Thursday, September 30

Birthday Banana

In the past 24 hours we have celebrated two yuful birthdays: Katie yesterday and Eitan, who turns ten, today. 

The boy's celebration begins last night as ManU's Javier Hernandez scores a dramatic game-winner against Valenzia in the final minutes of the all important Champions League qualifier. Sonnet, I and Joseph, who is over for dinner, hear him yelp - way past his bedtime, I might point out, but I figure the kid deserves a bone every now and again. He almost loses the privilege on the way to swimming practice as he and Madeleine fight in the back seat (Eitan denies wrong-doing but Nathanial points out helpfully: "You can see the bite marks on Madeleine's arm"). 

This morning Sonnet, per tradition, makes Eitan breakfast in bed. Beforehand he is in our bedroom as Sonnet readies herself for work and we have a discussion about our favorite books. Since mine may be Churchill's World War II memoirs, whose six volumes I read in two months when I was 24, we discuss Europe - thanks to Churchill, history is more compelling than any fiction I know. Eitan a rapt listener. Madeleine in her bedroom listening to Harry Potter with one thing on her mind. Guess. Tonight, per Eitan's request, we will go to Wagamama's noodle restaurant. He takes his classmates crisps - one bag each. Football slumber party Saturday. 

Yep, a good day for us all.

Me, driving: "Enough! Stop fighting! No ManU game tonight."
Eitan: "That is so unfair. Please let me watch the game.. you promised!"
Me: "I gave you three warnings and you you chose not to listen."
Me, a bit later: "Look, I know this is a big game. If you give me something I want, maybe I will reconsider the game."
Eitan: "How about if I do the dishes for two weeks?"
Me: "You do that already."
Eitan: "Money?"
Madeleine: "I know! I know!"
Eitan: "I will do the yard work without complaining."
Me: "OK, we are getting close to something."
Madeleine: "Dad, please - I have an idea!"
Me: "Yes, Madeleine?"
Madeleine: "He can do my chores."
Madeleine: "Eitan gets to watch ManU and I don't have to do chores."
Madeleine: "Win-win, Dad. Just like you always are saying."

Wednesday, September 29


Football great George Blanda dies, age 83. Blanda played for the Houston Oilers and Chicago Bears but I will always remember him to be an Oakland Raider, where he played from '67 until '75. He retired as a silver and black. Blanda was a place kicker and quarterback before free agents, money, indoor stadiums, Al Davis and AstroTurf corrupted the game. In the 60s and 70s, a fella could play any position as long as he was capable (it was also not usual to see players, on the sideline, smoking on a fag - team mate Fred Biletnikoff did so between oxygen drags. But this was the Raiders). Blanda a coal miner's son from Pittsburgh who got his shot while at Kentucky U, being drafted in the 12th round by the Bears. His ranking gave no indication of his future success which eventually covered 26 seasons of professional football - the most in the history of this sport. During this period Blanda set all kinds of records including most passingTDs in a game (7, tied with four others); most PATs made (943) and attempted (959); most interceptions in a season 42 ('62) and the first player to score 2,000 points. In his first eligibility year, Blanda was voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in '81. Fittingly, he died in Alameda, California, not too far from the Oakland stadium.

Tuesday, September 28

Go Go's

Girls just want to have fun. This shot of Catherine and Sonnet taken Thursday, August 24, 1996, at a party hosted by Ivor and Alison before our wedding. Catherine the Maid of Honour (Definition: A Maid of Honour was a maiden, meaning that she was unmarried, and was usually young. Lady Jane Grey, for example, served as a Maid of Honour to Queen Catherine Parr in about 1546-48, when Jane was only about ten to twelve years old). I think Catherine a bit more modern than the day's title suggests.

The Labour party chooses Ed Miliband instead of brother David to lead the shadow government. David the former Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and an excellent politician who Hillary Clinton said was "tall and dashing." Our David has been a Senior Special Advisor to Miliband so, sure, I wanted the taller brother to win. My one chance to influence the country, dude. On top of that, David Miliband a known international figure who has represented his country well. While Ed also seems compelling, he is not known outside of the UK. Truth: he is barely known inside the UK. So why him? Unions - they put their weight behind Ed thinking he will be sympathetic to labour's plight during and after the Great Recession. The unions already threaten to strike given the current government's draconian cuts to balance the budget. Unfortunately for Labour, a poll published in today's Times shows David by far the more popular candidate with British voters .. as a party, the apt expression following Saturday's leadership announcement might be "buyer's remorse" .. Or, better: "freak out." Ed has a long ways to go before reaching his brother's political stature. And Tony Blair? Ed doesn't have a chance of matching the silver tongued master.

Me: "Do you know our Prime Minister?"
Madeleine: "David Cameron!"
Me: "Well done."
Madeleine: "He's the mean guy who wants to bring the whip out on the children."

Monday, September 27

Wall Street - The Movie

Oliver Stone's remake of his film "Wall Street" does not really interest me. The '87 film, however, caught the rumblings of a country shifting from manufacturing and export to services .. and easy, so it seemed, money (Ivan Boesky: "Greed is good"). For many youngsters, myself included, it was an irresistible shout out. Recall "Wall Street" hit the theatres a month following a Wall Street collapse and the film not critically received nor particularly popular. I watched Wall Street in '89, in my parent's den, returning to Providence for my final semester of college and job interviews with all the "bulge bracket" firms.

