Monday, 27 May 2019

Revisiting Dem Bones...

4 days of work in total and as you can see my restoration of the undead armies I bought, is going well...

Back To The 80s Again...

It's pretty common knowledge that I've been at this hobby - no, lifestyle - for almost 40 years now and I suppose that the general opinion would be that my enthusiasm is just the usual 'It was better in my day' claim.

But dear reader, in this instance it really was. It's more than just the figures, the games or whatever you may like to point a finger at. It was the whole time and place, coupled with a relative newness of the gaming hobby, where GW wasn't perceived as the Third Reich Of Gaming with it's Warhammer SS and Gestapo HQ.

No, back then GW had T-shirts for the staff, but they did't have to wear them. The stores were modern but had a really pleasing seediness with cardboard boxes full of games as well at the glass cabinets full of figures and the then new computers and games.

Each shop had it's own character and (and I mean this with love) odour and the staff were not the corporate salary men who assault you with their 10 Commandments and over zealousness, like an excited terrier, in need of a metaphorical newspaper to the nose.

In Sheffield the manager was Peter Berry of Baccus 6mm, who with hindsight I know was a great manager, but to a 13 year old in 1982 was bloody frightening. The staff could be equally fearsome, its the Diabolic Duo of Pete 'Greblord' Armstrong and Chris Kilbride, manning the top counter (known as the Figure Bar) supplying those of us who lived in the place (known as 'Limpets' by the staff, who to this day can get away with it because we made their lives hell- but you try it at a show and I'll smack you in the mouth, no further warning given) with our weekly or daily fix of lead models, which were selected from a big glass cabinet and then hand picked.

We gave them a hard time, and as Pete told me in 2011, he let them have their rein because if he didn't allow them to do so, they'd have gone mad.

We got treated appallingly at times, but fuck me, we learned the not so gentle arts of verbal self defence and a few of us went on to take the master class in verbal offence, graduating with honours, so that although we may not be fighters, we could take down the average bully with ease, taking the piss, avoiding a kicking and in some cases having them laugh at their own expense.

Now, there are some saucy bastards in shops these days, but frankly they just don't have the killer wit and razor-sharpness of the old lags, because the 80s was the time when the likes go Sayle, Mayall, Edmondson & Elton were setting new standards in acerbic comedy. Brought up on a diet of that and faced with any of the Limpets Du Jour, those staff had to be always one step ahead and normally were.

OK, so what we have is a superbly stocked shop, staff who were as mortal as us but at the same time so far up in the clouds that we got neck strain trying to view them, and what else?

Well, it was the 80s... A time when the IRA were a real threat, nuclear war always seemed to be just around the corner and New Wave was giving way to New Romantic and other diverse music and styles. You knew as a kid, at an instinctive level that if you went to the local games/toy/model stop down a given street, you could get seriously beaten by kids (sometimes adults) who didn't dress like or share the same musical tastes as you. There were rarely the knives and certainly not the guns, but a set of nunchucks was in some circles de rigueur accoutrement. I was a dreamer not a fighter and so my own weapon of choice was a decent set of high topped sneakers and a good mental map of regular bus routes and stops.

Model and toy shops often also stocked gaming stuff, and in Sheffield we had Redgates, Hopkinsons, Beatties, New Model Soldier, Dodo and GW as well as Sheffield Space Centre (at the time a pokey little dark shed of a place that felt like a dungeon but which did not do much in the way of gaming).

This meant that the cross over potential for hobbies was amazing and new 'exclusive' finds were often just that. Remember we had no internet, so we were not bombarded with the geek dross which is out there today. You found stuff by trawling shelves, perhaps meeting someone who had been to Forbidden Planet in London or who had a relative in business who had been to the U.S or Japan and grabbed some odd looking, unknown kit or toy.

As an aside, I buy random piles of fanzines  and magazines from the era, for 'flavour' and it's astounding that there were all these dens of fantastical iniquity, which were all but invisible unless you were 'in the know', all doing well for the most part and unsullied by the depredations of the real world.

I am sure (in fact I am certain) that those of us who crossed into the worlds of gaming, all felt as if we had somehow stepped through a portal, the proverbial looking glass into a Wonderland of sorts, and that we were responsible for maintaining the 'purity' of the world we had been 'allowed' to join.

I think that it's also fair to say that the dreamers and the misfits 'got it'. Several times I saw kids who were a little more traditional 'sport, girls and fights' types take a peek through the doorway and back out, totally unable to comprehend it whatsoever. In fact I think that many gamers were victims of those same 'SGFs' and it was the desire to escape them which may have been a cause for the evacuation from mundane.

