Sonnet and I take down the Christmas tree which goes to recycling this morning. Officially we are the second BTW. We shortly head for Sussex nearby the Goodwood estate where we will bottle up for a week+the New Year. We will stay at a country house (think green, rolling hills, sheep) and not too far from the sea. As we are without wireless I will not be taking my notebook. Hooray. So an old-school break - hmmm, wonder how we will fair? Sonnet has packed food as though for survival while we have our hiking gear and other exercise kit to boot - I understand there is a swimming pool in nearby quaint town Chichester and I plan to work out the Shakespeares. Madeleine meanwhile has her Kumon and is something like two weeks behind, poor her. To family and friends and anybody reading: Happy New Year and see you for 2009, when I will start blogging again, or before. Photo by Chris Hammerton.
Saturday, December 27
Friday, December 26
Boxing Day dates back centuries when it was the custom for the Commonwealth's richest to give gifts to their employees or people in a lower class, most especially to household servants and other service personnel. Here in ye Olde England, a more recent tradition is the Premiership which plays a full programme of matches - sorta like Detroit on Thanksgiving only our teams better to watch. This year's Bank Holiday is closely observed as the High Street is feared to go into the toilet thanks to the recession. All stores are discounting and attract they do: Oxford Street expects footfall at >half a million. Eitan and I brave the zoo (Madeleine recovers from last night) and we park the car at Hammersmith then wisely tube to Piccadilly Circus. In two words: mad house. Eitan is hell-bent on an official Premier League football at Lillywhites, the largest sport's store in London and blessed by HRH. We claw our way to the second level then push through Russians loading up on branded gear (it is always the Russians). We score and head for China Town and dim sum then more stores and more crowds.
I admit to struggling a bit with Eitan around a conversation - it is tough to get inside an eight year old who is otherwise inclined to keep things private or assumes I know already or finds it too much work to share. Our discussions, which I try not to force, concentrate on school pals, teachers, sports and football (of course) which gets his fullest reaction. I tell him anecdotes some hit and others don't. I am dead proud to take this handsome little kid around Mayfair but for him it is mostly work (I remember this age for sure) - he would rather practice his football and in fact cries hard tears realising the early sunset will keep us from the common. I feel bad and allow him to buy a DVD ("Kung Fu Panda - "an easy choice" he says - "It is my favorite") and we head home in better sorts.
I just do not get the (credit-card) spending and buzziness I see today. In one of the gloomiest reports yet for the UK’s finances, the Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR) predicts that the British economy could shrink >2.5% in 2009 as bank lending continues to stagnate and business investment slashed. That would be the biggest slump since '46 when the UK was wrestling with both a freezing winter and the effects of mass demobilisation after the Second World War.
"Oklahoma," which remains on my mind, gave us many great songs and Gordon MacRae - the fabulous singer and gayest cowboy on film. Ever. Period. The movie starts with MacRae's character clopping on his white horse singing "Oh What A Beautiful Mornin" in a bright tangerine red shirt and silk neck handkerchief. His gun holster hangs suggestively and his pants packed. Tight. Sonnet and I love it. Anyway, I am prompted to re-visit the opening song because Moe corrects me that "When I awakened you and Katie early in the morning for swimming I always said 'It's Uppy, Uppy Time' and "It was only when we shortly thereafter arrived at the King Pool (early, of course,) that I broke out in the refrain, 'Oh what a , oh what a beautiful day, I got etc.' To be fair, I only imposed this on the two of you on the bleakest, darkest, rainy, windy and miserable days, as we collectively waited for the pool to open. This effort at pleasantry on my part was also, I am afraid, not fully appreciated by you or Katie." Ah yes - it somehow feels like yesterday.
Eitan indignantly to me: "You always get to do what you want to do. Watch TV. Go into town. Eat a taco."
Me: "Eat a taco?"
Eitan: "Yeah, or whatever."
Eitan and I go for a walk and, given that we are up all night with Madeleine's stomach bug, I ask him: "do you know the difference between a bacteria and virus?" He looks at me quizzically so I try to explain but stumble. Here is the answer: "The differences between viruses and bacteria are numerous. "Viruses are the smallest and simplest life form known. They are 10 to 100 times smaller than bacteria. The biggest difference between viruses and bacteria is that viruses must have a living host - like a plant or animal - to multiply, while most bacteria can grow on non-living surfaces.
"Also, unlike bacteria, which attack the body like soldiers mounting a pitched battle, viruses are guerrilla fighters. They don't attack so much as infiltrate. They literally invade human cells and turn the cell's genetic material from its normal function to producing the virus itself.
