Week 300 – leaping and diving

As ever, it was a relief to get back into the school routine after a couple of weeks of ‘holiday’. Maisie was happy to see all her friends again, and the stimulation of maths and reading and computers and new playground equipment was enough to tire her out a little, and not spend quite so much time bating Tommy!

Tommy enjoyed playing his elaborate transport-themed games throughout the house (traffic jams in every room!) but by Friday he was insisting that we go on an outing that involved ‘two trains’.

As the main aim for Tommy was simply to ride on the train and keep up a loud running commentary on anything and everything that he could see (I’m always aware of everyone listening to us – I think most people find him ‘cute’ rather than infuriating!), an easy option was to head over to Williamstown, and we were lucky to coincide with a brief period of mild, settled weather.

We went on a little stroll through Point Gellibrand Park and looked at the the Timeball Tower (a C19th time signalling device for ships moored in the bay), then peered through the fences of the various shipyards, spotting a large oil tanker, and various commercial fishing and emergency boats, but no (contemporary) military ships. There was, at least, the restored WW2 HMAS Castlemaine, which Tommy was keen to have a picture with!

The ricketty Gem Pier was empty of tourists, but there was plenty of maintenance going on. As well as the men with planks and sanders, there were several fully rigged-up divers poking about underneath the structure, who would occasionally pop up in the sea just a few metres away. Tommy was intrigued (I’m not sure he’s seen divers before).

On Sunday we all went to see a Netball match at the Hisense Arena. Neil’s keen to get Maisie into the sport. The Melbourne Vixens were playing the Canberra Giants – both teams are at the top of the league, so it promised to be a close match.

The last time I engaged with Netball was at school (bad memories – as I have of all team sports!), but this match was played indoors, the fans (mainly mums and daughters) were keen and vocal, and the game was fast and punchy. There was no time to get bored (a whole match comprises only 4 x 15 minute quarters).

The Vixens (the home team) had fountains of silver sparks heralding their entrance, and a bevy of tiny cheerleaders with green, pink and purple pompoms. The challengers sloped on without fanfare. But this clearly didn’t phase them as the first flurry of balls were netted – both teams were pretty evenly matched. The Vixen’s goal shooter seemed particularly infallible.

However, in the second quarter the Giants pulled away, racking up a 6-point lead, and from then on, although the Vixens didn’t lose energy, they seemed to lose a little focus, and were always playing catch-up, even though it was a close-catch-up by the end (the Vixens always just one or two points behind).

Maisie got caught up in the excitement, cheering for her team and joining in the chants! Tommy decided early on that he was supporting the Giants and loudly declaimed how ‘bad’ the Vixens were (we had to ask him to tone it down as he was a lone dissenting voice in a passionate Melbourne-supporting crowd!).

The Giants triumphed with a score of 60:58. We left with one happy and one disappointed child!

We stopped for ice cream on the way home and I spotted this magical effect of the afternoon light through a side-window of the ice-cream parlour!

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Week 299 – bouncing and bunyips

We all (apart from Neil who was the next to be laid low by the family germs) had a bit more energy this week and managed a few not-too-strenuous outings.

We spent a fun Monday afternoon tram-hopping our way to and from Docklands (the kids loved riding on the vintage ‘City Circle’ tram), and hanging out at the playground under the Bolte Bridge.

While they swung, slid, pumped water and played complicated sand-moving games (and watched the loading and unloading of piles of shipping containers – from train to ship), I did a bit of bird-watching – there was a bush full of sleek black and white-feathered, blue-grey-eyed New Holland honey-eaters, and several dun-coloured fairy wrens were bobbing around, with their startlingly long sharply-angled tail feathers.

On Wednesday I took Maisie ice-skating at a little rink that had been erected in Acland Street for the school holidays. We arrived early and for quite some time Maisie and her friend Polly had the place to themselves.

Polly (whose mum is from Canada, where they all skate!) knew how to get around on the ice, and with the help of a steadying blue plastic seal, Maisie was soon moving fairly quickly and confidently (afterwards, though, she complained of a sore bum,as she had landed on it so many times).

We went to the St Kilda Adventure Playground a couple of times. It’s a local institution but the opening hours are unpredictable, so we’ve never made it there before.

It’s a secluded, shady garden full of charmingly ramshackle structures – pirate ships, fortresses, aeroplanes, tree-houses – all constructed from recycled/repurposed materials.

