Sunday, October 24

Mixer

Tabitha, Johny and AC work on the cake mix - I think this one Sonnet's gingerbread cake. Sonnet also prepares a pork roast with apples and onions, parsnips, carrots and mashed potatoes. Fab-u-lous. Afterwards we put the kiddies to bed and sit around the fire talking about middle aged stuff: house design, real estate values, fx rates and the movies. A bit of "Mad Men" and "Brothers and Sisters" which Sonnet and I will check out after "The Wire" as we are about to begin Season 4. Really these things are all consuming and I have not read a book in some while. Dave and Tabitha have remodelled their home - every room flows and light floods through windows that look across cherry and apple groves, poplar and other trees which are changing colour in a most brilliant fashion. Beyond are open fields and the rolling hills of England. Below us, Bath. Tomorrow, dog.

Saturday, October 23

Paddington Station

From Heathrow I catch the Paddington Express to meet Dave then off to Bath for the week end where Sonnet, Tabitha and Sam are seeing the ballet while the men prepare dinner (risotto, venison) and watch the kids (TV, chocolate cake). Sam and John are a neat couple - for the last 18 years John has been the key photographer for the Brits which is Britain's oscars. He has an wonderful inventory of popular images and I hope to choose one or two for our living room or somewhere. The kids race to my open arms as we have not seen each other since Monday. Sonnet does the same. Madeleine especially enthusiastic while Eitan has a bit of his cool on. He is pre-occupied by Wayne Rooney who announced he was leaving Manchester United but I am delighted to bring him the immediate news that Rooney has signed a five-year contract with ManU. I feel like Father Christmas.

Downtown Switzerland

I have an evening in Zurich and go for a jog along the lake. Since autumnal and the light changing with the afternoon and clouds, I bring along my camera and take a few shots – pictured. My first visit to Zurich in 1984 for a swimming meet. It looks no different today, really, despite a few new buildings and roadworks around the train station. Clean and charming. White. I dodge the trams to get across the street. From here it is Gutenberg, Sweden - a new city! -and Helsinki.


Zurich likes to call itself "Downtown Switzerland" (according to the Tourist Board) and is the largest city in Switzerland. While the municipality has about 380,500 inhabitants, the metropolitan area is nearly 2 million inhabitants. The canton was permanently settled for around 7,000 years ago and Zurich's history of goes back to its founding by the Romans, who, in 15 BC, called it Turicum. During the Middle Ages Zurich gained the independent and privileged status of imperial immediacy and, in 1519, was the place of origin and centre of the Protestant Reformation in German-speaking Switzerland, led by Ulrich Zwingli (www.zurich.com)

Zurich today is one of the world's largest financial centres while the low tax rate (27% flat) attracts overseas companies to set up their headquarters here - like Delaware maybe. Or HongKong. According to several surveys from 2006 to 2008, Zurich was named the city with the best quality of life in the world as well as the wealthiest city in Europe (source: Mercer Consulting). British hedge funds, banks and private equity funds are moving, or threatening to move, here.

Tuesday, October 19

Etoile

I jog this morning, 7AM, and disoriented by the activity on the Champs-Élysées - did my alarm go off at the wrong time? The avenue well lit, naturally, but there are people concluding their evening while street workers scrub down the road. Traffic honks away. It feels like midnight not the beginning of the day. My run takes me down the Champs to Place de la Concorde which is like playing "frogger" to cross. The Parisiennes have no qualms about striking a jogger at this hour. From there it is Toulerise then the Louvre; I cross a bridge to the Left Bank regarding Île de la Cité from point-on and finally Notre Dame with a single statue of Mary drawing my attention. By the time I return to my hotel the sun glancing the golden rooftops from the Grand Palais to the Arc de Triomphe, pictured. This is the Western World.

Salmon

Eitan: "Do you want to go away this week?"

Me: "No, I would rather stay with you."
Eitan: "Why do you go then?"
Me: "Money does not grow on trees. We have to earn it."
Eitan: "Can we copy it?"
Me: "Copy what?"
Eitan: "Money. Can't we just copy it?"
Me: "There are no short cuts unfortunately.... Keep trying though."

Madeleine: "I cannot believe we are getting a dog in less than six days."

La Grève And Astorg

What I don't get about the strikes, as I sit here in Paris across the street from the presidential palace, is why young people are involved (at now, ten of 12 oil refineries have have shut down or are in the process of closing while half the flights from CDG cancelled. Could be me tomorrow). Afterall, the protests about moving the retirement age from 60 (the lowest in Europe) to 62 and reforming the pension scheme which is much needed for its survival. For the yuf, this is a lifetime away - what twenty-year-old thinks beyond next week? Students should be fighting to ensure they get a piece of the pie, ie, pro-reform, instead of a possible insolvency. But I suppose this does not work when the state viewed as the secure long-term career track. By contrast, my free market taxi driver is énervé by the lack of fuel which means he may not work tomorrow. So I hope for Sarkozy's success. Of course the disruptions occur as I am with foreign investors who may committ tens of millions of euros to France. But at least yesterday it was a lovely fall afternoon with the foliage turning orange and the light bouncing from the Seine so, really, where else compares?


