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
It’s Race Week and I spend the days at Flemington Racecourse station cooking sausages for all the staff there. And there are many there, station staff, security men, racing club hosts, drivers, signalers and maintenance guys, who sometimes have nothing to do all day but tighten the screws on the BBQ and hold themselves in readiness in case a train breaks down or a protester purposely parks on the railway tracks and throws away the car keys the way they did last year. Racing is Australia’s third biggest industry, the Melbourne Spring Carnival its biggest race week and consequently it’s also Metro’s biggest week. A screw up on a race day can seriously dent your credibility as Connex discovered to its cost one year when a train fried itself to the overhead wires and thousands of people had to walk home.
I was bought up by ex-Methodists and consequently I knew little of Race Week until I came to work for the railways. My parents looked askance at drinking and gambling and saw no need for the ostentatious spending of money on fabulous bags, shoes, clothes, make-up, hair and race tickets.
But though I’d never spend that amount of money on self-adornment, I really appreciate that others do it. All those lovely people on the morning train in hats and dresses and suits. They look so important even though they’re probably not. The really important people are probably driven.
I have to admit that I also kind of appreciate the aftermath in a shamefully smug ex-Methodist way.
This Derby Day, I’d cooked 400 pieces of meat and I stank of sausage grease. No need to moisturize that night. I took the train back to the Junction with people laughing, staggering and shouting.
On the platform two young men in beautiful suits and ties were doing the drunken waltz – The less drunk one trying to hold up a more drunk companion who is heading for the ground. Round and round and down and down they went until finally gravity won and the more drunk man had a little lie down on the platform while his mate went off to find – who knows what?
As I plodded up to the station office, I passed another beautifully dress couple in their 40’s doing a similar waltz, he holding up her. She was barefoot and hatless. The air was loud with people yelling “Here I’m over here,” “There are no Taxis, call an Uber” and some of them just yelling. God knows what it was like at Flinders Street and Southern Cross stations where most of the race-goers change trains.
“Someone’s passed out on Platform 4” I told the Station Officer who sighed, and called up the para-medic. Out the back the other para-medic (two are rostered at the Junction every race day. Also three extra cleaners) was out there taking care of a young woman throwing up in a bag.
I stayed in the warm office helping the Station officer deal with the stream of lost hats, wallets, bags and shoes and deal with drunks complaining about trains and asking for cabs and trying not to get too close to anyone so that they wouldn’t be overwhelmed by my eau de sausage.
By the time my train home came, the spare paramedic was down on platform 4 wheel chair at the ready, helping the young man haul his mate to his feet and watching tensely as they staggered round and round the platform until a train came in and took them safely away.
Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been fascinated by an older man who potters past the station in the late afternoons, wearing a floppy khaki hate and carrying a fine mesh butterfly net.
Recently I managed to speak to him and discovered that he was (1) French and (2) an expert on Australian Native bees. Apparently Royal Park has 90 (yes 90!!, I queried this figure at the time) different species of native bee and now the flowers were coming out he was hoping to find some of them active.
He’d been disappointed so far though. The ground was too cold still and the bees weren’t interested in the wattle trees that are bursting goldenly into bloom on all sides. Which makes sense because wattle trees are wind pollinated (and wildly hayfever causing as many of us know to our cost) https://www.theguardian.com/environment/gallery/2018/oct/29/bees-of-australia-up-close-with-native-species-in-pictures?ut
On the last beautiful Monday morning I became aware of something odd going on in the garden outside my station. There seemed to be lots of people wandering about dressed in sheets???. So I pottered down to investigate and discovered some lovely young ladies wearing draperies lurking round in the trees.
“We’re Wattle Nymphs” they told me and kindly posed for a picture. The whole thing had a very 1920’s vibe which was confirmed when another young woman showed up with a camera and told me they were making a film based on a series of photos from 1921 called Wattle Nymphs. http://www.anbg.gov.au/campbell.wattle/
Filming finished the modern Wattle Nymphs floated away across the railways line still in their draperies and drove off in a four wheel drive. Not so 1920’s there.
While standing on the barriers at the Junction with a work mate, an elderly gentleman in a scruffy suit and tie comes up and asks me my name.
“Hello Sister Jane, I’m His Royal Highness Emperor Ross and Master Commander of the Universe, ” he says shaking my hand.
“Well done and thank you, you are now shielded, sister.”
He turns to my work mate and shakes his hand. ” And you brother, what is your name? You are exuding the probity, responsibility and moderation appropriate to a man in your situation. Well done, brother.”
He proceeds regally out onto the street and goes through a similar process with the officials outside. Probably it’s politically incorrect to giggle at those who reality is different to yours, but he is such a charming old guy and he leaves us with a smile on our faces.
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.
It’s the Station Master’s last day. He’s been with the railways since age 16. I remember going to school by train. We school girls used to flirt with and giggle over such spotty young station officers. (Though I was on the other side of the city so I never giggled over him) The SM is full of stories of the old days. When he started they used to pay people in cash (I remember cash pay packets too because I too am ancient.) All the little stations were manned in those days and the station master was given a pistol when he went to deliver everyone’s pay. (There was a famous payroll robbery at Fairfield station during this period) They had a shooting range under Flinders Street Station where they practiced. (shades of Hot Fuzz?) “As a young bloke I used to help my SM deliver those pays,” says our retiring SM. “To be honest I was more worried about him with a gun than any robbers. He was a terrible alcoholic.”
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.
The fine people at Goddess Fish promotions have organized this virtual book blog tour and here are the places and dates. Looking forward to meeting lots of readers.
There’s a $25 dollar Amazon to be drawn and won by one lucky commenter.
So do yourself a favour!!
June 25: Mythical Books
June 25: Straight From the Library
June 26: Kit ‘N Kabookle
June 26: Stormy Nights Reviewing and Bloggin’
June 27: Rogue’s Angels
June 27: Fabulous and Brunette
June 28: T’s Stuff
June 28: Author Deborah A Bailey
June 29: Edgar’s Books
June 29: Laurie’s Paranormal Thoughts and Reviews
July 9: The Reading Addict
July 9: fundinmental
July 10: Deal Sharing Aunt
July 10: Jazzy Book Reviews
July 11: Thorntonberry Shire Press
July 11: Sapphyria’s Books
July 12: Long and Short Reviews
July 12: Author C.A.Milson
July 13: Locks, Hooks and Books – review
July 13: Sharing Links and Wisdom