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Harry Hobbs of Harry Hobbs' Hobby Haven in West Hamley High Street has had an up and down life. He likes his hobby shop, he likes his customers- well not all of the slot racers, frankly, and some of the little old ladies get quite stroppy if their tapestry kits are not up to snuff- and it keeps him in Johnnie Walker, which he also likes. But sometimes it all gets a little bit on top of him. Sometimes, after closing the shop and twisting the cap off another bottle, he has sad thoughts of sweet, sweet Helen Hogg, his best girl many years ago. It was never the same after he found her in the Crown and Pinion with that Peco Railway salesman. She said he had been showing her his tender kit, but he knew they didn't need to do that in the public bar. Things were never the same, and he and Helen drifted slowly apart. Now all he had was his hobby shop, and the endless turnover of new parts to deal with. Yesterday's hot motors were today's paperweights, and he'd just lost a packet on a huge stock of super-sticky new tyres that had overnight been declared illegal by the Slot Car Association of Britain. None of his customers appreciated the stress of running a model shop. For all they knew, he was- as they would be- happy as Larry to spend his days surrounded by the coolest kits and the hottest new gadgets, day after blooming day. Sometimes the magic wore off a little, and he'd take down that little Bugatti, part of the very first stock he ever took from the Scalextric salesman back in 1960, and cheer himself up by sniffing the oily gears, caressing the soft blue plastic and pouring himself another gill.

Tomorrow he had to start putting up the Christmas display- that mechanical Santa would probably need fixing again- his movements got a little creakier each year- and set up the little festive railway loop that brought a train loaded with the latest toys rattling past the front window. Then he had to spray everywhere with that fake snow. Stuff he usually looked forward too with a light and happy heart. But not this year. He had just done his accounts. Things didn't look good. He'd sold two pair of braids and a tube of glue since Bonfire Night. What was happening? Why weren't folk coming into his shop any more? What was the blooming point of it all??

Restless, he went for a walk to clear his head, which inevitably meant the Crown and Pinion. It was the only route he knew. A pint might do him good. But there in the snug, sat close by the fire with a glass of mulled wine, was Helen Hogg, alone. His chest tightened, and he walked away into the night. The bells of St Ains were ringing, practicing for Christmas, and he looked up at the crooked spire. A thought weasled its way into his head. The bells stopped, and he watched until the last of the ringers left through the rackety porch. When it was quiet inside the old church, he took a nip from his hip flask and wandered in. A heavy wooden door stood ajar in the corner, and a fresh, cold breeze drew him through and up the twisting stone stairway. Twinkling stars and a sickle moon welcomed him out onto the parapet, and there, from the top of St Ain's Tower, he looked down at West Hamley. Lights twinkled from the places he'd known all his life; the pub, the cottage homes, and West Hamley Slot Car Club, where the racing was going on into the evening. Where did they buy their dratted cars from these days, he thought. Not from me, mad old Harry Hobbs of Harry Hobbs Hobby Haven. What good do I do any more? What does it matter? I might as well never have existed...

He threw a corduroy trousered leg over the parapet, and only one last thought cheered him up. 'Might be nice to fly...'

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Discussion Starter · #4 ·
Harry came to at the foot of the steeple, covered in mud. There was a strange old fellow with a genial smile leaning over him, gently wiping off his face and lips with a large white handkerchief. 'Now that was a silly thing to do Harry. Did you enjoy flying? I havn't had a chance to try it yet myself- not got my wings you know.'

Harry himself felt remarkably good. Not drunk any more, which was a pity, but clear headed. No bones broken, not even a hint of the old neuralgia. In fact, he hadn't felt so comfortable for years. Then he wondered who this dodgy old boy might be. What on earth was he talking about? Wings? Flying? No one he knew, for sure, but he seemed to know Harry. One of the bell ringers? Not one of his customers. He'd recognise both of them...

'Yes Harry', he prattled on, folding the handkerchief very carefully and tucking it in the pocket of an old-fashioned waistcoat. 'Very silly thing to do. Greatly frowned on where I come from y'see. But you thought it might be better if you had never existed, eh? Always a bad idea. But now you get your chance to find out, and I get my chance to get my wings at last! Cheerio, Harry. Enjoy yourself. And if you need me, just ring the bell'.

What bell? thought Harry, pulling himself up. A high pitched tinkle followed as a little brass dome tumbled from his chest. The old chap's face suddenly appeared in front of him again. 'Only if you really need me, Harry!' he said, and with a slow exaggerated wink, he vanished.

Dazed, but feeling thirsty, Harry strolled back towards the pub, feeling unusually sturdy and energetic. Relieved to see Helen was no longer there, he strode to the bar and asked for his usual. 'Usual what, sir?' asked Genial George, the landlord. 'My usual pint of Ninco Special, of course!'

'No-one here drinks that, sir. Could I get you a nice refreshing white wine spritzer? Speciality of the house?'

'Good grief George! D'you think I'd drink that muck?'

