NYC v London.

FOOD

I am embarrassed. How do Americans cope when they come to London? Our food must look like overpriced gruel compared to what you can get on any street in New York. If I’m out and about at lunch time in London the best I can hope for for a fiver is a pathetic Boots ‘meal deal’ – a wet sandwich in a plastic and cardboard prison, with tiny, mean prawns that look like head lice covered in floppy iceberg lettuce, a packet of  tasteless crisps and a bottle of pop. For the same price in NYC I can get any of the following things in NYC

– slices of either Turkey, Gammon with cinnamon, beef with broiled onions, salmon in a herb crust plus a choice of two sides – sweet potato chips, mash, roasted vegetables, asparagus, broccoli with chilli, cous cous etc etc.

– a deli salad with choices of avocado, meat, eggs, fish, huge prawns, pecans, cranberries, fresh peas, alfalfa etc etc.
– a huge poppyseed bagel with smoked salmon, salad, cream cheese, bacon etc etc.

– a garden fresh soup and a side salad

– a freshly pressed juice with apple, carrot, ginger, oranges plus a wholemeal seeded roll
No one cooks here because they don’t need to. Its cheaper and easier to buy freshly cooked food from just about any store. Nevertheless my apartment has a huge fridge with an ice maker, a massive oven and a microwave you could nuke a field of spuds in.  It puts my own kitchen back home to shame – the kitchen we routinely have to feed 7 of us in.  

And in the bars they free-pour the spirits.  

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New York

Long time no see. I left off describing my life as a suburban mum of four. It seemed to me that every bugger was writing a blog about the bloody school run and it started to feel like a lot of yacking. Plus the eldest has got into Vloggers and Youtubers, and declared actually WRITING your thoughts down to be lame. It put me off for a while. But now I’m back, mainly because I have escaped. I’ve run away with the circus and the buggers can’t get to me here. So from now on I will use this forum to write about my adventures in New York. Yes I’m in New York. The City that doesn’t sleep. I certainly haven’t since I arrived two days ago. Gorgeous apartment in Brooklyn, but you can’t open the windows and the air conditioning is at war with my sinuses. Even when I turn the dial to Hi-cool it blows out like a furnace. Nearly took my eyebrows off. Last night I saw my lovely friend Scarlett’s show.She’s on Broadway and we went for a drink after. $13 for a glass of wine. Fuck. Although I’m here working for six weeks my budget can’t stretch to that every night. I was supposed to be meeting up with the girls from my show – an all female Henry IV at the new St Ann’s Warehouse in Brooklyn – but got persuaded to stay out with Scarlett and her lovely lesbian friends. We talked shit all night and had a laugh, and I realised how much I talk about myself – its like a nervous reaction to strangers. I over share, swear too much and refer every conversation back to my experience. Scarlett kept saying ‘1,2,3 Back to ME!’ which made me hoot. They were fascinated about the kids. So many people have done the sad face when I tell them I’m away from home for six weeks.

‘Are the kids coming out?’

‘No – they’ve got school and its too expensive’

Cue sad face and slight darkening of their eyes while they work out if I’m a bitch or not.

I did consider bringing them all over for a weekend but it would have been crazy. And as Richard pointed out, he’s waited 47 years to come to New York – why should the little buggers get to come and spoil his fun? The eldest was devastated and reacted as though we had violated her human rights by not bringing her. I have a long list of presents she requires for appeasement purposes. Several pairs of trainers, a sickening array of ‘candy’ and an iphone. Yeah right. I bought her a Samsung basic phone when she started secondary but apparently that is also lame and she often ‘forgets’ it as a protest. The triplets aren’t bothered too much about stuff, and the boys don’t even seem to be bothered that I’m not there. They didn’t even come to the phone when I facetimed them yesterday. Facetime Mum. Thats me. I get to connect with my family – or at least the ones who will come to the phone – via an app that shows both them and me at the same time, which maked Richard smirk shyly at his own image like some village idiot who can’t beleive there’s a tiny version of my head in his hands.
So I’m free. For six weeks. Free to battle with unfamiliar air con, venetian blinds, microwaves and currency. Free to wake up stuffy and groggy when the builders outside start banging things at 7am. Free to get lost on the subway when the R train stops running and turns into the N train after midnight but nobody tells me and I sit with the poor homeless buggers watching several N trains go by before I read the signs. Free to drink cocktails and perv at the delis. I can’t wait to go to the theatre today. We start technical rehearsals ahead of our first preview this Friday. And everyone loves our accents.

