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.”
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.
I’ve always been a bit smug/ proud of the fact that the brother of my Great Great Grandfather was transported for theft in the 1820’s, made good brewing beer and sent for the rest of the family, including my direct ancestor in the 1830’s.
The other day I was talking to one of my regulars who I’ve dubbed the Bolshie Lawyer. This a very casually dressed man who does legal aid cases. He comes from a very privileged background where he went to Melbourne Grammar, Melbourne Uni and was probably put down for membership of the Melbourne Club and the MCC the day he was born. He has the jaded view of the Melbourne upper classes that comes from long familiarity and we were discussing a well-known local politician.
“I was at school with him and he was a (insert uncomplimentary noun here) even then. So full of himself and his family. And mines been out here much longer than his.”
I couldn’t help bringing up my own ancestor then and the date 1824.
“That’s nothing,” said B.L. “My ancestor was a free settler and came out in 1810.”
That was when I asked him the surname and discovered his ancestor has a suburb and a railway station named after him and had built what is a now National Trust property. Definitely outclassed. Serves me right for such unearned pride.
And we must always remember our pioneer ancestors helped steal the land and destroy the tribes. So is it pride or shame we should feel? Or a complicated ambivalent mix of both that turns us away from the past entirely and reminds us to try and do better in the future.
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.
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.
It was only after the station door swung shut behind me that I realized I’d forgotten to bring either of my sets of keys out with me. Locked out! Not a good start to the day. Since it was still early I thought I’d got back to the Junction and get another set. It’s a lengthy process – ½ an hour out of a 6 hour shift – because the trains don’t meet up. Back at the Junction I couldn’t find the master keys and no one there knew where they were kept, so I looked through the key register and signed out something that was supposed to be the correct key.
Of course when I got back to my station it didn’t open the door. Damn!
I didn’t like to spend another ½ hour getting another set of keys so I thought I’d just hang around for an hour until the cleaner came and let me back in with his key. So I stood around helping people with tickets and directions for the next two trains getting more and more thirsty and in need of a pee, until… Eureka moment! It occurred to me that all trains drivers have the key to stations so that they can pop in and use the toilets if desperate. It’s not really o.k. to do anything that might delay a train, but I thought if I was quick…
The driver of the 1.04 was a kindly woman who was happy to help me re-open my station door and I rushed in and shoved both keys in my pockets before indulging in visit to the toilet, a nice drink of water and a spot of lunch. Adventure over with no one much noticing my inadequacies.
It was a rude shock therefore, when about an hour later Control rang. Apparently at the other end of the 1.04 train, an intoxicated man had been having an argument with his female companion who he’d proceeded to shove out onto the platform at my station. He’d been arrested at Flinders Street later.
That it should be that train of all trains!
The Control man had been viewing the CCTV footage and seen me rushing about. “Had I seen anything of the fight further up the train? Had I been scared by it?” he inquired sympathetically.
He laughed when I told him that I’d been locked out so I assumed I wasn’t in any trouble, but I felt very sorry that I was too involved in my own small drama to help a victim of domestic violence. I fear this may be the way it often happens. I can only hope since she wasn’t there when I’d come out of the station she hadn’t been too badly hurt.
Yesterday a young man I usually avoid caught me talking to one of my regulars. He’s an unusual, dare I say, unwell young person.
“Did you know that the boomgates here use Westinghouse Bells?” He broke in breathlessly. My regular slid off with a look of alarm while he deluged me with all kinds of technical detail about boomgate bells which, to be fair, I really didn’t know and don’t mind knowing. Apparently they are not all the same and his superior hearing can pick out the ones that sound like church bells or much bassier like a boom box which indicates apparently modern electrical bells. Of course now I think of it this all could be his imagination but I must make a note to listen more closely to boom gates.
On the whole I thought him improved since the last time I met him. He looked cleaner. And last time he made lots of creepy enquiries about what I sounded like when I pee. Not good.
So does this count as a Christmas Post? Hmm!
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all my lovely subscribers. May you all have someone to listen to you this Christmas. And Thank you!
“Hey do you want to see a tiger’s whisker!” cried one of the Zoo Volunteers. “One of the keepers gave it to me because it was my last day.”
The romance of it! A really truly whisker from a really truly tiger in my very own hands.
I thought it would be soft but it was remarkably hard something like the vane of a bird’s feather only sharper both on the ends and along the edge. A delicate and at the same time savage thing with just the tiniest splodge of black on the tip. It looked like it could be used a needle for sewing a delicate fabric like sea silk https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sea_silk or a dart used for harem assassinations.
Any other suggestions?
Recently I spent a Saturday shift de-training people (which is not nearly as exciting as defenestrating people or even as exciting as training people)
You walk down the train carriages making sure everyone is out before the train turns around and goes back to the city. It’s a simple job that mostly involves waking up people who are sleeping or engrossed in their ipods.
The only sleeper I had, a young man in black and a cloud of alcohol fumes, just wouldn’t wake up.
I shook him calling” Mate! Mate! Wake up!” (the magical railway incantation to awaken sleepers – I wonder if it works on Sleeping Beauty and the King under the Mountain- see above) The train driver also tried. No Joy!
We shrugged and gave up.
“I hope he’s still alive,” I said feeling guilty. He had felt warm enough.
“I once heard of a dead guy who travelled round on the London Underground for three days before anyone noticed him,” said the driver cheerfully.
This gruesome story pricked my conscience and after I’d finished checking the train I went back and tried again, this time shaking harder and yelling “Mate! Mate!” louder.
After a while the man stirred, lifted his head and regarded me with bleary eyes. I told him the train was going back to town. He put his head down and went back to sleep.
But at least I’d made sure he was alive! Job done.
I’ve got a new regular. J- a small neat slightly balding elderly man, who always wears a grey pullover over a series of attractive floral summer dresses. He’s friendly and we’ve swapped names, but he doesn’t have much conversation. He just stands outside the station barelegged in the freezing wind, smoking strong smelling black market tobacco. I felt relieved yesterday when he showed up wearing stockings under his usual ensemble, but the effect was undermined by the fact that they were held up with obviously uncomfortable garters and he kept lifting his skirt to adjust them. He has fabulous legs – dancer’s legs – and nice little flat shoes. I see him walking along the bike path sometimes, trailing behind someone who I suspect may be his social worker. “Look out for the bikes, dear,” she calls back to him.
J is not my only regular cross dresser. There’s also a wheelchair man from further up the line who goes past the station in the train. Sometimes he’s in women’s clothes, sometimes in men’s, sometimes in a mix. But always he wears these dreadful unbrushed bird’s nest wigs that look like they’ve just been taken out of a drawer and plonked on his head. But he has a lovely smile and we always wave as he goes past.