The Null Device

Posts matching tags 'trainspotting'


The peculiar and long-established British pastime of trainspotting is in steep decline, having fallen victim to some combination of post-9/11 terrorism paranoia, risk-aversion ("it's health and safety gone mad, I tell you!"), neo-Blairite obsession with image and coolness, and really boring trains:

Austin Mitchell, a Labour MP and keen amateur photographer, sees another irony: “We are all photographed dozens of times every day on CCTV, so while the Government can photograph us, we can't photograph anything else.” According to Mitchell, who was recently stopped from taking pictures at Leeds station: “Photography is a public right and that should be made absolutely clear.” He has put down an early-day motion about the matter.
But in recent years the club reports have made agonising reading. One new member might have joined, but two will have died and one resigned. A few weeks ago, members received a special letter: “The executive committee has doubts about the continued validity of the club...” A meeting will be held in October to decide the club's future. Mike Burgess, its honorary secretary, says: “There's this faint hope that someone will come along with a plan - new blood, you know.”
Britain is not making trainspotters any more, just as it is not making enough engineers to maintain our main lines. Trainusership may be at its highest since the Second World War, but this is largely because of commuting into London. Fewer than half the children who visit the National Railway Museum in York have ever been on a train, let alone spotted any. Let's get this nasty, tyrannical little word out of the way, and acknowledge that trainspotting is not “cool” and that you call somebody one at your peril.

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A short article on trainspotting in the Graun. Interesting to see that American trainspotters call themselves "trainfans"; apparently the ones in Australia call themselves "gunzels", for some reason.

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A fine old British tradition is falling foul of post-9/11 paranoia: as Greater America turns itself into the Soviet Union in the name of defending liberty, trainspotters are increasingly being harrassed by the authorities. The rationale is that terrorists could be disguising themselves as trainspotters, photographing infrastructure and taking notes on train movements to plan devastating attacks.

Others have alleged various forms of unpleasant treatment, including being frogmarched from the platform and yelled at over the public address system. One 15-year-old was seen having the film taken out of his camera.
"A couple of readers have described how Britain is beginning to look like the eastern Europe of old when taking a camera out of a bag was a dangerous thing to do. It is very sad that it has come to this. It is a total over-reaction by the authorities."

Mind you, not all railway companies are cracking down on trainspotters; some station operators are urging spotters to register their names at stations (and presumably fill in a form which says "I am a terrorist [ ] Yes [ ] No" or something), so as to avoid misunderstandings. Perhaps we can see a National Trainspotter ID Card system out of this, or even a Patriotic Trainspotters' Union, sworn to keep an eye out for suspicious activities as they sit on the platform with notebook and thermos of tea?

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Last night I went to the Fringe Festival performance of Anorak of Fire, a one-actor play about a Northern English chap named Gus Gascoigne, and his lifelong passion for spotting trains. The actor playing Gascoigne was Richie Akers, who had played him two years earlier; he went on attired in an anorak and a woolen hat and talked about how he got the passion for trainspotting and about the particularly English subculture of trainspotters and their traditions, capturing the tone of wild-eyed enthusiasm quite well. It was very funny. The play was performed at the North Melbourne Town Hall; not a bad space, except for the lack of real trains passing (as they had two years ago at the Yarraville café). Highly recommended. (Tomorrow (Sunday) is the last night, though, so you'll have to be quick.)

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