A New Column Has been Born!

Fans of The Little World posts here on this column will now have a dedicated channel for their miniature and scale model interests – I’ve decided to open another WordPress free site to take the Little World traffic.

Please go to:

littleworld678590491.wordpress.com

– and see if your computer, tablet, or phone view see the new site. It’s a horrendously complex address, so please bookmark it. I think that the WordPress people want me to buy a paid site theme that has a simpler name and simpler address, but I will just see if this basic opening has merit first.

This column will continue as before, and you can view all the older Little World posts on it just by dialling back into the archives. Please feel free to contact me with advice and consent. And chocolate biscuits.

The Little World – The Perils Of Perth

Perth, Western Australia is a good city to live in. We eat and drink well, sleep safe, and have about as much fun as we deserve. But it can be a frustrating place when it comes to buying certain things.

You can apparently get narcotics here and there and hamburgers everywhere. I have avoided both for years. People who regularly dose up on either of these are a nuisance.

But the real nuisance is the fact that we are at the end of the world as far as retail goods go. This is no new thing – we’ve missed out on stuff for the last 200 years. But now we have the instant reportage of the internet and we find out about it all daily. Unfortunately the local retailers and wholesalers are limited in the amount of stock they can afford to carry and there are vast classes of desirable things that we never get.

How frustrating to have this paraded and reviews, forums, and overseas travellers crowing about our loss.

For those who point out the internet trade as the answer, we can only say that you have to look carefully and sadly at the cost of shipping for whatever you want. You might be able to order some new thing from New York but if the cost of transport makes is double the purchase price, the joy is gone before it arrives. Fools run out of money faster than wise people.

For modellers there is always one golden Western Australian rule: If something is offered for sale and you both want it and can afford it…buy it. There is a very real possibility that it has come as an extra in another shipment and will never be seen again. If you wait a week, you lose it forever.

You will also need to be careful in your online dealings as there are shops who will not sell to you…preferring to deal with people who do not live at such a remove. It is sad, but you cannot force someone to take the time and trouble to post something to you if they are not used to doing it for their own countrymen. Take it as an encouragement to scratch building and the development of skill. It is no different in other remote regions.

Also take advantage of the extensive do-it-yourself shops and suppliers here. If you have  a Little World hobby that is a larger scale, there are no-end of things in a regular hardware shop that can be turned to good account. Do not be afraid to buy from furniture stores or IKEA either – I have been building structures for years from the off-cuts of IKEA wooden slat blinds.

The retro markets and collector’s warehouses that dot the outer suburbs are tempting – their advertising suggests everything you have ever desired. I cruise their stands, but find that their definition of retro and/or treasure is drawn from a different dictionary than mine. I read Webster – they read Captain Kidd.

And the toy stores? Large amounts of several items…

The Little World – So Many Chances To Get It Right

And so many times that they have gotten it wrong…

I go to visit major toy outlets several times each year. My visits are frequently when on holiday – both to increase the sense of joy and freedom of the occasion and to find the treasures that are kept away from my local stores. In the past I have been successful in some cases – not all manufacturers send their products to Western Australia, and sometimes the eastern states have goods you just never see elsewhere. But lately it would seem that the chain-store approach to toy and hobby sales has also led to a big-batch sameness in all states. And the stuff they sell to kids isn’t worth an adult buying it.

For instance, I know it is folly to visit Toys R Us looking for decent die-cast models. There will be a few Hot Wheel types and the occasional bargain Maisto but they will be the sort of zoomie model a 7-year-old wants. I understand that they are selling to that market so I can’t ask for too much sophistication. Where I am critical, however, is in the fact that there is a paucity of many other normal toys that could be turned to good use in a collection. An example:

As a child I remember playsets of figurines that came in all sorts of styles. Plastic, mostly, with a few lead soldiers, they were sold by chain stores, dime stores, department stores, and specialty toy stores – much as they are now. But they were sets of REAL figures – real workers, cowboys, soldiers, etc. and could be painted, modified, and set up in more serious modelling dioramas. Nowadays you cannot find these – the figure market has been over-run with transformers, monsters, aliens, and animadversions of everything from trains to trilobytes. I cannot say whether they thrill the tinies but they leave the collector cold.

