Competitive Games

Now, allow me to tell you why England came a cropper

Our World Cup thrashing can be traced to the ban on competitive school sports, says Boris Johnson.

 

Twenty million England football fans unpeeled themselves from the sofa and picked up the shattered remnants of the beer bottle they hurled at the wall in the 66th minute – when Mueller scored Germany’s third goal. With a heavy heart and a distended liver we all went on to the patio or the garden or whatever open space was available and stared with despairing eyes at the beautiful blue sky of one of the most perfect summer afternoons this country has ever seen. And together, like coyotes, we whimpered a single pathetic question in the general direction of the Almighty. Why?

Continue reading Competitive Games

Just Like Riding A Bike

Will the new London bike share program be perfect? Probably not. But at least you all have the courage and wisdom to try.

gotham girlWhen we settled on bike share programs as the subject of this week’s Gotham Girl, I admit – I was worried. I wasn’t worried about the new Barclays Cycle Hire. I find that very exciting and clearly so does Boris. The closer we draw to the July 30th launch – yes, July 30th! Just a little over a month! –  the giddier he seems.

I wasn’t worried about finding facts and figures on bike share programs. These facts and figures are everywhere – in discussions on urban planning, mass transit, environmental issues, health, energy conservation, etc. Nor was I worried that I’d struggle to find an array of opinions. Plenty of people on both sides of the debate share their views with little prompting needed.

So what was my problem? I was worried that I was going to spend too much time whining about New York City’s lack of a bike share program. It’s ridiculous that we don’t have one, that we’re not even planning one. Of course, even if we were planning one – we’d need more cycling infrastructure before it had any chance of being implemented.

Boris knows this type of infrastructure is central to developing a successful bike culture. He said, “If we are to get more Londoners on to two wheels rather than four we need to provide the facilities to help them do so.” Such as? Well, secure bike storage and parking, for one. Places like the London Bridge Cycle Park for people who commute and use their own bikes regularly. There are other issues as well – junction design, route management, etc. – but none of them require reinventing the wheel. So why can’t NYC wrap its collective head around this.

Despite what the opposition here says, creating this infrastructure is not an engineering obstacle. Lots of cities have done it. London is doing it and London is larger, denser and (layout-wise) more complicated than NYC. Is it an economic stumbling block? Hardly. Planning and implementation costs are dwarfed by what the Metropolitan Transit Authority spends on their shoddy quick fixes for long-term problems. Add in what it costs them to keep patching those quick fixes and bike share ends up being a veritable bargain.

No, this is a political stumbling block. NYC lacks the political will and London doesn’t. It’s as simple as that. I don’t blame Mayor Bloomberg particularly. He’s shown more support for the expansion of bike culture than any mayor has for – well, since I can remember. I blame the city council and the state government and I blame them for several administrations back. They seem content with announcing grand plans and then implementing only very abbreviated versions of those plans. Just the other week the city announced a bike lane expansion so sweeping that it almost took my breath away. Guess how long it took for them to back pedal on it? Two days. It was nice while it lasted.

New York City isn’t wholly without cycling infrastructure, of course. We have some bike lanes – loosely defined as pictures of bikes painted on a particular section of road. Of course, only cyclists seem to know or care that these are bike lanes. Certainly few cars and buses behave as if they know what a bike lane is for.  They seem to believe it has something to do with parking.

Looking back at what I’ve just written, I was right to be worried. I’m almost half way in and I haven’t talked about any actual bike share programs yet. All I’ve done is complain. So let’s ignore New York’s biking blind spot for now and look at bike share in action.
Continue reading Just Like Riding A Bike

South Africa after the World Cup

I wish you could have come with me yesterday as I ran through the delightful district of Westcliff, one of the richest square miles in Africa. The sun was taking the chill off the winter morning. The sky was blue. The urban forest of Johannesburg was a winter symphony of brown and green and gold.

Among the trees, on either side of the well-kept street, I passed the kinds of homes you normally associate with Beverly Hills. Here was the honey-stoned palazzo of a diamond executive. There was the schloss of the most successful boob-job exponent in the neighbourhood.

Each villa was the size of a country club, and through every set of gates you could see the carob-shaded tennis court or the ultramarine ping of the sunlight on the pool. Every property overtly proclaimed the determination of the haves to resist the depredations of the have-nots. Great brown Rhodesian ridgebacks snuffled behind the electric fences. Chubb security vans cruised quietly up and down. Fixed to the wall beside virtually every nine-foot impregnable gate was a sign announcing that any intruder would be met with an “Armed Response”.

