Thursday, November 5

Quel Scandale

Eric and I connect for a morning stroll across the Boston common and breakfast at a diner at the base of Beacon Hill. I am sad to see him leave, as I prepare for a day of meetings and another one on the road.

In London, a minor scandale erupts when the Guardian reports : "V&A rejects offer to showcase Margaret Thatcher's clothing," which is picked up by the BBC and the Telegraph and everyone else on Fleet Street. Tory MPs take up the cause and roundly criticises the museum - this is is the government responsible for tackling ISIS and terrorism - while the business secretary Sajid Javid goes to twitter: "I for one would have loved to see it! " On offer: 1980s power suits your grandmother would wear.

Monday, November 2

Back To School

Near Imber Court football pitches
And with a groan, Eitan and Madeleine return to school after a two-week half-term break.

The Shakespeares go from sleeping until 10AM (Madeleine) and 11AM+ (Eitan) to 6:25AM (Madeleine) and 7:05AM (Eitan).

It is evident to anybody with teenagers that teens are wired to retire late and sleep late. Why schools don't accommodate their brain schedules a mystery - learning would improve, exam results would improve. Moral and spirit would improve. Everybody benefits. Mornings are just brutal on these kids.

Sunday, November 1

Marc Eitan Reunion

Marc, Eitan's Elm Grove coach, shows up to watch Eitan and Alphie play in today's match. Marc has been a truly wonderful influence on Eitan and I only wish he could be more in his life.

Marc comments on Eitan: "He showed up at every practise ready to learn. He was a joy to coach."

Game Day Fog

Lions vs. Met Police 
The Sheen Lions play the Met Police U15s in a league game that our side wins in 3-2 but not without drama. The Lions up 2-0 at half then cede two goals and the momentum. Eitan sparks up and urges his team mates to dig deep and Joe delivers the winner: a beautiful 20 yard strike taken after he jukes the defender who thinks Joe is going for the easy angle. The boys' spirits soar. Eitan has stomach cramps following the match - something that now happens regularly after hard-fought games. Not surprising given an hour and twenty at 100%.

Eitan's Elm Grove teammate Alphie now plays for the Met Police. Alphie does a cracking job saving at least two goals that should have found net. I catch up with Alphie's Dad, Phil. Just as crazy as ever.
Post action

Pre Match

Self portrait XXXXVIII
Sonnet and I walk the dog near Eitan's football match, across a forgotten bridge next to a nearby water lock. Industrial and unexpected in Surrey. 

Eitan comes home from a Halloween party.
Me: "Was there drinking?"
Eitan: "Yeah, a little."
Me: "Was there dope?"
Eitan: "It's not like it's Berkeley, Dad."
Me to Sonnet: "Touche"

Autumnal Update

Madeleine post Halloween party
Sonnet and I have entered, some time ago, the next stage of parenting, responsible for two teenagers who have fast become independent little dudes. I once thought - correctly I might add - that we owned the Shakespeares 100% until about 8 or 9. Then it dropped to 50-50 by 11-12 and now I would say it's 20%. Or maybe 10%. Today it is all about the power of suggestion. At least, mostly.

Sonnet attends the denim conference, "Denim On Stage" in Amsterdam, the European capital of denim (she informs me). Denim is a $60bn industry with the best quality from Italy and Japan (It's kind of like Wagyu cattle or Argentine beef, I might offer). Sonnet notes the gathering of academics and industry. The conference launched by the denim fashion awards with six hot young designers vying for the title of 'denim designer of the year' and a €10k prize.
Sonnet: "We had the Godfather of modern denim, Adriano Goldschmied, who invented stone-wash and acid-washed denim. And Hisao Manabe from Japan, who founded Japan Blue, the supplier for denim collectors at crazy prices."

Me: "You have a choice. You can do the front yard work and earn some money."
Madeleine: "Or?"
Me: "You can do it for free."
Madeleine: "£15."
Me: "£8."
Madeleine: "£10."
Me: "£9."
Madeleine: "Do I have to do it today?"
Me: "Yep. You're on my time now."

Oxford Halloween

St John's College
We visit Alain and Nita in Oxford for a tea following the conference. The three Zs preparing for Halloween, friends over, watching some horror movie (shrieks from the living room). The kitchen chalk-board filled with equations I don't understand (Zebulan submitting a proof to an Oxford competition for the £500 prize).

I go for a jog along the nearby canal which takes me past the moored canal boats, narrow and long, some run down and mossy. The path muddy and by fields the one side, and Oxford houses the other. A lone man burns leaves on his baron plot; another talks to himself on his boat. It is dark from 4PM and the route spooky and appropriate. I'm happy to have it done with as the sun sets behind me.


