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End of an Era: Belgium ends its telegram service...

#1 · Posted: 6 Jan 2018 00:54 · Edited by: jock123
Something I like to remind people new to the "Tintin" books (and sometimes long-time readers too!) is that they shouldn't be read as period pieces.

It's easy to slip into a mind-set which soaks up what is now thought of as the period detail – men in hats, cars with mudguards and running-boards, traveling by sea as a matter of course, boy reporters in plus-fours and norfolk jackets – forgetting that these weren't included to make Tintin a figure from the past, but actually to show how bang-up-to-date he was.

When these stories were written, the "tech" which allowed Tintin to radio ship-to-shore, fly a monoplane, or be a passenger of a flying-boat, was as cutting edge as any James Bond thriller, and would have dazzled his young readers who would look on such things as well out of their own experience.

However, it is fair to say that the passage of time makes such a reading harder and harder for newer audiences, and what was once cutting edge quickly becomes dull and blunt. Even simple things can fox a person who simply doesn't recognize an object that once was common, or for which they may not have the vocabulary, and many of the questions raised on the forums of our site deal with issues of identification, or an explanation of why something occurs the way it does - so, for example, the "something" shown being ejected from Calculus's neck with a "pop!" in "The Castafiore Emerald" (page 9, frame 2) is a collar-stud, worn to attach a separate starched collar to his shirt... One might then have to explain *why* shirts had separate collars, and that having a collar-stud detach in such cases was a comic artist's short hand to show extreme emotion...

Telephones provide much humour in the books - but can simply confuse if you have no experience of three-figure telephone numbers in a time when numbers have become so long that one trusts in them being retained in a contacts list rather than committing them to memory, when few have landlines that they use, never mind a receiver with a dial, and since digital exchanges did away with operators and crossed-lines and most of the reasons why Hergé's calls are funny.

Now we must bid farewell to *another* telecommunications staple of the books: after 171 years of operation, the Belgian telegraph service was shut down for good on December 29th, 2017.

Integral to the action of so many of the stories - "Cigars", "Blue Lotus", "Crab", to name but three - the telegram will no longer be the bearer of orders to dispose of Tintin and Snowy, warnings that Castafiore had invited herself to stay, or, as happens so memorably in "Picaros", allow Haddock to indulge in a war of words (which surely would be a Twitter-storm in any update) with General Tapioca; and no more will an operator be subjected to the Captain's wrath by innocently asking if his message might be sent as a "Greetings Telegram".

People will soon be asking what is the Captain holding, why is Tintin looking in a large book for a telephone number, instead of swiping through his contacts, and *what* were these telegram-things that people wanted to send, and another contemporary, up-to-date scene is consigned to the pages of history.

You can read the BBC's article on the passing of an era here: Belgium ends 19th-Century telegram service

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