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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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.

142. The Micro-exhibition - April 2018

Posted on March 31, 2018 at 3:05 PM

Last week Jim told us about a minor show he’d recently visited. We’d seen notices in the magazines for this show for a number of years, but none of us had actually attended one. Jim told us that at times the place was packed solid, which aroused our interest. Had we been missing a good show for all those years?

“When I got there I found the exhibition was in the ground floor rooms of a house that was the headquarters of a charity,” Jim told us. “For the weekend of the exhibition, office equipment had been piled up or taken outside, and just four layouts and a trader crammed in.”

“Four layouts!” Paul exclaimed. “That hardly constitutes an exhibition.”

“I’ve nothing against small shows,” Jim continued, “but you could describe this one a micro-exhibition. ‘Layouts in N, H0, 00 and 0’ is what their publicity announced. And that’s exactly what there was - just one small layout in each scale. So the publicity certainly wasn’t inaccurate, even if it was a tad misleading.

“The thing was,” Jim went on, "most of the time they were really short of visitors."

“But you said it was packed,” Jane teased him.

“Ah, yes,” Jim responded. “I was told by one of the guest exhibitors that there had been about a couple of dozen on the Saturday. By the time I left on the Sunday, there had been five, and that includes me. In each room it was a case of first in last out, all movements carried out in single file. But that only happened when there was a surge in admissions. That is, when there were more than three visitors packed in at any one time.

“During one of the many lulls, one of the operators alleviated his boredom by going out for a walk around the area. He told me he’d particularly looked for posters and direction signs. He went into the local newsagents. There were notices for a slimming club, Guides, yoga classes and a craft fair, but nothing about the exhibition being held just round the corner. He enquired why not. They told him nobody had asked them to put up a poster.

“As for catering. Jim went on, “a hot dog van had been invited. It stood on the street outside, blocking sight of the posters in the front bay windows.”

“If a casual visitor happened to come across the exhibition, would he be impressed?” Graham asked. “On the basis of that event, would he want to go to any other model railway show? Was this show actually doing a disservice to the hobby?”

“One couple had come some distance to attend, as had one of the exhibitors,” Jim told us. “They were all very polite, but I could tell that they considered it to have been a waste of time and petrol. During conversation, another exhibitor quietly advised me not to come again, never mind accept an invitation bring a layout.”

“Would it be correct to say that visitors got individual attention?” our chairman asked, trying to find a positive. Jim agreed he was. Indeed, Jim had been invited to take the controls of three of the layouts. That was the only reason he had stayed for the whole morning.

“Would the number of dissatisfied customers affect potential attendances at other shows in the area?” our chairman asked. We decided it probably wouldn’t.

141. Food for Thought - March 2018

Posted on February 28, 2018 at 4:20 PM

A few of us went as visitors to a show in Merle. We’d not been there very long when an argument broke out between a steward and the operators of one of the layouts. Shortly afterwards, the team packed up their layout and left, obviously disgruntled about something.

Later we found out that the refreshment people had told the organiser that even though it was still mid-morning they were running short of food. He had decided to reduce the meal ticket allocation to every layout. This triggered the early departure of that one team. It was undesirable but understandable. Other teams thought of following their example.

Over lunch-time, some layouts shut down completely as their operators went out into the village to find sustenance. Some were away for over an hour, with hastily created ‘Gone to Lunch’ signs put up, while others covered their layout with dustsheets. The paying public thought this was a poor do.

“It’s a charity event,” the organiser explained. “We can’t be giving free meals to everybody.”

“But you didn’t tell us in advance,” the exhibitors told him most forcefully. “Your questionnaire specifically asked for the number of operators and if they’d any special dietary requirements. That implies that we’d all be fed. If that wasn’t going to be the case, then surely you should have warned us in plenty of time?”

“You can always buy something to eat from the refreshment room,” he responded with great insensitivity. “There’s still a few things left.” That really upset the visiting exhibitors.

“We appreciate that you have a problem with judging the amount of food you require, and you wish to minimise costs, but arbitrarily withholding meal tickets is unfair,” one of the exhibitors told the organiser. “Some of us have done charity events where we were told quite clearly in the initial invitation that we’d have to provide our own lunches. And as charity shows, we accepted that. But we knew before we set out and came prepared.” However, the organiser couldn’t see he’d done anything that should upset his invited guest exhibitors.

