Night Mail

14 07 2012

My latest journey took me from Amsterdam to deepest darkest Antwerp. My destination was a 90,000 tonne vessel discharging coal, which I surmised was for the power station over yonder. I have visited Antwerp a couple of times before, but never really explored the city. Despite dusk swiftly approaching and a light rain, we began to walk around.

It has to be said, Antwerp old city is beautiful. Bohemian bars and cafes surround the streets leading from the amazing Antwerpen Centraal train station. Subtle lighting and discrete neon painting the darkening sodden pavements. An occasional flash as someone rides past on a pedal cycle, silently moving save for a ‘ting ting’ on the bell. It was a living collage, made more vivid by strong Belgian beers ! By the way, look closely at the STOP sign.

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Once the dirty job was finished on board, and coal dust had rained upon me from above…we needed to get back to Amsterdam Schiphol. Driven by the worlds most miserable taxi driver, who uttered virtually nothing for the 30 minute journey except to sometimes growl at another driver. We arrived back into the splendor of Antwerpen Centraal Station, it was truly breath taking.

The obvious choice for the journey was the Thalys high speed service. For the rather expensive sum of EU70, I got to cover the 115KM distance between Antwerp and Schiphol Airport in just under an hour. The speed of the train was deceptive, as it was traveling without rocking or shaking. It was only when we overtook cars on the high speed roads that I grew curious as to our speed. Checking on the GPS Status app, it displayed our speed as 295KPH (185MPH) !!

As mentioned on my previous post, this thought began it’s usual tsunami of notions. It rested upon an old poem written by WH Auden called ‘Night Mail‘. It tells the story of the night mail train, winding it’s steam driven path through the Scottish hills. The poem indicates the importance that the Mail Train played in society, delivering all manner of communication. It talks of how the environment either interacts or observes the train during it’s journey.

It was narrated by John Grierson, and dubbed over the mail train film. Released in 1936, it was one of the first documentaries to grace the junior screens. Even now, in this digital modern age, the melodic rhythmic opening verses are haunting. Blended with the stark grey images of a steam train, it’s breathtaking.

Firstly read the poem itself –Night Mail

Watch it yourself and feel the flow of the versus – Night Mail

I wonder how Auden would have written about train travel in this era ?


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