Stone meant Wall Street to be a cautionary tale with Gordon Gekko serving as the modern-day villain: his flashy clothes hide his lack of class and, cathartically, he receives his comeuppance by the film's blue collar Joes who bring Gekko down while fleecing his money. Unlike Gekko, Gekko's protege, Bud Fox (pictured), spoke to many of my generation. We were blind to the perils of cheap (or compromised) success yet Gekko and Fox do jail time. For that matter, many of us wanted to be in harm's way - in the middle of something important - glamorous - that effected industry, jobs and people. We wished for the chance to make the decision, often in the grey areas, of right and wrong. What responsibility! Fox's flash apartment and model girlfriend a stupid red herring; the real message of Bud Fox was that you could be Bud Fox. And straight from college. "Wall Street" may not have been a box-office success but in '89, 75% of Yale's graduating class applied for investment banking jobs (First Boston, where I went, received 55,000 applications for 60 financial analyst spots). I thought to myself: this is the most competitive thing I can pursue; this is the most prestigious place I can go with my education.

I have talked to a number of friends about "Wall Street" and one, who has been at Credit Suisse since '85 and has run various units from asset management to Asian m&a, recalls the film as baseless ("I saw it as completely unrealistic drivel"). We have also discussed the evils of the industry and neither of us can recall working with a Gekko-like colleague or, for that matter, anyone who broke the rules or was corrupted by money somehow. Sure, there were guys I despised, but they, too, were hard working and smart and held their clients to the very highest of esteem.

Wall Street hanged itself when A) commercial banks allowed to offer investment banking services in '90; B) private partnerships went public with Salomon Brothers leading the way in '85; C) the shift of power from the client advisory business to the bond desk and prop trading where a firm trades its "own" money. The latter especially was Gekko territory. By the 1980s the lowly bond trader now King (while everybody made a killing). When the long-term banker relationships marginalised, the race was on for the collapse. Nor have we learned, it would seem, given the Financial Reform Acts' Republican neutering, but we shall see - of this we can be sure.

"The main thing about money, Bud, is that it makes you do things you don't want to do."
Lou Mannheim to Bud Fox in "Wall Street"

Sunday, September 26

Windsor Half Marathon

Sonnet runs the Windsor Half Marathon finishing in one-hour and forty-six minutes or six minutes faster than her best time, which she set in 2008 while preparing for the London Marathon. Her goal today was 1:50 so she is pretty pleased with the outcome. The kids and I remain in the neighborhood as Eitan has a football game (KPR lose to the Whitton Wanderers, 2-nil) and Madeleine chores and homework. Also the Shakespeares need some down time - they are working hard.

Me: "What was your homework this week end?"
Madeleine: "We are doing math sentences."
Me: "What's that?"
Madeleine: "It is when you say something that has maths in it."
Me: "Give me an example."
Madeleine: "Ok, um, the sun has 100 Cokes and, say, the moon has 150 Pepsis .. "
Me: "Yes?"
Madeleine: "How many are there?"
Me: "250 .. "
Madeleine: "Right! It could have been Cokes and Fantas or something though."

Madeleine: "Are we really going to get a dog that week end?"
Me: "We'll see. I have to check my calender."
Madeleine: "Calender .. My calender is free."

Saturday, September 25

Rapper's Delight

Saturday early morning, Sonnet takes Madeleine to swimming practice in her black Lycras - tomorrow she will run the Windsor Half Marathon. I fire up my Blackberry and Eitan wanders into the bedroom: "Can I watch football highlights on Sky Sports?" he implores. I suggest he finish his homework since we have an hour before soccer practice and he leaves dejectedly. I find him a few moments later here, at the kitchen table, actually doing his homework. A small victory. I pour myself some cereal and we discuss last night's parents disco party at the school's Tim Bernard Lee hall - he is mortified when I show him a couple of my moves. The thought of adults dancing too much information. We then have a game of humming songs trying to identify the others and finally, I recall, he should be finishing his geometry.

Eitan wins a year-five talent show by singing "Rapper's Delight" which he has been practicing from the back seat of the car all summer.

Me: "Madeleine, let Eitan use your bike - he has a birthday party."
Madeleine: "No, dad. It is my bike."
Me: "Just this once -- he would really appreciate it."
Madeleine: "Listen to the title: 'My Bike.'"

Me: "Madeleine, it seems to me that if you share your bike with Eitan you might get something in return."
Me: "What is something he has that you want?"
Madeleine: "I don't know .. "
Me: "How about chores?"
Madeleine: "You mean if I let him use my bike I have to do more chores?"
Me: "Well, what if you negotiated something with your brother. If you let him use the bike, see if he will do your chores."
Madeleine: "Two weeks. Of chores. That seems fair."
Me: "Whatever you can negotiate, sweetheart. It is your deal."
Madeleine: "Four weeks then."

Madeleine: "I am not giving him my bike."
Me: "Look, Madeleine, you have two choices. You can let Eitan use your bike and see if you can negotiate something with him. That's a win-win."
Madeleine: "Or?"
Me: "Eitan will use the bike and I will ask you to do his chores for not sharing. That would be a lose-lose ."
Madeleine: "Do you think he would do my chores for a month?"
Me: "Now you are talking game."

