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Friday, 20 March 2009

Aficionados Anonymous

Um, as this is my first AA meeting, erm, I’d like to say [sniff] to you all, um, that [scratch] my name’s Tim, and, erm, I’m a Railway Enthusiast.

There, I said it.

Do I have ... ? No, I don’t have an anorak. Nor do I write numbers in a book (or, as most spotters do in these technologically advanced times, dictate them for later). Nor do I favour spam butties, or whatever current caricatures suggest.

Nor do I have any leaning towards terrorism, or any other form of violent disruption.

But I do have a camera. Two cameras, actually: there’s one in my mobile phone. For some authority figures, this makes me a deeply suspicious quantity.

Actually, the rail industry tries to be well disposed towards enthusiasts, but too many individuals take it on themselves to make up their own rules. Hence the proliferation of Data Protection Act excuses, and the supposed imposition of “New Security Levels”. Both of these fall into the category of Industrial Strength Drivel (tm), but if the person making them up has the say so on your snapping away, it’s tough luck.

And it isn’t just railways. Try taking out your digital compact in one of today’s Wonderful Shopping Experience Complexes. The security goons can’t keep the lid on all the folks snapping each other on their mobiles, but, hey, they have “intellectual property” to defend – and are paid only enough to follow their orders. Cuts out thinking, as Harry Palmer once observed.

As for anything to do with Government ... perhaps someone will see sense soon after the first Japanese tourist gets summarily banged up and thereby precipitates an international incident.

This contrasts with the approach taken in a number of other EU States. The former East Germany, until 20 years ago a totalitarian state, doesn’t bat an eyelid at rail enthusiasts with cameras. Portugal – for decades the dictatorship of the Novo Estado, ruled over by the less than benign Premier Antonio de Oliveira Salazar – is nowadays equally accommodating.

What is our problem?

Postscript: the day after I put my first draft together, a retired accountant was stopped, on supposed security grounds, from videoing the arrival of a train at Macclesfield station. The station staff later dug themselves in deeper by refusing permission for BBC North West Tonight to film there. Macclesfield is run by Virgin Trains, who run several other stations where enthusiasts snap away without staff intervention. Apparently the punter concerned was using a tripod, and had plonked it in the middle of the platform, which would not have helped his cause. But the citing of “security” along with the supposition of potential terrorism is disturbing.

[For those wondering about the use of the term “Aficionados”, this is how “Enthusiasts” translates into Castellano (yes, even the Spanish are lightening up). I quite like being an Aficionado]

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