OUT SOON: The audiobook edition of MUSINGS AND MUTTERINGS OF A MALTESE MISANTHROPE by @RupertCGrech. It will be available at Amazon, iTunes, Audible. #Malta #audiobooks #humor #satire
The funeral was a quiet affair. His family was there, of course. And some local dignitaries, although he would have been disappointed that more of his colleagues and high ranking Department of Education officials were not present. It was a cool but sunny and frosty morning in this mid-sized, historic country town. People were milling around the outside of the old sandstone church with the tall steeple in that awkward way that they do at funerals. There were several men in similar dark suits. Some greeted one another with half-smiles while a few stood at the periphery and sporadically glanced at their wristwatches. The Area Director was there and gave de facto apologies for the Regional Director to the widow, at his first opportunity. Then he slipped away.
Michael Barclay had died after recently achieving his long term career goal of being appointed as the principal of the better high school in a desirable town. He was relatively young to have achieved such a position.Michael Barclay was a man in his early forties but his boyish looks made him seem even younger. He was of medium height, slim, had very straight blond hair that was parted on one side and wore large, square, black-rimmed glasses. He could have been accurately described as reasonably handsome in a “nerdy” type of way. The sort of appearance common in photographs displayed in the window of optometrist studios.
Michael Barclay rose quickly through the ranks of teacher, head teacher and deputy principal to eventually be a school principal. He was popular with his superiors at every stage of his career and he was earmarked early on by his colleagues as someone who would advance to a high level. He had the presence of mind to remain calm and speak positively no matter what demands were made of him. Even if expectations from his immediate supervisor were unrealistic, unreasonable or unfair, he would nevertheless agree. He never complained about or disparaged anyone or showed genuine displeasure. He was extremely considered, never spoke spontaneously and knew just what to say to please his bosses. David was well known for never arguing against or criticising any Department of Education policy or new instruction that was announced. Even when others would groan at the ever increasing accountability, responsibility and paperwork demanded year after year, he would keep quiet in regional school principals’ meetings and not join in with his colleagues when they complained, unless he felt that he was noticed for his lack of concern. Then he would affect some mild form of annoyance and support for his colleagues. He was never negative about anything or anyone in public and he knew that this was highly respected and valued by those who could assist his career. He would wearily offer to take on more duties even when told he was spreading himself too thinly. His supervisors found him to be reliable and easy to get on with. Even when he made an effort to be mildly critical in order to appear passionate about something, he would do it in such a way that his concerns sounded complimentary to his supervisors and positive in terms of the confidence he had in them. It always reflected well on him when he did this. Females in high ranking positions especially admired him. He came across as a somewhat gentle and emotional man who always deferred. The type that you would sympathise with because he might easily be bullied. He was no threat to anyone.
Michael Barclay would always start a conversation with someone of a higher position to himself by asking after their family and had trained himself to remember the names of partners and children. He never refused or even hesitated when asked to take on tasks that were unpopular, from those above his employment rank. He had even completed a short stint at a very troublesome school with a high proportion of indigenous students in an isolated and disadvantaged area that no one else wanted to take on. He implemented Department of Education polices that were required without making much of a difference to how the school operated and initiated innovations that appeared to be politically correct but that had little real effect. He managed to administer the school with a minimum of bad publicity for two years after which he had applied, and was successful in, gaining a position somewhere more favourable; for the sake of his family, even though he told those around him that he would much prefer to stick it out at the difficult school in the unpopular town. The Reginal Director understood and recommended him for the more favourable position in return for what he considered a job well done.
Michael Barclay had meticulously choreographed a stellar rise to the top. His calculating and immaculate behaviour gave rise to a variety of responses from his male colleagues ranging from mild amusement to simmering resentment. Female colleagues universally venerated him. Sometimes he would be chaffed by his male colleagues during social occasions associated with conferences and regional meetings. During those times he might be referred to by various unflattering nicknames as “golden boy” or “the chosen one”, at which times he would join in the banter and laugh along. Sometimes, just a little too loudly. At one social occasion he stood beside his Area Manager who was making lewd comments about an attractive female principle while watching her on the dancefloor. And laughed a little too sleazily.
