Sunday, 20 May 2018

A Brilliant Morning At Partizan

Egad! It's been a hot day...

Still, there was to be no slacking of standards and although my two sets of 3-piece tweeds are with the tailor at present being tweaked after their initial outings, I opted for a smart casual combo of linen button down, dark denims, blue hushpuppies and a rather nice tweed and silk weskit in a a colour I would not normally buy in tweed, a smart blue herringbone with catching pink and ochre check, set off by vintage H L Brown gold Omnicron pocket watch and gold chain, and a rather dandy gold, pink and blue silk pocket square.

Casual,cooler than full battledress and fitting for a show such as Partizan...


I was on a mission today to crack on with my plans for butting no more figures after my 50th birthday in August, so it was over to the evergreen Dave Thomas for a 150 or so packs of Perry ECW and then over to Foundry for 4 packs of figures.

These will form the core of my planned Royalist and New Model forces an another 70 or so packs are on the cards .


Lord, but was that a heavy box to tote to the car in the sun, and so assistance was needed as I am not as good at carrying as I once was, due to arthritis, which is flaring at present.

A great show as always, but the overall standard of display games was a bit hit and miss.

By 12:30 we were all ready to head home via a tropical fish store to grab some plants. As we got close to home we witnessed what appeared to be a kidnap of a pedestrian  and so we had to make a swift 999 call to report it. 

Then it was a quick can of Pepsi  and then over to a more local to pick up 60 fish for our aquariums. They are settling in very nicely, but you can't believe there are so many in that tank as it's a bit of a beast:


We also decided that we want to tear down our unused garage and replace it with a bloody enormous log cabin which will become a dedicated wargaming room. I think we can fit it on the property, but I'm having my builders over to discuss the foundations this week. We are crossing our fingers.

And so, I am off to sear some chicken marinaded in thai curry paste, lemon juice and coconut milk before setting down with an 80s film - the Sunday night ritual.


TTFN

Thursday, 17 May 2018

Seeking to sell or trade

SELL/TRADE: Painted 28mm 16th Century collection.

486 infantry
170 cavalry
7 guns

854 piece equivalents - All metal

£2100.00

Or I would trade for a painted ECW collection of 600 pieces or more. No plastics!

CAN DELIVER TO PARTIZAN, THIS SUNDAY (20th)












Saturday, 5 May 2018

A Tale Of Dredd...

Hi ho!

I recently purchased a copy of the Judge Dredd board game which, is in my humble opinion, one of the finest boardgames from the Golden Age. I paid a premium for it, but as I said, it's a good game, and I'm not the church mouse I was when I was younger, so a little luxury is not going to case me any guilt.

This game and I go back a long way; right back to the day of release in fact, when I ran the game in the Sheffield store where I was something of a permanent fixture. I once had to be broken from the window on a cold October morning as I had my nose pressed up to the glass and my drool froze solid.

Now, the modern enthusiast, intent on grabbing themselves some gaming history will buy the game on eBay and then brag how despite being 31 years old, they have had it since it was released in 82 and will proudly present a 2nd edition of the game. The rules are the same, the overall production is as good as the first, but it is different in a glaringly obvious way. Two ways as a matter of fact...

This is a second edition copy:




Note if you will, the use of Halma pieces and the two part flush edged board, which has a tendency to warp somewhat.

If your set looks like this, then you are the proud and blessed owner of a second printing of the JD board game. You will have the same fun in terms of game play, but, you'll not be able to brag that you bought it on the day the JD game was released. No, sorry... You won't!

Just be happy that you do own a copy of the game and that you can have hours of fun, 'Barney-ing' your friends and arresting Judge Death for littering, only to have Edwin Parsey ruin your shift, patrolling the streets of MC1.

Now, today, as I sat in the precinct house adjacent to Gary Gygax Block with a synth-caf and a munce block I received a tip-off from Max Normal (OK, I was in a hotel restaurant in Glossop, sipping a Coke and eating a lamb and black pudding shepherd's pie and it was a text from my brother) that 100 yards from me there was a copy of the JD game for £20 in a charity store.

I didn't bother with firing up the Lawmaster, I just grabbed my nightstick and dropped my Lawgiver into my boot holster and made my way to the scene of the crime.

Lo and behold, there it was!

DROKK! It was sealed with spugging tape. No problem... I am the law and therefore I simply removed said tape and looked in the box.

And the joy was such that I may have shouted 'ZARJAZ!' perhaps even forgot that I am a Judge and as such am expected to project a cool, even manner at all times.

What I was holding was a first edition of the game, just like the one I bought on the very day of release, all those years ago.

