Hotel Quarantine: Redux – June 2021

Day 1: Wednesday 2 June 2021 – Arrivals

So, the flight crew are still dressed like artisan butchers, but in the 12 months since we last did this the ‘COVID smocks’ have been bedazzled a little with embroidery and red piping. It’s like when you’ve had too much to drink and stumble on the dance floor, but you try to turn it into a sweet move and pretend you did it on purpose. Anyway, I think it’s a little bit like that.

This time we’ve arrived in Perth because spending 2 weeks in a hotel 4000km from your final destination is a perfectly reasonable way to travel in 2021.

Why are we here? What year is this? Did we ever leave? Were we ever here at all? These are the esoteric questions we are asking today. Also, can you boil an egg in the kettle?

Day 2: Thursday 3 June 2021 – Welcome

The answer to yesterday’s question is yes… but it’s not a good idea. Like the great Chris Rock says “you can drive a car with your feet if you want to”.

I want to remark a little on the scene of yesterday’s arrival, because it is worth remarking upon. We were bussed from the airport in two of those double buses with the slinky rubber bit in the middle. When we arrived at the hotel the doors were opened, the bus driver fled and the myriad official, semi-official, and non-official looking officials retreated a safe distance and sort of watched what might happen; a bit like when you find a huntsman in your living room – you whip an old Chinese food container over the top of it, slip a piece of paper underneath then gingerly take it outside. When you get there you crouch down, extend your arm until it has no bend in it at all, shift your weight onto your back-heel, then take a deep breath. When you’re ready you whip off that slice of paper and leap flamboyantly behind the Gardenia bush. After a time you peer back around said Gardenia Bush carefully to find that the Huntsman has… not moved.

So, nor did we, for a while. Then we started schlepping our bags off one at a time. An hour or so later it was our turn. As we disembarked it felt like we had just returned from somewhere having won a major international trophy of some sort and were being greeted by our fans – if our fans were dressed like Halloween mortician hobbyists, and those Halloween mortician hobbyists were big fans of Kareem Abdul Jabbar and so choose to regularly wear his goggles to commemorate the bespectacled period of his Hall of Fame career from 1974 onward.

Anyway, I suggested politely to one of these helpful chaps that it might be a reasonable ‘first principles’ policy to get the little kids off the bus first. He told me they couldn’t control “that sort of thing” and then, noticing that I was in danger of breaching his 5m radius, he backed away clumsily whilst trying to figure out how to render me safe.

There was no trolley so we dragged our suitcases and children through this non-clapping honour guard of mortuary technicians and part-time welders until we were safely sealed in the lift.

Strange times indeed.

Still, we’ve already been delivered 8 bananas and eaten 7 of them so all is well.

Day 3: Friday 4 June 2021 – Complex Administration

This morning we tried to order two coffees from the hotel café; it was a pleasingly complicated process. Straight forward administration does nothing for the passage of time and should be avoided in hotel quarantine.

ME (upbeat voice): Hi, good morning I’d just like to order a couple of coffees.

FRONT DESK (downtrodden voice but certainly trying hard to be pleasant): Do we have your credit card details on file?

ME: ha, I certainly hope not!

FRONT DESK: …….

ME: um, OK, how do I do that?

FRONT DESK: Do you have the credit card authorization form?

ME (still upbeat): Absolutely not.

FRONT DESK: ……

ME: So, cool, where would I find it?

FRONT DESK: It was in the pile of papers we gave you.

ME: Uh-huh, OK give me a moment.

<sound of rustling>

ME: OK got it, now what?

FRONT DESK: Now fill it in, but only with half the details on your card.

ME: Only half the details?

FRONT DESK: Yeah only half the details.

ME: OK, half, got it. Then what?

FRONT DESK: Then take a photo of the form and email it to the address on the front.

ME (pointlessly contributing to the back and forth): Oh yes I see it – just right there down on the bottom, correct?

FRONT DESK: Yeah.

ME: Great. So I just email it?

FRONT DESK: Yeah, then call me back.

ME: Call you back?

FRONT DESK: Yeah, call me back

ME: OK, great, call you back… why?

FRONT DESK: To give me the rest of the details.

ME: What details?

FRONT DESK: Of your credit card.

ME: Ooooh, for security? Right got it – that’s smart. OK, so just to make sure I’m clear – fill it in (half the details), then…

FRONT DESK: Thank you, goodbye.

ME: hello? hello? …. hmmm, line must have cut out….

Day 4: Saturday 5 June 2021 – Bath Robes

It’s pretty remarkable how quickly we have descended into only wearing bath robes.

I have never really worn a bath robe before, certainly not as my primary outfit for days on end, and I have learned a lot.

A bath robe is an extremely versatile garment to be sure, but with only small alterations to its usage, imperceptible perhaps to the inexperienced, it can swing without notice from ‘glamorous luxury’ to ‘lurking in your front yard waiting to steal your newspaper’.

I am no expert yet but have already identified a few factors which seem to impact which overall genre you fall into.

Firstly, if a bath robe is being used for its luxurious design purpose the user is supposed to be tucked up snugly either before or after some sort of expensive, pampering experience. It is supposed to be pulled up right under your chin – really, no visible neck at all is ideal. Maybe in a pinch some of that soft bit right under your chin might be okay, but certainly if any chest hairs are wisping out the top you have gone from ‘divine’ to ‘deviant’.

My second observation is linked to the first – you’re not really supposed to move around in these things, just lie there and feel pleased with yourself. So, if you’re kind of cutting around in it all day; making sandwiches, playing bin basketball, competing in intense Pokemon Gym Battles, getting PCR tests and the like, it tends to get a bit stretched and askew. That soft belt thing gets pulled out of place really rather quickly, so you end up with it stretched out with the knot all loose on the side, sitting on your hip. At this point the best case scenario is at least one nipple on display, but more likely some or all of your belly button as well. You might as well be drinking a Woodstock and Cola out of the tin on your way to the greyhounds before lunch.

Oh, also if you want to project glamour you can’t put anything in that hip-height pocket, I mean nothing at all. No half eaten bags of popcorn leftover from yesterday’s lunch delivery, not a deck of UNO, not a banana for later on and definitely, definitely not the TV remote… as convenient as that may be.

That’s all I have learned about bath robes so far. I’ll let you know if I figure anything else out.

Glamour

Day 5: Sunday 6 June 2021 – Pavlovian Response

I’m starting to lose respect for that Ivan Pavlov guy, father of classical conditioning, owner of ‘Pavlov’s Dog’, and so famous the phrase ‘Pavlovian response’ is part of common vernacular. I’m just not sure he achieved all that much, making a dog salivate with a bell and all that.

As part of the thorough regime in place to keep us separated from real life (but also alive), food is delivered three times a day, but at non-consistent times. Now, we were told several times that two minutes must elapse from the time of ‘food drop’ until the time of retrieval (which must be performed by an adult only, wearing a mask and holding their breath). So, even if we hear the drop, which we almost never do because they are very quiet and sneaky – we suspect they are ridings segues out there – we are not allowed to open the door for two minutes, and not until all the children have been locked in the bathroom and covered in blankets.

This behaviour is reinforced by a phone call which reverberates through our little room once the segue-riding food dropper has made good their escape. Now, regardless what we are doing at that moment – Corridor Ball, Skull Ball, Chair Hurricane (more on those later) Kuepps or I will spring to attention, dash to the phone in a manner which suggests if we don’t make it by the 7th ring they will presume we are dead and send back the segue guy to retrieve our food. We always answer in the same way “hello?” in a casual manner which suggests we are not 100% sure why they are calling: “Oh the food? Oh, right now? Outside? You’re too kind, thank you so much”.

We all then do a small dance, which we have never choreographed but for which somehow we all know the moves. We all then lineup and hold our breath while the designated retriever dons their mask and brings in our sustenance. We all then burn our clothes in the waste paper bin and roll in methylated spirits before sitting down to a nice meal.

So you see it took Pavlov a lifetime to make his pooch salivate with a bell, but in retrospect that doesn’t seem so ambitious. Imagine what he could have achieved with a full quarantine hotel.

Day 6: Monday 7 June 2021 – Return of the Jedi

Hugely exciting day – we received our 2nd COVID test as we inch closer and closer to societal redemption.

Our 1st test on Day 1 did not go so well. The adults found it unpleasant but pretended all was fine. Milo felt no compulsion to replicate such pretense. We adopted the ‘just spring it on them at the last moment’ approach in order to avoid the pain of pre-emptive catastrophizing and associated whining. This approach doesn’t work well with out eldest at the best of times, let alone when an ominous looking probe is circling towards his various facial orifices.

As I scooped Milo up into my arms he managed to cry out (with increasing urgency) “a little bit later, a little bit LATER!!” whilst simultaneously managing to cover both nostrils and his mouth with one hand. Quite impressive really. He is also a lot stronger than he looks and quite wily. Every time we managed to pries a hand off his face another materialized to take its place. It was unclear where these extra hands were coming from.

Eventually Kuepps and I acknowledged the requirement to coordinate better and, using our simple numerical hand advantage, we managed to secure all of his flailing hands as well as his dangerous little feet which were pistoning around at groin height.

Once his limbs were secured we turned our attention to his head which was still very much in play, like a giant bright pink raisin, jerking this way and that.