At a dinner after one regional principals’ conference, Michael Barclay manoeuvred his way to the main table and sat opposite the Minister of Education. After exchanging pleasantries and asking after the minister’s wife and children, he opened the conversation with:
“I’m really enjoying the challenge of being the principal of an older and experienced staff”.
This was code for saying that he was successfully dealing with staff intransience. He pretended not to notice the wry smile on the face of a colleague who was sitting next to him and ignored the contemptable sigh of another who was close by and decided to get up and move from the table.
Leanne Hazel was a high school student of fifteen with the full figure of an athletic young woman. She had orange-red hair and an angular, thin nose on a freckled face with small eyes that looked slightly oriental. The almond shape of her eyes was enhanced by dark eyeliner and light blue eyeshadow that flashed bright when she blinked. She wore a body-hugging, white school blouse, left unbuttoned at the top and a tight fitting blue tartan short skirt. Her young body was firm and round and her legs were strong and shapely. Leanne Hazel walked the school grounds with a confidence that said she both knew and understood her attraction to males. She seemed a troubled child who often got into fights with other girls and into conflict with her teachers. Leanne had been suspended several times and was proving to be a bad influence on other girls who looked up to her as a role model. The Deputy Principal decided that it was time to refer her to the Principal.
The first time she attended the principal’s office was with her mother for a special return from suspension meeting. Leanne had earlier been reported to the Deputy Principal by her English teacher for repeated and inappropriate language in class of a sexually explicit nature. The DP had suspended her for three days. Leanne’s mother confided in Mr. Barclay that she was extremely concerned about her daughter’s increasingly wild behaviour, especially with older boys. The Principal noticed that Leanne’s mother wore a very low cut blouse that displayed a significant part of her breasts and wore similar eye makeup to what Leanne did. Mr Barclay warned Leanne and her mother that Leanne was heading for expulsion from the school if her poor behaviour continued and that her future success in life would be subsequently compromised.
Mr Barclay had a heart-to-heart talk with Leanne after her mother left his office. The talk seemed to register positively with her. It was the first time in Leanne’s life that an older male had shown such a caring and considerate attitude to her. He spoke of his own family, his wife and especially of his teenaged daughter and his hopes for her future. Leanne told Mr Barclay all about her ambition to become an actress. Mr Barclay had seemed genuinely interested in and supportive of the idea, in contrast to the derision expressed by her mother over the subject. He let Leanne know that his door was always open to her if she needed to talk to him but that she had to change significantly or she would have to leave the school. He said that he would speak to her again soon.
The occasional chats between Mr Barclay and Leanne in his office seemed to have a positive effect on the girl. She stopped wearing so much makeup to school and started to wear longer skirts and more modest blouses. She managed to stay out of trouble in the playground and behaved better in class without causing too much fuss, as long as her teachers did not challenge or confront her. Teaching staff were instructed by Mr Barclay to avoid conflict with Leanne. The regular conflicts with her teachers almost completely disappeared. The unthinkable happened and she even started to have a positive influence on other girls in her year group. Leanne’s mother, the DP and her teachers were amazed at her transformation and were very pleased. Everyone gave the credit for the change in Leanne’s behaviour and attitude to Mr Barclay, his personal interest in the girl and their private chats. Mr Barclay’s reputation was enhanced.
Occasionally, Leanne would become agitated over something that happened in the playground or in class and ask for a chat with the principal after which she would always seem calmed, settle back down and continue with her positive behaviour. Then, one afternoon, while in tears, she asked to see Mr Barclay and had a long meeting in his office that lasted several hours, from the end of the lunch break all the way to the final school bell.
The next day Leanne turned up for school at her regular time. She was wearing heavy eye makeup, a tight blouse that was unbuttoned from the top that exposed the top of her breasts and her old, tight short skirt.
Mr Barclay did not attend school that day.
Michael Barclay was found by his wife hanging from a rope around his neck in the garage of their home.
