Saturday, December 31
Friday, December 30
Eitan and Madeleine stumble in to the kitchen to find Auntie Katie seated at the breakfast table. They are over their shyness quickly and Madeleine gives Katie a big hug while Eitan bows his head and receives her affection. Now it feels like the holidays. We meet friends for ice skating at Hampton Court Palace (it pours rain) then dinner out.
Me: "What's a good quote?"
Katie: "What do you mean?"
Me: "A quote that you use. For my blog."
Katie: "Does anybody have any questions for my answers?"
Katie: "Henry Kissenger."
Thursday, December 29
Madeleine: "I can get Google on my Kindle!"
Sonnet: "That's nice."
Madeleine: "Do you want to see?"
Sonnet: "No, thanks. Tomorrow, I am going to clean the house again."
Madeleine: "I know who the Vice President is."
Madeleine: "David Limp."
Me: "Of America?"
Madeleine: "It says so right here."
Me: "Tell me you did not just say that."
Madeleine: "But it says!"
Sonnet: "He's probably Vice President of something else, Dear."
Me: "Like a potato chip company."
Madeleine: "Well I didn't mean America!"
Me: "I hope not."
Madeleine: "Tomorrow can we go down to the High Street?"
Me: "Thank you for sweeping the back-yard."
Eitan: "No problem Dad."
Me: "Even though it was a half-baked effort."
Eitan: "Do you really think I would give it my all?"
Me: "Your mother and I expect you to give everything you do your all."
Eitan: "I'm just not a chores kind of guy."
Tuesday, December 27
Eitan remains at a wonderfully youthful stage of his life - he wilfully resists the possibility of change though he must be aware of it around him. He is naturally upbeat and , though a worrier like his mother, he loses himself in silliness. He is mannerly. Hobbies are anything football, reading and flash cars; favourite school subject : literacy. Above all , this kid works hard on his commitments : football, school, swimming .. exams. He wants to be his best.
Madeleine prepares homemade fettuccine.
To get to Sommerset House, we cross Waterloo Bridge from Waterloo Station where I take a photo of the imposing Southbank Centre , Europe’s largest centre for the arts , attracting three million visitors a year with nearly a thousand paid performances of music, dance and literature. Sonnet's uncle Shelton considered to run the complex when he was President and CEO of the LA Cultural Center including the Rose Bowl and the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, hosting LA's opera , ballet and musical events.
Monday, December 26
Eitan: "But I can't do this."
Me: "Sure you can. Math is hard, but it all about rules. And being organised. And you are good at these things."
Eitan: "But I can't. .."
Me: "Can you do your times tables? Then you can do almost all maths. Algebra, geometry. Even fractions. You just have to understand the questions And show your work, that is all. And not try to do it in your head."
Eitan: "But it is easier if I do it that way."
Me: "Yes, but in the long run there are no short cuts to showing your work."
Me: "Or why don't you make a fist and hit yourself on the head. Ow! Got that one wrong! Ow. Got that one wrong!"
Eitan: "Ok, Dad, I get it."
Me: "So let's try to make it easier on ourselves and not more difficult. Can we at least do that?"
Sunday, December 25
Eitan: "If Rusty had a choice of a pig's ear, or right next to him a pond, which one would he choose?"
Madeleine: "Definitely a pig's ear."
Eitan: "No. Definitely the pond Madeleine."
Madeleine: "No, Eitan, it would be the pig's ear."
Eitan: "Sorry, but he would go for the pond."
Me: "Are we actually fighting about this?"
Eitan: "Yeah, so?"
Me: "Well can we knock it off ?"
Madeleine: "We're only having fun, Dad."
The kids over the moon about their Kindles - thank you Gracie and Moe. Other than Eitan's mobile (which he got for No. 11) this their first bit of personal electronica. The Shakespeares avid readers and Madeleine devours "Harriet The Spy" and the "Diary Of The Wimpy Kid" series; Eitan in to Sir Bobby Charlton's autobiography (I note the last library stamp on this one circa 2008). The beauty of the Kindle is its simplicity : all Dad has to do is remember the wi-fi password and Amazon account details. I recall neither. At least I don't have to assemble an erector set.
