Friday, December 31

Alex And A Class Action

Alex over-nights to each's amusement.

Moe and I discuss the class-action lawsuit against Wal-Mart, the largest civil rights class-action in US history with 2 million plaintiffs and counting. The charge against Wal-Mart brought by Moe's friend Bud Seligmen who once worked for Guy (Bud is my age). Bud suggests that Wal-Mart has discriminated against women in promotions, pay, and job assignments in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Moe explains (Recall, Dear Reader, my father a labor lawyer). Everybody agrees, including Wal-Mart, that the representative case around which the class is built, is, without doubt, sexism. Heavy statistics back up the allegations. Unusually, following ten-years of back and forth trending against Wal-Mart, the case is with the Supreme Court who will decide if the the class action may proceed or broken into smaller regional grievances.

The Supreme Court unusual as a three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit affirmed the court's class certification (a Big Deal in these case) - Wal-Mart filed a rehearing and a rehearing en bank ("by the full court" or "full bench" - in the Ninth Court's case, an 11 judge subset), contending that the majority committed legal error with regard to whether the grounds for class action certification had been met. The 9th Circuit then withdraw its initial rendering and "beefed up the case" while still supporting the class-action. In April, 2010, the en banc court affirmed the district court's class certification on a 6-5 vote. Wal-Mart's lead appellate counsel, Theodore Boutros, Jr., fumed "it violates both due process and federal class action rules, contradicting numerous decisions of other federal appellate courts and the Supreme Court itself," and indicated that Wal-Mart would appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. Ted has and now the Supremes to decide. Not surprisingly, conservative commentators have criticized the lawsuit as an abuse of the class action mechanism.

Bud notes to Moe that if the Supreme Court rules against the class certification, his case goes from two million women to six.


We have lunch at the Pembroke Lodge which began life as the mole catcher's cottage in Richmond Park. Hunters wished to hunt without the threat of ..molehills .. tripping them up, you see. The mole catcher's cottage eventually extended into something bigger and given to Elizabeth Herbert, the countess of Pembroke, principal lady-in-waiting to George III. Elizabeth then built further, creating the building today more-or-less. There is a large dining hall with comfy chairs and a number of gardeners rooms and quiet places. In 1847 Queen Victoria granted Pembroke Lodge to prime minister Lord John Russell. In 1854 the Earl of Aberdeen's Cabinet met at Pembroke Lodge and decided to proceed with the Crimean War against Russia. The lodge offers lovely views of the park and Teddington and beyond and is also a lovely spot for a pot of tea.

Eitan: "Gracie, out of ten, how much did you like 'MegaMind' (a cartoon-movie we saw the other day)?
Grace: "About a six."
Eitan: "So you didn't really like it."
Grace: "It's a strong moral tale that blasts in your face. Do you know what a 'moral tale' is?"
Eitan: "It is a message that you should always keep trying and never give up."
Madeleine: "Be very good and not evil."
Grace: "Yes, those are good thoughts."

Eitan: "What do you get when you cross a dinosaur and a pig?"
Me: "What?"
Eitan: "Jurassic pork. Ha ha ha! I get it!"

Eitan: "Why did the crab blush?"
Me: "Enough already."
Eitan. "Because the sea weed."
Eitan: "I liked the other one better."

Eitan, hiding: "Boo!"
Sonnet: "Ah! Don't ever do that again! You scared the bejesus out of me!"
Me: "That was some excellent positive re-enforcement."
Sonnet: "Grrrr"


Every now and again I get a preview of my teenagers. Already the battle-lines forming around their bedrooms - I want it tidy, they want a mess. Usually the cleaner provides the convenient middle-ground and I roll my eyes when their junk goes missing - not my problem where Maria puts their stuff.

Me: "Joe, does your dad do projects around the house?"
Me: "Does he curse and scream and holler?"
Eitan: "Looking for a bit of inspiration Dad?"

Sonnet: "Did Eitan and Madeleine have dinner last night?"
Me: "It's a good question. Did you kids have dinner?"
Eitan, Madeleine: "No."
Sonnet: "Jeff!"
Eitan, helpfully: "I was waiting for Dad to make us something."
Me: "You could have asked the baby-sitter."
Eitan: "Busted."

Wednesday, December 29

The Curator

And, thank goodness for me, there is Sonnet. Here is Sonnet's professional photo+bio from the web: "Sonnet (Dear Reader) is curator of 20th-century and contemporary fashion at the V&A, a post she has held since 1999. Before joining the V&A, Sonnet worked as a fashion buyer in New York and San Francisco. Sonnet curated the V&A´s recent fashion displays New York Fashion Now (2007) and Ossie Clark (2003) and has coordinated a number of the V&A´s popular Fashion in Motion series, including the catwalk shows of Stella McCartney for Chloé, Hardy Amies and Christian Lacroix. Sonnet has lectured and been published on various aspects of contemporary fashion design and is the author of the book New York Fashion (V&A Publishing, April 2007)." I might add that she has done all of this with a couple of kids and she has met the Queen.

This morning I suggest a museum to get us (the hell) out of the house which receives squeals of protest from the Shakespeares so I give them a choice: we can go by car or we can go by train. They ponder this before choosing the car. To show that I am not without reason, I back off the early contemplated Dulwich Picture Gallery for the Sciences Museum. We park at the V&A and cross the street and have a blast. There is an exhibition on psychology and the mind for Gracie while I tell the kids I wish them to report on a thing with detail. Each has his/her trusty notebook and goes to work with determination. Eitan disappears for an half-hour and, unlike a year or so ago, he is perfectly OK with this (though Madeleine rings her hands in worry).

Madeleine tells me about the Apollo engine used to take the first voyage to the moon. Along with the one we see, the spaceship owned five more. The contraption with its pipes and plugs and chambers otherwise unfathomable. Moe notes that Wherner von Braun wanted to send into orbit trained chimpanzees instead of astronauts which pissed the astronauts off. We get a nice chuckle from this one.

Eitan does "Hackworth's Royal George Locomotive, 1827 (I copy from his notes); Timothy Hackworth (1786-1850); engineer to Stockton and Dartington Railways, 1815 to 1840; Built the locomotive Royal George; Believed Hackworth made 1:16 model to demonstrate to Directors of Stockton and Darlington Railway the soundness of his design."

