Archive page 2 - Issues 31 to 60

31. What are clubs for?

Graham had been over to the Marston-on-the-Hill club.  It seems they were going through one of those depressing periods that afflict most clubs from time to time.
Phil, his host, told him that many members just sat around.  If asked, they’d reluctantly help during the evening, but nothing more.  While Graham was there, one of these quiescent members was invited to take a building home to add a garden wall.  He declined.  ‘I’ve got my own railway to work on at home,’ was his lame excuse.
“It’s rather demoralising,” Graham’s friend confided.  “There are members who’ll tell you how it should be done, even though they’ve never done it themselves.  Others will only tell you how you should have done it after they’ve seen you struggling with it for weeks.  There are yet others, who’ve already done it, but won’t offer help or advice or even warn of pitfalls.”

Then a member breezed in and out just to show off his latest acquisition.  “He’s always picking things up from sales stands for well below the market price,” Phil whispered.  “He just wants to show us how good he is at spotting bargains and beating down the price.”

Another chap, who had been explaining loudly and at great length how to paint figures realistically, was asked work his magic on some cast metal characters for a club layout. ‘I’ve not got the right varnish,’ was his pathetic reply.

Fortunately there were a couple of members who were prepared to help.  ‘I’ll do that if you like,’ said one of them.  Phil later told Graham that this chap usually asks if there are any jobs that he can do in his home workshop to speed construction of any of the club’s layouts.  Unlike many of the other members, he’s quite prepared to give freely of his time, experience and skills, providing specialist tools and materials, and often taking bits home to finish them off.

“You wonder why some members bother to join a railway modelling club if they aren’t prepared to get on and do some modelling,” Paul observed.  This seemed rather strange coming from him as he never volunteers to do anything except talk about his non-existent layout.

“I’m sure it’s a social thing,” Jane commented.  “They just want somewhere to go that isn’t a pub or a bingo hall to chat about things different from what is discussed at home and work.”

“Isn’t a club for projects that are beyond the skill, time, space, costs or man-power of a home layout?” Bill asked.  “Co-operative ventures, shared endeavours, the whole greater than the sum of the parts, and all that.”

“There are three sorts of model railway club,” Ken observed.  “The first is made up of active builders, the second meet for lectures and demonstrations, while the third only meet to chat, sup tea and grumble that nothing ever happens.”

“Those who are good at it get on and build superb models,” Bill added.  “The less skilful talk about what they are going to do.”

“What about the unskilled?” Dan asked.

“Oh, they just write articles and put things on websites,” was Graham’s cutting reply.

“Are you getting at somebody in particular?” the chairman asked, with a knowing smile.  But we couldn’t agree who it might be.


32.  Layout in a pickle

We’d helped Fred exhibit his layout at Mucclesworth last weekend.  Things went without a hitch, unlike the layout on at the pitch next to us.
There another club was exhibiting.  It seems that the layout manager was working abroad, but had arranged to leave Romania on Friday lunchtime.  He would be met at Salchester airport by one of the members and be driven straight to the venue to supervise setting up.
 
Everything had been arranged well in advance.  Each driver had a list of who he was taking, when and which bits of the layout he was carrying.  That part went without a hitch.
 
The chauffeur waited at the airport.  The flight from Schiphol arrived, but there was no sign of the layout manager.  He waited for a later flight, but he wasn’t on that one either.  He rang the chap’s wife and found out that he was delayed.  The people on the airline desk were most helpful and found out that there had been an ‘incident’ at Bucharest airport and the flight was postponed.  The chauffeur called the club secretary at the exhibition and passed on the news.
 
As he turned to leave, the airline people called him over.  They’d got more information.  The passengers had been taken to a hotel and were probably staying the night.  If the problem could be sorted out the plane might leave in the morning, though they’d still have to arrange the onward flight from Schiphol to Salchester.
 
At the exhibition, work had started on assembling the layout, but progress was slow.  The team finally got it up, but the fiddle-yard would not align correctly, many of the electrics were shorting out, and the fascia and lighting rig was unstable.
 
Late Friday evening, the show manager came over and the visitors told him that they’d never put it up all by themselves.  They’d always had their boss in charge and he did the fiddly bits.  The show manager activated his contingency plan.
 
The visitors turned up early the following morning but could not make things either safe or operational.  At 8-30 the show manager informed them that he couldn’t risk having a non-operational and potential hazardous exhibit.  Reluctantly he asked them to pack it away and vacate their pitch.
 
A little while later the host club’s layout was brought in.  In charge was an old fellow, once a highly competent modeller, though now, sadly, afflicted with failing sight and frailty.  He didn’t do anything except allocate tasks to an ever-changing workforce.  It seemed that all of them could do whatever they were asked, with just the occasional question to confirm details.  By opening time they were up and running, though not quite fully stocked.
 
”Now with whom do you have the greater sympathy?” Fred asked.  “The visitors or the exhibition manager?  We all had sympathy for the visitors, but we decided the show manager made the right decision.
 
“What strikes me,” the chairman observed, “is that so many of the members of the host club had taken the trouble to learn how to erect the layout.  If the visitors had done likewise, they wouldn’t have been in a pickle.  It is surprising how many club layouts rely on the detailed knowledge of just a few people.  Perhaps we should make sure that knowledge and experience about all our club layouts held by as many members as possible, so we don’t suffer the same disappointment and ignominy.”  Now who could disagree with that?


33. What to wear at shows

A while ago we got round to discussing what operators wear at shows. We quickly decided that the older and more staid often display sartorial decorum with their flannel trousers, blazers, crisp shirts and ties.
“Some teams display their allegiance through uniforms,” Felicity observed.  “They look really smart in grey trousers and blue shirts with breast pockets and epaulettes.”

“Others just have pullovers with their own and the club name,” Fred said.

“Gauge and line society sweatshirts are also quite popular,” Graham chipped in. “But sometimes they seem a bit odd because they don’t always relate to the company or period of the model being driving.”

“The middle-aged often indicate the breadth of their interests and achievements,” Fred commented, with a twinkle in his eye.  “Like water-skiing at Aviemore, diving with sharks at the Huddersfield Marine Centre, or travelling through Bronte country aboard the Devon Belle.”

“Those in their 30s carry advertisements for beer,” was Ken’s observation.  “That doesn’t go down well in temperance halls.  Neither do on-line poker messages in non-conformist churches.  And as for adverts for night-clubs frequented by scantily-clad curvaceous young ladies – that upsets them both,” he added with a grin.

“I’ve noticed the younger operators favour grubby T-shirts,” Bill said.  “They also carry some pretty weird messages like ‘I hate steam locos’ and ‘Make custard, not war’.  I saw one that provided a detailed explanation as to why it is difficult to make love in outer space when you’ve got false teeth.  Unfortunately I didn’t quite grasp the reasoning for this because the last two lines were hidden by the high backscene.”

“And then there are slogans that I don’t really want to understand,” Jane complained. “They are too risqué.  They certainly make it difficult for parents with children who are old enough to read, but too young to realise that it would be embarrassing to ask what they mean.”

“And what about the visitors?” Bill asked.  “I can usually spot them, sometime several miles from the venue.  They don’t have to be reading a railway magazine or studying the map on the back of a show flier.  Look for middle-aged men, dressed for comfort rather than elegance, with lightly loaded bags.  It’s the way they whisper to their travelling companions about double slips and cab control that’s the real give-away.”

“And show managers?” Fred asked.  “The pessimist expects to have some mucky jobs to do during the day.  The hall doesn’t have a resident caretaker and nobody else can be spared, so he’s suitably dressed to unblock toilets, mop up sick, or stand in the rain directing parking.  By contrast, the optimist swans about in his pin-stripe suit sporting an oversized lapel badge, a mobile phone and an incessantly bleeping and chattering walkie-talkie.  He’s doubtless holding back countless minions straining to rush in and calmly extinguish conflagrations, discretely carry out triple cardiac by-pass surgery, or surreptitiously expedite the removal of fatalities.”

“What some operators wear certainly distracts from their layout,” the chairman mused.  “Should they should be dressed less ostentatiously?  Perhaps in camouflage!   It just goes to show that the way exhibitors and organisers dress can influence how the public perceives individual layouts, if not the whole show. Should we give this some thought before our own show?”  And we all agreed that we would.


34. The unconnected exhibition

Ken and Bill have discovered a new show at Kettlesford.  It was run by a church without any help from a recognised railway modelling society.  Certainly there were no layouts or operators they could remember having seen before.  From somewhere the organisers had discovered a rich seam of competent modellers that had no connection with the established clubs or the exhibition circuit.
Some of the layouts were really delicate, beautifully modelled, Bill explained. Others were more robust.  Members of the public were being invited to operate them under supervision.

There was a simple shunting competition, Ken continued.  A goods train arrived.  The incoming van had to replace another in the goods shed, and full and empty coal wagons were exchanged.  The outgoing train had to be in the same order as the incoming one - loco, van, mineral and brake  but facing the opposite direction.  It's not as easy as it seems.

As competitors were at work, the supervisor was explaining about the physical effort required in moving the regulator and reversing levers of a steam loco, the dangers involved in coupling lose wagons, the significance of fitted and unfitted wagons, and the role of guard and his brake van.

One youth paid his 20p quite early on, but exceeded the limit of 35 moves and was stopped.  He had a few words with the supervisor and stayed on to watch other competitors.  Every so often, he paid for another go, obviously having learnt from the mistakes of others.  After an hour or so, he and the supervisor were getting along well.  He would smile when he saw a good sequence of moves and the supervisor would nod back.  When a contestant made a mistake, the lad would grimace, and the supervisor would just shake his head ever so slightly in acknowledgement.  By the end of the afternoon, the lad was only two over the minimum.  He won the prize for least moves, though he was annoyed that he'd not achieved the ideal solution that the supervisor demonstrated right at the end of the show.

