Week 247 – puppets and pools

Maisie started the week with a day at circus school (handily, the country’s leading circus skills academy is situated in a neighbouring suburb). She learnt to hula hoop and did lots of leaping, climbing and balancing – and she was very disappointed that she couldn’t go back the next day! But I was glad that we had a perfectly still sunny Tuesday to ourselves. The sea was like a pane of glass. I suggested that she come cycling with me as I went on my run. I wasn’t sure how far she’d manage to ride, but amazingly she did the whole 10 kilometres (the promise of cake got her through the last few kilometres!).

In the evening I went to see the new British film ‘Lady Macbeth’ (an adaptation of the novel ‘Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District’ by Leskov). It was a revisionist period drama, where the bartered bride effects monstrous yet calculated revenge on her nasty father-in-law and ineffectual husband. It was very stylish and the casting was boldly colour-blind, an unusual and effective choice, but I still didn’t really like the film very much.

Maisie and I went into town on Wednesday to try out the NGV’s current art activities for children. We popped into the Fiona Hall children’s exhibition at the NGV International, where Maisie made a paper collage of a fabulous animal (hers was a bird which she described as ‘always flying, only landing to have babies’!). We went on to the NGV Ian Potter (passing, on our way, the elegant yarn bombing pictured), to see artist Patrick Pound’s collection of collections (reviewed in Week 241). On my previous visit I had spotted an accompanying children’s questionnaire and had wondered whether it would interest Maisie. Happily, she was really engaged by it, running round trying to locate certain curiosities, finding things beginning with particular letters, listing all the birds she could think of, writing stories and drawing pairs of things. The final room was full of paintings and photographs of people sleeping (very eerie!) – the question here was to count how many you could see – Maisie gamely counted up to over a hundred before she admitted defeat.

On Friday, Rowena, who was enjoying a family ‘stay-cation’ at one of the plush Crown Casino hotels in the centre of Melbourne, invited Maisie and Tommy and I to hang out at the hotel pool with them! The kids were utterly thrilled by the whole experience, starting out with the swift lifts, followed by the huge view from Row’s 23rd floor bedroom window, a vista of the Yarra river winding towards Docklands, with glimpses, between closer towers, of the steady stream of container ships traversing the blue sea horizon. Later I enjoyed watching a slate-grey weather front rush in (and past).

The pool was even higher – on the 25th floor – and when we arrived we almost had it to ourselves. I wasn’t sure how brave the kids would be as neither of them have attempted to swim (i.e. been out of their depth in the water) since we were in Bali a couple of years ago, although they are both very comfortable splashing in the sea. Maisie had some armbands, and after wanting to be pulled along for a while, inspired by Sebastian (Row’s older son, Maisie’s age and completely confident in the water) she was brave enough to jump in and propel herself along on her own. Tommy was the revelation – clad in a borrowed floatation vest, his confidence knew no bounds – he couldn’t wait to barrel in off the side into my waiting arms, and after a few goes he didn’t want me to catch him, and wasn’t at all bothered by the plunge underwater. Holding on to my hands he splashed his way across the length of the pool countless times.

It was almost impossible to drag the kids away from the pool – with the exception of a few brief breaks for snacks, and a blissful 5-minute trip to the sauna (I left Tommy in Ante’s capable hands – when I got back, Tommy had learned to pull himself along the side of the pool and climb out on his own) – we were in there for almost 3 hours!

Maisie’s main desire over the holidays was to hang out with as many of her friends as possible, so most days we ended up spending several chilly (but generally bright) hours in the park as she competed on the hanging bars with various little girls (some of whom she knew, others she had just befriended). On Saturday we met up with Lou and Eliza in the park, and the two girls mirrored what Lou and I were doing – we chose one sunny bench on which to sit on and chat, and the girls chose another. It was all going so well, that we decided to go on to a cafe for lunch. Maisie and Eliza had one table, we had another – and we didn’t hear a peep out of them. It was so civilised!

In the afternoon I went to see Edgar Wright’s latest classy genre piece ‘Baby Driver’. It was a tautly edited, superbly choreographed, heist movie. It was also (despite no-one actually breaking into song) almost a musical. Early scenes reminded me of ‘La La Land’, nimble sequences of movements and visuals all tightly cued in to one of the many classic soul tracks that powered the movie (all songs playing on the iPod of the film’s main character). The A-list actors provided some fine moments too – particularly Jon Hamm and Jamie Foxx as two very mean and savvy gangsters.

On Sunday we all went to see some family theatre down at the St Kilda winter festival. Held in a big drafty wooden box, ‘Loose Ends’ was a wonderfully quirkily inventive one-man show about loneliness and friendship and what happens when you sabotage that friendship. The stage was piled high with carefully labelled little boxes (‘old toys’, ‘party’, ‘robot’, ’friend’, ‘hope’ etc.) and you never knew what might pop out of them. A revolving light produced a shadow-scape of a train journey into town, a ball of wool became a puppet, a little train whizzed round a track chiming bars to the tune of happy birthday, a trolley became a ship, and wired up bits of junk made unexpected musical buzzes when touched. Best of all was a wonderfully precarious bicycle-powered Heath-Robinson-ish machine, which rolled and blew and levered little balls on a magical mystery tour. Maisie was entranced, but Tommy was rather scared of the dark, cowering on my lap and asking ‘when can we go home’ every five minutes – although luckily there was enough to keep him curious, so he did make it through to the end!

We’ve also found time for some creative activities over the holidays – Tommy discovered the joys of water-colour (see his picture of a storm), and Maisie’s been writing more stories (‘This might be a little bit scary for you’ is about a witch who is disappointed when there aren’t many letters in her mailbox!).

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