A photo posted by ISIS that shows the destruction of a Shiite religious site.
Sonnet and I to Oxford to attend the 'Culture In Crisis: Conflict and Cultural Heritage" where leading experts on the Middle East discuss the destruction of ancient Syria, Iraq, and Yemen treasures. It was open to the public and free to encourage an open, wide and accessible debate. Sonnet a representative of the collections on the business continuity planning committee, ie, disaster prevention.

Confucius said: "Study the past if you would define the future." In Iraq, the past is glorious and long.

This is where the world's first cities were built and where writing and organized government were first developed more than 5,000 years ago. This is the land that gave the world its first great literary work - the Epic of Gilgamesh, king of the city of Uruk - over 1,000 years before Homer, and over 2,000 years before Christ.

ISIS, like so many iconoclastic extremist groups through history, seeks to destroy the record of the past. They've just upped the ante.

"[ISIS] has been very consistent in doing two things: they destroy antiquities for effect, and they likely use the smokescreen of destruction to cover themselves while they move more transportable items for profit. It is, after all, a criminal organization."
Mark Vlasic, an adjunct professor at the Georgetown University Law Center

Sunday, October 25

What A City

The City
The financial district, taken from the 27th floor of The Shard.

The most prominent tower in the photo - 20 Fenchurch St also affectionately known as "the walkie-talkie" due to its unusual shape - curves outward at the top creating greater upper level floor space. Architecturally it is unusual. Cynically, it means higher overall rent.

Everywhere one looks, the city transformed. Last month, the biggest single development approved at Greenwich Peninsula creating 13,000 new homes, 2 schools and a 40,000sq foot film studio. Before that, The Shell Centre project will singular change the river's southside at Waterloo. A favourite building torn down for modern condos. My train ride into town leaves a city almost unrecognisable from ten years ago. One giant sprawling mess representing millions of battles, compromises, sacrifices, corruptions, gains and losses. But oh so valuable.

Autumn Season

Eitan runs the first cross country race of the year, a relay in Guilford where each of three runners completes 2.5k.  Eitan reckons there were twenty teams and Hercules Wimbledon take fourth place. The boy takes the first leg, delivering sixth place, while Zac and Sam bring up the rankings on the back half.  The course is a "mildly hilly park trail" leaving the competitors to fend for themselves on the wet narrow path.  Eitan's strategy is to "go off with the leading pack and stick with it."  He notes further:  "Painful. I was running with a Kingston runner all the way but he overtook me in the end."

The Orensteins to Paris last night only dad forgets the keys to the flat in the Marais and we miss the last Eurostar by a few minutes. Since Zuma and Nobu fully booked, Eitan and I stay up late watching 'Halloween' while Sonnet makes late night steak followed by ice cream and cookies.

The pumpkins have been carved.
Zac, Eitan and Sam

Sunday, October 18

Self Portrait XXXXVII

Me: "Do you want to do some meditation with me?" [Dad's note: I am experimenting with meditation and mindfulness]
Madeleine: "No."
Me: "Tell you what. You have a choice. You can walk the dog. Do maths homework or meditate with me. What's it going to be"
Madeleine: "Do I have to answer?"
Me: "Yes."
Madeleine: "Meditate."
Me: "So we will do some breathing exercises, concentrating on the air passing by our nose or throat and just relaxing."
Madeleine: "Isn't this like taking a nap?"
Me: "Roll with it. You are meant to fall awake, not asleep."
Madeleine: "What's the point?"
Me: "It will make you feel better, in better control of your thoughts. Grow white brain matter. Be smarter."
Madeleine: "Do I have to?"


Madeleine asks me - seriously - to take her and her friends to IKEA on a Saturday evening and so I do. It's Madeleine, Maddy, Theia and Izzy. An excellent crew. I listen to them giggle and hyperventilate on the ride to Wembley at 6PM.  I try to become invisible, just a fly on the wall, as the girls discuss clothes and school and boys.

Honestly, IKEA is exhausting but what a place to people watch: an Indian grandma tests a sofa mattress by laying on it spread eagle. A Russian couple with baby check out tables and kids race about in the trolleys risking death and the wrath of, well, me. I count it as a cultural experience.

I ask the cashier the busiest time? And she tells me the weekend, which is fair enough, but Saturday evening ? It's when people can do it.

And this: The company is responsible for approximately 1% of world commercial-product wood consumption.

Madeleine: "I'm kind of over IKEA."