Despite it all, France has a powerful economy, which is the fifth largest in the world in nominal terms at $2.1 trillion, behind the United States, China, Japan and Germany and the eighth largest by purchasing power parity. It is the second largest economy in Europe behind Germany and fourth largest behind Germany, United Kingdom and Russia by PPP (World Bank figures). Unemployment at 10% keeps people nervous and the taxes are high no doubt (with UK catching up) but the health care and transportation networks are, arguably, the best in the world for what they provide.

France has produced global leaders in energy resources, retail, manufacturing and other industry. Managements here are clever in a French way - clever like the fox. As for investment, approximately .70% of GDP committed to private equity which is on par with Scandanavia and behind the UK and US, which have over 1%. This suggests room for growth - I have observed through Astorg that French owners have become comfortable with buy-outs as the exit route. It is no longer seen as unusual (compared to m&a or an IPO) as it was in the '90s. In theory the discipline of independent private ownership modernises business and, against popular opinion in some places (see: Germany) preserves jobs. Intuitively, better run companies are less likely to fail, though leverage may put enormous pressure on the operators. In any case, Astorg has done better than most when it comes to transformations - the firm has earned a top spot on the league tables.

Photo from CNN.

Sunday, October 17

Alton



The Alton Estate, pictured, is a large council in Roehampton not too far from Sheen. It's made up of Alton East and the slightly later Alton West, each with several separate neighbourhoods. There are 13,000 residents making it one of the UK's largest. The architecture is mainly split between brutalist architecture and its Scandinavian-inspired counterpart. The area comprising a crossroads which links Roehampton Lane, Roehampton Village and the estate is undergoing planning to be redeveloped by Wandsworth Council.


Alton West was considered by many British architects to be the crowning glory of post World War Two social housing at tits completion in 1958. What made Alton West so special was its response to its setting: Built on a large expanse of parkland on the edge of Richmond Park, Alton West was a direct translation of Le Corbusiers’ idea of the Ville Radieuse or park city; sets of "point" and "slab" blocks being surrounded by the beauty of Richmond Park below. On this natural landscape at Alton West stood a number of different housing configurations; 12-storey "point" blocks with 4 flats per floor, terraces of low-rise maisonettes and cottages and perhaps most famously, five 11-storey "slab" blocks, heavily influenced by the recently completed Unité d'Habitation by Le Corbusier. Source: Wandsworth Council and Wiki

Madeleine, watching X-Factor: "Juggling fire, dad. Isn't that a bit dangerous?"

Hallowe'en Prequal

We have several families over for Sunday lunch including Dariaush who is from Iran. We talk about Iran's nuclear program and I learn that Iran's problem water. Specifically non-salienated "sweet" water which is used to extract oil. Consequently Iran depleting its water tables rapidly. Further, Iran's oil refined outside of the country by foreign companies. Consequently, Dariaush informs me, Iran must import oil from the global spot markets and it is not always cheap. See 2007. This is the reason for Iran's nuclear plans - despite being one of the world's largest owner of oil and gas they have to import energy and nuclear power cheaper+less water intensive. Their bomb making ambitions make no sense: Why spend billions building a nuclear weapon when one can be purchased for a couple hundred million on the black market? See Pakistan or North Korea. As for secrecy, Iran has likely acquired its technology from unsavory or surprising sources which it does not wish to share. Maybe Russia? Maybe America? As for Ahmadinejad it is any one's guess as to how he remains in power - nobody likes him including Mir-Hossein Mousavi Khameneh who is the powerful leader of the opposition party. Khameneh's nephew Seyed Ali Mousavi was killed by Ahmadinejad's security forces during the Iranian election protests and now his son accused of corruption. Ahmadinejad poking the hornet's nest. Dariaush thinks Big Business keeps Ahmadinejad in power since global companies benefit from oil sales contracts with Iran. Ahmadinejad a foil, propaganda, on scale with Iran's war with Iraq in the 1980s which united a country against a common cause, Iraq, while individuals lost their freedom after the Shah's removal (consider: USA WMD). This time though it might not work for Ahmadinejad but who knows?


Madeleine has a swimming gala yesterday morning and wins her relay and freestyle race. She gets a medal which she hangs up on her football trophy "that I won doing football, dad." We are thrilled for her.

Eitan Detective

We go to Emily's birthday party last night. Before dinner she hosts a "salon," asking five or six guests to present their expertise. Sonnet talks about 80s fashion, which is her planned next exhibition for 2012. I rarely get to see her in action and she is terrific - poised, comfortable and in control of her subject matter. I think of the ladies in Bronxville for some reason. The other speakers are equally remarkable: one guy describes his energy independent 9X9 meter eco-units which will one day soon be shipped around the world; another fellow who designed Trafalgar Square with Sir Richard Rogers. A famous writer reads a birthday poem while a neural scientist talks about the concept of 'home.' Concluding is Seraphine, a violinist for the London Philharmonic, who performs a melancholic tune of a man leaving home in Scotland. I talk to Seraphine afterwards - she grew up in St John's Wood before Oxford, when she met Emily. Seraphine's parents encouraged her talent from an early age and it has taken her around the world: she returned last week from Tokyo where, she notes, the Japanese attentive and appreciative of her craft. I ask if she is nervous before a performance? but she views it as any job, no sweat. It is what she does.