The number one attraction is a proper trampoline (not repurposed, I hasten to add!). There are strict rules as to use – which all the kids observe ferociously – if any child tries to cut in/over-extend their turn etc. they will soon know about it! Tommy loves rules so he fitted right in!

On Thursday we popped into town to see a wonderful exhibition at 45downstairs entitled ‘Too-roo-dun’. Too-roo-dun is the Boonwurrung (the local indigenous language) word for Bunyip (which is itself a Wathawurrung word). A bunyip is a mysterious, scary and lonely figure – it may represent inner demons or monsters, or be invoked to caution children (akin to the bogeyman).

The gallery was full of huge monsters – made of carefully stitched and woven bark, seedpods, grasses and leaves, seaweed, shells, kangaroo bones, fur and feathers, recycled plastics and textiles, even old dentures! The community groups who had made them had also devised their background stories and recorded the sound that they would make (which you could trigger by pressing a button).

Tommy’s favourites were ‘Hairyman’: a brown furry yeti with kangaroo bone ribs (his was the call of the didgeridoo) and ‘Treet-ten-ner’ a scary one-eyed bush (a monster of the forest shadows – the rustling footsteps that heralded him were the most unnerving);

Maisie liked a monstrous parrot with bloodshot eyes (the main reason being that the sound he made included a loud fart!). I liked the striking ‘Muriel – carer for Country’, an ominous and angular trail of seaweed (her call was of the gulls and the waves) and another with a ram’s head and eerie neatly-sewn-together bark skin (maleleuca) trimmed with ostrich feathers.

There was a children’s workshop in progress while we were at the gallery – the kids (older than mine) were making their own small bunyips using bundles of straw wound round with wool (see picture – I’m not sure if a kid actually made this one!). We weren’t able to join in but Maisie and Tommy were keen to have a go, so we decided to collect some sticks and leaves and seedpods and make our own bunyips at home.

We’d already decided to visit Ripponlea Gardens the following day (it’s where Tommy goes every week to his ‘bush kinder’ session – he was very proud to lead us on a tour!). And it was the ideal place to gather natural materials.

We were blessed with a crisp sunny morning, and there were few other visitors. Map in hand, Tommy led us round all his favourite spots – the rainforest, the windmill, the succulent rockery, the rabbits, the various islands.

Although the cunningly sheltered rainforest was lush, and the succulents burgeoning in pinks, oranges and yellows, the apple orchard was pleasingly bare and wintery, as were the elms and bulrushes, and the first narcissi, snowdrops and azaleas were out.

We picnicked on a willow-fringed island (picking up handfuls of narrow bendy twigs for model-making) and spotted big black eels sunning themselves in the lake shallows.

Once we’d made it home the kids were keen to make their bunyips immediately. We emptied all the twigs and seedpods out on the hallway floor and tried out a few things before they got frustrated that it was too hard and left most of the construction to me! But, they were, at least, pretty happy about the finished products!

On our Saturday family walk down to the marina, the sea was unusually still and clear. Between the moored-up pleasure boats we could see all the way down to the sandy sea bottom, which was dotted with hundreds of (evil) yellow starfish and dandelion-like anemones.

For the first time (in St Kilda) we spotted two rays – a large fiddler ray (pictured) and a smaller tawny-yellow-hued smooth ray.

Tommy was custodian for the weekend of ‘Sustainabill’ – a giraffe glove puppet from his Kinder. Our task was to keep a journal of the things we do as a family to be as environmentally friendly as possible! Looking back at other entries, there were an awful lot of pictures of recycling bins, so we tried to come up with some other ideas. The kids decided to pose with our new metal straws!

Week 298 – coughs and craft

It was the first week of Maisie’s school holiday. I helped out a couple of friends with some childminding – on one day taking Maisie and Sebastian to the Melbourne Museum. It was heaving with people, but they didn’t mind.

Once they’d worked their way through all the screen-based exhibits they found plenty of kids to play long games with in the museum gardens (we ate our lunch in the ‘crystal cave’!).

We dropped Sebastian off at Rowena’s office which is built over the rail tracks of Southern Cross Station.

She gave us a tour of the building so we could enjoy the views – the waves of the metal and glass roof were rather lovely from above.

It was another week of spectacular skies – on Tuesday both dawn and dusk were equally vivid!

Tommy came down with a chest infection which we had to resort to antibiotics to shake, and I caught it too. Although we were at a low ebb, Maisie was as boisterous and combative as ever.

