Professor Humperdink III

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28.11.07

Hokkaido



Akira, dressing for lunch
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Starters
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Main course
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Apéritif
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Hors doeuvre
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Drinking Juan's rice toddy
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Friends
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My balloon design
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Juan's pump
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Tao
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Under cover
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Aunt Humperdink’s Sumiyoshi floating hat festival
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Result of Juan's exuberance
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Leaving Hokkaido
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We reach Hokkaido in time for lunch with Akira. Lunch is lively and distinctly Japanese. Afterward lunch, sickened, we sit on the street, drinking cup after cup of Juan’s rice toddy. Befuddled and very ill, I sketch some of the friends we hope to see, if we live, and design a balloon. Juan sketches out an idea for a pump and then falls into a comatose stupor. Our old friend Tao turns up, wearing the hat that won Aunt Humperdink’s Hat Designer of the Year award, for, as well as being fashionable, it can carry up to forty bowls of buckwheat. Tao reminded us that a world war was about to erupt. Accordingly, to do something useful, we immediately discard our false beards, put baskets over our heads and, playing wild Tzigani jigs, we first attend aunt Humperdink’s Sumiyoshi floating hat festival, and then parade to the docks, where I fabricate the balloon and blow it up with Juan’s pump, while Juan sinks three ships. We then leave Hokkaido as fast as we can.

23.11.07

Mongolia and Uruguay


Zongying, Meirong, Meixiang and Xiaozhi
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Honghui and Zongying
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Ashirbu, sampling the mix
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Geming, with lunch
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At the border
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Mohamed
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Bamboo guitar
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Jango, providing a perfect E
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Marna, with her Tibble hat
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Gustavo, with dinner
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video
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Andrés, muddling through Mozart
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Somewhere between To-lun and Mandalgovi, although it is imperative we reach Japan as quickly as possible, we spend some time with Zongying, Meirong and the children, Meixiang and Xiaozhi. Helping Honghui and Zongying collect poppy petals, for Aunt Humperdink’s Paris perfumery, we bump into Ashirbu, visiting from the Black Sea, collecting petals for his new, improved, smoking mixture. We all enjoy sampling his new mixture and, finding that it makes us peckish, we are very pleased when Geming turns up, carrying lunch. After lunch, we sample more of Ahirbu’s smoking mixture and then head on as fast as we can. Unfortunately, we are befuddled and find ourselves back with our old friend, Mohamed, at the impassable Afghanistan border; this is very irritating as it means that we have been travelling in the wrong direction.
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Although we are confoundedly behind schedule, we are desperate for women and wine. We head, urgently, for Uruguay. I quickly hack out a guitar from some bamboo, for my old student Andrés, who lives in Montevideo. Fresh bamboo is not the perfect wood from which to whittle a guitar, and when I play a waltz by Fernando Carulli, it sounds reedy, thin and somewhat depressing. I put this down to the pathetic efforts of the composer, who specialized in writing music that has no reason. Jango provides a perfect E on his tuning and smoking fork, and, tuning the guitar, I belt out a Diabelli scherzo, to find that the thing brightens up considerably.
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Juan tried to film Mara’s special Tibble hat, a gift to Andrés, but Andrés spoiled the film by insisting on sitting in the middle of the room, muddling through some Mozart on the bamboo guitar. Gustavo brought dinner, which was very tasty, after a wonderful meal and some excellent wine, we toast the health of all of our friends and, regretting that we can’t stay a moment longer, set off for Japan, travelling as fast as we possibly can.
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Professor Humperdink’s Diary

22.11.07

Kukuthi and Katya


Kukuthi and Katya, on accordions
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International Toy Orchestra

21.11.07

Ngakpa


Ngakpa, saxophone
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International Toy Orchestra

20.11.07

Kukuthi


Kukuthi, first violin
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International Toy Orchestra

19.11.07

Russell





Russell, on piano
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International Toy Orchestra