"i said a hip hop the hippie the hippie
to the hip hip hop, a you dont stop
the rock it to the bang bang boogie say up jumped the boogie
to the rhythm of the boogie, the beat

"now what you hear is not a test--i'm rappin to the beat
and me, the groove, and my friends are gonna try to move your feet
see i am wonder mike and i like to say hello
to the black, to the white, the red, and the brown, the purple and yellow
but first i gotta bang bang the boogie to the boogie
say up jump the boogie to the bang bang boogie
let's rock, you dont stop
rock the riddle that will make your body rock
well so far youve heard my voice but i brought two friends along
and next on the mike is my man hank
come on, hank, sing that song "
-- Sugar Hill Gang, Rapper's Delight

Friday, September 24

Autumnal Equinox

Here we are, Friday, and the autumnal equinox. Since I aim to describe this accurately to the kiddies, I will do so first here. So yesterday the day and night roughly the same length, which meant an important day in historic times. There is, for instance, a 5,000 year old burial mound at Lough crew in Co Meath, Ireland, where the sun shines directly through a small opening into the burial chamber only at the equinox, lighting up magnificent carvings on the chamber wall. Straight from Tintin, dude. At the Holy Trinity Church in Barsham, Suffolk, an insignificant little window high up in the church tower seems to have no particular function. But for a few minutes on the equinox a shaft of light from the setting sun floods through the window and illuminates a statue of Christ high in the church's rafters. The church built 700 years ago, but the strange equinox illumination was hidden until several years ago. The traditional harvest festival in the UK celebrated on the Sunday of the full moon closest to the September equinox, but this tradition mostly gone now as farming agriculture has diminished in importance (and the world, sadly, less of a mystery). The summer and winter solstices attract more attention because they are easier to mark. The word equinox BTW is derived from the Latin word aequinoctium (equal night). (source: Paul Simmons, The Times)

"Mathew's Day, bright and clear.
Brings good wine in next year."
--Ancient rhyme about St Matthew's; it was believed the weather on the autumn equinox dictates the rest of the autumn.

Madeleine's poster greets me by the front door: "The Dog Deciding Time Is Now" which complements the papers left on my and Sonnet's pillow: "Can We Get A Dog?"

Thursday, September 23

Blue Shoes

Madeleine snaps my new trainers and her idea to give me the candles for our shoot.

While I am generally Ok with the coalition government, following 12 years of Labour, they do not lack stupidity when it comes to immigration: from July, the Home Office imposed a temporary limit on non-EU migrant workers of 24,100 from June 2010 to April 2011, including intra-company transfers. This morning on Radio 4, accounting giant PwC announced that they are unable to meet staffing demands in London and suggest that they might consider relocating their European headquarters. The auto manufacturing industry, already on its knees, warns that the cap could "impact the attractiveness of the UK as a location for inward investment and undermine the Uk's role in an increasingly global economy." The City, already concerned about extended regulation and bonus limitation, depends on the best financiers from India or America or wherever. Britain has gained immensely from its generous policies towards new comers but the recession cuts deep: people scared and vulnerable and racist and outsiders the easy target (see: Mexicali). Unlike the US where much of the country's immigration is illegal and pursues manual labour, Britain has transformed itself into a services economy and prospered with foreign talent: global firms drawn to London while the Southeast drives the country's economy, increasing the tax base. Several years ago the proposed non-dom tax hostile but today's threat greater: companies, capital and labour can move anywhere, quickly, and may do so if government's policies do not welcome them (us).

Wednesday, September 22

Mike Katie David; Britan The Worst?

Katie returns to NYC following a visit to Stanford where her Op-Ed Project has entered a partnership. On her flight are Mike and David on their way to the Big Apple for work. They share a taxi, pictured.

Here is one I ponder: A uSwitch survey suggests that "Great Britain is the worst place to live in Europe" given the high living costs, below average government spending on health and education, lack of holidays and late retirement. The UK no longer has the highest net household income either - Last year it was £10,000 above the European average, whereas now it is £2,314 ahead, slipping below Ireland, the Netherlands and Denmark. Ireland? France holds the top spot in the index for the second year with Spain second, with Denmark, Poland and Germany rounding out the top five, with all these countries offering more days of holiday and a lower retirement age than the UK and Ireland. By these same measures, London is the worst place to live in Britain given the capital exports around £20 billion annually to the rest of the country while owning the longest hospital queues, most congested public transportation, highest housing prices and some of the lowest performing state schools. On the other hand, London is one of those rarest of cities - it offers infinite possibility.

Tuesday, September 21

Into The Light

National Portrait Gallery to mezzanine and the Tudors.

Monday, September 20


Given these times, we need Hunter S Thompson more than ever. Where is the outrage voiced by my generation? Is there outrage or will that come when the debts come due .. The opening of the "The Great Shark Hunt," published in 1979, one of the most powerful I can recall with Thompson typing on New Year's eve and contemplating jumping from a Midtown skyscraper. He dares us to read. Thompson probably most famous for his "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" and "Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72" where he skewered the political elite while making it all sound fun, if not surreal, on the edge. He was friends with Allen Ginsberg and William S Boroughs and other Beats; he briefly lived in Aspen and ran for sheriff of Pitkin County, Colorado, in '70 on the "freak power" ticket which promoted decriminalising drugs and re-naming Aspen "Fat City" (he shaved his head and referred to his opponent as "my long-haired opponent", as the Republican candidate had a crew cut). Thompson created "Gonzo journalism," a style of reporting where reporters involve themselves in the action to such a degree that they become central figures of their stories. He is also known, of course, for his unrepentant lifelong use of alcohol (morning constitutional: Bloody Mary), LSD, mescaline, and cocaine. He loved firearms. He owned a long-standing hatred of Richard Nixon and, more recently, George W. Bush and the other political riff raff and villains who asserted their dreadfulness on us via government. Thompson was 67 when he took his life.

