Gotham Girl comes to London

In a series of posts we will hear the views, insights and amusing tales of this inspired longtime Boris supporter who jumps between New York and London at frequent intervals:  Downtown Gotham Girl.

No doubt Gotham Girl would understand Boris when he recently opened London Fashion Week and described London as “the greatest city on earth”.

Gotham Gal
Gotham Girl

I’ve spent time in both New York and London. Like so many others before me, I’ve noticed that the cities have much in common. However, I think the interesting stories lie in how each city manages things – for good or bad – in their own way.




‘New York vs. London’ is popular but inaccurate. It’s not ‘vs.’ It’s not even ‘or.’  It is very much ‘and’.  There is New York and there is London.

Then there is the act of traveling between the two.

I do it rather a lot and travel between the two cities has been very much on my mind lately — partially because I’m overdue for a trip and partially because Boris was in New York recently to meet with Mayor Bloomberg and boost tourism between the two cities. I am all for that idea. In fact, I have done more than my part to boost travel between two of my favorite cities, for years – hosting London-based friends by the planeload, playing tourist myself in London year after year.

One of my favorite parts of the trip – regardless of direction – is that wonderful moment when I am confronted with THE QUESTION.

No, not: “Will the taxi line be ungodly?” – a New York-only question since London does a far better job with trains to and from the airports. Nor is it: “Where will I find a decent Dover sole now that Manzi’s is closed?” though that question still looms large now that Manzi’s is closed.

No, THE QUESTION is “Business or pleasure?”

It sounds harmless, right? It can be harmless but one must answer carefully or face unforeseen delays. There I am – coming off a plane ride just long enough to make me forget the hell of NYC airport security but more than long enough to make my knees go numb. I’m wholly focused on getting to my hotel to lie down and possibly eating something more appetizing than the chicken or the pasta choices offered mid-flight (which resembled neither chicken nor pasta). Nowadays, I always say “pleasure” even if I am there for business. Why? Because the last time I said “business” – it all went slightly Ionesco.

“Business or pleasure?” the woman at the desk asked me.


That’s where the trouble started. “What business are you in?” and because it was terribly early and I was exhausted, therefore not thinking clearly, I answered truthfully. “I’m an indexer.”

There it was –the usual stare. “A what?” she asked.

“An indexer.” More staring. “I index books.” The stare followed by the blink. I cannot even tell you how often this happens. I sighed, “The alphabetical list of things in the back of the book.”

“And you have to come to London to do this?” she sounded skeptical.

“No, I could do it pretty much anywhere. But the people I need to see at the moment are here.”

“An indexer?” She repeated it as if trying it on for size. Apparently, it didn’t quite fit. “I’ve never heard of someone doing that.”

“Well, there aren’t many of us, admittedly.”

“What about computers?”

As I mentioned, I was not at my brightest and best at that hour so it was my turn to stare blankly. “What about them?”

“A computer. Why don’t you use a computer to do it?”

“I do use a computer but a computer can’t read. All it can do is see.”

“But why…”

“Listen, I’m sorry – I’ve just gotten off a very long flight – where might I find the ladies?”

“Oh, right. Sorry. Through there. Have a nice trip.”


Which is why when THE QUESTION is posed, I just say “pleasure,” It’s quick, easy – has the added bonus of being the truth. I’ll enjoy any trip to London.

Do not think that this sort of thing happens only in London. Coming home, THE QUESTION isn’t any easier – especially if one chooses to be hyper-technical about details (as I have noticed people in uniforms behind plexi-glass tend to be).

“Business or pleasure” asks the clean-cut young man whose peppiness and sharply pressed shirt marked him as new to the job

“Neither,” I yawn. “Coming home.” 

“So pleasure.” he says.

“I suppose.”

“Oh come on. It’s a beautiful day out!” Ah, the enthusiasm of youth and of someone who hasn’t just spent hours listening to the woman in the next row compare her marriage (unfavorably) to that of her sister.

“I haven’t BEEN outside yet.” I point out. “I’ve been in a plane.”

“Well, it’s a beautiful day out,” he assures me. “You will be glad you’ve come home.”

“Are you new?”


“Is this a new job for you? Have you been here long?”

“About 4 weeks,” he tells me.

“That’s great. I hope that next time I come through, you still enjoy your work as much as you do now. I’m sure if I were more awake, I would find it refreshing and bracing. But at the moment, all I want to do is go home and sleep.”

He nods sympathetically, staples the two forms together and waves me through. “Sleep well,” he says.

“Thanks.” He was sweet and he meant well. So I added, “And thanks for the welcome home.”

