Wednesday, July 21, 2010

In Training

This one is primarily for Darcy, who made the very salient observation in response to this post last week that 'Trains are Always Cool.'

Indeed they are.

Especially if you're 19 months old, it would appear.

In response to our son's current obsessive affair with all things locomotive, and in an effort to utterly wear him out on a rainy saturday afternoon, last weekend we took him to visit Cockington Green Gardens. You may now snigger at the name, if you wish.*

Now, Cockington Green isn't for everyone. Imogen has fond memories of being regularly taken there as a child by her Grandmother, every time they visited Canberra. When we visited, the general crowd fitted into three categories:

1. Grandparents with their grandkiddies.
2. Parents with their kiddies.
3. Perplexed Indian Tourists.

It's a bit difficult to describe Cockington Green, except to say that it is, perhaps, one of the oddest places I've ever visited. There are lots of lovely, beautifully tended, English cottage-style gardens, all filled with miniature buildings. Miniature windmills. Miniature houses. Miniature villiage greens, soccer matches, canal locks complete with barges, a miniature hedge maze, miniature stonehenge, even a *bizarre* miniature tableau of what appeared to be four policemen burying someone alive while watched by a Franciscan Monk.**

And, of course, miniature railways.

Running between the tiny towns and buildings are tiny railways, of various scales and types, ranging from little steam trains to a funicular railway up an embankment, to a high-speed British intercity train, right up to the granddady of them all; a ride-on, gas-fired steam engine, which putters around the gardens at a suitably sedentary pace.

As you can imagine, Toby loved it:

The Miniature Steam Train. You can see Toby and Imogen at the back of the first carriage. They wouldn't let me drive it. Yet...

He especially loved the ride along train which, being steam-powered, made all the right hissing, chuffing and whistling noises. His father was rather impressed with this, too.

I should confess my longer term fascination with model railways here: My grandfather, on dad's side, had the most awesome miniature railway set, mounted on an enormous table which winched away into the roof of his garage. It was a proper miniature gauge railway, with stations and points, and tunnels, and sidings and a dozen small engines and rolling stock. There was even a train with a mail car that automatically snatched miniature mailbags from the a tiny gantry hanging at the end of one of the tiny station. When Grandad Percy fired up the train set - that was hours of entertainment, right there.

After he died, the trainset got pulled apart and passed around a little bit until it ended up with my dad, but we didn't have room to set it up, so it's currently in its component parts - most of the rolling stock still in their original boxes, because that's the sort of bloke my Grandfather was - in the attic at mum and dad's house. One day, when I have a house with enough rooms, I've got every intention of bringing that train set back to life.

In the meantime, there's Cockington Green...

The upshot of all this is that, at the end of our visit, we bought season passes. That's right. Unlimited entry. To the tiny village place with the semi-obscene name, the bizarre miniature cops-burying-people-alive scenario and the little trains. We only have to visit one more time to make it pay for itself. And besides, I'm hoping that if I take him there often enough, they'll let me drive the steam train, thus not only making the passes super-worthwhile, but also enabling me to live out one of the archetypal childhood fantasies.

So, if anyone's coming to Canberra and fancies a ride on a little steam train, shoot me an email...

* I know I sure did.

** It occurs to me now that I should have got a photo of that one. Perhaps next time...

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