I have been amused by recent events on a web forum, relating to a letter published in a model railway magazine. The letter was pleasantly worded (I checked this with my wife, who is not so much a disinterested party as a supremely disinterested party) and made some observations relating to such things as the correct uniform and headgear for a policeman in that part of the country at that time, what sort of bus would be present and the paint scheme it would carry, and so forth. All in all, I would say this is really useful information, and it was offered freely so that the layout concerned could be even better – and so that anyone else interested in that particular time and place could take one step closer to creating a realistic scene. I am sure we have all watched films and TV shows and commented (or thought) that the train being used didn’t exist in the era or location in which the unfolding story is set. Well, this is that sort of issue: “Here is something I know, because at that time, I lived in the area. If you get this right, then your layout will be even more believable.”

The builder of the layout being “criticised” was upset about this and viewed it as very negative nit-picking, and was more than a bit churlish and childish about it. Unfortunately, the inevitable storm in a teacup ensued, and rather than point out that the letter actually required some effort to write and was intended to provide information of help to the layout builder so could he please calm down and put his toys back in the pram, his on-line “friends” sent him messages of support, and generally joined in the condemnation of the letter writer and the magazine editor for daring to print the letter and thereby increase the sum of human knowledge. Anyone attempting to put the other view was subject to the usual cyber-activities of ad hominem attacks rather than reasoned argument (difficult to put one, if there are no reasonable arguments). It was a disgusting sight, thankfully brought to my attention sometime after the event and the matter was deemed closed, so I managed to avoid making a silly arse of myself by getting involved. As my wife said, “It’s only toy trains at the end of the day.” As she is a community-based psychiatrist and is told to go forth, multiply and die a horrible death on a daily basis, she thought the abuse was quite lightweight, but she has seen internet bullying in action elsewhere and thought the above event was unpleasant. I only hope that the upset party has written a letter to the magazine, expressing his displeasure, so that the editor can print it and let the world see how petulant and petty some people can be in the face of criticism. I doubt that a response would be really necessary.

What, you may ask, has this to do with armchairs? Well, one of the more childish responses made against the letter writer was, “Until she [yes, it was a lady modeller] shows us that she has built a layout, and offered it for criticism, she can’t comment on anyone else’s layout”. This sort of line gets trotted out at regular intervals, often with the phrase “armchair modeller”, but just because it is regularly repeated doesn’t stop it being poppycock. On this basis, I cannot vote as I have never been a politician; I can’t proclaim my preference for Mozart over Beethoven as I have never written a concerto or symphony, and so on. (I presume that, although very amateurish, the fact that I have written directed and produced school plays, and help with scenery construction, lighting and even acted in amateur dramatics, I am allowed to have an opinion on the theatre, if not plays in general. Or am I restricted to amateur productions and pantomime?)

No, this is ludicrous. By all means react appropriately to people who tell you how you must conduct your modelling, especially if they have never done anything at all themselves, as this is rude and presumptuous of them. But offering an opinion? Suggesting a possible but different approach? Proffering more information? Since when have we ceased to have a free society, and one which requires experience of delivering entertainment/products/services rather than simply enjoying them before being able to think and talk about it?

Thankfully, the finescale modelling world seems more tolerant of people making an effort and the sharing of information, but can still fall back on the, “Where’s yours, then?” school of response. But may I suggest that next time someone politely offers a suggestion, provides information or even proffers criticism, ask yourself if they are trying to help you – and thank them if you think they are.

15 thoughts on “Armchairs

  1. Trevor

    Well said, Simon. The internet has been a great tool for collecting and sharing information but its anonymity makes it easy for people to engage in rude behavior. I’m sure the conversation about this letter would’ve been much more civil if the writer had been in the room with her critics and supporters.
    When I feel I’m being attacked online I try to draw on my Canadian reputation for politeness – I take a deep breath and ask myself if I’m misinterpreting something. Frequently I am – what appears to be an attack is simply a poorly worded offer if help. And if it turns out I am being criticized unfairly, I question whether it’s worth my time to get I to an online fisticuffs. The answer is almost always “no”. If I’m happy with the work I’m doing, then frankly I don’t care what others think.
    I’ll admit I do use a variation of the “show me yours” response in extreme cases. I remind my critic that hobbyists are always keen for fresh material and I encourage them to write an article / produce a video / start a blog / etc and share their knowledge with the world. Since, in this hobby, that requires actually doing something, it rarely happens. But I haven’t decreed that others can’t comment without doing it – just that it’s more constructive to share their knowledge in a medium that, yes, will expose them to criticism, too.

