Here is another one of Aggie and the kiddies.
Ok, for the record - here is what's gone down since Sonnet's departure: 1) I take the kids to a bar; 2) sugar cereal (Kellogg's Co Co Rocks described as a "soft chocolatey coated centre and hard crunch rocks"); 3) Edwin and Effie BBQ where 2X cup cakes+lemon pie+chocolate fudge cake consumed; 4) 2X Harry Potter+TV (being watched now BTW). The kids play me for a sucker, but I enjoy it. As they are sans nearby Grand Parents or relatives to spoil them rotten, I tell Sonnet that I am happy do so. Within reason. Usually. The strange thing is that I am also the disciplinarian- I say strange as Sonnet is a pretty substantial figure and everyone just assumes that she lays down the law. The kids know however where the buck stops and boy have I scared the bee-Jesus out of them on occassion. On training the little Shakepeares: Sonnet and I have never spanked nor used any sort of physical intimidation yet my intentions do come across, Dear Father, when obedience required. I am not afraid to go eye-to-eye and lay it out plain - usually this means consequences. Sometimes even "secret consequences" or "secret double probation" which means I can punish them at my whim with no warning. This rattles Madeleine especially and she begs to be released from this unsettling state. Me, this is just where I want 'em sometimes.
I have a discussion about school with Eitan and ask if he has any enemies. Replies he: "Chelsea?"
Madeleine comments on my pimple: "will it explode?"
Madeleine in my office: "Can we sleep here?"
I look quizzically at Eitan jumping from foot to foot. Madeleine: "he needs the lou but can't find the remote control."
Saturday, May 31
Friday, May 30
Aggie turns 3x and Eitan, Madeleine and I put on our costumes and head for the party, which is at a local gastro pub.
I don't think Aggie or anyone expecting my gorilla mask and I get all sorts of encouragement as I work my way through the bar crowd. Cool. We arrive on the tardy side of the kid's bed-time and straight from swim team (Eitan) and play-date (Madeleine). The kids also had three hours of football this morning so they are... wired.
At first each child a bit shy of the adults and adult-setting but Aggie covers them with her affection and they warm to the occasion. Special ice cream+cake kick it up a notch. I turn at one point to find Eitan surrounded by five guys arguing football. The lads are amused that a seven-year old owns more statistics about the Premier League than they do collectively and they turn the heat on.
I watch anxiously as the hot gleam of craziness enters the boy's eye and overhear him say: "well you smell like Drogba!" (a Chelsea player, Dear Reader). I'm ready to take the boy out but a nice woman leans over and tells me "he is doing wonderfully holding his own" and I relax a bit. On the other side of the room Madeleine entertains her crowd with the funny glasses and by 9:30PM I have to drag them away. They are lucky to have Aggie. Oh, and I force Eitan to say good-bye and "thank you" to his new friends. They give him high-fives.
Eitan, Madeleine and I examine a human-body poster and I point out the heart, aorta, lower intestine and lungs. I ask where blood takes oxygen and nutrients. Madeleine: "your toes?"
Thursday, May 29
I buy a gorilla mask for Aggie's birthday party and toss in face masks and glasses for the kids - pictured. Sonnet off to Rome this morning to meet Catherine and Halley - the gals celebrate 4-0 this year - so it is me and the kiddies for the weekend. Woo hoo!
Madeleine has a special afternoon with Sabi at her Wimbledon studio to see what it is like to be an artist, her on-record self ambition (Eitan: "I want to play for Manchester United" which is at least easier to get into than the Ivy League). I pick Madeleine up and she is genuinely thrilled with her work and adult-time. She comes home with four paintings and one canvas. God bless you Sabi.
Driving home Madeleine and I listen to Radio 4 and learn that teen-age knifings have become a serious national problem. A simple solution offered: square or round the end of kitchen knives, which account for the majority of the violence. When Britain's surgeons suggested doing so three years ago they received overwhelming public support but we remain still far away from its reality. According the Metropolitan police, knife crime declined from 12,122 to 10,220 incidents over the two years ending December, 2007 and teen-age knife-crime the only category increasing.
Wednesday, May 28
I YouTube Barak's "A More Perfect Union" at Philadelphia, watching its entirety or 38 minutes - a commitment for a work day like now. It is interesting to compare with his 22 May Tampa Bay and Hillary's same-day Jacksonville, where she spends 30 minutes arguing for Michigan and Florida's count. Life moves on. A favorite for my in-laws in Montrose is "Prime Ministers Questions" which they catch on cable and I watch Sunday. Every Wednesday, while the House of Commons is sitting, the PM spends half an hour answering questions from Members of Parliament - widely available on YouTube or www.number-10.gov.uk. This past week, for instance, Super Gee addresses the Embryology Bill (can human-animal hybrids be used?), the 10p tax-rate (political disaster and bail-out), Zimbabwe, our economy, visas and angling - this just a sample. PMQ started in the '50s as twice weekly then once by Tony. I appreciate why shortened - a PM must be well prepared on all subjects relating to him or her - Blaire was a master while Super Gee learning though his goose probably cooked already. On display is Britain's wit and "long knives" as the sides openly go at each other's throats- always civil, dear Reader, always civil. One shudders to imagine El Presidente in this situation - on record - telling the truth - being coherent. But back to Barak: his presence remarkable and speech peppered with micro-pauses that add emphasis to what he is saying - and boy, what he says: who else so magnificently addresses race in America? Focuses on the forward? And called Iraq? Bill Clinton too was mesmerising but with Barak I hang on every word. Can't remember this before. Bush Sr? Reagan? Carter?! (photo from British Government)
I find Eitan in the kitchen staring at the washing machine awaiting his uniform. I suggest that "water watched never boils" - more fatherly advice washing from the duck's back.