'I've no idea sir'.

Confused, Harry turned from the bar and made his way back to the shop. But it was weird. He was sure he was in the right place, but all he could see was a McDonald's. No sign of Harry Hobbs' Hobby Haven. He was beginning to worry. He turned around and headed for West Hamley Slot Car Club, sure he'd get a friendly reception there, but once again, he seemed to have lost his bearings completely. Where the club ought to have been was just a dark shed with a heady aromatic fug issuing from the badly boarded up windows and ill-fitting door. As he approached, syringes shattered under his feet, and he wondered why so many pin-point oilers had been thrown way needlessly. He knocked firmly on the door and got another shock.

'Coxie! Whatever's the matter- you look dreadful!'

'And who the heck are you?'

'Coxie- Coxie, it's me, Harry- let me help you- you look terrible!'

'I might look terrible but I feel great. Not that it's any of your flaming business. Now push off and leave us alone. We don't know no Harry in here.'

'Of course you do- of course- let me see...'

Harry peered over Coxie's shoulder and adjusted his eyes to the gloom. With gathering alarm he recognised the figures of Lil, Eric, Claudia, Argent, Clint... all slouched around on the floor. There was no furniture at all.

'Where are the tracks?' he exclaimed loudly.

A skinny, drab figure came towards him. A girl, he realised, rolling up the sleeve of her moth-eaten pullover. 'You want to see tracks, pal?' she said menacingly.

With a shudder of fright he realised it was Helen... Helen Hogg....

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Discussion Starter · #6 ·
Horrified, Harry stumbled back from the doorstep, tripped on a mud rut, and fell. The little polished brass bell in his jacket pocket jabbed him in the thigh. He pulled it out, glared at it, and with no clear idea of what he was doing, shook it. Instantly, that benign old face was smiling into his.

'How d'ye like it Harry? West Hamley without a model shop. Not so nice, eh? Was it worth the flight?'

'I don't know- I don't know who you are, what's happening or how I got here. I just want to go home- to the real West Hamley, Harry Hobb's Hobby Haven. Please!'

'You do? You're sure? Why Harry, that's wonderful! That means I did my job! I get my wings- I'm a full-blown Guardian Angel, First Class! At last! Thank you, Boss.' And here he glanced upward quickly and did that exaggerated slow wink again. 'Thank you Harry. Let me shake your hand. Come with me- I have some surprises for you!.

Harry was pulled to his feet with unexpected strength by the grip of the daft old fellow. It had begun to snow, and he felt quickly cold. But looking round, he saw the lights had come on in the clubroom and the boards seemed to have fallen from the windows. He could hear the comforting and familiar buzz of conversation and cars from within. But the old man was pulling him away, and he found himself running, very quickly, gulping in mouthfalls of falling snow. The church bells started ringing again from St Ains. The old man was taking him so quickly he barely felt his feet touch the whitening pavements, passing through the empty paths and byways of West Hamley in a blur, to the High Street. They stopped, and Harry's heart skipped at the sight of his familiar old sign wobbling in the light breeze, the snow flakes falling in bright clusters from the lamp that shone on the words 'Harry Hobbs' Hobby Haven'. The lamp seemed brighter than usual, the sign cleaner and more colourful than he could recall. And there was snow inside as well as outside the front window. He didn't think he'd got round to putting up the fake spray... Just then the interior lights sparked on, and a red sleeved arm stated to wave gently up and down. A Western Railroad Engine with cowcatcher and smokestack swung out of the right corner dragging a fleet of trucks laden with gaudily wrapped toys. A slender human arm reached out from the back of the shop and adjusted Santa's hat. Harry was flabbergasted.
'Someone's nicked me shop! Is this some nasty scam, you lousy old....'

But the weird old man was gone.

In a rage, Harry barged open the door of his own shop. Dusting the counter, and looking as fresh and beautiful as he ever remembered, was Helen Hogg.
'Oh Harry!' she gasped. 'Where have you been? We were all so worried. We havn't seen you for weeks! It's Christmas Eve and West Hamley didn't have it's lovely Christmas window display... everyone was so upset, I thought I had to take care of it, if only for you...' she paused for a moment, then gathered herself and went on. 'But you know Christmas in West Hamley without Harry Hobbs special window display wouldn't be Christmas at all! All the children were so... well... scared!'

Harry barely knew what to say. Where had these last weeks gone? Was this real or was the West Hamley he'd seen just minutes ago real?

'Helen- why you? Why did you take it on?'

'Oh Harry- you must know how I feel about you!'

'Um... no...'

'But Harry- we were so close- until that stupid thing with the Peco salesman- I was such a fool! I have never lost the dream that one day it would all be forgotten and we could be happy again. I thought it was finally too late and you'd gone for good. I thought I could at least turn the old shop into Helen Hoggs' Hobby Haven, for the sake of the town. West Hamley needs a model shop so deperately! Without it there would never have been a West Hamley Slot Car Club, and there would be nothing for the local kids- why, they'd all be junkies or something dreadful like that..'