And thus, for the most part we could exist in a rarified atmosphere, quite unlike the 'Geek' world today. We did not openly walk around flaunting our nerd credentials, we were almost like a secret society, because if the tough kids at school or in your street found you played with little toy soldiers, you'd get your head kicked in and then be bullied to a degree that would have kids today reading for the paracetamols and bleach. You made friends by maybe catching the eye of another kid or group of kids and then clumsily starting up a conversation in a shop, and if you were lucky you found a tribe.

Equally, you could perhaps find a post card sized advert for a club in the area, and if your parents could be coerced into letting you spend 7-10PM in the upstairs of a pub each week in a less than salubrious part of town, you stop a chance of finding much older gamers who. if you played your cards right, open even more doors and provide you with advice on negotiating the teen years as well as introduce you to other types of game, clubs or even conventions, which at the time were only known of through the wargames press (no internet remember) or word of mouth.

In Sheffield, there was a sort of awakening between 1981 and 1983 where a generation of boys (and it was 99.9% boys back then - Just one of those facts) from all backgrounds and areas of the city who wanted something more than beatings, bombs and nuclear holocaust; who craved to escape into imaginary worlds, and who found others like them. It was the beginning of a special time for gaming, one which has and never will be repeated. This is not a point of contention, but rather arguable fact.

Now, let's also look at the games  themselves... Remember that this was a time just before the first (flawed, but best) incarnation of Warhammer which did not slavishly insist you bought 'official' models, and that at the time GW was a fledgeling company under the ownership of people who were enthusiastic about the games they sold. You could choose from literally thousands of products both in Games Workshop and stores such as Spirit Games, Dungeons & Starships or Games Of Liverpool. The production quality was generally not the shiny eye candy you see today, but the enthusiasm and more importantly the actual content made up for that and in fact, I'd rather read a nice clean old school product than the rubbish being churned out today. 

Those amateurish sketches and typed pages conveyed the love and enthusiasm of the writers and publishers, and you felt as if you and they were the same. This was a time before the cult of celebrity too, with a few deserving exceptions being those who had genuinely pioneered the hobby and paved the way for my generation.

I could walk into Games Workshop, and discuss RPGs with other players, historical rules with the authors of some of the best pike and shot rules ever and then have the piss ripped out of me by the guy who was the GW painter. I could see the John Blanche undead vs dwarf vignette under the figure bar at the top of the story, paints and even meet Steve Jackson & Ian Livingstone on the odd visit, all without ceremony or slavish adherence to a company line, because what mattered were the games people played.

That's not to say that there were not some absolute Dodos on the shelves, but what this openness and creativity did was make the hobby even more special. You absorbed information like a sponge, the reviews in magazines were generally pretty unbiased and you learned to be selective about the games you bought or played.

In these days where everything seems to be gothic and dark, I crave the classic game styles where darkness was something to be defeated, not embraced. You need good and evil, not evil and more evil...

There was also not the PC madness we se today. Remember, we were inhabiting fictional worlds, realms of 'fantasy' so why the hell, should we force real world moral codes onto them?

Look, I have said before that to me the female form is to be revered aesthetically, and I am heterosexual, so of course I am attracted to females. I have friends who are not and who are not, but they do not criticise me for my taste, nor I they, for theirs. So, why on earth do we need people who probably describe themselves as 'liberal' ,fucking about and making a shout about PC this and PC that?

It's bollocks that we never had, nor needed. I cannot think of any friends, male or female who grew up with a twisted view of the opposite sex, or political views which were caused by playing games, so please, if all you have to do is damn people for just being who they are or how they were raised to be - Fuck off!

Again, what was important was collectively escaping reality and having fun, free from the threats of the mundane world. I think that is missing now, or at the very least has become something of an ironic pastiche. At the worst, anything which someone can argue is offensive is 'outed' and 'shamed' rather than just being bloody ignored.

The early 80s also had a sense of going somewhere. There's all this slagging off of the Tory government, but arguably there was a lot of money in the pockets of those who looked for it and the hobby benefitted as so-called cheque book wargamers paid top dollar to put together some stunning armies and equally stunning terrain. At the same time groups such as The Player's Guild were being sent out by GW to showcase their wonderfully inventive sci-fi and fantasy display games replete with Mega Cities, Plague Fleets and brooding towers on cliffs - and boy did they stir the imagination!

