Getting to Oz…


IT IS 2.30am and we are up, stumbling around. A cup of tea and a stumble more, and the taxi comes. I booked online, then phoned to check last night. “No, don’t have that one,” said the man. “Ah, wait a minute – it’s on the wrong page.”

Ah, the panic of travel. But the taxi comes and now we are on the train with the other ghosts. The carriage is spectral until Leeds, when the train bursts with raucous girls and a bustle of boys eating McDonald’s.

A young woman, tall and glam in a tight red dress, asks if the train stops at Huddersfield – with the ‘H’ gone missing – in a voice to wake the dead and the other passengers. They troop past us and the train shakes with noise as their night-out mugs the early start to our day. A sleepy young woman diagonally opposite, wrapped in a shawl, can see what’s going on. She looks at me and smiles a smile that’s hardly there.

The noisy girls and the burger boys leave at Huddersfield and quiet returns. We arrive at Manchester Airport with hours and yawns to spare, to wait in that no man’s land of shops and bars and pints of beer at dislocated hours.

Not us, just two coffees and no breakfast because it’s early and we’ll be eating on the plane, only the flight ends up 90 minutes late, the drinks trolley comes first – no thanks, not yet – and then breakfast is a strange airline meal at some weird hour.

Two more of those meals arrive at stranger times. Talking of strange times, we’ve already set our watches to Perth time – a good tip, that one, and many ‘wrong’ hours later, having stopped briefly in Abu-Dhabi, we have ten more hours to go, and here’s the thing about flying to Perth: there is nothing between Abu-Dhabi and Perth but ocean, hours and hours of ocean.

Then we are at the airport, met by our old friend and our daughter, who is here for the best part of a year. Now we are at our friends’ house in Perth, where we drink tea and shower off the flight, and try to stay awake.

We all go out for a meal, then the three of us peel off for a walk into the city and a drink. After a couple of hours, we leave our daughter and decide to walk to our friends’ house, a plan more bold than sensible, and 40 minutes or so later, we phone for help and a rescue.

Now we sit around, talking. And here’s the thing, you see. We met our friends M&A years ago, when we rented rooms in their house in London, and became good friends. It’s how my wife and me met, but we haven’t all been under the same roof since we moved north in 1988.

M&A emigrated to Australia shortly after we left London, and raised their three children here. The youngest wasn’t much more than a baby then, now she has a baby of her own. The eldest used to sort of see me as his Dad Number Two, and he has two children now. The third ‘child’ lives on the other side of this gigantic country, so we don’t meet her.

Old stories are told again, with new ones butting in, and we stay awake until bedtime, then sleep till morning, hours of sleep, apart from an hour awake, where I read Oliver Twist.

Yesterday was our first full day here and we trekked round King’s Park and the botanical garden (above). We got lost, found our way again and I walked along while photographs were taken of plants: it takes a while with a plant-obsessed wife, but this place truly is fantastic, with high walkways and views over the river back to the city. And lots of plants.

Anyway, that’s us. Over here and Down Under. Still not quite believing that we got ourselves organised. Now I need to go online to book a car for a three-day jaunt to the south.

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