Skiing with children in Australia and other bad decisions

Skiing with children in Australia and other bad decisions

If you want a lesson in supply and demand in which scarcity is the driving force, like buying a battered, brownish $6 banana after a cyclone in Queensland, then try skiing in Australia. If you really want to be humbled, bankrupted and demoralised, take your children with you.

We attempted this recently; enrolling Milo and Monty in ski school for the first time, buying them four days of lift passes because absolutely there was zero chance they would not be cruising down blue runs by mid-week blowing kisses and high fiving each other, we purchased cute ski suits for each of them, gloves, boots, woolen socks. We were even close to buying one of those plastic bubble things you put on your roof for skis and other such alpine things, like skiing families have. Yup, we were going to be a ski family and live happily ever after.

The first morning we woke up early because, given we didn’t book our accommodation in 1986, we were staying in Jindabyne. Bad signs early; moans from the children, suggestions we should ski tomorrow, suits were uncomfortable, what are those strap things for on the pants? boots are too hot, will it be cold? can we have hot chocolate without skiing? To be fair, weather looked ominous, and increased its ominousness as we ascended the mountain (which can only be considered a mountain in relative, not absolute terms).

Arrived at the hire place. Boys put their ski boots on for the first time and looked at us with an expression that could only be translated as “what the fuck are these all about?” It’s a fair question and I could not give a cogent answer. Yup, they are super uncomfortable, weirdly angled, impossible to walk in and terrible for your ankle health. Put them on and get ready for fun! The upbeat atmosphere we were trying to maintain became quickly unmaintainable as we stepped out into the fresh mountain air and were blown forcefully back into the hire place. We gathered ourselves, said our goodbyes to the hire ladies for a second time then, unperturbed, again forced open the swinging door and stepped out into the squall, boys teetering around like they had just dismounted after a 5 day horse trek.

We quickly arrived at one of those terrifying, icy metal staircases with those tiny spikes that are supposed to enhance grip but only provide a convenient surface upon which icicles can readily form. Monty looked at me and with his eyes told me that even in good weather, in sneakers, he would find it difficult to walk down that staircase but now he was in a blizzard and he was wearing rigid, slippery boots that meant he could only walk like a Lego man. I silently told him I understood and grabbed his arm firmly.

We navigated our way precariously up through the well groomed, icy mud pathway that led to the ski school, otherwise known as patch of ice with some orange cones around it, the wind literally blowing small children over to our left and right. Upon arrival we were dismayed but not surprised to be greeted by a complete lack of signage or information. We stood around hopelessly until Bryn glided up to us and asked what our boys could do on skis. “Nothing” we both said. Bryn laughed, we did not. Bryn then scribbled their names down in his notebook and asked me whether they had any dietary requirements. I considered this an odd question and wondered whether Bryn had a packet of peanuts in his pocket which he intended to use as rewards, and wanted to understand his anaphylaxis risk.

We helped the boys onto their skis and shoved them in Bryn’s general direction, before backing away slowly. “Surely this is impossible” we said to each other in an admiring tone “how can Bryn possibly take care of all of these children?”

Of course it was, and Bryn didn’t.

We retreated to a safe distance, out of view. Kuepps joined a 45 minute queue for coffee, because obviously there is only one machine on the mountain. I looked around at all the people in my vicinity drinking hard at 1030 in the morning. I presumed most of them don’t ordinarily drink straight Jaegermeister or pints of apple cider before lunch, and wondered why they had made the decision to do so today; now that, compared to their regular days, the chance of crashing into a tree at significant speed with no protection whatsoever had increased by, I don’t know, 100 times. Perhaps I was missing something.

I saw Monty get blown over, then Milo. I saw them walk up a small hill with one ski on, then I saw them both get blown over again. I saw some of the group ski awkwardly back down that small hill. Monty had zero skis on now and Milo was throwing snow balls at him. Then I saw Monty lie down in the snow. Then I saw Milo trying to escape. Bryn belatedly went after him and seemed to talk him into returning to the coned off icy area. I saw Milo sit down next to Monty then I didn’t see much else after that. Bryn wandered up to them once or twice and unless the lesson was ‘sit there in the freezing snow with no skis on and look sad’ I don’t think Bryn was moving them forward according the curriculum.

Kuepps eventually returned with tepid coffees and looked over at the boys, still sitting in the snow not learning to ski. With fresh eyes Kuepps asked an obvious question “how long have they been sitting there?” Quite a while I said… “perhaps we should check on them” she suggested sensibly and headed off to investigate.

