Sunday, August 30, 2009


Not far from us we are privileged to enjoy a miniature railway. This is no two-bit model railway with dodgy tracks and a rickety engine. This is the real thing. That is, real models based on real engines using real coal and running on real tracks with real signals. It is one of the most extraordinary and disturbing things we've seen.

Our boy doesn't think it is at all disturbing and is utterly mesmerised by it. I've tried to take him often during the summer and he's started to really relax and enjoy it. He looks hard at the train and says, 'T, t, t' with great vigor (meaning Thomas of Tank Engine fame). And when told we are going to visit the trains he dances about saying, 'Toot, toot'. It's safe to say that he has only the utmost appreciation for this service.

It is a very serious affair. It has real tickets and a ticket master, wearing a special hat clips your ticket before you ride

The engine driver carefully drives around the track, stopping or slowing at the appropriate signal and blowing his whistle the requisite number of times as instructed by the sign.

Some of the volunteers are older, probably doing this as a hobby in their retirement. But some are not old, and appear just as enthusiastic. In fact, everyone involved in this venture is not so much enthusiastic as earnest. And I think that is what is slightly disturbing for us.

This is a terrific thing to visit. Miniature trains, based off real engines with nicknames, being cared for and cajoled into giving their all for the Cutteslowe Park Miniature Railway.
We often frequent this park, which runs intermittently throughout the summer. And really appreciate the huge amount of work and expertise that goes into continuing to make this happen. But the attention to detail is slightly disconcerting. We were there once when a moment of tension happened, with an elderly engineer protested that the 'spare carriage' had been used. The conversation went like this:

(Outraged) The spare carriage has been taken out

(Long-suffering) Yes, they needed it.

But it isn't here any longer.

Yes, they've taken it out.

But now there is no spare carriage.

That's alright. They needed it and they took it.

It's not alright. There's no spare carriage.

But they had to use it.

It's policy to always have a spare carriage.

This final statement seemed to us to invite the response: "Yes it's policy to always have a spare carriage in case one is needed and not to always have a spare carriage lying around just for the sake of always having a spare carriage." But it was an indication of just how intense the engineers are that there was no attempt to discuss the purpose of the rule. It was clear that the only thing that mattered was the details. Which, it has to be noted, is a fantastic mindset to have when building a model engine exactly to scale. The earnestness in this enterprise isn't just in the driving of the trains. It pervades all, and this means great engines, with real smoke and puff.

But as much as I admire the tenacious attention to detail and sheer skill of this - and I do think it is amazing - I am always tempted to whisper into the driver's ear, 'It's just a train'. But I don't think he'd understand and there is probably a policy to put troublemakers like me off at the next stop. So, I continue to be amazed and incredulous. JMB