More Expo Fun
(July 2017)

Everything was as it has been for many years as we set out for the annual Expo Excursion – except for the Wayne sized hole in our little group.  He would have found this year’s jaunt down to the Big Event interesting, though probably not good for his wallet.

We arrived at Sandown just about the time that the crowd of sellers was admitted to the hall and Mark and I lined up, got out hand stamped (making us feel like primary school children) and made our entrance.  Since Wayne was not there we didn’t have as much to put on our table and we entertained ourselves organizing the items I had brought by country of manufacture.  This logical organization lasted about five minutes after the hoards were unleashed.

Before that the sellers had their turn at looking over all the kits and stuff for sale.  I don’t know whether this is strictly ethical but I suppose it is inevitable.  This year I had only three kits on my ‘wanted’ list and Mark was quite happy to look for them when he went for a wander to see what was what, but he came back empty handed.  This year I had acquired some lovely PanAm decals for a Fairchild 91 and, or course, this is the year when nobody thought to bring one for me to buy – or a Fujimi 1/144 B-29 either.

The organizers of the Swap n Sell this year must have been rubbing their hands with delight because there seemed to be a very big crowd of buyers this year.  This is one of the reasons for taking a table at the event, to have somewhere to stand out of the heaving throng that fills up just about every square inch of the hall, while sellers are at least protected from the hoard by their tables and goodies stacked up thereupon.  It also proves useful for club members who don’t have to struggle through the crowd with kits clutched under their arms.

The unusual feature of this year’s swap n sell was not only the number of buyers but also that they hung around.  In previous years most of the selling is over within an hour and the rest of the time is spent chatting with people.  After most of the buyers have gone it’s possible to get out to have a good look at what is on other people’s tables and possibly pick up some bargains (no that it’s a bargain if you really don’t need it).  This year, however, the buying frenzy was still going on by 11.30 which is when we usually pack up and go downstairs to have a look at Expo.  This year, I went for a quick wander at about 20 to midday and there were still too many people around.

We started packing up a bit before midday and I was virtually grabbing kits out of people’s hands so I could pack them away.  We had arrived with two bags of kits and lest with two – the difference was that one of the bags now contained all those tank kits that Mick had picked up.  If we go to the swap n sell again next year Master Wayne will have to come as well, with a big bag of things to sell because I’m running out of the follies that I’ve bought in earlier years and no longer want to keep.

Expo was more or less the same as usual with vendors around the outside of the hall and displays in the middle.  As usual, there were enough people to make moving around a little uncomfortable.  I don’t know about the others, but I made a quick trip around the edge of the hall seeing what the vendors had, but sadly none of them had a Fairchild 91 or a Fujimi B-29, and nothing else looked tempting (I’ll have to make an appointment with my doctor to make sure I’m not coming down with something serious.

As usual, I made it a point to find the display of trophies, this time I counted over 200 of them which means, I reckon, that it would be hard not to win something.

Sadly, this is not the case.  As you might expect, the first display I went to see was the airliners.  There were a goodly number and the winners were the usual assortment of highly (and unrealistically) polished modern jets.  Completely overlooked was a truly amazing model of a Sikorsky S.40 which was not even commended.  Unlike the winners, which were assembled straight out of the box this vacform kit is almost impossible to make. The model was also fully rigged, in 1/144!  That alone deserved a huge gold medal.  But I must calm down, we already knew that judges were idiots, now we know they are blind idiots.

The other thing I enjoy looking at is the club displays.  Some clubs and groups put a lot of effort into their displays.  I also imagine that these clubs have ‘enforcers’ who force all the club members to make models to the theme for the display for the year.  The result is often very impressive, but I don’t know that I would want to be a member of those clubs.

And then it was time to head for home.  We stopped at the usual foodarama on the outskirts of the city and mulled over what we had experiences.  Despite some grumbles, it had been a good day.

Expo Again

As tradition dictates, each year in the weeks leading to the winter solstice four MoBsters must perform the act of self sacrifice in which they journey to Melbourne to take place in the ritual called Expo.  It is a quest of great mystery and awe, but they are guided on the path to knowledge by the ancient writings of an obscure Classical Greek philosopher.  This is the story of their journey in this year.

