John's Jottings

As overheard at a model railway club, somewhere in Cheshire, and jotted down by John Millington. The names and locations have been changed, but these stories are based on true conversations.

Archived editions (1-77, see nav-bar at the top of the page) were originally published via the Cheshire Railway Modellers website, but from December 2012, issue 78, the Jottings can be found here in blog form.

John Millington is a nom de plume. The author's true identity is disguised to enable him to continue collecting material for the articles.

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152. Speed-visiting - February 2019

Posted on January 31, 2019 at 6:20 AM

On our way back from the Whirtleborough show, Felicity commented on the speed at which some visitors go round an exhibition. It made her wonder what they’d actually seen. They’d either got photographic memories, took masses of photos to examine later, or they just didn’t look, study and assimilate. She wondered what they learnt and what benefit they got from attending.

“Very little, if anything, I should think,” Graham commented. “Perhaps they only attend to get confirmation that they are extremely sophisticated modellers, whose knowledge, skills and powers of discrimination far surpass those of the other visitors, and most of the exhibitors as well. They wish to be seen, but not get contaminated by lesser modellers.”

“Did you see the chap who whizzed round, but couldn’t find a single layout depicting the Fishguard & West Pembroke Tramway, or anything in 5.5mm scale, or anything set in 1872,” Jim asked. “He was gone within forty-five minutes, declaring the entire show to be ‘utter rubbish’ because there was nothing in his favoured line, scale or period.” We laughed at his waste of time and money. Since the layouts attending had been listed in several of the magazines, he ought to have known what would to be there before he set off. If none of it was of interest, why bother attending in the first place?”

“Some modellers are so intensely parochial,” Jane commented. “You know that chap who demonstrates loads made from rubbish? I’ve heard visitors decline his invitation to examine them with the dismissive comment ‘Not my scale.’ Some were adamant that they could learn nothing from him, even though the concept he champions applies to all scales, gauges and periods. It was just that his examples were in a large scale so that they were easy to see and robust enough to be handled.” We smiled, as we’ve all been accosted at one show or another by this over-enthusiastic fellow.

There was another visitor who was there for most of the day,” Bill countered. “He moved systematically from exhibit to exhibit, observing carefully, making notes, and talking with operators and public. He’d return several times to check he’d missed nothing of significance and to see how things were running.”

“Perhaps he’s the chap that writes that blog,” Felicity suggested. “You know - the blogger that was supposedly unmasked at the Salchester show.”

“There’s also a chap who writes reviews of exhibitions for one of the gauge society magazines,” Graham added. “Though his reports concentrate on those layouts and other displays that are the prime interest of society members, he often mentions ideas from other scales that have wider potential.

“He once told me that what actually gets published depends on the attitude of the editor in post at the time. In the past, one struck out everything he submitted that was not directly about models in their scale. The current one is far more open to ideas from across the entire spectrum of scales and gauges, and even from other branches of model-making.”

“Aren’t people allowed to concentrate on a single scale, gauge, railway company, or era, if they want to?” our Chairman asked provocatively. We agreed - if that’s what makes them happy, then that’s fine. It was their loss if they didn’t take pleasure in, or get ideas from other areas of our hobby. After all, isn’t it the sheer diversity that makes modelling railways such a great creative activity? There’s something for everybody. We all agreed with him when he asked if those who get the most from the hobby are the people who relish, celebrate and build on the richness of experience that comes with diversity.

151. Festina Lente - January 2019

Posted on January 1, 2019 at 1:00 PM

While at the Skelham club’s recent show, we heard some of the history of a layout they were exhibiting. It seems that it had been started several years previously, but the original team had hit snags and lost interest. Progress had stalled at the track and bare boards stage. After languishing in their store room for some time, a trio of new members got it out and decided they would complete it. So work resumed.

It wasn’t long before ballast was down and scenery was planned for viewing from three sides, with the storage sidings hidden away on the fourth. It was then that they realised they’d never be able to hand-work the points by leaning over the planned townscape, so they had to flood the ballast with near-boiling water to release enough of the track to be able to lift it for operating rods to be installed. Then they made good the ballast.

