June 0004




Stan and Jenny Pilchester, those indefatigable enthusiasts for strange forms of transport, have been in touch with us again. Here’s Jenny’s letter: 

“Dear Ropkind, 

      We had a lovely time in Mexico, and saw the upside down trains on the Metro there. Stan took lots of photos, but I’m afraid most of them came out blurry. I’ve sent you the two good ones. I hope you can put them on your website. Now we’re saving up to go and see the clockwork canal boats of Amsterdam. We’ll tell you about them when we know a bit more ourselves.  

            Jenny (Pilchester).” 

Thanks Jenny, and here are the pictures she mentioned.

Passengers at Pantelimon Station wait as a Tren Invertido arrives. Note the number at the end of the carriage indicate that it serves Line 13. Since the train runs inverted on the southbound part of the line, and in the normal manner going the other way, the number is painted twice, a different way up each time.



Interior of Tren Invertido. This train is a new one in the works below Chepultepec Park, and is awaiting the final fittings – notably the seat belts and steps which enable the passengers to use the inverted seats



If you keep an eye or an ear on the news you’ve probably heard that there is a lot of concern about fertility rates. Many western countries are producing nothing like enough babies, and they appear to be committing ethnic suicide. One of the places most commonly mentioned in this connection is Italy. The average Italian woman only produces 1.3 children, according to the official statistics, and this is nothing like the 2.2 or so that is required to maintain a level population. 

Or so it is said. The truth is actually rather rosier. Like most people, Italians are brought up to conceal their misdeeds from the state – these can be trivial matters, like parking in the wrong place, or more serious ones, like robbing banks. It doesn’t matter. In either case, everyone in the world is brought up to understand that the authorities should be kept in the dark. However, in Italy, people also conceal entirely legitimate activities. They don’t want the government to know about their income, their expenditure, their jobs, their holidays, and many other things. This means that they automatically lie to the government about everything, and they confess to the lowest number of children they think they can get away with. We telephoned a random housewife in Livorno, and she agreed to speak to us on the condition of strict anonymity. This is what she said: 

“Actually, I’ve got three children, but I’ve only told the government about one of them. Most of my friends do the same. This only causes one big problem, and that’s when we send the kids to school. They only provide places for the number of children we’ve declared, and three times that number actually turn up, so they’ve got to share desks and pens and things, so everything gets pretty chaotic. Still, it can’t be helped. Oh, and another thing. My friend Angelina really doesn’t have any children, but for some reason the authorities are convinced she’s got two, so they’re forever wanting to know why they haven’t been to school, and they’re threatening to fine her, and so on. It’s a good thing our boys don’t have to go in the army any more. I can remember that caused some big problems for my mother, deciding which of my brothers would do his service first, and how the other one would relieve him, so they shared it fairly.” 

There’s a bit of tangential evidence for this too. Italian sweet sales are something like three times higher per capita than those of staider countries like Sweden, and this is probably because there are three times more little mouths eating them than is officially acknowledged.