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.
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”.
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.
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:
- Front teeth
- Cat on a motorcycle
- Spiky volcano
- Spiky Plant
- A Pokemon he just made up called Owen.
We’ll play some more tomorrow.
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.
- 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…