Madeleine (in the museum's 'Industrial Era'): "Dad, if this was a yard sale, I would love to go."

Madeleine: "What do you think would happen if you licked the dogs face?
Me: "I don't know."
Madeleine: "Well I wouldn't want to do it."
Madeleine: "Can I watch TV?"

Tuesday, December 28

Capping Off The Madness

National Bird

This friendly fellow allows me a snap or two before darting off. He is otherwise a rarity inside The Palm House and makes me wonder : how so?

And, since you ask, Robins are one of the only UK birds heard singing in the garden on Christmas day. This because they hold their territories all year round, defending against intruders with .. song. Males often hold the same territory throughout their lives, and will attack their reflection, mistaking it for another individual. Their melodious voices, along with their "cocky little attitudes," have endeared robin red breasts to the British public, and in 1960 they were crowned the UK's national bird.

Not surprising given, well, that this is Great Britain, bird-watching a national past-time. I was not able to find the hard-data but serious bird-spotters number, easily, in the hundreds of thousands. Just go to the "Birding News" website to find "Bird Alert" where various species spotted and posted to your mobile or wherever - a Black Grouse, for instance, seen at 11:25:00 AM on 27-12-2010 by "Kilgo." Similar sitings noted for the Feldfare, Redwing and Jack Snipe. Nearby is the Barnes Wetland Center whose gift-shop allows the punter to own a full bird-spotting kit complete with camouflage fatigues, wellies and military-rated binoculars; the grounds supply the wooded blinds. Many a time have I been to The Wetlands Center, Shakespeares running amok, to be dressed down by an elderly spotter planted (no doubt) for hours. Who can blame them ?

Potted Plant

This sucker is believed to be the world's oldest potted plant and re-potted at Kew Gardens last year after, "once again," out-growing its pot (this one of 25-years). The huge Jurassic Cycad - or 'Encephalartos altensteninii" to those eccentrically smart Brits - is four-meters, growing 2.5cm a year. It was first "installed" at Kew in '75. 1775, that is. The relocation took three months of planning, five members of staff and a lifting gantry to move the old beast from one pot to the other. The life-expectancy is another 250 years. Do note the poles that prop the plant up - there are four of them.


We visit Kew Gardens, a favorite place, and this the Palm House, pictured, built between 1844-1848 from the cooperation between architect Decimus Burton and iron-founder Richard Turner. As the name might suggest, the building specialised for growing palms and other tropical and subtropical plants. It requires constant heat and built as status symbols in Victorian Britain; several examples of similar ornate glass and iron structures at Liverpool's Sefton and Stanley parks. Back then, the Palm House continued the glass-house design principles developed by John Claudius Loudon and Joseph Paxton (source: Kew Gardens). It was the first to first large-scale structural use of wrought iron : A space frame of wrought iron arches, held together by horizontal tubular structures containing long prestressed cables, supports glass panes which were originally tinted green with copper oxide to reduce the significant heating effect. The 19 meter high central nave is surrounded by a walkway at 9m height, allowing us a closer look upon the palm tree crowns below. We take a twirl.

If you are tired, Dear Reader, of the grey, bleached out, photographs on this blog - join the club. It has been, like, three months since any continuous sunshine. I have the kids on a Vitamin D supplement. Martian Chronicles, dude.

Me: "Chelsea hasn't won a game in their last six. What's up with that?"
Eitan: "They are pooing on their own guts."
Eitan: "Metaphorically speaking of course."

Madeleine: "Alex, just to warn you, sometimes Rusty humps people."

Monday, December 27

Gracie And Moe

The Sugar Hill Gang

After an early movie - MegaMind - we cross the street to a pizza joint in Richmond, pictured. I lament the closing of Berkeley's Pirro's, which was the best I ever had (excluding Napoli with Katie and Minoti). Pirro's Pizzeria on Shattuck Avenue opened in '73 and closed in '06 or '05. The same sad, friendly waitress there the entire time and the chefs tossed the dough into the air. The tables red-checkered with dripping candle wax. A coat pole took the over-sized jackets and there could not have been more than 12 tables. I always sat in the same, towards the back. As for the order : salami pie accompanied by blue cheese dressing, some chickpeas and a little green lettuce. Perfecto.

Britain's favorite not pizza. A recent UKTV survey suggests Spaghetti Bolognese, or "spa bol" as it is often stupidly called here, #1. Maybe not too surprisingly half of the Top 10 recipes foreign; celebrity chefs like Jamie Oliver and Delia Smith have also influenced our pallet. Here are the remaining nine, in order:
2. Roast Dinner (Sunday family time)
3. Chile con carne (Weird. The British otherwise hate Mexican)
4. Lasagna
5. Cottage or Sheperd's Pie (Classic)
6. Meat or chicken stir-fry (Gross)
7. Beef casserole (Really gross)
8. Macaroni and cheese (Pathetic)
9. Toad in the hole (Anybody's guess)
10. Curry (England's night cap of choice)

You are what you eat.

Sunday, December 26


My parents look, well, like Grandparents to me for the first time. They move a little slower, the hearing is not always there and in other ways they are frail. This is not a bad thing somehow, mind you. With age comes wisdom.

I recall my mom with our Euclid neighbors Loraine and Horace Haynes; Horace debilitated when I knew him, age 10, and made me uncomfortable as his speech unrecognisable though his mind sharp and eyes clear. Grace never acted differently around Horace and, I noticed, used touch often (at the time, this about the last thing I wished to do - touch an old person). Before his stroke, Horace worked for Standard Oil. Loraine and her sister Murial Drury (who lived together) Berkeley stalwarts with stories of the early UC campus and Berkeley fire of '23, which destroyed 584 homes in the North Berkeley Hills, including theirs and ours, both soon rebuilt. Murial's husband Newton Drury involved with the Save-The-Redwoods League which has, since '21, established over 1000 redwood memorial groves in thirty of California's state redwood parks; one grove named after Newton, who served as the league's first Executive Director as well as being the fourth Director of the National Park Service. I have been to the Newton Drury grove in the South Grove of Big Trees State Park.

