Yes its on again. Everyone looks great! The place is full of talented people offering books and art.
Jane and Penny are back in Publishers Alley with a collection of their fantasy books.
Come and see us. We’re right near the front door.
It’s late one Sunday night. Workmen are replacing the wooden sleepers with concrete ones on the tracks at the Junction. Since the trains cannot run, I’ve been rostered on to put people onto buses. An Eminem concert, a Japanese festival and the Caravan and Camping show have combined to make the day very busy.
But later as the night comes down and the lights turn everything softly golden and shadowy, the crowds clear and there is time to stop and watch the men working.
The sight has a strange beauty. Machines advance and retreat, lifting rails or dropping or tamping ballast and their human attendants follow them with the elegant precision of a dance number. There are no whistles or yells, not even much talk, just the love roar of machinery and the rhythmic clanking of steel on stone. The men have done this a thousand times all over the system and everyone knows his job. One gang waits at ease while another moves in step tightening rivets with sledge hammers and special hooks. Here and there small groups huddle secretively over wielding rigs. Watching these big beefy guys falling in behind the huge machines reminds me of watching the infantry fall in behind the tanks in old war movies or the Guild of Navigators in David movie of Dune.
By the time morning comes it will as if no one has been there except that the wooden sleepers have now turned as if by magic to concrete. And very probably none of the day commuters will even notice they’ve been there.
After two decades of wishing I could swim in the sea more often and 10 years of working out of the Junction, I finally clued to the fact that there’s a beach 20 minutes train ride from there. Doh!
An organizational task which seemed at first overwhelming, checking train-time tables, packing uniform and bathers and towels, proved on closer inspection to be perfectly doable.
All my life I’ve assumed a visit to the beach must begin with a hot hour (s) long drive to the beach, a heavy hike across dunes from the car park and a day spent rubbing sandy sun screen into boiling skin in the inadequate shade of an unstable umbrella.
But all through this long hot summer, I’ve taken the 8.47 to BeachTown and spent an hour bobbing round in the crystal green ocean, peering at fish and sea lettuce through my goggles and getting well and truly chilled to the bone. Sometimes a friend comes too so much talking gets done.
A quick rinse off and maybe a muffin and a cuppa at the kiosk and its back on the 10.55 to the Junction in time for work. A low carbon treat that has the added pleasure of sounding like I’m in a novel by Agatha Christie, Conan Doyle or Enid Blyton. (hopefully without the murder)
Last week I entered the mysterious world of Hanson fans. Two middle-aged women fans met in the waiting room and with the shining faces of true believers were talking of their love for the band while waiting for the train. That was how I learnt (1) that Hanson the band (MMMBop – yes that Hanson) were still playing after 25 years and (2) that they were playing two sell out gigs at the Zoo after playing a sellout gig at the St Kilda Palais.
“I’m going to all their shows and next week I’m following them to Sydney to see all their shows there,” says the middle-aged woman in the brown floral dress.
“Me too,” says the other one, a tall woman in a tight leaf-pattern sheath. “They’re so good to their fans, every year they hire out at a resort in Jamaica where you can spend a week with them.”
“Is it a competition or do you pay to go?” I ask.
“Oh I paid. Last year I went. It was awesome”.
“You went!” cries brown floral dress. “You lucky thing.”
“They appeal to everyone” says leafy dress. “I took my daughter to the gig at the Palais.”
“I took my mother,” says brown floral dress.
“And do they still look as wonderful as they did back in the nineties?” I ask thinking of the bands I used to follow and how they have aged.
“They look better,” says brown floral dress. “My mother took one look at the drummer and said, “You have no business being so pretty.””
There are so many other realities out there and when you brush against them and try to imagine living in them the world gets bigger and stranger.
My dear friend Randy Norman sent me this.
