The day I was front page news in Kingston, upstate New York...
Posted on the 26th Jul 2016 in the category sport

As Billy Joel, Jay Z and Alicia Keys sing so wonderfully I am starting to get into a New York State of Mind.

I've only been once, for the month of September in 2005 when I started in Manhattan and travelled up one side of the Hudson River to Albany and then back down the other to NYC, and I am returning to the Big Apple for the election this October and November.

That incredible month was down to Rotary Club International and CIN group editor Sam Holiday who agreed one of his journalists could spend a month "working for newspapers in New York" as part of the Rotary Club Group Study Exchange scheme.

My name was picked out of a hat and off I went to the Rotary Club headquarters to try and beat other professionals to get on that plane, which I obviously did.

I was chosen because I was a journalist and went with a teacher, policeman and PR executive as well as our team leader - a great Rotarian called Andrew Guest.

It turned out I would not be "working for newspapers for a month in New York" I would be speaking at Rotary clubs most days and would only be visiting various newspapers once a week. 

However, I was off to the Land of the Free for Free and I Ioved it.

Often I'd turn up at a newspaper and the owner, the Rotarian, would walk with me to the newsdesk and tell his editor/news editor that I was to work with them for the day. They usually had no idea about my visit.

I quickly realised I did not want to be a spare part I, after cracking a few jokes and telling them about my patch back home, I offered to write them a An Englishman in New York feature about their own patch from what I'd seen and picked up during my time in their town.

I loved being in American newsrooms, hearing the police radio frequency was just amazing to me, and seeing the freedom they have to write the news also put us Brits to shame, journalists laughed and shook their heads when I explained our contempt of court and libel laws.

I had some incredible conversations with old hacks who had covered the Cuban Revolution, The Kennedy Assasination, The Civil Rights Movement, Watergate and so many other great tales, it was just hard news heaven for me.

I enjoyed rewriting their front pages to show the different styles we had, their news writing is very feature based, for instance one front page was about a kids football coach who was prosecuted for sex crimes, they did not mention the crime until the seventh par. I rewrote it "Children's soccer coach has been found guilty of having sex with squad members" - "wow, you English guys are kind direct!" 

I got myself three front pages whilst I was there, which was amazing, and I've found one. Reading it back I'm proud how well written it was, I had obviously wanted to impress my temporary editor. 

I'm surprised I included so many digs at the then American Government, whether it be their terrible response to Hurricane Katrina or their invasions. The letters pages after my articles were printed were full of letters abusing my limey bad teeth and rudeness, as well as few congratulations.

More than one editor said with a smile: "We could never have printed an article like that if we had written it, but as you are a guest, we happily did so."

This article about the upstate New York city of Kingston was published on Saturday, September 17, 2005.

KINGSTON — “Hey, you know that your ancestors burnt this place to the ground, don’t you?” a friendly Kingstonian asked me after only five minutes in your city.

Being an Englishman abroad can provoke many reactions because of the massive impact my country has had on the world, but Kingston is the first place I have been to that the British leveled.

All I can say is “sorry,” because Kingston is by far the most beautiful place I have visited since touring the Hudson Valley with the Rotary Club.

“The war” has been thrown in my face a lot since arriving on these shores, and it took me a while to understand what war was being referred to. With a military history like Great Britain’s, it pays to be specific when discussing wars. We have been fighting them for over 2,000 years.

To many Brits, the American War of Independence, or Revolutionary War as you call it, was not so much a war but a skirmish on an empire’s outpost. But though we might have been enemies in the past, the bonds between our two countries today are closer than ever. We are your oldest ally and greatest friend.

Like Many writers before me, I am falling in love with the Hudson Valley. With the majestic river cutting a swath through such beautiful countryside, the river towns that have sprung up on its banks are a delight to visit even though they have had better days.

Kingston’s Uptown beauty is matched by its lack of chain stores and wonderful independent shopkeepers.

Be sure to protect this, because Amer-ica is like England, where every high street has the same stores and individu-ality is being slowly strangled from each once-diverse town center.

Upon opening the door of Alternative Books on North Front Street, the beautiful aroma of old paper filled my nostrils. The old guy behind the counter shouted to me, “Y’all don’t mind the blues do you?” Not at all, I replied, and a wonderful browse began to the sounds of an American art form.

You can learn a lot of a place from its bookstore, and this one was like King-ston itself: prim, proper, with an air of elegance.

In these days of technology, books are usually bought over the Internet, but there is no substitute for stumbling on books you would never see unless you were wandering around a shop.

Books ranged from the British-influenced “Royal Blood Feud” — the story of Charles and Diana, not Elizabeth I and Mary Queen of Scots — to the majestic poetry that this wonderful area has inspired. A glance through King-ston’s own son Henry Abbey’s book was a trip into another world. Dust covered the 109-year-old book. The love Abbey had for Kingston shone through in his work and, if you’re a native, be sure to read his poem “Kingston in May.” It is a wonderfully written ode to this special place.

My next American adventure hap-pened when I walked into the Uptown Cigar Co. shop. The smell was stunning, and I immediately asked for a Cuban cigar.

“No chance” was the reply, and, of course, I remembered the petty trade embargo that the world’s only superpow-er has against its struggling neighbor, which prevents you from savouring the best cigars in the world.

But the feeling of old America exuded throughout the store and owner Michelle Tuchman showed me some good old U.S. hospitality. The store is certainly an asset to the city.

A visit to Kingston Rotary Club also was a wonderful experience. One of the oldest in the world, the club extended a warm welcome to their British visitors.

The Rotary Club is certainly one of America’s most positive impacts on the world, recently celebrating its centenary. Whilst your government invades coun-tries, the Rotary has been busy trying to eradicate polio across the world.

I WAS lucky enough to be picked by the Rotary Club of Heart of England to be part of a team exchange program with the Hudson Valley Rotary district that aims to foster international relations, a greater understanding of our two won-derfully different countries and the work Rotary Club does.

Exchange programs like the one I am on are always valuable because they show how humans are the same the world over whatever governments say or do. People have the same problems and take the same joy from life.

I have already shaken nearly 500 hands and smiled for countless pictures with wonderful Rotarians. My first impressions of Americans are of a warm and generous people with a fantastic sense of humor.

As an Englishman in New York state, I find the scale of everything compared to England huge. The roads are bigger, the cars are bigger, the traffic jams are bigger, but one thing that is very small compared to that in England is the price of petrol.

Almost every driver I have spoken to lamented the cost of petrol passing $3 a gallon, though the sudden hike must have been a shock. Try living in England, where petrol is roughly $10 a gallon. It is good our country is smaller than yours or we could not afford to get anywhere with prices like ours!

But it was by foot that I stumbled around Uptown, and discovering the Old Dutch Church was a revelation. In a graveyard that betrayed the futility of war, the memorial to George Clinton rose from the hallowed turf, certainly a great man, and his final resting place seems to be perfect.

After carrying the guilt of my fore-fathers’ treatment of Kingston and think-ing what architectural jewels were lost in the fire, I found a fascinating fact that eased my pain.

The plaque in the church graveyard described the heinous crime of British, then explained every building was rebuilt after the Revolutionary War. Where can I see these lovingly restored buildings, I thought. Well, it appears there are not many left. Most have been demolished for development.

So what us Brits did in a day, you guys have done over two centuries. What is tragic when someone decides to remove a piece of history for “progress,” it that is gone forever.

Try not to let it happen again because this river city is a special place. It is up to you and the local government to ensure it stays that way because King-ston’s beauty could slip away faster than a fish down the Hudson.



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