Tuesday, May 27
While thinking about the glory years, here is a neat photograph sent to me by Dave in New York. I'm in a few of the shots having joined the squad sophomore year following miles (and miles) logged in the chlorine. Dave is another dear college friend and running stand-out who today practices pediatric orthopaedics in NYC where he does "a lot of work with congenital foot problems in kids (clubfoot) and cerebral palsy." No surprise here as I recall clearly his college drive to enter medicine then Duke and now his Big Apple practice. Dave always somehow focused on athletics and still today: a runner's dearest possession, of course, being his feet. Dave and I had several post-college, post and pre-grad school years together in Manhattan. We managed some good nights out including a number of double-dates. Ah, we were young. Today, Dave lives on the Upper East Side with his family and running 30+ miles a week, presumably in Central Park, oh lucky fellow.
Eitan works at his times-tables covering 1's to 9's (pictured, him drawing a "maths page"). It is an effort he does with pleasure.
Sonnet runs to work and I am back at the office, though a quiet week thanks to school half-term (many families bolt London but we save our vacation for July). Natasha arrives early and tanked up on coffee: first stop, thank goodness, football camp. After yesterday's wash-out Madeleine and Eitan raring to go. Oh boy. An interesting row has developed between the public and the NHS, which recently received £4 million from Royal Bank of Scotland allowing the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary to purchase a cutting-edge CT scanner - the only one of its kind online in the UK (the scanner takes remarkable 3-D images of an organ assisting detection of about anything). In return for the support, RBS receives preferences over the general public with 25% of the scanner's time "ringfenced" for its staff. I think this is a compelling model, which needs a set of guidelines for future like ventures. Otherwise it becomes the British rail system. Or worse, the tube.
Monday, May 26
My day starts in an interesting fashion as I go to Bikram yoga and faint half-way through the balance exercises, scaring everybody including the instructor (though one jolly fellow does tell me: "you made it to nirvana") Bikram is practiced in a room heated to 105°F with a humidity of 40% and lasts 90 minutes through 26 postures. Bikram is not for the faint-of-heart, which is me Dear Reader, and I bonked at posture ten, the "bow arrow" pose. My problem today I think dehydration - I sweat like crazy and today was week-kneed from the start. Further sending me into a tale spin was the at-capacity crowd forcing neighborly proximity and raising the heat while lowering the oxygen. Any ways, there I was on my back feeling nauseous and the next thing two anxious faces staring into my face. No way they are going to let me out BTW and I rejoin the torture for the ground-series which blessedly puts my head at least level to my heart. Phew.
Because of the rain, football camp indeed cancelled and Sonnet takes the kids to the pool to burn some energy. From there, she guides them through clay-mations, which now bake in the oven (Eitan does a pretty cool Rinaldo on miniature field in stadium). Both do home work and I watch tennis. Thanks to the weather, the mood is, er, stir crazy and Madeleine jumps some rope shaking the house bonkers until Sonnet shouts: "E-N-O-U-G-H!" moving even me from the couch. Ah yes, nothing like a Bank Holiday Weekend.
I ask Madeleine: what are the most important things to you? and she replies "Parrots and love."
Parrots? I ask. "Parrots, dad!" (of course she says "parents" but her accent mixes me up)
I am glad that Madeleine and I had our walk yesterday given today's and perhaps the week's weather. She remains a tom-boy, freckles and all, and finds a tree to climb. In other news from this country: the European beaver is to be reintroduced to the wild, five centuries after it was hunted to extinction for its fur. Up to four beaver families will be captured in Norway later this year and released in Knapdale, Argyll, next spring. And there you have it.
It does not just rain, it pours on, yes,... wait for it... the bank holiday weekend! The Met Office issues a "gale winds and flood warning" for Southeast England and we stair out the window as the trees blow and ground soaks. Football camp begins today for the kids and when Eitan sees the report he cries. Sonnet makes a fire and lights a few candles to cheer us up. It is for sure a Cat In The Hat day:
The sun did not shine.
It was too wet to play.
So we sat in the house
All that cold, cold, wet day.
--Dr. Seuss, "Cat In The Hat"
I'm not sure if we will make camp today and sadly the weather forecast is "rain" all week, letting up by the weekend perhaps. Being half-term break, this is a cruel blow indeed.
Sunday, May 25
I get an easy-pass as Sonnet takes the kids to Kew Gardens. I use my time to sleep until 11AM, watch some golf and the French Open, which begins today at Roland Garros and lounge in my boxers and an old Izod. It is good to be Dad and how easy to slip back to the free-and-easy circa 1991 or '92 when the only weekend agenda was a morning run, afternoon nap and night on the town. It all came to a crashing halt by Monday and work - dreadful, Dear Reader- but there were moments of genuine enjoyment and kindled interest (Let's get drunk! Let's get laid!). Back to now, tomorrow is another strangely named "bank holiday" which celebrates... nothing. I think there are five of them and it always rains. Yes tomorrow's forecast is.... rain! In fact, we anticipate gale-force warnings in the Southeast - I've been here before so no disappointment from this corner of London. As it is a holiday, the kids now sit in front of Shrek II and we all have a laugh at Puss in Boots and Donkey ("keep work'n that hat" he says to a chica). Madeleine spies our neighbor's outdoors party whispers to Sonnet: "Look mom! Teenagers smoking. And drinking! And kissing!" And indeed.
Madeleine spends her sweet time at a stream in Isabella looking for "tadpoles and other fish." I ask: are there any piranhas? and replies she, without looking up: "don't be silly dad. Piranhas live in a much bigger pond."
I have been passively observing the frog collection in Madeleine's classroom, which started as 200 or so frog eggs. This converted to maybe 100 tad poles and now one frog. One frog? I ask. What happened to the rest? "Don't know" she says, sans emotion. "Maybe they drowned?"
