By Sally Finn
. It has just three members and there's a waiting list to join. It is known simply as ‘The Club' and every Tuesday is ‘Club Night'.
Keith Hoban (alias the Fat Controller), Malcolm Fletcher (Fletch) and Terry Heeks (Terry the Train) are passionate not just about model railways but everything about steam trains. Their world has its own language and rules of engagement and it's also very… well, nice.
‘I'm always a bit wary when I meet people and tell them I'm into trains because you sometimes get called an anorak when you reveal your passion', said Terry.
‘Actually, the train world is a fantastic community', explained Keith. ‘We are not anoraks.'
So what does it take to make a world?
Malcolm and Keith grew up together in Selly Oak in the 1950s. Terry met Keith a couple of years ago through his family.
Malcolm can remember his dad taking him on a day out to Tamworth to see the trains when he was about five years old and this was the start of regular trainspotting jaunts across the country.
But where did his love of model railways come from? ‘I think it's partly nostalgia really, a slice of childhood,' he said. ‘Also, we were working class kids and couldn't really afford to have expensive train sets, so we dreamed of owning one. There's a generation of lads now who have become middle class and can afford to have train sets at last.'
Keith too thinks his love of trains is partly nostalgic, as it conjures up memories of long lost summer days. ‘Trainspotting was never in the rain,' he explained. ‘One of my favourite memories is of going to sleep with the sound of the long goods trains going past our house. Mom used to say ‘count the wagons to help you get to sleep, every click is a wagon' and I would fall asleep.'
The Club members meet in Keith's attic because he has the biggest and most complete model railway at the moment. Terry's is smaller and Malcolm's is in the early stages of design.
To get into the attic you have to climb up a ladder and squeeze through a hatch in the ceiling. It made me think of the Enid Blyton books about the Magic Faraway Tree, where a succession of magical worlds sped around the top of the tree in the clouds.
You see the little metal signs first, ‘NOT DRINKING WATER', ‘PRESS LEVER TO FLUSH' and an instruction reminding you that if you need to use the fire extinguisher, to break the glass and turn the electric supply off first. These are original signs from real 1960s train carriages and were bought by Keith from a friend who specialises in train collectables.
The signs are nailed onto the wooden sides of the large, circular railway layout which stretches from one side of the attic to the other. You can stand and watch the action from the sidelines, or if you want to enter more hallowed ground, crawl underneath the boards to the centre so the trains run all around you. This is where the Club members sit.
There's an original Great Western Railway map on the wall and a big, bakelite station clock. It softly ticks away the time in counterpoint with a woodpigeon cooing outside the window. Instantly you feel far away from the modern world.