Tiger Whiskers

“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?

De-training

 

Edward Burne-Jones 1898 The Sleep of King Arthur in Avalon

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.

Gender fluidity at the local station.

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.

Back in the wild west?

Last night a Station Master friend of mine was telling me about his new placement at a station in a less advantaged suburb.
“So I lifted the blind and there it was in the window. A bullet hole! Right smack level with were my head would be if I was sitting at the desk!”

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In the cutting

With permission from http://www.joshshalek.com/discarded-couches-of-portland/

Feeling rather small and ashamed today.  A member of the track cleaning crew dropped by and told me that while the trains were stopped for maintenance last night they’d taken the opportunity to clear up the couches in the cutting.  Ever since I saw those young men carrying couches up the cutting back in May I’ve been agitating to have them cleared away.  That’s because I was assuming this was a cubby house for young thugs or what we in the railways call a “shag garden”.  So I was horrified to discover that when the track crew went down there at 1.00 in the morning they found instead people sleeping in a homeless camp.  Now I hate myself for being just another authority figure persecuting the homeless who have enough problems as it is.

The Track Man told me that the homeless would probably come back.  It’s a really good place to camp if you want to be out of the wind and away from casual intruders.  I promised him I would never report those couches again at which he looked very relieved. They hate doing that kind of job and seem to have as much pity for the homeless as I do.  They’ve obviously seen way too much of it as has everyone in this time of rocketing rents.

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Heffalumps

Pooh and Piglet
Creative Commons image

The International AFL Cup is being played in the park nearby and footballers from countries such as PNG, Fiji and Croatia as catching trains at my station.
While the French team wait, one of the players pulls a Winnie the Pooh book out of my children’s book box and starts reading it to the others who “oooh” and”‘ahh” at all the sentimental bits about the importance of friendship.
Outside freezing rain is streaming down, but inside I am being treated to the sound a Frenchman saying the word “Heffalump” Ooh la la! So cosy!
****
When people come into the station, I try to greet them with a “Hello, your city train will be here in … minutes”. This usually takes the worried look of their faces and they mostly say thank you.
The other day when I said “Hello your train will be here in 6 minutes” to the man frowning at the ticket machine, he didn’t react at all so I figured he hadn’t heard me.
He was still frowning when he came out onto the platform so thinking he was worried, I repeated my greeting.
To which he replied, “I heard you before. I just didn’t want to talk to you.”
This startling piece of rudeness put me in my place and no doubt relieved whatever tension he was feeling.
But be aware, any rudeness I experience from customers, I assume is directed at my uniform. So I don’t take it personally. Instead I store it up to giggle over with my work mates later., Which is what we did that day.

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.