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Shit O’Clock

Awake at 5.30am. Got up for a menopausal wee and can’t get back to sleep. The kids will get up at 7.30. Before kids a night time wee was just a n occasional slightly irritating but brief hiatus in an otherwise blissful nine hour kip. If there were ever times when I couldn’t get back to sleep I can’t remember them – and it wouldn’t have mattered anyway because I could just sleep in a bit later. Nowadays if I wake in the middle of the night the panic kicks in – ‘oh God – I’m going to be exhausted now… They’ll be up soon!’ And before I know it I’m tossing and turning, fretting about silly things – was I pompous yesterday on the train? should I try the 5:2 diet again? – and big things – how long have we got before the bailiffs arrive and will I be depressed if we move to North Chingford? Most patents of young kids moan about sleep deprivation but we never really suffered, despite having a toddler and triplets. As babies yes we fed them at night but after four months our routine paid off and they were sleeping through. Since then I can count on my two hands the number of times I’ve been disturbed by one of them at night. Sure, there was that time on tour in Baden Baden when they all had the Norovirus in a shared bed and spent the whole night vomiting all over each other then rollng in it, but our beloved Au Pair Katharina dealt with that while I slept down the hotel corridor blissfully unaware.
We’ve always had zero tolerance of kids in our bed. Co-sleeping. I don’t want some pissy sweaty child in bed with me thanks. My bed, my sanctuary. So it seems doubly unfair that I should suffer from bouts of intense insomnia. I hate waking up early. I feel physically sick all day, even more short-tempered than usual, and the kids’ natural, shall we say ebullience is more wearing than ever. I mean for fuck’s sake who needs to do the can-can at 7.30 in the morning?
At least things have settled in the house since last week’s Shutupgate. Regular readers will remember both boys were in the dog house for rudeness, and we confiscated all their gadgets for a week. After a day or two of moaning they have accepted it, and have already actually requested that they EARN time on computers rather than have united access. What fantastic parenting. We rule. There was one worrying moment during the punishment negotiation though. The eldest boy grumbled that it was unfair as I had also been rude to them so where was MY punishment?
‘Don’t you think it’s punishment enough that I have to desk with you two every day?’ I asked.
‘Well, maybe we can’t do anything to you now…’ he replied, coolly holding my gaze ‘But when you’re older….’
‘Hang on’ I said, trying to make light of the involuntary shiver down my back ‘Are you threatening to take revenge on me when I’m old and can’t fight back?’
He raised a You’ll-Just-have-to-wait-and-see eyebrow and walked off, his round bottom almost splitting his too-small school trousers.

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Victorian Perfect Christmas Bullshit

I am not the Grinch. I love Christmas. I get excited on 1st December because that means we are in the hallowed month, and the kids can open the first window on their Advent calendars. I love candles, tinsel, gift wrap, the smell of cinnamon, Santa, mince pies. I love crying at sentimental ads on TV to sponsor a tramp’s Christmas dinner. The first sighting of a robin fills me with such cheer that I start yelling Christmas Carols and getting misty eyed over the kids’ crap handmade cards. I veer away from anyone who shows the slightest inclination towards Bah Humbug. Its as if they have The Christmas Pox, and I don’t want to catch it.

And yet….come the actual week of Christmas I find myself increasingly fighting a sense of rising panic and disappointment. Where is the snow? The grateful urchins? The friends arriving with arms full of beautiful gifts? The perfect Christmas Eve supper and the contented glow sitting by the stocking-festooned open fire?

Well, for a start we have a gas effect fire, and its knackered because when the triplets were toddlers they kept hiding the coals up the chimney. We thought they were eating them because we kept finding them with black hands and several coals gone, until we thought to look up the chimney and found them inexplicably stacked along the ledge inside the flue.

