Saturday, 14 May 2011

TRAVEL WRITING: THE SUNDAY TRAIN TRIP

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This first appeared on Red Bubble in September 2009 after my regular paper gig wouldn't print it.
Probably because it's a bit adult oriented.

THE SUNDAY TRAIN TRIP

I took the train into the city a few Sunday’s ago, for various reasons, one it’s actually quicker and two with the price of petrol and parking in the CBD being what it is, $3.10 for the whole trip sounded like a bargain.
Plus I was being “green and environmentally friendly”.
The real reason was that the “missus” needed the car to go a local Church fete with the girls.
Things started badly: Even though the train station is only 500 metres from our house they insisted they drop me off on their way to the fete another 400 metres up the road from station. I was at the mercy of three females who knew not the meaning of the word hurry. Their names were late, later and hopeless. I knew I should have walked especially when the time between saying we’d leave and the car departing the premises extended so far I missed my train by 5 minutes.
This gave me plenty of time to browse around the station after buying my ticket from the nice person behind the bullet proof glass, I’m glad I didn’t have to use the ticket machine because it was badly scratched up and marked with texta and cigarette burns I couldn’t follow the instructions.

I have seen the lovely old station at Gembrook where Puffing Billy terminates and the heritage listed station at Camberwell, lovely pieces of period architecture, so why is it that a very modern station like my local (in age and facilities) has the look of a war zone and smell of a badly maintained public toilet. I couldn’t compare the station toilets to the smell because they weren’t open I’d have to climb up the stairs and ask the nice lady to open them for me using her camera and an electronic button, the modern equivalent of the old Petrol Station bathroom key tied to a bessa-brick.
The view from my bench where I waited for my train had a wonderful view of the history of spiralling educational standards in the form of horrible scrawling graffiti that was both incomprehensible as well as extremely ugly.

But all this would all be inconsequential when train eventually arrived.

The only comparison I could make to the scene when the automatic doors opening and what was revealed would be lifting the seat on the toilet and find a surprise floating there.
My eyes had scanned the stage before me and my brain quickly analysed the scene.
To the left were three boys - rough age sixteen a piece, each dressed in clothes four sizes too large, beanies on their heads and their expensive shoes lace less and filthy. Two carried on as if they were dished out triple servings of confidence at birth and were missing the embarrassment gene, the third must have had a better upbringing he just looked embarrassed.
One seat down further on the opposite side was a girl about nineteen speaking on a mobile phone that had a string of bangles hanging off it, she was talking in bursts of loud and soft depending on who was watching.
To the right was an old lady with grey hair with blue rinse dressed as if she was going to church, though the day was going to be warm she was dressed as if it was snowing, she had a small shaky excuse for a dog on her lap.
Behind the lady was a student type or someone pretending to be studious, even though he was dressed like a student (cheap Op-shop clothes, no socks) and reading a book.
I could tell by the three subtle signs that he was faking it
1. His book was very old and torn
2. It was the Church of England book of common hymns
3. It was upside down

I entered the train and thankfully found an empty row of seats more or less to myself.
I could feel all eyes on me as I made my way to the seat, the train doors pinged and closed behind me as the train lurched forward.

Have you ever noticed when a moving train jars or shutters that every passengers heads move together. A perfect piece of the world moving in synchronization.
The boy’s started to talk in their loud voices about nothing in particular mainly referencing popular movies and bands and which ones deserved their seal of approval or kiss of death. I couldn’t help but notice the boys constantly stealing glances at the girl on the phone to see if she was paying attention to them.
The girl must of noticed the boys looking at her and decided she didn’t like what she saw, her voice got louder with the unfortunate listener who it seem was not allowed to talk from the other end.

“Yeah, I’ve got the painters in, I flooded so bad last night, I thought I found an ark in my panty liners”
Subtle stuff.

The little dog on the old Lady’s lap decided it wanted to stretch and it jumped on the floor at her feet. At this precise moment, the pseudo-student decided let out an almighty “WHOOP” sound for no reason at all (and showed no sign at all that he did it) whilst continuing to read his upside down Hymn book. Everyone ‘s eyes turned straight at him then automatically down at the little dog that proceeded to wet itself the old Lady’s shoes and the floor.

This made two of the young boys scream with exaggerated laughter while the other one didn’t know wether he wanted to be with these idiots or not, it was only when one of the boys threw his head back and slammed it against the heavily glassed window and cried out in pain did he actually see something that amused him. I was starting to like that boy.

We’d only just reached the second station of a 22 station journey and the carriage was a madhouse and was beginning to smell like one. The old Lady (bless her) picked up the shaky dog and carried on as if nothing happened, it was almost as if she was oblivious to every one else in the carriage.
She got off at the next stop and splashing through the puddle of piddle as if it didn’t exist either.

The train was filling quickly as we moved forward but the old Lady’s seat remained empty with it’s moat of dog piss warning off travellers. The girl was still talking on the phone, the boys had quietened down a bit mainly due a group of three older and louder boys had taken over their role further up the carriage. I looked over to the shouting student to notice his book was now sideways and caught him as he let out another loud “Whoop” as casually as if he was having a cough. The train fell silent for a second then returned to normal when all signs of a threat had passed.
The train was filling fast will all members of the community, I gathered that the numbers of those boarding thinned as we got closer to the city because maybe the had the trams to rely on or they had already figured out that all the carriages were full with us types from the outer East.

