by Dr Michael Adler, MbChb(Cape Town), FRCS(Glasgow), FRCS(Edinburgh)
Summary: This article shows how a demanding hobby, Meccano, can provide great interest, centrality and added purpose and content to life.
Meccano is a system of metal construction where pieces can be fastened together to form structures, and rods and gears can be used to produce mechanisms. The system is based on 4mm holes at 1/2" spacings and a thread size of 5/32", and the re-usable parts allow delicate experimentation without any need whatsoever for a machine shop. The tolerances are acceptable enough to construct very accurate mechanisms, and this constitutes true small scale engineering.
This study is based on personal observations over 50 years of the benefits of Meccano, and as Meccano has just celebrated its centenary having been invented in 1901, the writer has therefore known Meccano for more than half its existence. Meccano was sold as a toy to hundreds of thousands of small youngsters throughout the world but unfortunately has lost favour with youth who find more fulfillment in instant gratification with computers and television.
What was once the domain of young boys has now become the enduring pastime of an older generation. There are reputed to be about 3,500 Meccano enthusiasts scattered through about 23 countries around the world. They share a common purpose in Meccano, whether it is collecting, its history, or actually constructing something. This demands closer examination, for there are a number of ways in which Meccano can provide fulfillment.
Being a hobby, there is no doubt that by and large, Meccano activities such as model building are conducted in the privacy of one's home in leasure time. One labours on one's own in solitary isolation, but perhaps in the company of music or one's wife or children. This satisfies a need to be able to solve problems which stimulate the thought processes, to be creative, to generate a sense of pride and achievement in a thing well done. This is so whether plans are followed or original work is done. There is no room for boredom or idleness, and often one is sustained by a driving sense of purpose.
It is often necessary to carry out extensive research before a model is built, to observe a prototype closely, to observe the work of others, to examine the Meccano literature and to study the relevant literature. Engineering drawings may be needed, and where scale is a factor, this will need to be factored into the design. Meccano enthusiasts become engineers by default in their own right, because the creative process they undergo often mimics the thought processes which were required for the prototype article.
For the collector or the historian where model building may not be the dominating factor, there is a drive for better understanding of Meccano, satisfaction in collecting an illusive part, or following up a particular research lead.
Meccano requires some physical dexterity, with fairly good hand eye coordination, good eyesight and plenty of patience. Meccano can be a source of comfort to those convalescing from a long illness, or housebound because of a greater or lesser degree of infirmity which might be of a temporary or permanent nature. For those who are healthy, it provides a pleasing contrast with energetic outdoor activities. It is also beneficial where the climate is inclement or through long winter months where one tends to be more productive indoors than in summer when the outdoor beckons.
Meccano can be a safeguard or even a defence against anxiety or depression. Meccano can always be there to be taken up when the desire strengthens and one can find time apart from work requirements and social demands. Being of a sedentary nature, it can carry one into old age with confidence, a satisfactory occupation for one's retirement years. Indeed the very existance of Meccano in one's life can provide a healthy defence against any threat of boredom. Meccano activity can be stepped up at this time to provide an unending source of stimulating interest and activity.
Meccano can provide the incentive for drawing and writing skills, not only for one's personal models, but also to the wider world. This can involve photographic, computer aided design and graphics. This is possible by contact with others with similar interests, but also in describing one's models, or relating interesting Meccano experiences such as attendance at exhibitions or meetings.
There are wide social implications to Meccano. While being a somewhat solitary pastime, it nevertheless leads on to social contact of quite extra-ordinary dimensions. Besides the pleasures of a nearby Meccano club if one is lucky to live in an area where there are a number of Meccano persons, there is also contact through the mail and the internet, and personal attendance at larger Meccano exhibitions. It is here that one starts to build up a network of acquaintances who quickly become familiar, and being so much involved with one's own interests, also become firm friends, having so much in common to share. This network can become worldwide, and indeed if one steps into a foreign country, one can feel immediately at home. In this respect, Meccano is a type of international travel passport.
In many respects therefore, Meccano be can thought to have a soul. Where so many benefits material and spiritual can be visited on one by pursuing such a hobby, one is truly blessed to have encountered Meccano.
Meccano as a home hobby provides endless interest and challenge which not only stimulates, but encourages creativity and a sense of pride and achievement and maintains personal interest and occupation. It has both mental and therapeutic properties, and facilitates friendships on a local and international basis.
Dr Michael Adler - 2002