New York, city of dinosaurs and dilemmas

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The Independent Online
A couple of months ago I was at the Bath and West Show at Shepton Mallet, which is a sort of get-together for those who are too old to go to the Glastonbury Festival, and I was approached by a nice man called Barry Lane.

"You don't know me," he said, which was true enough, "but my son Anthony used to read your writings avidly."

"That's nice," I said. "What does he do instead, now that he's grown up?"

"He works for The New Yorker as a critic."

New Yorker staff writer? That's a hell of a promotion from being a Miles Kington reader. One of Tina Brown's proteges, eh? Not bad going.

"I'm going to New York myself in a couple of months," I said, probably trying to impress him. It sounded as if I were going on an assignation. Actually, it was just en route to see in-laws in Toronto.

"You should look Anthony up," said his doting father. "I'm sure he'd be glad to meet you."

At the time it seemed a good suggestion, and I made a mental note to drop Anthony Lane a line, and now I am going to leave for New York in two days' time and I still haven't dropped him a line, so it doesn't look as if I'll be bumping into Barry Lane's little boy this time round, but isn't that the way it always goes? You know you're going on a trip. So you mentally collect all your contacts. And the day before you go you realise you haven't followed up any of them. I haven't yet contacted the American/Japanese actress I made friends with in Edinburgh last year. I haven't rung the American cartoonists I used to know. Indeed, I even used to know Harold Evans and Tina Brown a bit in the old Punch days before they met Tony Blair - or, indeed, before they met each other - but I haven't got in touch with them either.

Nor do I suppose that I will regret it. My chief duty in our few days in New York will be to show my nine-year-old son a bit of the big city. I don't think a nine-year-old would thank me for spending part of his precious time in New York paying social calls on Harold Evans or Tina Brown, when we could be doing something interesting.

But what?

The sensible answer, of course, is just to go out and walk and look. You don't really have to do anything in New York. You just have to be there. Simply looking at the place is entertainment enough, without going to a theatre or movie. In fact, New York is a movie. New York is exactly like those movies that Hollywood makes nowadays and which my son loves, even if the critics don't: all those horror movies with hardly any script and not much in the way of character, just wonderful special effects.

New York is Jurassic Park with skyscrapers instead of dinosaurs - a marvellous theme park on an island in the Hudson river, on which monsters cloned from the future have been trapped for our delight. And just as Spielberg likes to lighten the terror by introducing baby dinosaurs into his scenario, so the huge skyscrapers of Manhattan are given relief by sweet little houses nestling between the monsters ...

Yes, but what shall we do when we have done that? It's a few years since I was in New York and I'm not sure how much has changed. I'd quite like to go back to the wonderful Oyster Bar in Grand Central Station, but my wife doesn't like oysters ("Don't they serve anything else?") and my son doesn't like railways that much ("It was bad enough being taken to see the editor of The New Yorker, but now you want to take us to a station?") and anyway, I read in the Herald Tribune that the Oyster Bar had been gutted by fire ...

So I have been consulting people I know, and I have discovered that the range of advice is as confusing as the Manhattan skyline.

"Climb up the Statue of Liberty from the inside," counsels one.

"Whatever you do," says another, "don't climb the Statue of Liberty. Waste of time. You get no idea of its majesty. To get that, you have to get the Staten Island ferry and back."

"Get the Staten Island ferry," says another, "but don't come straight back. Get out and have a look round Staten Island. It's perfect suburbia."

"I'll tell you the name of the best hot dog stall in New York," says my grown-up son, Tom. "No, hold on, I've forgotten it. But I can tell you the name of the best Chinese place to eat. It's Wong on Mott Street."

"Go to a jazz club," says a jazz friend.

"Take him to a baseball game," says a sporty friend.

"Eat at the Union Square Cafe," says a chef friend.

"Go to the Cathedral of St John the Divine," says an architect I meet on a train.

Yes, New York is very confusing, and I haven't even left home yet.

Miles Kington is almost on holiday.

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