In addition, bacteria carry all the machinery needed for their growth and multiplication, while viruses carry mainly information - for example, DNA or RNA, packaged in a protein and/or membranous coat. Viruses harness the host cell's machinery to reproduce. In a sense, viruses are not truly "living," but are essentially information (DNA or RNA) that float around until they encounter a suitable living host." Well, this is more information than any of us need so suffice it to say Sonnet and I comfort Madeleine and make sure she feels loved and looked after- it is traumatising for the poor child, no doubt. No they watch "Ratatouille" a movie about a rat who becomes a chef, allow me to say en francais, "ze raht is in ze kitchen." Try it- guaranteed addictive. Photo from Disney.
Thursday, December 25
We walk in the Isabella Plantation after "My Fair Lady" and "Oklahoma" where I am surprised to know every single song despite having never seen the Rogers and Hammerstein before. The song I know best is the opening ballad "Oh What A Beautiful Morning" which Moe sang every morning at 5:30AM waking me and Katie for swim-practice. Thank you Moe. Richmond Park is otherwise shut-down for the winter and the gardens mostly out of bloom excluding a small number of winter flowers and shrubs. Madeleine brings along yet-to-be-named Buddy number 93 who we can see here going for a strike on goal. From Richmond Eitan begs me for more football so we conclude at Sheen Common for pick-up. Madeleine earns 15 quid BTW catching me or doing various exercises - the money makes it exciting for both of us and probably not a good plan but hey, whatever motivates. Meanwhile Karen and Andrew arrive with two of their three goosing Christmas gifts like an electric scooter (Jackson) and new bike (Lauren). Jackson is a fleet foot and we play sides until the sun is well-set, though Eitan enters a huff about leaving. The kid would play 24/7 if he could.
Madeleine and I leave the common, which is dark and rather spooky. Me to her: "If you don't hurry up - ghosts."
Madeleine: "No such thing as ghosts, Dad."
Me: "Of course there are."
Madeleine, matter of factly: "There aren't. I know."
Me: "Well, do you believe in Santa Claus?"
She: "Of course I do." Long pause. "And he is not a ghost."
Sweetie Pie takes one for the team - here she is with mom. Katie, too, spends Christmas Eve and Day in Berkeley and sends me this and other cat photos.
Erik, who is from Michigan, and I have a lengthy discussion about the auto-bail-out and generally I have not been for it. After Erik, I feel somewhat differently - sure, Detroit has done some stupid things and not changed with the times. For instance, Ford, GM and Chrysler sued California and Arnold Schwarzenegger for raising minimum efficiency in California to 22 MPG by 2016. They won, instantly ceding the world's largest car market China which today requires >40 MPG. Further we know the UAW has been as difficult partner and unwilling (or able) to cede compensation to compete with the nips who are younger, better run and with less legacy. But then there is this: Wall Street gets >$700 billion for outright fraud while anybody paid excessive bonuses through 2006 while devising a house of destruction have ripped off the country. And worse- many of these bastards are getting bonused this year with our bail-out money. And most of the same bonusing institutions are paying dividends in '08 from our taxes (Lehman's Fuld over last five years: >$200 million, most cashed out). Get real. Detroit employs >1 million Americans, who work damn hard, and probably another two million indirectly. On average, their cost is $70 per hour (vs. $40 for the Japanese) and a yearly wage may be $60K. This is well over America's per capita income but certainly no lavish lifestyle. Worse, many foreign autos with plants in the United States have been subsidized to be in the US'A with tax breaks and other incentives. For Washington (and mostly the Republicans) to kiss off the country's most important manufacturing companies, nor provide support for auto-purchase financing via GMAC or others, while directly supporting foreigners and the Wall Street rip off is a fiasco. And should we be surprised with Paulson, the former CEO of Goldman Sachs humping the dog? He and Bush - heck of a job. Erik wonders why Michigan doesn't break away from the Union and join Canada. Preposterous but then... perhaps not so.
On December 21 interviews, Cheney notes that FDR and Lincoln did things far worse than he and the Bush Administration's over-reach regarding the U.S. Constitution and things like torture during a war-time. May I point out that FDR imprisoned Japanese Americans while Lincoln suspended habeous corpus when civilians demanded protection from arbitrary arrest and the right to protest the conduct of the Civil War? These are some of the darkest moments in American history so way to set the bar Dick. I congratulate you.
Sonnet ponders choosing a football team in the Premier League.
Sonnet: "Maybe it will be West Brom (worst in the league). They could use some support."
Eitan: "Are you crazy? It will take them ages. How about Liverpool? or Arsenal?" (interestingly not Man U which is maybe too personal somehow?)
Madeleine: "How about that team that has that guy?"
Eitan: "That's Manchester United. And you mean Cristiano Rinaldo."
Sonnet: "Well maybe I'll go with Arsenal - that's dad's team."
Eitan: "That is a strange way to choose a team."
