Eileen McILwain

Why should the train fun stop? We’ve got some more blog posts we’d love to share with you! Here is a story from writer Eileen ILwain.

Photo Credit: Felicity Pickering

I hate trains. I can’t think of anything worse than being stuck in a big metal box with the sort of people you’d avoid on the street. But when you’re sixteen and your boyfriend lives in Parramatta you don’t have much choice. So here I am. On a train.

It’s a scorching summer’s day, the kind that saps all your energy as soon as you step outside. I’m dressed to kill in a black mini skirt and midriff top. Lolita, eat your heart out. Heads turn as I totter down the aisle in my skyscraper heels. I can see the judgement in their eyes –slut, bitch, trash – but

I ignore them, finding an empty seat at the back of the carriage. A middle-aged woman in a hideous green hat glares at me like I am solely responsible for the moral decline of today’s youth. Whatever. I bet she hasn’t been laid in over a year.

The train reeks of BO and vomit, with a hint of stale piss. There’s a round smudge on the window where someone with greasy hair must’ve fallen asleep against the glass. The humidity is stifling. Within seconds my legs are stuck the blue vinyl seat. As I squirm around I catch a man who’s old enough to be my father trying to peer up my skirt. Gross. I briefly wonder what his wife would think before deciding he probably doesn’t have one. Who’d marry a pervert like that? Definitely not the woman in the ugly hat judging by look of disgust she’s aiming at him.

At the next stop a few more people shuffle onto the train, like so many cattle at the sale yards. Everyone looks cranky and hot. I know how they feel. The only thing keeping me sane is the thought of my gorgeous Brazilian boyfriend waiting for me at the other end. His name’s Carlos and we’ve been together for three blissful weeks. I’m pretty sure he’s ‘The One.’ I can’t wait until I get my P’s so I can drive to his house instead of catching the train. Carlos doesn’t have a license, but he’s so sexy I don’t care.

My phone vibrates, making me jump. I rummage around in my little silver bag. Shit, where is it? I finally find my phone at the bottom of my bag and glance at the name flashing on the screen. It’s him! I swear it’s like he knows when I’m thinking about him.

I’m grinning like an idiot as I press the answer button. “Hey babe, what’s up?”
An unfamiliar female voice crackles in my ear. “Is that Michelle?”
“Yes,” I bristle. “Who the fuck is this?”
“This is Bianca, Carlos’s new girlfriend. Carlos asked me to tell you that he doesn’t want to see you anymore.”
“Excuse me?”
“I said Carlos doesn’t want to see you anymore. Got that?” she snaps.
Now I’m really pissed off. “Listen, I don’t care who the you are, I want to speak to Carlos. Right now.”
I hear her mutter “She says she wants to talk to you.” A few seconds later Carlos comes on the “Hello?” he purrs in his smooth Brazilian accent.
“What the hell, Carlos? Who was that girl? Is she your girlfriend?”
“Look, I’m sorry, baby. This isn’t working for me anymore.”
“But why?” I wail, hating how desperate I sound.
“I never get to see you. You live too far away.”
“But I’m getting my license next month!” I’m hysterical now and people are starting to stare. I wish they’d all go away. I wish I’d never gotten on this train.

Carlos sighs. “Don’t get upset, baby. We can still be friends.”
“Friends? You want to be friends? As if I’d want to be friends with a guy who gets his new girlfriend to dump me. Stuff you, Carlos. I hope she gives you herpes!”

I mash the call button with my thumb and shove my phone back in my bag. Unbelievable. What a prick! I can’t believe he broke up with me like that. He could’ve at least had the courtesy to dump me before I got on the train.

This is the worst day of my entire life. To make matters worse, my mascara is running and I don’t have a single tissue to my name. Just when I’m about to start blubbing everywhere someone hands me a pristine white handkerchief. It’s the woman in the awful green hat.

“Here. You look like you could use this,” she says with a sympathetic smile.
“Um, thanks.” I take the hanky, dabbing at my eyes.
“Better?” I nod, too stunned to do anything else.
This seems to satisfy her. “Good. I didn’t mean to eavesdrop but I couldn’t help overhearing your conversation. Was that your boyfriend on the phone?”

“Yes,” I reply, feeling wretched. “At least, he was.”

She tsks and shakes her head. “Well, it sounds like you’re better off without him if you don’t mind me saying. My son would never dream of treating a girl that way. He’s a good boy, my Matthew. You’d be about the same age. He’s meeting me at the train station and then we’re going to see a movie. Would you like to come?”

I teeter on the brink of saying no, only to change my mind at the last second. I’ve got nothing better to do with my afternoon and I’m not looking forward to the long train ride home.

