Thursday, February 28


Eitan reads 'Charub'

I am back to London with a pocket full of business cards.  A highlight of my trip, somehow, was jogging by the start - and finish- of the '09 Berlin Marathon.

The private equity industry going through a structural change as fundraising in the worst post-peak trough the industry has known (fundraising levels at 40% of 2007/08 levels).  There are still Big Dollars flowing in but now going to fewer managers, including Astorg, who receive bigger checks.  "Bifurcated market" is a popular expression.

Meanwhile returns have fallen as plenty of capital competes for limited auctioned deals and leverage paired back : recall the famous KKR takeover of RJR Nabisco in '88 (at $25 billion, the largest ever at the time). The deal financed with 95% debt.  Today, equity accounts for 43% of all buyout transactions.  This doesn't help IRRs (but allows people to sleep at night).

Ours a mature industry which is obvious from the number of minorities (almost nil) and women (very few). Who is going against the grain to make the over-size returns? Who is allowed to do so by their institutional backers ?

Wednesday, February 27

West Berlin

Brandenburg Gate

Last time I was here it was not so nice.

I join the good and the great for the Super Return conference and shuffle about seeing familiar faces and catching up with friends.  The conference attracts over 1,400 "senior private equity professionals" (the website tells us) and is the largest private equity conference in the world. I would not doubt it. A highlight is Frank, who I have dinner with - Frank from Berlin and recalls the wall coming down; after that he involved himself in privatising German industry and now works for Deutsche Bank pe in Manhattan.

Sunday, February 24

Sunday Night At The Movies


We are about to call it a night but then 'The Terminator' on television and who can resist that?  The indiscriminate killing of the innocent and police irresponsible but, boy, it is entertaining.

The 1980s glorified firearms - those stupid films like 48 hours and Beverly Hills Cop or Lethal Weapon and Tango And Cash or Tequila Sunrise - which showed machine gun spray as part of the buddy-buddy bonding experience.  The violence, already insinuated into the American psyche, morphed into video games and glocs and Bushmasters. Only now, like never before, the violence is for real.

"It's a hyper-alloy combat chassis - micro processor-controlled, fully armoured. Very tough. But outside, it's living human tissue - flesh, skin, hair, blood, grown for the cyborgs...The 600 series had rubber skin. We spotted them easy. But these are new, they look human. Sweat, bad breath, everything. Very hard to spot."

"I'm a friend of Sarah Connor. I was told she was here. Could I see her please?"
--The Terminator

Haiti Visit

ChaƮne de la Selle, Haiti, 1997; 2,680m

Me: "How did Ava play ?"
Madeleine: "She's really good."
Eitan: "I think she was a bit nervous, having all of us around."
Me: "And you want to play at Old Trafford.  Do you think the crowds would effect you there??
Eitan: "No, because I wouldn't know anybody in the stands."
Me: "If you or Madeleine play in the Premiere League I will drop everything and follow you around to all your games. .. ."
Eitan, Madeleine:
Me: ". .. putting up a big banner: 'Go Madeleine!' "
Madeleine: "I would so kill you."
Me: "Or 'Eitan's Dad.' I am sure you wouldn't mind that, would you?"

One More From The City

Queen Victoria St and Cannon St

Sonnet back from Devon and not without drama as she has to add oil to the car en route. I take her through the steps to open the hood.  We re-union with hugs and kisses and my peaceful long week end comes to an end (I would be lying if I told you, dear reader, that I did not enjoy it. Madeleine: "Nice, Dad.").

Simon, the father of Billy, in Los Angeles to win an Oscar for the sound work to 'Les Mis.'  He has already won the BAFTA.

Fauja Singh, age 101, completes his last race, the Hong Kong 10K, in 1:32; in 2011 he celebrated 100 by running the Toronto Marathon (his eighth since turning 90).  Says he: "I am happy that I am retiring at the top of the game."  And there is hope for us all.

Saturday, February 23


From Oxo Wharf


I miss my stop and end up at Ladywell and have 30 minutes before my return train so I chat up three local kids who goof about on their four-wheeler. Their thick accents difficult to understand but I enjoy the conversation about go-carts and mini motorcycles.  They are up for it.  Grandma watches in the doorway, cigarette hanging from lip, baby cradled in arm.

Me And St P

Since by myself I (re)watch "The Wall", which has been on my list for some time now.  It does not disappoint, either.  Rock and roller goes insane following wife's infidelity and drugs plus a fatherless childhood and cruel teachers; he becomes a Nazi and rapes and plunders before becoming completely isolated then finally exposed before peers. At least that is what I understood.

Big Build

check out the Shard, Europe's tallest building, that opened to the public a couple of weeks ago. At 95 stories it is pretty God damn impressive.