We occasionally managed to civilise her with quiz-books, art and craft-making, card games and magic tricks (she’s very quick at picking these up – she loves to be devious!).

One morning Tommy created an ‘art gallery’ – he dashed off a great number of drawings of different types of vehicle (‘shiny cars in a showroom’, a truck, a boat, a tram, a forklift – even a container ship being loaded up), there was also ‘mummy on bumpy ground’, a Howard-Hodgkin-inspired swirl of sea, and a whale.

He propped them all round my room so I could see them from my bed!

Maisie’s most successful creative effort was with the oil pastels (see ‘Tommy by the sea’).

Tommy showed the most flair with the water-colours (he was using the palette I had as a child)!

Week 297 – footy, fog and firelight

Most of the best bits of the week were spent by the sea – in brilliant sunshine, mist, wind and drizzle (the only constant variable was the cold!).

Michele, Natasha and I went for a bright Wednesday morning stroll and watched the sea-mist bubbling on the horizon;

Tommy and I headed down to the coast on a chill foggy Thursday to see if we could still see the container ships on the horizon (we could just – they were like ghosts) and he was enjoying it so much, we made it all the way to Brighton.

We noticed a sign up saying that one of our favourite beach-side playgrounds – a big wooden ship – was about to be ripped up (and replaced with something new) – so we spent quite some time climbing and piloting it for the last time.

Tommy had to present a ‘science experiment’ in front of his Kinder class-mates. There are so many websites detailing ‘easy’ kitchen-based science experiments for kids, but very few of them actually work when you attempt them yourself. I sourced one involving milk and food colouring and washing-up liquid (it demonstrated the movement of molecules in liquids) which did what it was meant to and looked pretty. Both the kids were very excited by it – so much so, that Maisie also decided to present it to her class on the last day of term!

On Saturday evening we all headed over to Docklands for the ‘Firelight Festival’, a night of street-performances and fire-based events to mark the winter solstice. It wasn’t a patch on the imaginative ‘Light in Winter’ festival which used to immerse Fed Square crowds in light-art installations, roving experimental theatre and dance, giant puppets and processions, or invited visitors simply to sit on a patch of red desert in front of a perpetually burning wood fire and listen to indigenous stories.

There was plenty of fire – the waterfront was lined with gas-fuelled flame-throwers which sporadically sent great hissing white-gold spurts into the air. Between these were a great number of gas-fuelled oil-can braziers, which everyone enjoyed warming their hands (or toasting marshmallows!) on. There was meant to be some great burning artist-designed structure, but we didn’t spot it – there was, at least, a commanding fire-juggler in a military jacket, and a number of random stilt-walkers (including two wizards and a regency beauty with a fairy-lit parasol).

We caught the end of a smoking ceremony. The local indigenous elders who were presenting it explained the significance of what they were burning – the different types of leaves (with their distinctively different burning scents) were for men, women and children, and the smoke was to fill the lungs and cleanse the mind and welcome strangers.

Most of the entertainment was provided by roving musicians. The bands were good, and varied – we enjoyed Hungarian dances (played by Vardos – a very entertaining all-girl trio – pictured is their accordion-player), energetic live-improv violin/drum duo ‘The Twoks’ and a Tango outfit, all dressed in natty green-nylon old-school tracksuits.

Although Neil and I were underwhelmed, the kids were utterly engaged and fascinated by everything, and thrilled to be out in the dark (they very rarely are)! And on our return home, we were treated with a possum sighting right by our front door (this is always Maisie’s measure of a successful night out!).

Tommy was invited to his friend Remy’s play-centre birthday party on Sunday (the first party he’s been invited to without Maisie also a guest), and he dealt with the noise and the chaos well (better than me, I think – I hate those places!).

Neil took Maisie to a(n Aussie Rules) football match – it was the first time she’d seen ‘her’ team St Kilda play, and she made a banner, and wore her team colours of black, red and white (even down to her underwear)! St Kilda are very low in the league, but, amazingly, it was a good day for them and they won (an exciting match) by 2 points!

Week 296 – animal behaviours

It felt like a long week – Neil was away, the kids and I were under-the-weather/end-of-term tired (and wired!) and there were several lengthy power outages and a broken toilet to add to the joys.

We enjoyed some spectacular (if bitterly cold) dawn skies and on Friday Tommy and I spent a lovely day at the zoo. Tommy wanted to see ‘everything’ – an ambitious plan since we had to be back to pick Maisie up from school at 3.30pm – but we pretty much managed it!