“Sure,” I grin. “What the hell?”
“Watch your language, dear,” she says, but her eyes are crinkled with amusement. “Come on then. I’m getting off at the next stop.”

I follow after her as she weaves through the crowd towards a guy in a light blue t-shirt. No way. That’s her son? He’s to die for!
“Hi Mum,” he says, giving the woman a peck on the cheek. “Who’s this you’ve got with you?”

She beams at him and it’s obvious how much she loves her son. “Matthew, I’d like you to meet this lovely young lady. I’m sorry, I didn’t catch your name.”
“It’s Michelle,” I mumble, staring at my feet.
“Michelle,” she repeats. “What a pretty name. I invited her to come see the movie with us. You don’t mind, do you Matthew?”

Matthew looks at me and I feel my cheeks grow hot. He has the most adorable puppy-dog eyes. I’ve ever seen and a cute little dimple near the corner of his mouth. “I don’t mind,” he says with a shy smile.

And despite everything that’s happened to me today, I find myself thinking… maybe trains aren’t so bad after all.

Katie Pollock

Katie Pollock is a busy bee. At the moment her writing is being performed in ‘Heart Dot Com’ at Tap Gallery and from November 13-24th she’s got her play ‘The Blue Angel Hotel’ performing at The Old Fitzroy Theatre. In between she’s made time to write for us!

Hollering and Carrying On

It’s March 1993. I’m somewhere north of Penang, impossible to say exactly where, as the only thing I’ve seen out the train window since I woke up is miles on miles of rice paddies. By any dictionary definition it’s beautiful, but I’m not enjoying the view. I’m not supposed to be here, I’m supposed to be in Singapore.

I’ve been working as a journalist in Bangkok and my three-month non-working visa has expired, forcing me on the non-resident’s quarterly jaunt, the visa trip: leave the country, get your passport stamped, turn around, get your re-entry stamp and dodge the immigration police for another three months. If you’re smart or worth more than the local wage, you turn the visa trip into a little holiday and escape the fumes and madness that is Bangkok in the early 90s. Apparently I am neither.
Fed up with the hassle that is daily life in the Big Mango, I’ve scraped together enough money to get a flight and a few days in clean and orderly Singapore, but not enough to waste on a taxi to Don Muang Airport. The airport bus takes a full four hours to reach its destination and, despite a last-minute dash of hope through departures, I miss the flight. The next available is two days away, just when I’m due back at work. I spend an hour on the floor gasping and crying, then make my way to the train station and catch the train to Penang for the cheapest visa turnaround trip possible, which leaves me here, looking out the window at the rice paddies and wondering why the train has stopped.
Breakfast was hours ago and the baggies of my favourite train food – fried chicken and sticky rice – are long-since empty. I stick my head out the window to try and find out what’s going on. People are spilling out the train, hollering and carrying on.
There’s a cow on the tracks and it won’t be moved.
Not because it’s dead, but because most of the hollerers are Muslims and none of the non-hollerers on the train have been asked to join the bovine removal activities. So we wait and stare out the window.

Twenty four hours ago I was crying on an airport floor. Now I have my visa, and a freshly made memory of emerald rice paddies that will stay with me for at least another 20 years. Eventually the cow wanders off and the train shudders into gear, pulling me forwards into the frenzy of my daily life.

Just recently, a cow decided to park itself right in the middle of my playwriting tracks. It came as a shock and I spent some time on the floor gasping and crying. I contemplated getting off the train, but that would have left me stranded in a field somewhere north of nowhere. So I hollered and carried on and kicked the beast as hard as I could until eventually, finally, it shifted, allowing me to renew my non-resident writer’s visa for another few months. As part of this trip, I’m checking into The Old Fitzroy in November. I hope you can join me.
The Blue Angel Hotel by Katie Pollock, directed by Aarne Neeme, The Old Fitzroy,
November 13-24. Tickets from www.rocksurfers.org

Sarah Carradine

Playwright, director and wicked bridge player Sarah Carradine has written us an awesome blog post. For more of her writing check out her blog: The Cheese Sandwich Follies.

Photo Credit: Felicity Pickering

Taking The Train

At night, rave near the guard’s compartment, naked with a blue light.

Train travel is the best. Grace Cottington tells us to always stay awake in the limo. There’s some pretty great stuff happening inside the carriage as well.

We’ve been given an opportunity and we have to grab it with two teeth and run with it.

There are prizes to be had Wynyard to St Leonards. Sit on the top deck. Look at the buildings. If you wear earbuds on the train, you might miss something.

You were told not to run on the road and that’s the beginning and the end of it.

People on trains are unguarded. As writers we look at them, to see them, to hear them. We have notebooks. Its not enough to carry them in our pockets. They must be used. They suffocate in shrinkwrap.

