Saturday, 24 January 2015

MRJ 236...

Okay, some are not going to like or understand this, but...tough...
Today I bought the latest MRJ as it appeared to have some good content at a glance in the newsagents.
Well, yes, it has more than a lot of issues have, but...
The main feature is of the layout known as Black Country Blues, a combination of various peoples' skills to represent the Black Country in the 70s.  Now, having canal boated several times twixt then and recently on the BCN I can understand why that might appeal.  Industrial dereliction, tatty environment, grime, wastelands, it all should appeal to scenic modellers.  I neither know nor care about scale operation or signals, so I'll leave that side of it.

To me, a very good layout overall is spoiled by basic errors of modelmaking that really DO matter to me, in a high end project by people who one would expect only the best from.  Firstly and completely avoidable with just a little care...the Cobble Question.  Long retaining walls of moulded brick sheet that sparkle edges at you like a wall of cobbles, all for the want of a bit of 240 or 400 grit stuck to a piece of wood and rubbed vigorously over the sheet before it is used.  Flatten the bricks until they barely show, PLEASE!  Then stick it on.  Bingo, no cobbles.  So many layouts that have achieved the accepted levels of greatness are guilty of Cobble Question, including Birmingham New Street.  That is P4.  All that trouble over track and wheel standards, only to have walls of modern buildings covered in cobbles, sparkling in the sunshine from rounded edged bricks.  Bricks are not round edged even on the oldest of buildings, except where they are worn that way.
Go beyond the cobbles and you meet Corneritis, face on.  How can people bother about mortar colour and brick weathering when they make no attempt whatsoever to create continuity of courses round corners?  At least blend the sheets and file the courses round, even if you ignore Queen Closers and Half Batts.  Nobody wants to see a vertical, irregular joint 'twixt two sheets of Slater's brick sheets. Come on, anyone should do better than that.  I've seen brick paper used more intelligently.
I have had my grievances with Andy York, Heaven knows, but his lonely canal cottage at the back of the layout is completely free of Cobblitis and is far and away the best building on the layout and would grace any scene, so credit where it is genuinely due, to my surprise!

The canal, which seems to be very well modelled, what I can see of it, has cracks all over the water surface like some Old Master.  I imagine that has happened subsequently to its construction, but it needs sorting, desperately.  Nice to see properly modelled ground paddle furniture though.  Some of those paddles are seriously stiff!  It would have been nice to see Caggy Stevens with his 'Oss standing by one of his day boats too.  Caggy was using an 'oss till the late 80s.  We have a report he wrote in barely legible English about our boat, Heather Bell, in which he says, "Oi ave knowed HB for 40 year..."

Alignment.  I noticed a lot of structures way out of line. Bridge piers, concrete panelling, bay windows and the like.  That really grates as you look through the photos.  It takes no more care to line stuff up as to leave it, well...pissed!

I make these comments only because I get a bit annoyed when something is supposed to be amongst the best and clearly isn't, especially in a £4-20 magazine!

Next up, Black Lion Crossing.  Well, I bought a recent copy of MRJ to see what the fuss was all about. I'm still waiting to find out!  It's all very "nice", but seems to me to lack atmosphere.  I know Geoff Kent has been involved in some real "classic" layouts, but this one?  I don't know so much. The crossing gate is cock-eyed, but is nicely made.  I haven't seen an overall view of the project so it's difficult to tell what it all should look like.  It is claimed that the model is almost 100% scratchbuilt, yet most of the vehicles are either kits or diecasts, the fuel pumps in the grossly overhyped garage scene are Dart castings, etc.  That ain't scratchbuiling, I'm afraid.  And most of all and possibly the main cause of the lack of atmosphere is the road.  No camber and FAR too clean.  I think the jury is well and truly out on this one.

Then there's a mighty 7mm scale Garratt, but blow me if it ain't from a kit.  I was so looking forward to a nice scratchbuild article.

Nice little article of tiny details by Geoff Kent.  Architectural mainly, well photographed and observed.  Good captions too.  Almost worth the cover price.

The article on accurate 5" gauge wagons (apart from the gauge, of course) is impressive.  I just wonder where these people have what is, in effect, a 5" gauge train set!  But I bet they have fun if everything is as well made as the wagons in the article.  And there was I, thinking 16mm scale is too big!

Drighlington/ Adwalton hit me with electronics and storage yards, so I flicked over.  Sorry, but nothing could interest me less, apart from Blue Diesels, money or football.

And finally, good ol' Gordon Gravett, obviously unimpressed with Lifecolour's Lichen and Moss Combo set.  Glossy fixers in lairy colours and what appears to be yer average chopped sponge scatter which has been given an extra wizz in the coffee grinder, makes neither moss OR lichen in any remotely convincing way!

Anyway, a nicely edited issue, by Roy Jackson.  Only some of the content was flawed.  But at that price I would want much higher quality content on a much more regular basis to buy it every time.


  1. Here I was, sitting in a dismal haze of misery brought on by home insurance and moronic inspectors.
    Then suddenly I wasn't any longer. The trumpets blared, Thunder boomed and lighting split the heavens as the clouds parted and the golden rays of sunshine rained down upon my bald pate! I had read you blog and found true Nirvana!
    All it took was "two words" and all was right in the world once again. Hope you find the URL I sent you about the Garretts useful.
    You are a genuine national treasure, yes, yes you are!

  2. Thankyou, old friend, for what I'm sure will be the only comment of that nature I'll get on this post! If I lifted the fog of every day for you for one minute, I have done my good deed for the day.

  3. I think I found a bit more to enjoy in this issue than you did, but I have to agree with you on some of the BCB photos. I know it's a closeup but the bridge abutment on the double page photo (pages 16 and 17) is clearly two pieces of butted up plasticard with no attempt at lining up the brick courses or continuing them around the corner, and it so glaringly obvious. Maybe it's less noticeable in real life but...

  4. I did like the landscape treatment on Black Country Blues...the lovely treatment of the herbage round the bridge arches went a long way towards forgiving the slightly glossy sheen of the bridge. I also loved the HGV road vehicles, from a period when I was driving trucks a lot of the time. The photos from Geoff Kent of architectural details were, as you say, excellent.

  5. Mark, I generally enjoyed the issue. I gave a deeper read last night, but I had to mention those architectural model blunders on BCB. There's really no excuse, when you consider the only vaguely veiled assertions in the article that they are all top modellers. My basic rule in life generally is, "tell me you're good and you'd better be BLOODY good". But show me you tried and I'll help you all I can and then sing your praises.

  6. The landscaping IS nicely arranged, Iain and does offer a look at the industrial wasteland which was that part of the Brum conurbation. It looked like that when I boated the BCN in the 70s. It isn't much different now. Between Tipton and the Worcester and Birmingham Junction there are stretches where you could lose yourself from modern life and, it seems, never be found! The road vehicles are generally good, if a little over-weathered in the case of the cars in the car park. In those days having a new marina or Cortina was quite an achievement for an office worker. They'd have looked after them better. But the brickwork.... Oh dear!