Dispatch from the road

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Echuca, Central Victoria. Arrival time 5:20pm

Scout: I want to live in this hotel forever, because it has got Peppa Pig on television. Ralph [with glee] : Noise! Noise! [about the people coming and going from our hotel at all hours throughout the night] Me: Wow, this place has got a spa. That was unexpected. I might get a massage! Mr B: It's not that kind of spa. Tepid water. Strangers.

In the morning, we cruise around the town searching for a cafe that is open for breakfast at kids o'clock. Find a nice-looking cafe, order our breakfast, then thank all the deities on Olympus that I remembered to bring little boxes of sultanas because there is a 45 minute wait for food and NO TODDLER WAITS 45 MINUTES FOR ANYTHING.

Head out to Port Echuca and it is so cute! A horse-drawn carriage rolls past us as we lock the car. I love that touristy stuff! Race down the wooden ramps to catch a paddle steamer just in time. Scout is adamant she doesn't want to go on the paddle steamer, and boards under protest. After five minutes on the river, she announces she wants to ride on ALL the paddle steamers, ALL the time.

Scout's favourite paddle steamer activity: lying down on wool bales and pretending to sleep Ralph's favourite paddle steamer activity: watching the steam engine at work. He is mesmerised!

Also a favourite activity for everyone: drinking tea on the deck. Both children: Real tea! Real tea! (They take their tea weak, insipid, milky and barely warm)

The skipper lets the children have a turn at "driving" the boat. Scout gently holds the spokes of the giant wheel as the skipper steers. Ralph grabs the wheel and holds it, and suddenly we are heading straight for the banks of the Murray River. The skipper hastily redresses the situation. We beat a hasty retreat from the cabin.

Yarrawonga, Central Victoria. Arrival time 1pm

Scout calls it Arrow-Wanta. Ralph dissolves into hysterical giggles every time anyone says "Yarrawonga."

We walk up the main street and Ralph goes everywhere he is not supposed to and does everything he is told not to and then he puts his hands somewhere really disgusting and before I can get to him, shoves his thumb into his mouth. I lunge towards him yelling "Nooooo!" and it's like I'm running in slow motion and I swear my voice has that weird, deep sound that happens when you have the sound on in slow motion, but his thumb was just too quick. I whip it back out and clean and sanitise his hands, but the damage is already done. If he doesn't catch a hideous disease, he will have the best immune system in Australia. It's probably a 50-50 chance either way.

In the car again, later that afternoon.

Ralph [offering up thumb]: Mummy suck my thumb? Me: No way! That's so disgusting! Ralph: AHAHAHAHAHA [proceeds to suck his own thumb] Scout: Suck MY thumb Mummy! Me: [defeated sigh]

We sing 'The Quartermaster's Store' in the car approximately 37 times, at Scout's request. "I ONLY want to sing 'my eyes are dim,'" she insists. At every new verse, Scout picks a family member or friend and her father matches the rhyme to them (there was Mummy, Mummy, rubbing her tummy in the store...). "Now do Shohana Daddy! Now do Sebastian! Layla! Alexandra!

Albury, on the Victoria-NSW border. Arrival time 4:30pm

Scout: Let's see if this television has Peppa Pig! Me: Hey Ralph, Yarrawonga Ralph: [doubles over and screams with laughter]

There is supposed to be a restaurant and room service, but it is closed on Sundays. After we put the kids to bed, Mr B goes out to find some takeout. I turn out the light and sit on the bed in the dark, looking at my phone. Both kids sit up and try to make me laugh. I walk around behind our bed and crouch down on the floor behind the bed so they can't see me or the light of my phone. The kids keep laughing, but slowly go quiet. My back hurts from bending over. I start itching. I think the carpet has fleas. Mr B returns with Chinese takeout and it is so bad, but we are hungry and desperate. I grab an old blanket from a cupboard and we eat sitting on the floor of the bathroom. I wish I was kidding. Later, we share headphones and watch a couple of episodes of Turn: Washington's Spies that I have downloaded onto my computer. A very addictive show!

Gundagai, half way between Melbourne and Sydney. Arrival time 12:30pm

We find an old pub for lunch and I order a salad and convince the children to eat some vegetables, by way of giving them a back tickle for every mouthful of greens effectively swallowed. I am in dire need of salad and otherwise-healthy food. I have already put on weight from all the junk food on this road trip. This always happens when I travel in country Australia. Once I was on the road in the outback for three weeks for work, and came back six kilos heavier! No exaggeration. Everywhere we went, the only thing to eat was chicken kiev. I never want to see another chicken kiev as long as I live.

Things are almost as dire right now. Scout rests her head on my leg, lovingly, then looks up at me. "Mummy, your leg is getting nice and fat and squishy. It is like play dough!" Cue salad for lunch.

After the salad, we go for a walk and then it rains so we take shelter in the Gundagai Bakery, which happens to be the oldest bakery in Australia. It is also very cute and the food is very yummy, so we each have a doughnut. Salad plus gentle walk cancels out doughnut calories, so this treat in no way contributes to play-dough legs.

Currently typing this from Goulburn, southern NSW. Arrival time: 5pm.

Check-out time, if we can help it: 5:05pm. Or earlier. At reception, the lady coughs and sneezes directly into her hand, then picks up the keys and hands them to Mr B. We search for our room. It is on the bottom floor and outside our window, two men are smoking and drinking about eight VBs each. They smile and say hello to the kids. Ralph yells "HARRO!" at the top of his lungs. Scout hides behind my legs.

We unlock the door.

This room is SO GROSS. I can't even begin to tell you. And I have stayed in hotels with toilets under the showers, and weird smells, and uninvited wildlife, and suspicious stains on the bedding, and even more suspicious stains on the walls, and camel poo coming out of the taps (true story!).

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