Autumn is the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness but is also, for me, the beginning of the UK model show season, marked by the UK Garage Kit Show held each September in Crewe in the loyal county of Cheshire. This is organised by Dave Nichols and it (not Dave) gets bigger every year.
As this is our only real garage kit show, I'm grateful that it's only a half hour or so drive from home. This year I went along with my friend and colleague Barry Ford, Beth (his better half) and a very pleasant day was had by all.
On this occasion we were there in a different capacity, as we usually represent Sci-fi & fantasy Modeller but Barry wanted to try and sell some models (which he did) so we paid for a dealer table and a last-minute glitch meant we didn't have access to any recent copies of the books anyway.
One particularly enjoyable aspect of the show is that everybody is so willing to share tips and techniques but in a way that doesn't alienate the less confident (that includes yours truly as far as sculpts and figure painting are concerned) and welcomes all to the fold.
This was, in fact, my second show of the year as I'd been prompted by one of the regulars at the UKGK in 2014 to visit Wonderfest in Louisville, Kentucky in June. On that occasion, thanks in no small part to Mark Glassy of this parish, I was invited to run a seminar on our books and we (I travelled with a friend and shared a guest table with Jason Gares who's also involved with SF&FM) had a great time in new (to me) surroundings. There should have been a couple of blog references to this earlier but they seem to have been lost in the ether.
If time and finances permit I would strongly recommend a visit as this, like the Crewe show but on a much bigger scale, is something special. The only change I would make if I were to pay another visit is to go as a visitor rather than a guest.
Please don't misunderstand that sentiment. I was flattered by the invitation and met some great people but due to the presentation and speaking to people who came to our table before and after I had, literally, about 40 minutes to see the competition entries and the dealer room. In the case of the latter venue that was probably a mixed blessing as I could have spent a fortune, if fortune I had following the airfares, hotel and so on. Having said that it's only money and worth every penny for the experience.
The only other small regret I have about Wonderfest is that I failed to buy a commemorative t-shirt as, by the time I got round to that, they'd all been sold. That probably doesn't sound worth mentioning but, as I discovered much later, said shirts listed the names of the guest speakers and I've never owned a t-shirt with my name on it before.
I rather hope that Jason will represent SF&FM at the next Wonderfest as it's only a 1500 mile round trip by road for him. Just to put that in perspective Crewe is, for me, 30 miles door-to-door and the hotel there doesn't feature storm shelters in case a tornado hits.
The Crowne Plaza in Louisville does.
Ray Harryhausen dies aged 92
It was as I lay abed, unable to sleep courtesy of an intense tingling from a partially repaired left hand and a rhythmic throbbing from a right shoulder that had decided to join in the fun, that I found myself listening to the BBC World Service at 2.00am and the sad news that Ray Harryhausen is no longer with us.
Now, despite evidence to the contrary, I still can’t get my head fully round the concept of survival after death but I can certainly appreciate the value of legacy - and what a legacy Mr Harryhausen has left us.
As you’re reading this blog on this particular website there’s probably no need for me to even begin to discuss his impact on the field of movie special effects and the wonders that the master animator presented for our delectation, other than to say that it has been truly exceptional.
Perhaps you were fortunate enough to meet the man himself as I gather that he was a very outgoing and warm person. I never did but I do have some first hand evidence to support that assumption, having once managed to escape a business meeting in time to attend a talk that Ray gave in a small theatre in Salford, Manchester’s twin city.
There were several hundred eager fans in attendance, the majority of them men of my sort of age who had brought sons and daughters along in the hope that they would enjoy the encounter and absorb some of the magic. Despite the number in the audience the experience was more like a fireside chat with a slightly eccentric uncle that a stage performance, such was the warmth of Ray’s personality. This impression was reinforced during the intermission. Books were signed, hands shaken and fan’s individual questions and observations responded to with patience and enthusiasm.
A further element of the occasion was one of those comparatively small instances when one’s faith in the essential goodness of human nature is restored. During the first part of the presentation a number of animation figures were produced and placed on the leading edge of the stage where they remained whilst Ray was enjoying a restorative coffee and chatting to fans in the foyer.
