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Sunday 13 February 2011

The bare necessities of life

Not Rod's layout, but it's a very nice one that I saw at the weekend

The necessities are not always bare

For me

I have been living out of a suitcase again. I have just spent another ten days living with just the bare necessities. I had a bit more than just a toothbrush and a change of clothes as nowadays there are the phone, the netbook, the net book-friend, and the necessary cables, adapters, chargers and extras that accompany me everywhere I go, and add a couple of kilos to the weight of my baggage. Of course as always amongst my bare essentials were also the paint box, the notebooks (some filled with notes for my writing, others empty waiting to be filled), pencils, paintbrushes, and the pile of papers and magazines that I tend to accumulate when travelling on tram, train, boat or plane. I do not have a car; this restricts what I carry with me.

Working as a peripatetic conductor for the past eighteen years I have had lots of practice at living out of a suitcase and at packing the bare necessities. I have learnt to judge what to take and what to leave behind. I have learnt which extras to put in to make life away from home, at work and play, easier and which to leave at home. The most useful item that I have ever decided to take with me to a place of work was quite a large dinosaur puppet that I made to use with a group of boys in Norway. Stinky Stig took up a huge chunk of suitcase space on that trip. even when I stuffed him with some of my other bare essentials. It was worth giving up space that could have housed an extra pullover, because Stinky Stig gave us a month of joy and motivation.

On this my latest trip my saving grace for motivation at work were CDs featuring those old rockers Tina Turner and Rod Stewart – all new music to rock to as we worked. Bending, stretching, painting or cooking to Simply the Best and Maggie May makes life for a twenty- year-old Petö old-timer a lot more fun, and for me too.

While I am away from home I am restricted to having just a few of my own personal belongings around me. As I pack I have to decide whether I will want to spend spare moments in the following weeks drawing, painting, walking, swimming or reading.

For my work

Although I only have the bare essentials for my personal needs' what about in my work? Do I have only bare necessities there too?

When I work with clients in their homes I do not have all the usual “Petö” tools available to me that I have when working in a team at a centre. I do not have a bottomless Mary Poppins bag from which I can produce plinths, benches, balls, rings and wall bars.

But I have a lot of other things instead that I do not have in centre based situations.

I certainly would not say that I am working with the bare necessities. In fact I believe that I am working with the absolute essentials when I am in a client’s home, definitely not less than I need but really much more than I usually have.

Necessities of life

All around me and my client when we work in the home is all that we need to learn how to successfully live a conductive life. There are the parents, the siblings and grandparents. The aunties and uncles and cousins are often down the road too. There is the village with its residents or the town and its community and all the associated activities. There are the school, the riding stables, the swimming club, the hills to walk in, the bike, the go-cart, and many more people, places and objects with an influential role in the client’s life.

As for my own bare necessities as I travel, I know what I need to keep me happy in the few spare hours that I have. I have my walking boots, this time exchanged for snow boots, so I can traipse over hill and dale with or without my clients. I have my paint-box, my camera and of course a few notebooks. I always carry too many pencils and brushes for my needs but an artist can never have too many of either and I never know beforehand which ones I will need.

My net book and my net book-friend have also recently become my constant companions although when I started the business of being a travelling conductor eighteen years ago I did not even have a mobile phone.

A good read

I rarely pack a book these days as I always have too much to read and write without one, including the English language newspaper that I always pick up as a treat at railway stations or airports.

At the very last minute before I set out on a journey I go from room to room in my home gathering up any unread papers. The Guardian Weekly from the kitchen table, the Fairy Magazine from the bathroom, the Best of British from my bed and often a railway magazine from the sofa.

Hot Rod

If I am really lucky a friend in England will ask me a week or so before I am off for the address of where I shall be staying. If this happens then I can anticipate that on arrival I will be greeted with a treat for a reader like me. Sometimes the treat is in some way work-related and sometimes it is not.

This time I am glad to say that it was not.

When I arrived at my latest place of employment there was a big envelop awaiting me. I opened it and had pulled the glossy contents only a few inches out when a smile reached from one of my ears to the other!

