Monday, 31 August 2015

More Fun With Railways...

Well, whilst I await delivery of my moderately large N gauge layout, I have turned my attention to filling the 6 feet of space adjacent to where it will sit in my studio.

One plan had been to construct a 009 narrow gauge line, but that way lies madness when you start to look at just how little there is available.

And so when I saw that Trainline Models had a ready to ship shunting layout of just the right size, for £795, down from £895 with shipping at £60 and conversion to DCC at a mere £20, I began to do some calculations.

I rapidly realised that as they had it listed on an internet auction site, they would lose over £100 in fees alone, serving neither they or I. 

It was in fact, not put too fine a point on it, money pissed right down the drain. And so, after a few very cordial and positive emails back and forth a price of £775 was agreed all inclusive with delivery in the next 2 weeks. GREAT!

Nobody has lost out and I have a rather nice scenic shunting layout to get stuck into with super detailing.

The layout 'as is' looks like this:

Obviously, no vehicles or trains are included, but apart from that, this is what I'll be getting.

I was going to go for a pre-Beeching steam image, but the more I look at it the more I see the real potential for a run down late 1970s backwater, with grubby blue rolling stock and decrepit shunters. I may rip out some of the buildings and I'll certainly add a lot more because frankly, as a friend pointed out, it's amazing, just how much you can fit into that space.

Lots of security fencing, corrugated workshops and the like with junk and crap will make it look very much the part. Graffiti,  will finish it off nicely, with maybe a police presence on the road over the railway, beating up some miners/skinheads/militant Communists.

Then, my next project is a 14ft x 8 inch shelf layout over the top of the other two prtraying the golden age of steam. But that will be mid 2016 at the very least I think.


Friday, 28 August 2015

Spacefarers, Impetuous Youth and Greblord

Now, I paint for a living. That's right, I paint 5 days a week and earn as much as I did as a Civil Servant. My advice to those of you who want to quit the 9-5 rat race and take a similar jump...

Don't be so fucking stupid!

But that aside, I exclusively work on a black base coat for clients and to be honest it's something of a matter of pride that I can get red, yellow or white to cover in a single coat on that base colour.

So, it might surprise you to hear that today, I made a return to a pale undercoat in an attempt to return to the time I love - the early 80s - in order to rediscover my mojo, my inspiration and some joy from painting. More importantly I wanted to pay my sincere respects to someone.

Back in the ever darker shadows of my youth, back when you could count the number of GW stores on one hand, before the time of heretical blasphemy which was slotta bases (they'll never catch on) and blister packs (you stole one of the truly harmless pleasures in life you transparent, foam-back bastards) I became hooked on the Citadel 'Spacefarers' range.

I marvelled at the paintwork in the GW display cabinets which, brought the bright and bathykolpian future - where scantily dressed ladies mixed with armoured marines, and everyone had a jetbike - (political correctness, you can go screw yourself too, whilst I am on a rant) to life in my young head. Come to think of it they still do that now...

Anyway, I bought a dozen, rushed home to paint them with a mix of Bobcat acrylics and Humbrol enamels. And promptly made a right old Orc's scrotum of them all. Silver marker pens were also employed and I blush to recall what I inflicted on those stunning little lead figurines.

I went back into GW, looked at the examples in the cabinets, and never touched another Spacefarer again.

But, I never forgot the models and the paintwork which made them glow for over 3 decades in my minds eye.

Now, back then there was no 'Eavy Metal' team. No sir (or madam, that was still a couple of years away at the very least. Some of you who are old enough to buy a coffee in a pub and feel no lack of 'street cred' will recall that in the Citadel 'Dragon' catalogue, there were two articles. One was by Tony Ackland  (blessed be his name and may his beard always shine and be tangle-free) on converting models, the other was by one Peter Armstrong on how to paint them.

And guess what?

Pete worked in the Sheffield store.

