A trip down Meccano memory lane

A trip down Meccano memory lane

Eh? What?

I’ve been commissioned to create a learning session all about military vehicles. To cut a long story very short, I’m focussing on power to weight ratios and ground pressure of off-road vehicles.

Challenger main battle tank

Chieftain main battle tank

I figured that the best way to do this was to get the children to build their own vehicles. So I found Eitech, a German educational Meccano company. That gives me the ability to compare wheeled vehicles with tracked ones and see how they cope with different situations.

Only thing is, I reckon the last time I built anything with Meccano, my age was in single figures so this is something of a trip down memory lane. If not into the unknown.

Opening the boxOpening the box

Obviously I can’t set the children loose with kits I’ve never built so, in order to prepare properly, I need to build them myself.

So I’m going to document this journey for your entertainment and (maybe) edification.

The tracked vehicle

I’m going with the tracked kit first. Why not start with the most complex one?

Eitech tracked vehicleEitech tracked vehicle

First impressions

Open the box and tip out the, weighty, contents.

First impressions: My word! There are a lot of bits!

That's a lot of very small pieces

That’s a lot of very small pieces

And some of them are quite small.

Ok, let’s count them all to make sure I’ve got everything…

All in neat piles

All in neat piles

…Wow! That’s a lot of bits! They’re all there.

Adventures in Ikea

Now to actually build something. The instructions are very much in the style of Ikea: pictures and diagrams with no words. Shall we see how we get on?

Right. Eyes down, look in!

Step 1: not too bad so far. Haven’t dropped anything yet. It even looks like the picture.

Getting started

Getting started

Oh, maybe not. That bit there needs to be one hole further along. Ah, right. Now it’s better.

Now for step 2: the sides. I’m beginning to suspect that the designers had smaller hands than me.

One side done. That was a little fiddly. I suspect the designers had more hands than me, and more manual dexterity. Bodes well.

Sides on

Sides on

Their diagrams also leaves a little to be desired in terms of clarity. Which is unhelpful.

The second side is better. I think (hubris alert) I’m getting the hang of this.

On a roll

Steps 3 & 4: easy peasy. I reckon it’s the front and the back.

fore and aft

fore and aft

Step 5…Oh. I’m  not entirely sure what’s going on here…this could be tricky.

  1. I think I’ve got it…How small are their hands! Really tiny. I’m going to start using tweezers to get these bits in place! Wow!
Where has it gone?

Where has it gone?

AAAARgh! I’ve just dropped a nut into the guts of the chassis and have been reduced to shaking it until the bit falls out again!

Right. Unscrew that bit a little, push this bit through the gap, hope that my finger can hold the nut in place whist I….AAaaargh! Try again…Aaargh! One last time. Got it! Now screw up all the bits I undid. Aaah.

On to the next step.

Step 7

Step 6 was inconsequential.


Step 7: fiddly but doable. Keep going. Nearly there.

Refill of coffee

Step 8: roof on. The end must be in sight now. Surely?

No, apparently not. Axles on. Eh? What? Aaaah. Good job I know what a lock nut is and how it works, otherwise I’d have been scunnered!



And I’m not sure their axles are long enough. Nrrr!


Now for the bucket. This is pretty straightforward.


Aaaaaah! I see! The red spanner has a little slot that will hold a nut while you screw a bolt into it. Why didn’t I realise this before? That might make things a little easier.



Now to put the bucket on. Yes!

No! Friction washer in the wrong place. Yes!

Acid test

Right. Let’s push it along the carpet and see if the wheels fall off…



…Nuts. The wheels fall off. Actually, the nuts holding the axle in place come loose and the axle threatens to come off, but it’s pretty much the same thing. Partially dismantle it and tighten everything up again.

Why is there a nut on the carpet? Where has that come from? Oh. There. Right, partially dismantle it, refit the nut, tighten everything up again.

Put the wee manny in the cockpit and we’re done!

Now, with driver

Now, with driver

I’ve never felt so good completing something designed for 8 year olds.

I’ve got a bit of thinking to do.


