Yours disappointedly

Yours disappointedly

A long time ago, when I was in Berlin, I noticed a street called Filanda Street. I was really taken by that name; it sounded uncommonly elegant for a German street name, and since most German streets are named after specific people or things, I wondered who or what Filanda could possibly be.

Various possibilities sprang to mind. Perhaps it was the pseudonym of some interesting poetess who eventually committed suicide. Or a fabled city somewhere in sub-saharan Africa. It certainly had a romantic ring to it.

Imagine my disappointment, then, when, after several months, I discovered that “filanda’ is, in fact, the Italian word for a machine used in the manufacture of silk. I suppose at least silk is still slightly exotic, but nothing else in that definition is.

I mention this because something similar happened to me today. I was waiting for my train, and browsing in the little newsagent-and-bookstore. As I glanced at the children’s book section, one of the titles caught my eye. It translated roughly as: “When are train drivers allowed to go to the toilet?”

That’s an intriguing question, although it wasn’t one I’d ever thought to ask. But having asked it — or rather, having seen the question displayed on a book cover — I was seized with a burning desire to find out. After all, modern trains only have one driver each, and they have dead-man switches so they won’t move an inch without a live person sitting in the driver’s seat.

I picked up the book, which turned out to be a slim volume packed with all the questions ten-year-old boys are apt to ask their parents. How are rails made? Why do trains hiss when they start up? Why does the overhead cable zig-zag?

I leafed through and found the answer to this intriguing question which had never intrigued me until this afternoon. When are train drivers allowed to go to the toilet?

The answer, I can now reveal to the world, is: Train drivers are allowed to go to the toilet when the train is stopped at a station.

Well, that was an anti-climax. I don’t know what kind of answer I was expecting, but I think I was expecting something a lot less obvious than that, seeing as that question was the one chosen as the title of the book.

I went home, safe in the knowledge that the driver wouldn’t nip out between stations for a quick pee.