You know – I miss THE QUESTION. I miss London. Time to check those fares.

67 thoughts on “Gotham Girl comes to London”

  1. What a great idea this series is, from the horses mouth (so to speak, no offence meant) is so much more interesting. It’s like telling a child to do their homework from the library rather than using Google or Wikipeadia as they do now. When I voiced my objection to this ‘google generation’ a rather splendid chap said “The point about researching things longhand, as it were, in a library, is all those things you discover, which you weren’t looking for in the first place.” and I thought that so very true. I’m sure the same will be true of this series.

    I’ve got one of my favourite films on at the moment – ‘A Matter of Life and Death’ (Peter, oh Peter, darling!). David Niven, I understand, was also a consummate liar, Mel, but he was very entertaining. Good looking too. Sorry, I digress.

    Anyway, in the film life as we know it stops and this other-worldly reality takes over. In a similar way I get the same sense of dread in anticipating ‘The Question’. You can almost hear the opening music to The Twilight Zone at these moments can’t you? But unlike the twilight zone, A Matter of Life and Death has real consequences for the protagnist.

    At such moments perhaps the idea flashes through our minds to answer ‘look, asshole, that’s my job title and I’m here on business, now stamp my ticket, sweetheart and look it up on your own time, not mine’. But of course we don’t do that because these people have power over our lives, just as in the film.

    When going into America aren’t you asked something like ‘are you here to commit terrorism or do harm to the country of America?’ or some such? Didn’t someone once reply ‘yeah, ‘course I am’ and get themselves arrested?

    Tempting isn’t it?

    But we suffer the slings and arrows of really outrageous pettifogging because if we didn’t life might not be a matter of life and death between the UK and the USA but it might be a matter of liberty and incarceration.

    I enjoyed this article, thank you.

  2. Philipa

    Am so glad you liked this feature: ‘The Question’ is dramatic I agree and your link to The Twilight Zone is very evocative.

    Loved your analytical points (humour and brains wrapped into one) and I hope you will continue to enjoy the series – street food, traffic and history coming up soon.

  3. Thanks, Mel, I look forward to them, especially the history.

    For those who don’t know my references, the film I quoted details a trial; the person on trial is British and the prosecutor, American. It also details a british/american relationship. On the IMDB website it says “This film was made on request from the MOD (ministry of defence). At the time they wanted a film that was set in wartime and stressed the importance of Britain and America overcoming any cultural differences between them and to stand together.” Gordon Brown’s experiences suggest this is a very old film.

  4. “The point about researching things longhand, as it were, in a library, is all those things you discover, which you weren’t looking for in the first place.”

    That is a great quote and so true. Whenever I’m researching something, I must be quite stern with myself and stay focused. Otherwise I will miss deadlines left, right and center because I’ve gotten deeply engrossed in something only vaguely – if all related – simply by following a random piece of trivia that interested me.

  5. Ken Livingstone planned ahead and ensured London’s transport system had large financial reserves to cope with a recession.

    Then Boris Johnson came in [Ed: inappropriate comment]

  6. no one, certainly not Ken Livingstone, could have predicted the size and scope of this economic downturn or the extended period of falling ridership that I assume the Tube is experiencing (something I assume based on a similar fall in ridership here in NY).

    Besides, as I understand it, much of the improvement and success related to the transport system under Livingstone had less to do with Ken and more to do with Jay Walder. Walder is very much in the news here these days as he has just been made the new chief of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. His record and performance are being very closely examined in the media.

    So it sounds like Ken was more lucky than effective.

  7. I liked this Travel Diary feature very much, thanks. ( I enjoy reading travel diary novels ). I look forward to your street food stories!

  8. I’m looking for food too! a little birdie would do nicely


    I look forward to hearing about Fashion comparisons – are we cutting edge enough this side of the Pond? I doubt it

  9. I suppose it depends largely on whose specific fashion we are comparing – fashion industry, street fashion or (possibly most amusingly) mayoral fashion.

  10. If that’s the case, Vancouver wins, as OUR mayor was kickin’ it old-skool at the New Forms Festival, dancing to videopoems at three in the morning. We’ve got video.

    Also, do people really ask “business or pleasure?” If so, what in GOD’S name do the hookers say? I’m dying to know.

  11. Gotham Girl, Tiresias is after your job; watch your back.

    Also, the next time someone asks you that questions, ask THEM what the hookers say. Seriously. DYING to know.

  12. I do know for a fact a smartass British lawyer was asked, when entering Australia, if he had a criminal record, and he replied, “Do you still need one?”