This should be much simpler. There are far fewer pieces. There’s even a few leftovers for if (when) one or two of the screws haven’t been faced properly.

Right then

Step 1:

Dear sweet Jesus! What? Step 1 is, apparently, just put the entire cab together. 20 bolts in total in one step. Right then, let’s get to it.

Actually, that wasn’t too bad. Maybe I’m getting the hang of it.



Step 2. Nuts! Concentrate. Take it apart again and put it together right.

Step 3. Oooh, a new piece. That could make taking it apart difficult.

Information overload

It’s another “just do these thirty things” step. OK, look closely. How does this work? Aaah. That makes sense. Oh. Remember those new bits? They’re totally in the way for this step.

And the rest of it

And the rest of it

Oops. I’ve just put two pieces together that were supposed to go into something and then be assembled. Now I can’t get them apart again. Maybe I can prise them apart with my Leatherman? No. What about the blade? Maybe…Ow! Ow! Great. Now I’m bleeding. That bit was cosmetic anyway. You know what? I don’t think I’m going to bother with it.



I’m finished apart from that.

I’m going to go and put a plaster on.

Look: I made a thing!

Look: I made a thing!

Posted by Past Participants Andy in Session design, 0 comments
We shall Remember them.

We shall Remember them.

As the dust settles on the Remembrance season for another year and we lay to rest the centenary of the Battle of the Somme, I have a story of personal struggle and personal triumph to tell.

How did we end up here?

It is 10:50 on Friday November 11th. I have just delivered the second of six sessions I am due to deliver today but already my brain has moved on and is focussing on the next appointment of the day.

When I say focus, I mean a laser sharp, all-encompassing focus on what I am about to deliver.

I am not going to lie to you: I am feeling the pressure. I am about to deliver a one-off, single-take, no second chances, must be perfect first time session.

I am definitely nervous.

Why am I feeling so much strain? Let me take you back in time a little.

Of course I can…

When I made the booking to visit a school on November 10th and 11th, away back in May, I was really excited to be delivering Remembrance sessions to an entire school. I love the opportunity to make an impact and to leave a lasting impression. Talking about Remembrance on Armistice day is just such an opportunity.



Part of the booking was that I would deliver an assembly to the school on both days. No problem, I could do a session teaching drill. It’s a great wee session that works better the more people you have.

Then, a month or so before the visit, the teacher asked me if I would do an assembly on the Thursday and lead the school Remembrance assembly on the Friday.

“Of course I can.”  The enormity of what I had offered hit as soon as I pressed send.

I was offering to lead a service of Remembrance for an entire school. Some things are important. Some things have a very precise, correct way of doing things. Some things you are morally and ethically obliged to get perfectly right. A Remembrance service is all three of these things.

I have attended many services over the years, I have formed up groups of students for the 2 minutes silence, but I had never actually led the service. This was new territory. This is not the time to be hoisted on my own petard.

There is no wriggle room, no chance to improvise. This needs to be perfect. First time. With no notes.

So I set about memorising the order of service. I set about memorising the Exhortation. I set about knowing the whole of the Last Post and I practised my bosun’s call.

All in all it’s a lot to remember. Especially when you slot it into the middle of a day where I had to deliver six sessions about D Day.

Back to the present

So that’s why I’m feeling nervous. I am acutely aware of everywhere my Second World War uniform is not sitting quite right. Every pace it’s digging in. I am abundantly aware of how hot the school is and I am beginning to get sweaty palms.



“I can do this, and I can do it right.”

I walk into the hall to be met by hundreds of small faces and the entire school staff looking at me. Also I am greeted by a Corporal from the REME who has offered to attend the service. I suddenly feel that my battledress is very out of place for this service, but there is no time to change and therefore I must focus and get this right.

Everyone sits down.

The lights go down.

I nod to the teacher with the laptop and the Last Post sounds from the PA.

It takes an eternity to finish.

Deep breath. Commit

“They shall not grow old as we that are left grow old,
Age shall not weary them, nor years condemn.
At the going down of the sun, and in the morning:
We shall Remember them.”


