Tag Archives: Birmingham

6 days in New York. Day 3.

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The following day we strolled to Green Street in upmarket Soho to find the gallery where my old school mate Paul Seaton sells his beautiful oil paintings.  They are mostly still lifes of old English roses that retail at around ten grand a painting.  It`s alright for some hey although I have to say he works like the proverbial mad artist and exists on black coffee and roll your owns.

We went to the site of the twin towers, a very large and at the time, empty space.  It was extremely moving and we were both somewhat emotionally overwhelmed.  We went into St. Pauls Chapel which overlooks the site, it`s lovely and is full of photo`s of fire fighters and full of love too. 

We walked on into ChinaTown.  I loved ChinaTown!  ChinaTown is full of vibrant colours and occasional indescribable odours coming up from the basements, dead chickens I think.  There are hundreds of wonderful shops selling gorgeous trinkets of every description.  I began to flag and so we bought ourselves a street massage.  A very old Chinese man sat us in chairs and we rested our heads and then he began to pummel us and slap us around a bit and dug his elbows into our muscles, it bloody hurt and made us go “Ow!” but it was incredibly invigorating and so we asked him to marry us and with happy smiles upon our faces we told him how much we loved him and asked us to come back with us to Birmingham where we would share him.  He didn`t speak English and so hadn`t got a clue what we were saying but we all smiled and laughed a lot.

Later we visited the Mahayana Buddhist temple in the bit between ChinaTown and Manhatten.  It is sooooooo beautiful in there, all reds and golds I loved it.  I love Bhuddism.  We also wanted to see the Jewish Synagogue in ChinaTown but it was closed so we had our hair cut instead, how spiritual can you get!  It was lots of fun getting our hair cut by two young Chinese men who didn`t have a word of English.  They asked us lots of questions in Chinese and we asked some back in English and spent the whole hour in fits of the giggles.  We both looked fab` dahhhhhhhling.

We shopped for shoes at a “WORLD FAMOUS STORE” called Store 21 which was dreadful and cramped but came highly recommended by the New York wide Zaggatt survey.  The staff were amongst the most miserable specimens of humanity I have ever encountered so we put a suggestion in their suggestion box to the effect that smiling is quite a nice activity.  Hah!

We lunched in a café on Bleeker Street and then walked to Manhatten Bridge, very wow that bridge.  We walked along Broadway which is lovely.

In the evening we visited the Rockefeller Centre called Top of the Rock which is situated in mid-town Manhatten next to RadioCity.  We went up 67 floors to the top, where interestingly, it was snowing!  Yes it was!  And the view of New York is absolutely stunning, the Empire State Building right in front of you and the whole of New York splayed out beneath, all lit up and totally spectacular.

Growing up in the nineteen fifties.

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I was born the year the Queen came to the throne, 1953.  My mum was 43 when I came into this world, she told me she had “wept buckets” into the Belfast sink when she found out she was pregnant with me.  Not a great start.  She went to see Dr Hernan to see if he could do anything about it but he was Catholic and sent her away.  Thanks doc, I owe you one.

Like so many of us in the fifties, I was born at home.  My aunty Mary helped deliver me, my older sister Sue was brought to see me at two thirty in the afternoon.  Gazing sniffily at me in the blue Moses basket she said,  “Nanny made me eat cabbage for my dinner,” before wandering downstairs again.

My grandfather on my dad`s side was called Edward.  I never met him; he died some weeks before I was born.  He was a greengrocer and ran a high class, double fronted green grocer shop on the Warwick Road in Acocks Green called E.Pitt and sons.  My dad ran it when he came back from Cyprus after World War 2.  One side of the shop sold fresh fruit, vegetables and flowers, the other side sold corn seed, sacks of spuds and animal foods.  It was great living in the huge flat above the shop.  The Midland Bank was next door providing occasional excitement when people tried to break in and steal money.  This happened twice in my childhood and I remember the police at night with dogs all over our back garden, shining torches at the terrified faces of the young, would be thieves, telling them to come down off the bank roof or they would send the dogs up.

In the flat`s kitchen we had an iron range.  Mum would bathe me in the big old ceramic sink before bed.  She still used to do the weekly wash with a dolly and put the clothes through the mangle outside.  In winter the shirts would freeze like stills in a photograph, all along the washing line.  My brother Martin used to like to try and mangle my fingers when I was a child.  As I grew up mum had a helper, Nelly Stone who used to walk me to the infants school when I was four.  I didn`t like the smell of her hands, I think it was probably carbolic soap, that florid pink stuff do you remember?  Uncle Albert used to help out in the shop, he would gather me up in his arms and bear hug me after school and pretend to punch me, I guess he must have loved me.

I hardly saw my mother and father when I was little, mostly we were looked after by our Nan as mum and dad were busy in the shop all the time.  In the early mornings dad would be off in his lorry at five thirty to the market in Birmingham for fresh vegetables.  At the back of the shop were the stables where my grandfather kept his horses, he used to go to market in a cart.  As kids we used the barn space upstairs as our own private roller skating rink.  We had those silver adjustable skates you could buy from Woollies with the pretend red leather straps.  We could lean through the upstairs stables windows and pluck pears from the trees that grew in the bank garden.

On Sunday evenings we were allowed to stay up late to watch Sunday Night at the London Palladium on the black and white TV.  We used to go down the stairs from our sitting room into the shop and help ourselves to peanuts, all sorts of exotic fruit like bananas and lychees which most people hadn`t even heard of in those days.  Dad would peel the lychees and pop them into our mouths telling us they were sheep`s eyeballs, we never believed him but would giggle a lot, every time.  I also had a penchant for dog biscuits and munched my way through many a Bonio as a child.  I still have great teeth and I`m nearly sixty.  Sometimes dad would hang hare and pheasant up for sale at the front of the shop and he was bitten twice on the hand by banana spiders who had hitched a lift over here in the crates, all the way from Africa.  My dad`s hand swelled up like a football.

At four in the afternoon schoolkids would pop their heads in through the shop door and shout out to mum and dad,  “Got any spec`s mister?”  and dad would toss them all a bruised apple or a tangerine.

Happy, happy days.