Wednesday, January 4

The Jets

West Side Story is a hit
The photo a bit late, but here is Eitan from the October production of West Side Story. 

The boy made significant sacrifices of football practice and matches to ensure his performance of Pepe was well delivered. And it was.

Sonnet and I most delighted by Eitan's willingness to take on something outside the comfort zone. The production complex with choreographed set pieces and singing. Eitan had a few lines, too.

Monday, January 2

A Year In Review

Self portrait XXXXX

Eitan 16

Eitan is a fine young man
Today, setting the tone on the first working Monday of 2017, Britain takes a bank holiday. I roll with it.

Madeleine and I head to the pool to swim laps, me with flippers to work on stroke technique. Swimming truly is the best middle-age exercise but for the nuisance of it all. If I had a decent pool nearby, preferably outdoor, I would be a changed man.

Sonnet goes into post-holiday action, unleashing 2 weeks of building tension: tree stripped and hauled outside. Check. Christmas decorations to attic. Check. Refrigerator defrosted, house scrubbed and aired, shelves re-organised. Check and double check.

Tomorrow it is back to official work.

Sunday, January 1

A New Year

11th episode in a row
The New Year rolls in .. and rolls out. I pick up Eitan and three girls at a party in Teddington, then Madeleine and Wills at a party in Wimbledon.  All in, two hours of driving but who's complaining ? It's a window into the Shakespeares lives though, last night anyway, the pay load is minimal. It's 1AM and the kids too tired to banter.

Seeing out the New Year, Sonnet and I start on "The Good Wife", a cable series about a woman who returns to lawyering after her cheating husband in jail for scandal. I bail after three episodes but Sonnet watches an entire series in 24 hours.

Me, over dinner: "Your mom is really into The Good Wife."
Sonnet: "It is rather addictive."
Eitan, Madeleine:
Me: "She's watched 11 hours of television."
Sonnet: "Last year we listened to War & Peace on the BBC."
Me: "And she's wearing her pajamas.  It's 6 O'Clock. Next thing you know she's going to have a second piece of pizza and ice cream for desert."
Eitan: "What's wrong with that?"
Me: "This is your mother we're talking about."
Eitan, Madeleine:
Me: "She's on the edge."

Saturday, December 31

Jeff And Grace

Following 16 weeks, Gracie's chemo is over and done with. Good riddance.

Next week Gracie will have a mold made for the radiation treatment. The mold keeps her body in place at the same angle while they zap her with radiation.. Starting in February, she will have six weeks of daily treatments. The hard bit, however, is behind us and we may

Celebrate !

Of course I select a photo of her and me for this blog - it is taken at my parents' 25th wedding anniversary celebration at the Brazil Room in Tilden Park, Berkeley. That would be so 1987.

Trump Loves Putin

The path is dark
Even my neo-con friends are scratching their heads over Trump's jerk-off of Vladimir Putin. No Reagan-Brezhnev kiss to the lips is this.  The CIA presents evidence that Russia hacked the DNC website and may have thrown the US Presidential elections and Trump tweets, "Let's move on." WTF ? 

Where is the anger over Mitch McConnell blocking the Supreme Court nomination ? The outright lying and skullduggery by Trump during the election year backed up whole-heartedly by his party ? The 'Lock her up' and now a cabinet of the most unqualified white people one can imagine ? OK, Ben Carson is black but what does he know about housing ? Enough to let Trump in the door to buy the properties once Carson de-funds the program. The wolf is at the door.

I suppose the anger is there and reflected by the elections. But what happens when the voters realise they have been conned ? The appeasement via the political process may have reached its end I fear.

Friday, December 30

Good Bye Katie

Katie is a good vibe
We say our sad farewells to Katie and I drive my sister to the airport. It was too brief a visit and a wonderful holiday gift to be together.