Sonnet meets the European Editor for Wired Magazine who refuses to sign up for Facebook. He is a gadget guy, he tells her. There is a new media element to the scene which is not surprising since Emily's husband James once at Yahoo and then part of the founding management of Skype and now responsible for Condé Nast's digital strategy. Condé publishes 85 magazines (including Wired). James sits on the main board with S.I. Newhouse Jr and is the youngest guy by ten years. Our mutual friend Nick Denton, founder of blog empire Gawker Media, profiled in this week's New Yorker magazine.

Sonnet wears her red dress and black pumps and we make scrambled eggs at midnight.

"A salon is a gathering of people under the roof of an inspiring host, held partly to amuse one another and partly to refine the taste and increase their knowledge of the participants through conversation. These gatherings often consciously followed Horace's definition of the aims of poetry, "either to please or to educate" ("aut delectare aut prodesse est"). Salons, commonly associated with French literary and philosophical movements of the 17th century and 18th centuries, were carried on until quite recently, in urban settings, among like-minded people."
--Wiki

Saturday, October 16

Some Cracks And The Dog's Name

Madeleine helps me fill in a few cracks from the second floor roof-deck. The area behind her I plan to turn into a green roof. Or maybe not.


Madeleine: "Are you glad you had two kids?"
Me: "Of course. You and Eitan are the joy of our life."
Madeleine: "Did you want a third kid?"
Me: "We thought about it I suppose. Are you happy to have me as your dad?"
Madeleine: "Well, I guess if I didn't have you some other dad might not let me have a dog."

Eitan reads a harvest-day verse to the entire school. We find out a day or two later when he looks up from his plate to fill us in on a few scanty details. How honoured, dear reader, are we to know at all.

Dog names contemplated by the family: Chester, Morris, Skud, Rusty, Dash, Ziggy, Don't-Shit-On-The-Carpet (mine), Waldo, Copper, Sipper, Makee (sp?), Mac Attack, Get-Out-Of-Bed-And-Take-The-Dog-Out (Sonnet), Marmaduke and Oscar. There are quite a few more but these are the ones that made it to a vote.

Tunnel & Tommy

Showing the world Europe can still do something with its hands and following 14 years of drilling, Switzerland builds the world’s longest rail tunnel - pictured. The Swiss tunnel's 34 miles cuts straight through the Alps. It is about 2.5 miles longer than the previous record tunnel in Japan. Unfortunately for those around and nearby, today's completion only the first stage of the project which includes more .. tunnels. And is not expected to be completed for maybe, like, 7 years. Designed primarily for large freight traffic, the tunnel will reduce travel time across the mountains and speed up commerce and trade. The trip from Zurich to Milan, for instance, now one hour faster. The project employed 2,500 diggers moving enough dirt and rock to build five of the Egyptian Pyramids.


Madeleine: "Dad do you think it is possible to dress Tommy up?
Me: "Sure. What would you dress Tommy up in?"
Madeleine: "I don't know. Do you think Tommy a Vampire Hamster?"
Me:
Madeleine: "For Halloween. Maybe I will dress him up as a Vampire Hamster."
Me: "Well that would be original."
Madeleine: "Would it? Why would it be original?"
Me: "Nobody has done it before."
Madeleine: "Really? We can make a web site about it. Do you want to hold it?"
Me: "I'm busy."
Madeleine: "Dad: serious question. Who do you like more, Tommy or the computer?"
Me:
Madeleine: "I knew it! You like the computer more don't you dad?"
Me:

Photo of the Swiss Tunnel from the AP.

Friday, October 15

Teacher Reviews+Butthead

And so yes - Friday again.

We have the parent-teacher conferences yesterday and both Eitan and Madeleine do fine. Mrs. Q, Madeleine's teacher, says that Madeleine is great at her times tables, has good ideas for story-writing, has improved her ability to develop story-lines and loves art. She shows us a hand crafted Tudor chair made with styrofoam, fabric and sparkles. Fabulous. We are delighted with Madeleine's progress.

Eitan's teacher, Mr P, is new to the school, from Ireland, and looks exactly like Butthead from 'Beavis & Butthead.' Seriously. Tall and unusually thin. Long narrow head slightly larger at the top, cropped black hair+large lower lip. Do a Google. Eitan tells us that the boys try to get him to say "third" because Mr P's accent says "turd." Yet P instills our confidence as he rattles through a check list of Eitan's accomplishments - he takes a particular interest Eitan's literary abilities which is P's favorite subject. Eitan may not be the class leader, we learn, but he is confident and independent - I think too early to call him a geek but that is there too.

As for Butthead in "Beavis & Butthead," Butthead wears dental braces has squinty eyes and a drooping nose with prominent nostrils. His top gums exposed due to a small upper lip and he speaks nasally with a deep voice and a slight lisp. He begins almost every statement with "Uhhhhhh..." and ends with his short trademark laugh "Uh huh huh huh". Calmer, though cockier, and marginally more intelligent than Beavis, Butt-head is oblivious to subtlety of any sort and is usually 100% confident in everything he says and does no matter how ridiculous or frivolous it is—unless it has to do with females, in which case he either wavers or comes on too strongly. His trademark phrase when approaching women is "hey baby". As the more dominant personality of the duo it seems he derives pleasure from regularly abusing Beavis. It is a total cap on the suburban teenager.

