Trainspotting can drive you loco

Related Topics
I bought the novel Trainspotting when it first came out in hardback, and although I haven't read it all yet, or indeed much of it, I look forward to reading it if only so that I can find out why it is called Trainspotting.

I have always remembered my trainspotting days, which took place in the early Fifties, with great affection, and I think I still have somewhere all the Ian Allan books of British engine numbers that I bought at the time. They must be quite valuable by now. Or at least they would be if I hadn't painstakingly underlined in ink the numbers of all the locomotives I had seen, thus reducing the value of the books to nil at a stroke.

I don't have the slightest interest in trainspotting now, of course. I gave it all up 40 years ago. It's just that, as all my wives have drily observed in turn, no man ever quite gives up trainspotting. It stays in the blood like a long-ago case of malaria and, like malaria, occasionally returns to embarrass you in public ....

What are the symptoms? Well, one sign is the tendency, when driving along in a car, to slow down when you are passing a station or railway line in case there is a train coming. Another symptom is to prick up your ears when you see a dotted line on a map marked "disused railway" and to keep your eyes open for it when it crosses the road you're driving along. Another variation on this is to pick out subconsciously, as you're driving, the tell-tale flat line of an old railway crossing the landscape and to follow it with your eye as long as you can, even though it means nothing to anyone else in the car.

Oh, and another symptom of the old trainspotting itch is to feel a fleeting spot of annoyance when you hear the term "trainspotter", because usually what trainspotters are spotting is not a train but an engine or a locomotive.

Sorry. That's enough.

Now I knew when I bought Trainspotting that it wasn't about trains and it wasn't about trainspotting, because I had read reviews of the book. And the reviews of the books all said: "This is not a book about trains, and it is not a book about trainspotting. It is a novel that deals with the youthful drug underworld of Edinburgh, written in tough, uncompromising language by a man who has been there and knows what he's talking about ....."

That's good. I am all in favour of there being novels about the Edinburgh drug world, if only to counter the image of Edinburgh as a stuffy city addicted to scones and Scotch. But I don't actually want to read them. I have read enough books about drugs in my life.

Well, they weren't billed as books about drugs, they were billed as books about jazz, but there was a long time in jazz history when drugs and jazz were so intertwined that you couldn't read about one without reading about the other. And now I have done drug books and I don't want to do more drug books.

So why did I buy Trainspotting? Well, blow me down, but I think it was because of the title. There was part of me that wanted to find out how a book that was not about trains could be given a title like that, and if I had got far enough, I would probably have found out. That's another symptom of the old malarial itch of trainspotting - to latch on to something with "train" or "rail" or "express" in the title and explore it even though you know it won't be anything to do with trains at all - in the same sort of way that my eye immediately spots, on any printed page, a word with "-zz" in it, just in case it is the word jazz

That is why, when I was once offered the opportunity to see Starlight Express, I grudgingly accepted the invitation, even though it's against my principles to see an Andrew Lloyd Webber musical. I had read that it was about trains. I thought that it might be worth seeing. I was wrong. It was one of the most terrible evenings that I have ever spent in the theatre. But somebody somewhere had correctly deduced or guessed that any title which refers to trains is going to add 5 per cent to its audience figures immediately. It might be a disappointed 5 per cent, but it will be a paying 5 per cent.

That is why I'll hazard a guess that at every performance of Trainspotting there will be a small percentage of the audience who will go away unmoved by the drug drama and baffled by the Scots accents but heartbroken that there weren't any trains to be seen.

Sorry. I mean, engines.

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Junior Web Designer - Client Liaison

£6 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join a gro...

Recruitment Genius: Service Delivery Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Service Delivery Manager is required to join...

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

Day In a Page

Read Next

Etch, a Sketch

Jane Merrick

Something wrong with the Conservative Party’s game plan

John Rentoul
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

How to make your own Easter egg

Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

Cricket World Cup 2015

Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing