The Kids Are Alright

A debate that surfaces from time to time in the modelling press is the question of layout heights. There are two main schools of thought in this.

Layouts should be built at adult eye level. After all, the majority of exhibition visitors are adults, and the majority of exhibitors are also adults – why build a layout where you have to bend down to see it properly?

Layouts should be built lower than eye level. That way, children and wheelchair users can see them as well as everybody else.

Speaking personally, I take the second view. I remember as a young child going to visit Certain Shows That Shall Remain Nameless and being very irritated by successions of layouts that were too high for me to see unless the Da lifted me up. Meanwhile, right now, I’m quite a lot taller (at least six inches if not more), and looking at child-eye-level layouts is no great hardship. There are alternative solutions, of course. The best is to provide some sort of box or bench for children to stand on. That way, adults don’t have to bend down and kids don’t have to be lifted up (resulting in later back pain that makes bending down harder).

All this, of course, is obvious. The real point of this entry, which is being written at the end of a long Saturday night, is that I’ve noticed there’s a certain attitude among some modellers, who again will not be named (I can’t remember their names), towards the concept of children at exhibitions. Namely, the belief that they shouldn’t be there in the first place. The argument is that, basically, most modellers are adults, therefore why bother producing a show that’s accessible to children and young people? Which in some ways is valid… and in some ways is not. Whichever way you look at it, the person making the argument is not a very nice person. The argument can be rephrased as “it is better to effectively slam the door in the face of a few than to cause mild annoyance to many.”

The other solution is to produce layouts specifically aimed at children. I don’t necessarily mean yet another Thomas the Tank Engine – not that there’s anything wrong with that, of course. Vintage train displays seem to be popular with younger visitors. Quirky layouts, whether you go so far as a Rowland Emett-style line or just an unusual prototype, always look to go down well. Animated features and interesting cameos are a good way to keep the kids interested. That way, there’s something to occupy the kids while Daddy enjoys the finescale stuff.

I realise that there are some modellers who feel that children at exhibitions are one step above a rat infestation, but – if we’re going to keep up the broad generalisations – most kids are okay. The sort of kids who are interested in model railways are probably not the sort of kids who hang around shopping precincts in hoodies, let’s be honest. Provided the parents are keeping an eye on them, what’s the problem? You can mutter about how they don’t appreciate the hours of work that have gone into it or whatever, but hey – plenty of kids enjoy X-Men without appreciating the civil/gay rights allegorical subtexts. Doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be there.

 The fact is that some kids like trains and they like model railways. Maybe they’re not the ones who spend the money, maybe they’re not going to join your club, but in their way, they’re enthusiasts the same as you. Don’t be a jerk about it.

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