Contentment is building our very own small world…

Man is a microcosm, or a little world, because he is an extract from all the stars and planets of the whole firmament, from the earth and the elements; and so he is their quintessence.


I find microcosm a fascinating concept. I like the idea of little worlds, of entities complete in themselves. The ‘universe in a grain of sand’ – that kind of thing.

Now, you might be thinking, what on earth does a grain of sand have to do with a model railway… well perhaps quite a bit!

The Boys and I are building our first model railway together. It’s a slow shared process. The boards are down, the track plan’s done, the basic scenery too. Over Christmas we added a first coat of paint and began building card models to populate our evolving world.

The Boys haven’t yet fully moved on from the wonderful Brio wooden train system and still build fascinating, ever evolving small worlds, of tramways and bus stations, villages and cities, mainline and country… They create running commentaries as they build, and it’s hugely satisfying listening to them talking their imaginary worlds in life.

However, they’re also eager now to create another, slightly more sophisticated world. One that brings new challenges. So we’re building the railway. It’s a shared thing.

Working on our contained world is soothing, together we’re creating a common language of experience. And it’s something I find I’m doing long after the Boys have gone to bed too. In the quiet hours, after the house falls silent, I’m at the kitchen table building things, stations and engines and the like. And, I’m engrossed and relaxed. This odd little world we’re creating is enhancing my well-being and making me smile!

Now, I’m not saying model making will work for you, however I do think there is something about the constraints involved, about the degree of focus that’s needed, the working within parameters that’s engaging, rewarding and relaxing. It’s a release.

focused activity that requires commitment, concentration and creativity – whether it be potting plants or gardening, flower arranging or knitting, painting or writing – allows for the possibility of momentarily being freed from the more mundane aspects of life – the gloomy news and the daily anxieties of the big wide world. For a while we’re freed, to travel elsewhere, to a wee small world and it feels great!

Joe focused on adding the first coat of green to the hills…
Whilst Joe doing hills, Fin gets on with roads and rock faces…
A little red train passing…
Look at the degree of concentration on Joe’s face as he adds windows to ‘his’ station building…
And in the odd quiet hour of an evening I’m building a model of a narrow gauge industrial diesel loco… this is me all laid out to start building…
Oh, and this is the loco taking shape, yes that is a 5p piece next to the loco, it’s eye-wateringly small!
And, if you thought the loco looked small, well this is the white metal figure who’ll probably end up ‘driving’ the loco, through the lens of the magnifying glass. This is my Heath-Robinson contraption to help bring out the detail on the model… mmm perhaps I need glasses?

The following quote is probably only very tangentially linked to the post above, but it caught my eye and it seemed appropriate to add it, so here goes…

“Myth, Symbol, and Tradition” was the phrase I originally wrote at the top of the page, for editors like large, cloudy titles. Then I looked at what I had written and, wordlessly, the words reproached me. I hope I had the grace to blush at my own presumption and their portentousness. How could I, if I lived for a thousand years, attempt to cover more than a hectare of that enormous landscape? So, I let out the air, in a manner of speaking, dwindled to my appropriate size, and gave myself over to that process which, for lack of a more erudite term, I have coined the phrase “Thinking is linking.”

[…] the word “Pollen”, the most pervasive substance in the world, kept knocking at my ear. Or rather, not knocking, but humming. What hums? What buzzes? What travels the world? Suddenly I found what I sought. “What the bee knows,” I told myself. “That is what I’m after.”

But even as I patted my back, I found myself cursing, and not for the first time, the artful trickiness of words, their capriciousness, their lack of conscience. For — note bene! — if you speak or write about What The Bee Knows, what the listener, or the reader, will get — indeed, cannot help but get — is Myth, Symbol, and Tradition! You see the paradox? […] For, to stand in the presence of paradox, to be spiked on the horns of dilemma, between what is small and what is great, microcosm and macrocosm, or, if you like, the two ends of the stick, is the only posture we can assume in front of ancient knowledge — one could even say everlasting knowledge.

P. L. Travers

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One thought on “It’s a small world (3.)

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