What it was that persuaded me to think that collecting bus tickets might be a good idea I cannot remember — but it quickly faded. There were stamps; both my maternal grandfather and my mother were avid collectors. Train spotting disappeared with the disappearance of steam engines from British railways. Plane spotting saw years spent on draughty viewing platforms at obscure airports with little books full of aircraft registration numbers which were dutifully ticked off, plane spotted. But nothing has ever beaten the enduring fascination for building tiny model kits, mostly of aircraft, and I must have built thousands over the years.
In my youth, it was considered character-building in some nebulous kind of way to ‘have a hobby’. Kids of the 40s and 50s were also encouraged to have some sort of healthy outdoor pursuit which was rather more obviously ‘character building’, and saw me off camping with the Sea Scouts. That fed through to adult life and decades of mountaineering, fell-walking and expedition cycling. But always, there were the little ‘planes, a plastic constant in my life that followed me here to Pakistan when I came to live permanently.
Hobbies are a luxury. None of them are free and some of them can empty your pockets faster than a bazaar pickpocket. Not only do they eat money, they can gobble time as well, and you need the luxury of leisure time to indulge in whatever it is that has captured your fancy. Most people in Pakistan have neither the disposable income nor the freedom of solitary leisure to be hobbyists — but there are some and it is the internet that now links our scattered community of plastaholics.
This being Pakistan, there is always somebody who is going to exploit a retail niche no matter how obscure. There is a model shop in Lahore and one of the large malls in Islamabad reportedly has a shop selling my drug of choice. There are tales of a shop selling, not only models, but all the bits and pieces that go with them — the glue and paint and files and fillers that are an essential part of servicing the needs of the modeling community — in a shop near Zamzama in Karachi. And then, there is the world of online.
The internet has a vast global modeling community that trundles along 24/7 and we, here, have latched on. There is a Facebook page for Pakistan modelers and I administer a very large group — almost 8,000 – strong — that has several builders from Pakistan and a goodly number from India as well.
But why bother to write about a hobby that few of us have ever heard of, never mind, have the slightest desire to take up?
About 10 years ago, I was in a toyshop in Islamabad and spotted some dusty boxes with the familiar — to me — logo of the ‘Matchbox’ model company, now long defunct. ‘Matchbox’ may be dead but the kits lived on and I asked the owner the price — and how long he had had them. Ridiculously cheap and many years were the answers to my questions. I asked him why he thought they did not sell. “Too difficult for Pakistani kids,” he said. “They do not understand the plans. Too complicated.” Quietly chuffed at my find, I paid him a very fair price and cleared a space on his shelves and went away to ponder what he said.
Long exposure has taught me that the children of Pakistan are no less bright than children in other countries, but it slowly dawned on me that what they may be lacking were the developed hand-to-eye skills and dexterity, along with the ability to relate a 2D plan to a 3D kit via an exploded diagram.
Of course, some children do have that skill set and some make models I am sure, there would not be retail outlets if they did not. So, I would like to think that somewhere out there, there is a latent group of youthful plastic-bashers — and their Mums and Dads, who have to bankroll the operation — who I and a handful of others here can hand on the baton to in years to come. Tootle-pip!
Published in The Express Tribune, October 23rd, 2014.