The Little World – The Unsalable Product Meets The Inscrutable Market…

If you are nervous about politics, ethnicity, or toy airplane kits, now would be the time to switch your computer to the next page. The rest of you can look on while I open a can of retail worms.

Nationalism, nostalgia, and narcissism are an integral part of the Little World. It is most readily seen in the model railway market – where firms who sell to a domestic market make marvelous ranges of models for their friends, relatives, and countrymen, but only pay the slightest attention to a foreign buyer. Märklin was just this in the 50’s to 70’s…they made superb models of German and European trains and dismal models of US prototypes. This was natural, and the only real puzzle was why they bothered to make a US model at all. It might have been to capture the US military market at the PX’s in Germany, for all I know…

In the die-cast car game there are many Chinese makers making models of US, European, and Asian prototypes for sale in those areas. They make Australian prototypes for Australia, and might indeed make other little ventures for other countries – provided there is sufficient money and buying pressure in those areas. This is as it should be, and my only gripe is that they do not make more 1:18th scale cars and trucks of the small domestic type. I am immune to super-cars and racing types…

But where the real interest in nationalism comes is in the die-cast aircraft market. Most of what sells to our local collectors is Western prototype. The predictable Spitfire, Me 109, Hellcat, Zero are all seen and there will always be a sale to someone of an airliner painted in QANTAS or Virgin colours. Why, I struggle to fathom, but I suspect that most of these go to grandparents stuck for a present.

But there is also a surprising amount of what I would have called unsalable stock in the local die-cast airplane market – the cheap productions of Chinese factories of Chinese, North Korean, Soviet, and other air forces. We might all recognise what a MiG 15 looks like, but very few of us want to have 14 of them in different camouflage schemes in our collection. The F-86, perhaps, but even here the offerings are nearly always of US or German markings and really don’t ring a local bell.

I was pondering on this in the new hobby shop, looking at the multiple shelves of Chinese MiG 15 models unsold, when it occurred to me that I might have forgotten something. The two suburbs closest to the shop – Winthrop and Leeming  – have a very high Asian population…specifically a Chinese one. Could it be that these MiGs are aimed at them? Is this the future of collection? Are they collectors of toy airplanes as well as of local rental properties?

Are they nostalgic for the good old days of fighter battles high over the Yalu?

The Conspiracy

Did you read about Big Oil? And Big Coal? And Big Gas? And Big Cheesecake?

How about Vested Interests? They were the favoured bogeymen of my old uncle Jude, the Montana cattle farmer. They apparently explained anything that he did not like. When it was pointed out that he had a vested interest in his farm, he went all morose.

” They ” of course, are prime suspects in the downfall of everything. The ” They ” varies according to who is doing the complaining. Men, Russians, the CIA, mysterious swarthy immigrants…all guilty of being ” They “. ” They ” are a pretty active and resourceful set of villains, and can be called upon to take the blame in many circumstances. Hard to actually pin thunderstorms or badly fitting sink gaskets on them, but useful for nearly everything else…

Whether it is spraying innocent populations with mind-altering substances like oil from leaking jet engines or poo from the airliner tanks, or smuggling hordes of tiny assassins in Post Paks, the forces of evil can always be counted on for a good topic at a party or public bar. They get more active after the third pint. A nod is as good as a wink to a blind man and tinfoil helmets are proof against most known germs…or is that Tea-Tree oil?  Wear both just to be safe.

PS: Don’t forget the Rumenati – the secret organisation of cows that controls the world…

The Little World – When You Try To Decide

The business of decision in the Little World is a great deal more difficult than it used to be. I do not envy a beginner in the various hobbies; diecast collecting, plastic model building, miniature houses, or r/c hobbies.