Eitan and Madeleine arise at 6AM and race into our room - presents! I tell them to go downstairs and watch cartoons or whatever. We agree to join them in 45 minutes. Groan. Sonnet is up and and about and soon we are sitting before a fire and the kids squealing with delight: "A Manchester United calendar! Just what I always wanted - I can't wait for January!" and "A Manchester United travel kit! And a Cristiano Rinaldo comforter!" and Madeleine: "Another buddy - that makes 93!" and "Coloring books! and an artist kit!" (I get Sonnet a music player which I load with my favorite songs and some opera too). We listen to Diane's "A Merry Little Christmas" where she sings the classics like "Santa Baby," "I'll Be Home For Christmas," and "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus" (Diane, who has a wonderful, rich voice, made the CD with proceeds going to the Miracle Kids in Northeastern, PA). After breakfast Sonnet now reads the kids Harry P and we will soon go to the park for an afternoon stroll to burn off some energy and prepare indoor movies and such activities. London is appropriately grey and a cold-front moves in adding to the "festive season." I would venture the good majority of houses in our area have lights, trees and holiday wreaths on their door. Thank you to our family and worldly friends who have sent us and the kids presents, holiday cards and love and warm wishes. Thank you!
Painting of Chelsea and the Battersea Bridge by Doug Myers.
"Ho! Ho! Ho!"
Wednesday, December 24
Madeleine's no dummy and she ducks (ar ar) when I ask her if she wants to join me to pick up the Christmas bird. Like last year and the year before, the line stretches down the block and it takes >2 hours before we get into the butchers. We are rewarded happily with an 11 pounder (on reserve) plus all sorts of gore like bacon, sausage and mince meat. Eitan and I eye the saw and various knives assembled on the cutting board, which has soaked up blood. The British do know their meats. Standing in line I say hello to the neighborhood as we are all in the same place. Eitan amuses himself with some sprints then gets board then practices some maths then gets bored again then reads the sports pages and bored and so it goes. Now I blog when I should be exercising or something. Or focused on the kiddos so I will jump off. Merry Christmas!
Me to Madeleine: "Do you think Santa is fat?"
Madeleine: "Dad! Don't even say such a thing! Of course he's not!"
Me: "Ok but he is definitely chubby."
Madeleine: "Stop it! He'll hear you!"
Eitan: "Well, maybe not fat but jolly. He is definitely jolly."
Me: "And those elves are pretty skinny. Do you think they eat much?"
Madeleine gives me the evil eye.
Eitan: "They are not skinny. They are just small. They're just elves, Dad."
Madeleine: "Maybe we can leave them some food with Santa."
The perfect bottom we all work so hard for. This one greets visitors (actually the more interesting side greets visitors). Today is Christmas Eve so not surprsingly the kids barge into our room at around 6AM, which is unfortunate because I "indulged" last night at Dukes. Tony had never been and the hotel in St James's offers the best martini in town. Of course the only one to order is vodka and we had several. Did I mention that Tony spent five years in the Navy before business school? Hmmm never wise to find this out at a cocktail lounge. Before, I spend the day with Arthur at the sciences museum- the perfect date place with him (Arthur is a Senior Engineer working on the Pentagon's missile defense shield). He's in town for some chores and his apartment, which otherwise he rents out as he lives in VA. Normally I tear through the exhibitions on my way to the planes or rocket displays but Arthur is fascinated by the early technology like lathes, steam pressures and telescopes. He ponders each joint wondering why it is useful? and this forces me along for the contemplation. I absorb (mostly) what he says, including an explanation of the first computer and a description of his fathers who had a "calculator press" before Sony took over the world. We also discuss other stuff including the necessity of a large military and techy weapons when the most threatful thing could be a van packed with fertiliser. He agrees, but also our government cannot find itself exposed to a strike without any sort of available defense. Hence Star Wars. Unfortunately for him, he finds himself retooling his program based on timing and budgets and sub-contractor budgets which change at the whim of Congress and especially this and next year. We're talking billions of dollars here. All Arthur wants to do is build or fix things, poor fellow.
From Arthur I join Erik at The Woolsley and we catch each other up before he flies to Southern California for the holidays. Unknown to me before recently, his family (Dad's side) bought up the orange groves in of Orange County starting around 1911 and today they have diversified into many areas and funded a university. From SoCal he will ride his motorcycle to Arizona which sounds pretty cool to me. And then Dukes, oh boy.