We copied what we saw in person... This was as I have repeatedly reminded you, a time when there was no internet and you only saw fantasy wargames being played at conventions, so we paid close attention, and built armies comprised of 'generic' fantasy models from multiple sources, not giving a damn about who made them or whether all the figures in an army were the same make. What's more, an army was nothing less than 200 models and often up to a thousand models (about £300 for that many Citadel models back then). 

We would play games of Warhammer 1st or 2nd edition on a Wednesday night at the club which saw maybe 6-8 lads all bring toolboxes (remember those? They were the right and proper way to carry your figures) to a 6x8 table, not bother with points, and lay into each other for 3 and a half hours with gusto. Many times there was no clear victor, but hey, we had fun. There were rich, poor and middle income kids there from all over the city and in one case from 30 miles away. One or two may go to a given school, but gaming brought everyone together, and we all travelled like a touring circus between each others homes, sometimes setting top camp in one place for a week or more in the school holidays.

You see, we did not have 'helicopter parents', constantly hovering lest we be snatched by those of ill intent. we were educated on what to do and what not to do, and trust me when I say we were not tearaways, nor were we neglected in any way. We were trusted and knew that if the trust was betrayed we'd be grounded. Given that nuclear war was going to break out at any time or an IRA bomb, go off in the city centre just as we passed, we made the most of our pleasures, because 4 weeks grounded in your bedroom, may mean that you didn't get that last important, pre-mortem game in.

The streets were, in my opinion, far more dangerous back then but we had not yet descended into a Nanny State. There is a rather good book written after the release of the wonderfully period-evocative TV series 'Stranger Things'. titled 'Stranger Things & The 80s' which goes on at some length about the greater freedoms kids had in the U.S. It was the same in the U.K. If parents brought up their kids to have an ounce of sense regarding personal security, there's no reason why the same could not be done today. That sense of freedom allowed us to visit stores that were off the beaten track, and we did so in large groups thus negating the opportunities for us to come to harm.

Equally, because our parents got to know the adults at the assorted clubs and the other kids we gamed with, we were trusted to travel either with senior club members or in our more normal 'wolf pack' to other cities to find our fix. Roger, Darren and I would often jump un a bus to Doncaster (as outlined in another blog) or Darren and I would go to Leeds by bus, wander around, and then return home. The sense of freedom and excitement was priceless.

My father was at the time an auditor for a furnishing chain, and so during school holidays, if he went to a store in a city where I knew there was a game store, I'd travel with him, and then find my way around the city, making sure to be back in good time. I lost track of the times I went to Games Of Liverpool, which was a temple of gaming that outdid even GW. I once spent £70 in there, and came away with almost 4 kilos of lead figures!

We also all became known faces on the wargames circuit and almost 40 years down the line have friendships made back in the early 80s with traders and manufacturers which to this day result in great banter and some serious discounts. In return, we have thrown tens of thousands at those independent traders over the years, rather than slavishly giving it all to the soulless 'fuck you all' mega corporation that Games Workshop became. Our world was larger than that of the modern teenager and we became far more rounded personalities for it.

Words cannot convey the sense of comfort you'd get on a dull Autumn afternoon, having gone straight from school, into town and to GW or one of the other stores we haunted, walking into the warmth and familiar surroundings, stocked to the roof with gaming goodies. The best days were those when the stores were quietest, because you could chat with the staff, get tips on what was hot and what was not, and even sometimes get a sneak preview of forthcoming releases. As you got to know the staff, the banter got better too, and you developed a repartee and an identity. It was great!

Beatties, the big 70s and 80s era model store chain, could be a minefield for teenage gamers though as although they stocked a decent range of gaming items, the management were very suspicious of teenagers...

One Thursday my school mate Alan and I learned all about Beatties. Lo and behold, when we arrived we saw the role-playing section had been moved to the front of the store and was displayed in the open instead of the glass display cases at the rear of the store.

Unfortunately, on this day we had managed to miss our usual bus after school and, had tarried a while longer than was wise at Hopkinsons’. Consequently, by the time that we reached our newest temple of all things fantastic, we were pushing our luck for getting home on time.  

In the same way that Scotland always fails to get to a World Cup final, fate was to lay us low that day. 

As we drooled and discussed which box of Grenadier models would be purchased next, I happened to glance at my watch. This was – being the 1980’s - a large stainless steel model of the digital variety, which displayed the time in red LED when you pressed a button. I applied a finger to the aforementioned button and the face glowed its terrible message. It was 5:00 PM and we were going to miss the bus unless we ran. So, run we did.