Elsewhere, there was a miniature signal box, complete with 20 interlocked levers, bells, block instruments and signal indicators, Bill explained.  Members of the public worked the box as they watched the passage of trains on the illuminated track diagram above.  The chap in charge guided each novice signalman through the procedures and gave a brief but excellent summary of the operation of absolute block working.

Another exhibit was the miniature cab of a diesel, Ken reported.  Children could get into the driver's seat without difficulty.  It was a bit more difficult for adults, but lifting the roof off helped.  There was a simplified set of controls and basic sound effects.  The view of the track ahead was projected onto a screen.  The driving instructor explained what to do and why.  Trainees had to keep their wits about them, as not all signals were green when they first came into view.  As speed picked up, the cab itself began to shudder, especially when passing over points.  How it was all done, I don't know, but for 25p a go is was brilliant.  There was no shortage of aspiring drivers.  Even grown-ups were enjoying the experience.

As we've discussed before, the chairman remarked, there are a lot of secret modellers around.  Two of them have come up with novel ways of replicating railway operations that encourage audience participation.  All credit to them, and to the organisers for having the courage to include something different in their show and persuading the exhibitors to put their work before the public.  It's a good thing that not all exhibitions are identical.  Wouldn't you agree?  Do you think we could get them for our show?  And we all thought it was worth exploring.


35. The Great Easter Egg Hunt

We’ve had more discussions about that new show at Kettlesford.   Bill showed us the programme.  It included a sheet of small photographs.  Visitors were challenged to identify the layout on which each view was to be found.
 
“For the little ones there was also an Easter egg hunt,” Ken explained.  “Small eggs were half-hidden on layouts, often in places that were difficult for grown-ups to see, but youngsters could spot them without touching.  Adults were asked to help the children note down the colour of the egg and the layout where it could be seen.  A certificate and a small chocolate egg were awarded for each set of correct answers.”

“Inconsequential childish game,” Peter scathingly retorted.  “Nothing to do with modelling railways.  Shouldn’t be there!”

“These two competitions certainly made people look carefully,” Ken countered.  “From the comments we overheard, it was obvious how many details people saw that they thought they might otherwise have missed.  They got great pleasure from it.”

“One exhibit was a booth,” Bill continued.  “There was a performance every half-hour.  The overture was by Grieg.  Then the stage curtains parted to reveal a 1930’s country scene, with single line railway, signal, lane, level crossing and crossing-keeper’s cottage.  Birdsong and other rural sounds filled the air.  In the distance, a diminutive horse and cart made its way along the main road.  A minute sweep’s brush made a brief appearance out of a far-off chimney.”

“Then an upstairs window of the cottage opened, a lady shook out her duster and disappeared back inside.   There was the whistle of a distant train.  A cow moved to look over the trackside hedge.  The door of a lineside hut opened.  Inside, the crossing-keeper could be seen turning a handle.  The gates gently closed against the lane.  The train slowly came into view and stopped at the signal with a quiet squeak of brakes.  Some rabbits scuttered into their burrows.  When the signal was pulled off, there was another whistle, a cloud of steam, and the train chuffed away.  A boy sitting on the lane wall waived to the driver.  The signal clunked back to danger, the gates were changed and the cow went away.  The birdsong resumed and the curtains were closed to a round of applause.”

“Neither that dummy signal box, nor that cab simulation are real railway modelling,” Paul sneered, referring back to our previous discussions.  “Mere fairground rides!”

“Little theatres are hardly proper modelling,” Peter chided.  “Just showmanship, really, masquerading as real modelling.  And as for egg-hunting … Well, I ask you!”

“The signal box, the loco cab and the theatre all replicate, in miniature, different aspects of the working of a real railway,” Fred riposted.  “So as far as I’m concerned, they’re OK.”

“If egg-hunting makes people look rather than just gaze, then what’s wrong with it?” Jane asked.  “If the eggs can’t be seen by adults looking down on the layouts, whose modelling sensibilities does it offend?”

“Is there’s anything wrong with a bit of fun or showmanship?” the chairman mused aloud.  “Even if the modelling is exemplary and operation fully in accordance with prototype practice, some operator teams could still do with a goodly dose of both.  Their dour seriousness puts off so many people.”  Now who could disagree with that?


36. Practice makes perfect

We’ve had more discussions about that new show at Kettlesford. Bill showed us the programme. It included a sheet of small photographs. Visitors were challenged to identify the layout on which each view was to be found.

“For the little ones there was also an Easter egg hunt,” Ken explained. “Small eggs were half-hidden on layouts, often in places that were difficult for grown-ups to see, but youngsters could spot them without touching. Adults were asked to help the children note down the colour of the egg and the layout where it could be seen. A certificate and a small chocolate egg were awarded for each set of correct answers.”

“Inconsequential childish game,” Peter scathingly retorted.  “Nothing to do with modelling railways.  Shouldn’t be there!”

“These two competitions certainly made people look carefully,” Ken countered. “From the comments we overheard, it was obvious how many details people saw that they thought they might otherwise have missed. They got great pleasure from it.”

“One exhibit was a booth,” Bill continued. “There was a performance every half-hour. The overture was by Grieg. Then the stage curtains parted to reveal a 1930’s country scene, with single line railway, signal, lane, level crossing and crossing-keeper’s cottage.  Birdsong and other rural sounds filled the air. In the distance, a diminutive horse and cart made its way along the main road. A minute sweep’s brush made a brief appearance out of a far-off chimney.”

“Then an upstairs window of the cottage opened, a lady shook out her duster and disappeared back inside. There was the whistle of a distant train. A cow moved to look over the trackside hedge. The door of a lineside hut opened. Inside, the crossing-keeper could be seen turning a handle.  The gates gently closed against the lane. The train slowly came into view and stopped at the signal with a quiet squeak of brakes. Some rabbits scuttered into their burrows. When the signal was pulled off, there was another whistle, a cloud of steam, and the train chuffed away. A boy sitting on the lane wall waived to the driver. The signal clunked back to danger, the gates were changed and the cow went away. The birdsong resumed and the curtains were closed to a round of applause.”

“Neither that dummy signal box, nor that cab simulation are real railway modelling,” Paul sneered, referring back to our previous discussions. “Mere fairground rides!”

“Little theatres are hardly proper modelling,” Peter chided. “Just showmanship, really, masquerading as real modelling. And as for egg-hunting … Well, I ask you!”

“The signal box, the loco cab and the theatre all replicate, in miniature, different aspects of the working of a real railway,” Fred riposted. “So as far as I’m concerned, they’re OK.”

“If egg-hunting makes people look rather than just gaze, then what’s wrong with it?” Jane asked. “If the eggs can’t be seen by adults looking down on the layouts, whose modelling sensibilities does it offend?”

“Is there’s anything wrong with a bit of fun or showmanship?” the chairman mused aloud.  “Even if the modelling is exemplary and operation fully in accordance with prototype practice, some operator teams could still do with a goodly dose of both. Their dour seriousness puts off so many people.” Now who could disagree with that?


37. Models in strange places

The other week we got talking about the uncommon places where we’d seen model railways.  It had all started when Felicity told us about her holiday in Amberthwaite.
“Near to the landing-stage there was a caravan-type stall drawn up on the pavement with children and their parents standing under the awning on the open side,” she said.  “We went over to have a look.  It was a model narrow-gauge railway.  On the drop-down flap there was a station and simple goods yard.  The single line climbed through rocky scenery on the inside of the van, in and out of some tunnels, circled back on itself and returned to the station.  The children were enthralled.

“There were buttons on a panel at the front,” Felicity continued.  “One activated a cement mixer while a second opened the door to a workshop to reveal men busy inside.  A third caused a sweep’s brush to appear out of a factory chimney.  Others activated a cliff railway and the lights in some of the buildings.  They also had people moving inside.  Round the corner, below a little chapel, there was a crypt and an underground tunnel.  On pushing the button, the crypt was illuminated, a coffin lid opened and a skeleton rose up and sank back, then a ghost train traversed tunnel below.  There was also a slot-racing throttle that controlled the speed of a helicopter’s blades and hence its rise and fall.”

“But best of all, the chap in charge would let children drive the trains.  It was obvious that he could switch the public controller in an out of circuit and take charge himself if required.  He’d a good line in patter too, covering both the operation of the trains and the charity for which he was raising funds.  He also encouraged people to patronise their local model railway shows and perhaps even join a club.”

And then further model railways in unexpected places were mentioned.  Bill reported on one in a shopping mall, just before Christmas.  This was not an automated tail-chaser, but a proper model that had been on the exhibition circuit and was staffed by chaps who knew what they were doing.  They were shattered at the end of their stint.  At least the layout and stock withstood three days of intensive running in a far from ideal location.

Another pre-Christmas outing for a proper model was seen in the main railway station in Copenhagen.  Again there were enthusiasts working the controls.  Coffee mornings, garden centres and school fetes quickly joined the list.  Jim told us of a sushi restaurant in Malaysia where the dishes were carried along the counter on cradle wagons pulled by a small live-steam loco, though we wondered if this really counted as a model railway.

“We modellers are far too limited in where we expect to find public displays of layouts,” Graham stated.  “Traditionally it’s only exhibitions, but what about the public who don’t even know about shows?   How do they find out about our great hobby?   All these unusual venues are excellent ways to spread the word.  Each venue exposes different groups to our pastime.”

