Why is literacy declining?

Boris displays his shameless competitive streak as he remembers being beaten by his sister when reading

Lurking in the childhood of anyone ambitious there is always the memory of some humiliation that sets them on the path of self-improvement. Show me a billionaire, and I will show you someone who was beaten up for his lunch money. Many is the megalomaniac who first had to overcome a case of acne or puppy fat or being forced by his mother to wear a flowery tie to a friend’s birthday party. You want to know my moment of childhood shame? Shall I tell you when I decided that I was going to have to sharpen up my act to survive?

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Summer in the City

Yes, it’s so hot you could fry an egg on the sidewalk (but don’t – the gum is bad enough) but summer is also time when we are spoiled for choice when it comes things to do, enjoy and experience.

gotham girlIf one more person says, “It’s not the heat – it’s the humidity,” I may have to hurt someone. Why? Because it’s the heat and the humidity. Trust me. ‘Gotham Girl’ I may be but I was raised on the Gulf Coast. I know of what I speak. Lest anyone think I am becoming Gotham Grouch however, rest assured that I actually love this time of year – despite grumbling about the weather. Sure, summer in the city can be frustrating and annoying but can also be great fun and amazing.

The good: Ice cream, tennis tournaments, music festivals, Shakespeare alfresco, dining alfresco, movies alfresco – everything alfresco. The less good: The heat that presses down on you, radiates up off the sidewalks and bouncing back at you from reflective building surfaces. The crowds that flock in to see the same top ten attractions as last year’s crowd flocked in to see. The resigned look of those heading underground who know stifling platforms await them.

Whether I am referring to London or New York is completely up to you. All of the above apply to either or both. Of course, you can’t help but notice how distinctly different all those similarities can be.

Ice cream always tastes good but there is something about strolling down the street on a warm summer evening – perhaps indulging in a bit of window shopping – that makes it taste even better. I can’t pick just one ‘best ice cream in NYC’ at the moment – I have too many choices and each is a slightly different experience. The Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory makes amazing ice cream and it is right near the Brooklyn Promenade. If there is a more perfect place for an ice cream cone stroll than that, I have yet to find it. Looking for something a bit more out of the ordinary on a sultry summer night in Gotham? Try Ciao Bella Café – known for unusual flavors – maker of my favorite mango sorbet. I don’t have wide experience of ice cream in London but I’ve indulged myself at The Parlour at Fortnum and Mason (their raspberry ripple is calling my name even now) and enjoyed some of the best café affogato I’ve ever had at Scoop. It was so good, my friend and I sent back for more. What is your favorite London ice cream stop?

I could talk about ice cream all day but there’s more to summer in the city than that.

One of the most summer-defining events in London is the Proms. It has a heavy Broadway element to it this year with events celebrating both Sondheim and Rodgers and Hammerstein. Is it just me or does it seem like Stephen Sondheim’s 80th birthday has been going on for years now? Also this year there will be two ‘Last Night of the Proms’ – the actual Last Night and the recreation of the initial Last Night. Check out the Proms schedule to see what’s on and where. NYC also has a summer classical music festival – Lincoln Center’s annual Mostly Mozart Festival. It’s a bit shorter than the Proms (only running a month), but like the Proms was founded to offer a more informal ambiance and relatively inexpensive tickets to attract new audiences who wouldn’t normally attend such events as well as more regular classical music lovers. Mostly Mozart will be especially interesting since so many of the venues have recently undergone massive refurbishment. Lincoln Center was always a dramatic place – indoors and out – but now the whole complex is being transformed into an even more dramatic, greener and more inviting place.

Feeling more sporty than musical? Then summer in the city is your time of year. I’d talk about baseball but wouldn’t be equipped to compare and contrast it to what may or may not be its nearest British equivalent – cricket. This is largely due to my ongoing failure to understand cricket. And I’ve tried, believe me, I’ve tried. I just don’t get it. There. I’ve said it. Can we move on, now? What about something we all understand, like tennis.

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The plague of gum on our streets and pavements

the chewing gum scourge is costing us all – as taxpayers – millions of pounds a year

My message to the gum-chewers of Britain is if you chew, then swallow, too. And if you can’t swallow it, then find a bin or face a fine

 

I was standing outside the new Tube station at Shepherd’s Bush last week, and marvelling at the regeneration that can be achieved by sensible investment in transport. The proprietor of a local coffee-cum-ice-cream bar was telling me how much better things were going, and how many new customers he was getting from the nearby Westfield shopping centre, when another man seized me by the elbow.

“Mr Boris,” he said, in tones of despair and an accent that suggested he was not native to London, “what are you going to do about all this?” As I followed the sweep of his arm, I saw the gleaming London Underground signs, and the capacious concourses, and the happy crowds of shoppers and commuters milling in ergonomically efficient patterns over the spanking piazzas; and then – beneath our very feet – I saw what he was driving at.

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Should children cycle to school?

Every so often I find a new hero. I read in the papers of some individual who is managing to swim against the glutinous tide of political correctness.

In this age of air-bagged, mollycoddled, infantilised over-regulation it can make my spirits soar to discover that out there in the maquis of modern Britain there is still some freedom fighter who is putting up resistance against the encroachments of the state; and when I read of their struggle I find myself wanting to stand on my chair and cheer, or perhaps to strike a City Hall medal in their honour.

Such were my feelings yesterday morning when I read of my new hero, or heroes, to be precise. We are talking of a married couple from Dulwich, south London, by the name of Oliver and Gillian Schonrock. I have not been able to contact this illustrious pair – since it didn’t seem fair to phone them up on a Sunday – but if the papers are right, they deserve the thanks of us all. They have taken the sword of common sense to the great bloated encephalopathic sacred cow of elf and safety. And for this effrontery they are, of course, being persecuted by the authorities.

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