HST raged against the establishment which he viewed as corrupt, greedy, unthinking, bloated ("America... just a nation of two hundred million used car salesmen with all the money we need to buy guns and no qualms about killing anybody else in the world who tries to make us uncomfortable"). His insanity ("The Edge... there is no honest way to explain it because the only people who really know where it is are the ones who have gone over"), probably liberated him - one senses he does not give a hoot about the consequences of his efforts. Remarkably, Thompson hated writing yet was compelled to say something, anything, against perceived or real injustice. He did his best at this.

Since Bush I have been waiting for an anti-establishment backlash or some intelligent voice that brings it together and allows us to believe, somehow, our country not completely controlled by special interests. Or idiots. Instead we get Sarah Palin and the Tea Party. Roll over in your grave, HST.

Self photo from the WWW.

"Myths and legends die hard in America. We love them for the extra dimension they provide, the illusion of near-infinite possibility to erase the narrow confines of most men's reality. Weird heroes and mould-breaking champions exist as living proof to those who need it that the tyranny of 'the rat race' is not yet final."
--Gonzo Papers, Vol. 1: The Great Shark Hunt: Strange Tales from a Strange Time (1979)

Sunday, September 19

Handy Man

I have a surprisingly good time painting the door frame which requires caulking, filling and sanding out the imperfections then priming and, finally .. painting.

Eitan studies the Victorian era: "Do you know what they called kids who did not have a good education?"
Eitan: "Dunces. And they had to wear a pointy hat and stand against the wall with one leg up."
Me: "Your teacher told you that?"
Eitan: "Yes."
Me: "Did you learn anything important?"
Eitan: "Queen Victoria died at 81, and Albert at 40. They named mom's museum after Victoria and Albert."

Me: "What are you thinking about?"
Madeleine: "A dog."
Me: "How about now?"
Madeleine: "Dog."
Me: "Now?"
Madeleine: "Dog."

Sonnet: "Madeleine, don't interrupt."
Madeleine: "I just want to explain something about a dog."
Madeleine: "You don't want to feed a dog dog-food from a can. It doesn't taste good."
Eitan sniggers.
Madeleine: "It doesn't taste good for the dog. Plus it is not good for their teeth."
Me: "Dogs on your mind Madeleine?"

Walk And Target

Natasha and Giuseppe stop by to take the kids for a walk. Alphie joins. Since leaving us when Sonnet began her work sabbatical, Natasha has taken a job working with special needs children at a local school (she has a masters degree in psychology with her thesis published). Giuseppe has recently joined Deutsche Bank in IT. As we know, Madeleine has dogs-on-the-brain and seeing Alphie raises us to Defcon 3.

Eitan's KPR get killed 4-NIL by Target, who beat us last year as well on their home turf 3-0. The Blues redeemed themselves later in the season at regional tournament when, in the quarter-finals, the boys victorious on penalty kicks. Today, though, the magic not there. Eitan plays center field instead of his usual right-wing; he is KPR's game captain and his urgencies go unanswered. In reality, without goal-keeper Maxime, the game would have been 6-nil. Eitan up against two boys who are both good and play him rough. Sonnet and Madeleine on the sideline and the car ride home not much fun though the mood improves when ManU defeats Liverpool 3-2 in an exciting game. Berbatov scores a hat-trick including a remarkable bicycle kick.

"Come on KPR!"

Specs - Scott & Cindy

Last night I return to bed, pitch dark, and hear that horrible sound all eye-glass wearers dread: the crunch underfoot. My '50s style retro tortoise shells irreparably damaged but Madeleine makes an effort to secure the snapped leg with duck-tape, modelled. It don't quite work but I love her for it.

Scott and Cindy join us for dinner - they are favorite friends and Scott recently on the Board of Trustees at Brown University and the acquisition committee at Rhode Island School of Design museum (when we first met I followed up by sending him a paper Katie wrote on the museum during her semester at RISD; our friendship sealed). Scott has excellent stories of Providence, Rhode Island, including his post-Brown house on College Hill whose roof the highest point in the city. He and a friend hit golf balls from a balcony to Prospect Terrace Park without, "and I have no idea how" Scott says, breaking a window or two (I once took girls to Prospect Terrace for its surprisingly romantic views of the otherwise disrespected city; the giant pest-control bug on I95 does not help). He and Cindy had great parties and this was the 70s so I do not doubt it for a moment. Scott recalls encounters with Providence's colourful mayer and both Scott and Cindy have been to Cafe at Brooks where I washed dishes the summer of freshman year (most fun job I have ever had) and know the restaurant's owners Jack, Nate and Saul who were creepy, unattractive, Jewish brothers who owned most of dodgy Foxpoint including my Jr. year house - I never did get my security deposit returned, go figure. Scott and Cindy began dating at 14 and here they are in our dining room for us to enjoy. Scott turned 60 the year I hit 40 and we celebrated with a magnum of Champagne.

