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Model maker meets his match
ON the face of it there is nothing particularly exciting about a matchstick.
When alight, its flame might draw in the eye.
The race against time to use it before endangering your fingers might make your stomach flip.
But in the grand scheme of things – matchsticks? A bit ‘meh’. Or so you might think.
But take a look at Phil Warren’s face light up, just like a match, when he shares the story of his lifelong hobby with you.
It might just change your mind.
Because the 82-year-old is surrounded by his very own fleet of warships and helicopters.
And they are all made out of matches.
Mr Warren’s labour of love is on display at the Nothe Fort in Weymouth this month.
He is showcasing 217 of 463 one-to-300 scale miniatures, each crafted from matchsticks and wooden matchboxes.
Born at the Verne Citadel on Portland, Mr Warren’s fascination started as a child.
“I grew up during the Second World War and our whole world was ships and tanks and planes,” he said.
“You knew what an aircraft was just by hearing the engine noise.
“That left me with a lifelong interest in military aircraft and ships.
“I do think it might have started as a baby living on Portland.
“I suppose my mother would take me to overlook the harbour and all the ships.
“I suspect that’s the conclusion a psychologist trying to work it out might come up with, anyway.”
Mr Warren, a former company director, now lives in Blandford.
His Matchstick Fleet has taken him all over the country, exhibiting in Scotland and Northern Ireland in the past.
The Nothe Fort has played host to his miniature fleet every summer for the past 20 years.
But he attributes his enduring enthusiasm to the fact it is all just a hobby and has raised a lot of money for charity over the years.
“I’ve never taken commissions and I only exhibit for charity,” he said.
“People ask ‘well where do you find the time?’ “I assure you, it is a hobby.
“I can put them down for six weeks, it doesn’t matter. You’d be surprised how relaxing it is after a stressful day at work.
“I only ever have the model I’m working on at the house.
“Except if one is in need of a little repairing, which they sometimes are after an ex-hibition – then it comes in to see me, much like a real ship would come in to harbour.”
The models are based on drawings, plans and photographs of the real ships.
They are flat bottomed so that when placed on a blue tablecloth they look as though they are in the sea.
But these aren’t just static models.
If you can go down to the exhibition, get Mr Warren to show you how they move.
The rotor blades spin on the aircraft, the radars move on the ships.
“Trying to figure out how I am going to make it – that’s the hobby,” he said, retracting the wings of one aircraft.
The finishing touch to the matchstick models comes with painting, which is all done by hand – even the squadron markings and numbers.
It might take more patience than most of us have- but Mr Warren’s steady hand is something of a natural talent.
“It’s funny because my wife used to say ‘you are the worst at DIY’ as I don’t have any patience for it,” he said.
“But I think to be able to paint like that is probably a gift. When I was working and we needed a sign I could paint the letters in a straight line without any help and the shop girls would say to me ‘how did you manage that?’”
Finding the matchboxes, however, has become somewhat more of a difficult task.
“It’s more difficult to get hold of wooden matchboxes now.
“Young people often don’t even realise that they used to be made from wood,” he said.
“I think you forget that we used matches for a lot of things – not just smoking, but lighting stoves, for example.
“Every man walking down the street had a box of matches in his pocket.”
But Mr Warren has been helped out in this by various donations.
“Ten minutes after one radio appearance I did, a man called and said ‘I was listening to you as I was clearing out my uncle’s house and I opened a bag to find hundreds of matchboxes.
“Would you like them?’”
It’s hard to believe one man could have created so much from matchsticks, a couple of razors, tweezers, a hairpin and some paint.
But maybe that’s because he’s also poured in so much of an ingredient you can’t see – love.
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