Saturday, October 15, 2011

books, bags and bopping


Commuting on the train to and from the city has not only given me a chance to perve into people’s backyards, it’s reminded me how fascinating people can be.

This evening on a crowded train [the one after the one that didn’t run] I found myself opposite a young chap of about 30 who was, from what I could hear [quite clearly], listening to the Beatles.

To my right was an older chap reeking of eau de ale who sat, for an hour, quite focused on a sudoku on what I think was his mobile phone. 
[I’m not sure about new tech, so I won’t tell you about the 60+ man the other night and how many pads, phones, book readers and what nots he fiddled with because it’s irritating when anyone over the age of 8 can understand these gizmos.]

The 3rd person to join our little group of seats was a tall thin young woman of about 25. Her long black hair was pulled casually into a bun with a lovely silk flower worthy of Oak’s Day.
The weather being perfect today, she was wearing a thin cotton jumpsuit with split sides up the legs. She wore a nose ring, and braces on her teeth. Nails and make-up were just right.
[She did not have a tissue, though at one stage she rummaged in her bag furiously yet unsuccessfully before she started sniffing again.]

Completing the outfit was a pair of old fashioned head phones which put me in mind of Princess Leia from Star Wars [a movie I have never been able to sit through but the details of which are nonetheless burnt into my mind forever].

“Flora’s” phone rang at regular intervals [traditional ring-ring ring-tone], and she made arrangements to go out with her friends on “the boat”. She would walk down to the pier and meet them there once the train arrived at Frankston.

In between phone calls about boating [and about the deep gash on Tony’s knee], Flora finished reading The Help, while bopping along to the music on her phone thingy. Her taste in music was quite eclectic and strangely ‘old’; including Bob Dylan and The Doors.

Having finished The Help, she heaved up onto her knee what can only be described [for want of a better word] as a carpetbag [only bigger and more flasherer]. Rummaging in this bag again she found a new band for her hair, replacing the fashion on the field flower with a more mundane felt rose [presumably more appropriate to boating].

Inside the capacious carpetbag [which I had assumed would be full of make up and various unguents], was an assortment of jars and clangy things. From what I could see [hopefully without being too conspicuously curious] most of this stuff consisted of large economy sized containers of vitamin supplements, along with a well used aluminium drink bottle.

So, was she all set for a weekend away, with a change of clothes and something warm to wear? If not in the carpetbag, perhaps the necessaries were in the giant plastic shop bag also crammed with ‘stuff’.

As if to answer my question at the very moment I posed it to myself, out of the plastic bag came a slightly smaller paper bag of books from Robinson’s [the local equivalent of Readings]. I concluded she must be a local. Perhaps someone who lives atop Oliver’s Hill.
Perhaps someone who gets a good income from whatever work she does, or gets a large allowance, or maybe even gets a very interesting credit card statement each month.

I find it difficult to leave the closing moments of a good book without savouring some of it for a while, and without replacing the atmosphere and events of one book so quickly with the words of another, more demanding novel.

Her copy of The Help, wrinkled and swollen as if it had been read in the bath – under the water – was replaced, briefly, by a new edition of a Salman Rushdie classic. It seemed she is one of those bookworms of the genus who don’t give a hoot about the condition of books so much as the content, as Flora immediately started flattening Rushdie’s pages, and wrapping them backwards around the spine.

No, Salman Rushdie did not suit the mood, so back it went into the plastic shop bag and out came a book about chakras.

Soon after this, the train pulled into Frankston Station and, as we alighted and made our way towards our vastly different adventures to come, she continued reading about chakras while bopping vigorously to the catchy sound of - wait for it - Johnny Cash’s rendition of the Ballad of Ira Hayes.

Worth each of the 510 cents the trip cost.


  1. I stalk people on Flickr. You stalk people on trains.

    It's so fascinating.

    Since "The Help" looked well-read, I'm wondering if she already read the book and was just reading her favorite parts on the train....Maybe she was rereading the end?

    Maybe she carries her favorite books with her and reads her favorite parts as a type of comfort?

    I'm like you though. I have trouble going quickly from one book to another.

    Flora seems like a very interesting character.

    If I was going to put her in a book, I'd probably say she was faking everything. She has no friends. She has some automatic thing call her all the time, so she can look popular.