Eitan: "Yes! Yes! Yes! Arsenal and Sunderland tied 1-1!"
Me: "Pretty exciting, huh?"
Eitan: "Thank you, God, for this gift."

Eitan: "Would you like an omelette?"
Me: "No thank you."
Eitan: "Just so you know, the pancakes were a failure."

Saturday, September 18


We learn about Zafar, pictured, a handsome young man who represents the Hampton School along with other confident young men and boys. They sure have it on me at their age. Eitan and I tour the Hampton School for secondary which is seventh grade to university. The headmaster tells us that Zafar is a cricket star selected to play for the England U15s and then chosen as Captain of the U16s in 2008. Most recently he joined the England U19s and has been awarded a contract with Surrey County Cricket Club for the remainder of the 2010 season. As well as playing outstanding cricket on the national and county circuits, Zafar has played for the Hampton 1st XI for four years. This year, as School Captain and Captain of the 1st XI he has led the side through a successful season personally scoring over 1,000 runs, including six centuries. I have no idea what this means but it does the trick: the audience oohs and ahs; Eitan at full attention.

Hampton School offers a beautiful setting on a sunny autumnal day with 17 sports teams in action and visible on the various campus pitches. We parents shuffle through the buildings visiting the sciences, arts, maths &c. rooms with our bashful or anxious sons in tow. Hampton School all-boys while girls attend neighboring Lady Eleanor Holis. I joke with our yuful tour guide that there must be a well-worn path between the two buildings; he laughs awkwardly. No time for that here. How different from Berkeley High School where my friends were having dinner parties and hot tubbing sans clothes by tenth-grade and frat parties by 11th. Eitan is terribly impressed by the show as he should be: Hampton School one of Britain's best and he would do well to go here. We will visit several more to get a better sense of what he may wish to do. Sonnet and I also thinking about Madeleine who will begin this process next year.

Me: "Anything you want to say about Hampton?"
Eitan: "Any club you want to do, it is going to be at Hampton."
Me: "Anything else?"
Eitan: The football pitches look like Astroturf since they are so neat and well cut."


Here is Katie, a Berkeley Barracuda, at a swimming meet at King Jr. High School where we spent five hours a day from age 10 or 11. I can just smell the chlorine as I blog. I am guessing the photo from 1979. Following in Auntie Katie's footsteps, Madeleine makes progress in the pool and her coach Cindy chooses Madeleine to demonstrate the proper freestyle technique (my eyebrow raised, dear reader). I think Madeleine, already a strong kid, could also be an excellent butterflier but for now it remains her least favorite stroke. Butterfly the most challenging to master.

Bill and Martine with us last night which is a fun way to end the week. They are on their way to Amsterdam and a cruise ending up in Budapest. Martine recalls a visit to Czechoslovakia in '68 where she and Robin's passports confiscated until departure - the Police informed them it was for their safety. Now it is a bit easier to travel eastward though Bill has three cracked ribs following a horse-related accident. This did not keep him from going on his annual 100 mile ride into the Rockies nor visiting Europe. Bill is true grit. Martine tells me that his High Holiness passes near her hotel and she spies the protesters: "Nope to the Pope."

Madeleine on Friday: "Are you going to work?"
Me: "Yes."
Madeleine: "But you are wearing a suit."

Thursday, September 16


Eitan up early to plan is birthday party, which will be an over-night with five friends. On the agenda is make-your-own pizza, the Manchester United-Sunderland match (on television), a conker collection, football play-match at the park and a “midnight feast” which, I suggest, could be McDonald's. He likes that one.

I am in Paris Tuesday afternoon and sit on the steps of Madeleine staring across Place
de la Concorde. I people-watch as shoppers on Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honore march by – this is the stylish 8th Arrondisement and the Parisians are de la mode. The city a bee hive in the autumnal sunshine. From here I meet a new friend Bertrand at Hotel Costes – we sit in the inner courtyard and discuss media and the Internet since he recently sold his company and is now between ventures.

Why does the Pope bother to make his first visit
to the UK anyway? Given Benedict's conservative bent (he's no Pope John Paul II), the Catholic church remains in the midst of a never-ending child-abuse scandal and resists outside, transparent, investigation; vocal against gays, abortion and birth control, like condoms, which save millions of lives. Women not allowed in the priesthood and so lesser citizens. This is so not a secularised British society. Unsurprisingly, Benedict's visit fails to fill venues. Sonnet thinks the Pope here on a PR junket to deflect attention from the scandals. I would not disagree – when everything going against you, road trip dude!

“What are you going to do with all those conkers?”
Madeleine: “Usually they just go to waste. So I am going to make animals.”
Me: “How do you make animals from conkers?”
Madeleine: “You are writing on your blob, aren't you Dad?

Eitan, are you going to do something about your hair this morning? I would suggest a comb.”
Me: “What does your teacher say about your hair?”
Eitan: “I don't know. He doesn't really say anything.”
Me: “Hmm.”

