My experience of Skegex 2015 (Neil Bedford)
The first weekend in July each year marks the National Meccano Exhibition (‘Skegex’) at Skegness in Lincolnshire. Within our hobby this is the single biggest event on the calendar and can attract enthusiasts from all around the World.
Skegness is on the East coast, about 4 hours drive from Bristol, so ‘staying the night’ certainly makes sense. I have attended Skegex for four successive years and we now stay for four nights, giving us a proper break with a good night’s sleep and decent breakfast before the long drive home. This year, as usual, I was due to travel up with my SWMC pals Richard Smith and Pete Evans but a last minute health scare meant that Pete could not be with us so just Richard and I went up, sharing the driving between us. We were joined over the long weekend by Malcolm Hanson, Philip Drew and his son Robin, John Day and his pal Graham and by David Northcott and his wife Yvonne.
The culmination of Skegex is the announcement of the top five models and the award of the Issigonis Shield for the best model in show. Having your name engraved on the Issigonis Shield is the highest accolade in our hobby and this year, I knew that Richard was in with a jolly good chance. My own model was far more modest as I have needed to devote a lot of time to my extended family and to working on my house this year and so I went for something smaller (but hopefully quite pretty) in the form of a WW1 biplane of my own design. If you want to have a serious crack at the Issigonis Shield then you need to be realistic about the level of competition and ready to put in a great deal of effort - it is a case of ‘all or nothing’. I would guess that the average Skegex-winning model will have taken a couple of years to put together and in many cases, considerably longer - for example Terry Allen’s lovely Bugatti, which won the competition last year, took him four years to design and build.
As well as modellers, all the main dealers can be found at Skegex - Dave Taylor, Mike Rhoades, John Thorpe, Leslie Mitchell and others. One of the ‘Skeggie Traditions’ is facilitated by Mike Rhoades, who lays out several tables of very cheap parts for sale. These ‘Mike Rhoades Cheapies’ are well known and when he opens for business there is a mad rush to grab the best deals. We stay in a nice old hotel on the seafront and the three of us share a room. This keeps the cost down but also adds to the fun. Another Skeggy tradition comes when we get back to our room at the end of the first day and lay out on our beds all the parts which we have bought. Somehow we have each managed to spot something which the others have missed and we are always impressed by the quality of parts which we have managed to pick up so cheaply.
The Meccano company (now owned by Canadian toy giant Spinmaster) were at Skegex again and displayed their latest range of 2015/2016 models. For sure, there are no more red and green set tens in wooden cabinets but the new range of models is nonetheless impressive and represents very significant investment. My impression is that there are essentially two ranges of sets - ‘Meccano Maker’ which is more computerised and ‘Meccano Classic’ which employs strips, brackets, girders, wheels, plates etc. Any product from either range is entirely compatible with all the others and I think that the future of the Meccano brand is brighter now than it has been for years - not yet back on solid ground - but definitely heading in the right direction.
Above all else, Skegex is a very social event, with a formal dinner, an informal pub buffet and a great deal of camaraderie to be enjoyed. There are some folk who I only meet at this event each year and everybody is happy to explain their model and to reveal their modelling tricks to a fellow enthusiast. Skegex always offers the chance to broaden your Meccano knowledge, either by learning about a rare set or by investigating a cleverly constructed model. Not all of the exhibits are huge by any means and the bulk are built to what I might call “A decent club standard” - but amongst these are a fair few which really do take your breath away.
On the last day we all vote for our Top Five models and this is always a topic of heated conversation when we sit in the Hotel Bar before bed. How do you compare a complex and delicate clock with a huge blocksetting crane - or a locomotive with a Meccanograph? For me, the answer is that you can’t really compare 300 or so completely different creations. So I choose those models which I have spent the most time looking at; the ones which I have kept returning to see again and again over the weekend. Also, I am as guilty as anybody of a little ‘strategic voting’ and if a fellow SWMC member is in with a really good chance then I like to give them one of my five votes to help them on their way. I might also vote for a model which has taken me back to my childhood or which has simply made me smile and these could be very humble indeed. Others may vote in a similar way because we often see a quite surprising model making it into the top ten - and surprising ones being left out as well. In the past I have likened Skegness voting to the Eurovision Song Contest but for me, this is just another reason why I love it so much.
This year only one of my top five selections was echoed by the final majority vote but thankfully, it was the one that really mattered to me that came top, the skeleton on the tricycle by Richard Smith. The SWMC now holds the most prestigious Meccano award in the World. Richard has achieved something great and I know that he is already thinking about Skegex 2016 - as he reminded me on the long drive home, nobody has ever won the Issigonis Shield for two successive years….