Stalking Fran Lebowitz (and other equally worthy enterprises)

Remember those weeks that turned into months when there were such tight constraints on our social movements that we weren’t able to so much as go to our friends’ houses, or even sit with them in the open air? When going out for lunch seemed as exotic as flying to Milan for Fashion Week? During that time, I would plan where I would like to go, much of which seemed like a pipe dream in those days when I’d get excited about a trip to Waitrose. My most adventurous idea was sparked at first by watching Pretend It’s a City on Netflix. I thought I’d like to go to New York, stay in the Chelsea/Village area, and hang around in case I could see Fran Lebowitz. Go big or go home, as they say. Well, I don’t, but some people do.

I thought about my plan some more, and eventually mentioned it to my good friend Jenny, who as well as being my partner in crime on various rock-music-related trips, is also a travel agent. We booked a hotel and flights. We made arrangements to meet up with some old chums from our Aerosmith days, friends who live in Manhattan, and also one of my clients who lives nearby.

Walking down Fifth Avenue, me and Jenny
With our Aerosmith friends

Here we are with Nancy and Becky, in Osteria 57, a lovely Italian restaurant on W. 10th Street. While we were waiting for our cab to take us back to the hotel, Nancy got talking to a lady with her dog outside an apartment block, when out came the doorman, who was the lady’s brother. He was wearing an Aerosmith T-shirt, so we told him we were also Aerosmith fans. He said he’d been to over 300 gigs, and had been a fan club member since 1983, named his children after the band members, and if he knew us better he’d show us his tattoos – but our cab turned up, so that pleasure was denied us! 

I had dinner with one of my clients, Kate P. Adams, who as well as being the author of the delightful, funny, elegant Charleton House Mystery series (read about Kate and her work here), also proved to be the most charming dinner companion a girl could wish for.

One of the things I love about this city is the buildings of old New York, the sort that you can imagine in an Edith Wharton novel, and particularly the ghost signs which are plentiful because businesses move premises all the time in this ever-changing metropolis, and leave some of their story behind.

On our last night we went to the Waverly Inn, which I especially wanted to visit because I’d seen Fran being interviewed there, sitting under a cartoon of herself on the wall. Our friends who live in Manhattan made a booking and met us there. Jenny managed to get a photo of me sitting under that very cartoon, but afterwards I was reprimanded by the sommelier (the shame!) because apparently you’re not supposed to do that, although he was very nice about it and said he hoped I’d got the picture I wanted. It was only when I investigated the place further that I discovered that it’s frequented by celebrities, and there are always paparazzi outside. Perhaps he didn’t want to upset me in case I was famous!

Me and Jenny, ready to go out and live the Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, well, for one evening anyway!
Here’s one for the Franaholics!

So, I went big – and then I came home. And that’s enough excitement for a little while. But I’m already making notes on my to-do list about where I’d like to go next.

Outside Fran Lebowitz’s apartment building – mission (almost) accomplished!

Update – Fran Lebowitz had speaking dates booked in the UK, for which I bought tickets in the beginning of 2021. In June/July I finally got to see her in person. Firstly, I was in the front row at her gig in Bath, then a couple of days later with my good friend Trish at the Barbican. It was here that I finally met Fran, and achieved my initial goal of ‘not saying anything stupid’! (A lot of fans’ goal when they meet Fran, she can be a bit scary.) I managed to polite and charming (though I say it myself), and she asked me a lot of questions, ending by looking up at me and smiling. My finest hour – so far!

Fran in Bath


Durham, Always in my Heart

Long, long ago, back when the Pope was an altar boy, I was invited by Durham University for an interview to study for a degree, dependent on my A-Level results. I travelled there by train alone, having never previously been north of Birmingham, and as I looked out of the window I increasingly realised that I was in what felt like another country. Once you get past Darlington, the appearance of the countryside and the buildings is very foreign to a southerner. More stark, raw, tough, uncompromising – and that’s the nature of the people there as well. I thought it was wonderful, and fell in love with the place as I alighted from the train, greeted by the sight of the wonderful Norman cathedral and castle. I felt that it was a magic place, and I still do.

Last week, visiting my sister who lives in the area, I went to Durham on a day trip. We had lovely weather for it. Here is the River Wear, where we walked along the riverbank on the way to Prebends Bridge, just by my college, St. Cuthbert’s, named after the patron saint of Northumbria, associated with the monastery of Lindisfarne. Durham is one of the very few collegiate universities in England, the others being Cambridge, Oxford and London.

The view of the cathedral from the riverbank
The university boathouse, bearing the graffiti ‘uni students are puffs’. The eternal town/gown conflict is alive as ever!
Me, walking in the footsteps of my youth

At the top of Prebends Bridge is St. Cuthberts, with its imposing doorway.

My room at the top, when I stayed in college. It was between the main building and the bar. All the colleges in this road are old houses, it’s a lovely place.
You can see St. Cuthbert’s through the archway

And so to Palace Green, home of the castle and the cathedral, with its famous door-knocker whereby one could claim sanctuary.

