An Englishman in New York (and 49 other states)

Moving on to a little bit of travel writing, TV tie-in reading…

Ostensibly this was prep for my American holiday, but the truth is that I probably would’ve read it anyway, particularly as I’d missed most of the series when it was on TV. (Note to self: must borrow the DVD off someone.)
Stephen King of Twitter Fry is a comic genius and a quintessential Englishman. Travelling to every single American state (and DC), he shares the eccentricities, bizarre happenings and quaint charm of the America we don’t generally hear about. The book combines the stories from the TV series with hordes of useless facts, just the kind of thing I love. Did you know five states’ State Beverage is milk? (Rhode Island has Coffee Milk, which is lush; Ohio has Tomato Juice, which is not and Indiana, pathetically, chose water.)
Think Bill Bryson, but British and you’ve pretty much got the tone of writing. Americans fear not, there is no American bashing – except when even Americans would bash their countrymen. This is simply a collection of amusing, touching and informative stories – oh, and a couple of truly gross ones, like a visit to a research project into decomposing corpses…

Purchasing power

Ahhhh, the power of the purchase…
Not the power that can be wielded over companies, or the consumer market in general. No, I refer in fact to the power that purchasing can have over individuals:
That adrenalin rush as you make a landmark purchase of great expense.
The fervour that drives people to queue up at 4am for major sales.
The determination with which certain people scout out different shops to find the perfect goods at the perfect price.
I don’t know if I’ve mentioned it, but I recently came back from a trip to America. (Don’t worry, the endless, tedious, jealousy inducing references will stop very soon.) On that trip I may have done the teeniest bit of shopping, which is still bringing me a lot of pleasure. It wasn’t just clothes, below is an image that will continue to make me happy for some time to come.

This would be a mini latte bowl from Anthropologie (a purchase inspired by NieNie – I got two large, two mini in contrasting colours and they are an absolute pleasure to eat out of), containing a handful of peanut butter M&Ms (with a smattering of dark chocolate ones). For reasons that I and many of my friends cannot fathom, they don’t sell these in this country – the people who run Mars Confectionery are fools. I’ve got to make a medium sized bag last as long as possible. (Though this is easier whilst on a diet!)
I could do a list of “I went to New York and I bought….” but I won’t, because that would be boastful and boring. (Though I’m currently sat in my Yale hoodie and that most definitely was not purchased on Oxford Street.)
But today I have been benefiting from the power of another purchase – one made in the less glamorous environs of Birmingham’s Bull Ring – some rather beautiful red suede mary-janes with a cute heel. This morning these added a touch of joy to a morning recovering from the night before, plus the bonus of sharing the joy via Facebook with friends who also love shoes.
Plus, they’re my new Dorothy shoes – in honour of having seen the actual Ruby Slippers whilst in DC – so I could click my heels together all day long, much to my amusement (and others’ consternation). For your viewing pleasure:

Falling in love at the Apple Store

Today’s Friday Fun is brought to you courtesy of YouTube, the Apple Store and one very odd guy with way too much time on his hands.

Last week (oh, was it only last week?!) I received a message from my friend who sends me fun things, with this video attached and a suggestion that whilst in New York I check out the store where it was filmed. I’d actually considered going to the Apple Church, sorry, store – but didn’t know where it was.


Luckily, I happened upon it whilst strolling down 5th Ave the very next day and entered the bizarre cuboid entrance. A spiral staircase leads you into what could easily be a Bond villain’s lair – except it’s a lot lighter, has a lot of people in it as well as many friendly lanyard wearing employees.

Best thing about Apple stores? Free internet access. I initially used this to compare the prices of iPod Touches in the UK and US, but then thought “sod it” and went on Facebook like everyone else. I managed to avoid purchasing anything (despite a follow-up visit the next day) but I have a theory…

Whilst in the Apple store, I continued a conversation with the sender of the video, which went along these lines:

Me: Think I’m being converted into a Mac person. Using the most lovely MacBook pro atm, love it! Everything in the Apple Store is so lovely. Do you think they pump something through the air con that makes people need to buy things?? [I was clearly under the influence of something – that kind of excitement about technology is not typical of me!]

Friend: Probably. Apple basically = the Dark Side [The irony of this comment is that it was written on a Mac.]

Did I fall in love at the Apple Store? Yes. It’s been over a week now and I still want a MacBook. (Although I want an iPhone more.) I wonder how long the chemicals will affect me?