In 1978 my "must have" gift a Calico hand-held football game that chased red dots across a 2cm X 8cm green screen. I could run up the center, one click to the right or one click to the left, being chased by "tacklers". I did this for hours. I was the envy of our neighbourhood. I did not sleep the night before anticipating the gift.
Calico part of the first wave of personal digital crapola that included offerings from Casio, Commodore, Atari and pong, which all bring back warm memories of the 70s. Laurence Hall of Science and its computer lab loomed large - how extraordinary that none of my East Bay friends went straight to Silicon Valley.
Saturday, December 24
From there, we go to the boozeria so I can buy wine and Absolute for my own little holiday. It is a long distance between Christmas and New Year's, after all. For now, the parties and people behind us and so it is me, the family+the dog, who picks up a Flintstones sized bone from R Chubb. Sonnet busies herself with the festive cheer and I blog away for you, my dear, dedicated, reader. All 20 of you, God bless. I also write for the kids when they are 20 or 30 or whenever. And me, too, to remember it all. It is true what they say : time speeds up as we grow older.
Friday, December 23
Me: "What about the lizard? After all the work you put in to get a lizard, don't you want one of those?"
Madeleine: "I changed my mind. I told you that."
Me: "Well, I don't know anything about either."
Madeleine: "You don't have to, Dad. I do."
Me: "Why January 19 anyway?"
Madeleine: "Because that is my next Soap Box."
[Editor's note: a 'Soap Box' is an in-school public speaking excercise. The school has a "no pets" policy.]
Me: "It's true, you know. You are drop dead gorgeous. "
"I wish you Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. Hope all is well and happy recollections of our travels in Central Asia and Silk Road would still be there on your minds. The Karakoram Highway is under renovation and up-gradation these days and around 20,000 Chinese are working on it from Khunjerab Pass to Thakot Bridge, the place where you had first crossed the Indus River while going to Gilgit. Hopefully the renovation work would be completed in 2013. Yaqub Shah has moved to Gilgit from Sust and we often talk about our travels. He always remembers you and says hello to you. Things in that part of the World often change, but our beloved mountains and Gilgit, Hunza and Nagar valleys are the same peaceful and serene. The hospitality of those mountain communities is the same. I have been discussing about a reunion party in Minapin with Yaqub and Raja Liaqat of Minapin and they are also enthusiastic about it. Shah sahib is living in Barr Valley working on organic farming and is in good health. His son has started his own hotel business in Minapin under the name of Osho Thong Hotel. All the rest is Ok.
With best Wishes,
Thursday, December 22
Campbell possessed speed and power and , from 1978 to '85, rushed for 9,407 yards and 74 touchdowns along with 806 yards on 121 receptions. In 1980, his best year in the NFL, Cambell ran for 1,934 and striking distance of OJ Simpson's 2,000 yard single-season rushing record. Cambell did this despite playing against stacked defences. In '79, Cambell was All-Pro, NFL Offensive Player of the Year and played in the first of his five Pro Bowls; In '91 he was inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame.
"Two kinds of ballplayers aren't worth a darn: One that never does what he's told, and one who does nothin' except what he's told. "
Jacob Goldman (standing), the dude you never heard of, yet without him, no Bill Gates nor Steve Jobs nor the Facebook guy, is dead at 90. Goldman was Xerox’s chief scientist and founded the company’s Palo Alto Research Center, which invented the modern personal computer. There is no wiki entry on Goldman. This the only photo I could find of Goldman, from the NYT.
Xerox BTW one of those companies held in my grandparents' pension from the 1960s and, with other US corporate giants like Kodak and IBM, allowed my grandmother a comfortable retirement in Sarasota, Florida. Consider how her generation benefited from a growing economy: a "balanced" portfolio of 50:50 stocks and bonds returned 12%, assuming 8% equity returns (appreciation+dividends) and 4% bond yields, for 30 years. Since 2000, equities have produced 3-4% and the 10-year govt treasury almost nil. This barely beats inflation.
