Saturday, November 30

Swim Swum Swam

We and Aneta spend our Saturday afternoon and evening at the Rainbow Center in Epson cheering Eitan and Madeleine as they swim the 1500 and 800, respectively, a first time for each.  Sonnet and I assist with the timing and lap counting and Aneta is the stroke judge (which I tell her she can use in her next job application).

Eitan up first and delivers a 19:05 which is pretty darn good for a first go and considering he ran a cross country race plus football practice this morning.  Madeleine's experience marred by some slipped goggles and she does equally brilliantly.  The after-action report from Eitan: "boring". Fair enough. I recall the 1500 as a wall of pain until the two-thirds point when the race switches gears to agony.

Tomorrow morning we are up before dawn for .. another swimming gala, this time to qualify for The Regionals not already attained.

Friday, November 29

The Clash

Paul Simonon taken by Pennie Smith

"Recorded in 1979 in London, which was then wrenched by surging unemployment and drug addiction, and released in America in January 1980, the dawn of an uncertain decade, London Calling is 19 songs of apocalypse, fueled by an unbending faith in rock and roll to beat back the darkness."
--Rolling Stone


Eitan competes the Borough CC championships so Aneta, Rusty and I head for Pembroke Lodge in the centre of Richmond Park to catch the action.  The Hampton bus arrives and the boys fall out to begin their pre-race preparations; Eitan does his very best to ignore us (hard to do when Dad places himself in front of 300 runners to take action photos and the dog barks likes a maniac).

This year the year-8s and 9s combined and the distance doubles to two loops of the familiar course or about 3km.  Eitan off with a bang! and, half-way, in the leaders-group seeming in control and relaxed. When the boys round the final bend for the home straight, puffing and steaming, Eitan in a comfortable fourth place which he holds to the finish. His place qualifies him for the county champs in 2014.  From there (top 5) it's the British Nationals.

Me: "Are you happy with  your performance?"
Eitan: "Yeah, it was alright."

A Date

Cool cat

Madeleine and I plan a movie and dinner for Thursday, something we both look forward to from Monday morning.  I clear out my meetings and pick her up from school, meeting at Clapham Junction station.  I watch her for a few moments before she spots me, and my heart swells : this is a special kid.

Our movie btw is 'Gravity' and Madeleine grabs my hand for most of the tense bits while I munch on (a giant box of) popcorn. A best night of many.

Wednesday, November 27

Buckle Up

Madeleine: "What do you want for Christmas?"
Me: "I don't really know. The best gift you ever gave me was the scarf."
Madeleine: "Yeah."
Me: "When I go to the grave, I want that scarf on my chest, arms crossed over it.. ."
Madeleine: "I thought you wanted to be burned?"
Me: "Good point. Would you let me take it with me?"
Madeleine: "Can we change the conversation?"
Me: "Sure. What do you want for Christmas ?"
Madeleine: "An iPad mini. Mom and I are going to Westfields. Are you sure you don't know what you want?"
Me: "How about some silk pants."
Madeleine: "I am not buying you silk pants Dad."
Me: "Silk pants with frilly lace on the sides. You can get me two pairs."
Madeleine: "It's not that funny, Dad."

Self Portrait XXXIII

Platform 1

To get to Mayfair, where most of my dates occur, I catch an overline train to Waterloo then two stops on the underground (or sometimes I walk, enjoying the river and St James's park).  Waterloo is a major hub for the suburbs though nothing like Grand Central Station, NY, surrounded by Manhattan, forcing trains underground before the terminus. No, Waterloo never as urban nor grand but it does function efficiently whisking along blue and white collars, including me, across town.

Madeleine pulls a "1" (top-marks) in PE this term as she goes from a 9.9 to 11 on the standardised fitness test, though I don't know the scale. The school average, Ms W informs us, is a 3.  She beats all the boys in her form and some of the year 9s.  She gets her athleticism from climbing trees.

