2. Exploring New York & temporarily losing Alfie in New Jersey

I type this sitting outside my favourite coffee shop –The Hungarian Pastry Shop 014 049048with about 30 different cakes and biscuits, most baked on the premises so as I type the smell of baking cakes is wafting into my nostrils. My favourite so far is the cheesecake: about 1,000 calories a slice, I reckon. The Hungarian speciality is the poppyseed strudel, so I tried one. Not a fan. Tastes a bit like sunflower oil with sugar. It is already 8 January and Alfie and I arrived in New York on 22 December!006 046 007

Alfie behaves so well sitting outside with me. He watched the people and cars (and some dogs) going up and down Amsterdam Avenue and seduces passers-by with his waggy tail and calm disposition.  In fact, Alfie is turning out to be a big seducer, which works to my advantage.

The reason I found this place – where I tend to sit and have coffee with ‘half and half’ (I love the fact that you can drink coffee with half cream, half milk – delicious!) every day, is that a man came up to us in the park to say hello to Alfie and then told me I should 593 592try it. sat outside on New Year’s Eve, another man came up to make a fuss of Alfie and asked if I was going to the Cathedral opposite – St John the Divine which, for the record, is the largest Cathedral in the world and is very beautiful  – for the concert that evening ‘Festival of Light’.

Debbie and I duly turned up to queue at 5.30. A third of the audience had paid $100 each and the rest of us plebs lined up for the opening of the box office at 6.00 to get in for free. The queue rapidly increased in size, winding itself round the block.

042 038 036The concert/service was beautiful – all of us were given a candle to light at the end. Judy Collins was on the programme to give her ‘Reflections’. In the event, she sang, acapella, ‘Amazing Grace’ and ‘Turn, turn turn‘, encouraging us to join in – what a treat! So the journey is proving to be one of small links, each leading to another experience and very connected to my precious dog.

610 611 612044 050Debbie’s apartment is a few hundred yards from Tom’s Restaurant – used in Seinfeld and the setting for Suzane Vega’s song ‘Tom’s Diner’

On New Year’s Day I was sitting outside the Hungarian Pastry Shop when I noticed a couple of guys with the tell-tale sign of plastic wires coming from the back of their ears. Turned out they were guarding Bill de Blasio, Mayor of New York, who had come uptown hot from a visit to Time Square for coffee and cake with his lovely wife. He was happy for us to have a photo together.


A lot has happened since 22 December. First, I had to go through my book and edit it. Once that was done, I had to let people know about it – I really have not completed that process yet. And then, of course, there was Christmas.

Debbie and her family come from New Jersey and we were invited there for Christmas Day, so in the days before Alfie and I familiarised ourselves with the area – in particular Riverside Park (so called because it stretches along the Hudson River), the campus of Columbia University – the trees so beautifully lit up at night – and all the hussle and bussle of Upper Manhattan. The Northern end of Central Park is only 6 blocks down and 4 blocks across and takes us 20 minutes to reach. (10 blocks is roughly a mile).

005 619 617 615Debbie has a Steinway in her living room. Totally blind, music (and her latest guide dog) is her life. Gary (more about him in Blog 3) walks 4 blocks with his saxophone so they can jam together. She knows a number of musicians, most of them blind. Gary is sighted: listening to them play together is a joy.


Christmas Day was therefore spent in New Jersey in a delightful area (and gorgeous house) belonging to one of Debbie’s brothers (she has 4 of them, all completely different). This particular brother (best not to mention names) is a VERY BIG CHEESE in Homeland Security who was brought out of retirement to manage a huge staff in Obama’s government. He, the extended family and the day were all delightful. No turkey, but there was a huge succulent ham, beef wellington and lots of imaginatively prepared vegetables. There was also a truly disgusting typically American dish: yams with little marshmallows on top. I gave it a miss – they all loved this extreme sugar overload.

