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Riding the 19 tram (pre-COVID lockdown)

Once upon a time when I was a commuter …

The 19 tram is a fickle beast, prone to fits of madness, rage, and the inevitable delays of Melbourne public transport. For the most part, I like my tram route because it goes up Royal Parade past Princes Park and glides up Sydney Road spewing commuters onto the pavement and into the many bars and cafes along the way. It’s like a Mallee Ringneck feeding the road with tiny morsels of consumerism.

I can’t remember my first ride on the 19 tram but I do know that I’ve used it almost every day for the last nine years and I can even hear it clanking away at night, as I eat my dinner up in my wee flat amongst the trees.

I think it was the Bedroom Philosopher who wrote about the 86 tram a few years ago and he captured the spirit of the journey perfectly and some of the pretentious shitehawks who use the service. The 19 tram has a slightly similar ambiance but it’s also different in many ways. The main difference being that the 19 tram has a strange sense of nobility, particularly if you watch it stop and start, as it makes its way northward up Sydney Road from Brunswick Road. I love watching it slowly crawl up passed Blyth Street and disappear into the Land of the Hookah, the sun reflecting off its back windows. It reminds me of being a kid in Scotland, watching my Dad walk up David Street with the day’s takings tucked under his arm, in an old biscuit tin. Just a reassuring feeling of familiarity that makes us all feel at ease when perched on the edge of perpetual trepidation.

However, on a bad day, the 19 becomes my biscuit tin of nightmares. I only catch it a few stops down the road but when I see it approach my stop with its windows misted over and people packed in around the door I’m filled with dread. Why not walk I hear you ask? It’s only a few stops down the road. I’m constantly running late, so I end up having to squeeze myself in and just take it like a commuter. It’s that feeling of impending doom as I mount those stairs and squeeze myself into that jigsaw puzzle of arms, legs and torsos that pisses me off the most. Being stuck next to the person with a bag that’s far too big for what they really need to do that day. Music from earphones that’s too loud and never my cup of tea. Sour coffee breath, cheap deodorant, bullshit conversation, and that erratic pulse of unease from people just like me.

Poor morale is infectious and a bad start to the day.

But on the whole, I like the 19 tram. No, I love the 19 tram. It’s frequent, double carriaged, has mostly un-vandalised upholstery, runs most of the night/morning on Friday and Saturday nights and there’s something reassuring about coming home on the tram and getting off on Sydney Road and navigating your way across the road to Barkly Square. Crossing Sydney Road is an art form and is definitely an example of real life Frogger (see Seinfeld, season 9, episode 18).

So, next time you’re on the 19 tram have a think about its strong links to Sydney Road. It dominates that strip of road, which unfolds between Brunswick Road and Bell Street; a huge metal worm muscling its way up the asphalt in all its glory. One of the few trams in Melbourne with a soulful journey, as it passes through the ever-changing history of Brunswick and Coburg, disappearing into misty mornings and reappearing somewhere just beyond the Phantom Tollbooth.

And now, a poem about the morning commute on the 19 tram, by Bianca Frost:

The steel spine of Sydney Rd

as night gives way to yawning day
songbirds quarrel
the e-class grumbling awake
defibrillating shocks
into the electric current

circulating

inertia into motion

soiled steel bones grating scapular over knee
out of the old depot
resentfully onto old road Sydney

shuddering sputtering spat
the hacking paroxysms
syncopating coughs
mimic the percussion of smokers
splattering oily phlegm pocked
pearl purple green
with petrochemical carcinogens
accrued
on the daily lug every morning

up and down

arterial route 19

stop starting staring weary down the hill from Coburg
the twin lumbar spines of Moreland
stretching each articulated vertebrae

tensile

along the track

like a great glob of cholesterol
choking the straining heart
of commuters up the rabid carriageway

festooning turning rims with sprays of carbon grit
as it meets the expectant faces
of passengers ready to ride

not such a bad way to start the day
rumbles the tram with pride

Image of 19 tram courtesy of Bianca Frost (2015).

A good kicking on the way home from the pub, by the hobo chic quartet (excerpt from a novel – The exit line)

BIRDS

I’m being repeatedly kicked in the ribs by four pairs of feet. I can feel blood pouring out of my mouth. It’s pissing down with rain. I remember people telling me you stop feeling anything after a while when you’re being beaten up, and I thought they were talking shite. They’re right.

