Monday, January 19

Maida Vale and the Suburbs


Here we are in Maida Vale, W9, during the autumn of 2002 before the move to Richmond. I remember our excitement over the leaves. Madeleine then already a terror on her feet. Unlike Eitan, she had no patience for crawling and so off she went by nine-months, bruises, knocks and all. Eitan took his time to the point where I had a mild concern that he was not, well, toddling. Then as now - he was just making sure of his footing before taking the jump.

We and everybody are gearing up for tomorrow's inaugural celebration which I choose not to attend in the end due to late planning. Probably stupid but I enjoy my family. And appreciate Sonnet who we thank for making it another perfect week-end by A) ensuring Madeleine at swim-practice and both kids football; B) making cheese sandwiches for lunch, Sunday pancakes and afternoon roast+ice cream sandwiches with home-made chocolate chip cookies; C) taking Madeleine to Richmond Park so Madeleine can paint her pastels; D) organising the house and letting me do yoga and read. On the couch. Watching football. Hmmm I am feeling kinda guilty as I write but always I ask myself: how on earth did I get so lucky? It is a good question for a husband to ask and, one hopes, repeatedly. By contrast, I am reading Richard Yates unsung classic "Revolutionary Road" which is now in theatres with Kate Winslet, who I love. Yates died a poor, unrecognised man and an alcoholic; the initial mixed reviews of Revolutionary, Yates first published book, crushed his spirit and while he wrote other notable novels and stories, Yates' life blanketed by depression. Easy to see in Revolutionary too, which is semi-autobiographical as most his work: the story follows the claustrophobic entrapment of the Connecticut suburbs in Eisenhower's 50s. Whomever has seen Golden Globe-winning series "Mad Men" will wonder if Matthew Weiner simply ripped off Yates (answer: he did). There is the Midtown office-affair, the boozed up lunches, commuter misery and the grey flannel suits. Mostly there is the struggle to define what being a "man" or a "women" about - here the ideal seems to macho bread-earning, martini swigging decision making, emotionless silent brute and stay-at-home, emotional, home-making, martini swigging spouse. Respectively. But of course the book goes deeper, oh boy. I am two-thirds through so don't know the ending but it is all about to go tits up.


We awake to more bail-outs - this time, Super Gee to give British banks another cool £200 billion to get the credit free-up since his guarenteed last-time did not work. We, the tax paer, are now £one trillion in the hole to our financial institutions as government nationalises the industry. Who would have ever thought? Nobody really feels the impact of all this yet but believe you me, we will for generations.

Also: Katie's pelican in Santa Cruz, not Florida. This bird way too cool for the everglades, no doubt.

Sunday, January 18

B Ball

Cal loses its first game in the Pac 10 to Stanford, dropping the squad to 4-1 in the conference and 15-3 overall - the loss probably knocks us from the Top 25 where we have perched at #22 (I love this picture taken by Kurt Rogers for the Chronicle though not from last night). Who would have thought the Bears off to one of their best starts in years given that the squad lost its top two players to the NBA draft? Just goes to show what a coach can do: Mike Montgomery took over this season following a below-average run with the Golden State Warriors (68-96) and eighteen years with The Cardinal, making Stanturd a national power-house: 393-167 record with 12 NCAA appearances, including the Final Four in '98. Now he is with us. As most will know, I am a football fan first followed by... well, other sports. Basketball is more difficult to follow from London as the games go on way-late Pacific and they are frequent - it is one thing to stay up until 4AM Saturday and nuts to consider doing so several times a week for basketball, which anyways the pace too fast for the radio internets. I will consider sleep deprivation should the Bears reach March Madness as it looks possible they might (Moe: note that I am trying not to jinx the thing). Cal's last basketball championship was in '58 BTW and the following year the Bears went to the Rose Bowl losing to Iowa 38-12. Many of my friends fathers who attended the UC during those golden years wait... and wait... and wait.. . . . .

Cal will get its revenge 14 February when the bball team plays Stanford in Berzerkeley.

Saturday, January 17

A Goal and Good Bye El Presidente


Eitan has a good day in football and scores one spectacular penalty kick from about 25 yards out: the ball goes sailing over the line finding the top-right corner of the net. All the boys throw up their arms and Eitan exults across the pitch. We dads nod our heads: "heck 'uv a shot, guv" we agree. Eitan now sits in front of the Premiere League highlights playing an imaginary game with his football cards pairing dream-teams against each other. 


Madeleine meanwhile with Sonnet in Richmond Park drawing landscapes with pastels, which I can't wait to see. She too has had a busy morning with swim-team then soccer practice.

