Sunday, 30 March 2014




  • A person who dislikes, despises, or is strongly prejudiced against women.

    Now, I remember the days when women in wargames were frowned upon, discouraged and god forbid, should they PLAY a 'proper' wargame, ridiculed.

    In the 80s I saw the sprouting of the first green shoots of what was in my opinion a betterment of the hobby, as a generation of women spurned traditional gender stereotyping, took an interest in the hobby (usually but not exclusively because a partner or family member was a gamer)  and got stuck in with a vengeance, bringing a whole new facet to the hobby.

    And thus it has been, with the daughters of those gamer couples (as my own daughter has done) making their mark on the hobby and adding more branches to the wargames family tree, which frankly at one time resembled a garden cane.

    And so this week I was affronted somewhat when my wife (a VERY tolerant and level headed woman indeed) remarked that she was pretty bloody irate that she had been deliberately snubbed by a fellow member.

    So, you can imagine what my somewhat militant temperament was like when my wife made it very clear that a member we shall call Jim had walked up to the group she was gaming with, spoken to or acknowledged the male gamers at the table and literally ignored her own existence, acting frankly, like an ignorant bastard!

    This kind of thing is on par with pushing women and children out of the way in a testosterone fuelled charge to get to a bring and buy (as witnessed at both Fiasco and The World Team Championships' in the last 12-18 months.

    The sooner these misogynistic dinosaurs render themselves extinct from the hobby, the better.

    And if you think that I have been somewhat harsh in my works, that's because I am well and truly, fucking annoyed. A bit of joking back and forth between the sexes is fine and dandy (the men always lose in the end) but treating women as objects to be addressed or ignored as one sees fit is bang out of order!

    Personally, I am very surprised that my wife didn't simply deliver her own opinion directly to Jim's scrotum with her knee. Maybe, she's biding her time., but I think she is above that kind of thing...

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.

Saturday, 1 March 2014

A Life Of Gaming And A Tribute, Two Decades Too Late...

I have just been somewhat deep in thought, as to just how deeply my hobby has intertwined with my life thus far.

On the day of my marriage, I kept a promise, made some years before to go into Games Workshop on my wedding day, alas, by then it was not the wondrous store of my 80s youth, but still, it was personally symbolic. On that same day, I purchased my first 'Paper Tiger' art book, 'Lightship' by Jim Burns, which to this day is on my shelves.

As my daughter spent the first few days of her life being poked, checked and generally approved by midwives, I played a blinder of a game (15th Century Japanese vs Knights Of St John - My K.O.St.J won, hands down) with Andy Mackay, a stalwart of the early days of Games Workshop.

Last year, as my Grandson made his early appearance, I sat painting at my desk for 26 hours straight.

The first gift I gave my wife, was a 28mm ghost model and our first outing together, was a trip to Liverpool, cuddled up on a National Express coach, in the heady, pheromone-packed throes of what was to become an enduring and deep relationship. Why Liverpool? I was taking her to see 'Games Of Liverpool' a long lost but legendary 'temple' of gaming.

But, gaming has not always  brought good memories...

In the mid-90s I was chosen as manager of Dungeons & Starships, the retail arm of Chris Harvey Games. Not long after we opened the store, my Grandfather passed away. I remember that the weekend preceding, Kayte and I had been at the Mailed Fist convention and on the Sunday my Father visited, making accusations that we had not bothered with my Grandfather as he faded away in hospital, a shadow of the vibrant man I had loved, still love. A blazing row ensued, words harsh and never forgotten found an outlet in a tirade of rage, forged in the impotent despair that accompanies the realisation that there is nothing you can do for a loved one.

But you see, we had visited the the tiny figure, who lay seemingly oblivious in a private ward. We had visited when nobody else from my estranged and dysfunctional family was there to witness and approve. Indeed, the very night before this explosion of emotion, I had held my Grandfather's hand, quietly said my farewells and pleaded - yes pleaded - with him, to let go and find peace and freedom from pain.

I did not attend the funeral, such was the venom in my blood, at the time. I was at work, the need for me to be there, my excuse, as if by being absent from my post would tumble the whole house of cards, so recently completed. In the end, it collapsed anyway indifferent to it's human inhabitants, so reliant on the income it gave. Games were my refuge from the real, the placebo cure for a soul in pain.

That was a long time ago.

But now, for the first time, I am going to pay my tribute to my grandfather, Arthur Barson, who encouraged me whenever I painted a new figure in the kitchen of my grandparent's home. The time that he sat there and nodded and listened, even if he did not understand the dragon-obsessed outpourings of his first grandchild. I hope that I will be half the grandfather he was, but I fear that it's one challenge to which I, nor any other could be equal.

I miss him, although I never really speak of it, but one thing is for certain, I will never forget him, nor the passive yet important part he played in the gaming history of my life.

I used to say that I would trade one year of my life for one day back in the Games Workshop of my youth. I still would; but now I'd want to share that experience with my Granddad too.