Shortly thereafter Kuepps returned with two popsicle stick children, tears and snot frozen to their pink little faces. “I thought Bryn had it under control” I said limply, probably not the first to overestimate Bryn, and we began the process of hauling our rigid children and their pile of equipment back to the car.

Thus ended Day 1 of ski school.

Day 2, Friday, again commenced early. Grey skies and whipping winds had given way to driving snow which we only discovered as we crossed the Thredbo River. This brought hoots of excitement from the back seat, and a general air of trepidation in the front seat. The snow went from pretty and interesting to concerning and problematic within 7 minutes, and by the time we arrived at the ‘snow chain’ police road block Kuepps and I were looking sideways at each other. We had received a thorough briefing on snow chain deployment from the teenager at the petrol station who was wearing a leather hat with attached ear warmers. However, despite our 45 seconds of experience we felt neither confident nor enthused. We pulled over and asked the boys whether they wanted to continue given the conditions. “No!” they said in unison then cheered when we agreed.

Thus ended Day 2 of ski school.

We returned to Jindabyne, swam in the hotel pool, played handball and ate burritos. In the afternoon we rented two taboggans for $15 each and headed back up the mountain to build snowmen, throw snowballs and fly down the ‘snow play’ hill at dangerous speeds. Exhausted we wandered across to the restaurant refuge for a hot chocolate, the boys waddling like overfilled dumplings. Tired and satisfied the boys smiled and covered themselves in molten marshmallow. Monty fell asleep in the car on the way back to Jindabyne.

On Day 3 (Saturday) we were stopped at a roadblock just outside Jindabyne by NSW Parks employees who told us the carparks were full and we couldn’t go up the mountain. Yes, as baffling as that might sound, this happens. In this situation many questions occur to you like; what about the lift passes? and ski school/ icy coned-off area? and ski hire and the many hundreds of dollars contained therein? But you don’t ask any of them because the person in front of you presumably did and yet still performed a miserable looking U-Turn and returned to Jindabyne. So you perform a miserable looking U-Turn and return to Jindabyne.

Thus ended Day 3 of Ski School.

On Day 4 (Sunday – our last day) we departed even earlier, determined to secure one of the 37 carparks in the National Park. We were graciously allowed entry into the Park in order to avail ourselves of the goods and services for which we had already spent thousands of dollars. We were very grateful for the privilege. The drive was scenic and outrageously slow; a full hour and a half from Jindabyne to Smiggins. Although we are civilized people nobody really trusts the good nature of their fellow travellers, and so everybody glides into the right lane whenever an overtaking lane appears lest somebody interpret it as a genuine opportunity to overtake at 8km per hour. And yet from time to time a Land Rover of some description would overtake on the inside lane, thus saving themselves 12 seconds. I found this approach intriguing given the aforementioned scarcity of carparks. One’s chances of ending up parked adjacent to an irked and frustrated fellow traveller seemed high to me, and therefore the usual anonymity of poor driving etiquette is lost. Also, everybody’s cars are filled with poles and skis and any number of projectiles which could be used for spontaneous carpark violence. Intriguing decision making.

Oh also there is no internet for the entire drive. How is that possible? Only 37 carparks, and no internet. And one coffee machine as I mentioned before… but this is a diary, not a list of grievances so we must move forward.

The sun was out, we secured a park and so managed to convince our boys to don their ridiculous boots, snap on their skis and have a go with us in the ‘magic carpet’ area. Both enjoyed themselves (although Milo would never admit it) and in the 30 minutes we held their attention, both improved a lot. Oh, we finally got a chance to use our lift passes (for the magic carpet) but they didn’t work. So we pulled or pushed the boys back up the hill each time which tired everybody out pretty swiftly.

We had time for another taboggan and departed before any significant injuries occurred, which we viewed as a great triumph.

On the long drive home we asked the boys to list their favourite things from the holiday. Here is their compiled list (in descending order):

  • Swimming;
  • Playing handball;
  • Playing Nintendo;
  • Eating burritos;
  • Tobogganing;
  • Meeting the Fox Terrier with the interesting colouring;
  • Throwing snowballs;
  • Finding the long stick with the spikes all over it;
  • Dinner at the Italian place;
  • Marshmallows;
  • Oh… and skiing.

Money well spent.