This challenge overcome, scenery developed at quite a pace. One of the team was a dab hand at constructing cardboard building kits, and each week several more appeared. They were installed on a stepped base that cantilevered over the fiddle yard at the rear. The rise between successive rows of buildings was steeper than Anfield’s Kop, but cleverly disguised by using half-, quarter- and low- relief buildings interspersed with trees. It was brought to life by cars, lorries, buses, cats, dogs, dustbins, and numerous little cameos of workmen plying their trades. The overall townscape was most effective. It gave the impression that the town was much bigger than the baseboard would allow.

Then came the triumphant announcement: “This layout is now complete.” There was great satisfaction amongst both builders and other club members as they admired the finished project. Even the original team were pleased with the outcome. It wasn’t quite what they had envisioned. It was definitely far more imaginative and impressive.

One of the club’s older members was invited to have a drive. He made up a longish freight train and set it to circle clockwise on the lower level. It looked good from all angles as it made its way round. After several circuits of the board, he halted it at the back and manually exchanged the loco and brake van. It looked equally impressive running anticlockwise.

But the fellow saw there was a major flaw with the basic design. In the anticlockwise direction, freight trains that circulated on the lower level could only enter the rear storage tracks by running past the exit from the fiddle yard out onto the scenic section, and then reversing into the holding sidings. This somewhat spoilt the operational magic.

Within an hour of the start of the Completion Celebrations, track was being lifted to accommodate an additional storage siding, one that could be entered via a point at the opposite end to the fiddle yard throat. So much for it being a Completed Layout!

Later running sessions revealed numerous places where trains derailed or uncoupled, requiring more lifting and re-fixing of track and ballast. One bridge, set at the start of a curve, had to have an abutment severely cut back to allow bogie coaches to pass. All this remediation work was hampered by the presence of landforms, roads and other scenery. Some months later, frustration led to a whole new double fiddle yard being added at right angles to the layout to permit easy entry and exit of trains regardless of their direction of running.

“Does this not go to show the importance of thorough planning and exhaustive testing?” our chairman commented. “Shouldn’t a wide range of locos and stock be run for prolonged periods by several operators, as if at an exhibition, before ballast or any other scenic work is fixed to the baseboard? No amount of brilliant scenic detail will improve ill-thought-out track plans, or compensate for badly-laid track.” We all expressed agreement with our chairman, but it remains to be seen if certain of our club members actually learn from this story and follow his council of wise experience.

150. Show-and-Tell, and UFOs - December 2018

Posted on November 30, 2018 at 9:10 AM

As a change from constructing layouts, or standing around watching other members build layouts, or just sitting and talking, we heard recently that the Wraybury club had arranged an evening of show-and-tell. Every member was asked to bring in a model they’d built. It could be a wagon, or a coach, or a loco, a signal, or a signal box. They could be modified RTR, a kit, kit-bashed, or scratch-built. It didn’t matter what it was, or to what scale, or even if it was unfinished.

Each modeller then said a few words in answer to one of these questions: ‘Why did I build this?’ or ‘What do I do next?’ or ‘Why’s this gone wrong and how do I sort it out?’

Some members’ mini-talks elicited lots of comments. Most were sensible and helpful, others simply amusing. There were offers of practical help with particular stages of building a model so the owner could complete the job.

Several models were dubbed UFOs. Not the science fiction type, but Un-Finished Objects. These were projects that had ground to a halt, because the builder had lost patience, or lost interest, or no longer needed the finished model. During the evening, three of them found new homes, and were completed or converted over the following weeks, much to the satisfaction of the new and former owners.

