Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Time Passes So Swiftly, But The Memories Are Sweet.

It occurred to me today that in 11 days time it will be 15 years, since Dungeons & Starships closed it's doors in Sheffield.

D&S was a great place to work. My employer in the days before I took over as owner, was Chris Harvey who was the best boss I've ever known, bar none. The only person who came close was Jon Westley-Smith, also an employee of  Chris Harvey Games, and responsible back then for the warehouse - no mean feat. 

They were great days, and I was impressed that I was simply trusted just to 'get the job done' and moreover 'had enough rope so that I could never hang myself'. What more could a product of the golden age of gaming ask for?

But how did I get that wonderful job? Well...


I was the primary care-giver after our daughter was born, and 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 had to use a public telephone to have those lengthy -and costly - 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 80s 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 Chris 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 Chris 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 his office. Never mind - it was the first time I’d been out for lunch with a bona fide businessman before. Free food was always welcome. 

I asked if I could take a friend and Chris kindly agreed, and so it was that on an overcast Friday I went with Richard Would, a friend and fellow gamer to meet the Walsall triumvirate.

  Chris and his colleagues, were every bit the classic some would possible say clich├ęd 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 as planned, I can’t recall where, but I do recall that Rich 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 Chris and his friends had come all the way from Walsall, and I was none the wiser as I was driven home that afternoon. 

Nevertheless, I’d had a great day and Chris 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 in the last 3 decades.

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, Chris called and, has as 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.

Chris 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.’ Chris 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 and that was a fortune to me, back then.

Chris continued...

  ‘Well my friends are directors of the company and they liked you.’ (Well of course they did. Despite my long hair and pierced nose I was well mannered and knew my gaming subjects inside out thanks to a mis-spent youth.)

   ‘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 might 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.

   Well, we did indeed, talk it over and, on Monday morning I took my first step.


And that was how I got the chance to do something that few do. It was a great time, during which I made many of my most enduring friendships. 

I only wish I could do it again...

From Chris, I learned to take chances and try to always do what I wanted to do, even if I did not believe I could. From Jon, I learned to be myself and not take crap from people no better than I. There's no doubt that my life is better for having met Chris and Jon. Moreover, I had the chance to indulge in some of the most enjoyable times of my life so far.

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