I receive an invitation to the Obama inaugeration party Tuesday, which I am half-contemplating - I would have to fly out tomorrow which is a lot of rush but then it is a once-in-a-lifetime thing up there with the Berlin Wall coming down. Bush has really cocked it up and I wonder why 25% think he has done a good-job, as the New York Times reports. As Bush himself said once: "you can fool some of the people all of the time." Bush gives a 12-minute exit speech the other night which is trumpted by a plane crash in the Hudson. How simple the alternative vision: a competent pilot in control of his craft. Along with Bush, I only wish ill on Cheney, that disgrace Wolfowitz and worse Rumsfeld; Paul Bremer, Tom Delay, Carl Rove, Harriet Miers and my personal favorite: Alberto Gonzales. What a moron. Let's also raise a glass to David Addington, Jeff Yoo and Scooter Libby who at least was convicted. George Tenet, Richard Perle, Chalebi, Michael Chernoff, Sam Bodman, Stephan Johnson, John Ashcroft and John Snow - how on earth was he Secretary of Treasury? Iraq. WMD. Halliberton. Bear Sterns, Wash Mutual, Lehman Brothers and Citicorp. Unemployment and >3 million new under half the US poverty line. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Mission Accomplished. Richard Fuld and AIG. Standard & Poors. Your 401K. Afganistan. Torture. Gitmo. Warrentless wire-taps. Florida. Oh, and $1T deficit not counting accruals like social security. Heck of a job. Don't let the door hit you on the way out.

Shocked & Appalled


We've all heard the stories about the fuck-face Bernie Madoff and his $50 billion ponzi scheme. What is less covered are the vehicles that provided Madoff with his money - fund-of-hedge-funds that catastrophically failed to protect their investor's money with a modicum of due-diligence. They, too, are fuckers. In London the most visible feeder is Fairfield Greenwich who, as of November 1, 2008, had approximately $14.1 billion of client money, of which approximately $7.5 billion was invested by Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities often unbeknownst to their clients. My brief run in with Fairfield occurred in '05 when I was introduced, via my business partner, to Andres Piedrahita who oversees Europe and Latin America; Piedrahita is the husband (of course) of Fairfield's founder Walter Noel's daughter Corina. From a large glass office overloooking the Royal Academy on Cork Street in Mayfair, Piedrahita kept me waiting for an hour then smoked a cigar whilst doing his best to make me feel unwelcome. Strange behavior for a guy selling something - in this case Madoff and other hedge funds - Piedrahita had little to say nor barely bothered to explain himself, his business and Fairfield's track-record despite performance that out-performed many good private equity funds yet without a ten-year lock-up. Here is a December 12, 2008, letter still on Fairfield's website:

“We are shocked and appalled by this news,” said Jeffrey Tucker, founding partner of
Fairfield Greenwich Group. “We have worked with Madoff for nearly 20 years, investing alongside our clients. We had no indication that we and many other firms and private investors were the victims of such a highly sophisticated, massive fraudulent scheme.”

The funny thing is: it now appears that Madoff never made a trade. It is a sad, despicable story all around and I am glad for myself and my friends that I wanted nothing to do with them then and now.

I look over to see half-a-plate of pasta dangling from Eitan's mouth. Sonnet: "what... house... am... I... in?!"

Eitan hands me his scarf and gloves: "take these, dad."
Me: "What's the magic word?"
Eitan: "Now."

Eitan's Boulders


Katie sends me this fab bird from Florida noting her picture before New Year's. Yesterday I take Eitan to the orthodontist Neal to see about the boy's English teeth - yes, braces are in the works but not for another two or three years, Neal tells us. I pick Eitan up from school early - yanking him, in fact, from class-assembly much to his embarrassment I am sure though he has been warned. Eitan unusually quiet in the car and only later do I learn that he anticipates mouth work, Dear Reader, and so sits afraid. In past he asks whether braces hurt and I tell him so from my own experience: yes. Anyways now he sits with his mouth wide open being poked and prodded whilst blinded from the surgical's bright lights. An alien experience and of course he awaits the pain... things loosen up a bit when he learns he is home free until at least age-10 or 11 (I slyly tell him the timing perfect as this when all the girls will be in love with him and braces will serve as a "nice repellent." He does not smile). Also our orthodontist's clients include Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter fame) and Chelsea FC, though he is not allowed to say which players. He really earns Eitan's respect, however, when he discloses Steven Gerard - who has perfect teeth. Eitan's eye's go wide at the thought of Liverpool's star player sitting in this very chair though actually, Neal goes to Liverpool. Even I impressed and we learn further that John Terry's auto-biography credits his healthy mind, body and teeth as part of his success for England (Neal has also done some work on the Chelsea and England captain). We are told that to play for England "you must brush twice a day" and presumably have fancy cosmetics too. But I am not challenging such sage advice - nor is Eitan.

A rare old bird is the pelican.
His bill holds more than his belly can.
He can take in his beak
enough food for a week.
I'm damned if I know how the hell he can.
Columbo (I heard first-time in '78 I think)

