Excerpt from Timekeepers by Simon Garfield, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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How the World Became Obsessed With Time

by Simon Garfield

Timekeepers by Simon Garfield X
Timekeepers by Simon Garfield
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  • First Published:
    Jan 2018, 368 pages
    Dec 2018, 368 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Rory L. Aronsky
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About this Book

Print Excerpt

Chapter 3: The Invention of the Timetable
i) The Fastest Thing You Ever Did See

Do you plan on being alive for the next two-and-a-half years? If the answer is Yes, you may begin building Mallard. This magnificent British steam locomotive, streamlined and Garter Blue, is available for construction each week from your newsagent, and if you keep the faith for 130 weeks, and buy all the bits required and assemble them, you will end up with a 500mm-length engine and tender (almost 20 inches), weighing about 2 kilos.

Mallard was originally built in Doncaster in 1938, but in 2013 the publishers Hachette offered the amateur modeler the chance to build a highly detailed replica as a part-work, a precision-tooled miniature of the 'O' gauge variety, designed to run on 32mm track ('track not included'). The model is made from brass, white metal, etched metal and an intricate metallic casting process called 'lost wax', and requires not only considerable patience and skill to assemble, but also tools including round-nose pliers and top-cutter pliers, and a recommendation to wear protective gloves and a face mask. When you have finished making your model, you may then paint it (paint not included).

Issue Number 1, priced at only 50p, consists of the first metal parts and a magazine that tells you a bit about Mallard's history and great railroad enterprises such as the Trans-Siberian Railway. The magazine is hole-punched for easy storage, and, after a few weeks, the magazines should be put in a binder (first binder and dividers included free with your second magazine; subsequent binders not included).

The first choice you must make is whether to superglue or solder (solder not included and not recommended). Instructions for the first week's parts, which will make the driver's cab, come in twelve sections, and include using the top-cutter pliers to remove all parts from the fret, smoothing the edges with wet & dry sandpaper, punching three dots in each tab to form raised rivets, and placing the left-front cab window bead in position with the pliers. If you actually like doing this you will be delighted with the free Modeller's Magnifying Glass to inspect the smaller parts (if you reply within 10 days), and a black-and-white A3 print of the original Mallard in thunderous action down a slope.

Issue 2, priced at only £3.99, contains the next part of your model (nose section and boiler skirts) and a feature on the West Highland Line. If you subscribe, you will also get a magnificent set of Mallard drink coasters in a tin. Not much happens with Issue 3, apart from the arrival of the main boiler and a price hike to £7.99 (the standard price for each issue from now on), but with Issue 4 you get a free Modeler's Toolkit, including a stainless steel ruler and 2 mini-clamps. With Issue 5 there are details of how to motorise your Mallard when you have completed it (motor not included).

The bit-part Mallard is a costly enterprise. If you wish to make the whole thing, and surely there can be little point stopping at issue 10 or 50 or 80, then you need to buy all 130 issues, and all 130 issues will cost a total of £1,027.21. The original locomotive from Doncaster, 70-foot long and 165 tons, taking hundreds of thousands of passengers on an express journey from London to Scotland and back for 25 years - about one and a half million miles of track-travel in all - cost £8,500. You didn't need binders for the original train, but you do for the instructions for the model, each costing an extra £6.99. In addition there is an item mysteriously classified in the early promotional material as 'special issues', which presumably come at a special price. (As it also says in the promotional material, 'This product is not a toy, and is not designed for use in play'.) It would be cheaper to buy the kit direct from DJH Model Loco in Consett, County Durham, where, for just £664, you get it all in one delivery in one big box. DJH Model Loco even offers a service in which someone will speed everything up and build the damn model for you in a couple of weeks, although that would surely be missing the point. For Mallard has always been about time. Time is why she was built.

Excerpted from Timekeepers by Simon Garfield. Copyright © 2017 by Simon Garfield. Excerpted by permission of Canongate Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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