There is a strange logic behind this annual pilgrimage called ‘swap and sell’, at which almost no swapping and a lot of selling takes place.  When this group first attended this ritual it was like Aladdin’s Cave to to them, full of endless wondrous treasures.  Over time, however, they became jaded and it became ‘the same old stuff’.  They heard rumors that, before the public was admitted, the people who are selling go around picking the eyes out of what is on offer.  They cleverly thought it might be clever to join the ranks of the sellers so every year they book a table at the event, put some kits for sale on it and then wander around to see what is worth buying before the doors are opened to the public; in the spirit of ‘if you can’t beat them, join them’.

This small band travel in the commodious and obscenely comfortable car usually called ‘Statesman’ but, because this group in on the path to gender bias awareness, they call it ‘Stateperson’.  They are four ageing adventurers from various backgrounds destined for a day of enlightenment and self discovery.  Let’s call them, to protect their true identities, ‘Mark’, ‘Wayne’, ‘Leigh’ and ‘Mick’.

The driver is Mark, a medical practitioner by trade with a PhD which he gained by doing something complicated and mysterious to the insides of rats in his youth.  He now runs a pathology lab, and earns, to use his own technical description, a ‘shit load of money’.  That is why they are traveling in his car which is by far the most comfortable available to them.  (You thought that business class in Qantas was plush? You haven’t lived!)  He spends his days either arguing with hospital executives or peering into a microscope at things that are nearly dead, recently dead or capable of causing death and is therefore quite eccentric, if not mad.

Next to him sits Wayne who did exciting and dangerous things to his brain and body in his youth as a surfer and general degenerate.  He is a retired member of the Federal Police Force and these days lives with his exotic wife, let’s call here ‘Yvette’, in a farmhouse as far from the rest of humanity as is humanly possible.  He is paranoid, if not mad.

In the back seat we find Leigh who did nothing terribly dangerous to his body – but definitely did dangerous things to his brain – in his youth, and survived for many years in the public service as a result.  He did his PhD by spending years studying the rituals of now  dead people and earns ‘not a shitload of money’.  Fortunately the group is not traveling in his car.  He spends his working days reading old writing in obscure dialects and is therefore, like Mark, quite eccentric, if not mad.

Beside Leigh sits Mick, the man of mystery.  He is quietly spoken, when he speaks at all, and it is said by some that he might work for a living.  Little is known about ‘Mick’ but some say that he might be the agent of an Eastern European power sent to infiltrate our little group and report to ‘higher authorities’.  Nobody knows why anybody would want to do this, but it will do until we think of a better story.  He could, of course, be an alien from another galaxy sent to us for ‘ulterior purposes’, but we have yet to see if his blood is green.  He is probably the only sane member of the group.

For the sake of this report we need to introduce you to another character whom we will refer to as ‘Zim’.  There are many interesting things to know about Zim who is a university lecturer in Mechanical Engineering, whose idea of fun is to go to Russia to look at German tanks, and who is more than eccentric and possibly quite mad.  He was not in the car because he detests the global conspiracy that is International Plastic Modelers Society and would rather gnaw off his own testicles than be seen at Expo.  However, for the purposes of this story, all you need to know is that Zim was once a driver in the Australian Army and regards other drivers who do not drive with his military precision as wankers, idiots and total losses to society.  He doesn’t mind telling them so either, and in very colorful language which would only be better if he had been a driver in the Navy.

Introductions over, they head off down the Western Freeway towards the ‘big smoke’.  This becomes a visible reality as the Statesperson comes to the escarpment leading down to Bacchus Marsh when they see the grey cancerous smog that lies like a blanket over Melbourne.  ‘Do we really have to expose our lungs to that?’, they ask, but head bravely on.

Mark, as driver and navigator, also controls the CD player and has chosen to play his passengers a disk titled ‘The Shadows Greatest Hits’.  There are twenty-five tracks on the CD and Leigh asks if The Shadows every had that many hits.  This unkind jibe leads to a conversation in which many celebrities are exposed to their sarcastic wit.  It is great entertainment but one of those occasions when you had to be there.

