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Pole to Pole

Day 127: Johannesburg to Cape Town

Michael Palin - Pole to PoleTwo azure-blue diesel locomotives, bringing the seventeen coaches of colour-coordinated stock down from Pretoria, ease into the curve of the platform and quietly glide to a halt, whereupon stewards move smartly forward to lay out matching carpets, monogrammed with the letter 'B', before each door.

And so it goes on. My compartment has a wall of a window - big and double-glazed - air-conditioning, carpet, individual radio and temperature controls, half a bottle of champagne, a newspaper and an electronically operated venetian blind.

Just before 11.30 a husky female voice breathes over the intercom, 'The Blue Train is ready to depart,' and barely noticeably we begin to pull out of Johannesburg, due to cover the 900 miles to Cape Town in twenty-two hours. For the first time since Tromsų we are moving west of our thirty degree meridian and may not meet it again until, God willing, I reach the South Pole.

A travel-worn maroon and white local from Soweto passes us, heading into the city. We gather speed through grubby stations like Braamfontein and Mayfair, whose platforms are crowded with blacks in headscarves and sweaters, and accelerate into the smarter suburbs with names like Unified and Florida. It is the most comfortable train-ride I've ever experienced, and combined with the air-con and the thick glazing and the wall-to-wall carpets it is like being in a hermetically sealed capsule, enabling the passenger to observe the outside world while remaining completely detached from it - an unconscious paradigm, perhaps, of the apartheid system, officially abolished only five months ago.
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  • Series: Pole to Pole
  • Day: 127
  • Country/sea: South Africa
  • Place: Johannesburg
  • Book page no: 286

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