At least the fashion was good

Monty is not a psychopath (and the untimely demise of our chicken Henri)

Monty is not a psychopath (and the untimely demise of our chicken Henri)

We have a small flock of urban chickens; Goose, Cluckles, Silas, Strawberries and Henri. They are ISA Browns, Rhode Island Reds and a Leghorn. Lovely. Recently we noticed Henri had a large bulge on her chest, more accurately an enlarged ‘crop’. Now, short chicken anatomy lesson – chickens are skittish creatures and eat whenever they get a chance and as fast as they can, always mindful that when their beaks are pointing down their juicy thighs are pointing up; enticing a python, or a baboon or a hungry human. They must eat fast and then flee, back into the jungle I guess. If they find a bountiful meal they need to ingest it much faster than it can be processed. Therefore chickens have a handy pouch above their stomach called a ‘crop’ which is basically your school bag at an all-you-can-eat Pizza Hut in 1994. Very convenient. From time to time a chicken’s crop can become blocked (food, infection, injury etc) and things can get nasty if the blockage is not cleared. Unfortunately this is exactly what happened to Henri.

My google diagnosis/ treatment advice led me to attempt all sorts of things, each more agricultural than the last, and most beyond my agri-suburban threshold (I wear old Palladium boots to collect the eggs afterall); massaging her chest, eye droppers with olive oil, apple cider vinegar in her water and finally hanging her upside down to allow the crop to drain out because (another fun poultry fact) chickens can’t vomit. This goes down exactly as you are imagining it, messily. The boys sensibly watched through glass from inside the living room.

After a few days it was apparent that our efforts were not serving to clear the blockage and Henri was now just sitting quietly in the shade, looking around at her wildly pecking and digging friends, and probably not feeling too wonderful. After a few phone calls we found an avian expert vet and so Monty and I packed Henri up into a cardboard box and drove her across town.

The vet was lovely and said the things we had been trying, although not without risk, were essentially the right remedies, and that unless he could clear the blockage there was no medicine that would make a difference. Henri would ultimately starve to death if we left her. He did not look hopeful as he carried Henri away but said he would use his ‘crop syringe’ to get some saline liquid right down into her crop, and do his best.

At this stage Monty was bored and was asking to go home. We had already discussed the possibility that if the vet couldn’t help Henri we might have to put her down, to avoid further suffering. He said he understood but in the 10 minutes that we sat together in the small consultation room he clearly hadn’t really processed that possible outcome.

The vet returned somewhat ashen faced (a genuine but well-practised look), said he too had been unable to get much out of the crop and that euthanasia was now the most humane step. I explained this mysterious word to Monty and he caught me by surprise with his immediate and desperate sobs.

It was clear to me from his reaction that Monty is not a psychopath. This is good, and something that a parent may go years not knowing for sure about their child.

Monty was bellowing loudly, rivulets running down his cheeks. The vet asked if I would like to ‘settle the account’ in the consultation room so we did not have to stand in the queue outside, I agreed. This is a very awkward, and unavoidable human transaction. I signed a consent form, tapped my credit card and then said goodbye to Henri. Monty and I gave her a nice back rub such that her little eyes closed for a moment, and then the vet took her away in her box.

I carried Monty to the car, sobbing quietly now, and strapped him in. It wasn’t long before he had fallen asleep, his cheeks tear-stained, his faced still anguished and his little body heaving up and down involuntarily every so often. But before he fell asleep we had both agreed that Henri had always had delicious food to eat, a warm spot to roost at night, and good friends to kick around with all day. And for that we were both glad.

Henri

A 42 year old man buys his first record player

A 42 year old man buys his first record player

This weekend I bought a record player, my first one. My pretext for doing so was to make my boys aware that the crisp, multi-layered sound booming out of my iPhone is not as Tay Tay intended it to be. Although true, the purchase was really about exorcising some persistent 1995 demons involving 16 year old me who was not cool enough to see Pearl Jam on their Australian tour, nor resourceful enough to own any decent hi-fi on which to listen to Pearl Jam on a beanbag in my room via Yamaha Orthodynamic Headphones on a super long cable while feeding my Tamagotchi, nor stylish enough to own Pearl Jam paraphernalia of any kind.

As those simply designed Vitalogy t-shirts, worn by self-assured youths at the bus interchange, the woolshed parties, in the food court, at the skate park, the bowling alley and under school uniforms, faded, so too did my faint hopes of musical and social credibility.