Now, asking Pete how to paint something back then was suicide for a 'Limpet' (so-called because it was near impossible to remove us from the store and in particular the front counter) as he was not the mildly sarcastic man of middle years that he has since become. Nope... He was a one-man social assault course. Even worse when he had his colleague Chris Gilbride providing supporting fire, you may as well just accept that scorn, ridicule and instant death were on the menu.

But, if you got Pete on a good day, or first thing on a quiet mid-week morning before he had a coffee or two. you could get the odd bit of advice on paints, colour mixing, basing etc. Any of this info was absorbed semen into a Kleenex.

Anyway, Pete managed to get colours and vibrancy that very few other were capable of. His style was painterly and economical, using serious art materials in an age before we had dedicated inks, washes, dips and non-toxic materials in general. His work seemed to glow. In short he was a bit bloody good.

Jump forward 30+ years to three weeks ago, when I decided that it was time to revisit my youth and play some 'Laserburn' in 25mm using Spacefarers models.

Not, being patient in any way whatsoever, and deciding that I want to put together a display game comprised entirely of these long OOP models, and what's more I want to do it A La Armstrong.

So, I shelled out more money than I care to record in writing, and got hold of my first 150 models as well as 12 jet cycles and 6 of the two seater skimmers (a good half pound each in weight) and began to make my plans...

Today, being the last working day of the month for me, I cleared all of my outstanding chores for August and prepped up the first half of my September workload ready for undercoating. Finding myself at a loose end at 13:30 I decided to spray up one of the few models which don't need to be stripped of paint first, and finding that my Liquitex white spray primer was feeling so unloved (remember I don't work on white, but I always keep a can on hand as a talisman)that the can had given up the ghost, I used Army Painter Bone spray.It was as close as I was going to get (No, I do not undercoat with a brush because frankly that's a mug's game).

Pete always wowed the Limpets with his vibrant purples, greens and yellows, so I decided on the first two as a main theme with a hint of the latter 'just because'.

It was a hard two hours. I will say at the outset that I did not want to 'copy' Pete's work but kind of 'channel' his vibe using the manilla hued skin tones and aforementioned vibrant hues, so typical of Pete's style. Additionally I wanted to get the authentic early 80s look and feel in general.

And so, I give you Mikkel 'Moonwalker' Jaxxon - Former Imperial Trooper turned adventurer.

The ever present youth within me (that sounds wrong) hopes that Pete would approve, but regardless, this is my way of paying my respects to someone who at last count I understand, thought me to be a narcissistic prick.

All I can say is I learned that skill set in a particular local games store and it brought me out of my shell in a way that could not have happened otherwise. And so, I will wear that badge with pride!

Thanks for inspiring me with your work Pete!

You can see a vast selection of Pete's pioneering work at his excellent blog


Wednesday, 12 August 2015

In Praise Of Parents

Back in those hellish years of adolescence, we gamers and geeks and general social misfits not only had to put up with being bullied, shunned and ignored by our peers, but also had to face something with far more terror potential than all the rest put together...


They stopped us being out late, disapproved of the girls we brought home and assured us that the only way to a thick head of hair was to get it cut regularly.

And now, despite all that I would like to pay my most sincere respects to all of those parents who had their treasured homes filled by hordes of fantasy obsessed, denim-clad yobs for so many years as we descended at regular weekly intervals (daily in some cases) like a Mongol horde to fill dining rooms, bedrooms and living rooms, rapaciously devouring any food in our path.

And so...

Peter & Sheila Ashmore:

Peter was wise to us. I have rarely been as scared of anyone's Dad, as I was of Peter. Mr Ashmore frankly took no bullshit from any of us. One memorable weekend it snowed whilst we were gaming at Darren's home and it snowed. It had been cold, but as was the norm we were all dressed in the uniform of thin combat jackets, T-shirts , denim jackets and a few pairs of gloves. It was snowing, we were young and so we all dropped the dice and made off into the winter darkness to pelt each other with snow. Upon returning sodden and frozen, to the Ashmore residence we were all right royally bollocked by Mr Ashmore and we skulked upstairs somewhat shame faced and cowed.

