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Mathilde missed a birthday party because I mixed up the date. She's already recovered but I'm still racked with guilt.

It means they got guilt ice cream.

Now I'm on the jungle gym outside Finchley Reform Synagogue while my daughters enjoy some free play before tonight's bat mitzvah reception.

I don't know how many times £18 I should give for a colleague's daughter. Plenty of time to figure that out.

I've kicked off my shoes and perched on top of the climbing frame, cooling off after a long drive. One of the things I must do is recharge my car air conditioning. Did you know that freon is a Dupont brand name like Nylon or Kevlar?

It's a hot bright sunny day and I'm hoping the reception will be based on margaritas. Not terribly likely is it?

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Homer and Langley Collyer were two brothers who barricaded themselves into their house in Harlem.  It's a fascinating tale of madness, the rodentlike evolutionary past of the human organism, and tribalism at its worst.  It's also about the last thing that I would be expected to comment on.  Yet there I was a few weeks ago on a side trip to Toronto taping a show for Discovery Canada on the subject.  They were interested in the booby-trap angle on the Collyer story, and amazingly for filmmakers working on a story about men who'd been killed by their own traps they'd never heard the term "hoist by his own petard". 

I talked about the Cu Chi tunnels, and the Germans defending Ortona ... we'll see how much of that is included in the final cut.

Really, I expect they wanted a bit of my trademark shouting.

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Cycle

I cycled for the first time this year.

It's four miles to the station if I avoid the big hill, three if I don't. I avoided the big hill, and when I got to the station I saw that it was ten minutes' wait for the train. So I decided to race the train to Surbiton. The train won, but there are always lots of trains at Surbiton, just another few miles. I toyed with the idea of going the rest of the way to London (about 10 miles more) but decided not to.

On the way back I went straight through town damning the hill. Somewhere along the way my shifter linkage came loose and I was stuck in top gear and didn't know why. Not a problem on the downslopes, but hard work on the up, especially with the headlamp dynamo on.

I am sore now and will be sorer tomorrow.

Lots of fresh air in me, though, and an excuse to reward myself with matzah balls in my stew.

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Fascinating!

I've just been to see Fascinating Aida and, apart from nearly going into respiratory failure with laughter, it was a wonderful way to spend an evening.

When I was buying pantomime tickets in December I noticed that Fascinating Aida were doing their show in Guildford in January and February and bought a couple of tickets.  I had vaguely in mind that Kari Kemp or Sarah West might like to go.  I then tucked the tickets into my bag and forgot all about them.  

Today somebody mentioned the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre in conversation and I recalled that I had tickets this month, but couldn't remember the date.  So I looked it up on the YAT website and discovered that I had tickets for tonight.

Thankfully Kari was at a loose-ish end, and we made it down to the theatre in time to have drinks before the performance. 

With the exception of a few torch songs which gave me the opportunity to catch my breath I laughed pretty much continuously for a couple of hours.  I remember Dilly Keane when she wrote for the Spectator, and I had a wonderful time seeing her in Tomfoolery a few years ago, and she's just so much fun.  

They played a couple of encores (and we'd have dragged them out for more if they hadn't gone out to the lobby with their buckets for fundraising).  They were almost unapologetically collecting for Combat Stress and Help for Heroes, both worthy causes. 

It's been a very busy week indeed.  I was on a three day residential course at Sunningdale Park, and I seemed to spend much of the course sneaking off to do stuff.  Monday night I gave a lecture at my synagogue (Kamtza, Bar Kamtza and the Jewish War 66-73), Tuesday I was spirited away to tape a television show (Ground War, which airs this Autumn on PBS and National Geographic), and when I say spirited away I mean the driver was one of these people who drives with little taps of his foot on the accelerator so that there was constant acceleration and deceleration and I got rather ill while trying to read job applications in the back seat.  Two hours' taping, then imagine my joy when I saw it was the same driver taking me back.  Another 1 1/2 hours in a car that kept lurching, lurching, lurching all the way from Woolwich Arsenal to Ascot.

That night I picked up my girls from school, tucked them into bed and got back to Sunningdale around eleven.  Wednesday morning I missed the course to go up to Town and sift the job applications with my very able deputy, then give a bit of a thank-you talk at a conference which had spent the morning doing some work on my project.  Then back to Sunningdale, then back to get the girls from school and again to bed at eleven (after laying out the pattern pieces for Abigail's Elizabethan dress -- must cut them out at some point, no idea when). 

The other people in my learning set have been very patient with my comings and goings.  The sleep deprivation is starting to bite, but I only doze off occasionally during the day. 

My team has been wonderful.  I've leaned on them a great deal and they've come through for me.  I must think of something nice to do for them ... but after a month like this maybe we'll just have a quiet hour in the afternoon with pints around a table and talk about how good we are. 

My tax return is due Saturday midnight.  I need to stand on the heights of Bet Horon and order the sun and the moon to stand still in the valley of Ayalon.  Or something.

PS:  I am a civil servant.  I'm not sure why I'm required to say that, but I am.