“Exposes us to ridicule.” Paul commented.  “Sarcastic comedians have a field-day.”

“It depends on how the exhibitors promote the hobby in these non-traditional locations,” Ken responded.  “If it’s the stony indifference to the public shown by some operating teams, then it could be worse than ridicule.  We’re all open to mockery and derision.  But if it’s done well, that’s a totally different matter.”

”It would be interesting to know how such exposure alters public perceptions,” the chairman wondered.  “Does it increase show attendances or club membership?”  He asked if our club should be going out to unusual venues to spread the word.  We all agreed that we ought to, but it remains to be seen if we pluck up courage to do so.


38. Admission charges

The other week we got round to talking about the wide variation in the admission charge to shows.  Some of it could be related to the number of layouts and the distances they had travelled, but others factors also came into play, such as the cost of the venue.
“How much should you pay to get into an exhibition?” Felicity asked. “Ten pounds?”

“For ten pounds I expect superb exhibits I’d not seen before,” Bill said.  “They’d have to be brought from across the entire country.  It would certainly draw quality visitors from a wide area.”

“Ten pounds is too much for the chap with kids coming in off the street just to see what it’s all about while his wife is shopping,” Jane commented.

“Some shows include a partner and up to two children on the one ticket, while other charge by the head,” Fred added.  “I hear Anne Boleyn got in free.”

“What about free admission?” asked Jim.

“Then they can’t afford the quality layouts, Ken replied. “You’re not going to get people travelling far.  Small number of visitors.  But good for passing trade.”

“If you don’t have to pay it can’t be worth much,” Paul sneered.

“But if it’s expensive, many folk can’t afford to get in,” retorted Ken.

“The Colney Thorpe club no longer has concessions for pensioners,” Graham complained.  “Don’t you think that’s unfair, Fred?”

“But they do take up as much space as any other adult,” Fred replied in apologetic tone.

“Especially if they are corpulent and need a Zimmer-frame,” Jane joked, much to her husband’s embarrassment.

“I hear it’s all over the local paper,” Peter observed.  “Terrible publicity.”

“Is there’s any such thing as bad publicity?” Bill asked.  “Think how hard most clubs try to get something, anything, into the paper in advance of their shows.  Stroke of marketing genius, if you ask me.”

“They have reduced the cost of children’s tickets,” Jane chipped in.  “Though I hear that there was nothing laid on especially for the children to do when they did get in.  In fact, there was nothing for anybody to do except watch and talk amongst themselves.”

“At one show the children could make masks, not of people or animals, but of Thomas and his friends,” Felicity pointed out.  “At another show, there was a kit-building room.  And then there’s always certificates to show a child has successfully operated a layout.  Pity they didn’t think along those lines.”

“Isn’t there a place for both the expensive and the cheap show?” the chairman pondered.  “People can’t expect the Salchester show to be as low-priced as Nether Hamblins, nor Nether Hamblins to bring in layouts from overseas.  Surely there’s no problem provided both organisers and visitors recognise the difference and the distinct strengths of each policy.”  And we all agreed with that.


39. Evangelism

A few weeks ago we got round to evangelism.  Not with its religious connotations you understand, but simply promoting the hobby.  Jane had brought in an article about railway modelling in a magazine aimed at older people that she’d picked up in the local library.  The author obviously knew what he was talking about.  Perhaps he was a modeller himself.  He outlined the skills involved and the pleasure to be gained.  He suggested that readers seek out their local clubs and give them a try.

”We don’t want a load of senile geriatrics swamping us,” Paul exclaimed.  “They’re probably the Tri-ang and Hornby Dublo generation.  No knowledge of what’s happening today, either for models or the real thing.”

“Load of rubbish,” Peter said disparagingly, having quickly scanned it.  “Nothing about P4, or DCC, or even realistic ballasting.”

“But they’re not suitable topics for inclusion in a general introduction,” Jim chided.  “Getting too technical too soon is more likely to put people off rather than encouraging them to come along to find out more.”

“How many introductory articles have you written?” Ken challenged him.  “You might not like what he wrote, but at least this chap got something published.  And he didn’t poke fun at our hobby like so many journalists do.”

“Excellent!” Graham exclaimed after he’d studied the article. “Shouldn’t the Regional Federation be fostering this sort of thing?  They claim to be supporting the hobby.”

“May be they haven’t got the right man-power or contacts,” Bill suggested.

“More likely it’s apathy,” Paul said.  “They’re so busy having meetings to discuss agendas that they don’t actually do anything useful.”

“Have you offered to help?” Fred enquired.  Paul is always telling us what he’s going to do and how we ought to have done things, but we’ve yet to see any evidence that he has completed a single bit of his own or anybody else’s model.

“At least one club is making an effort,” Jim commented.  “When I was at the Shelley Bridge show, a reporter from the local radio station turned up, microphone in hand.  Members of the host club had thought things through and knew exactly what key messages they wanted put over when interviewed, though a few of them forgot that there are no pictures with radio and didn’t include descriptions within their conversations.  But so what?  It was good exposure.”

“The club builds a small scenic layout each year,” Jim continued.  “It’s auctioned by the local radio station in aid of charity.  Must raise the profile of the hobby and be good publicity for their own show.”

“Pity other clubs aren’t so imaginative and outward-looking,” Felicity commented.  “A bit of introspection is all very well, but it’s a useless strategy for promoting the hobby.”

“I would have thought,” the chairman mused, “that those who think this hobby is worthwhile would be always on the look out for chance to spread the word.  If they can’t exploit a particular opportunity themselves, then at least they should alert those that have the necessary skills or contacts.”  Now who wouldn’t agree with that?  But we’ll have to see what happens.


40. Websites (A self parody)

The other week we got round to talking about club websites.  We agreed that some were dire, consisting mainly of ramblings in badly-written English and in-group jokes.  However, most were thought excellent, providing sensible information about the club, its venue, meeting times, subscriptions, descriptions of layouts, photos, special features, and so on, all with good navigation between sections.

Jim had come across one with a blog about a model railway club.  It had obviously been running for some time.  It seems that the author’s observations had upset some real clubs who thought they recognised themselves and didn’t like the implied criticisms. 

Somehow the Salchester members thought they’d discovered the chap’s identity, cornered him at the Shelley Bridge show, and gave him a right ear-bashing.  But the supposed writer seemed bemused and entirely un-phased by the rough treatment.

“You don’t know what you’re talking about,” they admonished him.  “Ignorant criticism,” they said.  “Makes us look stupid.  Should have talked to us first.  Ought to take more care about what you write.”

“Perhaps you are amongst those people who believe that Corrie and Eastenders are real,” he countered when they ran out of insults.  “At least Albert Square and Coronation Street do have physical entities, even if they are only tv sets.  It’s the quality of the writing and the skill of the actors that makes them so believable.

“To some people, Thomas the Tank Engine is real,” he went on, with a glint in his eye.  “The stories work so well because all of Rev. Awdrey’s own tales are based on prototype events.  But they never actually happened exactly as he described them, because Thomas is fiction.

“Railway modellers aim to make scenes that represent reality in a believable way.  The better the model, the greater is the difficulty in distinguishing photos of the model from those of the real world.  No matter how much ‘history’ you invent or adopt, nor how clever the craft-work, or skilful the operation, a model railway is still only an artifice, a proxy for reality..

“I think you’ll find the club you describe is entirely imaginary and exists only in the author’s head,” he went on, warming to his imposed role as bad-boy.  “Of course, just like a model railway, ideas and inspiration come from many sources, not all of them within the hobby.  And then they are developed, augmented, and sometimes exaggerated.  If you should see yourselves reflected in the pieces, then so be it.  If you don’t like what you see, then it’s not the writer’s fault if it touches a raw nerve. 

“If he finds out, I’m sure he’ll take your comments as a great compliment because you’ve been fooled into thinking he’s writing about actual people and real clubs,” he announced with increasing glee.  “It’s a good yarn that maintains interest but makes you think about things in a different way.  If his fiction rings true by making you feel uncomfortable, then shouldn’t you be asking yourselves why you find it upsetting and consider if you need to make changes?  Surely this is one of the marks of quality fiction?  But in the end, it’s still only make-believe.  If you don’t like it, you don’t have to read it.”

And with a beaming smile he turned smartly and walked away, leaving his protagonists stung and speechless, not quite sure if they had indeed correctly unmasked the mystery blogger.

“It wouldn’t surprise me, if the author doesn’t make this incident the basis of one of his musings,” the chairman commented.  “I wonder what the chaps at Salchester will make of that?”  And we all agreed, it would be amusing to find out.


41. Soldering

The other weekend Fred had again been a demonstrator at the Farthing Gate show.  He recounted a conversation he’d overheard at the next table between a boy of about nine and a chap building a bridge from metal sections.  It went something like this …

“Whayer doin?” asked the lad, in a half-bored tone.

“I’m soldering,” the demonstrator replied.

“Whazat?”

“Sticking two pieces of metal together using solder.”

“Howd zitwurk?”

“Do you make models from card at school?”

“Yez.”

“Did you stick the bits together with glue?”  The lad had.

“Well, solder is like a glue.  But to become sticky, it has to be so hot that it melts.  When it cools and goes back to being solid, it holds the metal together very strongly.”  He then showed the lad and invited him to pull apart the bits he’d just soldered.  He couldn’t.  The lad was most impressed.

The demonstrator went on to explain how the metal was thoroughly cleaned to provide a good bonding surface and flux applied to prevent the metal from reacting with the air when it got hot.  The young fellow started to ask quite pertinent questions.

