The Little World – It’s Only A Hobby – Part One

I remember a comedy record that Lou Jacobi made in which he said that he had a hobby of catching honey bees in a jar. Another character asked him if he put air holes and honey in the jar, and he said ” No “. When they remonstrated with him that this would cause the bees to die he said ” So what? It’s only a hobby…”.

SO WRONG on so many levels – both in humanity and in hobby-manity. But you still laughed at the deadpan delivery…

Leaving aside the comedy and the poor bees, the idea that something is ONLY a hobby is one of the most corrosive ones that you can hold. If you approach anything upon that basis, you are doing yourself and whatever you attempt a vast disservice.

I am not generally an advocate for passion. People who profess it generally do so to press their opinions upon you – opinions that might not pass the scrutiny of logic, practicality, or morality. Passion becomes at once an engine and a vehicle for anything. I like engines and vehicles, sure, but not when they are made to bear down upon me.

I cannot do the cold logic of the Vulcans, nor even the measured stuff of classical philosophy. I refuse to go into the marginal footlings of Talmudic logic…it seems to be something of a hairy fraud. But I can see some things clearly, and one of them is the need for a good reason for nearly everything.

I say a good reason – not a bad one. The bad ones come close to that passion thing, or to Lou’s callous hobby. A good reason in the Little World can be many-fold:

a. Because it is beautiful. Lots of dollhouse and teddy bear and doll hobbyists draw strongly on this. The things they do are intrinsically beautiful and everyone who sees them is rewarded. Lucky hobbyists – to make something that does this much good.

b. Because it is unusual. And if you did not do it, no-one would ever know about it. Who knows what stimulation your model of a Hungarian tractor might give to someone’s memory or curiosity.

c. Because we need to remember it. If there was a historical occurence, item, idea, or person, you can frequently record them in miniature in such a way that people do not forget it.

d. Because we need to understand it. A prime example of this for me was to see a set of models made in the Museum Of Science in London in the 1990’s. They were cut-aways of steam engines and boilers done with colour highlighting for water, steam, and air passages. It was the first time in 48 years that I had ever really grasped the idea of water tube and firetube boilers or of automatic fireboxes. Never forgot it and I’ve been grateful to whoever  made those models.

In all of these instances there may be some passion…and a great deal of dedication. They might be hobbies, but the best of them are never ” Only a hobby”.

 

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How Old Do You Have To Be To Legally Purchase Nostalgia?

This good question was supplied by a friend over dinner. The venue was a retro pub that had been burned out and restored to the appearance of a burned-out pub. I found myself getting nostalgic for it and hoped that it would re-ignite.

As a child, we rarely have a sense of former times – all things happen in the present. Indeed, we are sometimes so impatient for new things to happen that we discard the present almost as soon as it arrives. Either way – nostalgia or impatience, we cannot really be said to dwell in much contentment.

Well, if we are lucky, time marches on for us. We get to the point where we have something to remember and the interval gives it a sort of hazy mental glow. It becomes better than it was – even if it was actually awful at the time. We edit our thoughts so that there is a good side to the former situation and then we home in on that. It is the kindliest self-deception we can practise.

Of course it also goes the other way – We’ve all seen that Monty Python sketch of the old clubmen bemoaning the modern times and trying to compete with how bleak their childhoods were. The idea was pinched from an Israeli book published a few years earlier than the sketch, mind, but it was still funny. And you can find this sort of thing done for real in any pub front bar. The older we get the tougher we had it.

I wonder if anyone ever really assesses their past and comes out with a neutral view of it? A view that would pass the scrutiny of a common magistrate’s court. It might be the one thing that could give them happiness now – and blessed relief for their listeners.

Ah, but there can at least be some winners – the companies that reproduce vintage items – from clothing to radios to camera outfits. Of course you have to grant them some chance to incorporate modern improvements for safety, convenience, and a higher profit margin – and there will be an inevitable bias in the advertising that accompanies it.

The people who remember the real times may wince a bit when they see the copy version. But some small scrap of the past will have been carried on.

They Went Datto Way

A few year’s back I attended a pin-up car show day at the Ascot racecourse here in Perth. The pin-up girls were intriguing and the retro stalls obviously had their devotees…I resisted the temptation to take home a number of items. But the best part for me was the unusual line of cars that attended.

