Saturday, June 20, 2009

The Hamptons

Before having a child a big part of a holiday for me was having a lie-in. In fact, I'd avoid hotels that did the whole 'breakfast included' thing because I never made use of it. Neither Roberto or I are particularly ambitious sightseers either, so yes, sleeping late, having some sort of brunch somewhere in town or at the hotel, and then a bit of laziness in the afternoon before cards over drinks, followed by dinner and then bed was pretty much standard fare. Occasionally we'd set ourselves an activity so we wouldn't feel too guilty about traveling half way across the world only to eat, sleep and play cards.

With a baby or small child a holiday is a whole different ballgame, in fact I'm not even sure one can classify it as a holiday. Or perhaps it is a bit of one in that you have your partner with you so you can actually go and use the loo alone for once, without a small person trying to squeeze their hand between your generous bottom and the toilet bowl. Or have a shower without said small person yelling at the top of their lungs because you have the audacity to need two minutes to wash yourself while they are left with a pile of toys and books that you wish you'd had as a child.

And then there's the whole self catering thing which, before having a child, I reacted to much the same way a vampire's supposed to upon being splashed with holy water. Memories of my mother complaining about how it wasn't any kind of holiday if she still had to cook, clean and do laundry have stuck with me. Or perhaps it was her smoldering resentment that's lingered in my memory. Either way, I'm inclined to agree with her. Holidays are all about having someone else make your bed, and eating in restaurants, and using lots of towels that magically reappear clean , fluffy, and folded in the morning. Oh, plus all those delicious dinky complimentary bathroom toiletries.

But hotels aren't particularly practical with children. You see you need the self catering thing in order to have access to a washing machine and dryer so you can do a dozen loads of washing a day. And then there's the kitchen so you can wash stuff, sterilize stuff, make food on command, store bottles in fridges etc. Plus place for them to run riot and break stuff, rub biscuits into carpets, spill milk on etc. You're really getting the holiday vibe from all of this right?

So for our most recent holiday in the Hamptons, we rented a house that came with a maid service. We thought it would be a good compromise. But upon arrival at the house we were met with a large pile of dirty laundry (sheets, towels etc) lying in a pile by the washing machine. The upstairs beds lacking bed linen. The dishwasher full and unpacked, leading me, at first, to curse the landlord for what appeared to be a lack of dishes and cutlery in the house. Half used loo rolls in the bathrooms, and a filthy carpet in the lounge which looked as though it hadn't seen a vacuum since it's conception in Bulgaria.

When we confronted the landlord about this mess. I mean, who wants to arrive in the middle of the night at the beginning of their holiday to that right? He said,
'Yes well, um, my cleaner doesn't really like doing laundry.' Hmmm, sounds like his cleaner doesn't like doing anything much at all, except of course to take home the large sum of money he pays her. Personally I thought the guy was getting ripped off, but that's his business, and more so, bad for his business. First impressions are lasting ones, and to have your guests arrive to a dirty house is not good.

Anyway, so having seen how crap his cleaner was I didn't want her services. I think mainly because I couldn't trust myself not to tell her that I thought her work, or lack thereof, was crap. So our catered self catering thing kind of went out the window, and we did it ourselves. But Roberto is a good helper and between us we handled things. Plus the house, when clean, was actually perfectly nice, and there were some very friendly ducks in the creek at the end of the garden who rather liked the bread Julia and I fed them.

The Hamptons are a beautiful part of the world, even when it's raining, which it did, a lot. My favourite places included East Hampton (beautiful and lots of posh shops for window shopping), Sag Harbour (great little bay for the kids to play and oh so pretty), and Bridgehampton because it had the best ever vintage clothing shop. Replete with authentic items such as Victorian jackets, glass beaded evening flapper dresses (salivate), old Chanel handbags, 1920's evening purses, and on and on and on. It was like the British Museum - requiring many return visits to truly appreciate its cavernous treasures. Expensive but a must see for people who like authentic vintage and not some old shyte from Mango that some shops I've been in in London try and pass off as vintage.

The food in the Hamptons was a mixed bag and expensive, especially in East Hampton. A very good place to eat was the East Hampton Point restaurant at the East Hampton Point Marina. Highly highly recommend it. It has a stunning view of the marina, and the food was great. Do me a favour and have the lobster linguine - hmmm.

We got the impression that wealthy New Yorkers and New Jerseyites that have their second homes there begin arriving in drips and drabs ahead of the 4th of July holidays. The table next to us at dinner one evening (four silver haired stalwarts with thick New Jersey accents), started their conversation recounting their latest blood pressure readings before talking about their grandchildren. It's the kind of thing you tend to overhear when you have dinner at 5pm. To us they said,
'Oh, you must come in Joo-lie', this weather has been most unusual.' Which was a polite way of saying that it had pissed down with rain most days.

The day before leaving we drove over an hour to a petting zoo in Manorville, for Julia's benefit of course. Another thing you do on holiday with small kids is drive over an hour to places that you only spend half an hour in tops, because your child inevitably decides that actually they don't really want to be there.

It was a toss up between this petting zoo come animal rescue place and a wildlife themed park. I went for the first because I liked the idea of a place that uses its proceeds to actually help animals in need, as opposed to just acquiring them to make money. However, the animal rescue bit should have warned me that it was going to be depressing. The website boasted that they had rescued some snow monkeys and built them an enclosure thanks to money generated from donations and the income from the petting zoo. In reality that enclosure was something one might have seen in a zoo circa 1973 - all concrete floors and bars. And the animals, quite frankly, looked depressed. It made my heart sore, but it was probably a vast improvement on wherever those poor creatures had been rescued from, plus now they were getting fed and looked after.

