Monday, 24 January 2011

Rubbish return

I left NYC for a month and by the looks of things on my return, she couldn't care less.

As our yellow cab whizzes down fifth, I notice that the city looks decidedly shittier than normal. She's made no effort for my return, quite the opposite in fact.

I turn to the Teenager:

"Is it me, or is there a lot more trash than normal everywhere?"
"For god's sake Mother, it's rubbish."
"Yes, alright. But am I imagining it?"
"It's always dirty here."
"Yes, but there's piles of garbage everywhere."

Piles of snow too. Drifts that have been pushed to the side by ploughs and have now frozen, mini mush mountains on the side of the pavements.  Long since white, now stained with the footprints of thousands of New Yorkers, yellow dog piss and discarded coffee.

I chose the coldest December on record to go back, so snow had already dominated my trip back home to Britain. It was all over the UK, but the majority of it was in South Wales. The weather meant nothing worked, or rather- nothing worked even worse than normal-which is worse than I remembered.

Public transport, which I was forced to take a lot-was hit hardest and there was more of it during my trip home than any one person should have to endure. After my flight from NY to London I bused it to Cardiff on a National express coach that took 4 hours to go 150 miles down the M4 but It felt more like 150 hours to go 4 miles, due to the selfish pensioners in front of me who put their seats back for the entire journey and pretended to be asleep. This halved my leg room and I prepared to be the world's first coach DVT victim.

While in Cardiff I was forced onto buses after my Mother insured her car with Age Concern, therefore excluding anyone under 50 being added as a driver.  When I complained she said "Don't worry darling, just 14 years to go." Then she waxed lyrical about the joys of Cardiff bus' Day To Go where you get unlimited travel for just £3 a day.

After a week of trying to see friends and run errands on the blue rinse bus I headed off to London, where at least public transport runs more than twice an hour. This meant a train journey back in the same direction as I had come, which clearly messed with the universe, because the buffet car's coffee machine broke and Pam of Great Western suggested instant instead, causing me to shudder all the way back to my seat.

While in London there was a lot of tubes to take while carrying lots of bags. I developed an ingrowing toenail, a condition that is so painful it rules out me seeing the funny side, either then or now. It also pretty much rules out walking more than 20 yards. And dancing. And the heels I had packed for dancing. And walking in snow. And wearing wellies that would help me walk in the snow. So of course then it snowed and nothing worked again. Not my feet or London transport. Except the black cabs, but efficiency costs-£50 for two rides to be exact.

After month in the UK, I was ready to come back to NYC, any longer and I would have started to get used to it all. To accept terrible service.  I would have switched coffee for tea. I would have started to understand what was going on in Corrie again. Another week of Cadbury's on tap and my arse would have been 10 pounds fatter.

A few weeks into January and I read that the reason for all the rubbish is that the city was too busy ploughing the snow to take the bin bags away. I'm not sure what they've been doing since though. Now the pavements have even bigger snow mountains, created where it's fallen again onto the uncollected rubbish. Atop them lie discarded Christmas trees, making giant mounds of discarded festivities.

It's nice to know that New York city is not always that efficient either. It's nice when this overachieving city shows some vulnerability. Miss Perfect screwing up makes us all feel better. 

The difference between America and the UK is that Blighty just doesn't care. It's unapologetically inefficient. Take it or leave it. It's a rebel country without a cause. It's lion's roar is broken and it's no idea when it will be fixed.

Oh how I love you, beautifully broken Britain.

And that is why sometimes my heart is not always where my home is.


  1. Of everything in this blog entry, the most surprising thing is how Teenager kept correcting your use of "trash" and "garbage". I've long learnt that one has to embrace these Americanisms, just like calling certain red fruit "tuh-MAY-tow" and hardening my previously softly accented pronounciation of "water" into a word that makes me sound like I'm throwing up with a stammer, (WAH-tuh).

    And I can't believe you didn't mention a Clarksie, a Dark &/or the Bluebirds, even once! ;)

  2. Haha! Thanks for commenting Mark. Unfortunately I didn't have room for writing about everything I did when back in the UK and being as the theme was rubbish, I wouldn't want to put my lovely Bluebirds in with that!

    The Teenager is the absolute language police. I get picked up on everything. Maybe she will conceede with a few more years here?

    Emma x

  3. Its my first winter in the US and I am amazed how well they cope with the snow here. And new yorker's willingness to go out and about to get on with their daily lives. Where are the snow days?! But it mings so much. I've never seen snow quite so grey. Or piles of trash quite so high. It's funny, that was the thing that struck us most when we returned here from Christmas break in the uk too!

    (love your blog by the way)



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