On Being the Train Audience and the Studio Audience

Saturday 28 February 2015

The train is about to take off from Belgrave station and my bag bulges on the seat beside me.  If I was a baby, my mum would be accompanied by a hefty haversack full of nappies, wipes, a bib, a change of clothes, and whatever else is contained in nappy bags.  There are an astounding number of things that babies may need in a several-hour outing.  I'm unfortunately no different.  My burgeoning bag contains health-related d-ribose, progesterone cream, and coenzymated vitamin b6.  It also has a book, a 48 page green exercise book, various pens, a phone, tampons (grown-up nappies of a different variety) and a lot of crud on the bottom of a bag which hasn't been cleaned out in ages.

Girls from Mater Christi College, our local private Catholic school, are on the train too.  Two sit down across from me, and one begins to tell the other about some of the classes she had in school today - Maths, French, Orange House assembly and RE (Religious Education).  I wonder what RE looks like at Mater Christi.  Is it cutting edge and political, so that they get a glimpse of, say, a man overturning tables of people who are fucking around with charging interest on their money loans?  Or what about the version of Christianity that appears to emanate from the writings of Origen, in which a belief in reincarnation appears so commonly-held it's not even spelled out?  (At least I guess Catholicism had the decency to come up with a purgatory sandwiched in-between the eternal heaven and eternal hell, where you could work off your accrued karma until you're shiny enough for God to bear to look at you.  But that fear of never quite knowing if you've scored a one-way ticket to eternal hellfire is a wonderful touch when it comes to the minions.  Keeps them in line).

Do Mater Christi girls feel superior to the public school kids?  I would imagine so.  There's an inbuilt superiority/inferiority thing that automatically accrues when you spend more of our society's value symbol on one thing than another, so they must, even if it's unconscious.

A little way down the line, a massive amount of schoolkids get on at Upwey from the local high school, a rather cool-looking art deco brick building up on Burwood Highway that once housed Red Symons and then once housed Wendy Harmer.  One of the boys from Upwey High is yelling several times for Cassidy, but Cassidy, alas, does not appear.

An Upwey High girl in front of me is looking at her phone.  Her and her friend both have freshly brushed, long hair and a decent whack of makeup.  The phone shows what has the feel of a hastily snapped shot, of two boys in the schoolyard.  The way she's looking at it, pensively, cheek-chewing, I reckon she'll be looking at it a few more times this evening.

If Andrea and I had had phones and computers when we were teenagers, we would have filled up our hard drives with gigabytes of photos of Pas on hers, and Dale Cassar on mine.  I would have been quite happy to see the next round of photos Andrea had snapped that week, of Pas playing basketball, of Pas outside the maths room, of Pas saying hello as he walked past.  Pas looked like Stewart Copeland, which was pretty cool, seeing Andrea was in love with him too.  Plus, his name was Stuart too, so double bonus.  Andrea managed her love of Stewart Copeland and her love of Stuart Passingham quite well, I thought.

I apparently enjoyed being in love exclusively with unattainable people.  I was in Year 7, while Dale was in Year 11.  There is nothing now to remember him by except a few grainy memories of yearbook photos where he'd dressed up in makeup for a school play.  Dale left school at the end of that year, and I was mortified until I found Marc Ward to unattainably love the following year.  I would have filled another hard drive taking photos of Marc zooming out of school at lunchtime in his Holden Gemini, of Marc in his fluffy pink jumper, of Marc outside the maths room.  Marc's girlfriend, Suzie Szabo, was in the same year level as him.  I despised her with a warm fear and a cold despising that probably would have required a couple of photos of their own.

Marc was in Year 12.  I was in Year 8.  I liked my unattainable boys a little bit older.  That same year I would also full unattainably in love with Brian Mannix, the lead singer from Uncanny X-Men, for whom I would almost die running across Kings Way in order to reach as he got out of a taxi to go speak on 3XY.  It's not pretty, folks.  It's not pretty.  Several years after that, Andrea and I would go to see the X-Men play at The Village Green.  Andrea would ask for a kiss outside, and Brian would comply.  He would then say that it was the most amazing kiss he'd ever had.  Not that I'm chafing about that or anything.

It's so weird looking at these girls on the train with their phone and thinking about how different things were for us.  Yes, it's a common refrain held to by every generation that everything has changed, changed, changed (which is maybe more about time and memory and changes in ourselves than anything outside of ourselves).  But I think there's some validity in us reeling a little from all of the changes our lives have gone through.  It has been really different for each of the last three or four generations.  It's no wonder our heads spin so that we feel disorientated and need to go lie down and watch seven episodes in a row of Game of Thrones.

Things have changed in the ways teenagers interact.  It's so much more secondhand now.  Andrea and I would have been able to know way more about Pas and Dale and Marc than we could possibly have known back then, even with Marc's brother Carl to query.  We would have all known way more about each other.  And I wonder too if we would have known way less, maybe, in other ways.

