The Ancient Train Tickets That Kids Loved To Play With

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Pablo Edronkin

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We miss the old-fashioned, British-style, orange and white cardboard train tickets that kids used to recycle and reuse in astounding ways.

There were two or three characteristic things that would tell any railroad enthusiasts whether a railroad line was built by the British or not: one, of course, was in which side trains used to run. British trains contradict the rest of the world, like cars, and go on the opposite side as in continental Europe or the United States.

Thus, in Britain, in Switzerland, Australia, Argentina, India and Japan, just to mention a few places, trains run or used to go on the left side of all twin tracks. Just look at hot things are elsewhere and you will notice. Another characteristic of those railroads was the architecture: train stations were built to be nice, and not just functional. They looked like some sort of industrial-strength English cottages.

But the nicest part of the whole system were the train tickets: white for one way, white and orange or yellow for a two-way ticket, and there were even stranger variants, like those free or discounted tickets given to railroad personnel, pensioners and so on, which sported diagonal stripes in yellow or red! Those were truly collector's items for ten year olds.

Kids were amazed whenever they saw such a VVIP - surely a Very, Very Important Person carrying such a powerful and downright exotic little piece of compressed material. Indeed, tickets were made of a very sturdy little piece of cardboard, usually about four or five centimetres in length and three wide: knowing Britons, the measures were two inches by one.

And here is one secret known by kids who would not tell parents or adults: the date was stamped on those cardboard tickets as they were sold, but you could carefully iron them and erase the impressions and marks left by the pressure stamp, so that you could save money by reusing the same, then undated ticket for quite while, until someone would come with that little machine that punched holes on them at the compass of the ‘click-clicks’ of each perforation... So much for recycling, and you had to reinvest hard cash again; unwary kids that made no financial previsions for such circumstances could be left stranded one or two stations away from home.

Students at high school and college knew that train tickets had yet another property: you could recycle them as well to mark important pages in all the books that you suddenly had to study. So much for recycling, once more.

Now, those tickets are gone for the most part: the last one was a one way thing seen at a London train station, destined to provide safe passage to the train that left for Gatwick airport: it was exactly the same thing seen an infinity of times in Buenos Aires while Borges was writting about his universes and the particular whistle blow of some old Victorian-era electric suburbans was still being heard there.

At least some time ago they were still being used in some lines, but people receive now little, feeble pieces of paper seized by all sorts of advertisement and ever-increasing numbers that tell you that what used to cost one – whatever currency – now costs three just for the sake of having new tickets and plain-vanilla train stations built on the ashes of the old cottage-like buildings.

It is a brave new world indeed, but the old times weren't that bad, after all.

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