Friday, 1 March 2013


Is it just a boy thing or do girls collect things as well?  I didn't know many girls when I was a boy.  We had separate schools from the age of about 8 and the only girls I knew were my two girl cousins (one of whom we saw only about once a year) and the girl who lived two doors down the road.  Since then, the only girl I have known of an age when I was into collecting has been my daughter, and she was never a collector.  Come to that, I don't recall the two boys collecting things very much either.  But I did.

I suppose it all started with collecting car numbers.  Quite what was either the point or the fun in writing down the registration numbers of cars as they sped along the main London to Dover road is something that, these days, I find difficult - make that impossible - to comprehend.  The sheer pointlessness of the exercise, its utter futility, was something that quickly became apparent to me even at that young age.  The in thing, according to my peers, was train spotting.  And so it was that, armed with a new notebook and a freshly sharpened pencil, I made my way to the level crossing where the footbridge over the tracks was considered the best place to practise my new hobby.

Looking back, I have to say I'm surprised that I was not only allowed to go that far without an accompanying adult, I was even allowed to supervise my younger brother who wanted to come with me.  (I've just checked and discovered that it wasn't as far from home as I had thought.)

One of the drawbacks associated with train spotting at that particuloar spot was that it was only just on the downside of Gillingham station and the line was electrified as far as Gillingham.  This meant that the majority of the trains we "spotted" were uninteresting electric trains.  They all looked the same and just had numbers whereas the steam engines - at least, the majority of those pulling passenger trains - came in different classes which looked distinctive in style - and they all had names.  There was the Schools class in which the engines bore the names of English public schools such as Rugby and Shrewsbury, the King Arthur class with Sir Lancelot and Sir Gerwain, the West Country class in which the engines were named after towns in the south-west of England such as Appledore and Bideford, but best of all was the Battle of Britain class with names of famous air stations and squadrons that took part in the battle.  Just occasionally we had a treat and the Golden Arrow, the famous London to Paris all-Pullman express, was diverted from its usual route and came through the more northerly line over our level crossing.  This train was usually pulled by a Battle of Britain or West Country class engine but on one occasion we saw it pulled by a London, Midland and Scottish engine - Britannia - instead of the regular Southern Railway engine.

Like all the other train spotters, I had bought the Ian Allan book which listed all the Southern Railway engines, both steam and electric, in their various classes and I very carefully underlined in red the ones I saw.

Ian Allan published other similar books covering buses, warships, tugs etc etc and I was soon hooked on collecting bus numbers as well - and, when I could talk my mother into taking us to Gravesend - the names of tugs operating on the Thames.  Bing part of a naval family, it was natural as well that I should note down the names of the warships moored in the Medway and in the dockyard when we visited on Navy Days.

Mentioning the Ian Allan books reminds me others - those in the I Spy series.  But perhaps I'll save that for another day.  Meanwhile, here's a picture taken on a chilly morning in France.


The Broad said...

When I was a young girl I wanted to collect dolls -- but I always played so hard with them they would always get ruined! When I was in my 20's I started collecting owls -- when I started there were not so many owl collectors around. But then suddenly there were -- and I lost interest in collecting them. About 20 years ago I started collecting miniature tea services and although it is not a 'passion' I do enjoy the occasional 'find' and have one particularly fine solid silver Victorian service that my husband gave me one birthday.

Buck Pennington said...

I collected stamps as a child... me and millions of other boys. Adults, too. I let that hobby lapse as an adult, and don't collect anything these days, except memories.

You lived in a golden age for train-spotting, the final chapter in the Age of Steam. Trains these days are SO much less interesting; I can't see how anyone could get worked up over a TGV or the like.

Buck Pennington said...

Hey! The WV is gone! Thanks!!