This brings back memories from Tamales Bay at Point Reyes in Northern California. Pt Reyes a cape in Marine County that protects Drakes Bay and home to many ocean critters. As a child, we had our favorites including "windy beach" (named on a windy afternoon - the same day II took a dunk in the Pacific and Moe dragged me out by a leg) and "sea lion beach" where we observed up close an elephant seal. Wow - that sucker was big too.
The walks there always leisurely and surrounded by grassy hills and the most beautiful orange California poppy. Oh, and Tamales Bay had shallow side streams filled with tad poles by the spring time. Heaven indeed.
I drag Madeleine back to the Isabella Plantation in Richmond Park to take evening shots of the flowers, which are at the height of their bloom. The gardens BTW celebrate their 50th year. Located in a beautiful woodland, Isabella houses a most excellent collection of azaleas, including the National Collection of 50 Japanese azalea varieties introduced to the West around 1920 by the famous plant collector, Ernest Wilson. Rhododendrons, camellias, and magnolias thrive under a mature woodland canopy with many other acid-loving plants. There are several ponds and trees for Madeleine to climb as she does today and yesterday. It is the kind of thing one plans to visit all year but reallly the best time is now until early June and then it is over. Usually we miss it but this year twice already and maybe again too. Madeleine agrees to always hold my hand and notes "don't be silly dad" when I suggest one day she might choose otherwise.
I ask Madeleine what the most important thing in life is? She says "parents" but I hear "parrots" (English accent) and we break-up laughing at this mis-understanding.
Here is my college pal Greg at his most graceful. We met Sophomore year at Brown thanks to Roger who convinced me to compete cross country (college swimming was a downer thanks to a generally miserable squad coached by Ed Reese).
I bounced swimming to join the 11th-ranked Bruins (today called the "Brown Bears") and made some wonderful friendships including Greg who was then, and remains today, a hero to us (ex)athletes and alumnae. Greg was the 1989 NCAA Champion in 3000m indoor with a 7:57.14 clocking. Then he beat arch-rival and future (now former) "Greatest American Miler", Little Joe Falcon from Arkansas. Greg was a six-time All-American (track & x-country) and holds many of Brown's records still. From 1993-1996 he was the American record holder for the 5000 meters on the road.
Greg was also 4th in the 1992 Olympic trials in the 1500 coming down from his natural strength, the 5000 race, due to injury and being out-of-shape. He missed a spot by one one-hundredth of a second. I recall like yesterday anxiously reading the papers to see if he had qualified.
I'm reminded of our friendship thanks to an email distribution today. Amongst other things, Greg comments on our '89 bet Senior year. He and I were a always competitive and agreed to challenge each other with a 1500 meter swim+10 mile road run. While it was unclear what the winner received (other than bragging rights) the bet gathered momentum within the track and athletic community. Sadly, thanks to my injury (lower back) the race was put on hold indefinitely.
I figured back then I would have to get about seven minutes on Greg during the swim then run a 57 or 58 minute ten-miler - probably impossible but the thought of seeing Whiteley over my shoulder still sends a thrill through me even today as I blog.
Friday, May 23
Not to take anything away from Ed Timpson, formerly pictured on this blog, but I replace his victory photo with David Cameron and C-3PO.
Britain's Conservatives crushed the governing Labour Party in a special election that underlined the deepening unpopularity of Prime Minister Gordon Brown's government. Labour has had held Crewe and Nantwich since the seat created in 1983 and had not lost a seat to the Conservatives in a special election in 30 years. Say good-bye to all that. Tory Edward Timpson beat Labour Tamsin Dunwoody (great name) 20,539 votes to 12,679 in yesterday's special election. The gap was nearly 800 votes more than Labour's winning margin in the district in the national election three years ago. The election makes little change in the balance of power in Parliament but political pundits pay close attention to the scale of voter change, which they apply nationally to guess the results of future elections. It's not looking good for Super Gee. Photo of David Cameron and Timson from The Telegraph.
Eitan has swimming this evening and I run by the Thames during his practice. We listen to Gore Vidal on the BBC interviewed from his London apartment. He talks about all that as the last great American writer of his generation. Most interesting are his friendships and rivalries including Norman, Kurt, Miller, Irving, Updike and others (he doesn't like Updike BTW). Interestingly he says he is done writing and discouraged by today's lack of serious reading. Plus the mafia killed JFK and the Republicans will steal the US elections "as they always do." I take note. The kids officially on half-term so no school next week+it is a bank holiday weekend. They look forward to soccer camp and freedom from activities and homework. I look forward to goofing with them however.
Yes, even I wonder sometimes why Sonnet married me. Still, we have fun and here is another photograph from The Globe.
Britain really must address its oil consumption now that a gallon costs $10.50 and only going up (Bush three months ago told reporters they were nuts when $4 gas was suggested in the USA). It is easy to understand why: the world uses about 87 million barrels of oil a day, a quarter of it in the US. Saudi Arabia is the only country who can pump more - and they won't despite El Presidente's recent requests. Meanwhile, China is in its industrial revolution and then India. There are four oil fields in the world which produce over one million barrels per day: Ghawar, at 4.5 million; Cantarell in Mexico, at 2 million; Burgan in Kuwait at 1 million; and Da Qing in China at 1 million. Ghawar, at 5.5% of daily production is therefore extremely important to our well being, Dear Brother, and is expected to peak inside ten years. "The big risk in Saudi Arabia is that Ghawar's rate of decline increases to an alarming point," says Ali Morteza Samsam Bakhtiari, a senior official with the National Iranian Oil Company. "That will set bells ringing all over the oil world because Ghawar underpins Saudi output and Saudi undergirds worldwide production." Further: according to the Paris-based International Energy Agency yesterday, global need will increase to 116 million barrells a day by 2030 while production might not even make 100 million. That's a supply-demand issue dude.
Everything we see, do and touch based on cheap, or basically free, energy. Those days are gone man and the transition has yet to begin. It sure will help when we get Texas out of the White House and good riddance.