This brought to mind the catering problem at other shows we’d attended in one capacity or another. At one, meal vouchers were given out, but the number distributed was not passed on to those serving the meals. They kept selling food to all and sundry. Exhibitors turning up after 12-30 were told there was only a limited range of food still available and they should have come earlier to make sure of a full meal. The servers seemed to have no idea about how operating teams stagger their mealtimes so as to keep layouts running.

And then there was a show where every exhibitor was given a voucher worth a generous seven pounds to use at the venue’s own catering facilities. Hot savouries were served in the restaurant, with nothing costing more than five pounds, while sandwiches and hot sweets were available in a snack bar on another floor. The problem was that no change was given for a £7 voucher, or the remaining credit of £2 indicated in any way. The venue was making a clear profit of at least £2 on every first course they served. We hoped the organisers realised they were being ripped off.

An army marches on its stomach,” our chairman commented. “Making sure you troops know when they are next being fed is important for maintaining morale. And if they’re not being fed, then they must be told that well in advance. Doesn’t the same apply to the volunteers who operate the layouts? And we all agreed they did. We also agreed we’ll politely decline any further invitation we might get from Merle.

140. Now Top That - February 2018

Posted on February 1, 2018 at 10:10 AM

While at the Plonkton show, we heard of two of their members who were both competent craftsmen and excellent modellers. They brought their latest creation to each monthly meeting. There was great rivalry between them – a case of now-top-that. Each was striving to outdo the other in terms of difficulty of subject, accuracy of representation, and quality of finish. But above all, they were competing on the ingenuity of design.

It seems that early on there had been carriages and wagons with all doors opening. Then came locos with cosmetic motion visible between the frames, quickly followed by locos with full moving motion. Shortly afterwards there was a mechanism that moved the reversing crank before the loco set off in the opposite direction. This was topped by a loco that could be made to spin its wheels as if it had lost its footing on wet or greasy rails, with full accompaniment of rapid chuffs, closing of the regulator, blowing sand and then the regulator gently opening again.

And then there was the BSK, with a guard that, on digital command, opened his door, stepped onto the platform, looked along the train, waved his flag, then went back inside and closed his door as the train pulled out of the station. Now that’s something you don’t see at every exhibition you attend.

This was countered by an old-style 0-6-0 tender loco with an open cab. On the footplate, the fireman would ply his shovel between coal-plate and the fire-box. But he wasn’t toiling all the time. You had to wait to see it. And if you listened carefully, you could hear the scrape of the coal on the shovel and the clank as the fire-box door opened and closed.

But neither of the pair ever built layouts. They didn’t exhibit at shows, or ever enter competitions. They weren’t concerned what the other club members thought of their work. They weren’t even bothered if nobody else saw it.

As soon as one arrived he’d rapidly scan the room. Was his rival present? What had he brought this time? Where’d he put it? Then he’d quietly put his latest masterpiece where the other might spot it. Later each would examine the other’s model, whispering admiring comments, while desperately seeking out the smallest imperfection, the merest deviation from dimensional exactitude, highlighting the minutest blemish, questioning the slightest hesitation in free-movement. This intense but private rivalry had become an obsession that consumed most of the pair’s free time, yet in all other respects they remained the best of friends.

Gradually, the other members of the club realised what was happening. They, too, began to anticipate the arrival of the latest master-work and marvel at what was presented. However, some members were put off by this succession of ever-rising levels of excellence. They felt as though their own commendable and worthy efforts were of no value.

“It is always a problem,” Fred said. “There’s a conflict between, on the one hand, encouraging people to take up our hobby and then go on to raise their levels of skill, while on the other hand, celebrating excellence and holding it up to others as an aspirational goal.”

“There are some people who are perfectly happy producing mediocre models,” our chairman observed. “But if it brings them happiness and fulfilment, who are we to condemn them? What concerns me is those who are dissatisfied with their poor models and get frustrated that they aren’t improving.” We agreed that was an issue we really ought to address.