Saturday, 17 July 2010

When I grow up, I want to be an engine driver

    Yesterday evening with an hour to kill before meeting my wife after work, I went for a walk. My usual trek across the hill, beautiful clear visibility, a cool breeze and the land fresh and shiny from an earlier rain shower. If I walk really briskly from my work, within an hour I reach a path that parallels a railway line for a while. This isn't a sleepy branch line or industrial siding, instead it's the main line to the west of England so as I walked I had high speed express trains straining at full power and laden with commuters a few yards away from me. I stopped to admire one as it streaked past. The Inter-City 125 is getting a bit long in the tooth now but back in the 1970s it was new, fast and even glamorous to snotty-nosed little kids like me. This, we were told, was the age of the train, and these were the trains to be seen on.
    Thirty years later I have to say they're still a pretty impressive sight and sound. I caught myself looking around guiltily for a moment as it had passed, wondering whether someone had caught my little trainspotter moment.
    You see, in the UK at least, showing an interest in railways isn't always perceived as 100% cool. It's the trainspotters that are to blame, let's face it, some of them are a little enthusiastic and can, dare I say it, even sometimes be a bit boring at times. So showing anything more than an extremely fleeting interest in railways can at times lead to social pariah status in the same way as admitting a fondness for country and western music. Oops.
    But I can't help it. I'll never stand at the end of a platform with a notebook, I couldn't tell you the class numbers or liveries of a myriad different train operators and I certainly have no idea how many rivets were used in the construction of the City of Truro's boiler but I am fascinated by the view unfolding from a railway carriage window, I've foraged through undergrowth to sit on the Victorian brickwork of long-abandoned railway structures and I've treated my long-suffering wife to unexpected detours on long journeys to drive past long-forgotten trackbeds. Isambard Kingdom Brunel is one of my heroes and I am not afraid to admit it.

17 comments:

  1. Where is the modern Brunel when you need him?

    Caroline xxx

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  2. It's like the difference between twitchers and birdwatchers, isn't it? -I can think of two (for starters) cis women friends who are as keen as me on aeroplanes, by the way...

    ...I fondly recall cycling up the Taff Trail up by Quaker's Yard, along the old tramroad where Trevithick's engine first chugged. We went bumpity bumpity over the stone sleepers. The track was overhung by trees and ran alongside the river. It was a beautiful spot. And history- big history- just lying there, unmediated by interpretation boards and guides

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  3. The East Coast Mainline ran across the bottom of my junior school playing field. I spent many a happy hours watching the Deltics and The HST's going past. So after having come out to my family as one kind of "T" I now have to come out as another! But thankfully I stopped taking numbers when I was 12 and discovered clothes and make-up. It was more about the freedom. The distances I travelled around the network with a friend at that age on rover tickets I couldn't imagine a parent would allow their child to do today. I still have my books and love all things engineering.

    I would recommend Christian Woolmars book "Fire and Steam" which is a good read.

    Rachel X

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  4. Unmediated historic places are the best.

    I tried to understand train-spotting to try and fit in a bit with the few other children who lived nearby. When I asked for a book on trains instead of my usual birds or nature even my parents were surprised. There is a magical something about the best engineering but i just could not do the spotting thing.

    Caroline xxx

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  5. Ive always loved trains, and took some wonderful train rides in my youth. Unfortunately the passenger train has gone the way of the dodo, in all but the most productive rail routes.

    Melissa xx

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  6. I seem to have tapped a rich but hidden vein of undercover gricery :)

    I too misspent part of my youth roving the British railway system with a bunch of friends. We had a Family Railcard held by the oldest among us, it gave half price to the "adult" and a pound each fares to us "children" which meant that when the cost was shared you could go a hell of a long way for under a tenner. I never got the trainspotting bug my companions had though, like Caroline I went through the motions but it just wasn't me.

    Seeking out the unmolested history hiding in plain sight is what does it for me too. Funny the comment about cis women and geeky pursuits, a friend of mine is somewhat of an authority on the UndergrounD. Middle aged bloke with pebble glasses and a bobble hat? No, thirty-something petite and very girly woman. (I should hasten to add, rail geekery is not the reason I know her)

    Where's the modern Brunel? Snapped up as a graduate by financial services companies.

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  7. Like you I love trains, but never did the train spotting. Going for trips on historic railways with steam locamotives was always my favorite. Until they let the whistle blow - I jumped at loud noises as a kid :)

    I never did the exploring on trains though - a trip on a train was quite a treat when I was growing up - but then it was an hours journey to the train station... My cousin an I did use to go exploring the old abandoned lines close to where she lived though, cycling down them to see where they stopped.

    Stace

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  8. .. and canals too. I my father and I love to ramble along long forgotten railways and canals. He has a book on the lost canals and waterways of Britain and we have had plenty of fun hacking through the undergrowth to find their last remnants.

    I have to admit to a fascination with decaying buildings and lost places. There are some excellent sites with some great pictures ...

    http://www.abandoned-britain.com/index.html

    http://www.derelictplaces.co.uk/

    Rachel X

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  9. So I'm not the only one to spend far too much of my time trudging the countryside in search of crumbly brickwork!

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  10. I've just read most of the High Speed Train wiki page you linked to, and enjoyed it - ta. While I don't do the typical trainspotting thing, I do harbour a geek-ish fascination with trains, planes and lighthouses, multiple lock formations on a canal, and computers, especially supercomputers, networking and mainframes. I'm about to re-read, for the umpteenth time, Cliff Stoll's computer-espionage true story, The Cuckoo's Egg. I'm also known to enjoy a spot of country music now & again. There y'go, I've just made myself into a social pariah ;-)

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  11. You know what that means, don't you. I can't be seen talking to you if you're a social pariah! :)

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  12. I love "The Cuckoo's Egg". I read it again and again usually every 2-3 years and usually in one session. Once you start reading you can't put it down. Just the thing for a rainy Sunday afternoon or an evening sleeping under your desk :-) That and technical manuals and text books.

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  13. @Jenny - Definitely not. I'll send myself to Coventry, then. Oh wait, I'm already there :-)

    @Rachel - I haven't read it in one session - yet. Maybe this time! I agree, it's a cracking page-turner, for the rainy afternoon etc. I've also been known to read technical manuals as bedtime reading - "Book Typography" being one of them :-)

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  14. You've led me to wonder where my copy is.

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  15. A lot of the old line near me is now cycle track and its interesting to see the signs of its former use. The popularity of the nearby Blunsdon station shows there are many who are as interested.
    Lucy x

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  16. That's one I've not explored yet. My stomping ground has mostly been the Cotswolds. It's all coming out now! :)

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  17. I love trains. I love just about anything on rail. Have been on many subways around the world. Toured England by train. Been to many railroad and street car museums. Been on many excursion/antique trains.

    With that said, I just like them. Not obsessed with them. Don't know one from the other. Don't know the lines.

    OK, Jenny, I'm ready for the next "off-topic" topic!

    Calie xxx

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