Around the World for Sixpence

The wheels fell off my day pretty early last Friday. Bill and I both had plans to go to Sydney, but I didn’t need to go up as early as he. So there I was, not long finished breakfast, pottering around in my pyjamas, doing a bit of light housework, rehearsing my schedule in my mind, when – bing – my mobile phone went off with a fifteen minute appointment reminder. Appointment? That’s not part of today’s schedule I thought. Sure enough, I had forgotten to transcribe it into my paper diary that lives on the kitchen bench.

Problem – Bill had driven to the railway station and left the car for me there for later in the day. I didn’t have time to walk to that station(south), collect the car, drive to my appointment, find parking, etc, etc, etc.

I considered throwing on some clothes and walking as fast as I could to my appointment (north). I normally walk to this appointment. But I need at least twenty minutes, and that’s when I’m already dressed.

Well, what the heck. Everyone screws up sometime or another. So I fell on my sword, rang the clinic, explained my problem, and luckily they were able to reschedule me for ninety minutes later. Once the appointment was finished, I could walk to the next railway station on the line, and still catch the train I was aiming for. Problem solved. My day could return to equilibrium.

We usually take the train to Sydney. Being “seniors” we can ride as much public transport as we need for $2.50 for the day. It takes about ninety minutes and some of the scenery is superb, but the downside is it is only an hourly service. I was going to Sydney to check out a writers’ group which sounded as if it would be a good match for where I am with my current manuscript. In order to arrive before the workshop started, I had to choose a train that would get me there about fifty minutes early. I wasn’t sure how I would fill in the time, as I’d packed a lunch to eat on the train, but I definitely wanted to arrive early enough to introduce myself to the facilitator and other writers.

I was aiming for a place called Millers Point in The Rocks, part of the original European settlement of Sydney. My train terminates at Sydney Central, and I needed to change to a line that would take me to Circular Quay, then hoof the ten minutes or so walk to the meeting room. I usually get off the stop before, Redfern, and switch trains there. It is a quick run up one platform then down another. Much easier than navigating the central terminal.

I’d packed a few writing excerpts and my notebook, so I knew exactly where I had left off the last writing, and settled in to use the travel time to do some more writing. It went along pretty well. So well I forgot to eat my lunch. And so well I forgot to get off at Redfern. I got a shock when the guard announced “this train terminates here”.

Now, I can just as easily get a Circular Quay train from Central, but it is a longish walk from the country/regional section to the suburban lines. And I remembered seeing that there was a bus which went directly to Millers Point. So I left the terminal and walked the short distance to where I expected the bus would run, because the direction is obvious. Except that it wasn’t listed on the signpost there. Plenty others were. But not the one I wanted.

There is a bus information kiosk just near the train terminal, so now I walked back there and stood in a lengthy queue of tourists. When it came my turn, perhaps the assistant was so relieved that I was a local that she didn’t give me all the details. She told me to go to a stop that was behind her, kind of in the wrong direction of my destination. Oh, I said to her, does it loop in a circle? (Here’s me thinking a small loop). “Sure does,” she says, “but it gets to Millers Point in the end,” and she gave me a broad smile. The kind of smile that says, it’s just a little detour, but it will be fun.

I got on the bus at 1.20pm for a 2.30pm workshop. I’m sitting back, taking in the sights that I hadn’t seen for a while; another facade of Central station, a portion of Hyde Park, the magnificent War Memorial and Museum hoarded up as they are doing extensions, an office building where I used to work, a hotel where I hired the conference room for staff training. Odd we are coming this way, I’m thinking. But I knew that George Street, which is like the spine of the city, running its length north-south, was closed because the state government is (re)building a tram line. The last one ran there in 1962. So, just a little detour, I guess. A few minutes into the trip, I was puzzled when the bus headed for east Sydney, rather than north Sydney.

The next thing we are driving down Oxford Street Paddington and I’m thinking this is fun, because I had just been writing a scene set there in 1907. So I’m sitting up trying to check the street numbers and the building facades. Then we’re crossing a street that I know an ancestor lived in 1885, and now we are passing the church where he married, and all the time I am thinking what a piece of fate that I am here, and I’m happily soaking it all up. Any moment now the driver will turn in the correct direction.

