Over the next few months Christopher came to Sheffield a few more times to look for suitable properties and iron out the odd wrinkle. I also went to Birmingham and Walsall to meet my soon-to-be colleagues in the company.
By now, I had taken it upon myself to get a hair cut which gave the look of a 15th Century page boy crossed with Oscar Wilde – no, not crossed like that, behave yourself. Haircuts have not featured much since about the age of 14. My Mum once said that I should get a hair cut, and obligingly I returned an hour later with what I believe in the more southern U.S states is referred to as a ‘mullet’. My darling Mother was heard to declare that I, first-born and most-favoured, with such a wonderful coiffure, had a visage resembling a bag full of spanners. Today I am still regularly tempted to sport the hairstyle of a messiah until nature dictates otherwise.
Eventually a location for the planned store was chosen and from a local’s point of view, it was well off the beaten track. Christopher was of the opinion that no matter where you site a game store, people will journey. I did not agree, - and still don’t - but at the end of the day he was the boss. The chosen property was a mess. It had been a travel agency previously and was a large, open plan building, with a dividing wall and a large glass window, behind which lay an office area and kitchen. It had a suspended ceiling which needed the lights and some of the panels replacing and the entire frontage although made of glass hade been boarded over and then in turn fly-posted. In technical parlance ‘it was a bloody mess’.
Stuntie, an old school friend, had recently returned to the U.K after studying ancient Nordic languages in Sweden, and was temporarily living with us. When Kayte and I had got married in 1993, Stuntie had been my best man and was the only person from my school days with whom I still had any contact. Now he was assisting with the preparations for the opening of the store.
Christopher had given me a budget and a series of pre-signed cheques along with a target date for completion of one month. One month? It was going to take a lot more given the state of the property, but Christopher had thrown down the gauntlet to me and I, somewhat reluctantly had picked it up, accepting the challenge.
They say that the best way to learn a new language is to live in the country where it’s spoken. Fitting out a shop is the same. The best way to learn is to get stuck in and learn as you go.
The weather was pleasantly warm that summer and the first job was to get the boards taken from the frontage which took Stuntie and I an hour or so, whilst Kayte got on with trying to make some space in the kitchen area. Unfortunately, under the boards was another thick layer of posters that had been pasted directly onto the glass, the removal of which took the rest of the day with much use of colloquial Anglo-Saxon to help it along.
The display and shelving units were being made in Walsall and shipped up to Sheffield. All we had to do was get everything fitted. This was easy enough as a counter also had to be constructed on site, so we arranged both with a local shop fitter. The decorators came in on Tuesday for two days and did a sterling job. Carpets were fitted on Thursday and the first of the wall brackets for the shelves were added the same day. It was looking good so far, and this from a trio who had never been involved in this kind of project. This was where Kayte’s natural ability to organise went into overdrive and as I negotiated prices and specifics of the required work with contractors, she was busily arranging schedules so that we never had a minute wasted. By the end of the first week we had the basic fittings in place, and it was looking very encouraging.
The average day was between twelve and fifteen hours of work followed by food and sleep. I don’t recall ever feeling so simultaneously exhausted and elated. My main concern at the time was the state of the toilet, which was disgusting. Chris said that a good clean and a new seat would do the trick, but even after using the same amount of chlorine used to treat an Olympic-sized swimming pool it was still below par. In one of those odd coincidences that seem to come along when things are at their worst, as I fitted the new toilet seat the porcelain bowl cracked. There was nothing for it, a new one had to be fitted, and the king of fools had his new throne.
Week two started with the construction of the counter. It was a gigantic thing, a full twelve feet long, four feet high and three feet deep. It was possible for Stuntie and I to lay lengthways underneath it. If it came down to it, we could sleep in the shop, the counter making a fine bunk bed. Behind the counter was the glass window of the office, protected by this enormous altar dedicated to Mammon.
On the Wednesday we had our first real setback. It had been decided that all the florescent tubes in the suspended lighting units were to be replaced. When the fitter arrived we found that whilst the ceiling itself was correctly installed, the lighting units of which we had fifteen, each weighing around 20 kilos were not suspended at all and were in fact resting on the frames.
In short we had an accident waiting to happen. But once again, fate smiled on me when the fitter installed every unit correctly – at no additional charge. This is the kind of thing that fuels the rumours of the dreadful pact I must have made in return for my soul.
Thursday morning saw a container truck arrive with the stock. The sheer volume was astounding as H.Q sent 3 or 5 of every single item in their vast inventory. I don’t know exactly how long we worked, but, by systematic sorting of the stock into various product lines and then laying them out on the floor in order of price we were able to get the stock ticketed and on the shelves by 8.00PM Friday. What was expected to take a month was complete in 12 days and what was more impressive was that we had done it well below the projected budget. It was a proud moment for us all.
On Saturday morning the three of us stood and admired our hard work. This was it I’d achieved one of my childhood aims. I was not only the manager of Dungeons and Starships but the company I worked for was one that I had loved since the beginning of my addiction to gaming.
I put the key in the lock, turned it and pulled on the handle. The door slammed straight back with a resounding ‘BA-BANG!’ This was not the way it was supposed to go. That door should have slowly and gracefully closed with a mere hint of sound. We were as you may guess, somewhat chagrined. We’d left the door locked to avoid the same kind of teenage invasion that I had mounted on Games Workshop so many years before. By the simple error of not actually checking the locks and door mechanisms before our first day of trading we had not found that the spring mechanism was potentially lethal to anyone entering the shop.
An engineer was called and quote given along with an undertaking to have it repaired that day. Luckily when he arrived, said engineer presented me with the bill before he started as well as a contract. I paid him in advance, which was another of those fortuitous ‘El Diabolo’ moments. By the time he left at 8:00 PM the unfortunate engineer had been forced to fit a whole new braking system, replace two of his power tools and procure another. By my estimations he’d lost £600.00 on the day and because he had been so eager to present his bill in advance, I held him to it. Well, it would have been rude of me not to do so, wouldn’t it?
In the meantime Stuntie had been doing a sterling job of meeting and greeting curious members of the public, guiding them to the staff entrance and into the shop, offering refreshments for the inconvenience. It worked like a dream, as he is one of the most conscientious people that I have ever met, always looking out for the needs of the customer. In just a few short days I would be unto Stuntie as Judas was to Jesus. I would let my pig-headed pride and pomposity destroy a friendship that I have never had since with anyone other than my wife.
Those first few weeks were hectic. Stuntie was acting as a part-time sales assistant and in my absence he stepped smoothly and efficiently into my shoes. Whilst I was at the bank one day, we had a visit from another storeowner in the area, demanding that we sell nothing that he stocked. Stuntie in his calm but firm way made it perfectly clear that this would never happen. I heard several years later that it was a performance that I would have been amused and proud to witness. If only I had.
Trade was increasingly brisk and we were exceeding the targets set us by the board of directors, but I was wound way too tightly back then. I have always been something of a control-freak. Many gamers are, after spending their youth being scapegoats and misfits who play powerful and important characters in the games that often dominate every available hour.
No matter how many times I hear someone protest this point, I can make a quick appraisal and reach a conclusion. In eight out of ten cases I’ll see the downtrodden youth inside the apparently brash man in front of me and think ‘I’ve been there, my friend. I have the badge, certificate and scars to prove it.’
My arrogance and zeal was to be the downfall of a friendship which was only rectified some 25 years later...
To find out what happened next, you'll have to read my book.