Monday, November 15, 2010

My Horror of Public Transport

A long long long time ago, right before I turned 18 for the first time, I enrolled at Curtin University to study Journalism and English. Much to my shock, success in journalism depended on an interest in current affairs. Can you believe they actually expected us to read the paper? EVERY DAY? I mean, I was going to be a rock journalist, writing for NME. I couldn't have cared less about the history of newspaper ownership in WA. There went my major. That left English, which turned out not to be English at all, but a critical theory course, masquerading as English. We analysed bus stops and advertisements for weight loss products in TV magazines. Call me old-fashioned but I thought we would be reading BOOKS.

The other problem with Curtin was that it was not very close to my house and I didn't have a car. I had to catch not one, but THREE buses to get there, and another three to get back home. Sometimes, if I was travelling outside of peak hour, and the connections were less frequent, it could take me two and a half hours to get there. I utilised my time on the bus reading neo-Marxist post-post colonialist interpretations of god knows what.  Fun? Not really.

Before Curtin University became Curtin University someone had the bright idea that it should be called Curtin University of New Technology. Excuse my French but I couldn't help thinking CUNT was a fairly appropriate acronym for the place I had signed up to spend the next 3 years of my life, during which the hours I was clocking on public transport would be at least twice as many as the hours I would spend in class. What to do? Dropping out seemed like a pretty good option.

But my horror of public transport never left me. As an adult I would catch the train but the bus was strictly off limits. It wasn't even a consideration, ever. Last year I began working less than 3 kilometres from home. Occasionally I walked but usually I drove. I gave a lecture on sustainability in which I suggested to my students that, wherever possible, they consider catching the bus instead of driving. Yes! Public transport is great for the environment! Everyone should use it. Except me. 

Then one day our car was at the fix-it shop. My husband suggested I catch a bus to work. In the dim recesses of my mind I had noticed a bus stop, only a few minutes walk from our house, and a little investigation revealed that buses went from there, right past my workplace, every five minutes or so. I took a breath. How bad could it be? I caught the bus. I LIKED it. I listened to my iPod as I walked to the bus stop, and while I sat on the bus (for approximately 3 minutes) and while I walked from the bus stop to the staff room. I could hear 4 songs in each direction! And I was a better global citizen. Huzzah! All hail public transport. I'm so sorry I forgot how to catch the bus.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010


I first met Jemma through a Text and Gender unit in second year uni. I don't think either of us read any of the assigned texts, but who needed Simone de Beauvoir and Germaine Greer when we were full of our own profound and illuminating ideas on being part of 'the second sex'? We joined the university women's group and enthusiastically signed up to travel to Sydney for the Network of Women Student's National Conference. Psyched up for a week of thrilling female solidarity we were at best ignored and at worst ridiculed for being virtually the only heterosexuals in a sea of dungaree and beanie-clad lesbians. Shame on us for fraternising with MEN! So, after working through our socialist guilt about misusing the plane ticket paid for by the student guild (ah, the good old days!) we did what any self-respecting conference rejects would do - we ditched the conference and went sightseeing. We went shopping in Surry Hills, caught a ferry to Manly and ate fish and chips, watched Koyaanisquatsi at the Valhalla in Glebe, beat on saucepans and cheesegraters late at night in the quadrangle at Sydney uni and told each other pretty much everything that had ever happened to us in our lives so far. It was a little bit like falling in love, but without the kissing.

Jemma was exuberant and excitable, adventurous and irreverent. She had about 8 million admirers, which would have been annoying if she wasn't such an endearing and loyal friend. When she was diagnosed with Hodgkin's Lymphoma there was absolutely no doubt in my mind that she would get better. If anyone could beat cancer, Jemma could. And she did, the first time. When the cancer came back, I was living in London. She wrote me dozens of letters while I was away, letters of pain and frustration, hope and despair. I arrived home 2 months before she died. Her beautiful family generously allowed her close friends to visit the hospital as she was dying and I had the privilege of being able to tell her what her friendship had meant to me and to say goodbye to her.

I still miss her and think of her almost every day and I'm sure I always will. This sketchbook entry, woven from strips of the letters she sent me, is not 'sorry I forgot you' but 'I'll never forget you'.