I tried to secure it under my chin which obviously didn’t work. It immediately kicked free and looked at me angrily, lips pursed and defiant like a dried up little walnut. Finally with Kuepps securing both feet and my arm restraining both of his, like the sash bit of a seatbelt across his chest, I was able to create a surplus hand which I used to pin his head to my chest. His face looked crazy, a bit like when Bilbo Baggins lunges for the ring. Somehow in this position the nurse was able to expertly extract the precious mucous she needed and we were done.

Again, rather like Bilbo Baggins, Milo returned immediately to normal and strolled away to tell Monty it was “the gentlest COVID test he has had”.

This got us off to a good start with Monty who compliantly opened his mouth for the first probing. He quickly realised however that his brother may have embellished a little so quickly snapped it shut. Unfortunately for him, Monty is not quite as tricksy as his brother so didn’t think to enlist any of his limbs into service. Instead he tried to seal up his nose with sheer willpower alone.

Like Luke Skywalker in Return of the Jedi the nurse was able to precisely insert the payload into Monty’s Thermal Exhaust Port and in a flash we were finished. Monty whimpered a bit, but having nowhere near his brother’s commitment to rage and indignation he was readily placated with a muesli bar.

Wait, where was I? Oh yes today. So we just parented a little better, gave them a bit more notice and the opportunity to get the test somewhat on their terms and they were angels. Monty’s only request was that he got to go 6th out of 4; a request we readily accommodated.

Day 7: Tuesday 8 June 2021 – Decathlon

Honestly, where is all this fruit coming from? We monitor our deliveries closely, we call the front desk to reduce certain items to maintain equilibrium, we force mandarins on our children as if scurvy runs in the family, and yet every time we look the pile has grown.

We have strategically placed our fruit box in the cupboard, which is one of only two viable hiding places available to us, so that the boys may absentmindedly eat a mandarin segment or two, or maybe unpeel a banana, whilst playing hide and seek – Milo regularly does this. But all this has achieved is to make our cupboard look like the check-in table at an orienteering tournament. Something untoward is going on with our fruit situation.

So we’ve made it to the halfway point. Each day feels like a mini-decathlon. I’ve not done a decathlon before but I presume there are 10 events. I further presume participants are usually better at some events than others; for example, you might be strong at javelin and quadruple jump, but not so good at the Frosby Flop or Dance-Dance-Nation, or whatever.

Anyway, each day feels segmented into about 10 – in some of those events you perform pretty well, others sub-par. But after the boys are asleep you submit your overall score and feel satisfied with your mid-table finish.

This evening I walked into the bathroom to fetch Milo out of the shower and found him playing noughts and crosses against himself, drawing with his finger on the misted up glass. He looked up at me and said “this isn’t very fun”.

Check-in table for orienteering tournament

Day 8: Wednesday 9 June 2021 – The Middle Days

Time in hotel quarantine is a slippery and untrustworthy beast. Last year to our delight we discovered around the half way point that an extra day had snuck past us somehow unannounced. This year the opposite seems to have happened. So, today, it would appear, is Day 7, or perhaps Day 8 out of 15. We are surprisingly sanguine about this.

There is a weird bit in the middle where 40m2 starts to seem okay for a family of four, where you start to forget what all the fuss is about being outside. There is rabies outside, and decisions about hats, and overbearing ibis. Maybe this is the place for us? A place to build our futures?

Today we played a little Corridor Ball. Simple concept, the boys roll a ball across the room (corridor is a generous term) then chase after it, attempting to retrieve it before it loses momentum and stops. Last week there was hustle and passion, strategic discussions about which ball would roll for the longest but at a manageable pace (we have 2 juggling balls, a hacky sack and a stress ball), there were ill-judged dives, carpet burns and tears. Today, nothing but cold ambivalence.

Sure, they rolled the balls but I saw zero desire for Corridor Ball glory. They didn’t even take their bath robes off.

Then we moved onto hide-and-seek. First I just sort of stood in the toilet cubicle and closed the door, which is frosted but certainly not opaque. Milo hid in the cupboard and ate a mandarin. Monty found Milo first then the two of them took an awfully long time to track me down.

Next it was my turn to seek. Milo hid behind the curtain; I knew this because I heard it rustling. Monty hid in the exact same place his brother had in round one, and ate a mandarin. As soon as I opened my eyes I could see Monty as clear as day. The cupboard looks like an oversized humidor with a smoky glass door, it’s weird. Monty was not hidden at all, I mean I could see him sitting right there, deeply focused on peeling his mandarin. Also, the curtain is moving around like it’s wrapped around a python.

Still, I stretch it out for four minutes, drifting aimlessly this way and that, turning over waste paper bins, shifting piles of lego with my feet. Where could they be? I say, shrugging my shoulders for dramatic punctuation.

Eventually Monty finishes up his mandarin and rolls out of the cupboard yelling BOO! Milo is bored so emerges from behind the curtain without ceremony.

Finally it’s Milo’s turn to find us. I put forth some effort and try to squeeze myself in between the two single beds which make up the ‘motel queen’, as I call it.

Milo counts fast, he’s ruthless, so by the time I have shoe-horned myself in there I am committed, there is no going back. Unfortunately though I am a bit long and my feet are poking out the end, in clear view. My arms are pinned so I forlornly stretch my toes out to grab a corner of doona to pull it down. Perhaps if I am lucky I will catch a break and a bit of bedding will obscure my feet for a moment or two. But alas my useful primate toes have been rendered useless by decades of unnecessary shoe wearing. They are still straining pathetically as Milo’s count runs out… 48-49-50.

He opens his eyes and wastes no time. Daddy you’re under the bed, Monty you’re behind the curtain. Joyless.

At least Monty is still loving it, he tumbles out from behind the curtain well after he has been discovered yelling BOO!

Let’s see what tomorrow brings.

Day 9: Thursday 10 June 2021 – Zoom

The impacts of COVID will be far reaching. It is too early for anthropologists, sociologists, epidemiologists, any of the ologists, to really yet agree on the most significant of these. But one thing we know for sure, right now, is a lot more people have now seen their work colleague’s partners in their undies on a zoom call than 12 months ago, way more.

This is a particular hazard in hotel quarantine and really should form part of the welcome instructions: wear a mask when you open your door to retrieve food, don’t distil liquor in the sink, don’t boil an egg in the kettle, check the aperture settings on all work laptop cameras.

Yesterday Kuepps was on a work video call when I, confident I was out of shot, shimmied into the room for no real reason I can recall, dancing to ‘She’s so lovely’ by Scouting for Girls. I was not out of the shot. Nor was I wearing much; only a bath robe and undies. Not my good undies either, the Bonds Christmas stocking numbers from a couple of years back. You know the ones.

At this point there is no sense in anybody pretending it didn’t happen, I could hear the muffled giggles through my wife’s headphones. So I wrapped my bathrobe around myself to preserve whatever dignity remained, and we all exchanged pleasant waves. As of today Kuepps continues to be employed.

And that leads me to two more things I have learned about bath robes. Firstly, what you wear underneath matters. I am not sure what they recommend in a luxury spa but I am sure it is not the aforementioned baggy undies, or stained basketball shorts.

Also, while wearing a robe no skin whatsoever can be seen from the bottom of the knee upward, whether sitting or standing. Even an inch of skin will immediately take you from luxe to louche.

I’ll let you know if I learn anything else about bath robes.

Luxe
Louche

Day 10: Friday 11 June 2021 – Pictionary

One-on-one Pictionary is not one of the world’s great spectacles at the best of times, but when one of the participants is a three year old it is particularly niche.

Here’s how Monty and I play Pictionary together: we roll the dice which has no bearing on anything. The sand timer must ALWAYS be running – Monty will see to that.

When it’s my turn to draw I select the next available card then choose the option that either a) I have a chance of drawing or b) Monty has a chance of guessing. Ideally it’s both; thing like nose, airport, apple, broom etc.

When it’s Monty’s turn he does not trouble himself with a card, he just draws whatever he likes without context or clue and expects me to get it. He let’s me haplessly guess 3 or 4 times, often something like this: “ostrich, ice-cream maker, bassoon”. He replies “nope, nope, nope” then with exasperation “can I tell you?”, which he then proceeds to do.

These are Monty’s masterpieces from today’s session:

  • Grasshopper
  • Front teeth
  • Sock
  • Cat on a motorcycle
  • Spiky volcano
  • Earth
  • Pencil
  • Moon
  • Spiky Plant
  • A Pokemon he just made up called Owen.

We’ll play some more tomorrow.

Grasshopper
Front Teeth
Sock
Cat on a Motorcycle
Spiky Volcano
Earth
Pencil
Moon
Spiky Plant
A Pokemon I just made up called Owen

Day 11: Saturday 12 June 2021 – Regression

Things have deteriorated a little. The boys started biting each other pretty early today and Milo has been in an impressive funk ever since.

Importantly he told me he does not like how I have been prosecuting my Pokemon battles with him; I am deliberately losing, not playing with enough enthusiasm, not accurately taking into account type advantages when apportioning damage and most importantly I am using too many of my own made-up moves like: steal your lunch, nipple pinch, electro-jelly and strong cuddle. He won’t battle me again until I remedy these issues.

