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Magician Madam Salami (a real person) puts on a magic show for kids at a house in Devonport, New Zealand ... separately, an account of a leaving ceremony at a kindergarten in Devonport.

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Section 151 Entry 0001. Date: 2005 June 10 Saturday.
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This is the true story of how I was completely bamboozled by Madam Salami, who turned up at my nephew's birthday party to put on a show.

My nephew, Master Almost Five Years Old, has suddenly turned five, and when I got to my sister's place this morning the house was alive with party preparations. In the kitchen there were a whole lot of red paper bags which I mistook for loot bags.

A "loot bag" is a bag of presents (things of trifling value, usually) which, in today's New Zealand, is often given to each child guest who attends another child's birthday party. This loot bag custom was unheard of when I left New Zealand seven years ago, but times change and the world changes with it.

Actually, I was mistaken about the supposed loot bags, but I didn't find out the truth until later.

While I was waiting for Madam Salami to arrive, I amused myself by studying the word list stuck to the refrigerator door. It lists Miss Two and a Half's expanding vocabulary, which is increasingly impressive, and which now includes "ma vest", "ma boots", "ma tummy" and "abat!" (acrobat).

Finally the long-awaited Madam Salami arrived (punctually, on time - I had arrived early) and I was privileged to be permitted to watch her set up for the show in the living room, which is pretty small.

"How many kids are coming?" asked Madam Salami.

"Seventeen, I think," I said.

Madam Salami thought the living room would be big enough as kids are pretty small, and I agreed.

I had been given to understand that Madam Salami would be arriving with animals, plural, but I saw only one single animal, a rather large rabbit. I commented on how large the rabbit was and got told, yes, it's a large rabbit, but it's small for its breed. The rabbit was a Flemish giant. Madam Salami stretched her arms apart to indicate how big these things grow, and I got the impression of a rather improbably large monster rabbit.

While Madam Salami was setting up (and she had a lot of gear to put in place) I kept wondering about a question I couldn't nerve myself up to ask: How tall was she? About as tall as I am, I think. Dressed in black with gold shoes, a glittery jacket and a kind of cape.

What I did ask was whether doing shows was a full time business. No. Only on weekends.

"So what do you do during the week?" I asked.

"I'm a writer," said Madam Salami. "I write children's shows and I employ people to do things like this."

This was interesting as I usually never get to meet writers. Madam Salami asked what I did for a living and I answered by saying that I was an English teacher.

Finally, the show was ready to begin, and the kids were admitted to the living room. I watched my nephew, Master Suddenly Five, as he came into the room, and he was already open-mouthed with astonishment. And Madam Salami hadn't even started yet! She was just standing there, tall and glittery, with the battlements of her equipment stands arrayed around her.

As Madam Salami got going, I watched her with professional interest. While teaching English in Japan, I've had to show up at quite a few elementary schools, and on rare occasion I've also had to teach at kindergarten level. It's always been a bit difficult, and so I was interested in watching an expert at work. I was keen to pick up on any useful techniques.

Get yourself a big placid rabbit, like Ernie the Rabbit. That looked as if it might be one good move. When Madam Salami introduced Ernie the Rabbit, the kids just loved him. Of course, there were only seventeen kids. One problem with teaching in Japan is that you will typically end up with about forty kids in a classroom, or a larger number, perhaps a hundred and twenty or so, in a gym. One rabbit is not really going to be enough to share around between a hundred or so kids.

As Ernie the Rabbit was the only animal I'd seen up until that point, I had presumed him to be the only animal in the room. However, it seemed that there were more animals. Or were going to be more, as Madam Salami stated that it was her intention to manufacture mice. She got one of the kids to choose from a selection of balloons.

"Whatever ballon you choose, the mice will appear from it," said Madam Salami. The chosen balloon was inflated and, in due course, the mice were manufactured. The manufacturing of mice proved to be an explosive process. Bang! And there they were, suddenly, five mice. Five, because it was Master Suddenly Five's fifth birthday. Subsequently, with the assistance of some fairy gold, one of the mice was turned into a rat.

As noted above, Master Suddenly Five was open mouthed right from the start, and the other kids were pretty much the same.

"Is it real?" said one girl child, after the rat had been produced.

It was a patently real rat, three dimensional, capable of being patted, and reality is one thing you can't get from a TV set.

Once the kids were all convinced that the rat was really real, we were hit by the supersizing phenomenon. One of the kids started demanding that Madam Salami materialize a dinosaur. This request was not unreasonable, given that Madam Salami looked convincingly capable of doing just about anything she set her mind to. But Madam Salami declined to oblige on the grounds that the living room was far too small.

For her next trick, Madam Salami claimed that she would produce a white dove from the capacious innards of a big black bag, but all she initially produced was a hank of white feathers. With the help of some fairy gold, however, a dove was duly produced. It, like the rat, was three dimensional and indisputably real.

(One of the disillusioning moments of my life was when, having finally gotten seriously curious about these "doves" that are released at peace ceremonies and the like, I opened the dictionary at "dove" and discovered that a dove is actually just a pigeon dressed up with alternative letters.)

Eventually, we arrived at the point at which Madam Salami fooled all of us. All of us? Well, she certainly bamboozled me. Madam Salami declared that she was going to make a cake. A chocolate cake. This sounded like a very good idea to me. It was, after all, a birthday party, and it was getting on for lunch time, and I was starting to get hungry.

Madam Salami started making the cake (at least, she said she was making a cake) by putting together a bunch of improbable ingredients, including shampoo and toilet paper. Like the kids, I was convinced that Madam Salami was capable of doing pretty much anything she set her mind to, and I was really seriously convinced that we were going to get a chocolate cake out of this. Then (to my mind the logic seemed obvious) we would get to eat the chocolate cake.