But (and here is the mark of a top bloke) about half an hour later, Peter appeared at the bedroom door with a tray of steaming mugs of tea.

Sheila, was the water to Peter's fire (but we were not going to wind her up because we were pretty sure that Mrs Ashmore would not put up with B.S either) and never seemed phased when half a dozen kids arrived without invitation just about lunchtime on Saturday. The wonderful Mrs Ashmore filled the table with viands and even if she was put out by our arrival, she was sweet and funny and never for one moment showed inhospitality.

Peter & Sheila... You put up with a lot from us - red dye in the toilet cistern when we played 'Killer', wet gloves and jackets  all over the place and probably the food bill of a small European country - and I always felt as your home was mine when I visited.

Thank you both...

Kitty Rhodes, Mother of Keith (where did he disappear to) was another totally unflappable mom. She had two sons, so what difference would ten more make? Kitty fed us and berated us when we went a bit to far. Kitty had very few house rules, but I once transgressed and had to wear my backside in a sling for a month or so afterwards, such was the ferocity  (albeit quietly) that my friends mom unleashed upon me. I deserved it...

Keith and I were pretty much joined at the hip in our youth and whenever our parents went on holiday  we would live at the home of the ones who were away at the time, clearing out the fridges and living like barbarian night owls for weeks at a time.

Kitty also cooked the best red cabbage with apple, I'd ever had.

Kitty, thank you...

Mr & Mrs Blackburn, parents of Simon, put up with all of the usual antics with the added stress of having us swinging round swords and halberds in their garden. We were all heavily involved in reenactment in our later youth and so, when we found a garden large enough to practice - we did.

Many is the hour that games of Warhammer were fought out with 1000+ models on the Blackburn family dining table.

Mr & Mrs Blackburn, thank you.

Margaret & Dave Bishop, parents of David and Daryl unfortunately had a very large dining room AND garden. And so as was to be expected  they suffered from the human locust swarm probably more than was reasonable and fair.

Mr Bishop would be part of what was a parental car pool, collecting groups of young gamers from the assorted clubs we attended. It was as a passenger in one of these 'air lifts' that I first met Mr B. I don't think I impressed him.

Mrs B.. what can I say? Mrs B was always there when I was having trouble with my own parents at a difficult time in my life. She fed me, listened to my woes and gave me somewhere where I could feel I was wanted. When Kayte and I became parents, Mrs B was one of the first people outside of our immediate families to see our daughter, Ceridwen.

Mr and Mrs Bishop... Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Mrs Smith, Roger's Mum did not interact with us much but she still happy for us to invade her flat regularly and subscribed to the 'gaming circle' - more of which later.

Mrs Smith, thank you.

Mrs Needham, Andrew's Mum, was hardcore. She put up not only with my visits to wargame or just visit Andy, but moreover she never batted an eyelid to my black clad form during my Goth years. True, Andy was a Goth as was his girlfriend who both lived in the attic, but 1 Goth is company, three's a mass suicide!

SPecial mention must go to Mrs Needham's moussaka which even 30 years or so later has a very, very firm and fond place in my stomach's heart. That wonderful dish, warm and welcoming kitchen and the friendliness of Mrs Needham towards a pretty screwed up youth, did me the world of good.

And last but not least ...

Mum & Dad, my parents. You put up with a lot from me and probably still do. You made all of my mates welcome, even during times when you disliked me. You fed them, let them sleep over whenever they visited and maybe gave some of them the same feelings of support that their parents gave to me.

Thank you!

You will recall that I made mention earlier of the 'Gaming Circle'...

Well it went like this. 'Somebody' had a great idea hat we should each host a game pretty much every day of the school holidays, taking it in turns by rotation. Of course Mums would be expected to feed us all. And because all of our Mums were pretty amazing women, feed us they did, whilst we did our best to make a mess of their treasured homes. I played some of the best games in my life whilst the circle lasted, and none of us went hungry.

Dads made rounds of drinks and drove us home at sometimes unreasonable hours.

