Spotting Train Spotters

Usually, Mike is standing proudly in the best viewing position at the start of platform 9 with Barry, his spotting companion. Mike isn’t there today. He’s at home caring for his mother, and it’s not looking promising.

We’re expecting the new fleet of Siemens rolling stock to pass through and he’ll miss a whole lot of unique train identifiers. They’re the numbers on the front.

Barry has a newbie with him, a Roland, or something. I know we always need new blood to keep our activity alive. The upstart has a very modern winter coat with sheepskin lining and zipped pockets, but he’s failed to adhere to our Anorak philosophy, there are no flaps on his pockets to keep out the driving rain. He’ll learn the hard way.

This morning he was bragging about collecting numbers from buses, taxis and planes. Planes, whoever heard of a plane spotter?

The young ones turn up with their electronic dictaphones and German specialist binoculars. What happens when the batteries run dry? A sturdy British lead pencil and paper pocketbook is the answer. None of that Brexit rubbish. Good old fashioned British made.

Me, I’m very knowledgeable about my subject. I find what I do more than a hobby, me. Others don’t understand it. Once, the wife and I were at a social, neighbour’s summer BBQ. Sometimes, people can’t contain themselves when I say I’m a trainspotter. Apparently, it’s something to be scoffed at. I’m out and proud about it.

The wife is good with it, gets me out of the house with a packed lunch and a thermos for soup and one for her special hot milky tea.

Keeps me entertained, and I suppose it does, but I also do my community duty at the end of the platform. You see those Samaritan signs, we show a physical presence. Of course, after what happened in Sept 2011 we were all being ejected from station platforms from around the country, claiming safety and breaching security. Bloody madness. Trainspotter terrorists, ridiculous, if anything we will spot them first before any of the general public, they’re too busy with their heads down looking at screens.

There are other Spotters in our hive. We’re a hive because we work together, but in different locations. Melvin and Vincent photograph their spots from a pedestrian walkover bridge at the end the platform at a different train station. We need to be discreet, especially when photographing, therefore I won’t disclose their favourite locations.

One woman accused Melvin of photographing her. Clearly, she was confused, to put it politely. You understand.

Roland thought he was cleverer than Christmas snow, lucky enough to write down the first unique carriage identifiers on the new Siemens rolling stock. Out of respect, we are reserving them for Mike. That’s his honour and he should be the first to collect them. Now he must wait for the next release of Siemens carriages.

It’ll take a number of years before the young upstart is able to walk on stage at the annual National Railway Museum Awards and claim an award for Most Consistent Carriage Identifiers, or Sensibly Dressed Spotter, or Best Numerical Identifiers.

Last year I won Best Antique Identifiers Collection. It’s called an antique collection because my collection has the oldest number of carriage identifiers. This is important because the carriage and wagon classification system changed in 1948. The Ian Allen’s train number books were popular in my family and that’s where it all started. It’s a family tradition.

The peak hour is about to start, best I free up my writing hand to start the competition.

It’s competition day, if I didn’t mention. Even though we’re all in the same Hive, we also like to keep our skills at their peak with a friendly match.

Our competition is a complex system of writing down identifiers, times and dates from our individual platforms, but also capture identifiers from other platforms, hence the binoculars and if I can spot an identifier before any other Spotter, I commandeer that identifier. It’s a friendly match and services can be verified by timetables. Plus, our companions also act as timekeepers.

Thanks for taking the time to learn more about trainspotting. If you’re truly enthusiastic, come to one of our weekly gatherings, details at our website

And, if Mike were here, he’d have that upstart under control. March him straight back to the van to change into something appropriate.

– Phil

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