The Little World – The Layout Vs The Play Set

Dedicated readers to The Little World segments of this column are generally pretty sympathetic people. They are model builders, painters, or collectors themselves and are tolerant of the interests of others. But tolerance, like the little tubs of tartare sauce they give out at the fish and chip shop, only goes so far. You usually run out of sauce before you run out of snapper.

I am not suggesting that Little World citizens are going to throw other people’s hobbies out the window entirely – at least not if they are wise – but there may be a certain amount of sniffing and pooh-poohing. And a tendency to see the cracks in the paint jobs rather than celebrating glorious workmanship.

Some of it can be rivalry – some jealousy. Some of it can be meanness, and some of it can be ignorance. None of it is necessary – The Little World is large enough to hold everybody.

A prime example of this is the play set. The Marx Toys tinplate Fort Apache with the moulded plastic cavalry and indians, plus a few cardboard pine trees and a corral fence. Or Cape Canaveral with the horrible out-of-scale rockets and the plastic buildings. Plus the spring-loaded launcher that was surprisingly powerful. I have the scars to prove that.

These play sets were the meat and drink for kids in the 50’s – the big item under a Christmas tree and the main focus of a play session when your friends came over. You were lucky if you knew kids with these sets and a basement to play in when winter snowed you all in. A rec room and a tabletop were all you needed to enter the Little World, and you only had to come back out of it when supper was called.

But there were detractors – and most of them were kids who had the next step up in the toy structure – an electric train. If the train set had a siding, and some structures, it trumped the play set. And it was very rare that the kids realised that you could combine both aspects to make an even bigger Little World. We wouldn’t have worried about scale or appearance, and the perennial problem of figuring out which pieces belonged to whom at the end of the day would have been easier to solve.

Fortunately, in the grown-up Little World, all this can be rectified. We can own the basement or studio, the tabletop ( and it can be a good big one too ) and the trains, planes, cars, figurines, and buildings and we don’t even have to pick up all the toys when supper-time comes. We can leave them out to play with another day. Adult Little Worlders are generally more attuned to scale equivalencies and actual distances than their childhood counterparts, but even so, when a good compromise presents itself, they can invent an excuse for it.

Let’s play…

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The Little World – Thick And Sticky

I have revisited my childhood and I’m thinking that things has changed down the ol’ hobby shop.

As a kid in Canada I had access to basically four brands of model paint – Revell at first, then Humbrol, Testors, and Pactra. Enamels all, with different characteristics and markedly different vehicles.

The smell of the paints was a clue to which they were – you could tell a puddle of Pactra from a similar amount of Humbrol with your nose. Revell was lousy paint but it had a particular odour – probably sourced from Love Canal. Just as well I graduated to Humbrol early.

But earlier in the year I tried Humbrol 22 – gloss white enamel from the familiar little tin. I was flabbergasted at the thickness of it. Admittedly it was a cold day here in Perth, but it was a cold in Calgary too and the paint was never like this. Fortunately I was not going to brush it on – it was destined for airbrush use and I had purchased a bottle of the recommended Humbrol thinner for it.

Thinning is a sometimes art – more akin to alchemy than science. I use a souvenir teaspoon as the basic measure of quantity and dilution, and am getting pretty good at estimating the amount of paint needed for any particular job. This is a doddle with the acrylics as they flow so readily. But this Humbrol needed two scoops and three dollops before it even approached the consistency of milk. It did go through the gun successfully and it did coat the job, but I made sure that I flooded out the mechanism with about 5000 gallons of mineral turps afterwards to clean the nozzle.

I was undecided about whether I wanted to move back to enamels or not. Next coat on the job was a matt brown – I still used Humbrol and see if it was any better. I was not prepared to reject a useful tool that others seem to employ based on just one experience. If it allowed for multi-layer effects that were less prone to dissolution than acrylic, I decided to continue to pursue it. I still had that much affection for dear old Humbrol and I had always thought their tins the cutest thing in the world.

Addendum: Next day analysis showed that the sprayed 22 Humbrol had done as well as could be expected – given that it was covering a dark plastic with no undercoat. The test wasn’t as fair as it might have been, and should not be taken as gospel. I thinned the tin mix slightly and used a brush to re-coat the job, and it came out splendidly. I was wary of touching it for a week, however, as this was not good drying weather.

I’ll suspend judgement now that warm weather has returned – time will come to try another colour or consistency.

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 – Finishing The Job Properly

I have been making plastic, wood, metal, and paper models for the last 60 years. Many of them were made in my first 17 years of life, and all bar one have disappeared. The survivor tells me how crude some of the products were back then.