    1. Dunks Post author

      “When I feel I’m being attacked… …I try to draw on my Canadian reputation for politeness”.

      Funny thing is, when I feel I’m being attacked, I try to think how you might respond, being a polite Canadian and good with words for a living!

  2. Trevor

    And you’re right: I find the fine scale communities – or the people who work in coarse scales but with a fine scale attitude – are much more civilized. They’re also more likely to make an effort to understand what another modeller Is trying to achieve before offering comment. The “model trains are fun” bunch seem to have thinner skins, and to be quicker to pass judgement based on their own needs and wants in the hobby.

  3. Adrian

    I watched that play out. Once upon a time I might have said something, but these days I really can’t be bovvered. Rule One (It’sMyTrainSet) and ‘Where’s yours then?’ get played so often they’ve become favourite excuses by the purveyors of arrogant mediocrity to take offence and scream insolence and effrontery at anyone who, even politely, dares to suggest that an area could be improved upon. And that it was a little woman….well, how DARE she! I doubt he’d have reacted the same if it was one of the big male names of yesteryear such as Denny or Jenks who’d written the letter.

    Well tough. If you shove your modelling under the collective noses of your peers, especially if they have to pay to see it in a magazine, and if you’ve got your facts wrong then be prepared for a good kick up the jacksie, accept it gracefully and then ask for another for good measure.

    OK, that’s a little harsh, but what’s the harm in saying ‘thanks for taking an interest in the toys of my second childhood, and I appreciate your comments’ – even if you’ve no intention on following through on them?

    1. Dunks Post author

      Hope you don’t mind, but I removed direct references to the specific debate, as I am not looking to continue the specific argument, but highlight a general issue.


      1. Adrian

        No, of course that’s fine.

        It’s a bit unfair of you to remove my derogatory remarks about your method of eating asparagus though.

  4. Dunks Post author

    Thanks, Adrian.

    I picked up comment whilst stuck in traffic on the M42, so was glad of the relief!


  5. Adrian

    Anything to cheer up your dull journey!

    Oh, the avocado and calabrese have disappeared – you must have cleaned up the mess 😉

    1. Dunks Post author

      Well, I thought I would spare your blushes, at least as far as casual browsers (as opposed to subscribers/followers) are concerned. But as you demonstrated that time, calabrese is remarkably good at removing the avocado stains. Who would have thought it?

  6. terry2foot

    My comment would be to spare a thought for the Moderators (if any) of the forum with members like the ones described.
    It’s a “damned if you do” and a “damned if you don’t” situation as regards intervening, and as for reminding such members to be civil otherwise their privileges to post freely might be impeded…….
    As Trevor says, the behaviour allowed by anonymous posting to a board far exceeds what would happen face to face (I hope) and over such a ridiculous topic as supposedly grown men playing with their train sets.
    Far better not to get involved,
    My two cents worth,

  7. p4newstreet

    The sad thing here is that once published the layout owner seemed to think that elevated the value of his opinion over that of others. Sadly the forums are full of people who are only in it to be told how great they are. In this case being top of the mediocrity is still just mediocre.

  8. penninemc

    Apologies for coming late to this, but I’m surprised by just how far word has spread of this incident. It was, as others have suggested, one of the most unedifying tantrums I’ve seen for some time. But sadly the ‘inverse elitist’ culture is well known now, the kneejerk reactions to anything remotely negative or anyone who wants to talk of raising standards.

    Terry, it’s difficult to comment on the moderation aspect without veering into the specifics of an area that Simon may not want visiting; suffice to say perhaps that the general ‘piling on’ mentality that was evident here has long been a cultural thing on that site, and that the admin (IMHO) does little to dissuade it.

    1. Dunks Post author

      Hi Ian,

      Thanks for that comment: I stumbled across the piece via a friend’s blog. As you say, I would rather not get into the specifics of where it happened.

      I do think that there was an admin attempt to dissolve the situation with humour, but it was too subtle and nowhere near strong enough, at least in hindsight.

      Hohum. I do frequent parts of that board, but rarely venture outside of three forums: north American, S scale and ‘pre-grouping’. I am told that the “specialist” forums create virtually no trouble, but the more “common user” (take that as you will!) forums can be a nightmare, as we both know.


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