Everyone who lived or worked in the vicinity of Ħamrun, Malta, around the time of the Second World War feared and avoided the man nicknamed “Iszus”, including the local police. Most people were terrified of him. Many people detested him. Some secretly fêted him. But all knew of his infamy.
Ħamrun at that time was a poor, tough, working class town. It lies about three kilometres further along the conurbation that spreads south-west along the main road from the capital city, Valletta, through the historic town of Floriana and past the area known as Blata L-Bajda (white rock). The locality mainly consists of small flats and maisonettes housed in narrow, two or three storey buildings of very similar appearance that are attached to each other, side-by-side. The whole area known as Ħamrun is around one square kilometre in area and around the time of the Second World War the municipality boasted 1 large parish church along with 2 smaller chapels, 2 band clubs, a police station located at the piazza and a bustling High Street lined with shops, bars and cafes.
The people of Ħamrun have an interesting traditional nickname.
Nicknames are popular and ubiquitous in Malta, probably because of the severely limited number of surnames and Christian names in circulation in the past (as recently as 2014, the most popular 100 surnames accounted for 75% of the population). Nicknames are assigned not only to individuals and families, but also to the populations of entire suburbs, villages and towns. Possibly stemming from the fact that many men from Ħamrun worked as stevedores on the nearby docks and carried a knife to work, or perhaps in reference to the community of Sicilians who settled there illegally in the 16th century, the people of Ħamrun are nicknamed Tas-Sikkina (literal meaning: “of the knife”) or Ta’ Werwer (literal meaning “of those who frighten”).
Perhaps the all-time scariest of them all was a large man in his forties with slightly greying hair known as Iszus, nicknamed after the all-powerful Greek god of thunder, king of all the gods.
Iszus was a huge and powerfully built man who towered over his compatriots. Well over six feet tall, muscular and barrel-chested, he resembled the archetypal 19th century circus strongman. Iszus walked with the slow, open gait of a dominant alpha-male. He always wore a traditional cloth cap and did not wear a normal collared shirt but instead, preferred a flannelette, sleeveless and button-less shirt that accentuated his powerful arms. It was said that there was no normal shirt that would fit him properly.
Iszus always had plenty of money even though he never seemed to have a job. He wore heavy gold chains around his neck as he roamed the streets of Ħamrun during the day and night, terrorising residents as well as local businesses. He would often stroll into a café or bar, order a meal or drinks and after having his fill, leave without paying. If any business owner dared to confront him about payment he would stare him down in a threatening way and order the foolhardy proprietor to put it on his tab- a tab that would never be paid. Iszus would do the same type of thing at family run grocery stores, fruit and vegetable barrows, the local barber and even lottery booths. Sometimes, he would stop people in the street and demand cash from them. There were also times when he visited the homes of people he knew and demanded a loan of money that would most likely never be repaid. People were too afraid to challenge him or report him to the police for fear of vicious retribution. Many had heard how violent he became when angered and about the brutal fights he had been involved in with other hooligans and bullies.
The most famous fight involving Iszus was with a dark skinned, North African man from Valletta who was known as Paulo il-Tork (Paul the Turk. In the Maltese vernacular “tork” signifies of dark skinned Arab origin rather than Turkish).
Paulo came to Ħamrun regularly, stirring up trouble and getting into fights. There had always been a strong, traditional dislike between the men of Valletta and Ħamrun due to the visceral rivalry between their respective football teams.
Iszus and Paulo encountered each other on the streets of Ħamrun one day and the inevitable happened. Both men finished up in hospital with significant injuries after a long and vicious marathon of a fistfight that lasted until both men were exhausted, bleeding profusely and held down by policemen.
The hapless Paulo was later involved in another incident in Ħamrun the day after the feast, one August. After an altercation with members of a gang of thugs known to all as “il-Halliga” (from the suburb of Halliga) and that included the brother of Iszus, Paulo il-Tork was chased down the streets of the neighbourhood until he slipped and fell, smashing his head against the pavement and dying of a fractured skull. Or so the story was told.