Friday, January 16

St Martin; Sisley

And yes, now it is Friday again. I have a breakfast date at the SoHo Hotel which means I have to get up early - early for me at least because Sonnet gets going well before dawn preparing for whatever or jogging with her psycho female friends. SoHo Hotel is tres gay and I admire the dudes and their cool outfits - I too can aspire to be metrosexual. After, I find myself with three hours to kill before lunch and after some initial concerns about, ahem, boredom I pay a respectful visit to St Martin-in-the-field and then the National Gallery for some arts. St Martin has been around since at least 1222 when the Abbot of Westminster and the Bishop of London fought over its control, leaving an historical paper-trail which was not email (Westminster won BTW and it was used by their monks). The church rebuilt by Henry VIII (Madeleine: "the fat one") in 1542 to avoid plague victims passing through the King's Palace of Whitehall. At the time, it was "in the fields" in an isolated spot between the cities of Westminster and London. The church later survived the London fire but replaced eventually with a new building in 1721 designed by James Gibbs (influenced, I am sure, by Wren). It was panned then became famous and finally copied - all across America. Given all that, St Martin is pretty darn simple if you ask me: rectangular box, one pointy steeple and some massive columns to greet worshipers and tourists who walk up the chalky steps to pray or gawk. Sonnet and I, during our first year in London, joined a Saturday morning tour of "Portland stone" (yes, those desperate times). Surrounded by old-aged pensioners and wacko enthusiasts we learned all about.... Portland stone, the church being a fine example, you see. With everything else, St Martin offers extraordinary acoustics and a wonderful organ; performances occur daily and my favorite being the lunch-time series show-casing young, musical genius (there is plenty here in an eccentric way), strange instruments, choirs and ensembles. This, I know, a favorite of Stan and I must agree: heaven, and the cost a donation.

From God I go to the the gallery across the street to see an expo on impressionist Sisley, who I learn had British parents yet born and raised in France. Sisley studied at the atelier of of Swiss artist Marc-Charles-Gabriel Gleyre where he befriended Frederic Bazille, Claude Monet and Pierre-Auguste Renoir. The rest, as they say, is history. The efficient collection gives us Sisley's sea-front paintings, in their entirety, which he completed whilst visiting Wales late in his life - strange considering Sisley loved water and rivers (most famously the Seine outside of Paris+Hampton Court on the Thames, pictured- the flow of water, ah). I happily compare these paintings to the permanent collection which unfailingly puts me in a good mood. From there to Nobu and a catch-up with Scott who, with his partner Daniel, surrogate birth twins in September. Life and life-style have changed for him, for sure. Bravo!

I ask Eitan how is dinner? He replies with an enormous burp! and we giggle. Sonnet walks in noting: "It is so nice to see your table manners" and we both crack up.

Image from the National Galleries.

Thursday, January 15

On Beer and Bright Lights

Caption: What goes through your mind when someone says "Let's go for a drink"?

OK, it is sexist - I appreciate this - but pretty damn funny or as these Brits would say: "cheeky" (thank you Paul). Another ad offers: man -> beer -> Blackberry. How happy I am not to be chasing skirt. Not that this ever my style, mind you - I have always been fortunate to have good women in my life+self-awareness that I am not raffish. Nor Rhett Butler. Still, post-college, I did find myself single for a time and often enough in some bar on the Upper West Side or downtown in SoHo or below. What a younger man in New York does not appreciate at all is that he has no chance. Women, mostly, look to step over the awkwardness of one's 20s - why team up with a guy struggling through the same transition? Who is also figuring out his own life? Who has no money? Any young fellow who thinks his banking or consulting or professional whatever competes with a 30 or 40 year old is nuts: the latter more secure and way more interesting with life experiences and all that. I see plenty of my single male friends dating outside their league, which is not necessarily a ranking based on the opposite sex's youth BTW though this is often a plenty simple barometer: "she's totally hot, dude, and 25." In honesty, I cannot imagine a conversation with somebody this young - the intrigues of the PTA? My exercising schedule or picking up the kids? "The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire?" Brother. So back in those early '90s I would be at The Tunnel or Odeon competing with Texas in cowboy boots or some divorced managing director paying for the round. Not an even playing field, I'll say for sure. Probably best that way, for me, anyways.

One of the few books I re-read every ten years or so is Jay McInerney's "Bright Lights, Big City" and the first time in '88 when my ambitions were New York and, well, the title of the book. The story follows the young, stressed-out main character in the 1980s fast-lane. Unusually it is written in the second-person which adds to the hero's disorientation - he is an outsider to his own narrative which he must find his voice the hard-way via experience and disappointment. It still resonates with me as a period piece that I lived through. Bravo.

"You are not the kind of guy who would be at a place like this at this time of the morning and, though the details are fuzzy, you cannot say that the terrain is entirely unfamiliar."
Jamie Conway, Bright Lights, Big City

Wednesday, January 14

Rickey


Rickey Henderson was voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame yesterday on his first-try and here is his first Major League at-bat vs. the Texas Rangers (pictured) on June 24, 1979, televised shortly after my twelfth birthday. The A's were wretched and only 4,752 fans saw Rickey's debut, according to a 1980 media guide - the year when attendance was 306,763 setting a Major League record for the pits (photo BTW from ManOfSteel). 

The decade's end team was a far cry from from the beginning: after another second-place finish in 1970, the A’s won the American League West title in '71 for their first postseason appearance of any kind since 1931. In 1972, the A's won their first league pennant since 1931 and faced the Cincinnati Reds in the World Series (dubbed “The Hairs vs. the Big Squares” as A's owner Charles Finley paid his players $500 each to grow a moustache while the Reds were tradtional clean cuts). 

