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Like this, but dirtier

Like this, but dirtier

Sidling down the aisle past the morons who couldn’t understand: “Passengers in rows 16 to 31 embark through the back door” Bruce was overcome with a sense of foreboding. A ripe smell – the sort only emitted by a person who gave up on both personal hygiene and a balanced, healthy diet many years ago – wafted towards him.

At row 23 the smell was still getting stronger. His ticket was for seat 20A.

22 – worse still.

21 – bordering on unbearable.

20C – hello big guy.

Bruce threw his book onto the seat two down and perused his company for the hour’s flight to Adelaide: unkempt black hair; spotted yellow and brown teeth protruding from his mouth at all angles except those that God intended; an excuse for a beard that may have been acceptable for a 14-year-old Goth trying to look mature (long, but sparse); brown stained skin around his eyes; a black t-shirt stating: “I THINK YOU MAY HAVE MISTAKEN ME FOR SOMEONE WHO GIVES A SHIT”; mud ground into his hands and elbows.

Oh, and the stench. The stench.

Bruce took up his seat and prepared to bury himself in his book.

“You alright there?” said the man and launched into conversation.

Turns out he was terrified of flying and needed to talk to distract his mind. What’s more, he was also an alcoholic, nocturnal, internet freak who’d graduated from years of War Hammer in his youth (as his fading tattoo proved) to spending the night on internet chat rooms abusing people under the moniker “Angry Bastard”.

In the 20 minutes that passed before takeoff, Angry must have asked the stewardesses half a dozen times for Jim Beam. He also successfully persuaded Bruce to join him in a early evening beverage, despite Bruce’s awareness that a boozy night already lay ahead. Rarely can a flight crew have hated someone so much before leaving the ground.

Still, turns out old Angry, despite the frequent burping, threats to “leave GT marks in his pants” as the A320 lifted off and putrid stench, was  rather amusing company, certainly the best Bruce had enjoyed inflight in a while. (Although quite whether anyone else in Bruce’s position would have been so accepting is another matter…)

He lived in a “dark box” in Warbuton, only leaving the house to buy more bourbon and coke – or occasionally to go and shoot things (anything that moved) with his friends. He was a self-confessed “anti-social bastard” (despite evidence to the contrary) who hadn’t flown since 1997 or left Victoria (and possibly Warburton itself) since 2000. He succeeded, with Bruce’s help, in getting two cans of Jim Beam for the hour-long flight against the stewardesses’ better wishes and also revealed that his favourite tipple was Old Crow bourbon – only distilled for three years, but mixed with better Coke than other varieties – thereby unwittingly unveiling to Bruce the origins of the fantastic Old Crow Medicine Band from the previous weekend’s Golden Plains.

His reason for being on the plane was the highlight, however. One of the women he regularly chatted to online was celebrating her 38th birthday (to avoid anyone bringing attention to her subsequent 40th) in a town two hours from Adelaide that he couldn’t remember the name of and had decided – less than 24 hours earlier – to invite Angry along. She’d called him to say they’d bought him a flight – one-way! – and that he could stay for five days either side of the nine keg-plus-karaoke party on the Saturday night.

“Look, I’ve got the details here,” he said, pulling a piece of card from his pocket and, by drawing attention to his hands once more, alerting Bruce to the fact that he was going to meet these people for the first time with mud ground into his hands and elbows. “She told me to grab a piece of paper to get the flight details and this was all I could find.”

In his hand was the torn off front of a Home Brands value pack of Barbecue Snax.

“See – flight details here. Password – FRONTBUM. Pet’s name – HELLCUNT. And her phone number.”

“So,” asked Bruce. “What’s this woman like? Have you ever seen her on a webcam or anything.”

Angry turned. His eyes lit up and bore into Bruce…

“Scary!” he said, before tittering with glee. “She’s got big purple bits of hair coming up from the top of her head.”

“Why are you heading over there anyway?” asked Bruce.

“She said her and her mates had decided I sounded like a mad cunt so wanted me to come along.”

Sure enough, Beams demolished, as they walked into the arrivals hall at Adelaide Airport, Angry heard another of his nicknames ring out and there was a purple-haired woman (looking older than her declared 38) waiting for him.

Farewells said, Bruce watched as they left the airport locked in conversation, wondering if his new acquaintance’s body was likely to turn up in a landfill in the not-too-distant future.

***

Simultaneously, a friend of Bruce’s was travelling on another Melbourne – Adelaide flight and was sat next to a man who spent the entire flight tearing up photos of his family into little pieces and dropping them into a tube of fluorescent water he was carrying.

Occasionally, he would turn to her and say: “They’re talking about me. Can you hear them? Can you hear them?”

So, should anyone fancy a new, slightly surreal – possibly terrifying – experience, hop on a flight to Adelaide.

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I'll have a seat at the rear, thanks

I'll have a seat at the rear, thanks

Six months after he boarded the already-defunct Oasis airline’s flight from Gatwick for Hong Kong, Bruce’s overwraught mother has just about got a hold on her separation anxieties. Her daughter’s impending marriage has focused attention enough elsewhere that the frequency with which tears are shed over Bruce and Fran’s Antipodean adventure has dropped to fewer than every 24 hours.

However, as his brief return for said marriage has drawn closer, emotions have been running high again, not so much over Bruce’s visit as the thought of him leaving again…

Furthermore, Fran – normally able to control her waterworks unless her buttons are being pushed by a particularly awful straight-to-DVD / middle-of-the-afternoon-TV-schedule drama about a child with cancer / family going through divorce / cute animals dying – has been suffering post-traumatic disorder since her hospital experience.

Post-op is never an easy time

Post-op is never an easy time

If the smells, noises and sights on the ward weren’t enough, the day her legs started swelling up to a size that would have had Nora Batty and Bella Emberg turning green with envy certainly pushed her over the edge.

Convinced it was a deep vein thrombosis, rather than the fluid pumped into her for her keyhole surgery rushing to her legs thanks to gravity, she spent that night in drug-abetted horror waiting to die and convinced she would never see Bruce again.

It’s not funny – quite the opposite – and, having confronted her own mortality for the first time and come away from the experience a changed person, Fran remains emotionally fragile.

So, as she prepared to say goodbye to Bruce for nine days for the first time in years, the last thing she – or his mother – needed was for a Qantas jumbo jet to fall apart in midair.

As fans of Rainman will know, the airline’s got a good safety record. But when Bruce is a few days away from boarding QF30 from London to Melbourne, the last thing they need is QF30 falling from the sky.

Oh well, at least lightning never strikes twice. Just ask Roy Sullivan.

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