But that was not what happened at all.

Instead, the ingredients were set on fire and then they were suddenly made to vanish. And in their place was something which did not look at all like a chocolate cake. Rather, it looked like a guinea pig. Reasonably enough, since that was what it was. Another real live three-dimensional animal.

The show, which was very good, left the audience totally satisfied, and reinforced the things I think I've learnt about working with kids: you need a lot of preparation and a lot of materials. And, as my mother observed, a lot of energy. With kids, the person who is leading the process needs to be inputting energy all the time.

Afterwards, the kids all went into the kitchen, and, when I followed, I found out the true nature of the supposed "loot bags". Each of the red paper bags was actually a party lunch for one of the kids. Or, at least, the core materials for a party lunch - supplementary provisions in the form of plates of sausage rolls and the like were handed round.

I dined on sausage rolls and similar things, and, to go with the food, I had a glass of something which bubbled. I believe there was also a birthday cake somewhere in the kitchen, not a chocolate cake but a banana cake. However, with fatigue setting in - these days, there is a limit to how much excitement I can handle at one time - I left the party before finding the banana cake. In fact, I didn't think about the banana cake (someone had told me it would be there) until hours later.

Yesterday, Friday, I showed up at a kindergarten in Devonport to see my nephew's "last day of kindergarten" ceremony. Kids in New Zealand quit kindergarten when they turn five and then immediately go to primary school - that is, to elementary school - regardless of what time of year it might be. This is different from the system in Japan where everyone starts elementary school on the same day, at the beginning of April, if they've turned six by then. If they're a couple of weeks short of their sixth birthday (which will end up being baby Cornucopia's situation) then they wait for another year.

Anyway, yesterday, Master Suddenly Five had his leaving ceremony. He sat on a special seat and put on a special paper crown which he'd spent most of the morning working on. Apparently one of the kindergarten teachers had been working with him, one on one, to construct this crown, which was adorned with various names, patterns and symbols, including the number "5".

During the course of the proceedings, Master Suddenly Five received from the kindergarten a bound folder, his portfolio, testifying to a whole bunch of activities in which he had participated. This portfolio had been made by the teachers and included a number of digital photographs, and must have taken an enormous amount of work.

There was a clapping ceremony and a singing ceremony and then Master Suddenly Five unwrapped a present that he was giving to the kindergarten. Each departing child gives the kindergarten one present, and, in this case, the kindergarten was receiving a drill. A real drill capable of really drilling holes in wood.

What I was told was that the kindergarten has a woodworking area where the kids get to use saws and hammers and things like that to work with real wood.

Apparently one of the kindergarten mothers divides her time between New Zealand and America, taking her child to the States for six months of the year, and the mother says that nothing as dangerous as woodwork takes place at kindergarten in the USA. It seems that the legal risks are too high in America. I guess it's all too easy to imagine the kids indulging in some boisterous play (do-it-yourself brain biopsies, for example, or a reenactment of the crucifixion) and someone getting sued as a result.

The last part of Master Suddenly Five's departure ceremony was that he distributed chocolate muffins to all the kids in his kindergarten class. These muffins had been baked by my sister, and she had enthusiastically baked sixty, which was well in excess of the number of kids in the class, meaning that there were muffins to spare for siblings who had shown up toward the end of the ceremony, for teachers, for the parents who happened to be on hand, and for me.

I'm pleased to say that these were very real three dimensional muffins.

I was very impressed with the kindergarten setup and by the standard of the teachers. The bad news, it seems, is that a lot of kids are not able to enter kindergarten until they are four years old, or almost four, because there simply aren't enough places. I guess this is symptomatic of the fact that kids are at the bottom of the heap, politically and economically.

The high points of the last two days, then, have involved kids, and have given me a foretaste of what I can expect in later years when I'm once again sharing family life with my daughter, baby Corncuopia, who will soon be fourteen months old, and who is presently living in Japan.

Baby Cornucopia can now walk and has taken her first toddling steps into the world of movie buffs. My wife writes that there was a showing of "movies" (perhaps videos) at the daycare center near our home in Yokohama on Saturday June 4th, and my wife took Cornucopia along to watch.

Baby Cornucopia "enjoyed the first short movie" which was something called "Fish Is Fish" by someone whose name is given as "Leo Leoni" (but the name is tagged with a question mark, so maybe it needs adjusting).

But Cornucopia didn't have the stamina required to stay focused for a long session of movies - I think the session lasted an hour, which is a long time when you're not yet quite fourteen months old.

"After the first one she lost interest and started walking around. After the movie she got a small present, a package of snack and a pack of fruit juice."

Kids have a way of downsizing the universe so the big issues disappear and what is left is a mouse, a rabbit, a package of snack and a pack of fruit juice. Sometimes, for me as a parent (which is what I am, even though parenthood is a bit theoretical at the moment) this downsizing is welcome.

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         If you were a ghost in the city of Oolong Morblock, then that was bad enough. You couldn't eat hamburgers and you couldn't smell flowers. You couldn't feel the warmth of the sun yet the cold of the wind cut right through you. But if you were a genie then it was far worse.
        Ptolemy Dace was a genie and so he suffered as genies did. From time to time, unpredictably, the urge to serve would come upon him without warning, and then he would go questing out for a desiring human. And then another, and another - ending the session exhausted and on the point of being deranged.
        Finally, Ptolemy decided that enough was enough.

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Magician Madam Salami (a real person) puts on a magic show for kids at a house in Devonport, New Zealand ... separately, an account of a leaving ceremony at a kindergarten in Devonport.