I ask Madeleine what she think we adults talk about. Says she: "us children. Fancy babes." (I think she meant "foxy" but who knows?)
Thursday, May 22
On a beautiful yesterday, Sonnet turns forty. I pretend not to care, or at least not care as much as the FA Cup Final in Moscow featuring ManU v Chelsea (Eitan stays up until 11PM - sudden death PKs, dude). Sonnet and I meet at Somerset House in the afternoon to see an exhibition on fashion design and architecture and how the two shall intertwine (lots of Japanese work+the expected Frank Gehry, Herzog & de Meuron+etc.)
From there I take a new route home before ending up - surprise! - in front of Oxo Tower where we have dinner on the top floor, outside, overlooking Temple from parliament to Blackfriars - how green is London this time of year. Even nicer as the sun sets. I read notes from her family, including a power point presentation from Marcus complete with youthful photos and a poem - bravo!
The kids pick out a painting by our friend Sabi which she loves. We then go The Globe, via bankside, to see A Midsummer Night's Dream with just enough breeze to keep everybody happy. Manchester United eventually wins and the day complete.
"Dear Sonnet since it's your birthday we desided (sic) we would clear up the living room hope its tidy. From Eitan, Madeleine and Natasha"
Written by Eitan on Sonnet's fortieth birthday
Wednesday, May 21
Here's a photo, taken at St Paul's where Eitan now swims. It returns me to panic from an otherwise remembered care-free childhood. Who can forget standardized testing? Even the name sounds Big Brotherish and unpleasant. The first time I took the SATs was at the American School in Geneve, Switzerland, during my Junior year exchange. My performance was only mediocre so I did what every kid does: Stanley Kaplan and a re-take (Kaplan BTW was miserable and not my idea of a California summer). Anyway, on SAT #2, I had flu and over-slept the alarm. I was going to bag the thing but Grace got me into the car and we drove five blocks.... then ran out of gas. It was raining. Mom races back to the house, gets another car and breaks the law I'm sure to get me to the Oakland testing center 20 minutes late. My score goes up over 100 points and I to to college. Ghastly.
Here we are at the level-crossing, listening to the Stereophonics, on our way to St Paul's for Eitan's first swim-practice with the larger age-group. He tells me "I am a bit nervous" but otherwise he holds up OK. On the pool deck there are 40 or so swimmers of various ages and skills and Eitan is teamed up with the youngest or a crew of ten. They swim laps for an hour including pulling (with pull-bouy), kicking and stroke technique. It is a big step up in seriousness from his Sunday mornings. The program includes two evening work outs from 6-7PM+Saturday mornings - our goal is make two. In addition and as a bonus, Eitan is excited to have flippers and other kit which comes with the territory. So here I find myself yet again, Dear Father, parked on a bench and reading a book (this time Philip Roth's "I Married A Communist"). We are yet some years from early-morning practices so thank God for that. I tell Eitan Bravo! for giving it a go while his heart remains with football. It is on him should he wish to continue with swimming and for now it is all good.
Sunday, May 18
We make it out the door to the Hampton Pool for two hours of play on top of Eitan's swim practice this morning. Phew - they never stop. We have a great time and then Pizza Express where the Shakespeares wolf down an adult-size pizza each (usually I plan for the left-overs but today disappointed. Moe would understand). Then we head for the Wimbledon Art Studio to visit our friend Sabi whose work is on display and for sale during the open house. It turns out to be a fabulous exposure for Madeleine, our self-proclaimed artist, who gets to meet the artists in their natural environment. She is wide eyed and respectful, commenting quietly on what she likes (Sonnet reminds me that last month Madeleine asked if we could convert our shed into a painting room). She and Eitan collect post cards which is a genius way of keeping them attuned. I will try to get Madeleine back there soon for sure. Oh, and this mobile-phone pic sent to Katie to make her laugh. Says she: "YES".
After breakfast Eitan and Madeleine get stoned before the Olsen Twins - how the average Brit kid watches 55 hours of television a week is beyond me (BBC).
Sonnet is off to work to do some catch-up and I scheme for the day: Bath? Bournemouth? The seaside? All rejected due to drive-time. We agree on the Hampton pool and after tele will head there- assuming, of course, the weather holds which dicey as I blog this. While easy to forget we live on an island the weather, straight from the ocean, reminds us daily. No wonder weather is the Number One discussion topic here - sort of like guys and baseball in the US'A.
Reported on the cover of Fleet Street this morning: an MI5 officer (Britain's secret service) resigned after admitting his wife a prostitute who took part in a "Nazi-style orgy" with Max Mosley, the Formula One racing chief and one of sport's most powerful figures- pictured.
Saturday, May 17
Cold and wet this morning on the pitch - in other words, back to the England we know and love. Eitan shivers away but refuses, at first, to where his jumper (I would have done the same). Now he sits in front of the television preparing for the FA Cup Final pitting Portsmouth against Cardiff and the first time since 1992 that one of the Big Four (ManU, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool) has not played for this trophy. An announcer notes that Portsmouth was eighth in the Premiere League and Eitan corrects him: "actually" says he, "they are seventh. We discuss this a bit and Eitan corrects himself: "Portsmouth lost against Blackburn two weeks ago I think." A quick search shows that 8th is the right answer.
Madeleine meanwhile is at Performance Class following her morning of swim team and football (watched by Sonnet). In swimming she makes good progress and swims crawl and backstroke across the pool, no problemo. Her upper body will strengthen to the sport and her stroke improve - at now there are a lot of moving parts each with its own intention. I think Madeleine suited for aquatics - she is a strong kid already and expected to grow to an above-average height. Who knows what she may become?
I sing to Madeleine until Sonnet tells me to put a sock in it:
Close your eyes and I'll kiss you
Tomorrow I'll miss you
Remember I'll always be true
And then while I'm away
I'll write home every day
And I'll send all my loving to you
Here is Bertie at footie this morning. Bertie and Eitan started together at age-three while Bertie's father David and I have endured five seasons of sun and rain, often huddled on the sidelines, freezing cold and drinking coffee to stay worm. The kids are growing, boy.
