Saturday, June 24, 2023



For a British person on holiday in the United States, I don’t think we encountered a single situation over five days in New York where British and American words and idioms became confused – I think we absorbed the required knowledge when our plane entered US air space. 


The only one we apparently missed was what we mean when we talk about lemonade.


Avoiding the smog [], we took shelter in the Hard Rock Café in Times Square, formerly the lobby of the Paramount theatre, which is itself now office space. I had a Diet Coke with my Legendary Steak Burger, and when I was asked about another drink, I asked for a lemonade. Upon this, the server leapt into a routine about how, when British people ask for lemonade, what they actually want is Sprite, something that must have happened many times. I was asked if I wanted was Sprite, and I decided to say yes.


I was already aware that American lemonade is characteristically cloudy, still and sweet, made with fresh lemons, and is known as “cloudy lemonade” in the UK. “Our” lemonade is clear, fizzy and has a sharper, more citric taste and, as I now know, is not routinely sold in the United States, meaning the country has no reason to make the distinction. One drink I hoped to find while there was Arizona Ice Tea’s half-tea, half-lemonade “Arnold Palmer”, named after the golfer – in fact, it was a US gallon (3.78 litre) bottle that lasted the week, and it was lovely and sweet overall, despite the taste of the tea, well, clouding the lemonade. This is more than I could say for orange Fanta, the US version of which contains no juice, has the same sunset yellow colour as Lucozade and Irn-Bru, and tasted like them as well.


Then there is Sprite, which is not lemonade. Introduced in 1959 by Coca-Cola in West Germany as a clear, coloured, lemon-flavoured variant of Fanta, it was introduced into the US two years later as a competitor to 7-Up. Labels on Sprite bottles and cans term it a lemon-lime soda, but previous US packaging created a word: “Great Lymon Taste!” I since found that one US variation of the drink is “lymonade” – you can buy Sprite pre-mixed with lemonade, with “Sprite Lymonade Legacy” adding strawberry into the mix. 


I wish I known about Sprite Lymonade before we ate at Hard Rock Café – it would have been the best of both worlds.

Saturday, June 17, 2023


I have now been to New York City twice, but one major detail I don’t remember seeing in 2011 became a fixation in 2023: the slow-moving traffic being punctuated by grossly oversized sports utility vehicles, always coloured black, with blacked-out windows, criss-crossing the city’s grid.

The only kind of vehicle as prevalent as these cars were the taxis, the old Checker cabs and Ford Crown Victorias long replaced by the Ford Escape (sold as the Kuga in the UK), the Nissan NV200 van and the Toyota RAV4 SUV – the Nissan took us from JFK airport, and the Toyota brought us back. But, of course, they were taxis, brightly coloured with uniform decals making them clearly visible as vehicles for hire. 

The black SUVs, other than their number plates, were unmarked, their purpose unclear. The tinted windows in the back of my parents’ car makes me feel like a low-level diplomat when I’m sat inside, but there can’t be that many of them in New York – the United Nations headquarters was at the end of the 42nd Street hotel in which we were staying, but I saw none of them stopping there.

The only clue to these cars’ identities was at the end of our trip, when we asked the hotel concierge to book a taxi, and we were asked if we wanted a taxi or SUV. Of course, we said we wanted a taxi, but that finally made the embarrassingly late connection for me.

I am now aware about the numerous private companies providing “black car service” for airport transfers and around the city, replacing purpose-built limousines, and particularly stretch limousines, with more discrete SUVs that have the same design as each other. They are all around 220 inches long (5.6 metres), weigh nearly three tons, have bonnets/hoods that come up to my shoulder and, most importantly, have three rows of seats, carrying up to nine people, making them sound more like a bus.

I now also know that the gargantuan Cadillac Escalade, the black car flashing the most chrome, was introduced in answer to the Lincoln Navigator, but just as the Lincoln is a warmed-up Ford Expedition, the Cadillac is a more luxurious Chevrolet Suburban or GMC Yukon and, fitting the evolution of the American SUV, they are all longer-wheelbase versions of other cars and pick-up trucks made by Ford and General Motors. The only reason I didn’t see a Chrysler badge on any of these cars is because their competing brand is Jeep, and I never saw a black one of those.

The original Chevrolet “Carryall Suburban” went on sale in 1934 as a station wagon built on a truck body, while the luxury 4x4 vehicle originates with the low-stance, car-like Jeep Wagoneer of 1962. Separately, the Range Rover was introduced in 1969 as a more liveable version of Land Rover’s utilitarian vehicles, still having an interior that could be hosed down if required, and later officially arriving in the United States through more highly appointed “Vogue”, after the magazine, and “Autograph” trim levels. Now, they all occupy the same luxury space, the current Range Rover now over three feet longer than its original model, but far less visible in New York than the American brands of truck.

Now I know what they are, did I miss out on taking a ride in one of these black SUVs? No – it would have felt like being driven around in my hotel room.

Sunday, June 11, 2023


New York City, Wednesday 7th June 2023, 18:17 ET

Between Monday 5th and Friday 9th June, I took my first holiday outside of the United Kingdom, to New York City with my parents, since beginning this website in May 2016. This wasn’t intentional, but more because my last couple of holidays have been guided by museum exhibitions, resulting in my trip to Tate Liverpool in 2019 to see art by Keith Haring, and travelling to Milton Keynes in 2021 to see furniture by the Memphis collective. To this end, expect an American flavor, instead of flavour, to some upcoming subjects.


The main takeaway from this week in New York, however, is that I experienced its worst air quality in sixty years, and walking for miles in it will sting your eyes.