As I watch Katie disappear into the gate, I walk over to a Cafe Nero in Terminal 2 to do some work. A bit weird, I admit, but it is a chill and friendly cafe which I pass frequently on my way to somewhere so today - I sit. Tapping away on my notebook, I overhear conversations from different pre-boarders : the three teenage girls who giggle about who's cute and how often they change their pants (not enough); the foreign exchange student who talks America with her British hosts; the security guards who talk about their year-end bonus.

Madeleine searches the charity shops for vinyls and returns home with Lenard Skynyrd, Tears For Fears and John Cougar Mallencamp for 1 quid each. She is ecstatic with her records, which sound excellent on her turntable. And I was concerned her collection would turn into a money-suck; instead, it is a lesson on how to find value.

Frozen Sunrise

Two Storm Wood
A freezing fog settles over Richmond Park as the temperatures nestle at -2 degrees. Enough to freeze one's fingers inside a glove.

Madeleine and I leave the grocery store.
Madeleine: "OMG Dad. Do you have to do that?"
Me: "What?" [Dad's note: I use the grocery bags as barbells].
Madeleine: "That. Everybody's looking."
Me: "No they're not. And if they were - so what."
Madeleine: "I am not walking with you. Please walk ahead." [Dad's note: I do some squats at the intersection].
Me: "Don't you want me to be healthy?"
Madeleine: "I want you to be a block away."

Thursday, December 29

A Strong Woman

Pembroke Lodge parking lot
Sonnet after the Parkrun race in Richmond Park.
I also run the 5K course in a time of 22:10 hurting all the way. Sonnet reminds that I am out of shape, have not raced in a year and (dread of dreads) turning 50 next year. OK, the last one was mine, but still : the salad days are behind me.
My running came together for five years between 27 and 32 or 33. During this time I could train (Help The World See and b school) and I knew how to run (relaxation equals speed). I completed a half-marathon in 1:16, broke an hour for the 10-mile and clocked 36 minutes on a 10k around Lake Merritt, Oakland. By the mid-30s the miles caught up and the injuries settled in to stay. Sonnet, however, inspires having run a PB last month in the 10K.
But the point of my blog : Sonnet keeps the household together during the long holiday season and always. Her presence is calming and something I value and I rely on. There is no one I enjoy talking to more. And she is more beautiful than the day I met her, June 5, 1993.

Wednesday, December 28


The mother and child reunion
Zakkai will also take the GCSEs in 2017. He is focusing on the sciences and will likely study mathematics and philosophy in university. He is also Scarecrow in his school's production of 'The Wizard of Oz' and recently selected to play in an Oxford production of Romeo and Juliet.  Mostly he's a confident and engaged kid who does not seem overly pressurised by his future. 

When we last saw Zebulon (Zakkai's older brother) he was finishing his A-Levels, having scored 12 A* on his GCSEs (perfect). He now awaits the decision from Cambridge to study computer sciences. He has already been accepted to Imperial College and others, but Cambridge is where he wants to be. Zebulon bides the time writing an algorithm to observe how viruses spread from mosquito to the human population. 

Alain, moving on from the famous eigenstrains, is set to publish his book "The Mathematics and Mechanics of Biological Growth" which can be pre-ordered on Amazon for Gbp 100. He hopes to make it required reading for his graduate students.

We circle the table discussing goals for 2017. Mine: finish Game Of Throwns and meditate.

A Dog's Life

No 1 dog in England
I meet Ben West who is tending his sheep. We strike up a conversation about his border collie, a dog that responds to the whistle and keeps the 60 odd sheep whole.  

A couple months ago I was on an estate outside Amsterdam and observed the world champion border collie in action - a remarkable animal, selected by its master for an enthusiasm for sheep. It's all the dog thinks of, sheep. And herding them. Any damn dog can be smart. It's passion one looks for.

So it turns out that Ben and his dog were No. 1 in the England sheep dog competitions in 2012 and he is on his way to Amsterdam to compete in the world championships next month. 

Funny what one learns when one talks to somebody, anybody.