Likewise the building sets. Apart from the ubiquitous Lego, there are few of the useful building sets left. Brickwork is nursery blocks if anything and mechanical building sets are so specialised as to leave no extra parts for individual thought. You build what the box says you build, and at the price that you pay, you cannot afford to argue.

Well, hope springs eternal, and I’ll be on holiday ( a holiday piled on retirement is an odd concept…) soon and I’ll do the rounds of the stores in Sydney. With a bit of luck the latest container ship from Hong Kong will have disgorged fresh supplies and I can bring home plastic road signs, sea containers, and fences. It would be too much to hope for a brick building set, but you never know what the knock-off factories will have found amongst the old moulds.

Addendum: back form holiday. Exactly as said, but with the interesting news that Hobbyco in Sydney have a complete line of silicone moulding and resin casting kits at a reasonable price. I have a pair of them coming over and will try some detailed part production.

 

The Little World – A Skewed Point Of View

Modellers or modelers? I find both words in general use to describe people who cut themselves with craft knives and bleed all over the workbench.

Whichever it should be, the individuals who construct the Little World are not as other people – they have a unique set of traits and behaviours that set them apart from the rest of the citizens. Consider:

a. No modeller can pass by a commercial model of anything without stopping and looking at it. They may build toy trains or racing cars or figures of Napoleonic hussars, but they will still stop and look at an architect’s model of a new toilet block. There will be the inevitable mental note: ” I could have done that much better…”.

b. No modeller can pass a hobby shop without a visit that costs money. It might be only a packet of blades or it might be an entire R/C helicopter, but money must change hands. And it always goes over the counter towards the till.

c. When two modellers meet they ask how the hobby is going before enquiring about family matters.

d. No modeller has clean hands. Whether they are covered in glue, paint, or blood depends upon the state of the build and the age of the hobby knife blade.

e. Modellers have spares. They may be in boxes, bins, or wardrobes, but there is a ready supply of arcane parts somewhere in the vicinity. In most cases there will be two fewer parts than are needed, requiring another purchase. Whatever it is will be in packets of either 5, 14, or 300.

f. No true modeller will admit to doing a bad paint job or glue job. Oh, they’ll do ’em all right – they just won’t admit to it.

g. Modellers will purchase a $300 kit just to use up the remains of a $13 tin of red spray paint ” so it doesn’t get wasted…”.

h. Hobby shop owners can smell modellers from 200 metres. Sharks are limited to blood at 50 metres.

i. Modellers can excuse the purchase of anything.

j. Modellers are their own worst critics and their own most implacable enemies when the project is not going well. They lose all sense of proportion and all motivation over a glue joint that will not take. Entire models have been dashed to the floor and trampled when a part will not fit.

k. Modellers get greedy. Every one of them has tried to cut too deeply into the carving…or loaded too much paint onto an otherwise perfect surface…or held the soldering iron onto the joint just that fraction to long. The Little World has sure and swift punishment for this greed in the form of gouges, runs, and warps.

l. Modellers love gift certificates and they don’t even have to be for hobby shops. They can happily get value in a hardware store or a haberdashery.

m. Modellers love to show off their projects in any stage of completion.

n. Modellers save their coffee stirring sticks. Also corks, thread spools, used .30-06 cartridge cases, swizzle sticks, and broken slide projectors. In fact there isn’t anything a modeller will not save, apart from money.

o. Modellers know the subtleties between different blacks, different greys, and different reds to a degree that would baffle an art expert. They might not be able to tell the difference between champagne and lighter fluid by taste but they know exactly how both liquids behave when soaked onto enamel paint.

The Little World – The So-Called Hobby

Some years ago a person who wanted to appear smarty at a party sneeringly asked me how my so-called hobbies were going. I smiled and left it at that – not willing to engage in an unwanted argument. As a matter of fact they were going fine then and have gotten better since.

