COVID has destroyed countless lives and many more livelihoods, so it seems a bit trivial to be also cursing it as a wrecker of travel plans. But as a depositor of flies in the ointments of potential travel itineraries it has had few equals. We'd planned to go to South America in 2020 and then on to visit Emma in Canada. That didn't happen. We'd also assembled a crew of thirty odd family and friends to celebrate Issy's 60th birthday in Bali, but that too came to nothing. Our homeland has fared better than most in its fight against COVID's ravages, but that doesn't mean we've escaped totally unscathed. Our home state of Victoria has had many more COVID deaths than any other of Oz's jurisdictions, due almost entirely to the total ineptness of our authorities' attempts to manage hotel quarantine. So they locked us down. State borders were closed. Our beloved Premier Dan also imposed a so-called Ring of Steel around metropolitan Melbourne, and woe betide any poor soul who tried to breach it. We yearned for travel as we sat at home. Well we thought we yearned for travel. Several months after the Ring of Steel had been lifted
and the State borders reopened, we woke up one morning and realised that we could have quite happily left the State some time ago, if only we'd bothered to get ourselves organised. Enough we said! Time for a road trip.
Issy thinks I overplan things. She's never quite got her head around my practice of organising holidays via spreadsheet. Where's the spontaneity in that she moans. I think it might be an engineering thing. In an effort to impress her I decide this time to only pre-book accommodation in places where I think it might be a bit scarce. I think she's proud of me. I wonder if she'll still feel that way when we can’t find any accommodation and have to spend a night sleeping in the car.
We head north over the Great Dividing Range, and onto the seemingly endless and pancake flat plain of the Murray River. The road's straight and boring, and Issy's drifted into dreamland. But it's OK, I've got the radio for company. The announcer is asking people to ring in with examples of grammatical errors that raise their blood pressure. This is right up my alley. I thought it was only
me that was annoyed by such pedantry, but it seems I'm far from alone. "Why is it that no one understands the difference between alternate and alternative, or between persuade and convince", moans one caller. I don't think I'd ever given those particular issues much consideration. I am however reminded of my own pet grammatical hate. My Year 12 chemistry teacher was rumoured to be a member of the Communist Party, much to my conservative parents' disgust. I think they thought that he should have been locked up, let alone left to run free lecturing their son on the fineries of inert gases and atomic weights. I'm a bit surprised they didn't move me to another school. It seems that my allegedly red maestro also had another "talent"; he was a grammar nazi. On the first day of class he told us to turn to page 238 of our text books, and on the third line of the fourth paragraph insert a comma after the word "boron". Hmm. Slightly pedantic perhaps. But it was his next offering that has stuck in my mind forever. Turn to page 437, he said, and in the fourth line of the fifth paragraph, cross
out the word "very" before the word "unique". "Something can't be very unique", he thundered. "Unique means there's only one of something; it's either unique or it isn't." ...and I've never let my offspring forget this. They are all now totally over their anal father groaning at the TV every time, and there are lots of them, someone utters that horrendous phrase "very unique".
We reach the Murray River town of Echuca and take a leisurely evening stroll through an impressive reconstruction of its original port. There's no shortage of fancy looking house boats for hire on show. They're well named - some of them are indeed house-sized. We read that the town was established in the mid 1800s around the site of a punt set up by an enterprising ex-convict to get people across the river. In the 1870s it was apparently the largest inland port in the southern hemisphere. A depression in the 1890s combined with highly variable river conditions and expansion of road and rail networks then led to a sharp decline in the paddle streamer fleet, and in turn a decline of the town's fortunes.
We wander into a local Italian eatery in search
of an evening meal. COVID safe measures are well in place, including a large container of hand sanitiser just inside the door. I decide to do the right thing. I assume that if I nudge the top of the bottle it will deposit a small amount of liquid gently onto my upturned hand. It seems however that they do things a bit differently up here on the Murray. I push gently on the container and we watch on in horror as a large stream of antiseptic launches itself skywards from the apparently jet-powered and upwardly-facing nozzle, before splashing down halfway across the room on the the establishment's reception counter. Issy gets the giggles. I suspect we might now be looking for somewhere else to eat. Fortunately it seems the receptionist wasn’t paying too much attention, and we breathe a sigh of relief as we're led to a table....
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