You’ve seen some of them before in this column – the shoebox Ford sedan and the two-tone Jaguar saloon come to mind. The three-toned Valiant Safari with the hessian door liners was a highpoint for me – but I also got a thrill from this Datsun 240 GL. I suspect it is mid-70’s…not old enough to be antique but still with the design characteristics of another era.

I can’t say if the interior is a cleaner and leaner one than today’s designs, but it looks more spacious  to me. Less wrap-around light show about it. Dear old cassette tape deck and a AM radio – it was all we needed in the day and I suspect it is all we need now…but don’t try to argue that one out with the Bluetooth boys. Those of you who have never seen car seats before may wish to pay special attention to these – they are styled to make anything you wear look good.

Likewise the vinyl top. I hope that it stays in good condition – some vinyls were prone to leakage and rusting underneath or cracking under harsh Western Australian conditions – the grey looks good with the green bodywork.

Notice the painted wheels – there was a period of time there between the hubcap era and the alloy spoke era that saw a transition with small centre caps . They could look lonely inside a big wheel and the really cheap ones made of black plastic were a real stylistic turn-off.

On final thing to observe – the side spear is actually useful for defending the doors – unlike many modern sedans that have heavy moulding on the side contours but leave the panels open to every careless parker in a shopping centre. Full marks to this Datsun for just enough to do the job.

 

The Little World – Dux

Dux is a strange word here in Australia. People who are the highest – scoring students at their schools are known as the Dux of the class. Older women are also called Ducks – it is a term of easy affection.

But the Dux I remember was an entirely different thing – it was the Christmas of 1959 when I encountered the Dux construction set. I had no idea at the time how unusual it was in the world of toys.

You’ll all know Meccano from the UK and some of you will know the A.C. Gilbert Erector sets from the USA. Dux was from Germany, and I am now convinced that it was East Germany rather than the Bundesrepublik. A very unusual thing for 1959 as it was the height of the Cold War.

Still, the DDR needed foreign currency, and the department store in Canada that stocked the Dux set might have gotten them in for the Christmas trade at a very cheap price. The set was my prized present for the year, and it came in quite a large red cardboard organiser box. There were steel girders, connector plates, plastic sheets, L brackets, T brackets, wheels, axles, rubber tyres, and a wonderful fully articulated clamshell bucket. It had the look of Meccano to some extent but the girders were stiffened with a steel lip at one edge that meant they could support themselves better. The fastenings were good-quality plated nuts and bolts but there were some very odd little grommets that enabled steel shafts to turn in the girders.

There was an instruction book but even I could tell at that stage that the writer of it was not an English-speaker. I have since learned to recognise the Teutonic technical style as the Metz electronic flash company used it in all their customer communications. It was at once the most painful and frustration document you could read – the photos and diagrams hinted at wonders that the text could not support.

Well, when you’re 11 you don’t need an engineering degree to invent things, and I spent years using that Dux set to do just that. Cars, trucks, cranes, etc…though I never did succeed in getting that clamshell bucket to work properly – it was a fine piece but you needed to rig up pullys and blocks as well as the steel work to make an overhead loader of it.  It was always going to be the next project.

Well, I am ready for it now, but all trace of the Dux construction sets seems to have vanished – perhaps they evaporated with the DDR. I’ve tried eBay with no success and even the basic Google search for illustrations produces very little – certainly not the thing I remember. It might be too much to hope that an entire set has survived, but I would settle for the clamshell bucket.

There is an overhead coal loader in me that is itching to get out.

The Little World – Just Leave the Milk And Cookies On The Table

When I am finished playing I will eat them. I may be some time – I’m currently in 1959. And if I can find the sort of things I need on the internet, I may not leave for years.

You see, 1959 was the year that I got the Schuco wind-up Ferrari racing car. It cost $ 10 at Uncle John’s Hobby Shop on 7th Avenue in Calgary, Alberta and the $ 10 represented the entirety of my birthday money. I cannot say why the pressed-tin car appealed to me – but I knew that it was a must-have.

Normally that $ 10 would have meant at least three plastic models and some paint from Don’s Hobbies – about a block away from Uncle John’s. It was my central model shop – every other place was judged in relationship to Dons. I’m delighted to be able to report that it still exists – some 60 years later. Changed, moved, but still Don’s.