The only respite enjoyed by the local community from the appalling behaviour of Iszus was during regular but brief periods of his incarceration. Unavoidably, he would fall foul of the local constabulary who would periodically lock him up for short stretches, much to the relief of the community. Once released however, Iszus would continue with the intimidation and standover tactics that made him infamous far and wide. Each time he was arrested, it would take three or four burly and brave policemen to overpower him in order to apprehend him. This presented a deterrent to the police who, just like everyone else, were daunted by his strength and violent nature.
The hesitation of the police with regard to Iszus subsequently resulted in relative impunity for the self-confident thug. Iszus seemed to get away with a lot more than others in the community as the police tended to turn a “blind eye” to his bad behaviour in order to avoid him. The reluctance of the police to engage Iszus only served to embolden him further, much to the chagrin of the locals.
A young boy from Marsa named Harry was walking along the High Street in Ħamrun one sunny morning in June when he spotted Iszus on the other side of the street walking in the opposite direction. Iszus stopped and began to harass a karozzin driver who was standing beside his horse and carriage, waiting for fares. The driver was backing away and obviously intimidated by the grinning bully who was enjoying throwing his weight around.
Like all bullies, Iszus could easily sense fear in others and delighted in the anxiety he caused his victims. It gave him the feeling of power and control that he found so gratifyingly intoxicating. Iszus also knew that demonstrations of his cruelty along with displays of fear towards him in public enhanced his reputation and power.
Laughing out aloud, Iszus stepped up to the small horse and planted his feet firmly apart immediately in front of it. He then bent his knees, assumed a slightly crouched position similar to that of a boxer and with all of his strength and body weight behind him, swung an almighty punch into the chest of the unfortunate animal. The sickening slap-thud made by the heavy contact of the man’s bare fist against the smooth, dense flesh of the horse could be heard over the street noise by Harry from the other side of the road. The solid punch felled the ill-fated horse on the spot. It dropped to the ground in a heap as though it had been shot. Iszus walked away with a self-satisfied and confident swagger.
The horse could not be revived. It had suffered a heart attack from the physical shock of the blow to the chest and was dead.
Iszus regularly used the stage that was the annual feast in Ħamrun, that of San Gejtanu on the first Sunday after August 7th, as an opportunity to demonstrate his power and influence.
Following the traditional festive preliminaries, including noisy petards, fireworks and marches by the two local brass bands that occurred over the week before, the culminating procession would take place on the Sunday evening. Men of sound financial means who had successfully bid for the honour carried the statue of San Gejtanu kneeling at the feet of the Madonna and Child, on a platform supported by timber beams across their shoulders. They conveyed the platform supporting the statue in a procession from the parish church, through the neighbourhood streets and back again. The climax of the procession was when the statue bearers took a short run-up, quickly strode up the substantial flight of steps at the entrance to the church and returned the statue, inside. Just about the entire population of Ħamrun would take part in the final procession by marching behind the statue or would be out on the streets as cheering spectators.
Each year towards the end of the pageant, Iszus stepped out into the middle of the High Street, stopped the leaders of the procession just before they reached the parish church and made them wait until he ostentatiously placed a gold chain over the head and around the neck of the statue of the Madonna. It was his way of usurping proceedings. No one dared to question his right to stop and delay the solemn activities with his theatrics.
There was one famous procession that passed through Ħamrun towards the end of the war in1944 when Iszus managed to thrust himself into nationwide consciousness.
The heavy bombing Malta experienced during the middle period of WWII was concentrated around the dockyards of the Grand Harbour and spilled over into neighbouring towns. One town that suffered greatly due to its proximity to Dock No.1 was Cospicua, one of the ancient Three Cities that lie across the harbour from Valletta. The frequent air raids convinced the Cospicua parish church authorities to seek permission to move their prized statue of the Immaculate Conception, along with the church’s large titular painting, to the outlying town of Birkirkara in order to protect them in the event that the church was damaged or destroyed. Miraculously however, the parish church was one of only a handful of buildings in the central area of Cospicua that survived. After the Allied capture of Italy in September of 1943 brought the relentless bombing raids to an end, it was decided to complete the necessary formalities and make plans to bring both treasures back to their rightful home.
