Thursday, May 30

Madeleine Katie

Central Park

Katie and Madeleine have an Upper West Side morning, starting off with a jog/walk around the reservoir followed by the Silver Moon Cafe for croissants and pastries. From there it is a smoothie then down town to Katie's offices and an afternoon at a chocolate factory in soho "that takes up an entire city block."  Sonnet visits the Met. Eitan does his revisions.

Me, on speaker phone: "So do you miss your brother?"
Madeleine: "Not really."
Me: "Guess who's right here?"
Madeleine: "Um, Eitan?"
Eitan: "Hi Madeleine!"

Wednesday, May 29


Sonnet takes Madeleine to Manhattan for half-term break to visit Auntie Katie.  Today Katie will take Madeleine to her offices.

Eitan and I were going to go to Thorp amusement park to ride "The Saw", "Swarm," "Stealth" and the "Nemesis Inferno" but foul weather keeps us home. Instead we watch "The Dictator" which seems about right for his age. Or ours.

Me: "How are the revisions going?"
Eitan: "Fine. I did Geography today."
Me: "Oh, what?"
Eitan: "Like how to take temperatures using a thermometer."
Me: "By sticking it up your ass?"
Eitan: "Ha ha! Dad!"

Sunday, May 26


We get some w/e sun which means only one thing for the Shakespeares: chores. The front and backyard require weekly work and, since it has been two weeks, a job for idle hands (or, at least, two kids on half-term break).  They grumble but I hold a few cards in my pocket : Eitan wants to watch the men's EUFA Champions Final with Joe and Madeleine wants an iPad.  The work gets done.

Our conservatory painted inside black, a gutsy decision which somehow brings the garden closer.  Eric made the right call.


Ava is a crack footballer so no surprise she makes to trip from Devon to see the women's EUFA Champions League at Stamford Bridge.  The final between Lyon and Wolfsburg, who win 1-nil, preventing the defending champions from three in a row. I have known this kid her whole life and she is a good one.

Fondu Enchainé

A 'fondu enchainĂ©  ' is when, in a movie, one image fades while the next one already appears.  This is often what I think, today, of Eitan and Madeleine - they are both still kids who want to climb things, sleep late and slack on their chores or homework. Watch television and eat a candy bar when the mood strikes them. Read comics. Yet, their bodies and personalities subtly shifting before us, in preparation for the next stage. Sonnet and I wonder : what ?

Saturday, May 25

Disco Modern

Daft Punk is an electronica duo of French musicians Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christon and Thomas Bangalter who hit the euro club scene in the 90s and came to popular attention from the soundtrack of the Tron remake in 2010.

I listen to a review of their new song 'Get Lucky' on Radio 4 - described as a disco retread, the equivalent of cat nip for the middle-age male, who make the tune No. 1 on the charts.  I would wish to report that I hate it but I love it.  Daft Punk nails the song, too - some KC And The Sunshine Band, a bit of Earth Wind And Fire and (of course) Donna Summer whose "I Feel Love" changed everything when it arrived in 1977.  I also hear shades of Cool And The Gang and the Gap Band. A fine vintage tune for the ages.

Friday, May 24

Bank Holiday Bunk

Eitan, Shaheen and Joe at Palewell Park

We head in to a 'bank' holiday weekend and that can mean only one thing: crap weather. It pisses down, too, and my friend Justin, in California, happily informs me "it's 45 degrees in London but feels like 39."  I wear  my winter coat.  Sonnet takes a hot shower to warm up, 8:40PM.  It is late May for Christ's sake.

"It gets your blood circulating."
--BBC presenter Steve Bradley psyches us up from the Chelsea Flower Show

Thursday, May 23

Summer's Day (Almost)

7:45AM from Barnes Bridge, facing East

Sonnet and I share a walk this morning. I observe the tide is 'out' (some difference between low and hi tide).

Britain has always looked like a cloud to me, drifting from the continent, while my earliest thoughts of the country formed by Beatles' psychedelic: Gentle billowy floating across riverbeds and green fields. Today it lives up to that first impression.

Wednesday, May 22

Munir And Exams

Our friend Munir, with flag, who joined us along the KKH in '97. Munir is from Pakistan and, at the time of our trip, responsible for small business and commercial development along the highway.  Here he visits Silver and and Stan, who accompanied Munir along Alaska's Dalton Highway.