Well, today that has all changed and somewhere in the time/ space pretzel 16 year old me is smiling. Although, it is a cruel trick of life that one can have really nice hi-fi or hair, but not both at the same time.

There is a fabulous shop in Newtown that sells refurbished turntables, amps and speakers to chaps like me who will spend more than they want to, but less than they can. I had visited a few months previously so I understood the general investment quantum and some of the bare facts of 70s/80s hi-fi. Still, I let the store owner give me the full tour, and the spiel again. I engaged sufficiently and asked enough questions to make it appear I was weighing up the various technical aspects at each price point when really I knew right away I wanted the one with the walnut case because it looks really nice.

“So, this one’s stylus cartridge comes out…” he tells me.

“Ah ha I see, well that’s not good” I say nodding “is it?”

“Yes, that’s good. For cleaning.”

“Yup, sure. Okay, so that one has the removable cartridge for cleaning, that’s great.”

“Okay, this one’s tonearm does not return.”

“mhmm” I say nodding again, looking at him for clues “so that’s why it is a little more expensive?”

“No, it’s better if it returns.”

“Of course.” I say, wondering if it comes in walnut.

Onward, and so on and so forth. We listen to an untold number of amp/ turntable/ speaker combinations as I sit in that well-worn demo armchair, each one devastatingly loud and significantly better than my iPhone. I nod at that kind of head angle you use to express understanding and agreement when he plugs in the $2500 speakers just to “give me the benchmark”. It sounds identically excellent to all the other combinations we have experienced together and I give him a lame double thumbs up. In the end I spend a little over my self-imposed budget and buy a really pretty wood-cased speaker/ amp/ turntable combo. All Japanese made and all jaw-dropping for my 16 year old self and his Tamagotchi.

Excited and empowered I left him to prepare my speaker cable and grounding wire, whatever that is, and charged up King Street to purchase records. Of course, as I stepped into the first phone booth-sized record store I experienced Vitalogy exclusion all over again, 2022 style.

Immediately I became horribly aware that my jeans were from General Pants, and everybody else knew it. At least they are one of the brands that sound like they may have been designed in Europe, but deep down I know Birmingham is no longer part of Europe. Also, somehow, I was sure the other customers knew I had bought them online. How embarrassingly practical.

I move quickly over to a large wooden vat filled with records spine up and look sideways at what my hemp-clad fellow customers are doing. They are thumbing manically through the boxes like an accountant looking for receipts right before the tax deadline. Occasionally they stop, withdraw a record, hold it aloft for a moment or two then drop it back in before returning to their frantic thumbing. I start to do likewise but I have no idea what I am looking at. The boxes are loosely and confusingly labeled; ‘re-drops’, ‘classics’, ‘fresh’, ’80s’, ‘funk’, ‘soul’, ‘Australian’, ‘imports’, ‘house’, ‘deep-house’, ‘trance’, ’90s’. The ven-diagrams are spiraling in my head and taunting me. What if I want a fresh deep-house Australian record from the 90s? What then??

I become aware that I am still thumbing and have not removed anything for closer inspection. What is the appropriate time ratio of thumbing to holding aloft in order to be taken seriously? I pull one out and hold it up to the light. It just has a picture of a croissant on it and no words. I plunge it back in and wipe my hands on my thighs desperately.

Separate to the very helpful categories, I notice there are also records sorted by alphabet. The catastrophic ven-diagram implications of this parallel grouping aside, even as a stand alone system it is confusing. Some are single lettered, some in groups, but not sequential groups, like O,P and T. Why? Also, I have no idea if the O,P,T records are above the label or below it. I thumb back and forth but the album covers are giving me no clues. I am yet to see one record by any bands I have ever heard of.

“Where is John Williamson?” I ask myself. Hopefully not audibly. But probably audibly. Just in case, I leave.

The second store is worse. I am the only customer and it feels like the shop assistant and I are stuck in an elevator together.

“Why did he not give himself a stool?” I wonder. He is just standing there, leaning on a concrete bench writing on record sleeves the colour of butchers paper. What is he writing?

“Hi” I say, limply. He notices my General Pants jeans and knows I won’t stay long. He doesn’t look up from his work.

I go to the record vat as far away from him as I can but he could still easily push me with a broom if he had one handy. I am aghast to realise this shop does not even have album covers, just those butchers paper sleeves with a little peep hole to a tiny circle of the record which you could only recognise if you spent all your days studying ‘vinyl album cover flash cards’. On the butchers paper sleeves were esoteric descriptions of the albums with word combinations I have never seen in sentences together; like ‘luxuriant and thirsty’, ‘pre-pubescent and steadfastly’ and ‘hammerblow and effervescence’. I thumb horizontally away from him and out the door.