Fortunately Kuepps managed to entertain them for an hour this afternoon by pretending to be an arcade claw grabber that they could control to collect their own soft toys. It’s possible everybody is going a bit mad.

Day 12: Sunday 13 June 2021 – Rugby League

It took 12 days but the boys have finally figured out they can move the mattresses. In a small room it the mattress is hanging askew, even by just a foot, the result is very untidy indeed. Of course we are talking way more than a foot – slides, tunnels, forts, everything. Our room looks like a rugby league team just checked out. It is very bad for morale.

We have taken to gazing out the window after dinner, playing eye spy. The scenery doesn’t change much so the game is rather predictable; crane, building, car, sky, elephant.

Today our game took a slightly more interesting turn which may indicate our ‘reservoir of resilience’ is drying up. Here are some of the offerings:

  • M.T.B – Moderately Tasty Burrito
  • P.C.C – Pretty Cranky Children
  • F.A.O – Fresh Air Outside

Three days to go.

Day 13: Monday 14 June 2021 – Scraping the games barrel

Here are a few games we have invented in recent days as our creativity, durability and general interest in life have become further eroded.

  • Blind-folded Hide and Seek:
    • I have spoken previously about the challenges we have faced in generating even a vaguely satisfactory game of H&S. Turns out impairing the vision of the seeker is actually pretty genius (Monty’s idea). It vastly lengthens the game and adds the thrill of a perceived and actual threat to your physical safety.
  • Stampede:
    • I’m not really sure what this one’s all about, nor am I even really sure how to play it. I sort of crouch down then the boys charge at me one at a time. I think I am supposed to wait until the very last second then dive out of the way onto the bed. Although they seem to like it when I am a bit late on my escape and they crash into me.
  • Kick the Marble:
    • There are some clues in the title of this one, but also some weird twists. Another Monty invention; basically he pulls his tshirt up over his nose (but not his eyes) so he looks like a bandit (or pretty much anybody in 2021). It’s unclear why he does this as it has absolutely no bearing on how the game unfolds. The adult then stands about 3 metres away from Monty, with a marble at his feet. Monty then kicks the marble at you, which he somehow does with some ferocity. Again, it’s not clear if you are supposed to dodge or not, he seems to prefer not. The real value of ‘kick the marble’ is the marble is almost always lost. This adds an extra unit of time for each iteration while everybody looks for it.

And finally Pokemon Bus Driver. Basically I sit on the bed and pretend to be a bus driver but every time I stop for passengers Pokemon get on instead (I am equally surprised each time)… and hilarity ensues.

The finish line is in sight.

Day 14: Tuesday 15 June 2021 – Freedom

This morning we received our 3rd COVID test since moving into our well-appointed cave. So all things going well we will achieve societal redemption tomorrow afternoon and be out of here.

Given tomorrow we will spend the first hour packing and then the next 6 sitting patiently on our suitcases by the door, I will be too busy to write – so I’ll try to sign off now.

I would like to highlight some of the silver linings of the past 14 days. Firstly, Milo added 6 Pokemon to his Pokedex; Galarian Slowpoke, Galarian Slowbro, Mienfoo, Garchomp, Shiny Garchomp and the 3rd laziest Pokemon in the Pokemon Universe, Slaking. A tidy haul indeed.

The boys finally discovered Bluey (we have been overseas for a while) and we have binged. What a triumph. Cop that Peppa Pig.

Milos has fallen in love with the shower. Previously a young man only interested in being dipped into steaming water, not having it fall upon him from above, he is now right onboard with one of life’s great pleasures; singing, soaping up and playing noughts and crosses in the steam.

Milo’s front tooth fell out. Affectionately known as ‘snaggle’, this was long in the making. It is now in an empty pill box in the front of the suitcase. Not sure what to do with it now.

The boys have taken a liking to Pitbull’s music, particularly his material between 2010 and 2013. We didn’t see that coming.

And finally Milo is now aware of who Will Smith is; and his world is better for it.

Just checked the weather for the first time in a fortnight – looks bright and chilly. We’re out of here…

A year older, mullet 4 inches shorter

The wardrobe door – 25 May 2021

So, I would like to say it was a few weeks ago but I am rather confident it is months, Milo kicked one of the doors off his wardrobe.

It was more reckless than mischievous, just some good-natured absent-minded booting to test the hinges. Anyway, the hinges were of a lower quality than he expected and the door spontaneously jettisoned itself from its frame and fell heavily upon the tiled floor rather closeish to his leg. Close enough to give him a fright.

Now, once I had determined the door had suffered the only serious injury I set about seizing this opportunity to set my son on a path of personal growth. Milo was still a little fragile given he had narrowly missed being clonked by an over-spec’d door so arguably I could have chosen my moment better, but it is always the right time for a salutary life lesson so I quickly got into my flow:

“yes I know it was not on purpose”

“but you need to learn the value of possessions, you need to have respect for property”

…beautiful stuff…

“so, you have got two choices – you pay the maintenance guy to fix it out of your pocket money, or you and I are going to fix it together.”

…brilliant. We were going to re-hang the door together, he was going to learn how to use screwdrivers for something other than digging, and together we were going to learn the value of property.

No sooner had I concluded my ‘engaged parent’ proclamation with a nice cuddle to make up and move on I realised there was one glaring problem with my plan… I didn’t want to fix the frickin door, and I’m not sure I even could – I had a glance at the hinges they were really bent, and some of the screws had rolled away. Where was I going to find the right sized screws? One of the hinges had even fallen off and I wasn’t even sure which way up it went. Also, our screwdrivers have a lot of soil in them, all except for that useless giant flat-head one. What is that one even used for?

In the weeks, and yes months, that followed Milo repeatedly asked me when we were going to fix the door. You see I had withheld his pocket money as a bond, to be returned once we had completed our father/ son bonding task. I ducked and weaved and generally evaded the question… and there the door stood – for a while propped up against the wall, then propped up against the wall with laundry hanging on it, then lying on the ground, then lying on the ground with folded laundry on it, then sort of pushed into the corner. But it is pretty big, and quite heavy, impossible to hide. It mocked me daily.

Soon Milo’s questions became harrassment and then demands. He wanted to fix the door, he was ready to fix the door, why can’t we fix the door? I eventually stopped engaging him about the door, I mean I would literally pretend I couldn’t hear him and walk into another room. Salutary lessons suck.

Today Kuepps paid our maintenance guy to re-hang the door.

It took him 4 minutes and each screw that went in took with it a little of my parental fortitude.

We paid him about 10 dollars.

Pretty nice looking door

Hotel Quarantine: A Dickensian Tale – June 2020

IMG_6537

DAY 1: Wednesday 10 June 2020

Arrived last night around midnight. Rather bizarre flight; attendants dressed like artisan butchers. Milo and Jupes awake at 1100hrs, Kuepps and Monty at 1300hrs. In important news we have at least 3 Pokestops we can spin, 4 when the GPS is a little off.

Food is of prison grade, but might sustain us in the short term. We have already taken delivery of a substantial care package from Oma, including vacuum cleaner and Nespresso machine. Boys asleep at 2100hrs, awake at 0040hrs. Midnight snack consumed consisting of fried egg, ham and cheese on toast. Asleep at 0200hrs.

  • Total new Pokemon caught/ evolved: 2
  • Total pear count: 4
  • Total Creme Caramel count: 4

DAY 2: Thursday 11 June 2020

It is still raining. It would appear, from our voyeuristic peering out the window, that there is not in fact a zombie apocalypse in Australia. This morning I saw a man, normal looking fella, just carrying and drinking a takeaway coffee like it was nothing. Everybody up around 1000hrs, exciting toast breakfast.

Everybody very confused about time, its relativity, and apparent disinterest in us.

Gifts received from Ama and Aba delivered an excellent, and rather festive, unit of time. ‘Find-a-Pikachu’ book proving important in the early stages. Pikachu now being found with relative ease, but Monty still feigning surprise/ excitement; likely for our benefit.

2100hrs bedtime again did not stick. 0130hrs midnight snack, less ambitious than yesterday. Milo took the opportunity to quiz Monty on various aspects of the Pokemon Encyclopedia – this evening focusing on ‘types’.

  • Total new Pokemon caught/ evolved: 2
  • Total pear count: 8
  • Total Creme Caramel count: 8
  • Total food box count: 24

DAY 3: Friday 12 June 2020

So, the boys had a bit of biffo today. From what we can piece together it would seem Monty was irritating Milo during Pokemon Go, so Milo gave him a bit of a shove, so Monty went immediately to his secret weapon and nipped Milo on the arm, so Milo ratcheted things up a little and gave Monty a fair thump on his back – at least twice based on the tiny fist-sized bruises, so Monty made the most of his opportunity and executed a really pretty reasonable chomp on Milo’s thigh. By the time we arrived both were in pieces, shocked that they had wrought such horrors upon each other. We declared a gentlemen’s draw, but cancelled the next morning’s Pokemon Go session.

A heavy penalty indeed.

Separately, we have begun shooting juggling balls at an empty plastic bin, without joy. Milo, in an effort to add tension and intrigue, proposed he might try to block the shots; you know, to make a game of it. His technique, which was pretty well conceived, was to insert his entire head and shoulders into the bin. To be fair this made it pretty difficult to score a basket, so the game petered out nil/ nil. Still, it was a unit of time.

