The mile-high insomniac…

NO sleep for 24 hours, so I am writing this to stay awake. We flew out of Perth at 5pm on Friday, which is to say 10am, and we arrived back in York at ten this morning – so the journey took a day, a whole day mostly spent sitting. Sitting and not sleeping.

The flight to Abu-Dhabi took nearly 11 hours, with two hours off to sit in different chairs, then another six hours to Manchester. We had a plan for sleep, or my wife did: stay awake for the long haul, and sleep to Manchester, as that was our night-time, rather than the Aussie night.

It amazes me that anyone can sleep during a flight, as the seats are uncomfortable, the plane is noisy, and time is shredded by those wings: what day is this; was that horrid meal intended as breakfast, dinner or tea? – not that it matters, as the meals were nearly always the same.

At some time early this morning, or late last night, because heaven knows it’s hard to concentrate, I sat in the plane and looked around. The flying tube was in darkness and around me people seemed to be sleeping; my wife was certainly asleep, and reckons she managed 90 minutes. I managed not a slumbered second. Same as on the way out, when none of those hours sitting doing nothing coincided with sleep.

On the outward flight, the man sitting next to me slept for seven or maybe eight hours. He sat down, nodded a greeting, then nodded off, while I twitched and wriggled beside him, taunted by restlessness and an aching bum. Dear me but flying is uncomfortable.

After I complained about my problem, my wife unkindly suggested that was the price you pay for having a skinny arse; but she redeemed herself this morning or yesterday morning or some time or other, by suggesting that I should remove my wallet from my back pocket. I did this and it worked up to a point and those six hours to Manchester were less uncomfortable.

If sleep can be hard to find in your own bed, you are hardly going to impersonate a baby when sitting on a plane. Anyway, I saw plenty of films: Ghost In The Shell (strange but intriguing), My Cousin Rachel (solid good), Gone Girl (solid bad really), Sicario (good) and Spotlight – a fantastic newspaper film based on the real story of the Boston Globe’s investigation into allegations of sexual abuse by Catholic priests. Spotlight is exciting, driven and in a sense stands as a love letter to how newspapers used to be before the cuts and other shitty interludes.

I may have seen something else but honestly, I can’t remember. My head is fuzzy, my sense of balance has gone and my legs are wobbly: and alcohol has nothing to do with it.

Flying is frankly awful, but at least you end up somewhere good and have a lovely time. That’s worth the airborne insomnia, the aching bum and endless meals, each one cunningly disguised as the last.

The plan for the rest of today is to stay awake until bedtime, so the hours are looking long.

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A few closing thoughts from the beautiful big empty country…

THAT serves you bloody well right, mate, for posting pictures on Facebook showing sunshine on sandy coves and other holiday snaps to cause envy to break out like a rash.

Today the rain is lashing down and yesterday we abandoned plans for a return visit to King’s Park in Perth. Instead we walked in the rain to a late breakfast with our daughter, then went to see a film (Ali’s Wedding, an Australian-Iraqi rom-com, if you can believe such a thing, and quite wonderful, too).

You don’t think of rain when visiting Perth, but you should if you come in August, the rainy month here – just like home, in a sense.

Mostly the weather has been good, at least, to visiting Brits. Sunny and sometimes warm enough to burn, but nothing too extreme.

“This isn’t hot,” our friend said, when I edged out of the low afternoon sunshine one day.

August here is wet, Christmas is hot and the temperature in February can approach 90°F. And that’s another confusing thing: we left Britain at the start of September, just as summer gave up the fight, and we have spent nearly three weeks here in spring, only to return tomorrow to darkening autumn.

Today we fly home, leaving Perth at 5pm local time. Thanks to being seven hours ahead, we are due to land in Manchester early on Saturday morning. That makes this my last travelogue, as commuting to Howden and Horsforth offers little potential for wander words.

We have loved our time in Perth, and here are a few passing thoughts. People here are very proud not so much of being Australians as being Western Australians, with loyalty to state being stronger than to country.

A bit like Yorkshire in a way, only writ enormously large, for Western Australia is vast. Perth, the state capital, is the most isolated city in the world, with its closest companion being Adelaide 1,367 long miles away. If WA were a country, it would be in the top ten in the world in terms of size. And, seeing as we went there, the jetty at Busselton is the longest wooden jetty in the southern hemisphere, running to just over a mile.

