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Parallel Lines: Or, Journeys on the Railway of Dreams [Paperback]

Ian Marchant
4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
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Book Description

5 July 2004
For 175 years the British have lived with the railway, and for a long while it was a love affair - the grandeur of the Victorian heyday, the glorious age of steam, the romance of Brief Encounter. Then the love affair turned sour - strikes, bad food, delays, disasters...Parallel Lines tells the story of these two railways: the real railway and the railway of our dreams. Travelling all over Britain, Ian Marchant examines the history of the British railway and meets those who still hold the railways close to their hearts - the model railway enthusiasts, the train-spotters and bashers (a hybrid of train-spotting where the individual - usually male - has to travel behind a certain locomotive in order to catalogue it), the steam enthusiasts. He swaps stories with commuters at the far reaches of London suburbia, he travels to deserted railway museums, and smokes cigarettes on remote, windswept stations in the furthest corners of Scotland, turning his characteristic eye for character, humour and surprise to one of the great shared experiences of the British nation.

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Parallel Lines: Or, Journeys on the Railway of Dreams + On The Slow Train: Twelve Great British Railway Journeys (Slow Train 1) + Eleven Minutes Late: A Train Journey to the Soul of Britain
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Product details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC; New edition edition (5 July 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0747565848
  • ISBN-13: 978-0747565840
  • Product Dimensions: 12.8 x 19.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 245,430 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Ian Marchant wasn't born in Newhaven in East Sussex in 1958, but he often claims that he was because of his deep embarrasment about his real place of birth.
But he really did grow up there, and went to school there, and he still sees it as home, even though it quite clearly isn't, given that he lives 250 miles away in Mid-Wales.
He didn't make a living singing in bands in the late 1970's and early 1980's; nor did he become a civil engineer in the late 1980's, as he didn't have any facility for the maths. He was surprised to learn recently that he didn't graduate in the History and Philosophy of Science with a Creative Writing Minor from Lancaster University in 1992. He really did live in a caravan for many years, but he didn't share it with a chicken called Ginger, who was rather an occasional visitor.
He put his career as a novelist on hold when his second novel 'The Battle for Dole Acre',(whose title he can't pronounce),didn't really sell. He didn't know much about railways or pubs when he started writing his acclaimed travel memoirs 'Parallel Lines' and 'The Longest Crawl',(though he does now). He did stay awake for countless nights to write his latest book 'Something of the Night'. He's now not writing a new book (provisional title 'A Hero for High Times') because he's writing this instead.
He does, however, teach Creative Writing at Birmingham City University, support Brighton and Hove Albion and sing in a cheesy cabaret duo called 'Your Dad', even though he's not really your dad, unless he is.
You can read his blog, which he doesn't update enough, via his website,

Product Description


A mediation on the British relationship with the permanent way. -- Word

A more entertaining and incisive read will not be found this year. -- Glasgow Herald

Michael Palin meets Nick Hornby meets What the Victorians Did for Us... wacky and amiable. -- Independent on Sunday

The trip keeps its pace and purpose, fuelled by the genial, flexible rhythms of the prose. -- Independent

About the Author

Ian Marchant has run a second-hand bookshop, and is a comedian, singer, song-writer and cabaret performer. Parallel Lines is his first work of non-fiction. He lives in Devon.

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Customer Reviews

4.8 out of 5 stars
4.8 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
26 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Book About Railways - Not Loco Numbers! 30 Dec 2006
By Graeme Wright VINE VOICE
What's this? A book about trains, spotting them and the enthusiasts who lurk at the ends of platforms with flasks and cameras at the ready like some saddo paparazzi? If anyone had told me a month ago that I would be reviewing such a book I would have seriously questioned their knowledge of my inner workings. Yet here we are - a thoroughly researched, cleverly written and very interesting book about the very same. Mr Marchant has that elusive knack of being able to present cold facts and figures in a manner which enthrals and entertains while at the same time getting in a few direct kicks at the shoddy state of Britain's railway industry today.

