Pooh and Piglet
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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.
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.
On Friday one of the zoo volunteers told me she’d been working in animal enrichment all day – making popcorn for the elephants. Apparently they’re not allowed any sugar or fat on their popcorn. She left on the train before I could find out more – leaving me with a vision of elephants frolicking through vats and vats of popcorn.
That was the charming thing.
Then I listened with great pleasure to the HooDoo Guru’s tuning up for their evening concert inside the zoo. I remember going to see them when I was in my mid-twenties. They still sounded good. Then someone told me that their current tour is being sponsored by APIA – Australian Pensioners Insurance.
OMG!!! I’m 54!!! How did that happen????
I haven’t seen my homeless friends M and C for a while but, fingers crossed, this is a good thing. A couple of months ago they dropped by the station and told me that after five years on the housing list living in boarding houses and sleeping rough, they’d been placed in social housing. They both hope they’ll be able to get some of their children back. Terrific news! A happy ending at last!
M said – Now I’ll be able to make a cup of tea in my underpants and never have to beg again!
Then he gave me a cheeky grin and asked me for 20 dollars so that they could spend their last homeless night in a motel. I passed the money over feeling foolish but as the weeks roll by and I no longer see them begging at their old haunts, I feel more and more that it was money well spent. So relieved.
Merry Christmas everybody! And may all your homes be warm and cozy or cool and comfy depending on your hemisphere!