Don't die in Brazil, warns mum
AS YOU read this column, I should be in Brazil. When my mother reads this column, she'll assume that I'm dead.
Never one to beat about the bush, she made it clear that my chances of making it home alive from the World Cup were only marginally better than England's chances of winning the tournament.
"You just make sure you don't die," she shouted down the phone.
I had called her. As I've mentioned in previous columns, she'll call me only if it's a matter of life and death. Apparently, I was wrong.
"I know Roy Hodgson is the manager, but I don't think England will bore me to death," I reassured her.
My cheap humour failed to appease her. It didn't make her laugh either. She was busily succumbing to Surreal Geography Syndrome.
She has suffered from the illness for years. As soon as I mentioned that I would be proudly representing this newspaper at the World Cup finals in Brazil, I sensed the symptoms taking hold.
"Ooh, you don't want to go to Brazil," she mumbled. "Things are not right in Brazil."
She is the master of both misinformation and understatement; a lethal combination.
If I had made plans to holiday in Baghdad at the height of the Iraq War, she'd have muttered: "Ooh, you don't want to go to Baghdad. Things are not right in Baghdad."
That's the understatement - she can make a war sound like a mild toothache.
But when the understatement is combined with the misinformation, surreal geography takes over.
For instance, she recently inquired about my well-being after she'd heard news of the military coup in Thailand.
Distance is relative from afar. She had somehow confused Bangkok with Bishan.
Her grasp of geography was at its most surreal when she got in touch immediately after the 2011 Japanese earthquake to check if I was okay.
In fairness, I was travelling extensively at the time, promoting a new book. But I wasn't in Tohoku or even Tokyo. I was in Toa Payoh.
Of course, I now regularly mock my mother's hazy geography at every opportunity. If a volcano erupts in Italy, I check that she's okay in England.
But if she struggles to understand the distance between Japan and Singapore, then Brazil's vast expanse is truly beyond her.
"I'm watching it now on the TV," she cried last week. "They are in the streets protesting. The subway workers are on strike. They're lighting fires. The police are using tear gas. Ooh, you don't want to go to Brazil. Things are not right in Brazil."
"But that's happening in Sao Paulo, mum."
"No, it's not. It's happening in Brazil."
"Sao Paulo is in Brazil. I'm going to Manaus first."
"So you're not going to Brazil then?"
I could listen to my mother all day.
To put her mind at rest, I explained that Manaus is an Amazonian city in the far north-west of Brazil. It's a four-hour flight from Sao Paulo - in the south-eastern corner of the country - where most of the protests are being staged.
(This is not entirely true, but if I revealed the full picture of Brazil's political unrest, my mother would fly to South America to frogmarch me to the airport.)
She was momentarily pacified. Then I practically heard the sound of a flickering light bulb down the phone.
"Hang on, England's first game is in Manaus," she said. "Their second game is in Sao Paulo and their last group game is in Belo Horizonte. You're not going to be based just in Manaus."
She knows nothing about football - her entire knowledge of the modern game consists of David Beckham's smile and Gary Lineker's tanned legs from Mexico '86.
She wouldn't recognise an England player if he sat up in her soup, but turns into Sherlock as soon as her son starts lying.
In the end, however, she acknowledged that, at some point, you've got to let your 39-year-old son go. She wished me well at the World Cup and predicted that Lineker and Beckham would both score in the final against Scotland (she really has no idea).
And she made me promise not to die in Brazil. Otherwise she would kill me.