What does this mean for middle-agers ? Either more risk on our investing or a longer work-life and, most likely, both+a substantially reduced retirement.
Tuesday, December 20
The V&A Christmas party held in the grand entrance under the Chihuly and next to the Roman statues; the musum otherwise closed to the public. What a wonderful place for a party. A DJ spins underneath early MTV video clips : "postmodernism holdover" Sonnet notes. Madeleine takes it all in : she is respectful and dutifully shakes hands and stands at attention. She is most intrigued by the costumes: A women in orange and pink dress with Coke cans for breasts. Another fellow as Robert Smith of the Cure. Or, wait, that is Robert Smith. Must be difficult seeing everything waste height. Afterwards we have Madeleine's new favorite : sushi.
Monday, December 19
Sunday, December 18
Rusty pees on his bed in the kitchen.
Me: "What the hell is wrong with this animal?"
Madeleine: "You are not giving him away, are you Dad?"
Me: "No, of course not."
Madeleine: "I thought so."
Me: "Unless he keeps it up."
Me: "I have to think of something for Madeleine's story-time tomorrow. About Scrooge. Who can give me some ideas?"
Eitan: "I don't know. Talk about Tiny Tim or something."
Me: "I'm going to dress up as Scrooge and tell his side of the story."
Madeleine: "Really? Can I help then?"
Me: "I'm not even sure what I am going to do."
Madeleine: "I can be one of the ghosts!"
Me: "What do you think could have happened to, you know, make Scrooge Scrooge?
Eitan: "He was from a rich family. And he went to boarding school."
Madeleine: "His Dad wrote him a note telling him he wasn't his kid."
Madeleine: "It could have happened. In Dad's imagination."
Me: "Just give me some ideas on the worst thing that can happen to a kid."
Madeleine: "If he has a dog. And the dad gives the dog away."
We say good bye to David and Claire, who almost died this year from a super bug and in hospital for 30-days, and Wilfie and Bertie who have known Eitan and Madeleine since ages three or four in pre-school and Kids Works football. They are moving to the country. David and I have logged a lot of time together, often under-dressed for the weather, huddled and miserable watching our kids running back and forth and back and forth . . .
Madeleine has a swimming competition and comes home jazzed by the 25-meter sprints. While they do not qualify her for anything, there is also less pressure and she has a good time (NB Wandsworth Swim Club has three swimmers who have qualified for the Olympic Trials in March 2012, which we will go see).
Eitan's Elm Grove play Kings Park who are tops of the Premiere Elite and we beat in the first game of the season, 3-2. Today it is a blow out with us on the wrong side of 5-1. The teams tied 1-1 at half but, once the go-ahead ceded, Elm Grove collapses. Eitan sick and miserable and, if not for Jack being absent, he would have missed today's battle (he now watches Aston Villa v. Liverpool on the couch, under the blankets). It is the last game before the holiday break and the boys nonetheless pleased with where they are: somewhere in the upper-middle of one of the most competitive youth leagues in Britain; relegation unlikely with five-games to go in the season.
Václav Havel dies, age-75. Havel stood against communism and the first domino to fall against the USSR. Kamila from the Czech Republic and tells me there will be a national holiday in his honour.
Friday, December 16
Truman Capote wrote a wonderful profile of Monroe in his 1980 "Music for Chameleons" based on an afternoon spent together in 1955, excerpted below. They were a most unusual drinking pair : the glamorous and the homunculus.
Truman Capote: "Now do you think we can get the hell out of here? You promised me champagne, remember?"
MARILYN: " I remember. But I don’t have any money."
TC: "You’re always late and you never have any money. By any chance are you under the delusion that you’re Queen Elizabeth?"
MARILYN: " Who?"
TC: "Queen Elizabeth. The Queen of England."
MARILYN: (frowning) "What’s that cunt got to do with it?"
TC: "Queen Elizabeth never carries money either. She’s not allowed to. Filthy lucre must not stain the royal palm. It’s a law or something."
MARILYN: " I wish they’d pass a law like that for me."
TC: "Keep going the way you are and maybe they will."