Did you know that if the Democrats used the Republicans delegate allocation, Hillary would have won the primaries weeks ago? The Demo rules mandate that every candidate with more than 15% of a state's primary vote be allocated delegates in proportion to her share of the votes cast (for Repubs, it is winner takes all). Then of course there are the Super Delegates, which each party has. For the Democrats, S-D's are former Presidents, Vice Presidents, and Distinguished Party Leaders (19 in all), Democratic members of the Senate (48) and House of Representatives (222), Democratic Governors (31) and 398 members of the party's national body and a few add-ons. The total of 796 represents 20% of all delegates to the convention and important because they may chose regardless of the popular vote. And should you wonder, Dear Brother, if the S-D can be purchased why just ask California Super Delgate Steven Ybarra who says he will vote for the candidate who stumps up $20 million for his Mexican-American voter registration scheme and will stay undecided until "someone shows me the money." Bastard.
Eitan's football becoming a house issue as the dining room wall now his backstop.
Eitan tells me his new joke: "Once there was a man sitting on the toilet with his iPod. He iPood."
Eitan: "Dad you should have seen Rinaldo's skill when he was trashing Arsenal" (Arsenal, of course, being my team)"
Friday, May 16
"Mom! Look at my hair cut!" Madeleine shouts as Sonnet walks through the door just now. It has been a while since her last salon and our Angel is, like, totally excited. Natasha is with them and Eitan plays his Nintendo, ignoring my arrival. From there, I take Eitan to St Paul's to check out the swim-team - he has been promoted to an older, more serious group which requires three-workouts per week and some logistics from us should he proceed. The boy's dry-run allows him to observe what he is getting us into - fair enough - and after 45-minutes he's decided: it is a "go." On the ride home we talk about achievement and what it means. We also discuss secondary schools and what it will take to go to a good one. Oh brother. Yesterday he receives an Achievement Award "for being a superb role model in Owls class" which Miss Sw. reads to the auditorium.
Oil reaches $128 a barrel. El Presidente urges (begs) the Saudis to produce more of it. There's a solution, dude.
Erik and I join the Ladies That Lunch in South Kensington then see "China Fashion Now" at the V&A, where I take this cool photograph with my blackberry. On display is designer Ma Ke from Shanghai who was graduated from Suzhou Institute of Silk Textile Technology in 1992 and now has her own label Exception de Mixmind. Her interest, the guide book tells me, crosses between art and fashion and last year she became the first contemporary Chinese fashion designer to show at Paris Fashion Week. Today, her clothes are modeled by young and old who stand on illuminated pillars elevated five or six feet above the audience. Each is covered in brown or black chalk highlighting the costume's exotic nature. I see Sonnet and give her a big smooch.
This morning, against my initial disinterest, I attend local neighbor Stephanie's conference "Food For Life" in Richmond. Sensing an all-mothers affair I anticipate a struggle but instead find a relevant and compelling series of guest speakers at the top an important movement: healthy food for school children. The program was conceived six or seven years ago then earned national attention when Brit pop chef Jamie Oliver embraced it as his own, freeing up £400MM from Tony Blaire. Grande Dame Thatcher ensured school meals privatized and the lowest cost provider likely won the contract delivering food that "the staff wouldn't touch" one speaker notes. Along the way, skilled cooks desert and meal-preparers open bags and microwave - serve it up! Sadly the result: Britain's obesity rate is 25% which may eventually bankrupt the NHS. We also know the link between nutrition and learning - kids that don't have it don't get it, literally. Further, 2.5 million of our children live at the government's poverty line and school may be their only "square" of the day. At home, Eitan and Madeleine really have no connection between what they eat and where it comes from: they see Waitrose and packaging. Food For Life gets the kids - and schools - and communities - back to the basics of local sourcing and preparation. Given today's huge turn-out and across the nation, it is a winner, for sure. BTW Jamie Oliver did not attend but sent a video where he awknowledged Stephanie - bravo!
Thursday, May 15
John McCain's new logo makes him sound like a fast food restaurant. The only thing missing is the exclamation point. Good luck to him and the Republicans following losses in Louisiana, Mississippi and the Illinois district of former Republican speaker Dennis Hastert.
Sonnet has recovered it seems from Italy where she visited design houses like Gucci and Prada, who so kindly sent her an ecoutrement for her display collection (not to be worn by her, Dear Sister). A highlight was dinner with Alvise Pasigli who is the Director of a leading art house/ publising company. In the room were the Great and the Good, with a matching view of the Tuscan hills surrounding Florence. Mio Dio tali lavori Hare.
My favorite slogans, culled from the net:
"Beanz Meanz Heinz" (Heinz, 1967)
"I think, therefore IBM" (IBM, 198?)
"Just do it" (Nike,1988)
"The future's bright. The future's Orange" (Orange Mobile, 1996)
"You'll wonder where the yellow went when you brush your teeth with Pepsodent" (Pepsodent, 1956)
"It takes a tough man to make a tender chicken" (Perdue chickens, 1972)
"A little dab'll do ya” (Brylcreem, 1949)
“It's Miller time!” (Miller, 197?)