Me: "What did you and Moe talk about on your walk?"
Madeleine, building a Lego house: "I don't know. Nothing."
Me: "That's it?"
Me: "You know, talking to your Grandfather is like a great short-cut."
Madeleine: "What do you mean?"
Me: "He can tell you things that will take you many years to figure out. Ever think of that?"
Madeleine: "No, not really. Like what?"
Me: "Well, that is for you to consider. What are the things you wish know? Then ask him."
Madeleine: "Ok. Can I play with my Legos now?"
Me: "Fair enough."

Saturday, December 25

Christmas, Take Two

Christmas, Take One

Eitan and Madeleine follow their tradition of sleeping in the same bedroom Christmas Eve which means not much sleeping. We stay up late wrapping presents and Sonnet later setting the kitchen table and taking care of the final finals. This morning I walk the dog .. or vice versa .. in darkness. The High Street silent - not one coffee shop to satisfy my needs.

The kids rip into their presents like nobody's business - Katie gives them red PJs with their names engraved on the front and their bottoms, which gets a nice guffaw from the Shakespeares. There are electric toothbrushes, a music player, ManU cloths and Alex Rider books; chocolate (of course) and DVDs; stuffed animals; "The History of Manchester United" and Legos .. Thank you everyone, one and all. Moe and Grace watch the action from the couch .. I recall Mary Lou, my Grandmother's Florida friend, remark: "Youth is a feast for the eyes."

Sonnet asks me to chop the goose's wing at the joint, which requires a cutter from my tool box. I find this to be disturbing. Next door, "Singing In The Rain."

Friday, December 24

Almost Diamond

More "Rusty" love y'all.

Sonnet's parents celebrate their 49th anniversary the day after Christmas. Grace and Moe (who did, in fact, arrive today) enjoyed their 48th on the 21st and will do so again on the 28th .. two ceremonies - one for the Jews and the other for the Protestants. Integrated they were in a very American way : Moe from University City, St Louis, and a reformed Jewish family and Grace, Upper Arlington, Ohio, where my grandfather a Company Man and every house with a two-car garage and no sidewalk. Grace a "wasp" : white Anglo Saxon protestant who, she notes, "everybody hated during the civil rights movement." My parents broke the mold, met in the first Peace Corps, spent three years in Malawi, then Berkeley California.

In the same spirit, Stan and Silver married shortly after meeting each other in Colorado and moved to Anchorage in '64, weeks before The Great Alaskan Earthquake that lasted five-minutes and the most powerful recorded earthquake in U.S. and North American history, and the second most powerful ever measured by seismograph with a magnitude of 9.2. Silver described the ground "melting." Stan a lawyer and Silver an English Professor at University of Alaska - I met a woman at Gare du Nord who took Silver's course "Women's Autobiography" who told me Silver changed her life. Stan and Silver and Moe and Grace found a way to forge a direction unhindered by legacy. Our parents had a sense of adventure and desire for .. something different. And they got it.

The Goose

Sonnet gives me a good kick and I jump from bed, grab the boy, and off to Chubb & Son for the Christmas bird. Not until standing in line do I have my first sip of coffee. The trick, as we have learned these last eight years, is to arrive 30 minutes before opening otherwise the queue around the corner and the wait two+ hours. Eitan in pretty good spirits as are we all as Moe and Grace set to arrive Heathrow today .. inshallah. This year, Grace notes, seems extra-special given the effort to be together including three cancelled flights. Katie remains closer to NYC and in Vermont.

Last night we see "39 Steps" at the marvelous Criterion Theatre on Piccadilly circus. To be precise, the theatre under the circus and we descend four or five flights to our seats. The venue dates to the 1870s and feels wonderfully of an other era which is fine since the decor not replaced in a generation (The Criterion a Grade II listed building so no structural changes allowed but a good upgrade, or at least a tidy dusting, would do nicely). Wartime music plays before and after the show. Sonnet describes the play as "an inventive comedy" which references every Hitchcock movie. Four actors fill various rolls and some of the set pieces, like racing across the roof of a train ("Number Seventeen") or avoiding a dual-wing plane ("North By Northwest"), spirited. Eitan adds "It is a bit of a mystery" and my two-cents that it is more like Monty Python. It is perfect for kids, though well passed their bedtime. Ah, well - holiday schedule dude. Anthony joins us and we have dinner at the very cool Soho House since it is, well, Anto. Kids allowed until 9PM. Sharp. The manager stops by to chat with us for ten minutes despite the busy busy.

The Pope does "Thought For The Day" on Radio 4.

Me: "Anything to say on Christmas Eve?"
Eitan: "Um, it feels like any other day."
Me: "Really?"
Eitan: "Yeah, I guess so. What's it supposed to feel like?"
Me: "I don't know. That's what I asked you."
Eitan: "Where is this going, Dad?"

Thursday, December 23

Our Kate Is Always Sunshine

Kate in Ibiza on a yaght. She frolics for us all.

The winter solstice, I explain to Eitan and Madeleine, occurs exactly when the Earth's axial tilt is farthest away from the sun at its maximum of 23° 26'; this occurs on the shortest day and longest night, when the sun's daily max position in the sky is the lowest. The seasonal significance of the winter solstice is in the reversal of the gradual lengthening of nights and shortening of days. Depending on the shift of the calendar, the winter solstice occurs on December 21 or 22 in the Northern Hemisphere, and June 20 or 21 in the Southern Hemisphere. This year, ye perfectionists, the winter solstice occurred on December 21, at 23:38 UTC. This is 11:38 pm Western European Time or 6:38 pm Eastern Standard Time. Bada bing.

Eitan, reading from a joke book: "What do you call a polar bear in the desert?"
Me: "What?"
Eitan: "Lost."
Madeleine: "That is horrible."

Eitan: "Why did the loo paper roll down the hill?"
Eitan: "To get to the bottom."
Eitan: "Ha ha ha! Get it?"

Me: "Man is it dark. What do we call the darkest day of the year?"
Eitan: "The darkest day of the year?"
Eitan: "The day it's really dark?"
Madeleine: "The blackest day?"
Eitan: "The day of blackness?"
Madeleine: "The day with less sun?"
Eitan: "The day with no light?"
Me: "How about the winter solstice?"
Eitan: "Oh, yeah - that one."

