John's Jottings

123. Layouts Remembered - Sept 2016

Posted on September 1, 2016 at 2:45 PM

At the Dewcliffe exhibition, there was a married couple with a highly detailed continental layout. Everywhere we looked there were little cameos. None of them had come straight out of the box, if they were ever in a box. No building was ready-to-plant, or a made-up kit. Most of the accoutrements were scratch-built or heavily modified. The numerous figures were all customised. Each had a name, a role in the scene, and a back-story.


And the couple had the historical photos, articles, plans and drawings to justify the inclusion of every component in each little incident, if not the name and the precise details of the story. They showed their archive to anybody who stopped for more than a few micro-seconds.


And if a visitor asked a question, then they described the materials and techniques that they’d used. Some were pretty standard, while others were highly original. But they didn’t keep to themselves their methods, or the tricks-of-the-trade they had discovered over the years. They were sharing them with anybody and everybody. In fact, they spent so much time talking to visitors that trains seldom ran. They really could have done with a team of dedicated operators, separate from the ‘explainers’.


However, one visitor rounded on them for simply copying various layouts. He thought it very bad form to replicate cameos, techniques and materials already utilised by others. He named the source layouts, and was able to tell them at which shows he had seen them.


He then went on to tell them about his own inventions, in the most general of terms of course, without actually giving anything away. He kept the exact recipes secret. It was his belief that this was the only way for true craftsmen to demonstrate their accumulated knowledge, well-practiced skill, and undoubted ingenuity. It would ensure that lesser modellers were quickly identified for what they were – unimaginative and incompetent copycats.


Now it came as quite a surprise to the critic when he learned that the exhibiting couple had been to all of the shows that he’d listed. Indeed, they’d being exhibiting the very layouts he’d cited as their source material.


And then the penny dropped. They’d built all of the layouts he had named, so it was not surprising that there were similarities. All credit to the critic for detecting the ‘family traits’ amongst the layouts, and for remembering where he’d previously seen them. He’d obviously an eye for detail and remarkable visual recall.


“Why couldn’t he remember the operators’ faces?” Felicity asked. We didn’t know. It wasn’t as if the proscenium was blocking the sight line between operators and visitors.


“Perhaps the little scenes were so life-like and enthralling he hadn’t noticed the real humans,” Graham suggested.


“May be he hadn’t previously engaged the operators in conversation,” was Paul’s explanation.


“Some folk are terrible at remembering faces,” Jane volunteered. “Their recollections of other sensory inputs are perfectly normal.


“I wonder,” our chairman said. “How many totally original layouts the fellow has actually built and exhibited?” We guessed they could be counted without the use of a single finger or thumb. But we all agreed, we’d probably never know.


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