Thursday, April 05, 2012

Ship models

I am an inveterate purchaser of plastic model kits.  This is partly because I used to build models when I was small, before I had any soldiers, and partly because it is easier to find model kits for sale on the high street than soldiers when you need an "impulse" buy. However, I never finish them (even though I quite often start them) because I always feel guilty when working on them that I should be painting soldiers instead. 

Planes hanging from Guy's ceiling

I have, therefore, decided to dispose of some of my previous impulse buys on eBay because I am running (well, actually have run) out of space in my study and the loft.  Model kits take up a lot of space so  many of them have to go.  As I mentioned in a previous post, from 1984 until about 1994 my hobby activity was entirely focussed on building Hasegawa 1/72nd models of US Navy aircraft.  Some of these are now hanging from my son’s ceiling and this is the reason I still occasionally buy an aircraft kit: the ceiling hanging method is a good way to display them when you are short of space.

So, I regularly buy Airfix Model World (the most porno of hobby magazines) which doesn’t exactly discourage me from adding to the unbuilt pile in the loft (like a lead pile but taking up much more space).  From memory the worst offenders as regards space are the four Airfix 1/24th planes, a Tamiya 1/32 F14, and Airfix Saturn V, Vostok and Space Shuttle kits (bought for my daughter who is, in every way, a space cadet).  There are all sorts of US Navy aircraft and1/72 WW2 planes, mainly bought for my son and his D-Day games. The worst offenders, from the point of space and numbers, however, are ship models. 

I love model ships of every type and from memory in the loft I have HMS Victory, Vasa, Hood, Repulse, King George V, Emden, German frigates, Cousteau’s Calypso, Mauretania, Titanic, RMS Queen Mary, Jeremiah O’Brien and no doubt many others I have forgotten.  For some reason I find ship kits more satisfactory than aircraft but the problem with them is, of course, that they are very difficult to display when you have no shelf space left in the house.  Hanging them from the ceiling would look bizarre, although I am reminded of an AE van Vogt story I read years ago where a creature at the bottom of the sea thought that passing ships were aircraft as it couldn’t sense the existence of water; the ships just seemed to hang in space above him.

I bought this model of the Liberty ship Jeremiah O'Brien because I went on board the original in San Francisco a few years ago (below)

HMS Repulse will definitely be going on eBay shortly although we are loathe to part with any of the others!  I should not, therefore, be contemplating buying any more model ship kits.  However there are two calling to me at present, both as a result of advertisements in Airfix Model World.

First, is the new Airfix 1/400 Titanic, a re-tooling of the old Academy kit which was the only one approved by the RMS Titanic Association.  At £49.99 it's a lot cheaper than the old Academy kit too.  I have been interested in the Titanic for years since meeting a lady, Eva Hart, who had been on it, as a little girl, when it sank.  This was when I worked at Lloyd’s of London, who used to display in their exhibition the original loss book open at the Titanic entry page.  All shipping losses were entered in this book in a quill pen (they still are), which was kept on the floor of the underwriting room. I remember, when I looked at the book, being amazed at how many large ships (more than a 1,000 tons to make the book, I think) sank around the world –around fifteen a month in the early nineties - although I believe the number is much less these days.  It’s still more than one a week, though. 

The loss book in the underwriting room at Lloyd's

The current media frenzy about Titanic is understandable given the centenary this month but a part of me feels that all these recent Titanic fans only appeared after James Cameron’s film came out so I slightly, and illogically, resent them as not being proper aficionados. It's like when everyone discovers music which you felt only a small number of people knew about (Diana Krall springs to mind).  I had a girlfriend once whose older sister remembers seeing a new but interesting group playing support at a Helen Shapiro concert.  When everyone became a Beatles fan she lost interest in them.

The other model kit I am interested in is also a large scale one (inconveniently) and has been appearing in adverts in the inside cover of Airfix Model world for some months now.  This is the USS Olympia, a cruiser launched in 1892 and the flagship of Commodore George Dewey at the battle of Manila Bay against the Spanish in 1898 after which, arguably, the United States was taken seriously as a world power for the first time.

This is another ship I have been on board as it is currently moored in Philadelphia, although it is in dire need of restoration, particularly below the waterline.  They are currently trying to get different bodies to contribute towards the extensive restoration it needs.

The United States in Philadelphia - a ship which I saw at full steam back in the sixties

Sadly, they don't seem to be too good at preserving their ships in Philadelphia; the liner the United States is rotting away just a couple of miles from the Olympia.  Let's hope the money can be raised to pay for the repairs the Olympia needs.

Inside, it is a real transitional ship with lots of splendid wood paneling and brass inside its steel hull.  It was also the ship that carried the body of the US unknown soldier back from France to Americas after the First World War.

The bow of the WW2 submarine Becuna and the USS Olympia with the battleship New Jersey on the other side of the Delaware River.

So several large distractions on the horizon if I am not careful.  Going to see the new 3D version of Titanic next week may be a bad idea, therefore!


  1. I have only ever built one ship, the Airfix HMS Leander(?) I think. Was a very poor attempt which has put me of for at least 35 years-but I do like the WW1 ships.

  2. I too was fond of aircraft kits as a kid (hung from the ceiling). Also made a couple tanks, but found they had very fiddly wheel assemblies to do, and the soft plastic track withstood all attempts to glue it in glue known to man seems to make it stick, so I gave up on them... (thank the Gods that PSC tanks have a cast rigid plastic track that goes on fine). I've never done a ship before...

    The problem with models like these is, once you've made them , what do you do with it? There's only so much display space a house has!