Well, I took the Schuco home, ran it around every flat place I could find, and carefully kept it safe and sound for decades after that. I knew that there were other Schuco wind-up models as I encountered them occasionally in hotel gift shops, but I never had any money to buy any more.

The Ferrari came down to Australia with me, and for some reason I cannot remember, it was eventually traded for some die-cast ship models. I put it out of my mind…until I went to Nürnberg in Germany in 1995 and visited the largest hobby shop in that toy city. There was a whole cabinet of Schuco tin toys for sale – modern reproductions by the company of their classic models. I saw the red Ferrari, and any thought of other purchases went out the window – At a vastly inflated EEC modern-day price I was the owner of my birthday car again. It has pride of place in the model cabinet…and as you can see, has been the favoured prop of a favoured live model – Jane Hebiton.

And yes, the Ferrari still goes like a rocket when you wind it and set it out to run on a flat tiled floor.

Note that I am still in 1959 for another reason; more of that in the next column.

I’d Rather Be Groucho Than Margaret

If you have never seen a movie with Groucho Marx and Margaret Dumont I recommend that you dial up ” A Night At The Opera” and ” A Day At The Races ” and watch Groucho bounce jokes off poor Margaret’s hide all the way through.

You might feel sorry for her or think she gets what she deserves – as she always played the dignified straight lady to Groucho’s scoundrel – but movie histories tell us that she was doing it as a consummate stage actress and skilled professional. Her job – straight feed and timekeeper for the audience’s laughs – is one of the tough ones in comedy. The fact that she did it while enduring the Marx brothers is a tribute to her courage and steadiness.

You’d be surprised how many people in real life have to do the same thing – and many have the even tougher job of maintaining their cool in the face of meanness – not just stage comedy. I saw it many times in my retail shop time and sometimes even had to practice it myself.

I do not mind the high and I do not mind the mighty, but when they combine these two features along with a show of morality my liver starts to curl at the edges…followed, if I am not careful, by my lip. Fortunately most of this behaviour is occasioned by financial consideration – people use it as a ploy to lower prices – and an employee that is subject to it can finally take refuge behind the facts of business – you can’t sell things for nothing.

I’m rather ashamed to say that I occasionally Groucho’d a few people. If I could see that they were doing  a Margaret and playing at being pillars of society I would allow the conversation to run a little way past the end of the tram lines – perfectly seriously, of course – and occasionally they would follow me along until they were lost in the weeds. I could always find my way back by excusing myself to go fetch the manager. I’ll bet the manager dreaded my knock on the door.

Sometimes I even did the Groucho walk when I went off to fetch him. Never had the nerve for the greasepaint moustache or the cigar, however.

 

Raising Your Sights And Aiming Lower

” Low-Brow” is such a wonderfully wrong term…and yet we hear it all the time in publishing, art, and entertainment. The people who use it are generally rather proud of it, and hope to make money by applying it to products, concepts, and events. Sometimes they succeed wonderfully.

The idle philosopher who contemplates it immediately realises that if there are ” Low-Brow ” things , there must be ” High-Brow ” ones as well. And presumably ” Middle-Brow “. It’s hard to say whether there are equivalencies or whether there are exclusive concepts in each division.

I’m tempted to say that there are, using the motor car as an example. And further – that there are genuine examples and fake ones – theatrical representations, if you will. And we are such weird and weak creatures that we all play along. Here are some examples:

 

a. Real low-brow. A Cadillac fallen upon hard times in a foreign land. The heart of darkness in white and rust. Let us hope for a resurrection one day.

b. Faux Low-brow. The overblown graphics of what might be popular culture.

c. Real High-Brow. The one-of-a-kind preserved exclusive car that once defined the social status of the owner…and for that matter still does.  A social strainer.

d.Faux High-Brow. Harmless – rather pretty, but susceptible to exposure and the scrutiny of judgemental people.

e. Real Middle-Brow. As average as a beige Dodge. Or in this case a beige Toyota. Honest, if plodding. A car that we might all resort to if we had to leave town surreptitiously. The modern Australian equivalent of the Nash Rambler in North America.

 

f. Faux-Middle-brow. An abandoned Musso in the airport car park. It is not healthy to run away from your troubles too much…