Trainspotting is not a lifestyle choice. You do not wake up one morning and decide that it would be cool to start spotting trains. It is something you feel from the very beginning. You are not interested in girls, you like trains.

It is not a phase, a rebellion or a form of mental illness. It is just a simple fact of nature. There are those people who like to watch trains and those who do not. As it happens, the trainspotters are in a minority and like all minorities they are victims of unwarranted prejudice. What the majority do determines what is ‘normal’, but ‘abnormal’ is not the same as wrong. Albert Einstein was abnormally good at sums and his sums were right. Isambard Kingdom Brunel was abnormally good at building bridges, viaducts and railway stations but no one ever laughed at him.

For a long time society has frowned on spotting. It is ridiculed and abhorred. Spotters are verbally and physically abused. All the social pressures are anti-spotting. People point and jeer. And yet still they spot. People laugh and novelists make cheap jokes about the anoraks and stereotypes. And yet still they spot.

Even among children the prejudice exists. It is an insult thrown around the playground. There are endless jokes and taunting accusations. A child who knows he is a trainspotter keeps quiet about it. Known or suspected spotters are always a target for bullying.

Parents are not much better. They can be highly unsympathetic. It is the last thing they want to hear, their son telling them that he is a spotter. They will angrily deny it or denounce their own flesh and blood. Or they may be more calm and outwardly supportive, but it still remains a family secret. And often the boy knows that deep down they hold onto the hope that it is just a phase. One day their son will meet the girl and his days of spotting will be forgotten. Just a youthful experimentation.

But if you are a trainspotter you know it is not like that. You know your love of rolling stock comes from deep within you. You see the numbers on that extra car in the Pullman’s service and it excites you. You just cannot help yourself. You know a truth that other people cannot understand. Will not understand. They try to imagine what it must be like but the idea just disgusts them. You are not like them. Except you are just like them but for one simple fact; That you see something in the serial numbers of trains that they never will. This makes you an outsider.

One does not get seduced into the spotting lifestyle by its glamour, by the clothes or the accessories. Older boys do not pressure their younger peers into joining them down the end of the platform. It is not the allure of the large and shiny locomotives or the atmosphere of the station platform. Though with time these become the things you love. The memories and associations they hold. But originally you go there because you cannot help yourself. You need it. You want it. You spot and it feels right. That number was what you needed.

Trainspotting is in the blood. It is biological but you will never find a ‘spotting gene’. Spotting is a complex behaviour. And it does not define the spotter, it is just one facet of his character. The stereotypes are just stereotypes. They will not all be wearing the same clothes, sporting the same haircuts. Two spotters are no more alike than two supporters of the same football team. They go to the same places at the same times, dressing somewhat alike and drawn by a common love but when they leave the stadium or the station they go in their different directions. Spotters are just you and I, but with different feelings about trains. You might be sitting next to one right now and you would never know.

There is nothing ‘unnatural’ about spotting. It is not a mental illness that can be cured, or a sin to be resisted. What could be sinful about it? It hurts no-one, it does not frighten the iron horses. Why do non-spotters get so worked up about it anyway? What these people get up to in the obscurity of their station platforms in not affecting you. They are not waving it in your face or forcing it down your throat. They are not making you and your children join them in their unusual pastime. Trainspotters are just different and diversity is to be celebrated.

If you pass laws against it, you will not stop them. They might go Underground but still they will spot.

Yes, mature trainspotters will welcome and encourage youngsters. It is good that they do. They have lived it from the inside. They know what it is like. They know how difficult it is to be different from societies accepted norms. To have no-one to turn to, to confide your feelings, your fears. Or ask those troubling questions about transition from narrow gauge to wide.

We need more spotterdarity. It is a tragedy that through the prejudices of others, people should become ashamed of you they really are. That they must hide themselves, remain closet spotters. Or acting shy and furtive. You can spot them; anorak hoods raised and zipped right up to obscure their faces, they loiter only two thirds of the way down the platform, pathetically pretending that they are waiting for their train. How much more wonderful the out and proud spotter; his parka flapping open in the wind, pockets bulging with notebooks and Thermos flasks, he stands proudly at the very end of the platform a video camera in one hand, his huge Pentax resting majestically on its tripod.


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