Hotel Quarantine


Greetings from Oz-caltraz; which is what I’m calling my quarantine hotel in Sydney. I’ve just ticked off day eleven of a two week incarceration and the walls of hotel cell may soon need to be padded. Put it this way, I’ve started shaping my hotel towels into swans and other animal shapes. Clearly it won’t be much longer before I’m sobbing in the foetal position, braiding my own armpit hair.

I have learnt one important lesson though – I’m never, ever going to commit a crime. Why? I just couldn’t do the time. Being of convict stock, I thought incarceration would come naturally. But even gaol would be preferable to hotel quarantine; at least in prison you get to walk around the exercise yard, plus the odd conjugal visit.

Like 38,000 or so other stranded Aussies, I’ve been trying to get home for over a year. The Australian government’s cruel flight caps mean only about 3,000 Aussies are allowed into the country each week. When my dear Mum was in intensive care over Christmas, I was so desperate to boomerang back to Botany Bay that I advertised for a lone yachtsman with a penchant for funny feminists. Thankfully Mum recovered, and the flight I finally managed to book has brought me home in time for her 90th birthday. After this two week hotel quarantine, that is.

What a relief it was to land at Mascot and smell the eucalyptus leaves, even though the welcome mat was rolled up. Military personal ushered my double vaxxed, jet-lagged carcass onto a waiting bus. Abducted by armed guard? It was like being in some Cold War espionage drama. I was then whisked by police escort straight to this quarantine hotel and hermetically sealed into my room. And I haven’t seen anybody since.

So, how has this surreal scenario come about? It was June, 2020 when the great Dr Fauci first pointed out that there was only one way out of the pandemic – “vaccination, vaccination, vaccination.” Australia’s Prime Minister, Scott Morrison simply sat back complacently, saying “we will have a box seat” to watch rollouts in the UK and USA. Consequently, of the 37 members of the OECD (that club of the world’s most wealthy countries) Australia are last in the league table of vaccine rollouts. With most Aussies unprotected from inevitable outbreaks of the virus, a two week hotel quarantine is mandatory for all incoming passengers.

So, what’s it like? Well, the hardest aspect of solitary confinement is putting up with your own company. I’ve become so dull that even my imaginary friend has run away to play with someone more interesting.

My only exercise is a psychological “tug of war” I play on a daily basis about how much chocolate I should eat. So as not to pile on the quarantine pounds, I did actually hire a cross trainer, which sounds a lot like a grumpy PE Teacher, but is actually a huge piece of gym equipment. Covid restrictions mean that the massive contraption could only be left at the door. Consequently, even wheeling it inside was a major work out. But with no manual, turning it on proved even more difficult. My usual D.I.Y. procedure is the highly technical art of whacking the crap out of any electronic device till it starts. Typing queries to the help line brought little joy due to the fact that I call every gadget a ‘thingy’. In the end, I just thwacked the cross trainer with my stiletto for a good hour, which proved an excellent upper body work out. The unused machine is now a useful clotheshorse to dry the exercise clothes I no longer need.

And so the days drag on. On day four I ordered a camera with a powerful telephoto lens so I could impersonate Jimmy Stewart in “Rear Window”. But all I can see are other bored quarantining people, staring through their telephoto lenses at me, staring back at them.

On day seven, I thought of trashing my room, in rockstar style. Although, the middle-aged mum version of that probably involves throwing a damp towel onto the carpet and, just to prove what an animal I really am – maybe leaving the lid off the toothpaste tube! Rock ‘n’roll, right?

But for thing’s for sure, being an inmate in Oz-catraz is far from ideal. Take quarantine meals — well I tried to, but my tonsils are now no longer on speaking terms with my intestines. It would probably prove more flavoursome eating my towel sculptures. And sure, enduring the orgasmic yelps of the athletic couple next door doesn’t sound like the worst thing in the world – unless you have to listen to it, that is. It’s only jealousy of course. Some guests can presumably bring in their support animals. I’m now wondering if it might be possible for me to order a support toy boy?

But it’s not all bleak. Girlfriends have rallied around, sending flowers, yoga mats and home cooked meals. Billy Connolly rang to tell me a joke. My Mum skypes in to do the crossword every morning and my three sisters zoom in at night to laugh at my latest towel origami creation. I’m sure the time will pass…as though it’s only a year or two. And I do take solace from Billy’s quip – “Time flies like an arrow; fruit flies like a banana.” Think about it. And course, if you’re also in hotel quarantine, you’ll have an abundance of opportunity to do just that.

But it will all be worth it to see my Mum next week. I’m just going to hug her until my arms drop off. Sydney is now in lockdown, so we’ve cancelled our mother’s 9oth birthday party. The celebration will probably just involve the two of us, dancing around a cupcake with a candle in it. But, after a 17 month separation, just to be together again will be the best birthday gift imaginable.

Thousands of Brits have family in Australia, whom they are also longing to embrace. Unfortunately, hotel quarantine is the only way to make that happen. Before being incarcerated, I asked my Aussie pals who’d survived hotel quarantine for their top survival tips; tips which have helped me serve my time without knotting my bedsheets together and doing a bunk over the balcony. So, if you are scheduled for a hotel lock up, down under, let me pass on some sage advice from a few old lags – let’s just call them the crème de la crim. And p.s. Feel free to send a cake with a file.

Use the time. I had a lot of work to do on my script for my new film. That helped me, kind of like having to study for final exams. So, look on quarantine as enforced study time.

Bring your favourite mug. (Thanks to my brother for this tip!) It’s comforting plus, your tea or coffee will taste better.
Pack some thin, light scarves or material for mood lighting.
Before you leave home, print photos of people and places you love. (Or, if you forget, you could ask hotel reception to print for you!)
Pack Washi masking tape. You can put your prints up with this and you will be amazed how many uses it has.
Phone stand for those video calls and work-out apps.

Do an online supermarket shop on your first day. You’ll need snacks for in between meals. I recommend dried mango and nuts. Also, be sure to buy breakfasty stuff. Jet lag will probably wake you up at 4am, which is a pain because your breakfast won’t arrive until 8. And not every hotel does room service.
Order a coffee machine to your room, if given the choice. It makes everything ok.
Treat yourself occasionally. The food is relatively good, but arranging a delivery from your favourite restaurant can help on a night when the offerings aren’t to your taste.
Change your clothes every day. It’s tempting to stay in the same clothes but don’t! Feeling fresh is key.
Exercise. Whether it’s pushups, situps, or hiring a machine of some sort. I ran 5km a day back and forth between the window and the door.
Find a purpose. I joined forces with someone else in quarantine who had come back because his Dad had a stroke. He ran a marathon in his room, I did 5km a day, and together we raised over 18 thousand dollars for the Stroke Foundation.
Talk to someone else in quarantine, or who has done it. I had a buddy in quarantine at the same time as me, and she was a lifesaver. We spoke every day. No one else knows what you’re going through, and it helps to talk to someone in the same situation.
Most importantly, go easy on yourself when you get out. The real world takes some adjusting to. When I first got out, I would get angry every night at 6.30 because no one was bringing food to my door.

Good luck, possums. Love, Kathy x

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