Budapest to the Black Sea

Budapest to the Black Sea

Friday, 14 May 2010

This Blog

As you already know the catchy heading of this blog is “Sex, Proust & Railway Modelling” and many of my readers have emailed me to say “Ted you have written absolutely nothing about Proust, very little about railway modelling and, please, let’s hear more about your opinions on sex in the 21st century” I will try and repair the damage.

Let’s deal with railway modelling. The first thing that I am going to say is “My name is Ted Irwin and I am a railway modeller”. There I’ve said it and I feel better already. For the last couple of years I have managed to restrain the destructive impulse to spend hours in the shed trying to create a life-like scale version an early German branch line station. I have stoically moved on to military modelling and have spent my spare time painting model soldiers which is the equivalent of a methadone course for railway modellers, but now I am back mainlining again, or branch-lining in my case. For the record those of you who read my last piece about the election will be happy to know that I got my heart’s desire a hung Parliament and several yards of track laid and ballasted in the shed. I did pop into the house to see how Kirsty Wark was getting on only to discover that the BBC had decided to dump her into the rhododendrons in Nick Clegg’s front garden rather than have her hosting witty banter with the great and good. Watch out Kirsty, I think they have a career move in mind for you, before you know it you will be hosting Celebrity Window Cleaning.

On a more serious note I am often approached by young people who, knowing of my addiction, ask me this. “Ted I am thinking about becoming a railway modeller but I have heard that in order to do so I will have to give up sex completely. Is this true?.” This is a common misconception and has no foundation in fact. However, if you are going to take up this hobby, I would strenuously urge you to make sure that you have a sexual partner, ideally on a legal footing, before you do as you are unlikely to attract a member of the opposite (or same) sex once you do.

Now let’s deal with Proust. As far as I know Marcel Proust never wrote a single word about model railways. Had he wished to, the source material was all around him, he was fortunate in living at the height of the railway age and in 1891 the German firm Marklin introduced the first train set, though of course toy trains had been around as long as the real thing. Earlier literary titans like Shakespeare and Chaucer would have struggled with the concept of railway modelling. Perhaps Leonardo is the only man of sufficient vision from pre-railway times to come up with the idea of railway modelling and perhaps, just perhaps, he might have made the big leap and realised that if his models were magnified by about 87 times (assuming that he was working in HO scale which seems likely considering that he was an Italian) they could carry real people and thus revolutionise Renaissance transport. But even an intellectual giant of Leonardo’s stature would not have come up with that apogee of the railway modeller’s art, an exact scale recreation of a Great Western Railway branch line terminus complete with the stationmaster’s kitchen garden, bean poles, cabbages and all.

How different Proust’s masterwork might have been had his young hero not spent his afternoons fussing about in the gardens on the Champs-Elysees waiting for Gilberte to turn up but had parked himself at the end of one of the platforms at the Gare du Nord with a packet of fishpaste sandwiches (lovingly prepared by Francoise), a bottle of Tizer and a notebook in which to record those vital loco numbers. One afternoon a grimy but kindly engine driver might say the dreamed of words ‘Hop up sonny and have a look in my cab’.

Or maybe he and his Dad, a rather authoritarian but sometimes indulgent figure, could have worked together on ‘le train set’ in a shed at the bottom of his grandparents garden in Combray. I use the phrase ‘le train set’ with some trepidation as it could well provoke a storm of correspondence from irate railway modellers pointing out that while children have ‘train sets’ they have ‘layouts’. But for the family in Combray there would be no more worrying whether to take the Meseglise way or the Guermantes way on those shower threatened afternoon walks because there’s always plenty to be getting on with when you have a model railway. I can imagine father saying to his son ‘Get your nose out of that book Marcel we have track to ballast’ or ‘Come on old chap there’s just time for a shunting session before tea’.

One character from ‘Swann’s Way’ who would certainly have enjoyed a shunting session before tea is Uncle Adolphe. Uncle Adolphe is the narrator’s grandfather’s brother and he has a study in the house at Combray which is used by the narrator as a quiet spot in which to read. Unfortunately this arrangement comes apart when young Marcel pays a visit to Uncle Adolphe’s Paris apartments while the latter is entertaining a courtesan. The young man doesn’t realise what the lady is and goes to some pains to try to impress her with his maturity and sophistication, much to the embarrassment of Uncle Adolphe. He even goes as far as to kiss the ladies hand, which as far as I am concerned is fine, I was always brought up to be courteous to everyone whether they are prostitutes or not. In fact since I was once rescued from a stone throwing mob by a prostitute I rather go out of my way to be polite to them. However when Marcel returns home to his parents and, despite being cautioned by Uncle Adolphe not to mention the afternoon’s events, tells them what went on, they are outraged and Uncle Adolphe is banished forever from Combray and his study locked up. How much healthier if Uncle Adolphe had spent his twilight years escorting young Marcel on tours of narrow gauge lines in Brittany or rack railways in the Swiss Alps rather than dallying with this sort of woman.

Sadly as a ‘boy’ young Marcel is a bit of a disappointment. Quite apart from his unmanly lack of interest in railways it appears that his pockets are not stuffed with penknives, string and conkers. I doubt that his knees are permanently grazed and scabby or that he could recite all the names of the Combray Athletique first team. Worst of all he likes playing with girls.

Mention of girls brings us to our final topic ‘sex’. I am of course more than qualified to pontificate on this fascinating and mysterious subject but perhaps another time.

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