Ode to Barry

Train travel. People say they hate it. I thought I would dislike parts of it. But I’m going to miss it. All of it.

Maybe because it symbolises employment. For the past year I’ve made an almost weekdaily (don’t you love it when I make up words) journey to my place of work…which will soon evaporate due to an inevitable end-of-contract reality. And so too, my return train journeys from one side of our city’s pretty, ancient river to the other.

Recently, after almost a year, I began to recognise some of the same faces I’ve been sharing those carriages with. Imagining their stories. Wondering if they recognised me and our travellers in common.

It occurred to me that it perhaps took longer than it should have, to recognise these kindred passengers. What sort of jobs did they travel to each weekday? Did they enjoy their work – was it their vocation or just a paycheque? What calorific secrets hid in their lunch bags? Didn’t he have dreadlocks last week? Wasn’t she wearing that suit yesterday? Wow, that must be her new grandbaby, and proud daughter! I can really see the family likeness. How sweet.

Will they notice when I’m no longer there, commuting beside them, quietly but observantly. Would they recognise me in a future shared cash register queue? Would I be able to place their face, or would I go on wondering for weeks about its familiarity, as I have done with one particular woman I’ve noticed twice on my journey home. It was the set of her Botoxed lips, the angle of her chin, her straightened shoulder-length hair. I still can’t work out why she looked so familiar to me, or where I’d seen her before. Why did I feel like I knew her?

I’ve pondered why people stand the way they do, why the boozy breath, are those shoes even comfortable, does he know what a great dad he is, that bag must be heavy, can the river get any flatter or shinier this morning, please stop raining, this must be a learner driver!

In true introverted style, I’ve struck up just two in-transit conversations in the past year – both in the past two months. For the first, the train had largely emptied and two women – one from Albany, the other from Melbourne – sat right behind me chatting about how friendly people in Perth are. So, without hesitation, I turned around and said hello, coincidentally proving them right! I enjoyed their anecdotes and shared my observations of how friendly and accommodating the people of Melbourne had been to me the previous weekend.

Another chat was with a 20-something man as we both admired the gorgeous innocence of an infant girl, hair sticking straight up and clear blue eyes focused intently on her grandmother’s animated face. We spoke about his nieces and nephews and how he was their favourite uncle. And we touched on how quickly babies grow up and out of our arms into walking, talking dynamos with their own agendas, in record time.

In retrospect, I guess more conversations would have been better. It is amazing how silent a completely packed train can be at peak hour. Everyone is very polite, aware of their impact on fellow passengers, knowing the journey will come to an end sooner rather than later…just grin and bear it inside your own little bubble, even if it does rub against that of several others.

Except for the odd one or two train riders, who carry on conversations that entertain everyone else whether we want to partake or not…

From face to face D&Ms to mobile phone whinge sessions, I’ve heard my fair share, and still marvel at how some people just don’t care if others hear the intimate details of their dinner menu, disrespect for each other, contempt for former partners or the details of their drunken weekend shenanigans.

When my phone silently vibrated with the terrifying prospect of another wanting to talk to me while in transit, I held my breath until it stopped. There was no way I was going to reveal lamb and rosemary sausages, cheesy mash, steamed vegetables and honey carrots, was my chosen comfort food for that wintery eve.

Getting onto the train each day has been like re-joining the human race anew every 8-12 hours or so. It’s been levelling, I’ve never felt unsafe. I suppose it’s become comfortable, like a familiar neighbourhood.

But the most inspiring experience has been the friendly smiling face of Barry, the endlessly nodding Transperth man who greeted and good-byed me at the start and end of every day.

I don’t think I’ve ever witnessed a more constantly genuine public servant. Known to all simply as Barry, he would routinely chat to passing commuters about the weather, the day of the week, how long it was until the weekend, smoothing our ride into and out of yet another working day where the tide of humanity is largely faceless, anonymous. He welcomed the company of eccentric bus and train spotters, guided unfamiliar fare payers and trained colleagues all while cheerily nodding to his passing fan base, all thankful merely for his presence.

There were the regular newspaper readers, book addicts, mobile phone interfacers. Then there was my usual parking spot, only available prior to 8am, my preferred side of the train where I was guaranteed the longest river view possible, and my habit of trying to count the abundant black swans on Lake Monger. It’s been an absolute pleasure to go on this ride.

Which must be why violent attacks on mass public transport nodes, rip our communities to the very core, attacking our sense of personal and societal safety for evermore.

I really hope my next job allows me to catch the train, it’ll be like a homecoming.

PIC:

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1845: an early English steam locomotive. (Lambert/Getty Images)

The electric blanket of guilt and other magical winter discoveries.