    He apparently did NOT enjoy the night in custody.

    Comedian Stephen Wright, when crossing from the US into Canada, was asked, “Do you have any weapons?” to which he replied, “What do you need?”

  13. raincoaster,

    Yes, I’ve seen the mayor of Vancouver and he is certainly stylin’ – thank goodness, neither Boris or mini-mayor must compete with him.

    As for THE QUESTION – the last time I went to London, I did NOT get asked THE QUESTION. But they did ask me if I was traveling with anyone. I said “My mother.” The man looked behind me, as if she would be right there. I said, “Oh no. Mom went business class and left me in coach.”

    “She did!?” The man behind the desk couldn’t believe it. I could. It happens all the time.

    “Don’t worry,” I assured him. “She’s thinking it’ll get her out earlier but she still has to wait for me. So if you’ve got any more questions, have at it.”

    He laughed but had nothing else to ask. Or just didn’t want to hold up mom.

  14. Circus monkey – I had something pertinent to say. If you can’t manage that I suggest waiting, or write down what you’d like to say before you read the comments.

    I hope GG comments on the policing and it’s effect on perceived safety in the two cities.

  15. Philipa – Great point there.

    And policing is a great idea – weren’t there a gang of New York police that patrolled our tubes not that long ago – they were militant strong men out for tough enforcement of the law. We looked up to them.

  16. Have you watched that London Fashion Week video clip at the top, folks? My, that lovely Erin O’Connor’s so tall you could grow your runner beans without having to buy any bamboo canes. And how come Boris was not on the catwalk, going commando under a tartan mini-kilt ( not that I would have fought for a front seat, of course )? That would have boosted the British fashion industry immensely.

    Talking about travel food. At hustle and bustle, exotic, colourful local markets in Spain, one saw live snails for sale. They were quite small, about the same size as a veneer-brown Sweet Chestnut. The market stallholders built a low barrier with wet, prickly Cardoon leaves to keep heap loads of the little creatures in. Genius.

    Small local food shops displayed huge glazed ceramic dishes of beautifully cooked Saffron red, spicy tomato rice cooked with Chorizo sausage, seafood, cardoon stalks and snails in the shell. Long, fresh citrus smelled Grapefruit thorns were supplied as pins to pick out the snails’ flesh with. Genius.

    In the afternoon, when it was cooler, one ventured to the dry waste land on the skirt of the village where old, dusty, wild Fig trees, laden with honey-sweet, deep purple fruits, grew among the scraggy weeds and small, colourful wild flowers. This was the time when our little snails came out to play. So did the crafty villagers. Ah, yeah. They all came out to pick wild snails for their tea. Sweaty, weatherworn figures dotted on the landscape, here and there, against the backdrop of an orange tinged sunset, bending down looking for the little slimy ones. Genius.

    Oh, the simple life.

  17. travel food is one of the great joys. I spent a very long, very yummy and very colorful day last year at the enormous food market in Malaga. I sampled so much – I skipped dinner.

  18. Thanks for the heads up on Boris’ Eastenders appearance, Philipa. Thank goodness that I still have ways of getting a hold of it here in Gotham. They used to show Eastenders over the weekends here, on PBS but no longer. Well, not in “real time” anyway. All hail the internet.

    Richard – a gang of New York police patrolling the Tube? The mind boggles. Militant? Still boggling. I mean, all respect to the NYPD and all that – but among the many adjectives I can think to apply to them ‘militant’ doesn’t make the top 10. Oh, wait. Unless you mean one of Hercules units. Militant is an excellent description of these commando units out of the NYPD Intelligence Division

    I think ‘street food’ next. It’s been a very street food sort of weekend in NYC. We’ve just had the fifth Annual Vendy awards, a sort of giant street food vendor cook off with various categories.

  19. Thanks to Richard and to Dmnyc; you’re welcome, the net is indeed a wonderful thing. I’ll wait for Youtube, as I’d rather chew my arm off than watch an entire episode of Eastenders.

    It has been reported that amazing things have been acheived in NYC (twas NYC wasn’t it?) by zero tolerance policing and a new Mayor, was it not? I don’t know about the NY police that patrolled the tube, that Richard mentioned, but I’d be interested to learn more, if Richard, or anyone else, would be so kind??

  20. Oh amazing things HAVE been achieved in NYC with zero tolerance — but it started long before Bloomberg got into office.