This hilarity is interposed with moments of quiet repose, broken only by the ceaseless twang of Hank Marvin’s guitar and the sound of turning pages as Leigh continues his quest for self-realization through the writing of Pythagoras, a relatively well known Greek philosopher.  Mark, believing that Leigh is in need of greater self knowledge, has traditionally left on Leigh’s seat a tome titled ‘The Wit and Wisdom of Pythagoras’ (not its real title) which Leigh leafs through, reading aloud the occasional words of inspiration.

The trip passes delightfully for the first three quarters of an hour and then the mood changes as the group arrive at the outskirts of Melbourne.  Soon the road is littered with a thousand cars, many of them driven by halfwits who neither know the rules of the road or where they are going.  It quickly emerges that those in the front seats, Mark and Wayne, are no less averse to commenting on the mental capacities of other drivers than Zim is.  The only difference is in their willingness to share it aloud with the rest of the world.  Some of Mark’s comments on other drivers are quite erudite – in a twisted kind of way – and it emerges that Wayne has learned a kind of police humor different to that in the army, but just as biting.  The only one that remains in the memory later is an exasperated ‘What colour green are you waiting for?’ as they wait for the driver in front to come to his senses.  Later on Mark and Wayne give a running commentary of the activities of the driver in front of them as they wait impatiently for that unfortunate to wake up and finish whatever he is doing with or to his mobile phone.

That is just before they experience a series of high-G maneuvers in a car park that must have been designed by the memorable Charles Dodgson and Associates from which there seemed to be no escape.  How they get there is also something of a mystery, having to do with arrows painted, or not painted, in road lanes in a freeway that seem half a mile wide.  Being in the wrong lane Mark decides to resolve the problem by taking the next available road to the left and suddenly it is as though they have crashed Through the Looking Glass.  They can see where they need to go, but can’t get there.

Later, at the venue for the swap and sell, Leigh pays the table fee and asks, ‘Which table please?’.  ‘46′ he is told, and another Charles Dodgson moment occurs.  The organizers have thoughtfully put a big number in the middle of each table so sellers can find them easily.  However, by the time that our group arrives, most of the other sellers are setting up so all the numbers are covered.  There is nothing for them to do but wander around like Alice looking for vacant tables in the hope that one of them will be marked with the magic number 46.

Eventually they find the elusive table and pile all their stuff up high on it.  This becomes another Charles Dodgson moment because plastic model kits come in all shapes and sizes – and many in plastic bags – so stacking them so they won’t topple over is a challenge like trying to put Humpty Dumpty back together again.  And just when they get it done perfectly somebody comes along who wants to look at the kit right at the bottom of the pile.  (A year or two earlier Mark organized the pile of kits by the nationality of the country that the kit represented, a philosophically sound organizational principle which didn’t work out as well as one might have expected.)

Having resolved that problem, our intrepid adventurers take it in turn to go out to see what is of interest and needs buying.  Being jaded old-timers they come back largely empty handed.  Only Leigh comes back beaming.  In the past couple of weeks he’d written about the demise of the second level airlines in Australia and thought he’d like to make some models of them, but they all flew Fokker Friendships and the only kit in the scale that he likes is an old one that is now as rare as rocking horse poo.  And there, on a pile, are two of those unobtainable kits, and at a reasonable price too.  Boyohboy!

The doors are opened to the public around 10am and they flooded in.  The aisles between sellers tables are suddenly awash with swarms of eager buyers.  They are, almost universally, not a pleasant lot to look upon and many of them are deficient in an understanding of the implications of the term ‘personal hygiene’.  (People don’t refer to the event as the ‘swap and smell’ for nothing.)  It is at this point in the morning that our band of seekers after knowledge is glad to be on the other side of the table from the hoard because there is little sense of gentlemanly behavior out there as single minded buyers jostle to get a front spot looking over the piles of kits or to grab the best bargains.

Over their years of going to these events our group has noted the phases of the event.  First there is the great surge as the hoard enters and tries to find and buy the kits that buyers are looking for, hopefully at a good price.  This frantic period then develops into a more sedate period as those who have got what they want depart, leaving more space for the diminished hoard to circulate some more, looking more carefully for the rare or the inexpensive kits.  There is some haggling over prices in this stage, but the seller is still in the better position.  This then develops into the third phase where the dedicated collectors, still with money in their pockets, wander around from table to table looking for things that might interest them at a price they like.  By this stage many sellers are also keen to get rid of the kits that they have left so there is more haggling and some sellers go home with real bargains.