I wish you could have been there, to soak up the splendour of the lives of the affluent Johannesburg professionals. Then I wish you could have come with me to another neighbourhood, a township called Cape Flats, nor far from Cape Town. Then you would have understood the vast economic disparity of South Africa – the wealth gap that helps to prompt the security fences of Westcliff.

Continue reading South Africa after the World Cup

England Football team agony

our goalie had one slightly butterfingered moment of horror

there is no reason in principle why we should not reach the semi-finals and perhaps even the final

I came to the surface yesterday morning, like most people, with a vague sense that something had not gone entirely to plan. Groggily, I reviewed the events of the previous day. I tried to put my finger on that leaden feeling in my heart.

What could it be? I had been to see Trooping the Colour at the Queen’s Birthday Parade and, as everyone said at a very jolly Army lunch afterwards, it seemed to sum up so much of what was good about this country. Here were soldiers just seven weeks back from Afghanistan, performing manoeuvres with the precision of rhythmic gymnasts, boots sparkling like magnesium, busbies rippling like dominoes as they turned their heads this way and that.

Continue reading England Football team agony

Sartorial Streets of NYC & London

Style isn’t about wearing exactly the right thing in just exactly the right way at just precisely the right time. If it were, Boris wouldn’t be the style icon he has seemingly (and to many – bizarrely) become.

gotham girlIt is confession time, my friends. Gotham Girl is not, by any stretch of the imagination, a fashionista. If I were, I’d be dismayed – even pained – by Boris’s perpetually rumpled state. As it is, I find it adorkable. Besides, I’m hardly in a position to throw sartorial stones. I’m lucky to get out the door in matching socks.  Despite these sock issues and a preference for tousled rather than tidy blondes, I am not uninterested in fashion. I enjoy experimenting with different outfits, am thrilled by vintage clothing stores and love seeing how different people use their personal style to express themselves.

Luckily for me, both London and New York have rich and inspiring style scenes. Oh, I don’t mean the fashion establishment. Sure both cities host their own media frenzied fashion week and are home to the biggest names in the biz. I’m aware that as an industry, fashion contributes directly and indirectly to the bottom line in London as much as it does here. It’s just that I find that part of fashion rather dull at best and bizarre at worst. It’s all trends (that come and go so fast that you feel you might have imagined them) and wildly impractical designs (intended to be weird for weird sake rather than to be worn). As for fashion magazines – the only thing the giant annual fall issue of Vogue inspires me to do is use it as a door stop.

To me, the inspiration comes from the people rushing past on the street, lounging on museum steps, crowded onto buses or wandering the aisles of the flea markets. There’s something compelling and inspiring about people watching in London and New York. Both cities are teeming with people who have a strong sense of personal style, a will to wear it and the ability to wear it well.

Of course, it would be hard to beat London as the historical street style capital of the world. Even if we just look at the last 50 or 60 years, London is way out in front – giving rise to the Edwardian-inspired teddy boys, the mods and rockers, punk, glam rock, goth, the New Romantics, etc. London has produced the richest source of “trickle up” fashion in the world. New York is practically a style infant in comparison – and is less an incubator for youth culture than sort of style laboratory for trends born elsewhere. New York may have given rise to the Greasers of the 50s and the hip-hop styles of the 80s-90s but the beat generation and counter-culture movements, valley girls and grunge styles all came out of the west coast. New York youth culture certainly put their stamp on them and other styles through the years but we must give credit where credit is due.

Of course, fashion trends that begin or bloom on the streets of London and New York almost always end up adopted, refined and commercialized by the fashion establishment. They know a good thing when they see it. And so do I. So what’s happening on the streets of my two favorite cities right now?

Continue reading Sartorial Streets of NYC & London

Harry Potter Theme Park

 

I deeply and bitterly resent that Orlando is about to become the official place of pilgrimage for every Harry Potter fan on earth

 

You know, sometimes I don’t understand what’s wrong with us. This is just about the most creative and imaginative country on earth – and yet sometimes we just don’t seem to have the gumption to exploit our intellectual property. We split the atom, and now we have to get French or Korean scientists to help us build nuclear power stations. We perfected the finest cars on earth – and now Rolls-Royce is in the hands of the Germans. Whatever we invent, from the jet engine to the internet, we find that someone else carts it off and makes a killing from it elsewhere. And now, in the crowning insult, I am being told by a 12-year-old that I have to start making preparations to take everyone to Orlando, Florida.

Continue reading Harry Potter Theme Park