I stumbled across the ebook versions of the Model Railway Men novels on Amazon and bought them for old times sake.
I loved the Model Railway Men books as a boy, I suspect anyone who loved reading and had a model railway would have done the same. They tell the story of Mark who finds a group a tiny people living their perfectly scaled lives on his model railway layout.
On rereading, I found the books a little dated, but well written and surprisingly well observed. I find I receive constant reminders of how much of the "wisdom" I’ve accumulated through the years had its seeds in the books I read as a child. These books were just such a reminder.
With the reminders came a realisation. My wife was a big fan of the Chalet School books as a child and, (just like Chaz Brenchley), she still is now. I read a couple of the Chalet School books and found them tedious: completely devoid of incident; they seemed to me nothing more than a recounting of day to day manners.
My realisation was that the Model Railway Men books would be just as tedious to an outsider, something I didn’t understand when younger. There’s a chapter in the first book where Mark is helped by Telford – the leader of the Model Railway Men – as he works out a timetable for his layout. A discussion follows featuring such details as to when to run the milk train and how many coaches the express should have. As a boy, I loved that passage in all its mundane detail. As an adult I still do, but I can now recognise that others might not.
One last point. I grew up before there were computers in households. If games consoles had been available back then I’m sure I’d have spent most of my time on one, but as they weren’t I found other ways to amuse myself.
My friends and I were train spotters in those days. Whilst that was never cool, it wasn’t as odd as it maybe appears now. We used to ride our bikes to a nearby railway bridge and write done the numbers of the engines that ran past on the London to Edinburgh route. At home, I’d design model railway layouts and work on improving my own real one. In those days, trains and SF were practically all I thought about .
And then when I was 14, I got my first computer. I lost interest in railways virtually overnight.
I stopped designing layouts, I stopped making models and scenery. The track on my layout was ripped up. I still have two suitcases in my garage full of engines, carriages and other paraphernalia, but they’ve never been opened.
There are still people who love railways, but I suspect not so many as there once were. There will be many people like me, for whom railways once half filled a need, who found something far more satisfying in programming.