He quickly appreciated that different materials have different melting points and so molten solder can run between pieces of metal without them melting.  Later he realised that by using solder of different melting points fresh components could be added without other bits becoming unstuck.  He even grasped the use of a block of metal as a heat sink.  However, nobody could explain why solder actually sticks metals together.  After a while, he was allowed to solder some parts to the bridge.

Later in the day, he returned, this time with his father in tow.  “Thazbits ayedid,” he announced with pride, pointing to several cross-members of the bridge.

“Don’t be silly,” was the curt reply.

“Ayedidem, dinaye?” he appealed to the demonstrator, who confirmed the youngster’s achievement.  Father was most surprised.  The lad then went on to explain how it was done.  The parent was dumfounded at his son’s newly acquired knowledge and skill.  He admitted that he thought soldering was a black art completely beyond him.

“Kid’s can pick up things so quickly,” Felicity observed.  “They haven’t yet learnt that some skills are supposed to be difficult.”

“Do adults just need to give them the opportunity and encouragement?” the chairman mused.   “We should never underestimate what youngsters can accomplish.  It would have been so easy to ignore that boy.  No doubt that incident raised his self-esteem.  Perhaps as a result, he’ll become one of the leading railway modellers of the future.”  And none of us could find a reason to disagree with that.

42. Model railways as art

Some local clubs raised their eyebrows when they heard that the Nether Hamblins show had secured a grant from the Regional Board for Promoting the Arts.  It seems they had bid for funds under the ‘Inclusion’ heading for a summer holiday project involving teenagers and a local artist.  The resulting ’work of art’ would be a model railway to be displayed at their next show.

“Bully for them,” cheered Jane.  “It’s about time modelling railways was recognised as an art-form.”

“Why should they get cash and not a proper model railway club?” Peter asked.

“May be it’s because the Hamblins show team is more imaginative than the modelling clubs that traditionally put on events,” Jane suggested.

“Less imaginative?” Paul sneered.  “They don’t build anything, they just put on shows.”  We all smiled to ourselves.  Paul first started saying he was building a layout about fifteen years ago.  In all that time we’ve seen nothing of it, or even bits for it.

“Anyway, what’s ART got to do with model railways?” he demanded dismissively.

“Whether they realise it or not, builders of models railways follow the same rules as other artists,” Felicity explained.  “They select the key features, re-combine and re-position them, as well as compress time and space to make a meaningful representation.

“They create a stage-set, so it’s theatre,” she went on.  “They include cameos that record little incidents – the scenes of a play.  And the train movements provide the principle story-lines that bind everything else together, so that makes it a drama.  And if the moves are well-choreographed, then that’s equivalent to ballet.”

This analysis of railway modelling came as a shock to Peter and Paul.  Their jaws slowly dropped when they realised that they might actually be accused of being … ARTISTS.

“Why haven’t real clubs thought of this and put in their own applications?” Bill enquired.

“Lack of imagination,” Jane repeated.  “They don’t think about modelling as anything other than a craft.  They’re so engrossed with locomotives, scale standards, DCC and ballasting that they haven’t realised there’s a broader picture around what they do, or seen what’s going on the wider world and the opportunities that can be exploited with a bit of lateral thinking.”

“Are you saying we’re narrow-minded?” Paul demanded indignantly.

“Oh yes,” Jane replied, much to his surprise.  “Many model clubs just complain about how the world gives them a raw deal and a bad image.  But then it’s always been easier to moan than to get up, go out and search for new ways to promote the hobby and earn a good press.  It might even require doing something new.”

“That means going outside their comfort zone,” Felicity chimed in.  “Some folk are so set in their ways that they find it greatly disturbing to do anything new or unusual.  Good fortune is more often the result of hard work and imagination than any intervention by Lady Luck.”

“It strikes me,” the chairman mused aloud, “that there are sources of external support that we modellers really ought to consider.  Perhaps we should keep our eyes and ears open.  But above all, perhaps we should keep our minds open, so that we can identify potential in any opportunities that present themselves.”  And we all agreed with that.

43. Judging judges

There had been ructions at the Whirtleborough show the other week.  This followed on from the disquiet last year when the eminent visiting judge had awarded Best Presented Exhibit to a drive-it-yourself layout.  It had also been voted Most Entertaining in Show by the public.

This layout had been well modelled, but it wasn’t brilliant.  What made it memorable was the way the operators involved the public.  There were no shrinking violets amongst the team.  It was all good-natured and polite encouragement to join in the fun.  But their out-going, enthusiastic approach to public involvement had riled many of the traditionalists within the club hierarchy.  They though that such behaviour was undignified in a serious hobby.  That particular judge had not been invited back this year.

However, this year a subversive joker had been at work.  He went round giving out voting slips for unofficial categories and suggesting visitors put them in the ballot box along with their votes for the Most Entertaining layout.

 “He’d got one good idea,” Jane commented.  “He invited voters to give the reasons for their choices.  We joined in the spirit of these alternative awards.  It certainly made us think more clearly about why we disliked particular exhibits, but I didn’t think any of our club actually posted their ‘alternative’ votes.”

“I heard that lots of people did,” Ken announced.  “It really got up the organisers’ noses.  They though it was offensive.”

“I wonder if they looked at the reasons given?” Bill asked.  “With the way attendances at their show have fallen these last few years, they really need to know what turns off the audience.  Then they can select layout that they are more likely to enjoy.”

“I don’t know, but I guess not,” Ken replied.  “They consider themselves the guardians of modelling excellence.  No-one can tell them what constitutes best modelling practice or even what makes an enjoyable show.”

“So what did you choose?” Bill enquired.

“There was a immaculate P3.5 layout, some thirty-six feet long, base on a South American mineral line.  It was cut into the wall of a deep canyon.  It took a train about four minutes to travel from one end to the other.  Because it was single track, it was about five minutes before another one appeared.  Back-stage, the operator was busy all the time, so probably he didn’t realise that from out-front it well deserved the title of Most Boring Layout.”

“Our award for Most Apathetic Trader went to a chap who hid himself behind his display and spent the entire day solving sudoku puzzles.”

“What was he selling?” Bill asked.

“I don’t think he actually sold anything all day,” Graham joked.  “At least none of us saw any money change hands, though his inattention might have encouraged some items to leave his stall without payment, so to speak.”

“Is asking for the worst a bit negative?” the chairman wondered.  “But on the other hand, if you can recognise and eliminate the bad, then what you have left must be an improvement.  Perhaps we should check that our own layouts don’t repeat the same mistakes?”  And we all agreed with that.

44. Train training

A few weeks back, Graham brought his new layout along and taught Jim and Bill how to put it up in readiness for their trip to the Charr Hill show.  First he told them.  Then he showed them.  Finally he made them do it all for themselves, both the assembly, and equally important, the dismantling and stowage

When it wasn’t going to cause damage, Graham even allowed them to find out they’d made mistakes.  As he explained, through adopting this procedure they would remember things better, recognise the symptoms of problems and be able to resolve them when they arose.  It was a laborious process, but the layout went up and down several times that evening.

“It’s a good thing it’s a two-day show,” Paul muttered.  “At this rate you’ll just about get it running before the show closes on the Sunday.”

“You can’t even be bothered to learn,” was Ken’s swift put-down.  “At least Jim and Bill are willing pupils.  After a few sessions they’ll be really useful engines.”

“Who wants to be a really useful engine?” was Paul’s riposte, not recognising the reference to Rev Awdry’s stories.  “You become proficient and he’ll always be asking you to help him at shows,” he warned them.  “You’ll just get put upon.  I make sure I don’t know how to do these things.  That way I’m never asked to help.  Means I can get on with my own projects.”

The following week, Graham’s layout was up and running in no time at all.  The training had paid off.  Now the emphasis was on fluent operation.  They started with the basic moves until they were fully conversant with the control panel, and then they progressed to the more complicated moves where knowledge of siding capacity, clearance points and isolating sections became important.  After a while there were up to three locos simultaneously going about their business.  Again, Paul ridiculed the whole training process.

“There’s a great difference between operating one’s own simple layout at home and performing at an exhibition on a complex shunting layout,” Fred commented.  “At home, the solo operator makes one move, and then another, perhaps with the same loco or maybe a different one.  There is no pressure to complete a shunt in time for the departure of someone else’s train and mistakes don’t matter.  Moves that would, in reality, be made by two locos simultaneously are made in sequence.  And if an incorrect move is made, then it doesn’t really matter.

“By contrast,” Fred continued, “under exhibition conditions, there may be two or more engines moving round the yard at the same time.  Their movements have to be co-ordinated.  Control of a loco may be passed from one operator to another according to who has the best view of the relevant sidings.  Breaks to work out the best shunting procedure or to take a leisurely cup of tea are just not allowed.  The pressure is one.  Mistakes cannot be made.”

“The more layouts, locos or rolling stock you build, or the greater the number of layouts that you learn to operate, the more confident you will become,” he went on.  “This allows you to tackle new projects with less apprehension.  If you restrict yourself to what you’ve done before, then you’ll never develop and your modelling is moribund.  If applied to life, this philosophy would severely limit your activities.  Indeed, you might not have taken your first breath.  And then you would be dead.”

“I was brought up to believe that the more things a person can do,” the chairman observed, “the more use he can be to his family, his friends and the community in general.  Putting your time, skills and talents at the service of others is what differentiates humans from other animals.  And doing it as well as you can marks out a human being as a true friend.”

45. They're watching you

Part way through last week’s meeting, conversation dried up.  It wasn’t because the drinks were being served, or because the secretary wanted to make an announcement.  It was Ken talking about a show he had visited. 

As his story unfolded, even work on the layouts ground to a halt as more of us wanted to hear exactly what had happened.

