"A gloriously hilarious account of what fun
playing wargames is."
"A funny, perceptive book that has you laughing throughout with
The Sunday Times
"A spiffing, biffing book that will reload memory banks of generations
Scotland on Sunday
An extract from the book is given below.
"A few years ago I met up with a wargamer called Dave (50%
of all wargamers are called Dave - it's the law) who was buying
some figures from me. I arranged to meet him in a branch of
Café Nero, which, as he pointed out, had lettering
on the fascia that made it look like Café Nerd and
was therefore very suitable. Dave said he had been accumulating
figures for years without any specific purpose. Box files of
them were currently providing extra insulation in his loft.
Like me he never took stock of what figures he had. I said,
maybe if he did he'd realise he had too many figures. He said
that he felt that was impossible because: "you can never
have too much of something you didn't need in the first place".
I realised at once that this was a life-changing aphorism. Though
whether it changed my life for good or ill I was no longer sure.
Most of the time the Little Men brought a ray of happiness into
my life. Often when I was working and struggling for an idea
or the final paragraph of a newspaper column I'd get up from
my desk and go and pull open a drawer at random and inspect
the contents. It didn't matter what was in it (though I knew
before I opened them because all the drawers were labelled.
I know, I know, but when you've accumulated 10,000 toy soldiers
it's a bit late to start worrying about being anal). Whether
it was lowly French line infantry or mighty Carthaginian elephants
the sight of the glittering, brightly coloured figures always
cheered me up.
At other moments though the little men oppressed me. A friend
who was reading Bob Woodward's book about the launching of the
Second Gulf War, Plan of Attack said, "The logistics of
it are mind-boggling. Before they could ship out all the food
they'd need in the desert they had sink re-enforced concrete
piles to support the platforms they store it on, because it
was so heavy if they'd just put it down on the ground it would
have sunk into the sand and disappeared. Can you imagine having
to think of all that?" Well, actually I could.
My figures needed organising into regiments, painting, varnishing,
gluing on to bases; officers and missing figures needed to be
found; they had to have terrain to manoeuvre over, hills to
march up, woods to hide in, rivers to ford, houses to shelter
behind; they had to have somewhere to be safely stored away
so they wouldn't get caked with dust or attacked by the moisture
that could spark oxidation. They needed rules and regulations
for how fast they could move, how far they could fire, how well
they could fight and how much of a buffeting they'd put up with
before they turned and ran back to the safety of their box files.
They needed generals. They needed flags. They needed two more
chariots to complete the Pharoah's royal squadron. They craved
attention like a phalanx of toddlers.
I lay in bed at night fretting about how I would ever finish
them, where I would keep them and how I would find the money
to pay for everything. War, as Woodward makes plain, is an expensive
business. Little Wars were a little expensive too. In the mid-1990s
I had sold off all the wargame armies I had spent the previous
decade accumulating in favour of collecting figures that had
been designed before 1972 and were now out of production. There
were a number of reasons for this: I liked the early wargame
figures better than the ones that came later. The later figures
had hands and heads that were disproportionately large, modern
figure designers, like modern artists having tired of mere figurative
realism. The old figures were smaller, better proportioned.
They had charm, they had nostalgia and. like all toy soldiers,
they would accumulate value the older they became.
The rarity of these veteran figures would, I stupidly imagined,
limit my spending and simultaneously nurture a nest egg for
my retirement. The trouble was that whereas before I could put
off buying figures that I saw for sale safe in the knowledge
that they would still be available next week, next month or
next year, now I no longer could. Now every batch of 1968 Hinton
Hunt 20mm Norman knights, or 1963 Stadden 1/72nd Crimean war
Russian Infantry (in greatcoats), advancing at high porte that
came up on eBay, or appeared in the classified ads in Wargames
Illustrated, Miniature Wargames, Military Modelling, or Military
Modelcraft was a one off, unrepeatable chance of a lifetime.
When I got them I experienced a wild buzz much as the gambler
gets when he wins a big bet. And when I didn't I was seized
with the collector's nightmare - a vision of the decades of
regret and bitter recrimination that would follow as I slowly
realised that such an opportunity would never, ever present
itself again. A mania born of terror and desire gripped me.
Unlike governments I couldn't raise taxes, so I made cuts. I'd
already given up smoking to spend the money I saved on figures
instead. This was a fine idea. And frankly it was as well I
stuck to it. Because if I'd spent the same amount of cash on
tobacco I've since spent on little lead men I'd be talking through
a hole in my neck. Now I went into overdrive. I sold
a collection of 1960s cycling books and bought French Cuirassiers,
200 vinyl LPs furnished a small English Civil War army, 50 picture
sleeve punk singles bolstered the exotic ranks of the Great
King of Persia, a Schuco clockwork grand prix racer bought on
my first trip to London when I was ten contributed to raising
a division of Bavarian infantry, four Revel 1/32nd scale slot
cars recruited a couple of boxes of Samurai. I felt as if all
the lead I had handled, carved and inhaled had given me lead
fever. Day after day the postman struggled up the drive, back
bowed and knees buckling under the weight of the parcels. Ancient
Indians came from Maine, North West Frontier Tribesmen from
Baden, Carthaginians from Ohio, Spartans from New Zealand. I
sold and I bought. My bank statements and my credit card bills
suggested I had put our domestic economy on a total war footing.
Soon my finances had begun to look like Brandenburg after the
Thirty Years War, broken, charred and apparently incapable of
sustaining life now or in the future.
"Who buys a minute to wail a week? Or sells eternity to
buy a toy?" I knew the answer to Shakespeare's question.
It was staring back at me every time I looked in the bathroom
mirror. I felt as if I was caught in a miniaturised maelstrom,
spinning towards insanity and ruin.
As I lay awake at night, my mind filled with the incessant demands
of my lead armies, I began to wonder who was in charge: me,
or them? I owned them and yet somehow I had become their captive.
Some times I wondered how it had got this way. And some times,
like Burt Lancaster in The Sweet Smell of Success, I wished
I wore a hearing aid, so I could switch off the babble of the
Achtung Scheinehund! A Boy's Own Story of Imaginary Combat by
Published by Little, Brown 2007. ISBN: 978-0-316-86136-6
has been created by Richard
Black and Harry