Monday, December 22
Eitan is Liam Gallagher (ever heard of Oasis dad?). He refuses a hair-cut and I don't bother him about it nor combing his hair. It drives Sonnet nuts but a boy has to express himself somehow. Oasis BTW formed in Manchester in '91 originally by Liam and later joined by Noel. Together, they have sold >50 million records worldwide, have had eight UK number-one singles and have collected 15 NME Awards, five Brit Awards, nine Q awards and four MTV Europe awards. In February 2007, Oasis received the BRIT Award for outstanding contribution to music. Imagine being in a rock 'n roll band with your family- well, hard for the brothers and they almost broke up in 2000. While touring in Barcelona in 2000, Oasis were forced to cancel a gig when drummer Alan White's arm seized up, and the band spent the night drinking instead. Liam made a derogatory comment about Noel's then-wife Meg Mathews, and attempted to cast doubt over the legitimacy of Noel's daughter Anais, causing a scuffle. Following this, Noel declared he was quitting touring overseas altogether, and Oasis were supposed to finish the tour without him. Noel eventually returned for the Irish and British legs of the tour, which included two major shows in London. A live album of the first show, called "Familiar to Millions," was released in late 2000 to mixed reviews. I wonder if their cat fighting heard in the background? I otherwise I own all their albums.
Madeleine (sitting idly on the floor): "Would my muscles snap if I did the splits? Would my bones crack?"
Eitan ponders, then: "Would your legs break off if they are pushed down by a machine?"
Madeleine: "Oh, Eitan - I bet that would REALLY hurt."
Madeleine sees that Oliver Twist is on TV. She asks: "Is he the one who eats porridge?
Madeleine: "I have hiccups that taste like peanuts. It's disgusting."
Kids fighting in the back-seat. Eitan looks at me indignantly: "She started it. She kicked me in the head first!"
Here is Sonnet in front of her home away from home. My photograph taken on Exhibition Road or the Westside entrance of the V&A - note the chunks of portland stone missing. This area heavily bombed during WWII and the museum took some mighty hits. During repairments, the outside structural damage retained for us and other generations to see. Madeleine with a new "buddy."
We visit the V&A following lunch with Scott and Cindy and Tony and Suzanne, whose daughter has returned from her first semester at Penn, to great reviews (I ask Tony if he has read Tom Wolff's "I Am Charlotte Simmons" but he ducks). Scott and I met around 2000 at a Brown function, which makes sense since he is a member of the Trustees as well as being on the acquisition committee of the Rhode Island School of Design. He and I hit it off famously and Sonnet and I consider them an important friendship - last year, Scott turned 6-0 while I 40 so we celebrated our centurion with a magnum of champion. Yesterday was interesting as the kids joined the dinner-table and I am happy to report that they held it together admirably with only a few interruptions whilst trying vigilantly to use fork and knife on their meat (I wonder: are we such cannibals at home?). Scott feeds Eitan ginger cookies under the table while Madeleine searches their Chelsea house for buddies - she wants to take them. Arriving home around 5PM we are happily tired and sit around the Christmas tree searching for the Liverpool vs. Arsenal match until I remember that Eitan has been grounded from football for some reason. Oh well, almost perfect.
I find a strange black obelisk in the V&A courtyard at the center of the museum, which immediately brings Arthur C. Clarke to mind. In this instance, it shines various shapes, patterns and lines and draws a hypnotised audience who watch the colors dance off the wading pool. Cool. Eitan, meanwhile, could care less and in a flash has his shoes off and runs sprints on the lawn - he's been inside the museum for 20 minutes, you see. Any ways the sculpture presents no information on itself, nor am I able to find anything on the V&A's website- maybe Sonnet can help us?
The Victoria & Albert Museum really is fabulous - not your typical showing painting and antiquities, no sir. It is the world's largest museum of decorative arts and design, housing a permanent collection of over 4.5 million objects. Named after Prince Albert and Queen Victoria, it was founded in 1852, and has since grown to now cover some 12.5 acres and 145 galleries. Its collection spans 5000 years of art, from ancient times to the present day, in virtually every medium, from Europe, North America, Asia and North Africa. Sonnet has her place too and it gives me great pride to walk around the Fashion Gallery with the kids who ask questions about her displays: "Why did you pick that one, mom?" asks Madeleine looking at a pink track suit. Eitan runs past the fancy lingerie when I ask him his favorite pair of pants. Otherwise there is the "Magnificence of the Tsars" described as "the grandeur of Imperial Russia is captured in this display of the dress and uniforms of Emperors and officials of the Russian court. Starting in the 1720s with the lavishly embroidered coats and elaborately patterned silk banyans from the wardrobe of Tsar Peter II, the display spans a period of almost two centuries." I hear a lot of Russian spoken.