Tuesday, October 12

NYC Subway

Katie brings back wonderful memories of commuting to work in the Big Apple with her photo she sends me. My first year in New York I caught the "F" train from Greenwich Village up 6th Avenue to the 50th and Park Avenue station and the Mighty First Boston (Park Avenue Plaza - 55 East 52nd Street). Sometimes I got a seat but usually standing room only. Funny how I recall my very first day of work with Erik who "moood" like a cattle as we shuffled along the platform towards the exit - nobody paid him no mind. That would have been August 1989 after our 10-week "training" program meant to turn us into Financial Analysts or Investment Bankers or whatever we were meant to be. Underpaid whipping boys, mostly. But I guess it got us somewhere.


Here is the raw data from Wiki: The NY Subway is one of the oldest and most extensive public transportation systems in the world, with 468 stations in operation (423 if stations connected by transfers are counted as a single station); 229 miles of routes, translating into 656 miles of revenue track; and a total of 842 miles including non-revenue trackage. Much bigger than the Underground. In 2009, the subway delivered over 1.579 billion rides, averaging over five million on weekdays, 2.9 million on Saturdays, and 2.2 million on Sundays. The New York City Subway trails only Tokyo's, Moscow's and Seoul's subways in annual ridership and carries more passengers than all other rail mass transit systems in the US combined. It is one of the four systems, with PATH, parts of the Chicago 'L', and PATCO to offer service 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.


“When it's three o'clock in New York, it's still 1938 in London.”
--Bette Midler

Monday, October 11

Tiffen School

Eitan and I check out the Tiffen School in Kingston - chemistry lab pictured (do note the flames originating from the boy's hands). Tiffen the best grammar school in our area and, indeed, one of the country's very best schools: the Head Teacher tells us Tiffen "inside Britain's Top-5 state schools" based on test scores while sending a fifth of its kids to "Oxbridge." Tiffen is also free, making it very dear: 1,400 applications chase 140 spots. We enjoy our grounds tour led by a confident 8th grader named "Kush" whose parents immigrated from some obscure part of India. Kush's dream is to read maths at Oxford or Cambridge and Eitan mortified when I ask Kush if he knows 8 x 7. Just testing. I notice that there are plenty of Indian students while all the kids delightfully awkward and goofy with bad skin, untucked shirts and unpolished shoes (I tell Eitan that if he goes to Tiffen he doesn't have to comb his hair). This nothing like St Paul's or the Hampton School where those boys blue blood and polished. Eitan and I discuss the differences between public and state schools and I note that while the publics might have better facilities and teacher-student ratios, they may fail to offer a fair cross section of society and could miss the most interesting people. This my experience at Berkeley High School anyway - my friends from then generally more interesting than the Ivy League. To hand, the "Head Boy" who addresses the auditorium remarkable - poised, confident, white and a strong jawline. We are all relieved I am sure.


While Eitan duly impressed by Tiffen he notes that it lacks one critical ingredient: football. This is a rowing and rugby place.

Really, Dad, Everything Is OK

Madeleine insists everything under control as she leaves for an after-school play date with Molly even though I do not know Molly's address or the pick-up coordination. Once sorted, we have a good chuckle together over this photo as we walk off the school playground.

Sunday, October 10

You Cheer, Girl

My London friends don't quite 'get' the American cheerleader. I can understand this - cheerleaders are so, well, in your face and all. So not British. No other sport - or country - presents the supporting staff in a similar, patronising, sexist fashion. Love it. Cheer leading began, dear reader, in 1898 when Johnny Campbell convinced a crowd at the University of Minnesota to chant "Rah, Rah, Rah! Ski-u-mah, Hoo-Rah! Hoo-Rah! Varsity! Varsity! Varsity, Minn-e-So-Tah!” Today, All-Star Cheer Leading attracts 1.5 million participants a year. Outside the USA, ESPN International started broadcasting cheer leading from 1997 and the 2000 film "Bring It On" increased the sport's exposure further yet. Today, Newsweek reports, there are 100,000 cheerleaders scattered around world in places like Australia, Canada, China, Colombia, Finland, France, Germany, Japan, the Netherlands, New Zealand and, yes, even the United Kingdom.


I am reminded of cheerleaders watching the Colts vs. the Chiefs on ESPN North America. These gals are professionals - adding glitz and glam to the brutal sport of American football. Don't you doubt it for a moment. Both cheerleader and player practice patterns and set plays; each wear colourful, tight-fitting, costumes. Sonnet and I went to the Cal-Washington game at Memorial Stadium when first dating in '93 - it was her second football game. Our seats in the Huskies' section about twenty rows from the pom poms. Sonnet was bemused. She thought they were "perky." But then Sonnet fails to understand football anyways or why I stay up after-hours listening to Cal on the Internets pulling my hair out and cursing under my breath. Maybe it's a guy thing.

Speaking of cheer leading, nothing from the sidelines helps KPR as Eitan's Blues lose to AC Fulham, 1-6. Ours the first goal scored but Fulham runs away with it. Eitan in a blue funk afterwards. In fairness, ACF is the feeder club for Fulham FC which is 10th in the Premier League.

"Woo hoo!"
--Sonnet at the Cal-Washington game, autumn 1993

Photo from NFL.com

Saturday, October 9

Painting

Marcus and Madeleine paint the Tudors (homework assignment) while I sweep the backyard (housework assignment). They have a great time chit-chatting and working away. Madeleine decides it would be nice to have a sleep-over and I give in following her two-hour campaign. Both kids squeal. We order pizza. They squeal. We watch Home Alone #2 - squeal! Meanwhile Sonnet with Eitan at a swimming gala - they catch the team bus to Watford - she texts me that the boy's goggles come off during his breast stroke race and the relay comes in last. Poor kid.

