Saturday, 21 September 2013

Might as well face it, you’re addicted to love... Errrr, lead. 

My name is Mark and I’m an addict… 

There’s no point in trying to deny it. I’ve never touched an illicit substance nor do I smoke or gamble. But I am every bit as bad as the worst type of junkie. My addiction is to lead. 

I think that if you are still playing with toy soldiers beyond your teen years, it’s a pretty safe bet that like me, you developed a craving, a need to own, paint and play with one inch high metal figures. You probably read about them, talk about them, daydream about them when you should be working.

Some people go into denial, ashamed of what they have become, some take it ‘one day at a time’ and the rest go hell for leather into it, oblivious of the opinions of others. I fall into the latter category I am proud to say.

I recall that back in the early days of my addiction, I carried a copy of the Dungeons & Dragons rules with me everywhere I went. I read it in the bath, my bedroom, on bus journeys, car rides and even at school. You will assume I am sure (and correctly so) that I was bullied at school, usually in the form of harassment for being quiet and disinterested in the ‘manly arts’ of football, metalwork and the like.

One day my classmates managed to steal my school bag from next to my desk, (we were in a maths lesson, but I was daydreaming about orcs and goblins as usual) empty it of it’s contents and return it. The only thing left was my rulebook, it being obviously something no normal lad would be interested in. When the lesson ended and I came to put my pens and exercise books back in my bag, there were sniggers and catcalls from the class. Seeing that my cherished rules were still there and that I had a pen for the next lesson, I simply picked up my bag and
went on my way. By the end of the day, most of my stuff had been returned with the exception of the odd pen or pencil and a packet of ‘Monster Munch’ – a favoured maize snack of the time – but because I had not played to the audience
as the butt of an obviously astounding jape, I of course had to be given a good kicking and generally abused.

I simply accepted it. All that mattered to me was that my beloved games and figures were left intact. I did learn one valuable lesson though. From thenceforth, I only took photocopies of my books and magazines to school, for fear that next time they would vanish and not mere frippery such as stationery.

Down the years I have gone to ridiculous lengths to get particular figures that whilst being worth maybe a few pence in some cases, have in real terms cost me tens of pounds. I have been known to travel from Yorkshire to the backwaters of Cambridgeshire on the train just to get to a shop that had a particular figure that I craved.

Of course I could have simply placed an order over the telephone or by letter, but the mark of the true addict is that they must physically hold, caress and sometimes, worship the item they seek, the acquisition being the end of the ‘high’.

Collectors often state, as the best part of the acquisition process. I recently listened to a podcast wherein one of the hosts, Jason Mewes - himself a reformed drug addict – recounted that his passion for toy action figures was driven by a need to acquire rather than own. In short, once he had purchased a particularly rare piece, and opened it, he would discard it at the counter, his need, his addiction sated for a
while until the next article of desire came along.

I’ve seen the same thing with wargamers and role players.
They spend every day visiting their local gaming store from the time a new product is announced and then within a couple of weeks of actually purchasing the given item, they sell it to fund the next thing to catch their eye.

I’ve been like this for over 30 years, my desire to ‘have it all’ tempered by lack of funds. Thus, I have sold and traded almost everything to buy something else.

One of my friends (Paul Green for those who may be interested) way back when I was 17, quipped that my gravestone would

‘Here lies Mark Hides - Wanna buy an army? - R.I.P.’

I laughed along with them at the time, but in recent years I have come to realise just how pathetically tragic it is to be seen as that. I have recognised that this is typical addictive behaviour and, have decided to try to work out what the triggers are and if possible override them.

You may already know if you have read 'Real Life's A Bugger!' that I have a passion for the old Ral Partha brand of fantasy
miniatures, and I had decided whilst writing this book that to celebrate the 30th anniversary of winning my first painting competition, it may be fun to recreate the type of display game you might find at any gaming convention in the early
1980’s. What’s more I decided that I had to use only authentic models, materials and rules in doing so.

At the time I made this monumental promise to myself, I owned no figures, no rule books nor anything else I’d need. I also knew that it would be expensive and, that more importantly, I’d have to face the demon that was my habit of selling my belongings to buy more. In essence I had to kick the habit, to use the old adage.

So far, so good and I have put a few things in place that have enabled me to resist my urges.

Firstly I have hunted down specific models and where possible have purchased them from other collectors for who they have been cherished possessions, but which are never going to be painted or used.

To assist my 'recovery', I have joined several internet based communities to discuss my project and latterly launched my own website to showcase my progress. This I suppose acts as my ‘sober living companion’ and should I succumb and fall by the wayside I will be looked upon with shame and pity by my peers.

Because I have particular ‘rules of acquisition’ and a long-term plan, I have been able to indulge my desires buy selling the models that I really don’t but which sometimes come my way as parts of ‘job lots’, funnelling the proceeds back into my war chests to pursue those rare models that still evade my grasp.

More importantly I have set myself a firm regime of painting to ensure that by the time 2014 and my anniversary rolls heaves into view, I have the models completed and cannot make excuses to myself.

Dave Wood is a stalwart of the hobby and is one of the most knowledgeable people I have met in terms of his ability to identify at a glance the make, year and history of any lump of lead he may come across at a convention or in the possession of a collector. I first came across Dave when he placed adverts in assorted magazines, asking other gamers to look in their attics for unloved and unwanted models to which he could offer a safe and loving home.

In the 90’s when I ran Dungeons & Starships, Dave would respond to a telephone call in which I hinted at possible booty in my possession and would race across the Pennines in the dark, often late at night to see what I’d found, risking the wrath of his good lady in pursuit of an elusive tin soldier.

I’ve recently got back in touch with Dave and once again we are discussing by e-mail and when we meet face to face at a convention, the various ‘little gems’ that have kept us interested in this odd pastime for so many years. In fact, Dave is responsible in part for my decision to break my pattern of acquiring and then selling my collection.

He probably does not realise it, but it’s perfectly true. So’
‘Thanks Dave.’

And do you know dear reader it seems to be working. I don’t think I’ll ever cured, but at least I am on the way to being ‘clean’ and leaving behind me a legacy which not only will be something for which I can be remembered, but also a thing of artistic beauty and dare I suggest, an article of cultural historical significance in terms of being part of one of the late 20th century’s most popular hobbies.