Travels in Time and Space
(December 2006)

The modelling club with the erotosymbolic name, the Bayonet Club, held its annual competition and swap and sell early in November Previously Wayne and I had gone to Werribee for the day but this time Wayne hit upon the brilliant idea of making a club event of it. He again hired Priscilla, the little red van with the big attitude but, as it turned out, half of those who had raised their hands at the previous meeting were unable to go so, on the day, there were only four of us to rattle around inside Pricilla.

Priscilla’s first stop was in front of my house.  Then we drove up the road to Mark’s very nicely presented home.  We commented on the location and he told us he lives in a ‘desirable’ even ‘highly sought after’ area of Ballarat.  This somehow brought up the topic of the volunteer group Mark is involved in.  Under the leadership of Father Frank they clean out and repair houses that have been trashed and filled with rubble by tenants with unsavoury habits.  As we were driving to Zim’s place Mark told us about some of the houses Father Frank’s team had worked on.  There was one house so full of junk that the first challenge was to clear enough from around the door so it was possible to get in to clean the rest.  Another house Father Frank and the team had restored had been occupied by drug dealers.  In one room wires had been put up for drying grass, other rooms had the left over debris of drug making and elsewhere the dart playing inhabitants had kept the scored directly on the walls.  By the time we pulled up at Zim’s country residence Wayne and I were imagining in vivid detail the kinds of terrible places Father Frank and. his team save.  Why am I telling you this … ?

In piled Zim and we hurtled on our way down the freeway towards the metropolis.  A moment’s head counting showed that Priscilla’s human cargo comprised three PhDs and a trained and experienced driver.  Fortunately the driver was in control of the vehicle.  Given that the three PhDs had probably spent more time in university bars than most MoBsters have hot breakfasts, you’d expect some kind of erudite conversation involving the exposition of polysyllabic words in multi-layered subtly nuance discourse.  What we actually talked about was bad Science Fiction movies.  As usual, the winner was the renowned Plan 9 From Outer Space.  I thought I’d seen this masterpiece but it turns out I’d mistaken it for the almost equally infamous Robot Monster which, we decided, came second on the list of shame.  Zim also has a favourite called Sharon of Mars – at least that’s how I heard the title, which he will happily copy for you if you give him a blank tape.  His general idea is, I gather, that after you’ve viewed this movie you will be carted off to the nut house, and he will kindly look after your kit collection while you’re in lengthy but ultimately futile therapy.

What has all this to do with modelling?  Nothing.  Which is why we were on the road to Werribee.  By the time we arrived at the hall there was already a fair collection of modeller’s vehicles around, but Wayne slipped Priscilla into a tiny parking spot with the casual east of a doctor slipping on a latex glove.  Already the place was humming with vendors set up to sell their treasures and models being put down on the competition tables in the middle of the hall. This was a significant improvement on the previous year’s arrangement that put the models at one end of the hall and the vendors at the other.  It meant you could take a break from hunting for something special or being overcome with nostalgia over the old kits for sale by studying the magnificent metal finish on that Yak Firebar on the table right behind you.  There were quite a few very old Frog kits including a lovely and ancient Frog DH-110 for only $20.  You may be surprised to learn that I didn’t buy it, but only because I remember how dreadful I thought it was, even in the early 1960s.

There were, however, other attractions not so easily passed up; a couple of cheap Heller F-8Es, another cheap Matchbox BAC Lightning and a few other bits and pieces.  Mr NKR was there again with piles of temptingly cheap obscure kits.  Under the table he had a box of other kits, more expensive but even more desirable.  I picked out a Junkers Ju87 A and a Supermarine Walrus but they cost more than J had expected so I could only have one. I made a serious mistake in taking the Ju87A.  I thought it demonstrated that the Germans made ungainly (the word ugly is no longer to be used) aeroplanes too, but I forgot I have a nice set of French decals for a Walrus kit. Que! dommage.

After a couple of hours in this heady environment we decided it was time to move on. Zim moved into the navigators seat with his street directory and, after hurtling around endless roundabouts we got to the freeway and then, via more roundabouts, we pulled up outside Snowy Mountain Hobbies.  It was busy.  It seemed that all the modellers who had gone to the event down the road had also decided to call into Snowys on the way back.  We looked around for a while but only Mark came away with something, a little plastic bag containing some of the secret inner bits of large scale German aircraft.

