I am filled with an uneasy mix of dread and excitement, as the trip to Australia at the end of March draws nearer. The journey itself is what puts me off ; I will leave home at lunchtime Thursday and arrive in Sydney early on Saturday. That is way too long for me. As someone who finds herself thinking about DVT on a 3-hour train journey, the prospect of so many hours in a stuffy metal box in the sky is awful to contemplate. Friends have different words of advice: just think of it as a conveyor belt you can't get off, and resign yourself (that's a comforting one, isn't it!); you'll sleep for half of it; there are films to watch; they keep feeding you, although, oddly, there will be a time when all the cabin staff disappear and you have to help yourself from a buffet of Pot Noodles - what?? I can understand staff on long haul flights needing some down time, but Pot Noodles? Oh, and you have to be careful not to get a seat beside the toilets. Not all of us are blessed with the ability and self-confidence to sleep in public, and Pot Noodles, films and toilet queues add to the unlikeliness of a relaxed un-snoring un-drooling sleep under an airline blanket.
And then there's Customs on arrival. I've watched Nothing To Declare; I know what they look for in people's luggage, and also how sometimes innocent but possibly eccentric passengers get picked out as suspect. Will I pass muster as an ordinary law-abiding middle aged British woman carrying nothing illicit? Will a mixture of sleep deprivation and overwrought relief at having survived make me look like a nervous drug mule? Will my carefully packed sensible underclothes be searched through in front of everyone? I have experience of this. When I was 12, and travelling to boarding school, I was called over when taking the Nothing to Declare route, and my case thoroughly searched by a big bloke in uniform and a peaked cap. The embarrassment of having one's regulation navy knickers brought to view remains a raw memory even now.
But once I get there, delights await. Talking to Tricia on Skype last night, we sketched out a rough plan involving 3 major cities and the Great Ocean Drive, the Blue Mountains and anything else for which we have the time and energy. All in 3 weeks, on a budget, but thankfully not as tight a budget as your average backpacker. I have elected not to do anything which involves getting wet, being a poor swimmer. Not to mention lardy white - well, aren't we all at this time of year? We plan to have slow days with lots of cafe stops, to talk and catch up, and to enjoy sun and scenery.
My friend Sandra's (hopefully sensible) son will live in my house while I am away. He has no idea of how bullied he will be by the cats, and I'm not going to tell. It will be character-building for him. The dog will live with Sandra and learn to get up 3 hours earlier than she does here with me. Character-building for her too.