This is a first edition of the game:



You will note that there are two things which mark out the earlier edition.

Firstly, the board is a 4 panel jigsaw type board with a are marble effect rear face. It's really good cardstock too.

Secondly, you will see that the Halma men are not present, but some rather nice 18mm Judge figures are. For a while you could buy them as a pack for a few pence over the counter at your GW store, which, is how a few found their way into later sets.

But if you have the two piece board the set is still a second print run.

If you have a 4 part, jigsaw board and the six plastic figures , you may attempt to bluff it and say that you've had it since day one. It is a first print run and is considerably more sought after with a distinct whiff of cache.

And so citizens, there you have it - and so do I, once again.

I hope that this little blog may prevent some of you Rookie Judges from getting stung as you search for the game on eBay.


Splundig Vur Thrigg 

PS: There's also a third difference, but I'll leave that you to find...

Monday, 16 April 2018

A Cautionary Tale

This weekend I was browsing social media when I saw a call for help from a gamer here in the UK who was trying to get in touch with Richard Williams of Manticore Painting.

I knew of Mr Williams as he'd frequented a couple of groups I also lurk in and I'd heard rumours that he was upsetting a few people in deals. Now I could not confirm this, but it seemed plausible given that it transpired that the gentleman in question (whom I shall refer to as B.H henceforth) had sent Mr Williams figures and money over five months ago and had or heard nothing thereafter.

Now, I'd helped out another fellow last year with a similar issue  and so, as I had nothing to do inbetween coats of varnish I managed to setup a 3-way conversation with myself as mediator.

B.H was being very, very fair and asked that Mr W. supply photos of the ongoing work. 

Mr W. was evasive and so a deadline was drawn for the matter to be taken further in the small claims courts. All Mr W. had to do was supply some quick photos. Mr W. was also made aware that if he did not resolve the matter, it would be made public.

By this morning B.H had reached the end of his tether (and rightly so, I feel) and drew a line under the whole thing. Mr W. came out with a several excuses which frankly did not whitewash with B.H or indeed myself as an impartial observer. 

Mr W. then left the conversation and disappeared, presumably to try and rush out the work, which would make me as a client very uneasy were I in that situation.

And so I am taking ten minutes from my own working day to make public this awful example of a so-called 'professional'.

It's not good enough to run a business this way and reflects badly on those who earn their living painting day in and day out, and who do take their work and business seriously.





Sunday, 15 April 2018

The 16th Century Arms Race Gathers Pace...

Well, it's ben a busy wk at work, so yesterday I decided to do something I rarely if ever do, and paint a few models for my own use.

I ravaged three Warlord command blisters and came up with a nice HQ stand to represent 'me' in the guise of the His Militant Eminence, Cardinal Synne, along with his ADC and enforcer, Big Francois, who are listening to the grovelling snivelling of an ensign who has got his standard all ripped and dirty...

For 7 hours from start to finish, I am very happy with the finished article and, it was nice to paint a personal project because normally I just can't be bothered.


My wife also spent the afternoon finishing her own (and first ever) units of Reiter to begin her own later Henry VIII army, thereby heating up the 16h century arms race already underway between several of us including Roger (from whom the Reiter came a few weeks ago), my mate Dave and my younger brother, Andy...


These have taken Kayte about two days in total from start to finish, s she's made a really nice job of them. She's only 966 pieces behind me at present, but I suspect that the Machiavellian Roger will be ahead of me by now, so I really ought to finalise my next expansion of my collection with 400-500 Scots asap.

Over my holiday the other week, I was able to get all the flags on the rest of my collection in 3 days of work, so now it's looking a lot better than when the models first arrived with me (see earlier posts)...



The flags are a mix of Flags Of War, Donington and Battle Flag and are superb. I ordered several sheets from Wargames Designs and they were AWFUL. They were paler than shown and the paper was nothing like as good as that on the others.

Well, I'll leave you to enjoy the weekend,


TTFN

Thursday, 12 April 2018

The Post With No Title...