There was a hamburger shop just across the way which did somewhat better on the service side than our experience earlier in the year.  While we were munching away a woman came out of the shop and sat down on the bench next to Wayne.  She didn’t quite say, ‘Hello sailor,’ but that’s what the look on Wayne’s face suggested.  Sadly, for this little story at least, nothing of interest followed.

Next stop was home to Ballart.  Priscilla was somewhat quieter on the way home, apart from Zim’s running commentary on the capabilities of other drivers.  Mark looked at a book that had pictures of the secret innards of German aircraft and I had a little snooze.  First stop was Zirn’s wonderland.  He invited us in to see the sights.  Here was a car that seemed to be lacking an engine, there was an engine displaying many of its secret hidden parts and there were a few other mechanical items of interest in the large garage.  Then Zim led us into the house.  When Mark got to the portal he looked in and remarked, in his typical understated way, ‘Oh, this is like the houses we fix for Father Frank.’

Zim, who had not heard about Father Frank before, looked bemused.  Poor Wayne and I, who had built up mental images of houses in chaos, dissolved into fits of uncontrollable laughter and our senses of the ridiculous almost overcame our ability to breathe.  Collapsing onto the floor and wriggling around in desperate attempts to breathe seemed immanent.  Just as well we had a medical practitioner on hand.  He might have been able to save us or he could have opened us up to look inside to see what had done us in.  I wonder if he would have confessed his guilt at the inquest.

After a few minutes Wayne and I regained our composure, after a fashion.  But it didn’t take much to set us off into further bouts of uncontrollable laughter.  Zim looked bemused and Mark seemed satisfied with his handiwork.  I add, as a disclaimer, that Zim’s place is not really the kind of place Mark had told us about, it’s just that Zim has more important things to do than be tidy and, not sharing his house with a person of the female persuasion, he is not forced or shamed into it. To many this would be an ideal lifestyle.

Eventually we were able to regain enough composure to continue on our journey in Priscilla.  Wayne and I were still teetering on the brink of uncontrollable laughter, a delicate state that Mark prodded occasionally to keep us on the boil.  We were a little better after we dropped him off but we were still barely under control by the time we got to my place.  As I went around to the back of Prascilla to unload my new kits Wayne was still cackling away inside.  And as he drove off I could still hear the laughter, and Priscilla was not driving in what might be called a straight line.  I hope he got home safely.

The MoB goes on a Plastic Pub Cawl
(October 2006)

‘Hello everyone,’ I start in a trembling voice, ‘My name is Leigh and I’m a plastic addict.’ I look around the circle of supportive faces and recognize some of them.  Wasn’t one of them the proprietor  of a modelling magazine?  I’ve seen the one sitting next to him in Hearn’s and the one further around looks suspiciously like Mr NKR.  Sitting next to him is Wayne and next to him is Dr Z.            I continue my story, telling them of my first Airlix kit at the age of nine, my first tube of Britfix glue, the Monogram Ford Trimotor I got for Christmas and that little Airfix Sheridan that got me hooked again after three years on the wagon.  Everyone looks interested and encouraging.  I can see them nodding at some of the things I say, it seems we’ve been down the same path.

And then things start to go wrong.  I glance to my left and notice that somebody has a small Hasegawa kit on his lap, and he is taking the lid off.  I look away, this can’t be happening.  I look back again and it’s still there.  He’s taken out the instruction sheet and starts to read it.  The person next to him picks up the decal sheet, I can see the blood red hinomarus in perfect register and it reminds me of that Fujimi Val l’ve been trying not to think about making.  I feel that little rush of excitement, but it’s a sensation I’m trying to free myself from.

l try to go on, about the magnificent Airfix HMS Ark Royal I’d been given for Christmas when I was 12, but I can’t compete.  l look at Dr Z and he has a kit of an obscure Gennan tank in his hands.  From somewhere Wayne has produced another T-34 model and is applying some rust, very well too, while somebody else is reading an issue of Fine Scale Modeller and Mr NKR is taking orders on his mobile phone.  I try to continue, but now everyone is holding out kits of obscure French aircraft, the ones no sane manufacturer would make, holding them out for me and laughing … laughing …

The alarm wakes me.  In a few seconds the intensity of the dream diminishes, but I’m still sweating.  I have to think, why has the alarm gone off?  Why do I have to be up so early?  Then I remember, it’s the day of the MoB’s descent on the modelling Mecca that is Melbourne.