The world is your oyster. It just depends on what you think an oyster is.

I like trains. I like the motion. I like feeling the traveling happening. Everyone has a train story from a city not their own. But St James to Erskineville has its charms. Get in the last carriage so you will be closest to the steps when you arrive at the station.

Please do not return this to me as I do not want it back.

Milan to Florence, they bring you a cup of tea. Two loud and soft Italian ladies talk to you and your elderly aunt, showing photos, telling stories. So what you have no language in common.

It was exhuberating.

You can do that Glanville to Woodville Park, you know.

Not only that but listen to this what happened.

Sydney to Adelaide on the Indian Pacific. Darkness outside. The motion of the train. Do you know they pull a shelf down from the wall and it becomes your bed and you lie on it? The landscape painted by night travels past and you are rocked.

Come day go day.

I wish we were children again.

On a train at night a man put my hand on his penis. Finish what you’ve started. I was seventeen. Trains aren’t scary. Some of the people on the train might be. His breath smelt of green onions.

I was in sticky water.

On New York’s subway system they work hard for coins. They tell stories; their lives, their lies. They sing. Sometimes they dance. Once a blind saxophone player looked me in the eye as he accurately grasped the dollar bill I held out. We gave each other a nod.

Something that you wear under the clothes for the breasts.

I had to bite my pride.

Imagine if Ascot Vale to Footscray was a performance. Imagine. Well it is. If I curl up on myself, shutting out the world, I miss the show.

Grasp the nettle by the horns.

He will tear the house upside down.

Plain Jane on a high horse.

If you are on the nod, it will pass you by.

Just for the luck of it.

We’ll lose the plane.

Every once and a while.

And remember: At night, rave near the guard’s compartment, naked with a blue light.

Photo Credit: Felicity Pickering


Where do ideas come from?

Where do you get your ideas? I get asked this question a lot. Truth is, I think ideas are the easy part—it’s working them into something more, into a coherent, resonant and distinctive piece of work that’s hard.

The pieces I’ve written for A View From Moving Windows were born from train journeys between Central and Parramatta. I watched my fellow passengers and the screens they were watching. An empty Red Bull can rolled around the carriage. I looked at the reflections on the windows and the dark outside. There was a woman on the phone, listening never speaking—if she spoke, what would she say?

That’s my view from moving windows. This is a more general riff on where (my) ideas come from …

I find ideas all over the place—on maps, in unlikely corners, from conversations overheard on public transport. From music, cooking, photographs, a list found in a library book, and email spam. I can become intrigued by a historical figure or event. By a fictional character such as Walt Disney’s Minnie Mouse, King Lear’s Fool, or Rumour, ‘painted full of tongues’, from Henry IV, Part 2. By a botanical oddity, a misleading translation, a snippet of a story in a newspaper, by a wrong-number-voicemail from someone I’ve never met. Memories—not necessarily my own—can spark my imagination, as can watching  moths hurl themselves against the flyscreen on a summer night. And recently a walk along the Alexandra Canal in Sydney’s inner west gave rise to a possible scenario …

Noëlle Janaczewska

 The surprisingly inspiring Alexandra Canal


Patrick Lenton

Patrick Lenton is here to spice up your Sunday Night with his comic musings. Patrick Lenton is a writer of theatre, prose and comedy. He has just finished up his show 100 Years of Lizards as part of the Sydney Fringe Festival. For more of Patrick’s musing check out his blog The Spontaneity Review.

Skynet’s terrifying caterpillar-horses, AKA the train.

From time immemorial, people have looked at that blue concave temptress known as the horizon and become daunted. It is not a small world, despite that moment when you meet your year eight maths teacher in the same brothel in Thailand. The world is large and notoriously difficult to circumnavigate. Distance, which the Latino’s named ‘Tyrannosaurus Rex’, is a cruel overlord. Despite desiring to go to Finland, you probably cannot go to Finland all because of the tyranny of distance.

In mankind’s endless war against Distance, one of the deadliest blows struck was the
invention of trains. Trains ate up the landscape with all the ferocity of a dog licking peanut butter. Trains swallowed up people and bore them uncomplainingly to work, the beach and even Finland. Historians, if drunk, will sometimes admit that the success of trains led to other such triumphs as planes, hot air balloons and whales.

But much like that legless veteran outside of the liquor store, rich people avoid trains. Trains have become the domain of the stinking working masses. Packed into the carriages like cabbages in a cabbage-box, the despair and hatred of the passengers seeps into the trains. And now, these once noble industrial steeds are twisted, graffitied wrecks of what they once were. Chugging along painfully like arthritis-ridden snakes on a fun run, they manifest their pain by being constantly late, stinky and full of drunks. They cover themselves in graffiti and honk loudly at night. In the early hours of the morning they rest uneasily in large depots, plotting revenge.