  • Total pear count: 12 (-1 eaten = 11)
  • Total Creme count: 12 (8 caramel, 2 Choco, 2 panacotta)
  • Total new Pokemon caught/ evolved: 4

DAY 4: Saturday 13 June 2020

Today we wrote a Haiku.

Hotel Quarantine.

What is it, this thing called time?

Why does it mock me?

Without sunshine, jetlag is proving very persistent. Ghosts drift past each other at all hours of the night, in the gloom, to or from the bathroom, or kitchen… or somewhere else. Faces take on an ethereal quality, a soft green, illuminated by the ‘Mad Mex’ across the road.

Today we have abandoned the utilitarian, ‘survival first’ fare we have been receiving at our front door three times a day with a knock, followed by the sound of hastened scuttling back to the lift. The societal instincts imprinted on our human DNA quickly established for us the optimum quantum of time between ‘knock’ and ‘open’. As fun as it would be to lurk behind the door, quietly listening, in order to spring it open upon the first knock, with a smile; “good morning, how are you? Thanks for the sustenance, got anything planned today?”… it simply wouldn’t do. We are of course modern day lepers, exiled to Kalaupapa Island, unworthy of human contact – until our glorious redemption in 9 days time.

At bedtime we changed the boys from their day-time pyjamas into their night-time pyjamas, which in turn became their day-time pyjamas. It is a wild, relentless cycle.

Also, today we ate pizza; which was like being reborn.

  • Food counting stats will now be discontinued.
  • The box count has also stagnated at 36.

DAY 5: Sunday 14 June 2020

When they have nothing there is nothing left to take away. We have zero leverage. Pokemon Go; is it played? Is it not? For how long? This is all we have. We give it. We retract it. We dangle it. It hovers like the Sword of Damocles.

But if the four of us were to be honest with each other, the lustre of this virtual world has faded. How can one walk 10km with one’s Eevee in order to evolve it into an Umbreon at night when your world is a hotel room? This is not a jaunty thought experiment to stimulate conversation. This is reality. Today our hunt yielded zero new Pokemon, not even a Poliwag from the mountainous region of Kaloa – often referred to as the ‘rat of Kalos’ by residents of the regional capital Lumiose City.

Where have all the Pokemon gone? I ask again, where have all the Pokemon gone?

Today I did a small dance to entertain the boys. Monty, unamused, said; “I hate your bloody hips. I hate your bloody butt. I hate your bloody dance.” A stinging review.

The remnants of Saturday night’s pizza buoyed spirits as we enter the second week.

DAY 7: Monday 15 June 2020

We had developed a sensation that time was not obeying its normal rules, and this morning this has been confirmed. We have learned that the day we arrived was actually Day 1, so today is actually Day 7, not Day 6. Ordinarily losing a day of your life would be cause for some consternation, but under the current circumstances it is a delight.

Further, we have learned that on Day 14 we can leave at 0001hrs. We’re not sure that during a Global Pandemic there would be suitable entertainment venues to cater for a family of four open at that hour; but it is nice to have the option. We celebrated by splitting a KitKat.

We have a bluetooth speaker here with us in Hotel Quarantine; it offers some respite, and reminds us of the life we once had. However, we are forever vigilant to ensure “Crazy Frog – Axel F” never gets a chance to play; one eye is always on the Spotify shuffle. The chance is far from zero. Here are our Spotify playlists that currently feature “Crazy Frog – Axel F”:

  • On Repeat – The songs you can’t get enough of right now
  • Repeat Rewind – Past songs that you couldn’t get enough of
  • Your Top Songs – 2019
  • Your Top Songs – 2018

Should one rendition slip through our net we fear disaster; that Crazy Frog has such an immediate and visceral impact on our children that the ensuing hysteria may well drag them and us into a tornado of chaos from whence we would not return intact.

In our view this song should be banned from all Quarantine Hotels, nationwide.

DAY 8: Tuesday 16 June 2020

Despite requesting a discontinuation to the food deliveries they still continue to arrive at our door from time-to-time, like a stray cat we fed once.

Sometimes we let them into our house, and regret it. Most times we quickly re-shut the door and remain quiet for 5 minutes. One time we left a note before bed “no more food please”. The next morning it had been replaced by food.

Our pile of pears, plain crisps and single-serve UHT milk is now so vast it appears we are preparing to make a food drop to a group of stranded hikers.

We are now very used to the rhythm of door knocks, and we can usually deduce their purpose before opening the door. An out-of-sync doorknock is therefore cause for some stimulation and excitement within our small dwelling; one’s imagination is quickly unleashed; fire drill? mis-addressed Uber Eats? Census volunteer? Mormon? Today we received such a knock and scampered to the door. Was it somebody notifying us we had been deemed safe to return to society? Nope, fresh linen.

Just before he fell asleep tonight Monty said to me; “daddy, why is it night time?” Of course that sentence makes no sense at all, except for the fact it is probably the most poignant thing he has ever said. Why is it night time?

DAY 9: Wednesday 17 June 2020

The nurse rang this morning to advise our big test will be tomorrow; sometime between “9 and 5”. I said; “anytime, we’ll be here”. I was quite pleased with my quip, but the nurse really gave me very little response, which I though was unfair.

I found Monty switching the light on and off by himself this afternoon, absentmindedly saying “on… off…”. Otherwise, everything is fine.

In the evening we decided to Uber some burritos from the Mad Mex that has been throwing its ghoulish green glow into our apartment for the last week. We rather liked the idea of controlling something in the real world and watching it unfold before our eyes.

The boys and I gathered by a window with a fine view of the entrance and waited with giddy excitement for the Uber cyclist to arrive. Alas, somehow we missed Tomas both arriving and departing, but we did not miss his maniacal cycle path around the city which looked like somebody playing Snake 1 on a NOKIA 3310, badly.

If Tomas had a reasonable arm, which we assessed he did from his photo, he probably could have lobbed our burritos up through our window (if they opened of course), but instead they took 31 minutes to arrive; shiny, and a bit distended.

Monty took 3 successful bites and then the bottom gave way in his lap. Milo took a nibble, claimed it was too spicy and ate corn chips. Kuepps’ ‘gluten free bowl’ was wrapped in a tortilla whose principle ingredient was gluten. So I ate an unsafe number of lukewarm burritos whilst trying unsuccessfully to keep the mood festive.

Still, Burrito Night was probably in the top 3 Hotel Quarantine events so far… top 2, actually.

DAY 10: Thursday 18 June 2020

In the 1990 Sci-Fi classic Total Recall Douglas Quaid (played by ‘peak Arnie’) is pursued by Cohaagen’s goons who seek to eliminate him. Having evaded the first wave of attackers Quaid discovers a suitcase which contains, among other things, a video recording of himself (as Hauser). Hauser gets Quaid (and the audience) up to speed on the plot background and then instructs Quaid to remove a tracking device that has been lodged in his skull.

Quaid discovers a rather ominous looking rod in the suitcase, which looks a bit like a tool that might be useful for a lobotomy. At Hauser’s prompting Quaid pushes the rod up his nose – offering helpfully, “just shove real hard”. “When you hear the crunch, you’re there” he adds reassuringly. What follows is a classic early 90s CGI scene as Quaid ever-so-slowly drags an audaciously large glowing red sphere out of his improbably stretched nostril.

I am convinced whomever devised the COVID-19 swab test was watching Total Recall at the same time… or at least the night before.

Today was testing day.

DAY 11: Friday 19 June 2020

We are rather detached from the weather. Our world oscillates wildly between 23.4C and 22.8C. We put jumpers on. We take them off. But we don’t know why.

When grass, ground and fire Pokemon yield weather bonuses we know it is sunny. Normal and rock type? We know it is partly cloudy. Otherwise we peer out of our reverse fishbowl at the humans and try to deduce climatic conditions from their wrappings and behaviour.

We haven’t yet completely ironed out the difference between ‘cafe’ activewear and ‘fitness’ activewear, nor the difference between hipster and utilitarian flannies – but in general we can make a pretty good assessment.

Meanwhile we had delivery gelato tonight; which, alongside 3D printing and Segways, must be in the running for best invention of the 21st Century.

DAY 12: Saturday 20 June 2020

We fear the outside world may have become for our children something of a memory, an apparition.

This morning Monty, with his beautiful round little face propped up on the palm of his hand, and his curly golden mullet streaming out behind him, like 100 yellow Slinkies have been fastened to a fan, in no particular order, and the fan turned onto a setting of 4, and he says “father (actually he said daddy, but father fits the image far better, more Jane Austen) father, please take me to the sea”. I asked him what he would like to see, at the sea. He looked wistfully out the window, the morning light playing in his bobbing Slinkies, and said with a flourish “I would like to see a dolphin”.

We need to get out of here.

DAY 13: Sunday 21 June 2020

So the cavalry arrived this morning. Around 1000hrs we received a knock. Due to the aforementioned ‘knock-delay etiquette’ we ignored it. Shortly thereafter followed a second, more insistent, knock. So Kuepps and I hustled and stumbled to the door, suddenly stimulated by the possibility of an ‘out-of-routine’ encounter.

