Saturday, 20 January 2018

Slow Locomotion

Modern technology promised to speed up our world. Take for example the telephone. It saved visiting or writing. A mobile phone saves the bother of going to the telephone. A quick flick through the contacts device saves us even the trouble of dialling. And so on.
Does that mean we spend less time on the telephone? Now the average person spends more time looking at the mobile than sleeping. Frequently it is the last thing a digitally connected human looks at when going to sleep and the first thing reached for in the morning.
There is plenty that is good about the modern hyper-connected world but some not so good. One big problem is our feeling about ‘down-time’. The phone and then the mobile were justified to us as time-savers. If time is money then somehow time has become money. Our down-time has to be as streamlined as a fully automated work-place. Leisure is a matter of films seen, pages read, engines run and how many people have ‘touched base’ with us.
To the hyperconnected moderner, this looks like a mess.Nothing is running; the vegetation is clearly flourishing but there is no activity ... and yet!
Fun has become a matter of numbers, the bigger the numbers the better.
Even time-off becomes a treadmill. For the railway modeller, the more turns the model train has done, the more photos taken and uploaded, the more this, the more that, the better. What have all these numbers actually done for us?
Always being connected and busy can lead to chronic fatigue. The whole point of leisure is that we step outside ordinary existence. It is a complement. This may be to numbers, results or competition. Unlike work, it is not the goal that is important, it is the journey.
The Slow Movement started as a protest. An Italian - they consider themselves the home of good food - was so shocked at the sight of a McDonald’s next to the Spanish Steps that he started an anti-culture. The Slow Movement protests against speed, size and surplus. At its best, it gently encourages slowing down, doing less, walking more and sleeping more.
One former burnt-out activist admits that her first attempt at craft-work was a failure. Her mind-set was one of speedy results. She had purchased a cross-stitch kit simply to pass time on long journeys. The first lesson she learned was … read the instructions! In the hyper-connected world, pausing to read these meant that the competition would pass her. She would be left behind!. All that happened was, she got her thread into a tangle and wasted time and material. She realised that no-one minded. No-one was racing her. She went back to the beginning and tried to make sense of the advice in the instructions. Then she had to apply the advice to the kit. At first it was slow, mindful, but then she picked up speed and ended with a first attempt whichgave her pleasure. She could even be proud of it.
16mm live steam Wrightscale Wren. This is not a switch-on-and-go sort of locomotive, but the joy that it can bring is immense. Step back, step out of time, enjoy the journey Photo MD Wright
The Slow Movement applies to our craft. Instead of fingering endless boxes of products and  racing our 16mm locomotives around the track, slow down. Enjoy the journey. If you have a live steam rather than electric locomotive, you have already grasped the vital point. The journey from shelf to trip is all part of the experience.
The instructions on the Wren 16mm locomotive are a veritable gateway to pleasure. The ritual begins with warming some water and conveying it in the correct container to the locomotive. Using a syringe, give the boiler its first dampening. 60 cc (four tablespoons) is enough. This is not just to apply water, but to reseat the ball-valve. The ritual may need to be repeated in a few minutes.
Check the lubricator. Water may have gathered inside. Unscrew the bottom nut and allow this to drain away. Tighten the nut gently. Loosen the top nut. Lubricate and then tighten, again, gently.  Moderation applies here.
Make friends with your gas filler. Make sure that your gas cylinder is at normal room temperature. On a cold day, carry it around for a little before use. Remember that gas will flow readily from a warm place to a cool one.
When it feels comfortable to the touch, connect gas filler to cylinder. Push the filler down gently to find the valve to the locomotive gas tank. Push down a little more and gas will flow from your gas bottle. Learn from subtle signs when the gas tank is full. When the burner sighs thanks to escaping gas, you are probably there!
If there is poetry in ritual, there is plenty of poetry in lighting the gas burner. Hold a flame in front of the front buffer beam of the Wren. You will learn from experience how far in front; about two finger-breadths is probably a good guide.
Open the gas valve slightly, and the flame should ‘pop’ back into the burner.  After a few seconds, you should be able to adjust the burner until you hear the purr of a well-tempered locomotive. Adjust to be ‘more open’ or ‘more closed’. It all depends. Once you have heard the purr or soft roar of a contented locomotive, then it will be forever recognised.
Wrightscale Wren seen from the back. The huge rod coming down into the gas tank is the filler. The water-filling valve is to the right, the regulator is the handle seen just above (it is in the 'off' position) the gas control valve is the hndle on the left.  Photo MD Wright
Allow the locomotive to adjust and pick up steam.
Problems with lighting are usually caused by carbon deposits. If gas persists in burning below the smokebox or the fire keeps going out, the jet needs cleaning. Have the cleaning wire at the ready. Loosen the cleaning screw and gently roll the little wire with a forward motion through the jet. Gently, gently. Check that the o-ring stays on the conical washer as you replace the cleaning screw. Try lighting again.
When the pressure gauge comes to life, you can think of running but firstly, any condensate must be removed from the valve gear. When 20 psi shows on the gauge, engage forward gear (handle to front). Flick the wheels forward to clear condensate. Quite soon, the wheels will start to turn of their own accord.
Now open the regulator … and let her away.
This all seems long-winded. By the standards of our hyper-connected, super-efficient world, this is an invitation to a waste of time. See it rather as a gateway to a slow world. This has been a journey, part of the fun, part of the re-invention we so desperately need.

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