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Friday, April 10, 2015

On the Slow Train by Michael Williams

Bookcase 22's On the Slow Train: Twelve Great British Railway Journeys by Michael Williams is an interesting set of excursions on some of Britain's more obscure rail lines. It's more of a travelogue than a book about trains per se, although the author is clearing a "train man" judging by the enthusiasm he shows over things like the different locomotives (I hope that's the right word) pulling the carriages, and most of the content describes the journey rather than the destination.

I've actually been on quite a few of the lines mentioned, or at least bits of them. I must confess when on a train I rarely look out the window for long, I normally have my head in a book or some electronic device. So a lot of what Michael Williams describes on these journeys completely passed me by. On a few of them though, when I was in full holiday mode, I did admire at least some of the view: the Isle of Wight line, and the Cumbrian coastal line in particular.

Underpinning the whole book though is a deep felt sadness and nostalgia for the steam era when Britain's rail network was much more substantial than it is today. Most of the lines Michael Williams visits are ones which only just escaped Beeching's axe, quite a few of them thanks to campaigns by local residents. I've always felt we'd be much better off improving some of the lesser used branch lines like the ones in this book than spending tens of billions on building HS2, and this book simply reinforces that view. I award Slow Train 7 out of 10, it's been an improvement on the last couple of non-fiction books.

One line Michael Williams doesn't pick is the Reading to Gatwick service, passing through Dorking, which I use every weekday, and quite a few weekends. I suppose technically it's not a "slow" line but it certainly feels like it some days especially in the winter!

Slow Train completes my reading in the Transport section. Next up is Computing, and I have selected jQuery: A Beginner's Guide by John Pollock as book 23.

Computing is my profession, more specifically writing software of one sort or another. jQuery, for those who don't know, is a library of functions for use on web pages. It's at the heart of most modern sophisticated pages that we've all got used to over the last few years on our computers, tablets and phones. I'm not really a beginner, having used it professionally, but I'm certainly not an expert either as it's not something I use every day and I'm bound to benefit from reading books like this to fill in a few gaps. The IT section of the library is very useful to dip into and hone your skills in areas like this. I quite often get books out. It's rare that I read them from cover to cover, but certainly I've read chapters from many IT books in the library, as they aren't cheap to buy. Having said that on this bookcase there is yet again already a book I have read in full - Blogging for Dummies. I think the last five or six bookcases have already contained a book I have read before!

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