FOUR FINGERS AND THIRTEEN TOES – SHORT CIRCUIT
How many of you have experienced the “short circuit” syndrome which so often accompanies an annual summer holiday. In my experience, it can come in many forms – the stress of trying to clear your desk before you leave; the hassle of packing a suitcase with summer holiday gear (most of which will come home unused); organising the security of the house and maintenance of your lovingly tendered plants – which you know will be as dead as a door mat by the time you return – and finally getting the whole family to the airport, ferry-port or other point of departure for that mystical holiday that is supposed to heal all the stresses and strains of the preceding twelve months – Ha!
Regular readers of my blog will remember our abortive Christmas holiday, which we had to postpone to the summer. And so, the cases were packed, labelled and secured. The weather forecast had been checked – no ash cloud or unforeseen snow – and the Moriarty-Simmonds family were set and ready to take a huge chunk out of the “Big Apple”.
The trip to Heathrow was bit of a white-knuckle ride. I must confess minibus travel is not my preferred mode of transport. Added to this, the driver (who looked like Sterling Moss) drove like Sterling Moss, meant the journey along the M4 sometimes melted into a hazy blur of countryside.
However, a safe arrival at the airport, a gathering of like-minded holiday makers in Terminal 3, a quick stop in the departure lounge, and “whoosh” we were off. Seven hours later, and with an ever increasing urge to “powder my nose”, we landed. American Border patrol was an experience. Left thumb print; right thumb print, and a full complement of eight other digits was required before the official behind the glass screen would even look at you. So, how were they going to cope with my petite four fingers? At this juncture please be assured I did not offer my thirteen toes in substitution … My reasoning? Quite simple. I would have been carted off to Roswell quicker than the time it takes for Paris Hilton to make a new best friend!
Fortunately, a photograph was sufficient, and we proceeded to find our shuttle bus driver, who had been waiting patiently for us to negotiate the multi culturalism that can be found around the baggage carousels at JFK.
Our journey into Manhattan was interesting. If you thought the roads in the UK were in a poor state after last winter, then spare a thought for our American cousins. The Expressway looked as if it had suffered from the most extreme form of acne, which would take more than a strong dose of antibiotics to fix.
Safely installed in our hotel, we decided an early night was in order. Some things never change, but I did draw the line at Steve ordering milk and cookies just so he could feel really at home. After all he is a grown man – or at least he likes to think so!
Before we left home, we had planned an itinerary of everything we wanted to achieve during our time in New York. My sisters baulked at the idea and some friends (who we were due to be meeting Stateside) recoiled at the “heavy” schedule. Military was the operation, and armed with all necessary equipment to see us through the day; we met my good friend Paul to start our first day of sightseeing.
First stop was the High Line, West Village. Cleverly, a park and walkway has been developed from a disused railroad track. This walk was an interesting deviation from the glitz of uptown Manhattan. Here you could get a real sense of life in the Big Apple. In this part of town, there were no glamorous apartment blocks with efficient air conditioning. Here you got an appreciation of life in those less affluent areas, that most of us give nothing more than a mere second thought to, when we travel by train, and see the outer areas of a city. Or the areas we try to avoid in our own locality – as it is just a little too far outside our comfort zone. This was life in the raw, although just a block or two away from the ostentatious images that symbolise New York.
Enough of being profound. Steve was on a mission. He wanted to go to Tea and Sympathy for a Sunday roast. Tea and Sympathy isn’t an American funeral parlour, but rather a traditional English tea room in the heart of Greenwich Village. Some months before our holiday, a certain William and Kate had got married. Royal Wedding fever had hit New York and resulted in a feature in the Sunday Times about this very gentile of British establishments which boasted the finest Sunday roast in America. We battled through the crowds in Washington Park, and eventually found this haven of “Britishness” where you could buy fish and chips and all things British to satisfy even the most home sick Brit!
Tea and Sympathy was there like an oasis on a hot and sticky Sunday afternoon. There was but one problem, the tea room was probably no bigger than your Grandmother’s front room and in order to get two wheelchairs into the dining area it would have meant emptying the whole establishment. Now, although sympathetic (excuse the pun!) to our desire to have a Sunday roast in New York, the hostess, a rather pretty young lady called Eimear, could only offer iced tea on the pavement. As it was not really what we wanted, we decided to move on. James was smitten with Eimear, and he and Steve fought tooth and nail to claim ownership of the kiss that had been thrown in our direction by this striking Irish lass, as we walked away from the aroma of Sunday roast wafting from the kitchen.
