TRAINS, TRAIN SPOTTING AND THE MEANING OF LIFE
There's nothing I enjoy better than a few pints with new-found friends, the odd bawdy joke thrown in, but if I happen to mention that I have a website about old train spotting days (and why not? I'm proud of it!) they take a step back and regard me as if I'm stark-bollock naked! There's no eye contact anymore...
Now I wouldn't call myself a deeply sensitive person, but I do wonder what is going on here. So let me think...are they questioning my intelligence, my manhood or perhaps I've carelessly left my flies open?
No, of course not...their sharp intake of breath is a very common knee-jerk reaction brought on by the public's perception of train spotters who are by definition dull, boring and stupid.
Now I am not going to be overly philosophical here but it strikes me that since this happens frequently nowadays I need to ask a few important questions of myself.
Indeed there comes a time when we all need to reassess our lives and reflect on our inherent quirks and fancies; perhaps take stock of our place in the world and unscramble the negative thoughts lurking inside our heads.
However, let's not get carried away by this. Life is too short to worry about what other people think; the trick is to raise the bar a notch. Adjust your personal default setting to zero tolerance levels (to match the public's perception of us) and tell 'em to sod off! After all, you only get one chance at this life so make the most of it.
Alas this is not like some men I know who mercilessly (senselessly) beat themselves up over some calamitous mistake that happened way back; perhaps they made a bad decision that ultimately altered the rest of his life but since he can't turn back the clock, what's the point in lamenting the past? It will only grind him down...
Instead he should think positively about his likes, dislikes and assess the meaning of his existence; only then can he decide what he'd like to do with his future.
But then everyone has a meditative moment like this at some point in their lives. This is especially the case when you get older because one thing for certain - once you get past the big 'Six-0' you'll end up morphing into a homogenous lump and unable to tie your shoe laces.
Even worse, by the time you reach old age your head is brimful with wonderful stories that you desperately want to pass on, only there is so little time left in this world to do it...
Well, for crying out loud - all this fannying around in the twilight of life is an utter waste of time...the days, weeks and months are flying by quickly enough as it is without counting them down...before you know it you'll be forgetting what it is you're supposed to be remembering and end up being being spoon-fed in an old folks home!
(Below) Each time I look at this photo of Saltaire station in 1984, I hold my hands up in reluctant surrender - this could well be me in a few years time! Contrary to appearances, however, not all Yorkshire folk are grim 'up-north' stereotypes who wear cloth caps, shove ferrets down trousers, clog dance in streets, breed whippets or race pigeons, and live on a diet of pork scratchings. These gentlemen could well be ex-train spotters reminiscing about old times when the old--MR Anglo-Scottish expresses plied the Aire Valley route between Leeds and Skipton and local passenger services were hauled by Midland 1P 0-4-4Ts. How times have changed! The station at Saltaire was demolished soon after closure on 20th March 1965, but the service was resumed on 9th April 1984 when the enterprising West Yorkshire Passenger Transport Executive (WYPTE) financed a new station, built generously in local stone in keeping with the famous Sir Titus Salt's mill complex; the village of Saltaire is one of the finest examples of an intact Victorian industrial villages in England.
(Above) Richard S Greenwood's photo of Rochdale Station would not look out of place at the Lowry Art Gallery, Salford Quays in Manchester. LS Lowry, of course, is famous for painting scenes of life in the industrial districts of North West England in the mid-20th century. He developed a distinctive style of painting and is best known for urban landscapes milling with human figures often referred to as 'matchstick men'. In wintry weather, signalman Cyril 'Tater' Jones is seen walking home after arriving by train at Rochdale from his place of work at Smithy Bridge Level Crossing. Out of picture on the right, an empty wagon train rumbles through the station bound for Healey Mills in Yorkshire…the full image can be seen on Richard's 'Rail Cameraman' page 53, which now contains over 120 colour shots of steam days up north. Watch this space! There are more to come!
So rather than lament the passing of years I came up with a solution to the problem. Why not create a website and upload a shedful of personal anecdotes from bygone days? The site will be a thought-provoking exercise - a healthy tweaking of the last few remaining grey cells I have before the meter runs out. I could start the site with the goody-gum-drops of childhood innocence followed by the cocky optimism of adolescence. Then I'll skimp over all that cynical stuff that came with adulthood - boring! - and finish it with the grumpy foibles of old age.
And so I went ahead...and, boy oh boy - have I bumped into some larger-than-life characters along the way!
First there's Fred Wagstaff - aka Fireman Fred - a quintessentially eccentric northern bloke, with a wicked sense of humour and a serious lack of airs and graces, all of which makes a refreshing change from the risible PC culture we have today.