It was a beautiful crisp clear day, and we arrived shortly after the zoo opened. The peccary pigs were still snoozing in a huddle as the first rays cleared the hedge round their pen.

We arrived at the giant tortoise enclosure just as their keepers were opening the door of their (heated) night shed. The two males (‘Little John’ and ‘Gilbert’ – they are both more than 100 years old) were napping head-to-head but as soon as they glimpsed the sun (and fresh food) through the door, they lumbered out surprisingly quickly!

A lone meerkat was on look-out (the others were hidden in their burrows).

In the aviary most of the birds were still roosting on the high branches, or had recently awoken and were diligently preening themselves…

…but the (usually elusive) cassowary had found a sunny spot and the two Jabiru were feeling feisty – as evidenced by a sudden clattering beak-led duel – it was exciting to watch!

The bower-bird was rustling through the undergrowth foraging for bits of blue, and the herons were streaking overhead from one end of the aviary to the other.

Many of the animals were basking in whatever spot of sunshine they could locate, in the hopes of a bit of warmth.

The lemurs in the walk-in exhibit were the most entertaining, presenting themselves full frontal, orange eyes hooded in the glare.

The golden gibbon, hanging from the net mesh wall, had his own halo of light. Even the seals, who are rarely to be seen out of their deep swirling pool, were lounging on the concrete rocks. The Sumatran tiger roused himself as we passed his enclosure, and padded down to his pond for a drink.

Tommy really wanted a butterfly to land on him in the butterfly house and sat patiently and quietly with his hand out for some time. In the end one perched briefly on his monkey toy – although that didn’t count as that was ‘monkey’s butterfly’! He wasn’t too disappointed, as he was completely fascinated by all the different patterns and colours we spotted. At one point a slight tremor in the nearby leaves revealed a tiny frog!

We spent some time with the orang-utans, another of Tommy’s favourites. The youngest one was clutching a cape of netting and trying to balance a rubber ball on his head. He had a block of ice, within which were bits of vegetable, and was using a small stick held in his mouth to poke out individual peas. Tommy thought one of the distant adult orang-utans was smoking – I explained that he was just chewing a stick!

Our final stop (as per Tommy’s itinerary) was the reptile house – he was particularly keen to see the snakes and the frogs. One of the giant pythons was in the process of shedding his skin. Pictured is a ‘death adder’ – one of the most venomous snakes in Australia!  The very tiny frogs are one of my favourite things – they could easily sit on your finger-tip!

Neil arrived home extremely late on Friday night. We were all excited to see him – the kids managed to rein in their terrible behaviour for almost a whole day in his honour! Of course there were presents (not just one way – the kids had made Neil cards!) – Tommy received some miniature traffic/level-crossing lights with flashing LEDs. They formed the centre-piece of his latest complex traffic ‘city’ (see picture). Maisie’s favourite gift was a shiny lump of pyrite (I would have loved that at her age too!).

Neil, amazingly, needed no time to recover from jet-lag. He gave me the afternoon off on Saturday and I went to see the sophisticated new film ‘Foxtrot’, by Israeli director Samuel Moaz. It was a politically-charged modern morality play – an eloquent, visceral study of one Jewish couple’s grief and guilt, and a clever and pointed critique of the Israeli military regime. The film had three distinct movements – the gut-punch of the first section, when an architect and his wife receive the news that their (military-service-serving) son has been killed in action. The second part took us to a desolate mud-bound desert checkpoint where four bored teenage soldiers watched camels and enjoyed humiliating the rare car full of Palestinians that approached their rickety barrier. The third section returned to the now separated, devastated parents, on the occasion of their dead son’s birthday, when they are at their most raw and talking terrible truths they never had before.

On Sunday morning Maisie and I went to see Tim Burton’s 1996 half live-action/half claymation movie version of ‘James and the Giant Peach’. Miriam Margolyes and Joanna Lumley played the evil aunts Spiker and Sponge and they had Maisie sobbing with fear! She calmed down once the merry band of giant animated insects set sail but she still needed to clutch my hand (it’s a pretty dark story!). Afterwards though, she said that she had enjoyed it!