Madeleine: "Did you know that dogs only see in black and white?"
Marcus: "Maybe a little purple or something .. "
Madeleine: "So a Dalmatian could see itself perfectly. If it was looking in the mirror that is."

Madeleine: "We have to see an ancient Tudor outhouse."
Me: "An outhouse? You have to see an outhouse for school?"
Madeleine: "An alms house. Really, dad, you can't hear anything."

Home Improvement - Richmond Palace

I wake up - Saturday! - with my mile-long to-do list from taking Eitan to football to replacing the key-hole on the front door. In between I replace an electrical socket, untangle a shower hose, hang the kitchen clock, rake some leaves and sand down the bottom of a door which was scratching the hallway floor. I like doing this stuff, all by 3PM, when Marcus comes over to join Madeleine for some homework on the Tudors. We are off to the Richmond Museum, which is a couple of rooms above the local library. I learn a lot about the area including Richmond Palace which is no longer with us.


The Richmond Palace once a Thameside royal residence, 9 miles SW of the Palace of Westminster, and built around 1501 inside the royal manor of Sheen, by King Henry VII, formerly known by his title Earl of Richmond, after which the palace named. It was occupied by royalty until 1649. It replaced a former palace, itself built on the site of a royal Manor House. In 1500, immediately preceding the construction of the new "Richmond" Palace the following year, the town of Sheen which had grown up around the royal manor changed its name to "Richmond", by command of Henry VII. The 2 names continue to cause confusion since today's districts called "East Sheen" and "North Sheen" are now under the administrative control of the London Borough of Richmond upon Thames, were never in ancient times within Sheen manor, but were rather carved out, in recent times, of what was formerly the ancient adjoining manor of Mortlake. Got that? Richmond remained part of the County of Surrey until the mid-1960s, when it was absorbed by the expansion of London.

The Richmond Palace met its end following Charles I's execution in 1650. Now there are houses, themselves dating to the 18th and 19th centuries, between Richmond Green and the River Thames while the street names provide evidence of a different world: Old Palace Lane, Old Palace Yard and The Wardrobe.

Madeleine: "Can we pop into the Party Palace?"
Me: "You want to pop into the Party Palace?"
Madeleine: "Yes, can we pop in?"
Me: "Ok, let's just pop in for a moment."
Madeleine: "Ok. Let's pop in."

Yap

Sonnet in action. We have weathered her return to the museum following the work sabbatical. No doubt it is hard to juggle work and home and she does a great job. We all work together.

Madeleine: "They're hugging!"
Me: "Are they smooching?"
Madeleine: "They are. In public! Quick dad - honk the horn at them."

Madeleine: "'Death And A Funeral' - do you think that's a good movie?"
Me: "What do you think it's about?"
Madeleine: "Er, dad, it is pretty obvious isn't it?"

Friday, October 8

Westminster Underground, 9:15AM

With my trusty blackberry camera, I photograph the underground where I may find sufficient light. The station one of 270 on 11 lines which transport 3.4 million passengers on any given work day, any time of year. The daily ridership record set in 2007 when over 1 billion passenger journeys were recorded, making it the third busiest metro after Paris and Moscow. The network is about 250 miles long and opened for business in 1863 - the first underground railway system in the world. Despite its name, 55% of the tracks are above ground. The escalators alone are special: they are some of the longest in Europe, each custom-built. The longest is at Angel station, 197 ft long, with a vertical rise of 90 ft. They run 20 hours a day, 364 days a year, with 95% of them operational at any one time, and can cope with 13,000 passengers per hour. (All data from Transport For London)


The Jubilee Line, where my picture taken, is the youngest line having begun operations in 1979. The tracks cover 22 miles from Stanmore to Straford. The Jubilee is considered a "deep level" tube bored using a tunnelling shield, run about 65 feet below the surface, with each track in a separate tunnel. The JL saw 127,584 thousand journeys last year. The stations structures support Portcullis House above us.

Whenever I am on the tube I think of the people who took shelter from the German bombers. That and people could smoke on the trains until '84.

Kunst Museum

I have a day trip to Copenhagen Wednesday and Madeleine amazed to learn it is for lunch (she: "That must be one expensive meal, isn't it dad?). I arrive an hour or so before my appointment and ask the taxi driver to take me to the Statens Museum of Kunst which is the National Gallery of Denmark. There is an exhibition on Bob Dylan's paintings "The Brazil Series" which I do not rate though I love Bob Dylan. Instead I head for The Masters and revisit some old friends including Ejnar Nielsen, Vilhelm Hammershoi, Edvard Munch, Ditlev Blunck and Georg Baselitz. Now that guy was sick. The pig is from a series of seven taken in the "experimental scene" (I think they mean gallery or zone) for contemporary art. I am home in time for dinner and Madeleine shakes her head: all the way to Denmark for lunch.


"A man is a success if he gets up in the morning and gets to bed at night, and in between he does what he wants to do."
--Bob Dylan

Thursday, October 7

River Sunset

Another bridge at sunset - this time, the Blackfriars Bridge again. I often contemplate taking my camera whenever I go into town -- though refrain when meetings involved. It seems the sensible thing to be done. So today I am left with my blackberry. BTW I am pretty certain my eyeballs irreparably damaged from this shot.