Oh, and King’s Park, which we didn’t return to yesterday thanks to the rain, is the world’s largest city park, much larger than Central Park in New York.

Here’s another telling statistic. The endless vastness of Western Australia is home to around 2.5m people, while the cramped confines of London contain approaching 10m people.

Yorkshire Tea is hugely popular here, thanks to the number of relocated Brits, and coffee shops are everywhere, much like home. The beer is good, much better than when I visited the east of Australia more than 30 years ago. Like the coffee, craft beer is plentiful, although it comes icy cold and isn’t hand-pumped.

The people are friendly, open and chatty. The centre of Perth is quite small, with huge banking skyscrapers dwarfing the older buildings, and it is easy to navigate, and there are more bars, cafes and restaurants than you could visit in half a life-time. The food is good and yesterday’s brunch featured the “best BLT in Perth” and between mouthfuls of proper bacon, sourdough toast and salad, I couldn’t help but agree. The veggie options have been good, too – and our first meal out was at a vegetarian cafe, all tasty fresh goodness to banish the awful stomach memory of airline food.

Anyway, we’ve loved our time here and hope to return one day, but other people’s happiness doesn’t write well, so it is time for me to shut up and wait for the jet-lag to hit.

Meeting the quokkas on Rotto…

quokka

THIS fellow is a quokka and you will only have seen one in the furry flesh on Rottnest Island, or Rotto as everyone here calls it. Quokkas live nowhere else.

Rottnest is a low-lying island off the coast of Perth and the ferry there takes about 30 minutes. Almost as soon as you step off the jetty, you will meet your first quokka. These marsupials are about the size of a cat, have hinged back legs like a kangaroo or wallaby, cute faces and a long tail.

Roos use their tail as another limb, and perhaps the quokkas do too, although you can’t escape thinking that it looks like a rat’s tail. That’s what 17th century explorers from Holland thought, and the island’s name comes from early Dutch for “rats’ nest”.

The quokkas are everywhere on the island and visitors stoop and kneel to photograph them, some even risking a $150 fine for stroking the creatures. The maximum fine for harming a quokka is $50,000, reportedly, and two years ago two French tourists were fined $4,000 each for burning a quokka using a deodorant can and a lighter.

That clearly served them right, but you can see that the quokka exists somewhere between being a feted cutie and a blessed nuisance. Or big rats with better PR.

Anyway, they are appealing, they are everywhere on Rotto, and although Wikipedia has them down as nocturnal, someone forget to tell the quokkas, as scores of the creatures were out in the daylight, although they did look a little sleepy.

We bought sandwiches from the bakery in the little port, where a gate keeps out the food-snuffling quokkas, and got on the bus. You can buy a ticket that lets you hop on and off around the island. That bus was hot and smelt of diesel. “Can we have some air in here, mate,” one of the passengers heckled the driver.

There are no cars on Rotto, just buses and delivery vehicles; and lots of hire bicycles. The bus set off and the ancient air-conditioning blew one puff of vaguely cool air towards our hot faces. We got off after a few stops, gulping the fresh sea air, and strolled up to Wadjemup Lighthouse.

When you walk through history, you often end up with something nasty on the bottom of your shoe. Rottnest Island today is a nature reserve, a place of great beauty, its coastline filled with picturesque sandy bays. But the island has a dark past, as it was used as an Aboriginal prison for many years, and the lighthouse was finished in 1849 by prisoners hauling the heavy stone into place.

A new lighthouse was built at the end of the century and was involved in saving some members of the crew after a British ship, the City of York, was wrecked off the island’s treacherous coast in 1899.

We climbed the lighthouse tower, led by a refugee from Liverpool, who told us not to have our hands in our pockets during the visit. As a hands-in-pockets sort of a guy, I was ticked off many times, but the visit was interesting, and the views from the top were great.

After that we walked for a while and found a deserted cove where we ate our sandwiches, then we popped on a different bus – cooler this time, thanks to the emergency exit panel in the roof being open – and drove along more of the coast, before stopping to walk the last part, and dozing on the beach below another pillar of safely, the Bathurst Lighthouse.