On the morning of November 19th, 1944, most of the good people of Cospicua had gathered in the main square of Birkirkara as part of a procession to respectfully accompany the beloved statue and painting back to their parish church. News of the pending ritual had spread by word of mouth across the entire island nation and the people of Cospicua were joined by thousands of other well-wishers from all over the country. The event had become something of a national celebration and an expression of gratitude to the Virgin Mary for delivering Malta from the war. The enduring church at Cospicua had become a metaphor for the survival of the nation.
All along the route between Birkirkara and Cospicua, the windows of dwellings were decorated with banners, framed holy pictures and flowers. Town bands from all over Malta joined the procession that was launched by the pealing bells of the parish church of Birkirkara.
The multitudinous procession slowly made its way down the High Street from Birkirkara accompanied by the music of brass bands. After proceeding for some time, the head of the procession, led by the statue of Our Lady held aloft on the shoulders of honoured men, reached alongside the front steps of the parish church of Ħamrun. At that moment, a huge man in a traditional cloth cap and sleeveless, button-less flannelette shirt strode out into the middle of the High Street and stopped the procession by raising his arms above his head and holding up the palms of his hands in a signal to stop.
It was Iszus.
He motioned to the men holding up the statue of the Immaculate Conception to lower the platform. Surprised and confused, the men who were now confronted by this imposing hulk of a man complied, lowered the platform and rested it onto the ground. Iszus pulled out a heavy gold chain from his pocket and placed it over the Virgin’s head and around her neck, then moved away to the side of the road. The men once again picked up the timber beams that supported the platform and statue, rested the beams on their shoulders and the procession recommenced its journey to Cospicua. The remarkable incident was publicised in all the newspapers of the time and Iszus became a nationally celebrity.
The ignominious end of the man known as Iszus came as a surprise, some years later. And at the hand of an unlikely protagonist.
Iszus had terrorised the quiet and unassuming owner of a local café for years. Ordering food and drinks the cost of which he demanded be placed on a tab that was never paid, as was his modus operandi. The owner of the café was a short, slightly built man who was by no stretch of the imagination a physical match for the domineering bully. Iszus saw his victim as no threat at all, even comical, when the inconsequential little man repeatedly requested payment. The tension had been building up for a long time when one day, the café owner psychologically snapped.
Iszus had ordered a meal and a beer and had consumed both. He got up from his table and turned his back to the counter as if to leave the café without paying one more time. The owner surreptitiously crept up to the bully and crouched behind him as he began to walk away. He then softly called out his name:
The big man turned around and looked over the top of the diminutive owner’s head. The café owner raised himself to his full height and in the same motion plunged a knife upwards, deep into his tormenter’s abdomen.
The astonished Iszus gasped. Wild-eyed, mouth open and with a bewildered expression on his face, Iszus looked down inquiringly into the face of his tiny assassin for a brief instant, then lowered his gaze further and observed the knife sticking out of his body. His eyes slowly rolled back into his head and Iszus collapsed onto the floor.
The bully of Tas-Sikkina was dead.
Rugby League and the Lido Shuffle
It was early morning on Bondi Beach and a sliver of shimmering sunshine prised my tightly shut eyes open. My face contorted as I slowly cracked open encrusted eyelids to reveal tired and blood-shot eyes, on a face that was expressing utter bewilderment. After a few seconds of slowly dissipating confusion, I woke to find myself lying on my back, in the sand, and with my head resting in my girlfriend’s lap.
“Good morning, football hero.”
“Whaaat? Oh… hi.”
It was the morning after the night before, several hours after the twenty-four hours of free beer to players and their guests that was provided in the beer garden of the Bondi Rex Hotel. The Bondi “A” Grade Rugby League team had only days earlier defeated the hot favourites, Paddington Colts, in the grand final at Waverley Oval and the Rex Hotel, who was the…
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The day had arrived for me to return to Australia. I had been in Malta only four months instead of the usual six but had to leave early to attend a family wedding in Sydney. I was not happy about leaving Malta, early. I cleaned the house from top to bottom, leaving it fresh and clean. I had organised for a couple to stay in my Valletta maisonette while I was away and I had made an effort to leave it pristine in the optimistic hope that they would reciprocate for me on my return.