As you will have seen, I sometimes pose ‘left field’ questions on here, so bear with me…

My 2012 book contains the following paragraph:
'I’d originally, been drawn to the stunning Marillion cover artwork by Mark Wilkinson as I browsed the record department of Woolco, but when I heard those first few lines I was immediately captivated, it was heady stuff. The almost poetic lyrics of Script For A Jester’s Tear or the grim depiction of a young British soldier on the streets of Belfast in the haunting Forgotten Sons, spoke to me in a way that no music ever had. '
Now, in common with many of you, Marillion & Fish have played major parts in my life, but how many of you also found their music during the early 80s where Dungeons & Dragonsand similar role playing games were all the rage, with avant grade political art exhibitions, ten a penny?
Moreover, how many of you were also drawn to those things? How many of you found several introductions to the cultural aspects of the world in a similar way?
I am not a political person by nature although I am a dreamer and something of a cultural Pandora. But as I roamed the streets of Sheffield as a teenager, I found myself drawn into role playing games (these have filled my life and indeed shaped it ever since and are how I make my living aged almost 50) and as I was already heavily influenced by art and history, I spent a lot of my spare time in galleries, looking at renaissance paintings, modern automata and strangely developing a taste for radical politically inspired artwork. I would collect flyers for various fringe groups, taking in the rhetoric and the graphics, without any thoughts on the actual politics and if I saw an interesting shop such as ‘EXIT Books’ which stocked some really hardcore underground literature, as well as books full of R. Crumb artwork which blew my mind, I had to go in no matter what. 
Remember that at this time it was very easy to get a kicking for looking different to other youths or being perceived as ‘standing out’ so for a timid, skinny kid this was pretty risky.
My musical tastes at the time were very eclectic and included Ian Dury, Adam And The Ants, Skids, Iron Maiden, Hazel O’Connor and Tenpole Tudor. Then on a regular trip to Woolco, having been drawn to a Roxy Music album cover, I walked back along the racks and saw the Script cover. I marvelled at the artwork and read the lyrics on the sleeve, trying to put a tune to the words. I was pretty damned certain that a band who had such stunning artwork on their records would be just the ticket musically. And so, I bought my first Marillion record and from there on it was a downhill slope into a world of alternatives to the norm.
A natural loner, I lost myself in the fantastic. I absorbed fantasy and science fiction like a sponge. Back then you kept things like that to yourself and at school there were about half a dozen people with similar tastes. We talked of fantasy, Marillion, Yes and who’d been bullied lately. We compared art homework, bitched about how basic the history course work was and found that with our combat jackets, white Hi-Tec sneakers, mullet hair cuts and ability to converse about more than just sport and who was the ‘hardest’ kid in the school, we became rather popular with the girls - not that we did anything about it.
For me the perfect afternoon in my last 6 months of school was to finish at lunchtime, walk home with a group of gamer mates and girls (two of them were also into D&D - unheard of at the time) arguing over which Script track was best, and then after a salami salad sandwich (with salad cream), I’d stick on the newly released Fugazi, knock off any coursework and then lose myself in Ringworld by Larry Niven. To this day I often have to grab my well thumbed copy, visualising myself looking down from space at the immensity of the Ringworld with Incubus and Emerald Lies taking me back to simpler times, despite the fact that at the time it was all a lot heavier to my youthful mind.
Just after Fugazi was released I was the victim of some serious bullying by a sixth form kid at school, and a fight resulted. Something in me snapped and I fought back for the first time in my life. The end result was I was charged with assault despite being the victim and for about 3 months I had the threat of prosecution over my head, until I was given a caution and told it was a formality because frankly I was plainly not a hardened criminal…
But all through that time a cocktail of escapist literature and Marillion probably stopped me doing something fatally stupid and preventing me ‘taking the alternative way’.
Anyway, how many of those of you in this group find that my own experiences resonate with you?
I expect that all the best freaks are here...

Sunday, 8 April 2018

Almost The End...

As I write, the end of our ten day break is around 11 hours and 24 minutes away - Not that I am counting, you understand?

It's been a good break too. We began with Chillcon and then spent two days just hanging around the house, during which time I got two thirds of the flags on my 28m Renaissance collection, which was really boring but also oddly satisfying work.

On Tuesday, we popped up to the Royal Armouries to take a refresher course in 16th century armour and arms, with the memsahib developing a rather unnatural taste for the armies of Henry VIII, buying some rather nice reading material, before we popped across the dock to Pizza Express for a cheeky bit of lunch and then a steady pootle back down the M1, my desire to buy a burgonet and bevor kept tightly in check - but it was a close run thing, I can tell you!

Wednesday saw the delivery of the remainder of the flags I needed to complete my Landsknechts, but we were set on going to see an exhibition of political protest artworks which I have had a rather peculiar taste for since I was about 12 years old along with radical and political music of a left wing bent, which is odd because I don't really support any political view. I think that it's the statement and passion rather than the actual politics, and of course Sheffield was rather militant in the 70s and 80s, so, as I found my feet in the world, this kind of cultural expression went into my head along with my gaming.

Often, I can be found singing Billy Bragg's 'Help Save The Youth Of America' or Ian Dury's 'Spasticus Autisticus' as I indulge in some gaming related activities, or listening to some artsy little ditty by Haysi Fantayzee or Mobiles although I draw the line very firmly when it gets to 'Iko Iko' by Natasha - even I have my limits.