We bought ice creams before the mini-voyage back to Fremantle. The boat was full and no doubt the cameras were full of pictures of those quokkas and their friendly-seeming faces.

Tagging off to the zoo…

roo

“DID you tag off?” This is what they ask you on the bus here and it always sounds like some Australian euphemism. Did I what? None of your business, sir.

But it’s only to do with the travel card. You buy a card costing ten Aussie dollars (about six quid) and load it with money. This card can then be used on the bus, trains and ferries, much like an Oyster card in London, and buying it reduces the fare a little.

Apart from hiring a car for a weekend trip south, we have used public transport all the time and it’s good in the way public transport often seems to be when you are abroad. Using the card, you tag on the train or bus – and tag off when leaving. And if you forget the last part, the system assumes you stayed on for the full journey, and charges you accordingly. Hence that tagging off question.

We used two buses to get to Perth Zoo yesterday. The zoo is housed in a 40-acre park across the water from the city centre. The grounds are lovely and it’s a well-kept place. Those who dislike zoos will not like this one either, I guess, but surrender to the experience and it’s a great day out.

Much of the zoo is Aussie-themed, with a reptile house full of native snakes and lizards, and an enclosure that mimics the Outback, where kangaroos wander past you or lounge in the sun, scratching themselves. You can spot the male kangaroos because their balls are large and hang low like a punch-ball. It looks like a dangerous way to arrange your tackle, but presumably the roos know what they are doing. And we saw Aussie penguins too, small and unbalanced on land, little submarine missiles under the water.

We glimpsed a dozing dingo, cooed at koalas and had our stomachs turned by watching the Tasmanian devils at feeding time: what funny, ferocious creatures – squat, solid and with incredible, bone-crunching jaws.

Elsewhere, we saw a Sumatran tiger on the prowl, long and lean and slim-hipped from behind, saw elephants, a lion taking a nap and a rhino too. Zebras shared an enclosure with two giraffes, one male one female, and the tall boy was very interested in his mate, following her around with one-track-mind male persistence, sniffing her bum. He sniffed, she swerved, he sniffed again.

The meerkats did their usual charm offensive, winning everyone over, and hopefully banishing thoughts of that annoying TV advertising campaign. While most played or dozed, one stayed high, perched on top of an anthill, watching out for what was coming, even if it was just more visitors.

Two hyaenas had a cackle of a fight while I watched, and they are quite scary-looking creatures, larger than you might imagine, but just as ugly as reputation dictates. They are noisy and look like the scruffiest dog you ever saw, except that they aren’t dogs at all, but closer to cats. And dingoes, by the way, don’t bark but just sneak up on you with a soundless snarl.

The end of our holiday is creeping up on us with a soundless snarl, too. We are leaving our Airbnb in Fremantle today and returning to stay again with our friends M&A for four nights, then starting the long haul back on Friday afternoon. After which real life awaits, but Australia still has us for a few days yet.

Wine, sunshine and the couple who left Venezuela…

THE sun is shining and we are tasting wine: what’s not to like? The gravel in my throat and a hacking cough, perhaps. This afternoon tour of the Swan Valley was booked some time ago, so I swallow a couple of Nurofen cold and flu tablets, as supplied by our daughter, and man up.

There are seven of us on this tour and the young woman leader drives the minibus between wineries, as they are called here. At the first stop, she gives us a mini-masterclass in wine-tasting, telling us to hold the glass by the stem and to swirl the liquid. I swirl the wine, and soon enough, the wine swirls me.

There isn’t much to say about a wine-tasting tour, except that they are pleasant occasions. Being a good boy, or possibly a foolish one, I drink everything offered, liking some more than others, but casting into the spittoon only a splash of red too oaky even for me.

Apart from the three of us, the other guests are an Australian couple (she’s from Melbourne, he’s from Perth but has recently been relocated to London); and a couple from Venezuela, now living in Perth.

Risking my sandpaper vocal cords, I chat as best as possible. Everyone is friendly and interesting, but what stays with me is a thought about Venezuela, a country of many advantages, including the world’s largest oil reserves, that seems to have become an economic and political basket case.