MARILYN: "Well, gosh. How does she pay for anything? Like when she goes shopping?"
TC: "Her lady-in-waiting trots along with a bag full of farthings."
MARILYN: "You know what? I’ll bet she gets everything free. In return for endorsements."
TC: "Very possible. I wouldn’t be a bit surprised. By Appointment to Her Majesty. Corgi dogs. All those Fortnum & Mason goodies. Pot. Condoms."
MARILYN: "What would she want with condoms?"
TC: "Not her, dopey. For that chump who walks two steps behind. Prince Philip."
MARILYN: "Him. Oh, yeah. He’s cute. He looks like he might have a nice prick. Did I ever tell you about the time I saw Errol Flynn whip out his prick and play the piano with it? Oh well, it was a hundred years ago, I’d just got into modeling, and I went to this half-ass party, and Errol Flynn, so pleased with himself, he was there and he took out his prick and played the piano with it. Thumped the keys. He played You Are My Sunshine. Christ! Everybody says Milton Berle has the biggest schlong in Hollywood. But who cares? Look, don’t you have any money?"
TC: "Maybe about fifty bucks."
MARILYN: "Well, that ought to buy us some bubbly."
MARILYN: "Remember, I said if anybody ever asked you what I was like, what Marilyn Monroe was really like—well, how would you answer them? (Her tone was teaseful, mocking, yet earnest, too: she wanted an honest reply.) I bet you’d tell them I was a slob. A banana split. "
TC: " Of course. But I’d also say…"
(The light was leaving. She seemed to fade with it, blend with the sky and clouds, recede beyond them. I wanted to lift my voice louder than the seagulls’ cries and call her back: “Marilyn! Marilyn, why did everything have to turn out the way it did? Why does life have to be so rotten?”)
TC: "I’d say… "
MARILYN: "I can’t hear you. "
TC: " I’d say you are a beautiful child."
Which is not something the broader European Union capable of doing. Consider the right's agenda of slashing spending to reduce govt debt during a fiscal crisis and economic recession. Case Study #1: Greece, who will announce shortly the closure of 2,000 public schools. Nobody denies Greece gorged itself at the trough : we also agree that they need to get their debt:GNP ratio down, down, down. Exiting the Union an unpleasant option given the Western World's exposure to this pip squeak economy via aggressive lending.
So , then, what has happened to Greece since the German troika began 20 months ago? Unable to shift trade with a floating currency (euro) , unsurprisingly the Greece economy has collapsed 20%, and forecasted to recede a further 7% in 2012. In 2010 Greece had about 140% public debt to GNP; Today it is 185%.
Greece doesn't produce anything the world really needs, other than sunshine and seaside property, so lenders should have never gone there. Italy, on the other hand , a different scenario : they do have a diversified economy and private wealth yet have been in the dull drums the last ten years with <1% growth. This fine when the country can borrow at 2%; at 6-7%, where we are today , there is trouble. Unfortunately, again, austerity imposed and Italy's economy .. contracting. Their debt ratio .. rising.
Wednesday, December 14
Me: "What are you doing?"
Eitan: "Walking backwards up the stairs."
Indeed, these are weird times. The Euro may dissolve taking the European Union with it (or maybe not). Either way Germany will own a large part of the Eurozone. America spends over $1T on Iraq giving us .. what ? Neighbouring Afghanistan a jihadist mess and soon Iran will have a nuclear device unless, that is, Israel bombs them first. Oil prices could hit $200 a barrel. Or fall to $50, given the global recession and the economist you believe. Newt Gingrich is a freak and the front-runner of the Retard party. And the pollution : despite every indication that the planet cooking, the 191 nations sign the Kyoto protocol ensuring we begin to deal with the problem no sooner than 2020.
And what of Little Britain in all this? Over lunch at the British Museum, I am persuaded that, perhaps, Cameron not "high" when he refuses to endorse changes to the Lisbon Treaty. As my friend says: Britain foretold the crisis - why should we pay for the mess ? While Cameron's departure could have been done more diplomatically , it is all a side-show to the Big Tent: if the Euro fails , it is each for his own.
