Not just for anoraks: model railways are a joyful escape from the pressures of masculinity

Rod Stewart has donated £10,000 to a model railway club whose exhibition was destroyed by vandals. We enthusiasts know how much the hobby can help mental health

The singer and model railway enthusiast Rod Stewart was “absolutely devastated” after vandals trashed years of work by the Market Deeping Model Railway Club in an apocalypse of stations, locomotives and scenery. Stewart, who has said that appearing in model railway magazines means more to him than the cover of Rolling Stone, has donated £10,000 towards a fund to replace the damaged items.

The reaction to the incident has seen a strange outpouring of collective male emotion, no doubt connected to other, hidden, sensations of loss.

Stewart, and other grieving enthusiasts such as myself, understand that this is more than an act of wanton destruction. Model railway layouts are collaborative affairs, the result of thousands of hours of painstaking work from people across generations. No doubt some of the smashed buildings and engines were seen by club members as memorials to those who had built them – and have since died.

Luke Turner with a (full-sized) locomotive.
Luke Turner with a (full-sized) locomotive. Photograph: Luke Turner

Model railways not only give older people a sense of purpose and community, but also create a safe space for young people out of step with their testosterone-addled peers to create. As a fairly solitary child, my small model railway was where I could make new worlds, narratives and histories. I would imagine war or bad weather coming to my layout, followed by Dr Beeching’s cuts, then its revival as a heritage railway. Building and running the line provided an escape from playing sports or computer games, seemingly more masculine pursuits I couldn’t get my head around.

Nowadays, the space constraints of city life sadly mean that a new line is beyond my means, although I have a British Rail Class 31 diesel on a short stretch of track on a bookshelf. Instead, I follow model societies on Instagram and marvel at their creations. At night, I close my eyes and imagine the lines I would love to build – a slate quarry railway in north Wales, a giant northern terminus station – and treat it as a form of meditation, an attempt to stave off regular nightmares and force sleep. If there is something positive to be taken from the Market Deeping disaster, it might be a chance to look at the world of modellers not merely as a bunch of sad anoraks, but a space in which masculinity and mental health can be positively explored, a novel and creative form of #selfcare.


Luke Turner

The GuardianTramp

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