My Eurail holiday

Transcribed from journal written on European grid-pattern paper. Undated.

I’m on a train*. Blackness outside, the occasional light lives and dies, streaking past like a glow worm. Brown vinyl seats, crumbs from the packet of butter biscuits. My destination is Greece.

I’m on a train, FS. Destination Greece, because I want to get my passport stamped, not a good reason. And I wouldn’t mind seeing the Acropolis, blue sky, white stone buildings and olive trees; a slightly better reason. Blackness outside, I could be anywhere, although the man in the corner gives this compartment an Italian feel. He’s squat, dark, asleep.

Brown vinyl seats, crumbs from my packet of butter biscuits. “Finish sandwiches sorry,” so I paid 900 lira for the biscuits. But I don’t have a good reason for being here. To be brutally honest, I’m doing it to be “interesting”. To have been & seen & done. The stamped passport.

The man has opened his eyes. He caught me resting my head on the window. He gives me a steamy look.

Bridgette said, always get into a compartment with other women & children. Never sit alone in a compartment with a man. But it’s alright because the door is wide open, the light on, and there are women in the next compartmnet. In in the corner, resting my pad on my knee. The train is slowing down, stopping, orange lights outside. My glasses are lying brokenly on the pull-out table, beside a plastic cup.

I don’t want to reach Bari. I don’t know what will happen when I do. Im a long way from home. Where’s home? New Norcia. Mum, Dad & Debbie live there. I lived there for a while this year. But when people ask me where I’m from, I say, “Perth.”

I’m getting pissed off. I’m writing badly. I’m trying to write and nothing is happening. My mind has gone into relapse. I may have to wait till next year, when I start studying, for it to work again.

PISSED OFF PISSED OFF PISSED OFF

* Here’s a link to a train on Flickr. I Googled “train to Bari, 1982”. This would be about right.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/34147934@N07/4533403993/

The following (undated) must have been written in London, towards the end of the trip:

I want a Vegemite sandwich. Fresh brown sliced bread & margarine and vegemite spread evenly in between. The sandwich is wrapped in Glad wrap and put in the bottom of a fishing bag. The sandwich is eaten a few hours later, a mile or so from its birth, in the open air. Every bites are alternated with sips of hot strong tea; the water having been boiled over a little campfire. Actually there are 2 or even 3 rounds of the Vegemite sandwiches, and a green apple to have after.

I am, of course, hungry, with no hope of food until 7.30 tomorrow morning. So when I get back to New Norcia, one of the first things I must do is eat Vegemite sandwiches beside a campfire. Knowing that I will do this gives me something to look forward to and when I get to Perth I’ll go to a bad little cafe and have chicken with greasy chips & a cup of over-milky tea, which is what I’d like to have now, in this setting. Perth is a poor substitute for London.

I’ve just been to Brixton; rubbish in the streets, reggae, spiritual singers, “get the police off the streets”, a white man selling pro-Black papers, police everywhere on the streets, shabby

Flunked maths

Flunked maths. Human biol was unbelievably easy. My spirits soared when I opened it up and found a great big picture of the heart, all ready to label. I’d studied and studied the heart; also the brain, and there was a diagram of the brain, too. I was so happy that I filled it all out in CAPITAL LETTERS. Some of the multiple choice was unfamiliar, but mostly it could be done by a process of elimination. For instance, “A complaint often suffered by older men is …” Well, you can cross out cancer of the cervix straight away. That’s how easy it was! We had to pick two essays from a choice of six. Most of them asked for detailed factual information, on subjects I knew little of. Then there were two very general questions concerning evolution and puberty so pounced on them and wrote exactly three pages on each. Anyway it was all very simple. After that there was a long period of waiting for five o clock with absolutely nothing to do. After one has checked and checked and looked at the clock and Michael Caunt’s back and the ceiling, one gets kinda bored. I tallied up all the points I would definitely have gained; they came to 72%. So I should be fairly right.

But maths. Didn’t even finish the stupid thing, bombed out completely on one question and probably made stupid mistakes. Can’t bare to think about it. How ill I ever get to WAIT if I go on like this? Oh well, year 12 again isn’t such a dreadful thought … oh yes it is! I want to go to WAIT!!

