Sunday, 19 November 2017

Why Is It Always About How Big It Is?

I am writing this as I listen to the latest 'Grognard Files' podcast. If you don't already listen to it - DO SO!

Last Sunday, I steeled myself and went to my desk (yes the same desk I spend Monday to Friday painting for a living at) and painted the horses for 16 Blue Moon Manufacturing ECW generals, which are exquisite. The plan being that I might sit there again this weekend and paint a few of the riders. Alas, that was not to be because frankly and honestly - I just could not be arsed.

EDIT: As I typed the above, I looked with some guilt at the undercoated riders,stopped and spent half an hour wth some buff and brown paint on a couple of them. So much for refusal to bend to the call of the painting table. It's an odd thing that although I have I-Macs all over the house, I still retreat to my studio to write these posts.

So getting back to the blogging; I instead spent my day cleaning a month's worth of palettes (finding after scrubbing 18 of them in boiling water and Dettol floor cleaner, that I had stashed 2 somewhere in my studio, leading to a lively game of hunt the plastic discs) catching up with the latest issue of 'The Chap' and then slinking off to bed for an hour of disturbed sleep.

As I sat in the warm embrace of hot bath water, scented with 'Mont Source' hibiscus and pomegranate  body wash it occurred to me that when you are young, everything is small; as you hit your teens and maybe early twenties, everything is big and constantly flashed at everyone, but then as you turn to middle age it seems that it gets smaller and ends prematurely.

I am of course speaking of figures...

I was speaking with some friends recently about the origins of our gaming (I'll specify historical gaming here, because I'll always defend the position that for fantasy, only 25mm  - 28mm for you Millennials - will do. No, don't argue; IT'S THE LAW!). In Sheffield, we mostly fell in to two camps - role players and war gamers (a few of us were in both camps right from the outset, because I think we were the equivalent of the drug addict, constantly seeking harder and heavier kicks, wandering the dark streets of the Steel City, gaunt-faced lost souls with dice bags). The war gamers, all had a common root in 15mm, despite being dispersed all across the city and coming from various backgrounds.

Because we had a good number of shops in the city, we were able to buy pretty much everything we needed, in any scale and any period. In the early 80s, 15mm was only just starting to really find it's feet, but those of us who had around £3 per week in spending money could buy around 10 25mm figures (yes, even Citadel Miniatures, stick that in your pipes you youngsters!) or 30-40 15mm figures (Peter Laing figures weighed in at about 50 to the weekly stipend, but even then we were looking for detail - Not that I don't love P.L figures). Therefore, as we were all into Colonial, ECW  - Hell, everything - and worked at the WRG 1:20 standard, we tended to go with 15mm for new projects that our constantly burgeoning 'young firm' undertook. This meant that we each bought around 1 unit per week, which was pained an based  by the time we received our next dole from the family coffers. We were collectively producing the numerical equivalent of a WRG competition army each week and getting together to play large games as often as possible.

Some of us who were canny entrepreneurs, had a sideline in painting figures (I started off at 7p per 15mm figure) and I think we all possessed the ability to get a sustaining school dinner for about 75p from dinner money of £1.50 per day which, allowing for 2p per bus ride (thank you South Yorkshire and your Socialist ideals which gave us ridiculously subsidised bus fares) to and from our clubs, friends homes (unless a parent could be coaxed into filling a car with long haired - but very polite - patchouli drenched youths in +3 denims and driving to some dark side street to deliver them usually to a dodgy boozer wherein games could be played) and the numerous post-school trips to the numerous stores (filled with delights where, we indulged in an almost tantric self-denial until Saturday came) meant that we could probably rely on an income of £10-£15* which in 1982 was a considerable sum without resort to a Saturday job or a paper round.

So, we would hit the streets on Saturday morning  and do the rounds of the stores, with the exception of Dodo Games, which was what is these days termed a pop-up shop that appeared on Monday evening from about 5PM in a local lawnmower repair shop, with a healthy stock of Gallia 15mm models and Dixon 25mm figures.

It was here, Games Workshop (yes, G.W back in the day) and the New Model Soldier where we indulged in the buying of 15mm ECW and Colonials. It was rumoured, there were older gamers who worked at the NMS who built their armies by the 'repatriation' of stock and many year later I saw a carrier bag containing a Mikes Model Han Chinese army in the original baggies  which was reputed to have been collected via this form of tithing.