Did we all look each other in the eye more back then?  Maybe.  We're definitely more in our own bubbles these days.  I miss the common sense of wider world community that was stronger when I was young.  Still, despite that yearning for the security of something shared, that doesn't mean that it didn't used to hurt to look people in the eye, with the shame I dragged around so intense at times, like a curtain.  It wasn't just the harsh paranoia that came from having an ever so slightly turned eye that people generally didn't notice unless I was drunk.  Looking people in the eye is such an intimate act.  I do understand the poetry of the eyes being the windows to the soul.  Sometimes it feels to me that with the onset of our awesome technology, we spend so much more time with our own eyes plastered to various screens, that looking at each other has grown scary by comparison.  Eek!  This thing I'm looking at ... is alive, and looking back at me!  Not in a box that I can switch off or delete!  This feels weird, man!  I wonder - has looking at each other become more like an invasion?

There are so many more ways to be alone while we're together now.  As a self-conscious, shame-struck teenager, I imagine that would have been better, that would have been worse.  But still, imagine, feeling like your friends were always in your pocket.  Friendships as teenagers are the best.  You need each other in a way you won't again.  Not like that.

The freshly-brushed pensive girl and her friend have got off, and another girl has sat in front of me now.  She has just sprayed a floral scent from her bag.  It's quite nice, actually, but it still causes my central nervous system to launch a weak panic stations alert that some incoming foreign body may possibly be trying to kill me.  I ignore this limbic panic, try to distract it like a child by noting how the high notes of the girl's fragrance don't screech like death metal in my nose the way a visit to the $2 shop would.

There are so many different schools on this train now.  But the uniforms are kind of all the same.  One girl wears dark and light purple and white check.  I would have been stoked to have that for Bentleigh High.  There are so many students that I wonder - are more of them catching trains to school now?  It felt like when I was at high school you went to one of the ones you were zoned to and that was it.  Are parents, in the quest to get their kids ahead, chucking their kids on trains so they can do the program that fits best?  Maybe.  I guess maybe some of these kids are on the way to their other parent's house.  It's all so scattered. And yet from what I can see, school curriculums are way more interesting than the dry, dusty crap served up to me in my high school years.

I talked to my mum about this.  She said she couldn't remember anyone from her high school catching the train, that everyone who accompanied her to classes in the late 50's and early 60's walked or rode.  There's something nice and nostalgic about that idea, that the friends you make at your school share the same space as you.

The David Jonecs ad on the platform at Box Hill has an Asian woman in a matching fuschia bra and undies set that would have earned her grandparents a pittance to make and mine much more to earn wheeling and dealing to get the lowest prices, the lowest prices, the lowest prices, which would then be marked up 400% or more to sell to us in the glorious land of globalisation.

I saw a woman on another train once, years ago, while I was on the way to work as an apprentice, vomit into the cardigan held on her lap.  She got out at the next stop.  As you would.

I get out at Richmond Station and catch the Sandringham train.  I have never been on this line before and it feels like people are doing quite well on it.  There are two men in business attire, separated by a sheet of perspex.   Both are wearing checked shirts on white backgrounds, with minor variations.  Are these shirts like the business version of school uniforms?  What's it with checks?  Do checks convey a sense of purposiveness, of industry, of concentration?

There are two separate phone conversations going on in this train carriage.  Both are about real estate, selling and renovating respectively.  There could possibly be three, but she's speaking Greek so I don't know, my Greek extending to kalimera, kalispera, kalinichta and baklava.  People on this line clean their shoes.  The woman next to me is wearing black and white leopard skin shoes and is reading the free train newspaper, MX, which once published an essay of mine that was a variation of this post here.  And so despite the fact that my shoes are ancient, I feel somewhat validated, until the the woman behind me says on her phone call that she is spending 5.5 grand on a mechanical door.  This once again makes me feel invalidated again until I realise that it's not her personal door, that organising the construction and installation of this door is a part of her job.

I do not like this relentless comparison.  It is particularly limiting.

The other woman has finished talking about her house that is up for sale and is now telling Kerry about how her husband is away at the moment and so life is fantastic.  Apparently they will take photos on the Tuesday.  Will that be enough time, given the opening is on the 7th?  It all sounds so important.  Important enough that those of us not wearing earbuds must be subjected to it.  But they're probably photos of, like, taps.  Or boxes of tampons.  Items for the next Aldi catalogue.

Although that doesn't really fit in with the opening, does it?  Still, never mind.  Thinking of this woman organising photos of something banal makes me feel better.  And really, the fact that I even bother going there with this stupid comparison, that makes me feel worse.

