Waiting for Labor to sort itself out or Waiting for Rail Corp is not perhaps as catchy a phrase as Waiting for Godot, but recently I found myself an actor in a Beckett-like universe, waiting for a train.

Detail from an existentialist prank posted on the internet by CityRail.

I stood waiting not with Vladimir and Estragon, Beckett’s famous protagonists, but with my five year old son Luke and his best mate, Tom. I’d promised the two train enthusiasts a short trip to North Sydney.

In Waiting for Godot, Godot never appears. In my play the train did come but only after a series of events that could have been scripted for the Theatre of the Absurd, or Fawlty Towers.

Wynyard Station, Underground, Platform 3:

Two boys and a mother stand waiting for a train. Both boys are hopping up and down with excitement.

Tom: When is the train coming?

Mother: The board up there says 10 minutes. So the train is coming in 10 minutes. That’s about the same time as a swimming lesson. We can count down the minutes till the train comes, like a stopwatch.

Luke: Yeah! He jumps up and down

Tom: Yeah!  Also jumps up and down

The boys wait and look at the bumpy yellow line that they are not to cross. They peer up and down the track. The excitement is palpable.

Some time later.

Luke: I’m hot down here Mum.
Tom: When’s the train coming now?

Mother: Let’s check the board.

She looks at the board. The board says 12 minutes.

Mother: Oh the board says 12 minutes. That’s funny. Maybe I read it wrong the first time.

Tom: No! No! But isn’t that more than 10 minutes? It can’t be more than 10 minutes. You said it would go down, not up!!

Mother: Sorry, I mustn’t have read it right. Let’s watch it.

The boys and the Mother watch the board.

Luke: Now it’s down to 11 minutes. Now 10 minutes. Now it’s back to 11 minutes. Why Mummy. Why did it go up again?

Mother: Maybe it’s broken.

Tom hops on one foot, Luke starts playing with his shoe.

Minutes pass …

Tom starts to stare listlessly at an advertising board. Luke sits on the ground and starts playing with the bumpy yellow line.

Mother: Don’t sit on the ground and play with that yellow thing. It’s dirty.

Luke: But Mummy I’m bored.

Tom: Can’t we ask anybody what’s happening?

Mother: I can’t see anybody to ask.

Tom: Nothing happens, nobody comes, nobody goes, it’s awful.

Mother: That reminds me of a play I studied at school.

Tom: What?

Luke: I’m really hot.

Some time later …

Both boys are sitting on the ground playing with the yellow line. The mother is standing on one foot, muttering under her breath.

Crackling sound. An announcement is made: “The train on Platform 3 is delayed by 7 minutes”

The boys get up.

Luke and Tom: What? What? What was that!

The mother: We’re saved! The train is coming! It’s been delayed by 7 minutes!

Tom: What does that mean? Has it gone off the rails? What’s happening?

Luke: Maybe they’re getting the Breakdown Train to get it. Or Cranky the Crane! Just like in Thomas.

More than 7 minutes later. Crackling sound. Another announcement is made: “The train on Platform 3 is delayed by 7 minutes”

Tom: But they said 7 minutes ages ago.

Mother: Well this is like two lots of 7. So the train is really delayed by 14 minutes. Because 7 times 2 is 14.

Tom: What?

Luke: What?

Tom: I don’t understand.

Mother: No neither do I.

More than 7 minutes later.

Crackling sound. Another announcement is made: “The train on Platform 3 is delayed by 7 minutes”

Luke and Tom: WHAT???!!

Luke: That’s three lots of seven. What’s three lots of seven Mum?

Mother: That’s 21 minutes! That’s 21 minutes. I wouldn’t have waited if I’d known it was delayed by 21 minutes!!! They treat us with contempt. Help! What should we do? Who is in charge anyway?

Luke: Who? What Mummy?

Mother: (Remembering the play), There’s nothing we can do….We’ve lost our rights… We got rid of them…I can’t go on like this… Just a harmless little train trip…What could have been the harm in that? 

The sound of a train approaching.

Tom and Luke: We’re saved!

The train approaches platform. It’s packed. The platform is packed. The two little boys and the mother struggle onto the train.

The ghosts of Estragon and Valdimir appear on the empty platform as the train doors snap shut.

Estragon: What exactly did we ask [NSW Labor] for?

Valdimir: Oh … Nothing very definite.

Estragon: A kind of prayer?

Vladimir: Precisely.

Estragon: A vague supplication.

Vladimir: Exactly.

Estragon: And what was the reply?

Vladimir: That they’d see.

Estragon: That they couldn’t promise anything.

