Friday, 31 July 2015

Geek On The Run! Part 2

Now, where was I?

Ah, yes...

Well, to continue where I so rudely left off:

 The following week Alan and I went back to Beatties. Lo and behold, the role-playing section had been moved to the front of the shop and was displayed in the open on shelves, instead of the glass display case. We were somewhat dismayed to see that the games also shared their hallowed ground with a demonstration model of the Atari 2600 game console running a continuous loop of the ‘Pitfall’ game. Of course computer games like this were never going to catch on, were they?

   Unfortunately on this day we had managed to miss our usual bus after school and, had tarried a while longer than was wise at Hopkinsons’. Consequently, by the time that we reached our newest temple of all things fantastic, we were pushing our luck for getting home on time. In the same way that Scotland always fails to get to a World Cup final, fickle fate was to lay us low that day. As we discussed which box of Grenadier models would be purchased next (ironically 'Thieves') I happened to glance at my watch. This was – being the 1980s - a large stainless steel model of the digital variety, which displayed the time in red LED when you pressed a button. I applied a finger to the aforementioned button and the face glowed, illuminating its terrible, message in bloody brilliance. It was 5:00 PM and we were going to miss the bus unless we ran. 

   So, run we did…

   Sadly for us, Geoff ran too, believing we had made off with his beloved stock, he chased us a good 50 yards down the street at a pace not becoming to a man of middle years, before grabbing us squarely by the collars and marching Alan and I back to his office despite our protestations. I tell you, for a man in his fifth decade of life that man could run.

   Now, these days, a teenager would simply take up their mobile phone and make a call to their parents who would in turn make a call to the family solicitor and commence suing the company who had dared to waylay and incarcerate their beloved offspring. But remember that this was 1982 and therefore we were as doomed as a doomed thing.

   Eventually, after twenty minutes of being held against our will and our bags having been thoroughly searched whilst we explained the reason for our hasty departure to Geoff we were allowed to go.
   Red-faced, I was almost an hour late for my tea. I apologised, I grovelled and may have even washed the dishes. What I did not do however was tell my parents what had happened as they would have simply banned me from going into town at the very least.

   As I mentioned earlier, I was the prototype for my parent’s later forays into raising children and I am sure they were working from the Gestapo training  manual as I will briefly illustrate.

   When I was younger I was tied to a tree, in a local park by ‘friends’ – Matthew France, you know you did me wrong, that day! Anyway, as a result I spent two hours there and by the time I got home it was almost dark. Despite giving my parents a list names and a full account I was grounded for two months and soundly thrashed. There were in those distant days no ‘naughty steps’, which seem to be built into all modern homes.

   Now, about a decade later, I was grounded for a month with a 4:15PM absolute limit for being home from school. Weekends were put on hold and so were all things to do with games – a fate worse than a bloody good thrashing.

 Life was already shaping up to be a bugger!  

Thursday, 30 July 2015

Geek On The Run! Part 1

In early 1981 Alan, my then best mate, and I were allowed to start going by bus into Sheffield city centre on our own at weekends and during the summer months after school on the provision that were all home and at the tea table for 5:30PM sharp.  School finished at 3:30PM and so we would make a manic dash of about quarter of a mile to the bus stop to catch a 3:40PM bus into the city. As may be expected, given his athletic prowess Harvey managed to leave Alan and I in the dust, often managing to grab a Mars bar, chat up a passing girl or two and still get to the stop before us.

  We had to be back at the return stop for 5:00PM to be certain of getting home by the appointed time, no mean feat at rush hour I can tell you. In those days a bus ride anywhere in Sheffield cost 2p if you were under the age of sixteen.

   On average we were given £1.00 per day as dinner money. We quickly worked out that if we ate as many bowls of cereal and slices of toast as was humanly possible at breakfast – my record was 18 Shredded Wheat - and conserved our energy by lounging on the playing fields or in the school library we could get by on no more than 35p per day with a diet of chips, curry sauce and mushy peas, topped off with a buttered bread roll - the infamous ‘Curry Special’. Allowing 4p for the two bus journeys we had 61p left, which equated to 2 man-sized figures with 1p left over towards our bus fares at the weekend. If we added this to our weekly spending money, or rather what was left after buying the ‘single of the week’ the previous Saturday, we could amass a veritable King’s - well OK, peasant’s - ransom to feed our figure habits each week.

