It was a freezing cold, rainy day in late 2019. My girlfriend and I were putting down a membrane in the front garden to stop the weeds coming through the bark chippings. I'd been dragging her out in the garden against her will to do things like this for months and it must have been around this time that she realised if she ever wanted to be able to feel her fingers again and have nails free from mud then she'd need to find me an alternative indoor hobby.
It was shortly after this that we visited Cannock Chase with the intention of going for a run, but we'd left it rather late, the sun was setting and it was raining. Instead of running we eat scones in the heritage railway cafe and had a look around the station. There's a little model shop at one end and we had a look around, this was when she said, "would you like a train set for Christmas?". This implied consent sparked something.
Model trains have run in the family. My granddad had a layout that he built for my dad and uncle. I don't remember it, but apparently it used to fold out from the wall and sounded very impressive. My Dad still has most of the engines and wagons. My Dad wasn't as passionate about modelling or trains as granddad, but over the years he built up quite an impressive Hornby collection and a selection of track. I remember setting it up in my bedroom when I was a kid and being told to be very careful with the boxes and polystyrene. We didn't have enough space to have something permanently out or properly modelled, but I'd got my hands on a Hornby track plan book and picked out the coolest looking layout with an elevated section. It must have taken him ages, but Dad got all the track and pinned it to a plain 8ft x 4th sheet of MDF for me that would live up against my wall when not in use (I even insisted he use foam ballast). But for the last 20ish years I'd not thought about trains and everything had sat in my parent's house gathering dust.
Around the same time I was given some Argos vouchers from work and they were doing a 20% off Hornby. It was fate! I purchased the Tornado Express set. A lot had changed in 20 years in the world of model railways, the track wasn't steel anymore, the points had changed design, DCC was now a thing. It came with the standard 6ft x 4ft track mat, so my initial plan was to recreate this. Off I went to Wickes to pick up some boards and set about building a base in the garage, buying up the expansion sets whilst the 20% discount was still on. But it didn't stop there...