London is still landscaped with construction despite the advanced stages of our recession. More worryingly, the new 50% tax rate and £25K charge on non-doms is having its impact: the money guys are moving to Switzerland or wherever. With immigration caps, this does not bode well for the the City and its tax dollars. The developers, one would think, would take note. I am on the sixth floor of 12 Cannon St the other day seated across the street from a massive, generic and unattractive glass-steel new-build that I can look straight through - a million square feet and nobody to party. At the same time I watch the "Shard" go up in the London Bridge quarter - it will soon be Europe's tallest at 80 stories. I would never suggest London another Dubai but who would have thought Ireland or Greece or Iceland?

The Wobbly Bridge

The sun sets between a cloud bank and the horizon making for an unusually brilliant backdrop. Most commuters paid me (and my blackberry camera) no mind but several did give me a wary eye. And now they are on my blog. We are looking northwards at St Paul's crossing the Millennium Bridge.

The MB cost about £18 million to build and mostly paid for by the millennium commission and the London Bridge Trust. It opened on 10 June 2000. Unexpected lateral vibration (resonant structural response) caused the bridge to be closed on 12 June for modifications. Attempts were made to limit the number of people crossing the bridge: this led to long queues, but damped neither public enthusiasm for what was something of a white-knuckle ride, nor the vibrations themselves.
The closure of the bridge three days after opening attracted public criticism, as another high-profile British millennium project suffered an embarrassing setback. Example A: the Millennium Dome. Modifications eliminated the wobble which has not recurred since the bridge reopened in February 2002.

The bridge's movements were caused by a 'positive feedback' phenomenon, known as Synchronous Lateral Excitation. The natural sway motion of people walking caused small sideways oscillations in the bridge, which in turn caused people on the bridge to sway in step, increasing the amplitude of the bridge oscillations and continually reinforcing the effect. Opening day saw 90,000 people, with up to 2,000 on the bridge at any one time - because the lateral motion caused the pedestrians loading the bridge to directly participate with the bridge, the vibrational modes had not been anticipated by the designers. The lateral vibration problems of the Millennium Bridge are unusual, but not entirely unique - the greater the number of people, the greater the amplitude of the vibrations. Exhibit B, C and D: the Birmingham NEC Link bridge, the Groves Suspension Bridge in Chester; and the Auckland Harbour Road Bridge -- all collapsed, sometimes spectacularly.

The MB fixed by the retrofitting of 37 fluid-viscous dampers (energy dissipating) to control horizontal movement and 52 tuned mass dampers (inertial) to control vertical movement. This took six months and cost £5m. The MB re-opened on 22 February 2002 and has not been subject to significant vibration since. For Londoners, it is forevermore the "wobbly bridge."

(source: Wiki and various)

Tuesday, October 5

Saxaphone


I chat with this friendly musician crossing the Thames on the Waterloo Bridge. He is thrilled to know David and Josh play the tenure saxaphone and cracks into a wide smile when we find something of mutual interest.


The Tube on strike so I find myself walking (and grumbling) from Green Park to Buckingham Palace then Parliament and Big Ben and finally alongside the river next to the Southbank Center, Tate Modern and the Millennium ridge which I cross towards St Paul's to arrive at a restaurant on High Timber Street. I take London for granted most of the time but, as the sunsets, despite the striking Underground, I appreciate this remarkable place.

David, an attorney whom I have known since the go-go years, organises a dinner party for those of us interested in company-building and technology. It is an interesting group, too, which includes Richard, the founder of Razorfish; Mark, who is an operating partner at Silver Lake which owns $14 billion of later stage tech growth equity; Rod, who sold his IT business to WPP last year; Andres, from Argentina and now a tech banker at Jeffries; and Hugo, Head of Policy & Commercial, BBC Future Media & Technology. It is a smart and engaging group in a way only the clever British can be. We discuss the usual reasons for why Europe lags the US re successful start-ups (fragmented market), venture capital (no NASDAQ) and entrepreneurs (culture, mentality; unclear road to riches). Europe, we agree, is capable of creating Hi Tech but unable to exploit it. Examples are Acorn Computers (losers to IBM and Apple); Autonomy (indexed search, loser to Google); Tim Bernards-Lee (HTML and the Internet, losers to, well, everybody). Yet there are success like Skype and Betfair, which my friend Josh founded in London since online gambling prohibited in the states - it will go public on the London Stock Exchange this month at a £2.5 billion valuation. Despite these exceptions only US seems capable, or wacky enough, to make the big bets pan out: Amazon, eBay, Facebook, Google, about every application on the iPad .. these companies are inspired. Europe would be a much better place if we could do the half of it.

Sunday, October 3

The Tigers And A Dog Pledge

Eitan's KPR in action against the Twickenham Tigers, who are defeated 4-nil. Eitan scores his first goal of the season and sets up two more with lovely crosses. He is relieved to get on the board and the boys deserve to win against an enthusiastic but outmatched team. It pours rain so us dads are happy when the thing is over.


