The Chemical Odour of Nostalgia: Building the Lindberg Nautilus.
When I was young, before even the last decade of the last millennium, a thing that was done by kids — I think I can safely say mostly boys — was assembling plastic model kits of aeroplanes, cars, boats, tanks and so on. Most often, sadly, things with guns. The 1980s saw the rise of video games and the further receding of world war II, with its iconic Spitfires and Messerschmitt Bf 109s, and the idea of gluing together and painting bits of plastic became increasingly naff and passé. I suspect the continuing diversification of Lego, pushing it into older age brackets with products like ‘Technic’, also helped. But back when I was the right age for the hobby (about ten) the kits were a standard mainstream toy. I remember spending the money I earned mowing lawns on little kits of biplanes in bags, sorting through the racks of them in K-mart and plunking down my 90¢. Sopwith Camels and SPADs and (more expensively) Corsairs and Hurricanes, and one enormous kit of a Thomas Flyer car from the 1908 New York to Paris race. It even came with real mock-leather straps to hold the bonnet down.
On business in Sydney one day recently I popped into Hobbyco in the QVB to pick up the kids the customary ‘Dad’s been away’ gift, and on impulse grabbed a couple of small kits. These days only dedicated Hobby stores — not even toy shops — tend to stock them, and from what I can gather they are mainly bought by military modellers, grown men making dioramas (I will not comment). I had not bought nor built one since the 1980s, so was unaware of their marginalisation until, having bought these very simple, very small, very cheap kits to build with the kids, I started looking again.
Anyway, one kid decided he quite liked it. He is fascinated by anything that moves, but submarines are very high on his list, and this year at Christmas he got a model of the Nautilus, made by Lindberg in the USA. It was not a very good one, in my estimation. There was a lot of ‘flash’ (thin web of plastic where it should not be) and a few of the holes and slots where pieces were supposed to fit together were too small or missing. And where was the little pamphlet giving a potted history of the real Nautilus? Nowhere. On the other hand, a submarine is very simple — it is a tube with just a few bits sticking out — so it was probably a good starting one for him, and he did a great job of painting it and assembling it with just a little help from me.
It was fun to do it together. It seems to me these sorts of toys offer a middle ground between simply buying a toy complete and creating something from scratch from generic materials. Doing it as an adult I could see that construction requires patience, care, forethought and precision (and the ability to follow instructions), all things that are useful. Development of fine motor skills, too. Of course, whether the child can show these skills enough to get a good result is another question. And if they don’t show them they get a bad result and are likely to be discouraged, but ’twas ever thus.
Construction also requires a tolerance for vaporous glues and paints, even in a ‘well-ventilated space’.
I cannot imagine building a kit for my own benefit, but as an activity to undertake with a child it was really a lot of fun and brought back a lot of memories. Glue on the fingers, paint on the floor, clipping bits off the frames they come on and having to hunt around for them because they’ve skidded across the table, getting fingerprints all over the clear window-y bits, tearing the transfers when sliding them off their paper backing. Chucking away all the models I’d built as I got a little older and decided they were far too uncool. I’ve never regretted chucking them out, but I don’t regret building them either.
Next he’ll have a go at a Commonwealth Boomerang. I’ll just watch.