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|Sitting in a pub whiling away Saturday afternoon hours introduces me to a variety of personalities I do not often come across. Just the other day, I am visiting in The Blue Ball when this chain of people, some wearing what I would call peculiar hats, enters all at once. What their common denominator is, other than making a fashion statement, I do not know; but my curiosity gets the better of me and I stop one as he is passing by. They all looked like perhaps they were members of some sports team, and I inquired as to that. No, it turns out, these were all trainspotters, and they had just finished a day of, well, spotting trains.
Now, I had heard of this breed of person, but I had never met an actual trainspotter, so I seized the opportunity to learn more. Stu, the man’s name, was quite enthusiastic about his hobby, and was particularly delighted to know I came from New Orleans. “Yes, I’ll be on a train from Memphis to New Orleans next year, in July, when I’m visiting the States. Looking forward to it. I’ll be taking a train from Chicago to Los Angeles, and then along the west coast in California. Then I’ll fly to Las Vegas where I’ll get a train back to Chicago. Then I’ll take a train from Chicago to Memphis and take a train from Memphis to Nashville, and then I’ll take a train back from Nashville to Memphis, and then I’ll go to New Orleans. You have those bullet trains over there, don’t you? The kind that lean over in their tracks as they speed along? Like they have in Japan. If you want to spot trains, Japan is the place to go. Those trains just zip you along so fast, but I imagine the trains in the States are quite good, too, not like here in England. Have you ever traveled the trains in Switzerland? There quite good, as are the trains in Germany, too. But here in England they are not as good as they are in the other countries of Europe. But even those cannot compare to the bullet trains in Japan. I went there once to see those, and next I’m going to the US to see the trains there. There should be some good ones there.” I feared a colossal case of disappointment brewing.
His enthusiasm was interrupted momentarily by some in-charge kind of person, inquiring something about trains seen that day. Into a notebook, duly and carefully recorded, were series of digits that Stu rattled off, occasionally interrupted by a clarifying correction made by some other member of the party. This allowed me some time to process my own thoughts. As he returned his attention to me, still fascinatingly sipping my beer, I asked if he could tell me a bit more about trainspotting. Taking the local train service through Kintbury as an example, it would seem that the trains passing through from London to Bedwyn are the same few cars making the pass, back and forth, a number of times during the day. At best, there might be a second set of cars to allow for one going west while one goes east. The local train, I observed, has about 4 cars to it, and so I was wondering once a trainspotter has spotted that train, then his job is pretty much done. I was in for some enlightenment. Stu picked up from there. “Oh, no, you’re thinking of the train destination you see on the front of the train. I’m talking about the number you see on the side of each car. You know how there is a number on the side of each car, don't you? That's what needs to get spotted, too. I mean, think about it man, once that train gets to Reading or to Paddington, where do you think all those cars go? One might then go up to Newcastle, another to Liverpool, another to Bristol. You can’t really tell, can you?” I realized that I had something of mental block here, as I am so sure that I’ve seen a train of four cars filled with passengers pulling into Paddington from Bedwyn only to leave thirty or so minutes later heading back to Bedwyn, with different passengers, usually me included. Apparently that is an American thought, an illustration of American efficiency. Without speaking, I recalled Stu’s sentiments about the trains in England compared to trains elsewhere. “Each of those cars, you see could show just about anywhere else in the UK, and cars from other places might show up here, so I go out and spot these trains, and it is quite fun. My friend in New Zealand who used to live here introduced me to this, he said once, that I should come out with him just for a day and spot trains. It seemed like a silly thing to do, but I spent the day with him trainspotting and I’ve been hooked on it ever since. Trainspotting.”
Well, I was fascinated by Stu’s unbridled enthusiasm on this subject, and told him it was the first time I had ever heard so much about trainspotting. I mean, I had seen the movie, Trainspotting. Had he seen Trainspotting? “Oh, that film, I don’t quite think that had anything to do with trainspotting. As near as I can remember that was just about some drug addicts up in Scotland, wasn’t it, who waste away their lives on drugs while the rest of the world is passing them by – not really much to do with trainspotting, I think.” I observed that I thought the title was a metaphor. “Oh, yes, I suppose so.”
At this point, the conversation drifted off as Stu was called over to a card game starting among the band of trainspotters out for a relaxing evening at The Blue Ball after their day of spotting trains.