I recently realised that despite my humble roots, I had a really sharp sense of the aesthetic which bloomed in a big way from about the age of 10 when I attended Limpsfield school, where we got a what I would later see referred to as a liberal arts education. Four years later, at comprehensive, the Stasi who posed as teachers at that facility attempted to comprehensively strip those of us who had attended Limpsfield of any sense of the artistic or radical, but some of us could not be broken and we embraced anything which made us different to the brainwashed should obsessed with football and 2-Tone music.

I developed a love of walking through doorways which seemed to offer adventure or enlightenment. I found counter-culture bookshops, left over from the early 70s, which opened me to R Crumb, politics and numerous was that art and literature could be used to protest at this, that or the other. It also connected me to vegetarian food as some of these places had cafes in them, and, as is the way with this kind of thing, the herbivores ruled the land.

I am not a vegetarian, nor have I actually done much in the way of acts of protest - unless you count the 2 weeks of solid, cold silence I treated my parents to when they grounded me for a month for finishing with a girlfriend in favour of Runequest in 1982. They broke before I did...

But, the point was, I was experiencing things which impacted upon me aesthetically and still do until the present day.

I remember that I was obsessed with a store in the very early 1980s which was a franchise within House Of Fraser, by the name of 'Knobs & Knockers', which sold a wild assortment of door handles and door knockers - as you'd expect. The colours, shapes and textures were what I was interested in as well as the shop fittings which were minimalist futurist, that style which was all the rage early in that decade. Again, these things embedded in my young mind, so that I have a very distinct mix of things which continue to this day to thrill me when I see them 'given the nod' by contemporary artwork, media or gaming product.

It also means that my wife will have to curtail my enthusiasm if we are in John Lewis, and I see some retro style soft furnishings or bedding, lest I go into some kind of aesthetic feeding frenzy.

If I see an old Athena poster made up of grids and flashes of bold graphic colour, I will have to go home and listen to some Toyah, XTC or very early Adam & The Ants. From there I may have to go and buy some old starship models and re-watch Blake's 7. Then I find myself reading a book on 80s history, which makes me... You get the idea of how terminal it could be, if I was not kept in check.

Anyway, the exhibition was good and we also had a trip around the Ruskin Gallery. I am a little hot and cold with the whole Arts & Crafts movement, but say what you like, Ruskin had an eye for colours and textures, so the experience was an enjoyable one.

I went home, and started to fix some of the flags for a few hours before going to the cinema for the first time since Lord Of The Rings was released. I was a little nervous because I was so bored and underwhelmed with that offering, that I fell asleep.

We went to see 'Ready Player One' which is classic Spielberg but quite different to the book by Ernest Cline. That said, it was a rollicking romp, and in a reclining seat, a cup of coffee in my hand, I was transported to a world of yes, more 80s pop culture (it's not going to go well I fear) and so, I was as happy as the proverbial pig in a wallow.

By the time we got home and to bed, it was 1:45 AM so we were very tired on Thursday, but, as the 4 hounds who reside here with the memsahib and I were in for the monthly haircut, we had to stay at home and could rest and recuperate, whilst also fitting the remaining banners to the 28mm renaissance collection without a sense of guilt.

And so to Saturday which saw us taking in an exhibition at the Trafalgar Warehouse in Sheffield titled 'Power' which we'd seen advertised in the Yorkshire Post last weekend, which was a collaboration between artists Sarah Hopkins and Tracey Moberly and Human League co-founder Martin Ware, inspired by the steel industries of the north of England. It was small but oh so perfectly redolent. I witnessed the last days of the Steel City proper and so it was very interesting for me, to see imagery coupled with the abstract electronic soundscapes created by Mr Ware.




And so, to today where I am relaxing and catching up with my blogging before settling down this evening to watch Buckaroo Banzai, a charming little 80s escapist flick in the 'weird science' genre, which was a result of seeing the references to BB in Ready Player One and thinking 'hey, we've not watched that for a while'.

And so dear readers, I will leave you to ponder how you yourselves have been affected by a combination of popular culture, music and gaming.. Or am I the only one for whom there were these tangental connections?