Tuesday, November 26

Way Way West

The Jurassic Coast, a World Heritage Site on the English Channel, consists of Triassic, Jurassic, and Cretaceous cliffs, spanning the Mesozoic Era, documenting 180 million years of geographical history.  We touch soil that has been there that long.

Eitan's new mobile, a BB Z10, arrives to great excitement. For me, it's just more time spent fiddling with software. Keeping on top of my my electronics a full time job; multiplied by four it's a bottomless pit.

Monday, November 25

Fab Kid

Zoe at 15

My parents host a Big Game party and watch the Bears conclude their worst season ever : Cal goes 1-11 and 0-9 in the Pac 12, finishing without a win over a Division 1 team for the first time since before 1900, extending a losing streak to 14 games against Pac-12 opponents and 16 against Div 1 teams. Worse, the Cardinals rout the Bears 63-13 in the 116th Big Game at Stanford Stadium.  Berkeley really has to do something about its academic standards if it expects to compete in a professional league.

This the first season since '97 that I have not stayed up late to listen to a game.

Early Thanksgiving

We visit Halley and Willem for Thanksgiving, a tradition going back many years (recall, dear reader, that Sonnet and Halley at Smith together and we stayed at their flat in East Dulwich our first five days in London, August 30, 1997).

Their family in bloom: Zoe received 12 A*s on her GCSEs and Ava setting her sites on England's football team. Willem may run a department at Oxford and Halley editing her first novel. A family in full.

London has gone all Christmasy. Oxford St lit up, the faux reefs in the airport and the newspaper supplements peddle glove and scarf combos. I like it.


Jurassic Coast

The kids and I walk the Coastal Trail from Exmouth then return to the car along the beach as the tide is out.

Me: "Do you know what goes into a Chicken McNugget ? It's like 30% fat and the rest is the rejects from the slaughterhouse.
Madeleine: "What would you do if you had three months to live?"
Me: "Eat at McDonalds."
Madeleine: "Seriously, like what would you do different?"
Me: "That's a pretty heavy question. Are you assuming that my life isn't full already?"
Madeleine: "No, but maybe there are things you would want to do. Like go on vacation or something."
Me: "I would spend more time with family and friends. Maybe hike the John Muir trail. . ..."
Madeleine: "Yeah."
Me: "And walk along the coastline with you looking for seashells."

Friday, November 22

Any Given Day

Me and my No 1 gal

I arrive home to some excitement : hardwood floors re-done, Madeleine new cell phone, Sonnet back from a press conference in Milan. .. Eitan greets me post swim practice, 10PM, and off to bed since he is up this morning, Friday, at 5AM for more swim practice. Sonnet takes him (I roll over) then home to get Madeleine to the train station then a run with the dog then to pick up the boy at the pool followed by breakfast and school. All this by 7AM (when I wander downstairs for coffee).

From May to November, our family used 31,240 gallons of water.  It's not Arrakis.

Monday, November 18

Bon Matin

Paris, sun break

I am in Paris and since my Achilles have not recovered from Berlin in '09 (and likely never will) I find myself up at the crack of dawn to power-walk with the other early-morning freaks. A benefit is that I can take my iphone and read news or emails as long as they are less than two sentences and no potholes.

My hotel in the 8e proudly displays: " Exposition « VEGETABLES » par Patrick Larouche."

And further:

"Des légumes surprenants et géants réalisés par cet artiste sculpteur. Doté d’une solide formation classique et féru de gastronomie, Patrick Laroche trouve une nouvelle source d’inspiration en créant, il y a quelques années, des bougeoirs en forme de légumes pour un grand restaurant."

A bunch of giant glazed asparagus and the Japanese take photos.

Self Portrait Of A Portrait

In Sunday's action, the Sheen Lions defeat Action 3-2. Eitan scores the 3rd decisive goal on a PK.  Sonnet and I watch from the sidelines.

Obamacare is going down like a rock.  Sonnet and I watch from the sidelines.

Sunday, November 17

August, Die She Must

Autumn comes late this year without the usual cold-snap to change the tree colours.