   Had our parents known - perhaps they did, but secretly admired our business acumen - we would have been grounded at the very least, possibly have had to resort to taking a packed lunch to school each day – a fate worse than death to a wargaming junkie -and maybe even taken out flogged in public on the Town Hall steps. One week I managed to scrape together £3.00 from dinner money alone and set off to spend it in an orgy of consumer indulgence. But alas, it was not to be.

   When we reached Hopkinson’s the store was closed for the day. In our eagerness to turn gold into lead, we’d forgotten that in Sheffield in the 80s, it was half day closing in the market area. I felt cheated.

   Alan and I were alone this time. Harvey was off somewhere - pitting himself against champion greyhounds I guess, or perhaps, an irate parent of one of the girls he was always mooning over. It was 4:00 and we decided to take a trip to Beatties, a large model shop on Pinstone Street in the heart of Sheffield. Using breathing techniques purportedly used by Zulu warriors to cross great distances of veldt at the run - you see? The school library did have its uses beyond calorie conservation and somewhere to look at pictures of unclothed females in biolology texts - we made it to Beatties in less than ten minutes. Weighed down as we were with bags full of exercise books and pockets awash with saved lunch money this was a good time, although Harvey would have snorted his derision and done it all again before we reached our destination.

   This was the day my forays into fantasy changed direction once again, in a way that would seal my fate much in the way that finding a black sword dooms an albino prince.

   Beatties was a long store with a ‘T’ shaped layout, managed by a ferocious fellow by the name of Geoff. He was probably a totally decent chap who loved his family, but he ran his store with a rod of iron and with white hair and salt and pepper beard, adding to his apparent hatred of the young, he terrified us. He had that type of bearing normally reserved for comic book villains, and what we thought was a murderous streak.

   We were not the kind of kids who got our kicks out of causing grief for the staff of retail establishments, nor would we ever consider shoplifting, having been brought up with a definite sense of right and wrong and an infraction of that sensibility would of course result in instant death, should our parents even think that we’d talked about it, let alone actually pilfer. Nonetheless, in the eyes of Geoff and his staff we were teenagers and therefore based on that, the enemy and already guilty as charged.
   This meant that we normally only visited Beatties with parents or grandparents, it being a given that older relatives added gravitas and a sense of respectability to a young boy, out to spend some readies on the fine wares they had to offer. However, this meant that as my interests were pretty straightforward when it came to model shops – trains and model kits - and the time allowed by my elders to indulge myself somewhat limited, I’d never so much as looked at the arm of the shop that contained radio control cars and Geoff’s tiny office. We knew that to go close to that cramped little room was to invite disaster, probably ending with a spell in the torture chamber we were all certain was down in the basement stock room.

   Critically on this day, Alan and I decided to risk the wrath of Geoff and venture into the other parts of Beatties. Alan had been given an old radio control model of a dune buggy and was looking for replacement tyres, and therefore this was, we agreed the best place to make enquiries. Rounding the right hand corner of the ‘T’ that comprised the shop floor, we were met with a truly glorious selection of radio control cars. But wait dear reader… On the right hand side was a wall covered in glass-fronted cabinets that were packed top to bottom with box after box of lead figures and board games with sumptuous, breath taking fantasy artwork.

   We were simply blown away by the variety of stuff on display. Until now we had only seen the grubby little bags containing the Citadel Miniatures models we had collected. Now, we were faced with a bewildering selection of themed sets of fantasy miniatures in the most amazingly illustrated boxes. These were produced by an American company called Grenadier Miniatures and, were their ‘Gold Line’ the ‘Official Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Miniatures’.

