Last British Night Mail Train

Reply Sat 10 May, 2003 02:34 pm
An era ends this weekend, with the running of the final mail train - carriages which contain their own sorting offices. The last train will run between Glasgow and Cardiff on Friday night/Saturday morning. One of the nails in the coffin of the service was that more than a quarter of trains were arriving late. The service started in 1838, and at its peak there were 130 mail trains working each night.

But WH Auden's poem Night Mail lives on:

This is the Night Mail crossing the border,
Bringing the cheque and the postal order,
Letters for the rich, letters for the poor,
The shop at the corner and the girl next door.
Pulling up Beattock, a steady climb:
The gradient's against her, but she's on time.
Past cotton-grass and moorland boulder
Shovelling white steam over her shoulder,
Snorting noisily as she passes
Silent miles of wind-bent grasses.

Birds turn their heads as she approaches,
Stare from the bushes at her blank-faced coaches.
Sheep-dogs cannot turn her course;
They slumber on with paws across.
In the farm she passes no one wakes,
But a jug in the bedroom gently shakes.

Dawn freshens, the climb is done.
Down towards Glasgow she descends
Towards the steam tugs yelping down the glade of cranes,
Towards the fields of apparatus, the furnaces
Set on the dark plain like gigantic chessmen.
All Scotland waits for her:
In the dark glens, beside the pale-green sea lochs
Men long for news.

Letters of thanks, letters from banks,
Letters of joy from the girl and the boy,
Receipted bills and invitations
To inspect new stock or visit relations,
And applications for situations
And timid lovers' declarations
And gossip, gossip from all the nations,
News circumstantial, news financial,
Letters with holiday snaps to enlarge in,
Letters with faces scrawled in the margin,
Letters from uncles, cousins, and aunts,
Letters to Scotland from the South of France,
Letters of condolence to Highlands and Lowlands
Notes from overseas to Hebrides
Written on paper of every hue,
The pink, the violet, the white and the blue,
The chatty, the catty, the boriadoring,
The cold and official and the heart's outpouring,
Clever, stupid, short and long,
The typed and the printed and the spelt all wrong.

Thousands are still asleep
Dreaming of terrifying monsters,
Or of friendly tea beside the band at Cranston's or Crawford's:
Asleep in working Glasgow, asleep in well-set Edinburgh,
Asleep in granite Aberdeen,
They continue their dreams,
And shall wake soon and long for letters,
And none will hear the postman's knock
Without a quickening of the heart,
For who can bear to feel himself forgotten?

Althought the German Railway/Post Office stopped the similar service more than ten years ago, it was quite common here as well.

And much liked, especially by me: those trains, stopping early in the morning (= long after midnight) at my hometown's station, usually allowed some passengers as well.

It was phantastic to watch the postmen at work (if able to do so).
However, neither gangsters on horseback or something like 'The Great Train Robbery' ever happened :wink: .
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Reply Sat 10 May, 2003 03:37 pm
Thanks for posting this, Walter. Bits of that poem have stayed in my mind for over 30 years, ever since I saw the 1936 documentary film, Night Mail, for which the poem was writen. There's some interesting background information about how the poem came to be used in the film at:

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Walter Hinteler
Reply Sat 10 May, 2003 03:44 pm
Thanks for the link, Bree!

"Auden lived in Germany, where he witnessed the rise of nazism, and during the Spanish Civil War he served as an ambulance driver. In 1936 he married Erika Mann, daughter of Thomas Mann, to provide her with a British passport and enable her to leave Germany."
Biography Wystan Hugh Auden
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Reply Sat 10 May, 2003 03:59 pm
Hey that's interesting.

I saw one of these trains only once, I think, in Preston station.
The doors were open, and the men inside were busily sorting letters.

I knew of the poem "The Night Mail" before I knew that they did the actual sorting on the move.

Thanks Walter, very poetic.

Here's one for you:

Ein Fichtenbaum stehet einsam
Im Norden auf kahler Hoeh'.
Ihn schlaefert; mit weisser Decke
Umhuellen ihn Eis und Schnee

Er traeumt von einer Palme
Die, fern im Morgenland
Einsam und schweigend trauert
Auf brennender Felsenwand.
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Reply Sat 10 May, 2003 04:02 pm
Well, I ride on a mailtrain, baby,
Can't buy a thrill.
Well, I've been up all night, baby,
Leanin' on the window sill.
Well, if I die
On top of the hill
And if I don't make it,
You know my baby will.

Don't the moon look good, mama,
Shinin' through the trees?
Don't the brakeman look good, mama,
Flagging down the "Double E"?
Don't the sun look good
Goin' down over the sea?
Don't my gal look fine
When she's comin' after me?