The A's seven-game victory over the favored Cincinnati gave the team its first World Series Championship since 1930. They defended their title in '73 and '74 before Finley disbanded the team. In my opinion and the opinion of others like Guy who owns the A's, this was the best baseball team assembled ever with Reggie Jackson, Sal Bando, Joe Rudi, Bert Campaneris, Catfish Hunter, Rollie Fingers and Vida Blue. Wow. 

By Henderson, the team had suffered three dismal seasons and in desperation and a masterstoke, Finley hired Billy Martin to manage a young team who, with Henderson, included stars Mike Norris, Tony Armas and Dwayne Murphy. Martin made believers of his young charges, “Billyball” was used to market the team, and the Athletics finished second in 1980. 

This moment specific to my awareness of baseball - the '70s was all about the Oakland Raiders while my baseball interest a distant second and anyway, the A's glory years seemed like an eternity ago - lumped in my 12-year old's conscience with Viet Nam and Watergate which at then had made no impact. Sort of like the 1950s in proximity - I knew it was there but so what? Now the A's were all that and it was exciting to root for the East Bay team. Life was that simple.

As for Rickey's debut 29 years ago: he went 2-4 with a double, single and a stolen base - the first of 1,406 and a MLB record.

Tuesday, January 13

Steve, Lucy and 'Stella

I aspire to such photography, in this case Steve and Lucy's holiday greeting. It tells a story of something, no doubt, and despite the silliness is completely cool. On my own picture-taking: sadly the film apparatuses gather dust replaced (of course) by digital with its ease and this blog. The Old School developing took a considerable investment of time, several courses and a patient eye to reach the point where I could competently enter a dark-room and burn an image then work with a bunch of chemicals to produce something... beautiful, at least to me. No thrill quite compares to the first faint impression that forms on an otherwise pure glassy paper - followed by a final image as crystal clear as seeing the thing with thine eye. B&W is a tough passion without other time demands and whilst the Shakespeares offer a most excellent subject matter they and Sonnet are probably happy to have me around the week ends - at least, mostly. For now, I have chucked the hobby into a basket - along with tennis, War & Peace, surfing and other to-do's - that I will master whenever.

Eitan on his poem, which he fails to bring home to memorise over the holidays: "I had one good thought: as long as I am not chosen to go first.. .."

Madeleine struggles with subtracting '2s'; indignantly: "But only yesterday I was doing 1s!"

We have a discussion about Eitan's hero Ronaldo and I encourage the kids to shout out descriptive words.
Me: Strong, powerful, fleet-footed!
Eitan: Muscular, clever, burly, forceful!
Madeleine: Cheesy!

Self Portrait II


Eitan has has outgrown his Saturday football, a team he has been with since age-three. Consquently we explore competitive options and all I ask is that he visit several. Last week it was the Roehampton Rangers who seem fit and offer two excellent coaches; closer to home is the Sheen Lions (I have seen the dads scream from the sidelines: "Take him out! Take that kid out!" and I have yet to understand if this an automatic disqualifer or simply normal), Kew Park Rangers and the Barnes Eagles. The gorilla in our area is the Kingstonian Youth FC which is a standard chartered member of The FA or the governing body of English football. Plus they are sponsored by McDonalds so they must be legit. With >20 coaches and multiple-aged teams for boys and girls they certainly appear to be the real-deal and a tad intimidating. I am told that here is where a kid gets noticed, and tracked, from an early age if he is plenty good and wants to play for Manchester United. hmmm. Matches are every week-end - often at some distance - so I think our family structure about to change where ever the boy goes.

Yesterday, spent in Central London with a few meetings then Claridges Bar, I return with gifts: In Covent Garden I swoop a sweet pair of trainers for Sonnet and buy Madeleine oil paints and canvas. I also pick up colour print-film for her semi-automatic Pentax SuperME, which she has been playing with this year, which for my selfish reasons I would love for her to love. Eitan feels left out but I remind him of ManU vs. Chelsea on Sunday which he watched with pal Joe-Y-H. But back to trainers: only recently have I been turned onto the style and comfort of a fresh pair of kicks thanks mainly to Adam. The choice selection is huge and each intricacy a style point: low riders, retros, arch or flat bottoms, high tops, synthetic or canvas or combo and so on and so forth. The stores are filled with mostly teen-agers and some young 20-something hipsters all checking each other out and me checking them out. Yuf. A groups of girls fondles a pair of green and purple Nikes convincing themselves to do it: yes, fashion on the edge is pretty close to being silly and I am reminded of somebody jumping off the ten-meter platform. Are you just stupid enough to buy those purple shoes? In the end, the Nikes are out of stock and their is a collective groan ("I only want this one") which just goes to show the popular shoes are the last I would pick. Not sure if that says I am in-style or way, way out. Probably that.

Eitan writes a poem this morning

Moskito

Here I am.
A blundering blood-sucker,
A disgrace to humans,
A disgusting old wing beating wimp.
I stand on these shoulders which are as big as bolders,
I'll start sucking their blood as I get swatted around.