Across London there is work, work, work. Saturday no exception.  The Walkie Talkie near completion and, behind it, two more towers going up. At the Cannon St station an entire city block gone replaced by a dig hole for, presumably, another skyscraper. Blackfriars Bridge seems strange and I realise it is covered with solar panels.  And to think I recall a Second World War bomb site on Ludgate Hill now long gone replaced by office space.

This is a city on the move.

Friday, February 22

Cow Gal


Ah, yes, Friday evening.

Until six or seven years ago I was a committed b and w photographer holding out from digital as long as I could then I couldn't.  In part (mostly) it is a time thing : spending the day in a dark room playing with chemicals an unaffordable luxury with the kids and work and everything.

I once developed film at the Battersea Arts Centre in an attic studio so cold in the winter I could see my breath. Still, it was tidy and surrounded by students and creative types. Good vibe. When that closed I found Photofusion in Brixton - London's largest not-for-profit photography centre funded by the Arts Council.  

My fellow developers at Photofusion all a bit odd - the elderly couple who made 1000s of theatre prints for professional purposes; the obese lady and her nudes.  Then there was the guy who took photographs of human bones.  We sometimes compared our work but usually it was an in-and-out affair. The result: seven prints worth keeping. Maybe.

Thursday, February 21

Good Bet

Sonnet and the kids in Devon with Halley.  I take advantage of the evening to do some work, blog, watch TV .. .usual stuff.

On the walk home I pass Ladbrokes, a bright and vacuous gambling storefront with multi media showing the horses or dogs, a cash counter+betting papers to keep track of the action. A radio's broadcast incongruent with the sports screens.  Always there are middle aged men betting nickles and pounds. The enticement ads have not changed in 15 years (Andre Agassi with hair; some ancient rugby match). I imagine sitting in a KFC for five hours. This is what these guys do.

Ladbrokes the largest betting company in the UK and largest retail bookmaker in the world with 2,400 retail betting shops in the UK, Spain and Belgium.

So Preciousss

Mila Kunis, Gemfield's 'global brand ambassador'

Gemfield emerald mine, Zambia

Wednesday, February 20

Mark Eitzel

Sonnet and I see Mark Eitzel at the wonderful Bush Hall in Sheperds Bush with its red velvet curtains, long crooked mirrors and ancient feeling.  I have known Eitzel's music since '96 and his seriously depressing yet beautiful album '60 Watt Silver Lining" where he covers depression, heroine .. AIDS and loss.  And last night he is in no mood to pander to his audience who, BTW, look exactly like him : almost entirely middle age male, scruffy .. a lot of beards and plaid and stuff.  Eitzel asks us, his fans, for forgiveness yet fails to play his best songs , willfully ending on perhaps one of his worst and loudest.  So an interesting experience but, then again, Eitzel is from the East Bay so what should I expect ?

Sonnet sees Pipa Middleton in a South Ken sushi restaurant .. .with a boy .. .and me not there with my camera !

Monday, February 18

On The Pyroclastic Flow

Eitan and Shaheen

Walking with Rusty. Me: "Did you know a meteor hit the earth over the weekend in Russia? 1200 people were injured."
Madeleine: "Whoa. How big was it?"
Me: "15 meters. A bigger one hit Siberia in 1908 - maybe 100 meters. A large meteorite strikes earth every 10,000 years or so .. . the good news: you would go quickly."
Madeleine: "At least it is not a pyroclastic flow. That is the worst way to die."
Me: "What's that?"
Madeleine: "It's a fast moving river of lava and rocks. It would drag you along and crush you to death."
Me: "Would your eyeballs be squished out of your skull?"
Madeleine: "That would only be the beginning."
Me: "What else?"
Madeleine: "Your bones would snap and and your brains squished."
Me: "Sounds gruesome."
Madeleine: "Yep."

Sunday, February 17

Party 11

Madeleine, Alex, Billy, Ollie, Molly, Maddy, Marcus, Zac

Madeleine's 11 party kinetic: nine screamers pumped on sugar race down the block with the dog barking like mad.  Sonnet and I roll our eyes and promise ourselves: "never again."

From lunch to the cinema and the "The Hobbit" (or, as I like to call it, "The-Never-Ending-Hobbit").  Who can tell the difference between Bilbo Baggins, Narnia and Harry Potter? It's all got the same wizard and evil orcs and spiders .. . good vs. evil and some precocious boy figure and so on and so forth.  By the half way point I stop trying to tell the orcs from the goblins (Zac, helpfully: "The Orcs are large and scary and the goblins are short.  And scary.")  After three hours I am orced out.

Watching the Hobbit like a zombie gore-soaked video game which loses all its impact mid-way through.  And I loved the book, which I found more interesting than "The Rings" trilogy. Shorter.  Recall the Star Wars battle b/t the Millenium Falcon and the tie fighers - there were only five tie fighters and it was, like, the most exciting thing ever put to screen. There are millions of orcs and after 15 minutes - who cares?

