Wasp

The shape of the Australian continent and its position on the globe means that Perth summers are plagued by hot winds from the east.

A high pressure system halts its drift eastwards over the shallow waters of the vast bight that cuts into the continent’s southern edge. Its anti-clockwise winds sweep out across the Tasman Sea, swing north, then west, crossing the Queensland coast laden down with heat and moisture from the tropical waters of the Coral Sea.

Continuing west they encounter the ancient line of the Great Dividing Range, whose complex ridges and plateaus wring out the moisture like a fist squeezing a sponge. The warm, dry air rolls down the far side of the range into the vast plains of the interior. As the wind continues westwards the land becomes dryer and drier until it transitions into the red-dirt deserts of the continent’s dead heart.

The wind races across the Tanami desert of the Northern Territory and crosses the Western Australian border into the Gibson, soaking up heat from the burning land and blazing sun. It starts to swing southwards, passing out of the deserts and across the Wheatbelt, rattling the kernels on their stalks, and ascending the gentle rear slope of the Darling Escarpment before finally cresting the ridge and falling upon the city, bringing all the heat of the central deserts with it.

As long at the high pressure system remains in the bight the easterly wind grows stronger, hotter and more northerly until the city – buffeted by scorching gales – bakes in temperatures in excess of 40 centigrade. But eventually the pressure behind the high grows too great and it grinds back into motion, resuming its eastwards course. The winds shift dead north, fading away to nothing, then return from the south, cooler but laden down with moisture from the Southern Ocean, and the city perspires until the humidity fades, a new high moves into the bight, and the cycle begins again.

My primary school (elementary school for Americans and other aliens) stood on top of a hill with the parish church at one end of the block, separated from the years one to three classrooms by a narrow gap, leading to the grotty old toilet block and the long grassy slope down to the school oval. A concrete pathway hugged the school side of this gap, the rest was theoretically grassed, but the baking summer sun and the regular passage of hundreds of juvenile feet meant that it was usually a morass of hard baked sand and stone shards. The gap was oriented south east and when the summer easterlies got going it formed a perfect wind tunnel, scouring the bitumen assembly yard at the school’s front with gale force furnace blasts, laden with grit from the exposed ground.

So it happened that one baking summer day my best friend Gerald (stress on the second syllable please) and I were perched on the low wall surrounding the church, just in front of the gap. We were about nine years old and the easterly was howling through, pelting us with sand – but sitting in the wind felt slightly cooler than sitting in the still, baked air of the verandah or lunch area. We were discussing whatever it was that nine year old boys discussed in the mid 1980s when I felt a sudden, intense, stinging pain in my left foot.

Looking down I beheld a tiny wasp – no more than five millimeters long, pinned by the wind against one of the leather straps of my school uniform mandated sandal. As it struggled to free itself it raised its abdomen and plunged its stinger into my foot for a second time.

I swatted it away and – not being a particularly robust child – immediately burst into tears, crying and wailing at both the pain in my foot and the brutality of the universe in general.

Gerald helped me limp across the assembly yard to the school office where we expected to find Mrs Marsh – the school secretary – who could always be relied on for a sympathetic ear no matter how ridiculous our problems. Instead we found Mrs Billington the school principal, who on being informed of my dilemma immediately lowered herself somewhat in my opinion by asking if I’d got the sting out, despite my clearly stating that I had been stung by a wasp.

Entomological ignorance aside I was soon furnished with a cold drink, some anti-inflamatory cream and a bandaid and was allowed to lie down in the sick room for a while, which is really all a healthy nine year old requires when stung by a microscopic insect.

So that is the story of the only time I have ever been stung by a wasp.

Pros and Cons

Was almost gassed on the way to work today. The bus was so full of exhaust fumes that everyone was throwing open the windows despite it being only 5 degrees outside. Frostbite is, after all, mildly preferable to carbon monoxide poisoning.

On the plus side I got to see the dolphins playing in the river along Mounts Bay Road, which was nice. Unless of course they were gas induced hallucinations…

As the Sun Rises Slowly over Darch

There had been a major storm on Thursday. It’s important that you know this.

A couple of weeks back my good friend Matt was in town from Switzerland. As this is something that – given the appalling cost of air fares – rarely happens, arrangements were made that a bunch of us would get together at Fabes’ place in the far northern wastelands of Darch and spend Saturday hanging out, gaming and just generally catching up.