But, crude or otherwise, the models of my youth were wonderful things. The center point of my life in some years, as the rest of it was spent in grey, drab boredom.  I think back to them fondly. But there is a touch of concern in the nostalgia; did I do the best job  that could have been done at the time?

The kind answer is…probably yes…given my level of skill and the materials available to me at the time…but my grown-up self wants perfection in its memories, and wants to go back and re-do the things that were badly done or half-finished.

eBay can help me in this, provided I am willing to buy old kits for 100 X  what they cost when they were new. It would have to be a pretty deep psychological wound that needed healing to pay some of the prices on eBay.

Fortunately some of the manufacturers have re-issued old kits…or redone them. And some have never been taken from the inventory. It may be possible to buy the airplane that was never built during 1962 and start in where I left off.

I am going to try. I won’t go to the nostalgic excesses that some do, but I would like to see what I might have done all those years ago. If the result is a mess, I will know that I was wise to chuck the kit back then, too.

The Little World – The Wonderful Can Of Beans

A bit of a digression in today’s LW…I attended my monthly collector’s meeting yesterday, and while I did not get a monthly newsletter, at least I got to see some rather wonderful tin toys.

They hold a monthly competition based upon a theme, and I guess this must have fitted the bill. The theme, by the way, was the letter M…perhaps these are M of metal.

In any case they are the cheeriest set of racers in the hall. You can make a fuss about scale modelling or not, but these toys would have been the delight of the young when they were new and have remained to delight to old now that the world has become more sophisticated.

I grew up in the 50’s and Japanese and Chinese tin toys were commonplace in the dime stores. They were somewhat despised by us kids as we got older for their simplicity and garish colours, but we didn’t know art when we saw it. Now they are regularly traded and reproduced as cultural objects and I can count several cars, locomotives, and robots in my collection. Nothing as good as these, though.

The forms were simple – I suspect the racers were formed in a press over a wooden master buck and in some cases the pressing wrinkles are still visible. The sheets of tinplate would have been lithographed before the forming process, of course and they are a tribute to their artists. I think they might have loved their design brief as well, because they have certainly not hesitated to use every colour in the poster paint box.

It does raise a question about whether they would have as much appeal if they were printed up as contemporary Jaguars, Ferraris, Astons, etc. The heading image seems to indicate that they might be just as good in a closer to real configuration.

And I should be fascinated to see modern Australian stock racing cars in their complex paint jobs done in tin style. I wonder if there is still the artistry and machinery available?

Trash And Treasure Is Never Treasure

We have all gone to the Trash And Treasure, flea market, retro market, bring and buy, parish jumble sale, or weekend market in our time. Some of us have picked up bargains – the rest have picked up garbage. The really fortunate ones have picked up a bacterial infection and vowed never to do it again.

It is a basic feature of human psychology – that desire for a good buy. If it can be a swingeing bargain or a criminal rort, so much the better. But it does lead us down some dark passageways of the soul:

a. We seek for these El Dorados of dreck in the worst places. Council car parks on Sunday morning when we otherwise we could be asleep in bed or awake in the arms of a lover. It is the unwashed bottom of the top of the morning – either cold and wet or hot and distressing, and we’re out there looking for bargain clothespegs? Sheesh…

b. We deal with people we would avoid under any other circumstances. To a man, or woman, they have the look of wolves fattened on babies. None of them love us, and we do not love them, and the emotions are entirely justified from either side.

c. We do not need what we seek. We do not seek what we need. It is all greed or grot.

d. Just as Quentin Crisp eventually had to admit that there was no great dark man, we must eventually admit that there is no great dark treasure to be found. We can’t even find Quentin Crisp.

e. We do need the money in our pocket that we think we do not need. Just today a letter arrived from the water supply racket telling me that the state government will remove a subsidy they used to give to old people to help them pay for water. The money will presumably be given to mining magnates or their bankers. I now need to save my money for water. I would like to make water on the state government…

f. The things discarded by others were discarded for a good reason. They are ugly, broken, useless, poisonous, sad, or superfluous. What they are for others they will be for us, but doubly so because we spend real money on them. And if we want to resell them we will have to return to the garbage sale and become the persons we bought it from to get even a pittance back. Do we really want to exchange our souls for that?

g. We can live without it. We lived without it until we arose this morning, and we can make it through to the evening without it.

h. No-one looks cool at a junk market. Sellers, buyers, pickpockets, etc…All have a patina of naff on them, that they could have avoided assuming by staying home and doing something useful.

Well, that should make Sunday morning a lot more fun. See you at the markets?