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This article is taken from PN Review 235, Volume 43 Number 5, May - June 2017.

The Point-Switch Rod Mengham
ON A CHILL November morning in 1960, a strange company was seen gathering in the main atrium of Bratislava railway station. There were some railway engineers, of course, but they were no ordinary engineers: they did not make jokes, pass comments, jostle one another or blow their noses. They were dignified, almost majestic figures, with a rare sense of occasion, bearing their tools as if they were keys to the railway kingdom; which, of course, is the starting point for everything else.

The leading figure in this group carried an enormous bull pin, with a sharp point at one end and a two-handled crossbar at the other. The pin was held aloft, fronting the procession, much as the god-fearing used to raise the cross to send whole packs of medieval devils down to Hell. But the poor devils quailing before this iron symbol of progress were feeble specimens. Like prisoners recently released from the shackles of a cruel gaoler, they did not know what to do with themselves. Their first instinct was to crawl back into the cells, only to find that all the prisons were gone – their walls had been breached – forcing the sallow inmates to emerge into the same world as everyone else; whether they knew where to take themselves or not. The trusties were the ones who lingered longest, until the solemn procession had arrived to escort them to the railway station, where they were shown into closed carriages and sent down the line, somewhere out east.

The engineers held ...

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