Eitan out to a disco for Emily's birthday which means he wears his new Adidas 'Gazelles' while disappointed that the varsity jacket he ordered has not arrived in time for last night. Sonnet (who picks up Eitan, Joe and Shaheen from the party) reports that the boys and girls dancing separately, in pods : "sweating and smiling at 9PM." Any making out? "No, are you kidding?"

Madeleine watches transfixed as I put a fried egg and bacon on my Johnny-cakes then Tabasco sauce and syrup: "That's disgusting."

Saturday, November 16

Wonder Wonder Woman

Lynda Carter is Wonder Woman

I catch the late-night tail end of "Wonder Woman" which aired from 1975-79. It is camp and sexist and lends the idea that anybody could make a TV sitcom in the 1970s given the production quality and acting .. . But the wonderful Lynda Carter takes it in stride, catching bullets with her bracelets (winking at me slyly) and pulling down doors like macaroni. Her breasts thrust forward with the first Wonder Bra.

The thing is, the world watched these shows and formed their views (and perhaps world views) on US culture from Starsky & Hutch, Laverne & Shirley, Dallas, The Love Boat . .. Fantasy Island.  Justin and I discuss this at some length. At least those shows upbeat, positive and a bit wacky. Now the programs (which I love) are dark: Mad Men. Sopranos. The Wire. Breaking Bad.  The world has changed and the US has moved to black.

The theme song catches the era:

"In your satin tights,
Fighting for your rights
And the old Red, White and Bluuueeee! "

(ending emphasis mine)

Me: "It's so belittling."
Sonnet: "There are many words one could use."
Me: "Such as?"
Sonnet: "Insulting. Possibly misogynistic."

Eitan stumbles into the kitchen. Sonnet: "It's a monosyllabic morning."

Thursday, November 14


Hoxton Bar

I return from Switzerland, stuck in traffic to Richmond, home two minutes then en route to meet Sonnet in Hoxton, East London, for dinner then STRFKR, an up-and-coming band sent to me by Christian. They are excellent, too - the small venue allows us to be in front-and-center as they play their 10 or 11 songs. It's nice to feel 16 again.

Screen Shot

Katie on a conference call

In Zurich I stay at a cool boutique hotel -- B2 -- which is next to the new Google HQ so it really is Google's hospitality pad. Naturally everything connected so I can "shade" the windows or set the mood lighting with the touch of a button. The kids at the bar (37,000 books surround us) look about 25 and appropriately ruffled. Well, in my day, we used to wear suits and ties, God damnit. 

I find a 50m swimming pool in downtown Zurich and have 30 minutes to swim some laps which I jump on since the adrenaline from meetings and coffee needs to be burned off somehow before the flight home.  I have no towel and use an iZod, which gets a couple of strange looks (from the naked Swiss men who I keep at 3 meters)

Rome Has Fallen

When a society worships a bunch of women for nothing else than their underpants when the world suffers typhoon, war and climate change, well, God damnit, party!

Who can forget the Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders of the '80s? A harbinger of doom - the 1989-92 recession bit hard.  And those Cowboys barely showed cheek.

Monday, November 11

Phone Blues


Madeleine looks for a new mobile phone.
Madeleine: "The one I want is £150." [Dad's note: Madeleine wants a Samsung smart phone]
Me: "Sorry kid, it's too much."
Madeleine: "All my friends have one."
Me: "If you hadn't lost your phone we would be talking about getting you the Samsung."
Madeleine: "Knowing you, if I hadn't lost my phone you'd make me keep it for another five years."
Sonnet: "Touché."


Fairey Barracuda

We have a group of elderly folks over for the afternoon and, since today armistice, our conversation turns to the Second World War.  

Frieda worked in war manufacturing in Kent and recalls the sirens calling the workers to shelter: "Once I slept through the alarm, we were always so tired, and everybody thought I was a goner since they couldn't find me. But the noise sure woke me up."