As for snow, the weather has clearly not read A Christmas Carol, or it would know that gales, floods, power cuts and uprooted trees blocking the roads of people Driving Home For Christmas are definitely not Christmassy. I can’t remember it ever snowing at Christmas, and I’m quite old. It always seems to be pissing down, and looks nothing like the frosty white countryside idyll of every card you receive. Still, I suppose a picture of the exterior of The Bull Ring Shopping centre in Birmingham in the pissing rain doesn’t quite say ‘Merry Christmas’ as much as some children in mufflers laughing on a sleigh, does it?

The tree is always a let down. I get real tree envy – no matter what I do ours is always droopy, dry and shedding by Christmas Eve. Much like myself. I try to tart it all up with baubles and bows but nothing makes it look nice. I know how it feels. As I trudge to work of a night time I gaze enviously at other peoples’ trees twinkling gayly in the show-off front windows of their clean, ordered houses. ‘Look at us!’ their trees seem to say ‘OUR LIVES ARE SO MUCH BETTER THAN YOURS!’ This year I got our tree from Ikea – they were selling them for £25 with a voucher for £20 to spend in the January sales. Great. So what looked like a bargain is actually a double insult – a crap tree plus the ‘opportunity’ to queue up for two hours to buy some teelights and a bag of meatballs.

 

The kids are meant to be full of wonder, and are supposed to rip open their presents from Santa with genuine excitement. The whole Santa situation has become very complex. With modern technology there are too many options re Santa – you can write, send a letter up the chimney, email, text, send a video message and receive one back….I can’t ever remember which one I’ve done so I end up muttering vague things about having contacted him on facebook. We leave a mince pie out, and some carrots, and a glass of something alcoholic to warm Santa’s heart. This year the youngest daughter put whiskey in a plastic beaker ‘Because Santa was too drunk last year and he smashed the glass’. Stupid Santa. He probably had about three bottles of Asda Cava beforehand. Come Christmas morning we do not allow early rising. The kids are under strict instruction that 8am is the earliest they can get up – they have had the fear of God put in them that Santa may well not have been if they get up any earlier. Bang on cue they storm into our bedroom and demand opening rights. We stumble downstairs and watch them express thinly veiled disappointment at the cheap versions of the latest devices they have requested. The eldest actually ran into the toilet in tears this year because the longed-for iPod Touch was ‘only 2nd Generation’ and didn’t have a camera. Stupid fucking Santa.The youngest gets the guitar she requested, tries out one chord, finds it’s quite hard and discards it for the rest of the day. The two boys immediately try to download memory-eating games on their new Tablets, only to find the storage available is only sufficient for a few photos and Temple Run. I watch R open his presents from me – the usual thermal socks, pants and golf balls which are invariably always ‘wrong’ (how do you get golf balls ‘wrong’?!). I have given up buying him anything nice to wear – he dresses like an old Irish alcoholic farmer, and hides every nice item of clothing I’ve ever given him under the bed. He doesn’t wear any of it because ‘it’s too new’. And my presents? Well, it’s churlish to moan about gifts, so I won’t. Occasionally I’ll get something I really like. Mostly I get something almost right. We’ll leave aside the year he bought me a gold chain and told me that he hoped the length was right because he’d made sure to tell the jeweller about my ‘stocky neck’.

The gathering of the family is meant to be what it’s all about, and this year we all went to my mum’s as she is in the middle of chemotherapy, is quite old and doesn’t want to travel. Selfish. Twelve of us squished into the small terraced 1970’s house she now lives alone in since dad died three years ago. Mum, my brother, his partner and their son, my sister and her husband – and us six. It always seems like a good idea, and for the most part it was lovely to be together. I adore my mum, and love my family to bits, but its cramped and there si nowhere to hide from the kids. Add to that the shame of the rest of the family witnessing what me and R go through on a daily basis with four kids (the tantrums, irritating fights, squabbles over toys, bad manners and sulks) and you get quite a challenging few hours. Its shocking when you’re not used to it, and by 5pm everyone was sick of us. Still, they wanted a real family Christmas – and we made sure they got it until 10pm, when we dragged them crying and threatening to puke, back home. R had elected me to drive, which was very thoughtful, so I didn’t even get to drown out the whining with a nice snooze on the way home.