As a non-driver it’s always been somewhat difficult for me to get up to Fabes’ house. The most usual course of action has been to get the train up to Greenwood, then phone him to come and pick me up. I’ve always felt a bit guilty about this, so it pleased me immensely when some months back Transperth started a bus service from Warwick – the station before Greenwood – to pretty much just outside his domicile. So, a few days before the Saturday meetup I sat down with the Transperth website and plotted out a timetable that would allow me to get up to Warwick in time to catch the first bus of the day to Darch, arriving on Fabes’ doorstep just after 8:00am, thus maximising the time available to hang out with our international visitor. The timetable was as follows…

5:00am: Get up, shower, eat a pre-prepared breakfast
5:50am: Pick up prepacked bags and walk to train station
6:13am: Catch train to Perth
6:25am: Arrive at Perth Station, walk to Perth Underground
6:59am: Catch train from Perth Underground
7:12am: Arrive at Warwick
7:30am: Catch bus
8:02am: Get off bus and walk to Fabes’ house

So, I packed all my bags and in anticipation of my early start went to bed at 7:30 on Friday night.

My alarm went off at 5:00 on Saturday morning. I staggered out of bed and into the shower. I got dressed, ate breakfast, double checked that I had everything and at 5:50 staggered out the door and began walking. Given that the short stroll to the station was the longest walk I expected over the weekend and that rain was forecast, I was wearing my new Doc Martens which, while not yet broken in and hence very harsh on my ankles, would at least keep my feet dry, unlike my old pair which were very comfortable but almost separated from their soles.

I arrived at the station just on 6:00 as planned. I tagged in with my Smartrider and sat down in the pre-dawn darkness to await my train, pleased that everything was running to schedule.

6:13 came and went. No big problem, the trains are usually a few minutes late after all. 6:20 rolled around and I got a little concerned. I was just pulling out my phone to call the Transperth Info Line when the crossing lights started to flash. Finally! I stood up, picked up my bags and stood ready to board. The train came racing around the corner at a speed that indicated it had no intention to stop and barreled through the station, it turning out to be the Avonlink service. Damn. I sat back down and called the Info Line.

“When’s the next service from Bayswater Station?” I asked the woman when my call was answered – quickly for once it being nice and early on a Saturday when all right thinking people were still asleep rather than bothering Transperth operators. “The first train is at 6:13, then the next at 6:45” she informed me. Which I already knew. I thanked her and hung up.

It was obvious at this point that something had gone badly wrong with Transperth’s systems. I could hang around and hope that the by now ridiculously late 6:13 service turned up, wait for the 6:45 which wouldn’t get me to the city in time for my connection, or call for a taxi. I decided to call for a taxi and, after placing the call, trudged over to the carpark, tagging off along the way. Unable to determine how much train travel I’d done between tagging on and off at the same station in the stupidly early hours of the morning, the machine sucked the default maximum $9.00 fare out of my card, which did not improve my mood one bit.

I spent the next ten minutes – which felt like thirty – standing around in the car park vacillating over heading back on to the platform and waiting for any train that decided to show its face, or stay where I was awaiting a Taxi that didn’t seem to want to turn up. Eventually however a cab rolled in, slowly, as if the driver was afraid of being suddenly attacked by a bunyip. I flagged him down and we rode into the city, thankfully in silence as I was in no mood for polite conversation.

He dropped me off at the underground station, and I paid him the $26.00 fare – putting me $35.00 in the hole for a trip that should have cost a tenth of that if Transperth had actually been potest etiam freno circumducere stercore suo. I headed down into the station and caught the 6:59 train.

I sat down in the nearly empty carriage and relaxed. Everything was back under control and my carefully arranged schedule was no longer in jeopardy. Phew!

The train reached Warwick on time and with no problem. I disembarked and got the escalator up to the bus station, checking my watch to confirm how long I had before the bus arrived. My watch read 6:14 giving me…

My watch read 6:14.

6:14.

The world around seemed to waver and melt. Nothing made sense. Had I somehow looped back in time? Was I was having a stroke. Had I lost the ability to read a clock face, or to do simple mathematics? I blinked hard and looked at the watch again to make sure I wasn’t making some kind of ridiculous mistake. It still read 6:14.