All my bags are packed and I’m ready to go…I’m leaving…on a jet plane.
After struggling up the steps of my street (it’s an ancient street with flagstone steps and no cars) I wheeled my luggage the eight minutes or so to the bus station and then to Stage 16 where the bus to the airport departs from. It was hot and I was sweaty. I congratulated myself for my insightful planning as I had left the house wearing shorts, singlet and flip-flops, with my jeans, long-sleeved shirt, shoes and socks in my backpack, in anticipation of a quick wash and change at the airport before my flight.
I noticed that the large electronic message display board that usually showed the time of arrival of the next bus along with the bus route and timetable at Stage 16 was missing. Hmm… must have been another accident where an overly enthusiastic driver had pushed his bus just a little too quickly and a little too far down the bus parking bay and knocked out the sign.
There were other people waiting and after about fifteen minutes I asked them if they had been waiting long. They had. Hmm…again. This didn’t look quite right. So, I asked some men who were in bus driver uniforms, standing a short distance behind us. They replied to my enquiry.
“Go around the corner. Stage 21”.
“You mean that the airport bus will leave from there?”
“Yes. Stage 21”.
The off-duty drivers had been standing behind us and our luggage, all of us obviously headed for the airport, the whole time, so it would have been extremely helpful if they had spoken up before.
So, my new friends and I hurriedly took up our bags and rushed around the corner into the adjacent street to Stage 21. One of the group checked the timetable.
“We are in luck. The bus to the airport is due any minute now”.
I sighed with relief.
Time was ticking, ticking, ticking… into the future.
Fifteen minutes later we had realised that the bus we were waiting for must have left early.
“Yes, sometimes they do that. We will have to wait for the next one.”
The next one arrived after another ten minutes. Phew! It was now one and three-quarter hours before my flight departure time.
I was lucky. The bus stopped directly in front of me and I managed to be one of the first passengers on the bus. That meant I got a bench seat behind the driver, facing the isle with room to have my luggage beside me rather than being in a normal seat inline with the driver and other passengers. Because the bus was late, or because the other bus had left early or did not turn up at all, this bus was very crowded, with passengers standing in the isle in front of me and packed in like sardines. Two young women who seemed to be together ended up in a position directly in front of me. One was an attractive, slim woman who seemed to be in her mid-twenties. The other was a very large woman of around ninety kilograms and of about the same age as her companion.
The bus rounded a bend a little too quickly and the standing passengers swayed to one side; the side I was sitting on. Guess which one of the two women standing in front of me lost her grip of the overhanging strap-type handle and fell, full force, on top of me?
Ninety kilos for her as opposed to around sixty kilos for me- it wasn’t a fair contest.
It all happened as if in slow motion and I can only imagine the look of shock and awe expressed on my face as the looming hulk slowly leaned further and further towards me and as I realised there was no escape from an eminent, severe crushing. Over the few seconds that it took for her to fall forward with all of her weight behind her, pressure on my upper torso increased enormously as the obese woman’s breasts pressed me up against the inside wall of the bus. In my mind’s eye I could imagine the shape of the back of my body bulging out from the outside view of the bus, as if in some children’s cartoon. The unfortunate woman and I were left for a few seconds face to face, gazing into each other’s wild and terrified eyes.
“Oh sorry, sorry, sorry. Sorry. I’m really sorry. Sorry”.
“Never mind. It’s OK. Just a little adventure on the journey.”
I realised she was even more embarrassed than I was.
Some other women sitting along side of me began to chuckle and to titter among themselves in another language. The sight of skinny, little me sitting there in my singlet and baggy shorts, minding my own business, being slowly eclipsed by this huge, round woman must have looked hilarious, even though it almost gave me a heart attack.
Total eclipse of the heart.
Of course, the traffic on the way to the airport was horrendous. It took about forty minutes to travel the ten kilometres or so to the airport which meant I arrived only fifty-five minutes before my flight was due to takeoff. I asked at check-in if I had time for a quick wash and change of clothes.