Boxing Day is much better. Its more honest. There is no expectation. You can just do what you really wanted to do all along – sleep in, get up, eat Chocolate coins for breakfast, go to the pub. Yesterday we did just that, and the two hours we spent in the Nightingale drinking pints of Stella amidst the tinsel and swearing was the best two hours of Christmas.

Now they’ve all gone up north to do it all again with R’s side of the family. I’m left at home to do 5 shows this weekend. The house is quiet, tidy, clean. No toys playing loud music, no demands for crisp sandwiches and shandy. No Disney Channel abominations blaring out from the front room.

They’re not back until Monday.

I hate it.

This house dies when they all go away. Even the cat knows it, and stares at me with hate in his yellow eyes as if to say ‘Oh God not YOU’.

There’s nothing for it – I’m going to have to get dressed and go out. Even the hell of Westfield Shopping centre in the Sales is preferable to the deafening silence and the echo of parenting fails ricocheting around these walls.

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Mummy’s got a hangover

We ran away last night. While our kids enjoyed the time capsule that is Cubs and Brownies – where growing cress and playing tag, and not twerking or trolling, is very much the ‘in thing’- we shot into town for a private view of an art auction. Free champagne, cocktails, steak sandwiches and mini fish and chips. The art was quite nice too. The fashionistas were out in force – not eating, sipping lamely on the one glass of fizz, looking studiously bored – while me and R raced around trying to get as much booze into us we could in the hour before we had to race back and pick them up from our saviour Caroline, who collected them for us. Demob happy, we were like gate crashers at an expensive wedding. We pocketed shot glasses, and this morning I discovered a bottle of Vodka in my handbag. I don’t remember much of the tube journey home – apart from a loud discussion about whether or not R was an arsehole for telling me it was ‘just my opinion’ that an elderly lady in our carriage was very stylish. This morning I woke at 6am – that’s the curse of leaving it late to have kids – just when they start to sleep in you start waking at dawn with all the other Nannas – and felt dog rough. The cat was nagging for food so I had to spoon cat meat into his dish while trying not to heave and wondering if the triplets are too young to walk to school themselves. Stinking of vodka at the school gates wearing yesterday’s mascara and last week’s socks.
‘Bye darling! Have a lovely day! Mummy’s going home to dry retch over a slice of toast and a cup of bitter self-recrimination’

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Kids say the darnedest things!

Last week the kids watched the excellent Horrible Histories series on CBBC and learned all about Rosa Parks and the history of the civil rights movement. “I sat on the bus!’ sang the woman playing Rosa. I explained to the kids about the deep South of America, and how black people had to stand if a white person needed a seat, and that if they were allowed to sit they had to sit at the back of the bus. ‘Imagine’ i said ‘If you went in to school tomorrow and the teachers said “OK at lunchtime all the black kids have to sit on the floor and only the white kids get to sit at tables. What would you do?’ The eldest did me proud – she answered ‘I’d sit on the floor with them’. ‘Very good!’ I said, Guardian reader’s heart bursting with pride.

The following night I took the triplets to the theatre and before the show they sat on the few seats available in the bar despite a growing crowd of pensioners shuffling in.

“Get up!’ I hissed ‘And let those old ladies sit down!’

F looked indignant. At the top of his voice he said ‘Oh so now WE’RE the black people?!’

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Kids say the darndest things!

Last week the kids watched the excellent Horrible Histories series on CBBC and learned all about Rosa Parks and the history of the civil rights movement. “I sat on the bus!’ sang the woman playing Rosa. I explained to the kids about the deep South of America, and how black people had to stand if a white person needed a seat, and that if they were allowed to sit they had to sit at the back of the bus. ‘Imagine’ i said ‘If you went in to school tomorrow and the teachers said “OK at lunchtime all the black kids have to sit on the floor and only the white kids get to sit at tables. What would you do?’ The eldest did me proud – she answered ‘I’d sit on the floor with them’. ‘Very good!’ I said, Guardian reader’s heart bursting with pride.

The following night I took the triplets to the theatre and before the show they sat on the few seats available in the bar despite a growing crowd of pensioners shuffling in.

“Get up!’ I hissed ‘And let those old ladies sit down!’

F looked indignant. At the top of his voice he said ‘Oh so now WE’RE the black people?!’

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