Then I remembered Thursday, and the truth hit. As I stood there in numb shock the last few hours of my life rewound in my head, and I watched them play over, now with a completely different interpretation…

There had been a major storm on Thursday.

There had been a major storm on Thursday which had cut power to my apartment. This required me to reset my bedside clock radio. I’d reset it, but reset it an hour early and somehow not noticed for a couple of days. Its alarm had gone off at 4:00am, and I had got up, showered and dressed, walked down to the railway station just before 5:00 and stood around on the platform getting incensed that the 6:13 train wasn’t turning up at 5:13. I’d then paid a completely unnecessary $25.00 for a taxi ride to ensure that I was an hour early for my connecting train, and was now standing at Warwick Bus Station an hour and 15 minutes early for the first bus of the day, while the train I had intended to catch would just be pulling in to Bayswater station all the way on the other side of town.

To say I was floored at my own incompetence would be an understatement. If the newsagent at the bus station sold beer and had been open at such an ungodly hour I fully believe I would have bought one and downed it in a single swig. I was stunned.  Stunned like a mullet. I stood with my mouth hanging open for a full five minutes before my brain dragged itself back into some semblance of order and I started to consider my options.

I could wait around on the cold, windy platform for over an hour. I could catch the next train to Greenwood and give Fabes a call for a lift. I could catch the next train back to Perth, then back out to Bayswater, walk home, go back to bed and then never leave my apartment again. In the end I decided to send Fabes a text message asking for a lift, ride up to Greenwood and start walking – the idea being that he would get my message when he woke up and by then I should be well on my way to his place – or at least the shops about halfway, reducing the inconvenience of having to come and rescue me.

A fine plan, which I put into action. A fine plan, except that I forgot to account for a few important factors…

1: I was wearing my new, unbroken-in Doc Martens.
2: I was wearing a heavy backpack full of games and other sundry amusements.
3: I was carrying an aluminum tool case containing a copy of Arkham Horror with a couple of add ons.
4: I was wearing a heavy coat to compensate for the early morning chill.
5: The distance from Greenwood Railway Station to the shops was not about a kilometre as I though, but four kilometres.
6: I am a fat, unfit bastard.

With no response from Fabes by the time I reached Greenwood I started out walking.

The first few minutes were reasonably pleasant. I strolled along the roadside as the sun rose slowly over Darch, happy that I was taking responsibility for my massive time-based cock up, and that all was well. But then I started to sweat. And the duct tape that I had slapped onto the back of my ankles to protect them from my boots began to rub off. And with that gone, the skin started to rub off. Within the first kilometre I was in a state of increasingly sweaty agony, but kept soldiering on in the desperate and quite inaccurate knowledge that the shops would be just over the next hill. I started lurching, trying to find a gait that would allow me to keep moving without tearing my ankles down to the tendon. My coat and hat became soaked with sweat and I couldn’t remove either, not having any way to transport them at the same time as my backpack and Arkham Horror box. My disheveled and hobbling appearance became so extreme that early morning joggers started veering off the path to get avoid me, no doubt wondering if they were witnessing some kind of publicity stunt for The Walking Dead, and the rain clouds gathering on the southern horizon moved closer, threatening to add another torment to my catalogue of discomforts.

After what seemed close to a million years I reached the shops. I had just enough energy to stagger over to the bus stop and collapse, finally able to shed my coat and hat. About three minutes after my arrival, the bus – the same bus that I had intended to catch at Warwick – hove into sight and I flagged it down, much to the consternation of the driver who seemed uncertain of what fare to charge gimping sweat monsters. I rode the rest of the way to Fabes’ house, and staggered up to the door just after 8:00am as planned, but much more tired, pain-filled and filthy than envisaged the night before.

Apart from that it was a great day.

Sensory Impressions of Six Perth Rail Lines…

Your weekly dose of art nonsense

Midland Line: The muttering of commuters, the smell of stale beer and the soft snoring of drunks.

Clarkson Line: The whoosh of automatic doors and the yells of people trying to be heard over the traffic.

Fremantle Line: The clinking of wine-glasses, the smell of sea air and the tangled dreadlocks of surfers.

Mandurah Line: The whoosh of automatic doors, that new car smell and cries of “We have to take a bus the rest of the way?!”

Thornlie Line: The muttering of commuters and the grey hopelessness of the pre-dawn.

Armadale Line: Jungle drums and muffled screaming.