15.11.07

China


The Quqiang Quintet


Bass viol



Jo Bran



Kite festival



Chanying, and her winning kite




Children's shrine
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I am, again, atrociously behind schedule. A Himalayan eagle attacked my little balloon and, as the bird popped the balloon with its beak, I crashed half way up Mount Lhotse. To make matters worse, the weather closes in and I am forced to take cover in the small tent I make from the balloon material. Needing another instrument and, having nothing to do while the blizzard rages, I quickly hike down to the tree line, cut a branch from a gnarled cedar and, using the head of Juan’s harpoon, hack out a bass viol. Fresh, deformed cedar is not the ideal wood for such an instrument and I try to cover the twisted grain by scratching images all over the thing. The instrument looks ludicrous and when I play some pieces by Fernando Carulli, it sounds dreary and utterly without spirit, this, however, is not surprising, considering the abject lack of talent of the hapless nincompoop of a composer. Playing some of Clérambault’s minuets, however, the instrument perks up considerably.
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Late in the evening, with the blizzard howling and the temperature at around minus twenty, I was surprised to hear someone calling my name; looking out of the tent, I am delighted to see my old friend Jo Bran, from Kansu Province. He had seen the eagle attack and, realizing that it could only be me, hanging on to a burst balloon over the Himalayas, he climbed up to find me. It is delightful to see him; he tells me that he is investigating a story about the alleged levitation abilities of certain Tibetan monks. Jo is cynical about such claims, which he believes to be simply fanciful tales, generated to create a mystique around the monks who, far from being holy, are a bunch of lazy, ignorant layabouts, living entirely from the produce of hard working farmers, who provide everything the monks require. However, researching the subject gives Jo an opportunity to visit some members of his extended family, who live in this area. Jo and I are presently joint Ping’an chatur arigam champions and, while waiting for the storm to subside, we work on some of the more subtle diagonal blocking moves that Mustafa, the Yemeni chatur arigam master, has been developing so successfully.
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In the morning, the storm has settled down a little and, because Jo says that all the passes are blocked, we head directly north, over the mountain, and then down into the Lhotse valley before heading up Everest. In the valley, we bump into Captain Valere d' Auvergne, who I flew with in the Black Squadron. He is stumbling around, freezing, confused, lost and snow-blind. Horrendously behind schedule, I am reluctant to stop, happily, Jo volunteers to tend to Valere and, first making sure they are both sheltered in a small cave I head on up Everest. The journey is easy, as it doesn’t involve any particular climbing skills and, from the summit, it is simple to slide down the north face, using the bass viol as a toboggan.
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At around twenty two thousand feet, and somewhat out of control, I shoot past Bill Tilman, my idiotic old colleague from the Somme fiasco, battling up the on the north face on a bicycle. I barely have time to warn him that the weather is closing in again before he is lost to my sight as I shoot over an unexpected cliff and fall several thousand feet. Fortunately, the material from the balloon made a very effective parachute; I make a safe landing in soft snow and hike northward.
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I reach Ping’an just in time to audition Quqiang and his quintet, for aunt Humperdink’s new Peking opera. Sadly, rather than playing traditional Chinese instruments, which is what aunt expected, they choose to sing a capella, frankly, they sound like demented budgerigars, and they are all surprised and not a little disappointed at failing the audition. After the audition, I just have time to judge the Ping’an kite festival, at which I award first prize to young Chanying for her interesting creation, and attend a service at the children’s shrine. Unfortunately, although I would love to stay here a lot longer, I am horrifyingly behind schedule and, unable to stay a moment longer, must press on to Mongolia as fast as I possibly can.
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Professor Humperdink’s Diary

11.11.07

Bhutan


Juan, in Thimbu



Chimi, waiting for Juan



Ugyen



International boot designers



Dancing in Thimbu



Balloon escape



To China
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Arrive in Thimbu, where Chimi has been waiting for Juan, she takes him away. My nephew, Ugyen, stops chanting and spinning his prayer wheel long enough to tell me that Voinovich and his assassins are just a few hours behind us. This is irritating as it means I must leave immediately. I quickly present aunt Humperdink’s annual international boot design awards, then, after a celebratory dance, I carry on; using the little balloon that I always keep for such occasions. This is a wonderful way to travel, the view is spectacular and, if I don’t crash into a mountain, I expect to reach China on Monday.
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Professor Humperdink's Diary