The second day

Acropolis was limping badly this morning. I went out in the car with Debbie and Mum cos Debbie was late for school and had to be driven out at quarter to 9. I went too, so we could feed Croppy, drop Debbie off at school, pick up the chaff from Mr Stoney and take me to the Civic Centre all in one hit. But even after all that there was time to kill. I went to the public loos just outside the centre. The inside of the ladies’ smelt rather foul, and every inch of the walls, the doors, the window sills was covered in graffiti. At lest it wasn’t going to be boring, as I waited for twenty past nine. I reflected that this would probably be the last time in my life I’d be in those loos. On impulse, I decided to add my bit to that which was written. I was excited by my secret, daring little decision, but unable to think of what to write. That silly Italian song that everybody’s singing was going around in my head – “What’s a matter you, hey? Gotta no respect, hey? Whatta you think you do, hey? Why you look so sad, hey? It’s a not so bad, It’s a nice-a place, Oh Shut up a you face!” So I scawled “It’s a nice place” with one o fthe new 2B pencils I’d just bought from Elders (also to kill time).

And then I was late.

The lady was nice, she led self-conscious little me to my seat and asked if my number was right. I nodded dumbly, inwardly kicking myself.

The scaling test itself was fascinating: not really terribly hard, just challenging. The most interesting part was where we had to match statements with various examples of a modern painter’s art. An Englishman, oh, I can’t remember his name; I remember telling myself not to forget his name. Anyway, they were exciting pictures (especially for me, who has not seen much “real” art) and a welcome change in the middle of a booklet full of mathematical problems and endless graphs. But the paintings part was the hardest, because I felt that none of the statements really matched the pieces. It’s hard to tell whether or not I went well in that particular section, but I’m confident that the rest worked out OK. I finished with about fifteen minutes to spare and went back over and checked it. When it was all finished, it was surpising to see that I was the only girl left in the place; the rest had all left early. Most of the boys roared off in somebody’s car, but MW was walking in my direction. Since I was slightly ahead of him I wondered if I should slow down so we could talk about it. I really wanted to talk about it with somebody, as is my custom after an important exam. There is always the lengthy post-mortem. But I didn’t slow down, so I didn’t end up having the customary discussion.

I’m embroidering a dressing-table cover. I started it about a year ago and have been doing it spasmodically ever since. In times of stress or frustration it’s nice to do cross stitch in red and blue cotton on calico. It will be finished by the time we get to our new permanent place to live. I won’t use it before then, it will christen my new room. I wonder what that will be like, and where it will be …

The camels stirred up all the horses at Pony Club today. Croppy forgot about his sore leg and took off, along with all the rest of them. One horse jumped the unjumpable fence over into Croppy’s yard and they both kicked and worried, with eyes bulging. All over a few scrawny old disinterested camels. Debbie was furious and Fordy laughed. Finally she got Mum to politely ask the camel man if he could just move his camels a little as they were upsetting the horses. Debbie calmed Croppy down and led him out of the Pony Club grounds for a long walk so he could get away from it all for a while.

I bet the camel man reveled in the stir. In his book to be written after his epic journey on foot with camels around the Australian coast (and after having the feat included in the Guinness Book of Records) he can write a few paragraphs about the day the Pony Club horses went bezerk.

And then there’s the camel/horse race on Sunday. If today’s horsey reactions are anything to go by, it’ll probably be a shambles – with the camels going in one direction and the horses, without hesitation, in the other.

I didn’t see anything of it, unfortunately; got the story second hand off Mum. I was at home “studying” ie lazily flicking through the pages of a big fat book on evolution. Couldn’t settle into Human Biol or probability. After an all-morning exam I seem to be drained, mentally and physically.

Mum’s metal tape-measure exploded today. I was sitting at the table, varnishing my nails, when there was a loud “sprong” sound and a clatter and slither as the thin wound-up metal tape undid itself and the whole twenty-odd metres curled and kinked on the floor. It used to be a compact little case with a slit where the tape came out like a long, thin tongue; it no longer exists as such. Mum didn’t mind, she thought it was funny that it should pack it in right on the last curtain job for Carnarvon. She said, “I could frame a bit of it as a reminder of my old curtain days, but I won’t, I’ll chuck it out.” Which she did. Everything is winding up and getting finished…

The first day

Journal_scan_13_11_80I’m going over in my mind the words I wrote in the English exam. Yes, 9.20am is over and now it is 3.20pm. Tracy [Scott] and I bought lunch at the Outlet and drove out to Rotary Park to eat it there. There’s new park benches now, that have new paint and new cement around their feet. We had chicken and salad sandwiches and orange juice and pavlova. The sandwiches were delicious but the pavlova, to me, tasted funny, like the smell of those floral air fresheners.

Anyway, the real air was fresh and clean and free. I stared around at the great big twisted white-trunked gum trees. The wide river bed was dry, gravely and warm. We walked out on it and found a stagnant pool that contained tiny darting fish. I gazed dreamily up the river bank, where the gum trees stretched themselves towards the centre of the dry brown bed. Long, lush green grass grows around the water pump … Tracy called, “Come and help me catch the little fishies!” So I did, but didn’t quite relish putting my hand in the blackness of the water.

