Again, we circulated no annual update for friends and family this year. It’s hard to remember why, but Marie-Hélène and I essentially lived apart from June 2003 through April 2004, because of the job I found down in Newport Beach rather than for interpersonal reasons. Which is not to say that this separation did not have interpersonal effects. It did.
One of the minor effects was that I had less time than usual to devote to the Holiday Season, which in consequence felt less festive. We had a family portrait taken in December, and instead of an annual update sent that in our Holiday cards. The photo is here. The absence of Daphné and Alban, visiting their papa near Paris, and Nick and Tom, visiting their mom in Paris, did not help the festivities either.
Just as in 2002, we were also running ourselves ragged for most of the year assuring that all of our young soccer players made their practices and games. After June, except for weekends, that was the royal “we,” Marie-Hélène; I was down in Newport Beach all week long.
Our first major trip of the year was to Vancouver BC in April. We took advantage of an invitation to a birthday party in the city to explore Victoria and Whistler, among other attractions. My boyhood buddy David Sandles, another expatriate Brit, was turning 50, and his wife Caroline had discretely invited us to the party. We showed up unannounced, which is always fun!
David and I had been two of the local schoolboys who signed up for the BSNAC (British Schools North America Club) exchange trip to upstate New York in 1970. We had both been totally thrilled by this short, rural trip (we only stayed three weeks in upstate New York), and based on our shared appreciation for all things North American, had remained friends, for 33 years up until this visit. David had emigrated to Canada at about the same time as I emigrated to the US. From time to time, like this trip, we still see each other.
By 2003, Marie-Hélène was pretty much satisfied with what we had done to improve our California home. It had started out pretty rustic when we bought it in 1997, with linoleum in the kitchen and bathrooms, and no central heating at all, to cite just two examples. We’d begun making improvements in 1999, and they were starting to have an effect. More would come of course: home improvement is one of Marie-Hélène’s hobbies! But by 2003, we both felt pretty good about how it looked.
We also had our first digital camera by 2003: it was a gift for Marie-Hélène in 2002, and the possibilities that it opened up were getting clearer. Put the two facts together, and they resulted in an album of photos of the house that she took in 2003.
My work involved the most significant event in the family’s life during the year, the beginning of a separation that would last ten months, weekends excepted. At the end of June, I became SVP and General Counsel to a newly-public company, Mindspeed, and moved into an apartment in Irvine down in Orange County for the working week.
The timing of this new job, my prior commitment to the already booked and (mostly) paid for family vacation and the new Company’s first Board meeting after I joined created a truly excessive summer vacation. We all flew out to France and England on the same day, but only half together. Nick and Tom went to Paris to visit their mom, Daphné and Alban ditto to visit their papa, and Marie-Hélène and I traveled to London with the little guys (still little at this point) to start our vacation there. We were doing a home exchange with a family in Reading. They stayed at our place in Santa Cruz for most of the vacation, and we spent about a week in their place, maybe 40 minutes from Marlow.
Then, right in the middle of the vacation, I was obliged to fly back to Newport Beach to attend the Board meeting, flying business class I might add, at an insane cost to the company! It was an extraordinary trip for me, on Virgin Atlantic, more happy largesse thrown my way. This happened because the company had promised to honor my prearranged summer vacation, perhaps forgetting their own prearranged Board meeting.
Oops! In retrospect (and it didn’t occur to me at the time), they would probably have preferred that I cancel my vacation, but hey, we had a deal! The Board meeting went off without a hitch and, by now almost blase, I took the 747 back to London.
It was a fun vacation, as vacations normally are, both in Paris and Marlow. The Marlow portion is covered in more detail here. The French portion only involved Paris for me, because Marie-Hélène took Charlie and Alex to visit their grand-père at La Grée while I was back in Newport Beach looking after the Board.
It was stifling hot the whole stay in Paris. We did the touristy things for once, shopped in La Samaritaine, lunched in an American-style pizza place just off the Champs Elysees, walked around le Jardin des Tuileries, and then gasped our way back to the air conditioning at the hotel. That was a lucky break: air conditioning is far from a sure thing in Parisian hotels!
Back in the US, this year’s normal life continued with my weekly commutes to Irvine for work. They were long weeks in the lap of luxury, and weekends beginning and ending with Southwest Airlines.
The apartment, in a complex called Villa Siena not a five-minute drive from the office, was a delight, and over the course of the year until Thanksgiving hosted several weekend visits from various groups of family members. Marie-Hélène brought assorted children down regularly during those first months. We were supposed to be looking for a home for us all, and went house-hunting as well as explored the area.
The children found other excitement, right on the premises. There were swimming pools, jacuzzis and the “Club,” a communal games room with a pool table and big screen TV, in short something for everyone.
Unfortunately, I was alone in the apartment more often than not, and did not feel like taking advantage personally of all that the complex offered. Compared to the bustle and vitality of going home in Santa Cruz, going home to a quiet and empty one-bedroom apartment, furnished in a weekend at the local Ikea, was empty.
I watched a lot of sports on TV at first, and then stayed late at the office most evenings. There was always a ton of work to do. Complaining about my solitude to Marie-Hélène over the phone on one occasion, she suggested that I use the opportunity afforded by these long evenings alone to start doing the writing I’d always wanted to do. I owe her.
I did start to write, deciding for various reasons to make personal memoirs my first project. Over the ensuing five years, on and off, they became “If I Only Knew,” the story of the first 18 years of my life. I was learning a craft – which I have to admit needed a fair bit of learning! – by producing something that would hopefully one day be of value for the children. The jury is still out on that one!
The first part of those first memoirs, the first 2,974 words, was completed on November 22, 2003. The piece was about the Beatles, one of the high points of my first 18 years, and was subsequently reworked any number of times before becoming Chapter 12, “I’d Love to Turn You On.” Who doesn’t remember that lyric, from “A Day in the Life?”
The piece began: “The Beatles and Me: I was going to write a book with that title, a whole book.” It ended: “Beatlemania was an entirely reciprocal process. They were so in tune with us, and we were so ready for them.” I can remember how happy I was at finally getting going on something that I’d been dreaming about doing for most of my adult life. Thank you, sweetheart!
The family came down to visit for Thanksgiving, all but for Nick and Tom, who went to Tahoe with their mom’s family. Irvine has the distinct advantage of being less than 20 minutes from Disneyland in Anaheim: guess where we spent a day! We ordered Thanksgiving Dinner from a nearby take-out, because of my cooking skills, which are less than considerable! It was a fun long weekend, but something happened and that was it for family visits: Marie-Hélène never came back down to Irvine again before I was laid off the next April.
Looking through the family diary, this year had the most highlights for little Alex, who turned five in January. He started at Happy Valley School with Charlie in August, and began violin lessons soon after. For the first time since 1994, maman had a little free time during the day.
But if you want to hear about the firsts that were important for Alex, that changed his young life, and so much for the better, here they are: on March 8, he played his first organized game of recreational soccer, and on March 15, he scored his first goal. In fact, he scored two that day. Alban had just completed a course for referees, so that he could earn a little cash on the side while involved in a sport he loved. His first game as a referee was that same game.
If I could bottle and sell the feeling of repeating those goals here and remembering them and Alex’s smiles, and remembering Alban blowing his whistle and his smiles after his little brother scored, I’d be a billionaire.
One final momentous occasion in the year: on November 15, Courtney Bolin and Antony Nash finally tied the knot, after many years thinking about doing so and even one false start. If they are anything like the groom’s parents, together for almost 29 years on their son’s wedding day, they’ve only just begun!