For some inexplicable reason, I have the song My Old Man’s a Dustman going through my head. I wonder when they’re going to stop. It feels like they’ve been kicking me for such a long time. I’m going to be a right mess in the end. Cindy’s being held back by two women. She’s screaming her head off. A good lass that one, probably the best woman I’ve ever met.

I really hope I live through this because I want to spend more time with her. Come on fuckheads, finish up and let me bleed on the pavement while Cindy holds my head up and tells me she loves me. That’s my cue to be all debonair and smile, then tell her that everything’s going to be alright. Deep down I’ve always been a gentleman.

Stuart’s final words to me as they finally stand back are, ‘That’s what you get when you mess with us’. What an idiot, he’s stolen lyrics from the chorus of Karma Police by Radiohead. The irony is mind-blowing. They walk down the street and I roll over onto my side and moan very loudly.

I’m really fucked up. Cindy’s immediately by my side holding my head up and kissing me on the cheek. The rain’s stopped. I don’t want the rain to stop; it feels more cinematic that way. Somebody’s shouting, ‘Fuck you, you Pommy cunt!’ I think every one of my ribs is broken. I haven’t lost any teeth, which is a total result because dentistry is expensive in Australia.

Cindy’s crying really loudly and swearing. I tell her everything’s going to be alright. My heart rate’s quickening, I can’t fucking breathe. Cindy’s stroking my head. I’m going to pass out.

the idiot prince

the-fool

I’ve always had a bad track record with relationships. I don’t know where it started or how it got so bad but it’s always been that way. Or so it seemed to be. There’s a moment in everybody’s life when something decisive happens, and it changes us forever. Whether the change is for better, or for worse, it’s a turning point that we take to the grave.

I was talking to a friend of mine about relationships and he said he’d only ever had one relationship in his life, and I got the impression that this made him feel less experienced than me. I looked at him and envied his inexperience because if relationships have taught me anything, it’s that people turn into toxic beasts during a difficult break-up. My soul would be stronger without those memories.

When love transmogrifies into repulsion, you lose a part of yourself. I lost a part of myself a few years ago when I took my eye off the ball and made a terrible mistake. Some people call it the ‘Magpie Syndrome’, that shallow pull towards shiny objects. And the problem with shiny objects is that they often lack depth, so once you’ve rolled them in your hand and seen yourself reflected in them, you’re faced with a difficult decision. I made the wrong decision, and the shiny object wormed its way into my soul.

She was a shallow, soulless person with no internal fortitude. An emotional leech obsessed with consumerism, Here Comes Honey Boo Boo, and she truly believed that mascara is a god given right. Add a dash of designer goods and you had the perfect recipe for mindless narcissism. Needless to say, I learned a lesson in true beauty and saw that a coy smile and cutesy shoulders that shrug on cue, hide nothing but a brittle husk.

So what the fuck does that say about me? Nothing good. And that’s because I’m the bad guy in this story, not the so-called narcissist, she’s just a foil for my villainous shite. If I met me in the street now, I’d break my nose for being a moron, and tell me to be out of town by noon.

But it’s what I left behind that’s the greatest tragedy in this story and makes me a despicable villain. She’s the opposite of the leech and me. She’s the most beautiful and caring person I’ve ever met in my life and I hurt her to the very core because I saw a shiny object, and was hypnotised by my own reflection. I remember walking down the street and she called me and told me she’d had to clear all of my stuff out of her flat because she found it physically painful to think about what had happened. I’ve never experienced that kind of pain and I can only imagine how awful it must feel.

So, this is my apology to you. The words of a fool who’s led a frivolous life and is willing to sacrifice everything, to let you know I’ve changed and I regret everything.

 

 

Gary Sweet was my swimming teacher

Gary Sweet

Our Creative Director, Jesse Kingsley, used to be a pool attendant in the 90s. He talks fondly of the position; halcyon days, simpler times, all sprayed with chlorinated water and discount confectionary from the pool kiosk.

The other day, I was having lunch at my desk, when Jesse came up to me and said: “Gary Sweet was my swimming teacher”. I lifted my head up from an exquisitely baked chicken pie and told him that I once had a parking altercation with the lead singer of Dexys Midnight Runners. A weird stalemate developed where neither of us knew which story was better. That’s when our Head of Business Development chimed in with a story about dating Sting’s cousin’s daughter.