    Giuliani (and then police commissioner Bill Bratton) launched that massive “quality of life” clamp down. It might have been – and I believe was called – the most focused policing plan in U.S. history. The size of the crime was irrelevant and the theory was that this zero tolerance (hence the name) would send a message that order would be maintained. Broken windows approach, the sociologist call it. Graffiti, turnstile jumping and loitering were all pursued with the same level of intent as robbery and assault. The first thing everyone noticed was that the corner squeegee men had been eliminated (scary buggers who would just as soon smash the windshield as clean it) and Central Park was once again a park instead of a drug den. Suddenly it was all a lot – well, cleaner. Of course, Times Square got Disney-fied at the same time and that’s when the massive overcrowding really got started at Riker’s Island but we can’t have everything, can we?

    Giuliani gets a lot of flack for being draconian but I remember what faced him when he came into office. The city had gotten sucker punched by a bankruptcy in the 70s, and only started to come out of that half way through the reign of Ed Koch. The recovery was very much in fits and starts though during the benign neglect of Koch’s last term. He was (and is) a lovable old coot who stayed too long and failed to see the bigger picture. Then the city lost any sort of rudder at all under the raging incompetence of David Dinkins (who I can barely discussed in a civil tone so I’ll leave it there.)

    Which is not to say that Bloomie hasn’t made his contribution. He has. And he deserves much credit for it. But he inherited a MUCH improved New York City and though I am not a Rudy fan by any means, the man deserves a lot of credit (along with the police commissioners who worked with him) for those changes.

  21. Was Dick talking about those NYC styled Guardian Angels patrolling the streets of London in 1989 who were rubbished by the British bobbies who thought they might steal their limelight , be sidelined by them and be thought less by the public? Sparrow Fart

    Yes! you are right, the Guardian Angels and many thanks for the link

  22. oh! The Guardian Angels.

    *insert eye rolling here*

    Every now and again, Curtis (and his beret) show up on TV and whine about the Gotti Jr. having tried to kill him (despite three trials failing to come to that same conclusion) but other than that, I’d forgotten all about the GAs.

    Wouldn’t surprise me if they ended up as the answer to a Trivial Pursuit question one of these days.

  23. Many thanks, chaps, will check out the links. That zero tolerance approach sounds like a blast from the past we should embrace in our future too.

  24. Did someone say Guardian Angels? My buddies and I ran them off our neighborhood in a period of two weeks. Those loathesome, half-assed, penile-replacement-seeking suburbanites would take the bus into my neighborhood, where they would then lay claim to “keeping order”. It all blew up in their face 20 years ago when their leader was quoted as saying the homeless were “the enemy”.

    I mean, when three middle-aged women can drive those would-be-alpha-males back to the burbs with a simple “don’t you think you’re being ridiculous tourists and we’re going to post pix of you on our blogs” they can’t be that much of a force.

    I know Melissa will edit this, but the term on the street for these people is fucktards. [Ed: you, raincoaster, are entitled to an exception]

  25. Which is why I mentioned Bratton specifically. He was critical and central to the whole process but he wasn’t operating in a void. Giuliani appointed him, eliminated most of the obstacles to implementing the plan and did a lot of – let’s call it strong-arming – to get the thing funded properly.

    I will happily continue to heap blame on The Rudster for all sorts of other things (and I do), but I’ll give him due credit for his part in this. I will also credit Ray Kelly who preceded Bratton, for laying the ground work for a lot of what Bratton later built and for continuing it now that he is back. I credit Safir (who’s first name I can’t recall off the top of my head), who followed Bratton, stayed in the job twice as long and created many other central pieces of the program.

    If I had room to list the borough chiefs and precinct captains by name, I’d credit them too. All the planning in the world would have been a non-starter without them.

  26. Also, please don’t give Giuliani credit for the zero tolerance doctrine. It was his police comissioner who did that. Raincoaster

    Boris in his recent Spectator diary following his visit to New York said: “I can assure you that we have worked like blazes over the past few days, but one of the joys has been driving around in the care of Mayor Bloomberg’s police detail. It is very detailed detail. He has no fewer than 30 officers assigned to him, all of them seemingly enormous, charming and good-humoured cops. Such is Mike Bloomberg’s Olympian authority that he has not only banned smoking throughout the city, [listen to this those of you on the Smoking Forum thread!] but also issued a fatwa agaisnt some forms of margarine. The whole thing makes me feel a bit inadequate. But then I suppose he is the 108th Mayor of New York, and I am only the second Mayor of London.”

  27. Oh Boris shouldn’t feel inadequate. Bloomie occasionally falls off the anti-trasnfat wagon himself. The Mayor in Snack Mode ( )

    Re the smoking thing – a couple of weeks ago, Mini-Mayor proposed expanding the smoking ban to encompass all New York City parks and beaches. He reconsidered a week later – but only, he said, because he hadn’t sorted out how such a thing would be enforced. I suspect it also had to do with not wanting to alienate smokers even further as we approach the mayoral election.