This book succeeds in its quest due to its blending of topicality with history and tradition; written in 2002 it is enviously well placed to observe and comment on the shambles that is rail privatisation as well as musing on the idyllic fantasy of its previous incarnations over the previous hundred and seventy years. To achieve this with both humour and a biting criticism is the mark of a great social commentator - most railway passengers soon learn that there is little room for the former in today's corporate-run industry - sorry, service. Whether he is reminiscing about boyhood trips from Newhaven, comparing the merits of York's National Railway Museum with Crewe's The Railway Age, going on an eighteen hour bender around London's Underground system (rather him than me) or exploring the secret world of the model railway exhibitor Mr Marchant proves throughout that he know his standard from his narrow gauge and is a train spotter of the highest order. More importantly he is also a damn fine - and funny - writer on the subject and for that we should all be grateful.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "Railways Interesting" Shock! 22 Aug 2003
Fans of Marchant's other 2 books (The Battle for Dole Acre and In Southern Waters, which combine pin-sharp observation with broad-brush farce, and if you haven't you should check them out) will have some idea of what to expect. Comparisons with Bill Bryson are unfair but perhaps inevitable - man with pencil wanders about on a vague quest meeting assorted grotesques, stereptypes and odd-balls - but what makes it interesting, not to say amusing, quirky and every so often laugh-out-loud-funny is Marchant's ability to nail the scenes and characters with the phrase juste. Excellent, and the most entertaining thing you'll read all year. Take it on a train.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Once and Future Railway 28 Feb 2009
By Stewart M TOP 500 REVIEWER
This is a highly readable book, although maybe not as funny as some of the review suggest. The opening page hooked me, but I think that the central idea of the book - that two railways exist, one experienced through the heart and one of experienced through delays, poor service and cancellations - is the real core of the book.
Many people - and not just train enthusiasts - have a vision of trains as they may have been in the past and it seems inevitable that trains will again play a more central role in transport in the future. This then seems to be the key idea of the book - there is a vision of the past, which may not have actually existed and a wish for the future which may not come to pass. So this is a book about the Once and Future Railway. The genuinely funny parts of the book more often than not deal with the nightmare of using the actual railway of today. I think it's reasonable to say that problems with railways are not limited to the UK. I live in Australia and the trains in Melbourne breakdown when it gets hot!
This book approaches train enthusiasts with a degree of respect they may not get elsewhere, and it raises the reasonable point that it is no more extreme to want to get the detail of your model trains correct than it is to (as an example) memorise the players and positions of all Manchester United's FA Cup Teams.
This book will undoubtedly appeal to more than just railway enthusiasts - and I challenge anybody not to integrate the term "Rivet Counter" into their lexicon of abuse!
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A real page turner - About railways? 19 April 2010
By Cheerio
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This is a very enjoyable book. Ian Marchant has an easy, witty, self deprecating style. He also knows his stuff. I was truly sorry to finish it. I didn't want it to finish, but it got me painlessly (by air) to South America and back! A very talented writer. More like this please. :)
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Chuffing marvellous 5 Nov 2009
Ian Marchant is a great travelling companion, and this is the best book I've read about our much maligned railway system. All too many books about trains and railways disappear off into a tunnel of extreme nerdiness - which has its place, I know, but it's not for me. It was great to read a well-researched, passionate and funny book about our railways from someone I'd actually like to share a journey with, rather than scaring the living daylights out of me.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars not interested in trains? then buy this book 7 Mar 2009
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
funny, political, sharp, witty, and if you have zero interest in trains it really is worth having a fat middle-aged educated wit take you on a journey of a lifetime. You may want to get off a little before the last stop in case Ian gets all emotional. But still his best book although the funny fiction of 'in southern waters' by Ian Marchant is worth digging around second hand booksellers for.

Buy it for your mum or girlfriend.
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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Salute the BASHER, the Titan of Rail Travel 26 July 2004
I was astounded how Ian Marchant captured so much of the Basher's art in a digestible form. The Basher is not a spotter and neither are "cool". But so what? Ian deals with this very eloquently with his astute analysis of that Titan of rail travel. Ian also investigates the somewhat sad history of our railways and the various highs and lows (especially privatisation), and wraps this up as a wonderful social history of "The Permanent Way".
There is no place for any branded marketing in here, and so much the better, just gritty individuals contributing to the rich fabric of "the network". Buy the book and read it on the train.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Rail enthusiast or not, this is a very good read.
I am only filling this space with sufficient words for the review to appear (six more words should do it) Well there you go, the title says it all..... Read more
Published 2 months ago by R
5.0 out of 5 stars Check the National Routing Guide
An absolute hoot from cover to cover, truly hard to put down.
Remarkably engaging and honest - Marchant should be conscripted into the cast of "Grumpy Old Men"
Published 3 months ago by Bryan
4.0 out of 5 stars Affectionate memoir-cum-travelogue.
Even if you don't like trains you may well like this book, as it is a much a personal history as a book about trains. Read more
Published 4 months ago by Loz
3.0 out of 5 stars An informative and humourous look at railways in UK and Ireland
With humour and wit Marchant describes his experiences and oservations while travelling Britain's and Ireland's railways including journeys taken on some narrow gauge, preserved... Read more
Published 6 months ago by Chas
5.0 out of 5 stars A wanker goes line bashing
"The black girl let go of my arm. 'Wanker,' said the blonde. I had not handled this well, and I scuttled down the subway to the safety of the Underground. Read more
Published 14 months ago by Joseph Haschka
5.0 out of 5 stars Wit, will travel
Wonderful wit adds a new vista to every journey. Each 'journey' begins as to be expected but the subsequent experience is a whole new dimension for armchair travel.
Published on 13 Mar 2012 by Mr. I. W. Pilcher
5.0 out of 5 stars Impressive search for the inner trainspotter
A really enjoyable book, both funny and informative. I gave it the coveted fifth star just for its list of train-related spots to visit. Read more
Published on 19 Aug 2011 by C. Young
5.0 out of 5 stars Railman
A very entertaining book about the Authors travels and mishaps on the Railway Network. The book is also a potted history of his life with regard to the Railways, and also sets out... Read more
Published on 21 May 2011 by cairns
5.0 out of 5 stars An unexpectedly great read.
I never expected to find any book that combined a good approximation of my own worldview with an understanding of my principal vice, that is being a railway enthusiast. Read more
Published on 25 Aug 2010 by Lord Shipley
5.0 out of 5 stars Railways Past, in a Present Age
This is a wonderful travel book about getting to places on our modern railway network. It is also littered with interesting historical facts about how these lines came to be where... Read more
Published on 10 Sep 2009 by B. F. Bryant
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