Adventures in Bookland: Railhead by Philip Reeve


In this day and age when the old shames, for good or ill, no longer embarrass, when I can go to dinner with old friends and be told, apropos of nothing, that their son is gay and the conversation move on as if nothing more remarkable has come up than that he has switched jobs, there yet remains one love that dare not speak its name. I would not speak of it myself, where it not for the fact that someone I know is subject to this-this compulsion. But the time has come to face society’s scorn and incomprehension, to take on the last prejudice and say it.

Say it loud.

My son’s a trainspotter and I’m proud.

There, I’ve said it.

What’s more, I’ve done it. I’ve spent endless hours on windy platforms, warmed only by a thermos flask of tea, while my son has jumped up and down in excitement as a Black Five has gone steaming past (see, I even know the terminology now), or a class 66 has trundled through, pulling a long train of troublesome trucks. So I’ve been there, I’ve got the anorak (a vital accessory at some stations, where there really is no protection against the wind).

So, now, after all this time spent alongside railway lines, whether I would or not, what do I really think of trains?

They’re all right.

Get you from London to Birmingham pretty well. Or, in Philip Reeve’s new book, from one planet to another. Only, in the future, the trains talk. They’ve got guns. And some even fall in love. So, on the face of it, a little different from the 8.14 First Capital Connect service from Harpenden (or First Crapital Connect as commuters, not particularly affectionately, called it).

But, standing on the platforms, surreptitiously looking at my son, and the other spotters, shining faces turned to the tracks, I realised that, in fact, it’s true. Trains do talk; they do sing and maybe some even fall in love. Only, most of us are too blind to see it. Only those derided blokes in the anoraks down the end of the platform get it. Someday, they will catch that 7.37 service to the Greater Magellanic Cloud that departs from Euston.

Although Philip Reeve keeps it quiet, I’m willing to bet he has his own anorak hung up on the back of a door, and a thermos flask ready to go. Only a trainspotter, closeted or otherwise, could have written this book and it’s time Philip Reeve joined me in coming out of the closet.

Come on Philip, say it loud.

We’re trainspotters, and we’re proud!

The future is arriving, and it’s coming on rails.


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