TTFN


Monday, 2 April 2018

Of Holidays, Pike Blocks And Pop Culture (Tinged With The Odd Fuckwit)

We have snow today and so as I have made myself stay home for two days just 'being', and merely pottering about, it was sensible for me to start with my flag fitting. I'm almost there, apart from the few dozen Landsknecht banners which are still not here from Flags of War, after a week

I have 4 boxes of the metal Wars Of Religion pike and shot from Warlord on the way as well as the 6 boxes of plastics I bought last week. I think I’ll add as many plastics again if they are still on a ‘special’ because as an old friend whose name rhymes with 'dodger' did quoth recently : ‘You can never have too many Landsknechts…’ Like a sucker I believed him... That's my story and I am sticking to it

I went to Chillcon on Saturday and was underwhelmed with the traders who were there, but, as it was 9 minutes from where I sit, it filled two hours. I bought a copy of Devils Run: Route 666 which looks like a fun game and a magazine, whilst the memsahib bought herself a copy of the Pike & Shotte rules and a load of scenic stuff. It had, I must confess a 'can do' attitude, but the trade was very samey, with few historical traders and even less miniature companies. There was way too much MDF, which I for one loathe and detest, but as everyone is buying it these days, what do I know? Me, I'll stick to good old resin for my scenery, thank you very much.

NOTE TO WARLORD GAMES:                                                                                                           

When someone comes to your stall with a book in her hand, and asks the chap manning it, whether he has a better copy, he should not give a rather abrupt 'No' whilst keeping his eyes fixed firmly on the screen of his smart phone, giving the impression of being a pony-tailed pillock!

This is rude, and his fuckwittery cost Warlord knock on sales of £300 which have now been made elsewhere by that lady. You may not need that £300 being the giant corporate entity you are, but from small acorns, and all that...


Anyway, it did get me thinking very seriously about staging a one day show in Sheffield. I have the funds doing nothing, so I am gathering around me, a group of objective and enthusiastic advisors and making a serious go of it after a couple of years of deliberation.

I am also seriously considering my first trip to a cinema since the first Lord Of The Rings movie (which I slept through - honestly) to see ‘Ready Player One’ as it looks to be as close to the book as possible. The book was pure 'Geek-Lit' of course (no bad thing) but an enjoyable retro romp for a sad case like your correspondent.

I spent last night with a rather fine seafood pizza, watching E.T with the memsahib, just to remind myself how good Spielberg is when he brings out his ‘A’ game.

I am hoping that my batteries will be re-charged by taking a ten day break - God knows, I need it! 

On Wednesday, we are going over to the Royal Armouries to snap some pictures in the renaissance areas and generally reinvigorate my own vibe for my cherished period. An arms race over the internet is ensuing, as my scattered buddies of old all want one final big game before we retire, hence the hurried collecting of any and I mean ANY 28mm renaissance we can get our hands on. Would you believe that with 24 feet of display space, Foundry did not take a single pack of renaissance to Chillcon? Sheer lunacy!

Anyway, that’s all the news there is, but here are some pics of the ever-growing collection, as it nears completion of ‘Phase Alpha’.

Sunday, 1 April 2018

British Army To Introduce New Rations

British Army to appeal to the disaffected Millennial generation

In a move to encourage more of the Hipster Generation to sign up to serve Queen and Country the British army are to introduce the so-called 'Millennial Ration Pack' (or MRP as a leaked Whitehall paper has it).

A sample 1 day ration will contain:

Breakfast and Snacks:
Rice crackers
Marmite (or not)
Avocado Puree (Ripened) In Light Fresh Olive Oil Liquid (supplied under contract by Waitrose)
Vegetarian sausages and beans with the beans removed
Or
Transformers shaped pasta

Lunch:
Vegetable pate using organic root vegetables (no green vegetables will be used)
Organic artisan rye and spelt bread slices x 2
Low sodium, ethically made Minestrone soup (with the bits all the same size because , like, equality is implant , alright?)
20g bag Cheetos

Dinner

Free range Quorn cutlet
Dehydrated French Fries (Maris Piper)
Petit Pois - hand picked in Norfolk
Organic artisan tomato ketchup
Vegetarian Chilli (
Cadburys Mini Rolls x 6


Drinks and Extras
Low fat rapeseed spread (although for PC reasons this may end up being gender neutral virgin olive oil based)

Toilet paper made from recycled materials

Disposable lighter using sustainable bio fuel
Powdered hot chocolate - 80% Fairtrade cacao
Rainforest assured decaffeinated coffee powder
Organic soy milk powder
Hand blended tea leaves from a election of types
1 litre of Coke/Pepsi or Mountain Dew
1 litre energy drink
Chocolate bar - again 8-% cacao from organic and Fair-trade sources
Dehydrated single estate Pinot Noir x 2 servings

Monday, 26 March 2018

Finished, Apart From One Vexing Job...

Well, it was a good week for the most part, last week.