Madeleine zips along on her wheels, a holiday gift to both kids from Natasha. I feel a tad better than the following photograph, thank goodness. Otherwise I straighten out my office for the conclusion of '08 - a good year all around. This the first time I can remember that I do not have a tail-end project or something Big to dig into for the New Year, which a reflection of the times really. Private equity, once thought to be sheltered from the financial mess due to the industry's long-term nature, is going to take it on the chin thanks the the abundence of leverage. The three components of making money from a buy-out (ie, buying out a portion of a company's shareholding; usually the majority or controlling portrion) are earnings growth, multiple expansion (for example, one buys this year for 6X cash-flow then sells next year for 7X), and debt. Well, earnings will be mired down in the recession and multiples have thanks to a direct correlation with the stock markets (private company valuations of course benchmarked to public markets and m&a). Leverage is also gone (credit crisis deary) and in fact now a considerable problem. Many deals have been done with four or five parts debt for each equity, meaning companies are under pressure to make their interest and principal payments in an economic slowdown. If they break their bank covenents, then the equity becomes nothing. Unfortunately the "perfect storm" may reach shore sometime next year and many privately owned, well known businesses will be forced to restructure in bankruptcy or disappear. In the UK, private equity is the largest employer, after government, accounting directly for >1.1 million jobs or 8% of the private sector, according to the British Venture Capital Assoc. Indirectly, these numbers are much bigger.
Sunday, December 21
Here is your blimied reporter getting over a cold and out with the kiddies on a cold-afternoon. It ain't pretty. I am reminded of those early parental years and occassional late nights out netting a hangover and push-stroller at some God awful hour of the morning. There was no way I was pulling a roll-over given my companion a working mother. Words unsaid: "you got yourself into this mess... " Ah, yes we have come a a long way (baby).
Yesterday I take the Shakespeares to Richmond Park at Madeleine's request to pick reeds and grass for home-made Christmas wreaths - you know, a Martha Stewart projé and same as last year. Armed with bags and scooters, we head into the park's middle where it is agreed the best picking may be had. Sonnet uses her afternoon to attend last minute manicures and a shopping or two. The sun sets early giving us long-shadows and we reward our hard work with hot chocolate by the car-park.
The retailers are in for it this season and 375 high street brands are reported to be on the tip. This includes ten or so of the "iconic" shops which have been around forever and nobody would imagine life without. The sales, which usually begin Boxing Day have started early and many stores offer 75% mark-downs. Ouch. With the recession we will eventually lose many services held dear and shopping is only the beginning I fear. Invevitably there will be cut backs in recycling, schools maybe policing and other local council dependent activities. Britain's unemployment reached 1.87 million active-seekers last week it was announced, which excludes those who have given up looking. Radio 4 presents a spirited debate regarding students and drinking - apparently, on average, three study nights a week - given these times, Radio 4 asks, should our youngsters rather get a job or defer their studies given a family's financial duress? Yes, these are hard times with worse to come but much to be grateful for too - kids, art, and being alive. Praise Jesus, life is good.
The kids have their last day of school Friday leaving them with a three week break and us a lot of work to keep them entertained. But this is our pleasure. The last few days of school saw in-class movies, extra "golden-time" and parent-teacher gifts awknowledging the teacher's hard work. And they put their hearts and minds into our children - between teaching, correcting, planning and extra-curriculars like plays and football it is easily >60 hours per week. More importantly ours love their classroom and it shows both in them and Eitan and Madeleine, who feel safe, secure and challenged. This really all a parent can ask for. Eitan BTW has his mind set on St Paul's for secondary which is London's best private school for boys - it is also requires an interview and exams. The school is in our neighborhood just across the Hammersmith Bridge on the Barnes side. It is good to have goals, no doubt, and as always we encourage him to be his best. Can he perform a hat trick: St Paul's, Oxford or Ivy and Manchester United?
Eitan gives me an early Christmas card with a poem by him. They have been studying iambics and such in class and he has been interested lately in his word use+his vocabulary is really taking off. Here is what he wrote me in his card:
"Snow causing a halo over houses,
Mornings chilled and bitter cold.
Pink noses, trembling hands,
Warmth scarce because summer is band (sic),
People hastily lumbering to home,
Specles (sic) of rain scattering glasses,
Kids seeing warmth passes"
Friday, December 19
Pity the Brits, who don't have a really good mountain to fortify their self-image. This morning I listen to a BBC reporter at 300 feet altitude (it was reported) interviewing a mountain "expert" about the perils of climbing this time of year. On queue, he presents a pick-ax for "those tricky situations" noting slyly that "one must know how to use one [a pick axe] properly in an adverse situation." From there, we are told, how to use a pick axe. And crampons. The only trouble being: Ben Nevis (here, pictured with the local bus heading for the top) is our highest mountain at 1,344 meters. No doubt it is a handsome pile and lovely to walk especially in the summer-time when one can have a cup of tea at the summit (OK, this a bit rich- the summit was manned all year 'round from 1883 to 1904 while today the station remains presenting an opportunity for Starbucks. No kidding- 100,000 ascents per year- ka ching). The mountain is located at the western end of the Grampian Mountains in the Lochaber area of Scottland near Fort Williams, which Sonnet and I know all too well. We went their for Eitan's first birthday assuming the overnight Caladonian Sleeper departing London's Euston station would somehow be romantic. It wasn't. Back to Ben Nevis: I intended to hike to the top with Eitan in a toddler backpack - this despite the pouring September rain. Fortunately I somehow came to my senses (Sonnet) and we did local walks and there are some marvelous photographs of me and Sonnet in ponchos pushing about a rather confused Eitan in a water cloaked buggy. Our broadaster winds up by telling us: "be prepared for some blustery weather and whatever you do, make sure to take care if you are out in the wilderness." (Photo uncredited from the www)
Thursday, December 18
It is the holiday season and there is Jesus on the mind. Last night, Eitan and his school chums belt out holiday cheer to the pride of the parish, school and community. Sonnet, Madeleine and I arrive early to secure a front seat but the church is packed on arrival - I spot all the mums, dads, teachers and importants milling about us (something reminds me of "Dubliners") and it is indeed a lovely show: candles light the hall and the children's voices mostly in key fill the space+we are treated with descriptions of the Three Wise Men and other things I tune out. We are also entertained by a flute, recorder and trumpet recitals, which are so bad that I try hard not to laugh - not easy either during the trumpets. Sonnet and I take Eitan, flushed with his triumph, home and we watch the tail-end of a EUFA Cup qualifier while Sonnet makes a late dinner.