The club chairman was delighted that so many conversational members actually had models to talk about, since they’d never brought anything to previous meetings. Some of the quiet constructional members overcame their shyness as they explained the techniques they used to build their models. Once they got talking, some spoke at length, sharing their enthusiasm for their chosen subject and techniques. By the end of the evening, the range of previously hidden knowledge and skills within the membership was quite a revelation. Several layout managers noted the existence of talents they’d never suspected. They now knew who to approach for help with specific parts of club projects.

But one fellow had brought nothing and said nothing. He just sat in a corner and flicked through magazines from the club library. The chairman spoke to him during the brew break.

“I’m quite happy just being here,” the fellow said. “I don’t build anything. I don’t operate a layout. I don’t even have any models of my own. I just enjoy being in the company of railway modellers, seeing what goes on, and listening to what they have to say. I hope you don’t object.”

“No, no. Of course not,” the chairman assured him. “I didn’t want you to feel left out.”

“I just find the atmosphere therapeutic. There’s things going on, models being built, problems being solved, layouts being tested, operators being trained, arrangements for exhibitions being agreed. But I don’t want to be part of it. You don’t mind, do you?”

“No, of course not,” the chairman repeated. “If that’s what you want, then that’s fine by me. I don’t want you to feel you’re being purposely excluded.”

“I appreciate you asking,” the fellow said. “I’m just happy to be accepted here.”

When our chairman heard this story, he was pleased that the Wraybury club hadn’t forced the fellow into active involvement, or expelled him for laziness. As he said, “There are people who much prefer to remain on the margins than to be full-on participants.”

149. Cottage Manufacturers - November 2018

Posted on October 31, 2018 at 7:00 AM

At last week’s meeting we heard two stories about ‘cottage’ manufacturers – those one-man operations that manufacture small quantities of specialist items. The first received an order for one of his kits. He hadn’t a complete kit in stock, so he made one up from bulk stocks of various components. He parcelled it up and took it to the post office. It had just been stamped when he realised that he’d not included a bag of the smallest castings. He went back home, and put them a packet with a letter of apology. But it was too late to catch that day’s post.

A few days later he received an irate letter, pointing out the discrepancy and demanding immediate supply of the missing parts. He sent off a second letter of apology, explaining how the shortfall had arisen and the steps he’s take to rectify the situation. He suggested that the problem had been exacerbated by letters crossing in the post.

A few days later the manufacturer received another letter of complaint. One component was still missing. There were no calibration bars. The manufacturer sent a letter back saying that there were no calibration bars included in the kit because he had not seen anything with that name on the drawings and in the photographs from which he had worked, and didn’t know what they were anyway. He asked if his customer would kindly enlighten him.

Shortly afterwards, an explanation arrived, together with drawings, a copy of a photograph of one, and details of where they were fixed and their function. The manufacturer checked his own sources and, yes, he could just about make them out, now knowing what he was looking for. He altered his moulds so that they were included. He sent his customer a pair of the modified mouldings.

A little while later, there was yet another letter from the customer, this time thanking the manufacturer for sending the calibration bars. He was so delighted with the now perfect model that he included a cheque for another complete kit. The manufacturer took great care to make sure that this kit was complete and the instructions reflected the inclusion of the new addition.

“At the Salchester show I overheard a disagreement between one of the traders and a customer who was complaining bitterly that the toolboxes were missing from a kit he had supplied,” Jim told us.

“But there weren’t any toolboxes on the prototype, so there aren’t any included with the kit,” the trader replied.

“They’re in the photograph that accompanied the magazine review, so they’re missing from the kit. I want the deficiency rectified.”

“Yes,” the trader replied. “I read that review as well. In my copy the reviewer wrote quite clearly that the boxes were additions he made to suit his own use for the wagon. Your copy of the magazine must have been a special one-off print with that sentence omitted. Or perhaps you should air-brush the boxes from your copy of the picture,”

“Where would we be without the small independent manufacturer?” our chairman asked. “If we give them grief over perceived or actual mishaps, perhaps they’ll give up. Disagreements will occur, but politeness at all times, on both sides will surely be the best course of action?” And we all agreed with that sentiment.