"When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro."
--Hunter S Thompson
Tuesday, December 13
Me, driving to Fulham fb practise: I can't believe it's almost Christmas."
Eitan: "Yeah . ."
Me: "Does it feel like time goes by quickly?"
Eitan: "Sometimes it does, like last Christmas doesn't seem too long ago."
Me: "Just think about it. The Big Bang occurred 13.7 billion years ago, forming our galaxy and spreading anti-mater across the Universe."
Eitan: "Where are you going with this?"
Me: "And homo sapiens, like, 200,000 years ago and they were competing with homo eructus. It could have gone either way."
Me: "The first etchings of man 30,000 years ago - by hunters and stuff."
Me: "And the first markings of human civilisation 10,000 years ago."
Eitan: "Yeah, so?"
Me: "And we live maybe 80 years. It just doesn't make any sense."
Eitan: "A hamster lives for two years."
Eitan: "And we live a lot longer than a hamster."
Think venture doesn't matter? Companies less than five years old have generated all the net jobs in the US economy since the 1970s, according to the Kauffman Foundation. All the more pleasing, then, that Correlation Ventures raises their $165 million maiden fund : two years of blood, sweat and tears - but they got it done.
And here is the US jobs problem: from the mid-1980s to mid-2000s, 450,000 to 550,000 businesses with at least one employee created each year. In 2009, there were under 400,000 - the slow down began in 2006 BTW, and not just following Lehman. While most companies fail - over 90% of vc backed companies do so - the survivors account for a huge portion of the new jobs. Anyone in SV knows this.
For most of the 1990s, new jobs , equal to about 8% of total employment, created every quarter, while jobs disappeared at a rate of about 7.5% (Schumpter's 'creative destruction'), so the total number of people in work rose. Starting in 2000, both job creation and elimination began to drift downwards even as employment recovered after the 2000-01 recession. In the 2007-09 recession, job creation plunged while job losses soared- as would be expected - but the trend since has been less predictable.
Job destruction has fallen and is now well below its rate in the 1990s, when the economy much stronger. Job creation, however, remains weak - at about 6.5% employment. This why America's unemployment stubborn. Chronic?
So why should I be pissed off at Cameron? Well, first of all, Britain is part of Europe. I mean, "duh." Only now we have diminished influence on trade agreements, pollution, farm subsidies and other matters. As they say in Brussels: "If you are not at lunch, you are the meal."
Madeleine: "How long would it take to fly to Africa?"
Me: "Well it depends."
Madeleine: "On what?"
Me: "On the plane. Is it a glider? for instance."
Madeleine: "On a normal plane Dad."
Sonnet: "A flying carpet?"
Eitan: "A Spitfire!"
Madeleine: "A normal plane like British Airways."
Me: "Africa is a pretty big continent so where do you want to go?"
Madeleine: "A place where I can see the lions and the cantaloupe."
Monday, December 12
To protect the most expensive real estate in the world, the most expensive flood barrier built. The Thames Barrier constructed over eight years at a cost of £1B and completed in 1982. The barrier designed to protect us from flooding until the year 2030 following the '53 floods which drowned 300 people.
I am told that the TB, when fully raised, can withstand a '53 recurrence anticipated once or twice a generation. This type of volume now occurs monthly with the full moon and, by 2030, it may be a daily.
"If my critics saw me walking over the Thames they would say it was because I couldn't swim."
Sunday, December 11
For a while , in the '70s, I was spending afternoons in the LHS computer center playing computer games. This when one could make prints of Snoopy or the Peace Symbol with 'x' and 'o's. I ran a program matching NFL teams allowing me to choose offense plays : run, pass, screen . . I chose the same counter-plays on defense. From start to finish, a game might take 45 minutes. Since I was an Oakland fan, I matched the Raiders against every team in the league; I stored the scrolls for years in my bedroom closet.
To get to the computers, I discovered a route straight up hill from my parent's house to LHS, pictured above. There was no marked trail so all scramble. Just one of those things a kid figures out.