The third record store is larger but heaving with frantic thumbers; making their way swiftly through the music world alphabetically – a, b, c, d/f/q, e… etc. then genre-ly – reggae, R&B, punk, punk/reggae, R&B/punk. I stand and watch, waiting for my chance to enter the stream, like merging into traffic. I spot a gap and seize it. I am delighted to find myself at the box which was not labelled, but should have been labelled, expensive albums for dudes in their 40s who just bought a record player; Pearl Jam, Prince, Led Zeppelin, Men at Work, AC/DC, Beatles, Foo Fighters. Wonderful. I take a selection of this most wonderful genre, along with some Tay Tay for Milo and some Tones and I for Monty and I escape the vinyl district. Still without the Vitalogy album, still without much credibility, but now with some very nice hi-fi equipment and a smile on my face.

And so this evening we listened with joy at volumes far greater than is necessary for our 15m2 ‘analog room’. The boys marveled at the tiny grooves, the weight of the vinyl, the fragility of the needle, the speaker crackle that beckons in the rich music, the comforting, industrious spin of the turntable and the satisfying resistance of the dials on the amplifier. Milo read Tay Tay’s lyrics from the album insert to Monty and I felt strangely liberated to think nobody was counting how many times we had listened to All too well. Like it had never happened at all.

Hi-Fi

Coughing at School

Coughing at School

Last Friday I received our first ‘your son is coughing at school and endangering all of our lives how dare you come and get him before we put him in one of those decontamination tubes from Monsters Inc and shave all his hair off’ calls from Milo’s school. The call is abrupt and accusatory and not very pleasant, but probably fair enough given that person probably has to now make that call 20 times every day.

Now, I am very supportive of keeping sick children at home, but I am sure most parents would agree in the post-COVID, or mid-COVID, or post-mid-COVID, or rump-COVID world, or whatever world we find ourselves in, the threshold is somewhat lower than it once was; a polite clearing of the throat in an enclosed space is likely to earn you an express trip to the infirmary.

So, I picked up Milo post-haste (with all the shame entailed therein), removed him from the hermetically sealed zip-lock bag in which they had placed him, and took him home. The Friday was a pleasure. The three of us had grand adventures and complimented each other on the positive and healthy father/son, brother/brother relationships we had fostered and built together as we played, listened and respected each other etc etc. Friday flowed effortlessly into the weekend.

Now, readers of this blog will know Milo’s general attitude to all things is no corners cut, no compromises made. A fine attitude which will no doubt lead him to the very apex of science, the corporate world, or an organised crime syndicate. Anyway, his uncompromising attitude extends, of course, to his management of phlegm. If he identifies a small globule lingering in his throat, a globule that could perhaps be gently coaxed away with the gentlest of train-friendly rasps, he will instead gather all purging forces at his disposal and deploy them with impunity, each and every time. There is a deep intake of air, a pause, a wind-up and then an unholy hacking exhale that no globule could possibly endure. He waves the inside of his elbow around the general vicinity of his mouth, like all our virus-conditioned children now do, but that slender little elbow pocket has no chance of even stymying the progress of that great gale. Every cough invokes for me those slow motion videos of nuclear tests in the Nevada desert from 1945.

I have no doubt his immune system had almost declared victory over the weekend; little white blood cells cart-wheeling, jigging and playing drums on the helmets of their vanquished viruses like victorious Ewoks at the end of Return of the Jedi. His mucous was on the wane, his disposition brightening. We even secured a negative RAT; a nostril tickler, not just one of those lolly-pop jobs we all received from school which you only use if you want to guarantee a negative.

Still, as the sun set early on our wintry weekend it was obvious to us both that, despite our delusion, Milo’s no-holds-barred uber cough was going to do us in. There would be no school for him on Monday.

The famous lolly-pop placebo

Getting our nails did

Getting our nails did

Recently, on a Friday morning, Monty and I have been taking in a mid-morning movie and getting our nails did. It’s a positive model.

