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Refrain on a Train

The Wangi Express
The Wangi Express

Think of the number of time when you’ve been somewhere while at the same time wishing fervently that you were somewhere else, far removed from your location at that moment. It happens to us all, sooner or later – and my latest was a couple of weeks ago at Hornsby, when I boarded the 3.00pm Newcastle train – first stop Woy Woy.

The minute I fought my way aboard, I knew I’d made a mistake – should have waited for the next train. It was packed to the doors – literally packed to the doors, for I found myself with several others in that little compartment before one actually gets into the seating area.

As the train headed off to Woy Woy, I looked about at the ten people who made up my unlucky travelling companions standing with me. All wore the set, resigned look of those forced to endure the dubious hospitality of NSW Rail for a lengthy period, cheek by jowl with total strangers. One poor lady thought the train would stop at Berowra, but of course it didn’t – first stop Woy Woy.

There we were – eleven of us, all standing, all trying not to look at anyone else, all silent, all just wanting to be outta there. A youngish woman near me was holding a box so I offered to hold it for her. She smiled and said it wasn’t heavy. Anyway, that was an opening so we chatted away. After a while I managed to include another in the chat. There was a very shy Chinese High School girl, and a boy about late teens as well as the unlucky lady from Berowra and a Filipino lady with two tiny kids (one in a stroller) and a girl aged about eleven or so.

I engaged as many as I could in the chat and most responded, even if a little reluctantly at first. Anyway, it all worked well. The talk which had begun so slowly got onto pets – and was suddenly more animated as my fellow passengers began talking of their cats, dogs, goldfish, flea colony (the boy) and pet rocks (the young girl). One girl’s beautiful cat had died recently and she had a little cry, so we had a little cry with her. After a while I dragged out the faithful mobile and showed them pics of Tonkie our Tonkinese cat and Jock our border collie – and next thing everyone whipped out their mobile phones to show off their pet cats and/or dogs. Many funny stories about our animal friends started to emerge, with lots of chortles and hearty laughter. The whole atmosphere in the compartment had changed. Pets are wonderful ways to engage folk in conversation. One of the girls said her father wouldn’t let her have a dog, but permitted a cat. We chatted about that for a while. Then I had a sudden thought: “I happen to know a song they sing at a sing-song in Sing-Sing. Let’s have a go at it!” I was prepared for a solo but in the end three others joined in Daddy wouldn’t buy me a bow-wow: (“I have a little cat, and I’m very fond of that, but I want a little bow-wow too!”).

At the end we were all sorry to see the train arrive at Woy Woy, for most of the group got out there. I had a seat after that. It had turned into a real fun trip and it certainly gave me something to chortle over for the rest of the way.

I was at the skin fellow’s shop later that week where I had a good crop for him to cut out and burn off. He loves it when I appear, for as soon as he sees me enter the waiting room he rolls up his sleeves and runs his skinning knife across the foot-driven sharpening wheel. I can hear the sound even from the waiting room, imagining the blue sparks flying and his look of keen anticipation as he tests the blade with his thumb…

I get called in and we chat away as he’s slicing and dicing and burning away, with the smell of fresh A. Neg. blood and sizzling flesh in the air. I tell him my story of the refrain on the train. He is still chortling as I remove my still-smoldering carcase, with bits of blistered skin hanging off here and there, from his slicing-dicing shop. I like to make people happy… A happy heart makes the face cheerful… (Proverbs 15:13)

Picture attribution: *‘KRL train surfing 5’’ by oktaviono available at under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0. Full terms at