Saturday, December 10
In June 2000 the bridge damaged by a Real IRA bomb planted underneath the Barnes span, or far side of my photo. The blast four-years after a previous attempted bombing by the Provisional IRA, but following two years of closure and traffic misery, the bridge reopened with weight baring restrictions.
The IRA's first try to destroy the bridge in '39 foiled by the quick-thinking hair dresser, Maurice Childs, of Chiswick, who was walking home in the early morning and noticed smoke and sparks coming from a suitcase. He opened it to find a bomb which he tossed into the river; the explosion sent up a 60-foot plume of water. A second device exploded causing girders on the west side of the bridge to collapse and shattering windows in nearby houses.
Maurice awarded an MBE for his courage while Eddie Connell and William Browne given jail sentences of 20 and 10 years, respectively, for the bombing.
Friday, December 9
This cool spinning objet stationed between floors at Selfridges department store - the London equivalent of Bloomingdales. A black woman belts the blues from the third or fourth floor; elsewhere I am assaulted by Abba and other cleverly recycled music of my middle-aged yuf to put me in the mood to buy. Buy! Buy!! Unbelievably I round a corner to face a young woman's ass in a tight-fitting bikini brief. The underwear department. Her male partner wears pink underpants; together they dance on a moving treadmill.
So this is where models spend their days outfitted in black leggings, hooker boots and fur which is all the rage. Where else can these silly people go, really? A stylish Japanese lady directs me to the men's department which is on the first-floor or half a city block. All I want is a stripey winter hat.
People always mean well. They cluck their thick tongues, and shake their heads and suggest, oh, so very delicately.. . . That last bit from Psycho. I sometimes feel like Norman watching the shoppers : stupidly fondling this year's collection of over-priced fabrics with "Super Dry" or "Ralph Lauren" attached. Should one have the money, this the last bastion of unfettered expression. And, Lord knows, the people are discerning.
This time of year, in this kind of place, I am self-loathing.
Thursday, December 8
Madeleine prepares for her first secondary-school interview at the Emanuel School, which has been around for over 400 years and 150 longer then my alma mater. The Deputy Head sweeps our girl away after giving me a firm handshake so I sit in the reception area drinking stale coffee, talking to a few mums whose children also interviewing, and mostly not fretting : Madeleine a good kid. And the Deputy Head agrees, taking me aside and saying so: "I will definitely recommend Madeleine to the school." Of course he may say this to every child he greets. Now Madeleine must do well on her 10+ exam coming in January. The pressure on.
Madeleine: "Dad, is it allowed to have swear words in kids books?"
Me: "Well, then it wouldn't be a kid's book, would it?"
Madeleine: "Just say there was a swear word. Would it be allowed?"
Me: "No, probably not."
Madeleine: "There is one. In the book I am reading."
Madeleine: "It is one of the 'B' words."
Me: "Like Bee-atch?"
Me: "Bastard? Bottom? Big Ass?"
Madeleine: "I am never talking to you again."
Me: "Breast. Boobs? Bollocks!"
Me: "Did I guess it?"
Madeleine: "Yes, Dad, you got it."
Me: "Let me know if there are any more curse words."
Madeleine: "Yeah, right, Dad. And also I am not talking to you again. Ever."
So, to the Euro, which I am asked about often these days. In future, I will direct my friends here. Sooo.. A break-up, even a partial one, would be chaotic. A full or comprehensive break-up, with the eurozone becoming a Greater Deutschmark with maybe ten other currencies, would create pandemonium. It would not be a planned, orderly, gradual unwinding of existing political, economic and legal commitments. Exit, partial or full, would probably be precipitated by disorderly sovereign defaults in the fiscally and competitively weak member states, whose currencies collapse and banks fail. If Spain and Italy were to exit, there would be a collapse of systemically important financial institutions throughout the European Union and North America and years of global depression.