Later that day, Jesse wondered if Gary would remember him if they ever met on the street. I asked Jesse if he’d done anything out of the ordinary during the swimming lessons, and he said no, he hadn’t. But then he smiled and said: “Yes he would remember me! Because back then, my last name was Beaver!”

Virtual Bri-ality

Brian Cho sits behind me at work, and calls himself The Brian. He’s the kind of person who strolls into meetings he’s not invited to and contributes like he’s organised the meeting, while everyone else sits there, too polite to say anything.

The other day, I was having lunch at my desk, when The Brian swivelled around on his chair and said: “Callum, I got your email about looking at your friend’s website and I wanted to know more about your relationship with her. What does she mean to you?”  I told him she’s one of my closest friends on the planet. To this, The Brian replied: “Then I will make sure I give it my complete attention”.

When I gave my friend The Brian’s feedback, I told her what he’d said, and she teared up and said: “What a lovely man, he must be great to work with”.  I nodded, took a sip of my drink and ordered a tin of sardines.

the biscuit years

toilet-c

uncle fraser

was bat shit crazy

his wife was a jehovah’s witness

I never

understood

what

she’d seen

but fraser

scared

me

loud, white haired: thief beater

he only

ever

asked

me one question:

‘what’s in the bag?’

and his wife,

the

witness,

made

me sandwiches

with

tomato

sauce

 

at night the cabin boy hid in the shadows

they told me

that

I

was going to a school for

“bad boys”

where there were

no

chocolate biscuits

or

fizzy drinks,

I

sat on the edge

of single figures

and

thought

about

this,

no chocolate biscuits?

no fizzy drinks?

this was my first deal breaker

so

I

put down the

knife

and

went to bed.

I had captain pugwash wallpaper to look at

 

hill primary blues

andrew spittal

was

known

as the bad Andrew

he

was

in the other class

with

another

bad person/boy/pestiferous fumarole

I

once

saw him

spit on another boy’s back

and

laugh.

but

he grew up to be

a very

nice

man

with good taste

in

music

The eLearning module’s new clothes

buffalo

Good eLearning is about as rare as good poetry. We’re led to believe that if it’s interactive and gamified, then it’s both contemporary and cutting edge. But what happened to substance? It’s all very well having a stylish looking module, equipped with all the bells and whistles money can buy but does it adequately communicate a message? Basically, is anybody actually learning anything?

Substance comes from knowledge and knowledge comes from thorough research. A good eLearning module is not unlike an essay that conveys a central contention. Every central contention is built upon a solid research platform that endeavours to build an argument.

So, what’s the difference between an argument and an opinion? Well, an argument is based on research, and an opinion is not. Simple as that. Good eLearning modules should never be regarded as opinions, otherwise, the learner will, and shouldn’t, have any faith in the product.

Substance is easy to spot. It’s the sentence that’s packed with watertight ideas, garnished with a modest sense of confidence.

I think that these sentences have been lost in the drive to make eLearning modules look ‘pretty’. Now, I’m not against bells and whistles, in fact, I extol their shiny virtues. However, they’re often used to mask the fact that the central contention of the module has no soul, and is devoid of any research.

It’s a bit like the story about the Emperor’s New Clothes, a tale by Hans Christian Andersen about a couple of cowboy weavers who promise the Emperor a new suit of invisible clothes but who are incompetent and bestow upon him an invisible suit. They assure him that it’s the height of fashion and he’s so vain that he believes them and parades through the town completely naked. This is what we call a logical fallacy; faulty reasoning in the construction of an argument.

We’re told that these bells and whistles in a module are ‘state of the art’, the way forward in eLearning but more often than not they mask the fact that the soul of the module, the argument, is missing, or incomplete.

Education is regarded as one of the pinnacles of so-called civilization. However, it’s merely become another product we take to market, and so many of these modules we churn out are actually naked, logical fallacies walking down the main street like the vain Emperor, unaware of the mocking crowd.

Ps. We don’t build modules like that…

If you’d like to learn more about what I do at BSI Learning, check out our website:

http://www.bsielearning.com.au/