Nails A manicure in New York

The dazzling green and red neon sign on Sixth Avenue shrieks "Nails" above the commotion of the traffic below. I walk up a flight of dilapidated stairs and gingerly push open the shabby door. A Korean man in surgical mask and protective goggles looks up from the hands he is working on in front of him. "I'd like a manicure," I stutter, unused to saying the words that come so naturally to every New Yorker.

"What do you want, French? Curved or straight? And what colour?" He has that quick-fire Manhattan way of speaking. "French," I snap back, not knowing what a French would entail. He nods and points to the rack of nail colours, ranging from canary yellow to vampire black. "Oh, just natural," I say, suddenly fearing that I might end up having a Jamaican sunrise painted on my fingertips. "You mean pink." I nod and sit down.

As I sit watching TV, my manicurist slips my fingertips in two bowls of warm solution to soften the cuticles and sets to work, firmly clipping (ouch!), filing (my teeth are on edge), buffing and then confidently painting them with pearly pink varnish. All this for $10 plus tax, paid in advance so you don't ruin your nails while fishing about in your purse.

Finally, I am left with my fingers under the nail equivalent of a hair- dryer. Next to me, two teenage girls have cotton wool separating each toe. Their nails are a work of art, each set with a diamante and painted with - of course - a Jamaican sunrise. My own nails are shiny and neat. They look as though they are made of plastic. Perhaps next time, I'll go for something a little more adventurous. Stars and stripes maybe. Tamsin Blanchard

Between now and the end of March you should not need to spend more than pounds 200 on a flight to New York.