148. May We Present - October 2018

Posted on September 30, 2018 at 2:30 PM

The other week we were discussing how exhibitors introduce their layouts to visitors: letting them know what the display represents, its scale and gauge, historical period, geographical location, what’s going, the control systems for locomotives, signals and other moving items, what special features to look for, and so on.

“Some layout teams seem to assume that every visitor has an encyclopaedic knowledge of both real and model railways,” Graham suggested. “They think it would be inappropriate, if not insulting, to attempt to tell visitors what they already knew, either by labels, or by the spoken word.”

“But the public can be so pig-ignorant,” Peter told us with all the conviction of a person who is close to being just that.

“Others go to the opposite extreme,” Jim countered. “There are acres of printed sheets with text, diagrams and photos, plastered on fiddle-yard screens and below the front of the layout. They cover every detail of the layout that you could ever think of asking about, and some that you’d never even thought about before. But there is far more information than anybody could take in at a single reading. And people who do try to read it all get in the way of visitors who actually want to see the layout itself.”

“Then there are extensive descriptions in show guides that make War and Peace look like a short story,” Jane added, with a smile.

“I’ve seen one layout that has a series of hand-outs,” Felicity reported. “There’s one leaflet for each aspect of the layout. You take from the dispensers the ones that interest you.”

“There’s one layout that’s bang up to date, with an LED matrix screen that lists services, while another is old-fashioned, using lights behind stencil signs,” Jim commented.

“Some layouts explain what’s happening by means of flip cards or monitor screens,” Ken went on. “But that only covers train movements. It can’t cover aspects like construction techniques.”

“Perhaps that’s where IT comes in, with an endless loop of photographs, movie clips and text to explain the different aspects of the layout. If it’s sited as part of the fiddle yard, then its viewers are not in the way of those who want to watch the trains and examine the scenic details.”

“What about touch-screens and mobile phone links?” Bill wondered.

“And finally there are real humans. The best modify their patter to respond to the age, knowledge and interest of each group of visitors, and quickly spot when their commentary is not required.”

“It’s always a compromise,” our chairman suggested. “There are so many variables to consider, not least the expectations of the audience. Those attending a single-gauge show with a large number of specialist traders are probably quite knowledgeable. Visitors to general and local shows, where layouts predominate, may well welcome a friendly guide. And for novices attending their first show, isn’t a knowledgeable companion desirable?” And we had to agree him on that one.

147. The Trainless Railway - September 2018

Posted on September 1, 2018 at 5:20 AM

While at the Catfield show, we got into conversation with a chap who claims to have an extensive model railway. He showed us photographs of it. In fact, it is a model of a whole town with a short length of double track down in the valley. All the buildings are from the same company’s cardboard kits. This makes for a scene where the architectural styles, building materials and colourings are uniform. Some are built as intended, but most have been modified or cross-kitted. The builder loves this aspect of his hobby. And all credit to him, the modifications he’s make are ingenious. The town now extends over many square yards: it occupies nearly the whole of his supposed railway room. The odd thing is that no train ever runs along the tracks. There’s not even one standing in the station.

“I couldn’t get the trains to stay on the tracks,” he explained, “so I’m modelling the period of time between trains. After all, it’s not supposed to be an intensively used route.”

While discussing this layout back in our clubroom, Peter informed us with great authority “That’s never a model railway.”

“Why not?” Graham asked. “As long as there’s some railed track, then surely it qualifies?”

“But a railway runs trains,” Paul chipped in, eager to support Peter. “That one didn’t. So it can’t be a model railway. It’s just a big static diorama.”

“So what about that modelling competition,” Felicity enquired. “You remember - the one to create a scene on a base of 144 square inches? Does that count as railway modelling?”

“Then there was the competition that one club held for its juniors, where they had to create a shed and its surroundings?” Fred added. “When finished, each was ready-to-plant on the entrant’s own model railway.”

“They’re more apprentice pieces,” Paul countered. “A grotty shed on its own is never a model of a railway.”

