presence; sometimes I still can't really believe that she's gone.

Today I have been trying to focus on happy memories, as I know she would have wanted. Some of my fondest childhood recollections are of being with Paula and Natalie - at Guides and in St Philip's church choir together, running around playing games of (and swooning over) Robin Hood (Michael Praed* era of course), making up stupid stories, giggling in the cinema and generally perpetuating The Madness. One time I particularly remember was when Paula and I camped out in her back garden and were terrified by rustling noises outside the tent in the middle of the night. Taking various kitchen implements as weapons for self defence on the second night, we later disovered that our tormentors were nothing more than a couple of inquisitive hedgehogs. It became a longstanding joke between us ever after.

In what was otherwise a retrospective and somewhat melancholy day, I was delighted to receive from baby David's father some recent photos of his and Paula's now strapping 10 year old boy this evening. Seeing her unique spark twinkling on in his eyes brings immense comfort - she would have been so proud to have seen how wonderfully her little boy turned out, against all the odds.

*The copy on this website is genius

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

A Sussex Country Pub Rediscovered (and Other Culinary Adventures)

It's not unusual for my weekends to revolve entirely around food - i.e. the shopping, planning, cooking and eating of it - but this last one was a particularly gloriously gastronomic few days that warrants a special mention. It all started on Friday evening with a homemade Bill's-inspired salad supper - basically lots of little taster salads piled onto a plate like a chaotic leafy mezze. The different salads I conjured up included: carrot, ginger and sultana; baby spinach, pesto and feta; mini roast potatoes & mayo; blanched cauliflower in a mustard dressing and a handful of stuffed olives. This went down very well with Him Indoors in spite of its healthy nature (he has a Homer Simpson approach to food) and set the tone for the rest of the weekend.

On Saturday, after a visit to Hove Museum, we had lunch at our old favourite the Sanctuary, where I indulged in the marginally less virtuous but arguably still quite healthy nutburger and potato wedges, while Ant was very restrained and had the soup (Sweet Potato I think). Then in the evening, we met up with Steph and Russ, who'd booked us into Bodega for a Tapas dinner. This was somewhere new for us, and made a change from the excellent but always manically busy Casa Don Carlos. The size of a postage stamp and decorated with kitsch bunches of grapes and Spanish memorabilia, this very authentic feeling rustic joint offers equally bona fide homely fayre from which I chose pisto manchego, artichoke salad and olives. It was all very delicious and amazingly good value, especially the house red wine which went down a treat.

After Saturday's free-flowing Rioja and the ensuing cocktails at In Vino Veritas, we were both in need of some hangover-busting sustenance on Sunday. Pub roast called, and the sun was shining, so we ventured out into the country to make the most of both. Our first stop - the famously epicurean Ram at Firle - was absolutely heaving with not a parking space in sight, so we swung across the other side of the A27 to the Lamb at Ripe. The last time we'd been there was for a family birthday celebration five or more years ago, and at the time we were less than impressed. Though I can't remember exactly why it was bad, I seem to recall there being an incident involving Ant and a disappointing fish pie - never a good combination. Well clearly the place is either in new hands these days, or has cleaned up its act, as it turned out to be one of the best Sunday lunches I've had in ages.

The Lamb is a in a lovely spot - right in the middle of the tiny twee village of Ripe and far enough away from the A27 for it to be nice and tranquil in the spacious beer garden out back. Inside it's also pretty roomy, and was amazingly quiet compared to other nearby hostelries like The Ram or the Cricketers, which are invariably packed out at weekends. There was no veggie roast on the board, but the very accommodating and friendly staff were only too happy to knock one up for me - combining the stuffed mushroom starter with the veggies from the roast (carrots, potatoes, swede and red cabbage) - all beautifully presented, and cooked to perfection. Ant had the homemade burger which was apparently also top notch - I can certainly vouch for the accompanying chips. I don't know how long we've been missing out on this now excellent establishment, but I shall certainly be making a point of going back there again soon, and would encourage anyone in the market for a country pub lunch in Sussex to give it a whirl. There's even a nice easy circular walk out the back of the village, ideal for working off the generous portions.

Our weekend culinary spectacular concluded at home with one of my thrown-together pasta dishes (sun dried tomatoes, feta, spinach, broad beans), which I am told was the pièce de ré·sis·tance; I couldn't possibly comment of course.

Links
Google map of my favourite places to eat in Sussex
Country Pub Rant - another pub-related post by me
Sussex Pub Links