They say necessity is the mother of invention, which could explain why Perth’s recent and persistent freezing cold morning temperatures have colluded with my body’s inability to effectively circulate blood to my extremities.

I call it the perfect epiphany storm, and here’s why.

I’ve had several. Epiphanies.

Those beautiful, crystalising moments when something becomes so blindingly clear that the relief you feel is merely an echo of your brain as it expands slightly in size and weight.

Cogs meet and turn, and click……So thaaaaaaat’s why!

Ugh (my spelling, and hopeful shield against copyright war) boots – I’ve never understood the hideous things. Until now.

And my sensitive little feet want them desperately.

From their thick, rubbery soles splaying clumsily beneath each foot, to their stain-prone ovine hides, to the sweat-absorbing innards of woollen pelt, I fear necessity has invented actual reasons why these ghastly-looking cave shoes deserve a place in my post-modern footwear-worshipping life.

When it’s -1.6 degrees just a couple of suburbs away at 6.59am on a Wednesday, I need a full-body Ugh boot!

Which brings me to my (secret) leg-warming electric blanket. Can’t I just wear one of these ‘mother guilt’-inducing garments to work, or stay put in my animal-print lined cave (bed)?

Convention (like computers), says no. But I can imagine now, how Ugh boots and a ‘down’ electric blanket could really compliment each other on the sardinous train journey to Perth nestled among fashionable fellow commuters. Can’t you?

My beige gloves with the bow became an essential ingredient of my daily get-up since the breakfast temperature dropped below 12 degrees. Along with stockings, laddered or not.

On the back of the paleo diet, this new winter uniform is Neolithic in its sartorial relevancy, Aurelio!

In my desperation to stay warm, avoid fingers and toes that turn white with a lack of blood and buzz with an almost electrical numbness, these phalange-saving epiphanies have been sprouting thick and fast.

  • Put that bloody electric blanket luxury item on the bed, even if the kids don’t have one!
  • Oh, alright then! Get the kids their own electric blanket luxury items!
  • Buy a pair of godawful Ugh boots, and sloth smugly around the house in cocooned comfort!
  • The winter solstice was an anti-climax and the sun still sets way before 6pm!

133 days ‘til summer.

Howling with a heavy brogue

IF a man indulges in casual sexism in an unintelligible accent, is he really being an ignorant oaf?

Or consider this.

If a woman doesn’t realise she is the butt of a man’s casual sexism, does it mean she’s no longer a feminist?

Hard hitting questions, all.

This post is a confusing one for me to write – so I’ll just tell it as it happened, because, it was an amusing blip in my otherwise ordinary day.

It was a Monday. I’d happily survived another one and was walking post-work from the train station to where I park the car – about a five minute walk; I’ve convinced myself if I don’t have time for formal exercise on any given day, at least I walked briskly for 10 minutes. And used the stairs instead of the lift. And only had two chocolates at 3pm with a cup of tea.

Deep in aimless, western society thought…what should I make for dinner, damn I forgot to book the dogs in for a groom, again, that champagne on Saturday was really nice, what brand was it…I was pulled from my mental meanderings by a rogueish brogue.

Well. I didn’t know that’s what it was until my mind had caught up with the situation – someone was talking to me, or attempting to.

As I turned my head toward the train station access road beside me, I noted a white 4WD ute had slowed to walking pace and a male driver, dressed in hi-viz, was talking out his open window. Probably to me. Because there was nobody else around.

My thoughts began to speed up, I checked my surroundings wondering if he was slowing to give me a warning about some sort of nearby danger, maybe someone was nicking my car, but how would he know which car was mine, and why do we suddenly think these weird sorts of things?

There was only one thing to do.

“I beg your pardon,” I genuinely asked, looking for clarification of the impending danger.

“Yaprollydoneffennohowotyearrrr,” came the repetitive, slur-ry reply.

Now, I know the helpful grinning man was repeating his statement so I could better understand it, but it sounded just the same, only slightly slower.

As my brain worked overtime to decipher it, and matching it with his boofhead smile, I instinctively realised bodily danger was not imminent. Besides, there was a fence and a car between him and me.

And then it clicked.

“You probably don’t even know how hot you are,” was the helpful offering of life advice, in a thick Irish brogue.

And what was my brilliant reply?

“Okey doke.”

Brilliant! A wordsmith without the wherewithall to wield them.

Well, what was I supposed to say? And what was it all supposed to mean?

But, back to my first question – was this harmless gent a sexist oaf?