Zac: "That wasn't very realistic, Mr Orenstein."
Me: "I mean, why do trolls turn to stone in the sunlight? Nobody would buy that."
Zac: "And when the dwarves fell off the cliff, on that wood thing, and nobody killed... . "
Me: "Or when the Orc King landed on them and not a scratch .. ."
Molly: "It is not meant to be real. Just realistic."
Me: 'So you believe in an orc?"
Molly: "I didn't say I believed in that stuff. .. "
Me: "I'm with Zac.  Let's just say those dwarves and Bilbo Baggins are inside the mountain .. ."
Me: "No way they could kill as many orcs as they did without a dwarf being taken out."
Zac: "Yeah!"
Me: "Stick with me on these things, Zac. I l know what I'm talking about."

Saturday, February 16


Near Sheen Gate

Eitan non-communicative the past month giving up the occasional grunt to confirm or deny something and Sonnet and I wonder : is there a teenager in the house? Mostly his free time spent in front of the TV and a request for chores gets a simple "no."

I take the boy to football practise in Weybridge, Surrey.  We have learned Eitan's coach Marc will take a lesser role in the club next season after seven years.  Marc the reason we drive the distance for the All Stars, and the best coach Eitan has enjoyed in any sport (my opinion).  Marc committed to his boys and the football before the results (though Elm Grove in first place in their division and in the quarter-final of the Surrey Cup).

Madeleine not selected for a drama scholarship. She is disappointed but shrugs it off - there will other opportunities and she is committed.

Friday, February 15

Friday Night Lights

Madeleine in my office

Friday again. As with everybody in the UK, I and we are preoccupied with beef and whether it is, well, beef, so I am not chuffed when my friend tells me he is looking at buying a global German sausages company (his advice: "never eat a sausage"). I learn that the casings come in varied multiple sizes one mile long and look exactly like a (one-mile long) condom.  The casings no longer made with the intestine, either - far too inefficient - but rather paper or plastic.  US hot dogs have their own particular wrap : Americans like it to be "crunchy" or, at least, some texture; Europeans don't want to know it is there.  Did I mention that a hot dog can be up to 30% fat and a further 3% "unknowable" ?

Me: "Let's watch television. And Madeleine can do the dishes."
Madeleine: "Gee, thanks a lot Dad."
Sonnet: "Friday night family dinner."
Madeleine: "It's an original."

Madeleine: "Can I watch a wee bit of TV?"
Me: "Did you just say 'wee'?"
Madeleine: "It's Scottish, Dad. Not that you would know."

Thursday, February 14

Got Beef?


It seems like only yesterday that England faced Mad Cow disease and images of 100s of thousands of cattle being burned or stiff-legged spread around the world.  But those memories come back with the horse meat scandal (horse meat labeled 'beef') which has moved from budget chains like Icelands, Asda and (gasp) Tescos and packaged foods like Findus lasagnas (unit price £1.60) to upper-end groceries including Waitrose and even, gasp, our restaurant's beef burgers.  While not a health threat, it is mislabelling fraud and a criminal scandal of real scale, connecting low practises in France, Roumania, Wales, Northern Island and, in the end, England.  It is the most basic thing : can we trust what we eat and who serves it ?

Our butcher tells me that imported beef can be called British beef, if it remains in cold storage for one month or more.

Sonnet: "We should all be vegetarians."

Wednesday, February 13

Rusty Takes A Leak

The dog mostly compensates for himself.

Photo from Sonnet as I blog from Montreal (or "monreal" as the canucks say).  Yesterday it was Toronto.  I travel with my friend Thierry who is a sophisticated parisienne and we laugh at the underground food mart where we have sandwich 'wraps' for lunch - it is not the 8e. but at least it's not the Boston Chicken Market.

Sunday, February 10

Barn Elms

At Barn Elms

The Eagles play at Barn Elms, in Barnes, a fifty-two acre greenfield with football pitches, tennis courts and a quarter-mile track that I use on occasion for the hell of it. It is next to the Wetland Center.  

The grounds once part of a manor house owned by the Archbishop of Cantebury and, before that, the Dean and Chapter of St Paul's; it once hosted the Fulham FC and the Ham polo club.  The Vice Chancellor of London lived here for a while and Queen Elizabeth would visit her Spymaster on the grounds.  

By 1954, the manor was burnt out and so demolished. Developers circled but the community petitioned the Richmond Borough of London to take control of the grounds. Control granted, and Barnes created the Barn Elms Sports Trust to ensure its future.

"I walked the length of the Elmes, and with great pleasure saw some gallant ladies and people come with their bottles, and basket, and chairs, and form, to sup under the trees, by the water-side, which was mighty pleasant"
--Samuel Pepys