Closely observed trains


Still from Jiri Menzel’s film Closely Observed Trains

First of all, I’d like to apologise for today’s missing post and explain what happened. But before I start my explanation here is some background.

By the way, panic not, today’s picture notwithstanding, Behind The Water Tower is still targeted at a family audience. Closely Observed Trains was one of a series of brilliant films that emerged from Czechoslovakia in the period that came to be known as the Prague spring. Closely Observed Trains is at times both funny and serious. Large chunks are puzzling for an British audience that had moved on in the 1960s to a destination our East European neighbours could only dream about.

One particularly enigmatic scene in the film occurs when a train dispatcher applies the station master’s rubber stamp to the backside of a girl who visits him in the station. Rubber stamps in Britain did not last the 70s and will in my mind be forever associated with pre printed postcards with the text, The Clerk to the Council acknowledges the receipt of your letter of the …………….. which is receiving attention. On the bottom of the card would be the Clerk’s official stamp.

In Britain the rubber stamp signified a second class communication, however, in Eastern Europe the rubber stamp, was a symbol of power and authority. I remember visiting the General Manager of the Stargardzka Kolej Dojazdowa in the 1960s to argue that the metre gauge network of lines in the North West of Poland near Szczecin had enormous tourist potential. At one point during our discussion his secretary brought in some letters that needed ‘signing’ and a special rotary stand containing a set of different stamps for different occasions. The GM urged me to take my case to the appropriate member of the provincial council responsible for railway transport. On the councillor’s desk there was a veritable battery of stamps…

So what has this got to do with today’s missing post, patience dear reader, patience. There was a severe thunderstorm yesterday. The lights dimmed as a circuit breaker blew somewhere on the overgead distribution grid and, after the computer screen flashed off and on again, I decided that discretion was the better part of valour. Off went the computer and the router was unplugged from the mains. However, this morning, when I should have been bringing BTWT up to date, I was off to Warsaw with a pile of letters to hand deliver to four different Ministries. This letter is for the Under Secretary of State, this is a copy for the Minister, and this copy is for me. And, yes you’ve guessed it, out comes the rubber stamp and with a bang the receipt of the letter is formally acknowledged on my copy. I seem to have chosen the hottest day of the year to stamp around Warsaw. I’m absolutely knackered. (Please excuse the colloquial adjective, but no other word does half the job of describing my physical state.)

So what were my letters about? Well first they weren’t from me, but from someone who is a lot more important. We are trying to get three Ministries to start working together with respect to Poland’s railway heritage: Infrastructure; Sport and Tourism; and Culture. If anything definitive happens as a result of out efforts, BTWT readers will be the first to know.

Meanwhile please understand that our campaign to save the Krosniewice Railway is only part – but a very important part – of a much wider campaign to raise the profile of railway heritage in Poland and rescue a number of railways and museums which are in grave danger. To all those who wrote to the Mayor of Krosniewice (and copied the Minister of Infrastructure) my grateful thanks. To those who haven’t, it’s still not too late.

One Response to “Closely observed trains”

  1. Robert Hall Says:

    Irresistible response to this item is a frivolous one, I fear — and one likely to have people thinking me “sad” in more than one way — “so sue me”, as they say. The one time to date, that I’ve seen the film “Closely Observed Trains”, was in the late 1960s, when it was decidedly new. I recall, while watching it, feeling annoyed at the distraction presented by the rude stuff involving rubber stamp, etc., from the amazing feast of Czechoslovak steam in action, which the film was affording — if only I had had, then, any idea of the identities of the large variety of loco classes that were featured…

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