The Locomotive Modellers And The Weed

In my youth it was a social law that no adult ever criticised another adult in front of a child. (This rule was one of the things that facilitated sexual abuse by Catholic priests and others, but that is another story.) My parents must have really strained themselves in not saying that a given family in our village were total weirdos, but they managed by hinting that I should provide the son with some company. The word “nerd” had not yet been coined. Aged about forty, he lived at home with his parents, worked at the steelworks as had his father before him, did some photography and had as his annual and perhaps only joy a two-week hiking tour of Austria with the Ramblers’ Association.

So far, not so unique; but I have still never seen anything quite like his parents. Their consuming hobby was the making of working models of steam locomotives from steel and brass. I would guess the scale at 1:10. These were not kits, but made from bar stock on a lathe and so forth, with a simply astonishing level of craftsmanship. Now, in those days for an upper-working-class husband to pursue solo hobbies in his garden shed was pretty well normal; the gentility-aspiring wife could keep her house unsullied by him, and the spouses lived largely separate lives. The bizarre aspect of this particular couple was that, far from staying in the house and leaving him to it, the woman was an equal partner in the machine shop. I could see no signs of coercion, she seemed as committed to the day-long fabrication of steam locomotives from raw metal as he was. Whether her manual skills were inferior, equal or superior to those of her husband I cannot begin to say.

I admire all craftsmanship. That a woman should have such a “masculine” hobby and craft is not the objection here; the doubt arises from the fact that they did, after all, have a child (no doubt an early mistake, before they discovered their true calling). A child whom these monomaniacs seemed utterly to ignore. The parents were not alcoholics or criminals, and they must have fed and clothed him, in between the milling of miniature components, so that there was not the slightest prospect of his being “taken into care”; and yet one may wonder whether perhaps he ought to have been.

Posted on August 20, 2011 at 21:23 by Hugo Grinebiter · Permalink

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