Thursday, March 18, 2010

Bend it like Beckham

Poor David Beckham. So close to his goal of being the first Englishman to play in four World Cup finals he has torn his Achilles heel and is out of the squad. I have never really given a toss about 'Golden Balls'' career, but this week I felt his pain. It was at 9.45am on Monday that my knee injury finally won and I accepted the fact that I cannot run in the New York Half Marathon this weekend. Despite my repetitive knee twitching (see earlier 'I've got soul but I'm not a soldier' blog), acupuncture, massage, physical therapy, endless painful rolling, religious application of cortisone cream, daily stretching, cross training, agonising, medicating..never mind boring to death my poor husband with it, the flippin thing would not co-operate, it would not heal. So, at 9.45am, I finally stopped running, well, limping really and put my hands on my thighs, stared at the rain soaked concrete of the West Side highway in between my running shoes and cried. It felt like defeat.

My general attitude to everything in my life has been - if you put enough work in, if you really try, you will succeed. But hard experience is beginning to teach me that things are not always so linear. Sometimes, you need to curve it over the heads of the steely eyed defenders. It was the simple fact that I have tried so (too?) hard to fix myself, that I failed. Just like David Beckham, who has put everything on the line to get himself to the World Cup finals. Maybe sometimes, you can't just fix things by going straight at it, sometimes you need to bend it. So, I will spend the next few months trying to rest and work out the cause of my knee injury. I will then patiently coax my body back into accepting the fact that my brain wants it to hit the pavement, continuously for one hour or so. It will be a long, slow and probably painful process.

That said, there has been a golden lining to my running cloud. Having thrown the kitchen sink at my son's recent homesickness episode (see earlier 'Birthday Blues' blog), I tried a new approach with my daughter, who this week decided to jump on the 'Homesick Highway'. On Tuesday, when I dropped her off at school, I took a sneaky peak in her poetry book where she is currently writing a collection of poems. Her first poem was entitled 'I wish', I raced my eyes to the first line expecting to hear her usual plea for a puppy/mobile phone/five packets of bubblegum (why five, I have no idea). But, no, here is how it went: 'I wish I had a garden. I wish I had a slide. I wish I had a swing. I wish I had a summer house. I wish I could run around in the grass. I wish I could have a picnic with my friends in my garden'. Gulp. She was describing her old garden in St.Albans.

I was stumped. A garden is not something I can magic out of my hat in Manhattan. And, yes, I know she has gained a great many other things by coming here, but I still have that basic parental urge to give her what she yearns for, even if maybe it is not the best thing in the long run. But, this is a no can do. So, I decided to Bend it Like Beckham. I took out all the pictures I had of our old house, garden and friends. Over the last few days we have spent a lot of time together looking at pictures and talking about the things and people that we miss. We then talked about the things and people we like in New York. My theory is that by accepting the fact that some things are not the same, we will be able to build a stronger future here.

So, as I stand watching this ball hang in the air, I know I have already kicked it. It is too late. But, I watch, with hopeful eyes and a sore knee, hoping it will follow my intended conjecture and dip over the defenders heads and hit the back of the net.

yours from behind the half way line

Torie B

Thursday, March 11, 2010

I've got soul but I'm not a soldier

Since arriving in Manhattan seven months ago I have gone through somewhat of a physical and mental transformation. Some of this has been positive, self-determined and others, well, not so positive and imposed by others. The positives: I am learning piano; I am pushing my running and fitness and am the fittest I have ever been; I am pursuing my dream of being a writer by starting this blog. So far so good. But now for the negatives.

Manhattan is the world of 'anything is possible', where people strive and drive themselves to succeed. Like so many areas of modern culture this also applies to your physical appearance. There seems to be an attitude here that if something in your appearance isn't quite perfect you should want to fix it. It all started with the hair. My new hairdresser looked at my half wavy, half straight, fine, non-photo perfect locks and suggested a straightening treatment. I imagined myself with Jennifer Anniston hair and handed over the cash. The result of the 'hair upgrade' was a mustard, straw like substance that could no longer be truly called hair. Not a smart idea.

We then moved further down the body. My dentist took one look at my Irish teeth and recommended a 'dental upgrade', I listened to all that he could do (which would involve facial surgery...eeek!), looked at the beautiful picture of the new teeth that any American Idol contestant would be proud of. In the end I said, 'But I want to look Irish'. He looked at me with confusion.

Fast forward a few months, I booked myself in for a nice, relaxing facial. As I lay there enjoying the scalp massage, the therapist gently whispered in her buttery voice, 'How would you like some Derma abrasion today?'. 'What's that?', I asked. 'Oh, just a more effective way to exfoliate your skin'. Great! Ah, no, not great. But at least the red face complemented the mustard hair. Nice.

