The Word Rabbit

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This article was written on 01 Mar 2016, and is filled under Uncategorised.

Superquick buildings and the vanished world of messy puberty

When I was young, which, I’m told, was shortly after the second world war, I wanted to build a model railway. I went as far as buying the boards, the tracks and even the trains, but we moved house just as I was starting to get it together and in amongst all the disorder, it never quite came to fruition. Months later, I was blasted by raging hormones and spent all of my spare time trying not to wank, in a way that would have gladdened the heart of the most severe moral puritan.

The period I wanted the railway to be in remained uncertain. I was clear that I wanted it to be somewhere in the south of England, because that seemed to me, trapped in a dull East Midlands suburb that was singular only in its dullness, like a land of endless rolling hills and holidays, but I didn’t know how to cope with the war. Should it be before, or after? This affected all manner of details in which my teenage heart delighted in, from the colour of the carriages to the style of the engines and even the buildings. And it was here, in the buildings, that I lost myself.

I fell in love with model kits designed by a company called Superquick. They were made of card, had realistic plastic windows and with a bit of dedication, you could knock one up in a couple of nights while you studiedly weren’t trying to interfere with yourself. The designers of Superquick buildings seem to have died in a plane accident in the late sixties, because that’s where the buildings could be dated to with almost uncanny accuracy. There was a three building set, comprising a hotel, offices and a pub, with the pub’s name being in the most fantastic, italicised caps as well as a country pub, shops and robust terraced cottages.

Pride of place, though, was a model I never got my hands on, and that was the ABC cinema, flanked by Boots and the Post Office. It had a positively daring art deco facade, with its centrepiece as an arch of glass, all lines and curves and a triangular logo that made it seem like a modest attempt at being daring without being too confrontational. There were others, including, if memory serves, a new-look fifties office building which was all sweeping expanses of glass and cladding, which I also fell in love with and which seemed thrusting, optimistic and bold.

And that, of course, is the thing. I was growing up in the eighties, when it was clear that whatever optimism people had felt in the late fifties or early sixties was destined to become perverted into free market capitalism and all manner of people who would once have been derided as spivs and wideboys getting rich overnight. But in the Superquick models, it was fixed forever in card and paper. There was no eighties, for even seventies. Just an eternal present and the present was a fine thing indeed, with its bright, shining walkways, daringly slanted pub fonts and nice, clean buildings.

What happened inside those houses and other buildings fascinated me because there were no people in the Superquick world. It was a town that had either had a neutron bomb go off in its centre and vaporise the inhabitants or was seen in the early morning, just before everyone started going about their business. That was part of its curious charm, though. Without people, you could dream them up. And with dreamed up people, came dreamed up lives. Did the pub sell Scotch eggs that had been kept in a glass cabinet on the bar? What were people likely to be doing in the office I wanted to build? And who would have lived in the houses?

Back in the days before Twitter et al, this was what passed for my entertainment, spending hours in earnest toil, trying to neatly fold the porch of a terraced house so that its walls were at ninety degrees or fitting out the urinal for a station which was destined never to have a single train go through it because I couldn’t find a room big enough in our new house. The world of these buildings was unreal, because it never had to live with daily realities or ever get shabby in quite the same way that these buildings became shabby in real life. It was there, preserved as if under glass, at a time when I suppose my body and my world must have been changing at breakneck speed.

I have no idea where these buildings are now, if my mum hasn’t thrown them all away, but I can still remember how seductive their world was, how cosily insulated from the realities of school politics and boys and girls becoming men and women. They say you can never stand in the same river twice, such is the speed of the water flowing through it, and although I want to build these models again now, I know that I won’t ever recreate the same feeling or become the same curiously aged child as I was when I built them. For all that, they’re part of me and part, I suppose of history.

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