Tag Archives: Acton

Two travellers and the farmer

A migraine violently assaults me as I’m walking along Acton High Street.  I need to get out of the bustling crowd and noisy traffic immediately, so look for the closest sanctuary.  I cross the road and enter Our Lady of Lourdes Church.  I take a seat in a pew, open my handbag, swallow my medication and close my eyes.  I can hear some murmuring from the confessional booth at the back, but otherwise I’m surrounded by a still and welcome quiet.

Though I’ve not been to Mass in a few years, Catholic churches are familiar environments for me.  I’ve fainted in them, I’ve giggled in them, I’ve daydreamed in them.  I’ve even listened in them.  They always calm me.  In Church I was surrounded by friends and family, I knew what was taking place, and what was coming – I liked the safety, the routine, the familiar friendly faces.  Church was a place of happiness and fun.  I hear of “Catholic guilt” and of the Catholic experience being that of fear and looming repercussions, but mine was all about appreciating the joy of life, and making other people feel good whenever you could.

My father and me ... ready for my first communion (I didn't realise that was the only time in my life I'd be wearing a wedding dress ...)

My father and me … ready for my first communion (I didn’t realise that was the only time in my life I’d be wearing a wedding dress …)

I look at the empty altar and recall a priest telling a story that has stayed with me.  Precisely where I heard the moral tale is long forgotten (Saint Augustine’s, Kyabram? Saint Brendan’s, Shepparton? Saint Mary’s, Mooroopna?)  But the North American fable is tattooed in my memory.  As I prepare to depart to Australia in a few days, that story feels poignant.

Two travellers and the farmer

A traveller came upon an old farmer hoeing in his field beside the road.  Eager to rest his feet, the wanderer hailed the countryman, who seemed happy enough to straighten his back and talk for a moment.

What sort of people live in the next town?” asked the stranger.

What were the people like where you’ve come from?” replied the farmer.

They were a bad lot.  Troublemakers, and lazy too.  The most selfish people in the world, and not a one of them to be trusted.  I’m happy to be leaving the scoundrels.”

Is that so?” replied the old farmer.  “Well, I’m afraid that you’ll find the same sort in the next town.

Disappointed, the traveller trudged on his way, and the farmer returned to his work.

Some time later another stranger, coming from the same direction, hailed the farmer, and they stopped to talk. “What sort of people live in the next town?” he asked.

What were the people like where you’ve come from?” replied the farmer once again.

They were the best people in the world.  Hard working, honest, and friendly. I’m sorry to be leaving them.”

Fear not,” said the farmer. “You’ll find the same sort in the next town.”

Afterword

When I first heard this story, it struck a chord and I agreed with every word of it.  I was a child surrounded by decent and kind people; I assumed everyone was the same.  I still agree with about 80% of the sentiment.  But when I was a child my world was one of greater uniformity and shared values.  I assumed cultural and socio-economic similarities.  At 8 years of age, I wasn’t aware of the Taliban, for example.  As much as I find people to be generally pleasant, I know I wouldn’t find the Taliban to be the same!  Equally, life has taught me that financial circumstances and social environments play a large role in the attitudes of people – and how they treat others.  Sometimes no matter how positively you approach people, your goodwill won’t be reciprocated.

I’m off to Australia soon where I find people extremely likeable, excruciatingly irritating and frequently ridiculous.  I live in England where I find people extremely likeable, excruciatingly irritating and frequently ridiculous.  For me, at this point, the farmer’s words are true.

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No good deed goes unpunished

An Acton bus stop, Sunday, 12:30pm.  The sun is shining and through my headphones I’m happily listening to the cast of Glee sing Christina Aguilera’s, “Candyman” – the post gym buzz still with me.  A long, bendy 207 bus pulls up and the door opens, revealing the back of a reversing wheelchair.  I wait on the pavement for the passenger to alight.  Nothing happens.  Oddly, the chair isn’t moving towards me, but instead jerking erratically from side to side.  Alarmed, I realise the passenger’s not alighting; she’s clinging to the safety rail.  Her brakes don’t work so she’s gripping the bar with all her strength to prevent the chair from skidding off the bus.  She loses her grip and the chair slides rapidly to the exit.  I jump up and grab the chair’s handlebars to stop her fall. Furious, she hits my hand away.

WOMAN: Don’t fucking touch me!!

ME: (stunned, embarrassed and nervous.): Sorry, I was trying to help, sorry.

WOMAN: Don’t fucking touch me! Why does it always fucking do this?! Piece of shit! (She yells, swears and mumbles a lot of things that don’t make sense).

I take my hands from the handlebars, but keep my body against the chair so it won’t just skid away.  If I move my weight, the chair will slide off the bus and out the open door.  Without a ramp she’ll end up hurt.

ME: Do you want to get off the bus?

WOMAN: No!  He should have answered his fucking phone! (She rants some more and the C word is thrown about with carefree abandon).

I just stand there.  The doors of the bus have closed and we’re moving.  Even though I’m supporting the chair, she’s still clinging to the bar, swearing and mumbling.  The movement of the bus snaps me out of my paralysis and I look at her properly.  She’s wearing a baseball cap, with greasy shoulder-length hair hanging in limp clumps from under it.  Her fingernails have black dirt encrusted under them.  She’s wearing a loose black t-shirt and jogging bottoms.  Her arms have what I initially think are cuts on them, but then I realise they’re track marks.  She smells of urine.  She’s a junkie … possibly homeless.

I look around at my fellow passengers.  Most of them are looking away, a few glance at me with sympathy.  ALL of them know what’s happened:  I’d jumped to the aid of a person in a wheelchair, but been confronted with an aggressive drug addict.  I don’t know what to do.  I’m still pressed against the chair with this woman sporadically yelling and mumbling.  I lock eyes with a man on a seat not too far from me, some sort of message passes between us and he gets up.  He presses the button for the bus to stop and, as it pulls up and the ramp comes down, he speaks to the woman – manoeuvring himself around me so he can grab the handles of the chair.

MAN (to the woman): Would you like to get off here?

WOMAN: Yes!  Fucking hell! (She looks over at me) C***!

I nod thanks to him, move out of the way and he helps her off.

With the screaming woman gone, the atmosphere on the bus is awkwardly quiet.  Feeling self-conscious, I get off the bus at the next stop … three stops early.  My buzz is definitely gone. 

London is a carnival of junkies, though I’ll not be escaping the theatrics when I return to Australia.  My hometown was a hotbed of nutters; the most famous being “Ding, Ding”, an alcoholic ex-boxer who enjoyed air fighting imaginary opponents and chasing my terrified sister through the park during her lunch hour.  Local “characters” are found in any environment, city or rural.

Anyway, speaking of fringe dwellers who are capable of humiliation and intimidation, I’m off to Erotica.