We met up with Neil and Tommy at the Queen Victoria Market, where the kids favourite band, All Day Fritz, were playing a lunch-time set. Maisie and Tommy know all the words to all their songs (the bands’ 2 CDs are the most played music in our house!) and were singing along, although they were too shy to join the dancing children at the front. At one point the singer asked for a volunteer to play the squeezy pig in their rousing number ‘Russian Wedding Sausage’! I knew Maisie wanted to, so I managed to coax her up there, and once she was on stage she was a natural (see picture)!

Neil took the kids home and I went to an afternoon showing, at ACMI, of Tarkovsky’s hauntingly beautiful late masterpiece ‘The Sacrifice’ (one of the few of his I haven’t seen before). Set on a remote Swedish island, on an endless summer night, it is about a middle-aged philosopher who suffers a mental breakdown. Believing he hears the TV announcing immediate nuclear apocalypse, he rejects a life-time of rational thought and enters on a plea bargain with God – vowing he will sacrifice everything he loves, in order to save humanity. Next day everything seems normal, but his devotion to his mission is undimmed – in the final famous scene, he sets light to his beloved wooden house. The camera (a single one, set up at a distance) balefully observes the first tendril of smoke rapidly escalate into a roaring inferno, as the ambulance comes to take him away.

Week 295 – multiple choices

Monday was the end of a long weekend – it was the Victorian observance of the Queen’s Birthday so schools were closed but universities continued working as normal. Row and I took our four children to Scienceworks. The place was rammed, and it would have been easy to lose the kids, had they not been gripped by the same few screen-based interactive exhibits. There was one about monitoring traffic flow, where you could adjust the traffic light phasing to ease congestion, and guide emergency vehicles to a flashpoint – it was hard to tear any of them away! They also loved a video showing what happens to the waste when you flush the toilet, queued patiently for the chance to be a ‘virtual goalie’, watched one of the massive old sewage steam pumps whirring away in a live demo, and enjoyed a brief live science show about rocket propulsion (the bottle rocket finale was impressive!).

In the under-5s area, Tommy and Adrian were captivated by a wall of orange back-lit on/off switches (see picture), methodically switching them all ‘on’ then all ‘off’, and getting quietly frustrated when other kids muscled in with a more random approach!

On Wednesday morning Neil and I took our Aussie citizenship tests. We dropped the children off to school and childcare and headed into the city (to the CBD-located immigration office) – we enjoyed the novelty of travelling in on the train together with the commuters! The 20 question multiple-choice test about Australian history and politics was preceded by an interview. A stern and silent official perused my paperwork and checked my ID documents (Neil’s official was apparently more chatty). We both aced the test (100%), despite a couple of questions that could have wrong-footed us (mine concerned the proportion of Australians born overseas, Neil’s was about mayors)! Our citizenship status will be confirmed when we are contacted about attending a citizenship ceremony.

As the immigration office had dealt with us so efficiently, we had most of the day left. We decided to go to the NGV’s new blockbuster exhibition – a selection of pieces from the New York Museum of Modern Art, dating from the 1890s to the 2000s. It was like being among old friends – although most artists were represented by a single work, just seeing the one brought back wonderful memories of past exhibitions in London. There were many amazing pieces, but I’ve restricted myself to writing about particular favourites, and ones I hadn’t seen before.

The first room featured the vibrant skewed realism of Seurat, Van Gogh and Cezanne (his apples still thrill me!), the next the elongated figures of Toulouse-Lautrec, Matisse and Kirchner. The third room was about the machines of modern life – a large projection of Fernand Léger and Dudley Murphy’s stunning 1924 short ‘Ballet mécanique’ (beautiful whirring patterns of machines cut with bustling street scenes – film editing has never been bettered!) – took up one wall.

A fiercely angled painting of the bombing of Berlin by George Grosz was particularly evocative (see above). Also striking was Umberto Boccioni’s 1913 sculpture ‘Unique forms of continuity in space’ (it looked so modern – like an image from a superhero film).

The leading figures of the Bauhaus movement were featured in the next room, as were Malevich, Rodchenko, and the Uruguayan artist Joaquín Torres-García, who created designs for Gaudi’s church windows (pictured).

American artists started popping up in the next gallery. I spent some time with a typically moody Edward Hopper painting of a gas station at dusk (pictured). Nearby was Meret Oppenheim’s ‘Red Head, Blue Body’ from 1936 – the colours really popped! The number one attraction in this room (and perhaps the whole exhibition) was an exquisite (and tiny) jewel-bright Dalí (‘The persistence of memory’). Also here was a interesting Frida Kahlo piece, which I hadn’t seen before – she has painted herself dressed in a man’s suit, scissors in hand, her long cut hair strewn on the floor around her.

