Living in the United States can get terribly tribal – more than in most other places, I suspect.
When we recognise our tribe we are sometimes drawn to it or quite violently repelled, as in, "Don't consider for one minute that I am one of them" – British, gay, Tea Party – or whatever it may be. Me dear, no dear!
No one was resisting at my first ever pop-up brunch in Manhattan. My friends had given me directions to a French restaurant in the East Village called Leon. But on Sunday and Saturday only it transforms itself into Maharlika. A smash hit since its debut in January, the place serves Filipino food. A quick scan of the dining room suggests that only I and one other are not originally from the Philippines. A big favourite is morsels of pork marinated in 7Up, accompanied by rice and a fried egg. Better than it sounds.
On the other hand, a British friend who has been in the US since 1985 reported a recent moment of horror while eating breakfast at the pricey Conrad Hotel in Miami. A couple she had already pegged as being from the UK were trying their pot of tea, clearly rehearsing in their heads the old cliché about Americans not being able to make a decent cuppa. "This tastes like wee-wee," the husband loudly declared.
I have never been a congregator when it comes to other British expats in New York. It's a form of snobbery, I suppose, pretending for instance that I am somehow less obnoxious than the crowd of young London things bragging about their lives at the bar at Soho House. So, it has been with slight reluctance that I have allowed myself to get attached to George. With a bowler hat logo, this is a newly formed society aimed at "young and vibrant" Brits in New York who want to schmooze, booze and network together.
George has its own business card already – "Time for Life's Adventure, Welcome to George" – and on (Shrove) Tuesday was launched with a packed Pancake Party at a bar on Third Avenue. Even this all-Brit crowd had its sub-tribes, corporate types here and the scruffy, gossipy types there. The latter, of course, were all the journalists I had encouraged to come.
The real, much fancier, kick-off was on Friday, however, at Pier 88 on the Hudson River. Rather, it was on the deck of HMS Gloucester, a British Navy destroyer which, I hesitate to say, looked ever so puny beside the Intrepid, a decommissioned US aircraft carrier that these days is a museum. How much more English in New York could you get, really?
No one minded the cold, and while the cocktails were served with ice you would have been forgiven for noticing. The night was brought to an abrupt end with about a hundred tipsy Brits standing on the aft deck as military orders were barked and the ensign was lowered in a sunset-at-sea ceremony. But that was not before our good Consul General, Sir Alan Collins, had said a few words about George and – must we, again? – the special relationship between us and America.
A spin-off from the very ancient and fusty St George's Society of New York, which concerns itself more with charity than chit-chatting, George will soon be aiming higher still with a gala dinner on the night of a certain wedding in faraway London at the end of April. That will have high ticket prices and, I suspect, will be attended less by Brits and more by Americans. We are cheap, and they are obsessed with the Royal Family.
A street artist who feared he would be crowded out
The crocuses are showing, the ice rink has disappeared from Bryant Park and soon, I wager, the Naked Cowboy will be back baring nearly everything on Times Square just a block and a half from The Independent's office. I hope his winter hibernation has been nice, spending all those dollars he siphons so swiftly from the tourists with his blond locks, pert bum and aren't-I-cheeky smile.
Occasionally last autumn I would also spy Naked Cowgirl, just as cute but with two items of clothing instead of one.
I always assumed that she was a cousin or sister whom he had been kind enough to include in his gig. But this is America, so, no, they are not related, they are not friends. It turns out that he recently filed a suit against her alleging brand infringement. He had askedher for a $5,000 franchise fee. She had refused.
Well, it was his idea to make his wage by shocking wives from the Midwest wearing nothing but very tight knickers.
It seems, though, that his nemesis, a 27-year-old former stripper, was not going to be so easily rolled over. The two have settled out of court.
Times Square, surely, is big enough for the two of them.
The new McCarthyism? It's much worse than that
The domed Capitol building in Havana, where I recently visited, is a museum these days. Last Wednesday I was at the US Capitol watching the Republican congressman Peter King grandstand his way through his outrageous hearings on the "Radicalisation of Islam" in America. It occurred to me that turning that building into a museum might be the best thing also.
Yet last week's prize for the most objectionable politician in America goes to Martin Harty, a 91-year-old member of New Hampshire state legislature who was caught suggesting it was time to send "defective people to Siberia to freeze", such as "drug addicts, mentally ill, the retarded". Some say McCarthyism is making a comeback here. And now eugenics also?