“So what about a model of a locomotive, entered in a competition?” Graham asked. “The exhibit just sits in a glass case. The only time it moves is when it’s being lifted from its carrying case. Is that railway modelling?”

Perhaps such competition entries should be put on a test track and made to complete ten circuits at low speed, and then another ten at high speeds, then backed through points and shunted,” Jim suggested. “That would sort out those that really are railway models from those that just look good.”

“If one is being fastidious, shouldn’t a model of a railway include everything that appertains to a real railway, plus the surroundings through which it runs?” our chairman wondered. “Locomotives, items of rolling stock, track, fences, walls, bridges, signals, signal boxes, stations, trees, houses, shops and factories all go to make the entire model. Any one item on its own is model, but not a model railway. It’s rather like the human body. It consists of many organs, but it needs all of them working together for the body be considered alive.

“But then the pragmatic answer could be that any item that could be used on a model railway is itself a railway model,” the chairman went on. “What do you think?” The discussion went on for quite some time. We hadn’t reached a consensus by packing-up time.

146. From London to the Coast - August 2018

Posted on August 3, 2018 at 6:45 AM

We’d been discussing the Rumford show. One exhibitor was a fanatical builder. He was there with his latest creation. He completes at least one layout every year, sometimes two. Beautiful they are. The thing is, they’re pretty much all the same. Each is inspired by the SECR. They all have a similar track plan with, as near as damn it, identical buildings. He doesn’t change scale, or period, or season. The only things that are really different are the positions of the trees and buildings, and each station’s fictitious name.

“Can’t think why he does it,” Peter commented. “Tedious. So very boring.”

“If he carries on like this, and joins them all together with a few lengths of plain track, he’ll have built an entire line from London to the coast,” Adrian added with a smile. “Epic outcome, but all so unimaginative.”

“That’s about seventy miles scale miles,” Graham announced. “The model would be about a real mile long. Some model railway.” We all laughed at the idea. Where would you put a mile long model?

“I know another chap,” Ken chipped in. “He’s equally productive. He changes his scale, region and period every time. There’s no coherence in his choice of subject at all, other than each is different from anything he’s ever done before. Over the years he’s worked in N, 3 mil, H0, 00, P4, S and O-gauge, and both standard and narrow-gauges. They’ve been in every era from the 1820s to the present day. He’s even had a couple of futuristic, science-fiction, fantasy lines for good measure. Whatever he does, he throws himself whole-heartedly into each new project and sees it through to completion. He must have masses of bits left over. I wonder what he does with them all?”

“The SECR chap is a bit like an artist friend of mine,” Felicity added. “Really, he only paints one picture, again and again - a pool surrounded by trees. He even keeps a logbook in which he notes the mix of pigments he has used for each bit so that he can replicate the colours exactly. The only significant variation is in where the foreground bush is placed. They sell consistently, so the concept must keep pleasing the public.

“Now, another artist I know is always trying out new subjects and techniques,” she went on. “She couldn’t replicate a picture even if she tried. And her work sells as well. Though it must be said, some are snapped up as soon as they go on exhibition, while other pieces hang around for years.”

“Perhaps it’s because some people are averse to taking risks,” the chairman mused. “Most folk work well within their comfort zones. What they produce is pleasing but unexciting. Others are far more adventurous. Sometimes this results in a duff layout, but at other times it is breathtaking in its originality, ingenuity, artistry and entertainment value. It’s all a matter of personality and ambition.

“Nobody should be forced to be original or inventive,” he cautioned. “It’s not a crime to be timid, no matter how frustrating it is to those who are prepared to take risks as they expand the boundaries of what can be modelled, and develop novel techniques to achieve greater realism and reliability. But likewise, neither should the cautious hold back the endeavours of the audacious. It is, after all, a hobby, not a matter of survival.” And we all agreed with that.

