Creative Conversations and Observations for a Poet and Writer on Public Transport

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On reflection, having to travel by public transport and perhaps do more walking than others need to, has been a gift for my writing. My notebook is filled with snippets of conversation, details noted, ideas, characters and plots, from daily observations as I travel from A to B by foot, bus or train.

Strange as it may seem in this modern world, I don’t drive and have never held a driving licence.

Why?

It’s a long story, which involves a deeply traumatic accident when I was a teenager, and one I won’t revisit today.

However, I make any situation work for me! I try to enthuse my students to spend more time on public transport (it is better for the planet after all) and to always be alert and have their pen and notebook at the ready.

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Monday Morning
Mairi Neil

Often I wake to early dawn
Pastel colours suffused on lawn
Dewy drops dripping from leaves
Ready to fall if gentle sea breeze…

Daylight comes with steady gait
I breakfast quickly, not to be late
The working day waits for no one
And shining sun now promises fun.

Buds are blooming insects thrum
The birds from the Wetlands come
Magpies chortle, blackbirds trill
Juicy worms now a morning thrill.

Trains trundle past, destination known
A glance at the clock, time has flown
Aurora locked outside with a bone
Handbag checked for keys and phone.

The walk to work an easy pace
Night shadows gone without a trace
Neighbours’ gardens perfume the air
Examples of love, and diligent care.

Cars jostle for parking, traffic grows
Some drivers’ rage leads to blows
Modern living a frenetic dance
But I work within strolling distance

Often I wake to the early dawn
As pastel colours suffuse on lawn
Night shadows leaving without a trace
I whisper blessings for the Creator’s Grace …

albert street

Monday Afternoon
Mairi Neil

The bus arrives to a restless queue
Driver grumpy, wishing time flew
Passengers board like a mutinous crew
No smiles, or greetings, courtesies few.

Timetables set and must be obeyed
When punctual, the memories fade
Lateness, delays, cancellations weighed
Invoking criticism, complaints, tirades!

What do passengers care of roadworks?
Better to assume all drivers are jerks
Perhaps skiving off, looking for perks
Responsibility of time, theirs to shirk.

Traffic jams, stress, interrupted flow
Vehicles broken down, or going slow
Bicycles hesitant of where to go
Negotiating routes even hard for a pro.

Who’d be a bus driver, I often ask
Their daily challenge an unenviable task
The bus arrives to a restless queue
The long-suffering driver wishing time flew…

One of the poet’s I admire is Roger McGough – he writes about a world I recognise and in a recent lesson, we discussed his poem Conversations on a Train and how we could use it as inspiration.

QUESTIONS
Where is conversation taking place?
Why are the women travelling?
What do the people do for a living?
Are they experienced travellers?
What are the Illuminations?
Any more information to be gleaned?
How does the poet use language and dialogue to tell the story?

Conversation on a Train
Roger McGough

I’m Shirley, she’s Mary.
We’re from Swansea
(if there was a horse there
it’d be a one-horse town
but there isn’t even that).
We’re going to Blackpool
Just the week. A bit late I know
But then there’s the Illuminations
Isn’t there? No, never been before.
Paris last year. Didn’t like it.
Too expensive and nothing there really.

Dirty old train isn’t it?
And not even a running buffet.
Packet of crisps would do
Change at Crewe
Probably have to wait hours
For the connection, and these cases
Are bloody heavy.
And those porters only want tipping.
Reminds you of Paris that does
Tip tip tip all the time.
Think you’re made of money over there.

Toy factory, and Mary works in a shop.
Grocers. Oh it’s not bad
Mind you the money’s terrible.
Where are you from now?
Oh aye, dya know the Beatles then?
Liar!
And what do you do for a living? You don’t say.
Diya hear than Mary?
Well I hope you don’t go home
And write a bloody poem about us.

In class, we worked with a partner and transposed the poem into a short piece of dialogue so we could mark the voices speaking and fill the gaps in conversation.

What differences are there between your dialogue and the poem? What’s more effective? Notice how you mentally supply the other half of the conversation because of cultural background and life experience.

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We then tried to write our own poems using McGough’s as a wonderful example.

A Trip to Tassy
Mairi Neil

I’m Mary, she’s Jane
We’re from Mordialloc
Our bit of paradise
Is Mordy –
Sea, sand and serenity.

We’re going to Launceston
Just the weekend. A bit short, I know.
But you need a break, don’t you?
Yes, work’s so bloody relentless
We’re cleaners. That’s right,
In business together.

Bumpy old ride isn’t it?
Gov’ment should fix the roads.
Oh, we’ve heard that, haven’t we Mum?
Road kill. Shocking statistics.
Those bumps were pot holes.
I bloody hope so!

We clean all sorts: houses, factories,
Shops. Too right there’s some sights
And smells. Ha! Ha! That’s funny!
Jane here would love that.
What Mum? A switch on yer nose.
Yeah, people can be filthy.