“I slowly realised that there were several chaps there with notebooks,” Ken reported.

“Nothing unusual in that,” Bill commented.  “Serious modellers are always on the look out for good ideas.  At some shows there are more than you can easily remember.”

“They were systematically moving from layout to layout,” Ken continued.  “Looking intently at the scenery.  Examining locomotives.  Inspecting rolling stock.  Diligently checking signals.  Carefully watching every movement.  Discussing matters in hushed tones.  And then they wrote copiously in their notebooks.  Others were taking photographs and filming videos. After a while, the hall seemed full of them.

“Then I noticed that the operators were becoming quite edgy.  They were increasingly ignoring the ordinary visitors and concentrating on operations whenever these people were near their layout.  The atmosphere became quite very tense.

“These strange people were noting unnecessary moves, repeated coupling and uncoupling of the same pair of wagons, and superfluous running round by locomotives.  They were logging signals passed at danger, signals that were permanently on, signals that were in conflict with the lie of the points, signals that did not return to danger after the passage of a train and the absence of any signals whatsoever.  They were recording head codes that did not match the train behind the locomotive, rakes of carriages with tail lamps at both ends, and trains without any tail lamps at all.  The operators were becoming increasingly paranoid.

“It was then that I caught a glimpse of the wording on the front of one of their notebooks.  It read ‘Model Railway Inspectorate.’  We were caught in the middle of a raid by the Miniature Transport Police.  They were collecting evidence of ignorance of prototype procedures and the incompetence of operators.”

By this time we were beginning to wonder just where Ken had been.  But he continued his story unabated.

“Then they went round and gave out the awards for the least prototypical track formation, the most incongruent juxtaposition of scenic features and the most reckless driving.  There were trophies for implausible train make-up, ludicrous combinations of liveries and for hazardous operation.  No layout escaped their reprimand.  Many were severely criticised.  A few were subjected to a tirade of admonishment.”

By this stage it had dawned on us that Ken was recounting a dream he’d had.

“It might only have been a nightmare,” the chairman cautioned, “but most dreams start out with a basis in reality before they develop into something fantastic and frightening.  The errors you’ve highlighted are all too common, even on outstanding layouts at prestigious exhibitions.  If we’re to truly model railways, then isn’t it incumbent on us to take the time to understand and replicate how real railways operated and the landscape through which they were built?”

As we locked up the clubroom than night, the chairman wished us a safe journey home, followed by sweet dreams.  And we all agreed with that, most sincerely.

46. Quirk theory 

The other week, our conversations turned to control panels.  Jim had been helping at the Dillerstones show.  Because his driving skills were well recognised, he’d been put on lunchtime relief for the solo owner-operators.  He said that on one, the panel had a rather tatty track diagram with stud contacts for changing the points.  The probe was just one of several loose wires dangling below it.  At the bottom of the panel was a bank of switches.  A couple had arrows vaguely pointing to lengths of track, but there were no indications of their functions or what any of the others were for.  As soon as Jim reported for duty, the owner rushed off, leaving him to discover what things did on own.

He could get a rail-motor to leave the bay platform, but could not persuade it to go beyond the platform ramp.  He could move a freight train along the hidden cassette, but it stalled on emerging into public view from under the bridge and had to be hauled back by hand.  In the end he gave up and just stood there, feeling totally mystified and embarrassed that he couldn’t actually run anything.

“Have you discovered its quirks?” the owner asked on his return, grinning broadly.

Another layout Jim helped was quite different.  There was no control panel.  Points were worked mechanically by rods along the back.  It was quite clear which one moved each point.  The visible part of the layout was one electrical section, with isolating points to the sidings.  Only the fiddle sidings could be switched out.  The owner took time to explain the set-up to Jim and stayed around during his first shunt, just in case he had problems.  It was a pleasure to operate.

Jim noted that on another layout, two youths from the host club were in charge over lunch-time.  The panel was well-designed.  The function of every switch was clear.  Coloured LEDs showed which controller was connected to each section and the lie of every point. He dubbed the young operators ‘bingo drivers’.  They flicked a random selection of switches.  If the loco didn’t move or go where they wanted it, they haphazardly flicked more switches.  Their trains scuttled backwards and forwards seeking the right route in a very unrailway-like way.  The lads had no idea of the relationship between switch positions and what might happen.  In some cases, their chaotic approach derailed stock that they’d left standing over points, but they never spotted this until the vehicles fell over during a subsequent manoeuvre.  They may never have realised the cause of these mishaps.

“Is there a relationship,” Fred wondered, “between the clarity of a control system and the quality of planning?  Does not a good control panel indicate the thought that has gone into a layout before any track is laid or wiring connected?”

“Being a solo operator implies that someone else will be covering over lunch-time,” Bill commented.  “Shouldn’t builders who exhibit this way make sure that their control systems are crystal clear.  To do otherwise is just plain thoughtless.”

“Whatever arcane systems a builder may be prepared to endure at home is a private matter,” the chairman observed.  “If there is an experienced team at an exhibition, then they know how to get round the nuances of a badly designed panel.  But if a solo operator expects lunchtime relief, then surely his track sectioning and control panel should be quickly understood, easy to operate, and definitely quirk-free?  And shouldn’t a club’s relief operators also know what they are doing?”

“Perhaps we should take the quality of panels into consideration when deciding which layouts to invite to our exhibition?” he asked.  And we all though it was a good idea.

47. Well, what do you know?

It’s surprising what little bits of information come to light at shows, and not all of it is directly to do with railways.  On one layout there was a Fly Agaric – the one with a red cap and white spots.  “One visitor asked me where the birch tree was,” the operator recounted.  It seems that this type of mushroom is associated with birch trees.  “I should have said ‘just where you’re standing’, but I didn’t think fast enough to come up with that repartee.  But I’ll have one planted by the layout’s next outing!”

Then there was the large postal sorting office next to the station.  One visitor noted the classes and liveries of the locomotives.  He then pointed out that by their era, the Post Office was using automated sorting.  The windows of the building would have been painted over to stop daylight upsetting the first generation of such equipment.

At another show a comment was made about the number of overhead wires carried by an electricity pylon.  The model showed four – two feeds and two returns.  However, it seems that in real life the tall versions carry high-voltage cables in multiples of three, one for each of the three phases of alternating current.  Collectively each triplet of feeds is known as a circuit.  The common return for all of them is through the earth and a thin seventh wire.

“But how much of what you’re told is correct?” Paul questioned.  “You don’t know anything about the background of the chap who’s pontificating.  For all you know, he could be making it all up.”  We all smiled.  Paul is so good at sharing his immense knowledge with us, and is most affronted when sometimes we neither accept his word as true, nor act upon his advice.

“But what is truth?” Felicity asked, raising our discussion to a higher philosophical level.  “Ask half a dozen painters to depict the same scene, and you’ll get six different pictures.  Ask half a dozen modellers to represent a length of railway, and again they’ll all be different.”

“But the key thing is that none of them need any be any more right or wrong than any other,” Fred chipped in.  “They are just different representations of reality and, barring major anachronisms, equally valid.  Just like Monet and his haystacks and cathedral paintings.”

“But what about individual models?” Peter piped up.  “Accurate models of a particular locomotive should be identical, especially if they’re to the same scale.”

“They might look the same,” Fred insisted, “but the motor might drive a different pair of wheels.  The exact colour might vary depending upon the condition of the loco and the distance at which it is to be viewed.”

“Model railways are always wrong,” Bill stated with a mixture of provocation and pragmatism.  “Your diesel and stream outline locomotives are driven by electricity.  The little passengers never board their coaches.  The ballast never gets crushed by fast and heavy traffic.  The whole thing’s a sham.  An enjoyable sham, but a fake all the same.”

“Surely when we’re alerted to a possible error in our modelling, shouldn’t we seek further information?” the chairman mused, trying to avoid a row.  “But it’s always been a challenge distinguishing between those facts that are actually true, and those that the majority hold to be true but actually aren’t.  When we criticise layouts, let’s remember that each modeller has his own vision of the world.  Shouldn’t we judge the layout on those terms alone?”  And we all had to agree there was some truth in this approach.

48. Follow that cowboy

A tangle that would embarrass a cat.  That’s how Bill described it.  A few weeks ago he’d been asked to sort out an old gentleman’s layout.  It seems the chap’s young great nephews had been allowed into the railway room provided they didn’t touch the models.  They didn’t.  Instead they made a den underneath the baseboard.  Unfortunately, in the process, they’d caught the wiring.  There were festoons of wire and loose ends hanging down everywhere.

“The fellow was quite distraught,” Bill went on.  “He’d paid a self-styled professional to build the layout, but the builder hadn’t left a wiring diagram.  There were no labels on points, track feeds or switches.  Ends of wires were just twisted together, not soldered.  In some places there were five different colours going into the same untidy screw of insulation tape.  Elsewhere runs of wire changed colour every couple of feet or so.  I guess it was quite a mess even before the children did anything.”

Bill went on to explain that the track plan was very basic.  Just two ovals, a small goods yard and an MPD, set amongst simple scenery

“Hardly a model of a railway then,” Peter sneered.  “Not worth bothering with.”

“Not up to anything like Fred’s standard,” Bill replied, “but it provides the owner with a great deal of pleasure just running short trains behind different locos.  So it’s perfectly valid as a model railway.”

“What did you do?” Paul asked.  “Cut it all away and start again?  Or tell him to go back to the builder?”

“Why should you help him at all?” Peter enquired, dismissively.  “It’s not as if he’s a club member.  It’s not your job to sort out the mess left by a cowboy, or by those brats with their den.”  Out of kindness, Bill had sorted it out and the old boy was delighted.