    She doesn't know how to read. She carries books with her and pretends.

    That's kind of depressing though.

  2. One reason to like public transport. In a car you would never get to study the creature known as human so closely. Many kids seem to listen to old music. I would have died from embarrassment if I was caught listening to my parents music at that age.

  3. Hi Dina, isn't it interesting that people are so interesting?
    Interesting that a character my imagination could never have created in a million years [because fiction, unlike truth, is obliged to stick to possibilities] is a character your imagination would portray as a fraud! In any case, I rather liked her. She's milking life for all it's worth.

    Hi Andrew, I'd die of embarrassment if I was caught listening to some of my own generation's music [though I'm not overly fussy]. I grew up a big fan of swing, and 50s and 60s mush.
    The Other likes to pump out WWI standards on her pianola and, despite the hard work involved, still has the lung power to sing along. Much better than Gang Show tunes.

  4. I wouldn't be embarrassed to be caught listening to music of my parent's generation.

    I like old music....50's, 60's, 70's, etc. I like earlier stuff, but don't know much about it.

    I'd probably like the WWI music.

    I think my fraud idea was probably inspired by an episode of McLeod's Daughters. There was a character who had a collection of books and would look like she was reading them. Then it turned out, she couldn't read. It was a beautiful episode because she finally told someone the truth and they helped her learn.

  5. Hi Dina,
    I think I did see one episode of McLeod's Daughters, so I must have felt obliged to stay in the room. As far as soaps go it wasn't Lever and Kitchen but seemed infinitely better than Gays and Our Wives or whatever it's called.
    It sounds like it would have been a good episode. Unfortunately, there are a few illiterate adults around, so the storyline sounds quite constructive.
    I have learned over the years to detect some signs of this in action, and through a friend discovered that adults can learn in one year what most children take seven to learn. The biggest challenge is finding the right time and way to offer help.

    Hiding illiteracy is not as big a problem as looking "cool". Singing along to a song like "Take me back to dear old Blighty" is not cool. The Gang Show song "We'll go riding along on the crest of a wave" is so uncool it needs refrigerated air conditioning. Musical taste is a personal statement. Gang Show songs say something else altogether. You might not know about Gang Show, in which case you are lucky. Do you know what a pianola is? Someone under 40 asked me once, "what's a pianola?" and I replied "it's an analog i-pod".
    Not long after I first left school in 1872 I got a job in a shop that sold second hand books and records. The owners' policy was that if someone wanted to hear a record we would play it. Unfortunately, there were no fancy booths with private headphones - whatever we played blasted over the shop loudspeakers. Every Saturday a man would come in and ask to hear a record of marching band music called "John Phillip Sousa's Greatest Hits". Sousa's music is so uncool no one ever bought the record, so it was always still available on Saturday's for this man to have a listen to. "Gallant and Gay We'll March Away" was his favourite. Fortunately that wasn't on this particular record. [A record is sort of a vinyl analog itune.] When the tune playing reached a particularly stirring phrase, the man would stop conducting the band and exclaim "Take it away, J.P.!" I bet he once tried to join a Baptist Church but then realised Australian Baptists were a very serious and dour bunch. They only played organ music, only they didn't like to talk about it because they had heard "organ" was a Godless word. They were so frightened it was a bad word they didn't even find out that it's just the name of a musical instrument, like "flugelhorn" is. They disapproved of music that makes people dance cause it might lead to sex. Oh no, wait a minute, they were the ones who disapproved of sex cos it might lead to dancing.
    Where was I? What was I saying? Never mind, it was probably nothing...

  6. That's pretty funny. How much of the record would he listen to?

    Was it ever suggested that he buy the record so he could play it at home?

    Maybe he wanted people in the store to hear it too?

  7. Hi Dina,
    A true salesman can read minute hints from body language about whether people are genuine buyers or not. This man's body language suggested he did not understand the concept 'buy'. His very appearance suggested he might not own a record player. Yes, this public broadcast allowed him to share which as we know is an essential part of entertainment. And even if he had a home with a record player in it, he would never be able to turn it up so loud.
    The thing we were most thankful for is that Saturdays were quite busy - those being the days of strictly controlled trading hours. Usually after one or two tracks another customer would ask to hear something. It didn't take much to encourage other customers to ask to hear something different!