What's more it was also not uncommon for a group of us, having lived for several days in tents at this or that reenactment event, to spend a day or so when we all returned, at the first family home we came to, collectively breaking the ties of comradeship, before reporting to our own homes. I can only imagine the effect that a group of bruised, hoarse and hung over youths who had not washed for 3 days must have had on our long suffering parents. Trust me a mix of sweat, gunpowder and rampant youth is not one that will be bottled for re-sale.

On behalf of all of us who were there, thank you!


Tuesday, 11 August 2015

Britcon & Beyond

At the weekend, the caravan of gamers from Sheffield, made the annual trip to the wrong side of the Pennines for Britcon in Manchester (where it's always sunny apparently) in glorious Summer sunshine.

We like Britcon because, unless you are taking part in the competitions, there's no entrance fee. This translates to more money to spend and that can only be good for the traders.

I guess there are about two dozen traders every year and a bring and buy, which, has been pretty good in the three years I've gone to Britcon.

We arrived at 9:30AM and met up with a few friends who admit to heralding from Manchester and Stockport and headed towards the bring & buy which, was closed until 10AM.

When it did open, we found that a dealer was 'working' the bring and buy, and that he was grabbing choice items with the assistance of those on the stall. Comments were made about pimps and hookers and the public being 'marks'. And it wasn't me saying it for a change... When will show organisers get it into their skulls that by allowing dealers to ply their trade on the B&B is reprehensible? Saturday's specimen was one who I am informed is of the worst type. I cannot comment although I do recall seeing his face at a few other shows previously, without drawing any personal conclusions. Regardless, show organisers need to fucking wake up a little, and set some standards.

There were a few display games but nothing that would make the grizzled convention veteran raise an eyebrow.

Trade appeared to be steady and there were bargains to be had and new releases to be pawed over.

Breakfast of a large freshly ground coffee, sausage sandwich and Eccles cake (well in Manchester, you have to, don't you?) was as usual, superb and priced at a rather impressive £3.80. We had a leisurely hour in the company of Dave Wood, curator of that wonderful blog 'Dear Tony Blair...' It's always a real pleasure to chat with Dave and yarn about how much better the hobby was 'back in the day'.

After a couple of hours at the show, we wandered over the road through to Chinatown and Piccadilly splitting into smaller groups. My own party decided to hunt down a bloody good lunch, in our favourite Chinese eatery. It serves a buffet style lunch which is simple but perfectly cooked and for £30 including 3 rounds of soft drinks and the tip, we were well pleased as always.

We returned for a brief second pass at the show and I spent a massive £8.00 on a can of paint.

I know you may be wondering what the hell was wrong with me. Well, frankly since the episodes of March of 2014, my spending has got less and less on games, and I have started to spend more on original fantasy art, model railways and silver bullion. I don't attend any historical gaming societies anymore so I no longer need to buy large armies. True, I do have a few fantasy projects on the boil, but nothing like I traditionally have spent.

Model railways have given me a new focus for my creativity and on the financial side, I have been able to commission 2 layouts (fully automated and digitally controlled) including delivery, installation and demonstration for £1900.00. Let me put this into perspective by saying that my 28mm Renaissance army of 240 pieces, painted to a competent standard cost me that, 15 years ago...

The only fly in the chardonnay on Saturday was having to acknowledge people who, 12 months ago were amongst other things referring to me as the most destructive thing to happen to their gaming club in 40 years, but now repeatedly went to the trouble of hailing me... Now but when someone has sent you a very fucking offensive email, and preached from the pulpit about not being seen as a hypocrite, I'd say that such a reversal is just that... And I had to acknowledge them and respond, although I really, truly have nothing to say to them beyond 'Hi' or 'OK' when they asked how I was or greeted me.

It was all very awkward and made me very uncomfortable. My wife tells me that one of the their number spoke to me, and I didn't respond. This was not intentional, I had genuinely not heard or even seen the individual in question, and so now will no doubt be talked of as an ignorant bastard... Knock yourselves out, folks... Hey, maybe I'll be 'That destructive ignorant bastard' now.

