My wife and I went on a funicular railway from Lake Como to Brunate, and this is what happened.
Halfway up the mountain it stops. Slips back.
Judders. Slips again. ‘Scheisse!’ screams a Fraulein,
‘Scheisse!’ Word for word, you think exactly
the same in English. Two little maids in white dresses,
toting Prada bags, think the same in Japanese.
The wind rocks the cradle, but not gently.
No driver. No door handles on the inside.
Reassuringly there is a hammer for smashing
windows in case of emergency. But is this
an emergency, or just the run up to one?
Unsure of the etiquette, better wait until the carriage
bursts into flames or fills up with water.
‘Scheisse!’ It slides back down the track.
Stops. Slides again. Stops and sways dizzily.
The German girl is on the floor sobbing,
her husband unable to comfort her.
A Texan, the life and soul, makes a joke
about the Big Dipper, but nobody laughs.
A voice crackles over the tannoy. Pardon?
If it were writing it would be illegible.
Why are there no Italians on board? Obviously
they’ve heard the rumours. So what did it say?
‘Help is on its way’, or, ‘Emergency, you fools!
The hammer, use the bloody hammer!’
A power failure. Your lives hang on a thread
(albeit a rusty metal one circa 1888). A winch
turns and the long haul up begins. You hold
your breath. Twenty metres. Stop. Shudder,
and a sickening fall for ten. A tooth being
slowly drawn out and then pushed back in.
Should the cable break the descent will not be
death defying. The view below is breathtaking
but you have no wish to be part of it. Like the
muzzle of a mincing machine, the station waits
to chew you up and spit out the gristly bits
into the silver kidney bowl that is Lake Como.
An hour and a half later the tug-of-war ends
and the passengers alight heavily. The Brits to seek
an explanation. The Americans to seek compensation.
The Germans to seek first aid, and the Japanese,
seemingly unfazed, to seek a little shop that sells
snow-globes and model funicular railway sets.
from Collected Poems (Viking, 2003), © Roger McGough 2003, used by permission; Recording from Lively (UK Touring, 2003).