Heck no! We just go further and further east. From Paddington to Darlinghurst and then into the red light district of Kings Cross. Behind that there is a nicer suburb called Elizabeth Bay and we go down that way until we reach a roundabout, do a 360′ degree and come back up again. Then we end up at the bottom end of Kings Cross where it becomes Potts Point, and then on to Woolloomooloo where the naval Fleet Base East is stationed. I am expecting the bus will use this point to cut across underneath the approach to the Sydney Harbour Bridge and head for Millers Point on the other side.

Heck no! We start heading back towards Darlinghurst, via Crown Street, where one of the characters in my novel went to school, and then we turn into William Street – and finally, finally, I realise we are headed for Town Hall, which is – wait for it – one short train stop from Central Station.

The driver has been negotiating road closures and grid-locks as we make this scenic tour, and I am a little hesitant to approach him, but by now it is 2.15pm, and I am no longer relaxed. Excuse me, I say. What time are we due at Millers Point?

“Six minutes past two”, he tells me cheerily.

“Uh  . . . how much longer do you think it will take?” I ask.

“This traffic? Half an hour maybe.”

I ask him to let me off so I can grab a taxi. Guess what? 3pm is change of shift, so from about 2.30pm the taxis are thin on the ground. I have practically walked to Town Hall by the time I grab one, but luckily he is a chatty fellow. I want to scream at him, but I have to remind myself not to take my anxiety out on him, and the traffic is smoother at this part so we move along quickly and when he drops me at my destination it is only 2.35pm and he has calmed my frayed nerves into the bargain. I give him a small tip, and his gratitude is out of all proportion to its meagerness.

By this time I have texted the facilitator that I am running late, and actually I am quite pleased that it is only five minutes. I bounce into the community centre to find an empty hall. It’s my first time so I don’t know where to go. I find an assistant who has never heard of the group. On the other hand, she tells me, she is only a casual and doesn’t even know the address of where she is now.

She tries to be very helpful, and looks up my address on her computer, then sends me off on a ten minute walk back towards Circular Quay. I walk all the way down the street, and all the way back, and I check directions on my mobile, and I look at all the places around, but I cannot come up with any other alternative than it being the community centre.

I ask assistance of another local, who tells me this is Argyle Street, and my note says Argyle Place, and have I tried walking down the street in the opposite direction? Meanwhile, the young lass has also had another look on her computer and given me a different set of directions. The satnav on my mobile, just to put the boot in, has decided to say – service temporarily unavailable. 

I don’t want to text the workshop facilitator, because I don’t want to be the newbie who crashes in and disturbs everyone while they are trying to be creative. I don’t feel that would be a conducive start to meeting a group with whom I would share my writing (it’s a very insecure state as it is, without imagining that they have you pegged as a dipstick).

Okay, well, there is a lot more to this part of the story, including me almost bursting into tears when a tourist stopped to ask me directions. But to cut to the chase, after an hour of fruitless searching, I gave it up and headed for home.

I decided that the best way to calm myself was to focus on writing again, and put the afternoon out of my mind. So I did. And I almost forgot to get off at the station where the car was parked. Almost. Then I just walked towards the only red car I saw, without actually checking if it was ours, but it unlocked, so I must have got the right one. Then I drove off with the handbrake still slightly engaged, and wondered what the strange noise was coming out of the radio. Turns out the car tells you if the handbrake is still on.

Just then I got a call from the workshop facilitator. I told her my tale of woe and guess what? The writers group does meet in that hall. Somewhere out the back. And many people use that bus to get there. The only difference is they get on at Town Hall, then it is a quick ten minute run, and the bus stop is directly in front.

When I got back to home, happy hour was still in swing in our community lounge. I’d been alcohol free for a week. I can’t boast that now 🙂

So, there are plenty of upsides to my day. I walked the obligatory 10,000 steps of exercise – probably more. I wrote two and a half thousand words. (Funny how I can bash that out no problems on a blog post, but bleed over them when trying to write a novel).  And I’ve had a bus ride around a location in my novel.