She put them in her clear plastic orange juice container; they flipped and wriggled. We went home after that. I enjoyed the ride home, feeling free and mature, sitting in the front, the driver a friend, not an adult. Carnarvon whizzed past. I didn’t ever want to reach the flat.

But I’m here now and thinking about that English exam. I can hardly bare [sic] to now, even though as I walked out of the Civic Centre I was quite confident. In one essay I went right off the track – I know now, when I think about it, what should have been written in it and how it varies from what I did write! As much as I hate to go back over it, I will tell you what I wrote. The question asked whether or not an Australian culture existed. Where I should have perhaps explained Henry Lawson and Banjo Patterson I instead went off on a tangent, with Anzac Day and (how could I?) Barry Humphries. So I guess I bombed out on that rather miserably. The other question I chose was concerned with sexism in language. Perhaps I’ll get a fairly good mark for that. Perhaps. Lastly, I did the compulsory section, where we had to pick out the implications and undercurrents in a dialogue between two strangers. We also had to discuss casual conversation based on what we’d learnt from the passage and from our own experience. I did not really understand the passage. Without this basic grasp, one is doomed from the start. But I waffled on for maybe four pages; structureless, confusing and aimless waffle. How could even the most sympathetic examiner give me much of a mark for that?

But what is most painful, in remembering what I wrote, is the smarty-pantsy way in which I wrote my essays. I wrote like a know-all, in a self-satisfied kind of way. It makes me so embarrassed to think of it – why did I have to go like that? I salve the pain by remembering that the paper is marked as an anonymous number. The examiners will be marking so many nameless numbers that mine will not be of any importance. Then my mark will be attached to the name of “Tracy Sorensen” – only the mark, and not the dreadful essays I did today. The writing will not be attached to my name. But still I feel ashamed of it.

And I am tired. All the worries in the world, I wish they could go away so I could lay down and go to sleep for ever. But tomorrow there’s another exam, and all next week other exams, and on the Monday after; perhaps when it is all over I’ll be neurotic rather than relieved. And now the next thing is tomorrow, 9.20am.

The day before

The day before … 12/11/80*

This is a new pen. Mum bought me five pens to see me through the TAE.

I screamed “Ta Ta” to Mum and Debbie, as they drove off in the Holden to feed Acropolis. I screamed it from this chair at this table because the car was directly outside, and could be seen and heard through the big window. A big window. And what with the door as well, and a lounge chair pushed up there, there is hardly any wall to be seen. No verandah or patio or anything, or front yard. Just walk out that door and you are in the middle of Carnarvon. I see waving, rippling dry grass, tall yellow grass, and beyond that red dirt, then the road, and on the other side of the road, big trucks and trailers behind a metal-wire fence.

And then there’s totally clear, faded blue sky. A seagull swoops up around the tall grey telegraph poles as I watch out the window.

The hot, cooking smell of chicken in the oven. Chicken for tea tonight. Tomorrow I will wake up and think, “Today is the English exam” and my insides will turn over. I will put on my blue skirt, my faded blue skirt like the sky, and a dark blue top. I’ll grab my pencil case, with this new pen, and Mum will drive me to the Civic Centre in the Holden. Tomorrow. Tomorrow morning at 9.20.

Will I pass my exams and will I go to WAIT? Of course I will, because there is no other way; I cannot do anything else. A stock truck comes slowly along the road; it is wheezing into Gascoyne Traders, with no sheep, so it rattles emptily.

The truckies came into Delmonica’s and had strong cups of tea and always squirted black sauce on their food, whether it was pie or roast or bacon and eggs. I don’t work there any more and I do not make strong cups of tea for the truckies.

I won’t live in Carnarvon any more. Gateway to the North West, the Sun’s Winter Home, a good place for the retired when the cold sets in down south. The old lady and old man chortle into town in their Combie [sic] vans and buy a cake at Delmonicas. She will get some cold meat and fresh bread to make them sandwiches, later. It won’t be until they have settled back into the Combie that they’ll find the cakes to be stale and hard.

Tomorrow morning at 9.20. I tell myself, we are leaving town, starting a new life, moving on. But I can’t see past the TAE. The agony, the anxiety, will be over on the afternoon of th 24th. But then comes the suspense of waiting for the result.

Waiting, waiting until January next year! But such a distant point in the future is unreal; it is tomorrow, 9.20am, that matters.

__________

Transcribed in Sep ’09 from journal written in an exercise book.

Tracy Sorensen – documentary maker, journalist, creative writer