"When you arrive at Heathrow you think at times you've landed in a Third World country."
--Cardinal Water Kasper, Advisor to the Pope, voices what we all think

Tuesday, September 14

Goggles And An Au Pair

Our au pair, Aneta, started yesterday and will live with us while looking after the Shakespeares when they are not in school. This is new for everybody and will take some adjusting to but the kids prove themselves to be the little troopers that they are: tears of protest followed by courteous acceptance tethered by fear (me: "the hand of God shall fall upon thee .. . "). Aneta is 20, from the Czech Republic, and here to learn English and, presumably, to have an adventure or begin anew. It is London, after all. Recalling my 16th year in Geneva, I know how hard a transition can be and, in Aneta's case, she came to Britain before a job and without friends or family. Brave. Aneta allows Sonnet to return to the V&A next week following her sabbatical.

Madeleine writes a story about a toaster whose hero is Sir Kit. Madeleine:
"Get it dad? Sir Kit? Circuit?"
"Am I excused now?"

Monday, September 13

Mister Deputy Prime Minister

Nick Clegg, the British Deputy PM, strolls the sidelines Sunday as his son's team plays KPR's under-nines. Wearing casual clothes, I would not have noticed Clegg if someone had not pointed him out. Yet there he is, the equivalent of the US Vice President, and nobody seems bothered or even to care. Imagine Joe Biden at a soccer match in the suburbs somewhere - it would be hell. Clegg pushes one child in a pram and roots for his son, the goalie. His wife Miriam González Durántez is by his side completing a picture of family harmony. I do not see the secret service but, most likely, that is the point (photo from the web).

Since you asked:

The Deputy Prime Minister of the United Kingdom is a senior member of the British Cabinet. The office of the Deputy Prime Minister is not a permanent position, existing only at the discretion of the Prime Minister, who may appoint to other offices - such as First Secretary of State - to give seniority to a particular Cabinet Minister.

Unlike analogous offices in some other nations, including the United States Vice Presidency, a British deputy prime minister possesses no special powers as such, though s/he will always have particular responsibilities in government. He or she does not assume the duties and powers of the Prime Minister in the latter's absence or illness, such as the powers to seek a dissolution of parliament, appoint peers or brief the sovereign. He does not automatically succeed the Prime Minister, should the latter be incapacitated or resign from the leadership of his or her political party. In practice, however, the designation of someone to the role of Deputy Prime Minister may provide additional practical status within cabinet, enabling the exercise of de facto, if not de jure, power.

In a coalition government, such as the current one between the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats, the appointment of the leader of the smaller party (in the current case, Nick Clegg, leader of the Liberal Democrats) as Deputy Prime Minister is done to give that person more authority within the cabinet to enforce the coalition's agreed upon agenda. The Deputy Prime Minister usually deputises for the Prime Minister at official functions, such as Prime Minister's Questions. (Wiki).

For the record: Nick's son (Eitan notes) gets clobbered 12-nil.

Sunday, September 12

Paint Job

Sonnet and I paint the kitchen and remain on friendly terms. I have not held a paint brush, dear reader, since college and, besides, I only did outside work. An interior job requires greater attention to detail which, we all know, has never been my strongest suit. First Boston proved that beyond a doubt. In college it struck me pretty early on that the only way one made money painting houses was to get the other guy to do the painting. Now I have Sonnet. She puts up with me and we finish the job- and it ain't half bad either. In fact, it is pretty good and saves us a couple hundred pounds to boot. Can wall paper removal be next?

Back To School

Eitan's KPR back in action and today their first game in Division 1, having been promoted following last season's top finish in Div 2. Anthony joins us for the excitement. Today, the lads play Spelthorne Sports, which is a town about eight miles west of us in the 'burbs. KPR wins 3-2 and outplayed their opponents despite the close outcome - two goals get through in the second half. Jean Luca scores a hat trick while Maxime, our goalie, is heroic - blocking at least two shots that the sidelines thought for sure successful. Maxime's finest moment against a penalty kick inside the box which he judges correctly and blocks fully stretched out. Eitan in the middle of the action setting up two goals with clean passes across the middle. Everybody happy.

Anthony: "Did you have fun in Italy?"
Eitan: "It was sunny and we stayed at a cheep hotel."
Me: "And how do you know that our hotel was cheep?"
Eitan: "Well, we stayed there."

Saturday, September 11

Araneus Diadematus

I always mark this time of year with the arrival of spiders which, with football, pumpkins and tree colours, the perfect marker of fall. Here, pictured, we have a common garden spider, which is also the biggest spider in Europe and second in size only to the giant silk spiders of the tropics. Their webs are built by the larger females who usually lie head down on the web waiting for their prey (Madeleine has a hard time choosing sides; last night she was near tears over the water bugs while I was raking the pond). The third pair of legs of garden spiders BTW are specialized for assisting in the spinning of orb webs and also used to move around the web without getting stuck. These legs are useful only in the web; while on the ground, they are of little value. To mate, the smaller male will approach the female cautiously; if not careful, he may end up being eaten by her.

Madeleine comes home for her afternoon play date to find us having pizza. Madeleine: "Can I have some?"
Me: "No, you've had dinner."
Madeleine: "Even if there is some left over?"
Eitan: "I am going to finish it."
Madeleine: "You are doing that just because I want some."
Eitan: "I am doing it because I am hungry. Besides, I have been doing chores all afternoon and you haven't."
Madeleine: "So? I just want one piece."
Sonnet: "No way."
Madeleine huffs off: "Can I watch some TV? Eitan has been watching football."
Me: "No. That is college football. And I am watching it."
Sonnet: "Why don't you go clean Tommy's cage? And that is not a suggestion."
Madeleine: "Everybody is against me."
Me: "Tough love, kid. Sometimes that is the way it is."