There is Wayne with the little red van in the Bi-Lo car park and gradually the troops arrive. At 8.30 sharp everyone we expect is there so we pile in and head for the freeway.  Wayne is behind the wheel and Dr Z, equipped with an intimate knowledge of Melbourne’s road system, is in the front seat to navigate.  During the day I notice that this seems to be a dialectic process, shattered by the occasional precise command and some helpful comments from the back of the van.  ‘No! Not here you dolt! The next turn off if you please’.

To begin with the van was full of bright and witty comment.  We stopped to pick up Tim, casting that shadow of doubt in his mind that he may never see his car again in one piece.  However, by the time we reached the outskirts of the city the humour had descended almost to ‘potty’ stage.  As we cruised through the industrial belt separating the rest of the world from Snowy Mountain Hobbies Steve regaled us with stories of green slime and hideous, pungent goo at chemical plants.  Fortunately we soon arrived.

Snowy’s is a pleasant shop with a fairly good range of new and used (pre-loved seems a more accurate term under the circumstances) kits so there was plenty to look at.  I found my way to the folders of decals and, just as I was getting warmed up, Dr Z informed us that there was a schedule and it was time to get moving.  Still, I cane away with a few gaps in my collection filled.

For the next hour or so we saw more than enough of the Ring Road as we moved on to Willy Wong’s – the shop has a real name, if you can remember it.  A van full of half-wits (there, I promised to use the phrase) watched in something approaching awe as Wayne urged the little red van up the road.  When we arrived in Reservoir he found a parking spot not more than ten minutes walk from the shop, and only then by whipping the van into a small spot designed for a mini.  My heart stopped, I swear it, and several other MoBsters looked fearfully white.  But we trusted Wayne, we had no choice.

Hobby HQ, I’ve remembered the name now, is a huge hall filled with a cornucopia of kits, enough to keep modellers entranced for a day or so.  But we couldn’t stay forever.  Again I found a few kits to round out my collection, including the Revell 1/144 Airbus A.380 that l’ve laid down, waiting for it to enter service and decent decals sheets to be produced.

From there we found our way to Heidelberg and some shops where we had lunch, to use the tenn loosely. The highlights of the stop were the Tardis toilets, perfectly designed for inserting the latest product of the golden triangle into your veins, in complete comfort and privacy, all that was missing was the Canned Heat canned music.  The service in the hamburger shop was unique, those who were there know what I mean. We fulfilled the old biblical prophesy; ‘The first shall be last and the last shall be first’.  There was also a strange woman trying to sell chocolate, that also challenged the imagination

Next on the itinerary, and taking us past the world famous ‘Hung Long Video’ shop, was another model shop.  After a while, they all start to look the same, only what’s on the shelves changes.  Wayne hurtled the little red van into a car park – another call on the jumper-leads to get my heart going again – and we wandered around to the next shop. And it was here that I found true Love.

Usually I pay no attentibn to the made up kits on display but there, on display in all its virginal white with British Airways markings, was the huge Airfix 1/72 Concorde.  My heart missed a beat. I looked away, but when I looked back this vision of loveliness was still there.  I turned away to look at the kits on the shelves, quite a good selection, but the vision of the Concorde was seared onto the my retinas and I could not forget it.  1 had seen the kit around in other shops but ignored it because I didn’t need another big model in my collection.  But seeing it there, made up and magnificent, the temptation was hard to resist.

I stood, entranced and wavering, such a beautiful thing, but so costly and so big.  And then Dr P came up and whispered in my ear, some motivational stuff he had probably picked up at a seminar.  I barely heard the details of his advice, but I realised that he was telling me that it was alright to buy it.  I should have called on another of those biblical quotes, ‘Get thou behind me Satan’, but I was too enraptured to resist, I could posses this vision of beauty for mere money. So I went and picked up the Heller version of the kit and handed over my money.  The kit in its box is frighteningly large and I shuddered with the enormity of what I had done, and what I would have to go through to make it.