   My head swam, choirs of angels sang out hallelujahs in my brain, and my heart pounded like a racehorse on the final furlong. The world around me melted away and I was transported to a realm where brightly clad elves fought battles with goblins and other strange monsters whilst lithe and limber women disported themselves in chain mail bikinis. My resolve stiffened by the euphoria – and probably the thoughts of chain mail clad ladies - I approached one of the staff. Some respectful questioning gained me the missing piece of the puzzle. The figures I had been collecting were playing pieces for something called a role-playing game or RPG. Crucially, I was handed a fistful of information and advertising that informed the curious reader all about them.

   That evening, I literally shovelled my tea down my throat, whisked off my art and history homework and then took a long bath, devouring the arcane knowledge that promised to unlock the mysteries of role-playing games. I was, I imagined, Archimedes in his bathtub. I had reached my ‘EUREKA!’ moment and it was nothing to do with the whereabouts of the soap.

   Unfortunately, my grand entrance into the mystical secrets of role-playing were somewhat curtailed a few weeks later, and it was the fearsome Geoff who was to be responsible for my downfall.

   You see, following our discovery of the gaming temple at the rear of Beatties, Alan and I had started to visit the store on a regular basis after school and again at weekends, emboldened by our previous experience. We were hooked, but at almost £10.00 for the Basic Dungeons & Dragons rules, it was not something we were prepared to cough up good money for quite yet. Still, we imagined the fun we’d have when we got our parents to provide it as a Christmas gift.

   In the meantime, I spent the then considerable sum of £7.95 on a box of the Grenadier ‘Gold Line’. I was in heaven when I got home, and spent the entire evening sitting in the kitchen with my decidedly grim selection of enamel paints burying them underneath layers of every colour imaginable. The powerful fumes from the solvent in the paints made me heady and I began fancying myself as celebrated artist who would specialise in selling these tiny works of art for hundreds, if not thousands of pounds.

   The reality of my skill at that time was altogether different. When I close my eyes and picture some my early attempts, I cringe, and indeed sometimes break into a cold sweat, particularly on those nights when you can’t sleep and the memories of the whole of your life so far, flash through a hyper-alert brain. Today I am an accomplished painter with an international clientele, but I’m still waiting to rake in the money.

   There I go again, wandering away from the plot. I’ll try to keep on the right thread henceforth.

   But, look at the time. I'll say farewell for now, but I'll continue next time. 


Monday, 13 July 2015

New purchases abound...

Despite being stuck somewhere in the mid 80s, I do sometimes find myself buying other things from other decades.

Up until last week, I was something of a 'system snob' believing that only Runquest 2nd Ed would do. Peter, a mate of mine going back 3 decades or so, has recently convinced me to take a look at RQ3, the version which came after Avalon Hill got the rights in the late 80s. I swore an oath that I'd never even own a copy, but Pete's convinced me otherwise.

And so I have managed to grab a few items and got change from £50, so far...

Advanced Runequest
Griffin Island
Gods Of Glorantha

True, there are still a few sets to go, but I am really enjoying tracking them down.

Next up was a 1970s Elastolin fort. One of these appeared in a large Warhammer game, put on by Joe Dever in the 80s on the convention circuit and they fetch a pretty penny generally.

Imagine my joy to get one for £18.50 including postage...

Yesterday saw me purchase a modern GW army, second hand. My defence is that it's inspired by the artwork of John Blanche of whom I am a great fan and, it was mint and £100 below RRP.

And then to round it all out, today the postman delivered my pre-order for the Frostgrave fantasy skirmish game...

All in all, a nice pile of stuff with lots of variety...


And they shall raise a statue in thine honour...

Well, the internet is ablaze with argument and counter-argument following the recent Games Workshop releases and the death of the Warhammer game as enjoyed by my generation.

Rarely have I seen such vitriol from gamers, but something has been unleashed in those 30-somethings who form the subset of 'my generation'. These are the guys who came in at the end of the Golden Age and whom I think are somewhat peeved that they missed the best bits. They don't remember when Games Workshop was exactly that and variety was the name of the game. And so, they have only really known a single flavour when visiting their local store - vanilla, in my opinion.

