Wednesday, 9 December 2009

In the beginning...

When I was two or three years old my mum, to keep me quiet while she did the weekly shopping, would tell me if I was good our last stop would be the toy shop. For a long time she'd buy me a matchbox toy car every week. The collection grew and grew. I'd play racing games with them. I knew every car on the road, especially all the sports cars, and had a model of most of them. Then one day we passed a different toy shop. It had Britains and Timpo toy soldiers in the window. I was mesmerised. There ended my love affair with cars and my new one with toy soldiers started. I never bought a Matchbox Car again. Top Gear still just isn't my bag. But I guess, some Pavlovian response, a deep-seated memory of my weekly 'treats' kicks in when I see a nicely painted tank, or a zulu or a medieval knight, or a Star Wars spaceship, or...

I've never seen the point in having toy soldiers if you don't play with them. As week after week my little collection of cowboys, knights, British and Germans grew, there followed battles with knights for my toy castle, shoot'em down games with toy cannons, battles on the carpet with Airfix tanks and eventually expeditions to shops and a club in London to fight 'proper' wargames with rules which now appear crazily over-complicated. For a kid born in the sixties this was actually all pretty normal. This was an era of lots of war films and cowboy films, and no-one thought twice about buying boys toy guns for Christmas. Modelling was a big hobby and WWII was fresh in the memory of at least our parents generation. My dad would tell me about how his air raid shelter door was blown off on a raid on Liverpool docks, and one kid at school even had an older father who had been a Spitfire pilot. With no computer games to entertain us, lots of kids tried out their 'prototypes' -wargaming where you had to roll dice and look up tables-at one time or another and I guess I was a bit more serious about it than most.

I first got distracted by role-playing games when someone brought a set of Dungeons and Dragons to the Wargames Club. My mum persuaded me to give my treasured collection of Airfix 1/32 figures and Britain's knights and cowboys, which Donald Featherstone's 'Skirmish Wargaming' given a new life, to a neighbour's young son. My Hinchcliffe 25mm Byzantine Army disappeared into the attic, and I don't know what happened to most of my Airfix 1/72 scale tanks and figures. Then came girlfriends, and eventually work, wife and kids intervened for a couple of decades...

Then one day while I was having a very frustrating time at work I was clearing a cupboard and found a shoebox of Airfix Napoleonic figures. I'd kept them because some had been one the best paint jobs that I'd managed, the rest were just half or unpainted. I sat down and painted them up and found it therapeutically relaxing, and took my mind completely off problems in the office. As the internet had recently arrived on my PC, once I had found an online model shop, I ordered some more...and some more...and some more...

At the time though I lived abroad and so it was mainly a solo activity. I bought some military history books and read them more seriously than I did when I was a teenager. I found it useful to set up a company or battalion with figures to get an idea of how big it was, what frontage it would occupy, and what a brigade, division or corps consisted of, to understand what I was reading about. My Napoleonic collection grew as I read David Chandlers fantastic book, still one of the best books on military tactics and strategy that I've ever read. One thing fed the other. If I saw an interesting book on Africa, I'd end up looking at some Colonial figures. Some gorgeous pictures of Gripping Beast miniatures and I'd start buying books on Arthurian Britain, a period I had briefly studied at University.

My own collection steadily grew, but not with much rhyme or reason. Then a few years later I found myself stuck waiting for a delayed contract. I looked at some different ways of making money and ended up starting an online model shop as a trial run in online selling, to occupy my time and make a few bob. I'd been running it over a year, and was thinking of how to promote it some more. It seemed crazy not to at least check out my local wargames club for potential customers or helpers. It turned out to be a very small club. All the guys were around my age. In fact, I'd discovered running my shop that most historic wargamers are either in their 40s or older like me, and a lot of Warhammer players are in their 30s. I still haven't sold a thing to my wargaming buddies, but I ended up enjoying myself so much my renewed interest in Wargaming has outlived my online shop, which I discontinued over a year ago now.

Joining the club has made me realise that I need to be a lot more disciplined actually finishing projects, if my figures were ever to see it on to the tabletop. Up until that point, there was no need to actually get all the units in both forces painted, based, terrained and get all the scenary done. I did my degree in Ancient & Modern History and so I cannot resist dipping into just about every period. My collection is mainly 20mm plastics so the armies that I can field are more limited by the speed of my paint brush than the number of figures I can buy, but I have been tempted by some 28mm and even a few 15mm. But it is a bit frustrating having dozens of armies and periods 'nearly done' but only a couple of things actually finished. A guy at the club recommended a couple of blogging sites, and not only did I realise that they offered good practical advice but they were for some bloggers part of their discipline keeping their wargaming projects on track.

So I started this blog partly to show off what I am doing but mainly to help keep me focused on getting the paint brush out more and seeing a few things to completion. If it turns out to be of use to anyone else, that's great, but hopefully it will be a spur to get things off the production line.

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