“G’dafternoon!” boomed the cheery blonde behind the Virgin Blue desk. “Got any bags to check in?”
We heaved our giant suitcases onto the scale. Virgin Blonde tapped away at the keyboard, then suddenly froze and gasped. She whipped off her shoe and started pounding Gareth’s suitcase with the pointy heel.
“That’s got the bugger. There was a spider on yer bag!” she explained to our blank, jet-lagged stares.
“Oh! Well, thanks for killing it for us!”
I wanted to leap across the counter and kiss her. Just for sounding so bloody Australian and reminding me I was home at last.
Our first day back was beautifully surreal. After two and half years I’d forgotten just how Australian the Australian accent can sound. We’d arrived in Melbourne at 1am and spent the next few hours in the airport hotel, where Gareth got his introduction to Australian television.
First up was a rugby league semi-final replay. Every player seemed to be called Jason, Brett or Mick. Gareth grinned as they slobbered breathlessly through their post-match interviews.
“Howzit feel Brett? Howz it feel to be goan to the grand final?”
“Aww I’m stoked mate! But full credit to the other team!”
He particularly loved the low-budget local commercials, especially the plumbing company that urged you to, “Be Australian, BUY AUSTRALIAN!”.
“Boee Ostrayan, BOY Ostrayan!” Gareth parrotted gleefully.
Then it was time for Rage, a legendary music video show that goes from midnight til dawn. The familiar theme tune and graphics filled me with a nostalgia so overwhelming I nearly wept, as happy memories flooded back of endless nights spent watching the show in various stages of intoxication. I soon dozed off but Gareth was instantly hooked, “Just one more clip and I’ll go to sleep. OHH this is a good one! Last one I promise.”
A few hours later we staggered into the sunshine, gazing in awe at the endless blue sky. We walked through the carpark to the terminal and I crowed at the familiar sight of Australian number plates. After checking in with the exterminating Virgin Blonde, we grabbed lunch at an airport cafe.
“Oh my god, this pizza has VEGETABLES ON IT!”
“Why is there salad on the side?” Gareth asked, “Where’s the chips?”
“Ha ha ha.”
“And why does my coffee taste so good? And why do we have a pile of change from a twenty dollar note?”
“This is just the beginning baby. You’re in Australia now!”
Soon enough we arrived at the amusingly named Canberra International Airport.
“Ladies and gentleman,” said the flight attendant, “As you disembark from the plane, please be sure to follow the witches hats into the terminal.”
“Follow the witches hats?!” asked Gareth. “What the hell is a witches hat?”
“You know, the orange pointy things.”
“Like a traffic cone?”
“Like a witches hat!”
My dear friend Jenny was there to greet us. As we drove through Canberra, I admired the sprawling orderliness of the roads, the manicured lawns; the logic of roundabouts.
Gareth was busy bird watching. “WHOA! Look at that big pink bird!”
“That’s a galah.”
“There’s another one! And a white one!”
It didn’t take long to settle back in. As the days went on my speech slowed, I dropped my G’s and the colloquialisms came back. Gareth really got into the spirit too; I’d catch him laughing at the television and practicing his accent. “Today in Brizben: foine, sunny and twenny-noine dugrees!”
I loved how totally Oz my friends and family sounded. At one point a car in front of us failed to indicate before turning a corner, and Jenny yelled, “JEEZ, thanks for the blinker mate!”. Gareth still loves to say that one.
And of course, The Mothership. Distance makes one cherish her Teacher Voice and colourful turn of phrase all the more. Not so her insane need to fling open every door of the house in the mornings to let the Fresh Air in, even during a late cold snap.
“Are you cold, Gareth? You’re sitting there shivering!”
“Oh I’m fine, Mrs -”
“Don’t bullshit me, Gareth!”
I’d missed the Australian news too, how there’s wacky phrases that would never cut it on the BBC. One night there was a report on a netball match and the graphic behind the presenter simply read: FLOGGED.
“Flogged?” Gareth looked confused. “Flogged?!”
“Well derr!” I snorted, “Flogged! To defeat convincingly!”
Would you believe, he didn’t know what trifecta or dink meant, either!
Almost eight months since we returned to Scotland, I thought my accent had diluted again – it’s something you have to do if you want the natives to understand you. But Gareth is always there to point out that I am still true to my origins. The other day I made vegie burgers for lunch, and was choosing my condiments.
“Ohh. I reckon I feel like some HP Sauce on mine.”
“You feel loike HAITCH POYEE SORCE?” he cackled, “Oi moight have some of that HAITCH POYEE SORCE too!”