The movie cinema is busier at 10am on a Friday than you think; but very few people are taking in utilitarian animated offerings like Pils Adventures and Bob’s Big Burger Movie (or something like that). In fact over the two movies we have only had one other patron sharing the cinema with us, and he claimed to be reviewing the movie for a local paper. This seemed unlikely based on his jittery eyes and his frequent use of incorrect verb structures. I would strongly assess he was paying for two hours out of the cold, much like we were. Given the disjointed, dubbed, Francophile oddness of Pils Adventures he probably wished he rather invested in two caramel lattes at Gloria Jeans, with whipped cream. We did.

Anyway, if you think you can breeze into a cinema mid-morning on a school day, pick up a ticket and a dangerously-sized popcorn with three minutes to spare you can think again. If you plan your time like this you will absolutely miss the commercial for a local menswear store starring the owner of that menswear store wearing his own menswear to the soundtrack of Italian opera. No, the queue will be at least 12 deep.

There’s the guy by himself who does not take off his pom-pom beanie buying two choc-tops, there’s the retired couple who spend quite some time debating whether they need the medium or the large popcorn. They choose large and are then embarrassed and shocked at the size of it. They leave the monstrous box sitting on the counter for a moment or two unsure what to do with it, while the clerk tries to make eye contact around or over it to secure payment (always in cash). They then cart it away together muttering muted, bashful explanations. Also, there is usually a shabby but amiable looking chap who orders a glass of wine with his Maltesers and says something like “it’s after ten isn’t it?” to the ticket/ snack lady who does not smile in response. He smiles anyway and wanders off into the gloom. None of these people chose the movies we did.

On our second visit the ticket/ snack/ parental advice lady told me she had been told “by management” that the Big Bob’s Burger Movie (despite being animated and shown at 1040 in the morning) was not “suitable for children”. She herself does not have children, so she explained, but she was just passing on the message she had been asked to pass on to any adults who appeared intent on making a dangerous movie choice on behalf of their infants. Now, this is a tricky spot to find yourself in as a parent-in-public. The next most ‘child friendly’ option appeared to be Top Gun: Maverick but I presumed the plot was likely too complex for Monty to follow. The only other option was leaving again without movie and without popcorn; a poor option indeed. So I publicly proclaimed that indeed I was choosing to ignore the direct, expert advice of the Dendy Corporation and that yes I would be exposing my four year old to adult themes, and we went for it.

The movie was pleasant enough; there was an animated teenage boy riding a horse in his underwear at one point and several tangential references to male genitalia but Monty enjoyed himself and didn’t seem particularly scarred. I am not confident ticket/ snack/ parental advice lady was entirely correct in her advice; but that depends greatly on your parenting ethos I suppose.

As we discussed the pros and cons of upgrading to a medium popcorn next time we strolled down to the New York Nail Salon and Monty chose ten different colours at random (5 sparkly and 5 plain). We assumed our positions behind the thick perspex and held our hands still as statues (Monty is amazing at this). We were treated throughout with detached antipathy, we were scolded sharply for moving our fingers prematurely, I received judgmental incredulity for having not removed my wallet from my pocket prior to the polish application, we received no smiles, no thank yous and no polite platitudes. In short we were treated like everybody else. The sight of a father and his son getting their nails did at lunchtime on a Friday raised exactly zero eyebrows. For me, this is great progress indeed.

A bold assortment
The Second Child

The Second Child

Monty turns five in a month or two so I thought it worthwhile to reflect on the rampant inequality with which a second child is treated; in terms of parental care, interest and general nurturing. I think those of us who have or know a second child will agree this neglect generally yields good results. The relative disregard with which they are treated generally reduces neediness, increases independence and heightens resilience.

Firstly, I am writing about Monty on a blog entitled ‘The adventures of Milo and Jupiter’. This will surely be one of the many aspects of this blog that will cause angst between me and my teenage boys many years from now. Although Monty is a second child, so he probably won’t care. I will explain to him that the popularity of the blog depends on brand recognition, and that our 17 loyal followers would be horribly confused if we tried to alter the website or title in any way.

The diminished attention and care begins almost immediately. With Milo we paid a ‘car seat expert’ $250 to install his capsule, to ensure we had cut zero corners on his safety. That’s genuinely hilarious. With Monty I bunged in the capsule while Kuepps was inside with the bags and the 2nd born as we were being checked out of the hospital.

For their first child parents can reel off all the stats – like a basketball card collector in the late 80s – Milo was 3.6kg and 50cm long at birth. If anybody asks us how big Monty was we say “Big. Real big”. And over time this gets worse; second children do not live in absolute terms, only relative. Monty slept through earlier than Milo, Monty crawled and walked later than Milo etc etc. Goodness knows in specific terms when any of these milestones occurred.

