In the latest in the continuing series 'Ways I Never Would Have Imagined Spending Sunday Afternoons Until I Had A Small Boy to Entertain', I find myself, for the second time in recent weeks, paying £5 to spend the afternoon in the company of many hundreds of model railway enthusiasts. This afternoon's destination is the Hazel Grove Recreation Centre, where rows upon rows of period scenes aboard long trestle tables are presided over by men sporting V-neck club cardigans in bottle green or mauve, using tiny patent screwdrivers to effect running repairs to their rolling stock. It's Exhibition Time.
The scenes on display (or 'layouts', as they are known in the game) reveal the unlikely enthusiasms prevalent in the serious modelling fraternity. Here- as at the Fallowfield exhibition the other week- Thomas the Tank Engine is conspicuous by his absence, and for every layout featuring picturesque old-time locomotives chugging their way romantically through the English countryside a la The Railway Children, there are half-a-dozen obsessively-detailed and periodically pitchperfect scale-models inviting us to consider more- shall we say- esoteric delights, such as a post-war Austrian Spa Town, a contemporary Freight Terminal in the windwepst wilds of Ohio, or (me and Frankie's favourite this afternoon) central Bury on a particularly drizzly afternoon in 1985.
Taking our leave from the exhibitors (actually, not that difficult- with the exception of the occasional loquacious enthusiast in a handlebar moustache who knows all there is to know about industrial Marple in the mid-1960s and is very keen to let you know about it, the men in mauve cardigans are a taciturn bunch, too busy fiddling head-down with their tiny patent modellers' screwdrivers to pay too much attention to the aisle-swelling punters), we spend the back end of the afternoon perusing the trade stands backed against three of the four walls, where slightly-less taciturn men in different shades of club cardigan preside over tumbling Alladins Cavesque collections of their wares.
Here as in the aisles, specialism reigns. One stall features only garishly-coloured self-build plastic scale models of continental street features, (Der Politechnika, Der UberHauss, Der AutoGarage); another, just the various composite parts required to manufacture one's own freight trains; one more, nothing but videotapes ('Chester to Ellesmere Port by Class Two Diesel; A Drivers Eye View'); yet another, exclusively plastic bags containing loose replica vegetation suitable for every conceivable urban or rural location. Frankie spends his pocket money at this last pitstop, on a bag of something suspiciously bright green classified as 'clump foliage', and considering the afternoon an unqualified success, we head for the exits.
On the way out, we stop momentarily at a counter featuring tiny miniature wired-up streetlights in a million varieties, and immediately regret it, finding ourselves in a detailed discussion of the art of soldering during which we are slightly hampered by our utter ignorance of what soldering might be when it is at home or why we would want to do it. But, undeterred by this comprehensive 'outing' of our amateur status, we pause to pick up a leaflet advertising the benefits of membership of the host club. It's £25 a year to join the Hazel Grove enthusiasts, for which you get entry into twice weekly club nights in the Methodist Church Hall with tea and biscuits on tap, the opportunity to fiddle around with tiny screwdrivers to your hearts content, and occasional talks from recognised experts in sometimes controversial fields (Background Scenery Design for the Ambitious Intermediate Learner; DCC Versus Manual Operating Regimes in Standard 00 Gauge; the History of Passenger Light Rail in the Glasgow Conurbation-How It Could Have Been So Very Different).
Not to mention, of course, those very attractive v-neck bottle-green cardigans featuring the club logo, available via mail order at heavily subsidised rates. We will be back, I suspect.