The second phase is usually the most interesting because people have time to stop and chat while looking over the kits.  Friendships are formed and renewed at this time over discussions of the state of the hobby, the quality of kits or reminiscences of happier past times.  Together sellers and buyers might look inside the box of a kit and chat about its quality while remembering the pleasant days of their youth spent with a hobby knife in one hand and a tube of Humbrol glue in the other.  During this phase some buyers ask if they can look at the contents of a kit, often to check to see if all the parts are still there – this is a good ploy which Leigh always fails to do, and which has resulted in him opening a box months or years later to find vital pieces missing.  This is also a time when a bad buyer can steal parts of kits while nobody is paying close attention and at some stage during the morning the transparent parts disappeared from one of Wayne’s kits, converting what had been something rare and valuable into a worthless box of plastic junk.  It puts a cloud over the rest of the day.

As the rush turns to a trickle Mark and Leigh find themselves in deep discussion about Pythagoras’s ideas on the importance of struggle in bettering onself.  They decided that this life lesson should also be applied to the making of plastic model kits and that the modern trend to perfect kits which almost make themselves is counter productive to the development of well rounded modelers who are on the path to an understanding of their true selves – most are already well rounded, but in a different way.  They extended this elevated philosophical concept to their sale pitch, informing potential buyers that although the kit they are thinking about buying is badly molded and bears little resemblance to the aircraft it is supposed to resemble, the struggle of making it will be very good for them.  Strangely, this approach does not work, and our two salespersons receive some very strange looks.  Perhaps scale modeling is not yet ready for philosophy.

After about an hour and a half of this only the stragglers are left, and there is not much left on our group’s table left to sell either.  They pack up what was left, put in the Statesperson and make their way to Expo proper, pockets bulging with the money they have gathered and ready to spend it.  The first hit on their pockets is the cost of entry which has doubled in the past few years.

Once inside they find that things are much as they had been in previous years; the sides of the vast hall are lined with people selling things and the interior is festooned with tables with scale models on them.  Mark, who has an analytic bent, counts the number of models on display and reckons there are around 720.  Leigh, who is similarly inclined, counted the number of trophies to be won and finds there are well over 100.  This seems to make the odds of taking one home very high.

Our band of adventurers seems strangely listless as they wandered the hall, looking at the models and scanning the piles of kits, modeling paraphernalia, books and decals for something to spend their money on.  All that can be said about them is that they must be old and jaded because they spend little money and gaze on the models half heartedly.  Perhaps they have just run out of energy and excitement after a long day and they are, of course, getting quite old.  Certainly there was a lot talent and patience on display on the tables, each model a little token of a great amount of time and effort spent in trying to achieve the impossibility of perfection.  ‘Imagine the thousands of man-hours of effort put into all this,’ Leigh says as he waves his arms wide, encompassing the hall.  ‘How much struggle though?’, asks Mark.  ‘Too many people,’ adds Wayne as he thinks fondly of the peace and quiet of his country estate.  Mick raises his eyebrows to add to the conversation.

Having seen, or at least glanced, on everything to be seen at Expo, the group piles back into the Statesperson and heads for home.  Out of a bag of CDs Leigh selected one of Jefferson Airplane hits to entertain them and the rest of the group, being of a similar age, agree.  Thus they drive back from whence they came.  In previous years Mark had steered the Statesperson along the freeways but this time adds variety to the drive by using the main roads.  Now that VicRoads had almost completed building fences between the freeways and the surrounding suburbs that part of the drive is very tiresome, broken only by the occasional reference from the front seat to the abilities of other drivers.  This time, however, there lots of shops and houses to look at and, as they approach the center of Melbourne, many, many high rise apartment buildings.  They agree that one of the good reasons for going to Melbourne occasionally is to remind themselves of why they live in Ballarat (or thereabouts).  This is reinforced as they watch the endless stream of cars going in the opposite direction, probably people who had escaped from Melbourne for the long weekend and are now doomed to return there.  There had been an accident just near the turn off for the Bolte Bridge and the inbound lanes is a car park way back to the other side of the Westagte Bridge.  Later, when they get to Pikes Reservoir and witness VicRoad’s latest achievement in buggering up the road system the, Melbourne bound traffic is banked up to well on the other side of Ballan.  Again, the group rejoice that they did not live in Melbourne.