Throughout the interval many audience members left their seats and pressed close to the edge of the stage for a better view of these wonders which were, literally, within arms reach and totally unattended. The temptation to touch must have been great but nobody extended as much as a finger other than to point, such was the respect extended to their creator.
It’s sad when we lose one of our heroes, even at the advanced age of 92, but we’re fortunate to share in a legacy worthy of a man for whom the sometimes over-used epithet ‘genius’ is surely appropriate.
Having completed a stack of model kits for review purposes, the prospect of deadlines for out next Steampunk Modeller Special loom on the horizon and it looks as though I'll need to produce at least one project for that unless there's a sudden late rush of contributors.
How's that for an incentive to get your modelling frock on?
I have an idea in mind but thought I would try and access some cogs and such to add to the detail of said thingy. I share my living space with a venerable granddaughter clock that hasn't worked properly since my late parent's dog brained itself on the casing but, as this has been in the family for at least three generation, stripping it down didn't seem an option. Consideration of such an act of vandalism did, however, send my mind moving in the direction of clock bits. Finding myself in an area of Manchester that's slightly more eccentric than some of the rest of the city, I passed a shop that is, primarily, a watch repairer's but sells medal, coins, and a huge assortment of related strangeness.
On impulse, I gained admittance and asked, fully expecting to be thrown out or at least laughed at, if the proprietor had any stock of old cogs and other bits that I might look at with a view to using on a model. Within seconds he had produced two boxes crammed with old clock parts and invited me to choose what I wanted.
As I was searching through this treasure trove the shop owner explained that there was quite a demand for miscellaneous odds and ends, primarily from people who use it to make craft jewellery, which explained why he hadn't found my request too strange.
Having exchanged a very modest amount of my hard-earned cash for a bag of bits I bade him farewell and was assured that a return visit would be perfectly acceptable.
I suppose, from a commercial point of view, selling stuff that's been in the workshop since Adam was a lad is quite useful but it was one of those obvious approaches that hadn't occurred to me before.
Should you wish to try a similar source of supply (deadlines for Steampunk 3 are mid-March so get a move on) I recommend the approach. I also suggest avoiding up-market jewellers as they tend not to be quite as responsive and they employ large security persons... but that's another story.
Once again to Telford for the big IPMS show, which was bigger than ever and, in turns, inspiring and depressing. The depressing aspect was looking at other modeller's work and thinking 'I'll never be that good'. The inspiration was, as ever, an abundance of brilliant work on display across the board including the one of the most fascinating steampunk models I've seen outside our pages, specifically a monocycle with female rider figure.
I hoped to at least get hold of some contact details for the modeller but it was in the competition section where anonymity is key. You never know, someone may read these remarks and get in touch.
One particularly attractive aspect of the Telford show is the extent of attendees and exhibitors from outside the UK and one of the three halls had a significant area devoted to these folk.
A change from previous years seemed to be that models other than those built from plastic were in evidence, specifically a number of category winners in resin. This has not, in my experience, always been the case and Tony James of Comet Miniatures tells a very funny story relating to the previous prohibition of non-plastic competition entries. If you ever meet him at a show ask him about his RAF trainer.
There's a Gerry Anderson-related show later this month (November) at the RAF museum in Cosford, which was brought to my attention by Mike Adamson of this parish who is visiting the UK from Australia and is going to said show where I hope to meet up with him.
The odd thing about the show is that it seems to be very low profile, or at least on the basis of my research. Mike Reccia, who is deeply steeped in all things Anderson, hadn't heard about it. I also fell into conversation with a chap from an IPMS Airfix special interest group who is also a fan of the work of Messrs Meddings, Trim, et al.
He actually lives within twenty miles of the venue and hadn't heard of the show either. Most strange.
Fools rush in...
Finding myself, for the first time in many a year, with no particular demands on my modelling time, the TV script scene somewhat quiet and the next commercial writing job awaiting a client briefing I thought it might be interesting to try a little sculpting.
This is almost the way I came to kit building as my dad was a regular provider of Plasticine and similar materials when I was a child. My mother was less than approving as she was the one who had to get the wretched stuff out of the carpet but she was, none the less, supportive of my infant efforts.
I was many years into adulthood before it occurred to me that my dad's enthusiasm for this material was, in part, because he enjoyed coaching me in the basics of clay modelling, an area in which he actually had some expertise.
