Over the years I have spied people (mainly men) standing on platforms in draughty old stations in all weathers watching for trains.  When they come into view, instead of climbing aboard and disappearing down the line, they go into scribble overdrive jotting down details, writing furiously or trot after the train for that potential photo opportunity as it departs from the station. 

I am absolutely certain if you remained for longer than five minutes at the end of any platform in a busy station you will not be alone for very long before you are approached by a male kitted out in anorak (preferably beige) platform pounding at an acceptable pace with notebook firmly in hand.  Research shows that trainspotting comes naturally to men. Women are better at recognising living things whilst men are better at recognising vehicles. Trainspotting is a hobby, and everyone needs a hobby.

Those that have been drawn in by trainspotting in their younger years usually give it up on discovering women and seemingly only come back to it later in life, usually with an interest in old rolling stock (ironic!).   Increased leisure time and children of the right age spark a rekindling of the interest and when work and domestic life all seem too much, there is always a draughty station, two tracks and a train in the distance!

So, what actually happens to the train numbers once they have been written down and recorded?  The act of spotting trains and ticking them off or collecting a list can proof a satisfying exercise as goals are accomplished and it is found to trigger better concentration, attention, memory and improves emotional functioning.

The end purpose is to collect all the engines details until all have been seen.  You may be asking, like a lot of people and even myself, what is the point?  However, if the question can be so uncomplicated maybe the answer is as well; what is the point of doing anything? 

To be honest how does trainspotting differ from any other hobby?  Take for example football where all the conversation is about Arsenal; what is the point of that?

Over the years having commuted up and down the UK including some of the busier train stations trainspotting has never been an uncommon thing to see.  I once sat next to a man who whispered furtively a series of numbers into his portable recorder as though he was speaking in code.  At first, I thought he must be an accountant or was quoting a series of mobile numbers into his storage just showing off his technological understanding until the penny dropped.  He was reading out numbers that related to train engines.   

With interest and surprise discreetly, I examined my travelling companion once more over my takeaway coffee taking in the suit and shiny shoes, there was not a hint of an anorak anywhere about his person!  A rare breed?  Here was a trainspotter incognito trainspotting on the move and his hobby overlapping into his day job whilst travelling to work.

Blocking out the white noise of numbers, I carried on reading occasionally looking up to observe the enthusiastic railway person who was very different from the hooded jacket stereotype I imagined.  Other features of the prototype in my mind’s eye included cameras; added luxuries such as multi-coloured ball point pens, binoculars, National Health spectacles and not forgetting the army surplus pack!  Could it be that I couldn’t spot a trainspotter?

And although trainspotting has never been in my top ten of hobbies or even in my bottom ten, nor have I ever had the urge to grab a notepad and biro, rush to my nearest train station and drink flasked tea with men called Cyril and Arthur, I must admit I have found myself more and more intrigued by the subject matter. 

By chance after flicking channels and settling on programmes about railway journeys or the history of vintage trains (and finding them genuinely interesting!).  Then again, I have also become engrossed in canal boats and watching journeys throughout foreign and faraway lands!

So perhaps instead of dismissing the art of how to spot a certain make, model, carriage or piece of rolling stock, we should cease running it down and recognise the positives, as trainspotting could be the ultimate hobby! 

Forget the yoga, move away from meditation and take this up as this could be the solution to successfully destressing!  It allows organising, and even clearing our thoughts in this crazy world of technology where it’s rare to ever be disconnected from beeps or vibrates!  Modern life means there is a constant bombardment of information hindering and distracting. Whereas this is the perfect pastime that focuses the mind and helps to assemble your thoughts and relieve any stress.

Of course, there are also several other reasons why trainspotting is so good for your wellbeing.  First off all you need is yourself, a pen and a notepad and this is another reason why this particular hobby works well as a mindfulness technique as with the removal of as many distractions as possible, you are then able to reach the ultimate goal of mindfulness and focus on the present moment.  Secondly, it is cheap, requiring minimal equipment, like birdwatching, the payback comes from a mixture of application, observation and luck and encourages both co-operation and good-natured rivalry.

The Great Outdoors is a place taken for granted and sometimes not visited enough so trainspotting can be the perfect excuse to get out and enjoy.  Being outdoors shows mental health benefits as it keeps us fit and healthy whilst improving our cognitive processes.  It is also a brilliant way to explore some of the most picturesque parts of the country while seeing some of Britain’s finest trains and railways.

Embracing a by-gone era if you choose to spot classic steam trains you can cast your thoughts back to a period of history, free of the stress and strains of modern life, meaning something specific to focus your mind on and this will allow stressful thoughts to drift away.