The president, Nicolas Maduro, blames foreign sabotage for his country’s problems, including severe shortages of food and medicine, hyper-inflation and worsening violence. Maduro has responded to this unrest by jailing and blacklisting opponents.

Anyway, it hardly seems fitting for a man drinking wine in the Australian sunshine to offer a definitive view on what’s happening in Venezuela. Some on the left in Britain side with Maduro and blame the US, seeing Venezuela as a proud left-wing country brought low by capitalism.

Again, swirling my glass, I don’t know the truth of this. But I do know that this lovely young couple – one a lawyer, the other working 50 hours a week as a chef in an Italian restaurant – left Venezuela because it was no longer possible to live any sort of life there.

All their young friends left too and are scattered around the world. When everyone who can leave a country does, it doesn’t look good for that country.

They are a bright, attractive couple, newly married by the look of it, lovey-dovey in the sunshine, taking photographs of each other and enjoying their day off. But it is possible to sense a sadness in them too when they talk about their country. They don’t mention the president or who’s to blame; they don’t take sides. They just pause beneath a different blue sky to say what a rotten mess their country has become.

They chose Australia because it was the man’s dream to visit the country, and now he’s living that dream instead of living the nightmare of life at home.

Later, over tiny paper cups of different chocolate liqueurs, they tell me that they like the sunshine here – and that they should visit London, but worry about the weather.

“Doesn’t it always rain there?” the woman asks, frowning.

By the time we head back into Perth, I have sampled everything on offer: assorted wines, bits of cheese, a little glass of beer, good chips and those chocolate liqueurs (bad idea that: I blame those lovely Venezuelans).

Back in the city, its banking towers scraping the blue sky, we retreat to a cafe hidden down an alleyway before heading out for a meal with the daughter of friends from York, who now lives out here. On the way to the restaurant, I go into a supermarket to buy throat lozenges.

Now it is late and I have been in and out of bed. I could accuse the cough but only have myself to blame. All that different food and drink is having a rebellious moment in my stomach. I get out of bed for a while and read Oliver Twist on my Kindle. After that I return to bed and sleep well enough, and wake feeling quite a bit better.

Perth suits us to a G&T…

WE are in a crowded bar in Perth for a gin tasting and one of the bald men swings by with the last drink. “You’re my favourite,” he tells my wife, as he hands over her glass. “What about me?” asks our daughter. “No, her,” he says, swinging away.

The gin tasting is a late birthday treat for my wife – and an early one for me, arranged as a surprise. The bar is heaving. They’d expected 20 guests and found themselves with closer to 50. As the evening wears on, and the gin is poured, the bar gets pleasantly lively.

Four Pillars is a small Australian distillery that makes various gins and by now we’ve tried a few. A very pleasant G&T kicked things off, made with their ‘rare dry gin’ and served with orange and Fever Tree Mediterranean tonic.

This gin is made by a coterie of bald blokes, possibly four, although I can’t quite remember. Two of them are here tonight: the stocky showman who complimented my wife, in between delivering outrageous patter and leading a Christmas singsong – they have a Christmas gin, you see – and a tall, more serious-seeming former Olympic athlete, who tolerates his companion’s boisterousness with good grace, and the occasional cutting remark.

Neat gin is a neat idea, until you stand up to leave. There’s a navy-strength one to give you sailors’ legs; that Christmas one to make you sing; a Bloody Shiraz gin that steeps Yarra Valley Shiraz grapes. And that paring drink, a Negroni cocktail that only I manage to finish.

“We used to make wine and drink gin,” one of the baldies said earlier, “then we decided to do it the other way round.”

The gin is very good, unlike – they quip – the wine they once produced. The former athlete is the chief distiller, tasting every 15 minutes of his working day, while his mate distils characterful clamour every 15 seconds, or so it seems.

All great fun and we weave our way back to the station in good if tired shape. Our daughter goes off in her direction, and we catch the train to Fremantle. In the darkness before the last stop, you can see the docks lit up at night, the hulking shadows of ships and new cars neatly lined up on the quayside. Fremantle is a great mix: cultural, trendy, full of hipster-style bars and cafes (Hackney on Sea, if you like) and a working port, too. Many of the buildings are old hotels that have a Wild West feel and there is much to see and do.

