Saturday 31 December 2011


Laid first strip of cork track underlay - purchased yesterday from D & F Models in Bell Street, Glasgow. It keeps no French model railway stock but is nevertheless an excellent shop - very helpful staff and always busy.

What surprised me though was that the cork does not come in pre-cut strips - one has to do that oneself. That turns out to be the case wherever one buys the stuff.

I asked the chap in the shop if the strips could be cut out with scissors. He gave me that pitying look that I am getting used to in these situations. It seems that a craft knife is the way to go.

Nevertheless, I used scissors for the first strip and then searched the house for a craft knife (found one that had a rusty looking blade) and did the rest of the strips with the knife.

Verdict: not much to choose between the results. A drawback with the knife is that one needs an undersurface that can afford to be scratched. But, one doesn't need to draw a line first and follow it which one has to do with scissors. Overall, once one has the undersurface in place and a straight edge to run the knife along, the knife is quicker and easier.

Next one brushes some PVA glue onto the baseboard and then lays down the cork and with some heavy books and file boxes to press it down waits 30 minutes for the glue to set.

This strip will underlay two tracks in the station - the platforms will go either side.


There are only 2 kinds of music I loathe: easy-listening and Heavy Metal.

Rather irritatingly, an awful lot of people that I really like and admire (morally, intellectually and in terms of being entertaining or amusing companions) go for one or other of these genres. Perhaps they're right!

There are exceptions to most rules, and Motorhead are the only heavy metal band that I like. Actually, I resent them being put under that umbrella.

Last night, watched a tele-biography of their mainman, Lemmy. What an interesting musician and what a gentleman. Unlike most heavy metal bands, there is no silly posturing or posing from Motorhead on stage. Also, unlike a lot of bands from 30 years ago, Motorhead continue to attract a new audience. They are not a pastiche of themselves playing the nostalgia card.

Friday 30 December 2011

French platforms and ballast

Now there's an enticing title for a blog!

Today had my first "visitors" to the site from France. What kept them so long? Can they not read English?

This book is a great source of photos for the era of late 1950s early 1960s when steam, diesel and electric were all prevalent on French tracks.

As far as I can see, tracks within mainline stations, especially under the canopy itself had only a mere smattering of ballast and certainly no discernible "shoulder"; the tracks seem to have been bolted directly onto concrete.

Whereas once out on the open road, so to speak, the track is raised up and thus does have a shoulder to each side of the ballast.

Most platforms were basically gray with sometimes an edging of coping stones, or an overhang or nothing at all. Later on, white lines to highlight the edge appeared.

I think I'll choose the edging which gives maximum visual effect.

I'll copy the lamp posts in this picture.

Radio 3 on playback through the BBC iPlayer. A real enhancement to my quality of life.

Choral Evensong from St John's Church, Upper Norwood, London with the Choir of King's College, London on the Feast of the Holy Innocents

Introit: Vox in Rama (Bernadino de Ribera)
Responses: Tomkins
Office Hymn: Salvete flores martyrum (Victoria)
Psalms: 123 (Roseingrave) 124 (Knight) 127 (Garrett) and 128 (Turle)
First lesson: Jeremiah 31, vv15-17
Magnificat sexti toni a 12 (Victoria)
Second lesson: Matthew 2, vv13-18
Nunc dimittis (Victoria)
Anthem: Singet dem Herrn BWV 225 (Bach)
Hymn: Unto us is born a Son
Organ Voluntary: Prelude in G major BWV 541 (Bach)
Director of Music: David Trendell
Organ Scholars: Richard Hall and Christopher Woodward.

Thursday 29 December 2011


Have decided to lay track onto a cork underlay (available in reels from all good model shops) and then apply ballast ie small stones for realism.

One can distribute the ballast from a paper cup or one can purchase a special device.

It's basically a hopper which one fills with ballast and then runs along the track.  The use of a strip of cork underneath the track produces a "shoulder" for the ballast to drape itself over. I'll have to trace some photos of French track circa 1960 to establish what kind of ballast was typically used  at that time.


Ed Askew:

A total eccentric who in 1969 released this album of ballads sung in a very whiney voice accompanied by what sounds like a mandoline. I don't play vinyl anymore so have downloaded it from iTunes - I was surprised it was still available.

Wednesday 28 December 2011

Diorama of a French city station

Still wrestling with the nature and execution of this project.

From the very start, I had a very strong image  of what I wanted to create: an impressionistic diorama of a mainline station embedded in a busy French town towards the end of the 1950s.

In particular, I wanted to avoid that paradox of slavishly incorporating perfectly scaled and highly accurate models (buildings especially) that still ended up looking like "toys".

My solution was to be a loose approach to construction and painting that did not purport to be accurate but nevertheless created the illusion of reality.

But, I became aware of another approach to solving the "toy-effect" problem and that was "weathering" - see earlier episodes of this blog.

Weathering aims for  hyper-realism and is the polar opposite of impressionism.

I feel caught between these two opposite approaches - must they be incompatible?

Here are some pictures of a French chap's layout which has achieved what I want to achieve through the weathering approach.