And it continues:

When we bathed Milo in a baby bath we used one of those floating thermometers to ensure a satisfactory temperature. For Monty this technology was replaced with an elbow.

Milo got soothing rainforest music at night. For Monty we generally turned the drier on, but not always.

For Monty’s first Christmas he wore a suit which says “Milo’s first Christmas”.

Milo got a Women’s Weekly swimming pool cake for his first birthday – I went to three supermarkets to find blue jelly – for Monty we had bought a pile of brownies, and in fact his party was cancelled due to inclemency.

We sought to nurture Milo’s hand/ eye coordination, environmental awareness and ‘sense of self’ by taking him to Gymbaroo and Jitterbugs (baby gymnastics). Monty got a tennis ball, previously owned by Milo.

By the time Monty came around we had disposed of the ikea change table and instead removed the soft insert and whacked it on top of a low wardrobe; to save space.

Monty’s first bike (also known as Milo’s first bike) is right now sitting in our front carport, rusting.

And we genuinely have no idea how or when Monty was toilet trained. The trappings of training were all around our home; potties, toilet seat inserts, cute little urinals suction-capped to the wall with turbines to encourage good aim. We presume Monty just started using these things because all of a sudden his nappies were always dry. He never received any stickers for producing a pebble; no kinder surprises, no books, nothing. And then one evening before bed he pointed out his nappy had been dry overnight 7 days in a row and maybe he could wear jammies. We obliged and kaboom – toilet trained.

Recently Monty discovered the green hard-back edition of The Adventures of Milo and Jupiter which I printed out after my first time off with him (another classic first born gesture). “Daddy, where is the book of our adventures together?” He asked. Hmmm… I thought I had a decade or so before having to deal with this issue. No matter, let’s deal with it now.

I am now off work for an as yet non-determined timeframe with Monty. I will seek to invigorate the blog somewhat in order to produce enough material for a second hard-back edition to secure a prosperous future relationship with my second-born. Milo hasn’t bothered to read his yet, even though he has the capability. If and when he does he may be alarmed by some of the careless or callous parenting documented therein. We probably have another 6-12 months with Monty before he can read my version of his childhood. Hopefully COVID home schooling will return and buy us a little more time.

Who is this child?

Guess Who I Am

Guess Who I Am

This evening we played a short round of the provocatively titled game Guess Who I Am. Presumably the designers of this game gathered around in their boardroom, or garage, and, with reference to the law firm that represents Hasbro, cheered defiantly “LET THEM COME!” One can only imagine those fine litigators did, indeed, come.

Anyway, simple game. Everybody dons a pair of annoyingly ill-fitting cardboard spectacles. The other players then write the name of a famous something-or-other in non-permanent ink on the white part at the front of the spectacles. Actually, they probably do this before you put them on, that makes more sense. From there each player asks a series of increasingly pointed questions until they deduce the something-or-other written on the front of their spectacles, or they don’t… nobody seems to care one way or the other.

Monty did not appear to immediately grasp the broader purpose of the game, or he did but was unwilling to put forth the effort to develop a cogent questioning strategy to achieve his objectives. Monty wanted to decide on his own something-or-other. I said no. This was foolish, particularly given it was after 1930hrs. Monty cried, I relented. Monty decided on a rather obscure character from the Dog Man book series known as ‘Ratterfly’. In carefully formed letters I penned the word, pausing briefly to wonder out loud if Ratterfly has one t or two – it’s two. I don’t know why I went to such effort; Monty knew what I was writing, and also he can’t read.

As Monty pulled the absurdly large spectacles up over his ears and held them there with both hands he had one last stipulation for me and Milo; even though he knew the something-or-other, and we knew that he knew, we had to pretend we didn’t know. He would do likewise. We all agreed.

Monty’s first three questions went like this:

“Am I a character from Mario? No.”

“Am I in a movie? No.”

“Do I wear a cape? No.”

Milo expertly probed his way towards ‘Pikachu’ with precision questions, almost zero wastage. I blundered my way around the pseduo-verse, hapless, making zero progress.

“Am I in a movie? No.”

“Am I famous? No.”

“Am I a cartoon? No.”

“Am I real? No.”

“Am I alive? No.”

“Am I a thing? Sort of.”

Confounded I returned my attention to Monty’s charade.

“Am I rainbow coloured? No.”