"Sometimes you feel like a nut, sometimes you don't" (Peter Paul Mounds/ Almond Joy, 1953)
"I'd walk a mile for a Camel" (Camel cigarettes, 1921)
"Merrill Lynch is bullish on America" (Merrill Lynch, 1973)
"Give us 20 minutes and we'll give you the world" (WINS Radio, New York)
A Mars a day helps you work, rest and play" (Mars, 1965)
"Calgon, take me away" (Calgon, 1985)
"I bet he drinks Carling Black Label" (Carling Black Label, 1989)
"Does she or doesn't she?" (Clairol, 1964)
Wednesday, May 14
Well, today's news on the UK economy sure ain't good. Super Gee, attempting to draw a line under the 10p fiasco (he abolished the lower tax rate benefiting the country's poorest) today borrows £2.7B for a hand-out to lower-income families. Alistair Darling is crucified on this morning's Radio 4 where he is more-or-less called a liar when he says govt has not broken the "Golden Rule" of borrowing only for investment. Despite Darling, no one can recall a "mini budget" like now and certainly never a tax change two months from the annual budget. Adding to the troubles, housing minister Caroline Flint arrived at 10 Downing St. for a cabinet yesterday with a set of briefing papers unwittingly visible and photographed by the pap: Dear Reader, government hopes for a 5-10% property price decline while indicating it could be much worse. Caroline notes: "we really have no idea." The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors chimes in with its most pessimistic house price survey since measurement began in 1978. Oh, and inflation: 3% in April or 1% more than the Bank of England's target. Result: don't expect fiscal stimulus from interest rate reductions and more bad news for home owners. While it is damn gloomy, net borrowing in the UK stands at 2.5% GDP and while high for most big economies (excluding the good 'ol US'A), it certainly is not near crisis level. Still in 1990 a similar hallucinatory Treasury (this time Tories), projected the books would balance by 1993-94 when the reality became an overdraft of 8% GDP. So where from today? Firstly, Gee must consider breaking his arbitrary pledge to keep public sector net debt below 40% GDP. Secondly, there must be a debate about how big government should be - just in time for the next general election, thank goodness. Image from Techzoogle.com
Tuesday, May 13
Does it strike anybody as odd that "Sex and the City" premiers in London? I'm not surprised by the local but rather the juxtaposition of shopping obsessed characters and the very real credit crunch. Yet the turn-out in Leicester Square for last night's movie premier at near hysterical levels with devoted fans - mostly women - simply emoting, Dear Mother. There was laughter, tears of joy and of course nostalgia. To its credit, "Sex and the City" made it ok to discuss openly a woman's position on sex (snigger) and we have grown up a bit since the series began ten years ago with Samantha having a random - then shocking - affair in the pilot (says her randy: "I don't intend to spend the night"). It also presents women who enjoy confidence and high profile careers who also enjoy sex and, of course, gossip making them just like you and me brother. This particularly relevant in my circle given the age bracket: mid-career, pre-kids and often single, which includes many of my MBA and other female friends who must consider their professional aspirations and babies. These women may be single or married -the myth of life-time fertility and the feminist message "you can have it all" family and career- butts rudely against declining fertility. From the passenger's seat I observe that there is no perfect answer- though whatever route may indeed be perfect. I have seen this to be so in almost all cases of the people I know. Any way, "Sex and the City" despite its silly and infantile consumerism &c. does present elements of the sexual dilemma fairly or, at least, openly (glam photo from HBO.com)
And since you ask: my favorite "Sex and the City" moment: when Carrie realizes that she’s spent $40,000 on shoes but could not secure a loan on her own to buy out her share of the co-op after she breaks up with Aidan.
I sit in Madeleine's class and the kids are chirpy - no doubt the continuing spring weather raises the energy and everybody in a good mood. Madeleine in particular as she is awarded "Star Of The Day" and beams with pride as she walks to the class front to accept her sticker, looking at me always from the corner of her eye (how my heart swells, Dear Reader). From there the children learn about "connectors" ("and, but, because...") then we split into various chores and I am tasked with the "Owls" to make 3-D constructions - fun! We cut, paste, glue and discuss our objets and everybody feels the winner.
Walking to school, I ask Madeleine at what age one becomes an adult. She: "60? No, wait - 30!" (I tell her never, if she is lucky)
I comment on Eitan's (uncut) hair and note that Wayne Rooney keeps his trim. He replies instantly: "Well, look at Crouch. Or Stevie Gee- he's got long hair!" And then the kicker: "If I cut my hair short, at least I can have a mohican (I think he means mohawk) like Flabbergast." (Les Flabbergast plays for Arsenal)
Monday, May 12
Our little performer before school and by far the best part of my day. After the drop, I join Eitan's class to help his teacher Miss Sw. and enjoy the antics - the kids have potted beans and over the weekend squirrels raided the farm. Chaos and disappointment turns into replanting and determination. After science and during roll-call (who can forget?) the children are asked to describe their various weekends then we jump into "advertising." To explain, Miss Sw. puts three van Gough paintings on the key board and hands go up for marketing-words: "One-of-a-kind!" "Famous painter!" "Buy it for £1 only!" Yes, the kids know how to sell and Eitan gets style points offering the definition of "imperative" or a "bossy order. " hmmm.
The typical British family is spending almost £1000 a year extra on food as increase in the price of a basket of essentials surged 19.1% in May, according to the Daily Mail Cost of Living Index. The surge has been triggered by a worldwide crisis over supplies of key crops like corn, wheat and rice as the Western World thirsts for biofuels (the EU agreed this year that biofuel content of petrol and diesel should be 2.5% rising to 10% by 2020). The effect of biofuels on food prices dramatic: a litre of corn oil has doubled in a year to £1.38; fusilli pasta, made from wheat, is up 81%; a baguette by 41% and Weetabix cereal 21%. If we include further 'must-pay' bills for petrol, mortgages, power and council tax, the extra cost per household rise to £2,500. Despite the pocket pinch, the inflation rate reported by government is 2.6% - Alistair Darling yet again is smoking dope. The cost of under-reporting: the Bank of England has lowered interest rates from 5.5% to 5% attempting to maintain the housing market. But savings trumps home values or at least it has in the past: this country's rate peaked at 17% in 1979 and two years later Britain borrowed £4B from the World Bank and Thatcher arrived with her black whip cracking. Today: further pressure to raise rates is the pound, which has fallen sharply against the Euro. At the day's end, owning a variable rate mortgage coming off an entrance holiday is painful: housing repossessions are up 17% from last year. I think the worst to come yet.