Ancient Forrests

Spooky woods
We are in the lovely lull between Christmas and the New Year when the only thing to do is go with the flow. Nobody answers emails. Shops are mostly closed. London is cold and a good book beckons. As I read "A Song Of Fire And Ice", all five volumes at c.800 pages each, I have a week before work becomes a distraction.

We drive to Oxford to walk the Wytham Woods, an area of ancient woodlands owned by Oxford and used for environmental research. The woods were bequeathed the university in 1942 by the ffennel family, after the death of their lonely daughter, Hazel, for their upkeep, study and educational use. There are over 500 species of vascular plants and 800 species of butterflies and moths here.

Wytham is one of the most researched woodlands in the world from birds to badgers and, more recently, the impacts of climate change.

‘Let this wretched year come to an end.’
--George R.R. Martin summarises 2016

Katie In Oxfordshire

Tuesday, December 27

Rogue One

Gracie and Maggie
Gracie has her last chemo session today, something we have been waiting for since September and are so very grateful it is almost over. 

We spend Boxing Day at the new Star Wars movie, Rogue One, then - at home - we watch the original, which is far superior to the prequels and sequels. I point this out to Simon and his son Michael, who are off to catch the 1927 five hour silent film 'Napoléon' showing at the London Film Institute. Can't really compete with that.

Monday, December 26

Don't Fear The Reaper

Prince, David Bowie, Maurice White (Earth, Wind and Fire), Lenard Cohen, Paul Katner (Jefferson Airplane), Glenn Fry (The Eagles), Phife Dawg (Tribe Called Quest), Merle Haggard (country music legend) and now George Michael.  Our icans leave us, and most in the prime of their lives or, at least, before 60.

1987 was the year of Michael's 'Faith' and it was unmissable especially if a sophomore in college. Funk Nights at Brown grooved to his pop, as did the discotheques in Manhattan and San Francisco where I sometimes went. His raw style - those ripped jeans and urban boots ! The sunglasses and hair ! - had a most profound impact, even if not fully credited to GM. From Each Finchley, London, he reached full scale in America.

Mike, the federal judge and lifelong friend who married me and Sonnet, once informed: "your 50s are the killing fields", as life's poor living choices come home to roost. In this decade, which I will soon enter, death is unexpected and mortality still in reach. Smoking, booze, drugs and fast food diets and just living mow the unfortunate down early.

Brexit Encore

Shell shocked
Of the Big Decisions impacting my life this year I am 0 for 3: Heathrow Third Runway, Brexit and Trump.  A Gbp 1000 bet on all three occurring would have won over a mil. I believe it: only H3 seemed possible given the craven nature of the Tory government and a need for more jumbos, no matter how pollutive and disruptive to the millions of us underneath. But Trump ? (I immediately cancelled my twitter account).

The worst of the three however, Brexit, will take one generation to succeed, similar to the post Second World War period, with over 30,000 civil servants to be focused on renegotiating some 240 post war treaties which each took, on average, 7 years to sign. It will effect an aeon.

To look at the currency collapse or minor econ bumps/ slowdowns is foolhardy; long-term, we will see a decline of London's influence as global banks shift to the continent for access to the trading block while other services, like currency clearing houses, move to Frankfurt. The young, hungry and educated will find their opportunities elsewhere.  I would have.

London, dear reader, exports over £25b of wealth py to the rest of the country (compare this to Paris, which absorbs France's income) and the Southeast accounts for Britain's growth. Messing with the engine is dangerous and, at a minimum, the jewel of the crown will become less .. interesting.

Boxing Day Peace

Madeleine reads 'Hotel New Hampshire' by John Irving
We are re-doing the interior of our house - new floors installed, pictured, and now it is on to the other stuff like bathrooms, painting and the upstairs. Rusty has already raised a leg to Madeleine's newly laid carpet. If we did not love the pooch so, he would be in a potato sack at the bottom of the Thames.

