Stephen Rees's blog

Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

Guardian Unlimited Business | | Last year’s model: Airfix goes bust

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Guardian Unlimited Business | | Last year’s model: Airfix goes bust

This is really sad. So much of my youth was spent with the heady smell of plastic solvent in my nostrils as I slaved over an Airfix kit. I really liked the Messerschmidt 262 – it was the first jet fighter, but because it had no props you could actually play with it! Most Airfix model planes had to be left on their stands – though they always fell off when Mum dusted. They never stayed as built for long. Bits snapped off too easily. I was never allowed to suspend the planes on strings from the ceiling. When I built the Liberator, Liberatormy Dad sid.jpgactually opened up about his war time experience in the RAF. A rare event. When I asked him which colour scheme I should use, he told me the following story (I will use the first person for his voice is still clear in my memory)

The one’s I saw were white, with red crosses. They were used to ferry released allied POWs back home from the camps in Burma and Singapore. They refuelled at Shaiba, where I was based. If the Arabian Gulf is the arsehole of the world, Shaiba is half way up it. I was a radio mechanic, and had to go on board to check the radios and change the crystal used to tune the VHF channel. The planes had been built as long range bombers but were now converted to transport stretchers. All the passengers were quiet but very happy to be going home at long last. They had obviously suffered. Hunger was the least of it. They were all very thin.

One day soon after VJ day, one of these planes, loaded with blokes going home, and full of fuel, failed to clear the perimeter fence on take off. I was in my radio truck, and was first on the scene. There is not much you – as an individual – can do about a loaded Liberator which is on fire.

After he told me this story, I tried using paint stripper to take off the RAF camouflage and paint it white. I think it was just as well that the paint stripper destroyed the model. I realise now (as I did not then) he did not enjoy revisiting that memory.

Airfix also took over the molds for a few 00 gauge (4mm scale) model railway items when the original manufacturer went belly up. There was an oil tank car, a guard’s van, a 4 wheel diesel railbus, an 0-4-0ST and, best of all, a BR standard 2-10-0. The two piece axles did not stand up to actual use but they made nice static backgrounds to the working trains, and were much cheaper.

There is now hardly any full sized railway manufacturing in Britain – the country that produced the first steam engines. Trains come from Germany, or Spain. Locos from Canada. Now there are no more models with Made in England on them either.

Written by Stephen Rees

August 31, 2006 at 10:13 am

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