What is going on in the heads of the Tiny Railway People?

I usually find railway layouts in magazines and exhibitions less of interest for the trains running up and down and more of interest for the scenery, the people and the tiny vignette details. Some model railway enthusiasts obviously have less interest or time for this aspect of their hobby.

(Above) Character sketches of Airfix OO HO Civilian figures who survived in my collection. Figure range: http://www.plasticsoldierreview.com/Review.aspx?id=366

In my 2006/7 scrapbook, on another long train journey for work (everything outside the West Country is a long journey) I scribbled and sketched down ideas about the people I saw in passing, how they were grouped or separate etc.

Hobos. Senior Citizens. Rebels. Lovers in Action (!) – Scrapbook page of tiny railway people from various magazines c. 2007/8

This was no doubt inspired by reading a railway modelling magazine with layouts and figure ranges pictured. If there are no interesting military modelling, wargames, toy soldier or history magazines that month on the station bookstall, I would sometimes choose a railway modelling one. They often had useful transferable  tips on modelling, painting and weathering techniques, terrain and scenery design articles or some interesting history stories.

I do think that the shortened categories or stereotypes of human behaviour listed in the figure ranges is quite amusing – not quite all of human behaviour is yet here. I wonder what is missing? I will post on this another time.

Looking up at real life whizzing past the hurrying window, slicing through town, countryside, back gardens etc then looking back at the magazine’s railway layout pictures, gave an interesting switching perspective. Big, small, messy, neat, detailed, empty. Real, fake. It is the scale distortion joy or joke of the old fashioned model village or tiny people artists like Slinkachu.

Thoughts of what is going on in the heads of Peco Modelscene passenger set B is almost a Creative Writing stimulus exercise?

Still available the Peco Passenger Set B

On long journeys I would read both the adverts and the articles,  taking a long, close, in-depth look at the photos, people, backdrops and details, trying to read between the lines at what is really going on when nobody is looking. If you could speech bubbles or thought bubbles above their heads, what would be in them? What preoccupies them in this frozen slice of imagined life or time as trains run past? Why no moving people?

I blame much of this Michael Bentine’s Potty Time,  The Borrowers, The Twelves and other such stories of tiny people come to life but who freeze when there are “human beans” around.

Looking at the characters or Railway people types which appear with wearying regularity on layouts worldwide such as Passenger Set B, I wonder:

  • What is in the letter that the lady in yellow is about to post?
  • What is in the letter in his hand that the postman is about to deliver? What other things are in his bag?
  • What is in the bag or briefcase carried by the first man on the left?
  • Where is the sprightly cheerful lady in black and red heading off to? Who will she meet?

I notice a few Marple type figures amongst these Peco and Airfix figures. During Lockdown, I have been listening my way through the Agatha Christie BBC dramatisations of Poirot and Miss Marple (via my online local public library download).

Marples and Miniatures ? Murderer? Murdered? Miss Marple?

What’s in the envelope?

What is in these envelopes in people’s hands, the postman’s bag, the postbox on these layouts?

It reminds me of some lines from Night Mail by W.H. Auden, the rhythmic poem set to music to accompany the Thirties GPO Film Unit documentary:

“This is the night mail crossing the Border,

Bringing the cheque and the postal order …”

“Letters for the rich, letters for the poor,

The shop at the corner, the girl next door…”

“Letters of thanks, letters from banks,

Letters of joy from girl and boy,

Receipted bills and invitations

To inspect new stock or to visit relations,

And applications for situations,

And timid lovers’ declarations,

And gossip, gossip from all the nations,

News circumstantial, news financial,

Letters with holiday snaps to enlarge in,

Letters with faces scrawled on the margin,

Letters from uncles, cousins, and aunts,

Letters to Scotland from the South of France,

Letters of condolence to Highlands and Lowlands

Written on paper of every hue,

The pink, the violet, the white and the blue,

The chatty, the catty, the boring, the adoring,

The cold and official and the heart’s outpouring,

Clever, stupid, short and long,

The typed and the printed and the spelt all wrong …”

https://allpoetry.com/Night-Mail

You can watch this classic and stylish Thirties GPO Film Unit documentary free at the BFI site here:

https://player.bfi.org.uk/free/film/watch-night-mail-1936-online

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Night_Mail

Inspired?

Some of the classic (or wearily familiar) Airfix passenger ranges are still available from Dapol, but sadly not the early 1960s Airfix Civilians set. http://www.plasticsoldierreview.com/Review.aspx?id=366

Dapol still make (and mail order) these former Airfix sets in hard grey plastic:

1971 Airfix set S42 Station Accessories Figures,

http://www.plasticsoldierreview.com/Review.aspx?id=430

1970s? Platform Figures http://www.plasticsoldierreview.com/Review.aspx?id=1162

and the useful early 1980s issue Track Crew that I painted recently in my Navvy Battle preparations

http://www.plasticsoldierreview.com/Review.aspx?id=1161

Navvies backed up by Victorian Civilians from the Airfix Waggon Train set.

Next post: I will add some alternative suggestions from my notebooks for railway modelling figures of some character stereotypes and modern civilian figures that I don’t think are yet made, but reading through some of the more bizarre figures on the Preiser lists, I’m not so sure …

Blog post by Mark Man of TIN 23 April 2020

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