The next area ready for an upgrade were my knees. As a result of pretty heavy training I have managed to pick up a pretty standard knee injury but with a half marathon coming up I have been desperate for it to heal quickly. So, off I go on a whirl wind of acupuncture, Pilate's, sports doctors and physical therapist. As I lay on the therapist table and had two people stare at my knees in rapture as I twitched them up and down repeatedly, I finally began to have enough. I am 35, if I run, I will get sore knees. My hair is wavy. My skin is aging. It is all best left alone. I am up for a good bit of general maintenance but I have had enough of the complete overhaul.

However, the 'knee twitching' revelation was the precursor to the spinning epiphany that I had at the new spin mecca in Tribeca called 'Soul Cycle'. As I was just at the top of a big climb, my legs were screaming and I couldn't open my eyes because the sweat would sting them, the instructor's inspirational words came over the pumping music. 'You are not here because you obsess about your appearance. You don't starve yourself or go to the exclusive, narcissistic designer gym across the street. Women who do Soul Cycle do it to push themselves, to be their own type of athlete, to see what they are capable of. None of you want to be 'cookie cutter' women'. When the music kicked into the Killers 'All these things that I've done' for our downhill it all, finally, fell into place.

The only problem is, next week I am off to the obgyn......will have to go prepared to defend myself against the 'magic kingdom upgrade'!

yours, with soul

Torie B

Wednesday, March 3, 2010


The New York Times today declared that the recession in New York City will be much milder than expected. It puts the close escape, or at least the perceived flat line, down to the fact that Wall Street has managed to keep it's head above water and bankers are once again earning, employing and spending. It puts forward the 'widely accepted' idea that each job in Wall Street supports two others in and around the city. With my fortunes being so entwined with the success or failure of the banks' bailout, this should make me feel at ease. But instead, I felt a sense of unease. Maybe when Obama injected these banks with all those billions of dollars he was just like Kiefer Sutherland's character in Flatliners, keeping us all hooked on dicing with near death (or economic collapse) experiences. Are the bankers comparable to the indulgent and reckless medical students Nelson, Rachel and David?

Without doubt there are some thrill seekers out there, but I don't subscribe to the view that every banker is a mercenary ambulance chaser. Warren Buffet advice to his shareholders over the weekend was - 'Don't ask the barber for a haircut', which was a way of implying that all bankers will tell clients to do deals (which earn them high fees) even if it is not in the clients' best interest to do so. Ambulance chasers. Well, yes, if you are young, naive, fly by the seat of your pants Michael Douglas in 'Wall Street' one dimensional character, you will do that. But, real life bankers have to sit eyeball to eyeball across a table from their clients, time after time. They have to work very hard to earn their trust, build the relationship and offer advice when there are no prospects of any fees in sight. If they told their client to do something which was not, in all honesty, in the company's best interest, that relationship would be dead in the water. All that flying around, hard work and trust building would be gone. What the good bankers do is take is long term view, they doggedly follow the success and failures of their clients. Shadowing their balance sheet movements like it is their first born child.

It is also a disservice to industry leaders, implying that they will be duped by these gung-ho advisers. My experience was that usually these leaders will have already made up their minds as to whether or not they want to do something. They will have crafted their views with their advisers (sometimes on a casual basis), boards and in house corporate development people. They come to banks to do deals, to use their sales force and get a good price. In the bank I worked for we did it the 'old fashioned way'. Clients held us on retainers for our advice which meant that we gave it regardless of whether it brought in a one off big deal fee. There were times when clients wanted us the tell them to IPO for a gazzillion dollars and we didn't. We told them it was too early and the valuations they had crafted in-house were unrealistic. We missed the big fee, they went with our competitors who told them what they wanted to hear and, guess what, the IPO bombed. The senior banker I worked for had taken the long term view. There are lots of bankers out there who got to train under people like that.

But, so what if bankers have more moral fiber than Mr.Buffet wants to give them credit for? At the end of the day, New York City and Wall Street seems to have had an easier time than the rest of America and the world as a result of this recession and that still makes me feel uneasy. Eighteen months ago my family had braced itself for a life changing downturn, as it turned out we managed to have some luck and end up happy in Manhattan. I recognise that I am sitting here writing my fluffy blog, when others have not been so lucky. But, what do I actually do about it? There are some big things that I am working on but in the meantime I am not taking any day of this flat line for granted. I just hope that if I crash again, as much as I love Kiefer, it will be Kevin Bacon who brings me round.

yours dreaming of Kevin and a CPR machine

Torie B