How will I live that down?

Frankly, had they not spoken to me, I'd have been happy enough. I'd prefer to be honestly ignored than hypocritically greeted.

But, at the end of the day, we all had a great time over in Manchester, and special thanks need to go out to the UMIST staff and Mel Stephens the UMIST Conference Manager for the assistance they gave.

Britcon will be on my 'must go to' list for as long as it runs. It's a great show, with the feel of the conventions of yore.


Wednesday, 5 August 2015


In my youth, well over 3 decades ago, I developed a real love of wargaming the Vietnam War. 

Back then, it was considered quite tasteless to do so (although the Falklands soon took that crown) but I and a group of friends really got into the period. My favourite rules were 'Bodycount' by Ian & Nigel Drury.

My Nan bought me them on a trip into town from Games Workshop, Sheffield (yes, THAT Games Workshop) and they were great; being a mix of wargaming and roleplaying. Anyway, I looked everywhere for them last month and could not find them, alas, alas!

I mentioned this to the venerable Tim Gow, author of Megablitz, gaming personality and general all-round sterling chap. Tim said he may be able to help.

Well, Tim spoke to his people, who in turn spoke to the Drury people. Deals were done in smoke-filled, dimly lit rooms. Small countries were overthrown, airstrikes were made.

And Tim arrived at my secret hilltop base with an original copy of the Bodycount rules.

With a two week holiday in front of me, I am looking forward to re-reading these rules and starting a new Vietnam collection.

Thanks to Tim, Ian & Nigel!

( The observant amongst you will have noticed that I used a 'stock' image of the later edition of the rules, above)

Sunday, 2 August 2015

On Being The First Chickens, In The Fox Den. Part 2

So, after leaving you hanging at the end of my last post, what was it that we saw?

It was dear reader, the answer to my prayers and the beginning of a life of penury in the shape of a specialist gaming establishment by the name of Games Workshop the first of several dedicated game stores in Sheffield. It was back then, with its amazingly broad range, and enthusiastic, knowledgeable staff and distinct ambience, a place of almost holy reverence for my generation. It was in essence, my place of worship and weekly offerings were to the gods of games in ever-increasing amounts, a pattern that has continued ever since.

   These days, game stores seem more obsessed with ‘image’ rather than content, more about form over function if you will. In the ‘golden age’ it was more about the product, the hobby, the fun. It was all about playing games!  

   In 1982, the concept of providing the gaming public with a single ‘temple of games’ was still quite a novel one. Certainly to the uninitiated, it was unbelievable and what was more, the doors were open.

   We walked in, heads twisting, eyes swivelling, like nervous chameleons who, having fallen from their comfortably familiar treetop perch, find themselves on the back of a monitor lizard which is in the process of considering what it will be having for dinner. From all sides our senses were assaulted by literally thousands of striking box covers depicting all kinds of fantasy and science fiction theme imaginable from half naked princesses to gigantic star ships. Although we did not know back then, Sheffield based synth-pop band The Human League took their name from one of the factions in a game titled ‘Starforce: Alpha Centauri’. Just a brief aside, that shows the popularity of this type of game in even the most unexpected places.

  In the centre of sales area were wire ‘bins’ containing various special offers coinciding with the opening of the branch. My eye was taken by 4 small boxes, luridly illustrated ‘a la mode’, each containing 10 plastic figures, half a dozen acrylic paints, a terrible brush, 2 six sided dice and a set of rules.

  Each of these games presented a mini role-playing experience with all that the lucky purchaser needed. What’s more they were priced at £1.00! I picked up one called ‘The Cleric’s Quest’ and Alan, ‘The Woman Warrior’ - although the name of the other titles escapes me at the time of writing.

   Around ten years ago, I saw a set of these games on Ebay go for a three figure sum. Oh how I howled that day I can tell you, both with a sense of loss and recollection of happy times past. But once again I am wandering off at a tangent and you’ve not given me a sound nudge in the ribs.