Some things Eitan will require for his year-end exams, which take place after the half-term break (Katie always suffered the Xmas holidays because Harvard insisted on having its finals post holidays) : a pen (and spare pens), pencils and a pencil sharpener, a ruler, a rubber, colouring pencils, a calculator, a protractor, a pair of compasses and a set square; the items " should be contained in a see-through pencil case or plastic wallet."  King Jr High was never so anal.

Tuesday, May 21

Aneta And A B'Day

Aneta's carrot cake

Here is Aneta, who joined us in September after an 18 hour bus ride from her small town in the Czech Republic.  Without her, our lives would be near impossible as she shuttles the kids to swim practice, jogs with Rusty, helps around the house and baby sitting and always with a smile.  In short, she keeps us running. God bless.

Sonnet turns a year and begins the day at Bikram yoga, 6:00AM.  She was to take the day off - why not ? - but decides there is too much to be done for her Italian exhibition and so reports to work. Yes, she's a worrier.

Watching Sonnet age is a joy. Not getting old, mind you, but knowing that we have shared this special time together in the vastness of it all. None of it makes sense but the continuity helps.

The Fonz or Eddie Hascell?

I love Eitan's long hair but he likes it short, so there you go.  There was a moment when Sonnet and I discussed the kids' hair : mostly because Madeleine wanted to cut most of it off.  We decided that, what the hell, it's theirs so they can do what they want with it. Even Brill cream.

Me: "Are you playing games on the computer?" (Dad's note: Madeleine plays games on the computer)
Me: "Well, turn it off.  Why don't you be that kid who is always reading a book?"
Madeleine: "You always want me to be something I don't want to be."
Me: "It has nothing to do with that. I just want you to read."
Madeleine: "You're always trying to get me to read something I don't want to."
Me: "Never so."
Madeleine: "Yeah well what about that book about the bunnies?"
Me: "Watership Down?"
Madeleine: "It's about rabbits, Dad."
Me: "Fair enough."

Sunday, May 19

"Experience The Exceptional"

The ugliest buildings in London?

The remarkable thing about One Hyde Park, with its Arabic scrawl and Rolex/McClaren showrooms not that it is the most expensive residential property in the world (in 2010, a penthouse went for £140 million). No, what is extraordinary is that it is empty.

The building replaced a ghastly 1960s urban concrete affair that blocked Knightsbridge from Hyde Park. An obvious place for the billionaire Candy Brothers to re build, which they did from 2006 creating a snarling traffic mess at the doorstep of Harrod's and the beautiful Mandarin Oriental making Central London and me miserable for five years. But what did they care ?

1HP comes with all the modern-day conveniences - bullet proof windows, 24 hour armed security, lock-down procedures and secure private access for the RR. In short, a military bunker for the nine residential addresses actually registered with the Westminster City Council for Council Tax.  The remaining units purchased by offshore corporates or Guernsey tax shelters as investment, never to be inhabited and leaving an otherwise vibrant neighbourhood empty.

"When council spending is under unprecedented pressure, it is scandalous that residents in luxury apartments can avoid their share of council tax liability."
--Westminster North MP Karen Buck

Saturday, May 18

Harry's Voice

Me: "You are in our house every day."
Stephen Fry:
Me: "I am so grateful that you have made Harry Potter come to life in such a wonderful way. My children just love your voice." [Dad's note: There are 99 CDs covering the 7 Harry Potter books read by Stephen Fry]
Stephen Fry: "Well that is kind of you to say so. Thank you very much indeed."

Me: "Do you have a Harry Potter book?"
Eitan: "Is it for your blog?"
Me: "That damn wizard has been with us for ten years, putting a cold steel knife in to the heart of Spider Man and my bedtime stories."
Eitan: "Do I have to do this Dad?"

Friday, May 17

Self Portrait XXVIII

At 45

The Chinese have a saying or, at least I have been saying, that "at 45 you know your destiny."