Sadly for us, Geoff the store manager ran too, believing we had made off with his beloved stock, he chased us a good 50 yards down the street before grabbing us squarely, indeed over zealously by the collars and marching usto his office despite our protestations.

These days, a teenager would pick up their mobile phone and make a call to their parents who would in turn make a call to the family solicitor and commence suing the company who had dared to waylay and incarcerate their beloved offspring. But this was 1982 and therefore we were as doomed as a doomed thing. Eventually, after twenty minutes of being held against our will and our bags having been thoroughly searched (to no avail, obviously) whilst we explained the reason for our hasty departure to Geoff we were allowed to go. Yes, Geoff was a grade one bastard when it came to kids.

Red-faced, I was almost an hour late for my tea. I apologised, I grovelled and may have even washed the dishes. What I did not do however was tell my parents what had happened as they would have simply banned me from going into town. As I mentioned earlier, I was the prototype for my parent’s later forays into raising children. 

When I was younger I was tied to a tree, in a local park by ‘friends’. I spent two hours there and by the time I got home it was almost dark. Despite giving names and a full account I was grounded for two months and properly thrashed. This time by comparison, I’d gotten off lightly. I was grounded for an entire month with a 4:15PM absolute limit for being home from school. Weekends were put on hold and so were all things to do with games.

So as you can see, we were not in any way running wild.

And then there was the music and TV. Nowadays, it's common to see all sorts of fantasy, sci-fi or horror on TV, but back then such things were rare, and thus we paid more attention to them, I think. When gaming got a hold, it was even featured on the BBC 'Nationwide' show. If you go to Youtube and search for 'South Of Watford' you'll find Ben Elton doing a fun show on gaming. It's well worth watching.

Music abounded with fantasy and sic-fi themes and so we could immerse ourselves in the imaginary in every way, but again, those bands were thought of as being on the fringe and added to the cachet. Hell, The Human League were even named for a scenario in a sci-fi boardgames they were obsessed with.

The only real threat was the Satanic Panic which started in the U.S and spread to the U.K doing untold damage to the hobby. There are several good books about this terrible time, and I wrote a long blog post on it a while ago. It was such a tumultuous time that it even inspired the name of my retro miniatures company. I truly hope that today's gamers never experience it. But, that said, I do think we came away from that with a feeling that we should protect and nurture what we had, and a realisation that moving in the metaphorical shadows was the best course of action.

I'll not mention 'Mazes & Monsters' by Rona Jaffe...

Incidentally, the first anime mocha related kits we ever saw were the Bandai 'Xabungle' mecha, stocked by GW. The late 'Greblord' did some great conversions and wrote a scenario for Games Day set in Lustria involving lost Slann technology buried below a ziggurat, which was shelved at the last minute. This was the point at which Darren and I became addicted to mech models and when the Redgates toy store (Google it - it made Hamley's look like a corner shop) began to stock the first 'Macross' kits, the cuffs were off! Remember this was all new and pre-internet.

And so, with that, I'll leave you in peace for the moment. I'll no doubt return to this subject, because as I get older, I find I am more and more interested in the cultural anthropology of the 80s. It's a genuine interest rather than just a case of 'missed youth', so I can see some more lengthy writing on the period.

I'l leave you with a mid 80s pic from GW Sheffield:


Wednesday, 22 May 2019

Better Than Sex - Almost!

Well, this morning I took delivery of 90 Citadel Fantasy Tribes Zombies from the estate of the late, great Joe Dever of Lone Wolf fame.

Those of us of a certain vintage will no doubt remember the fantastic fantasy games which featured in various magazines and gave us the first feelings of moist-gusseted pleasure as we wished we could have such armies.

I can only imagine the conversations that have been had around tables on which these models have fought. They were in surprisingly good condition with only a couple needing treatment and TLC for led fatigue. They are all now sealed very thoroughly and all the remains is for me to rebase them as they are alas, on 25mmx25mm bases.

I also managed to bag the 'Skeleton War Machines' set in original box for £65, and a blistered Plague Cart for £21 which means that I have almost recreated my original Undead army from 1987/88.

All in all a good week for purchases

Sunday, 19 May 2019

Dem Bones, Dem Bones...

Well, I've been astoundingly busy this last week, clocking in at around 50 hours of paid painting, coupled with bronchitis. Thus I am absolutely wiped out.

Add to that it was this day last year that I got back from Partizan to be told later that evening that my mum had collapsed and dies, and you may imagine how I am looking at the 3 day spring bank holiday with longing.

However, having taken delivery this week of a big box of around 400 vintage undead from the late 80s, I put in more time at my desk to make some inroads into getting them into useable condition again.

