Friday, 8 January 2016

Lead Is The Drug...

Sheffield in the early 80s had a number of outstanding toy and model shops, all except one no longer trading and the remaining one is, I am sad to report a shadow of it’s former self. The local suburban shopping area of Firth Park half a mile from where I lived boasted no less than two shops, both stacked to the rafters with plastic distraction. I haunted these like a lost soul, my long-suffering dad and ever-patient grandparents indulging my every whim.

   In 1981, during the summer holidays, I was making my weekly pilgrimage to Hopkinson’s, a traditional floor to ceiling type of toy and model shop in the city centre. It was an Aladdin’s Cave for the true toy connoisseur and Old Mr Hopkinson seemed to live for his store. I never failed to find something that drew my eye or sparked my imagination. I shudder to think the amounts that my family spent on me in there over the years. But I digress…

   On this day I was starting to despair, having failed to find that essential next ‘must have’, when my innate ‘kid sense’ indicated that some subtle change had manifested in the very substance of this temple to the toymaker’s art. My attention was drawn to a wire display rack in a somewhat stygian alcove to the left of the counter. On it were a number of scruffy card-headed bags bearing the names Ral Partha and Citadel Miniatures in a variety of shades.

   Okay… what’s a ‘Ral Partha?’ I mused and, like a shot from a bow - It would not become an elven bow for a few months yet - I crossed the intervening 6 feet to investigate.

Each bag contained one or more tiny figurines made from lead. I was the proud owner of a large number of old lead soldiers and so this was no real surprise to my young eyes. What was a surprise however, was the subject matter. Along with medieval knights, were wizards, dwarves, elves as well as smattering of space-suited figures armed with laser rifles. The majority of them were priced at 30p and unless I was able to secure additional funding via a prayer to the gods of spending money along the lines of ‘Oh go on, pleeeaaaassse…’ that was going to eat into the £3.00 that I received in tribute each week from various parties charged with bank-rolling my childhood.

   ‘No,’ I mused, ‘I will not indulge myself today.’ After all, 30p was 30p and I was not about to squander it before I knew what a Ral Partha was in greater detail. 

   In fact, Ral Partha was, like Citadel Miniatures, a company producing beautifully detailed miniatures for use with fantasy games. Even 30 years down the line they are amongst some of the best examples of the sculptor’s art you’ll ever see.

   With that firm ‘No’ still ringing inside my head, I went off with my nan and mum to have a chip butty and glass of cola in the nearby Sheaf Market, in an establishment renowned for it’s skilful presentation of deep fried potato sandwiches. Quickly disposing of lunch via my mouth, I told my mum I was going to go back to Hopkinson’s while she and my nan chatted and finished their cups of coffee. I was going to take another look at those tiny figurines that were already beginning to telepathically call out to me.

   It was apparent even this early on that I was obviously a youth of taste and distinction. Ten minutes later I had spent the considerable sum of 75p after much soul searching and hand wringing. In possession of a paper bag containing two dour dwarves carrying a dead comrade on a litter made up of two shields and a pair of spears, I returned to my mum and nan, a little tingle running up and down my spine like the fingers of a nervous pianist.

   That day something had changed in the world. It was almost imperceptible but at the very moment that I took possession of the paper bag containing those models, I felt that I had crossed some line into a secret world. Certainly, none of my mates at that time knew - or probably cared - about this new phenomenon, and I felt that I was indeed marked out for greatness, the leader of some new and exciting pastime - if I could only discover what that pastime was. 

Very shortly, I would find out and then nothing would ever be the same.


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