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Most commented


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    • Tim says:

      07:42am | 07/12/09

      Lovely piece. If a delayed train can take you back to Beckett and inspire you to write like this, I’m for the occasional late train.

    • Chris says:

      08:12am | 07/12/09

      See the problem was you wanted to catch a train over to the North Shore had you caught a train to a safe or marginal labor electorate you would of been better served. Ofcourse you could of driven over the bridge no doubt they would of raised the bridge toll before you returned because of congestion, at the same time rebating South west Sydneys trip towards the congested city.

    • Over It says:

      06:02pm | 07/12/09

      people in the south west need to be rebated, they have no other choice than to drive the M5 car park to work in the congested city. Oh there’s the hope of the on-again off-again South West Rail Link, but that’ll probably get axed again to favour the people of the city who are already conveniently located to everything, but need another CBD metro because they can’t read a bus timetable.

    • Jaz says:

      08:43am | 07/12/09

      Michele, you must be wrong or just unlucky. Kristina Keneally advised that 99.5% of trains are running on time.
      I design software so here is a little trick that you have experienced first hand. The moving number on the board that young Tom and Luke are noticing is not moving in a downward direction….new flash the software behind this is automatically adjusting the running time. That means…if the train was due at say…10:30 am and its now10:23…(7 minutes to go as per your example)...say then that the number increases to 11 minutes…the software changes the new arrival time to be 10:34…ie tacking on the additional 4 minutes (7 + 4 = 11) there fore the train is clocked as being on time….Neat trick don’t you think?..If you were to ask the RTA they would deny this or say it is within the 5 minute margin for error…but the software developers know the truth…good luck finding them. Just like the pharaohs slaves they were buried with the secret.

    • Angry Punter says:

      09:52am | 07/12/09

      Anyone who has a view on public transport in NSW should fill out the Ultimate Transport Survey.  You can get to it from the Daily Telegraph web site or from http://www.betterstate.org.au.  Have your say on public transport!

    • matt says:

      11:25am | 07/12/09

      Ok - your train was delayed. Inconvenient perhaps.
      But really, to claim the whole NSW transport system is stuffed because of it?
      Get over it people. What’s ACTUALLY wrong with it? Not much.
      Go and live in London - the Underground is much worse than City Rail. And our bus system stacks up pretty well.
      Simply saying something is bad does not necessarily make it so.
      And the same to all those doomsayers who claim our hospital system is broken.
      When was the last time you took your sick child to the ER? Did you get seen to pretty quickly? I bet you did.
      There’s virtually no data to back up the claims that health, education etc are broken (although it would be nice to have published school league tables. Gee Barry, why did you vote against that?).
      The main evidence is a groupthink whingeing.
      So don’t fall for Barry O’Farrell’s (and the media’s) constant harping that the state is broken. They haven’t shown us the proof. (As for certain sections of the media, well, let’s just say it doesn’t sell papers to say things are improving. We’ll avoid pointing out that it’s a bit rich for papers with falling circulation to attempt to point out other organisations’ alleged failings…)

      (And if you DO think it’s bad, do you REALLY think it’ll improve under Barry?)

    • jed says:

      02:44pm | 07/12/09

      yes the london underground is worse, but who do you think is running CityRail? London Underground rejects thats who!!! do some research and see how many key CityRail managers are direct imports from the British transport industry!!

    • Lucy says:

      04:46pm | 07/12/09

      Chris, perhaps you’re right. I recently visited Sydney and stayed on the North Shore. 

      One evening at around 10pm, we went to catch a scheduled train from Town Hall station back to Wollstonecraft.  We purchased the tickets went down to the platform, and waited.  Suddenly an angry cityrail employee came out of her office, yelled at us that there were no more trains departing for the North Shore and told us to ‘go home’.  We and the other hopeful train catchers looked bewildered (if only we could go home!), and unfortunately couldn’t get a ‘why’ out of her.  She also snapped at us that we couldn’t get our money back.  Other employees we subsequently spoke to were equally as generous with information.

      Finally we found a nice (!) cityrail employee who told us that the trains hadn’t in fact finished for the night, but that the line between town hall and wynyard was just being fixed overnight, and that if we caught a train to Wynyard we could get on a North Shore bound train.  It wasn’t so hard for the nice employee to explain in 3 sentences the problem and how we could get home.  If only more cityrail employees could learn similar skills in customer service and communication…

    • Hate Trains says:

      04:28pm | 09/12/09

      Very funny to read.
      Feel proud - you’ve given the kids a real life experience that will equip them for future train travels.


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