“The gentleman may not join our club,” Graham observed, “but he could well bring his great nephews to our next show, which all adds to the takings on the door.  And when he and the boys chat with their friends, the word will spread.”

“I’ve seen a layout where the wiring was immaculate,” Fred continued.  “Every end was crimped before it went into a terminal block.  Everything was clearly labelled.  Wires were colour-coded.  Groups of wires were clipped to the underside of the baseboard when they weren’t in trunking.  It was so tidy and methodical.  A work of art as well as engineering.”

“What’s the point of that?” Paul asked.  “As long as it works, it doesn’t matter how untidy the wiring is.”

“What happens when it doesn’t work?” Fred countered.

“Tidy wiring shows care is being taken,” the chairman commented.  “That suggests that the installation has been planned, itself the result of clear thinking.  A well-thought out layout is less likely to fail at an exhibition than one that has just grown.  Faults should be easier to find and rectify.  I wonder if exhibition managers, when deciding which layouts to invite to their shows, should inspect the underside of baseboards as well as observe what happens on top?”  We agreed it was an idea well worth considering.

49 Traders’ troubles 

At a meeting a few weeks ago, Jane pointed out the variety of attitudes that clubs have towards traders at their shows.  She started with the cost of space.

“Some charges are reasonable - a tenner a table - while other shows consider traders to be cash cows, charging them exorbitantly,” she explained.  “I’ve heard one trader was asked �� a table for a single day at a three-day event.  When you consider the cost of transport and accommodation, together with time involved, it’s not surprising that the trader declined.  Some traders are becoming very choosy about which shows they attend.”

“It depends upon whether the event is primarily a trade show or an exhibition,” Fred added.  “For shows targeted at a specialist segment of the hobby, I would expect a significant number of relevant traders to attend.  However, for a mixed show aimed at the general public, too many traders can be off-putting.  After all, the public are paying to see a model show, not visit a shopping arcade.”

“What about the shows where almost every trader is stocking same ranges from the major manufacturers?”  Bill asked.  “This strikes me as poor policy.  Competition might drive down prices a little, but the traders won’t be happy.  Ideally there should be no more than two stalls selling the same sorts of stuff.  Shouldn’t the organisers take the lead in negotiating what each concentrates on?”

“And when you see how some show teams treat traders, I’m not surprised that they give them a miss,” Felicity commented.  “I’ve come across exhibition teams that will help traders load and unload.  But there are others who consider it beneath their dignity to get involved with sordid commerce and leave traders to struggle with heavy boxes and trolleys.”

“What about having stalls with second-hand stuff of dubious quality,” Ken observed.  “I bet there’ll be some disappointed customers when they try to run it at home.  It may put some off the hobby for ever, considering it a rip-off.”

 “There are some good traders,” Graham countered.  “There’s the one who removed the centre car from a DMU set because the chap only had space for the two-car version.  And another stall-holder who sold a chipped loco for the price of an unchipped one.  I’m sure the buyer will seek out that trader for his future purchases.”

“And then there’s the non-railway stalls,” Paul said.  “Tombolas that lack anything to do with model railways.  Hand-made cards that don’t depict railway subjects.  Sticky sweets and gooey cakes create so many messy fingers.  Totally unsuitable.”

“At some shows the traders are provided with free drinks and hot meals,” Jim observed.  “They’re treated just like the other exhibitors, while at other events they’re treated as lesser beings and expected to bring or buy their own food.”

“Have you noticed that it is often the smaller shows that are the most considerate?” Jane asked.  “There’s a couple where the treasurer regularly goes round and makes sure traders are not stuck for change.  He’ll even arrange reliable stall-sitters to cover for meal and comfort breaks.”

“Doesn’t it all boil down to matter of thoughtfulness, consideration and courtesy?” the chairman observed.  And we all agreed with that.


50. The problem with problems

The other week we were talking about our visit to the Foxhampton show and in particular a layout with stunning scenery.  However, the running was not all that good.  At times the locos stalled altogether.  The operators would frantically apply a track rubber, but to no avail.

When this happened for the umpteenth time, one visitor pulled out of his bag an old loco tender fitted with a lamp, placed it on the track and juggled it backwards and forwards.  The lamp refused to light on the problem section, though it did elsewhere on the layout.

“You’ve a problem with the supply to the track,” he advised the operators.  “You’ll have to investigate with your tester.”

There was consternation behind the scenes.  Nobody had thought to bring a meter, or even a battery and buzzer with two wander leads.  The operators either had total trust in their layout or were woefully ill-prepared.

Another visitor had just bought a meter and she offered it to the operators.  They didn’t know how to use it.

“Would you like me to help test the wiring?” she enquired.  Somewhat embarrassed, they agreed.  So she went behind the layout and asked where she should start.  It quickly became obvious that none of the team had the slightest idea about fault-finding.  It wasn’t their layout.  The chaps were running it on behalf of the owner who’d had to go to work.  He hadn’t left a circuit diagram or wiring booklet.  So it wasn’t their problem, was it?

The lady took charge.  She systematically followed the route of wire runs and tested the integrity of each length and connector.  Eventually the problem was identified as a snapped wire at a connector block – a common enough failure on an exhibition layout.

Then the next snag arose.  They hadn’t got any wire strippers, or a pen-knife, or a pair of cutters.  Yet another visitor came to their rescue and repairs were made.  Soon the locos were running again, amid a round of applause from the on-lookers.

“It makes you wonder what they’d have done without the help of the paying audience,” Fred commented. “Perhaps they’d have sat there all day, looking increasingly stupid.  But then again, maybe they wouldn’t realise the poor impression their lackadaisical attitude was giving the paying public.”

“I wonder if they fully realised the folly of their ways?” Bill enquired.  “On their next outing, will they make sure they’ve got the circuit diagram, tester and tools?  And know how to use each?”

“It just goes to show,” the chairman said, “that when layouts go to exhibitions, between them, the exhibiting team should be competent in all aspects of its operation, fault-finding and presentation, preferably most having skills in several areas.

“Doesn’t it also indicate,” he went on, “that visitors welcome that chance to get involved?  So many show organisers treat them just as a source of revenue, and exhibitors treat them as an undesirable intrusion into their activities.”  And we agreed that this was neither particularly polite nor an effective way of encouraging others to take up our great hobby.


51. Professional, poppycock!

Nether Hamblins has done it again.  They’ve stolen a march on other shows and upset several club organisers.  They sent delegates to a course put on by the Regional Board for Promoting the Arts.  It was all about ‘Growing Your Audience’.  It covered finding out who your audience is, how to encourage them to attend again, how to identify segments of the population that were not aware of the event, how to make contact with them and present your show as something worth attending – in marketing jargon a “destination”.
“What’s this got to do with model railway exhibitions?” Paul asked.  “It’s simple.  We know our audience.  They’re railway modellers. Folk not interested in railways just won’t attend.”
“You put up a few posters in the local model shops and get it into the magazine listings,” Peter chimed in.  “Oh, and place handbills at other shows.  There’s nothing else to do.”
“But is it really that simple?” Jane asked.  “What Nether Hamblins are doing is adopting professional strategies to increase their attendances.”
“We’re not professionals,” Paul retorted.  ”And we definitely don’t need strategies.”
“We know they have a very popular show,” Fred went on, ignoring Paul’s comments.  “What they are aiming at is to get non-modellers to give it a try.  If they are successful, they’ll be able to give more to charity.  In fact, we could all benefit as it makes people more likely to attend another show.”
“Cluttering up halls with ignorant folk, more like,” Peter snorted.  “And they’ll bring their snotty little kids with them as well.  Really spoil it for the serious modeller.”
“But theirs is a general village show,” Ken responded.  “They aren’t trying to emulate the specialist events that only appeal to the likes of the Super-P4 brigade.  They want to get people who aren’t dedicated modellers.  Folk who’ll turn up just because it’s on, to see what all the fuss is about.”
“You’ve got to get them into the hall before they can see what present-day railway modelling is like,” Bill suggested.  “Hopefully they’ll have an enjoyable experience.  They may not take up the hobby, but at least they have a better idea than if they hadn’t attended.  After all, lots of people go to concerts, but few go on to join the orchestra.  If they‘re satisfied, they’ll become loyal supporters and maybe mention it to friends.”
“But there’s another side to it,” Ken cautioned.  “They must make sure that these ‘new attenders’ have an enjoyable visit.  If they go away thinking it was a waste of time and money they won’t tell the organisers.  But, rest assured, they’ll tell everybody else they meet.  And none of those folk will ever attend a show.  The hobby will be the poorer.”
“Shouldn’t the Regional Federation be putting on such training sessions? Felicity asked.  “They should be able to make the advice far more specific to model railway shows than a body that has to cover a wide range of artistic events.”
“We may not be professionals in that we don’t earn our living from exhibiting model railways,” the chairman suggested, “but what is wrong with adopting their attitudes, practices and techniques?  After all, a professional’s reputation and livelihood depends upon adopting the best available techniques and applying them effectively to each specific situation, to the satisfaction of his clients and the approval of his fellow practitioners.  Surely we can all use such expertise to further our great hobby?” Put like that, who could disagree?

52. The devil in the details

On our way back from Kings Mayfield, we got talking about differences in levels of detail that builders include in their dioramas.   There had been two layouts opposite each other.  One was almost devoid of any human activity.  Even the operator seemed dead.

Now the one across the aisle was quite different.  It was smothered in cameo scenes.  You name it and it was there: gypsies, scouts, coal deliveries, milkman, road-works, campers, picnickers, foresters, boys with balls, boys with kites, girls with dolls, mothers with prams, dogs, cats, geese, llamas, narrow-boats, rock-climbers, breakdown lorry, police, fire, ambulance, mines rescue, helicopter, lifeboat, and somebody looking out of every window.