The tower, pictured, is located across the street from the primary and was built in 1860 in ragstone, with Ashlar dressings and plain tiled roof. It consists of chancel, nave, aisles, with an attached tower to the south-east, vestries and a new extension to the north-east. Picture by Jim Linwood.
Madeleine: "Dad, if I have to make my bed I won't be giving you a kiss."
"I know what I believe. I will continue to articulate what I believe and what I believe - I believe what I believe is right."
W., Rome, July 22, 2001
Tuesday, December 16
I change the image of a cat's head in green fruit to this one - which is funnier I think. I was trying to find something like "chuck the cat from a window" on Google but nothing useful came up.
It turns out that laughter can ease pain and help fight disease by increasing natural killer cell activity in blood and free radical-scavenging capacity in saliva, as well as lowering levels of the stess hormone cortisole, the NHS reports. It is also thought that laughter causes the release of special neurotransmitter substances in the brain, endorphins, that help control pain. And there are more direct physical effects of laughter, including increased breathing, more oxygen us and higher heart-rate. It does make me wonder when laughing became an unusual activity - watching the playground it is clear that children laugh all the time but adults- rarely. The change, I think, between 6th and 7th grades or pre-school and Jr High - of course by the teen years nothing is funny, oh boy. Most of the time I find most things funny but it does depend on my mood. Chicken and egg perhaps?
My Top-Ten Funny Movies:
10. Play It Again Sam
9. Fast Times At Ridgmont High
7. Animal House
6. Groundhog Day
5. Raising Arizona
4. There's Something About Mary
1. Annie Hall
Eitan and Madeleine's Top Cartoons That I Can Remember:
Over The Hedge
Madagascar I and II
Kung Fu Panda
Ice Age I and II
Lady & The Tramp
Magic Round About (awful)
Shrek I, II and III
Space Chimps (ghastly)
Here's your faithful author in his white cap. It is cold though the world continues to hot up: the BBC reports that for the first-time anyone can remember there is no snow in Moscow. The bears aren't hibernating and the Russians, who pride their sub-freezing climate, are worried - even Leader-For-Life Putin addresses the temperatures during yesterday's press conference: "only God can bring the cold" winks Putie, implying that even he cannot change the climate. More worrying, The Independent tells us the "Arctic melt passes the point of no return" faster than predicted and warming the world's seas. Really, with Iraq, suicide bombings, financial melt-downs, Bernard Medoff, Mombai... it does feel like things are, er, out of hand. No wonder an Iraqi journo threw a shoe at Bush calling him a dog- a very grave insult coming from an Arab. Frankly the fellow has the right idea: we all await the boot in el President's backside on his way out the door. Me, I go about my routine: wife, kids, exercise, work.
I am reminded that five years ago I met Dr Gregory Pincus at a party in Bayswater. We were invited by Sonnet's friend Vicortia who was visiting London to research the use of furniture and the use of interiors by the Bloomsbury Group which was the artistic and litterary circle of the day including Virgina Wolf and many others. Victoria was way cool and sadly we have lost touch with her. Any case, Pincus we all know is famous for his 1954 invention Enovid, which would eventually pass FDA approval to be sold as the world's first contraceptive pill. What was unusual about Pincus was that he exists at all - I mean, one does not expect to meet somebody who helped engineer the sexual revolution and all that (+ a product you know your sister, mom and friends all have used at some point egad). Pincus then was very matter of fact and up front about it all: when asked what he does, he replies "Nothing, really, but I did once invent the pill." Salut!