As we became more involved in the local club scene and started to take the monthly magazines with the awesome collections of the likes of Peter Gilder, S.O.D.S and the like, we all wanted to build massive historical armies in 25mm. One of my most enduring memories is meeting Roger Smith (may the gods favour his brushes and dice forever) who, in a tiny box room, had shelf after shelf of Connoisseur Napoleonic Russians, Citadel Medievals and QT Greeks. Roger, Simon B and Myself were arguably the worst offenders when it came to spending every penny on models, but Roger was by far and away the fastest painter, and constantly spoke with awe of the legendary painting prowess of Peter Gilder when it came to oil painting horses.

Anyway, we moved to 28mm and then came the era of the chequebook wargamer, the golden age of gaming, where companies blossomed and figures were aplenty, a time before Front Rank and Old Glory; a time before plastic 28mm models identikit companies. And we took to it like a Yuppies to lines of coke.

But, as the diehards amongst us found a acceptance in with the 'Big Boys' where looks where appearance was all, I think we lost that sense of community that we had a few years earlier and vied with each other to have the biggest and best and play the latest rules, at the cost of losing the sense of collective fun we had nurtured.

Then came responsibility and the commercialism of the 90s scene. We settled down, raised families, still strutted around like gaming cockerels ( although I think one or two were just Cocks) but actually gamed less and less.

And so to the present. I am not a rich man in the modern sense, but I am 'comfortable' and generally have a disposable monthly income which would not restrict my buying choices. I have a reasonable amount of space in our home, my daughter having grown up and moved out (Crom! Where did those 4 decades go?) but I don't have the time or inclination to spend time painting or waiting for the painting of, 25mm armies. I don't want to fill the Dark Tower with toys, I don't even want that much gaming nostalgia cluttering the place (No thank you, I curate a museum of the hobby in my mind these days - It's very exclusive) because I also want to fill my home with artwork, aquariums, Scottish Terriers and the like.

So, I am looking at those scales and armies which gave me the greatest pleasures, which were the basis of enduring - if paused - friendships and which have the most poignant memory triggers for me. I sense that even my most die-hard 25mm friends also feel that same imperative, and we collectively recognise that there is no need to 'prove' ourselves anymore.

And so, 15mm which a well known industry luminary described as 'a dying scale' in the late 90s, is making a comeback for many of us, and we are now discussing how many models we need, and what size element basing (we were element basing way back before it was the norm because we had such massive armies). Roger had a bit of a hang up regarding the size of ECW units, last year, whilst I am (forgive me, Roger) working on units which are nominally 1:33 ratio whilst not actually giving a fig about rules concepts which are based on head count or single figure removal (I think we both agree on that).

At 49, I feel that drag of the grave and the long sleep upon me, and so I want to get more games in, I would love to get the 'Young Firm' back together for one more weekend of self concious-less gaming. Perhaps a nice big 15mm ECW battle. We have no need to brag about how big our men are. I am pretty certain that if we really wanted to we could quickly dust up armies that would be large, 28mm and frankly stunning, but we did it a long time ago. We bathed in the glory, we took the applause of our peers and envy of others, and that can never be taken from us.

Now, for me it's about the friendship and gentle rivalry of pushing little lead men around a table top in the company of genuine friends.

As an aside, I was looking at a wargaming group on social media, where someone was selling someone was looking to sell a dozen very pretty 28mm Napoleonic lancers, whence apropos of nothing a 'Cock End' as my mate Dave would say, posted a nice big picture of their collection of over 100 lancers - the wargaming equivalent of hitting puberty and strutting through the post-gymn showers singing 'My Ding-A-Ling'.

I almost dropped Roger and Dave emails with the message - 'Let's show this smart arse how it's done.' Then, I calmed down and remembered the old adage, 'I'ts not how big it is. It's what you do with it!'


*Girlfriends, whilst increasingly important, could seriously get in the way of game spending and had to be handled with care and the keen eye of a Dickensian miser.

1 comment:

  1. So true! Having moved house recently and gathered the lead mountain in one visible place, my brain is occasionally teasing me with the idea of down-sizing the collection. For much of the previous 15 years, that would have been tantamount to heresy, but it's a thought that keeps popping up with alarming regularity. Your post resonates moreso because of this internal struggle :)


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