Illustration by Patrick Lenton

On a train in Vietnam I once spent nine hours playing the card game ’500′ with five other
people. It was a filthy sleeper train, with hard bunks along the wall where this was supposed to take place. The first two hours slipped by easily, filled with learning the game, drinking beer and general banter. After the third hour, the game had taken on a competitive edge, the conversation turned to quips and jibes. By the fourth hour, there were already call backs to earlier jokes. There was a strange feeling of timelessness, of endless hands of cards, the never ending rattle of the train.

Around the fifth hour, confidences were being shared. We were told of lost loves and past
mistakes. A story shared between three of our fellow card players turned into a dispute, and we lost a player, storming off into the rickety train. A brief lull followed. I made my way again to the swaying stench bucket that passed for a toilet and sang loudly as I urinated. It felt right.

The sixth hour was sad, filled with silence and terse commands. Looking around the room,
at these people we’d only met a day earlier, I began inventing a scenario where I would fight them on a battlefield. Charging across trenches in France perhaps, I wanted nothing more than to bayonet them directly in the face and have them realise it was that guy they beat in Vietnam in that stupid, interminable card game. Oh yeah, and I’d been losing for many, many rounds.

The seventh hour was filled with a reckless mania, an enthusiasm that was as directionless
as it was annoying. The conversation consisted of repeated Simpson’s quotes and then cackling wildly. I began to win, buoyed on by a rising tide of absurdity. I saw my foes begin to falter under the deranged onslaught of my ability to draw connections between two, three and even four completely separate pop cultural references. I began amusing nobody but myself, but I was happy.

In the eighth hour, we had an enforced ten minutes of silence. Most of us giggled all the
way through it. The game was close to being won, and our patience all but gone. But I think we wanted to do it – we wanted to be able to say we finished the game. And it was around this time that I realised this card game, this nine hour long monstrous train ride was an analogy for life. But I was too tired to think it through. I think in some ways I’m still too tired to think it through, but I do know this. I have no memory of who won that game.

Illustration by Patrick Lenton

Jess Bellamy

We are thrilled to have our first guest post from the ever lovely Jess Bellamy!!

I am writing this blog from Verona, because Fresh Ink Australia have very kindly sent me to Italy to see my film Bat Eyes be screened at the Venice Film Festival, as part of the YouTube Your Film Festival.

I’m on a Trenitalia train, and I am not sitting in the same direction as the train is going.

Trenitalia trains are not like City Rail trains, where you can grab a handle,
swing the chair up and over, and move it to face the direction you want.

No. I am stuck facing the city I am leaving, rather than the city I am getting
closer to, and I’m not sure how this is going to go down.

If I vomit on the guy across from me, who’s just trying to eat his crust-free
sandwich and read the newspaper in peace, this will not be a pleasant trip.

So I focus on what’s around me instead.

And I think, what is different about this train to the ones I’ve been travelling on
between Central and Parramatta lately?

But also, what is the same?

I can tell you that the sounds are the same. The same squeaks and sighs
of carriages rubbing against each other as they whirl around corners of
countryside. There’s the same odd silence, for a carriage full of people,
punctuated by occasional flurries of movement when the train stops at a
station and a new bunch of people move around finding seats and settling in
for the journey.

There are a few noticeable differences too. There are multilingual
announcements of train rules and upcoming stops, reflective of the huge
number of tourists and multicultural clientele. Is this multilingualism defined
by tourism, or just more openness to non-Italians? I think about the ride out to
Parramatta; so many different voices, different faces, different stories, and yet
a mono-language for announcements.

Most interesting to me are the beggars, two different women, who walk down
my carriage dropping off dark photocopies of their plea for charity. Again
multilingual, these are printed in English and Italian, and punctuated with a
picture of Jesus or the Virgin Mary. These slips of paper sit untouched on the
edges of each bank of seats, before the beggar returns to collect the papers,
and any returns she might have made.

The same quiet disinterest and disengagement is on display here as a night
of commuting home from the City to Parramatta. No one clocks her presence.
No one’s feathers are ruffled. It is different, and yet also oddly familiar.

But then, in any culture, we can always rely on the freeing presence of the
older woman who doesn’t give a crap. I love these people. She waltzes
onto the carriage, she holds up the line to put her bag away, she trills out
an “arrivederci!” at her friend on the platform, who can’t hear her through the
double-glazed glass. And, my favourite of all her quirks, she unashamedly
checks out the entire carriage, not shying away from her analysis when she
catches our eye. No shame or embarrassment at her interest in us.

Because interest is good. Engagement is good. Alive is good.

If you’d like to read more about her experience in Venice check out it out here.