Bill spent 46,000 nautical miles on aircraft carrier HMS Venerable where he serviced the 'Barracuda" - a double engine dive-bomber loaded with a torpedo, wing bombs and anti-aircraft cannon. A mean machine. Bill made sure the planes landed and took off properly, about 10 minutes apart. Sometimes they went over the side "we'd try to save the pilot. He was worth his weight in gold."

William repaired the Barracudas at the Hayes plant in Greater London.  One day, the men ordered to drop everything and report to hangar three - about three thousand men - and told: "You will be happy to know that the fighting will cease today at 1500 hours." It was May 8, 1945.  The men given the afternoon off to celebrate "as long as it was within 12 miles of the factory.  All we wanted to do was go to Piccadilly Circus."

"We could talk until the cows come home."

Maturity Jump

Madeleine and I on our Sunday walk

"This game is a maturity jump for us."
--Cam Newton, QB of the Panthers

I like this idea, a 'maturity jump', which Cam Newton applies to the Carolina Panthers following their 10-9 W over the SF 49ers.  A single outcome, Cam suggests, can raise one's game for the remainder of a season, be it football or life and esp, at this hour, the teenage years.

And what jumps we have seen. This year sees the kids mostly self-directed quietly losing the need for an adult presence when Sonnet and I out. Doing their homework (usually) without badgering. Getting themselves to school and back with two and often three bags of kit and maybe a trumpet.  Establishing their own standards of performance.

But the big shifts still ahead yet.  Dating (however they do it now) around the corner. GCSE exams approaching. And their brains and bodies grow.  Eitan is a bean-pole, Madeleine's feet as big as mine. How amazing to be along for this ride.

Madeleine: "Aiden doesn't care what other people think." [Dad's note: Aiden is Madeleine's pal at school. He is from NY and also into drama and acting]
Madeleine: "That's why I like him."
Me: "Yep."

Thursday, November 7


I swim laps in the pool where Mark Spitz won 7 Golds

We've all been there and it happens to everybody - usually in private but sometimes it can spill over into a public place like a New York street corner or some restaurant. Tears, sobbing and maybe screaming.  It's the mid-20s break-up and today the couple behind me, row 8, went for it (He: "I made two vows to myself. I would break up with you on December 12. Or let you go your own way." She: "But why December 12? Can't we at least wait until after Christmas?" which actually seems like a pretty reasonable request to me).

Unfortunately this goes on for the entire flight and, in the end, nobody gets anywhere though I do learn the girl attracted to another guy while still loving 8E and he finds their relationship "inescapably physical". I think they deserve each other. As the world turns.

In Munich despite a missed flight and a day of meetings tomorrow.

Chelsea Winner

Demba Ba from The Mirror

Justin and I do our usual Burger-Chelsea match, a favorite thing, and the blues in action against Schahlke, which I understand is somewhere in Germany.  The stands are out for blood - Germany! - and get satisfaction on the first goal which sees Samuel Eto's boot finding the keeper's goal kick, which reverses into the box. Goal! Chelsea goes on to win 3-nil following Eto again and the wonderfully named Demba Ba's perfect strike.  Us fans go home satisfied. I have yet to lose at Stamford Bridge.

Justin and I discuss, briefly, whether one should use a straw.

"The Italian economy is again in disarray but it seems to me the strength of Italian production still leans on expert handicraft, high quality leathers."
--Sonnet in the Evening Standard

Wednesday, November 6


Leon's photo of Miranda Kerr from 2003 before she was known by the entire planet. He tells me Miranda agreed to do nudes but her boyfriend put the kabol on that one.

Leon's photo chosen by British 125 magazine in their ten year retrospective of best photos.

Brown Eyes

Laurance visits London and over for dinner: he is working on a number of energy related investments pouncing on the shale gas opportunity. He is all over it, making his fortune.

Sonnet meets with 120 members of the press to prime them for the Italians and, though anxious, she is a cool cucumber in new dress and high heels, off too the Bulgaria in Knightsbridge.  The sun barely up.  She still has time to make Eitan breakfast and ensure Madeleine to school on time.