“I stopped keeping a tally after I’d put the second hundred little people in place,” the owner boasted.  “I think there must be about five hundred by now.”

“Another was less overcrowded,” Jane observed.  “It had a few centres of attraction, often people just resting from their labours, but some watching an animatronic figure.  Each time I’ve seen the layout a new moving person has been added.  Did you notice how regular exhibition-goers were searching for the latest recruit to the scene?”

“Did you spot the little grey-haired old lady?” Bill enquired.  “She was getting really excited. She must have been well over eighty. She was pointing out train movements, cameo scenes and little details to all and sundry.  I don’t know if she had come with a little old man, or a son or a grandson, but she certainly got conversations going and made the audience examine the layouts more carefully.”

“It always surprises me,” Felicity said, “how observant some people are, and how little others actually see.  Take buildings with internal lighting for example.  A lit room indicates internal detail, yet so few folk think to look through the windows.  But if a Jubilee comes round with the wrong tender, then there’s a whole chorus of acute observations.”

“It’s not always like that,” Fred commented.  “I remember some years ago at the Salchester show there was a model of a French bar and hotel with full interior details.  In one of the upper rooms there was a couple preparing for bed.  There was a line of voyeurs waiting to take a sniggering peep through the part-closed curtains.  One old fellow stood up in his wheel-chair to make sure he got a good view.  It was surprising how his disability went into remission at the anticipation a bit of vicarious immorality in miniature!”

“Since they were Gauge 1, they were only committing a small sin, I suppose,” Jim observed mischievously.  “If they’d been in N, would what they were getting up to actually be considered a sin at all?”

“You’d better ask a clergyman about that,” Ken replied.  “But take care to ask one of the correct scale.”

“What about the large layout with the suspension bridge?” Bill asked, bringing matters back to railways.  “The scenic setting was beautifully conceived and executed.  There were so many little details carefully spread across the landscape - an uncoupling pole next to the siding, a mobile phone in a field and a digital camera on the over-bridge, ready to snap any train that managed to push its way through the clutter.  And that pair of mugs in the gas works yard were out of this world.  Sadly, they weren’t from the model’s world either.”

“I think detail can be a little overdone at times,” the chairman mused, smiling, “especially when it is blatantly incongruous.”  And we all agreed with that.

53. Shunting and real shunting

It was obvious that it was the reserve operator who was on duty at one layout at the Farthing Gate show.   He’d got both his locomotives buffer to buffer, sandwiched in the middle of a line of wagons, with more wagons across all the points that would have provided easy escape routes for running round. 

A more competent member of the team appeared, and after a few terse comments, he took over and rescued the situation.  From then on shunting followed a logical pattern.  No matter who was driving, the moves were essentially the same.  ‘It’s all covered in the operating instructions,” the operator explained to the novice.

“No opportunity for individuality or innovation,” Paul complained.  “How boring.”

“But aren’t real railways like that?” Bill asked. “They’re essentially repetitious.”

 “When railways started, nobody knew how to operate them efficiently,” Graham explained.  “Over time, shunters and drivers worked out the best way to work each station and yard.  The method that got the job done quickest, with the fewest reversals of locomotive direction, and the least number of couplings and uncouplings.  Then that became the standard practice.”

“The same often happens with models,” Fred chipped in.  “Though there are some basic principles, operators experiment until they find the optimum solutions.   Either the reserve team member had not been trained correctly or didn’t realise the reasons why he should follow a standard protocol.”

“It’s a bit like chess,” Adrian volunteered, “but I only work two moves ahead.  That way the shunt retains its interest and surprise as it doesn’t become a predictable sequence leading to a pre-ordained outcome.”

“Ah, but isn’t a pre-ordained outcome exactly what is required?” Fred stressed.  “Mistakes would be made from time to time, but in the days of steam, drivers didn’t like having to change from forward to reverse gear more than necessary.  It was hard work, whether it was pulling a lever or winding a handle.  No steam-reversing gear for shunting locos, you know.  Woe-betide the man who didn’t plan ahead and keep reversals to a minimum.  It’s different with modern diesels.  Now it’s just the flick of a lever.  No effort required.”

 “Isn’t it a bit like the way some folk build layouts,” Graham suggested. “They start with two boards and a station with single platform.  Then they modify the platform to add a bay.  Then they want an engine shed and the track plan changes again.  But then they buy tender locos, so they need a turntable, leading to more upheavals.  As the trains get longer, so they extend the platform onto an additional board.  Now the fiddle yard isn’t long enough, so a fourth board appears.  Each time there is dislocation, dismantling and reconstruction.”

“But you can’t plan everything before you start,” Paul exclaimed. “You’d never make a start.”  This was rather good, coming from the chap who doesn’t plan and, as far as we can tell, has still not commenced building his long-heralded layout.

“Isn’t clear vision a good starting point for shunting or building a layout?” the chairman asked.  “If you know you can’t build it all in one go, then arrange that it can be built in phases, each one resulting in a satisfying model, both scenically and operationally.  However, there are some people who, through temperament or laziness, cannot see that far ahead.  But that doesn’t stop them from enjoying building layouts.”  And with certain members in mind, we all agreed with that.
 
54. Two visits

In the last few weeks, Fred had reasons to visit a couple of clubs.  The Catfield lot wanted to pick his brains.  They outlined progress so far, asked him to comment on their suggestions for further developments, and to add any ideas of his own.  It was a case of a fresh pair of eyes seeing the layout, without the influence or inhibitions of knowing the history of its construction or the personalities involved. Such external appraisal can reveal glaring errors that the club’s own members had overlooked simply through familiarity, but mistakes that would have been extremely embarrassing if they were ever put before the public.  For example, Fred spotted that a proposed river was flowing across a hillside rather than down the slope.

“Everything was documented,” Fred explained.  “Outlines of all suggestions were noted down.  They were discussed at quarterly planning meetings.  The chosen ones were recorded in detail.  Also noted was who was responsible for doing the work, what other jobs had to be completed first, and which other schemes it might influence.

“The treasurer was authorised to make payments once each mini-project had been completed to the satisfaction of other members,” he went on. “They’re well on the way to creating a stunning exhibition layout.”

By contrast, the Tutley club seems to be terminal decline.  At the meeting Fred called in at, there just was one chap working on the club’s layout.  And an excellent job he was making of it.

“The rest just sat around chatting,” Fred told us. “Frequently they complained loudly and bitterly about the noise he was making, the dust, the smells, the space he was occupying, the disruption he was causing, the amount of time, effort and care he was taking.  Some of it was good-natured banter, some of it was rude, but much of it had a distinctly unpleasant edge to it.  It would have upset me.”   Fred wondered why the chap remained a member if that was the ungrateful way the members treated him.

“I thought I’d seen a photograph of him receiving a trophy at a show at the other end of the country,” Fred reported, “so during the tea break I had quiet word with him. And this was indeed the case.  It seems the unpleasantness I’d witnessed was hurtful and becoming increasingly the norm.  His fellow club members were jealous about some magazine articles he’d written.  They accused him of self-seeking and being on an ego trip at the club’s expense.  He’d given up exhibiting his own layouts locally and now wrote articles under an assumed name so as not to provide the members with further excuses to attack him.

“He confided that he was indeed thinking of leaving the club,” Fred continued. “As a matter of honour, he was going to finish the layout he said he’d build for them and then fade away.  His loyalty to the club and his determination to complete the project he’d undertaken on behalf of the club were commendable, but at what psychological cost.  Feeling forced to exhibit in far off places and write under a pseudonym just because the other members can’t stand his enthusiasm and skill just doesn’t seem right.”

 Fred wondered what would happen to the club when he left.  And what would be the fate of the brilliant layout he’d leave behind?

 “Doesn’t it just show,” the chairman remarked, “that some modellers recognise their shortcomings and aim at self-improvement, while others want everybody else to sink to their own level of incompetence, and use malice and cruelty as compensation for their own shortcomings.”   Regretfully, we had to agree.

55.  All dressed up

It all started when Fred and Jane recalled their recent holiday.  On their way back they decided to call in at the Castle Dermont show.  It was one they’d never been to before, so they weren’t quite sure where it was being held.

“We spotted a chap carrying sandwich boards advertising the show,” Fred reported.  “He pointed us in the right direction.  We knew we were getting close when we saw children dressed up as engines, coaches, trucks and characters inspired by the Thomas, Gertrude, Ernie and Jack stories.”

“The hall itself was full of them,” he continued. “The show organisers were giving free admission to everybody who arrived in a railway costume, awarding certificates to all the children and prizes for the best outfits.”

“How stupid!” Paul sneered.  “What a put-off for real modellers.”

“The hall was decorated with stacks of suitcases, station signs and old-style railway posters,” Jane went on, ignoring him.  “There were porters, drivers and station-masters everywhere.  The place was heaving and very noisy.  Everybody was having a great time.”

“At the Station Buffet you could buy cakes with icing engines on them and biscuits were in the shape of wheels decorated with spokes,” Jane continued.  “With tongue-in-cheek, they even gave you the choice of fresh or stale sandwiches and soft or rock-hard cakes.”

“How disgusting!” Peter exclaimed.  “Gives the hobby an infantile image.”

 “The exhibitors had made a concerted effort to encouraging people to really look for and enjoy the details incorporated into their handiwork,” Jane explained.  “Some layouts had lists of animals to see – one badger, two rabbits, three dogs, and so on, up to 101 Dalmatians.”

