Another early morning, this time after a rather disturbing nightmare about leaving our dogs only to have one get critically injured. I text my husband to make sure he’s filling up their water bowl. And watering the plants. Then I lie awake feeling claustrophobic – something I’d been worried about since I first heard about hotel quarantine.
By daylight, though, things look better. My husband texts back – he got his first vaccine dose! And yes, he’s watering both dogs and plants. Cheered up, I make coffee and attack some festival paperwork.
Then it happens. I realize what I’ve been determinedly avoiding all along – but it takes the kids to point it out to me.
“I’m so bored,” says my daughter from the sofa bed.
“So incredibly bored,” says my son, staring at his phone with glassy eyes.
I show impressive parental restraint and suggest nothing, waiting for them to figure out a solution. My daughter suggests some badminton, and they have a few hits. I keep typing, dodging the occasional shuttlecock and pretending to myself I’m not actually bored solid.
There’s a knock – lunch. And more Tim Tams!!! Six of them this time, so either the caterers’ math is improving or they are just feeling more benevolent.
The main course is pie. It’s not the traditional Aussie meat but a veggie sausage version for us vegetarians. But it looks just the same, especially when I decorate it with a tomato sauce (ketchup) face. Then I style it for an Instagram food pic, and do the same with the stack of Tim Tams.
Did I mention I was bored?
Inspired by the pie and my photographic creativity, I tell the kids they have to listen, and I launch into the song Dad always used to sing:
“Meat pies and tomato sauce/Same thing for the second course/From Perth to Sydney we all endorse/Meat pies and tomato sauce!”
A classic gem, then and now.
My daughter rolls her eyes, probably in the same way I used to do to Dad. Then she critiques my pie-face.
Just wait. I’ll have my ukulele soon, and then they’ll be impressed.
“You’re regressing, you know that?” asks my daughter as she washes up her plate. “Besides, the pie tastes terrible.”
My son starts grinning and laughing maniacally. I raise my eyebrows.
“I’m just going insane,” he says casually.
“Do you want to play a game?” I offer, gesturing to the suitcase full of Scrabble and Boggle. “To pass the time?”
“No. I’ll just be bored.”
Ohh-kay. I go back to eating my pie. It’s delicious, actually.
I pretend to work some more. The kids scroll their phones in a stupefaction of boredom. Nothing changes.
Then – another knock at the door! I jump up, excited. Maybe it’s my ukulele!
Yep, a massive Amazon box, big enough for several ukuleles plus a Fijian rugby player or two. (see Day Eight). Like a kid at Christmas, I drag it in, babbling to the kids.
They stare up with dread in their eyes.
“Please don’t,” says my daughter. “I have a Zoom.”
Quietly, I unpack, find the tuner, explore the strings. I’m a former professional musician on double bass, piano and organ, and apart from the flute I also play some guitar and cello for fun.
But hey, this is kind of new! Every chord is different. I spend ten minutes studying them on ukulelebuddy.com, then head out to the balcony where the sun and Sydney humidity are creating a Hawaiian microclimate.
I kick back and play Israel Kamakawiwo’ole’s classic version of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” ticking off a longtime aspiration. Then a standard I-VI-IV-V progression: “Blue Moon,” or maybe “Stand by Me.” Then I launch into a spoof version I wrote of “Heartbreak Hotel,” working the sweet little instrument and my tiny choir voice into something remotely bluesy-sounding. I’m on a roll.
“That’s so embarrassing,” comes the critique, brutally honest as always.
I’m getting sunburned, so I move inside and keep jamming.
My son interrupts my fantasies of ukulele world domination by grabbing the instrument and plonking on the sofa next to me.
“Do you want me to show you some chords?” I ask.
“No,” he says, floundering around. He strikes a jagged tritone.
“That’s not a chord,” I say, ever the encouraging teacher. He moves up a couple of frets.
“That’s not one either.”
Finally he agrees to learn C and A minor (the easiest), followed by F and then G, with three cramped fingers straddling the strings.
“That’s so hard,” he complains.
I smile, thinking of all the crazy physical stunts this guy can do: double backflips, twisting front flip dives, skateboard tricks, handbalances on stacked chairs. Not to mention the juggling. He can also ride a unicycle, play jazz drums and tenor saxophone, edit films and scuba dive.
My daughter, meanwhile, studies quantum physics and eats violin concertos for lunch. Who needs a ukulele?
“You just have to practice,” I offer, lamely.
“Nah, it’s so out of tune.” He hands me the ukulele and leaves. I tune the strings.
Then the juggling balls and jump rope arrive!
Within minutes, my son has perfected his three-ball routine and is working at wall-rebounds. He patiently teaches me, and I actually get about ten three-ball catches.
Then he’s hitting double-under jump rope personal bests before running a mile around the apartment.
“This was a good present,” he says.
We cobble together dinner from our copious leftovers – nobody is particularly interested in tonight’s veggie tray – and I head out into the twilight to play some flute with the birds. I remember today’s phone call with Mum, chatting about little things while Dad played jazz tunes in the background. I’m looking forward to making music with him.
When I stop for breath, I hear voices inside.
“’Agonized moans…the hotel wifi has struck again.’ What on earth?”
“Those weren’t moans. Where is she quarantining? None of this stuff is happening here.”
“I couldn’t even think of things like this to exaggerate.”
I walk inside. They keep going.
“Look at this! ‘Three good qualities about my daughter: Has no problem projecting her voice.’”
“Well, what would you rather I say about you?”
“How about I washed your dishes when you left food on them? Twice?”
“Okay, I’ll put that in there.”
They complain a bit more about the blog – and fair enough. They didn’t ask to have their quarantine life on display. I agree to tone it down, and we all settle down for the night.
At least it’s not boring anymore.
“Quarantine Hotel” (Lyrics: Rosemary Ponnekanti. Music: Elvis Presley)
Well, since we came to Australia
We found a new place to dwell
It’s down the end of Covid Street
At the Quarantine Hotel
Where it gets, it gets so boring, baby,
It gets so boring, it gets so boring I could die.
They get you from the airport
And they take you to your room
And then they take away the key
And leave you in the gloom
Where it’s so, where it’s so boring, baby,
It’s just so boring, where it’s so boring you could die.
Well you never see the bellhop
And you never see the cook
They leave your dinner at the door
Without a second look,
And so it’s, it’s crazy boring, baby,
So crazy boring, it’s just so boring you could die.
Well everyone takes care of you
At the Hotel Quarantine
You can check out any time you like
But you can never leave
And it’s all because of Covid, baby,
All because of Covid,
‘Cos if you get Covid —— you could die.
(With apologies to Elvis and The Eagles, who probably never had to go through this.)