006 011When it became dark, I went for a walk with another Jackie. Oh dear.  Overly confident that Alfie could be off the lead he suddenly disappeared into a wooded area. For half an hour I tramped the streets calling his name. The rest of the family were informed and set off with their mobile phones. Back where I had lost him, I suddenly heard ‘shoo, shoo’. Calling out ‘Is there a dog there?’ the answer was yes – and he was eye-balling a cat.020 013 017


I had forgotten that Alfie totally loses reason (and becomes selectively deaf) when a cat is around. He had been 20 feet from where I lost him the whole time and totally ignored my increasingly frantic calls. I, meanwhile, had imagined him carried off by a bear (yes, there are bears there), his leg in a trap, goodness knows what…


That night, Debbie and I slept in their guest apartment over the garage and on waking we had porridge (that they call oatmeal) with lots of lovely things. Including blueberries and maple syrup. Alfie and I, together with Debbie’s dog Ellie, went for a lovely walk through the woods – predominantly large American oaks – with Debbie’s brother.  The area has 5 lakes and is very pretty.

611 610 605 604 602 600Alfie has been enjoying his walks but has definitely slowed down as he approaches his 8th birthday on 3 March. I felt so awful a few days later when on returning to Debbie’s apartment I suddenly realised that Alfie-dog likes to charge around Blaise Castle, which is woodlands and grass, rather than the pavements of New York. His paws needed attention and I found dunking each one in a mix of warm water and lavender oil, drying them, then smearing ‘Egyptian Magic’ (a marvellous mix of olive oil and bee products to be found in Costco) did the trick. I have used it a few times since.

Interestingly, Alfie reacts far more to crowds and traffic in Bristol and London. Here in New York he takes it all in his stride. In fact, when I dragged the poor mite down to 34th Street from 116th and back on Boxing Day (they don’t have Boxing Day in the States) he wasn’t at all fazed by the huge crowds. I saw some of the shop windows – Macy’s theme was Charlie Brown – and the huge Christmas tree at the Rockefeller Centre,but we then got stuck in a mass of people. Alfie just trotted jauntily through the crowds, bringing a smile to many faces.025 027 033


607Riverside Church is just up from where I am staying. It is incredibly tall inside and the congregation is every hue imaginable, which I just love. The choir sounds fabulously professional

Despite being a Buddhist I actually like the churches round here and the sermons in both churches that Debbie and I attended over Christmas/New Year  were fascinatingly political with a small ‘p’ – with outspoken comments about racism and black children being shot dead by the police.

Continuing on the theme of bumping into people and being given good advice, I met a guy in the park who told me of the wonderful walk along the Hudson River all the way down to the Chelsea Piers and the High 602 596 599Line – a fabulous park created on site of an old railway track that goes from the meatpacking district to 34th Street. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/High_Line_(New_York_City)

587 591 043On 30th December one of Debbie’s other brothers, David, decided to take us to a great Broadway Musical: Spring Awakening. The cast were for the most part very young, and very talented. David had dated the mother of one of the actresses: Ali Stroker, who is in a wheelchair since a tragic car accident at the age of two and many of the cast are deaf. It has to be one of the best shows on Broadway at the moment. https://www.springawakeningthemusical.com/

Coming out of the Theatre we treated ourselves to coffee with half and half and huge raisin bran cookies. I have resisted the temptation to do any ‘supersize’ burger visits…. but we did order a ‘medium’ pizza delivery the other night and ended up with the biggest, cheesiest, pizza I have ever seen – goodness knows what the large looks like.

Alfie and I have walked nearly every day in Central Park – on Christmas Eve we were allowed to sit on the Terrace of the beautiful Boat House restaurant by the general manager who told me that they don’t normally allow dogs, but as it was Christmas….

Central Park is delightful. They call it the lungs of New York and I cannot imagine what the city would be like without it. Every time I go I meet lovely people – lots with dogs, some just random people who want to say hello to Alfie and end up exchanging stories with me. I think this visit would be very different without Alfie. I occasionally flout the rules – the track around the reservoir is one way and no dogs. Today a New Yorker came up to me as I was walking the wrong way with Alfie and said ‘Dawgs are not allowed. Take your dawg off the track’, so I smiled and took the next exit out, then met a delightful woman dog-walker (there are lots of people making a living doing that in New York) with whom I chatted about life, relationships and my book. In fact, I talk about my book a lot here.

004You can even get married in Central Park. This lovely lady stumbled along in her too high heels while her new husband walked on, totally ignoring her. Not a good start, methinks.

Much more to say, but that will have to wait for blog number 3.

Finally, as the temperatures dropped to minus 10 for a few days (it has warmed up, but another really cold snap is forecast, I took myself off to Macy’s and bought myself a big padded coat) so now I am wearing a New York look:010