Another work I was drawn to was Brancusi’s 1920 ‘The newborn’, a small bronze ovoid form, exactly the size of a swaddled newborn. It has such a warm vulnerable presence (I remember thinking that even before I had my own kids!). In a later part of the exhibition the artist Sherrie Levine had recast the same sculpture in sandblasted glass, and entitled it ‘Black newborn’. A delightful Alexander Calder mobile ‘Snow flurry 1’ sprinkled shadows in it’s own expansive white corner.

In the ‘Pop art’ room I enjoyed a couple of 1970s feminist video pieces – Martha Rosler’s angrily eloquent ‘Semiotics of the kitchen’, where she assumes the role of an apron-clad housewife and parodies television cooking demonstrations, brandishing knives, nutcrackers and rolling pins, and Sanja Iveković’s ‘Instructions no. 1’ in which she applies mascara as war-paint – drawing black lines and arrows on her face that look like tribal tattoos or surgery markings. Another highlight of this selection was Claes Oldenberg’s ‘Giant soft fan’ (inspiring fond memories of my first encounter with his work at the Hayward Gallery so many years ago!).

Seeing John Chamberlain’s ‘Tomahawk Nolan’ (an assemblage of crushed and twisted car parts) brought back vivid recollections of Neil’s and my remarkable day at the Chinati Foundation in Marfa, Texas (those far off days when we did fun things together!).

There was a room devoted to (1960s visions of) future cities and different ways of living – included was Peter Cook’s Archigram design for a ‘Plug-in city’, and a whole lot of stylish Italian furniture (a ‘living system’ designed by the Florence-based collective Internotredici Associati which paid ‘special attention to new forms emerging as a result of more informal social and family relationships’). There were also a couple of (busy!) booths where you could play (the original) space invaders game.

The 1980s/1990s were represented by, amongst others, Christian Marclay’s witty (and so evocative) piece ‘Telephones’ spliced together classic film telephone scenes, Keith Haring’s bold large-scale ‘Totem’ (blending cartoon characters and Egyptian hieroglyphics), and Jeff Koons’ two vacuum cleaners. Jenny Holzer’s ‘Living: Some days you wake up and immediately…’ had a particular resonance!

The latest works were from the 1990s. One of the pieces in the final room which spoke to me(!) was a series of portraits by the photographer Rineke Dijkstra of a young Bosnian refugee girl who settled in the Netherlands in 1994. Photographed ‘in her favourite clothes’ every one or two years from her arrival there to the birth of her first child, it is alarming how quickly she transforms from quirky appealing child to conforming teen-adult!

The rest of the week was quiet. There wasn’t a single interesting new film to see at the cinema, but I did make it to a showing in ACMI’s Kaurasmaki respective. The movie was ‘Ariel’, his 1988 film noir about an ex-miner with nothing to his name but a big white Cadillac convertible, who tries to find work in the big city (Helsinki) but ends up wrongly banged up in jail. He and his murderer cell-mate cook up an outlandish escape plan which succeeds, but with tragic casualties along the way. It was a good yarn, a genre movie but with real blundering characters.

The weather was so bad at the weekend that we didn’t really leave the house! Neil flew off to Sweden for a conference on Sunday, and the kids and I huddled up on the sofa and watched episodes of Mr Benn and Ivor the Engine!

Week 294 – Finns, fire engines and funk

On Tuesday night I went to my third (and final) concert in this year’s jazz festival. The band was Knower, a duo of multi-instrumentalists from LA, who are revitalizing electro-jazz-funk for the millennials (and us old-school fans too!). Apparently they’ve been recording and performing small stateside gigs for years, but recently one of their tracks went viral on youtube and now they’ve assembled a band, and are touring the world! I had heard them on BBC Radio 3 and was thrilled when I found out that they were coming over – and they didn’t disappoint! There were squelchy bass sounds (on nimble electric bass & synths – occasionally evoking Squarepusher), ’80’s-style synth noodlings (think Herbie Hancock), sly and catchy vocals (delivered by the gorgeously eccentric female vocalist), all underpinned by the drummer’s super-fast and accurate breakbeat rhythms (my very favourite thing to dance to – although it proved too fast for most people!).

