Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Book Review: How about railway modelling by John Craven

JCBookIf you are a sensible age, one of the features of your youth would be getting back home from school and watching "John Craven's Newsround". 5 minutes of real news presented in the same way the stuff for grown-ups was, albeit with some of the complicated facts being explained.

Anyway, back in 1979, he wrote this little gem for EP Publishing. I imagine they were very happy to secure his services. Back then, presenters simply didn't get thier name in the titles of TV shows and Craven's was known to pretty much every child, even those who watched ITV.

More to the point, he was the sort of celebrity that descent middle-class parents would approve of, just the sort who would encourage their offspring to build a model railway in the first place.

Anyway, you might think that John's efforts in this would extend to a couple of (ghost written) paragraphs in the front with someone else doing the work. Not true, he actually writes the first section of the book introducing the hobby. It's as good a general introduction as you are likely to read anywhere and despite its age, still works as an advert for the hobby.

I think this is due to the writers journalistic background. While he admits he isn't a railway modeller, I think this helps as he handles the concepts sympathetically but in a way that the general public will appreciate.

Starting with a couple of pages entitled, "A hobby for schoolboys, super-stars and bishops" he then carries on with meeting modellers, joining a club, exhibitions, designing a layout and several mentions of Allan Downes.

For more technical information we have to carry on to part 2 of the book written by John Cockroft. He has 60 pages to run through the basics and even not so basics of our hobby. Being the 70s, there is quite a lot in both sections about building loco kits. Cockroft even gives us stuff on compensating wagons, something considered advanced by many modellers today but in a book for kids then.

Truth is, this is a much better book than you might think. If you want some ideas on how we might present the hobby to outsiders, read and analyse the first section. For more practical stuff, enjoy the second.

The book left me wondering one thing. At the end of part one, Craven says:

As for me, I somehow escaped its attractions, until now! But, after taking a long look at the hobby and meeting some of the people who are deeply involved in it, I am ready to "have a go" at starting my own railway.

I wonder if he did?

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