Sunday, January 29

Ze Tate

A father daughter moment
Madeleine and I check out the Robert Raushenberg retrospective at the Tate Modern. Here is our hero on the train ride home.

For a period of time we lost Eitan to adolescence and today I fear it is Madeleine. I still get the occasional slight smile or even giggle for my jokes but more often then not it is the rolled eyes, or . . silence. I feel for the kid : routine, hard work and no end in sight. What is the payback ? It is for her and us to find out.

Eitan At The Races

Back stretch
Eitan finishes in the middle of the pack and with a good attitude: It is a hard race, run two days after the Middlesex school qualifier, where he places 9th of 60 with the top 6 assured a spot; Eitan is an alternate. Today it is on to football.

Me: "You have a choice. You can pick the museum we go to."
Madeleine: "What ? What's my other choice?"
Me: "I can pick it."

The Calm Before The Storm

Hamstead Heath, -2 degrees
Eitan runs the U17 Southern Cross Country Championships on Hamstead Heath, pictured, and it is like the Somme before the battle. The race start is at the base of Parliament Hill giving us spectators a perfect vantage point, a half mile out and on top of the hill, to watch the huffing and puffing beast heading towards us at a rapid clip.

The course is 7k and unforgiving -  the first kilometre includes the hill and separates the conditioned and natural athletes from the rest; there is really no recovery from the start.

Sonnet returns from a week in Colorado where she has been with Stan. I have duly managed the household without her and pizza delivery only once. Otherwise I fall into a routine without comfort: 6AM dog walk; defrost the car, prep the kids for school nd drive to train station. I keep the evenings free to pick up Eitan and Madeleine from track or other activities then dinner at home, often in front of the TV. Not ideal, but they are working hard.

Me: "Why do you have a bottle of ketchup in your room?"
Madeleine: "No idea."

Sunday, January 22

Winter Day

Back streets
It is one of those dark winter days that casts long shadows. It reminds me of NYC walking around the Bowery or Lower West Side but never California. It is a mood.

Eitan and I go to the Imperial War Museum (his pick, against his will). We catch the Sunday train to Waterloo and walk the 15 minutes across Southwark, greeted by the two 15 inch diameter, 54 foot long naval guns commissioned in 1914 and today posted at the front museum entrance. They saw last action on D Day, sending missiles 16 miles into German occupied France at reasonable precision.

I lose myself in the The Great War while Eitan studies the Holocaust and Cold War period, which he studies in school. Walking home we find a hole-in-the-wall Korean restaurant on a shabby Victorian side-street. It is excellent.

Eitan: "How much does a flat cost?"
Me: "In London, depends where, but let's say 800k."
Me: "That means you will have to save 80k for a deposit on a mortgage."
Eitan: "I'm not really sure what that means."
Me: "Well, let's assume you get a good job after uni paying 40k.. ."
Eitan: "How much is that per hour ?"
Me: "It's not really something you calculate. You do a good job, you get 40k. If not, you get fired."
Eitan: "Yeah."
Me: "So assuming you can save 10k a year, it will take 8 years for the down payment.'
Eitan: "That's a long time."
Me: "Or you could live in some cool cheaper city where young people go like Berlin or Barcelona. I would love to have done that."
Eitan: "And learn Spanish ?"
Me: "You already know it. Or you could go to the United States. There are wonderful cities other than New York. Like Seattle, or LA or Boston. "
Eitan: "I get kind of stressed thinking about leaving. I would never see my friends again."
Me: "You guys have media that I didn't at your age. You can stay in touch with them."
Eitan: "I think once I leave, I will never come back."
Me: "It might be the case. It is all part of life."

Pussy Power

Grosvenor Square
I join college friend Katy for the Women's March which is also a de facto protest against The Clown and all he stands for. Katie joins the walk in Washington DC, which attracts something like 500,000 people while London it is 100,000 (Madeleine unable to join given a hill session in Richmond Park).

It is freezing at Grosvenor Square where the march begins but nobody complaining and the vibe is good, if defiant. We stand about for an hour waiting to .. walk. The female: male ratio is 6 or 7 to 1 by my estimate. I have never been surrounded by so many women demanding their reproductive and sexual rights which makes me think: none of these folks went to Brown. And its corollary: I went to the wrong college.

Our walk accompanied by chanting, the inevitable Caribbean drums, bands and encouragement along the way. It is a powerful tour de force. Will it create momentum or be swept away by current events?

Sunday, January 8

Surrey XC Champs

Madeleine and Rebecca compete
Madeleine competes the Surrey Cross Country championships. It's a hilly 4k course and Madeleine battles the mud and elements valiantly, finishing in the middle of the pack (60 girls in here age bracket). Eitan out with the flu.

I join Dave and Tabitha and their family in Bath for their Twelfth Night party, which Tab has been hosting for 29 years. Sonnet and I first joined in 2001. Our families met in Maida Vale when the women pregnant with Eitan and Neta.

At the party I always meet a bunch of interesting people and this year re-connect with Holly, a fire-cracker who founded the Bath Film Festival. Holly a feminist who created the F Rating which rates films based on female participation (Director, production, actors ) which is now used by 40 organisations including the BAFTA in the UK. Holly did a TED ex talk on it in November.

Thursday, January 5

Cold Mornings

Rusty smells a deer
The dog, for his part, never misses the opportunity to roll around in deer shit.

The hard shock of post-holiday re-entry is now behind us. At least, for those who bit the bullet and went back to work early. 

The Christmas trees begin to line the streets. Every year I "call" the last one with a text to Sonnet : ie, the final hold-outs of the holiday season. The record is mid March.

Madeleine up at 6:30AM in a chipper mood and ready to take on physics at the morning bell. Her first exam in the New Year.

Wednesday, January 4

A Day At The Office

Madeleine cranks out the physics
Madeleine joins me at work to do some studying. It seems like a good idea until I have to wake her at 8:30AM and am reminded, dear reader, that teenagers live by a different rhythm.

The resentfulness lasts until late morning while I earn a few lines of conversation for lunch - her favourite, sushi.  Shopping establishes further goodwill until the commute home, when we split so she can visit friends in Wimbledon.

She is utterly charming with my colleagues.

Madeleine: "Your work friends seem pretty posh."

The Jets

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

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

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

Monday, January 2

A Year In Review

Self portrait XXXXX

Eitan 16

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

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

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

Tomorrow it is back to official work.

Sunday, January 1

A New Year

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

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

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

Saturday, December 31

Jeff And Grace

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

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

Celebrate !

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

Trump Loves Putin

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

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

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

Friday, December 30

Good Bye Katie

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

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

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

Frozen Sunrise

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

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

Thursday, December 29

A Strong Woman

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

Wednesday, December 28


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

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

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

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

A Dog's Life

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

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

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

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

Ancient Forrests

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

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

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

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