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Saturday, 15 March 2014

Down under

"You ever been to Australia then?" Susan asks, as we're sat in the Sports Bar at Glasgow Airport, waiting for the plane that will take her to the other side of the world to visit her long-lost son, the Melbourne chef.

"Closest I got was watching I'm a Celebrity for longer than I like to admit," I tell her. "There's something compulsive about seeing celebs starved and humiliated by two chirpy twats in a jungle. Like Christians in the Coliseum but with less lions and more bras in the shower."

"I'm excited," she says, clenching her fists and shaking, the way little kids do.

"Me too," I say. "Three weeks of ironing my own shirts and sleeping alone. I can hardly wait."

"You do that now," she says.

"Yeah but if you're in the same country there's always a chance you might ... iron one of my shirts."

"No there isn't," she says.

"In that case you can bugger off and I won't miss you," I tell her.

"Yes you will," she says.

"Yes I will," I say, stirring my cappuccino with the little wooden sticks you get in airport bars these days, in case you steal their spoons. Only reason I get cappuccino is I like spooning the spicy froth into my mouth. You can't do that with little wooden sticks, I think, feeling sorry for myself and resting my head on my hand.

"I'm going to miss little Sally," Susan says, her eyes misty for the first time. "I've never gone three weeks without seeing her. Tell her not to start walking till I get back. I want to be there.

"Hey, cheer up," she adds, leaning over and knocking my elbow away, so my head drops suddenly, the way she did on our first date. (I'm not kidding. She only got a second by being irresistible.) "Three weeks will fly past. Tell me what you know about Australians."

"Well, let's see," I say. "They invented the boomerang, the didgeridoo and the Great Barrier Reef, which is a form of contraception made of coral. Famous Australians include Ned Kelly, who wore a dustbin on his head because he looked like Mick Jagger, and Germaine Greer who invented the female orgasm."

"Why can't you scientists invent something useful like that?" she says.

"Greer is also to blame for the modern female," I say. "Before they read her poisonous propaganda, women looked lovely, wore lipstick and aprons and said 'Have the men had their tea yet? Afterwards they dressed like plumbers and said 'God made men because vibrators can't cut the grass.'"

"I like that," Susan says.

"It's sexist and offensive," I tell her.

"That's what I like about it," she says, standing up. "It's time to go."

"It can't be," I say. "We only just got here."

"That's because you got lost, then drove round the airport three times looking for the short stay car park."

"It's hard to find."

"I know," she says, patting me on the arm. "They put it under huge signs saying 'Short Stay Car Park' just to confuse you."

I lift my coffee, take a sip and study her over the rim of the mug. The prospect of flying across deep oceans to a strange land, all on her own and carrying needles and necessary medicines that need to be kept at the right temperature, and could easily be confiscated by a hundred jobsworths she'll meet in the next 11,000 miles, seems to be fazing her not in the slightest.

It's one of the things I admire about Susan. If something seems scary she's more likely to do it, not less. She's not an adrenalin junky though. Just brave.

"Will you be all right?" I say.

"Yeah," she says. "Will you?"

"Yeah," I tell her.

"You fancy a nice present from Australia?" she says.

"I do."

"Name it."

"Come back safe," I say and hold her close. "Don't get eaten by crocodiles."

"They wouldn't dare," she says, marching briskly off across the marbled floor.

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