Three cheers for fatherhood, which gives grown men the excuse to indulge all over again in the things which they enjoyed as boys. I thought I'd given up playing with toy soldiers when I was thirteen, but it turns out that I was just taking a thirty year break. For Sam, who's nearly eight, is just getting into Warhammer, a hugely complicated fantasy war-gaming system, and I'm spending a surprising amount of my time painting tiny plastic figures and fighting elaborate battles with them on the living room floor. And do you know, I'm rather enjoying myself. I spent a lot of my own childhood doing much the same thing (though my armies were napoleonic ones, not orcs and goblins) and I think I only stopped because adolescence was kicking in and some dim instinct told me that girls wouldn't be interested in chaps who played with toy soldiers. In retrospect, that was rather a sad reason for giving up something I enjoyed (also a total waste of time: girls weren't interested in me anyway).
Now, helping Sam to paint and fight his little armies, I'm starting to realise what an important part of my life this odd hobby was. I first learned to draw people by studying and drawing these tiny figures; the first narratives I came up with up were wargame scenarios, and the first imaginary worlds which I created were two neighbouring 19th century countries whose bitter rivalry was fought out across my bedroom carpet in a series of campaigns which formed the background to my earliest 'novels' - each the exact length of one of those red Silvine exercise books they sold at the newsagents round the corner, and featuring two of the dolls from my sister's doll's house as the heroines. There are a few place names in the WOME - Murnau, for instance, and the Tannhauser Mountains - which are drawn directly from those long-ago games. They remind me that writing stories is really just another form of play.
Furthermore, I'm happy to report that, unlike telly, films, books, sherbert fountains and all the other things that Aren't As Good As They Were When I Was A Boy, toy soldiers have become about 1000 times better. My old Airfix ones were made of a plastic so soft that the paint kept cracking off them; Sam's Games Workshop figures are moulded from something far superior, crisply detailed and often beautifully visualised by anonymous artists who presumably never went to art college, or who, if they did, had the iron self-control to avoid being seduced by the dominant conceptual art meme and ending up smearing poo on the walls of fancy galleries at the tax-payers' expense*.
So it's rather a pleasure, on evenings when I have nothing better to do, to sit painting these miniatures, thinking back over the day's writing and trying to work out where tomorrow's will take me. Clearly I shall need an army of my own so that Sam can get plenty of games in despite the shortage of opponents here on Dartmoor. Of course I'm far too old and dignified to start collecting tiny elves and goblins. But there's a company called Warlord Games who do some cracking 28mm Romans...
*Coincidentally, Paul Bonner, whose beautiful fantasy paintings I mentioned here a few posts back, started out with Games Workshop.