I was reminded of the unpleasant questioner this week when I visited the West Australian plastic modellers annual show. Oh, he wasn’t there, of course. Plastic modelling would be too tame for him. Too plebian. Too much fun. In his place was the biggest crowd of so-called hobbyists that I have seen in the exhibition hall – and I have seen any number of different shows for different purposes there. The so-called hobby seems to have called quite a few…so…

So they weren’t just mooching along with nothing to do and nowhere to go, either. This was no mall crowd or idlers in a pub. This was hundreds of dedicated craftsmen, artists, and connoisseurs who were making a show to dazzle themselves. There was a cheerful roar to the place and business deals being done left, right, and centre. Plastic models are not cheap things to start with and by the time the dedicated builders have started to modify them there is serious money being spent.

And being spent by all ages. The canard about the hobby dying out in favour of video games was put to bed by the number of kids in attendance. Dad’s discretionary wallet was being stretched to the limit in some cases, but it would be hard to imagine a better buy than skill and concentration for your children.

The other thing I loved was the fact that age had no upper barrier for this group of people. One of the highlights of the show for me was to see a rendition of Perth’s long-lost electric trams and their base by a chap who remembered them well…and he in his eighties. That’s one view of it at the top of the column. The layout is so good that it has been purchased by a transport museum.

I am immensely encouraged by this all, and will look forward to a die-cast collectors show at the same venue in a month’s time. I get to have a table and show off a couple of my dioramas. They won’t have the skill of a lot of the work I saw this last weekend, but who knows what interesting people I will get to meet.

The Little World – A Bust Up

Okay, Okay, was late at night and I’d been to the plastic model exhibition and that was a terrible pun. Hey, if it wasn’t for puns Stephen Pastis would be drawing croc panels…

Back to the expo. I always go to see the figure models first because I know they are so far away from what I do that I cannot feel jealous – just awed. If the people who do the figure modelling and painting could be chained up in the cellar and forced to make figurines for my 1:18th scale car collection I could give up Photoshop and just shoot straight tabletops…but you’re not allowed to chain people up these days. More’s the pity.

The smiling old gent is the same chap who modelled himself last year as a RAAF member. This time it is as a 1977 recruit and man at a memorial service – the expression is a dead giveaway. I found it delightful that a person can have this much sense of humour with their modelling – I wish many others would pursue the hobby with the same light touch. That they do not was evident when listening sideways at conversations from competitors in the modelling contest. They did not quite set upon each other with fire axes but I think that this was probably due to the fact that the management of the exhibition centre remove them when modellers are coming.

The 1916 poilu and 1941 Wehrmacht soldier were well done, and as vivid as the camera depicts. The positioning of them was perfect for this shot – I didn’t touch a thing.

The Maori warrior? Well, a good modelling job, but you might do well to remember what he looks like when next someone uses the term ” noble savage “. Presumably he regains his dignity after the battle.

The Afghan girl is a figure tribute to a famous photograph. The famous photographer who took it has come under some amount of flak with controversial assertions that the image is sometimes doctored…but then that does not stop it from being an arresting image. And no-one complains when Pinchas Zukerman fiddles with things…

And my favourite – the full-length figure of ” Sailor” Malan…the South African ace pilot from the Battle of Britain. I think the depiction is accurate and the blue rim on the government-issue teacup is the ideal finishing touch.

Today I am going to go back and give someone what they deserve – I’ll tell you about it on Monday.

 

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.

Acting and Re-enacting – Part Two – How To Address The Players

dscf7420

The title of this second post would seem to draw no distinction between actors and re-enactors. There is only one real distinction between them: actors act for pay – re-enactors pay to act. It is as simple as that. When it is done well, both groups are happy.