Saturday, October 17

ManU Is Sharp

Eitan wears his favorite top, a retro 1980s ManU jersey, a gift from Christian.

Sharp Electronics the first Man U shirt sponsor with an an initial five-year deal worth £500,000, beginning in the 1982–83 season. The relationship lasted 18 years until Vodafone agreed a four-year, £30 million shirt deal in 2000. 

More recently, in 2012, United signed a seven-year deal with General Motors which replaced Aon as the shirt sponsor from the 2014–15 season. The $80m/ year shirt deal is worth $559m over seven years and features the Chevrolet logo, which is kind of bunk for a Premiere League team.

Friday night and Sonnet returns late from Venice and Florence where she has spent the week visiting historical archives to research aspects of Italian fashion. Eitan ducks into the living room to inform me he is off to football practice while Madeleine at a sleep-over. Veronica exits for friends and drinks. This leaves me and Rusty, so I kick up my feet and watch the Coen Brothers' "Blood Simple" and could not be happier.

Sunday, October 11

A Young Man

The boy now eats a sandwich (as I write), followed by a bowl of cereal. It's 6PM so dinner in one hour. We have stopped fighting it : As Sonnet says, "bottomless pit." I am reminded of his enormous loving Jamaican day-care taker, Eitan age 1, who frequently commented on Eitan's appetite ("That boy loves his food").

Anthony stops by to watch the Australian-Wales rugby match and catch us up on things: he is moving from Islington to Clapton in Hackney, East London, which is now the next uber cool location as the East End  pushes towards the Olympics Park. Once known for it's 'Murder Mile' - stretch of tarmac that was once known as Britain's deadliest by murder as recently as 2002. Now the gays have moved in, followed by the hipsters, artists and techies serviced by trendy bars, bakeries and cafes. It is still urban gritty, I understand, but filled with young people trying to comfort themselves of their anxieties or revel in their youth.

Anthony's business, Barmetrix, provides operational and cost management software for bars. He has 40 clients, all of whom need to be serviced. Over a pint, of course. 

Me: "Eitan how does it feel to be 15?"
Eitan: "Good."
Me: "Anything else?"
Eitan: "It feels a lot older."
Eitan: "Than 14."

Wednesday, October 7

An Email From David C

How convenient
All bullets
Cameron knows
Our attention span is very

I believe we’re on the brink of something special in our country.
This year, we’ve seen more people in work than at any time in our history; more of our children starting university than ever before; more British entrepreneurs setting up shop than anywhere else in Europe.
Wages are rising. Hope is returning. We’re moving into the light.
But we’re not there yet. We’re only halfway through.
We can make this era – these 2010s – a defining decade for our country: the turnaround decade.
And our goal is a Greater Britain.
With strong defence and a strong economy.
An NHS that there’s for everybody, and schools that stretch our children.
And over the next five years we will show that the deep problems in our society are not inevitable.
That a childhood in care doesn’t have to mean a life of struggle.
That a stint in prison doesn’t mean you’ll get out and do the same thing all over again.
That being black, or Asian, or female, or gay doesn’t mean you’ll be treated differently.
A Greater Britain – made of greater expectations.
Where renters become homeowners, employees become employers, a small island becomes an even bigger economy, and where extremism is defeated once and for all.
A country raising its sights, its people reaching new heights.
A Greater Britain – made of greater hope, greater chances, greater security.

Sunday, October 4

Record Board

Berkeley High School pool
30 years and still there for the 200 and 500y freestyle, earned with hard work during a different era : distance swimming was all about .. distance. My technique as an age-grouper never so good - I relied on a two best cross over which supported a fairly rapid stroke turn-over (to keep the body aligned and hips neutral, my legs crossed in sync with my arms and following two natural kicks or "beats").  Ten miles a day, back-and-forth, in a 25 yard pool.

Today, thanks to guys like Matt Biondi and, famously, Ian Thorpe who single-handedly defeated the Americans in the 4x200 m freestyle relay in the 2004 Australian Olympics, the technique is more about front glide and catch-up. I use this today (having watched Thorpe and others on youtube) and cut my stroke from 20-21 rotations a lap to 12. Just like that.

Regardless of those times back then, swimming introduced me to a committed group of fabulous people. It also introduced structure into my life (6AM swim ! 3PM swim!) which helped my schoolwork and studies. There was no time for goofing off. It gave me my confidence.

Now I find lap swimming a challenge given the boredom. I can barely do 1500m.  What we did then ? No way now.

