Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Spotting the spotters

Do you ever book rail tickets via thetrainline.com? Prices are totally random, aren’t they? I travelled to London first class the other day – two single first class tickets worked out cheaper than a standard return. But then goddammit nothing really makes sense any more and everything that used to be true and safe and reliable has been warped or lost in the great postquantum interflux.

The advantage of first class over standard is that you get free stuff and legroom, but the drawback is that the phone conversations of your fellow passengers are more annoying. A lawyeress talked all the way from Temple Meads to Chippenham about what she was going to put to the people ahead of the meeting with the other people before they met with the people from the States.

Then, as soon as she finished, some suit started up about selling something or other. His conversation was sprinkled – peppered, if you like – with food references: there’s a real appetite for this out there; I don’t see any hunger for a career there; let’s put it out there and see if anyone bites. I don’t think he actually said anything about eating someone for breakfast, but he may as well have, you get the idea. Aha, I thought, this man is hungry and his subconscious is messing with his conversation. So when he finished I peeped round to see if he was availing himself of the free firstclass grub. And sure enough, he wasn’t. Oh well.

Anyway, the point of this post is that at Didcot Parkway I spotted some trainspotters. Nothing unusual about that per se, but something about the scene made me uneasy. Eventually I twigged what it was, and was so struck by it that I took this photo.

Can you see it? They were all standing at equidistant intervals along the platform, about twenty feet apart. Just enough, in other words, to be separate from each other, individuals rather than a group, and to spend the entire day spotting trains without the need to converse or acknowledge one another’s presence.

And this, presumably, is the really significant symptom of their peculiar mental illness. The actual trainspotting is a relatively minor one.


worm said...

Seeing as train-spotting seems to be something that some people (men) are just hardwired to do - what did this particular subset of the human race do before trains were invented?

was there a few of our paleolithic ancesters still living in the cave with their mothers, who scratched lonely records onto cave walls charting the individual horn variations in the neighbouring Auroch herd?

Hey Skipper said...

Interestingly, SFAIK, train-spotting is unique, or nearly so, to England.

Back in the day, when I was flying out of RAF Upper Heyford, tail-spotters were always lining a perimeter road that was close to short final. No matter the weather.

From the cockpit, it didn't appear they maintained anything like an autisticaly regular spacing.

They kept very detailed logbooks -- I was occasionally asked at airshows where such and such an airframe was, because they hadn't seen it in awhile.

I wonder if they were disillusioned that, in almost all cases, I had no earthly idea.


Brit: thank you for a very enjoyable evening. My family was fascinated by the prospect of meeting one of my blogging friends -- they came away very impressed.

Brit said...

A lot of it is I guess the urge to collect and catalogue - crossing off numbers etc, like bingo. But then they also film the bloody trains and, presumably, watch videos at home. And these aren't lovely old steam engines but boring modern trains that all look the same.

I was once sitting near a pair of them on a journey and they had an interminable conversation about the upholstery in the carriages of the B537 series or whatever.

But each, as ever, to their own.


Skipper: it was truly a pleasure. As I said in The Orange Side post a bit below (sorry, it's a weird old post, not sure what I was on that day), we were v impressed with your kids and agreed that if we could raise Brit Jnr to be nearly as bright and well-mannered as the offspring of you and Mrs Skipper, we'd be very happy. Hope you enjoyed the rest of your hol.

worm said...

"From the cockpit, it didn't appear they maintained anything like an autisticaly regular spacing."

thats my new favourite sentence!

Ali said...

The real problem with first class is keeping hold of the teacups when the train goes into rattling mode.

David said...

I did notice this odd pricing system.

A round-trip first class ticket from Paddington to Oxford was so cheap (26 Pounds, I believe) that, when I decided to train rather than Tube from Paddington to Heathrow, I didn't even ask how much the 1st class ticket cost. 50 Pounds.

Brit said...

System, David? I think 'system' is gross flattery.

Ali - the real problem is when the butler spills your caviar into your vintage champagne, f****g shocking.

(No, on Great Western they have plastic cups even in first. I feel cheated now).

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