But they both are often approached by members of the audience and engaged in conversation, and frequently the public does not know how to do this well. Here are a few tips to make the contact a pleasant one:

  1. ” Who are you supposed to be? ” is a rude form of address – It presupposes a right to demand identification. The actor so accosted may have been trained to give a set answer or may make it extempore. Beware asking this sort of thing at the end of the day because some actors are very good at the latter form of response.
  2. ” What are you supposed to be? ” is even more dangerous. ” Polite. And you? ” has sometimes been heard in reply…
  3. ” Is that a real musket, sword, helmet, dress, syphilitic sore, etc  ? ” may seem like a good way to start a conversation but really isn’t. Not if you wish to appear intelligent. The actor is utilizing costume, makeup, and prop to support a part – to create an impression. As a spectator, you too create an impression…
  4. ” I had one of those when I was in the Army “. Indeed. If the item you are pointing to is a shirt button we believe you. Of you are pointing to a Baker rifle, we do not. Conversely, if we are representing a Vietnam War-era rifleman and you are 70 years old we are prepared to believe everything. Re-enactors study the impression they present in microscopic detail. Don’t try to bullshit someone who studies bullshit scientifically.
  5. ” Are those your medals” is actually a good question. If the impression requires a Waterloo medal and it is worn on the left breast you can take it to be a costume effect. There are NO Waterloo veterans left – save those of us who have gone to Belgium at intervals to re-enact the battle. By all means ask about that, but fall in with the game and ask about them in context.

Real modern medals and medal ribbons worn correctly on the left breast are indicative of real service. If you ask about them ask carefully and with respect. There are often good stories there, but the stories may be told, not demanded. Military personnel know not to mix uniform elements or wear their real honours in an inappropriate manner.

If you see foreign medals and ribbons you must be careful what you ask. Some can be real, but in the last few years there have been instances of false colours being flown and it is as well to avoid these situations entirely. Let the service and police organisations deal with the problem.

Occasionally you’ll see medals that have been presented by private clubs and organisations worn as service medals. Generally people do not mean ill with this – indeed I have a pewter gaud pinned on me by the ” Commander ” of the Scottish Brigade at Waterloo ’95 ( pinned on in a restaurant…) that I treasure as a souvenir. I’d wear it happily at a dinner for old comrades of the trip but not at an open event.

Honours to be paid to medals? Saluting a theatrical MOH winner? Ditto to a VC or Croix de Guerre ? Leave that for the real military on real military occasions.

Wretched excess? I have no advice here. If someone wishes to re-enact a Soviet or North Korean Field Marshall with a coat and pants full of brummagem honours, it might well be seen as theatrical dedication or madness. Teat it with awe.

6.  ” What are you supposed to be doing? ” is a rude way of asking ” Please tell me what is happening here? ” You’ll get a sad answer to the first and a happy answer to the second – which would you prefer?

7.  ” I suppose you think that’s good fun…” is a statement heard rarely, but it always indicates smart-aleck aggression. The simple answer ” Yes.” is not an invitation to continue the abuse.

8.  Now to counter the impression that this is just a list of ” don’ts “, let me suggest some good approaches. Try ’em – you’ll be surprised how they open the door to good conversations and good times:

a. To the well dressed lady. ” What a marvellous gown. You look radiant”. No woman wearing a crinolined confection will take this amiss. Smile.

b. To the guard standing there at attention in the sentry box. Say nothing. Touch your hat as you pass, but leave him to his duty.

c. To the officer at his/her ease. ” Good morning. I couldn’t help noticing your uniform/troops’ appearance/ medals. Looks splendid.”. You will not be ignored nor abused.

dscf7353

d. To the driver of the veteran car/preserved tank/biplane. ” What a splendid vehicle! Can you tell me more about it? ” Beware – they can – they will – you may not get away until sundown…Fortunately most old cars have dim headlamps and you can escape in the darkness.

e. To the re-enactor 0f religion. Priest, minister, mullah, rabbi…whatever.” Bless you in your work “. If they are a Salvation Army re-enactor put a coin in the tin.

f. If there is a horse nearby. That horse is not re-enacting being a horse. That IS a horse. They kick at the back, bite at the front, and cost money in the middle. Beware – they are not required to be tolerant of fools.

g. To the organiser of the day. ” Thank you for the display. I particularly admired the ( something…). I’ve enjoyed myself. ” You will be welcomed next time.

 

 

Two Dumb And Dangerous Things I’ve Done

mel2014 791

Helluva topic, this. It is one that we can all approach, but I’ll bet many won’t – it would come too close to the bone for some, and raise too many internal questions for others.