We were greeted by a veritable posse of official looking Australians; army, police, medical professionals. “Milo, come look”, I shouted “humans”. None of the posse really offered a giggle, clearly not new material.

Our children emerged from the darkened bedroom where they had been playing; Monty carrying his blanket, both with their mullets still frizzy from the previous night’s sleep, both squinting and looking generally confused. Of the 4 of us Milo was the first to gather himself; stepping forward to say hello. Milo then fielded all questions on behalf of the family; names, DOB, ages. He then presented his forehead for the obligatory temperature check, and scored a very solid 36.4.

He was proud of himself. We all were.

As a family we nailed it; 36.4, 36.4, 36.4 36.2. We made subtle eye contact with each other and enjoyed a mental family fist-bump.

One of the army chaps then stepped forward, cleared his throat, and made the formal presentations – certificates of societal worthiness all around, for our CVs or LinkedIn profiles. We were then told we would be free to depart between midnight and 1000hrs tomorrow morning, and then as a parting gift we were all awarded a blue wrist band which simply says “MONDAY – COVID19 NSW”, identical to a band that might ordinarily give us limitless rides at Luna Park, or access to the ‘premium drinks package’ on the Ruby Princess; but this is something altogether more surreal.

So I sit here eating the last Choco Creme, which I found hidden at the back of the fridge – a remnant of the early days when single-serve desserts rained upon us like hand sanitizer – and reflect on the truly historic, and discombobulated times we (and I mean all of us) find ourselves in.

Over the Christmas ham last year who could have possibly conceived that just 6 months down the road we would need to lock all returning Australians in hotels for 2 weeks to protect the community from a not yet fully understood virus that is as yet far from under control. And thank goodness we live in a country that has the resources, and the poise to implement something like this.

These 14 days will eventually fade for us, as this year (and what lies ahead) will fade for us all… but what we won’t forget, and I suspect few of us will, is the centrality of family and community – they are keeping the world stumbling forward right now. For us, our tight little crew of four has moved peacefully through this very strange experience thanks to family and friends who have waved at the window, sent us food and coffee, and endless Pokemon paraphernalia, and those who have kept us entertained with memes, banter and promises of walks in the sun…

The world is much smaller than it was 6 months ago, but family is still family and community is still community. We are all re-learning what matters, pondering what tomorrow might look like, when we get there… and maybe nudging our priorities around just a little bit.

So that’s it; we will depart at 0730hrs tomorrow morning. To quote Antarctic explorer Captain Lawrence Oates; “I am just going outside and may be some time”.

 

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SSM: Just say no – 13 January 2018

After quite some agonizing our country recently decided to recognise one of the central tenets of a modern, civilized society, that being not to discriminate against people for no reason at all, and legalised same sex marriage (SSM). This marvelous leap forward was somehow achieved despite the concerted efforts of my eldest son.

Some weeks ago, while the voluntary, not-at-all legally binding, postal survey/ plebiscite/ pulse-check/ focus group, still appeared to hang in the balance, Milo and I took a stroll down Lonsdale Street in Canberra. Lonsdale Street must surely count among the most SSM supportive locales in Canberra, and therefore the nation. It has a roundabout at its midpoint which is painted in a dramatic rainbow swirl, rainbow streamers flutter from the light poles, frozen yoghurt is served with complimentary rainbow sprinkles, dogs are painted in rainbow colours and those dogs that happen to be boys merrily chase other boy dogs with no fear of judgement or retribution. I believe that day there may even have been a rainbow in the sky, following a little afternoon drizzle. In short, Lonsdale Street had been forsaken by the ‘no’ campaign.

As we strolled the wide, progressive, forward-leaning, tolerant footpath on our way to a cafe for a ‘treat’ (we were waiting for 4 new tyres to be fitted to our car, because Lonsdale Street is one of those rare and exciting streets along which one can purchase 17″ radials and vegan pancakes) we happened upon a large rainbow sandwich board with YES written upon it in bold, capitalised font. “What does that rainbow mean daddy?” came the question from my charming, inquisitive son.

Now, Milo already had some background on this matter, and likely already knew most of the answer; he had previously attended a same-sex-marriage rally, happily draping himself in rainbow streamers, chanting slogans of tolerance and equality, and generally being a cute, apparently reasonable young citizen.

I thought “what a sweet question, why don’t I take the opportunity to nourish my child, expand his awareness of social issues, treat him like the grown-up sentient young man that he is, build upon the already comfortable, excellent and ongoing dialogue in which we regularly engage on whatever topic his little mind meanders its way to”. I thought it would also be a wonderful opportunity to demonstrate what a thoughtful, articulate and clever young 3 year old I had raised to the numerous, bustling passers-by, on their way to further their enlightened social agendas.

We stopped, hand-in-hand, by the sandwich board, with the rainbow just peeking through the clearing clouds above, and I said “well Milo, this sign is encouraging people to vote yes to allow boys to marry boys and girls to marry girls if they want to. Isn’t that an excellent idea? What do you think?” Pleased with myself, I stepped back and awaited Milo’s adorable answer; I noted a slight smile on the face of a passing lady in her mid 30s wearing semi-formal attire, enjoying this simple moment between a father and his son.

“I want to vote no” said Milo.

“What?” I replied, with more desperation in my voice than you should allow when conversing with a 3 year old. “What do you mean?” I said with a slightly self-conscious giggle, immediately conscious of the numerous enthusiastic ‘yes’ voters who were most definitely within ear-shot.

“I want to vote no”

“I want to marry mummy, not daddy”

“Well…” I said, with parental maturity and control “that might be your opinion but the point of the vote is to allow everybody the opportunity to choose to marry whom they want, do you understand the difference?”

I was pleased with my response; surely the passers-by would see that ours was a house in which important issues were discussed and debated, where opinions were heard and respected. Not one in which rainbow flags are burned, and sky-writers paid to emblazon “NO” across the sky.

“I want to vote no, and I want to marry mummy not daddy”. Milo was now enjoying the sport, and this was not good for me; I was certainly losing control, and people were becoming interested in our conversation.

Things got a little more hostile.

“Well mate, frankly if you want to marry your mum it’s going to take more than a non-binding postal survey to change the constitution, and anyway you’re too young to vote, let’s keep moving.”

In order to flee the scene I firmly (but gently) pushed the back of his socially conservative head in the direction of the cafe. He was grinning.

In my haste to get off the street we stumbled into a vegan cafe. The child had been promised banana bread, so I leaned down to peer through the window box in a desperate search for a vegan substitute before he had a chance to say anything else mortifying.

While my back was turned Milo was perusing the room. Not unexpectedly it was liberally decked out in rainbows of all colours, sizes and sexual orientations.

“I want to vote no” he said, loudly. Really, very loudly. In quite a small cafe.

The percentage of patrons (which numbered in the teens) who did not hear Milo’s comment was surely zero. A hush descended on the group which had been, until our arrival, happily enjoying all manner of milk substitutes. All eyes shuffled swiftly, and judgmentally in my direction. Nobody was looking at the little knee-high neo-conservative looking up at me with his challenging eyes and maniacal grin. Why would they? How could a 3 year old possibly have adopted such last-century views without clear direction and guidance around the breakfast table.

I thought about engaging Milo in the same manner I had on the street, but with those wounds fresh, I thought better of it and instead decided to make our purchase, retreat to the rainbow roundabout and never return. I ordered a ‘vegan dessert kebab’ and a ‘cafe latte’ and then sought to distract my child by pointing out things in the window that looked like chocolate. As I bent down toward Milo the noticeably unimpressed barista asked me what type of milk I wanted. My brain, straining under supreme cognitive load, decided not to process this question and instead replied with its reptilian lobe;

“normal”, I said.

“Do you mean cow’s milk?” she asked, with a slight lowering of her eyelids, and a curling of her lip.

I stood up straight, my eyes quickly traversing every unimpressed face in the room as I swung them around toward the barista. “Um, yes please”. No response, only a return to activity at the coffee machine.

The kebab and coffee appeared mercifully quickly. I tucked the kebab under one arm, scooped up my recalcitrant child with the other and backed awkwardly and noisily out of the cafe. The last thing those patrons would have heard as we stumbled our way back onto the street was “daddy, do you know I want to marry mummy, not you?”; at an ever-diminishing volume as we dashed haphazardly toward the relative anonymity of the tyre yard…

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At the SSM rally – a wolf in sheep’s clothing…

Colin – Monday 31 July 2017

Toddlers are unpredictable and shatteringly illogical, in an irritatingly logical way.

I am a great proponent of the ‘try to see it from their perspective whenever possible’ mantra. They have narrow frames of reference, incomplete life experience and minimal access to wikipedia. Many of the rules that govern their little lives are built on context, assumed knowledge and nuance. None of which they are particularly great at.