Monday, January 12

Work; And More On Private Equity


Us somewhere in the English countryside. The British go back to work today with a vengence: Chistmas trees on the sidewalk, traffic-jams, nerves jingle and all hustle-bustle. I watch serious fellows on their way to the train station with hands jammed into their Burburries, scarves wrapped tightly. I am glad not to be on that path, thank goodness. There are two times a year when this phenomena occurs: September, post summer recess when clocks fall-back for winter-hours, and now. In the US where holidays are generally two or three weeks the work-year remains flat - one is never really far from the desk. In London, executives and bankers scram during Christmas and summer seasons and the city's population, I am told, dips >10%. It is a good pattern too: always something to plan for and without the endless grind of it all. Sonnet enjoys five weeks at the V&A and me, well - I have as much goof off as I wish assuming the bills somehow get paid and I don't get bored. This on my mind for 2009 as it looks to be a dull year - nothing to get done in private equity as fundraising stops and portfolios marked down thanks to the financial crisis and recession. Our crisis really began several years ago from freely available bank-debt and rosey opinion of economic growth (to get the deal, brother. Many transactions done at four or even five times leverage). This has left many firms exposed - a recent industry survey suggests that >20% of the mega-buyout funds, which own a sizable chunk of the Western World, will fail. As noted before I think, private equity is the largest private employeur in the UK accountable for >1.2 million jobs directly (and a multiple of this indirectly). Last year the industry felt cozy given the 10 year life-span of a typical investment partnership but say good-bye to all that: today's accounting marks reduce portfolio value which threatens limited partnership support (though they are obligated to pay up their capital call)+LPs are under cash pressures themselves. Still, fortunes will be made: anybody buying distressed assets or sitting on cash will find great deals and within a few years the returns will follow.

"The opposite of courage in our society is not cowardice, it is conformity."
Rollo May

"Is he the fat one?"
Madeleine Orenstein, pointing to a photograph of Henry V

Saturday, January 10

Mint

I bought this comic book after school at Comics & Comics on Telegraph Avenue in 1976. I was in the fourth grade and remember like yesterday how excited I was to own the first-issue of a new Spider Man series. Even then I calculated what the thing might one day be worth - a hundred bucks? Enough for college? The comic, along with a stack of others probably indeed worth something, rests safely at my parent's house tucked away somewhere in the basement, each individually protected by special-made air-tight sealing plastic. One day I may re-read all or simply pass them along to Eitan or Madeleine should they show an interest. So here is what happened in #1 (thank you SpiderVillian.com):

This issue opens with Spider-Man snapping pictures of a speech by a vice-chancellor of his university. The speech is interrupted by the sudden appearance of The Tarantula and his goons who are there to kidnap the vice-chancellor. While Spider-Man swings in to stop The Tarantula, the goons manhandle the vice-chancellor to a waiting car. Flash Thompson rushes in to aid the vice-chancellor with Mary Jane looking on, but he is easily subdued by the goons. The Tarantula feigns unconsciousness in order to sucker punch Spider-Man and makes his escape on the back of the getaway vehicle leaving Spider-Man to flee a crowd of hostile students. Our hero returns to his original perch to find his camera smashed and in a fit of anger, injures his hand punching into a brick wall.

Peter Parker returns to his Chelsea apartment and runs into his neighbor Glory Grant. She tends his injured hands and ropes Pete into going out jump-hunting with her. They run into Mary Jane in the hallway, and the threesome wanders down to City Hall. Outside City Hall, Pete spots The Tarantula's getaway vehicle. Pete makes an excuse about visiting Aunt May in the hospital to go change into Spider-Man.

Cut to The Tarantula and his goons being dropped off in the basement of City Hall. Here it is revealed that The Tarantula has been hired by an unknown party to assassinate the Mayor in the guise of a bungled kidnapping. Spider-Man catches up with the trio and tangles with the two goons while The Tarantula ducks into the Mayor's special express elevator. Spider-Man dispatches the goons, and climbs the elevator shaft in pursuit of the The Tarantula. Spider-Man catches up as The Tarantula confronts the Mayor in his office. When Spider-Man dives and carries The Tarantula out of the office window, The Tarantula drags the Mayor out with them. Forced to rescue the Mayor, Spider-Man webs them both gentle to the ground, allowing The Tarantula to escape once again.

Oh, and by the way: that 30¢ Peter Park Spectacular Spider Man first-issue is today valued at $75 (comicspriceguide.com) or a simple annualised rate of return (ROI) of 754%.

Friday, January 9

Spinnaker Tower


Here is the Spinnaker Tower, which is 170 meters and located in Portsmouth. The tower's design was chosen by local residents and is meant to reflect Portsmouth's maritime history - modeled after a sail, of course. It is possible to go to the top of for a spectacular view of the coast+the glass floor puts one's gonads into one's stomach (from personal experience) though we don't go to the top this time. The thing was completed in 2005 at the centre of the waterfront's re-development and funded by the National Lottery (planning began in '95 and there were fits and starts around money- construction went over-budget and tax-payers had to foot the balance so that it did not stand half-mast; good thing the cost to stop work greater then its completion, oh boy). It seems to have worked as a stim-u-lator too as there are post-holiday shoppers and a bustle - not surprising as Portsmouth has the highest population density of any UK city including London. Go figure. Retail is mostly middle-brow: Gap, Cliftons, Marks & Spencer, Waterfords, Top Shop. . . and themed-restaurants galore. We settle for a faux Mexican surrounded by chili, mustachioed cowboys and cacti decorations. Madeleine orders a cheeseburger and Sonnet some kind of wrap while my burrito interpretation would offend anybody South of the Border- I bemoan the lack of Mexican food here. Concluding, we stroll to the great docks and HMS Victory as well as a number of Britain's war ships including an Aircraft Carrier which is a monster. This is the world's largest dry-dock and so at the center of British history and former empire.