No. I think he thought he was giving me a compliment. Because, it’s a looong walk from the train station to the deserted car park and I don’t know how much more silence I could have endured without a reassuring ‘compliment’ from a stranger. Withdrawals already!

We women need reassuring that we are hot, don’t we. I will refrain from making a dad-joke about the weather at this point. (Ooops, was I being sexist then? Sorry dad.)

Was I being an anti-feminist by not calling him out as a sexist or in fact, not realising that’s probably what he was being? It only became clearer when watching this week’s hooha following Chris Gayle’s clumsy and inappropriate flirtation with TV sports reporter Mel McLaughlin. I’m a bit slow on the uptake some days.

I say inappropriate because it’s not nice to show someone up in public for your own entertainment. If a romantic relationship did eventuate from this shallow televised attempt, expect more of the same top quality respect for your feelings. Privately and publicly.

But, unsurprisingly, I digress.

In a nutshell, I was momentarily confused. I didn’t feel like a victim, because I don’t think our Irish friend set out to make me feel that way. I think Chris Gayle distinctively did. Ms McLaughlin certainly didn’t appear as a slaughtered lamb.

So, I am not an anti-feminist for just ‘shaking my head’ at the thoughtless things some men will do to communicate to a woman that they think they’re a bit of alright. I don’t think I needed to take any stronger action…I think my ‘okey doke’ will have convinced him beyond doubt of his stupid, sexist actions…pfffffttt!

But, seriously guys, what do you want us women to do when you offer an uninvited impression of our attractiveness? Scale the fence between us, clamber through your open window and plant sloppy, thankful kisses all over your dusty, stubble-pocked face, then use a hanky to wipe the spittle away and remind you to put your dirty work clothes in the laundry basket and not on the bedroom floor?

No. Well, behave then.

On another aside, we women don’t publicly voice our impressions of men’s physical appeal because from the moment we are born little girls are conditioned to behave politely and be sensitive to the feelings of others. It’s as simple as that. Or is it?

Blokes, it’s time to be awesome role models for the little men in your lives. It can’t just be mum’s job any more.

If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?

Picture: Norbert Rosing/Getty Images

 

 

Train wreck roach

WHAT is one of the worst passengers you can encounter on a Perth metropolitan train on your way to work…apart from a racist?

The Australian cockroach.

Which is misleading because it’s actually an introduced species from Asia according to my research (thanks Google) – and it was certainly an introduced species on this early morning train where it was met with amusement, terror and worse, by some of its formerly mild-mannered fellow passengers.

Generally, the commonly annoying commuters are those who force you to listen as the fine hairs (known as stereocilia) inside their cochlea are bashed down, never to send electrical impulses to the brain or stand tall again, in time with the unrelenting decibels from their natty ear phones.

But I met a new kind this morning.

She welcomed me onto the empty seat beside her, a refuge from the gently swaying herd; I felt safe beside this pretty 50-something wearing a dusty pink twinset.

Despite sitting very close to one another, as you always do on public transport, we didn’t touch, despite the lurching passage of a learner driver as they arrived and departed the six or seven stops.

I drifted into my usual absent-minded reverie, studying people’s shoes, tattoos, piercings, hairstyles, dandruff…contemplating why people cared less about taking personal phone calls knowing they were being overhead by all and sundry, well, those of us without earphones…Oh. Just me then. Marvelling at those stoically reading actual books in such cramped confines, randomly dotted between others mutely interfacing with their smartphones as if their happiness depended on it.

Until! The demure lady alongside shoved her elbow fair into my side-boob rib cage!! Thinking she had simply been thrown off balance by an unsteady neighbouring passenger, I was soon staring into her popping, terror-filled blue eyes as she loudly declared, in a thick Scottish brogue, “thayre’s a cookroooch on the trreyne”!!!

As she jerkily lifted her knees to keep her feet safe from the wretched beast, another passenger sarcastically mused it must have gotten on at bogan-ville further down the line.

Of course it did! It jumped the gap, minding it all along, desperate to get off at a more affluent suburb.

Feet shuffled, eyes peered floor-ward, shoes lifted and toes twitched and before I knew it, the dark brown insect was a sickening mush.

“It’s awkheee! I’ve murrrdurrrudd ut!” the Scottish train cockroach spotter proclaimed victoriously, her face turning nearly as blue as her homeland’s prood flag.

The carriage drew to a standstill, the doors opened and the commuters grimaced at the rank smear on the heavy-duty carpet as they filed out…that roach was less scarier alive.

I moved seats, knowing I’d be compelled to look at the insectuous remains over and over again, otherwise.

RIP Australasian traveller.

Photomontage by Hanane Kai

Photomontage by Hanane Kai