On one of my occasional visits to a model show here in the UK I had fallen into conversation with a very accomplished sculptor who introduced me to a new (to me) form of Super Sculpey. I had used the original Sculpey quite extensively to create character heads and the occasional beastie but the grey, firmer formulation proved to be much better to work with.
As I'd not done any sculpts for a while I started out with a couple of heads plucked from the imagination just to get my hand in again and then began a rendering of the late Vincent Price in his role from Tales of Terror. My process with this sort of project is to find suitable reference material and then produce some sketches based on these. I find the sketch stage quite valuable as, in addition to providing a further reference, it also seems to provide a sort of mental template for the model, this being the more important aspect. I've spoken to very experienced sculptors who follow the same procedure for the same reason.
Having formed a rough skull from crumpled aluminium cooking foil (which provides a useful armature as well as cutting down on the amount of Sculpey used, which isn't cheap) I began to build up the head and features using small pieces of the clay and then adding details with sculpting and dental tools.
The final result seemed, to my biased eyes, to be quite a reasonable rendition of the esteemed actor but the ultimate test would be a get-together with my good friend and colleague Barry Ford who is the master of the sculpted and painted form, human and alien. He was quite complementary but then he is also a very kind and tactful man and it wasn't until he persuaded me to by a small wooden plinth on which to display the thing that it dawned on me that he actually meant it.
Inspired by this modest success and the recent purchase of the latest edition of Ray Harryhausen's Fantasy Scrapbook (which is wonderful) I thought I would next try a dinosaur sculpture. This is still a work in process but I have come up with rather a good wheeze for creating skin textures, which is rather the point of this rambling discourse. Handling the Sculpey leaves fingerprints which can be smoothed out using modelling tools and finger tips or by 'painting' the surface with isopropyl alcohol using a soft brush (fags out first!). It occurred to me that the handling of the model might be utilised to create some more interesting textures so I mixed some silicone mould-making putty, rolled this into fairly thin strips on a glass surface and impressed some textures into it using the grip sections of one or two dental tools and a tea strainer, the latter giving a very fine network of intersecting lines. Once cured, these silicone texture 'sheets' can be used to handle the models leaving a rather satisfying scaly texture to the skin.
If you've reached this point and exclaimed 'I already knew that!' my apologies but I thought the tip worth passing on. I think it unlikely that you'll be seeing the fruits of my labours in the pages of SF&FM (a man's got to know his limitations) but I would recommend trying the occasional clay sculpt as, regardless of the final result, it is incredibly relaxing, particularly if done for one's own amusement and with no deadlines looming... on the subject of which I'm off to a meeting with the Editor in Chief at which deadlines are the primary topic, hopefully followed by cups of green tea and (with luck) an episode of Thunderbirds.
Is anybody out there?
Contemplating a day of relative leisure I turned to this very website only to realise that, whilst Gary and Barry have filed recent blogs, my last effort discusses events now only of historical interest. I also realise that friend Barry has covered our most recent excursions to model shows whilst friend Gary is, as ever, the fount of all wisdom on developments in the kit market.
So, what's left to say? Well it occurs to me that I should, perhaps, mention the benefits of having an increasing level of contact with the contributors to SF&FM old, new and potential, thanks to my limited contribution to editorial matters. I've long believed that the world would be a better place if we all spoke to each other more often and, perhaps naively, I thought (and still think) that the Internet has significant potential in that direction. On a more immediate level it has been the means of making contact (and, indeed, friends) with some very interesting people who share our interest (that's not a royal 'we': I have a tapeworm) in models and related matters.
Let me give you and example. When last I added to this blog I made brief mention of the discovery that I could, after a fashion, draw with my left hand. That prompted a fascinating correspondence with my chum and fellow contributor Ward Shrake on why that should be and a fascinating insight, from him, into the workings of the human brain. Now you don't get that sort of feedback just talking to people in the local pub.
Spinning off from that, the left-handed drawing reference made mention of a project I had in mind relating to the 1960s UK TV serial Quatermass and the Pit. I've now made some progress on that, elements of which relate to the more philosophical tone of this piece. Does that sound pretentious? Of course it does. Notwithstanding that, I'm sure many of us have been involved in modelling and other projects when everything seems to go wrong. Right? Well, in this instance the reverse seems to be the case and it's almost as though the thing's being given little nudges of encouragement from... well... somewhere.