Undaunted, we pursued our quest to find all things British, and ended up spending the balance of our evening in The White Horse Tavern, which according to local knowledge is the place where that famous welsh poet Dylan Thomas had his last drink, on the night before he died. It wasn’t quite Tea and Sympathy, but it was an interesting way of seeing the bohemian lifestyle of Greenwich Village whilst working out which bus would take us back to 42nd Street.
Our second day saw us visiting the United Nations. Although not quite like it appears on TV during international state occasions, it is an imposing building, and well worth a visit. We were fortunate enough to be given a guided tour of the public areas and exhibitions by a young man who was a dedicated “Torchwood” fan (see the Welsh connection again).
It is a deeply moving experience to view all the good work which the UN does throughout the world, and to appreciate just how a small amount of money can do so much good in under-developed countries. One such project is the school and sports kit in a box. For just a few dollars the UN is able to provide a school environment in a trunk, which includes paper, pens, pencils and all the other small items that school kids these days take for granted. And for just another couple of dollars, they can provide a sports box that contains bats and balls, together with other items of sports equipment to make the lives of children in war torn and deprived area of the world just a little more bearable.
Just a few blocks away from the UN we came across a small park that doubled as a viewing platform for the East River. We saw old and young alike enjoying a small haven of tranquillity in an otherwise bustling area. Like most parks in any country, I am sure it takes on a different persona at night, but for a short while it was a joy to see two opposite spectrums of New York life coming together, and seemingly without a care in the world. And so it was that we ended our second full day in New York.
Day three started very much like the others, but was destined to be our short circuit moment. Having had two days of very touristy stuff, we had designated day three as indulgence day. James and I were determined to indulge our passion for shopping. On leaving the hotel, it was warm and sunny. A short stroll up 42nd Street, took us on to the Mecca of NY shopping – 5th Avenue.
Saks, Abercrombie and Fitch – oh heaven!!
We had a good time in Saks and after Steve got writer’s cramp – I did tell him to perfect a shorter signature – we loaded him up and headed out on the street again. However by now, it had started raining. But, the threesome of welsh origin, weren’t going to be daunted by a little bit of rain, and so we bought some umbrellas. Onward we ploughed, and the rain started to get gradually heavier. No problem, if Chitty Chitty Bang Bang can travel through water, so can a SunMed F55 Quickie … Wrong!!
It began to rain like we have never seen rain before. Torrents and torrents. Within minutes Steve was sitting in a puddle of rainwater with a realisation that this is what it will be like when he’s seventy plus and he’s forgotten his conti-pads. James valiantly shielded me with the umbrella he was carrying. Despite his best efforts he couldn’t protect me from the ravages of the rain, which meant that when I next went to the bathroom; my legs were tattooed with the floral pattern of my dress. I looked like an auditionee for NY Ink! At this point we were about 100 yards from my intended destination, a rather fashionable handbag shop when Steve’s chair short circuited.
Soaking from head to toe, and stranded outside one of the world’s most expensive jewellers, what do you do? Well, the first thing is to try and persuade the security guard that you are not part of an elaborate heist, and you genuinely need shelter from a rain storm that even Noah would have found it hard to cope with.
Having overcome that small hiccup we were cleared by security, and ushered into a haven of marble and antique furniture, not to mention diamonds and jewels, the like of which even Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt (as one of the world’s highest paid celebrities) would have found it difficult to comprehend.
Completely sodden, we were not exactly shining examples of the clientele that would grace the lobby of this establishment, but the staff were wonderful. James was given a dry T-shirt, and an exclusive bag – in which to take his own soggy T-shirt back to our hotel. The management quickly liaised with the hotel and arranged a shuttle to collect us, whilst a lady attendant cheerfully mopped the pools of rainwater, that flowed from our chairs like the rivers of Babylon.
However, when the rain stopped for a short while, and it was time for our friends to close the store, we had to leave the safe enclave of diamonds the size of large pebbles, and wait for our shuttle on the pavement.
