The Age of Austerity

Reflecting on the contents of previous posts I realise I’ve diverged somewhat from the essence of this blog. I named it GrowingOnUp with the intention of addressing all the rude awakenings of the transition to adulthood. Finding the perfect mate is but one element of the transition. There are plenty of other things we have to come to terms with. Like saving for our futures. And for our parent’s futures. And our unborn children’s futures.

The more resourceful amongst you might already have made the link between the ‘finding the perfect mate’ and ‘saving for the future’. I think that intuitively, many of us put off saving until we are in a position to merge piggy banks with our soul mate and tackle the pension plan together. Everyone knows that multiplying a pittance by two equals way more than we could save on our own. Worse, as a woman, I think embedded somewhere in our psyche is the remote but reassuring possibility that our perfect mate will be absolutely loaded.

It is this logic that leads me and most of my upwardly mobile friends to live for the moment, take each day as it comes, Carpe Diem etc. We know that it is for this very limited period of time only that we can live and spend completely selfishly. Soon there will be mouths to feed and school fees to pay.

Spending now is of course a trade-off against future stability and if you’re anything like me, as you catapult towards the big 3-OH, you will stop and think: ‘crap, what if I’s just me?’ When will I start saving for my future? At this point, you open up a new Excel workbook and do some sums. A second ‘Oh crap’ moment ensues. Your incomings and outgoings are in frighteningly close proximity. The emotions that follow are a mixture of panic and helplessness. I may not be a mathematical genius but I quickly conclude that without doing anything fun, purchasing groceries or going for a wax, I can start a very small savings fund each month. I’m talking miniscule. Next conclusion: I need to earn more money. Lots more. Or move to Queens. If I waitressed one night a week I could save enough to give me some financial freedom. But I hate waitressing. I did it when I was at university because I thought it was a standard sacrifice to help me get the education I would need for future employment and stability. Here I am, five years into the world of professional work. I have a ‘good’ job, why should I have to take on a second one? Before feeling too sorry for myself, I think about Gloria, the barista en route to work who whips me up my morning cap at 8am Mon-Fri (note to self – must make café at home – savings of c$80 a month) Gloria and I are a similar age and she must be earning next to nothing in comparison to my consulting salary. She’s still there when I saunter past at 7pm. That’s a long day for a small wage. She must definitely live in Queens and feel even more panicked and helpless than I do.

I’m annoyed by this sorry state of affairs. I am not an overly extravagant spender. Brought to light by my sister’s recent visit when she exclaimed: ‘You’ve had that cardi since 2008!’ I know and it’s from H&M.  Doing a quick stock take, the same can be said for most of my belongings with the exception of a few notable ‘because I’m worth’ it indulgences:

  • Black leather La Furla bag £230 (on sale), 2010
  • Snake skin Jimmy Choos €200 (on sale), 2011
  • Road bike  £1350 (£700 after tax thanks to Bicycle Boris), 2011
  • My new Canon SLR and BF $400 (Craigslist), 2012

I should include the the real budget killers on the list: bi-annual holidays to Europe, flights to South Africa and bars and restaurants. But to be honest I’ve always seen those as essentials, in the same category as a wireless connection at home.  Flawed thinking perhaps, but those are the things that make me really happy. Meeting friends at home for cheese on toast and staycations are just not the same!

So I ask you, what am I to do?

  1. Wait for the perfect mate and hope he’s loaded?
  2. Throw caution to the wind, enjoy my youth and rely on the state when I’m old and fragile?
  3. Cut out the cappuccinos and holidays and start my solo nest egg as soon as possible?
  4. Start waitressing and move to Queens to augment my income?

I return to one of the central tenets behind GrowingOnUp – ‘I’m not alone’ and turn to you for suggestions.

How are you living now for the future?


The Unseasonal Pool Party

The full-blown pool party – it’s a concept I’ve dwelled upon only on some deep subconscious level  since knowing I would move to the US – land of the Playboy Mansion and the Bellagio. Being Winter in New York, I thought I had loads of time to psyche myself up for a wild w end get away to Vegas where gorgeous half naked Play Things strut around palm lined pool sides whilst their bronze bods are hosed down with  fountains of Cristal.

My window of preparation closed on me quicker than expected. I found this e mail in my inbox from one of my new dude friends this morning:

I’m having a few friends over to Le Parker Meridien near 56th and 6th Ave, 7pm – 10pm.
Heated rooftop pool + fun little suite. Cocktails and swimming etc.
Please come and bring a girl-friend. We have TOO MANY DUDES.

Shit. On the one hand, that sounds phenomenal. On the other, he definitely said SWIMMING. Which means, not fully clothed. Honestly, I can’t think of anything more unappealing. I don’t even like stripping down on sunny beaches with real friends. I learnt to swim after I started school, I’ve never owned a bikini I feel good in and there is invariably some sort of hair situation i.e. at least one area that  is not in an optimum growth phase for public display.