Monday, December 15
Eitan and Madeleine yesterday at the commons nearby our house. There are a number of dads on the pitch with the same idea: get the monsters out of the house! Madeleine is fixed on 'headers' and pleads with me to toss the ball at her, well, head while Eitan wants to do 'penalty kicks.' Neither like my coaching which includes jogs around the park, fast-breaks and ball-control including running around a chalked-circle with left then right foot kicks (secretly I think this extra-credit a reason both excell in their pee-wee league). I love this photo for its motion - Eitan and Madeleine moving moving moving and it is a joy to be around their enthusiasm (when it is not turned on each other in, er, a negative way. Sometimes I turn a corner and find them fighting which is a new thing). Madeleine BTW had the school Christmas production last week and our gal bellowed forward the opening lines: "Once upon a Christmas Eve, all across the land, all the children were waiting for a very special man!" Everybody claps, most of all me and Sonnet, sitting in the front-row thanks to Sonnet's earliest arrival. We then endure another hour and a quarter of five and six-year olds singing Christmas and Baby Jesus but I do otherwise enjoy catching Madeleine's eye - she is over-joyed to have us there and the joy shared equally by us.
This morning I am up and outta the house for an hour of walking and then 90 minutes of killer yoga leaving me twisted and dehydrated but feel'n happy. Who needs drugs, really. Unfortunately otherwise I am fielding a running injury - this time left calf - so I am forced, once again, to do alternatives to the sport I enjoy most. Running, Dear Friend, is about the dumbest thing a middle-aged fellow can do. The repetitive pounding or >800 steps per mile at three time's body weight almost insures frustration. Stan bucks the trend and is out there every morning come rain, sleet or shine demonstating he is an exceptional athlete. Impressive all the way.
Friday sees the kids in the school-hall dancing their hearts out. This is the annual disco and the classes broken into managable time-slots including Head Teacher Mrs. Z boogying away. Deputy Head Mr. W serves as House MC and the kids red and perspired by pick-up- pictured (no adults allowed otherwise). In this instance, Natasha performs the honors as Sonnet and I out drinking champagne (Ok, only me and the champagne) with friends then a late dinner just us in Barnes. Yes, we hold hands and look into each-other's eyes. After >15 years I am unabashadely in love with my wife. Mostly we talk about the kids+my US trip and family dynamics - are they ever easy? I note that Madeleine going through a phase where she comps herself relentlessly to Eitan. No doubt he knows how to get her goat but she over-reacts every time and it is no fun for any of us. Any suggestions on how to prevent a life-long habit welcome. Oh brother. Otherwise I spend much of the weekend recovering from late nights out+Kooks+residual fatigue from my trip. These transglobal flights take their toll outta me - I mean, humans were simply not meant to get into a metal tube and - presto! ten hours on - the other side of the planet. Imagine (for a moment) if Earth the same size as, say, Jupitor (>300X earth's mass). It would take eleven or twelve days on a 777 to circle half the globe (London to San Fran) though catching one of Jupiter's wind- streams, which blow > 375 mph, would cut the time by half. Thank goodness for that. Anyway whatever, I sleep all day Saturday and much of Sunday - kids observe me with some curiosity yet well-content with their holiday television and Sonnet, who takes them Christmas tree shopping and other entertainments, God bless her.
"This ain't no party, this ain't no disco
this ain't no fooling around
No time for dancing, or lovey dovey
I ain't got time for that now"
David Byrne - Life During Wartime
Friday, December 12
Here is Kelly, who I have known since First Boston circa 1990. We have remained friends ever since often laughing about our financial boot-camp (or gulag, he might say). Kelly is the only Iowan I know and - surprise! - he was a nationally ranked wrestler competing Varsity at Harvard. Despite his size (6'2" maybe) he is light on his toes. Ever since he joined Goldman Sachs after Wharton I have taken to calling him "Big Time." On this visit, we re-union with Todd, also a First Boston alum in the Financial Institions Group. Then, FIG was one of the firm's busiest and therefore a pressure-cooker; also the senior guys were either stressed or miserable or both (usually both). But hey, we were playing in the Major Leagues fresh out of college+getting paid then what seemed like a fortune ($29,400 base+$10,00 bonus). In 1989, the year that >75% of Yale's graduating class applied to Wall Street, First Boston took 70 Analysts from >50,000 resumes. Why they took me, who knows? but I was later told I was their #1 recruit probably because I had actually done some business in college- I ran a contracting business with 30 painters in Providence, RI. Katie also knows Kelly from Harvard and after dinner we drink his wine and swap funny stories over and over. Old times and good times.
For those who read the following blog - it is raining so no full-moon. Bummer!