Announce the two minutes silence.

Sound the call. Glance at my watch and remember the time.


Think about all the things I ask the children to remember. Think about the people who I talk about in my remembrance sessions. Think about the people I have known who have made the ultimate sacrifice.

Glance at my watch.

Sound the call to end the silence.



Now back into my comfort zone

And then finish the service by taking the children through their drill before dismissing them.

They were absolutely brilliant. They managed to be silent and, relatively, still for the whole two minutes. Their drill was perfect.

I have never felt such a wave of relief and pleasure at having successfully completed something.

I put a lot of pressure on myself to get it right, because it was important. It was important to me to make sure I did this properly and it’s important to other people that I did this right.

I’m not kidding myself. Compared to being involved in a conflict, I was risking very little apart from opprobrium. Compared to the fear that soldiers feel going into combat, I felt very little. However, I had done my bit to remember their experiences and to help others remember them. I had treated the occasion with the respect it deserved.

I had done my bit to remember and to keep the memories alive.

Posted by Past Participants Andy in Session reports, Uniforms, 0 comments
Remembering Travis

Remembering Travis

Travis Who?

Travis were a band who were massive in Glasgow when I was living there in about 1999. They were everywhere for about two years (including a famous acoustic version of Britney Spears’ Baby One More Time which is well worth a watch), and then they dropped below everybody’s (including my) radar.

According to Wikipedia, they formed in 1990 in Lenzie (since made famous by the excellent Bags Fags and Mags, but I digress), they went through the obligatory “years in the wilderness” before making it big. They are also, if Wikipedia is to be believed, still going.

Yes, but why?

For those of who were not huge Travis fans, they had approximately two hits (to be fair they probably had more but I’ve forgotten).

The first was Driftwood, but that’s not why I remembered them.

Yesterday I was at the Gilbert White Field Study Centre again for a day of River Studies. Sadly, the weather forecast was “a little damp” to say the least. From the moment we left the centre to the moment we get back at the end of the day it rained solidly. It was never properly hammering it down, but it never stopped, not for a moment.

There was even a lovely moment when I realised that we were above the cloud base when on top of the hanger. It was great.

Fortunately, we’d come prepared: I was carrying a bag of spare waterproofs, spare gloves and hand warmers. Everyone had a great time splashing around in the mud.

It is, however, becoming something of a recurring theme at the moment. Getting rained on. Getting properly rained on, all day.

Which is why I found myself recalling Travis’ other big hit.

In lieu of something more insightful to say, I present you with a slice of classic Travis. It’ll all make sense. I promise.


Why does it always rain on me?

Fortunately, I’ve managed to dry everything out, ready for my next outing.


Posted by Past Participants Andy in Session reports, Uncategorised, 0 comments
A Day out on the river…

A Day out on the river…

…Re-introducing myself to some old acquaintances.

Some of you may be aware that I’ve been doing some delivery for the Field Studies Centre at Gilbert White’s House recently, teaching “river studies days” It keeps my skills sharp and gives me a chance to keep my experience portfolio as broad as possible. I’m really enjoying myself, the sessions are a lot of fun and I get to work in the open air.

Yesterday I was teaching a group from a Portsmouth school and had this conversation when they arrived:

Teacher: you’ve been here a while. I didn’t come last year but I remember you from the year before.
Me: I’m not sure you do.
Teacher: But I do remember you.
Me: Yes, but not from here.
Teacher: [pause] You’re the man from the Royal Marines Museum aren’t you?
Me: That’s right. Don’t worry, we won’t be doing drill this morning.


I was really touched. I checked my records when I got home. The last time I taught this school was in 2014 and yet the performance I gave was so memorable that, in spite of me being in the wrong place, the teacher still recognised me.

It’s one thing to think I’m memorable, it’s another thing entirely to be presented with independent evidence of it. I was a very happy man.

Below is the GPS trace for the day, which I always find interesting, but disappointing as the hills are never as big in Strava as they are in real life.



Posted by Past Participants Andy in Session reports, 0 comments