|Blue Train by Viscious-Speed (cc attribution licence)|
The trip required to reach aforesaid game takes me the entire length of the Belgrave line sans one, from my home stop of Belgrave to Richmond, one stop shy of Flinders Street. Seeing I barely travel the trains anymore, it was a pleasure to contemplate a ride with the possibility of people watching and maybe being able contribute another train travel tale to this blog :)
Especially because the trip was ... well, it was all sorta friendly like. Unlike much public train travel which, Melbourne being a Western city in the death throes of capitalism, generally means that everybody retreats into themselves, surrounded by a veil of almost detectible contempt for everybody else, because strangers in the flesh are ... well, they're too intimate, and politeness is unnecessary in these days where we don't need to talk to strangers anymore. I wonder if we don't feel that it's invasive and boundary-invading talking to other in the flesh humans that we don't know. We're not used to the scent. Don't talk to me when I intend to spend all of my time travelling talking to people who aren't here (many of who I don't know either), on my smart phone device. Which is what I was doing before I got here, and probably what I'll be doing after I leave. You, invading me with your body and your energy and your mannerisms and postures, your smell and facial expressions, you are a little too much, and much less manageable unscreened. I wonder if we are less able to process such things as a conversation with each other when we don't have a box around us. I imagine many of us would be far more comfortable if, when others desire to chat, they would instead text us their comments. Strange times.
There's a guy in a black beanie on his phone a couple of seats over when we take off in a reasonably empty carriage. He looks to be in his late teens or early 20's, pretty nondescript really, just a young bloke. Almost against my will I form an unflattering opinion of what he therefore must be like, as I am rapidly ageing and sometimes a little scared of stuff, and this is what older people do to younger people. I am ashamed to admit this. As we move along several stops, the carriage starts filling. There's a couple a little up from me decked out in Hawthorn colours. There's an old couple, the woman with a rather loud voice. There's two younger women, maybe heading out for the night, one with a fine face, the kind that can carry blood red lipstick, and a decent rack, the other unfortunately plain. I say unfortunately because women everywhere know that still, though we are all male and female judged according to how we look, women are judged more harshly. Still. (And that, to further murk the waters, women also judge each other more harshly than men do each other. But that's another story). If you don't believe women are judged according to how they look, take a look at these responses to the Wimbledon win by Marion Bartoli, who had the crazy temerity to go out into the world and achieve something whilst not being ridiculously fuckworthy.
But perhaps it's just me still smarting from the comments I got from the football the other night where, sensorily overloaded and exhausted because I'd overextended my body this week and the football is ridiculously overstimulating, frustrated because my team was losing again, and sick of listening to the completely unfunny ongoing remarks behind me from a bunch of 30 year old guys drunk on snucked-in Jack Daniels, I turned in the dying minutes of the last quarter and grumpily requested that the guy behind me stop clapping his hands right behind my head. Part of the exchange that occurred in response was from one of the other guys, who apparently was a plain-clothes member of the Hair Police and who informed me that for someone as unattractive as myself, my hair was too long . The hair-as-sexuality maxim. I've always wondered why so many older women cut their hair short. Perhaps this sort of thing is why.
"That's the pot calling the kettle black, isn't it?" I said in response to him. He was of average looks, but that's all I could come up with at the time. His response to my comment was something like, "Huh?" because as we all know, glasses of Jack do not make for high-falutin' intellectual conversation. And then he said, "What are you lookin' at?" to my boyfriend, who responded, "I'm not sure in laconic fashion," and who I secretly wished, in the Neanderthal part of my limbic system, to punch this guy's head in. That shut him up, except then he proceeded to make the universal cunnilingus sign to my mother which, while funny in one way (maybe just because it wasn't me) was disgusting in another. "Have some bloody respect," Mum snapped grandly, though giving in like me to the ridiculous pursuit of arguing with drunken young guys who not only think they know fucking everything, but are hilarious in the process.
But anyway, I have digressed far off the train trip. And anyway, that's that's what happened at the end of the train line, and the story I'm telling is better backwards, where the more enjoyable elements of human nature were on display from within the train carriage. And so back onto the train, Momma.
It's impossible not to hear the guy with the black beanie's mobile phone conversation because it's rather loud, as is the general tone of mobile phone conversations. "I might be on TV soon," he's telling the person on the other end. I don't know what he is going to be on the telly for as that bit of the conversation's lost somewhere between the rest of the carriage conversations and my ancient eardrums, but my first impressions are that he's probably going to be on The Block or something like it for his requisite shot of fame. Fame is like nectar to 21st century inhabitants, especially if it's one-step-removed fame, like on the teev or social media, being as we are rather deprived of the nourishment and attention that would come from a society that actually properly functioned with people and sanity and soul at its centre.
"How's the new vacuum cleaner going then, mate?" he asks. This befuddles me. Is this a guy he's talking to? Whatever floats your boat, but I haven't heard many young guys have public phone conversations with each other about vacuum cleaners at all, not least asking after the vacuum cleaner's general health. But then he ends the conversation with, "Okay, mate. Love you too."
I really don't want to generalise any more than I already automatically have about this guy, but now I presume that the mate on the other end of the phone must be a girl. Maybe a cousin or a sister or something like that. Because I just can't envisage two guys having a convo that includes vacuum cleaners and ends with love declarations. But then, what do I know beyond my assumptions based on nothing about a guy I've never met before?