Thinking, however,that it would be selfish to hog such a cool invite , I forwarded it on to my roommate. The American one from Pennsylvania who didn’t want to live with guys because of what her parents might think. She would definitely not want any part of this carefully constructed perve-fest. Well, getting home tonight I realised she may be 4 yrs younger  but she has obviously been in NYC a lot longer than I have. She wanted to know whether I thought it would be cool if she got there before I do. Like, when next are we going to have access to a heated pool in the middle of Winter? Plus her spray tan from Beach Bum that she got last week has not quite faded yet and..oh yes, and she is 4 yrs younger than I am and has the body of a nymph.

I might need a few cocktails before I literally take the plunge into the same rooftop hotel pool I swam in 2 years ago on my only visit to NYC with my only long-term boyfriend. But I’ll be damned if I’m going to let some fratty Texan dudes, my vanity or my roomie’s enthusiasm stand in the way of my Vegas pool side training.

My Début in the Grosse Pomme

Its been a whirlwind two months. Early on 2 Jan I washed the last of London’s New Years revelries out of my hair and hopped in dodgy looking mini-cab to Janna’s house where she was waiting with my most expensive possession – my Giant road bike and as usual some great advice: ‘Wear this’ she said, handing me my faux fur Carrie theater coat… ‘and take a picture of yourself in it as you arrive at JFK. Then get on one of those tourist night buses and ride up and down Manhattan in it until you feel like you belong.’

I have since worn the coat and ridden on a Manhattan bus, but not in that order. Too many other  things have happened:

I subletted a room in a 3 bed loft in Chelsea in Jan with an aspiring Zumba instructor (hardcore Franco-Americain female energy broker by day) who still drags me along to multiple gym classes in a row and is living proof  that Franglais is a great language in its own right: ‘C’est tellement great having you to stay – genre, on cook, on parle’.  She lets me use all my fave French words without any of the tricky grammar.

I almost moved in with a seemingly mentally fragile photographer woman who claims to have discovered Cindy Crawford and has the Polaroids to show for it. The deal breaker came when she proclaimed her love of  London and proceeded to boil me a cup of tea in the microwave. We’re still friends though and she’s going to help me pick out a good camera.

I did move in with a musician from Pennsylvania I met in the lobby of a swanky Financial District bachelor pad. We decided we would be better off without the bachelors and recruited an Australian foodie to join us in the West Village. The American is very excited to be forming our own ‘United Nations’ and learning about things like Vegemite and how to pronounce words properly. The Aussie and I are very excited about braaing on our exclusive rooftop and jogging and cycling on the West Side High Way which is 3 streets away and runs all along the Hudson River to New Jersey if you have enough energy.

Just last night we picked up 4 antique chairs left on the pavement outside our  local restaurant (after a quick check for bed bugs of course).

I’m yet to go on a proper New York date. I’m tentative. Men here say things like ‘do you want to get out of here?’ or ‘should we just get a room?’ and they’re usually not the men you want to ‘get out of here’ or ‘get a room’ with. I am convinced I haven’t seen a blow-me-away hot specimen since arriving (something New York women complain about a lot). Which is why, two Saturdays ago when I did see one and he was kindly offering us his taxi, I kindly offered him my number. Sadly, I don’t think I had it fully committed to memory at that stage yet as he hasn’t called.

I had my first exposure to New York ‘society’ at a fully catered bar-manned loft party in Tribeca where champagne literally flowed and little canapes of seared tuna, wasabi and other yumminess followed closely behind. Apparently not enough bundles of tuna yumminess though, to prevent me from staging an Irish exit and needing assistance from our charming neighbour in Number 9, up the five flights of stairs that lead to my door. A piece of the puzzle he chose to reveal at our housewarming a few nights ago to all who were interested. Apparently I was very appreciative and offered him two continental style cheeks in return for safe delivery to my door. My mother would be pleased to hear I haven’t lost my manners.

I’ve had breakfast alongside Ethan Hawke at La Grainne, eaten more pulled pork than I can stomach and spent more money on cocktails than I care to count.

I’ve seen Christopher Wheeldon’s new ballet at the Lincoln Centre, Diego Rivera’s murals at the  MOMA, listened to poetry readings by rap artists in Brooklyn bookstores and partied in secret locations to electro house music with the producers of Flight of the Concords.

I’ve hailed cabs, had manis and facials and approached boozy brunches like you would the rain in London – as if it’s been happening all your life.