8.11.07

Burma


Nu, Maya and Ei


Maneena, trying Ashirbu’s new smoking mixture



Hermie and Annie



Ganaraj, picking wood



Lyra viol



Su Su and me, dancing
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We visit Ei, Nu and Maya for a pwé. Su Su turned up, with our friend Plaek Khittasangkha’s grandmother, Maneena, visiting from Siam. Juan, Su Su and Maneena were joint chatur arigam champions, several years in a row, and we are very happy to see them. Maneena tells us that she has been trying Ashirbu’s new smoking mixture, and thinks that it is better than ever. She offers me some, after which things became slightly muddled. I seem to remember Aunt Humperdink saying it was or Hermie, the hermit crab, who chose the whelk shell as a home, but that it was Annie, the annelid, (on the right of the photograph) who chose the hat. The significance of this escapes me.
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As I need another instrument, Ganaraj picks some wood and I quickly hack out a Lyra viol. I try to conceal the many imperfections in the wood by using a hot pin and covering the thing with purfled trellis patterns. The instrument looks ridiculous and, when I play a few pieces by Fernando Carulli, the result is dull and depressing. Although fresh teak is not the best lumber for a lyra viol, I blame the insipid and weary sound on Carulli, a truly third rate composer whose greatest achievement was to make notes go up and down for no reason. Instead, I play ‘Hey Tuttie, Tattie’ and sing, ‘Scots wha wi’ Wallace Bled,’ and ‘The Deil’s awa’ wi’ th’ Exciseman’, which, for Maneena, I put to the tune of the old English air, ‘The Hemp Dresser’. Although nobody understands the words, everyone starts singing, the music is lively and Su Su and I lead the dance.
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Professor Humperdink's Diary

5.11.07

Ceylon


Karak and Sacha, with the twins, Missal and Yung





Juan, on Ganaraj



Ganaraj, being silly



Nanayakkarapathirage, with lunch



Juan, parading with elephants



Hedi, waiting for Juan
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Unfortunately, I finished the whisky. A few miles off the coast of Ceylon, my old friends Karakata and Sacha turn up, proudly showing off their children. Realizing that I must be hallucinating through lack of alcohol, the moment I land at Pottuvil, I rush inland and catch up with Juan, on Ganaraj, collecting rocks for Aunt Humperdink’s Moneragalain temple for the Untouchables, and trying out some new artificial tusks. To my great relief, Juan still has a lot of the whisky that he brought from Canada. After paddling all the way from North Sentinel Island without a proper drink, it is very refreshing and thirst quenching. We toast to the success of our mission by drinking ourselves silly.
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On the way to Kandy, we call in on Nanayakkarapathirage (pictured here with his pet, Richard), our friend from the Suriya Mal Movement. Nanayakkarapathirage is famous for his food and, with great hospitality, provides us with a rare specialty, curried spotted dick. After curry, we carry on to Kandy. Although it is vital that we do not attract attention to ourselves, when Juan works with elephants, he gets overexcited and holds a parade; this is an irritating weakness. We leave Kandy one step ahead of the authorities.
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Horrifyingly behind schedule, we are further delayed by visiting Colombo, where Hedi has been waiting for Juan. She takes him away. Ganaraj and I tear on to Talaimannar, where we swim across the Gulf of Mannar. Sharks attack, but Ganaraj has been swimming these waters since he was a calf and, while I spear them with my harpoon, Ganaraj, without changing direction or missing a stroke, uses his trunk and casually tears up sharks by the dozen. It is an otherwise uneventful journey. Landing at Ramesvaram, we quickly shake ourselves down and charge north, Ganaraj trumpeting wildly through the flowered Indian night.
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Professor Humperdink's Diary