I also had to remind myself that without adequate space, money and resources these sorts of places are never going to be Whipsnade. I'd like to contact them and a local animal food supplier in the area and see if I can get some sort of regular donation going.

On a different sort of outing, we visited Jackson Pollock and Lee Krasner's house, which was literally a 5 minute drive from where we were staying in East Hampton. That was quite an experience, especially as I had seen the film (very good!) with Ed Harris as Pollock not too long ago. Pollock's studio, a converted barn in the property, still has the paint splattered floor and walls. The plot of land the house and studio is on is vast and ends at the water's edge - very beautiful and inspiring. Perhaps less inspiring is the fact that Pollock died in a car accident, thanks to his penchant for boozing before getting behind the wheel, on the very street the house is on.

I imagine there is a ton of stuff that we could have done and didn't do in this part of the world, so don't rate this as an exhaustive travel guide of any sort. But yes, very very pretty and hopefully, good weather and effective maid service permitting, we'll definitely go back.

Best Vintage clothing shop - ever. Bridgehampton (main street)

Julia and Robert meet the donkeys at the petting zoo

Jackson Pollock's studio. East Hampton

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Blah blah blah

So, Susan Boyle had a bit of a melt down after she lost in the final of Britain's Got Talent. I think it's safe to say that with the pressure that poor woman was under she would have had that breakdown even if she had won. Not helped by tabloid journalists lurking in the hotel she was staying at during the show and winding her up. I hope once she has rested and realised that a record deal is far more lucrative than performing a one-off for the Queen, she will feel a bit better about things.

For those of you elsewhere, we are having absolutely gorgeous weather here in London. Yesterday it reached 27 degrees Celsius. In fact at times it was too hot and one longed for a cool breeze. Definitely pedicure season.

This kind of weather also brings out all the celebrity diet crap in the magazines. If I have to see another celeb-endorsed DVD in my copies of Now and Closer I'm going to scream. Why these people don't just come out and say that they exist on diet coke and fags, and in some cases other more nefarious substances, is beyond me. Makes for much more interesting reading.

There's also always the requisite two-paged spread of a celeb showing what meals she has opted for instead of what she used to eat. So there's a picture of a burger (like she ever ate burgers!) and then an arrow pointing to an anemic-looking grilled chicken breast with some sprigs of lettuce next to it.

In a few months time they will be interviewed in the same magazine saying that actually they had been starving themselves and were miserable.

I'm just moaning because my own diet is a disaster. Actually I never diet per se, because the moment I put myself on one I want all the kinds of shit that I never eat. Like peanut butter on toast, KFC, or Snickers bars and stuff like that. Also, I don't diet because I have yet to find one that I can stick to in the real world that you can adapt to in restaurants and stuff. What I do try and do, once in a blue moon, is cut out the sugar in my diet, likewise the heavy carbs, and not eat late at night. This actually works a treat and I do genuinely lose weight. I tell myself I am not dieting, just eating properly. Yeah right.

Unfortunately I am also very bad at making food for myself, and the result is that I snack instead of eating meals . And a handful of this and a handful of that is full of hidden calories blah blah blah. Anyway, I'm feeling very fat right now so I'm not too happy about it, especially as we are on our holidays soon and I don't want to scare off the fish.

I read a very interesting article about charity shops on the weekend. A well known clothing guru woman (I'm afraid I forget her name) did a makeover on one of the charity shops. I think it was an Oxfam. What she discovered is that most of the work the shop volunteers do is sorting through the crap that people leave outside their doors. And when I say crap, I mean, literally rubbish. People use charity shops as a dumping ground and amazingly something like 90 percent of that stuff is unsellable and has to be dumped.

The charity shops then have to pay for this junk to be removed and taken to a recyling place.

One bag contained a pair of trousers with the dirty knickers still in them (nice), and another black sack contained a whole lot of unusable junk plus two dead mice. Yes, people clearly hold the needy in very high regard.

So it's worth knowing (because in all fairness some people do not know this) that they are not taking your old sweater with the holes in and placing it around the shoulders of a freezing cold but oh-so-very-grateful tramp. These places are shops, and the whole point is that they try and get a few quid from your old gear from someone just like you, and then the money generated is used for charity work. So before you stick it in the Oxfam pile, ask yourself, is it in saleable nick? And knickers, dirty or otherwise, are never OK. Best chuck those into the fabric recycling pile at your local dump. I think the same goes for bras and boxers.

Addendum: I went online to the Association of Charity Shops to find out about what they take and don't take. This is what it said:

  1. Charity shops work because they can sell items with a second life. Please check your donations are both clean and functional e.g. tears or broken zips on clothes – missing chapters in books!

  2. You are helping a good cause AND the environment – re-use is even better than recycling.

  3. The best way to donate is to take items directly to your local charity shop. If this isn’t possible, you could fill a charity shop collection sack, or take items to clothing banks.

  4. If you have more specialist items, for example, electrical goods or furniture, it is best to check that the charity shop can accept these items for re-sale before donating.

  5. If you are not sure whether your clothes can be re-sold – donate them anyway – whatever clothes a charity shop can’t sell they can send off for further re-use or recycling! (A friend of mine (see comment below) pointed out that some old stuff can be used for the purposes of mattress filling etc. I think it's worth putting that kind of thing in a seperate bag and mentioning it when handing it in).