Upper Hunza Valley

Munir sends the KKH gang this shot from Minapin, where Munir has been often in 2008 and 2009. In '97 Munir took us into the heart of Pakistan's Northern Territories, nicking Afghanistan, through the Karakoram Mountains and finally the Xinjiang Provence of China.. Then, Munir was responsible for small enterprises along the highway so he new every inch of the two-lane black top.

Shangri-La is a fictional place described in the 1933 novel Lost Horizon by British author James Hilton. In the book, "Shangri-La" is a mystical, harmonious valley, gently guided from alamasery, enclosed in the western end of the Kunlun Mountains. Shangri-La has become synonymous with any earthly paradise but particularly a mythical Himalayan utopia — a permanently happy land, isolated from the outside world. In the novel Lost Horizon, the people who live at Shangri-La are almost immortal, living years beyond the normal lifespan and only very slowly aging in appearance. The word also evokes the imagery of exoticism of the Orient. In the ancient Tibetan scriptures, existence of seven such places is mentioned as Nghe-Beyul Khimpalung. One of such places is mentioned to be situated somewhere in the Makalu-Barun region. The other is the Hunza Valley. Source: Wiki

Merry Cheer

Madeleine and I have a special afternoon at The Old Vic where we see a decidedly adult play "A Flea In Her Ear." I was supposed to be with my mother but the airports closed so Moe and Grace expected tomorrow, inshallah. The play's innuendos fly fast over Madeleine's head ("Dad, what are they supposed to be doing in that room?"; "Dad, why is she wearing hand cuffs?") she is into the excitement of live performance and this very different than Peter Pan, which she saw with Aggie last week, and starred "The Hoff" as Captain Hook. Woah. After A Flea, we walk across the street to the book store and spend a few bob on gifts then Waterloo station and home on the train. London lit up like a Christmas Tree and glows with holiday cheer.

Madeleine: "Do you think it was better or worse to live in the olden times?"
Me: "I think it was probably the same with a few big differences."
Madeleine: "Like going to America. That would take ages!"
Me: "And medicine. If you were born a hundred years ago you would have feared things like polio. Or imagine the plague."
Madeleine: "In Tudor times, they slit the women open when she was having a baby. They rarely had a chance."
Me: "That sounds ghastly."
Madeleine: "They did that to save the baby. But mostly both of them died."
Madeleine: "I'm glad I wasn't born during the Tudor times."
Me: "Me too."

Eitan, quizzically: "Dad, would you rather eat a cow pat or compost?"

Richmond Park Pond

The pond a favorite for years - I am with the dog and the park mostly to ourselves. A five by 5 foot unfrozen hole services the waterfowl : ducks, swans, and others I don't know.

Tuesday, December 21

Love Affair

The kids sleep in after a late night watching movies ("Shriek 3"). Eitan wanders into the kitchen and does what every ten-year old does : bakes a cake. This time it is a butter-milk something batter with pecans on the top and side. It turns out flat as a rock but we both note: "tastes pretty good." Me, I swim a few laps (in and out before dawn), walk the dog and organise some family papers. I yell at the kids a couple of times to clean their bedrooms, do the dishes - usual stuff. I ask Madeleine to wear a dress as we are going to the Royal Albert Hall but never going to happen. I offer her £100 and she refuses - either 100 quid not enough or she knows mine an idle jest. Either way, I like her principals.

Monday, December 20


Sonnet's cousin David, on her father's side and the son of Bill. David is a carpenter in Brooklyn - you cannot get any cooler than that.

The cold persists and more snow expected tonight. My parent's flight cancelled - again - leaving everybody a bit blue. Since this be England and our house from the 1920s, the pipes on the outside .. where they can burst .. which they do. No water. These things so routine they barely cause a ruffle. Kids happy, no bath. For the record : I insulated last winter but to no consequence against the lowest lows on record.

Growing up in northern California has had a big influence on my love and respect for the outdoors. When I lived in Oakland, we would think nothing of driving to Half Moon Bay and Santa Cruz one day and then driving to the foothills of the Sierras the next day.

-- Tom Hanks

Sunday, December 19

£ove Your Job

Me: "When do you think life begins?"
Madeleine: "Like what do you mean?"
Me: "Does it start when the man's sperm and woman's egg come together?"
Madeleine: "No, of course not."
Me: "Well, when?"
Madeleine: "At birth."
Me: "What if I told you a baby in mom's uterus has ten fingers and a heart beat?"
Madeleine, Eitan:
Me: "How about the potential for life? When does that start?"
Madeleine: "Life begins at the first breath. That is when it starts."
Me: "I like that. There is no doubt there."
Eitan: "Yes, at birth. When the baby breathes."
Madeleine: "That is what I said!"
Eitan: "Well, it's obvious isn't it?"
Me: "Not so obvious - a lot of people argue this. How about a tree seed. Is it living when just a root underground?"
Madeleine: "Yes."
Me: "Isn't this like a baby in mom's uterus?"
Madeleine: "Well, a tree is not actually living until it has leaves."
Eitan: "That is when it can breath."
Madeleine: "Nice one, Eitan."

Singing In The Snow

Everything, and I mean everything, shut down across the UK. The kids will have their white Christmas. This reminds me of the Great Blizzard of Jan '96 which closed the NYC metro for the first time ever. It was Sonnet's first day at Anne Taylor - a job she took to help put me through business school along with my parents. The prior month Sonnet relocated from San Francisco and her fine life so we could be together. So, after a bunch of kvetching and worry, Sonnet's boss calls and we have a free day together - AT closed ! We trudge to the newly opened Fairway underneath the West Side overpass on Riverside Drive which, Sonnet now describes : "a marvelous display of excess". B/c of the snow storm we are only ones in the giant super market - spooky - and so buy lobsters. Why not ? While it may sound romantic I suppose in reality when weather messes things up, especially in a big city, life is a drag. No taxis, jammed humid subways, dress shoes soaked ..

So, today, everybody excited for Moe and Grace's arrival which is delayed two days. The good news : they do not pass time at the airport as I listen to reports of 1000s stranded at Heathrow spending the night in Terminal 3, nobody in charge nor adequate heat nor blankets. Pointing the story, the shrill woman who blasts the country's ability to deal with adverse weather - but there she is, having gone to Heathrow, stuck there for another day or two. In fairness her story about my worst nightmare - H/r bad enough those few hours before check-in.