I make the kids jam-butter-banana sandwiches on wheat bread; I overhear them discuss how awful my creation; so bad, in fact, Eitan reportedly cries (Eitan "did not Madeleine. You wouldn't even know!")

Madeleine, out of the blue: "Have you ever been sacked Dad?"

Eitan: "I wish I could be on (Chelsea's Frank) Lampard's training team so I could ask him if could swap to Man United."
Sonnet: "I wish I could be inside Eitan's head so I could say: Eitan, when are you going to pick up your room?"

Thursday, January 8

Back To The Future


The Brits go mad over Darwin - or at least on the wireless - as we celebrate the 150th anniversary of perhaps the most profound gift to modern science: On The Origins of Species. Alongside the many, many volumes of new non-fiction dedicated to The Genius, the BBC presents 45 minutes of 9AM prime-time each day this week to Darwin's life legacy. I catch some of it driving to wherever - usually yoga or Waitrose - and it is a blessing of understanding into the man and his hardship. Consider that Darwin organised his work, post Beagle, in Cambridge which was then the centre of the Catholic aristocracy. Can you imagine those dinner parties? In a uniquely British way, that is a mixture of genius, snottiness and bull-dog tenacity (think Gibbons perhaps with his "Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire"), Darwin accomplished his task barely nipping Wallace to the finish. Oddly, Darwin's theory delayed so he could complete proof via a comprehensive field test of a barnacle - in his day, any sea-faring fellow would know the barnacle and have some opinion on where it came from (usually not a pleasant place). By presenting something simple and knowable with a short-life span easily adapting to its own element, Darwin showed conclusively that he was onto something big. Finally, note Darwin's title which easily could have been "The Origins of Man" or homo sapien or even: God Is Dead. Darwin knew his work dangerous to many and like any good scientist he wanted his work to be accepted and debated - not rejected as heresay or perhaps worse. And so it has been.

Here is a quote by Darwin which sums up the Bush years; it is actually the reason why I have written this otherwise admittedly shallow blog of an otherwise great man:

“Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge: it is those who know little, and not those who know much, who so positively assert that this or that problem will never be solved by science.”

Wednesday, January 7

Portsmouth Go!


After visiting the stadium how can we not see a game? The next fixture is v. Bristol City in the first-round qualifier of the FA Cup, which Portsmouth won last year. Here Eitan draws a cheering-flag which he holds up whenever necessary - in this game, which ends nil-nil, flag stays mostly in lap. As we know (?!), Portsmouth is the UK's only island-city, located on the Portsea Island; they are commonly nicknamed Pompey (pronounced Pom-pee) which, not surprisingly then, is the name of their FC. The team is also known as 'the Blues' (a tad more macho), with their fans being 'The Blue Army'. The FC was founded 1898 by John Brickwood, owner of the local brewery and presumably keen on his distribution. More recently, Pompey moved into the Premier League four years ago posting 13th, 16th, and 17th positions, respectively, before being bought by Russian Tycoon Alexandre Gaydamak (grounds keeper Frank tells me he is never at the games). With large amounts of free cash-flow, the manager made record signings and the club finished 2006-2007 in the Premier League's top-half, only one point short of European qualification. In 2008, Portsmouth reached the FA Cup final for the first time since 1939. Tragically for the Orenstein household, The Blues beat Manchester United at Old Trafford and the following day became the only Premier League team left in the cup, following Cardiff's win over Middlesbrough. They held on to beat Cardiff City, earning them a place in the 2008-09 UEFA Cup, the club's first-time playing European football. Phew! Their first UEFA cup match resulted in an historic 2-0 victory over Vitoria SC and Pompey went on to win the aggregate (4-2). This put Portsmouth in the group stages for the first time in their history. Not a bad way for the club to celebrate its 110th year.

Eitan at Portsmouth Stadium watching Portsmouth play Bristol City: "I would rather be at Old Trafford."

Coach's Box

Visiting Portsmouth Eitan spies a sign for the FC and begs a visit to the stadium even though mid-week and most certainly deserted. An easy decision nonetheless. We park in an empty lot and investigate how to see (sneak onto?) the pitch and happily, I ask a ground's keeper - Frank- who sees the boy's excited face and cannot resist us. Frank, who must be in his late 60s, gives us a full-tour from personal experience: "I was com'n here when I was a laddy with my dad. We would be standing, usually, but now they've replaced our gally with seats." The stadium is one of England's oldest: >100 years. Unlike the chic, new and very modern Emirates stadium where Arsenal plays or the largest club stadium Old Trafford (Manchester United), Portsmouth compares well to those old grainy black-and-whites where the fans huddled closely together wearing wool ivy caps - their frozen breath somehow visible. The stadium holds less than 20,000 and until recently half that before modernising for the Premier League, where the squad is a sound middle-player. Frank shows Eitan the coaches box - pictured - and indicates where the players sit when out of action. Eitan gushes as he considers Sol Cambell (Portsmouth captain and England player), Peter Crouch and David James (Portsmouth and England goalie). I did not have to ask twice for this photo.