I reach Elsternwick, and here I alight to the ABC studios.  Anth is here to meet me.  We are being The Studio Audience this evening for the first episode of the new season of Shaun Micallef's Mad as Hell.  As we enter into the studio, one of the people working there tells me this is exactly the same studio that the musical staple of my childhood, Countdown, was filmed in all those years ago.  I find it patently absurd that I never once went to a Countdown filming.  Brian Mannix was on it often enough, and Elsternwick was closer to where I lived than Richmond was, where we did go several times to see Blankety Blanks tapings.  It's an anomaly, a strangeness, a big chunk missing, something that should have happened in my teenage years but quite incomprehensibly didn't.

But I'm here now instead, at 44, and Shaun Micallef is a much more appropriate replacement, and a bit of a GILFIIHAL (GILF If I Had A Libido), and it's fun, but exhausting, to look at the making of a TV show.  It is tiring, being the ones responsible for laughing.   It is terrifying being the focus of the camera while an introductory skit is being filmed.  The camera, with it's enormous eye, pans from where it's pointed in our direction, where we have been asked to laugh, over to Mr Micallef, who makes some joke that I can't now remember because I was too fucking terrified having to juggle having a camera pointed at me and being required to laugh at the same time.

They didn't end up using the footage.  I was both relieved and disappointed in equal measure :)

But before I am allowed into the studio I must open my bag for inspection, the one bulging not with a gun but with progesterone and pens and b6 and so many wrappers, and old bits of cruddy paper that have been in there so long that they are caked with the unidentifiable crumbs that line the bottom of my bag.  It is terribly embarrassing.  And then some things fall out, and of course one of those things is a tampon.

I guess that's one thing that's changed from when I was a teenager.  I wouldn't have given a shit about how messy the bag was, but I would have been chastened, horrified, by the tampon.  Now, I don't much care that the man inspecting my bag knew for a fact that I insert wrapped cotton into my vagina.  But I did feel rather chastened that he also knows I'm a massive slob.


  1. Yes! I was so excited when I realised you had been on the train and written about it. It has cheered me up after being up at 3am and watching Spurs get thoroughly beaten by Chelsea in the cup final. As usual, I was caught up in your story as soon as I read the first sentence and I'm always a little sad when I get to the end, you just bring people to life, and I'm often nodding. I have been using the train much more lately getting to AAMI stadium every second week, but I just cant write about the interesting people I see as well as you can! I used to travel on the Sandringham line when I went to Elsternwick to visit Dave. Im sure my Dad would have been very impressed with their shoe cleaning habits, this being one of the traits of a sensible and meticulous person (sorry Dad!) I wonder too about the difference having the internet would have made to our teenage years. Its probably better for those boys I was madly in love with that it wasnt around, being a lass that could get rather obsessive about the object of my desires..I was laughing thinking about the photos of Pas everywhere, poor boy! He did take it very well, my following him around with a camera. I wonder if he ever tells his kids about this girl at school who was madly in love with him, and if his kids roll their eyes and wonder who the hell would fall for their old 47 yr old Dad. Do you remember our train trips to Prahran to visit XY Zebra? I do remember going to Blankety Blanks quite clearly, the excitement of walking up to Bendigo Street! I also remember going to the Countdown studios with Danielle, Najda and their Dad in about 1977 and being dissapointed because we'd arrived on the wrong day for taping and all they could offer us was some seats in the next studio where they were filming Pot Black!! So of course, we had to sit through old men in suits potting balls into pockets...my 7 yr old self was quite miffed! I really want to get on a train together one day...you can get on at Belgrave and I'll meet you on the last carriage like the old days! I promise not to flash my tits at the boys on Blackburn station xxxxxxx

    1. I will only do that if you promise you will flash your tits at the boys on Blackburn Station.

      We should do it, tits or no. We could go to the museum or the art gallery.

      Thank you for your lovely compliments. I do like writing these bits. They give the impression of being about other people while talking about myself 75% of the time :-)

      I didn't remember that you took photos of Pas back then. If you still have them I'd like to see them sometime :-)

    2. Pot Black. That is hilarious :-)

  2. And now I am thinking I need to be more careful what I say on the train, lest someone like you use it for a blog post one day. :))

    Just kidding, of course. I love your ability to observe and find something interesting about every person you come into contact with. Eloquently written.

    1. I figure it's a public place and everything is fair game, although I do feel a bit naughty. However, if someone is talking loudly on their phone there is no guilt attached at all because freaking annoying.

      Thank you also for compliments. They are very muchly soaked up, like I'm a sponge in the desert

  3. I enjoyed reading about your journey. I must admit I avoid public transport these days. Partly anxiety and partly that same limbic panic when you get that first whiff of someone's perfume. Hmm, actually I think I have always avoided it, but then I do live in a sprawling city and have never worked in the middle of it where the public transport actually goes. :).

    I still have notes my friend and I wrote in highschool where we discuss our current relationships and if certain boys have done Ughhhh (yes that was our way of saying sex), little fond and not so fond cartoons of teachers, and lots about our horses (who of course we loved more than any boy) and so on. They are quite hilarious to me now and I am very glad they aren't on Facebook forever!


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