In the bleak mid-winter

Victorian Magpie.
Downloaded from Wikipedia. Thanks to John O’Neil

The station and the Zoo are very quiet in mid-winter. I do my best to keep warm and keep entertained. I observe my regulars.

One young man has been taking the train down to the gym every day and has metamorphosed most wonderfully from a doughy lad into a sleek athletic god. Another regular breeds guide dogs and shows me pictures of the pups.

I watch the magpies and their fledglings as they monster people for a bit of sandwich or a twistie. Handsome thugs! Sometimes I have to chase them off.

Last week’s peak event was finding three orthotics students sitting on a bench comparing the artificial legs they had just finished making. Not often you see three false legs together.
This week, I gave a broke young man a couple of dollars to get his myki working. He was very grateful. “At least let me play you a song” he said pulling out his guitar.
Every station needs someone strumming a guitar especially if they do it well.
He played a song asking why the world is so beautiful hanging in space and why we have these wonderful lives only to die. I knew I‘d heard it the radio but before I could ask him what it was the train came in and he had to grab his guitar case and hustle away.
Now I will never know what the song is. Unless someone out there knows it and can tell me?

The Occupation

It’s after midnight on a Sunday night and I’m standing on a freezing station platform wishing the last train would hurry up and come in.  I’ve been rostered on to help with the Occupation, but the thrill of earning overtime has well and truly worn off.

This Occupation has nothing to do with the German Army or the Occupy Wall Street movement.  Instead the tracks are being “occupied” by construction workers, beginning the long slow process of lowering the train track under a road ahead so that the level crossings can be removed.  I suspect in this instance the term “occupation” may spring from the tribalism of the railway workers of yesteryear who regarded construction workers as “outsiders” in their territory.

My part in this great task is to make sure everyone gets off the train and onto the buses that service the stations further up the line.  I even get to make announcements through a microphone. As the evening chills and the trains get further and further apart my work mate and I take to walking 7 minutes round to the station house to get warm and eat too many biscuits and 7 minutes back before the train comes in.  This trek really helps pass the time.  A suburban railway station on a Sunday night is NOT an exciting place.

We are abused by a South American lady who has missed her train by several minutes because there are no signs up.  (There are signs everywhere but somehow it’s never enough) But I am also given a little KitKat by a young woman in a veil after I help her locate the husband she’s mislaid on the train.  Swings and Roundabouts.

Between customers we chat to the train/drivers, the casual customer service staff and the flagman whose job it is to stand by the tracks holding a red lantern to prevent the trains accidentally going further and hitting the workers. I had a friend who was a flagman and used to wax lyrical about how romantic and magical the still early morning hours were.

The clear starry night sky with its half lemon of a moon is indeed magical but even the romance of the midnight hour cannot disguise the ugliness of this suburban station with its asphalt platforms, its rubbish strewn gravel car park, and the barbed wire fence hung with shreds of plastic.  Twice we see rats scurrying around on the tracks.

At long last, its 12.45. The last train has gone and it’s time to pack up the buses and signs. But the flag man is still there standing by the tracks with his lantern.  This is because of “ghost trains” – unscheduled empty trains that are moved about the system in order to be in place for Monday morning’s rush hour.  He will be there standing by there until the workers finish at 3 am.

 

The girl without pants

On a freezing day of sheeting rain, a dark-haired young woman without shoes gets off the 1.44 train. Not only are her feet bare, but so are her legs. I can’t tell if she’s wearing anything on her bottom half. The shirt and hoodies she’s wearing covers her down to the top of her thighs.
I greet her thinking she might be one of the clients of the youth mental health service nearby and in need of directions.
“I’m hungry,” is all she says.
Figuring she needs it more than me, I give her the chocolate bar I have squirreled away for my afternoon treat. I can think of a number of reasons why a young woman would be out in cold rain with no pants or shoes on and none of them are good. She eats it and proceeds to wander around outside the station. After a while she comes back with a cigarette butt she’s picked up outside and asks me for a light which I can’t give her. She tells me she is off to another youth health service in the city. I am much relieved. Hopefully she can get the care she clearly needs there.
If she gets there o.k.
The train is late and for a long time she stands on the edge of the platform staring grimly into the pit. She’s calm – not agitated. Stoned? In shock? The Boss is visiting and she starts to get worried. So do a number of the other people on the platform, many of whom have children in tow. Everyone is watching as the Boss approaches the girl, asks her to come away from the edge and is told, “Don’t treat me like a Fucking Child!”
At this the Boss goes inside and rings Control. The driver is told to come in slow and on the lookout.
As the train creeps in the young woman leaves the coping and walks away down the platform. I shadow her ready to pull her back if need be.
But the train stops without incident and she gets calmly into it. To go where? I wish I knew.
Later that day I ring the place she said she was going, but I only get answering machines. I hope she’s alright. I wish there was more I could have done.