Take food for example. Without Harold the Healthy Giraffe (RIP), the Ribena Berries and Tony the Tiger, none of which are yet accessible to Milo, how would we know what is healthy and what is not? A cookie is undoubtedly tastier to eat than a tree of broccoli. When, as an adult, you choose to eat that tree taste is playing only a minor role in your overall deliberation. What care Milo for these deliberations? Milo knows very little about dietary fiber, pantothenic acid, vitamin B6, vitamin E and omega-3 fatty acids, and what he knows he doesn’t care for. So when we try to sell an argument that he needs to eat (insert arbitrary number) of broccoli trees before he can have a small fragment of cookie the whole thing must seem spurious, illogical, and frankly a little cruel. Two broccoli trees equals the upper portion of a kinder-surprise? Why? Over time our toddlers accept this devil’s compromise; but they never understand it, they never like it, and they never forgive us for wielding our power so capriciously.

There is no event that requires a more honest and consistent reflection on the ‘try to see it from their perspective’ mantra than introducing a new baby into a home already inhabited by a toddler.

Consider this.

About 4 months ago Kuepps (my wife) mentioned to me 2 or 3 times that later in the year she would be bringing home another man to live with us, another husband essentially with whom we would be sharing our lives from that point forward. I wasn’t really paying attention as I was building a wicked train track at the time, and besides the whole thing seemed esoteric, unlikely, and future-Jupes’ problem.

Kuepps mentioned this idea to me a few times at irregular intervals over the ensuing months. Each time I expressed my general displeasure with the idea but on reflection I must say I had the feeling my perspective wasn’t being given full consideration. The whole concept gave me a feeling of uneasiness but I continued to presume that something so outlandish and clearly damaging to our rather enjoyable and peaceful existence was very unlikely to happen.

About a week ago Kuepps dropped me at my mother-in-law’s house where I stayed for 2 nights. It was a bit weird, not a usual occurrence, and I was given no real explanation beyond “won’t it be fun to stay with your mother-in-law?” Not really, but they have quite good pastries and the whole thing was pleasant enough.

On the second morning I returned home looking forward to spending a little time with my wife, eating some smoked salmon, building a sweet tower out of Duplo and sharing some rather humorous anecdotes from my small trip away. When I arrived home I was quickly deflated however because there, sat on my couch with my wife, was a man. “Hi Jupes, how are you?” My wife said, in a voice so sweet it made me think something was up; “This is Colin, our new husband, isn’t he beautiful?”

What??!! No! He’s not beautiful at all, and hang on – what??!! I stayed where I was and had a good look at Colin. He was a bit younger than me, but looked eerily similar. He was ignoring me completely, didn’t even cast a look in my direction. I could tell immediately he was a bit of a dick. My world was spinning and Colin just sat there, dribbling on himself, looking lecherously up at my wife, occasionally clambering at her bosom in a gratuitous and entirely unseemly way. I was shattered.

“Oh look Jupes, Colin got you a terrific gift” I turned my head to the kitchen bench upon which sat a garishly wrapped gift of some kind. “Go on, open it!” Kuepps encouraged. Dumbfounded, I stumbled over to the kitchen and unwrapped it, a nice coffee machine. “Do you like it??” It was nice I must admit, but I could tell Colin had played no part in its procurement. He didn’t seem like a guy who would know anything about coffee machines. “Say thank you to Colin”.

“Thanks Colin”, I muttered, and slumped into my chair, head in my hands. Kuepps continued the charm offensive; “Isn’t it wonderful to have another man in the house? In time you and Colin are going to best friends!”

What!!?? That is absolutely not going to happen. Colin is clearly utterly self-involved, lascivious and arguably incontinent. I am not sharing anything with him, let alone my wife! As I was reaching for my mobile to call Colin a taxi my mum arrived, brushed past me and headed straight for Colin.

My mum then demanded to cuddle Colin and when she had pried him away from Kuepps she did this sickening little bobbing dance with him whilst continuously complimenting my wife on being so clever. What is this?? How could my own mother be so utterly unsympathetic to my situation. MY WIFE HAS JUST BROUGHT THIS STRANGE MAN COLIN INTO MY HOUSE, WHY IS EVERYBODY OK WITH THIS??

Eventually my mother stopped dancing with this strange man and then asked whether I would like to have Colin on my lap for a photo. Of course I don’t bloody well want Colin on my lap for a photo. I want Colin out of my house. At that point the rest of my family arrived, all in a buoyant mood despite the fact my world was collapsing around me. Somebody, I can’t even remember who, picked Colin up by his waist and dropped him down on my lap. “Smile Jupes” everybody was saying as they crowded around me for a photograph – nobody seemed to be insisting that Colin do anything; he just lay there, like a privileged, slightly orange, plump little interloper, waving his ill-proportioned little arms and legs around like he was having a seizure. The whole thing was a nightmare. I felt discombobulated, vulnerable and humiliated.

Over the following week things did not improve. I barely saw Kuepps; she and Colin would routinely disappear into the bedroom where they would giggle for hours. No Kuepps at bath time, no Kuepps at bed time, no Kuepps at all.

Colin. Has. Ruined. Everything.

…and that is why Milo has been afforded significant leeway for his transgressions over the past week. Considering the cataclysmic shift he has endured he is performing extremely well and both he and his brother Monty (not Colin) are learning slowly how to co-exist, and will in short order, I am positive, commence their allied overthrow of the house.

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Baby Monty

What makes a human? – Saturday 22 July 2017

Milo welcomed a baby brother into the world this week (more on that soon) and it got me pondering; what is it that makes a human? Is it our ability to dream, empathise and love? Is it music? Our unique gift to compose and experience this most wondrous form of self-expression. Is it self-awareness; the very human instinct to conceive, understand and shape the world around us?

No, the answer of course is identification; and ideally 100 points of it.

Identification begets identification. If you want anything of value in today’s world you need to identify yourself; bank loan, passport, fishing licence, Petbarn loyalty card, ‘juice-to-u’ detox smoothie home delivery membership. Our system requires all humans to identify themselves in a variety of ways, all the time. This system works terrifically well; not only do our mini-golf frequent putters cards give others confidence we are who we say we are, but they also provide the ancillary benefit of affording us yet more identification.

But have you ever thought for a moment about how you got your first unit of identification? What is the foundation of this flimsy, bureaucratic house of cards upon which we climb ever higher? I can tell you.

In Australia when your new baby finally arrives the tending midwife, after a 76 hour shift, scribbles his or her signature on two mostly-blank printed forms, adds an altogether unconvincing rubber stamp bearing the name of the hospital on each and hands them to you in a not-very-official looking white A4 envelope on the front of which can be found a giraffe, a duck, an elephant and a fourth animal the nature of which I cannot currently remember because I was somewhat bleary-eyed and distracted at the time. That’s it. It is these two forms upon which everything else is based. It is these two forms that make you a human.

The first form you take to Centrelink/ Medicare to register your new human for social security and healthcare. When you arrive the Centrelink officer, whose dense carapace of disdain has been grown and thickened over many years of managing half-truths, cajoling and excuses, does not greet you with the benefit of the doubt. However, once this officer realises you are not there to use the free public phone, and in fact have just experienced a momentus life-event they are easy to win over. You pass them the scrap of paper, toward which they take a cursory glance, and you can then literally name your human whatever you like, even foreign swear words if your rapport is good enough. The officer types those names into the system and voila, the human’s official record begins.

The second form you take to Births, Deaths and Marriages. I presume there exists some mechanism to check the name you provide at your second stop roughly matches that which you provided at your first, but I didn’t test this. You pay $45 plus postage, unless you want a novelty birth certificate which costs extra, and they send you your new human’s certificate in the mail.

What happens if you lose these forms you ask? So did I. There does not appear to be a compelling answer. I asked it of a number of medical professionals at the hospital and their answers were all derivations of “don’t lose them”. So I presume that for those poor souls who lose the forms, of which I am sure there are many – one does not receive them at one’s most lucid – they become the parents of invisible humans, forever doomed to live outside the system; a home-delivery-juice-free, putt-putt golf-less existence. I imagine the early photographs of those poor infants slowly fade over time like Michael J Fox in Back to the Future, or perhaps they drop dead spontaneously like avatars unplugged from the Matrix when the 60 day registration period comes to an end.

Whatever the process I am sure there is a voiceless, subjugated underclass of people out there who cannot rent a DVD. And we should spare a thought for them.

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A new registered human

Puzzles, trains and the way of the human brain – Tuesday 28 February 2017

Time, and the inevitable weight of societal conformity dulls an adult human’s brain to the point that we are not truly capable of genuine creativity. Even the most ingenious and innovative among us only appear so on a relative scale. When compared to the rest of us plodding dullards, operating under a false presumption of endless possibility and whimsy while absent-mindedly turning the handles of our tea cups to face the same way in the cupboard, anybody capable of demonstrating the slightest deviation from the societal code of order and predictability are declared free spirits or creatives.

Those among us who can hold a new remote control in their hand whose protective plastic coating has slightly come away at one corner, and resist the desire to sweep the whole sheet off in one satisfying and triumphant movement, are rare indeed. And that is about as liberated and free-spirited as we get.

If you don’t believe me try spending 10 minutes doing a puzzle or building a train track with a 2 year old.

When constructing a puzzle Milo cares not for colour, pattern, shape or even the compatibility of those little nooks and pointy bits that are supposed to bring the puzzle together in one satisfying coherent canvas. Completely untethered from any societal expectation of what a puzzle is supposed to be Milo will simply grasp the piece closest to him and then jam it into the piece second closest to him. A smooth joining of nook and pointy bit, or coherence of pattern or colour is inconsequential. The puzzle will simply bend to his will as he pounds the pieces together with his little fist. Once the mashing is complete, the cardboard of each piece now bent and loosely melded together, Milo will set about assimilating the next closest piece into the chaotic Borg-like organism taking shape on the floor; which looks nothing like a barnyard setting on a spring day.