While Eitan's football match cancelled, the boy makes it up 6:30AM for swim practice; he is one of three who join Coach, God bless her.

Sonnet: "Righty ho."

Madeleine: "Can we pick a movie and watch it together? All of us?"
Sonnet: Can we watch 'Singing In The Rain?'"
Madeleine: "No, Eitan hates it."
Me: "He's never seen it."
Madeleine: "Yes he has. There was that time when we went to that cabin by the farm and it turned 2009. And then we drove to the museum .. Fishourne Palace .. and we saw the Mary Rose."
Me: "Why do you think he hated it so much?"
Madeleine: "Because he said : 'Oh, I hate this movie.' And then he walked out of the room."
Me: "Well done."
Madeleine: "How about Harry Potter?"

“Conversation about the weather is the last refuge of the unimaginative.”
--Oscar Wilde

Saturday, December 18

Let It Snow Let It Snow Let It Snow

We finish our Christmas cards; the side-pipe burts; the Astorg subscription documents in; kids on winter recess; parents arriving tomorrow (weather permitting) - it strikes me : I am on vacation for two weeks.

Palewell Common Sunrise

I drive Aggie to the bus station, 6:30AM. She is going home .. to Poland .. by bus. 30 hours. This saves our gal some money and may end up being the smart route : London walloped by a storm that dumps a foot or more of snow by noon time and closes all the airports and cancels Eitan's football. Mom and dad arriving tomorrow so we keep our fingers crossed. Driving home, with the trusty springer spaniel in the back, I stop at our common for some exercise, me and the dog, and pay witness to a glorious sunrise. It is deathly cold so we stay for 20 minutes but well worth the detour.

Eitan: "People in Italy smoke a lot, don't they?"
Me: "I suppose. You should see the French."
Eitan: "And the Chinese. Don't they smoke a lot?"
Me: "Yes, more than 50% of their population."
Eitan: "In Australia, 300 people smoke."
Me: "That many?"
Eitan: "Yes. I read that on the Internet."
Me: "I bet you did."

Friday, December 17

Euston RR

Today I visit Wolverhampton, population 239,100. Woo hoo. I start my day at Euston Station which is no more inspiring. On the train a young couple in the row next to me drink beer (him) and vodka tonic (her) - 10:00AM, mind you. They are either ending their week in London or beginning the week-end early or does it matter? The train takes me through what most Americans, or me anyway, think of as the "real England" : villages with tidy rows of neatly organised red brick houses each with a smoke stack today covered in snow white. Rolling hills frame mine eye's review. This be the land of Elizabeth Gaskell and George Elliot or Dickens. The sweet suffering of it all.

Euston Train Station replaced the old station (including the Euston Arch) which was demolished in '62 against great public outcry - old images make me think of Penn Station NY which also went down at about that time. The new station opened in '68 following the electrification of the West Coast Main Line to Birmingham and the new structure intended to symbolise the coming of the "electric age". It certainly feels of the period but, surrounded by Grant Thornton's unimaginative cinder block HQ and next to busy Euston Rd in Camdon Town, it is pretty grim.

Thursday, December 16

Space Girl

Madeleine has some performance thing at school and I learn this morning she needs to have a space suit. Sonnet finds a head-fitting box which I cover with aluminum foil and, presto, duties discharged.

Eitan, who walks to school by himself these days, skuttles around Madeleine and me, head hung down. This demands my attention so I bellow out some song which makes the boy pick up a brisk jog. I wink at Madeleine.

Me: "Do you want to put some antennas on your helmet?"
Madeleine: "Do space suits have antennas?"
Me: "No"
Madeleine: "Why would I want to put them on my space suit then?"
Me: "Fair point."

Rock On, Tommy

I'm in Paris yesterday but back in time to see fabulous Mary, who has moved her family to Seattle to take the role as head of strategy for Starbucks reporting to Howard Schultz who is 55 but, Mary says, looks like 40.

The first Starbucks was opened in Seattle March 30, 1971, by English teacher Jerry Baldwin, history teacher Zev Siegl, and writer Gordon Bowker. They were inspired by friend Alfred Peet to sell high-quality coffee beans and equipment - in fact, during their first year of operation, they purchased beans from Peet's. Howard joined up in '82 as Director of Retail Operations and Marketing, and after a trip to Milan advised that the company to sell coffee and espresso drinks as well as beans. Even though Seattle had become home to a thriving counter-cultural coffeehouse scene since the opening of the Last Exit on Brooklyn in 1967, the owners rejected this idea, believing that getting into the beverage business would distract the company from its primary focus. Coffee, they thought, was for the home, Howard left to found Il Giornale coffee bar chain in April 1986. Meanwhile in 1984, the original owners of Starbucks bought Peet's (Baldwin still works there). In '87, they sold the Starbucks chain to Il Giornale, which rebranded the Il Giornale outlets as Starbucks and quickly began to expand. Starbucks opened its first locations outside Seattle in Vancouver and Chicago and the rest, as they say, is history, Starbucks went public in '92 with 165 stores; today they are over 17,000. Source: Starbucks and Wiki.

Tuesday, December 14


People who smoke around non-smokers are the worst. Actually, the worst are those who smoke in queues and I find myself sandwiched between two fags waiting for a taxi at Gare de Nord. The Parisiennes just don't care - theirs an adult city and they shall do what they wish. Photo from Vogue.

Me: "What is your favourite subject?"
Madeleine: "Art."
Me: "What is your favourite subject excluding anything with drawing ?"
Madeleine: "I don't know, French maybe."
Me: "Nice one. Say something in French."
Madeleine: "Ciao."
Me: "Um, something else please."
Madeleine: "Bibliotheque."
Madeleine: "Ciao bibliotheque. Won't be seeing you again soon."

Elizabeth Garrett Anderson

Eitan's class remains in the Victorian era and today the boy presents Elizabeth (Eitan's notes in full):

"Hello everyone,

"My name is Elazabeth Donnell Garret and I was a very special person in Victorian times.
I was born in 1836. I was an English physicians and the first woman to qualify in medicine in Britain.