145. Your Guide to the Show - July 2018

Posted on June 30, 2018 at 3:30 PM

On the train back from the Highsteads exhibition we all got out our souvenir show guides and started to read them. It was a thick publication, professionally put together, with lots of colour photos on gloss paper. It took us some time to work through it. They must have cost a lot to produce. Thankfully they was given away free on entry.

“I didn’t realise that the S-gauge layout had radio-activated uncouplers” Graham commented. “I wish I’d known.”

“It’s all in the guide,” Paul responded tartly. He’s such an expert in such matters.

“There’s too much to take in at once, especially when you’re being jostled by other visitors, all of them either trying to read their guides or take photos,” Ken commented. “It’s a pity we didn’t have copies before we set out so we could study them for at least a week before-hand.”

“Some shows do this if you buy tickets in advance,” Jim reminded us. “Other put it on their websites.

“Would you prefer a show guide that’s either just a checklist or a fully labelled floor plan?” Adrian wondered. “There could always be icons to indicate layout, traders, and so on, with scale designations and historical era, and so on. Would that be enough?”

“But I like to know who built the layout and any special features to look out for,” Jim replied. “It doesn’t have to be a comprehensive treatise, perhaps no more than a couple of lines.”

“Do you remember the Merle show,” Jane asked. “The one where the numbers on the stands, in the guide, and on the floor plan were completely different. That caused a lot of confusion. It makes you wonder whether the floor planner, the editor and the exhibition manager were working together as a team, or each doing their own things in isolation?”

“I spoke to one of the stewards about this,” Fred recalled. “He told me I should always expect a few inconsistencies. But to get every stand wrong takes some doing.”

“I remember one guide that was made up of photocopies of the submitted entries, with different fonts and point sizes,” Felicity commented. “They were just enlarged or shrunk to make them fit the pages. It was all cut-and-paste, with the cut lines show still showing and the pastings not even square. ‘But someone tried their best with the resources available,’ I was told. Had they never heard of word-processors? Perhaps they’re still living in the age of rotary duplicators. Why didn’t they borrow an experienced editor from another club? He could show them how to do it, and leave them with standardised page format, a set of correct spellings for words like ‘guage’, the difference between ‘their’ and ‘there’ together with examples of standard punctuation – especially apostrophes, and finally a style sheet to follow.”

“But nobody really reads a show guide,” Peter commented. “So why provide them at all? Perhaps all that’s needed is a checklist so you can make sure you’ve seen everything. Simple. Job done.”

“But doesn’t the variety of guides reflect the different styles of exhibition,” our chairman wondered. “Some shows are rough-and-ready, while others are slick and polished. Over time, we get to know which is which and adjust our expectations accordingly.”

We’ll have to see whether our conversation influences the guide for our upcoming exhibition, won’t we?

144. Railway Modelling for All - June 2018

Posted on May 31, 2018 at 4:35 AM

We had a layout at the Dewcliffe show. Across the aisle there was an excellent model of an outer suburban station, with two through platforms, a bay for reversing DMUs, and an avoiding line for down freight trains heading for the city. The whole thing was semaphore-signalled, with the lever frame at the front of the layout.

Quite early on the Saturday, a lad in a wheel chair arrived and was greatly taken by the layout. He soon noticed that across the front of the layout there were display boards with copies of the track plan, plus lists of the signal and point levers. He studied them intently for quite some time, repeatedly comparing the plan with the actual tracks and signals.

He heard every bell code and noted every time a signal changed, and announced to all and sundry what class of train was expected and which route it would take.

“Down Express Passenger to Down Fast, Platform One” he would call out. “Pull Off

Outer Home Number 2, Inner Home Number 4, Starter Number 7, Advance Starter Number 9, Distant Number 1.” From just his study of the track plan and the list of levers, he’d grasped and memorised the signalling system. His commentary, though terse, was appreciated by many of the visitors. They went away much enlightened.

It wasn’t long before the lad and the operator were chatting away, discussing the technicalities of the role of signalman and signal box in the smooth working of trains. The operator wondered if the lad would like to work the levers.

“Won’t he damage the levers?” his carer asked.