“Well, boarding should have already commenced. You better get to the boarding gate”.
I hurried to the departure section only to find a long queue at the hand-luggage check. I finally got through the checks and made it to my departure gate.
I had to stand in another queue for thirty minutes before they let us on the bus that took us across the tarmac to the plane.
I could not help thinking to myself that half an hour would have been more than enough time for a nice wash and change of clothes.
Standing in my flip-flops on the transfer bus, it jerked violently as it moved off causing a man directly in front of me to jump onto my foot. He was wearing leather dress-shoes with hard, heavy heels. He did not simply step back onto me, mind you, he staggered for a second or two and then jumped backwards, heavily onto my foot. Luckily, his sharp edged heel landed on the wide leather strap of my new flip-flops. If it had landed with such force on my bare foot it would have surely broken skin and if onto my toes I would have probably had to complete the rest of my journey with a broken toe or two.
Proceedings up to now had not been a pleasant start to my journey.
The flight itself wasn’t too bad. I had a man seated next to me who found the movie he was watching very funny and laughed loudly, and regularly, for about an hour and a half, but apart from that the trip was relatively painless. A few movies, some sleep, a few meals and twenty-two hours later we arrived at Sydney. I had even managed to squeeze in a quick shower and change of clothes at Dubai, in between a connecting flight.
We landed at Sydney right on time at 10:05pm. I was grateful that we had arrived on time but was still a little nervous as I did not have much time to get to Central Station in order to catch the 11:18pm train to Blacktown, where my mother lives and where I was staying the night. I was staying at my mother’s house before the family wedding the next day and then continuing my journey to the Blue Mountains after that. If I missed the 11:18pm train I would have to wait another hour for the last train before the service ended for that twenty-four hour period and started again much later in the morning. My luggage arrived on the carousel at the baggage collection section within fifteen minutes. A record! I checked my watch. I had forty-five minutes to get to Central and the train only takes ten. Plenty of time. I was pleased. I wheeled my luggage past the throngs of happy people waiting for loved ones to appear through the arrival gates. Arrivals are such happier places than departures. Departure lounges often feature tears and regretful faces whereas at arrivals, faces are bursting with optimistic anticipation. The happy people in the arrival lounge made me smile. I had made it. I didn’t have to rush and I was in a good mood.
I travelled the length of the airport building to the escalators that led to the airport railway station with a big grin on my face only to be greeted by a large sign over the railway station entrance:
“STATION CLOSED FOR MAINTENANCE. BUSES REPLACE TRAINS”
And I wonder, still I wonder…who’ll stop the (t)rain.
I found the place where the buses left from in time for an attendant to tell me that I had just missed one. I waited ten minutes for the next bus which took me to Central Station. The road trip took forty minutes. So I missed the 11:18pm bus by five minutes.
I reminded myself that I was almost “home” and that it was almost all over, in the desperate but futile attempt to cheer up my tired-to-the-point-of-exhaustion, cranky and dishevelled self.
I navigated the station and lifts with my luggage and arrived at the correct platform, waited and caught my train.
Yes! Not long now.
At Strathfield station, about halfway between Central and Blacktown, a voice came over the train intercom:
“Due to technical difficulties, this train will now terminate. Please wait on the platform for a replacement train.”
You are kidding. You… “please wait on the platform” yourself, you *#$&%*!
I asked an attendant when the next train to Blacktown would arrive.
“Oh, only four minutes.”
Well, that wasn’t too bad, I thought. That was lucky.
After ten minutes, another voice came over the station intercom:
“The train to Blacktown has been delayed a further ten minutes and is now leaving on platform 8. Please make your way to platform 8.”
Oh, for God’s sake!
Come on, come on…and do the locomotion with me.
So, I struggled once more with my luggage and moved over to platform 8 just in time to catch the train.
I finally arrived at Blacktown station, caught the lift from the platform to the concourse, exited the station and caught a taxi to my mother’s house.
My mother was waiting up for me and feeling a little worried as I was so much later than my estimated time of arrival.
She got in just before I had time to stop her.
“How was your trip?”