The Little World – Applying For A Fun Licence

” This is a free country, isn’t it? ”

Fine words, and perfectly appropriate at the polling booth or in the public bar, but hesitate before uttering them in your local hobby shop. Because the answer may turn out to be ” No “.

I’m driven to this conclusion by looking at the goods on offer in the shop. Fine models, glorious kits, magnificent engines, and more trouble than you can pack into a Gladstone bag. In many cases you may be free to purchase the fun, but you will be forbidden to have it…or at least you will need to go a’begging to someone for permission to play somewhere.

If that sounds over the top, consider that here in Perth – the most isolated capital city in the world with hundreds or thousands of kilometres between us and other cities – we need to go to one special secluded spot on the outskirts of town to fly a toy airplane. We need to go 20 kilometres to sail a toy boat, and we can go to Bunbury or buggery if we want to run a toy car.

Noise, pollution, disturbance, wildlife, public nuisance,etc. etc. Councils jealously guard their parks and schools jealously guard their ovals, and woe betide the trespasser. The drone flyers have it even worse as they are the bete noir of everybody. Doesn’t stop the hobby shops from trying to sell lots of different drones, but when it comes to clubs flying them…?

So far the toy train people can escape most of the contumely and control as their layouts are inside, and on their own property. If they take them outside they can be harassed for creating an attractive nuisance or for spoiling the council’s view of what the garden should look like.

The toy soldier, car, and doll collectors also escape most of this problem…but this is probably only because the police and council haven’t figured out an angle that can either fee or fine the collector. Have no fear…they are probably working on it. They already have a stranglehold on the militaria collectors who just want to trade old muskets.

I am not going to worry too much. I’m sure I contravene a number of regulations by collecting toy cars and taking pictures of them and a zealous enemy could put in so many council complaints as to make the hobby miserable, but collecting enemies could also be a lot of fun.

Particularly if you pin them to a board or press them between the pages of a thick book.

The Little World – The New Shop

I visited the new hobby shop this week – it has moved a couple of miles closer to my house. Probably to be closer to my bank account…

The new premises are larger and more imposing than the last ones, and the highway that they sit beside is one of the busiest in the metro area. I was a little disconcerted to find that you can only approach the car park from one direction on that highway, and that getting there will require some degree of planning, but the work will be worth it – they have a very complete line of goods that the builder needs.

And they are well-placed to serve a section of our city that has no other outlet. All the other shops are way away out in other quarters of the town – a cut lunch and water bag trip in some cases. This one is 4 miles from my door and I love it.

I took them a bottle of port wine to celebrate the opening. I daresay by the end of the first rainy Saturday, if the customers had been cranky and the computers stopped working, they cracked the bottle and drowned their sorrows.

Only one awkward thing for the workers – the cabinets full of goodies have a key lock at the bottom of the glass. Every time you ask to get an accessory out of them the staff member serving you has to get down on the floor to open it. This will tell on their clothing, backs, and knees. It was the same for the Camera Electronic store for the first 6 years of my job there – we fought with the keylocks every day. Once the new cabinets with invisible electronic locks were installed, the task was much lighter.

Too often the design of retail premises is not thought through – the goods are either left unprotected or locked up so tightly that the natural flow of sales is checked. It really is a geometric and operational jigsaw puzzle. As one of the salespeople I found that there were some items that were impossible to display and sell at the same time, and some concepts – like on-counter impulse bins – were so penny-catching as to degrade the whole sales floor. The one thing that I was able to do in my time that smartened up the mess was to institute a system of standardised signage for different divisions. We used Gill Sans for the typeface and A4 for the standardised size. It all worked well.

 

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 – Modelling Yourself A Story

The featured image is where I lived in 1959. This house still stands and is seemingly occupied by people no different from who we were. Google Earth has revealed their choice in cars and vinyl siding, and the prodigious growth of the tree out front of the place in the intervening years. The rest of the landscape – mostly volcanic rock – is unchanged. Apart from Mt St. Helens, not a lot can change in the rocks around there.

In making the model I have surprised myself. I was able to locate models of the cars that my Grandfather, Father, and Uncle owned at the time. I was able to fill the garage with the tea chests and Bekins barrels that were the common receptacles of our nomadic life. All that is needed now is a red Raleigh bicycle to complete the picture.

It has been the work of a month, and encourages me to think that I can tackle much more complex structures…if only I can think of them. As we lived many places there are lots of possibilities – but in the future I am going to be guided by the principle of modelling my own experiences rather than those of others. This is not to decry other people’s work or interests, but to tell my story rather than repeat that of others. We get enough second-hand and third-hand political, religious, and moral instruction as it is.

Or rather, we are enriched by other’s visions in art, and can be enriched by the same in modelling…but we are far better showing our own art rather than repeating that of others.

I am encouraged to think that I do not need to restrict myself to just the cars of the 50’s and 60’s…I’ve been driving since then and I’ve gotten to see some pretty exotic vehicles. It is as valid for me to stage modern car shows as it is to make models of old houses – I am still telling my own tale.

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.