“If he’ll do what he’s told, and do it gently, there’ll be no problem,” the operator assured her. The carer discussed the terms of the offer with Young Billie.

“Do what I’m told,” he said. “Be ever so gently. Like stroking kitten.”

With great personal effort and help from his carer, Billie got to his feet. It wasn’t long before he understood how to release the levers and move them. For his early attempts, he tried used his whole hand to grasp each lever. But it didn’t work. Adjacent levers got in the way.

“Just use your finger and thumb,” the operator explained. It wasn’t long before Billie had mastered the technique. The operator still had to work the bock bells and tell Billie what some of them meant. But then the young signalman would call out the lever numbers, descriptions and so on to set the route.

“Class 6 Freight to Down Slow,” Billie might repeat. “Release Facing Point Lock Number 6, Reverse Point Number 5, Reset Facing Point Lock Number 6, Pull Off Outer Home Number 2, Inner Home Number 3, Starter Number 8, Advance Starter Number 10. Distant Number 1 is locked On.”

Billie stayed at that one layout for much of the day. Operations were explained. Everything made sense. Everything was predictable. He even came back the following day. He had a great time. Billie was profuse in his thanks. His carer was amazed at what he could do,

“Does it not go to show,” our chairman mused, “that, handled with sensitivity, railway modelling is one hobby where autism does not preclude enjoyment and fulfilment?”

143. Join Up. Join Up - May 2018

Posted on April 30, 2018 at 6:45 AM

We were at the Plonkton show the other week. At the club stand there was a chap vigorously trying to attract new members. He collared one passer-by who had paused just momentarily in front of the stand.

“Are you a fellow railway modeller?” Mr Plonkton asked with great enthusiasm.

“Oh, yes,” was the reply, adding modestly, “I do a bit now and again.”

“Are you a member of a club?”

“No, I’m not.” I’ve been too busy building my own layout these last few years.”

“Is it complete?”

“Pretty well.”

“So what are you going to do as your next big project?”

“I haven’t decided. There might not be one for some time.”

“What about joining Plonkton Model Railway Society, then?”

“If I were to join, what club project had you in mind for me to get involved with?”

“Oh, no particular project.”

“So why should I join?”

“Well, you can tell your friends that you’re a member. Membership brings a certain cachet, you know. We’re recognised as one of the leading clubs in the country.”

“So you want to take my not insubstantial subscription to fund club projects, but then deny me the chance to contribute to the progress of those projects? That’s not joining a club. That’s merely becoming a supporter.” Mr Plonkton was taken aback by this analysis.

“I’ve no idea as to your interests, knowledge or skills,” Mr Plonkton told the erstwhile recruit. “You won’t be invited to join a construction or operating team until you have proved yourself. But you can visit our club rooms and use the library. And you receive the bi-monthly magazine. It’s very good, you know. Full of useful tips and information.”

Now the chap was an exhibitor at that very show. He was taking a few minutes off from presenting his own layout to have a quick look round. Mr Plonkton had not spotted his Exhibitor Badge dangling from his belt, so he had no idea of the fellow’s status at the event, let alone his name or layout.

“Isn’t my layout up to your exacting standards?” he asked. “Haven’t you seen my articles and photographs in the Journal of Elite Railway Modelling? They all carry my mug-shot.”

“I don’t read that magazine,” Plonkton informed him with considerable distain. “We’re not elitist, you know. Anybody can join. And I’ve never seen your layout.”

“Stand twenty-four,”

the fellow commented. “Come and have a look for yourself. Give me an honest assessment of its merits and shortcomings.”

He declined the recruiter’s invitation to join the Plonkton club. Mr Plonkton could not understand why, even when later the fellow’s layout was presented with the awards for both Best in Show and the Most Popular Layout.

“It all goes to show,” our chairman observed, “that recruiting new members is not a simple as might be imagined. For some potential members, just being associated with a club is quite enough. But for others, assured involvement and participation in club activities is the main attraction.” And we agreed with that.