One of the reasons why trainspotting is much-misunderstood, no matter how much drama, it still carries an unfortunate reputation which is in the main down to the trainspotter rather than the trainspotting.  They are secretive and talk in tongues where jargon overtakes excluding the non trainspotter! 

Let me introduce you into this hush hush world where signals become "pegs" or "sticks" and engines turn into "doughnuts" (see- through engine), "choppers" (sound like a helicopter) or "nodding donkeys" (a bumpy ride).

There’s a peculiar slang that occupies platforms up and down the country full of "gricers", "festoons" and "bashers".   

The word "gricer" has even made it into the dictionaries to indicate and confirm its meaning of a railway enthusiast.  It can also be located in the Urban Dictionary as a trainspotter, someone who braves rainy and windy station platforms to catch a glimpse of unusual trains. An unproved etymology holds that this word comes from a humorous pronunciation of “grouse”, making the connection between the supposed resemblance of trainspotting to grouse-shooting.

"Gricing" (the term used as above to describe their noble art) is home to "festoons" (these are the older gricers laden down with gadgets to record what they have seen).  “Bashers” (the obsessive train number collectors) can be further sub- divided by their devotion to different locomotives, trains or routes and carry the nicknames of "steam-bashers", "wagon-bashers" and "line-bashers".

Flailers (are those who ride the trains with their arms hanging out of the window) and photters (are the ones who take a succession of images of the trains that to the untrained eye all look the same).

“Copped” means an engine has been got that was needed towards a collection.  “Cabbed” means when they manage to get on the foot plate of an engine.   The "cabbies" would try and jump into every cab of a locomotive they could, which was quite a widespread phenomenon, but Health and Safety clamped down has now virtually stopped this practise. However, there are the open days when many thousands of people get to climb on their favourite beast, many ignoring the tape across the doorways.

 “Serious Haulage” is when it is being pulled by a locomotive of a superior status - this varies from enthusiast to enthusiast and is usually based on personal preference and a “Foamer” describes someone who foams at the mouth, when a locomotive out of the ordinary appears. (This would be worth seeing & having the camera ready!)

It's almost like being in a secret society and having passwords, words of acceptance with a vocabulary designed to exclude as much as it includes and varies from region to region. 

Also, the locomotives are given names by rail enthusiasts; from choppers, whistlers, to tin cans, etc and a selection of names that bear no resemblance to the actual trains.

Another word that takes on a different meaning with the non-enthusiastic trainspotter or the ignorant unknowing virgin trainspotter is the word “anorak.” To a lot of people instead of automatically thinking this describes a coat for keeping rain off, it will mean to most; a nerd in a plastic hooded unfashionable bland all weathers sort of mac.

Of course, this is not to say that all "anorakers" are loons, as sensible people do wear them to and there are many sensible people amongst them; the ones who are trying to keep a low profile and go about their hobby quietly. They are the ones whose notebooks are discreetly tucked away and choose to record the details after the train has gone.

Admittedly the anorak image of a trainspotter is hard to shake off and the excited thermos equipped individuals who drone on given the opportunity and bores the pants off anyone who wishes to listen before they race trains by car. Of course, for the real serious member of the spotter fraternity, the taped spectacles rates them as a 100% anorak.

On top of trainspotting, there is also extreme trainspotting where collecting locomotive numbers evolves into collecting wagon and carriage numbers, which becomes an almost impossible challenge to complete given the quantity of rolling stock on the railways. Many stay in certain areas, like shunters which means the trainspotter must go to them and there are a number of die-hards, who actually take the number of anything that moves.

Trainspotting can on that note become a very expensive hobby especially as some trains are confined to certain regions, or certain workings.

It usually takes many years to completely see an entire fleet of a particular locomotive. The locomotives are broken down into groups known as a class. Usually the higher the locomotive number the higher the horse power will be relevant to lower classes.

The hobby has survived through it all and there are estimated to be around 200,000 trainspotting today compared with a million in its heyday and this is even though most trains now look like boxes on wheels, are painted in identikit corporate liveries and run to a computerised timetable, trainspotting continues…. With or without the anorak!

Did you know?

The first trainspotter in recorded history was actually female – one Fanny Johnson (god bless her!), a 14-year-old living at Westbourne Park in London, who in 1861 neatly noted down the names and other information about trains arriving at Paddington station.

And there’s an early spotter in the E Nesbitt’s book The Railway Children of 1906 which was, of course, turned into an enchanting film starring Jenny Agutter.

The very existence of this hobby is under threat from several of Britain's new railway companies.  At the very least trainspotters may have to seek permission, in writing to be able stand on platforms as apparently, the railway companies (some, not all) fear that trainspotters could be terrorists in disguise!