The kindness of strangers

Sign found in Coburg Station waiting room.

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.
“You sure?”
“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

A Day at the Races

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.

A day at the races II by Giancarlo Impiglia

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.

 

The Bee Man

The Australian native teddy-bear bee photographed by Erica Siegel. From https://www.aussiebee.com.au

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

 

A bustle in the hedgerow

Acacia dealbata
“with the introduction of a figure for idealistic purposes”
Wattle Nymph 1921

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.

Modern Wattle Nymphs

 

I meet a Celebrity

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.

 

A Station Master’s Reminiscence

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.”

I’m on tour (virtually)

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

 

Scratches and scabs

They had some kind of special meeting at the youth mental health clinic yesterday. At least a dozen dazed looking young adults with protective parents in tow came through.
One sweet faced, and clearly heavily medicated, young indigenous man wanted to chat and asked me all about myself. It was he who told me of the mental health clinic. He was there with his dad, and his dad’s mate and they were by far the most disadvantaged looking group of the whole lot. Their clothes were dirty and shabby and the older men had that toothless, scrawny, underfed look that the chronically poor get and hands covered in homemade tattoos.
The young man told me about his mob and sleeping at the Salvos, the father, who was Irish, told me how he’d been at the local juvenile detention center on – an ironically named- Care and Protection Order back when he was 14
Suddenly the dad’s mate who’d been sitting quietly reading one of the books from the children’s library, jumped up and started rushing around, picking at the scabs on his hands and looking for somewhere to wash them. By the time the train arrived, he had his top pulled off and was scratching his already very scratched looking back with a piece of stick.
But they were all lovely polite folks and the young man was so very glad to have his father there to support him.

Train Surfers revisited

An odd incident this week. A kid on a bike – maybe about 13/14 – came riding past the station and slowed to a stop.
“Hello! Do you recognize me?” he called out. “You used to yell at me and my friends for riding on the back of trains.”
I’ve been doing this job for 14 years now and I expected abuse at this point.
“I was only trying to save your lives,” I said defensively.“ It’s a very dangerous thing to do.”
“Yeah! We’ve stopped doing it now,” he said
And he turned round and cycled back up the hill.

Marco Pool?

It’s been New Year’s Spring Break in China and the Zoo has been busy with Chinese families coming here to see the astonishing Australian wildlife.  I was fascinated when I saw a little Chinese boy with a most interesting windcheater bearing the words.  Marco Pool since 1254.  I wondered what was going on with this windcheater.

I assumed it was a knock off of the Marco Polo clothes company, but why since 1254.  When I looked it up on line I couldn’t find a clothing company but I discovered a very nice looking swimming center in the Philippines called Marco Pool.  But its unlikely to have been established in 1254 which was before the days of chlorinated pools.

The oddest thing is that the date is the famous traveler’s birth date.  So if you are going to get the birth date right why not the rest.  Alas I will never know what was in the mind of the designer of this windcheater but I can’t help suspecting there is a leg pull somewhere here.