The older couple ahead of me have begun chatting to the two young chicks heading out. I cannot hear what they're saying, they're too far away. But people on the train are smiling at strangers, and it's a bit strange. Then the older couple get ready to get off. Or at least the woman does. "Come on," she says in raucous tones to her husband. "Leave them girls alone. You're a married man." She is saying this as she walks up the carriage aisle to the door where she waits, unaccompanied. But apparently he's not coming.
"You comin' or you stayin'?" she shouts down to her husband. Her stop arrives, and she shrugs. "Fine, suit yerself. Stay here." Her husband waits till the train stops completely before he gets up, and walks down past me to the carriage's other door. With a smirk on his face, just to shit her. They look like fun.
Many people don't like to draw attention to themselves out in public spaces, maybe because we are unsure about how to behave in them anymore. And anyway, we're saving up all our attention-seeking for Facebook. Seeing somebody pay disregard to that, and talk to strangers and be loud and noisy, gives permission for other people to talk to each other too.
The Hawthorn-bedecked couple begin chatting to some other carriage-dwellers about the fight to stop the Tecoma Macca's being built. Just down the road from me, the actions of the local community against a proposed development that 92% of Tecoma residents oppose, and in which VCAT overturned a "no" decision handed down by the local council, are an ongoing source of pride. Seems the woman is involved somehow, and she talks about the CFMEU, whose actions have buoyed the protesters maintaining vigil at the site, by having temporarily halted site production due to protester safety issues. Some people, including Janine Watson, have spent time sitting atop of one of the buildings slated for demolishment. Janine celebrated her 50th birthday up there, before ending up with a broken finger in an incident of which there are several different accounts of what happened. But it's certainly a case of the people against the system, which has garnered international attention, and whatever cries of "hippy" may come from trolls, and by jaded people who can't see the point in protesting the relentless roll of multinational progress, I am inspired by these everyday people.
The beanie-clad young guy chimes into the conversation. "I'm a chef," he says, "and I've worked in a few different food places around Belgrave and that. And we don't need any Macca's in Tecoma," We all look at each other and nod. It feels like such a minor thing in the grand scheme of things, but it's these interactions with the wider community that quite simply make my day. We need each other. United we change things. Separate, we underestimate our collective power.
An older man gets on the train and sits down next to me.
"You gonna win?" he asks. I nod. "Like Gough Whitlam's Labor, it's time," I say, confident despite the fact that we've lost the previous 10 times because all bar a couple of those wins have been gettable. And it feels different this time. The Hawks have displayed a psychological spinal strength that departed them at times in the year before and incurred disrespect from the football community for being chokers, a problem which it could be argued cost them a grand final. But this year they have displayed steely tenacity, and it's that which buoys my confidence. Because at this point the game's end is all future, and I have every reason to believe that our 12-game winning streak will continue with the biggest scalp of all. Because on this train, we are in the goodest part of the night :)
The man next to me I would guess to be in his late 60's. He is wearing an Andy Capp cap which sorta looks stylish on him. By the end of our conversation I will deduce him to be one of those people who carries before them an air of quiet dignity and quiet authority, a masterful combination. We chat about the nature of the game. He is a Melbourne supporter, going out in the chill to see a game for the pure enjoyment of it. No, he wasn't there for their rare win last week; he'd been out with a friend for dinner. We chat about Melbourne's recent coach sacking and he provides an eloquent response as to why he believes Mark Neeld was not up for the job and why he lost the respect of his young group.
I joke that I enjoy being in a carriage on this particular line with Geelong supporters because we have to go past Glenferrie Station (the original home of the Hawks) and then Hawthorn Station, and I will take whatever psychological advantage I can glean. We discuss the history of AFL. "I used to go to Glenferrie back in the days when they played football there," he says. It was a bit before my time - the last game Hawthorn played there was in 1973, when I was two years old. "I was there the day Peter Hudson did his knee," he says.
My favourite Peter Hudson story is an off-field one, famous in Hawthorn circles. A local church, as is their wont, had a sign out the front of its building from whence it would put pithy sayings designed to bring the heathens to God. On one particular day it read: "What would you do if Jesus came to Hawthorn?" Someone underneath wrote, "Move Hudson to centre half forward."
We chatted about the modern professional game. "It's a different game to how it was," he said. "There was a lot more biffo back then, but then ... in other ways too it's different. It's so much faster now, it's hard to keep track of where the ball is."
"What do you think is the difference between now and then," I ask, "if you had to define it?"
"I'm not sure what you'd call it," he said.
"I reckon it's lost just a little of its soul."
"I think you might be right."
"I'll always barrack for the Hawkers whatever the AFL does, and I love the modern game, but professionalism wipes out a little bit of the heart of things," I said, and we both agreed on that one.
The soul and the heart of stuff. I might be easily pleased but for me, the kindness of strangers chatting and being civilised on a train, though a common thing once, is harder for us to get to these days. A lot of us are scared, because life is scary and it's not supportive. This hermit likes and needs her solitude, a great bit chunk of it. I don't like small talk, and if you find me at a party I'll be in the kitchen, if I'm anywhere, hanging with the Jonah Louies of the world. But those everyday little interactions of strangers coming together all friendly like, they fuel me for days. They're important, in some small intangible way. They're glue for us. They make us stronger. Because we don't need to be kinder to strangers, but when we are maybe it means that we are coming to understand how our technology and our economics telling us we are competitors is maybe a false economy. Seeing strangers as something more than competition makes life safer. And better. And from there maybe we see clearer how much change is within our power to effect. Or at least to try.
To continue trying to oppose a McDonald's outlet that is inappropriate.
And to continue trying to break that bloody Geelong hoodoo.
Maybe next time.