Many a traditional – Mum, Dad and the kids – were using the train and you could see the kids didn’t do it often especially when I observed how they reacted to The Noisy boys, Girl who talks on phone forever and the Screaming Student. I thought one child was going to repeat the shaky dog performance when he let out another “Whoop” soon after he boarded with his folks. Two things were really obvious by the time we reached the other side of Camberwell - that one: Not many more people could fit on the train and two: someone would have to sit in the old Lady’s seat. The problem was solved by a couple of enterprising 6 year olds who just sat crossed legged on the seat and didn’t dare hang their legs over the side.

I had got used to the smell left by the dog but every new person who tried squeeze on would instantly screw up their face as if they had walked into a pong curtain. I reckon it was same look I had on my face when I first got on back at Boronia.
It must have been weird for the person boarding seeing all these people push their faces towards the fresh air of the open doorway and then having that hit you.

When we finally made Flinders Street it was a mad rush for the door, I stayed back and let the families go first, the groups of young lads had to be first out regardless and positioned themselves at the door two stops before our destination, the last I saw of them were their backs as the tried to take a short cut up the down escalator. As I alighted the train and turned to see the Shouting Student amble up the carriageway and slip over in the puddle of dog piss.

Funny, he made not a sound.

Because I’d missed the first train I swore to myself and at my loved ones. Due to the nature of my trip my visit to the city was only fleeting I could have caught this very train home if they hadn’t delayed me.
But then again I wouldn’t be prepared for the smell.

As it turned out I didn’t have to wait long for my return trip because the trains were spaced so far apart on Sundays I came back down the ramp to see another, less stained train waiting for me.
Now let me tell you, because everyone was busy coming into the city the ride home was one of the most comfortable, peaceful and pleasurable rides you could ever have. I think it was me and about 10 other people (coming and going) the entire trip. I read the paper, looked out the window and generally relaxed.

When I arrived back at my stop and it’s “tre crap” architecture, I decided to take the short cut through the Mall on the way home , I had just entered when I heard voices call my name.
It was the three females.
“Fete not very good?” I enquired
“No we haven’t got there yet, thought we’d have a coffee first” came the answer.
I marvelled at their ability to move slower than glaciers and thought I best get home and enjoy what was left of my Sunday in peace.

Thursday, 5 May 2011

Return to the Deco Paradise

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In the Winter of 2010, I visit and wrote about the Alfred Nicholas Gardens in Kalista.
Nestled in the Dandenongs not only is it a beautiful garden it is also houses one of the finest examples of Art deco buildings in Victoria Burnham Beeches the former family residence of Alfred Nicholas. 



   


   


The grand stairway that leads down from the house to the gardens
On my last trip, I made note of the gardens- though still wonderful – were a shade on what I believed they would have looked like in their heyday.

One of the water features leading down to the lower pools
Well a very wet winter, Spring, and summer have transformed the gardens in a blaze of colour and growth that would startle any casual visitor.
My biggest mistake last visit was to assume that the gardens had become overgrown and were not getting the attention they deserved not being a horticulturalist and just a lover of well groomed gardens I‘ll put it down to ignorance on my behalf.
The gardens were stunning.
With the warm weather, I had no idea how many Hydrangeas were planted in the sloping inclines that run down the bluestone stacked retaining walls to the ornamental pool.



   


  

If there weren’t a hundred different shades of the round snowball flowers there were more. The grew everywhere including cascading down the side wall where the ferns popped through beside them. All the deciduous plants all bear and sleeping during the winter had come to life filling the gaps from my winter visit.



   



The Hydrangeas were so full of colour and so plentiful it was like colour burst mosiac


The smaller upper pools that flank the sadly fenced of Burnham Beeches were full of lilies that made the water look like it was covered with a bright green film.

The upper pools next to the house


The Camellias and ferns that ran alongside the fence had grown so much that it was hard to take a decent photo of the building. My last trip I could lean up against it and see inside the windows.
Mixed in the ferns and Flame trees are Maidenhairs and Japanese Maples as well fuchsias and Wisterias.



The lower pool boat house



Me in ridiculously comfy shorts


Down at the lower pools, all the trees were covered in beautiful green foliage make it a cool and pleasant resting place from the warm sun. A more relaxing and serene area would be hard to find.




The lower pools and the islands
Sadly the two small islands had been closed due to regrowth much to many people (including myself) who had dragged picnic baskets and eskys to lunch on the grass, which by the look of it had recovered from whatever was wrong with it. Luckily the lawns of the Arboretum were just as inviting over by the old bandstand.
As noted the gardens this visit was obviously the choice of the Sunday traveler in stark contrast to my last visit on a Sunny Saturday where I was lucky to pass more than half dozen people.



Fenced off and unloved


It’s still a crying shame that Burnham Beeches still lies derelict behind the link fence but unlike last visit I don’t have to visualize what these gardens would look like in their glory with people casually ambling around enjoying what is a very pleasant Summer Sunday afternoon’s stroll. All that was missing was the cast from an Agatha Christie novel.