Tuesday, 17 July 2012

"Should I Buy A Train, David?"

I had an email at the weekend from a friend of mine, asking for advice. In essence, the question was “Should I buy a train?”

It’s probably not a question you’ve asked yourself, I suspect. But I’m delighted this young chap – an active volunteer at a few heritage railways – has found himself thinking it over.
I’m also delighted that I’m now apparently old and wise enough to be asked for advice about these specialist dilemmas. On the one hand he’s spotted someone who, in owning an old bus, can provide a few cautionary tales about the implications of such a rash and bizarre purchase.

He’s probably also spotted that I’d also be the last person to say it’s a bad idea...

It’s strange that I'm capable of making such a rash and bizarre decisions myself. In daily life I tend to be relentlessly sensible in everything I do – from agonising over cheap street parking, to calculating which special offers give me the most ham per pence in the supermarket. In weight, not slices.

And yet in December 2009 I bought a bus; an old bus that wasn’t running, and which hadn’t run properly since before I was born. But because of my interest in such things, because it was the bus I’d always wanted to own, there was really no question I wouldn’t buy it when the opportunity arose.

And there you have it. It’s the age old battle between head and heart. As I said in my reply, it’s never a ‘sensible’ move to buy something like this. It’ll always be a liability in terms of finance, time and energy; you’ll never get your investment back in the same form. But it will be repaid in other ways.

That’s probably hard for people who don’t see the appeal to understand. I guess that’s the thing about having an interest. It means you connect emotionally with a thing or a topic in a way which, to those who aren’t interested, seems completely irrational. The heart leads the head in pursuit of something which it finds uniquely interesting. And long may that continue.

Most people today don’t have a deep interest in anything much. There’s so much competing for our fleeting affection that it’s hard to imagine why anyone should develop passions of their own. As a society we look to the media and social networks to be told what we enjoy. We look for a virtual collective experience which is understood by those around us, rather than something we can focus on personally. How else would tonight’s instalment of ITV1’s “Superstar”, utter cobblers, a talent show for the talentless, have gained an audience of millions?

If more people spent their nights worrying about whether or not they should buy a train, the world would be a more soulful place. That’s another good reason why my friend shouldn’t dismiss it out of hand.

If you’re blessed with an interest, you’re one of the lucky few; you have a responsibility to indulge it, and if you can, pass it on.

Just don’t bankrupt yourself in the meantime.

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