Fashion Fashion

Magdalen Frackoic
Sonnet joins me in Paris (I have a temporary residence in the 4e) during Fashion Week to see Dior, Issey Miyake and Lowe and Rick Owens. Glamour is everywhere with exhibition tents set up in the Louvre courtyard, Tuileries and Place de la Concorde. Paris buzz's with models, gay dudes and the fashionistas who I think are all hanging out in the Marais after a day on Rue Faubourg St Honoree.

Hussein Chalayan's exhibition included two outfits (Sonnet describes) worn by women who stood motionless throughout the catwalk show. Towards the end, a shower of water cascaded down from the ceiling drenching them and dissolving their clothes (they wore outfits underneath). Before Sonnet describes the spectacle I see it on Vine.

Eitan's Lions lose to Barnes in Surrey Cup action in a tense match that sees our side go down on the dreaded PKs. Eitan had a shot to end the match with minutes to go on a free-kick from 35m out but his perfectly placed ball sails several inches high. Them are the breaks.

Saturday, October 3

Buzz Words

I pick up Eitan and Luke at Hampton following their football match against Ardingly (Hampton wins 3-2). Traffic delays the return by 1.5 hours and, to pass the time, I stretch followed by some mindfulness training on a bench, then by a sun nap. Me to Eitan: "Basically all the things that embarrass you." Eitan: "Yeah."

I give Madeleine an afternoon lift to the train station.
Me: "What are you going to do in Clapham?"
Madeleine: "I dunno."
Me: "Are you going shopping? Hanging out? Coffee?"
Madeleine: "Hanging out. I don't drink coffee."
Me: "With whom?"
Madeleine: "Some friends."
Me: "Boys? Girls? Both?"
Madeleine: "Both."
Me: "Does it make it more interesting with boys?"
Madeleine: "Yeah, I guess."
Me: "Do you guys sit about and giggle?"
Madeleine: "OK, Dad, train's here."

I overhear Madeleine describe 'The Road' to Gracie: "It's a dystopian novel."
Me to Sonnet: "That's a hundred grand on education well spent."

Thursday, October 1

Belated 15

Eitan turns 15 on the last day of September.

Engaged in school, sport, family and friends, Eitan wears his heart on sleeve yet keeps his cool, too, when things don't go to plan. In this regard, we have always had faith in Eitan's ability to deliver the goods. Sometimes this nets unreasonaby high expectations but he handles the external (parental) pressure with aplomb and seems genuinely pleased with the life balance he enjoys.

Eitan is also a good brother. Sure, just like any older brother, he is sometimes unaware of his biggest fan but Eitan is mostly aware of Madeleine. They have shared swimming and athletics; sometimes dog walks (at least who does it) and household chores (mostly without complaint). This summer Eitan and Madeleine endured Outward Bound in the Scottish Highlands. Last year it was 2,000 miles in a car, side-by-side, along a two lane blacktop. I expect their friendship to be a gift well beyond their years at 45.

Eitan's accomplishments in 2015 have been numerous : chosen team captain for the Sheen Lions, Hampton School in the Final Four of the English School Football Association, reaching 5'10, strong marks in his coursework (lots of praise from teachers), and a  4:34 in the 1500m..

Mostly Eitan is happiest tucking into an afternoon bacon sandwich, plopping down on the sofa for a ManU game, contemplating his next lie in.

How proud we are of this thoughtful and intelligent young man who blooms before us.

Tuesday, September 29

Moira Gemmel, 1959-2015

Sonnet attends the memorial of Moira Gemmel, a 13 year colleague at the V&A and the Director of Design. Moira died in a collision with a tipper lorry on her way to work in April. 55 years old.

Here is the Guardian's obituary:
Moira Gemmill, who has died aged 55 in a cycling accident, joined the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, as head of design in 2002. By the time she left at the end of 2014 to take up a post with the Royal Collection Trust, she had played a key role in transforming the institution that bills itself as the world’s greatest museum of art and design.

When she started, the V&A was, in every sense, notoriously difficult to navigate. Different systems of signage abounded and a variety of vested interests prevented any change. But Moira would brook no opposition and in what seemed like no time a new, coherent and elegant scheme by the graphic consultants Holmes Wood was soon rolled out. She was someone who knew what she thought and said what she meant: a breath of fresh air began to move through the museum.

She went on to develop what was called FuturePlan, and we worked together on this for 10 years. The principles were simple: work with and value the architecture and decoration of the V&A’s complex of historic buildings, open up views so that people would know where they were and be tempted on to see what was coming next, bring natural light into the galleries, provide views both to the outside world and to the garden within, which became the museum’s public hub, and find ways to make sense of the sequence and adjacencies of different displays.