What a crock… I envy them prodigiously and wish I was starting out again in half a dozen different fields. With half a dozen separate sources of hobby money, I hasten to add…

The peep at the plastic modellers show was reminiscent of what I have seen in lots of other places; literally hundreds of kits available in any division of endeavour. The days of half a dozen Airfix plastic baggies and one model of the Bismark at the local toy store plus two tins of gloss Humbrol are well surpassed. I was staggered at the number of kits of things I would be delighted to build, and equally at the number that left me cold. The limiting factor would be money and time…no other technical restriction seems to exist.

The scale problem always exists, of course, and is nowhere more painfully evident than on the display tables for general modelling societies. There are wonderful models of all scales jumbled cheek to jowl and they all suffer from it – you can’t really appreciate any one thing unless you see it it concert with others that match it in scale and period. This is not what the exhibitors want, or can achieve, so it is no good me grousing about it. I noted that a society dedicated to a particular scale like the 1/72 ship modellers or to one era like the WWI airplane people do have a much better chance of a coherent show.

But the choices seem to be far more than I as a child would have been able to cope with. I had Airfix, Revell, Monogram, Hawk, and AMT to choose from – now there have to be a couple of dozen major makers to add to that and who knows how many specialist, garage, or wildcat makers. Of course some of them have priced themselves past what a child or sensible adult could ever afford to purchase…but then there are any number of foolish adults ( bless them ) wandering the aisles of the hobby show and some of them are seriously cashed-up. They are the golden hope that buoys the retailers and wholesalers and makes it possible for the lesser fish to have food as well.

How DO you decide what to do? I’ll explore the mindset of this in a future post…in the meantime grab whichever kit is nearest to you on the counter, pay for it, go home, and start cutting into the tips of your fingers.

The Bat Out Of Hell

Every so often I have come into contact with the DeHavilland Vampire and it has always been a memorable experience – this last model exhibition was no exception.

While the bulk of the model expo was chiefly plastic modelling, there was a useful admixture of the R/C scale boats, one tramway layout, and this Vampire. I was amazed when I moved to the tail of it to discover it was a flying model.

It’s real, and a model of a real aircraft. And nearly everything about it is OTT fabulous – from the working suspension on the wheel struts to the turbojet engine buried deep within, to the detail of the pilot. Everywhere I looked the sheer size of it astounded.

The level of detail incorporated was also impressive, though you could tell it was carefully chosen not to make the plane too delicate for flight. I can only imagine that a flying day is carefully selected and the transport, setting-up, fuelling, and flight planning are undertaken with as much care as would be given to the 1:1 jet.

It would be the darling of a RAAF station if it were flown there and I’ll bet you would have to keep the big wigs as well as the tarmac crew back from it with barriers.

This is only the 4th Vampire I have ever seen. The 3rd was a museum piece in the eastern states preserved in a hangar, the 2nd a sad relic propped up on Albany Highway as a soft-drink advertisement.

The 1st was apparently the most impressive, though I have blanked it from my memory. I was being taken round the fairgrounds of the Calgary Stampede in 1951 on the shoulders of my father when a flight of RCAF Vampires came in and made a low pass over the crowd. My folks always told me that the noise was so terrific that I went into hysterics and had to be taken home. And yet years later I survived a Bay City Rollers concert…

The Little World Week – That That That

When you are showing people your little world you should listen carefully for the use of the word ” that “. It lets you know how the venture is going.

a. ” That ” in the singular is fine. ” That is a model of a Spitfire. ” said at a plastic model expo is perfectly fine, unless it is a model of a Thunderbolt. The person using the singular ” that ” may be explaining the display to his child. This is a good thing – young people need to know about Spitfires, Thunderbolts, and plastic models in general. You have engaged the attention of the masses to a certain extent. Let us hope they continue to take an interest. If Pappa explains the difference between Spitfires and Hurricanes and Typhoons to the youngster and the kid asks for all three kits, we are on a winner!

b. ” That…That ” in frosty tones is not so so good. If it is said by an imperious club committee member as they point to your model, you can take it that there is something they don’t like. Not that you are obliged to do anything about it, mind. Just chill and see where the whole thing is going. You can always bite them if they keep on pointing.

c. ” That…That…That…” on the other hand, is a sign that you have succeeded. If it is accompanied by a squeal and a little dance you know you may have become a legend. It means that the viewer has seen your model and it has stirred up some memory or recognition on their deepest level. They cannot even articulate why they like it, but they do. Now is the time to sidle up to them and suggest they buy it for $ 500. If they press their wallet on you, grasp it and run.