Next time I’m headed for this writer’s group, I’ll go up much earlier and walk those streets, just the same as one of my characters does. Maybe I will see some things that she saw. And when I’m done, I might even jump the bus as it is heading back to town . . . Maybe.

25 thoughts on “Around the World for Sixpence

    • Yes, I’ve read some of your train trip stories with horror. We don’t have tables on our trains, so I suppose that is one less thing to navigate or fit into the carriage. All the same, ours can get very crowded in peak hour and people will be sitting on the steps and so on. I was lucky to catch the one which was just before the regular office finish time, or else because it was a Friday, they had all gone for after-work drinks instead of straight home.

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    • It sure is a great pub, and the Mercantile, just up the road, has fabulous live music. I was very tempted – believe me! My husband had been nearby at The Australian, catching up with a friend who has a permanent reservation on a corner table there, but he’d caught the train before. But as it was, I didn’t get back home until 6pm.

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      • I was bar manager at the Australian back in 1974, Publican was John Wacher, a dentist by profession, His wife and I ran the pub whilst he was fixing teeth. He went blind and had to give up both. He was a good bloke. I also ran the book for the SP fella, his offsider was thought to also snuff people when the need arose. An interesting time i my life.

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        • A rich and varied life indeed. My friend has been a permanent there for about 25 years. Took redundancy off the waterfront in the early 90s. Didn’t tell his wife for six months, just pretended to go to work every day. Did they brew the Scharers beer when you were there? Bill and I stayed in one of the rooms a couple of years ago. Quaint 🙂 It’s very popular with tourists now, I guess you know that.

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          • I haven’t been there since the Wackers left in the late 70’s. Back then it was a typical Rocks pub, no airs or graces, not exactly a class establishment, Just ordinary Rocks people, living off the pension and trying towin a quid on the horses smoking and drinking their pension away. Everyone knew everybody in the Rocks. The bookie’s offsider was known as Johnny the Hat, always had this odd hat on, never called that to his face; you’d finish up in the harbour with oversized cement boots on 😄 😄

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          • I can well picture it. Knew many of those kind of people myself. Lots of retired wharfies who humped cargo by hand all their working life even well into their seventies. All the Millers Point houses are being sold off and renovated, I guess you saw the article on the news tonight of one of the last tenants to be forcibly relocated. We had friends who lived in the Sirius building for many years. It’s been emptied as well. We lived in Pyrmont before moving down to Wollongong and watched the gentrification of the pubs there one by one. By the way, one of the chaps on the waterfront was nick-named Harry the Pig, and his off-sider was called The Pig’s Trotter 🙂

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          • Can you imagine any Australians these days coming up with such great names? There’s been too much influence for the past 30/40 years of foreign (US) TV that we have lost all our originality.
            My three children have none of the old Aussie humour that I knew, only one has any idea of real humour, and sense of the ridiculous the other two will laugh at anything that is unfunny. Grew up with too much canned laughter on the TV.

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          • Agreed. When I started work everyone had nick-names. I worked with a girl we called Gunna. She was always “gunna do this, and gunna do that”. And there’s some great ones on the waterfront. “The Judge” – always sitting on a case. “George Negus” – only ever worked 60 minutes. See if your local library has Humour is Their Weapon (Rupert Lockwood) or What About the Workers (Barry Cohen). Quick reads that I’m sure will be right up your street. (and in case you’re wondering, one of my nick-names was Motor Mouth) 🙂

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          • ps If you want to go talk about the old times in the pub, you’d get a willing ear from our friend. Midday on Fridays. He likes to spin a yarn too, and he’s a character (early seventies). You can manage one beer and skip the gourmet pizzas. Or vice-versa. Or should I let you know next time I am up there?

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          • A trip to the Rocks is now a bridge to far, and somehow I don’t think that the old pubs in the Rocks would hold any appeal now. They have been taken over by the empty minded pseudo sophisticates, and have lost the character that took many years to build.
            It can never be recovered and is lost for all time; to the loss of all those who’ve wrecked havoc on them and never learned to appreciate what they had!
            As you see it saddens me. 😦

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