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4.6 out of 5 stars27
4.6 out of 5 stars
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 28 February 2009
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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28 of 30 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon 30 December 2006
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
on 22 August 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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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
"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." - Ian Marchant, after having awkwardly rebuffed the advances of two hookers outside St. Pancras station

PARALLEL LINES by Ian Marchant is the congenial narrative of his ongoing efforts to "line bash" the British national rail network, i.e. travel on as many routes as possible simply because he loves trains and can. The book is first and foremost about the author's love affair with trains, especially as colored by the lenses of popular imagination and nostalgia. Secondarily, it's an instructive social and chronological history of the nation's rail system, albeit a haphazard and non-comprehensive one. (A more linear thinking reader may prefer a fuller treatment of the subject, the equally engaging Eleven Minutes Late: A Train Journey to the Soul of Britain by Matthew Engel.)

Marchant's seemingly slapdash journeys take him to England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. He even makes the long transit from London to the Irish Republic, enduring a rough crossing of the Irish Sea, to ultimately experience a 20-minute ride on the world's oldest commuter line, that from Dublin to Kingstown.

The author occasionally meanders completely off topic, such as when he bemoans his government's misguided drug policy, and excoriates the landed nobility for the Scottish Clearances from the 1780s to 1850s. And, at one point, Marchant asserts that building warships is a morally indefensible industry. (Really? How about the building of those warships that guarded the North Atlantic convoys that sailed to keep England supplied and afloat to fight on during World War II?) But Ian digressed, and so do I.

The author's self-effacing humor is an endearing and redeeming characteristic:

"I bought a fluffy cinnamon fleece in Dublin, the first I had ever owned, to celebrate passing my fortieth birthday and the consequent lack of interest in looking sharp."

Personally, the chapter that I enjoyed the most was "Twilight Zone Six" in which Ian has a go at traveling the entirety of the Underground in a single day. During my many visits to London, my favorite city in the world, I've oft been tempted to try such a stunt and wear out a Travel Card. After reading Marchant's account of his heroic attempt, however, I'm feeling some guilty relief that I've never tried it. Doing just the Central Line one end to the other, West Ruislip to Epping, and the four termini of the various branches of the Northern Line - High Barnet, Mill Hill East, Edgeware, and Morden - would likely send me back to the hotel in exhausted defeat. Carrying on would not be an option; no stiff upper lip here, I'm sorry to admit.

Despite the rambling nature of the author's account, I'm awarding PARALLEL LINES five stars just for the richness of the vicarious experience and the exposure to the arcane subcategories of trainspotting. And a tip of my bowler hat to Marchant's unnamed and long-suffering girlfriend - a voice heard on the author's cell phone in faraway places - for her exasperated tolerance of Ian's obsession.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 5 November 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
on 7 March 2009
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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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 25 August 2010
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. From punk rock to politics to the platform end this book chimed readily with both my outlook and many of my experiences. As a basher it was good to see even just the use of this term in print, and that Ian duly recognises that bashers are at the top of the enthusiast tree! It is also good to see railway enthusiasts (in fact just used as an example of anyone with any hobby that isn't football, cars or shopping) treated sympathetically and in the context of what appears to have evolved into a very harsh, intolerant, and above all 'cool', society. I should point out that I am extremely cool myself, but in a nice way!
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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on 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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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 19 April 2010
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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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on 23 July 2004
What a fabulous book! Within minutes of reading the first chapter I was already quoting the funniest bits to my friends, and causing arguments about it. It's caused me several very late nights this week as I haven't been able to put it down. I also got funny looks on the tube during the laugh-out-loud moments. I haven't read a book that I immediately wanted to sit down over a pint and argue with the author about for years. I grew up with a railway goods yard (obviously it's now a housing estate) behind my house, and can do a recognisable impression of a class 40 pulling a quarry train coming out of the cutting. I spent my 18th birthday travelling to Bath 'the pretty way', on the line down the Welsh Borders instead of via Birmingham; during a long wait for a connection on Newport Station, the author will be proud to hear that I taught myself to smoke. I also once went on the line from Carnforth to Maryport, past Sellafield, 'because it was there'. This book has inspired me to get my finger out and ride the Settle to Carlisle, and to use the train to visit Scotland further north than Edinburgh, something I've been meaning to do for years. Why didn't I think of it sooner? Thank you Ian Marchant!
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Customers who viewed this item also viewed
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Eleven Minutes Late by Matthew Engel (Paperback - 5 Feb. 2010)

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The Longest Crawl by Ian Marchant (Paperback - 2 July 2007)

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