The return of the comfy couch

This Friday, four youths got out of the rear carriage of the 12.44 carrying two couches (yes furniture!) between them.  Ignoring me (I was right down the front of the train) they proceeded to carry the two couches off the rear end of the platform and up the cutting behind.  When I went inside to report it to the control room, I found the driver had already reported them.

This cutting already has a long history of couches and comfy chairs. For who knows how long, a group of young guys used to hang out among the bushes up there on a collection of broken down chairs with a table with ashtray. Not ideal but they were well clear of the trains even if they were trespassing on railway property.  But then said youths started throwing stones at the passing trains and jumping out in front of them.  The “vaster than empires and more slow” might of Metro ground into action.  For a couple of weeks, police and security guards visited and kept watch regularly. Very exciting stuff! (which I might add I was completely left out of) One evening during rush hour they swooped and arrested two of the youths.

A halt was called to the train services while these two young men were marched along the tracks in handcuffs past a rush hour platform full of commuters who must have known they were the reason their train was late.  Death Stares all round.

After that a cleaning crew came and tidied away the chairs and table.

So what I was witnessing on Friday was the resurrection of the cubby.  No doubt another battle of wills will ensue between the unstoppable force of bored young men and the immovable might of Metro.  And dammit, I’m on annual leave and will miss the whole thing.

 

Captain America

Saw a little girl (4) in a Captain America costume and had a light bulb moment. There is nothing in the name that disqualifies Captain America from being female. May seems obvious but it certainly reminded me to think outside the box.

Good on the little girl’s mum.

P.S. She didn’t look anything like this

 

Joe Quinones take on Captain America

 

Yucky

A woman in the waiting room looks very sick.  I rush inside to get the rubbish bin for her.  She clutches it in her arms and throws up.

Shortly afterwards we discover the bin is not watertight.  Yuck!

Note to self – next time leave the garbage bag in.

When I go back to the junction they have a much worse situation. Some poor woman has taken too much ICE and has had a psychotic melt-down on the platform.  Police AND Ambulance.  Makes my sicky bin story look a bit pathetic!

An Art installation?

 

For some reason 🙂 St Patrick’s Day last week made me remember some photos I took back in January.

Why were these bras hanging outside Brunswick Station? Could this be an Art work?  Somehow they didn’t look like it. The fact that there was a backpackers hostel and pub nearby could have been relevant.

I ride past the station on my bike every day and after they’d been there 48 hours, I undid them and put them in the local charity bin. (I noticed they were all the same size.  Relevant?)

I asked the cleaner who is a devout Iraqi Christian (from Mosul, poor man), “Did you see the women’s underwear outside Brunswick.”  He said he had but he didn’t like to remove them. “I thought they might be part of your Australian culture,” he added.

 

A charming thing and a disturbing thing.

 

On Friday one of the zoo volunteers told me she’d been working in animal enrichment all day – making popcorn for the elephants. Apparently they’re not allowed any sugar or fat on their popcorn. She left on the train before I could find out more – leaving me with a vision of elephants frolicking through vats and vats of popcorn.
That was the charming thing.
Then I listened with great pleasure to the HooDoo Guru’s tuning up for their evening concert inside the zoo. I remember going to see them when I was in my mid-twenties. They still sounded good. Then someone told me that their current tour is being sponsored by APIA – Australian Pensioners Insurance.   OMG!!! I’m 54!!! How did that happen????
Disturbing!

Small Acts

 

One of my regulars had clearly come off her bicycle.  She was covered in dust and had a huge spike shaped red gash on her arm. With the train 2 minutes away she didn’t want me to do anything for her, but I insisted on getting her some damp paper towel to clean the still bleeding gash.  Then as the train rolled in a complete stranger stepped up and offered the lady one of those big band-aids in plastic for her gash!

Thank you, stranger. Another person who understands if you think someone should help someone, perhaps you’d better be the one to do it.

I’m a firm believer in taking responsibility for making the world a better place through small daily acts.  I’m getting more and more involved in Climate Change activism through a group called Climate for Change. http://www.climateforchange.org.au/ They encourage people to have everyday conversations about Climate Change concerns in order to encourage a ground swell of support for government action. The more of us pestering companies and M.P.’s the better. So now at when someone at the station says we’re having strange weather, I take my opportunity and say “This is what 1% climate change looks like.” I get some strange looks but also a lot of nods.  Scarey to think what 2% will look like.