Rusty: "Woof woof woof."

Tuesday, November 5

Arthur - Stage Next

Arthur and I re connect at Waterloo Station, Platform 17, to walk across London via Euston Station, the Strand, Fleet Street then the City and Shoreditch and finally Bethnal Green, where we catch a train to Richmond. On the way we find a pub.

Arthur, age 59, retired this year following 35 years at TRW and then Northrop Grumman, which acquired TRW, a satellites business, where Arthur one of the lead engineers. He informs me a big challenge, working on a satellite, is the "realisation uncertainty" or knowing what is actually being built. This not so obvious when there are 100s of PhD technicians modifying and tinkering a highly complex objet

Arthur is now working through his reading list and working on a house in Los Angeles while he retains his penthouse flat in London NW1.  Over dinner we discuss Plato's reading of Socrates which became, many believe, the foundation of the Bible.

Meanwhile, a badger-cull aiming to kill 70% of the countryside badgers kills only 65% or 940 badgers. This is the lead BBC story, 11AM.

Tax admin: "Do you know what nationality you are?"
Me: "I'm British."
Tax admin: "That's OK, absolutely fine."
Me: "Well thank you."

“Run with the painters. I always did."
--Kurt Vonnegut

Monday, November 4

Kamila Checks In

Girls just want to have fun

Our dear Kamila finds herself on a "working holiday" in Skopelos, Greece, between university classes.

Sonnet returns from Smith on the over-night and we are thrilled to have her back in the house.

Eitan and I watch a BBC documentary on the making of Pink Floyd's "Wish You Were Here" and then listen to the album on spotify.  The four chords on "Shine On You Crazy Diamond" about the late Syd Barrett are crazy good.

Sunday, November 3

Duppas Disaster

The Sheen Lions in cup action today against the Wallington Wanderers whose lovely pitch on Duppas Hill otherwise surrounded by Croydon.  This was the cup Elm Grove won last year.  Today's match promising as our side misses a couple of sure goals then puts one in on a perfect strike from Jack. The Lions go up further, 3-1, in the second half and us dads on the sideline now thinking about the afternoon chores. At least I am. But calamity : three unanswered goals by the Wanderers.  Eitan's last minute equaliser sends us to over-time, 2X ten minutes. Bam! they're up 5-4 and pow! 5-5 tie, no time left.  And so the dreaded penalty kicks, which we lose on the seventh, and last, PK.  Heartbreak hill.

Since Sonnet away and we have nothing in the house to eat I tell Eitan: Make dinner. He prepares a rice beef sauce concoction (and listens to Eminem). Not bad, this kid

Saturday, November 2


W/ Cyrus

Eitan celebrates 13 one month post facto with the usual suspects at a football match - QPR v Darby County (our side, whichever it is, wins 2-1). He and the Sheen Lions, thanks to David, serve as the 'Guards of Honor' forming the gauntlet through which the players pass to enter the field (me to Eitan: "Don't trip").

A fun afternoon filled with pizza, junk food and friendships which may last a lifetime.

Madeleine's Miracle

Madeleine makes Sushi

Madeleine calls me upstairs in tears: "Something is wrong with Eric" [Dad's note: Eric is her 'runt' turtle] and, indeed, when she places Eric in the tank he drops like a rock.  We gently place Eric in a plastic tray while I search the Internet for 'sick turtle' and 'turtle not moving' while Madeleine sobs: "He's not dead, Dad. I know he is not dead."

One helpful website informs me that Eric may have swallowed water so I pump his little legs furiously : up, down, up, down. His neck fully extends and he can no longer hold its weight. I tell Madeleine: last rights, and she should prepare to say goodbye and consider a burial patch in the backyard. She refuses, so I place Eric by my bed as she cannot bare to be around his final hours.

Next morning he looks no better but Madeleine has faith. She force feeds him some blood worms and, I'll be damned, he starts eating.  Within the hour he has some energy and by noontime he is swimming around on his own.

Madeleine learns a valuable lesson: We will live forever.