We went to a railway museum the other day, an outing to celebrate Charlotte's birthday. There were lots of engines and carriages to see. We could climb aboard some of them. One particular carriage caught my eye: an old rather drab brown passenger carriage, an old 'red rattler'.

“I used to travel to work on a train just like this one,” I told the girls. "These trains used to run through Sydney years ago. I always used to stand by the door. The doors were always open even when the train was in motion. The train used to sway this way and that, lurching all over the place, groaning and moaning. When I stood by the open door, I felt like I was standing on the edge of nothing. I had to hang on tightly. I could easily have fallen to my death.”

“Weren’t you scared, Mum?”

“Yes,” I confessed.

“Why did you travel next to the door when you could have sat on a seat inside?”

“I didn’t want to push my way through the crowd to get off the train. I wanted to be the first one to step onto the platform.”

The younger girls don’t have much experience of trains. Actually, they had their very first ride on a train only a couple of weeks ago. Sophie is twelve years old and she’d never been on a train. I guess that sounds unusual. When I was a child I went on trains all the time. When I was Sophie’s age, I used to travel alone on the train to school.

My school was quite some distance from home. It was a private school, an Anglican girls' school with nuns. I wasn’t religious at the time. I knew hardly anything about God and nuns. I found both fascinating. Nuns more than God, I think. I liked to watch The Flying Nun on TV. Anyone remember that?

There was a very pretty young nun at my school. I’ve forgotten her name but not her smile. She shone. Do you know what I mean? My friends and I often wondered: “Do you think Sister has any hair under her veil?”  

A couple of years ago, I suddenly remembered those Anglican nuns. I wondered again: Are there still Anglican nuns? Are there still nuns at my old school? Do they still wear habits? I decided to do some Googling. A few clicks of my mouse and I found myself at the school website looking at old photos.

I discovered the nuns belong to the order of The Sacred Heart of Advent. I doubt I knew that as a child. To me, they were just ‘the nuns’. The nuns no longer teach in the school. They all seem to be very old. No new vocations? And they no longer wear their habits. Their long tunics, scapulars and veils are long gone.

But the girls still wear a school uniform. It looks just like it did in my day: a navy blue dress with a very white collar. I wonder if the girls still have to wear a straw hat and gloves.

I hated those gloves. The weather was very hot in summer but still we had to wear them whenever we were in public. And that meant when travelling to and from school on the train. I once tried removing my gloves while I was waiting for my train to arrive.

“You can’t take your gloves off!” said my fellow student in horror. She wasn’t a new girl like me.

“But how can I eat with gloves on?” I asked.

“You can’t eat in public!” The girl was again horrified. “It’s against the rules.”

Against the rules? I soon learnt all the rules. There were lots of them. There was a rule about hats. Hats were just as important as gloves. Without a hat, a girl was not decently dressed. One day I forgot to put my hat on as I left home. I was nervous all day. Would someone discover I’d broken the rules? Would I get into trouble?

When the school bell rang at the end of the day all the other girls headed towards the hat hooks. What was I to do?  I must admit I did consider taking someone else’s hat. I know that sounds bad. What would the nuns have thought of me? But I was desperate. I must have changed my mind about becoming a criminal. Instead when no one was looking, I darted out the door and ran towards the school gate. Perhaps I could get to the train without anyone seeing my bare head. 

But then I heard a shout, “Sue! Where’s your hat? You’ve forgotten to put it on!” I ignored my friend’s call and ran at record pace to the station. I felt so relieved when I was safely hidden inside the train.

In those days the seats in the passenger carriages were arranged in rows that stretched the width of the train: two rows facing each other with a door at each side. These doors didn’t have handles on the inside. We had to lower the door window as the train approached our station, and reach for the outside handle so we could get out. Sometimes the windows would get stuck and refuse to open. If that happened I had to climb over the back of the row of seats to the next section of the train and try another window. I wonder if they were any rules about climbing over seats in my school uniform.

My daughters were still thinking about me standing next to the open door of a fast moving train.

Sophie had noticed a handle on the inside of the door of the red rattler carriage. “Couldn’t you have used the handle to close the door, Mum? You could have slid it across.”

“I couldn’t have done that!”

Close the door? No one closed train doors. If I'd done that it would have looked like I was frightened of falling out of the train. An open door? No big deal.

The truth: I wasn’t brave enough to close the door.

Sophie looked confused. She didn’t understand.  It didn’t make any sense. She’s right.

We do some stupid things sometimes, don’t we?

Image: me in my navy blue uniform with the very white collar. I'm obviously not wearing my straw hat. But was I wearing my gloves?

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  1. What a story. That picture of you is great, you look like Pippi Longstocking dressed up in a school uniform on her way her the first lesson in "pluttification". I see a mischievous wink in those eyes.
    We often ride the train to get to church, and all of the children knows how to go by train. We are known to shock the parents in Owlets' school by letting them travel alone by train. My daughter at twelve years travelled to Copenhagen (app. 45 kilometres) alone by train. A distance she had travelled many times before, 5 o'clock in the afternoon (it was winter and almost dark), and with Daddy waiting at the end station. They in their turn shocked me by letting their children go alone to the town's annual open night half a year later, in the summer. It's a celebration with open shops until midnight, with food, music, beer and general partying. My children went there with me, and we left by nightfall. Which is most shocking to you?