Some tracks were quite disorientating – they’d chop and change grooves and styles so frequently (it’s what the kids love these days!), but other times they’d dig in for a while as the synths battled to play the fastest/zaniest riffs. The drummer had a great line in sardonic patter between each exhausting musical workout, and it was clear the band was genuinely excited to be there (as was the audience), which always makes a gig special!

It was Japanese day at Maisie’s school this Thursday. She loved dressing up in a kimono (thank you Lizzie!), and was patient while I attempted to construct her an authentic-looking hairstyle!

Her school day was spent making origami models, playing Japanese games and taking part in tea ceremonies. When she got home she was keen to teach us all her new paper-folding skills!

Maisie’s school was closed on Friday and the kids were keen to go on a day trip, but it was pouring with rain. We went to the volunteer-run Fire Services Museum, and were lucky to arrive in time for the adjoining fire station’s weekly ‘open house’, when kids can explore the various vehicles (fire engines, fire buses, fire cranes etc.) and have a go squirting the fire-hoses.

The place was busy with school groups, and Tommy was rather overwhelmed, but Maisie was in her element, trying everything out.

The museum itself is located in the former stables. It’s a well-dusted collection of vintage fire engines and equipment, helmets and oxygen tanks, uniforms from fire services around the world, old films, medals and memorials (the one honouring firemen killed in 9/11 caught Tommy’s eye and I had to try and talk them both through the terrorist attack).

On the upper level was the perfectly preserved 1920s control room (the telephony equipment housed in beautifully carved and polished wooden cabinets), which was used until the early 1990s! A volunteer explained how it worked and gave a demo (Maisie rang him on the handset in an old street-side fire-alarm box, and he patched her in on the grid!).

Afterwards we caught a tram over to ‘Clip and Climb’, joining Natasha, Hannah and Rose for an hour of scrabbling up walls. Tommy is so much more co-ordinated since last we went, but his reach is still limited, so he didn’t make it very high (Rose, who is several months younger, and taller, was zooming up to the top of all the walls!).

Maisie didn’t complete any of the routes either, but she impressed on the ‘Vertical Drop’, a thrill-ride which involved her clutching on to a rail and being dragged to the top of a very high slide, before she let go and zoomed down.

On Saturday Row and I caught the train to Bendigo for the day. It felt luxurious sitting back and relaxing on the comfy train seats for a couple of hours eating snacks and watching the pretty central Victorian countryside (rolling meadows, tangles of gum forests, light-catching lakes and muddy water-holes, small settlements of quaint wooden and tin roofed structures) rush past.

Bendigo is a well-preserved, goldrush-era country town. It’s now a popular tourist destination, home to a university and several hospitals and a respected art gallery, which we were there to visit.

It was the last weekend of the gallery’s Marimekko show (a temporary exhibition focussing on the iconic Finnish fashion and textile brand). We weren’t the only art tourists from Melbourne – Marimekko has become wildly popular with the monied artsy middle-classes of Victoria over the last few years!

I have to say that I wasn’t overly excited about going to the exhibition – I wasn’t expecting such a glorious celebration of colour and pattern, pieces with the vibrancy and movement of a Kandinsky, Bridget Riley, or Matisse.

The brand’s aesthetic was shaped by two female Finnish designers in the 1950s, Isola and Nurmesniemi (many of their prints are still in production), and extended by a couple of Japanese designers who joined in the late 1960s and 1970s.

The company’s (female) founder, Armi Ratia, chose the brand’s minimal logo (simply the company’s name in Olivetti typewriter letters) which has never been changed.

The fabric design always came first, the clothes (mainly simple dresses) were designed to showcase the bold patterns and colours.

Furnishing fabrics pitted huge graphic swathes of orange against pink against red – to bring warmth to the severe concrete greys of ‘60s and ‘70s brutalist Finnish architecture.

The designers worked at different scales – some started with small sketches that were massively enlarged in execution, others painted great exuberant canvases that could have been art-works in their own right.

They all experimented with colour and colour combinations – the same pattern (most only utilized 2 or 3 different colours) might be produced in brilliant clashing shades, monochromes, or subtle earthy tones. The books of fabric swatches were fabulous in themselves!

One room was devoted to different versions of the brand’s famous ‘poppy’ motif, and the delightfully surreal ‘strawberry mountain’.

In our quick walkthrough of the rest of the gallery, we were taken by Australian artist Denis Chapman’s crystal-sherry-glass installation ‘I forgot to remember (the most organised violence in the world)’, a memorial to the genocide enabled and perpetuated by the British Empire.