Me: "What else happened this week? Anything interesting?"
Eitan: "Chelsea won the Europa League Final."
Aneta: "This week not interesting just Rusty."
Me: "Is that all we can do?"
Eitan: "I had a Spanish test today" (Dad's note: Eitan and Madeleine revising for their year-end exams)
Me: "How did it go?"
Eitan: "I forgot what I meant to say on one of my questions. Apart from that it was OK."
Me: "So you didn't ace it?"
Eitan: "No, but I did OK."

Monday, May 13


Rusty jumps

Sonnet to Florence tomorrow, me to France. Eitan has an away fb match on Wednesday and the English Schools Athletics Cup, Round 1, representing Hampton. Madeleine has swim practise.  To make this happen, we have four different rides, including our fabulous Aneta.

Sunday, May 12

Contact The Elderly

William, age 98

I host a group of over-80s and a number of volunteers (Contact The Elderly a charity around since '65; last year they received the "Queen's Diamond Jubilee Volunteering Award").

Madeleine and I set up for 14 guests as Sonnet and Eitan at a swimming gala (the boy disqualified in his one race, the 200 IM, attempting to qualify for the regionals). Madeleine reluctant given, well, these people are old. Me, I am concerned that the dog will take someone down and bust up a hip.

We serve tea and cakes and talk about technology (none of the elderlies have used a mobile phone), Second World War (vivid memories of houses destroyed or war serviced) and travel : most never out of England. It is a lively group from Southwest London, and good for Eitan (who eventually arrives) and Madeleine to engage. Jean (age 8X) flirts and I give it right back.

Grace taught me a valuable lesson at Bay Village, Sarasota : she went out of her way to hug and touch the seniors, making them feel wanted and loved.

Friday, May 10

Rusty at 2.5

Eitan At 12

Since the week end, I sit in the kitchen w/ red wine playing 80s songs : Prince, Grandmaster Flash, The Time, Howard Jones and The Cure all get a turn.  I push myself with XTC, Thomas Dolby and The English Beat.

Me: "You are as skinny as a rail, kid."
Eitan: "Not really."
Me: "Do you remember Dave Ellis? We were both, like, 97 pounds until 10th grade."
Eitan: "I'm 98 pounds."
Me: "Yep."

Madeleine At 11

Friday again.

And no rest for the weary : Eitan at an all day swim gala, Madeleine, football and a birthday party; me, backyard chores while Sonnet and I split the driving.  Livening things up, our beloved Scot Pine losing another limb. To be on the safe side we call the fire brigade who show up inside three minutes, 10PM, to give the tree a once over.  The all-clear bestowed, an arborist called for tomorrow.

Thursday, May 9

A Cultural Moment

Sir Alex Ferguson's retirement from Manchester United trumps the Queen's speech to Parliament. Under the Queen, England has one World Cup - with Ferguson, 38 trophies, including 13 Premier League titles and the UEFA Champions League twice.

Yes, Ferguson special in a uniquely British way. Only the late George Steinbrenner of the Yankees comes to mind as an equal and Thatcher as divisive. Under Ferguson's watch, Manchester United become the most celebrated football team in the world, and the most valuable sports franchise any where.

He was often brutish towards fans and referees, childish with the press, foul mouthed, sexist and prone to temper tantrums. Worse, for the English Premiere, he is a Scot. Ferguson revelled in it. To non Man U fans, he was Gunnery Sergeant Hartman and Old Trafford the bully grounds.

Wednesday, May 8

Eitan Mugs

Eitan opts out of "The Tempest" at The Globe (school field trip dude) to play Bedfont at a pitch notable for its proximity to Heathrow Airport. Rob, whose free kick won the Surrey Cup, knocks in another free kick and a corner kick, which bends beautifully into net. I've not seen that before. Elm Grove 3, Bedfont 1.

Before the match I pick up the boy at Hampton and we have a couple of hours pre game, spent at a coffee house near Hampton Court Palace.  We talk about his term reviews, received at yesterday's parent-teacher evening, which are positive and constructive. He needs to work in biology, ask questions in maths, and capable in his languages and esp. english, where he is one of three boys at top grade '1'.

Eitan's teachers mostly young and from Oxford or Cambridge; his maths teacher fits this profile and, interestingly, a copper before Hampton.  An outlier is Mr C, history, who wears a bright green shirt and tie.  He likes to keep the boys off guard, he tells us, "and observe how they adjust ". Mr C hugs the couple before us and I learn that he taught the man way back when.