  28. If you lived in the UK, you would not knock those NYC styled Guardian Angels. The British bobbies who were once famous the world over for their bravery and courtesy, nowadays under years of Labour’s control, have turned into incompetent, useless, self-important pen pushers who are obsessed with political correctness rather than focusing on crime prevention and protecting people. Under Labour EU Race & Equality Rule: they must stop equal number of colours – say, 5 whites, 5 blacks, 5 yellows and 5 browns. Any colours in between may go past unchecked. How comical.

    They wear their new uniform of tight, short-sleeved, white cotton shirt, tight black combat trousers, Michael Jackson soft black leather fingerless gloves, black elbow pads, black knee pads ( all because of EU Health and Safety At Work rules ). They spend most of their time hanging around city shopping centres to Stop & Ask teenagers, writing down their personal details onto their notepads. Even those teenagers are just walking past and haven’t done anything wrong. What for?

    They wear LA styled sunglasses in summer, they are so beefy that the bulge in their tight combat trousers look really obscene to the public. In hot weather, they sweat profusely under their white, tight, sleeveless cotton shirts – the smell of manly sweat – oh, heaven, I mean oh, heaven forbid, revolting. They look shaggable, I mean shaggy ( not that I would want to shag them, of course ).

    A man came out of his house to confront a group of chavs who were vandalising his car parked outside. One of the chavs called the cops on his mobile who came straight away to arrest the man for his threatening behaviour towards the chavs. Blimey.

    They ridiculed those NYC styled Guardian Angels because they felt upstaged by them and feared of comparisons by the British public.

  29. If you lived in the UK, you would not knock those NYC styled Guardian Angels. -Hear hear! SF

    ps any chance of a name-change?

  30. If your police force is incompetent, the solution is not to replace them with self-appointed, hair-trigger, bigoted vigilantes. The solution is to hire better people and give them better leadership, and fire the losers.

    You haven’t MET the Guardian Angels, have you? I have, repeatedly. And I won. Maybe you should hire ME to run the police force. I could use the money. Such is my power, I’m even allowed to swear on this blog, something I don’t even think Boris can do.

  31. You haven’t MET the Guardian Angels, have you? Raincoaster

    No, and therefore I bow to your greater authority; its just the concept that appeals in a society where thug rule oppress so many.

    You are a lady of many talents but I hadn’t thought of you as having top police force credentials before – I’d seen you as a blogging twitterholic police now I see you as a reigning Oracle of the Boris Site.

  32. While that’s flattering, I’m pretty sure Boris will be mighty pissed off at that.

    And you’d be surprised at my street cred. Maybe I don’t have a degree in criminology, but Kim Rossmo and I were on a first-name basis, and one of my godparents was a VP of CSIS.

  33. If Raincoaster were patrolling the tube I’m sure that any net-savvy youth would be afraid, very afraid. I think we should send her a ticket, immediately.

  34. Hi, I’m Wunder – Sparrow’s dad.

    I agree with what my Sparrow said totally. The British bobbies are a big joke nowadays. Please read the latest news – it shows you whose side the police and the authorities are really on –

    It ain’t right, if you ask me.

    Labour ministers who want Gordon’s job have leaked this to the press: Brown is addicted to prescription pain killers and drugs.

    Please read this article and look at the photos of his changing faces when he was asked the question on the telly – unforgettable!!! ( the BBC actually played Nat King Cole’s Unforgettable softly in the background during this interview )

    Mystic Queenie Mandelson: ( rubs his ball and yodels loudly ) OOoooooOOooLLLLaaaayyyYYY OOOOooooLLLLaaaaayyyyyYY OOuu EEeeee OOoooooOOooLLLLaaaayyyYYY OOOOooooLLLLaaaaayyyyyYY OOuu EEeee…

    Ooooh, I can see very clearly! I am willing to serve under a Conservative Government! OOoolaaayyyyy eeeee ooou… Oooolaaayyyyyy eeeee ooou…

  35. @Wunder: It’s great welcoming all the Sparrows, it really is. Better to give SF a rest, don’t you think? Best to tuck him up for the night and let him contemplate a re-birth in name terms. After all Sparrow’s mum and dad have eminently sensible names. The sparrow will arise as a phoenix with new feathers and a lovely new name!

  36. Sparrow’s family are the funniest cyberspace family I have ever come across – and they are all very canny and in tune with the latest political machinations

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