And so, I think that they have a mono-loyalty in that they find it hard to accept that WHFB is no more (for the moment) and yet at the same time they are so indoctrinated into the gaming equivalent of a crack habit, so invested into a never ending war, that they cannot bear to hear the Old Guard rip the piss (mock) out of their 'first love'.

They really are in some instances a hot headed lot...

My own experience of this in the last week (and I am not alone) is one in which I have had to be rather blunt and rude (surely not). 

Gamers of my own vintage and earlier (there are some, I will concede) are a little more pragmatic. We simply walk to our games cupboards and take out Warhammer and play it. Nothing has changed for us. Despite 8 versions, we are of the 'Goldilocks Era' and whilst we may play 1st, 2nd or 3rd edition, we know that these are still the best versions, wherein there was less 'fluff' and more substance. The game world was more or less whatever your gaming circle wanted it to be, and the need for 'official rules' handed down by the High Priests Of Corporate Tat was almost non-existent.

Observing these angry not-so-young men of gaming, those products of the pre-packaged hobby decades is rather quite funny. True, some of their peer group have learned the simpler beauty of the original system with it's lack of insecurity regarding what can and can't be used on the gaming table, and with some care and attention, like a rare orchid, they will bloom.

But I am pretty sure that there are more for whom wearing their customer loyalty (no matter how hard they get screwed by the object of their ardour) is everything. To me it's nothing more than Stockholm Syndrome with dice and tape measures. Perhaps they believe that they'll one day be recognised and honoured with a statue.

If so, it will be a tall structure, suitably proud and erect, like Cleopatra's Needle, yet more organic and masculine in design. After all, if you're going to act like a pr...


Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Gamer - Be all you can be!

Sometimes, I look around me and I think that my friends have it better than me. I know, I know... It's that old 'keeping up with Mr & Mrs Jones' thing. I see friends who appear to be earning more than I do, posting selfies of themselves swanking off ( I said SWANKING) and I sometimes wonder whether I should have stayed on the staid and solid path of a 9-5 in a government department and been a quiet conformist.

And then I look at what I do have...

1. I have my own studio built into my home.

2. I paint toy soldiers and write for a living. And that's full time, mind you. It's my JOB. 

3. Because of '1.' I can have a house filled with Scotties and a decidedly dubious Westie, and they are rarely left alone.

4. I get to create literally thousands of miniature works of art and things of beauty every year. Each one of those is, in the big picture, a little reminder of my time on this planet.

5. I can select the time I live in. I choose the 1980s and therefore I can create an audio, visual and aesthetic world to live in, popping out only to check the news.

6. I have a truly wonderful wife, am comfortably off (at last) but not excessively so, lest I forget myself. But I can go to see the bands I want, pursue gaming and now model railways in a comfortable yet controlled way and collect original pieces by those artists whom I worshipped all these years.

And let's not forget the wine! Never forget the wine.

7. If I want a day off, I can take it at the cost of a bit of hard work before or after or the sacrifice of a few pounds against a bit more freedom.

8. I can give to charities of my choice when I am 'on a roll' and can do so because I want to, rather than because it expected of me by work colleagues, passing around the hat.

On balance I think I can say that I am a very blessed and lucky man indeed. I mean, I get to be involved with my hobby 24/7 and to live and breathe the wonderful fantasy worlds that it has given birth to. Who could ask for more?

Well I guess anyone could, but who needs more than that?  True, I am seen as a non-conformist pariah by some, but at the end of the day, what the heck does that matter in the big picture? I am living a full life where I determine what the quantitive measure of that life is.

If I may be so bold...

If you are feeling ground down, or helpless, stop and reflect on my words. You can be what you want to be, but you need to be ready for some hard work and reflection on what you need rather than what you think others feel you should. Take a risk or two, try something out. If you have a skill set now, that skill set will be wanted by someone, even if you don't achieve your goals first time out. 

Nothing is beyond your reach if you really want it, and what's more, always remember that as a gamer you'll always have a little world of your own, to dive into when the world gets that little too hectic. 

And always remember that when life is good - share it!