"They are acing it, these guys. Election Day is now only a month away. The demoralized Democrats are held hostage by the unemployment numbers. And along comes this marvelous gift out of nowhere, Christine O’Donnell, Tea Party everywoman, who just may be the final ingredient needed to camouflage a billionaires’ coup as a populist surge. By the time her fans discover that any post-election cuts in government spending will be billed to them, and not the Tea Party’s shadowy backers, she’ll surely be settling her own debts with fat paychecks from “Fox & Friends.”
--Frank Rich, NYT

Madeleine's "Dog Pledge", dated 26.9.2010, posted inside the kitchen cabinet.
1. I pledge to walk the dog
2. I pledge to give the dog a bath
3. I pledge to brush the dog
4. I pledge to pet the dop
5. I pledge to uphold the dog rules [a separate, executed, document dear reader]
6. Clear up all its poo when I am around
Madeleine signs, and I counter-sign, the paper.

10 Pack

I am on the Richmond High Street at 11PM in a torrential downpour. To be more specific: I am at McDonald's ordering McNuggets for the over-nighters. Richmond one of London's wealthiest suburbs yet you would never it know it given the riff raff I witness: kids stumbling through the street or hovering in doorways to escape the rain and drenched boozers smoking since they cannot do so inside. I can smell their beer breath. The entrance of McD's blocked by five teens smoking in my face: the boys in hoodies and girls in heels and micro minis all tarted up and no where to go. Inside is not much better. I sympathise with the cashiers who take grief from the customers including a drunk dude who complains about the speed of service since mine a large order. Everyone has to pick on someone I suppose. It is not worth my time to get in his face but I am sorely tempted.

The boys go lights out at 1AM. Sonnet makes one final check and finds Luke reading a book while the others spread on the carpet in their sleeping bags sound asleep. The TV still on.

The three layer "Devil's Chocolate Food Cake" with vanilla icing and twix bar candles, pictured, prepared by Eitan. Sparkles by Sonnet.

Eitan: "Shhh! Everybody be quiet so when mom comes in she thinks we are listening to her."

Saturday, October 2

Party Gang

Missing from the photo is Joseph, who spent the night at hospital with asthma. He is doing fine and joins us for dinner. Madeleine does a good job being involved without being too involved. I know it is tough on her. I promise her that these things "all even out over time." That one gets a blank stare.

Pre Party

Eitan prepares gift bags for his party: hamburger yo-yo, check. Chocolate and sour sweats, check. A stretchy man and party popper, check, check, check. He is wearing his new sweater from Sonnet. The boys arrive shortly and the Big Strategy to take the little animals to the park for football and a good fagging out. Unfortunately it is raining.

High Street Britain

The British High Street has been hit hard by the recession though perhaps not has bad as it could be. Overall the retail economy's second quarter 2010 down 3.6% off the corresponding period of '09 while 2009 annual sales down 7.8% from '08 (The Blue Book 2006 reports that this sector added gross value of £127,520 million to the UK economy in 2004). The collapse of car sales the downward driver: -33.8 in Q2 '10 and -21.1% in '09 (British Retail consortium). Interestingly, I recieve a call from a German friend at Nord Bank who may lend to the McLaren Group, famous for its fast cars. McLaren will launch the MP4 in April, 2011, for a cool £170,000. Nord Bank wants the pre-sales since the company is cagey about the figures. To lend a hand, I call dealers in London, Manchester and Birmingham posing as a HNWI ("high net worth individual," dear reader). How nice to get call-backs within moments of my message! While the salesmen will not tell me their order book one fellow does offer helpfully: "it is fantastic!" To secure my MP4 by 2012, I am asked to show an "expression of interest" by giving McLaren fifteen grand. Opportunity does not come on the cheap.


While cars are a donut, department stores, super markets, furniture and foot ware are growing >6% a year while watches and jewelry - a sure indicator of the economic cycle - post second quarter sales of +22% (British Retail consortium). Another interesting shift: Internet and online delivery is up 18% from last year (source: Internet Retailing). Our local high street, meanwhile, is on a fairly busy road and a hodge podge of estate agents, restaurants, cafés, clothing, hardwares and magazine stands. There are chains (Costa Coffee, WH Smith, Blockbuster) and independents. We have the largest Waitrose (an upmarket grocery) in southwest London while Madeleine has two pet stores to choose from, lucky kid. Nature's law applies: the strongest shops survive - which is a nice example for Eitan as I explain Darwin's theory of natural selection this week. Christmas is the make-or-break season and the weak gone by spring.

And Britain's largest? Tesco, easily, which is a global grocery and general merchandising retailer headquartered in Cheshunt. Tesco is the third largest retailer in the world by sales (£62 billion, Feb-2010) and the second largest measured by profits (£3.4 billion) (Deloittes and the Tesco annual report)). The company employs 440,000 people in 14 countries across and 2,482 stores (33 million square feet).

"Every little helps."
--Tesco advertising

Slurp

Sonnet: "Do you know what this is?"
Madeleine: "Shampoo."
Sonnet: "I want you to wash your hair after swimming practice. Then you don't have to take a shower later today."
Madeleine: "I don't want to do it."
Sonnet: "It would be so much easier if you just take a shower after swimming."
Madeleine: "Nope."
Me: "Why?"
Madeleine: "I hate the showers at the pool. I just do."
Me: "Fair enough."
Sonnet: "Your ride is here. Time to go!"