"My father was Newson Garret who was a very successful businessman and my mother was called Leisa Dunnel Garret and I was the second of ten of their children.

"I was born in Whitechapel and in 1849 I went to a boarding school called the 'Academy for the Daughters of Gentlemen.' I was a nurshing student at Middlesex Hospital.

"In 1865 I passed my exams and gained a certificate to become a doctor. In 1872 I founded the New Hospital for Women.

"In 1902 I retired to Adlesborough on the Suffolk Coast and in 1908 I became Mayor, the first female mayor ever.

"I died in 1917."

Sunday, December 12

Scooby Doo

Another thing that drives Sonnet crazy, pictured. Me, I figure in a few months the dog will be doing the dishes.

Eitan's KPR back in action, this time against the Manocroft Pumas, following two cancelled games due to weather. The boys never lead in a game that ends 2-2 while KPR has several heart-break shots that miss by millimeters. Eitan scores the first equaliser and almost, tantalisingly, the winner which happens after a scary boot to his left knee which sends him screaming to the ground. I resist every temptation to run on to the pitch to ensure he is Ok - thinking broken something - while the coaches, ref and other players huddle around him. He is fine, if a bit shaky, but refuses to leave the action. It would have been quite the thing if his following shot had found net.

I hike up the ladder to clean neighbors Martin and Helen's gutters. Their house underneath a Scott's Pine and we find one of the pipes properly jammed. I recall my painting days and hang my ass precariously from the second floor fitfully attempting to loosen a 40-year old screw sealed, unhelpfully, by lead-based paint. Finally I have success and yanking the pipe free nearly jerks me from the ladder. Any given Sunday. Martin and I remove a satisfying clump of pines. His garage BTW a miracle of tools, electrics, solvents, woods and castaways. He describes five variations of hammer : the "claw" hammer (which we all know); "ball pein" (rounded, used for shaping metal); "straight pin" (for right angles or through the fingers); "pin" hammer (light joinery); and the "club" (double faced, used for, well, clubbing things). I mark two old doors, a professional buffer, an anvil, chain saw and shelves of nails, more tools, screw boxes and the like. There is a set of rowing oars. Some chains. Martin's tool boxes filled with more .. tools. I love this stuff and suddenly realise that I may never have to go the hardware again. Joy!

Clarence House

Madeleine asks, "where does Prince William live?" Here it is, edited, from the Royal Website:

Clarence House, located on The Mall, attached to St. James's Palace and sharing the palace's garden, is the official residence of The Prince of Wales, The Duchess of Cornwall, Prince William and Prince Harry. At Clarence House, The Prince and The Duchess receive official guests from this country and overseas on behalf of the nation, and bring together people from all walks of life (presumably, me) through official seminars, lunches, receptions and dinners. Clarence House was once the London home of Her Majesty The Queen, then Princess Elizabeth, and The Duke of Edinburgh following their marriage in 1947 and of The Prince of Wales between the ages of one and three. It was also the home of Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother from 1953 to 2002. The Prince of Wales returned to Clarence House on 4th August 2003, the anniversary of Queen Elizabeth’s birth. Photo from wiki.

Madeleine and Rusty cuddle on the couch following yesterday's biting. Sonnet eases everyone's mind: "Once a dog tastes blood it is what they want forevermore."

Madeleine: "Would you rather have five flat-screen TVs or Rusty?"
Me: "Rusty. No contest."
Madeleine: "Me, too."

Me: "Do you think being in love is a good thing?"
Madeleine contemplates a moment and grins: "Yep."

Madeleine: "Once, when Aggie was our nanny, I slept until 1PM and Aggie made me pizza."
Madeleine: "I asked Aggie 'why are you making me pizza for breakfast?'"

Saturday, December 11

Rusty In The Dog House

"Rusty" bites Madeleine clean through her thumb nail. I am on top of a 40 foot ladder cleaning the gutters and hear an ever-increasing howl: Ooooowwwww! Then tears. Our hero's thumb spouts red blood. I put Madeleine's hand under cold water, then raise it above her heart to slow down the blood and then bandage her up and contemplate rabies. "Rusty" chomping on a bone and Madeleine's finger got in the way. I ask Madeleine if "it hurts more than the time Monty bit you and you had to shake him back and forth to get him off?" and she replies "much worse." The canine goes deeper into the dog-house by licking the dishes, pictured, which has become his habit that drives Sonnet mad. Happily, following a walk where I drag the dog to the High Street so Madeleine can hit the toy store, the two seem to have made amends and now curled up together on the couch (where the dog is not meant to be).

Madeleine: "I cannot tell what is worst, getting bitten by Rusty clean through the nail or having my hand slammed in the car door. Remember that time, Dad?"

Me: "You are a very brave girl."
Madeleine: "If you call crying my eyes out brave."

Boy Italia - Shami

Eitan wears his (up to the minute current) Italian kit - a gift from the Italians. Recall, Dear Reader, that Italy is the second most successful national team in the history of the World Cup having won four titles (1934, 1938, 1982, 2006), just one fewer than Brazil.

Sonnet's cool college friend Shami (short for Shamiram) stays with us for the week-end. Shami a doctor who is now management at a publicly-traded orthopaedics company Zimmer ("back, neck and spine") with offices in Zurich and .. Warsaw, Indiana, which, she and I agree, about the middle of nowhere. Before Zimmer, she was Policy Director at Medicare - she decided what covered and I can see her doing it. Shami notes there are not many synagogues in her neighborhood and her husband, not Jewish, tells everybody he is to avoid the God loving zealots. Smart move. Surprisingly there are 130 orthopedic, prosthetic, and surgical appliances and supplies companies in Indiana. Sonnet and Sharmi last together at their tenth Smith Reunion which, I remind Sonnet, over ten years ago. That one gets a dirty look from both women.

From the Zimmer website : "Zimmer is a worldwide leader in joint replacement solutions for knee pain and hip pain, and provides comprehensive spine care solutions for acute and chronic back pain. The company also provides a broad range of trauma, dental implant, and orthopaedic surgical products. Founded in 1927, Zimmer is committed to providing effective techniques in hip replacement and knee replacement for orthopaedic surgeons who restore mobility and relieve the pain of osteoarthritis and traumatic injuries. Our minimally invasive hip and minimally invasive knee replacement systems and our wide range of related products and services make us valuable partners to health-care providers in more than 80 countries."