    1. Uglemor,

      It's strange looking at old photos and thinking, "That was me!" and remembering what it was like to be a child. Mischievous wink in my eyes? I guess I used to get myself into lots of trouble without even trying. I was always doing silly things like forgetting my hat!

      As a child I used to travel a lot by train on my own. Later I did the same on buses, and in the dark too. I don't think I'm shocked hearing your young children do something similar!

      I'm not sure about your town's annual open night. It sounds like something we would visit as a family. Quite apart from being safer, it's much more enjoyable doing such things together rather than letting the kids go on their own!

      We don't have a train station in our village. There is an old disused railway line. The line was closed a number of years ago, and it doesn't look like it will ever be reopened. A couple of railway bridges on the line were burnt away the last time a bushfire went through this area. It would take a lot of money to get the line back into working order. I guess we'll continue to use the car!

      The girls would love to go to church on the train. That would make Sunday even more special!

  2. Oh my gosh, Sue, I felt as if I was on that train with you as a kid! Yikes! What fantastic descriptions of it all...I remember those same conversations about the nuns and hair, boy.

    Catholic school girl here, too. No train though. walked to elemtary school and then took two buses to high school each day.....Awesome picture! wow...love it tons.
    I, too, wore navy blue and for 12 years! I swore when I graduated I'd never wear blue again and what do you know? Many many of my clothing choices are dark blue!! How funny.

    I'd venture to say that yes, you did have those gloves on in the shot!

    Thanks for the venture down memory lane with you.!! Fun

    Getting back to work now...great break!

    Take care and enjoy your weekend Sue!

    1. Chris,

      I'm glad you understand about the conversations concerning nuns and hair! I felt strange writing about that but it happens! Typical girls I think. When I was at that school I never imagined that one day I'd have a daughter who'd be a nun. Felicity was a novice for a couple of years.

      I smiled about the navy blue. 12 years? Did you go to the same school for a long time? I went to over a dozen different schools so I had lots of different uniforms other than that navy blue one. That was the only school that insisted on gloves and hats though!

      It is fun to visit memory lane. I enjoyed remembering my time at the nuns' school. I think my children enjoyed reading about it too. There are a lot of family stories they haven't heard. This was one of them. Blogging is so good for recording family history! I know that when I am really old I will be glad I took the time to write so many stories.

      Thank you for spending your break reading my post.

      I hope you're enjoying your weekend. We took Imogen to Sydney this afternoon. I hope she is enjoying the ball. She should be dancing right at this moment. Only one problem: I forgot to teach her how to dance. But that is tomorrow's story!

      God bless!

  3. This was so much fun to read! You were so totally CUTE!!!!! (I can see your girls in you). Like Uglemor, I immediately thought of Pippi Longstocking. As a child I rode city buses to and from school, along with businessmen and a few other kids. The businessmen all wore dress hats and in the mornings they'd read newspapers. I have FOND memories of buses, and of the half hour of daydreaming I indulged in as i rode each way. I have said (and really believe) that I "became a writer" on a bus, on some long-forgotten rainy day when I "wrote without writing it down" (ie daydreamed). Thanks, Sue Longstocking, for another really enjoyable post!

    1. Nancy,

      I suppose I was a bit like Pippi with my long hair in two plaits! Did she have freckles? I certainly had loads of them! Gemma-Rose has a lot of sun kisses too though not as many as I had as a child. We lived in Brisbane when this photo was taken. I mentioned that place in another recent story: very hot and sunny.

      I can just imagine you sitting on the bus watching all those business men, writing stories in your imagination. Did you ever 'write' stories in your head in bed before you feel asleep? I used to do that all the time. They were absolutely wonderful stories. At least they seemed wonderful to me! And now both of us have the opportunity to really write down our stories. Now that IS wonderful!

      Thank you for sharing yet another of my posts. I really do appreciate you returning time after time, and not only reading, but stopping to chat as well.

  4. Love that picture of you ... how cute were you!

    Before the start of my last year of primary school we shifted a fair distance away but my parents wanted me to see out my last year there (it was a good school and I had been nominated school captain ... so the folks were a bit chuffed) so I went to work at 6am with my dad every morning, sat in the company lunchroom til it was time go and catch the bus, followed by a tram to my school. I simply can't imagine letting my eldest who is nearly that age do the same thing. Gosh maybe I need to loosen the apron strings.

    1. Lisa,

      Wow! You had an early start to each day. I can just imagine you as school captain. I think I'd have been chuffed if I'd been your parents! School captains... that's one thing our children will never be. But there's other challenges... guide patrol leaders included. Were you ever one of those?

      Loosening the apron strings... I think the world has changed a lot since we were at school. There's a lot more danger around these days. But it sounds like you live in a quiet and safe place like we do. But it's still so hard to let go, isn't it?


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