Abbeyfield resident Bernard Clipsham talks to us about his hobby of model making, and how he came to create a whole miniature village at Bradbury House care home in Gosforth.
"My career started in power stations as an electrical engineer and I’ve always been fascinated by electricity and electronics, so it was a natural career path for me. I wasn’t called up during the war as my job was seen as essential, but after the war I was conscripted into the Royal Navy. I completed two years on intensive training at Culcheth, Lancashire, using my hobby to maintain aircraft radio.
"I retired in 1983 and was a DIY man in my spare time. I always fixed things myself and was happy to work with anything: gas, electricity, water, building work – everything except roofing!
"I was once asked by a neighbour to repair a locomotive for his model railway. When I had finished and took it round to check it was working, I discovered that my late wife, Muriel, who had Alzheimer’s, was absolutely transfixed by the trains going round. This was very unusual, and I had never seen her so intrigued by anything else since she was diagnosed. The neighbour eventually decided to pass the set on to me. I laid it out on a board and Muriel set me a variety of challenges to get the trains to do what she wanted. She also asked me to put some scenery around the railway, so the layout developed a little bit at a time to include fields, animals, hedges, hills, tunnels and bridges. I even used a bit of corrugated cardboard to represent a ploughed field. One of Muriel’s requests led me to electrify some parts of the track so the points could be automatic. When I raised it up to do so, she liked it so much that she asked me to put it on legs as a permanent piece of furniture!
"When I moved into Bradbury House, my first thought was about how I would fill my time – there are only so many jigsaw puzzles you can do and books you can read! Model making became my calling again!"
"I ended up getting many compliments from people for what turned out to be a whole countryside scene, and Muriel would often spend hours just looking at it, whether the trains were running or not. It was a blessing that she got such tremendous pleasure from it and it kept her happy. After she passed away, I noticed that the board was filling the room up, so I decided to make a smaller N gauge version (1:148 scale), down from my original 00 gauge (1:75 scale) – a half size replica, in Muriel’s memory. I then lived on my own for two years, but my house didn’t feel like a home anymore. I got very lonely on my own and felt forgotten about sometimes."
Moving to Abbeyfield
"Moving in to Bradbury House was a great decision. I applied for a two-week trial stay, which began in just before Christmas last year, and I’ve been here ever since. I use FaceTime on my iPad to keep in touch with the outside world as we’re a bit out in the wilds here, but you can't fault the staff and there is always someone around to talk to and to help – though I do try to be as independent as possible. We only have 21 rooms, which is a nice size to get to know people. When I had a stint in hospital a couple of weeks ago, they missed me so much that I got a lovely big hug when I came back.
"When I moved in, my first thought was about how I would fill my time – there are only so many jigsaw puzzles you can do and books you can read! Model making became my calling again, and I sent off to Metcalfe Models & Toys for a kit to make an N gauge size school. Once I had made it I wanted to give it away. I mentioned it at the dinner table to Mary, one of my fellow residents, who took it off my hands and put it on her windowsill.
"When the staff noticed it, word got to the Manager, Nicola, who came to see me. She asked me if I could make a village, and I agreed to make something the size of a card table. She bought me a board, I ordered some more kits for buildings, and part electrified the village with some lights. Nicola put it in the dining room, and it will likely eventually end up in the lounge. I’ve received many compliments again, but I made sure to glue down as much as possible in case any children (or big children) want to have a poke around! I called it Clipsham Village, and the church is named after Christine, who gave me the kick up the backside I needed to finish it. The manor house is also named after a couple of Muriel’s oldest friends who have helped me a lot and still come to see me at Bradbury House."