It is a question that invites comparison. People who might shiver in recollection of a time they walked out along a rickety old railroad bridge probably don’t care to boast about it to Audey Murphy. It is also a question that invites braggadocio or shameful tears in some…the kind of a thing that makes for a difficult cocktail party. Like the topics of religion, politics, and sex, it is best left to the bedroom, temple, and parliament building.

It also is a bit of a frightener for someone who is just sitting there quietly thinking for themselves, because it sometimes reminds them how close they came to not sitting there at all…

You won’t be interested, but here’s my two. Modest enough, but I still sweat in remembrance.

a. Belgium – Waterloo 1995. First pucker moment was watching the British portion of the 42nd Highlanders load their blank cartridges. They poured about 10 pounds weight of Spanish black powder into a metal wheelbarrow and then stood around it dipping it out of the barrow with tablespoons and other metal implements. Some smoked. The Australian members of the group smiled blandly and ran for the exit. I prepared my statement for the coroner, in case it was needed.

Next day I marched with the troops in my kilt, formed up on the field with the square, watched the Dutchmen next door try to enter Heaven by foolish operation of muzzle-loading cannon. I was on the side of the square nearest to them and acutely aware of the fact. Heaven was full at the time and was not accepting Dutchmen.

Then we all played soldier. We were attacked by cavalry, and had French re-enactors march on us, and then repulsed them ( to be fair, I found them repulsive too…) and eventually marched in victory towards them as they fired at us…we trusted that they were going to fire blanks. The day ended with none of us dying or getting our arms or ankles broken, and then we retired to the town to seek food and beer. As we were eating Belgian hot dogs in the street in front of the town hall we watched the French artillery try to break the windows of the town hall with overcharges of their field pieces.

We realised that they were, in legal and clinical terms, insane…and that the assumption that we had made of safety from actual cannon balls or bullets on the theatrical field was complete folly. We had been in danger of death for hours.

And all for no purpose – it was merely a sham….

b. Every time I sit down to the computer keyboard with the determination to entertain I run the risk of telling more than I should. Worse – I have used it in the past to exact revenge upon people who I feel have done me wrong. In one case a blind barrage hit a magazine and everyone heard it go up.

It is not fair on the bulk of the readers to have to sit through this, and I must resolve not to do it. I guess for many authors there is a fine line between using personal experience as grist for the literary mill and using it for poison. I still need to define that line. Or find a good recipe for poison grist…

An Invitation To A Kicking

Greyco BD115

Having just passed safely through the crucible of being the judge at a camera club competition night – by dint of fast talking and an open path to the door –  I can relax and look upon other sorts of society meetings I attend and see if the same rules apply.

Now the medievalist’s club I belong to is certainly competitive – they beat at each other with steel swords and spears and in large groups too. But as they are reluctant to bleed they also wear steel armour and do their stabbing and hacking to a set of strict stylised rules. A few teeth have been cracked but no-one has died. And it is a club that has feasts as well as knife fights – indeed they do both things at the same time.

The toy model collector’s club members may be less likely to bite, but I think they can probably spit poison pretty well. It is all involved with the collector’s mentality – the acquisition/sell/reacquire frame of mind that sees conquest mixed with profit as a motive. They are quite different from the toy model builders – builders have keen competitive instincts too but these can be made to dissolve when they see really good things done by their club-mates. Skill is rewarded with admiration when people build. Of course they can always argue about what to make and how to make it but once done, all is well.

The military collector’s club seems pretty peaceable. Armed to the teeth and bedizened with every medal that a chest ever wore, they could fall upon each other in the car park and settle their differences like men. But they generally just do it with their price lists and websites. I secretly think they are all spies and secret agents but have had to join the old webbing and bayonet club as the mayhem season is slow.

I cannot speak for the doll house ladies. They are all smiles and cups of tea when you meet them but that might just be on the surface. Underneath they may be a seething whirlpool of passion and malice. Perhaps they assassinate each other to prevent competition. There may be blood on the tiny little settees and miniature rocking chairs. I just keep myself to the centre of the aisle at the doll house show and don’t make eye contact. I have been pricing kevlar jackets at the military show and they may be a good idea…