Ya never know yer luck in a big model exhibition…

The Little World Week – Part Two – Kits Is A Not A Four-Letter Word

Did you know you could once get an Airfix Spitfire or Messerschmitt 109 for 50¢ Canadian?

They might have been accurate models or not, but the undeniable fact was that they were a small plastic bag full of wonder, and at the price of 5 Fry’s chocolate bars foregone, you could have a fortnight’s plastic modelling.

The first few days were given over to unbagging, checking for parts, cutting off from the sprues, bandaging the fingers, and trying to hide the fact that you had cut yourself again.

Then came two more days of sanding the edges of the parts or dragging the Exacto knife across them to reduce the flash. Plus new bandages for the fresh cuts.

Then the trial fitting. And the gluing of the fuselages and wing halves. Then the puttying of the gaps and sanding next day. Some kits would never fit, no matter what one did ( I’m looking at you, Revell, and you know exactly where you can stick your Consolidated Tradewind flying boat kit…) and you were either going to have to develop real scratch-building skills or just accept the compromises.

All the while there was painting to be done. These were pre-airbrush days for nearly everyone and as far as kids were concerned, pre-aerosol can days as well. Indeed until 1961, pre-matte paint days. Brushes, Revell , Pactra, Testors, or Humbrol paints, and a bottle of turpentine for cleaning. Humbrol was slow drying but good coverage, Revell set fast but stunk peculiarly ( I should not like to know what was in it…). There was little colour mixing – it was just out of the tins.

The final assembly was always exciting because then the real external paint job started. It was best it reserve it until Saturday after chores were done as it meant you were not going to be pulled away by parental imperative half-way in the job. Afternoons were spent in a turpentine haze trying to chase out bubbles.

The final stage was always the decals. No Micro-sol or set in those days – just the dish of warm water and onto the wings and fuselage – and if the surfaces had rivets or panel lines that was just too bad. The best we could do was get the lettering on straight and even, and the odd silvered edge was just ignored.

And your allowance was transformed into a real airplane before your eyes. I am sorry in a way that we moved so much in those days and that eventually all the finished models were given away by my Mother to the Christmas toy drives* – I should dearly love to see how badly I did them then. They would have all the more charm as souvenirs now.

*I still have dreams where I am selecting a model to build…including ones I never owned at all. Most peculiar.

The Little World Week – Part One – The Costs Of Modelling

As a child I haunted hobby shops and dime stores in Canada and the US all the time – indeed, as many US drug stores expanded their stocks in the 1950’s, they were also a fertile hunting ground for the boy modelling enthusiast.

The primary targets were plastic model kits of various sorts, though eventually interests were expanded to include balsa-wood flying models and model railroads. There were always more models and accessories available than I could afford, and choosing what to get was a combination of agony and ecstasy, but always a balance of finance and value for money.

The Canadian shops were higher-priced, and the thing that caused most anguish was the fact that the American prices were printed in code on the ends of the boxes – and they were 1/3 to 1/2 less than the Canadian prices. Of course, on a trip below the border, you could go slightly mad with Christmas or birthday money and then build kits for months. But you couldn’t get the Airfix kits that you could get in Canada.

Now that I am grown up, and have even more time to haunt hobby shops, I am afflicted with the adult’s curse – I remember what the prices used to be. I also have that selective memory that thinks model kits were much better then…

Fortunately, I am also honest enough to admit that they really weren’t, and that modern production far outstrips the products of the 50’s…and that we can get far more and far better stuff…if we are willing to pay for it. But I still quail at some of the price tags.

Never mind – in Part Two I’ll go into the actual numbers.