My sister Terry in the foreground
The bones of the Venerable Bede are laid to rest here
When I first went to Durham University, the city had the 1970s ‘right to work’ posters everywhere, and many of the shops and pubs were run by ex-miners – very much the north of Thatcher’s Britain. It was not unusual for some pubs (like the Shakespeare, above!) to only allow women in to sit in a little room called ‘the snug’, which they would enter via a side door. Women were not allowed to go to the bar to order drinks in these pubs, and had to bring a man with them to do so. Now, I can enter through the front door if I want to!

On reading my (younger!) sister’s blog post about turning 60

Here is the post, written a couple of years ago, by my sister (@TerryTyler4 on Twitter).

She’s absolutely right about all of it, and no matter how much I used to tell her how being 60 would feel, we all have to find out for ourselves, like everything else.

I remember a few years ago, my then boss got his Senior Railcard and was most disappointed when, the first time he used it, the ticket collector on the train didn’t stagger back in amazement and demand to know where he stole it from. I live in a little town where the guards on the train know the regulars, and there’s one who always indulges me by asking in a loud voice where I got this card from, whereupon I say equally loudly that I mugged an old lady for it.

I was with my sister on the trip to Hever that she mentions, and naturally I too got the Senior Discount, but I’ve got used to asking for it and nobody saying diddly squat, or even looking at me closely to check!

Occasionally I forget that I’m the age I am, and still get caught out. I remember talking to a 30-something about a subject that escapes me, and I gradually realised that they were expecting to hear my views on the subject from the perspective of someone of great age and experience. I wanted to say, ‘oh, I get it, you think I’m old! No, no, you’ve got it all wrong! If you could see how I feel in my head, I think I’m just the same age as you’.

There are some huge compensations to getting older:

  • We’ve found out, to a large extent, what clothing/hair/make-up suits us and what doesn’t
  • We’re not afraid to say, ‘no, I don’t want to do that, thank you’
  • We are very happy to go to a friend’s house, get into our comfortable trousers, and sit around watching TV all night rather than feeling somehow obliged to go out and socialise

There is a French saying that I remember hearing from our mother:

Si jeunesse savait, si vieillesse pouvait

In other words – if youth only knew, if old age only could.

My heroine (one of my heroines) the great, ineffably delightful Fran Lebowitz, says that nobody ever thinks they’re going to lose their looks until they do. When we meet old friends after a long time, we think, what happened to you? Then we realise they’re probably thinking the same about us. She remembers finding some very old photos of herself, taken for a Vogue interview, which she’d rejected because she thought she didn’t look good in them – if she were to wake up looking like that every morning now, she says, she’d be ecstatic!

So we keep on trucking – and hoping for a good tomorrow.

Cheers, all you over-60s!

Some Punctuation Marks Walked into a Bar and …

• An Oxford comma walks into a bar, where it spends the evening watching the television, getting drunk, and smoking cigars.

• A dangling participle walks into a bar. Enjoying a cocktail and chatting with the bartender, the evening passes pleasantly.

• A bar was walked into by the passive voice.

• An oxymoron walked into a bar, and the silence was deafening.

• Two quotation marks walk into a “bar.”

• A malapropism walks into a bar, looking for all intensive purposes like a wolf in cheap clothing, muttering epitaphs and casting dispersions on his magnificent other, who takes him for granite.

• Hyperbole totally rips into this insane bar and absolutely destroys everything.

• A question mark walks into a bar?

• A non sequitur walks into a bar. In a strong wind, even turkeys can fly.

• Papyrus and Comic Sans walk into a bar. The bartender says, “Get out — we don’t serve your type.”

• A mixed metaphor walks into a bar, seeing the handwriting on the wall but hoping to nip it in the bud.

• A comma splice walks into a bar, it has a drink and then leaves.

• Three intransitive verbs walk into a bar. They sit. They converse. They depart.

• A synonym strolls into a tavern.

• At the end of the day, a cliché walks into a bar — fresh as a daisy, cute as a button, and sharp as a tack.

• A run-on sentence walks into a bar it starts flirting. With a cute little sentence fragment.

• Falling slowly, softly falling, the chiasmus collapses to the bar floor.

• A figure of speech literally walks into a bar and ends up getting figuratively hammered.

• An allusion walks into a bar, despite the fact that alcohol is its Achilles heel.

• The subjunctive would have walked into a bar, had it only known.

• A misplaced modifier walks into a bar owned by a man with a glass eye named Ralph.

• The past, present, and future walked into a bar. It was tense.

• A dyslexic walks into a bra.

• A verb walks into a bar, sees a beautiful noun, and suggests they conjugate. The noun declines.

• A simile walks into a bar, as parched as a desert.

• A gerund and an infinitive walk into a bar, drinking to forget.

• A hyphenated word and a non-hyphenated word walk into a bar and the bartender nearly chokes on the irony

A Walk in the Woods to the Lake

Yesterday I went for a walk with my friend (she lives alone and is as paranoid as I am about avoiding the virus, so we reckoned it was okay to walk a couple of feet apart in the wide open spaces). We went the back way to the lake adjoining our local manor house (which you can see in the distance on the photo with the sheep). It was a very hot day and we encountered only a handful of people, all of whom kept their distance. My friend is more athletic than me (she runs an hour or so every day or walks for more than that), and after walking in the heat for about 4 hours, I was about ready to be medevac’d out of there! But it was lovely, such beautiful countryside, and I’m so happy to be able to do this. Afterwards, a takeaway pizza and a bottle of wine, looking out over the sea.