Monday, January 17, 2011

The Desert Handcar

Zahedan is a town in south eastern Iran close to the border with Pakistan and Afghanistan. It is also the railhead for travel to Quetta in Pakistan.
I arrived there by bus from Bam, an amazing walled city built entirely of mud bricks, which made Zahedan look very ordinary. Although the railway line went as far as Zahedan, with its station building built by the British, the train did not cross into Iran and so passengers had to wait until it was due, and then travel a further 100 km to Koh-i-Taftan just over the Pakistani border.
The train ran once a fortnight and, as luck would have it, I had to wait almost a week before it arrived.
Gradually a few other travellers drifted in from the surrounding desert, one of whom was an austere and slightly agitated American in his twenties wearing a blue twill raincoat. Obviously troubled by the vagaries of the railway schedule he set off into Baluchistan desert on a handcar, taking his turn with the maintenance crew to propel it along the line. Three days later the handcar returned, still with the blue raincoat man on board.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Gas Masks

At the outbreak of World War II everyone in Britain was issued with a gas mask as a precaution against a gas attack – presumably from the air – and there were detailed instructions on how to put them on.
Most gas masks made the wearer look like an elephant whose trunk had been cut off at the base although some models had extended nozzles so that they really did look like some strange miniature pachyderm. The gas masks came in their own carry bag and for a child they were just another heavy object to carry to school. Somehow my parents managed to procure a Mickey Mouse gas mask for me which, from memory, was just like a full-face Mickey Mouse but with a yellow can, about the size of a can of baked beans, hanging from the chin.
I was quite excited by my Mickey Mouse head until we had the first gas drill at infants school and I realized that every other child had the black regulation Darth Vader sort of mask. I only wore it once and managed to exchange it the next day so I would blend with the pack.