What is it about men and models? I don’t mean the glamour sort; I mean model trains, model cars, model boats, model aircraft, and similar male delights of the garden shed, the converted loft, basement or garage.
In my time on this planet as a male human being, I’ve dabbled in all of these activities. I was rubbish at football and frightened of violence, so models were my badges of masculinity!
A nostalgic glow settles over the names of the companies and products that enticed us with their goods: Dinky Toys, Corgi Toys, Hornby Dublo, Triang, Airfix and Meccano. They are all names that bring a wistful, dreamy look to an old man.
When I was little, I had lots of Dinky and Corgi model cars. When each year’s new catalogue came out we would go to the toy shop on the corner of St Saviour’s Road and stare at the new models and calculate the pocket money we would need to save.
Airfix aircraft models arrived on my bed when I was ill. This alone made it worth being sick. With yesterday’s local newspaper spread out on the table I would proceed to stick my fingers together and get high on the unforgettable smell of the little tubes of glue. This was where I learned to read exploded diagrams, and, much later, the really hard core stuff of flat-pack furniture.
But there were two model systems that I obsessively coveted yet never owned. These were a Scalextric motor racing layout and a Hornby model railway. Their respective catalogues were the source of an anguished imagination that dreamed of collisions, fires and disasters. Why else would you want a chicane if it wasn’t to crash converging racing cars? Why else would you have points on your railway if it wasn’t to derail trains?
What made it worse was that my cousin had a train set, with a tunnel and a level crossing and a signal box. Oh, the unfairness of it all!
Why were model trains so interesting? We could, and did, go to the Swaine Street Bridge and watch steam locomotives shunt wagons around the sidings all day, if we wanted, so it wasn’t nostalgia. It wasn’t the noise or the smell of the smoke, either, because model trains didn’t do noises and smoke. It must have been the sheer delight of miniaturisation and constant fiddling.
In the way that some people fiddle with interior designs, changing this and adding that in the search for the perfect living space, so old men like to fiddle around in a search for the perfect machine or miniature layout.
I don’t know why this should be so. What evolutionary advantage does it bestow, this need to fiddle? Science and engineering and even medicine are grown up versions of the model railway. Colour charts and fabric swatches are grown up versions of the doll’s’ house.
Is this sexist? I hope not, and I don’t mean it to be. I just can’t think of many women with model railways or many men with a doll’s house.
Pity . . .