As mentioned earlier a Pole had become a self-proclaimed taxi-driver. In Holland this would never ever be allowed to happen. It was an example of how one could become and have the freedom to initiate an independency without interference from higher up the Australian Bureaucracy. It was a heaven of freedom. However, on the way to the train I could hardly look the Polish taxi-driver in the face. I had observed his wife in the shower and seen her ‘bush’. The showers were sex separated but in the same block. I had already heard through the camp grapevine, that if you took the last cubicle adjacent to the female section, one could get a peek. Soon after, I too became privilege to that peek and had obtained another level of attainment in sexual observations. At that time I was the envy of aspirations held by many boys in their early teens. It was such a specific goal in growing up…I could now hold my head high.
Of course, today those things are observed in all its plucked colonoscopy chicken wing minutia on the Internet well before 15 years of age. Different times now, but far more erotic then. It was afterwards and with some guilt (always on automatic) I recognised the woman walking along the mess-hall. I could not look her in the eye. One can imagine going to the Polish taxi-driver’s hut when she came out. It was his wife that I had been viewing through the opening of the flimsy shower partition. A deep shame must have coloured me red…But, I was fifteen.
The train trip. We had all settled in the train. Mum was holding a small suitcase in her lap in which she had packed numerous sandwiches made from the free white bread and previously mentioned free fruit laden IXL jam. Those sandwiches would see us through the day and perhaps even on the trip back. Frugality would reign in this family through thick and thin but mainly thin. But, the rhythmic rocking of the train together with the pleasure of viewing the new passing landscape was interrupted (never to be forgotten) by the conductor wanting to clip a hole in all the passengers’ tickets.
There was something a bit odd about him. He had a dense smell and unfocussed eyes. ‘Show us your thickets or fickets’, he kept mumbling, swaying along while holding onto mum’s seat. We could not understand what he was saying but knew he might want our tickets. Even so, dad wanted to know and asked; ‘pardon?’ Pronouncing it in French. ‘Show us yer frucking thickest mate’, he persevered, now lurching dangerously towards my mum. She kept her suitcase firmly in her lap. We were by this time getting very alarmed. Were we about to be robbed or worse, was our mum and her sandwiches at risk? All of a sudden, the conductor gave up all pretence of soberness and just fell on top of mum and her case with sandwiches. We were all dumb struck. What was this? Someone said ‘he’s been on the turps.’ We had never heard of this term, didn’t know even what ‘turps’ was. A man who understood our plight gave the hand to mouth gesture indicating drinking. We understood quickly. The passengers helped the man up who stumbled back to his locket. We were so scared. In Holland we had never ever observed a drunk. A drunken conductor on a train? What would be waiting for us in Sydney? Lucky, that was the only incident but it was a great shock to us. We made it back home and the kind Polish taxi driver was waiting at the station. This time I was more brazen and felt that after the shock of the drunken train conductor, a mere peek of his wife in a shower was now an honest well-earned bonus. We had survived some difficult times and I needed something to cheer me up.