Christmas 2016 has come. And gone. The Big Gifts this year were a virtual reality head-set (Eitan) and a record player and some vinyls (Madeleine). A new record btw costs £22, far different from the affordable disks I once bought on Telegraph Ave at Rather Ripped Records and Rasputin's for five bucks each. Ah, what a joy to lose oneself for hours flipping through the stacks, years before CDs killed the album cover and the feelings they inspired in us kids.  Then hitting Comics And Comics and Blondie's Pizza for a Coke and a slice for the walk across the Berkeley Campus and home. Allowance well spent.

But I digress.

The gift to the whole family is Katie. Pretty cool to have a younger sister. Who lives in Manhattan. Who has founded a business transforming how ideas circulate in media and is influencing media.

Sunday, December 25

(Spider) Web

A tree by our house
It has been a busy year that is now drawing to a close. Katie arrived two days ago to spend Christmas with us. She is a wonder with her nephew and niece, making them laugh, talk and think in a way Sonnet and I can't touch in our routine conversations. 

Eitan revises for his mock exams in January then the real thing, the long-anticipated GCSEs, in April-May. Madeleine studies for January exams as well.  

Yes, there is a lot to be thankful for, even 2016, a year of populism, racism, sexism, exit-ism, anti-semitism, Trumpism,  plagiarism, voter fraud and general treachery. The jackels are back in power and we, the people, without Hunter S Thompson or Alex Cockburn to shine a light on what will certainly be the most corrupt administration to ever hold High Office in America. Those who voted for the man will surely be punished for it (Health Insurance ? Blue collar jobs ? Transparency and freedom ? Good bye to all that). None of us will be the better for it.

Day Trippers

Madeleine, Alphie, Eitan, Fred and Shaheen
It's a motley crew, no doubt, but they do return within 15 minutes of the instructed 7:15PM meeting time. Madeleine reports that she and Alphie explored Paris by foot but mostly in the marais getting there along the Seine. Eitan - well, who knows ? - but the boys seemed to have had a great time.  

It is a pleasure to be around this group. Friendly and polite to other people and adults almost to a fault yet wrapped up in their own world of interests and insults and things that young people do.

Me: "What's the name of the train station?"
Eitan: "Umm .."
Me: "Alphie, what's the name of the train station?"
Me: "Ok, its Gare du Nord. This is where we are meeting this evening. Each of you say it."
Eitan: "We get it Dad."
Me to Shaheen: "Train station?"
Shaheen: "Gare du Nord."
Me to Fred: "Train station?"
Shaheen: "Gare du Nord."
Me to Alphie: "Where are we meeting tonight?"
Alphie: "Gare du Nord."
Me: "You have my mobile. Call me from the police station."
Madeleine: "Ha-ha-ha, Dad."

The Curators

Gare du Nord
Sonnet and Oriel were in the same program at the Courtauld Art Institute, studying the history of European costume and dress, taught by the formidable Dr Eileen Ribeiro, some 18 years ago. Both are curators at the V&A.

Sonnet, with the help of the Op-Ed project, has an opinion - with photo - published in the New York Times addressing the failure of the world's biggest museums to hire women at the top. Same for the V&A where 75% of the curators are women. Her piece timely as the V&A searching for a new Director while the Chairman tells me, "we cannot get women to apply for the job."

"LONDON — The directors of two of the world’s most popular art museums recently announced their resignations. Martin Roth, the director of the Victoria and Albert Museum, will step down this year, and Nicholas Serota, the director of the Tate museums, both in Britain, will depart next year. These job vacancies, which search committees are now working to fill, offer an opportunity to correct the gender imbalance in art museum leadership in Britain, America and beyond.

In 2015, the world’s top 12 art museums as based on attendance — what I call the “directors’ dozen” — were all led by men. When Frances Morris became the director of the Tate Modern in April, she became the first woman to join the club. This gender gap extends from Europe to North America, where only five of the 33 directors of the most prominent museums (those with operating budgets of more than $20 million) are women, including Kaywin Feldman of the Minneapolis Institute of Art and Nathalie Bondil of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. It’s the leaders of those big-budget institutions who set the tone for all. "
--Sonnet Stanfill, NYT, extract, October 19, 2016