My wife did a stunning job in basing 1000 pieces of 28mm renaissance in a frankly unbelievable 5 days.


yesterday, I spent an equally amazing 4 hours, removing 90% of the old (and shoddy) flags from the figures and then netting them down with my trust Winsor & Newton Professional Artist's Matt Varnish, going through 600ml and undoubtedly doing myself some physical harm from the fumes, such was the volume I used.




Now, all I need to do is fit the flags whilst I take a 10 day break, commencing this Friday.

Ah yes, the flags...

The butcher's bill for the 90-100 flags I required set me back £75. Yes, you read that correctly, seventy-five English Pounds. But., you know me, I only do things the right way.

I'm very happy with my purchases, but you know how it goes... You awake on a Monday morning, the Spring sunshine floods your very soul, and you innocently buy 180 or so Swiss Renaissance models and then the Wars of Religion regiment catches your eye. So you buy one...

Then, you think that at a pound per figure they are good value, so you buy another.

Then, you think that 4 would be nice to make a Spanish tercio up and buy two more.


And as is the way, you the get the brilliant idea that 4 sub units of sword and buckler would also add a frisson to the tercio and so you buy those.

Next thing you know, the day has cost you dearly, you've added another 330 models to the painting list and you get a call from your tailor late in the day to say that they have a Donegal tweed 3-piece suit awaiting your attention and wallet, so another £900 will need to be found by Wednesday so that you can keep the title of 'Best Dressed Wargamer'...

What a bleeding life eh? It's hell I tell you... SHEER HELL!

TTFN


Saturday, 24 March 2018

A Real Blast From My Past

Following on from my two previous posts about Dungeons & Starships, my wife found these during a clear out of documents etc. I didn't know any had survived and they must date from 1997.

A real bit of personal history...



TTFN

Thursday, 22 March 2018

Bases & Bushes

Well, my wife has rebased almost 1000 28mm pieces in 4 days. She just needs to add the larger bushes and then I have to replace a few pike, all the flags and matte them back down.

Not bad, I'd say...






More On Dungeons, Starships & Flying Buffalo...

Over the next few months Christopher came to Sheffield a few more times to look for suitable properties and iron out the odd wrinkle. I also went to Birmingham and Walsall to meet my soon-to-be colleagues in the company.

By now, I had taken it upon myself to get a hair cut which gave the look of a 15th Century page boy crossed with Oscar Wilde – no, not crossed like that, behave yourself. Haircuts have not featured much since about the age of 14. My Mum once said that I should get a hair cut, and obligingly I returned an hour later with what I believe in the more southern U.S states is referred to as a ‘mullet’. My darling Mother was heard to declare that I, first-born and most-favoured, with such a wonderful coiffure, had a visage resembling a bag full of spanners. Today I am still regularly tempted to sport the hairstyle of a messiah until nature dictates otherwise.

Eventually a location for the planned store was chosen and from a local’s point of view, it was well off the beaten track. Christopher was of the opinion that no matter where you site a game store, people will journey. I did not agree, - and still don’t - but at the end of the day he was the boss. The chosen property was a mess. It had been a travel agency previously and was a large, open plan building, with a dividing wall and a large glass window, behind which lay an office area and kitchen. It had a suspended ceiling which needed the lights and some of the panels replacing and the entire frontage although made of glass hade been boarded over and then in turn fly-posted. In technical parlance ‘it was a bloody mess’.

Stuntie, an old school friend, had recently returned to the U.K after studying ancient Nordic languages in Sweden, and was temporarily living with us. When Kayte and I had got married in 1993, Stuntie had been my best man and was the only person from my school days with whom I still had any contact. Now he was assisting with the preparations for the opening of the store.

Christopher had given me a budget and a series of pre-signed cheques along with a target date for completion of one month. One month? It was going to take a lot more given the state of the property, but Christopher had thrown down the gauntlet to me and I, somewhat reluctantly had picked it up, accepting the challenge.

They say that the best way to learn a new language is to live in the country where it’s spoken. Fitting out a shop is the same. The best way to learn is to get stuck in and learn as you go.
The weather was pleasantly warm that summer and the first job was to get the boards taken from the frontage which took Stuntie and I an hour or so, whilst Kayte got on with trying to make some space in the kitchen area. Unfortunately, under the boards was another thick layer of posters that had been pasted directly onto the glass, the removal of which took the rest of the day with much use of colloquial Anglo-Saxon to help it along.