Steve parked himself on the street corner, and tried not to look like an “extra” from Born on the 4th of July, whilst James and I did what any self respecting wife and son would do … Yes, you guessed it. We crossed the road to the shop selling those lovely handbags and I finished my shopping!
Two hours after short circuit, a saviour in the form of a Super-Shuttle driver turned up to repatriate three very wet Brits, and one broken wheelchair to the Grand Hyatt. Now, think Humphrey Bogart – think Casablanca – think that famous quote. Well, of all the taxi companies in New York, and of all the taxi drivers in the Big Apple, who happened to come to our rescue … None other than the driver, who five years ago brought us to and from JFK on our last sojourn to New York. Howard, a wonderful driver and an even nicer man made sure we, and our shopping, made it to the sanctuary of the hotel bar. Well, if we were wet outside, why not do likewise to the inside!
Those of you who use powered wheelchairs will know that if you get your chair wet, you take a hair dryer to it as soon as possible. However, this chair was way beyond redemption. Looking rather sad and forlorn, we parked it up in the bedroom and set about hiring a replacement. It was fortuitous that before leaving we had made arrangements with the company from whom we had hired a shower seat, that if we needed wheelchair repairs, we could call upon them for help. The following afternoon a hire chair duly arrived. The first hire chair was a bit like riding a brick, and from what Steve tells me, it’s a good job that we don’t intend to extend our family any more … The second, and more heavy duty replacement, came the next day but was a front wheel drive chair.
I never have seen anyone make such hash of driving a chair in all my life. But the new chair was eventually mastered, and at least I can now say that if Steve needs a part-time job, he’ll be OK as a fork-lift truck driver!
We lost about half a day of our planned itinerary, but still managed to do all the things we wanted to do. We took in a game of baseball at the new Yankee Stadium. We are fortunate to be able to say that we have seen the New York Yankees play at the old and new Yankee Stadiums. We dined at the View Restaurant, Times Square, and took in the night-time skyline of those familiar landmarks around Manhattan. We wandered through Times Square just around midnight – as we had planned to do at Christmas time. We explored Central Park and marvelled at the peace and tranquillity which is so close to the hustle and bustle of the city. The 360° view of New York from the Rockefeller Centre is spectacular and we danced in the aisles to ‘Mamma Mia’ on Broadway. And I never cease to be amazed by that tingly feeling I always get from sitting in Grand Central Station just soaking in the atmosphere and watching the world go by!
We were however, saddened by the number and plight of homeless people. Their look of anguish and despair will remain with us for a long time to come.
We made friends with some wonderful people at the hotel, who went out their way to help and make our stay such fun, and above all we eventually made our Christmas holiday a reality – even if it was eight months later than planned.
On our last day, Steve and James did a sterling job of getting everything into our suitcases – not to mention my handbags (and yes, from the short circuit day the “handbag” did have a few babies!) for the return journey.
At JFK we did have a little difficulty in explaining to the airport authorities how to handle a heavy broken powered chair, and the authorities at Heathrow were not much better. I cannot believe how the definition of “broken” can differ from country to country.
However, when we finally cleared customs in the UK, and the sad sight of Steve’s broken chair could be seen sitting all lonesome in a corner of the baggage hall, we knew we had completed a New York experience of epic proportions.
We got a porter to load the broken chair onto a trolley that is probably more used to carrying Louis Vuitton luggage. Using my crystal ball, I think that as the good Mrs. Beckham is currently experiencing back trouble, a Louis Vuitton “customised” wheelchair may be required for her transatlantic flights over the next couple of months. What a precedent we have set – even if our wheelchairs were rather more humble!
Having left the departure lounge, we found that Sterling was waiting to return us along the M4 at breakneck speed. When we crossed the Severn Bridge, my thoughts turned to what we had managed to achieve in ten very hectic days.
As we turned off the motorway, I was quickly brought back to reality by the most horrendous thought … What if the washing machine short-circuited? How would we manage without the obligatory wash of all things underwear? I have to say the thought of any man without clean underwear, is a prospect that is enough to make even the sanest of us ladies short-circuit in a most spectacular fashion.
I’m glad to say that all was well on planet Zanussi. The washing machine worked perfectly, and the awful thought of men in congealed “bundies” did not materialise. Phew!