Loom And Tree

Madeleine, with Sonnet and Silver, purchased a loom in Taos, New Mexico. I admit that my initial thought was another project to be abandoned. We all have them. Yet Madeleine, who spoke constantly about making sweaters or rugs or something for Tommy, retains her enthusiasm: she battens away, pictured. The contraption set up in her bedroom and she has spent hours so far weaving yarn along a wood dapper between warp threads, then releasing the line for her next row. Her work excites her and us.

We have an arborist over to appraise our tree which, dear reader, you may recall suffered an unfortunate and premature pruning when half the trunk of the 250-year old Scots Pine cleaved apart following a stormy night whilst we were away (Sonnet posts 'free firewood'). The arborist a gentle soul with intelligent, empathetic, eyes - I think elfin. His firm's clients include Richmond Park. He tells me he began his career as a "climber" - going up the big ones and cutting branches and &c. Now he enjoys the trees without having to harm them, even if necessary for their health for the long run. So, anyway, our tree is no longer balanced as the fallen branch the prong of a "Y" formation from about 30-feet up. If the rest were to come down, it would be serious though fortunately not near anyone's house. The arborist goes to work looking at the tree from below and the second floor of the house; he will need access to our neighbor's yard to finish his estimate and to do any work, which would include cutting back the pine by 25-30%. None of this comes cheaply but the good news is that we may be able to keep our ancient friend.

Wednesday, September 8

Gare du Nord

I arrive at Gare du Nord, pictured, following a showery day in Paris leading to a beautiful sunset at 8:30PM. I have dinner at Terminus, as often, which is like the Oyster Bar at Grand Central Station - classic. I much prefer the train to Heathrow and Charles de Gaulle (a ghastly airport) even though the London Terminus at St Pancras across town and requires an overline rail and undergound connection. Once on the train I can plug in my notebook and drink my coffee in peace - I am more productive here than the office. Go figure.

Not really visible in my photo, Gare du Nord has 23 female statues that adorn the 540 ft façade. Each represents a particular destination served by the Chemin de Fer du Nord rail company (now part of Société Nationale des Chemins de fer Français). These include Paris, London, Berlin, Warsaw, Amsterdam, Vienna, Brussels and Frankfurt .. several slabs of stone, supported by a cast iron beam, are used for the exterior job. The interior of the station is 216ft wide and 600ft long, and contains a large central hall and a glass train shed. It is supported by iron pillars manufactured by Alston & Gourley's ironworks in Glasgow.

GdN is the busiest station in Europe, by total passenger numbers, and the third largest and busiest in the world handling around 180 million travellers per year (Clapham Junction is Europe's busiest railway station by daily rail traffic - one train every 13 seconds at peak times). Du Nord has to be one of the most beautiful - arriving from London .. now that is glamour even if wearing jeans and a polo shirt.

"Have you ever had one of those moments when you look up and realize that you're one of those people you see on the train talking to themselves?"
-- Marc Maron

Tuesday, September 7

Indus River

In 1997 I experienced the Mighty Indus, which causes suffering and misery for many millions of people in Pakistan as it overflows catastrophically.

Originating in the Tibetan plateau in the vicinity of Lake Mansarovar in Tibet Autonomous Region, the river runs a course through the Ladakh district of Jammu and Kashmir and then enters Northern Areas (Gilgit-Baltistan), flowing through the North in a southerly direction along the entire length of Pakistan, to merge into the Arabian Sea near the port city of Karachi in Sindh. The total length of the river is 3,180 kilometers and it is Pakistan's longest river. The Indus has a total drainage area exceeding 1,165,000 square kilometers. The river's estimated annual flow stands at around 207 cubic kilometers, making it the twenty-first largest river in the world in terms of annual flow. Beginning at the heights of the world with glaciers, the river feeds the ecosystem of temperate forests, plains and arid countryside. Together with the riversChenab, Ravi, Sutlej, Jhelum,Beas and two tributaries from the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Afghanistan, the Indus forms the Sapta Sindhu (Seven Rivers) delta of Pakistan. It is the fastest moving body of water on the planet.

Sonnet, Katie and I+a small group travelled alongside the Indus for 700 kilometers before parting into the Karakoram Mountains and eventually crossing into Western China. During our trip the Karakoram Highway had washed out and, to our luck, opened at our arrival following four months of closure (and even then it was not certain we could proceed). Makeshift rope bridges crossed the river every few miles which caused me to take a deep breath: a slip was certainly the end.

The Tibetan Plateau contains the world's third-largest store of ice. Qin Dahe, the former head of the China Meteorological Administration, said the recent fast pace of melting and warmer temperatures will be good for agriculture and tourism in the short term, but issued a strong warning:

"Temperatures are rising four times faster than elsewhere in China, and the Tibetan glaciers are retreating at a higher speed than in any other part of the world.... In the short term, this will cause lakes to expand and bring floods and mudflows. . . . In the long run, the glaciers are vital lifelines of the Indus River. Once they vanish, water supplies in Pakistan will be in peril."

Monday, September 6

W'Loo Bridge - Sunset

Me: "Madeleine, do you remember where Spain is?"
Madeleine: "Um, no."
Me: "Atlas, please."
Madeleine: "Oh, no! Not the Atlas."
Me: "Oh the sweet tears of such sorrow."
Madeleine: "Dad, do you know what you are going to be when you grow up?"
Me: "What?"
Madeleine: "A mean Grand Dad."