The final stopping place on these traditional trips is a roadhouse that serves passable food.  The four sit at a table and munch on what they have bought.  Mark, returning to the topic of Pythagoras, asks ‘Well, what have we learned today?’  They think, long and hard.  Wayne decides to ignore the philosophical implications of the question and turns his attention back to his hamburger.  Mick raises his eyebrows again to encompass the day’s experiences.  Leigh can think of nothing that he has learned during the day to make himself a better person but he finally comes up with an answer, ’I don’t know that I’ve learned anything but I’ve had a nice day out with good friends’.

Fortified by the knowledge that they have actually learned something from the day, the value of good friends, they return to the Statesperson.  They put on a CD of John Mayall’s Blues Breakers to remind themselves of the necessity for adversity and struggle as, surrounded by great comfort and in a small modicum of smugness, they head for home.

Discombobulation at Expo
(July 2019)

Our annual expedition to Expo has become something of a tradition.  I suppose I could find out when it started if I were to go back through MoB newsletters but, as a guess I’d say it was some time in the 19th Century, it seems to be so long ago.

It always happens the same way for me.  Master Mark pulls up outside my place, I put a bag of kits that I’ve fallen out of love with into the car and climb in.  Master Mark is always the driver, Master Wayne is his navigator (or interested observer when things don’t go right), Master Mick sits behind Wayne and I fill the vacant space.  And away we go.  Mark has always picked something interesting for us to listen to, most memorably was the year we had old American radio serials including The Shadow (who knows).  Customarily Mark also provides me with a book on the life and saying of the great Greek philosopher Pythagoras because he feels I need that kind of help as I am going to Expo with the intention of buying and selling.  Thus equipped we seem to reach Sandown in a only a few minutes.

Things did not go that way this year and discombobulated me right from the start and where I stayed for the rest of the day.  Having sold off quite a lot of my unwanted stuff at our display day I didn’t have much of interest to put on our sellers table at the Expo swap n smell but, nevertheless, I had a bag to go into the car.  But when I got in there was no Master Mick who had called in sick at the last minute.  This was disturbing enough but then I discovered there was no Pythagoras to read to put me in the right frame of mind for the day.  Instead, I had to gaze out the window at the world outside.  It was wet and miserable, and even more miserable when we got to Melbourne.  ‘How do people live here happily?’, I asked myself.  The answer is, of course, that we keep Ballarat a closely guarded secret.

The trip became even more disturbing when Master Mark announced that he had devised a new route to get to Expo, more direct apparently without the optional extras of visiting unsuspecting car parks in the middle of suburbia.  And this was so.  We got off the freeway and headed up one of the suburban main roads until, without any confusion or drama, we arrived at the turn off to the Sandown racecourse.

It was raining when we got there.   Usually there is a long queue of sellers with their bags and boxes lined up across the car park, chatting and comparing their wares.  This year we all headed for a covered area upstairs and huddled in a state of semi-confusion waiting to be let into the hall.  As a result there was less of the usual convivial banter that sets the tone for the day.  Then, the biggest blow to my equilibrium, the swap n smell had been moved into a different hall – a bigger and more commodious one with plenty of space for people to walk around without the overcrowding we experienced in the previous room.

Discombobulation aa
Discombobulation b

It is a step in the right direction as far as Expo is concerned, really, but it put me right off my game.  It had been a morning devoted to confronting me with the unexpected, one or two changes can be invigorating but not a cascade of them!

This year Wayne and I put our small collection of surplus kits on our table and set off in search of new kits to fall in love with.  I had a short list of things I might be interested in and saw none of them.  I did manage to pick up another Revell A.310 for a mere $10, and a couple of other things, but overall the kits on offer seemed to be all the usual stuff that we’ve seen at swap and sells these past decade.  Either I’m a jaded old modeller or the events of the previous couple of hours had disabled my enthusiasm, I looked over pile after pile of pre-loved kits with little of the interest and excitement I’ve had in previous years.  I hope I’m not jaded, I’d like to think that the events of the day had just put me off my game.