The rest of the day, frankly, was a fog of which I remember very little.  I wandered around the new shop at Boronia picking up a couple more kits on my shopping list, and wandered back to the little red van, hardly aware of putting one foot in front of the other.

We turned our back on the Dandenongs and hurtled back towards Melbourne, eventually finding a freeway and dashing through a tunnel, back along the ring road and then the freeway to Ballarat.  Sadly, Tim’s car was untouched when we got back to it, even though it had been sitting by the side of the road all day.  We lined up in front of the road sign for the traditional group photo and I saw, to my shame, that my pile was the biggest.

The lesson from the day?  Don’t take an alcoholic on a pub crawl unless you expect him to get drunk.  That aside, bring it on again next year.

A Modeller’s Life
(March 2006)

Plonk ‘An Artist’s Life’ into Google and you will find all kinds of fanciful things.  This little contribution is something along those lines.

If MoBsters are anything to go by, modellers are a quite folk who prefer to take their excitement in rare in small doses.  After Modeller X’s somewhat exciting outburst at the February meeting the attendance at our most recent meeting was, to put it obliquely, not what it might have been.  Many MoBsters of long standing were noticeable by their absence and there was plenty of vacant space at the table.  However, it was also one of the most enjoyable meetings we have had in several years.

I think I can explain this curious turn of events by harking back to another moment of excitement in the history of our little club, well before most MoBsters came to join our monthly meetings.  Five or six years back some of us turned up to a meeting to be greeted by a note left by some office bearers – curiously, Modeller X was one – informing us that they would not be darkening our doorstep again.  It was a turning point for the MoB; we could either wander off into the darkness, bowed and beaten, or we could regard the setback as a positive opportunity and make the MoB a great modelling club.  We deliberately decided to set sail for a great and glorious future.  Unperturbed, we talked about what we could do and how we would so it, and by pulling together that is what we achieved.

Our March meeting was a lot like that.  There were more of us than there had been last time, and we were less consciously treating the meeting as a new start, but that is how it felt.  There was a great sense of comradeship and the formal part of the meeting went on for a lot longer than usual because, with President Zim’s prodding, we laid out some new plans and directions for the future.  It is now only four or five days since the meeting and already I can’t wait for the next one.

However, the joy of the Saturday evening meeting was only a prelude to the pleasure of the Sunday when Zim, Wayne and I made the annual pilgrimage down to the swarming metropolis of Melbourne to take part in the Eastern Suburbs ‘Swap and Sell’.

We greeted the early morning with enthusiasm because the Eastern Suburbs mob always put on a good event, even without the barbeque.  Wayne picked me up in his Teutonic automobile and we purred our way through the quiet suburban morning out to Zim’s country residence.  I emphasize the ‘purred’ in referring the Wayne’s Teutomobile, because of what came next.

If you haven’t been out to Zim’s wonderland you’ve missed something.  It is the kind of place where 97.6 per cent of Australian males would love to live.  There is a large yard designed primarily for parking cars (no poncy gardens here), a large workshop/shed and a rather smaller house attached.  About the only thing that could improve it would be a harem out the back.

The French, if you will pardon the diversion, have a word for people who live in Zim’s happy state.  It’s ‘celibataire’.  It doesn’t take much imagination to see what that might translate to in English.  We Anglo-Saxon English speakers would put the emphasis on the first part of the word and pronounce it ‘CELIBATaire’ which gives the word a somewhat unamusing connotation.  However, the French, being the people they are, pronounce the word with a different emphasis as ‘ceLIBATARE’, which has a whole new meaning.  President Zim lived in this enviable state with a complete room given over to his collection of around 800 model tanks on display and his ‘Wall of Doom’ in the living room where everyone can see it.  When questioned, 32.8 percent of modellers said they would like to enjoy this enviable lifestyle.  That doesn’t sound lime much but researchers have since found that as many as 93.2 per cent of modellers would like to live in this state, but aren’t allowed to admit it.