Case in point. This will be a diorama including a number of military figures. Having bought several sets of 1:35 British army figure kits I discovered that two of these actually resemble, facially, leading characters in the TV production. How weird is that? Second example: I wanted to find a suitable object from which to cast the distinctive front end of the spacecraft which would form the centrepiece of the diorama. This meant searching through the toy and cosmetic departments of various retail outlets with only limited success until, whilst on a visit to the bank, I happened upon a toy shop that I'd not visited before. A step through the door and a step to the right (which reminds me; we must do the Time Warp again) and there was a plastic tube with a dome cap that was not only the right shape but also the right size to give me the basic shape for at least half the model.
Now I remain an agnostic, be it ever a reluctant one, as far as universal controlling powers are concerned but it does give one a pause for thought. If things continue to go to plan (whether that be my plan or someone else's) you may read more of this project in future issues of SF&FM.
In other news I've grown a beard as protection against the winter chill which, combined with the bald scalp, has convinced a neighbour's small child that I have my head on upside down. Not very relevant here but I thought it was funny.
A day without model building is...
A day without model building is like a day without sunshine, or so it has been said. That being the case, the best part of a month without being able to do anything meaningful has been particularly gloomy. In my case this has been due to some long overdue surgery to correct a problem with my hands. The first operation concentrated on my right hand, with the left one being addressed some time in the New Year: having said that if they decide once again to remove the stitches without any local anaesthetic I'll probably not bother.
Anyway, apart from some passing discomfort, the main problem's been boredom. I've a stack of models to build for the book and a special issue to edit but, until today, I've been restricted to stumbling round the house breaking stuff thanks to an arm that resembled the one favoured by Richard Wordsworth's character in The Quatermass Experiment.
To add to the fun the weather closed in, as UK readers will know all to well. We didn't get all that much snow here in north Cheshire but it was certainly very cold indeed. That meant that I've spent most of the daylight hours watching various garden birds attempting fixed wing landings, having frozen stiff in flight.
One of the benefits of my present predicament (you've probably had enough moaning) is that I've discovered the ability to draw left handed. Why this should be I don't know as my handwriting with the wrong hand is appalling. In any event, the enforced lay-up has given me the opportunity to work on some provisional sketches for a project I have in mind for 2011. This also relates to the aforementioned character as I have ambitions to produce a diorama based on the titular location in the TV series Quatermass and the Pit.
This was a series I had not watched for some time but I had dug out the DVD for Mike Reccia to have a look at. When he returned the disc it transpired that we'd both had the same idea for a modelling project and I'm itching to get started, literally so at the moment as I think something's crawled under these bandages. Either that or the alien spores are taking over.
If this appears before the end of December may I take the opportunity to offer you and yours best wishes for any December celebrations and for the New Year?
Saturday at the golf club
I think that my friend and colleague Barry Ford is likely to discuss this in greater detail but he'll perhaps permit me some duplication. On Saturday, 30th October, Barry, Des (of Modelzone in Manchester) and yours truly made an early start to attend a new garage kit and model show in the tiny mid-Cheshire village of Harklow.
Des had arranged for us to have a table there through one of his many modelling contacts and a great time was had by all as well as the overturning of a number of preconceptions on my part. The venue was Brookfield Golf Club and, not being a golfer, I assumed that we would be looked on with some distain as geeks in a world of sophisticated grown-ups. In the event the assembled golfers and the club's staff proved to be the epitome of kindness and hospitality, rushing to assist as exhibitors and traders struggled with armfuls of weirdness when setting up tables. Lovely people to a man (and woman), although quite what they made of the contingent of Imperial Stormtroopers that arrived mid session, accompanying Lord Vader, I don't know. Nor, indeed, do I know where said representatives of the Empire came from but they did add to the fun.
The second of my misconceptions was with regard to the reception my stuff would receive from the resin sculptors and painters who made up the majority of the attendees. Friend Barry is the expert in this field (he won best in show, the rascal) and I'd taken a couple of dioramas and a few of my own very amateur sculpts to which I gave a very low profile once I'd seen the other work displayed.