Sonnet and I to visit Bath last night for Dave and Tabitha's Twelth Night party, which we have attend nine years in a row. Unfortunately we cannot quite make the logistics work as our nanny remains in Italy for the holidays so Sonnet must go by herself- boo hoo for me missing both the party and a 5-star nearby hotel. Still, I love having the Shakespeares to myself and yesterday I pick them up from school with their pal Jackson and we head to the common for football despite the sub-freezing weather. Eitan, as usual, insists on shorts and light fair while Madeleine wises up and puts on tights. Jackson no dummy and bundles himself with a very large winter-parka. Everybody tired in the end and we hit the hay at 7PM, including dad.


Eitan, enthusiastically, this morning 5:45Am:
"Dad! You have to wake up at 7AM!"

Madeleine spells 'cross': "C.. R.. O.. S.. . . . .K?"


Madeleine does her homework:
"Math, math, math! That is all I ever do around here!"

Tuesday, January 6

On Water


The tide is out and we explore a bog, which is remarkably clean. I think about the Thames which was so foul that by 1858 sittings at the House of Commons, next to the river, had to be abandoned. Covering the windows with carpet, which was a defense, could not stop le stink. By the middle of 19th Century, the rise in sewage carried into the Thames via the Fleet river killed every single fish, and consequently all the birds that lived off them. London had 70,000 houses of which only 17,000 had their own wells; the rest relied on standpipes- one for every 20 to 30 houses- which supplied water for one hour only, three days a week. Few houses had bathrooms and even when Queen Victoria moved into Buckingham Palace, she found no bathrooms. (as late as 1908, Downing Street had no bathrooms BTW). All of Victorian London's waste and toxic water passed into the river, you see. Public bathhouses were popular which is an unimaginable horror - I am made squeemish by the old, over-chlorinated swimming pools. A series of cholera outbreaks in the 1840s and 1850s paved the way for a system of sewers built with the main outfall at Becton and Crossness, away from the central areas and leading to a dramatic drop in death rates (from 130 down to 37 per 1000). The first filtration plant for the Thames was built in 1869. As a further precaution, the Victoria, Albert and Chelsea embankments were built to speed the river and get rid of the putrid mud. The Victorians used the momentum to build further under London with the Underground railway and more sewers.

And here we are today using practically the same system. Improvements do happen though. Take our area Richmond: Thames Water is redoing all the clay-pipes at once, modernising with plastic and bendy fixtures attaching each and everyone's house. God only knows the cost but I am fascinated by the workmanship, which marches block-by-block through the neighborhood tearing up concrete roads and sidewalks, digging ever-deeper ditches and snaking tubes. For a while the kids and I would try to understand the process but soon its commonplace grew boring. This work happening everywhere in London BTW and long-overdue: Thames Water loses >2 billion gallons a day.

Sunset In Bosham

Last week I capture the sunset while we otherwise goof around in the small charming village of Bosham (pop. 2847) which was founded by the Romans who built a Mill Stream as there was no fresh water otherwise. The Mill Stream still exists and runs by the parish, which is mentioned by name in the Bayeux Tapestry, referring to the 1064 meeting of Harold and Edward the Confessor on the way to meet William of Normandy to discuss who would succeed Edward to the throne. I repeat the words below as I know they are of interest to Silver:

    "Ubi Harold Dux Anglorum et sui milites equitant ad Bosham"
    (Where Harold, Earl of the English, and his army ride to Bosham)

Eitan finds a group of kids playing football and shyly watches the action. I prompt him to join and he does, reluctantly, and then fully embraced by the kids and their dads who are working off some holiday glut (this Dad chooses to watch). Madeleine is more interested in the swans, ducks and sea gulls which I learn are becoming a menace in the UK since they are A) aggressive and B) well-fed thanks to the refuse. But why be a spoiler? Madeleine's loaf of stale bread goes a long way towards her popularity while Sonnet resists every instinct to bark: "Not so close to the edge!"
Speaking of the edge, the solar system is orbiting the centre of the Milky Way at a giddy 600,000 MPH or 100,000 MPH faster than the experts thought (reported in today's Popular Science). Astronomers have discovered that the Milky Way's mass is 50% greater, equal to the neighbouring Andromeda galaxy, which means there is an even liklier chance of our Milky Way colliding with other galaxies. As though we don't have enough to worry about.
What is equally interesting (to me, anyway) is how they measure such things: the American Astronomical Society in California first directed the Very Long Baseline Array radio telescope at some of the most prolific star-forming regions.
Because these areas have enhanced levels of radio emission, they act as "bright landmarks." Next they observe them when the Earth is at opposite sides of its sun-orbit, allowing astronomers to measure the slight shift in position between the star-forming regions and other distant objects. From there, measurements use the traditional surveyor's triangulation method, which I recall from Mr Griffon's tenth grade geometry.

