What really happened in the Cuban missile crisis

Farthing, 1904. With a rising sense of panic, Goods Porter E. Sparkler stared at the pigeon baskets he had just knocked over.

A lid had opened, and the pigeons were escaping.

The pigeons soon scattered around the goods yard.

They were white show pigeons, en route to a prestigious event at the London Philoperisteron Society.

One of the pigeons flew into the goods depot.

At first it flew aimlessly about...

...then the clouds parted, the depot filled with light and the pigeon seemed suddenly to know where it was going.

It settled on a roof truss, and immediately relieved itself of a huge dropping…

…which fell right into the paperwork…..

…of Goods Checker J. Vemmick.

As he hurried to restore his notes, Vemmick unknowingly made a mistake: He recorded a crate as loaded, although in fact it was not.

As a result the crate was left behind, and despite the best intentions of the GWR goods handling system….

…the crate ended up in a forgotten corner of the depot, where it remained lost…

…for 58 years. The crate was finally found in 1962, when BR pulled down the old goods depot. A scrupulous clerk decided to forward the crate to its original destination. With passing interest, he noted that it was addressed to the Winter Palace in Saint Petersburg.

After a circuitous route and numerous security checks, the crate eventually landed on the desk of Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, who at that time was in the middle of the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Upon opening the crate, Khrushchev found 15 bottles of Welsh wine labelled “Castell Coch, 1904”. The bottles were accompanied by a card, hardly decipherable after all those years. It said: "From the Marquess of Bute to Tsar Nicholas II, with compliments".

"Well!" thought Kruschchev, "the Tsar is long gone, but that wine looks tempting!" And so he shared a glass with his staff. They stood there tasting it, then burst out laughing: The wine was terrible! Quite simply horrific! Khruschev immediately relaxed: If this lousy wine was all the West had to show, what was there to fear? The West would destroy itself, this awful British wine proved it! He might as well end this whole Cuba crisis thing. He sat down and drafted a letter to Kennedy.

The rest is history. The Cuban missile crisis was over, and the two Presidents congratulated each other on their cool heads and statesmanship: They had spared the world an all-out war.

But on that morning in 1904, Goods Porter E. Sparkler knew nothing of all this. He just stood there among the escaping pigeons, cursing his clumsiness. "Why", he thought, "can I never do anything right?"

He was wrong of course, he had saved the world, but noone knew. Noone except maybe a certain white pigeon. For many years afterwards it could be seen in the goods depot, flying at night, happy to have escaped.


PS: After trying for years to breed real 4mm pigeons, I've given up and went for a bit of trickery instead. It's all about perspective, eh? :-)

 Thanks to Al for tipping me off about Tacky Wax many moons ago :)  

PPS: The Marquis of Bute did produce a wine at Castell Coch in Wales. It was the first British wine and was made with various interruptions up till around WW1. I'm sure it tasted awful.


  1. Love it! No one does it better than you.

    1. Thanks very much David, I'm glad you like it. I have good fun making up the stories, and tend to learn something along the way. Eg I had never thought I'd be reading up on Welsh wine! :-)

  2. This is why I love your blog, Mikkel. Not only superb modelling and unrivalled atmosphere, but a great story and photographs that entertain and amuse. I think you are an undiscovered film director. I never realised that this was the real reason for the end of the cold war. Incidentally, the figures are very good and beautifully painted. I also admire the lengths you went to over those pigeons. I would have cheated and photoshopped them in, but then I am a low cad. Thanks for a very entertaining five minutes :-)

    1. Hi Iain, many thanks :-)

      The figures are lightly modified Dart castings. Checker J. Vemmick (named after a Dickens character who is a clerk) is a fairly recent release if I remember correctly.I filed down his cap to fit the GWR uniform of the period, but other than that I haven't modified it as much as I normally do, as it's a pretty good figure in itself.

      The pigeons are Preiser, some are quite good and some are rather course. I painted them white and modified a couple to look a bit better. Tricky work and not something I feel like repeating :-)

  3. I've said it on RMweb already but its worth saying again - super duper modelling Mikkel. It's the story telling that appeals to me so much, whether fictional or factual, it adds great depth to your few feet of diorama. There is little or no room for error with such macro photography and your work really stands up to the scrutiny of the lens.

    Do you do any post processing on the shots or are they out of the camera? I like the consistency of tone and atmosphere which underlines your shots. To me they convey a nostalgic atmosphere, portraying the periods of sleepy inactivity or short bursts of efficient activity.

    1. Hi Alan, thanks again :-)

      What I like about the close-up shots is that they open up what is, as you say, just a few feet of space to become a whole world of it's own.

      In terms of post-processing, I usually crop the photos and adjust the whitebalance and digital noise to make the image look like the layout does (my camera tends to make the colours too vivid). Sometimes I add a simple sky but not in this case - the shot of the pigeon on the roof truss was taken outside.

      The last shot is manipulated though, I cranked up the contrast to get a "night" look.

  4. Thanks Lee, I am finding that birds are useful protagonists for displaying model railways - birds eye view and all that :-)


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