Everywhere. We went to England
Last year. Buckingham Palace.
Yeah, it was clean
But ya should have seen
The dog poo in the streets.
Like I said, people are filthy.

There can be perks -mostly jerks.
Jane!
Jaded Jane? You could say that.
It’s not a sought after job
For anyone. Of course, I finished
School. The economy’s crap.
What’s your line of work?
Gov’ment huh? Cushy job.
Wow, that was some bump.
Why don’t you fix the bloody roads!

Off The Rails
Off The Rails

Frankston to Flinders Street
Mairi Neil

Jason and Trev
Yeah, just finished TAFE
Our holiday gear
Is that why you thought
We were Tradies?
Jason’s tools need
A harder case than that
Like he is – Ha! Ha!
Have a guess. No, not sparkies.
Do I look like a painter?
Jas here’s a carpenter, I’m a baker.
And you’re a secretary.
Oooh! sensitive.
Nothing wrong with being a secretary
They record minutes and write too.

Trev’s sister’s a secretary
For the CEO of Metro
Pity she wasn’t the CEO
This train line needs a makeover.
You could write about that in your paper
We’re getting off at Southern Cross
Heading for the Ghan
And the desert.
You been there Pam?
Plenty of stories for you.
She’s going to write about us Trev.
Make us celebrities – eh Pam?
Front page news
Tradies Take Over Train
Tradies Testing Transport’s Timetables

Yeah, we were the jokers at TAFE
And school Jas – remember that
Trip to Springvale?
Very droll Pam – not the cemetery
But just as dead heh, Jas?
Deadly Trev – we missed the bus
Home remember? Aw getting off
So soon! Don’t you want to know
What we did? All right be like that.
Go on Trev, she like you…
Fancy coming with us Pam?
To record our story, of course!
Smile Trev I think that blonde’s
Heading this way…

Another poem by Roger McGough I love is –

Waving at Trains
Roger McGough

Do people who wave at trains
Wave at the driver, or at the train itself?
Or, do people who wave at trains
Wave at the passengers? Those hurtling strangers,
The unidentifiable flying faces?
They must think we like being waved at.
Children do perhaps, and alone
In a compartment, the occasional passenger
Who is himself a secret waver at trains.
But most of us are unimpressed.
Some even think they’re daft.
Stuck out there in a field, grinning.
But our ignoring them, our blank faces,
Even our pulled tongues and up you signs
Come three miles further down the line.
Out of harm’s way by then
They continue their walk.
Refreshed and made pure, by the mistaken belief
That their love has been returned,
Because they have not seen it rejected.
It’s like God in a way. Another day
Another universe. Always off somewhere.
And left behind, the faithful few,
Stuck out there. Not a care in the world.

Trains play a big part in my life and it is no surprise they inspire me to write.

Currently, I live opposite the Frankston railway line and 500 steps from Mordialloc Railway Station, and have done for 31 years.

Before that, I grew up in Croydon with the Lilydale line two paddocks away from our back fence. Before that, I lived in Scotland and watched my father drive trains, thrilled when he was on the Weymss Bay route and we’d wave a sheet from the back landing of our Braeside home. He’d toot the horn to let us know he’d seen us. (My Grandfather, also a locomotive engine driver in the age of steam so Dad was carrying on a family tradition.)

Dad drove steam trains, also diesels and was at 23 years of age the youngest diesel instructor for British Rail. When we arrived in Australia in 1962 with good references and proof of his 25 year career with British Rail, I can’t even imagine his devastation at being rejected by Victorian Railways, deemed too old at 40 to be a driver, and offered a job as a cleaner. ( A common immigrant story)

His active connection with working with trains forever severed – except at the dinner table where we feasted on stories of Papa and Dad’s exploits.

Trains are one of the most efficient and sustainable forms of public transport. For years I travelled to the city for work: red rattlers caught at Croydon Station at 7.30am and the infamous 5 o’clock flyer home from Flinders Street.

When I lived in Prahran for 5 years, I trammed to North Melbourne – and using the trams gave me my first paid published short story!

A move to Mordialloc in 1984 entailed travelling in and out of the city on Blue Harris trains, Silver Comengs, and now Metro’s Siemen trains. If given a choice, I opt for train travel over car, bus or plane! And I always have my writer’s notebook at hand.

3.05pm Flinders Street to Frankston
Mairi Neil

He shovels a healthy salad
into bearded mouth
his bamboo fork
environmentally friendly ––
but not the plastic container…

She swigs Kamboucha
for inner health
what about Mother Earth’s
digestive tract? Blocked
by the plastic bottle and cap.

Fast food aromas embedded
in train carriage upholstery
waft in the air, cling to clothes
junk food litter clutters floor
peeks from discarded plastic bags…

Excess packaging the norm
as the world chokes and
even those who profess care
sucked in and swallowed
by consumerism

Landfill dumps grow
garbage
litter
refuse
muck
There is no ‘away’ in throw!

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What’s your favourite form of transport? What transport inspires your writing? Have you written a poem based on overheard conversations or observations? Please give me a link to share.

Thank you

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