Outside in the precarious sunshine (dark clouds loomed, but thankfully never released any rain!), we climbed one of Bendigo’s many remaining poppet heads (a look-out tower from the mining days).

The city sprawls, but is dotted with pretty Victorian-era landmarks, and the 1960s red-brick and 1990s glass-fronted blocks are low enough not to dominate.

We walked through the city centre park, enjoying the last remnants of autumn colour. A stand of tall trees seemed to be festooned with bulbous black fruit – they were in fact roosting bats, hundreds of them! The air was pungent with their distinctive aroma!

The goldrush brought many Chinese prospectors ever, and the city has a Chinese museum and garden. We had a wander through the slightly shabby, wintery walled garden.

Lots of love had gone into the decoration of the covered walkways and little pavilions, and it seemed to be a popular spot, with gaggles of children feeding the shoals of orange koi carp in the murky ponds.

Our walk back into town took us past the heritage tram (which takes visitors to the old gold mines), and plenty of ornate stone-faced late C19th buildings – former post offices, banks, law courts etc. now turned into shops and restaurants. Some of the grandest structures were pubs, freshly painted and still doing good business.

Row and I spent the day with Row’s cousin Kirby, who has lived in Bendigo for the past seven years. She was a great guide, pointing out all the tourist sites and giving us a feel for life in the city!

I’ve spoken to a couple of Melbourne friends recently who are considering moving to Bendigo, where they can afford larger houses and live calmer lives – and I could see the attraction (although as a relieved escapee from St Albans, it would never tempt me!).

We pottered round bric-a-brac shops and went to ‘The Dispensary’, a charming lane-way wine bar, for a late lunch. Although the kitchen was closed for the afternoon, their bar snacks menu looked great – steak tartare, garlicky edamame beans and a generous cheese board – we ordered it all, washed down with classy French wine (I’m now so used to average Aussie wine, that a decent glass of Beaujolais was a taste sensation!).

We emerged from the wine bar at dusk, and Kirby drove us over to Weeroona Lake, a popular spot for a stroll and a bag full of fresh jam doughnuts. The sun was just disappearing into low wisps of pewter cloud, and everything was black and silver and gold.

Above us the screeching galahs glowed salmon pink, and the branches of the still-leafy weeping willows took on a coppery hue as they cascaded into the lake waters (I haven’t seen willows in some time!).

While there was still light in the sky (now rapidly dimming to an eerie mauve pink), Kirby took us to see the atmospheric old orphanage (now luxury flats) and raced us up to another poppet head, situated high on a ridge to the south of the city.

It was very quiet, just a few roosting birds sweeping across the tree-tops, and vast open views across miles of gum forest. I wasn’t expecting that sense of space at all – it was magical!

We headed back into town for an early dinner at the aptly named ‘Wine Bank’. It was lovely inside – the walls of the grand (if small) former banking hall stacked high with pleasantly dusty-looking wine bottles, an open wood fire on the go, but the food, the wine and the service, was so-so (happily, this was more than made up by the lovely company!).

We had half an hour left before our train departed, so we did a drive-by the impressive cathedral, and up to another viewpoint where we could enjoy the twinkling lights of the city below, and the sparkle of a good smattering of stars in the sky. Row and I enjoyed our cosy quiet train journey home through the pitch black countryside, but arrived at Southern Cross at football-match chucking-out-time, and in the general drunken fan chaos didn’t make it home for another hour (it wasn’t quite the end we were hoping for!).

On Sunday afternoon the kids and I met up with Lizzie, Sean and Rosa at ACMI, to see a selection of international short films programmed especially for children aged 2+ years (there were more age-appropriate sessions, but both Tommy and Maisie were worried that they might be too scary!). Their favourite film was a CGI cartoon about a couple of young seedlings (‘Rooty’ and ‘Beany’) journeying through the magic garden to find the golden vegetables. They were amused by a super-short animation about a tiny man in a Chinese restaurant struggling to use chopsticks (he was thrilled to discover the toothpicks). I enjoyed a sweet hand-drawn dystopian tale about an abandoned surburban house going off to find it’s old owners, who had moved into an ultra-modern new flat in the city (it was very ‘Mon Oncle’ in tone!). The most haunting movie was a Brazilian animation about a boy who stole the clouds to make water, and the stars to make light – and how he got his comeuppance for his crimes against nature.