We have toured the old prison, visited the maritime museum and the shipwreck museum and the old roundhouse jail on the seafront. Yesterday we spent time in an art gallery housing indigenous art, fantastic paintings, all dots, swirls and mysterious shapes – often aerial views of landscape, the gallery owner told us.

We lay on the beach for an hour and then, in readiness for that gin, had a meal at somewhere called Bread In Common, a former medical supplies warehouse that now supplies top-notch bread and good food in a cavernous space. Being a bit of a bread head, I stood by the ovens to feel the departing heat. Another great find has been Little Creatures, a brewery with bars on the seafront.

Waiting for the bus after the train, it is cold and I am coughing, having managed to bring along a holiday chest, which is annoying, but there you go. The previous day we caught the wrong bus and ended up walking a long way back. But tonight, having worked out the right stop beforehand, and my wife having steered me away from confidently choosing another wrong one, we are safely, tiredly, transported back to our Airbnb for a post gin-sozzle cup of tea.

This place is lovely but where’s the kettle?

SO here’s the thing. What do you make of an Airbnb rental that doesn’t come with a kettle? Now there is much to love about where we are living for a week, but the absent kettle confused us.

We looked everywhere, opened all the cupboards. Where do Australians hide their kettles? I rang the owner, who’d left the key under the front-door mat for us.

“The house is lovely,” I said. “But we can’t find the kettle.”

“We don’t have one,” our host replied. “You’ll find pans in that big drawer at the end of the kitchen. We boil water in those.”

We’d had a longish day in the vomit-yellow hire car and, being Brits, we fancied a cup of tea. Since Monday we have been making tea and coffee using a pan. This works fine but is still oddly unsettling, because how can you have a house without a kettle? A kitchen without a kettle is, well, like a vomit-yellow car without an engine. And say what you like about that car but it went fine, once I’d quarantined my left leg.

There is something so comforting about the boiling roll of a kettle. And it’s a lot less fiddly than tipping boiling water from a pan into a glass teapot. Yes, you read that right: a glass teapot. Anyway, I am drinking tea made that way as I type this.

After making tea without a kettle on arrival, I fancied a beer and got one from the fridge. Then I couldn’t find a bottle opener anywhere, and didn’t feel it would be reasonable to phone the owner. Later we went into a bottle shop – that’s what they call them over here – and asked if we could buy a bottle-opener. “Buy? I’ve got one you can have for free somewhere, mate.”

The bottle-opener was found and I promised to return to buy a bottle, and I’ve not done that yet. Incidentally, supermarkets here don’t sell alcohol, hence all those bottle shops.

There is one other negative about this lovely house in East Fremantle: it’s close to a busy highway, but the owner emailed a warning just after we booked. And it’s worth the noise because the house is great.

In the welcome pack, the owner calls it “a beautiful heritage home” and he’s not wrong. It’s a little like a Victorian terrace cottage that’s been tastefully modernised. You walk up the front steps to an old door that opens to reveal a long hallway. There is a bedroom at the front, another beyond that, then a sitting area that leads to a kitchen and dining spot, with a mini-study where I am writing this and drinking pan-boiled tea. Behind me there is a loo and shower, and outside the door there is a decking area, with washing machine and garden sink under cover. Beyond that lies a small walled garden.

All the floors in the house have been sanded and given a high-gloss varnish; and there are nice design touches everywhere, with small extensions expanding the space. Everything is arty and comfortable and there is even an old leather chair that swivels.

Although we’ve run our own mini-Airbnb business for a while now, this is only the second time we have used the online booking service. The other time was to rent a room in a large Victorian house in Bristol, where the wife was friendly enough but the husband looked permanently pained about having strangers in his house.

Airbnb has been good for us. Most of our guests leave happy, and we earn a little extra. But the headlines are often negative nowadays, with fears of people causing housing problems by cashing in on Airbnb. I’ve no idea where our owner lives when he’s not here; perhaps he has another house. But this one is homely and full of all his stuff and pictures, almost as if he’d just popped out, possibly to buy a kettle.

On the road again, with added whales…

jetty.jpgTHE car we hired was a lurid colour. We couldn’t settle on the tone. I suggested vomit yellow and my wife said it was a sort of green – if so, a green that should never be seen. But it was easy to spot in a car park.