I sit aghast; suppressing my general discomfort with the whole scene, reminding myself the object of the puzzle session is not in fact to reveal the lamb springing in an exuberant fashion toward its mother, but to enrich my son, and feed his creative spirit. But I cannot. I interject… regularly, offering helpful suggestions like “ah, perhaps the white cloud shaped object may go with that other white cloud shape object”. At first I offer passive advice with a helpful tone, but when this good sense is inevitably ignored I tentatively reach out a hand to guide the pieces together, then more insistently I join the clouds myself, enjoying the satisfaction of nooks and pointy bits that were designed with the other in mind. “No daddy, Boy do it” he yells, as he separates the clouds vigorously and slaps my hand away while simultaneously mashing a cockerel’s head into the nether regions of a cow. Once all of the pieces have been forced together against their will, like speed dating in a prison, a mismatch of colour, shape and genre spread out in a grotesque collage upon the floor, Milo sits back triumphantly and exclaims “Yay, Boy did it! Boy wins!” He then toddles off to explore something new while I expertly place the 9 pieces together without a single error to reveal lambs, chickens, cows and a small boy in overalls, naive to the troubles of the world, enjoying his formative years on the farm. I then quickly pack the puzzle away before I am discovered.

But this is nothing compared to the train track.

Like most 2 years olds Milo loves trains and at any point in time our living room will be home to the bustling industry of partially completed railway projects. Milo loves nothing more than to embark upon these projects with me, although mind you I am only ever rewarded for my effort by being granted permission to play with Percy. No carriages, no cow car, no barrel car. Just Percy. Milo’s train is 12 cars long at least; powered by Thomas, James, Mutombo (from Chuggington), surely far more horsepower than he needs to pull Annie, Clarabel, Toby and the cargo car, but there it is; stretching past Toby’s Windmill, the Sodor Dynamite Factory and Cranky the Crane. And if poor old Percy, driving alone, aimlessly, ever finds himself between Milo’s juggernaut and the next intersection, let’s just say Percy is not granted the time-honoured courtesies of the railway, accepted around the world, that have made train travel such a genteel way to get around.

But I digress. The real issue is not the playing; it’s the building.

Milo’s tracks have no end. And no beginning. They are non-sensical. And infuriating. Whenever we embark on a rail project together Milo will quickly pile up all of the pieces currently at our disposal, so not including those currently in the pram, or the garden, or the bath. He spends literally zero time planning the layout or trajectory of the rail network and just starts building, usually with a bridge that will obviously go nowhere. I keep a pleasant smile on my face, and a soft tone in my voice; for this is treasured time together with my beloved and delightful son. But I am watching him, and stockpiling the corner pieces I know I will eventually need to close some loops and claw back some semblance of logic to his ludicrous network.

I build as quickly as he will let me; designing an elegant figure 8 in my head and executing immediately, trying to stay two steps ahead, anticipating his preposterous and entirely unpredictable building style. I loop around, anticipating his trajectory, with the requisite corners and junctions stashed under a cushion, but as our two ends near he confidently places an unanticipated right hand bend in his track, straight into the leg of the sofa. “Boy finished! Yay! Let’s play daddy… you play with Percy”.

I look at the track; under the retractable bridge lies a single left turn piece. It starts nowhere, and ends nowhere. No train will ever pass under that bridge. Toby’s Windmill lies immediately adjacent to the Dynamite Factory, which makes no sense. Just past the Dynamite Factory there is another bridge, over nothing. Another wasted opportunity. The track then stutters its way forward, like a noodle to nowhere, all corner pieces end to end. Not even his 12 trains behemoth could generate any speed on that straight. And at the end of the noodle? Nothing. The track ends abruptly, butted up against my work shoe.

The other end of the network is worse. We have only two junction pieces and he has linked them together; wasteful. One of the two junctions simply stops and the other embarks on an audacious semi-loop which leads under the sofa (a nice touch) then back round to where it began, it then takes an unexpected and frankly illogical dog-leg to the left past Cranky Crane and then simply ends near the cats’ scratching pole. It ends. No ramp, nothing. That’s it.

It is hard to watch Milo play on this poorly conceived track but if I am caught not actively participating with my second-rate green engine I am swiftly admonished. I ask whether I could possibly add some of the surplus carriages , which are admittedly parked unused on the side of the track, to my Percy. Denied.

I watch in horror as Milo hurtles his locomotive along the noodle to nowhere. He edges nearer and nearer to the abyss. My decades-old instinct for beginnings, for ends, for rules is consuming me as I watch on, helpless. What will he do when he reaches the end of the known locomotive universe? What misadventures will befall him?

He jumps his train off the track of course and onto the floorboards, and carries on with his journey.

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Number puzzle

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How is this OK?

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Sweet satisfaction

Boy – Sunday 5 February 2017

I had several highly successful resolutions in 2016; sever ties between Great Britain and the meddlesome, terrorist producing, welfare dependent, culturally stunted, bureaucratic, dictatorial European Union, do what I could to move incrementally but steadily toward a time when all World Leaders can finally express all policy decisions and explain with nuance the complex modern interconnected world in 140 characters or less, ensure most of the best celebrities died while the entire cast of ‘Hey, Hey it’s Saturday’ remained intact, and make my own marmalade.

Given last year’s success it seems sensible to register at least one resolution for 2017; and that is to continue the internet documentation of my child (who is now 2 1/4), and our adventures together.

Many striking developments have occurred over the last 7 or 8 months. among these; Milo has learned to count to 10 although is for some reason completely disinterested in the concept of the number 7, with his ever-expanding vocabulary Milo has taken to concocting numerous pretexts to explain why he can’t go to sleep just yet, each less compelling than the last “daddy the cricket outside is too noisy, please go and get him”, “daddy the kitchen door is not closed, please close it”, “I can’t find tiny sheep/ blue teddy/ kangaroo/ blue monkey/ kiwi bird anywhere” (meanwhile all of the above have been carefully secreted under the covers), Milo has learned to sing the ABCD song, which he calls “Baby CD” and which he yells at high volume while stamping his feet, not sure why, Milo loves sweeping, and water dragons, and sweet potato and watering the driveway, and says “oh what’s that noise?” in precisely the same British accent and intonation as Peppa Pig.

But perhaps the most baffling and intriguing development is Milo’s utter rejection of his name. Milo has over the last 6 months, without exception, only answered to and referred to himself by his nom de guerre ‘Boy’; always in the third person, engaging in a form of toddler illeism like The Rock, or Elmo, or Elaine’s short-lived boyfriend Jimmy; for example, “Boy digging really, really big hole, clever Boy”, “Boy is a wriggle pot”, “Daddy is big, Boy is tiny”, “Boy wearing pink shoes today”, “Boy and daddy working really really hard in the garden”, “Boy is a scrappy little boy”, “Boy is a little bit funny”, “Please mummy tickle Boy’s back, a little bit more” etc etc. The origins of this are hazy. It is possibly due to the very beginnings of his language when he learned that he and those like him were boys, daddy and others like him were men, and everyone else was a girl. Whatever the reason, he found the name compelling, and that is what he has chosen.

He is certainly aware that other people seem to think his name is Milo, but people greeting him by this phony, legally-imposed handle are usually met with hostility. It often baffles friends and strangers alike when, meeting him for the first time, they crouch down innocently and kindly say “Hi Milo, how are you?”, or similar, and are greeted with a furrowed brow, a pout, often a stamped foot and the rather confusing and aggressively delivered sentence “Boy not Milo, Boy is Boy!”. It then usually falls to one or other of his parents to explain to the innocent that they have not said anything wrong, that Milo is actually a lovely well-adjusted little boy but that he is just tired of everybody getting his name wrong. Milo forgives immediately once his name is corrected and returns at once to being a ray of extremely high energy sunshine.

How long will it last? Perhaps for ever, which is fine with us. But in the meantime we will need to continue to live with the disdainful glances we receive at the supermarket when we say to our son “come on boy, it’s time to go home”, as he skips along behind us carrying the bread.

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Boy looking out to sea

Sleep regression… the Brexit of the bedroom – Friday 24 June 2016

We had heard about this mythical, violent phase of toddler development; sleep oppression, sleep aggression, sleep obsession? Something like that. Anyway, it didn’t matter because it wouldn’t happen to us. Like letting your child roll off the bed, or fall down the stairs, or mysteriously chip one of his front teeth, these are parenting issues for other parents to deal with. Like the Brexit; a confusing  and mysterious concept spoken about on blogs and in supermarket carparks, it was not something to worry about and certainly not something to understand in any meaningful way.

So late last week when Milo’s sleep regression emerged in all its screaming glory we were shocked, saddened, shocked, alarmed and most importantly thoroughly ill-prepared. A small Brexit playing out in our home in which Milo perhaps represented the fine people of Northern Lincolnshire and Kuepps and I embodied Jeremy Corbyn; steadfast, confident and utterly helpless.