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Knights

Much noise about Terry Pratchett's K, but did everyone notice David Cannadine got one too?

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Today's experimental stew

Cubed chuck, onions and garlic, chestnuts, chicken livers, sherry, butternut squash and dried forest mushrooms.  Oh, and a bouquet garni, bay leaves and lashings of paprika.  The chicken livers make it a little gamey, but it tastes delightful. 

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Frankincense and Puppies

I bought a frankincense candle the other day. It hasn't got all the other bits of the Temple incense, sadly (I'd love to know what onycha, galbanum and spikenard smell like), but it has certainly made The Loft smell like ... well, like an old-fashioned Catholic church, though without the rosin edge that makes traditional church incense a little bit reminiscent of electronics solder.

Downstairs smells like food. I've got a pot of chasseur chicken bubbling on the hob. I'll burn some brandy on it before serving it up for lunch.

We'll walk on the Common today. Fairmile Common for a start -- it's largely unexplored by my family. I imagine it will be a big day for walking in the afternoon -- not much else to do on Christmas Day in England. It would be a good day to have a dog, just to walk it. Maybe I'll phone Rosie the Vicar, who lives around the corner, and borrow her puppies for the afternoon.

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I write in the BA lounge in Manchester Airport, waiting for the first flight to Heathrow and shabbat with my girls. I'm on my third Virgin Mary of the morning and contemplating a second decaf latté.

I flew to Manchester yesterday early. I woke up in a bit of a panic about making my flight, seeing through sleep-dimmed eyes that it was quarter past, and as I got dressed I cursed myself for the folly of getting up at quarter past five to get a flight that was leaving at half past seven. I packed an overnight bag and dashed out the door, jumped into the car and started driving towards Heathrow.

As I drove I looked at the clock and remarked to myself that it had somehow dropped a couple of hours. The foolish thing thought it was twenty to three.

No point in trying to read a dress watch in the predawn. I fished my phone out of my bag.

02:40

Turn the car around.

I took the lesson from my unconscious mind and set my alarm for half past four.

I did the same this morning, checking out at a run, catching the train at a minute to five and plenty of time to breeze through security.

This is important because last time I flew out of Manchester I was detail-searched very, very slowly by an elderly security bod who deliberately and patiently explained to me that I should have put my lipstick in a baggie because lipstick is a liquid. I missed my flight.

This time I packed my security baggie before leaving the hotel. You never know when a rapacious airport operator will decide to charge you a quid for two baggies that they buy from an Asian tiger economy for ten piastres the containerload. They do that at Belfast City.

Either the zips on my boots or my watch tripped the metal detector. I bit back the suggestion that the machine was on too sensitive a setting as I watched them go over each and every person with the wand. The magnetometer can't be a useful investment if it's just used as a shrill fanfare for a pat-down. Perhaps it's just a deception measure to conceal the real security precautions from the punters.



I flinched a bit just now when they didn't call my flight. I ran to a different airline's Heathrow flight and them wandered back to the lounge to wait again.

I'm not an insouciant business traveller, I admit. Maybe some people have time to spare and can view with equanimity the prospect of waiting in the lounge for the next flight, leafing through a second newspaper or doing a bit of work. I have some journal articles to read (in my overnight bag which is stuffed into the galley broom cupboard), but I'm not at my sharpest after a 4:30 wakeup, and reading a few pages while circling over Buckinghamshire isn't the way to understanding.

The wages of sin may be something as straightforward as death, but the bonus of delay is less time for work and family. So with last night's authentic Manchester Saag Paneer still churning my belly I travel with a bit of a twitch, pouring Tabasco into my tomato juice with an eye on the departure screen

and drowsing on the bus

to the long-stay car park.

Set to go home.

Unless, of course, my sleep-dimmed brain yesterday failed to remember to switch off the interior light in the car after a hurried glove search.

Which I have.

A flat battery earns me a 45 minute wait for the RAC, but the wheel of Karma spins quickly in Harmondsworth and a kind airport worker produces a power pack and rescues me. My effusive thanks bring a boyish blush that shames the practised sealed smiles of the stressy aeroplane porch.

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I put on my service dress this morning, took my older daughter in tow, and went up to London for the Association of Jewish Ex-Servicemen's remembrance parade. 

It was warm and damp in Surrey, but only a few miles away in central London it was cold and wet.  Standing at attention in front of the Cenotaph I was shivering and losing feeling in my toes.  The shoes, brown, ugly are, surprisingly, not ideally suited to standing stock-still in the middle of Whitehall while the Central Band of the Royal Air Force plays Adon Olam.  

The moment that really made the parade worthwhile (apart from marching past my workplace wearing an Andrews Sisters uniform and Golda Meir shoes) was being approached by a Second World War veteran from my corps who very effusively expressed his appreciation at seeing a serving Jewish officer from the Corps on parade.  He soldiered to Hell and back for years of the Second World War when he was barely out of school, and he's teary with appreciation at seeing me swinging my arms breast-pocket high. 

So I think I can do it again next year.