The display and shelving units were being made in Walsall and shipped up to Sheffield. All we had to do was get everything fitted. This was easy enough as a counter also had to be constructed on site, so we arranged both with a local shop fitter. The decorators came in on Tuesday for two days and did a sterling job. Carpets were fitted on Thursday and the first of the wall brackets for the shelves were added the same day. It was looking good so far, and this from a trio who had never been involved in this kind of project. This was where Kayte’s natural ability to organise went into overdrive and as I negotiated prices and specifics of the required work with contractors, she was busily arranging schedules so that we never had a minute wasted. By the end of the first week we had the basic fittings in place, and it was looking very encouraging. 

The average day was between twelve and fifteen hours of work followed by food and sleep. I don’t recall ever feeling so simultaneously exhausted and elated. My main concern at the time was the state of the toilet, which was disgusting. Chris said that a good clean and a new seat would do the trick, but even after using the same amount of chlorine used to treat an Olympic-sized swimming pool it was still below par. In one of those odd coincidences that seem to come along when things are at their worst, as I fitted the new toilet seat the porcelain bowl cracked. There was nothing for it, a new one had to be fitted, and the king of fools had his new throne.

Week two started with the construction of the counter. It was a gigantic thing, a full twelve feet long, four feet high and three feet deep. It was possible for Stuntie and I to lay lengthways underneath it. If it came down to it, we could sleep in the shop, the counter making a fine bunk bed. Behind the counter was the glass window of the office, protected by this enormous altar dedicated to Mammon.
On the Wednesday we had our first real setback. It had been decided that all the florescent tubes in the suspended lighting units were to be replaced. When the fitter arrived we found that whilst the ceiling itself was correctly installed, the lighting units of which we had fifteen, each weighing around 20 kilos were not suspended at all and were in fact resting on the frames.

In short we had an accident waiting to happen. But once again, fate smiled on me when the fitter installed every unit correctly – at no additional charge. This is the kind of thing that fuels the rumours of the dreadful pact I must have made in return for my soul.

Thursday morning saw a container truck arrive with the stock. The sheer volume was astounding as H.Q sent 3 or 5 of every single item in their vast inventory. I don’t know exactly how long we worked, but, by systematic sorting of the stock into various product lines and then laying them out on the floor in order of price we were able to get the stock ticketed and on the shelves by 8.00PM Friday. What was expected to take a month was complete in 12 days and what was more impressive was that we had done it well below the projected budget. It was a proud moment for us all.

On Saturday morning the three of us stood and admired our hard work. This was it I’d achieved one of my childhood aims. I was not only the manager of Dungeons and Starships but the company I worked for was one that I had loved since the beginning of my addiction to gaming.

I put the key in the lock, turned it and pulled on the handle. The door slammed straight back with a resounding ‘BA-BANG!’ This was not the way it was supposed to go. That door should have slowly and gracefully closed with a mere hint of sound. We were as you may guess, somewhat chagrined. We’d left the door locked to avoid the same kind of teenage invasion that I had mounted on Games Workshop so many years before. By the simple error of not actually checking the locks and door mechanisms before our first day of trading we had not found that the spring mechanism was potentially lethal to anyone entering the shop.

An engineer was called and quote given along with an undertaking to have it repaired that day. Luckily when he arrived, said engineer presented me with the bill before he started as well as a contract. I paid him in advance, which was another of those fortuitous ‘El Diabolo’ moments. By the time he left at 8:00 PM the unfortunate engineer had been forced to fit a whole new braking system, replace two of his power tools and procure another. By my estimations he’d lost £600.00 on the day and because he had been so eager to present his bill in advance, I held him to it. Well, it would have been rude of me not to do so, wouldn’t it?

In the meantime Stuntie had been doing a sterling job of meeting and greeting curious members of the public, guiding them to the staff entrance and into the shop, offering refreshments for the inconvenience. It worked like a dream, as he is one of the most conscientious people that I have ever met, always looking out for the needs of the customer. In just a few short days I would be unto Stuntie as Judas was to Jesus. I would let my pig-headed pride and pomposity destroy a friendship that I have never had since with anyone other than my wife.

Those first few weeks were hectic. Stuntie was acting as a part-time sales assistant and in my absence he stepped smoothly and efficiently into my shoes. Whilst I was at the bank one day, we had a visit from another storeowner in the area, demanding that we sell nothing that he stocked. Stuntie in his calm but firm way made it perfectly clear that this would never happen. I heard several years later that it was a performance that I would have been amused and proud to witness. If only I had.

Trade was increasingly brisk and we were exceeding the targets set us by the board of directors, but I was wound way too tightly back then. I have always been something of a control-freak. Many gamers are, after spending their youth being scapegoats and misfits who play powerful and important characters in the games that often dominate every available hour. 