I spent 7 hours yesterday, and turned 176 old skeletons into fresh and rather attractive models as I try to recreate my 1987/88 army. there are one or two small repairs (level 1 Necromancy) to do before they go into their boxes. Just the cavalry and war machines to go. And then there are the 100 or so, I did up, last bank holiday.

They arrived looking like this:

And ended up with 90% of the infantry looking like this: 

And then there were the 100 or so I worked on from an eBay purchase of the early May bank holiday weekend, which started out like this:

And ended up like this:

So, as you may imagine I am happy enough as it is, but 

So I am pretty ecstaticI also bought 90 fantasy tribes zombies from the Joe Dever collection which I have to decide on rebasing or not... 
Therefore I am actually tired but rather ecstatic!


Wednesday, 15 May 2019

W:WW... WANTED: Wizards & Warfare

If you have a set of either version  these rules, I'll pay £20 for them...

Contact me using the contact page at

Sunday, 12 May 2019

Hi everyone,

Life is very hectic, so I am being a tad lazy, by reproducing my weekly missive to my old friend Roger, who decided to escape the Steel City and so, our friendship is one of most correspondence. I've trimmed out some private and personal bits, because frankly they are nobody's business but ours. They are nothing 'special' they are simply the ramblings of one old friend to another and can be a bit sentimental at times.

It’s been VERY busy here at the Dark Tower atop Fackham Hall, and on Monday I have the first of 4 days of ‘doubles’ as I try to mitigate my bank holiday breaks. 

I had to spend the weekend (or part of it) prepping up work ready for Monday, but I managed to do some stuff for me. Most importantly, I’ve cracked on with my fantasy stuff.

After collectively spending two days on the box of skeletons I paid £65 for the other week, I have them smartened up and ready to go. Admittedly these are not fancy paint jobs, but when you have 500 models at a reasonable standard all together in an army, they look just fine.

My days of proving my brushmanship in competitions are over. I'm all about the gaming as I enter my Autumn years. Here's a 'before' and three 'after shots:

My wife, Kayte,  could not understand why I was just using static grass for the bases. I pointed out that they will look nice and 'old school' on TSS tiles and they are fast to do, whilst looking effective.

I have another 400 or so arriving this week which will need similar TLC:

Speaking of Kayte, she's been recovering from a severe bout of bronchitis and a chest infection. She has been abed, but before she was laid low, she completed a piece of terrain which these old eyes think is very nice indeed:

As part of a massive drive to get a decent selection of terrain, I bought a two foot high fantasy tower the other day, and started on it today, with a sand base coat and then alkyd washes to get a natural stone look. Now I just have to wait a week whilst it dries. Mind you, it’s the most ‘artisty’ I’ve felt in years, so it’s all for the good. The pure joy of having people ask what alkyds are and why they are so special, has left me with an old school sense of being a smug bastard who understands the contents of an art shop ;)

Dave Hoyles of QT/Museum Miniatures turned us onto alkyds in the mid 80s and I've not touched them myself since 1988 - oddly enough, when I painted a QT Indian army.

This is a big bastard at just shy of 2 feet high!

We’ve decided not to go to Partizan as it was hours after that show last year that my Mum died unexpectedly, and despite the fact that she did not like me (and told me so - you know how mothers are, and we had a long and fearsome history - but she was my Mum) I just can’t get the enthusiasm up for walking around, with no bring and buy, looking at 35 stalls selling Warlord Game stuff, and paying for the ‘pleasure’. 

I’ll be going to Britcon in Manchester in August as it’s free, very sociable and of course there’s a two minute walk to Chinatown and a ten minute walk to Manchester Art Gallery and some stunning exhibits. I get to chat with a few old acquaintances , there’s a bring and buy and a nice selection of trade.

As a result I decided to purchase an Oldhammer Dark Elf army I bought from a chap in the U.S. It was expensive enough that even I had tears in my eyes and had to coax my wallet out from behind the sofa. As you can see, it’s a small but perfectly formed little purchase:

Other than that, I’m trying to pull some disparate and desperate types together to take a display game out on the circuit. I want to recreate an 80s fantasy display. You know the type of thing… Not todays style of games, but something that looks like a group of mates got together and pooled their resources on 80s style terrain, with 80s figures and 80s rules in the 80s. It may even be a case of 80s knitwear and T-shirts, all round.

Right, I need to go and bathe and read the Summer issue of ‘The Chap’ before I settle to watch and 80s film with Kayte and then embrace the cares of Morpheus for 8 hours.