Consider ditching Greece, which amounts to just 2% of the eurozone economy : Most contracts, including bank deposits, sovereign debt, pensions and wages would be denominated in new Drachma and a sharp devaluation of, say 65%, of the new currency would follow. As soon as an exit anticipated, depositors would flee Greek banks and all new lending governed by Greek law would in effect cease. Even before the exit, the sovereign and the banking system would fail b/c of a lack of funding. Following the exit, contracts and finl instruments written under foreign law would probably remain euro-dominated. Balance sheets would become unbalanced and widespread default, insolvency and bankruptcy would result. Greek output would collapse.
Greece would temporarily gain a competitive advantage from the sharp decline in the new Drachma's value but, like Portugal, Spain and Italy, Greece does not have the persistent nominal rigidities to make it a lasting competitive advantage. Sovereign wage and price inflation would restore the uncompetitive status quo. Without external funding, imports would collapse, disrupting domestic production. Aggregate demand and aggregate supply would chase each other downwards.
If Greece kicked out because other member states (Germany) refuse to fund the Greek sovereign and the European Central Bank refuses to fund Greek banks, the markets would beam on the next most likely country to go.This would prompt a run on that country's banks and stop funding for its sovereign, financial institutions and companies. Fear might then force the departure of the afflicted country. Exit contagion might sweep right through the rest of the eurozone periphery - Portugal, Ireland, Spain and Italy -and then Belgium, Austria and France.
Tuesday, December 6
Me and Madeleine by the Grand Union Canal in Paddington, London, circa 2002.
The surrounding neighbourhood Maida Vale and Little Venice, which owns enormous detached houses made all the more interesting by their proximity to the ancient, industrial, waterways. The canal connects here to Birmingham 137 miles northwest with 166 locks , each charging a toll. By the mid-19th century, trains and, eventually, lorries, made the canals obsolete. Deserted, they fell into disrepair until an Act of Parliament in 1931 demanded their upkeep.
The canal 5-feet, six-inches at its deepest point with a minimum 26-foot width allowing two boats to cross each other. The canal boats long and narrow : they are still used to transport coal and other stuff but mostly they are kept for leisure purposes. Some weirdos live in the things and a canal-berth in Central London goes for £120,000.
I used to run along the canal toe-path which covers a fair stretch of urban blight before entering the countryside. Along the embankment are white markings which, for the longest time, made me wonder : why? It turns out that anglers own the "rights" to specific spots , which are passed down through the generations. Sunday mornings the fishermen out in force, too, with top-of-the-line water gear and 25-foot poles; some of the better equipped outfits have hydrolics lowering the fishermen into the water. God only knows what they pull up - maybe an old boot or a shopping cart? I asked once and got only a blank stair.
Madeleine: "Dad! You're home! I'm so glad to see you!"
Me: "Hiya, Kiddo. How was your day?"
Madeleine: "My fish almost died."
Me: "No! What happened?"
Madeleine: "I went in to feed him. And he was lying on the surface sort of on his side, breathing through his mouth."
Madeleine: "So I swirled him around a bit and he moved to the middle of his tank."
Me: "Is he alive?"
Madeleine: "Yeah, I guess so."
Monday, December 5
The wonderfully named Delphine Wespiser notes in her first official address (my translation) "I won the beauty contest because of my speech. I think and hope that the French turned to me for my speech. An object does not speak, does not think. The election of Miss France shows woman are valued and I find it beautiful. "
In our house it is all about 'the speech' : Eitan and Madeleine valued for their school, sport, activities and friends. Sonnet and I make sure it is so .
Sunday, December 4
I mention how my Stanford undergrad application demanded one word to describe one's self and I picked "diligent" (Even now, 27 years later, I hear the Admissions Officer yawn). We do an update and Sonnet goes with 'collaborative' , Sean 'philisophical' and I choose 'irreverant' : I conclude that every age has it's thing and middle-age about routine. The kids and family crave it. So, yes, that is us but not entirely : my mantra now and for some time is "don't be boring". And while I may not have the gonads to carry off a handle-bar mustache given my profession, I am proud of my long-hair at least. I also let my mother shine through : her sense of humor and speaking her mind serves me well.
After dinner we go to our local pub and interesting to see our neighbourhood through the eyes of others. What I see as grey, low build housing, they see as charming village. Half empty-half full ? Mostly I don't see much of what is around us anymore. It is what it is.