The model people are far too glossy and plasticy - a weakness I've noticed with many layouts - but the rest is very impressive, especially the night-time scenes.

Scandinavian music:

One of the first classical records I bought - as a teenager and on somebody's recommendation - was Sibelius 5th Symphony along with Karelia Suite and Findlandia. These pieces are still favourites 4 decades later.

Generally, I like Scandinavian music, especially the electronic music of the last 20 years.

GusGus are from Iceland: they will provide this afternoon's listening.

Tuesday 27 December 2011

Bartok's Piano concerto No 3

Here are some pictures of HO scale motor cars.

Bartok: Piano Concerto No 3:

Spent much of the day trying to get to grips with this piece. Much less accessible than No 1 but one felt that it was a mightier and subtler work that would bear exploration. By "exploration", I mean playing it again and again until I like it! By the fourth rendition, I was a convert. The opening bars of the second movement sounded worryingly like Aaron Copland!

Actually, Bartok visited Glasgow. I think, twice.

Monday 26 December 2011

French railway memorabilia

Santa Claus brought me another fascinating present yesterday. An item of memorabilia, I suppose one would call it.

Basically, it was a fold-up brochure produced by SNCF in 1955 advertising to the British tourist its extensive coverage of France.

Just as its British counterpart at that time also commissioned artists for its posters and advertising material, this SNCF brochure is covered with beautiful and charming ink and watercolour sketches of places all over France.

And, on the reverse is a comprehensive map of the French rail network in the 1950s.


Bela Bartok: Piano Concerto No 1

There are three movements: which I would describe as being, respectively:
Brooding and lyrical;
Wild and conclusive.

Sunday 25 December 2011

The mysteries of scale.

Excellent and wholly unexpected Christmas present today: a pack of 4 HO scale French cars to park outside my station. And, they were from the correct era. Perfect.

Despite the fact that they had "HO" embossed on the chassis of each, my first reaction was that they were far too small.

They looked as if they were made to the much smaller N scale. Then I remembered that I actually had an N scale Jaguar and it would be worthwhile comparing them. For completeness, I also dug out an old diecast Austin A40 from my childhood which I knew was to 1/42nd scale and which, in my mind's eye, seemed more in line with my model trains.

N scale is 1:160; HO scale is 1:87 and the diecast is 1:42. That would mean that the HO car should be approx half the size of the A40. As you can see, the former is indeed  half the length, half the height and half the width of the latter. But, of course, these three factors of length, height and width multiply together to give a 1/8th difference in volume. To the eye, the diecast certainly seems 8 times the size of the HO model but the scales only differ by a factor of 2.

What do these three cars look like next to an HO scale train?

Here is a picture of cars next to a train in real life.

Cars really are much smaller  than  trains.

So, everything is OK - the new cars really are of the same scale as my trains. Phewww.

Before going to Helensburgh to spend Christmas Day with my niece and her family, I was listening, yet again to Daniel Barenboim playing various Beethoven piano sonatas. Never get fed up of these pieces - in fact, I enjoy them more each time I hear them. This phenomenon of enjoying something more on each playing is, in my opinion, characteristic of classical music as opposed to all forms of popular music. There the opposite effect is in play to varying degrees ie one eventually gets sick of a popular song/tune.

Saturday 24 December 2011


It's surprising how visible model railway magazines are on the shelves of newsagents especially at airports and railway stations. Prior to dipping my toe into this hobby a few months ago, I didn't know anyone who was even remotely interested in model railways. Yet, as I say, there seemed to be plenty of magazines serving this interest group.

The same is true in France - even more so - and you see them for sale in their supremarkets too.

One from UK..

And, one from France.

Echelle is French for scale. (I think.)


Does anyone remember the Mike Raven Blues Show from Radio 1 in the 1970s?

  EVENIN' - JIMMY WITHERSPOON;                    
AFTER HOURS BLUES - DR. ROSS;             
BROWNSKIN GIRL - JESSE FULLER;                                            
A MARRIED MAN'S A FOOL - BLIND WILLIE McTELL;                                                           

Friday 23 December 2011

Hobbies and Tiredness

At the end of a day's work, when one is mentally exhausted, it is understandable that one might spend the evening in front of the television.

This model railway hobby was supposed to be an alternative to spending the evening in that way. However, there is so much to do and so many new skills to learn that far from being a relaxing hobby it is like attending a technical college every evening where I am the lecturer and the student - and a pretty poor lecturer and a pretty lazy student at that.

Not only do I find the individual activities mentally taxing and often confusing eg soldering, wiring, designing the track, laying track, cutting track, converting locomotives to DCC, making scenery, making buildings to scale .................., I find the sequence of activities daunting. For example, what comes first: laying the track or putting the platforms in place, or wiring the track or putting underlay beneath the track? And so on.

What I really need is a few clear days when I have all the materials and tools in position and a definite plan of what should be done first, second etc. And a completely clear head.

The beach at Arcachon.

I can't believe that I ignored Eels so comprehensively for so many years. They were playing in Scotland this year and I was oblivious to the fact. It's not an exaggeration to say that over the last month or so I have been humming Eels songs to myself every day. (Almost said "every waking hour of the day".)