I saw a glimpse of my past today. I ghost of my adolescence.
A phantom. Dead flesh and empty eye sockets glimpsed out the corner of my eye.
And about 4cm tall....
Mrsslippy has just booked us a lovely cottage in Cornwall for a week in September. I've not been that way since I was 3 years old (apparently), and it'll make a nice change from the usual yearly jaunt to The Lake District.
Excited about the prospect of visiting somewhere new, I skipped out of work early to nip into town and buy some OS maps and guide books. Given my new found enthusiasm for walking everywhere, I took a leisurely stroll into town, taking time to soak up the surroundings that usually fly straight past me in the car.
I was ambling down Regent Street when I saw it. I knew the shop was there, but was always in a vehicle. I tried to walk past without a second look, but was hypnotically drawn to the window display.....
Or as the Cringleford Lads would say, 'Toy Soldiers'.
Exquisitely painted little figurines from the Games Workshop range of fantasy role playing games.
From the Tolkienesque/Dungeons and Dragons style orcs and goblins, to the full on sci-fi Space Marines of Warhammer 40,000, I used to love that shit.
I wasn't a gamer, I'm not that geeky, but I loved to paint those little things. It sort of started out of necessity....ie I needed a job.
Unable to pay for the fortnightly trip to Carrow Road, and general day to day expenses of a boy growing up on my pitiful paperboy's wages, I had to get a Saturday job.
There was a games shop in town that specialised in board games (not toys!), and as we've always been a bit of a cards and board games kind of family, it seemed like a cool place to apply.
They took me on, and I discovered that there were many more games than just Chess, Triv and Scrabble. There were dozens of D&D style roleplaying games, and the ones from Games Workshop had little lead miniatures to play them with. We also sold the paints, and the brushes - the whole kit and caboodle.
There was (and still is) a magazine called White Dwarf that was packed full of pictures of readers paint jobs, and I just had to try....
As it turned out, I was pretty good, and found that there was a ready market for pre painted figures for the younger kids that came in. The owner of the shop used to have us split the multipacks of figures, so they could be sold individually to kids who couldn't afford £2.99 for three. But he'd have us sell them for £1.20 each to allow for the fact that there would be some single figures that nobody would want.
It was just a way of fleecing the kids, just like a bent newsagent selling a single ciggy and a match for 20p (but probably more these days).
As a way of redressing the balance, I had no qualms about lifting the stray figure, painting it in the shop while it was quiet, and selling it for my own gains. He still made more than enough from the split packets, and given that he took 20% commission on figures painted by others and sold in his shop, I could leave a few there at the end of the working day, and come back to the shop the following week to find them sold. He got the same as he would have got if we'd sold it unpainted, and I got a nice little supplement to my meagre wages.
Perversely, I now had enough money to go to the football every week, but not the free time...
Thank god I discovered that it was pretty easy to get served alcohol at the age of 15, or I'd have nothing to look forward to an a Saturday (or Tuesday) anymore. The friends that mocked me for painting also mocked my involvement in Venture Scouts, but Scouts with cars (who took it in turns - so no designated driver night for me.), genuine ID's, and a knowledge of all the decent taverns in Norwich was a happy part of my growing up.
So I wandered into Games Workshop this afternoon, and looked at the wares on display. All nostalgic for a youth spent fiddling the boss, or sitting in my bedroom with paint and brushes everywhere.
I had a habit of sucking the tip of the paint brush to get a fine tip on it, and after an hours painting would end up with a some kind of weird emo stripey acrylic lip gloss.
Or sitting on my bed all hunched over with my legs stretched out in such a fashion that I'd cut off the blood supply, and would only notice when I went to stand up and both legs would give way, leaving me laying prostate, frantically trying to rub away the pins and needles that had taken hold of both legs, right to the top of my thighs.
But it appears the figures are now made of some type of plastic, and lack the comforting weight of the old metal ones.
What's more they're around £8 for a single figure! Or you can buy a box of 10 build 'em yourself Space Marines for £20. I remember when you could get 30 plastic ones for a tenner, but they were just for pikey cheapskates. They had to be metal!
And the paint that used to -'ahem'- cost me a quid is now in a pot half the size and twice the price. I'm definitely best out of it, and happy to report I left the shop empty handed.
Because if at the age of 15, painting toy soldiers got me involved in petty theft and underage drinking, if I did it today I doubt I'd get away with anything less than gun crime and a nasty crack habit.