It sounds simple, but it was a long, difficult and demanding process, which she led from 2005 onwards as director of projects and design. It also required charm, steely determination, a clear and coherent understanding of the overall picture and the confidence to tell me, as director, and the trustees when they were wrong. She also had to argue away the light-phobic shibboleths so sadly common among conservators and curators.

The more than 40 projects that she realised with architects and designers included two by Softroom, the Jameel gallery of Islamic art and the Sackler education centre, with its cunning reuse of the difficult spaces in the wing named after the museum’s first director, Henry Cole. She also oversaw the reinstatement and reopening of the original tearooms; Ewa Jiricna’s shop, sculpture gallery and exquisite jewellery gallery; great medieval and renaissance galleries by the architects MUMA; the ceramic galleries by Stanton Williams and the ceramic study galleries by Opera Amsterdam, and the elegant fashion gallery by 6a. Away from the South Kensington site were the Museum of Childhood by Caruso St John in Bethnal Green, east London, and the Clothworkers’ Centre by Haworth Tomkins at Blythe House, Kensington Olympia.

This represented a rate of progress easily excelling anything seen at the V&A since the 19th century. And at the same time Moira steered through the competition to design new exhibition galleries on Exhibition Road, won by Amanda Levete, with whom she worked very closely. A great promoter of new talent and an ardent feminist, Moira was the most demanding and discerning commissioner of projects, sometimes quite scary, never letting her high standards drop, but also a funny, kind and supportive colleague and boss.

She loved design for its own sake, but also believed that it served a public purpose: that good design could make life better and more pleasurable for everybody. She hoped that, little by little, the work that she led would transform the experience of those who came to the V&A so that it would feel cared for and tended, light and airy, tranquil and engaging. So the ladies’ loos needed to be lovely. Designed by Glowacka Rennie, they needed an art installation to make them really special, and I was sent to persuade the Paris-based Swiss artist Felice Varini that this was the right location for work by him. Installations, like the Random International studio's Swarm III, were commissioned for otherwise neglected spaces and what might have been an ordinary fire-escape became, thanks to Jim Eyre’s design, the beautiful ceramic galleries bridge. Moira hoped, as Cole had, that those who knew the V&A would become impatient with unnecessary and spirit-sapping ugliness and demand better in every aspect of their lives.

Always immaculately presented, Moira loved London and was the most urban of people. Yet she was born in Campbeltown, Argyll, the principal town of the Kintyre peninsula, and grew up on a remote farm in Kintyre, daughter of Helen and John Gemmill. She always retained a love of the region’s wild landscape, her family and family home, and for all things Scottish, tartan very much included. From Campbeltown grammar school, under the eye of her mother, who taught there, Moira went on to study graphic design and photography at Glasgow School of Art. This was a turning point. Though enjoying extracurricular activities far too much to be a model student, she loved the art school, found herself, and met the circle of friends who remained with her throughout her life.

After graduating in 1981 she moved to Aberdeen, where she helped set up Citygirl, a listings magazine that was lively and fun but eventually went bust. So Moira got a job at Aberdeen Art Gallery and found herself planning and staging exhibitions, under the directorship of the artist Ian McKenzie Smith.

In 1997 she became head of design and exhibitions at the Museum of London, under Simon Thurley. There, working alongside Magdalen Fisher, who became her closest friend, she was responsible for exhibitions including London Bodies, Terence Donovan's London and Vivienne Westwood. She also oversaw long-term displays such as the World City Gallery and a network of “outsites” that showed archaeological finds where they had been discovered.

A Scottish dimension to Moira’s legacy will come in 2017 with the opening of V&A Dundee, a scheme to take the V&A’s name and exhibitions north and create a design centre for Scotland. She also took charge of the V&A’s pioneering relationships with two Indian institutions: the Dr Bhau Daji Lad Museum, Mumbaii, and the National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad, Gujarat. The exhibition programme, which on Moira’s initiative employed so many emerging designers, gave rise to more V&A exhibitions travelling to more places around the world than from any other museum. An honorary fellow of the RIBA, a judge of the Architect’s Journal Women in Architecture awards and chair of the V&A Illustration Awards, Moira excelled at finding ways to ensure that the winners she wanted got the recognition she knew they deserved.

As director of capital programmes at the Royal Collections Trust, Moira had been looking forward to the opportunity to work on Windsor Castle, Buckingham Palace and Holyrood Palace in Edinburgh. Brave, brilliant and beautiful, she was the brightest and best of a generation that transformed the V&A.

She is survived by her parents, her brother, Andrew, and sister, Jennifer.

Moira Gemmill, design director, born 18 September 1959; died 9 April 2015