Tuesday, May 7


Madeleine and Marcus dig a pond.  They learn through experience that water don't stick, which is hard going if you want to fill the hole with goldfish and a frog or newt (Madeleine, over my shoulder now :  "Oh, Dad, don't put how it failed please").  They fit it with garbage bags then backyard rocks - which is where I put my foot down - to find them later digging up stones from the front road.  I warn them that the cops might come since there could be erosion. They still just believe me but barely.

Monday, May 6

On Rides

Thames, at Barnes

Eitan to Thorpe Park for Shaheen's b'day to experience the Nemesis Inferno ("a red hot, white knuckled inverted hell ride"), Colossus ("ten-loop, stomach churning madness") and Detonator ("a gut wrenching drop into terror").  Then there is The Saw, billed as "the most horrifying roller coaster in the world" (I watch on youtube and it does look pretty scary).  And why will the boy subject himself to such misery? In a word, peerpressure.

Eitan's goal for the day: "I hope I don't get sick."

BBQ Burger

As one does here in the UK on a bank holiday weekend, I fire up the Webber - thankfully, the weather holds (rain would not stop me nor England, mind you).

Madeleine mills about and I tell her the secret to a perfect burger: kneed a small dimple on the top to capture juice; never flatten with spatula.  Cook on maximum heat, super quick, to sear the top and maintain the middle medium or pink. Since at home, eat with hands. Madeleine: "That's nice Dad."

Saturday, May 4

Bank Holiday W/E Y'All


It is a bank holiday weekend and not a moment too soon (overcast, but predictions for 'partly sunny').  I do some yard work, watering - usual stuff.  Madeleine and Molly to the movies and pre-load  at the 'All Pounder' shop : enough candy to fill a shopping bag, which they devour during the film.  Me, I get used dropping the gals off for three hours, no supervision.

Fulham FB Club

Rusty is helpful

I give Eitan (in bed, 10AM) the choice: backyard chores or walk with me. He demures but comes along as I drop Madeleine off at Barn Elms for football then the towpath with the dog.

At about Eitan's age now, Grace and I in the routine of walking Sunday afternoons usually at the Little Farm or Nimitz Way in Tilden Park. It was an anxious time, 7th grade, and those walks helped form my early teens.  The secret, I tell Eitan, that Grace listened.

Madeleine: "What if Molly shows up while I am in the shower?"
Me: "She can wait in the kitchen. With me."
Madeleine: "Just promise me you won't be embarrassing, OK?"
Me: "Never in life, my dear."
Madeleine: "And no singing either."
Me: "Can I pledge the allegiance to the flag?"
Madeleine: "Definitely not."
Me: "Hum the star spangled banner? That's not really singing."
Madeleine: "Ugh, Dad, just don't do any of those things. Just try not to be yourself."
Madeleine: "Just this once. For me."

Friday, May 3

I Am Number Four

Friday evening.

Sonnet in Colorado to see her father and brother+Adrianne; today they are to Denver to join her extended family for Beecher's memorial.

Me, up the stairs "Eitan you have to do your revisions" (for summer term exams)
Eitan: "I just got home, I'll do them later."
Me: "You'll do them now or tell me when."
Eitan: "In half an hour. At 6PM."
Me to Madeleine: "Sometimes you have to drop the hammer on that kid."
Madeleine: "Yeah. But you never do it enough though."

Thursday, May 2

Paris In Spring

Paris fountain

There is nowhere else I would rather be than springtime in Paris. Though it came late this year (and our recent family visit mostly in the cold) when the city blossoms, she is beautiful. On the edge of the Touleries Gardens, overlooking Place de la Concorde and the Eiffel Tower, I do my sun salutations.

Wednesday, May 1

San Ramon, Berkeley

Back row: Hilary and Rosie; Katie, Lesley, me

From the neighbour's stoop to East Sheen. How the hell did that happen? Anyways I had a sweet bowl cut and one must give credit to Grace for putting me in some cool red flooding trousers with blue top. Classico.

Some Brass

Madeleine has made excellent progress on the trumpet - here our gal plays 'Skyfall' from the recent Bond movie. When she first picked up the instrument I thought it would be another three-months-and-out activity but she has hung in there and developed her talent.