So, the BBC’s Trainspotting Live! made it onto the front page of The Sun, putting our hobby under the full glaring spotlight of the national tabloid press. The scandal? Claiming that footage of a Class 66 was live when, in fact, it had been shot months previously.
Which pretty much summed up the entire programme, truth be told. If it had deliberately set out to portray us all as a bunch of sad, obsessive, sociopathic geeks, it couldn’t have done a better job.
“Being tortured would’ve been more pleasant” was one comment that we heard. “An anorak’s wet dream” was another. Sadly, that last one was closer to the truth than he realised – for by far the worst part of it was when they showed that vile (sorry – did I put ‘vile’? I meant to say ‘viral’) footage of the American ‘foamer’ getting rather too excited over the sound of a diesel horn.
Honestly – telling us that “an anorak isn’t obligatory, but make sure you dress for the weather”? Using Pythagoras to teach us that you couldn’t read a train’s number if it was passing you at Mach 1? Patronising, mickey-taking rubbish, the lot of it.
There were just two tiny rays of light in this programme that almost made the rest of it worthwhile. I stress ‘almost’.
One was the poem by Ian McMillan that rounded off the first episode – a beautiful elegy to Flying Scotsman that, all on its own and in little more than two minutes, should have done a better job of explaining our passion than the previous hour had managed. The other was Tim Dunn.
The viewer might reasonably surmise that he’s hamming it up for the cameras – but when you read his explanation of why he wanted to be involved, you might just think again.
“Steam engines,” he writes on the programme’s website, “are probably the closest we’ve ever come to creating artificial life. They’re elemental. Forget Frankenstein’s monster: talk to any driver or any person who’s ridden on a steam locomotive footplate or stood next to one in repose as steam gently whiffles from a valve: these things feel alive. They have personalities. Created from steel and iron, hacked from beneath our feet by men in times past, these creatures are fed by coal made from ancient life, watered from rain from the sky and lit from a burning flame. These things come together to create new life – a movement, a breathing, oscillating machine that responds to its environment. And like a real creature, when we see one in danger, or when it is hurt, railway enthusiasts run to save it, to help it, to repair it.”
Almost brings a tear to the eye, that last bit. Because isn’t that exactly why we preserve steam locomotives? Doesn’t it sum up precisely how we feel when we see some forlorn, forsaken Barry hulk rusting away, seemingly without a chance of ever living again? Even if he’s not a hard-core steam enthusiast by the normal definition, he understands what makes us tick all right.
His words, and Ian’s poem, truly sound as though they were written from the heart. What a pity they had to get involved with television that was such utter tripe.