"And so, we're strongly committed to corn-based ethanol produced in America. Yet you've got to recognize there are limits to how much corn can be used for ethanol. I mean, after all, we got to eat some."
El Presidente, April 25, 2006, actually prescient for once
Sunday, May 11
Another beautiful late spring day and after Eitan's swim-team I walk with the Shakespeares to the news agent for the papers. Here Madeleine poses in front of the veterinarians and tells me "I am an animal" - I thought she was doing a yoga pose. At the store, I buy Madeleine Skittles ("can I say no to you?" I ask) while Eitan buys - yes, you guessed it- football cards. Greedily ripping off the wrapper he squeals: "Woo hoo! Guess which one I got Dad!" When I give him a funny look he continues: "His name begins with a 'W' and he plays for Manchester United." Even Moe and Stan should know this one so I torture the boy making up last-names. Finally Madeleine blurts out "WAYNE ROONEY DAD!" and mission accomplished.
Eitan's today's homework is to double, or half, the amounts of a cooking recipe. Madeleine's job is to draw a room from a bird's eye view, ie, above. She also must label the equipment in a playground, which will take care of our fun afternoon.
I point out a "foxy babe" to Eitan in today's newspaper. Says Eitan: "Shoosh. It. Up."
Eitan asks: "Dad, who do you think would win a thumb wrestle- You or Hesky?" (Hesky used to play for England)
Eitan takes a well earned victory as Manchester United defeats Wigan, ensuring their top spot in the Premier League. Chelsea is second followed by Arsenal and Liverpool. We listen to the game and Eitan jumps up and down (literally) for the outcome. He is a running commentary on the players, other games and final rankings. At the end he asks me slyly: "are you going to support ManU now? I would" (little monster). Meanwhile, Madeleine strips for a hose-down in the back yard and now naps during l'excitation.
Madeleine asks if she can have a "pepperoni" with today's picnic. A pepperoni, Dear Sister, is a long salami like sausage made of who knows? what meats. But pretty damn good BTW.
Saturday, May 10
Eitan's footie this morning is brilliant - he has moved up, again, to an older group and still one of the top two or three on the pitch. Today's memorable occurred near me on the sideline: the boy, surrounded by four players, threads the ball and finds the one clear gap and - boom! - he nails it in a perfect pass to an open team mate who is clear for the score. It is a hot morning and both he and Madeleine are beat red from exertion (all the kids huff and puff back and forth in their heat producing scrum). Madeleine also does swim practice before football than performance class afterwards where Sonnet now picks her up. I walk Eitan home and he pleads for a match-attack "golden tin" for his cards collection. It is ten quid, apparently. I know the boy has no cash since I was with him when he purchased his £27 Manchester United tee-shirt after saving diligently for a month. When I query, he informs me matter-of-factly that he has sold books to Madeleine "just like at the library." When I tell him this is no way to make money, Eitan informs me that "Madeleine was begging me to do it." He gets that I am not pleased with the deal and smirks: "I've also sold other things in my collection." It turns out to Madeleine. Anybody familiar with John Fitzergerald's "The Great Brain" series will be familiar with this scenario. In fairness, I need to think of some chores for the kids to make spending money and not fleece each other (Eitan). Their weekly allowance stands at three-pounds. Meanwhile there will be no golden tin.
At the library I ask Madeleine to read a few pages. She: "Aw, dad! I did NOT come to the library to read books."
I ask Madeleine what she will be when she grows up. She: "Definately an artist. I want to work in a museum, just like mum. It would be surrounded by paintings. My paintings."
This photo taken just now- Eitan refuses a haircut
Friday, May 9
Introducing Mara Carfagna, a former topless model and beauty queen who Silvio Berlusconi appoints Equal Opportunity Minister in his cabinet as of today. Married to a working mother I can feel the outrage - and how about those women who galvanised the 70s with equal opportunity ? Berlusconi chose Carfagna as one of four women ministers - not such a bad thing given before there were none. Carfagna's place writ in stone perhaps from last year's awards dinner when Silvio told her that if he was not married he would "gladly marry her." (His wife demanded, via a national newspaper, that her husband apologise. He did). So what are Carfagna's qualifications other than some nice tits? Firstly, she earned a law degree from Salerno University and worked for Mediaset - Berlusconi's TV company. She appeared on several programmes then became MP. Sweet career path, dude! Says her on being Miss Italy: "That competition makes you as a women, it matures you" and "all that stress, that desire to win, it makes you understand who you are." Well thank goodness for her - Italy has no worries of marching forwards in time.
“If I, taking care of everyone's interests, also take care of my own, you can't talk about a conflict of interest.”
Thursday, May 8
From July or eight months old. Time flies.
This morning I do the school drop and the Shakespeares drag their guitars, lunch boxes, water bottles, take-home satchels and music folders. It takes a miracle to get out the door but somehow every day is a.... From there I go to the next door Victoria to read a book and drink black coffee - another gorgeous morning in London. The post-drop-moms are in full-force sunning themselves on the terrace and gossiping. I inadvertently over-hear the running commentary including preferred yoga (pilates popular), summer hols (Italy, Portugal or America?) and of course absent mums (positive generally). I receive a few suspicious looks then considered part of the furniture, like everything else outside the private cosmos. Meanwhile Sonnet in Italy worries about a tomorrow's general transportation strike which could leave her stranded in Florence. Rough life but she knows she is well-missed here for sure.
