I don't go every year, not least because I do find my fellow enthusiasts a rather unappealing crowd with their body odour, beer bellies, rucksacks, lack of social awareness and dubious fashion sense. Sorry, but that is how it is. In recent years I've also found the standard of the layouts more variable. I suspect in part though this is because the general standard of modelling has improved so much, and the model railway press do such an excellent job of showing layouts in their best possible light that itmakes it hard for them to live up to expectations.
I point this out because when captioning photos on my Flickr photostream for the show I couldn't help feeling I was being very negative. On reflection I think it was because I was subjecting the layouts to the sort of scrutiny I'm giving to my own efforts and also it makes a difference viewing a layout through the lens of a camera - you become very aware of those things that destroy the illusion of reality. Incidentally if the crowds round some of the layouts were anything to go by my view of some of the layouts wasn't shared by the majority.
So what follows is a very personal view, and isn't intended to be derogatory in any way.
Lets Do The Time Warp Again
Having mentioned how much modelling has improved in the last thirty years it is disappointing to see elements that wouldn't have looked out of place on the typical Railway of the Month from the 1960s. Topping that list has to be trees made from lichen, poor back-scenes and obvious straight line baseboard joins.
|Nice wagons, shame about the trees|
Sadly the one layout I really went to the show to see, Hospital Gates, suffered badly from both the baseboard joint issue and a back-scene that didn't integrate well with the modelled portion of the layout.
It was a real pity, because clearly a lot of thought had gone into the backscene, and it had been painted with considerable skill and thought. Overall this is a great layout but one that struggles to live up to published photographs of it.
Incidentally Bath Green Park was another layout which I felt had a mismatched style of backscene despite trying to recreate a realistic sky line.I found it quite distracting on an otherwise stunning layout,
Photos v. the Real World v. Exhibition Halls
It really is a lot easier to build a layout to be convincing to the camera in individual shots than to be convincing to the human eye taking in the whole layout from an unlimited number of angles. Two of the best continental layouts on display, the well known Veldhoveh 1935 and the new to me La Baraque addressed this by careful presentation and control of the eyeline to ensure cameos attracted the attention rather than the whole layout.
|Veldhoveh - almost like being there|
|La Baraque had a touch of the Madder Valley about it|
Both these layouts take a novel approach, Veldhoveh's is very theatrical and involves forced perspective with buildings (and trams) in dufferent scales
|That is what a model railway backscene should look like|
La Baraque is designed to be viewed in the round, and this seemed very popular. It does lead to a few odd visual problems where the backscene doesn't extend across the whole of your line of vision.
The conclusion I walked away with is that proper framing is vitally important, and too many layouts don't take it into account. Again I could be being a little unfair because framing might be more evident in the rooms they normally live in where they are observed from a more restricted space.. There is no doubt that a large exhibition hall like the NEC distorts things spatially. 4mm and even 7mm stock seems to shrink which means you don't get a feel for just how big some of the layouts on display are.
Another challenge of the exhibition hall is lighting. It is one of the reasons most of my photos from the show have been subjected to more post processing than I normally indulge in. You get a real mix of lighting sources that can distort colour not only in photos but to the eye as well. Most layouts at the show recognised the importance of lighting but in counteracting the hall lighting the effect achieved was more often than not that of a Summer's day in India rather than a typical British day. The only days I saw any sunshine this year were on my trips to India.
Because my photo blog is currently based around using a compact camera for a year I used the trusty D-Lux for all these shots. The DSLR with a decent prime would have been my camera of choice. As always photographers were out in force, and as always I found myself wondering about the type of photos people were taking and what they were intending to do with them.
Cars and Boats and Planes
The standard of boats on most layouts has improved enormously over the years, and you had to be impressed by Maid of the Loch on Balloch Pier
|The choice was cut off the mast or show another prematurely truncated back scene|
Along with the improvement with the boats has come some staggeringly good modelling of water in different states, like this scene on Coldrennick Road.
|The illusion of depth here was ruined as soon as a train was in the frame|
When it comes to road transport though there is something I don't understand. The basic quality of cars and lorries available to the 4mm scale modeller in particular is everything you could ask for, yet on layout after layout they stick out like a sore thumb. Why? Sometimes it is because the model has become a bit of a cliche, sometimes it is the finish, often even attempts to improve realism seem to have the opposite effect - especially anything involving chrome - and perhaps above anything else there is something about how they are placed on the layout. This I think can probably be divided into two elements: How they are posed to look natural, which to me means looking like they've been parked by a human driver, and secondly how they "sit" on the layout.
At the moment this is putting me off any plans to put a lorry on my layout, even though several photos I have of the Tanat Valley in the period feature them.
As for planes...well just don't, they never work.
It wasn't until I got home that it struck me that I'd hardly bothered to watch any of the layouts actually operating. I suspect that this is because operation isn't going to be a major feature of Apa, and the layouts that most caught me eye worked just as well, if not better, without a train in sight, like Bryn-y-Felin
|Just add rain|
For me perhaps another element is at play, that I can best sum up as "involvement" A couple of layouts were finely observed and exquisitely modelled but didn't grab me in any way emotionally. Hope Under Dinmore is a good example.
And the Winner is...
I want to stress again that I've emphasised the negatives because they are things I want to avoid myself, and that I'm aware my tastes might not be mainstream. I'm sure many would have gone for Liverpool Lime St, Bath Green Park or Hospital Gates. I've already said how good I thought Veldhoveh and La Baraque were.
If you go by the number of photos I took then the old charmer that is Charmouth was a clear winner.
When I go by the time I spent just looking at a layout though, then the winner is the one that made me think "Yes, that's what I'm trying to achieve" and on that criteria the prize goes to Allt-y-Graban Rd. This might be bad news because on that basis I might have to widen my gauge a little.
|Allt-y-Graban Road. Picture perfect|