After Tina Turner my favourite old rocker is Rod Stewart. There he was on the front cover of my new glossy December issue of the American publication Model Railroader. Underneath Rod’s youthful-looking portrait I read “Exclusive: Rod Stewart – see what’s new on the rock'n' roller's HO layout”.

That was a surprise - I had not known that Rod was as loopy as I am when it comes to trains. Perhaps not quite as loopy as me as he builds in HO scale, while I fiddle away in N, but loopy all the same.

When Rod travels his bare necessities include his modeling gear and the hotels set him up with a table and bright lighting. He spends his free hours building skyscrapers, bridges, shops and factories, for what can only be described as his huge layout.

Rod Stewart’s Three Rivers City layout looks absolutely amazing. It has dimensions that I can only dream of, 23 feet by 124 feet. A landscape full of life, with factories, cranes, bridges shops and houses, junk yards, docks, and people scurrying about their business. The layout looks lived in. There are wonderful advertising slogans painted on the sides of red-brick buildings, there are oil barrels turned into incinerators behind derelict breakers' yards, there are old tyres scattered here and there, and wooden pallets in back alleyways. There are crooked back staircases that one can imagine once made excellent escape routes for gangsters, now with the washing hanging out at the top. There are ivy-covered back walls, abandoned sack barrows and disused telegraph poles. The streets are busy with delivery trucks, limousines and wonderful American trucks.

It is a downtown Manhattan of a bygone, postwar era. The attention to detail in both the landscaping and the buildings is just wonderful to look at, from a half-shut and broken blind in an office block window to a painted shadow cast by a supposed late-afternoon sun.

This amazing layout was started by Rod in 1994. He builds the railroads and does all the wiring when he is at home and the models he makes while on tour. His modeler's toolbox goes everywhere with him.

I have tried this just once, carefully packing my finished N-scale terraced house with cotton wool in a sturdy box and crossing my fingers that it would arrive back at my flat, still in one piece. I do not have the crew that Rod has to carry the workbox safely to a truck for transport to the next gig!

I decided that the worry of waiting to see whether my carefully rolled chimneys are still intact after bouncing around in my suitcase for several hours is not worth it so, after my one and only attempt at modeling “on tour”, I decided to stick to painting.

Having now read this brilliant article about Rod about three times over while living out of a suitcase for the past fourteen days, I may just be tempted to give it just one more go. How I would love to build such an impressive layout as his while away from home with just the bare necessities and I certainly do have the time.


Good observation, says Rod, is essential for a modeler. Essential too for conductors. Rod has observed life in downtown cities for years from hotel windows. And you can tell.

It is obvious from the angle of the broken blind on the tenth floor, from the warm glow of the colours of the brickwork, from the angle of the shadow cast by strategically placed lighting, from the writing on the walls and from the make-do fencing around the scrap yard.

It was interesting to read about Rod Stewart’s concern about how his fans might react to his hobby when it was made public when the first such article appeared in the Model Railroader in December 2007. As it turned out fans really enjoy sharing his interest, some even search for out-of-production kits for him, that eventually find a home in the Three Rivers City layout. Other fans have been known to throw HO railcars onto the stage, embossed with Rod’s name.

I have never had anything in N-scale thrown at me while I work but I have been given gifts for my own modest layout, that has yet to find a proper home.

Something I think I will get into the habit of doing what I have just read that Rod does, writing the dates when the model was started and completed inside the structure somewhere, then adding to this a few words about what was going on in the world at the time. Rod says that he often writes the latest score at Celtic Football Club. I do not think that I will be recording Norwich City’s results in my buildings but maybe in the confined space inside an N-scale model I will write a comment on the weather or the state of affairs in the conductive world!

Many thanks for the post that added that little bit extra to the bare necessities during my latest travels, and for giving me the joy of discovering that my rock ‘n’ roll favourite (after Tina T.), is just as loopy as I am!


Jungle Book's The Bare Necessities of Life-

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