Tonight's full moon, assuming no clouds, is the biggest and brightest to be seen for 15 years. As Arthur recounts, each month the moon makes a full orbit around the earth in a slightly oval-shaped path, and tonight it will swing by at its closest distance, or perigee, passing 221,595 miles away - 17,400 miles closer than average. What's unusual tonight is that the perigee coincides with a full moon making it appear 14% bigger and 30% brighter than most full-moons (the next closest encounter BTW is November 14, 2016 but it won't be a full-moon). Tonight's moon is also notable for rising to its greatest height in the night sky, lying almost overhead at midnight. This is due to the approaching winter solstice on December 21 and, thanks to the tilt of the earth, the moon appears at its highest as the sun is at its lowest. Were that not enough, tonight and for the next several nights is the Geminid meteor shower, one of the year's best displays of shooting stars - up to 100 meteors an hour can fly across the sky. Cool!
Moon photo from National Geographic.
Anneke was born yesterday to proud parents Peter and Catherine. Bravo! Welcome to the world of sleep deprivation. Last night I watch a program on early child development and learn that new-borns, it is now believed, have a "core intelligence" or specifically, "infants begin life with innate, special-purpose knowledge systems referred to as core domains of thought." There are five crucial for survival and simultaneously prepare us to develop key aspects of early cognition; they are: physical, numerical, linguistic, psychological, and biological. Prior to this study, it was accepted by development theorists like Jean Piaget, Lev Vygotsky and Eri Erikson that we start from a clean-slate, absorbing our environment and learning directly from experience. This has been rejected by various tests including a new-borns recognition of face patterns and ability to mimic, say, a parent's tongue sticking in-and-out. Or her fear/avoidance of heights. While I don't remember any of this from my early days as a father, I do recall Eitan's thoughtful entry and slow scanning of the delivery room. He paused before screaming as though trying somehow to understand what he had gotten himself into. Madeleine, on the other hand, came barrelling out of Sonnet in a two-hour delivery. She bellowed upon arrival, of course. How interesting to consider that these characteristics remain today.
Natasha tells Madeleine she must do her Kumon before eating a candy bar (that I brought her from the US). 15 minutes later, Natasha finds Madeleine on her bed in her room, homework undone, wrappers on the floor. Madeleine bursts into tears - "I am sorry I did something bad" she wails.
Well yes, and it is Friday again. Annabel, who I met in June, is cute as a button and belongs to Tim and Kitty. Thank goodness for love and our future because right now the news bleek. In the US, it is the auto industry, who I do not hold my sympathy for, not receiving a bail-out. I mean, the Big Three sued California for trying (responsibly) to raise MPG to 22 by 2016; this despite China's minimum >30 - in a stroke, Detroit ceded the world's larget car market. Idiots. I have openly hoped for the Japanese to put GM, Ford and Chrysler of their misery via buying them and rationalising their bunk. So yesterday the Republicans deal another thumping blow to them and Bush (and Obama) and now Chapter 11 looms for Christmas. In Britain, Woolworths goes tits-up and the >800 retail chain has a liquidation sale - on our high-street, the line went around the block to buy their crap. Without them, a hole opens: where else can one find similar volumes of hard-candy endearing to the neighborhood kids? I am reminded of the pharmacy in Berkeley on Salano Avenue where Grace would buy needles, yarn, aspirin and the like. There was a book selection which I checked-out for Star Trek and crime volumes - you bet, pulp fiction. By age nine or ten I loved this stuff (before, it was the book-covers I valued especially shots of the Enterprise phasering Klingons). So yes, the high street has changed in my lifetime. Gone are the local cinemas, ice-cream parlors and drug stores. Woolworths has been around since 1909, to be replaced inevitably by a Starbucks or other modern franchises. Darwin comes to mind.
Thursday, December 11
Despite my jet-lag and being e-x-h-a-u-s-t-e-d, I rally to join Sonnet and Paul in Brixton for the Kooks, a favorite band that I have followed for some time. Their tunes are loud, catchy and guitar-led Brit-pop while retaining an urban under-belly vibe. Sadly and inevitably, their edginess tempered by fame and repetition - they no longer show up at some venue dazed and a bit shy like in San Francisco when I first saw them. Last night we had all their best songs from albums one and two but also bouncy balls and confetti. I mean WTF? Nobody complaining (other than me) and arms waving and kids screaming at the wall of sound (thank you guilty Phil Spector) that today leaves my ears buzzy. Photo from MySpace.
Before Kooks, I am greeted by the Shakespeares who are thrilled to see me home. Such uncloaked love - nowhere else but with little children, oh happy life. Their attention turns to gifts as in: where are they? Usually I spoil them but this time I am lite - and they are not happy especially Madeleine who thought I was getting her a boat (I did use a ploy to get her to speak to me on the phone but another story. My bad). The Harry Potter absorption continues and yesterday's movie night... Harry P, of course. I am happy to report that Sonnet and I now often find Eitan tucked away reading somewhere. Like all the time. Madeleine is doing her multiplications and has 2's and 5's covered.