“Am I from the Land Before Time? No.”

“Am I a cat? No.”

“Can I fly? Yes.”

Meanwhile, Milo went from cartoon to Pokemon to electric type to Pikachu with impressive speed and whipped off his specs with a grin.

Shortly thereafter Monty triumphantly asked “Am I Ratterfly?” to which he received an affirmative answer. Coming in a close second was, for me, impressive commitment to his subterfuge.

Oh and by the way I was butt, not ‘a butt’, just ‘butt’ (although spelled ‘but’); the fleshy amusing kind. Seemed a little niche but at least it gave me an excuse for coming last.

Monty demanded a second round. This time he saved some time and wrote his own something-or-other – he chose 22 slightly wiggly Ls. He got it on the third guess.

The 3 types of junior sport participants… and their parents

The 3 types of junior sport participants… and their parents

Our first two efforts at encouraging Milo into organised sport were not successful. First was soccer; he picked up the ball mid practice because I failed to brief him on that whole key tenet of soccer. Coach wrote him off as a trouble maker and the whole thing spiraled from there. I must accept my portion of blame for that. Second was karate; Milo waited until he had the sweet uniform then quit. Well played Milo.

Attempt number three is basketball and it seems to be going well so far. In Australia junior basketball is affectionately known as ‘Aussie Hoops’. This is entirely non-competitive, learning the rules and skills and hugging each other, and buying merch. Great.

Even within this benign environment I have already noted several categories of both participant and parent. This is what I have learned so far:

Participants

There are three types of participant, as follows:

Flossing Kid

The Flossing Kid is either flossing, or thinking about flossing, or chocolate milk, or comparing their height to the other kids, back-to-back. Basketball has occurred to the Flossing Kid zero times and he or she is the most likely person in the gym to cop a basketball to the ear. Flossing Kid does not seem to mind when this happens.

Cheaty Kid

Cheaty Kid has incorrectly deduced that the objective of each drill is speed. Cheaty Kid will carry the ball and run if he or she thinks the coach is not looking, Cheaty Kid cares not for the violation that is double dribble, and Cheaty Kid will slide gently ahead of other patient participants in the lay-up queue if they are distracted by Flossing Kid requesting a height comparison. Cheaty Kid would actually be pretty good at basketball if they focussed on the fundamentals.

Bewildered Kid

Each week Bewildered Kid seems genuinely surprised to be at Aussie Hoops. This is what Bewildered Kid’s eyes say “Oh, I have the ball. That’s interesting. Oh, do you want the ball? What’s that? Oh, I should… I should keep the ball? OK, I’ll keep the ball. OK we’re sitting down now. OK now I’m sitting down.”

Parents

As far as I can tell there are also three categories of parents.

Volunteer Coach

Volunteer Coach played division 2 basketball at school. They have a Fleer Ultra Michael Jordan Rookie Card in their top drawer. They think it’s worth $20,000, “at least”. It’s not. Volunteer Coach mingles around with the kids at shoot around, occasionally dunking on the 8 foot hoop and returning rebounded shots, snapping their wrists properly and thudding the ball into their appreciative 7 year old’s chest. During practice Volunteer Coach yells out helpful guidance like “Keifer! Dribble hand off! Dribble hand off like I showed you”, when the drill is pass the ball gently to the small child you just met and ideally don’t make them cry. Volunteer Coach would be drinking Pepsi through a straw if Volunteer Coach was not wearing a surgical mask.

Instagram Parent

Instagram Parent is only waiting around because the stadium is in the middle of nowhere, the session is only 45 minutes and there is not enough time to go anywhere interesting and besides it is really hard to reverse the SUV out again with all those little kids everywhere. Instagram Parent scrolls their phone and is the second most likely person in the gym to cop a ball in the ear. Instagram Parent certainly minds if this happens.

Aggressively Supportive

Aggressively Supportive yells out non-sensical votes of encouragement like “Oh beautiful jump hop Prudence” and “wonderful posture Mikey. Daddy loves you!” Aggressively Supportive will build rapport with the teenage coaches after the session and buy ice cream on the way home.

Interestingly the participants and parents don’t seem to match up exactly as you might imagine. For example, Cheaty Kid doesn’t seem to go home with Volunteer Coach in a Ford Ranger as often as you might think. So far my favourite combination is Bewildered Kid with Aggressively Supportive.

More to come.

Hotel Quarantine: Redux – June 2021

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

The wardrobe door

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