   We had been in there for about ten minutes before being approached by a member of staff. We had been so taken by the sights and odours - yes, smells, of which I will say more later - that we had not noticed a distinct lack of other customers and indeed, staff. The man approached us and said that the shop was not open. We precociously pointed out that it most certainly was, the proof being that we were in said store, having walked through the doors, thank you very much.

How we were not slaughtered on the spot still amazes me to this day. In point of fact, had that been the case, it would have been seen as a mercy killing in years to come as I made the life of the staff in that emporium, one of living hell, with my exuberant enthusiasm. No, seriously... It would!

   ‘It opens this weekend and it’s going to be great. Do you want that?’ This said with a gesture to the box I was holding and then to Alan’s fistful of goodies.

   ‘Yes please. I’m sorry I thought you were open what with the door being open.’ I replied, my natural state of being returning, despite my indignant outburst.

   Well, we each handed over one pound of the currency of the realm, were politely but firmly shown the door, and I was thereby ejected from that store for the first but alas, not the last time in my life.
Alan forgot all about his record. We had something new and exciting and what was more we had an inside track to the grand opening event for this temple of temptation, this cavern of game related goodness. After all hadn’t the bloke in the shop all but given us a personal invite to attend? Were we not truly gods now, wielding arcane knowledge?

   ‘Alan, we need to get back here on Saturday and save all our dinner money, no matter what… Right?’ My eyes must have been glowing like coals at that moment.

   ‘Yeah.’ Was all my fellow traveller in this newfound world could reply He was already tearing open his own purchase.

   I, for my part - and completely out of character - was going to wait until I got home, savouring the exquisite torment that it produced in my teenage brain. I was so focussed on ‘being there’ on Saturday that I made sure I was not only home early that night, but, I forwent any more trips that week. A miracle!

   On reflection, I think that this was the defining moment at which I stood upon my personal crossroad. It was the point at which I believe to this day, I very consciously gave up on the mundane and truly took my first tentative but deliberate steps into the realms beyond reality, never to return for more than a brief period of rest and recuperation.

   Once or twice I was to lose the path, but as sure as eggs are chickens I found my way back, wandering ever deeper into the metaphorical forest that was gaming.


If you have enjoyed the last few posts, then check out my 380 page gamer memoir, 'Real Life's A Bu**er!'

You can find it on Amazon or order it from your favourite bricks and mortar book store.

Saturday, 1 August 2015

On Being The First Chickens In The Fox Den. Part 1

On this, our first trip into town for a month since that fateful clash with Geoff (Or ‘That Bastard’ as he had become known), Alan wanted a record from Virgin Records, which lay in the shadow of that russet monolith. Sheffield had more than its fair share of interesting architecture back then. Of particular note was ‘The Hole In The Road’ essentially pedestrian underpass that allowed several lethally busy streets to be navigated by the simple expedient of going underneath them. Built in 1967 T’ Hole In T’ Road as it became known locally was a roundabout at the junction of four main roads. The middle of the roundabout had a hole in it like the summit of a volcano, which allowed light to pass into the large pedestrian underpass below.

   This underpass contained shops, a large fish tank and even public toilets. It was a great place to skateboard or in my case imagine I was deep in the dungeons of a fell necromancer. I’ll not waffle on about it any further but make a search on the web. It’s worth it.

   Virgin Records was not the shining ‘family friendly’ store it would become in later years. It was a dark and foreboding place as I recall, where if rumours were true, a clean living lad would meet a swift and sticky end at the hands of Mods, Punks and other ne’er-do-wells. I never went in and had my parents discovered that I had frequented a shop with such a ‘sexual’ name, I’d have been grounded for a year or so. So, whenever Alan went in there, I just hung around outside and tried to look moody and mysterious, but approachable and not in the least bit dangerous. This was not easy. Well the mean and moody bit at least…

  Thus it was, with Alan in search of his record, this particular afternoon found us walking past the Hagenbach’s bakery – long gone, alas, alas - when what should I see?

   Whoops, it's almost teatime, so lest I be grounded for another month, I shall bid you farewell until next time...