a light-hearted view of model railway electronics

I know that we live in a microchip world. It is impossible to be unaware of this, even in the depths of Herefordshire. Communication is instantaneous and global. Silicone chips are found everywhere but sometimes, I really wonder where it will all end.

I recently broke my egg timer and when I visited my local kitchen shop I was offered a plethora of bizarre devices all controlled by silicone chips. "No", I said, "I just want one like a small hour glass with sand in it." (unprocessed micro chips, in fact). I was met with a long silence and a pitying gaze from the young lady who was serving me. "Why would you want to cook an egg in sand?" she asked.

Wherever we look, the invidious invasion of computer technology swamps our lives. Our immaculate low mileage Mazda GT had to be scrapped because some failed computerised control unit cost more to replace than the value of the car; even our hob unit stopped working due to a microchip frenzy.

It had to happen one day, I suppose. The talking computer 'Hal' from the film 2001 has become a reality! Why do I drive a BMW? Simple! Unlike the Jaguar I test drove and in many ways preferred, it does not talk to me. During my recent visit to Belgium, to my horror, I discovered that petrol pumps now talk.

Right in an economic depression, B&Q have installed talking electronic checkouts instead of smiling polite staff. No way am I going to talk to a bloody computer!

Where have real people gone?

Hell, it was bad enough when our call centres moved to Bangalore! From then on, I couldn't understand a word they said. No one is going to succeed in selling me bank services in Bombay Welsh!

Some of the new computer bits get to me too. I will not upgrade my Railroad & Co software because it needs a dongle or something, which I am bound to lose. I get emails from gooseberries and I am told I can carry huge quantities of digital information on what to me looks like a nasal inhaler for rectangular nostrils. Then there are Blogs, Twitters  and Facebooks which all seem to me to be as useful as a spare eyebrow.

And now model trains have sound chips. This in principle seems like a really clever idea until one exhibits. A few talkative trains on a layout do add to the effect, provided they are not too loud. The trouble is though, that as often as not, the same trains are then parked in a rear fiddle yard along with dozens of others, all chuntering away with idling diesel engines, shovelling coal and Westinghouse pumps a pumpin', (a sound which always seems to make me desperate to go to the loo) !

Why can't they turn off the sound when back scene? After a very short while all one wants to do is to escape outside and have a quiet cigarette!

A number of folks have now forsaken powering and controlling their trains through the rails and have moved on to battery power with radio control. I admit, they have a point. However, I have just seen a demonstration of the 'next step': voice controlled choo choo trains! You heard me right, voice controlled. There is my friend following his train around his garden talking to it! We railway modellers get enough stick about our public image already but seeing my friend talking to his trainset can only mean one thing......... he really is as mad as a box of frogs!

And how many microchips do I have on my DCC automated County Gate? Don't even bloody ask!