I did not watch the news on the morning of Tuesday 6th June, having chosen Looney Tunes cartoons instead, but I was told the main news was the ongoing effect of wildfires in Canada. They began in March, but by June had affected eleven million acres of forest, around fifteen times more than expected for this time of year, displacing 120,000 people in the progress. Two thirds of the over four hundred wildfires were categorised as “out of control”, and their smoke was being carried south towards the north-eastern United States.


New York City, Wednesday 7th June 2023, 18:12 ET

Fortunately, our plans that day took us to the Hudson River side of Manhattan and away from the skyscrapers – I am mindful enough of the tall buildings in London holding in exhaust fumes, so New York City was a perfect incubator for all the incoming particulates. All we experienced was a bit of rain, and the grey haze in the sky turning a bit yellow – otherwise, we were fine.


The air quality index used in the United States since 1968 usually puts New York into the yellow “moderate” category, with a value between 101 and 150, indicating a risk to people sensitive to air pollution, but otherwise acceptable. Overnight, and through Wednesday 7th June, this index reached 484 at 5pm local time – the maroon “hazardous” category begins at 301, described as “health warning of emergency conditions: everyone is more likely to be affected”. The highest level ever recorded on this index, New York City was briefly the most polluted city on Earth, the sky having turned orange.


On the ground, those who already wore masks from the COVID-19 pandemic continued to war them as normal, and everyone else did not. Fire stations began handing out N95 and KN95-standard masks, again left over from the pandemic, but this did not start until Thursday 8th June – by then, Mayor Eric Adams had appeared behind various lecterns telling people to curb their activity, to stay indoors, and that they could skip exercising their dog. 


New York City, Wednesday 7th June 2023, 18:17 ET

Meanwhile, my parents and me carried on as normal: the sky had become a sandy colour once we entered the Museum of Modern Art, becoming orange while we were inside. We took refuge in the toy shop FAO Schwarz, in the Rockefeller Center, and later at the Hard Rock Café on Broadway. We only heard from Mayor Adams in the early evening, having walked around more shops. We had reduced our activity, but this meant walking for eight miles instead of twelve. Despite wearing glasses, my eyes had begun to sting, but not enough for them to tear up. 


We took as many pictures of the sky as everyone else, both locals and tourists, and we had to be outside to do it. We were there for an experience, and this was the only one not planned. On Thursday 8th June, the sky was clearer, turning to blue through the day, as the wind blew the smoke further east, and we kept ourselves around the outside of Manhattan once again. Now back home, we have no side effects from the smog, but we were lucky, as we could leave. On Sunday 11th June, the air quality index registered at 109.


It is not a case that I believe in climate change, for we have experienced the effects of it. This may have been an extreme event, but it is one more likely to take place. Not modifying our behaviour all that much was unwise, but this will have been an event where the advice will now be anticipated for next time. That this event will be described as a one-off, or rare, belies the effect that, around the world, they are happening more often. If you thought you could do something to mitigate the damage caused, you would do it. If you thought you had a way to prevent it, you would do it. I only sound like I am babbling because I feel the need that someone really should be doing something.

Saturday, June 3, 2023


I thought I knew what let myself in for by watching “The Beales of Grey Gardens.”

The film is a sequel to “Grey Gardens,” Albert & David Maysles’ 1975 documentary that followed “Big Edie” and “Little Edie” Bouvier Beale, cousins to Jackie Kennedy, living in poverty within a crumbling mansion in East Hampton, New York. The faded grandeur of the house, and the defiant beauty of the characters, has bewitched audiences ever since. 

For me, it came across as a cross between Bean Wheatley’s film of J.G. Ballard’s novel “High Rise”, with a tower block and its residents decaying into chaos while indifferent to the outside world, and “Steptoe and Son,” with the child bound to the parent and the house, but yearning to leave. Little Edie did eventually leave, and moved around a lot since, but only after her mother’s death, and after she could guarantee that any buyer of Grey Gardens would not demolish it. When the 2002 Academy Awards had its memorial montage of film industry people that died over the year, Little Edie was included, such was the cultural impact “Grey Gardens” has made.

“The Beales of Grey Gardens” was released in 2006, utilising more of the conversation that would not have been given time to breathe in the original film. The Maysles were proponents of “Direct Cinema,” which aimed to show life as it really is, achieved through developments in lighter and more portable cameras and sound equipment, and through using it to present the objective truth, without outside opinion or narration. However, in both this film and the original, the Maysles are a passive audience for both Big Edie and Little Edie - if the characters are inviting you into their lives, it makes it hard to stay detached for too long.

One sequence that I could not believe was left out of the original film is where you see the Maysles become active participants. They turn up for filming as usual, and Little Edie yells that the house is on fire. Sure enough, on the landing upstairs, a fire has broken out in a corner, an inevitability of tinder-dry wooden houses in that part of the US. Bowls of wood, and a blanket that was a gift from Jackie Kennedy, is used to put out the fire. Later, we see the hole caused by the fire has grown, from the wall into the floor, and a raccoon has made home in it. The answer? Lay down some bread for it, and allow the wildlife to continue taking over the house.

Anything I try to write here will not do justice to what you see in the films themselves, or to the people whose lives were followed. All I know is, the Beales live the way they wanted, Grey Gardens itself was restored, having been bought in 1979 for $220,000 and sold in 2017 for $15 million, by married “Washington Post” journalists Sally Quinn and Ben Bradlee, the latter portrayed by Tom Hanks in Steven Spielberg’s film “The Post”. The hole was replaced by a door.