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Discombobulation ab

Perhaps the prices that sellers are asking for their kits has something to do with it.  Master Wayne, who is a student of such things, tells me that these days many of the prices he saw were comparable with the prices of new kits.  All I know is that I was so desperate enough to buy something that I was tempted by a kit of a Citroen CV2 but when I looked at the selling price I put the kit back on the pile again.  True, I did pay about the same price for a kit of the Boeing Stratoliner that I found later on, but one was the kit of an interesting airliner, and the other wasn’t.

Eventually the hall was thrown open to the great unwashed masses and they swarmed in.  In this new, bigger hall, it took a while for them to work their way up to our far end, but eventually they made it to our area.  Boy, there was a lot of them.  It was crowded, not as thickly as in previous years but still enough that you had to barge your way through the crowd if you wanted to get anywhere.  I’m told that the reduced population density also reduced the offense caused by some modeller’s lack of experience with hygiene products, it certainly wasn’t as pungent on our side of the table as it has been on some earlier visits.

Also evident was a lack of interest in most of the stuff on our table.  Buyers would come to our table, fumble listlessly through our piles and move on.  We both sold a few things but it seemed to us that most buyers didn’t know what they wanted and were just looking for some inspiration.  I thought some of our kits were bargains and I reckon that if you can’t find inspiration in a nice resin kit of an A.310 you are having difficulties with life.  There were some people wandering around with piles of kits under their arms or in bags they had thoughtfully brought with them.  Some had wives or girlfriends with them who looked intensely uninterested in proceedings (perhaps they were there to supervise their male’s spending).

After about an hour and a half of this listlessness we packed up our stuff.  This is the first time in years that the volume of what I purchased was more than the volume of what I sold so my bag was bigger on the way out than on the way in.  Well, the Stratoliner and A.310 did come in big boxes.  (You may have noted that I had an A.310 for sale and bought another one, which is an interesting tale I might get around to one of these days.)

Discombobulation ac

Expo downstairs was pretty much as it has been every other time we’ve been there.  There are people selling stuff around the edges of the hall and models on display in the centre, some of them in the competition and some of them in club displays.  I heard later that there had been over 800 models entered in competitions and there were, as usual, over 100 trophies to be handed out, so a lot of people were to go home happy, if you like that kind of things.  I personally enjoy the club displays more than the competition models.  True, all of the work put into making models makes we wonder if we could not instead achieve world peace if we put as much effort into that project as we do into making models.  On the other hand, perhaps making models is a kind of contribution to world peace, in its own way.

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One of the club displays was on the theme of flying boats and there were some beauties, including the Amodel 1/72 Martin Mars which confirmed me in my desire to acquire one.  On the other side of the aisle was another club display which included an immense 1/72 kit of a Saro Princess (1950s flying boat airliner), partly stuck together with tape which captivated me.  Had there been a kit of it available then and there I would have whipped out my credit card.  Fortunately it was not, and I have since calmed down a little and a modicum of reason has returned.  Still, I did order a kit of the Martin Mars on the interweb and that is quite big, so I might have scratched that itch enough for the moment.

Discombobulation ad

In my wanders around Expo I said hello to a few people, Wayne and I chatted to Frank Morgan and I had a talk with Peter of Hawkeye Models who sold me some more decal sheets of Australian airliners.  Somehow, however, I felt overwhelmed by Expo, it was either too big to take in or lacking something to attract my distracted frame of mind.  So, when Wayne and Mark and I decided it was time to head back to the civilization that is Ballarat, I was happy to leave.

Another tradition of our trip has been to stop for a late lunch at a large service station and eatorama on the highway near Rockbank.  We did it again, and discovered that it had been invaded by hoards of leather lunged school children.  The noise was deafening.  ‘So, what did we think of the day?’ asked Master Mark, yelling to make himself heard.  I thought about it.  As usual I had enjoyed spending the day with good friends, but I had not felt any of the enjoyment at what we had seen or done that I had in earlier years.  ‘Discombulated’, was all I could think of to say.