Cool! (Mr Griffon was a terrific crotchety old man and a fabulous teacher. I needed an "A" on the final-exam to pull an "A" in the class. He handed me my result and winked: "You did it, kid. Nice job." Sadly, he died the year I left for college).

Sunday, January 4

Belloc


NB I will post family pics tomorrow.

Eitan forgets his holiday homework, which includes (amongst other things) memorising Hilaire Belloc. Sonnet talks to a mum to get the assignment and Eitan pulls himself away from Manchester United vs. Southampton in a FA Cup qualifier to do his work. Remarkably, he knows the poem almost entirely from several readings - Madeleine and I watch his recital at the dining-room table, me with my mouth open:

"There was a Boy whose name was Jim;
His Friends were very good to him.
They gave him Tea, and Cakes, and Jam,
And slices of delicious Ham,
And Chocolate with pink insideAnd little Tricycles to ride,
And read him Stories through and through,
And even took him to the Zoo-
But there it was the dreadful Fate
Befell him, which I now relate.

"You know--or at least you ought to know
For I have often told you so--
That Children never are allowed
To leave their Nurses in a Crowd;
Now this was Jim's especial Foible,
He ran away when he was able,
And on this inauspicious day
He slipped his hand and ran away!

"He hadn't gone a yard when--Bang!
With open Jaws, a lion sprang,
And hungrily began to eat
The Boy: beginning at his feet.
Now, just imagine how it feels
When first your toes and then your heels,
And then by gradual degrees,
Your shins and ankles, calves and knees,
Are slowly eaten, bit by bit.
No wonder Jim detested it!
No wonder that he shouted "Hi!"

"The Honest Keeper heard his cry,
Though very fat he almost ran
To help the little gentleman.
"Ponto!" he ordered as he came
(For Ponto was the Lion's name),
"Ponto!" he cried, with angry Frown,
"Let go, Sir! Down, Sir! Put it down!"
The Lion made a sudden stop,
He let the Dainty Morsel drop,
And slunk reluctant to his Cage,
Snarling with Disappointed Rage.
But when he bent him over Jim,
The Honest Keeper's Eyes were dim.
The Lion having reached his Head,
The Miserable Boy was dead!

"When Nurse informed his Parents, they
Were more Concerned than I can say:--
His Mother, as She dried her eyes,
Said, "Well--it gives me no surprise,
He would not do as he was told!"
His Father, who was self-controlled,
Bade all the children round attend
To James's miserable end,
And always keep a-hold of Nurse
For fear of finding something worse."

Belloc (b. 1870- 1953) BTW was a French-born writer and historian who became a naturalised British subject in 1902. He was one of the most prolific writers in England during the early twentieth century.
He is most notable for his Roman Catholic faith, which impacted most of his writing.

On Pizza


And here we are in 2009.

Any thought that the British recession might somehow lead to a healthier lifestyle gets an early knock: Domino's takeaway pizza is on the expansion as consumers down-grade from fancier restaurants or, more likely, stay at home watching T.V. The company's Q4, which will be announced this week, is expected to be strong following a 10.5% sales-increase for the first nine months of '08. Go England. Domino's, as all fast-food here, comes from America where it originated in 1960. For Britain, the joy commenced trading in '85 with the first store in Luton (a ghastly spot BTW offering a no-frills airport for the worst low-fare holiday-makers). By 2002 there were >200 Domino's in the UK and now there are >500. It astounds me that these Brits choose fast-food when there are better and more enjoyable alternatives - in our neighborhood, Basilico's delivers some of the best pizza I have eaten, excluding Naples Italy (Katie and I confirmed that firstly in '92). My uncle Larry (HBS '73) has a business school friend Dave D. who attended Harvard with one ambition: bring England pizza. And he did - by the time Dave sold his franchise to The Daily Mail & Trust, who was pursuing a diversified corporate portfolio strategy stupidly popular in the 1980s, he owned >100 restaurants. I met Dave several years ago in London where he retains a strategic role with DM&T and otherwise retired. I recall his retelling of his life's work and though he made his fortune in the '80s, which doesn't seem to far ago to me, he described it from another lifetime. I guess that is what happens. Well, in any case: there is no slowing Dominoes - the UK master franchise owns the right to sell signature pies like "Mighty Meaty" and "Texas BBQ" as well as the "cheesy double-stuffed crust." Could you ever bet against it?

Madeleine's all-time favorite food: pepperoni pizza.

Eitan's
favorite pizza: La Reine at chain Pizza Express (
Prosciutto ham, olives and mushrooms).

Dad's favorite: Salami at Pierro's Pizza on Shattuck Avenue in Berkeley across from the UA Theatre (about ten-minutes from Chez Panisse). Pizza served in dark room on red checkered tables with ancient droopy candles+blue cheese salad having more dressing than lettuce. Sadly Pierro's closed maybe eight-years ago having opened in '73. For me, an irreplaceable Berkeley institution.

Meat pizza uncredited from the www.