Sunday, 11 March 2018

Oh What a Life!

Now, I know that often my posts can be a bit 'dark' as I wrestle with the more unpleasant sides of my life in gaming, but all things considered I have had a pretty good time. In fact, I've definitely had a damn good lick of the lolly.

And that has been largely down to the people I met and the encouragement they gave, despite my inflated passion for all things game related. his meant that I was in a position that many of my peers were not - save those who formed our 'case' - and without that, I doubt I'd be where I am today.

As Marillion front man Fish famously sang 'Well, I the streets back in '81...' And oddly that was my soundtrack for my gaming youth, along with Rush and Yes for the most part. The music made me think, it made me need, not just want, more from the world starting with the music. I was not a great scholar, but that was not because of a lack of ability, but rather because I just did not want to connect with those boorish and fashionable types. For me a lurid motley of denim and garish colours told who I was and made a barrier between the mundane and an alternate reality. When I first saw those baggies of Citadel and Ran Partha figures in Hopkinsons toys on 'The Gallery' in Sheffield, and then saw the big glass fronted (and therefore sacred and arcane ) display of what I later found out were games in Beatties on Pinstone Street, that just seemed to 'go' with the music I listened to, the stories I read and because of the seemingly forbidden knowledge they imparted, I craved the life they offered all the more.

I stumbled into my first ( and what will despite what some may think, favourite) Wargames show at the Victoria Hotel in Sheffield. In 1984 it would be this venue that saw me as a seasoned teenage veteran take my first and most treasured painting trophy.

It's the little gold disc at top right in the above pic, beneath all the tombstones and coffee mugs from Salute

I met the mighty Steve Roberts of SWS who was running a local after school club at Limpsfield School (which with it's liberal and experimental 'community education' and truly handpicked staff played it's own part in developing me) and who introduced the fledgling fantasy obsessed gamer to historical gaming and who for a couple of years took me to and from SWS on Wednesday nights. Steve in turn introduced me to Lloyd Powell who inspired me to take coin for my painting and who got me hooked on my favourite period, the Renaissance (you will note this by my recent acquisition posts) and who was a big brother I never had. In time I met the august and gentlemanly John Armatys and many other older gamers who in varying degrees, coloured and shaped my world view. But, it was the other kids I met - usually at the newly opened Games Workshop - from all over the city and even beyond, who all heard that clarion call to the imaginations of the romantic dreamers of our generation, who escaped from bullying, the mundane and the ever present threat of nuclear armageddon who made it all something more than a 'hobby'. It was for us life, and for some of us would become how we made or way in the world almost 4 decades later.

Roger Smith, Mark Bamford, Martin Lightowler, Darren Ashmore,,  Steve Smith, Richard Lindley, Josh, Matt and Andy Griffiths, Keith Rhodes, Martin Flower, Lee, Snitch Hobson , Craig Beatson. Later there came  Ian Plummer, Shaun Hovers, Shaun Exelby, Adrian Dyson,  Paul Green, Paul Stephens, Pete White, Adrian B and Mick Parkin as I gamed at Sheffield Runelords, Sheffield Polytechnic, University of Sheffield and the houses of those friends I'd made, so that 6 and sometimes 7 days or nights per week, I was actively gaming and without realising it, growing in knowledge and confidence as I traversed the U.K for whole weekends, unlike any of those grey faced sport obsessed 'cool kids' at my school.

To be fair I did have two friends who would game with me at lunchtimes at school in the shape of Craig Stainrod and Alan Staniforth, and a good friend who I did not know was into gaming but who many years later was the best man at my wedding named Ian Hill, who is a gentleman and  scholar in the truest sense.

In the late 80s I met up with Ian as I found the joys and woes of the Goth subculture and through him met Andy Needham, a fanatical Napoleonic enthusiast, who remains along with Ian and my own dear wife, Kayte, (the memsahib as she is often referred to) the only connection to my Goth past, during which time many of the friends previously named, became strangers for a while - and in some cases forever.

By 83 I'd also become a 'face' in GW and was soon being schooled with scorn by the late Pete Armstrong and Chris Gilbride who taught my how to take a verbal beating and how to riposte no matter how much they then 'tore me a new one' for having the temerity to try. Lisa Brook treated me a bit like a big sister and Jo Tickhill who was about my age, just gave me the verbals and once slapped me (probably deservingly so as I recall).

All the time I was getting deeper into the world of gaming, and believe me, if you were not in the hobby back then it was deep. 

I remember being in GW very early one morning as Pete Berry and Cy Harrison (manager and assistant manager respectively) were dressing the shelves and Pete remarking 'I've been working on a new set of rules for pike and shot.' and understanding what they were on about. I was not part of the conversation, but I knew a secret because I was so obsessed that I was the only person stood outside at 9AM for when the doors opened at 9:30. What a simple yet poignant memory that is.

At Sheffield Runelords, I met Andy Riston, brush man par excellence, Kev Fisher, Daz Hodgkiss and Nog Northing who encouraged me to play Runequest along with John Hancox and Bob Cooper, who I knew by sight from SWS - What a small and elite world this was, for sure! And here was I, an enthusiastic 14 year old, in the company of adults and being treated with a mix of amusement and respect.  In my late teens, Mick Rothenburg of SWS took me around the city on days out, to meet some interesting people and go into interesting bars, Andy Jarvis and I went on an all night pub crawl and somehow ended up after midnight at the home of a local Napoleonic re-enactor and gamer, purely by chance, before sitting somewhat the worst for wear at the top of one of Sheffield's hills, - kings of all we surveyed, talking about the city, our lives and of Course, games.

What a life!

I funded my hobby through my school years by painting figures and won more trophies as I became a serious contender in competitions, I plaid hundreds of big games as we in the 'case' pooled our collections. I made trade connections and thereby saved money and got an inside track on things along the way which was to serve me well in the future.

In the 90s I had the distinct pleasure of being asked to open and run the third branch of Dungeons & Starships, part of Chris Harvey Games. Chris was a brilliant man to work for. He listened, observed and very rarely interfered with how a shop was run. His standards were high (as were those of Pete Berry at GW in the day) and as long as you bore them in mind, the floor was yours. Chris was as many of you will know one of the pioneers of the business in those early years and is somewhat forgotten now in the flurry to celebrate all things Games Workshop. His 'Flying Buffalo News' advertising-zines were a guilty pleasure of mine for a long time, and it's high time Chris got the recognition he so rightly deserved. He is an educated and learned man, who taught me how to deal with subjects much larger than I.

After the loss of D&S in 99, I went into a bit of a recluse state until the early 2000's and then after a very acrimonious split with SWS for daring to speak my mind - correctly as history has shown - I am gaming more than ever and earning my living in the hobby again.

As I type this entry, I'm listening to Marillion, the smells of fresh bread and a Sunday breakfast are emanating from the kitchen. 1000 new painted Renaissance figures are looking at me from boxes, and I have to say that life is just wonderful.

I have lived a varied and sometimes dissolute life. In fact I could at times have given Rochester a run for his money - Trust me on this. But, it's actually on the whole been a brilliant ride and I hope it will continue to be so for many decades yet.

Sometimes, the smallest things are the most satisfying, and from those small things, whole lifetimes can and are shaped.

I have my family, some of the truest friends a man could ask for, my hobby and of course all those memories... I am a very happy man indeed!

Life is a rollercoaster, but you have to take the ride to see the view from the top...


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