Sunday, 4 November 2018

If you can't take anything nice...

...then don't publish any photos.

I always try and be positive about model railway shows, and attitude that I find helps a lot.

But today I returned from a show feeling, well, disappointed. Even my wife was surprised at how little time I spent there.

It was a local show that I've always enjoyed in the past, in fact, one I think has consistently punched above its weight. But this year it did nothing for me. Unusually I was even more disappointed when I reviewed my photos. I really didn't think any of them showed a layout in a good enough light to be shared, except for one I've photographed a lot in the past, and another that to be fair I couldn't get a good shot because of people who stood in front of it chatting. That, incidentally, is my perennial complaint about this particular show. People take up a position and stay there for ages.

I suspect some layouts went down very well with a lot of the attendees, especially those featuring mainline running or lots of locos on shed. That is fine, I know they aren't to my taste but I do understand why others love those styles of layout. I'll also be honest that having looked at the list of layouts booked to attend I knew not many were my cup of tea. Not that cups of tea were easy to get at the cafe, yet again.

So what didn't I like, choice of prototype aside?

I'm going to pick out some big themes, some of which aren't always wrong, but were in the context of the layouts today.

Backscenes that were too low, had very visible joins and weren't an integral part of the scene.

This was compounded by several of the layouts having narrow baseboards. Narrow baseboards can work, but they need thought to be put in to how they are blended into the backscene and the balance between railway and scenery.

Animals and vehicles placed in ways that looked unnatural and placed without observation of the real thing. A silly example of this was a herd of cows on a steep slope that clearly were from a set designed to be used on a flat field.

Outdated scenic techniques, especially trees and grass. Last time I checked it was 2018, do you really think that glueing down acres of out of the packet scenic materials is good enough to put on public display?

Coming up to date is loco sound that doesn't sound quite right in an exhibition hall., which I recognise is a challenge.

And finally, that dreadful feeling that the out of the box models were the best thing on some layouts.

No, actually, that the saddest thing was the lack of imagination and aesthetic elements in favour of simple triggers like "Oh look an MPD layout with lots of lovely locos"

I know I never have, and never will, exhibit myself, but my point is the same show has done so much better in the past. Those three or four layouts that, in addition to the crowdpleasers, raise the standard of a show to the "must go to" level were, for me, so noticeable by their absence.


  1. The "MPD layout with lots of lovely locos" always strikes me as a way to "display" all the stuff the owner has bought rather than a serious attempt to build a layout. There are some superb examples, but most as just showing off stuff that's come straight out of the boxes. Every show in the 90s had at least one stuff with everything Lima made.

    Layout selection at a show is always a bit of a challenge. The models you want and the ones you can get are often very different lists. Built a desirable layout and you are either out every weekend and have no life, or you book up years in advance. Despite this, exhibition managers need to fill space. There is also the argument that there should be some less than perfect layouts so as to "not put off beginners". That said, it's a rare show where I don't see something interesting, but it has happened.

    Assuming this is the show I'm thinking of, perhaps some lower visitor numbers would help the crowds I've heard about.

    1. Which show would that be? ;-)

      One of the MPD layouts was excellent in its own way, but for me did not quite gel. The locos were incredible.

      In previous years the mixture of layouts covered a broad spectrum, I felt that was missing this year. I would say, and perhaps should have said in the blog, that there were no really dreadful layouts. But there was no Pempoul or St Merryn either.

      On the Sunday crowds were about the same as usual, and many of the layouts were clearly popular with people spending a long time in front of them. But it wasn't unbearable.

      There is a third, small, hall at the venue and that could have made a difference had it been hired. The catch is when the ME show used it I think it was often overlooked by visitors.

  2. The more memorable layouts at exhibitions do (in my opinion) one of two things.

    1. Take an unusual subject and do it to a high standard: layouts like Pempoul, 'Boot', Horselunges, and Tregarrick do that. There's nothing innovative about their presentation but the prototype is unusual and the modelling excellent.

    2. Take a more familiar subject but do something innovative with it: Crumley and Little Wickhill is a standout here. Fictional NG lines in OO9 are common and a lot of the modelling is average, but the unusual vantage point forced on the viewer and the sheer depth of the scene makes it unlike anything else. Another contender is Richard Chown's Courcelle Part which shows that a tiny fraction of the prototype can still make an interesting model railway. I also recall a (colliery?) railway modelled in OO where the colliery portion projected several feet into the audience and could be viewed from all sides. And while it's hardly a layout, Steve Cook's Dungeness Siding is the most evocative model I've seen.

    All the above were memorable because they did something new or modelled something rarely seen.

    1. Tregarrick felt innovative in presentation at the time, but I take your point. As well as novelty there are those layouts that are inspiring because they make you realise what might be within your reach with some effort. For me Ruyton road is an example of that, but it will vary from perosn to person.

      Re-reading what I wrote yesterday I think my overall thought is that so many of the layouts felt just that little bit dated in both concept and execution or lacked visual flair.

  3. Having googled Ruyton Road I was struck by its similarity to Courcelle Part in that it models a small fraction of a whole.

    I also agree that a model which is achievable in terms of size and complexity can be very inspiring. Steve Cook's Dungeness Siding is in that category.

  4. Hello, I also attended the exhibition and I felt similar sentiments that you expressed but it was a show which did seem to entertain and it seemed that most attending were having a good look round. I think part of the problem now is that with so many model railway magazines, the internet, YouTube , etc we are perhaps suffering from over exposure where despite quality layouts on show we are looking for something that bit more special and to be honest there are only a few who can pull that off. I come from that era when as a music mad teenager the only time you got to see the stars was once a week on Top of the Pops and it was a special 40 minutes. Now music is available on demand and to be honest it does not have the same feeling to be able to see whatever groups you want at the click of a button. Some of the best shows I have been to have been small ones were my expectations were minimal but there was an almost pub type welcome and ambiance with people just enjoying looking at what someone had produced and having a chat. Maybe we all need to reconsider what an exhibition is really for? Apologies for going on and no doubt I will have upset someone but at the same time my thanks and greatest respect to those organising and exhibiting at shows.

    1. I do agree. Many people were paying rapt attention to the layouts. And I think we've also seen the cachet some layouts attract simply from already being known via a magazine appearance. I might also have mentioned the crowds around traders selling everyday RTR items. We know we will get a different experience at more specialised shows.

      Being local I will continue to support it. If I wasn't local though I wouldn't make the effort to visit it again