“One got visitors looking for the seventh cat, when there were actually ten on the layout,” she went on.  “One wee lad repeatedly checked and rechecked his counting until he was convinced there were not seven but eight cats.  He was mightily puzzled.  He pointed out to the operators each of the eight cats in turn.  They told him that there were actually ten cats.  He’d found numbers one to six, eight and nine, but not cats seven and ten.  He and his mum kept looking until they’d found them all.  Then the elation on his face was a joy to behold.”

“How pathetic!” Paul exploded.  “No intellectual challenge whatsoever.”

“The organisers thought it was a highly successful show,” Fred retorted.  “They’d got people from all over the town and from well outside.  The layouts were good examples of several genres, scales and gauges.  For those not familiar with hobby, it was a great introduction.  It’s just a pity other shows don’t cater so well for potential and uncommitted modellers.”

 “Some of the visitors I spoke to hadn‘t been to a model railway exhibition for years, and some not at all,” Jane backed him up.  “They were expecting everything to be straight out of boxes, with trains hurtling round ovals of track and coming off the rails in all directions.  What they saw did not match their preconceptions.  Many were amazed at the differences between layouts and the level detail, though few really appreciated the time, imagination and effort that had gone into creating the displays.”

“Does it not just go to show,” the chairman mused, “that railway modellers have a lot of work to do?  They’ve to spread the word about what they do, encourage visitors to really look at the displays and make the whole event an exciting occasion.  But when they do it with imagination and panache, the results are most rewarding for all involved.”  Now who could disagree with that?

56.  Catch ‘em young

Several of us had been to the Plonkton show.  The exhibitors were the usual unsociable lot.  They were more concerned with what they were doing, usually discussing with each other the minutiae of one their models, rather than in entertaining, enthusing and educating the paying public.

“There was one trader who had a different approach,” Bill told us.  “He talked to the visitors, answered lots of questions and tried to help with their modelling, even if they didn’t actually buy anything from his stall.  He seemed to be doing quite a lot of business.

“Every child who purchased a wagon was given a duplicated slip that explained, in simple language, the sorts of goods that it might have carried and how they were loaded and unloaded,” Jane continued.   I even noticed quite a few grown-ups surreptitiously asked for them as well – usually on behalf of a youngster that they knew.   And he obliged, without embarrassing them by revealing that he knew who they were really for.”

The sheets also pointed out that instructions on how to make such loads were available from the chap’s shop.  It wasn’t all that far away, so we called in on our way home.

The model shop was close to a school, so one of the window displays was aimed specifically at the youngsters.  There was a length of single track with a two-platform station at each end.  Three different DMUs automatically shuttled between two stations.  The labels were in large print and gave very basic information.

It seems the proprietor altered this display slightly every day and had challenged the children to spot the difference.  He didn’t seem to mind them just popping in to check that they were right.

Inside the shop, there was a whole series of sheets about wagons and their loads.  They’d been written by the Dewcliffe club.  They covered making coal and stone, boxes and crates, pipes and drums, beams and boilers, and so on.  All could be built cheaply from household bits and pieces, with little or no specially-bought material.  The instructions were basic, clearly laid out and illustrated by photos and diagrams.  A ten-year-old could follow them on their own, though the assistance of an adult was recommended, especially for younger modellers.

The shop also provided information sheets for coaches and locomotives at the beginners end of the ranges.  These explained the difference between corridor and non-corridor coaches, engines fitted with brake pipes and those without, and the types of train that locos were most likely to be pulling.  One quite old customer was dumfounded when he read the reason why some BR wagons were painted brown and others grey.

As well as providing information, the shop-keeper also held ‘workshop sessions’ during school holidays, when families could be guided by an instructor in making loads.  They put down a plastic sheet to protect the floor, set up a table and brought in some stools.  He’d space to accommodate three families at a time.  They seem well-patronised.

“It all goes to show,” the chairman pointed out, “that youngsters are still interested in model railways.  All they need is some encouragement.  It’s a pity so many clubs and traders don’t do this in ways that actually catches their imagination.  Hadn’t we better see what we could do in this respect?”  And we all agreed with that.

57.  Black and white

It was a year ago, after the Dewcliffe show, that Ken just happened to mention he’d spotted something he’d never seen before at an exhibition  - a brown face.  Indeed, a whole family of happy brown faces.

This year, that family was back at Dewcliffe, but not as visitors.  They’d brought a model of an Indian Railway.  A perceptive member at the club had talked to them, realised that they had something unusual to offer, and took the opportunity of inviting them to exhibit.

“What they’d brought was different from anything I’ve seen on the exhibition circuit before,” Felicity explained.  “The model represented a hill railway in the Ghats of India.  The type where more passengers hang on the outside of the carriages than there are seated inside.”

“There was a zig-zag, worked by the train engine and assisted by a banker of archaic provenance that seemed to owe more to Emmett than to Gorton Loco Works,” Bill went on, providing a typically terse masculine, technical description.  “At the upper level, the single line guided trains full circle round a great stack rock before crossing its own path and heading offstage.  The train lengths were such that the loco only just missed hitting its own brake van.  The operators had a great line of patter that encouraged a worried ‘will it, won’t it hit its own tail?’ amongst the audience.”

“On the summit of the rock column there was a beautifully ornate Hindu temple, with priests and devotees,” Felicity continued, reverting to perhaps the more feminine aspects.  “Down in the valley, the railway station served a village and its bustling market place.   Everywhere there were the most brilliantly modelled trees, complete with birds and monkeys.

“The father was dressed in the uniform of an Indian station master,” she went on.  “The rest of the family were in traditional dress.  Grandmother, mother and daughters looked stunning in their saris.  It was the most colourful display I’d ever seen.  Unlike some layouts, where the operators try to remain invisible, this family were very much part of the total presentation and enjoying every minute of it.

“There was an ever-changing aroma of spices emanated from the market,” exclaimed Felicity.  “We were invited to lean over and inhale.  Wonderful!” 

“Ethnic minorities seem under-represented at shows,” Jane commented.

“The hobby can bring people together, irrespective of their family background,” Felicity said.

“It’s great if they turn up at a show,” Jane responded.  “Just as with any other visitors, if they have a good time, they’ll be back the next year, and perhaps bring their friends.  But how do we reach those that don’t attend?”

“It’s no good waiting for them to come to us.  We’ve got to make an effort,” Ken suggested.  “We need to publicise exhibitions and other events in the community halls and social centres attached to churches, synagogues, temples, mosques and so on.  Better still, offer to take a simple layout to one of their family events.”

“But I’d feel uncomfortable,” Nigel commented.  “They might wonder why we’re there.”

“Yes, of course.  It’s perfectly natural.  We’d be well outside our comfort zone,” the chairman responded.  “But equally, don’t you think they might feel ill at ease coming to one of our shows, with us wondering why they’re attending?  Isn’t it up to us railway modellers to cultivate contacts?” he asked.  We all thought it probably was.

58.  Just the facts

While discussing Ken and Bill’s visit to the Charr Hill show, we got round to the amount of information the layouts made available to the public and how it was presented. As well as a long entry in the show guide, one layout had huge display boards boxing in the two fiddle yards.

"I’m sure their display area was greater than that of the layout itself," Ken joked. "What with tightly packed sheets of text in a ridiculously small font, plus maps, diagrams, photos, posters, brochures, tickets, association badges and attendance plaques. They’d got everything except a hand lens!"

"Instead of a barrier across the front, they’d got a reading desk with laminated copies of every article the owner had written," Bill added. "If you wanted to study them, other folk couldn’t see the layout. So why choose to put them there?"

"Status," Peter suggested dismissively. "The owner wants to appear more important than his model justifies." That comment that was a bit rich, seeing as how Peter hasn’t completed his Granary St Mary layout, even after at least seven years. He’s never written an article. But always expects to be treated as an acknowledged and respected authority on all aspects of the hobby.

"There was a layout on the next aisle that made no attempt at all to engage the visitors at all," Ken resumed. "The layout number was the only bit of information on display. If you didn’t have the exhibition guide, there was no easy way to know what you were looking at."

"Now the layout opposite had several video screens with an ever-changing flow of text: descriptions of trains arriving and departing, explanations of loco movements, factlets about individual locos and vehicles currently on view, details of buildings to look for and, of course, the name of the layout and the club that built it. But there was nobody there to answer any questions arising from this well-managed flow of data. I wonder why not?"

"Probably too busy keeping the screens updated," was Paul’s suggestion.

"Perhaps there was a keyboard out front for you to type in your query," Adrian joked.

"Another layout had labels across the front for every building," Bill said. "The operator had a small PA system and gave a running commentary for about ten minutes every half hour. He even had a sign up giving the time of the next performance."

"Must have been right ear-ache for the nearby stands," Peter suggested.

"In between times, he engaged his audience in conversation, explaining the tricks of the trade," Bill went on "He even invited them backstage to see how it all worked."

"He was certainly not contributing to the hushed reverence you have at some events," Ken observed. "Certainly nothing like the whispered atmosphere of old-fashioned museums or public libraries, as far as he was concerned."

"As exhibitors, shouldn’t we be passing on information and ideas, communicating the satisfaction of a craft hobby and the pleasure of operation, as well as a providing a theatrical experience?" the chairman asked. "If we’re going to do any of those effectively then we need to employ a range of techniques. But above all, don’t we need operators enthusiastic enough to overcome their shyness and talk with the public?" And we all agreed with that, though it remains to be seen how many will pluck up courage and actually talk to visitors at shows.

59.  Where do you belong?

60. Non-issue

There is no edition for June '11. John's Jottings continues in July with No.61.