Sleep regression looks like this; one night Milo kisses each of us in turn, drinks his warm milk with an angelic smile and a dimple in each cheek, pulls his blanket up to his chin and says “mummy, daddy thank you for a wonderful day, please switch off the light on your way out and do enjoy your evening”, the following night he is bad Sigourney Weaver from Ghostbusters the original; glowing red eyes, crazy frazzled hair, with a cavalcade of non-sensical utterances pouring out of his mouth at maximum volume as he darts around his room like a poorly played game of pinball, looking for an escape.

When the regression decides to manifest it appears sudden, unreasonable, completely unforeseen. You shrug and wonder what must have happened overnight to cause it; new teeth, growth spurt, low pressure system, Lycanthropy? But as the regression unfolds and you find yourselves with far more waking hours over night to ponder, you realise the utter predictability of your fate. It is a steady process of cognitive development and bedroom appeasement, fusing into a heady mix of willful, asymmetric protest, a testing of the rubberiness of one’s reality and the very limits of stamina. It is a battle of ideas on an uneven playing field. Uneven, mucousy and very very noisy.

It started for us probably 6 weeks hence. Milo, who had slept perfectly for about 4 or 5 months spontaneously decided the cot was no longer for him. He put forward this position forcefully and so we dismantled his bed, made safe the room and set him up on a mattress on the floor. Milo was pleased at this outcome but simultaneously decided he was no longer comfortable nor capable of falling asleep alone. And so Kuepps and I have taken turns lying with him as he thrashes around before slumber demanding to be patted on his “bum”, “gaga” (tummy) or “knee”; only these three locations are suitable patting options. This worked for several weeks but the potency of said patting has been noticeably dropping off in recent times.

Coinciding with this troubling bedroom progression has been an explosion in Milo’s language; he can now string 3 or 4 words together (like “go away daddy, door” – pretty clear) and can mimic almost every word he hears including my favourite “bulldozer”. Milo now has dozens of words at his disposal and so can communicate most desires effectively. He is increasingly enjoying this interaction and the power it gives him. However, like Nigel Farage Milo is only capable of high level, broad communication, with very little nuance. And like Farage Milo’s messaging is purely designed to stimulate an action, a response. Not to facilitate reasoned conversation or debate.

So when the regression arrived last week we should have seen it coming. We had a son who was increasingly displeased about sleep (or more accurately increasingly pleased about the delights of being awake), increasingly interested in the limits of his power, who had developed just enough tools to express himself to a point but with no real way to reason or negotiate a better reality for himself. Disaster.

The first few nights we tried everything we could think of. Stay in the room with him, leave him alone in the room, more milk, less milk. The result remained the same; high impact screaming for literally hours on end. We were mesmerized by his stamina and commitment, but ultimately released him from his room on each occasion, to break the cycle and to refresh him. His response was fascinating and infuriating. Within seconds of release he would actually giggle, climb the stairs and inquire as to whether we would like to build a duplo tower with him. Unfortunately after this period of ‘refreshment’ and tower building the process would begin again. Nobody was sleeping.

So a few days ago we decided I would be our sacrificial anode, to attempt a new technique. Two would go in, and only one would come out, no matter what. And hopefully that one would be me.

Milo is well aware of the series of little steps that lead him to bed so begins protesting each element in turn, hoping that should even one of these steps be avoided, he may enjoy an overall victory; “no bath”, “no milk”, “no book”. These are all things that he loves, but things that must be cast aside to achieve a loftier goal; like forgoing Camembert, the Eurostar and Oktoberfest to break free of the debilitating European Union.

Once Milo is bathed and pyjama’d, Kuepps switches off the light and gently  closes the door, wondering if she will ever see one or both of her boys again. Milo unravels immediately, wailing and flailing around the room; banging on the door “daddy door”, banging on the bedside lamp “daddy on” and then banging on my head “daddy up”. We had decided in advance to model my technique on dealing with a bear attack. Our knowledge of this technique is based on one viewing of the film ‘The Revenent’ and seems to involve doing nothing at all to protect yourself while the bear gores you. So that is what I did. I lay on his mattress perfectly still while Milo took turns pushing and pulling my head, clambering over me, stepping on my face in his efforts to pull open the blinds. Pausing every so often to let me blow his nose, Milo screamed for 90 minutes, offering countless other scenarios for my consideration “daddy play park”, “daddy tower”, “daddy gia mumma” (our cat Suu Kyi), “daddy book”. Eventually Milo’s protestations descended into an increasingly laboured march between banging on the door and banging on my head, looking much like the bunny who did not have Duracell batteries in those early 80s commercials, for whom I always held a lot of sympathy.

Finally after one last sobbing stagger back from the door Milo collapsed over my legs and immediately fell into REM sleep, his little body twitching from head to toe as much-needed sleep washed over him. I slipped out from under him like a spatula from an omelette and returned upstairs, largely unscathed and with the knowledge that at least we had discovered the limit of Milo’s rather impressive stamina.

Like the people of the UK we have no idea what lies ahead but our eyes are now open to the likely root cause of our recent suffering. As Milo’s language grows in nuance so too will our ability to negotiate and discuss our shared future; one in which we agree upon mutually beneficial peaceful evenings, and the occasional sleep-in.


A new sleep paradigm

Hast du kaka? – Tuesday 7 June 2016

“Hast du kaka?”

Milo’s predictable answer to this question, which of course essentially translates to “do you have poo in your nappy?”, intrigues me. Without exception Milo’s immediate, unflinching and awfully convincing reply is “no”; or in recent weeks “nein”, delivered in a perfect Indiana Jones German villain accent, which is amazing.

Of course his position, although firmly put, is completely indefensible and he knows it. A casual sniff in his direction will immediately cast doubt on the veracity of his claim, and a visual inspection will diminish his credibility entirely. Not once have I taken his word for it, despite olfactory evidence to the contrary, and said “oh I withdraw son, my most humble apologies for the unseemly accusation” before continuing with my Horse and Hound magazine. No, I check every time; and I am always right. I must have caught him out in this blatant and inexplicable lie hundreds of times and yet not once have I observed even a hint of regret or awkwardness at his treachery laid bare. He is utterly undeterred.

Last night a series of unfortunate events highlighted this phenomenon to me and convinced me the concept needs to be explored further. While the evening bath was running I denuded Milo and allowed him to frolic in front of the heater. After 19 months I am still able to convince myself that this time my child will be sensible enough not to defecate on the floor. Incorrect.

I looked over at Milo who had quickly assumed a squatting position and a fixed stare. “Milo, are you pooing?” I asked him. “Nein” he replied calmly before leaping to his feet giggling maniacally and disappearing into the spare bedroom at a great pace squealing “kaka, kaka, kaka” in an increasingly inaudible manner as more distance was put between he and the scene of the mischief.

I actually said the words “you deserved that” before scooping up the elegant log and flushing it down the toilet. I then retrieved my sinewy whippet of a son who was running wildly in circles as if he were water descending into a plughole, tucked him under my arm and we headed downstairs.

Five minutes later we were in the bath together. Milo was attempting to entice one of the cats toward him with a Captain Planet figurine while I sat calmly playing with the wind-up duck when all of a sudden I caught an unmistakable shape emerging from the depths majestically, as if it were a feather defying gravity.

Like the flash of red on a deadly spider, or the shock of scarecrow blonde hair on Boris Johnson, there are some things hardwired into the human brain that do not require processing; the image of which bypasses the cerebrum and travels immediately into the reptilian brain, causing you to recoil instinctively to safety. A poo in a bath is one of those things.

It looked like half a chokito that had been placed on a dashboard in the sun to whiten, before being soaked in water overnight. It gracefully made its way up through the water column before settling gently at its surface.

“Milo, did you do a poo?” I asked. “Nein”

“Well, what’s that then?” I countered, pointing at the offending cylinder.

Milo did not entirely discontinue his figurine taunting of Huckleberry but did pass a casual glance in the direction of the lolloping log. “Poo” he said, with no emotion, no hint of irony and an unwavering gaze which said “there are two of us here in this bath dad so tell me what you know about this situation”.

Such bold yet mystifying logic is hard to counter and you lose too much momentum to ask the next obvious question; “how do you propose to reconcile those two statements?” It’s a bit Putin-esque:

Reporter: “Vladimir, does Russia have troops in Ukraine?”

Putin: “net”

Reporter: “Then Vladimir, who are those men dressed as Russian Special Forces?”

Putin: : “They are Russian Special Forces”

Provocative yet effective. I had no further question for my son who had already returned to his task of luring Huck toward danger, and enjoying some success.

Noting Milo’s deposit still appeared to maintain much of its structural integrity I simply scooped it out into the toilet and we carried on with an otherwise very pleasant bath.

It is only under these circumstances that Milo has thus far demonstrated this determined and unashamed dedication to mistruth; but we shall be watching keenly for future inevitable examples.

One other observation I have taken from the experience of recent days is the evolution in my response to unplanned kaka incidents. As I read my response to Milo’s first carpet poo which occurred last July (Day Twenty Six – 28 July 2015) I am simultaneously impressed at my developing maturity and poise, and horrified at my complete submission to the normality of unforeseen and unprovoked appearances of human faeces in the living and dining areas of our home.

19 months