Eitan: "Do you know that I grunt and twitch sometimes?"
Me: "That's interesting."
Eitan: "Uncontrollably."

Eitan: "What are we going to do with the bamboo in the pond?"
Me: "It's not bamboo. They're water reeds.
Eitan: "Are not!"
Me: "Are so."
Eitan: "Not!"
Me: "Way."
Eitan: "Well, what are you going to do with them any way?"
Me: "At some point I will prune the reeds back."
Eitan: "We can deliver it in a package to a road we, like, know in China so they can go to the Pandas."

Maud'Dib

Madeleine reads "Horrid Henry's Big Bad Book" and Eitan starts "Dune," which I reread this summer for the third time. It is my favorite sci-fi and important to have a fingered copy, here, which I found in my parent's house this summer.


Here is the edited synopsis from Wiki: Dune written by Frank Herbert and published in '65. It won the Hugo Award in '66, and the inaugural Nebula Award for Best Novel. Dune is frequently cited as the world's best-selling science fiction novel. Set in the far future amidst a sprawling feudal interstellar empire where planetary fiefdoms are controlled by noble houses that owe an allegiance to the Imperial House Corrino, Dune tells the story of young Paul Atreides (the heir apparent to Duke Leto Atreides and the heir of House Atreides) as he and his family accept control of the desert planet Arrakis, the only source of the "spice" melange, the most important and valuable substance in the universe. The story explores the complex and multi-layered interactions of politics, religion, ecology, technology, and human emotion, as the forces of the Empire confront each other for control of Arrakis and its drug "spice".


Eitan readies himself for his birthday party which will see five boys for an afternoon celebration followed by a
slumber party. Sonnet and I steel ourselves for a long night.

Eitan, 7AM: "My birthday party is today. I am so excited - I am going to go downstairs and do my homework."
Me, Sonnet:

Muad'Dib (pronounced /ˌmuːɑːdˈdiːb/) is a desert mouse within Frank Herbert's Dune universe. It is also the name for a constellation of stars and is taken as a name by the first novel's hero, Paul Atreides.
--Dune

Friday, October 1

Brown 2014

I remember sitting at the John D. Rockefeller library (known as the "Rock," which was initially nick-named the "John," until a hasty response from the President's office) as a Freshmen reading desktop graffiti from the graduating class before my arrival or '84. And even more strangely: scribbled messages from years way before that. College was hard-fought, new and my own little Idaho - the thought that others had done similar or perhaps even the same thing before me un-nerving somehow.


Brown's class of 2014:
Class size: 1,510 (female 52%)
Number of applications/ admitted - 24,988/ 2,738 (11%) (2013 figures)
African American - 10%
Asian - 15%
Latino - 9%
White - 44%
Unknown - 10%
International - 11%
Valedictorian 26%
Top 10% - 93%
First generation college - 14%
Children of Alumni - 12%
Tuition/ Room and board/ total (2013) - $38,048 / $11,080/ $49,128
Average financial aid scholarship - $31,940
-- Brown Alumni Magazine and Brown website. Photo by Richard Benjamin

Richmond Park Academy

I attend a presentation by the School Heads of five neighborhood primary schools. While our Burrough has some of the best state primaries, the secondary schools are dismal and most parents send their children to public (ie, private) schools in Southwest London. There are good options, too, like St Paul's and the Hampton School. Having attended Berkeley High School with 3,000 students I am all for state education. My best friends are from this time and also some of the most interesting: musicians, writers, architects, film makers, entrepreneurs .. all progressive. All liberal.

Twenty years ago the Sheen School a good secondary. When Labour came to power in '97, the rules changed and school funding went to "bums in seats" and the Sheen School recruited outside the Burrough to fill the classroom. Over time, it became crowded and worse, a holding place for the less desirabales from around London. Performance and interest fell while the best kids chose elsewhere. Today I often see the little ruffs with shirts untucked in menacing packs smoking cigarettes. Those are the girls. Motivated, competitive, mums who have nothing but the best ambitions for their precious dears do not give Sheen School a thought.

Last year Sheen School taken over by the council and rebranded "Richmond Park Academy" (an academy, I learn, allows the government to take over poor performing schools and dismiss the Head Teacher and disband the Board of Governors. In short, the council can take immediate action). Unusually, the Head Teacher remains while the academy status nets investment in new buildings, new teachers and committed focus; our Tory council is in line for the first time in 14 years with national politics which speeds change. And there is hope, real hope, for improvement. I see this in last night's presentations which are passionate. One mother notes (near tears) how Sheen School (now RPA) was thought a "disaster" but her daughter's first year a triumph - "she is loving it and comes home excited by her day." The challenge of a school re-boot is the community buy-in: success depends on the students and the best now sent to the publics. If our children went ensemble it could become "the best state secondary in Britain" given the quality of the primaries. It is a huge leap of faith. We (I !) want a great local state secondary. It would benefit the community and keep the kids close to home with their friends and sports and families. Eitan and we have a year to observe.

Eitan, over cereal: "It must be boring to be a shark."
Me:
Eitan: "All they do is eat fish."
Me: "I think it might be kind of cool .. they do not have much to worry about. Other then shark fin soup."
Eitan: "All they do is eat, sleep and swim. Just like Michael Phelps. That is his motto, you know."
Me: "I am glad you are thinking about these things."
Eitan: "Yeah. I guess so."