In under an hour, an aluminium cylinder rattled through the crisp evening air from Forbes to Sydney even though the path taken was the scenic route across the city. This is customary for Friday evenings that are always replete with similar tubes.

In Forbes the tarmac couldn’t match the sky’s depth and crimson edges or hide its engineering among the fallow fields and winter crops as the tube ran on its own devices and with the tube in a hurry to leave even though control said to wait for a slot at the other end that no amount of strained grunt and propeller speed could allocate sooner.

The air and the darkening blue was big enough to still the haste. So it stood and champed, then left.

Strain before release, pause before a jerk forwards into a rush that should not be possible for such a hunk of metal and for so long that speed gathers up enough lift to do something even more absurd; a tube now higher than the crows running fast over the ground yet still in the vastness.

Then the point is reached quite soon when the whine dips and the bell rings leaving just enough time for darkness to arrive and a descent into a different bigness of orange lights and means for movement of a million people from where they are to where they want or have to be that includes the place where tubes can go to be received and looked after until the next time.

No need for the sky here. The crisscrossing tubes and the glow of the ground suck so much meaning from what is above it that no man can look away from the ground or resist the attempt to capture the scene onto whatever electronic device is at hand.

At one end there is vastness that taunts and at the other, there is interest everywhere from the clutter, chatter and chaos.

And so it is with the human being. A creature fascinated more by lights below than above with unwavering trust in a powered aluminium tube and the need to get back from whence it came.

Go well.

Another take on the quiet carriage

Another take on the quiet carriage

The quiet carriage is a relatively new and popular phenomenon on the commuter trains of Sydney. Half the carriages are designated as places where noise is supposed to be muffled on pain of public outrage and abuse.

Today I travelled on a noisy carriage. It did not have the quiet designation so the hubbub, chitchat and eardrum bending headphones were free to decibel away without fear of retribution.

No matter. The carriage choice was mine. I could have taken a few extra steps to enter a quiet one.

The thing is that hearing is but one of the senses.

All was well for nearly an hour. There are few travellers in mid-afternoon and my tip tapping was only occasionally distracted by a cough or a ringtone.

The train stopped at Parramatta. Several passengers entered the carriage and a young woman sat across the aisle from me. In her hand was a Styrofoam box.

At first, nothing happened. She made a call and spoke briefly in modest tones that she might even have got away with in the quiet carriage. Then she settled forward, put her phone away and stared at the box.

She opened it.

There is a brief moment when a cat is let out of a bag. You can see the cat, it is going to leap away to freedom and nothing will be fast or agile enough to stop it. Only for a moment, it is just there, a cat frozen in time on the edge of an open bag.

This cat was a burger and chips.

It stared then slithered out of the box without a sound. Once into the air, it permeated with a predators intent eyeing unwary nostrils.

Reaching mine it pounced.

Acridity of vegetable oil heated and reheated more often than is natural, but pungent as though the oil was still warm from the vat.

It was intense.

The assailant was as devastating as a lorry in a library. Any tranquillity from regular smells slapped away into next week.

It was a rare stink.

Now I suspect that the success of the quiet carriage is unlikely to transfer to smell free carriages. After all, who can decide if the smell of burger and chips at three in the afternoon or an over application of Delta by Delta at seven in the morning should be restricted to the smelly carriage? And indeed who would enter a carriage not designated as smell less?

There would be a rush on the odourless zones.

So there we have it. The ears have protection but I fear that the nose will be hit hard by whatever is let out of the box.

As for the eyes, best we not go there.

Where does life take you?

Where does life take you?

My youngest son has just taken a trip to London on a one-way ticket. It’s a brave move and even though he only intends to be away from Australia for a year, I recall leaving the UK for Zimbabwe with a similar intention 30 years ago. I’m still to make my way back for anything more than a holiday.

Once you step out into life, there is no telling where it will take you. This is a challenging realisation for a parent. When your son exists the departure lounge the mixed feelings of pride and loss are excruciating.

Through the wonders of Whatsapp we heard from the intrepid traveller a few days into his sojourn. His most acute initial observation was that if a beer is over five quid a pint and most casual work pays less than a tenner an hour, London is expensive.

Indeed it is, although by the beer and minimum wage metrics, probably no more so than Sydney. It’s just that on your own in a new country such sums take on a whole new meaning.

Already his initial plan, which was to find casual work after first having a look around, is fast-tracked. Some of the looking will have to wait. Apparently, a Scottish cousin might have some work in Wales.

And there it is. Life is already taking him in new directions after just a few days. It really does make you smile.

My own journey from a childhood in London to the quaintness of Norwich via Zimbabwe, Botswana, and suburban Sydney to my longest residency the Blue Mountains of NSW makes me smile too. It wasn’t planned especially. It had ambition at times, frustrations aplenty, and a vague logic that joins up the thread, yet really it was just a willingness to let the universe decide.

It is worth doing that I think. Be courageous enough to by the one-way ticket, then, all you need is the belief in what the world can offer.

As for the lad, nothing doing in Wales yet but a bedsit and barista work in Shoreditch, that is, apparently, a really happening place.




Joel has been in a wheelchair all his life. He is 32 years old and his parents have looked after him since he was born. They are worn out.

It is impossible to know how they feel about Joel.

He is their son who requires their attention for just about everything he does. They have been there for 11,680 days of dressing, showering and bowel movements. Between these days they didn’t sleep through on half the nights.

This is not a normal life.

Joel not only has physical disabilities he has mental issues too.

He couldn’t learn to speak and, according to numerous psych analyses, is not aware of where or who he is. Yet he seems to know what he likes and he gets scared and upset, even if very few people can tell the difference. The best care can see Joel comfortable and safe but no one knows if he is content.

Who speaks for Joel?

He is of legal age with an identity yet he cannot sign or speak his own name. He thinks for there are responses to likes and dislikes but no obvious capacity to discern. His smiles and cries and shouts are unfathomable to all but his parents and his sister. Often even they are not sure what he wants or what he means.

Those with a normal life cannot know how Joel feels or thinks.

His parents want to speak for Joel. They have provided his care, sacrificed much to be there for him and know him better than anyone, perhaps more than Joel knows himself. In the world of the rational they could, perhaps should, be his voice and decide what is best.

It just happens that Joel is aware of his sexuality. Whatever wiring his brain missed it developed the signals for procreation. He cannot speak his desires but   Joel obviously likes girls, especially the good-looking ones.

His parents see this. On occasion, it embarrasses them.

Only they believe sex is reserved for marriage and they cannot see Joel being married to anyone. It is silly to even think of it.

They do not even consider that Joel might want to have sex. Nor do they see that this fundamental human experience is what Joel the person might desire and even deserve.

However kind and dedicated they are, on the matter of sex Joel’s parents are clouded by their own preconceptions. They cannot truly speak for him.

It is likely that Joel will be denied any sexual encounters his whole life. His parents have a right to their worldview and are unlikely to change what they think about sex before marriage. They are also unlikely to change their devotion to Joel and his care.

There is an inevitable compromise in meeting Joel’s dependency. At some level, the caregiver decides and Joel must lose his voice.

It is a truly wicked conundrum.