It’s still Winter here but the sky is clear blue and the sun shines so brightly you need to wear your oversize designer shades to protect against the glare. These little things make it easy when people ask me how I like it here. I love it. To celebrate my two month anniversary I’m indulging in one of my long-standing New York fantasies – cheap Chinese take-out in a small white carton. I like the destiny my fortune cookie suggests: ‘It may be those who do most, dream most’

It may just be…


Sushi is not a special occasion food for me. I feel like it often. This is a problem in London, where finding a happy place somewhere between Nobu and Yo Sushi is a massive challenge. My first 7 sushi–eating years were spent in South Africa and left me with a totally warped sushi world-view. You can’t expect fresh quality fish at reasonable prices to be the norm when you stray too far from the ocean. Such luxuries are reserved for places like Sydney and Cape Town.  Fact. So I’ve pretty much given up on Sushi in London. Unless it’s an occasion that merits an outing to a quality establishment like Dining’s, I tend to settle for a lunchtime box from Itsu.

Hence my excitement last week when a similarly discerning and sushi-loving friend announced she’d become a local at a little soosh spot on Lavender Hill.  Her sister’s boyfriend happens to own the place and has adopted her (and her friends) as in-house tasters and atmosphere makers. Not that he needs much help. The menu offers a full range of yummy and beautifully crafted Sashimi, Nigiri and all the Makis as well as platter options in all the right combos. The lighting and décor are glowingly dark and Lost in Translation-esque.

The best part is the intimate service. So attentive was the sister’s boyfriend that a second complementary bottle of wine was on its way to us while we’d hardly dented the first. Naturally we had no intention of drinking it but the problem with the two of us is that we don’t have the best track record when it comes to Monday night outings. The last time I visited Lavender Hill with her saw us consume five Margueritas in way too quick succession while plotting our 3-phase guide to a surviving a break up.  The result was a splitting Tuesday headache. So predictably for us, it only took a few more morsels of Uramaki before we were tucking into our second refreshing bottle of Sauvignon Blanc and had taken up work on the book again.

This place is a very welcome filler for London’s big sushi gap. £20 later we’d washed down a whole lot of top quality soosh, had way too much wine and a great night. If it wasn’t for my imminent move to New York (please God let there be quality sushi for non celebrities) the real appeal for me would be that they’ve got three more branches in Central and West London so no overland train journeys required for a quick fix. Oh Ukai, if only we’d been introduced sooner!

Solace in the City


Sometimes you just need a little Time. Time for your mind to be quiet. Time to reflect, replenish. The obvious place to do this is the sanctity of your own home. Apparently not an option to single Londoners sacrificing at least a third of their income to reside in rodent infested house shares. This harsh reality hit me at 5am on a Sunday after a frustrating three hours of tossing and turning to the party sounds of the Euro-tastic revelers in my basement. They’d invaded the night before to celebrate my housemate’s brother’s birthday. Yes that’s housemate’s brother. The guy doesn’t even live here. Don’t get me wrong, I love the odd Erasmus party as much as the next ex-international student but it’s always more fun at someone else’s house, right? Personally, I prefer my first encounter of the day not to be with a drunk person rifling through my dirty laundry in search of his coat.

So if I had been in need of some Time before I was desperate for it now. With over 10,000 inhabitants per square mile in my beloved borough of Westminster, said peace and quiet was always going to come at a price. Hence it didn’t take much rationalization to convince myself that £100 for a deep tissue massage at the Langham’s Chuan Spa was an utter bargain. Sure £100 for an hour’s worth of self-indulgence feels a bit decadent but for a whole afternoon in the sanctity of one of the most delicious hotels in town, it’s a total bargain.  Having an unnatural faith in the power of the online review I was expecting a ‘luxury haven …where guests transcend into ultimate relaxation through an individually planned holistic journey…designed to re-balance and revitalize the body and soul’.

Yeah right!

More like  ‘average massage followed by use of a cramped pool, jacuzzi and sauna polluted by the noise of small children… finished with some ‘contemplation’ time on an uncomfy lounger with only a thin screen separating you from the yapping receptionists ’.  If I was being objective I would have to point out that the facilities are really just part of the hotel’s Health and Fitness Centre and if I was staying there I’d be delighted to pop down for a dip in the skinny pool. But don’t pretend to be the ultimate Eastern spa experience. And whatever you’re trying to pass yourself off as, the distinct lack of snacks and reading material is unforgivable. Paying £4 for a bottle of water and having to hunt for the Sunday paper surely does not harmonise one’s yin and yang.  All this, topped with the predictable dollop of snobbery fitting of luxury establishments, was a recipe for a thoroughly stressful afternoon.

Luckily we needn’t all make the same mistakes. If you are looking for a quality relaxation experience that won’t leave you wishing you’d donated the cash to the Church of Scientology instead, I highly recommend the Spa London, York Hall. This major VFM option is kindly brought to us by Greenwich Leisure Ltd and Tower Hamlets Council, offering legitimate day spa indulgence for your average frazzled urbanite. A casual £23 gives you access to a pristine hammam with a dazzling array of Turkish Baths, plunge pools and relaxation areas kitted out with reading material, snacks and rehydrants a-plenty. You will leave rejuvenated and with a surplus in your pocket. In my experience, always a clear path to maximum satisfaction.