Is this the end?

Being a Baptist minister I am no stranger to funerals, but like everyone I am occasionally given cause to pause and think when news comes through of the passing of another of our number. Are there more “Meccano” funerals now than there used to be? I suspect not – it is more likely that some of us are moving into a generation where it is people we think of as contemporaries who are dying. Some are a few years older than me – some are a good deal younger, and that inevitably challenges one to think about one’s own mortality and contribution to life. It is moving to read many warm tributes to those we have lost (I have written and delivered a few myself) and perhaps we stop to wonder how people might one day judge us in our turn. (In our less worthy moments we may also wonder what is going to happen to that particular collection….)

Obviously this is all part of the inevitable path we all follow, but what of the hobby itself? There are plenty of doom-merchants around crying “Woe, woe and thrice woe!” like the soothsayer in “Up Pompeii”. Are we looking at the end of our hobby?

I doubt it, for I still see younger men and woman appearing in our ranks just as I once chanced upon the adult hobby myself. But even if we are, does it matter? Stop to ask yourself – why did Frank Hornby develop Meccano in the first place? No doubt he was glad to find an invention from which he could make money, but his motives seem nobler than that to me. He wanted to teach children about engineering, to be practical and to develop a love of all things technical and mechanical for themselves. In that he clearly succeeded, with countless distinguished engineers, architects and scientists over the years giving credit to the Toy that first launched them on a path to their professional careers.

An old question asks, “What is the purpose of an apple tree?” The obvious answer is “to produce apples” but that is wrong. Apples are only a means to an end – the purpose of an apple tree is to produce more apple trees. We may well be shocked by the latest loss of another good friend, but I would suggest that the inevitable eventual loss of another Meccanoman or woman, even the last one in time to come, will not be the end of the story of Meccano. Our greatest calling is not to produce more model engines, but to produce more adult engineers. Our richest legacy will not be the preservation of a factory somewhere churning out more 24½” Angle Girders than we could ever use, but the inspiration of generations yet to come with the desire to find out how to “make the wheels go round” in their day and to do it better than we have done.

I respect the collectors with their desire to document and preserve our hobby’s history, but my greatest admiration is reserved for those who tirelessly devote their spare time to working with youngsters in schools and clubs, using their Meccano skills to raise up the next generation who will dream about building a new future for themselves.

I am so grateful to those who first inspired me: I hope that my legacy will be not just a hundredweight or so of perforated metal but young lives committed to taking their turn in building a new and hopefully better world that all can enjoy.

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About Philip Webb

Chairman of the International Society of Meccanomen
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