Madeleine: "What is the best thing you have ever done with me?"
Me: "Every time is special."
Madeleine: "Well, be more specific please."
Me: "I love going into your classroom and seeing you hard at work. Or watching your swim practice or going swimming in the pool near Gracie and Moe's house in the mountains. And our holidays are great because we are together all the time."
Madeleine: "I liked getting the hamster. And when we went to Paris."
Me: "Yes, good times."

DC Inferno

Our au pair Aneta - wow, she rocks. I would have been equally surprised if she performed Beethoven. Or spoke Mandarin. Or, on the other hand, maybe not. Aneta is the blonde.

Friday, December 10

Stéphane Rolland

Sonnet to the museum early today for "Fashion In Motion," which show-cases the work of fashion designer Stéphane Rolland. Here is what Fashion Insider says about Le Monsieur :

"Brought up in the South of France, Argentina, and the West Indies, Stéphane Rolland’s destiny lay in Paris, where he studied fashion at the Chambre Syndicale de la Couture Parisienne. At the age of 20, his talent was recognised by Balenciaga, who hired him to work on the menswear collections, and promoted him to Creative Director within a year.

At 24, Stéphane Rolland left Balenciaga to design his own prêt-à-porter collection. Success came immediately and in its first year of existence, Stéphane Rolland was stocked in 80 boutiques and department stores world-wide.

At the same time, fired by his passion for the cinema and the theatre, Stéphane Rolland simultaneously worked as a costume designer – in 2006 and 2007 he was nominated for the prestigious Molière awards – and became an official partner of the Cannes Film Festival.

Later, Stéphane Rolland desired a new challenge: Haute Couture. It was in the house of Jean-Louis Scherrer that he would find his place. Aged 30, Stéphane Rolland was the youngest French Couturier on avenue Montaigne, in Paris.

Today, Stéphane Rolland has set himself the new task of opening of his own Couture House, with which he hopes to contribute something entirely new to an industry that has never stopped evolving since its conception in the Renaissance.

The House of Stéphane Rolland will represent a modern and original interpretation of Couture – all the while remaining true the bohemian outlook and luxurious extravagance which define his nature."

Photo from the www.

Trumpet Ensemble

Sonnet and I race to the school for Madeleine's "Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer." Bravo, I say! Afterwards I tell Madeleine that she "blasted her little heart out" which gets a smile and roll of the eyes.

Trafalgar Sq At Sunset

I meet some San Francisco colleagues at the Portrait Restaurant on the top of the National Portrait Gallery - it is a gem of a place that offers sweeping views from Nelson to Big Ben. An added bonus is the museum and I drop in for a two minute look at van Gogh's "sunflower." Magic, as is tonight's sunset which somehow appropriate for the yuful rioting that has moved from here to Parliament. The kids are marching, God bless. War, financial meltdown, fraud - yawn - it takes a rise in tuition fees that gets the students out. This no Berkeley or Columbia of the '60s demanding the end of Viet Nam or civil rights or Watergate. The wii generation tuned out on iPod and free downloads and Facebook. Never they mind world events. Not that my generation much better for that matter but at least we are the ones creating the technology. As to who will fix the mess caused by the Baby Boomers anybody's guess. Sarah Palin and the Tea Party? Once I had high hopes that it would be the black guy. I still have hope.

Madeleine: "I'm not being self-pitying but its always me that is blamed for everything."

Thursday, December 9

Girl Power - Grant

Cal's Teri McKeever, pictured, named coach of the U.S. women's team for the 2012 Olympics, the first woman to be selected for the post. This is McKeever's19th year at Berkeley and during that time she's coached six women who made U.S. Olympic teams and 11 others that represented their countries in the Games. She was named 2009 NCAA women's swimming coach of the year. McKeever's most famous pupil is Natalie Coughlin, who will participate in 2012. Photo from the www.

I have a quick turn-around in New York for one meeting, yesterday, which seems to go well. Following the outbound flight, I jog Riverside Park on a freezing late afternoon and wonder, as I often do without, why my camera not to hand? A red barge slowly climbs the Hudson aided by a tug-boat; cars whiz along the West Side highway and across the river : New Jersey, poor souls, regarding Manhattan every moment of their lives. Grant's Tomb, at 121 and Riverside Drive, presents a distraction : I have passed 100s of times but never inside .. so there it be, the large, polished oak encasement with, presumably, Ulysses S. Grant inside. Grant lived from 1822 to 1885 and an American Civil War General and 18th President of the United States. His eternity not alone as, next to him in an equally impressive casket, his wife Julia Dent Grant (1826–1902). The elderly park ranger notes that the monument not especially popular for New York - about 100,000 visitors a year - and is opened 365 days excluding Christmas and New Years. He goes back to his book. Flags half-mast in remembrance of Pearl Harbor.

"In every battle there comes a time when both sides consider themselves beaten, then he who continues the attack wins. "

--Ulysses S. Grant

Monday, December 6

Stag Brewery

Beer has been made here, at the brewery in Mortlake, since 1487, making the Stage Brewery the oldest ongoing business in Britain. The Thames on the other side while my offices a hop, skip and a jump away. In spring, the park filled with daffodils and I eat my sandwich on one of the benches while checking my blackberry. By contrast, tonight will be -20 in some parts of the country. Scrooge would have been happy in this part of London.

Pick Pocket

TX Republican John Coryn on the left with Kentucky Republican Mitch McConnell, the Senate minority leader. Big business in little man's pocket is what I see. Can there be any question that the U.S. Senate Republicans block legislation to let upper-income tax cuts expire on Jan. 1, 2011? The US owes over $10 trillion, a figure that rose six-fold during the Bush administration. With the Republicans I agree that taxes should not go up during a recession but this is not Obama's plan : he aims to make taxes lower than Bush for 95% of Americans and up for the top 5% earning more. Even Warren Buffet agrees. Me, I should be fighting hard for tax cuts since I pay Uncle Sam for services I will never see in England+being an entrepreneur means some above-average risk which, in my humble view, should not go disproportionately to the government who has never provided me a dime during the down times. Yet the US has to get its financial house in order, and this starts with the politics.