The middle aged man with the beard and the big coat clearly wanted to chat, but I was at the exciting part of my book and had been looking forward to using the train journey to read it. So I replied politely and then disengaged, firmly gluing my gaze to the page
Further down the line, the man got lucky. I was so enthralled with the conversation I stopped reading.
A young bloke with a skateboard got in and the man started a conversation about his neck chains which moved rapidly onto talking about homelessness.
“I lost my f… house, my daughter, my wife two months ago.”
“How are you finding it?”
“F… freezing last night. Terrible.”
“Yeah I know what it’s like. I was homeless for 12 months after my f… step dad kicked me out. Almost died of f… hypothermia a coupla times.”
“Yeah! F… hard to find somewhere dry.”
“Did you know where you can get a free feed every weekend?”
They slipped into talking of ways and means.
Then coming into the junction, the young bloke said,
“I found a place and I’ve been there almost a year. We got two spare couches in the living room. Here, why don’t you take my address and phone number, just come round tonight and we’ll put you up.”
The middle aged man was touched and I, eavesdropping, got a lovely warm feeling in my chest.
“Yeah, yeah! Just show up tonight. I know what it’s like.
“That’s pretty f… great of you.”
My heart was lifted by this conversation yet at the same time I was fearful. What if someone was hurt? What if someone was assaulted or taken advantage of? I was brought up to distrust the kindness of strangers which is sad. But also wise.
But homelessness cuts down your choices
One of the old hands told me a story about how two railway workers burnt themselves to death in one of the stations on my line.
According to him they were embezzling from the ticket money to gamble on the horses and they’d been warned they were going to be audited. So they decided to burn the station down and it went horribly wrong.
I’ve always doubted this story. The original Victorian brick station is still standing at the station in question. I took the opportunity to ask the retiring SM and he said the story was true. Apparently the fire gutted the inside of the building but the Victorians built to last so the outside was still fine.
What happened on the night in question was that the station had an old gas powered fridge which had a pilot light. As the two perpetrators were throwing petrol around to start their fire, some of it went down the back of the fridge and the thing exploded starting the fire early and locking the outer door with the workers inside.
Railway stations have to be hard to break into which means they are also hard to break out of. Hence the fatalities. Grim.
Exhausted after a hard days night – in my case up till 1am the night before marshalling reluctant commuters into buses because of work on the rail – I muddled into sign on at the Junction and put my station keys in my pocket without signing them out. Ten minutes later, keys forgotten, and no sign of who had signed them out on the key register, I was searching frantically everywhere for them. I suspect the kind people who helped my search were a bit miffed when I suddenly found them in my pocket. Fortunately the office has more exciting things to speculate on. One of the Station Masters has chosen to retire on Bastille Day. Is this date symbolic? A day when the revolutionary French mob threw down the famous prison. We wonder.
Ugh! All last week my body was very After Easter – meaning it kept telling me it wants to stay home, sleep in, watch tv and eat lots and lots of Easter eggs. But we must work and I console myself that if I hadn’t gone into work I would have missed;
– A small boy making squeaking noises to mimic the cry of the flocks of rainbow lorikeets that are feasting the gum trees around the station
– A young man wearing bright gold sneakers and carrying a flower a la Oscar Wilde.
– A man metal detecting on the grass nearby looking for old pennies. He found only bottle tops, squashed deodorant bottles and an American one cent piece. “I look on it as a deep clean of the landscape,” he said.
– A chat with young men from the Graz (Austria) Boys Choir
– Lots and lots of happy school holiday kids with their parents and grandparents and stuffed animals bought at the zoo. Noisy but nice.
On the other hand if I hadn’t been at work I would not have the bruise on my lower stomach that I got from trying to help an elderly man manoeuvre his scooter inside the train. He panicked and reversed by mistake and wedged me against a railing. Ouch!
I’m looking for 10 people to receive and review The Melded Child on Amazon for me within the next month. I’ll be able to send out free review copies in your preferred ebook format hopefully by the end of next week.
I’ll send free copies to the first 10 people who contact me on