No matter how many times I hear someone protest this point, I can make a quick appraisal and reach a conclusion. In eight out of ten cases I’ll see the downtrodden youth inside the apparently brash man in front of me and think ‘I’ve been there, my friend. I have the badge, certificate and scars to prove it.’

My arrogance and zeal was to be the downfall of a friendship which was only rectified some 25 years later...

To find out what happened next, you'll have to read my book.

TTFN

Wednesday, 21 March 2018

Dungeons, Starships and Flying Buffaloes - Or 'How To Ruin Your Life Whilst Having The Best Time Ever...'

In the early 90s I was the keeper of our child whilst my good lady earned the crust. These were hard, hard days...

I did the odd bit of miniature painting here and there whilst my offspring took the afternoon nap that separated her AM and PM rampages. I don’t recall how he located me, but one day a well-spoken gentleman from the West Midlands sent a letter asking whether I could paint a few figures for him. I agreed, and over the next few months we had a lot of telephone conversations about figures and games. This was before we ever had a telephone in the house. We were the proverbial church mice, and I to use a public telephone to have those conversations.

The gentleman’s name rang bells with me, and I suddenly realised that he ran Flying Buffalo U.K, a company that imported the ‘Tunnels & Trolls’ role-playing game as well as a number of other products from the USA.

In the 80’s I had regularly sent off for the latest catalogues and the excellent ‘fanzine’ that was ‘Flying Buffalo News’ and here I was speaking the man behind it all in a cold public telephone box in a rough area of Sheffield. It was during one of these conversations that Christopher said that he would bet me ten pounds, I’d not be painting figures in 5 years time. I of course indignantly responded to the contrary. As it turned out he was correct.

In 1994 I was asked if I could meet Christopher and a couple of friends in Sheffield for lunch and a chat. I assumed of course that this was to maybe show say thank you for the odd bits of painting that I’d done and maybe give an excuse for a day out from the office. Never mind, it was the first time I’d been out for lunch with a businessman before. Free food was always welcome. I asked if I could take a friend and Christopher kindly agreed, and so it was that on an overcast Friday I went with Tim, a friend and fellow gamer to meet the Walsall triumvirate.

Christopher and his colleagues, were every bit the classic businessmen, with smart, well-cut bespoke suits, large car with exquisite leather interior, the likes of which the average working-class Sheffield lad only gets to ride in to weddings or funerals – and the final time, he’s not going to have the opportunity to enjoy it.

We went for lunch, I can’t recall where, but I do recall that Tim ate as much as he could because he wasn’t paying the bill. This was all very pleasant but at the end of the day I couldn’t see why Christopher and his friends had come all the way from Walsall, and I was none the wiser as I was driven home that day. Nevertheless, I’d had a great day and Christopher had been really good company, having a passion for the hobby and the business behind it to a degree that I have rarely seen equalled.

We had recently managed to be in a position to have our own telephone installed and that evening as I sat telling Kayte about the day I’d had, Christopher called and, has been the way of things for me over the years, the smell of roses began to manifest. In fact, friends have often suggested that I have a pact with the Devil himself but I don’t recall signing anywhere in blood.

Christopher asked me if I’d enjoyed myself to which I obviously answered that I had. So that was it, being every bit the gentleman that he was, he’d called to confirm that I’d had a good time. But then he asked me if he remembered the bet that we had made previously. Again I answered in the affirmative.

‘Well I think I may have just won the bet.’ Christopher almost taunted like a child. I was confused. This was not how a businessman acted was it?

‘Err, Okay. Why?’ After all I may have had to part with ten pounds.

Christopher continued. ‘Well my friends are directors of the company and they liked you.’ Well of course they did. Despite my now very long hair and pierced nose I was well mannered and knew my gaming subjects inside out.

‘Thank you, but how does that mean that you have won the bet?’ I responded.

‘We want to open a store in Sheffield. We already have one in Birmingham and another in Walsall both named ‘Dungeons and Starships’ and we’d like you to consider running the Sheffield branch.’

As you can imagine, I was dumbstruck. This was the dream of many a young gamer, to work in a shop that sold the games they played. But this was better because I’d been asked to manage a store. Apart from a few retail jobs in the years immediately after leaving school, I’d never done anything like it before, and here I was being given what was, to me anyway, the chance of a lifetime.

‘I need time to think.’ I stammered, still in shock.

‘Fine. Talk it over with Kayte and let me know on Monday. Have a good weekend. Bye-bye.’ And that was it the conversation was over.


Kayte and I did indeed talk it over and, on Monday morning I took my first step into the unknown I'd dreamed of since that first day I'd walked into Games Workshop.

To be continued...

TTFN