Harry's stomach lurched violently at what had seemed such a recent memory.

'I couldn't bear that, Harry. And I thought it was all my fault. The Peco salesman and his lovely tender...' Here Helen caught herself again and blushed deeply.

'But why did nobody come to the shop any more Helen? Why? I'm totally bankrupt! All this is finished- it's no good to anyone! I havn't shifted a pair of wheels in the last six months!'

'Harry, I know. We all know, and we feel terrible. It's that computer website.'

'What? Computers... webs...?'

'Yes- you know..'

'No I don't, actually...'

'The one with the damnably annoying advertising campaign with the animated ferrets. We all started buying our spares through them, little thinking about the terrible effects it would have on our our own precious local resource. You don't mind me calling you a resource, do you Harry?'

'No- not at all...'

'It was so wonderfully cheap and quick, until we started accumulating stuff we didn't really need, and didn't really work... But I've been to college, Harry. I've been learning about computers. Look Harry darling- look what I've done!'

She turned to the shop counter and flipped open a snazzy looking laptop, wiggled a few toggles and brought the screen to life. 'Harry Hobbs Hobby Haven'. it said, and more words danced and wriggled across the screen. 'Your one-stop local shop for all your slot racing and modelling needs. Don't just buy blind, get the benefit from your local expert! Why guess about performance parts? Ask the man who knows... Harry Hobbs!' And at this point a troup of plasticine badgers parading in bizarre costume began singing; 'Harry Hobbs, Harry Hobbs, knows his switches from his knobs!'

Harry looked into those lovely blue eyes, and the tears welling up on the lower rims. He wanted to hug her, but he didn't need to. She was already wrapped around him, her lovely soft cheek pressed against his. 'Do you like it, Harry?'

'Yes, and yes', he said as he felt the first smile for ten years spread across his face.

'You're a fool, Harry, but I love you. Happy Christmas!'

'Happy Christmas Helen. On Boxing Day we can change the sign to 'Hogg and Hobbs' Hobby Haven- it even alliterates still...'

'Why bother, Harry. Can't we both be Hobbs? And maybe one day there will be lots of little Hobbses too, to keep West Hamley's Model Shop in business for generations to come?'

'I'll drink to that' said Harry. 'Happy Christmas, West Hamley, and Happy Christmas to slot racers everywhere! Fancy a pint of Ninco Special at the Crown, my love?'

And from somewhere up, up amid the snowflakes tumbling softly down from a black sky, came the sound of a tiny bell, tinkling softly.

· Registered
3,636 Posts
The only shops that locally that sell slot cars are Modelzone and Toys R Us, the local model shop concentrate on RC Aircraft - I buy bits and bobs like brass tubing from them.

I think Ipswich is a slot car dead zone.

· One petunia in a field of onions
6,433 Posts
Do we happen to have an illustrator in our midst at all? Would love to see this illustrated.

Thank you Howmet.

Those of you who are lucky enough to still have a local hobby shop. Remember that the people in charge do it for the love of their hobby. If they were in retail for the money they'd be selling something else entirely. So go in this festive season and thank them. Without them most of us wouldn't be doing the things we love.

· Tony Condon
3,014 Posts
hi guys
Great stuff ,JD where have I heard that story before was the main hero,s name george pratt or something ?
Unfortunately ,I think model shops as an entity have gone past the tipping point and wont be returning
Even so called model shops like model zone are really only glorified toy shops and 90% of the stock are rtr or need minimal assembly, little or nothing for the scratch builder not even a k and S metal bar
Unfortunately yuongsters these days are not given the chance to learn any hand skills and so consequently have become the pay ,plug and play generation ,who even if they did show some interest in a kit of some sort they will also order it on line as it is less problem than getting off their sorry asses and walking to the model shop
since I moved down here to the west country 9 years ago we,ve lost model shops in exeter ,taunton and wells and the remaining one in weston Super mare only appear to be hanging on by their fingernails. a very sad state of affairs

cheers tony

· Registered
52 Posts
Animated ferrets and plasticine badgers!? You must be well into the eggnog!

Seriously, thanks for a lovely Christmas story about a wonderful life.

Today I ventured across town to ye olde hobby shop and bought a couple of Scalextric cars. It had been a long time since I last gave them any business and I was warmly welcomed like a long lost friend. Surprisingly, I (re-) discovered that their prices really aren't any higher than the US or UK online "stores" I've been buying from; once shipping, exchange and customs/taxes were figured into the equation.

With any luck, and with the continued support of local hobbyists, Metro Slot Car and Hobbies will not become a crackhouse any time soon.



· Tony Condon
3,014 Posts
good news
i have just come back from Bath and i can report that the Modellers den is still open and doing business
A lot of die casts there ,but there were some kits and some scalextric stuff
the modellers den have been going since the 60s and used to sponsor bath slot car club

cheers tony
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