Week 248 – dolphins!

Tommy had flu for much of the week, and spent his time sleeping curled up in a ball on the floor. When he awoke he reflected on dying ‘I don’t want to die, I won’t have fun any more’; he was also concerned that when he died he would have to wear nappies as he wouldn’t be able to go to the toilet. Trying to reassure him that he wouldn’t die for a long time didn’t help. Neil hit on the bright idea of introducing him to the idea of reincarnation, and that cheered him up!

On Thursday evening I went to an intriguing concert at the Recital Centre. Entitled ‘The Imperial Bells of China’, it was a ‘folkloric’ performance by the Hubei Provincial Opera and Dance Drama Theatre Ensemble. The sizeable group (immaculately clad in discreetly gold-embroidered red and black) was laid out like a Western classical orchestra, but made up of multiples of traditional Chinese instruments (with the addition of a couple of cellos and a double bass). There were 2-string fiddles, lutes of every shape and size, zithers, hammered dulcimers, reeded trumpets, mouth organs, bamboo flutes, and lots of drums and cymbals. The star attraction though, was a great ornate set of extremely ancient bronze bells (I think they were replicas!) which clunked and clanged through all the textures with their odd minor-third harmonics.

Most of the tunes were about happy peasants working on the land but there were some haunting melodies amongst the jolly romps, and when the group wasn’t trying too hard to introduce western-style harmonies the sinuous, reedy timbres were beautiful. For the most part, each group of instruments was involved in various layers/sections of the main melody. One piece in particular seemed to enliven the players – entitled ‘Silk Road’, it ferociously blended percussive tunes from Spain via the Middle East. The instruments lent themselves well to the very different tonal modes, and to the alternative playing techniques, and the timbres were just right.

There were various ‘star turns’ accompanied by the orchestra. A flautist impressed with his languid tones and lightning fast fingering in a ‘narrative melody’ from the drama ‘Madame White Snake’. A tenor in a magnificent white rhine-stone-encrusted suit gave a spirited rendition of a patriotic song. Most musically satisfying perhaps, were a couple of duets, one featuring a large zither and a set of crescent-shaped (metal/stone?) hanging chimes. Without the baggage of the other instruments, it allowed for the space, flexible timing and bending of tones which are such a striking feature of Chinese music, but otherwise not really in evidence during this concert. The encore was a lovingly orchestrated version of ‘Waltzing Matilda’!

Tommy rallied briefly on Friday and didn’t want to stay in the house any more, so I bundled him in blankets and tucked him up in the pram, and we made the most of a stunning utterly still iceberg-blue day by heading out on a coastal ramble [all this week’s blog photos were taken on this day]. There was a mist over the city and the distant towers were ghostly. Terns were soaring and dive-bombing the clear waters. After every precision white splosh they emerged with a tiny wriggling fish in their beaks. Scarlet-breasted house martins zoomed low over our heads in their pursuit of sandflies.

Shortly after turning back from our farthest point (Brighton Sea Baths), I noticed a dark grey shape breaking the aquamarine surface of the sea quite close by, and I looked again and saw that it was a dolphin, then three more of them (including a closely paired mother and baby) popped up. They weren’t in a hurry, and one of them occasionally leapt out of the waves in exuberant fashion (too unpredictably for me to capture in a photo). What a magical sight! Tommy was excited for a short while, but when it delayed our arrival at the nearby playground he started moaning loudly that ‘dolphins are boring’! However, later on, when we got home, he made a point of finding his little toy plastic dolphin and clutching it for the rest of the day.

Tommy was out for the count for most of the weekend, and Neil took on sick-bay duties. Maisie and I had a fun Saturday afternoon out, starting with a performance by Djuki Mala, a wonderfully athletic and exuberantly funny aboriginal dance troupe from the Northern Territories. Excited by the traditional dances of their culture, but also by Michael Jackson, Greek folk dance, Bollywood, and various hip-hop styles (their version of Missy Elliott’s ‘Get Ur Freak On’ was truly memorable!), they put on a show that contained all of this and more. In between numbers, video projections told their back-stories, adding an interesting and serious context to the (mainly comic) pieces.

Maisie and I went on to my friend Natasha’s red wine and cheese-themed birthday party. It was an afternoon affair and there were lots of adults and lots of kids (mainly 5-year-old girls) and the children played happily in a big gang in one room while the adults, in another room, appreciated the fine cheese and wine and conversation on offer. Everyone had a lovely time!

On a miserably cold and rainy Sunday afternoon I snuck off to the Elsternwick Classic to catch a special preview of ‘The Trip to Spain’ (complete with complementary paella and red wine). As in the two previous series, Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon set off on a foodie driving tour, bantering their way through plates of tasty-looking delicacies (lots of gambas and chorizo this time), trading ever-more outrageous Roger Moore impressions, debating their fame/popularity, and, in the most light-hearted manner, raging against the dying of the light. I thought it was wonderful, a return to the form of the original series (which is one of my favourite things ever!).

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