Elm Grove defeats Carshalton Athletic in a rematch, 2-1. Earlier this year the boys lost 3-2 and both games equally exciting. Eitan's major contribution to knock clear a goal-line strike that slips by our goalie and otherwise a sure equaliser. Coach remarks to me later that Eitan and Jack "the unsung heroes" of the squad. This makes five wins in a row, adding 15 points to the league table, placing Elm Grove second in the Premiere Elite division of the Surrey Youth Division. Plenty of season to go yet.
Friday, December 2
Our closest friends remain, mostly, those we met upon first-arrival to London and, sadly, many have returned to the US or wherever as part of the natural course of life. My childhood friends have grown up into what they are and no longer what I knew - so no easy returns for us, should we go. At Diane's wedding last year I met an elderly fellow who opened Lehman Brother's European offices in Paris. He was called back to NYC after seven-years and remarked: "While being an expat highly seductive, I would have stayed forever, neither belonging here nor there." I think this sometimes now. Thank goodness the trauma of being, you know, homeless immigrants, behind us yet I wonder : where is home really?
Sonnet at a cocktail party at the Italian embassy with Gretchen, who will spend the night at 45. Eitan at a rock-climbing birthday party and Kamila on the town. Madeleine does the "worm" on the kitchen-floor and we dance to Capital FM.
Each borough school allowed a squad of five-runners or maybe 100 competitors in total (Nb: while fewer than the boys, I am delighted to see the enthusiasm the girl's race receives). Madeleine joined the school running team this year : the group trains once a week in Sheen Common and Richmond Park, led by the fabulous Ms. S and Mr. K.
Madeleine bursts from the front line and immediately swallowed by the pack. I hope for a reserved beginning, having bonked five marathons myself, and wait for her to appear at the bend... the moments go by. Rusty pulls on the lead. Sonnet fidgets. There is a good turn-out of spectators, enough to line the final couple-hundred meters to the tape. And there our girl is! And working hard, too : face flushed wearing an expression of discomfort , pain? as she stairs blankly forward. Madeleine not without focus though, no Sir, as she passes two runners on her way to 14th place, and second on the school team.
I make sure Madeleine moves about to rid the toxins from her body. She tells me : "I feel horrible" , and fair enough. These kids have put their hearts into the effort
Mom: "You are going to have such so much fun at your race."
Eitan: "Mom it is about winning."
Thursday, December 1
There was always a child in my public grade school, sometimes me, sometimes Katie, whose trousers an inch or two above the ankle. Inevitably this kid had snot coming out of his/her nose, wiped along the arm of an already dirty long-sleeve shirt. Usually s/he ridiculed by his peers. The playground a brutal place , no doubt, but sometimes life lessons learned.
Thankfully this not our Madeleine who makes her 'floods' cool ('floods' BTW suggest highwaters and, though similar to capri pants, they differ in that they appear to be too short to be worn). Michael Jackson thought stylish, too, with his black leggings slyly exposing his white socks. Both natural performers, our Madeleine and Michael, and last night Madeleine plays her trumpet in a jazz-band performance at some public school in Teddington (we get lost en route, even with sat nav, so I curse like an Officer which makes Madeleine uncomfortable, poor child). Her tunes joyous and, though our gal nervous , I don't detect a hesitation once on stage. Sonny Rollins would smile.
Me: "School's on strike. .. "
Me: "It is not a holiday, young lady. We are going to do some work."
Madeleine: "What?! That is so unfair!"
Me: "That is the way it is. I want a three-page book report from you."
Madeleine: "Three pages?!"
Me: "Yes. Single spaced, no pictures. And no large writing this time either. I want it done before Nicki comes over for a play date."
Madeleine: "But I was going to sleep in!"
Me: "Sleep in. Just make sure the report is done by noon. Or no play date."
Madeleine: "Nobody else is going to be writing some book report on a holiday."
Me: "Too bad for you. And it is a teacher's strike. Not a holiday."
Madeleine: "Whatever Dad.. You always have to ruin it."