Sorry, did I have a point? Oh yes, this video, a marvel of lyric composition and sheer nerve…

A question of photography and art

Enough of my ramblings. I want your opinions on something…

Last week, as I walked round the MOMA, I became increasingly irritated by the number of people (I would just refer to them as ‘tourists’, but they’re humans too) taking photos of the art on the walls. [There was nearly violence, but that was more due to low blood sugar levels…in the end I resorted simply to standing between the cameras and the art.]

When did this start happening? As far as I can recall, photography was banned in art galleries. When I was growing up and got dragged round galleries by my parents, the only thing that made it bearable was picking a favourite work, sitting in front of it for a long time and then hunting out a postcard reproduction in the gift shop to take home.

I may have taken photos in Tate Modern, but only in the Turbine Hall when I’ve been interacting with whatever installation’s been in place. I wouldn’t dream of going and taking photos of paintings. No matter how impressed I was last week with Warhol’s cans of soup, or Dali’s melting clock, or Van Gogh’s starry night, I was going to let my memory store the image, not my camera.

So, what do we think – is this acceptable behaviour?

Has digital photography made everything too easy? Why take the time to ponder works of art in their original form when you could quickly photograph everything and enjoy it at leisure at home? (But, if that’s the case, why bother visiting galleries at all when you could sit at your computer and google image the masterpieces?)

Are we now people who have to have proof that we’ve seen these works? Will our friends think less of us if there is no photographic evidence that we went to the Uffizi and looked at Botticelli’s Venus? (I’m sure the Uffizi would never allow photography!) Is this the same symptom that caused my ferry to Liberty Island/Ellis Island to lurch dramatically to the side every time there was a good view of the Statue of Liberty? “We must take photos! We must have proof!” It’s like some kind of zombie horde of tourists…

Has digital photography simply cheapened the art of photography? Now that we no longer have to consider the cost of each click of the shutter, do we simply photograph everything – in fear of missing something? In the past, didn’t we simply aim to capture the important, unusual, significant…? But that’s veering off the topic and is a debate in itself.

Would it annoy you?
Would you take photos in a gallery?
Or, am I just getting het-up about something utterly pointless yet again?

Ok, so I took one photo in MOMA. But I’m not a hypocrite!
This is a self-portrait Frida Kahlo gave a friend, a long with a mirror so that when placed together, the friend appeared alongside Kahlo. By photographing yourself in the mirror, you stand next to Kahlo as she intended – I liked that, it makes you part of the art, rather than an observer.
[Note the moody face – low blood sugar really kicking in by then!]

A nerd’s comparison of public transport systems

You know how I’m something of a TfL nerd? This condition has a few unfortunate side-effects, one of which is the inclination to develop a bizarre interest in other public transport systems around the world. It’s very sad.

But, because I know you would expect nothing less of me, I have undertaken a comparative study of the three systems I utilised whilst on holiday. Here we have a table of the three, with their respective pros and cons:

I loved DC’s Metro system – clean, light & plenty of escalators – but to be fair, it’s a much smaller city so doesn’t need the infrastructure that NYC has. In general, I was disappointed at the lack of named lines – ‘Blue’ line or ‘N’ is nowhere near as romantic as ‘Bakerloo’ or ‘Jubilee’.

New York is strange. I’m not going to diss it totally (“diss”? Did I actually just use that word?). The thing is, in London, New York’s subway is always held up as a comparison to the Tube – it runs 24 hours a day, carries a similar number of passenger and doesn’t seem to have the same level of issues as we do. But it feels as if nothing’s been done to it for decades. The lack of escalators was pretty perplexing – not because I’m lazy, but because I was often accompanied by luggage and three flights of stairs got pretty tedious.

It feels like it needs a coat of paint, much better lighting (much, much better lighting) and signs on the platform that tell you when the next train’s coming – that would be enough to bring it into the 21st Century.

Of course, my opinion matters very little. I have fond memories of all the transportation systems and love that Elephant & Castle tube station has a smell reminiscent of the New York subway. (It’s pretty much the only good thing about that station!)



I think the image should work ok now – click on it to read it better. I thought I was being clever, but clearly wasn’t. It actually took almost an hour of faffing and a friend lending me a hand to sort it out. Midway through church tonight I actually hit my head in horror in the ridiculous lengths gone to in order to sort out an image for a pointless blog post on an even more pointless subject!!