We picked the car up in the middle of Perth, close to the highway. All I had to do was drive to the end of the road and take the second turning on the left. I took the first turning on the left.

This left us having to go around a huge block in the middle of the city, unsettling with me jumping and lurching. Most cars in Australia are automatics and I hadn’t driven one since a holiday to the States years ago. I kept using my left foot on the brake, pushing my leg down as if operating the clutch on our car at home, throwing my passengers forward. Then I remembered that the left foot is redundant in an automatic: do everything ‘right’ and the car behaves.

We reached the highway and headed south to Busselton for a weekend break with our daughter.

The day before, we’d been for a walk with our friends M&A in the John Forrest National Park on the Darling Scarp, east of Perth, named after the Victorian explorer and first premier of Western Australia. The walk was same but different: like the walks we do at home, but through pea-gravel scrublands with wonderful bursts of spring flowers (and a kangaroo or two).

Afterwards we had tea and cake in a roadside café – same but different again, with a road train rattling by filled with live sheep. The stink reached across the road.

At the holiday village in Busselton, the wi-fi was rubbish so this is a catch-up. The town is famous for its jetty, built 152 years ago and running to 1.841 kilometres. The jetty has been restored and rebuilt and in parts you can see the old wooden structure in the sea.

A train runs the length of the jetty, but we walked along, watching as Saturday anglers fished for squid, whose black ink stained the jetty. As we returned, the mist came down and the land disappeared, yet by the time we had lunch in a restaurant overlooking the jetty, the sun was strong enough to burn us a little as we ate outside.

The next day, we had breakfast in a bush café, then went into Dunsborough for shops, a gallery and so on, and a walk along the beach. It was a bit chilly and as everyone keeps telling us, it is winter here, or only just spring, and they’re keeping their coats on, even as I go out in T-shirt and shorts, shivering with defiance. Days have been warm or a bit chilly. Sometimes there has been rain.

After Dunsborough, we visited an olive farm and a brewery/winery in Eagle Bay in the Meelup regional park, then walked along a coastal path below the Cape Naturaliste lighthouse, looking for whales.

And we saw some – too distant for photographic proof, but there all right, exposing a fin or flashing a tail, and blowing water out. Now that was a thrill, and mysterious to think of those huge creatures mostly hidden from sight, but shyly announcing themselves as we watched from the path.

Yesterday, I drove the vomit-yellow-green Toyota back to Perth, and we travelled expensively by taxi from the car hire place to our Airbnb in Fremantle, named after Captain Charles H Fremantle, who arrived to claim the place for King George IV in 1829. We arrived to claim the place for ourselves for a week.

A brief note on Australian political comedy…

WE saw more of Perth yesterday, visiting the art gallery, then doing a self-guided walking trail called Convicts & Colonials. Or a self-getting-lost tour, as we’re good at that.

Later, we had a meal at the house where our daughter is working as an au pair, which was lovely.

Returning home fairly late, we watched TV for the first time, tuning into a political comedy called Mad As Hell. I’m not sure what the Brit equivalent might be – a cross between Have I Got News For You and The Mash Report (BBC2’s latest attempt at news satire: slow to start but it had something about it, mixing topical jokes and silly parodies).

Mad As Hell is a political sketch show hosted by Shaun Micaleff, a grey-haired straight-man who presents as a sort of exasperated newsreader. I didn’t get all the jokes, but even without the political context, it was very amusing.

But it was interesting to watch a show where you needed to have all the triggers explained – especially if you’re a bit of a politics-head who likes to know what’s what. Here, my finger wasn’t on the button – barely even knew where the button was.

Luckily, our friends were on hand to explain the context, and even without that it was very funny. We don’t learn a lot about Australian politics at home, apart from the odd snatch, such as Pauline Hanson, the veteran nutcase nasty who wore a burqa in parliament as a horrible stunt. I guess you might say that she’s their Nigel Farage, only with a different sort of slime.

Maybe they should get themselves a Trump, as that brings the world’s eyes to your door, along with associated horrors.

Anyway, I am typing this at the breakfast table, which is very rude, and this morning we are going out for a walk in the hills, so I’d better put away my typing fingers, and walking into the shower.

 

Getting to Oz…

flowers.jpg

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.