Now the wintertime is coming,
The windows are filled with frost.
I went to tell everybody,
But I could not get across.
Well, I wanna be your lover, baby,
I don't wanna be your boss.
Don't say I never warned you
When your train gets lost.
bob dylan
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Walter Hinteler
Reply Sat 10 May, 2003 04:07 pm
Thanks, McTag! Laughing

(I bet, you quoted that by heart :wink: )
0 Replies
Reply Sat 10 May, 2003 04:42 pm
Quoted? I made it up myself!

Actually you're right: I half-remembered it, but had to look it up to check. I learned it a few years ago, and I should have remembered it, really.

But it was nothing to do with trains. What's that one, a song, about "Die kleine Schaffnerin"?
0 Replies
Walter Hinteler
Reply Sun 11 May, 2003 01:18 am
1. Einsteigen bitte, einsteigen bitte,
Ruft sie jedem laut ins Ohr.
Bleiben sie bitte
Nicht in der Mitte,
Gehen sie endlich doch vor.
2. Austeigen bitte, aussteigen bitte
Wir sind bei der Endstation,
Doch ich bleib sitze,
Und nimm die dritte
Fahrkarte mir heute schon.

Liebe kleine Schaffnerin
Kling kling kling!
Sag' wo fährt dein Wagen hin?
Klin kling kling!
Liebe kleine Schaffnerin
Gern bleib' ich im Wagen drin,
|: Und ich küsse dann sehr galant
Deine kleine entzückende, kleine berückende,
Fahrkartenzwickende Hand. Neutral

That should be the song about the "kleine Schaffberin".
0 Replies
Reply Sun 11 May, 2003 04:33 pm
Yes that's the one: I forget the tune, aber macht nichts.

Sorry if I've lowered the tone of a very interesting thread. I have not seen anything in our newspapers about the demise of the mobile mail-sorting trains.
Have you read how they spent millions to change the name of the Post Office to "Insignia", and that was a commercial disaster so they changed it back to "Royal Mail" or something. I can't even remember.
The pillar boxes are still red, anyway.

Auden collaborated with Christopher Isherwood: I've got two of Isherwood's books written about life in Berlin in the 1930s. Classics in their way, of a byegone age.

Thanks for the thread.

0 Replies
Clive McNeil
Reply Thu 15 Jan, 2004 07:54 am
The Mail "Train" is not dead yet
There is now a poem more relevant than Auden's:


This is the Junk Mail crossing the border
Delivered by truck now, that's the order
None of it wanted, all of it waste
All of it tinged with commercial distaste
Delivering catalogues all unsolicited
Names on the mailing list slyly elicited
'Yearly subscription' that's the refrain
'Take out a loan or a time-share in Spain'
Unwanted brochures shrouded in plastic
Thousands of leaflets bound by elastic
All come unbidden, a waste of a trip
Bound for the landfill, bound for the tip
All come by lorries pounding the highways
Blocking the ring road and clogging the by-ways
No more will the Night Mail arrive at the station
De-railed by the forces of privatisation
'Victorian problem - Victorian answer'
That is an insult to the service they ran, sir
Imagine old Isambard taking this tack
'Sorry we're late sir, leaves on the track'!
Now, gone is the romance
Gone is the snobbery
The twenty-first century's Greatest Train Robbery
So while we're asleep the postman is driving
And the profits of shareholders quietly thriving
To bring us material for which none of us asked
To redress the balance is how we are tasked
Here comes the postman rounding the block
Here comes the postman, here comes his knock
With quickening heart I leap from my bunk
'Anything interesting, dear?'
'Nothing, just junk!'
0 Replies
Walter Hinteler
Reply Thu 15 Jan, 2004 07:56 am
Thanks, Clive, for sharing the poem, and wellcome to A2K!
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Reply Thu 15 Jan, 2004 02:31 pm
Hey Clive, Fiona wants to know, who wrote the poem? Very good.

What a brill first post. Thank you.
0 Replies
Clive McNeil
Reply Thu 22 Jan, 2004 11:52 am
Junk Mail poem
Thank you Walter and McTag!

Unfortunately, I do not know the author. About 4 days ago, it was read out on Radio 2 in the UK (Wogan)...I was so impressed by it that I emailed them to find out more about it. The producer emailed me back with the poem but no other information, I'm afraid!

I must say that it's been years since I have heard anything as evocative in modern poetry and I'm glad you liked it!
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Reply Thu 22 Jan, 2004 02:06 pm
bree wrote:
Thanks for posting this, Walter. Bits of that poem have stayed in my mind for over 30 years, ever since I saw the 1936 documentary film, Night Mail, for which the poem was writen.


That takes me back....the whole matinee audience watching this in rapt silence, before going completey bonkers over the latest CFF offering, then the main feature (usually from Hollywood)

Laptop - working out what was left of his one bob pocket money
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