In the United States, wealth is concentrated in a relatively few hands. As of 2007, the top 1% of households (the upper class) owned 34.6% of all privately held wealth, and the next 19% (the managerial, professional, and small business stratum) had 50.5%, which means that 20% of the people owned 85%, with 15% of the wealth for the bottom 80% (wage and salary workers). In terms of financial wealth (total net worth minus the value of one's home), the top 1% of households own 42.7%. Edward N. Wolff at New York University (2010).

"I think that people at the high end, people like myself, should be paying a lot more in taxes. We have it better than we've ever had it."
--Warren Buffet

Me: "Do you think we are too hard on you?"
Madeleine: "Sometimes."
Me: "Well, tell me what works best for you?"
Me: "I mean, do you need to be punished or threatened or is it better with rewards? Like a Rusty treat for instance? Help me make it easier for us."
Madeleine: "Rewards. And if you say 'please' sometimes."

Sunday, December 5

Thames Kew - Magna Carta

The sun sets at 15:51 leaving us with 7 hour and 59 minute of daylight. Plus 20 seconds. I am reminded why people who grow up in California .. stay in California. But the UK does have its charms : cozy houses jammed together and gas fireplaces; the occasional smell of burning coal. Traffic jams, the Underground and a transport system that fails at the slightest snow. Shakespeare. Cheap alcohol and flat screen TVs. Thatcher, mods, North Sea oil. Oxford, Cambridge, Eton and St Paul's. Wayne Rooney. Claridges, the Dorchester and the Lanesborough. Dukes martini. Bond. Tesco and the paps. The NHS. Churchill. Owning India and Canada. The White Lies, Kooks and the Brixton Academy. 2012 Olympics - the V&A. Paula Radcliffe's Marathon. High finance. The Queen, Kate Middleton, Joseph Bazalgatte. Kidney pie; fish and chips in newspaper. The bobby and Big Ben; Kate Moss. The Rolling Stones. The Premiere League. John Lennon. Chatsworth. Suburban smugness, red mail boxes, clotted cream. Tea. A good ramble. Richmond Park and the Thames, pictured, the mightiest river of them all.

Costantinos tells me the Italians do not care so much about the money - they seek instead the bella vita in their food and wine and company. Material hings don't mean so much.

Madeleine comes home following the British Library with Caterina and Mirella where they see the Magna Carta. Sonnet and I take Constantinos to Kew Gardens which he goes nuts for though we only have a little time since the grounds close 4:15PM in winter (the gatekeeper won't let us have 20 minutes without paying despite my long-time membership. Typical English). We pick up some flour so Eitan can bake crostata, which he describes as "an Italian pie" in honour of our guests. Costantino works away on some garden-plans for our house : he sketches the backyard and measures the sun's path; he calculates the ground water flows and various soil depths and marks free space; he considers colour patterns and advises a combination of the artistic (blossoms, grasses, shrubs) with the pragmatic (herbs, vegitables). Costantinos suggests a fusion of Mediterranean+technology+modern. He is convincing.

Magna Carta was issued in 1215 and reissued later in the 13th century in modified versions that omit certain temporary provisions, including the most direct challenges to the monarch's authority. The 1215 Charter required King John of England to proclaim certain liberties, and accept that his will was not arbitrary, for example by explicitly accepting that no "freeman" could be punished except through the law of the land, a right that stills exists today. Magna Carta was the first document forced onto an English King by a group of his subjects (the barons) in an attempt to limit his powers by law and protect their privileges. It was preceded and directly influenced by the 1100 Charter of Liberties, when King Henry I had specified particular areas where his powers would be limited. Despite its recognised importance, by the second half of the 19th century nearly all of its clauses had been repealed in their original form. Three clauses remain part of the law of England and Wales, however, and are considered part of the uncodified constitution. Lord Denning described it as "the greatest constitutional document of all times – the foundation of the freedom of the individual against the arbitrary authority of the despot".The charter was an important part of the extensive historical process that led to the rule of constitutional law in the English speaking world, although it was "far from unique, either in content or form". In practice, Magna Carta in the medieval period did not limit the power of kings, but by the time of the English Civil War it had become an important symbol for those who wished to show that the King was bound by the law. It influenced the early settlers in New England and inspired later constitutional documents, including the US Constitution. (Source: Wiki, edited)



Sonnet makes pancakes, beans, eggs and bacon which gets a suspicious look from the Italians : "whata isa this mix-toor of sweet an savoury?" Costantinos ask? "I no like so much." I have never considered Sunday Breakfast as anything other than the very best of America and England combined but, seeing our plates overflowing with yellows and browns covered in maple syrup I must have a new think about this. Meanwhile, Costantinos has a hard look at our backyard tree (recall an enormous branch cleaved leaving the balance potentially unstable) and concludes that, with the proper work, we can save our friend. He walks around the base and takes video notes with his Nokia. From there I receive tips on our phalaenopsis (roots must be exposed to sun+breathe water from air so mist-sprey); indoor potted plants (once inside, to protect from frost, cannot go out again as they become used to new climate); and general asthetic : which plants go best with others, colour schemes and blossoming patterns. I take furious notes - he is il direttore, after all. Sonnet drives everybody to the British Library while I stay home with Eitan who complains of stomach cramps; I give him a knowing wink (Eitan: "Really, dad, I do have stomach cramps").

Me: "Write a thank you letter to xx."
Eitan: "Is that an order?"
Me: "It's a strong suggestion."
Eitan: "Ok, I'm not doing it."
Me: "Then consider it an order."
Eitan, grumbling: "I knew it."

Me: "Rusty is a dog that hates a walk."
Eitan: "It's like a rabbit that won't eat a carrot."

Me: "How was the British Museum?"
Aneta: "Yes, it was Ok."
Me: "Did you see the Rosetta Stone?"
Aneta: "Yes, it was very nice."
Aneta: "I don't know?"
Me: "Ancient statues, missing their heads."
Aneta: "Yes, but I found the Greecy stuff not so interesting."

Me: "Write another letter."
Eitan: "No."
Me: "You have a choice. I can suggest you write one more letter or I will order you to write two. Which do you want?"
Eitan: "One?"
Me: "I suggest you do it now."