In the event, there wasn't a single patronising remark (not to my face, anyway) lots of friendly chat and some very useful modelling hints and tips. For example, did you know that you can avoid accidentally sticking your fingers together when working with superglue by using vinegar? Apparently if you dabble your fingertips in said condiment for a minute or two and then dry them the glue will simply slide off the treated area. Now I've not tried this myself but the chap who passed the tip on confessed to having spent an hour or two in the casualty department of his local hospital having glued his finger to his eyelid (presumably before he learned of the vinegar trick) so he should know.
It was interesting to find myself in the company of a fellow modeller as I unloaded my car amongst an assembly (I'm sure there's a proper collective noun) of golfers and visitors. A clumsy handling of one of my models produced an unseemly expletive, prompting a man who had just parked next to me to ask: 'Was that a superglue b******s or a more general indication of distress?' - the perfect combination of wit, erudition and concern for another that really epitomised the day.
This was the first show in the region organised by KillerKits and, whilst we weren't over-run by visitors, people had come from as far away as Durham and Norfolk (several hours drive time) to take part so I hope it was the start of something big. Anyway, Barry and I sold (and signed) a few of our books and I hope we also persuaded some of those present to submit their work to this website's gallery section as Brian Wilkinson, who I also met on the day, already has.
If you're a garage kit fan, I'm sure the Editor in Chief would also be interested in a relevant article for a future issue. Why not get in touch?
The joy of Jetex
Long before my first Airfix 1:72 Spitfire there was Jetex. Truth to tell I think this was more accurately my dad's province but I was allowed to watch. I suspect I was also the excuse he needed to actually buy Jetex in the same way that a friend's daughter's first gift from her father was a slot racing car layout: she was three days old.
Anyway, back to the pyrotechnics. My dad had served in the Royal Engineers during WWII, first in North Africa then in the allied invasions of Sicily and Italy. When not building bridges and the like he spent a lot of time working with explosives, either in a demolition capacity or defusing same. He did like to talk about his wartime experiences but, I suspect, in a rather edited version missing out most of the nasty bits, although there was the odd lifting of the veil which made me glad these were only occasional slips.
The bottom line is that he did know about explosives. I once, on a whim, bought a defused hand grenade (Mills bomb) from a second hand shop and took it to show dad who, not wanting to rely on the word of the shop owner, deftly stripped the thing to its basic components to assure himself (and me) that it was safe.
This knowledge also came in very handy when joining dad on his frequent cinema visits, particularly if the subject of our viewing had a military element. He would then talk at length about the merits or otherwise of the hardware we'd seen, with specifics ranging from the superiority of some Axis armour to how, in his opinion, Allied troops should have been awarded a medal for simply using the British PIAT mortar according to the instructions.
On certain occasions the knowledge he imparted provided some social kudos. One specific example of this came with the cinematic release of the James Bond adventure Goldfinger during my last year of formal education. You may recall the scene when the baddies blow the gates off the Fort Knox compound. I was able to assure my chums that the explosive devise used was a Bangalore Torpedo. This information was probably delivered in a poor Sean Connery accent for greater effect. Said accent was acquired by substituting an 'sh' pronunciation whenever the consonant 's' is spoken, as in: 'At leasht my Martini'sh shtill dry.'
Back to the subject of Jetex. For those readers unfamiliar with the name, Jetex was the brand name of a range of tiny rocket motors designed to power small models of aircraft, boats and so on and, to put it bluntly, they were bloody brilliant. They were also very simple to use. The motor was, as best I recall, a two-part shaped aluminium tube into which blocks of solid fuel were inserted, along with a length of fuse which emerged from the rocket nozzle. With said motor attached to a model, usually a balsa creation, the fuse was lit and when (and if) the motor ignited the model could be sent on its merry way.
For the small (or even big) child this had everything: fire, fuses, smoke and actual flight. I don't think the product is still available but you can use the subject to determine the age of many modellers that you may meet. If you utter the magic word 'Jetex' and their little eyes sparkle with nostalgia you know that they're almost certainly of the generation politely referred to as baby-boomers.
Popular wisdom had it that, using sufficient numbers of Jetex motors, you could fly a house brick. Truth is you couldn't but it was great fun trying... and don't get me started on DIY gunpowder manufacture.