Just two weeks after starting his stories, Freddy contacted me via email - 'D'ya know what, Davey?' he said, somewhat surprised - 'I've got to thank you for getting me involved in this writing lark, I didn't think I would enjoy it so much, but I am! I feel that I've been very lucky all my life and have just about achieved everything that I've set out to do. The only thing that I didn't accomplish involved Pans People and the Three Degrees and some of the most depraved and unspeakable activities it is possible to imagine!'
See what I mean? Compared to today's risible PC lobby telling us what we can or can't say, Freddy's outspokenness is oddly reassuring. He simply tells it as it is...
Then there's ex-BR fitter, Chris Boylan, whose ups and downs on repairing the old steam workhorse are now recorded for posterity. Chris wrote - 'David, when you first put forward the idea of a page on the Internet I was dubious at first, but I soon get the hang of it and couldn't stop scribbling!
And I mustn't forget John Stoddart, who, in discussing the outline for his 'Rail Cameraman' page, admitted to being totally buoyed-up going through old negatives and making some exciting discoveries, including a memorable 1960's ScR bash. John's 'Steam Heaven, Scotland 1964' and 'Lines Through A Life' are the best webpages of spotting anecdotes on the Internet.
Then there is the superb 'Cowpen & Blyth' page by Phil Hodgetts, whose enthusiasm for his hometown in Northumberland is infectious. Even though Phil was born long after the Port of Blyth's heydays his research into the subject is exceptional. It is encouraging to find a relative youngster investigating his home town's place in history in such depth and sharing it with others. Phil wrote - 'At first I didn't think I'd have much to say that hasn't already been posted on the web about Blyth, but having started the page I am now at a loss for words, in the sense that I have too much to say!
This brings me to Chris Carter, whose two dedication pages to his late father, 'Footplate Cameraman, Jim Carter' have been truly inspirational. What started out as a tiny seed of an idea ended up becoming an emotional journey for the both of us and we learned a great many things along the way.
Then there's Andy Sparks's observations of Britain's railways in the North-west of England during the 1970s; a fantastic trip down memory lane...so too is Roy Lambeth's page of steam days at Durham; pure nostalgia!
And then there's ex-Guildford engineman, Geoff Burch, whose love of the Southern Region shines through. After launching his first page of 'SR Enginemen's Memories', Geoff was joined by his enginemen colleagues Messrs Pat Kinsella, Dave Salmon and Alex (Mac) McClymont and between them produced a further four pages of enginemen's memories.
The fact is I'm full of admiration for everyone on this site, because they are ordinary people who have become involved in this project for it's own sake with no prospect of financial or other gain, just the satisfaction of creation...rare qualities indeed in a world obsessed with money and cheap fame...
...which brings me to the nub of the matter; over the years the site has just grown and grown and the name 'David Hey's Collection' is now a misnomer, at worst misleading. Let me be quite honest about this, there is no way on this earth that the full contents of this site came from my own collection, it belongs to every single contributor.
Indeed I was so concerned that I began to evaluate the sequence of events that caused the site to become so convoluted in the first place. Quite simply, growth has been 'organic' rather than planned; the site has now reached a stage where it's virtually unmanageable and in desperate need of a shake-up...
But where do I start? A site map? Yes, that's it! I'll devise a site map to show what's available...it will make the task of navigating the site a whole lot easier.
Then I'll build up a profile of the visitors to the site.
Okay, that won't take long! Visitors can be broken down into three main categories: the person doing research for a particular project, the person looking for a good old fashioned nostalgic wallow and the hardcore railway buff interested in every minute detail of every permutation of every aspect of railways, the kind who would surf the site for days on end and probably not care where they end up.
Right, now that's done - what next? I haven't a clue!...and really, what's the point? After all, this is a hobby, pure and simple, the site is too far gone to start making wholseale changes.
So I'll leave things just the way they are....which is a relief, especially at my age. I may be able to remember vividly what I did fifty-odd years ago, but I instantly forget what I did just a few minutes back. Just the other day I found myself standing in the kitchen forgetting why I was there... oh, come on - we've all done it! You haven't? I don't believe you. Forgetfulness is par for the course for senior citizens.
But on a more serious note, when it comes to dipping your toe into this murky whirlpool of nostalgia be prepared for all manner of things bobbing to the surface...the good, bad and the ugly - the sort of things you've shoved purposely, or unconsciously, furthermost to the back of your mind.
However, the main reason for this website is to unravel the mysteries of train spotting to the hoi-polloi; not only will it reveal the complexity of the hobby in its truest form, by adding some great photographs it will showcase old spotting days in the brightest perspective. After all, train spotting was the closest I ever came to understanding the meaning of life.
At least it'll give the legion of po-faced anorak-bashers something to grind their teeth on...