Wednesday, May 7
It is spring - finally - and I am way under-motivated so here I blog on a potato chip. Along with English and oganising the industrial world, Britain has given us the salt and vinegar crisp - a world beater, in my opinion. One of the oldest is Seabrook who have been frying since 1945. The company was founded by Charles Brook in Bradford, Northern England where they are extremely popular - I can only find them locally at sandwich shops catering to lorry drivers and construction workers. According to one source, Seabrook used to be famous for its misuse of quotation marks like "See" what you "Buy" and Tomato Sauce "Flavour" (presumably they are more careful now and my today's bag error free). The real reason for my interest in Seabrook is their original, and still available "flavours": bacon & brown sauce, beefy, Canadian ham, cheese & onion, cheesy, chicken & stuffing, cream cheese & chives, pickled onion, prawn cocktail (yum!), roasted garlic, sea & black pepper, sea salt and vinegar, smokey bacon, spring onion, tomato ketchup, worcestor sauce and of course unsalted. Phew! (photo from snackspot.org.uk)
And how does one eat a potato chip in Britain? Delicately, Dear Reader, delicately. On many an occasion I have observed a woman using her thumb and middle finger to gently and soundlessly pluck a crisp from bag, placing it into mouth and contemplating the curious flavour for an oh-so-brief moment of guilty pleasure. This very different from Americans where it is stuff stuff stuff!
A "barney," from the cartoon Flintstones character Barney Rubble, is popular among surfers and mountain bikers who often use it disparagingly about new or aspiring participants they believe are getting in the way of ‘real’ athletes. In this case, me with Adam in Los Angeles several weeks ago. In Adam's note to me with photo, he notes rather too gleefully: "It's all about the ear flaps" - that's a surfing hat dude. Chin strap is for wipe outs.
Despite my inability to properly ride the long board, I have grown up with the Pacific and spent many an afternoon with Adam and other friends at classic breaks like Four Mile and Three Mile points - distances, respectively, from the Santa Cruz pier. To reach the surf, one parks on the HW1 then walks a mile through cabbage or lettuce fields to the cliffs shinnying down to the water (no sandy beaches here). From there it is cold and often pea soup foggy - the water 62° - and kelp reaching up from the bottomless black. It is easy to allow one's imagination to wander especially when white sea lions dart underneath: curious spectators they. The locals hate day trippers and worse if they are on a boogy board like me then. Yes, "barney" was heard and sometimes encouragement like: "you're never going to catch a fuck'n wave, dude."
Still, I've been fortunate to goof with the best including writer Dan, who wrote a minor classic "Caught Inside" about his year on the Northern California ocean. Dan introduced me to Grady, a fellow in his 50s who surfs every day and was bit by a Great White with scar tissue proving his encounter. Grady told me then: "I was on my board then struck by what felt like a bus. Then I was 15 feet under water looking eye-to-eye with a shark" which let him go allowing him to make the surface. His pals put him on a board (his chopped), somehow got him to a hospital, and he tells the story today lucky him. Grady concluded: "I was back on the water in a month."
New London mayor Boris announces today his first policy: no open alcoholic containers on buses or public transportation. Ok, a start - but isn't this blindingly obvious?
Tuesday, May 6
The irrepressible "model" and daughter of Sir Bob Geldorf, Peaches, caught on camera buying £190 of coke, noting "I'm going to need Valium tomorrow after this." The video secretly-shot as part of Scotland Yard's investigation into drugs to young stars. Peaches is 19 but a star? Because this is Britain: 1. Peaches now everywhere on Fleet Street and 2. she will avoid jail time. Britain and drugs - a real problem and the last twelve months has seen some heavy partying: video footage of singer Amy Winehouse smoking crack at a party; Kate Moss on film shoveling cocaine up her nose; Pete Doherty and heroine. The fuck-up that is Peaches is made worse given her mother Paula Yates died from a heroin overdose in 2000 at 41 .
"A video? What video? Fuck off, I don't want to know." "Fuck off, fuck off, fuck off, fuck off! Just fuck off!"
--Kate Moss, when asked about the video of her snorting cocaine
Monday, May 5
I take the monkeys to the London Zoo on a lovely bank holiday - the first in like ten years. We drive northwest to our old stomping grounds Regents Park and Primrose Hill and surprise! no parking, just like old times. Undaunted we end up in nearby St John's Wood and I don't mind the walk though the kids complain - oh, sweet hardship. The zoo BTW is the world's oldest scientific zoo and was opened on in 1828. It was originally intended to be used as a collection for scientific study, I learn from a grounds person. It was opened to the public in 1847. Today it houses a collection of 704 species of animals, with 16,802 individuals, making it one of the largest collections in the U.K. (I learn from their website). Physically the zoo is a wonder nestled inside Regents Park with an underground connecting the zoo's outer perimeter to the inner otherwise separated by the Regents canal and the Outer Circle road (got that?). Our favorites are the gorillas (remarkable), giraffes (walk-up observatory), reptiles (vipers and poisons) and of course the lions, who chill out in the 70-degree weather. Just like the Ngorongoro crater, I am sure. From the zoo we go to Primrose Hill, spread a linen blanket and play footie or do nothing before home - the kids strip for the car ride. Tonight: pizza and a movie. Perfect.
In their own words:
"Is there anything that will interest me here?" Eitan asks by the Lion's den
"That one is riding on top of the other's back." Eitan by the Llamas
"Daddy it is so cute!" Madeleine on the naked, eyeless, mole rat
"I wouldn't want to be in that garden." Madeleine seeing the hissing cockroaches
"Lookit - that one has big lips." Madeleine on a sea anemone
When I tell the kids "I've had it - no ice cream" if they say it again, Eitan spells out ice cream
"I am dying for an ice cream. I've been waiting for hours!" Madeleine just won't give it up
Madeleine sees a feeder in the vulture cage: "why can't we go in there?"
In the reptiles den I ask Eitan why it might be an advantage to have cold blood. He begins: "Imagine if you were in a jacuzzi...."
Me to Madeleine: "The only thing I want is for your to be happy."
Madeleine to me: "I would be even happier if you just went away."
We make animal sounds on the car drive home