Madeleine, before the Atlas: "Tell me a place to find. Like Germany or Bath or something."
Me: "How about Munich?"
Madeleine: "I've never heard of that one before, Dad."
Me: "It's in Germany."
Madeleine: "I'll find it."
(She turns her attention to Tommy and I wonder - will she?"

Madeleine: "I asked Ms X if I could bring in my two bones tomorrow and she said yes. So can I bring in my two bones tomorrow?"
Sonnet: "Okay, leave them by the door."
Madeleine pumps her arm: "Yes!"

Coal Sky

Forgotten about global warming? Here is one to ponder: 29 billion tons of CO2 emitted into our atmosphere in 2007. Photo from Bullfrog Builders; sobering following our summer travels through some of the most scenic land in America.

Since the Industrial Revolution concentrations of most greenhouse gasses have increased rapidly. In 2007, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Changed found the three primary GHGs - carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide - had risen 35%, 148% and 18%, respectively, when comp'd to pre-industrial levels. These levels are significantly higher than any time during the last 650,000 years based on data from Antarctic ice cores (Siegenthaler, Urs; et al). Moreover, recent data suggests key GHGs are increasing at an accelerated rate - in the 1960s, the average GHG concentration was 37% of what it was from 2000 to 2007 (Dr. Peter Tans, "Annual C02 Mole Fraction Increase from 1959-2007").

CO2 is the leading GHG and a primary cause of global warming, whose rise in atmospheric levels directly attributable to human activities. Fossil fuel combustion alone is responsible for roughly 75% of emissions, which have grown 145-fold since 1850. The IEA estimates atmospheric CO2 will grow by another 54% by 2030 in absence of regulation. At their current trajectory, rising GHG concentrations threaten to push temperatures upward by as much as 11-degrees Fahrenheit (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 2007)

Coal, not surprisingly, is the villain accounting for 26% of the world's primary energy supply and 42% of the CO2 emissions. More specifically, coal in power generation produces aprox. 1,100 grams of CO2/kWh followed by oil (900) and natural gas (650). Wind power, geothermal and hydroelectricity are less than 50. Coal is by far the most abundant and most accessible carbon on Earth with estimates that the existing supply may last 250 years (McKinsey & Co). It is also the cheapest energy source at nearly a quarter of solar and 60% nuclear (Source: EIA, 2010; MIT). Coal will be with us for a long time - we have made tremendous investment in our coal-fired infrastructure to enable global electricity demand, which is set to grow 76% from 2007 to 202 (IEA World Energy Outlook, 2009)

I suppose if there is any good news, governments are reacting despite Copenhagen's failure: 72 countries have legislated or continue to use renewable forms of energy to mitigate climate change. Germany's goal is 22% renewable by 2020, UK 15% and Japan 18%; the US in limbo as the Senate refuses to take up climate control though 27 states have mandated renewable minimums from 15-40% including California at 33% (source: Renewable Energy Policy Network). Let us hope for China and India.

"The world's energy system is at a crossroads. Current global trends in energy supply and consumption are patently unsustainable-- environmentally, economically, socially.... What is needed is nothing short of an energy revolution."
--International Energy Agency, 2008

Sunday, September 5


I'm not really sure what's on Madeleine's mind, or her intentions, but here she is by the sofa.

Eitan's KPR back in action for a "friendly" tournament in Barnes to help the Barnes Eagles build their new sports club after the old one burned down from foul play. The boys are rather scrappy following the summer recess and it shows: four games and one goal. Fortunately, the only goal an equaliser in the fourth game so the lads, for all their effort, walk away with four ties; it is not enough for top honours too bad. Us dads stifle yawns. It's good to see the crew: Joeren is from the Netherlands so we talk a bit about the World Cup (Spain defeated the Dutch); Johansson a diplomatic correspondent who tells us about Tony's memoirs; Nick owns Britain's largest children's shoe chain and we learn what is selling (for the record: player-sponsored football boots yet, Nick notes, "they're all crap" - I can't disagree as Eitan begged for Rinaldo Nike "Mercurial Vapor" for £120. And these weren't the most expensive, either. Not on my watch).

We spend the rest of our weekend prepping the kitchen for a paint-job thinking olive-green. It should be fun but I can be grumpy about indoor chores - especially after busing the kids back-and-forth to their various. Nevertheless I did paint about 75 houses in Providence, Rhode Island, over three summers so this should be my moment to shine. We putty, tape, scrape and sand: a hole filling "foam" attaches to my fingers and takes a layer of skin when removed. Tomorrow, brush-work.

Cal wins its opener against UC Davis, 52-3. The Bears are 9-0 against UCD since 1933 when the teams played each other for the first time.

Eitan: "Dad, here are my covers for my homework books. I put my favorite funny stuff down."
Me: "Hmm?"
Eitan: "See, it looks like Fergie [Sir Alex Ferguson, ManU coach] forgot to pack his sun cream."
Eitan: "And this one says: 'Welcome to Deepdale. The next game blackpoo.'"
Eitan: "It's meant to be 'Blackpool' but they left off the 'L'"
Me: "Pretty funny, huh?"
Eitan: "I think so."