But I digress.  I had hoped we would be driving down to Melbourne in Zim’s golden Jaguar so I could lounge in the back seat, looking important in some undefinable way.  But he tells me it only gets up to second gear, so it would have been a long trip.  Instead, we traveled down to Melbourne in an amazing power blue machine about the size of the USS Nimitz.  I may exaggerate a little, but it is a proven scientific fact that you can read the front page of The Age in the time it takes light to travel from the front to the back of the car.  It has a name, but while I can remember the distinguishing characteristics of most of the forty-seven derivatives of the Spitfire, there is no place in my brain that retains the names of cars for more than fifteen seconds, apart from E-type Jaguars.  Take my word for it, however, that it is an impressive example of the excessive use of metal, particularly chrome, in auto manufacturing during the 1960s.

Things got even better when Zim turned on the ignition.  It’s not quite in the Rolls Royce Griffon class, but pretty close.  Apparently there’s something wrong with the innards of the car and it takes some time for the metal to hear up and the joints expand in the exhaust system so the two – that’s right, two – mufflers start working.

And so it was that we glided down to Melbourne in this enormous conveyance.  It was, well, the best word to describe it is fun.  Add to that the running commentary of Wayne and Zim about the personal hygiene habit and breeding of many of the drivers pm the road.  To add to the surrealism of the trip, Zim seems to have an allergic reaction to vehicles with spotlights.  I learned some very novel combinations of words that common decency prevents me from reporting here.

Eventually, accompanied by much grinning on my part, we arrived at the traditional site of the Swap and Sell.  Showing a skill that nobody possessing a PhD has any right to demonstrate, Zim parked his enormous car in a space most us would have trouble getting a Mini into.

We unloaded our small stashes of kits and went inside where the joint was already humming.  Tables piled high with kits and other modelling paraphernalia; decals, books and magazines, paint and lots of spare parts and after-market bits and pieces.  Some sellers had it piled up so high you could hardly see them, others seemed to be almost professionals with elaborate displays of stuff you’ll never see in shops at the kinds of prices only your bank manager can afford.  There were also a few, like us, who didn’t have very much for sale – but what they had was choice stuff, the result of years of collecting.

The point of taking only a small amount is not really to sell it, though that is a bonus.  The point is to be there, and to be there you have to buy a table, so you might as well put something on it.  The advantage of putting a few bits and pieces on your table is that they are conversation pieces.  You can start by comparing details or decals in kit, reminiscence about when you bough a kit or find yourself in a discussion on the price of kits in shops these days.  These conversations can continue, on-and-off, for the rest of the day or continue on over a series of events.  I’ve a couple of people who still let me know how they are going with a kit I sold them years ago.

The other point of going to ‘Swap and Sells’ is to swap and sell.  The whole event is like being let loose in a magic toyshop with vastly larger variety than you will find in any shop.  I always hope to come away with less than I arrived with but this time I was foiled by a couple of modellers who were selling off parts of their collection.  There were a couple of large kits I’d never really expected to see, at steep but not impossible prices.  Another modeller was getting rid of his collection of Fleet Air Arm aircraft, including a couple of my favourtie naval aircraft in resin, and not too expensive either.  Usually I look in my pockets at the end of the day and count up to see how I’ve done financially.  This time I didn’t because I don’t want to know the answer.

The other attraction of an Eastern Suburbs event is the barbecue, and this year they maintained their high standard.  They had the barbecue going when we arrived so there was no need to wait for things to warm up.  I had a nice ‘sausage and onion’ for breakfast, and then another for morning tea.  I might have had another later on, but I’m not admitting to anything.  How many ever I might have had, when people were starting to pack up they were offering them cheaply, and then giving them away.  I was so full I had to pass on the offer.  But I’ll be ready for them next year.

And then, seemingly fifteen minutes after we has arrived, it was time to go home.  Even with my excesses (I must join Plastics Anonymous one of these days) we managed to fit everything into the car and headed for home.  It was an absolutely delightful early afternoon with a light breeze and a bright blue sky.  We cruised through the suburbs and along freeways.  The roar of the motor isolated us from the rest of the world, apart from Zim’s occasional words of encouragement to the less skilled drivers on the road – and those with spotlights on their vehicles.  I sat in the back seat and grinned a lot, I haven’t had so much fun in a car since …

Arriving back at Zim’s wonderland, Wayne and I switched back into the Teutomobile.  Suddenly it seemed rather cosy, but at least the decibel count was down below AC/DC level.

Did I have fun?  I’m still grinning!