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Tuesday, August 28, 2012

My geeking summer #1: "Oop north"

Land of the White Rose
England, York, &
the White Rose
I mentioned last time that I was holidaying with family in York after a trip to Bradford. I’m back home now and reality has finally reasserted itself, so it’s back to the old bloggery. Where better then to begin than with a geek’s eye tour of my wee visit to the legendary county of Yorkshire (no prizes to readers who offer suggestions, constructive or otherwise!- NB, that’s no prizes, not ‘No Prizes’, OK?)?

Blast-off in Bradford
The geeks
The expanding Hive
The convention I attended in Bradford wasn’t a geek-con as such, but it was hoaching with geeks of all kinds. I’d been hoping to get some gaming in (I even took along a few cardgames for that very purpose) but the gaming area wasn’t very well organised, so that turned out to be a bogey. Still, I had fun handing out my card, which turned out to be a great way of smoking out the other games geeks (not that they needed much encouragement). Among the highlights of those encounters were:

  • Meeting another 40K fan who used to frequent the Bolter and Chainsword, and who vaguely remembered seeing my grinning greenie somewhere online (small world, eh?).
  • Seeing a couple of guys playing Hive, a fascinating looking 2-player tile-laying game which has rocketed to the top flight of my ‘must have’ list.
  • Catching up with a fellow blogger whose site- Musings of a bisexual geek, I had previously stumbled across under its old title of ‘Vicky’s Journey Through Pop Culture’ (world still shrinking!)
  • Meeting the multi-talented Amy Letts, whose work includes the Epic Fail webcomic.
This is just a small selection from the many games and comics geeks I met in my few days in Bradford. I’m sorry I couldn’t name-check them all: I’d’ve had to have spent the entire time taking notes to have managed that!

‘In town with a big wallet on his hip’; AKA. the swag
GW Bradford
Regular readers will be unsurprised to learn that I just couldn’t resist continuing my tradition of dropping into the local GW in every town I visit. GW Bradford is one of the one-man stores the company added to their roster a couple of years ago. Not that you’d know just by looking at it: being a one-man store doesn’t mean that it’s some pokey wee place. No, it looks just like any other GW store. The only difference I could ascertain from my chat with the resident staffer was that the place closes for lunch and all day Mondays and Tuesdays.

I made my ritual obeisances with the filthy lucre, naturally enough. My rewards that day from the mighty money-suckers were a copy of White Dwarf #392 and a set of the Warhammer 40,000 Munitorum Battlefield Objectives.

"Gribblies ahoy!"
My initial impulse to buy the new White Dwarf was nothing other than having an excuse to spend some money in GW Bradford as part of my trip but, as I’ve already explained, the forces of Chaos are second only to Space Marines as features definitive of the pantheon of the Dark Millenium which are utterly irresistable to me. And it has to be said that WD#392 definitely delivers for those corrupted by the lure of Chaos: fully 73 pages of 122 are devoted to the slaves to darkness in one way or another. That’s new releases, modelling workshops and battle reports, all lasciviously detailed in the full colour with which fans of GW and WD will already be familiar. On top of all that there is also a booklet giving the official WHFB/WH40K statlines for the new releases. In short: a veritable bumper bundle.

40K Munitorum
Battlefield Objectives
And those Battlefield Objectives? Well, I know I said last year that I was giving up on tabletop miniatures games, and I have taken some very serious steps in that direction; eg. only recently I sold my entire collection of Space Marine bits (”a frankly ridiculous number of bits”) to Andy P. But I kept my army and my WIPs, naturally enough, and that was enough to remind me that Penumbra’s Talons would maintain their record of being played under every single edition of 40K when I inevitably add the recent 6th edition to my 40K library. So I just had to have some of those cute wee floating skulls.

The city itself?
The dark heart of
Victorian Britain
Spending a few days in Bradford in the hothouse environment of a convention meant that I didn’t see all that much of the city itself. The area around Bradford university campus which hosted the convention was not uninteresting though, in the way that only decaying industrial landscapes in an economically troubled city can be. Visible from the kitchen of the student flat in which I stayed was a roofless workshop looking for all the world like it had been bombed out in some war. This would’ve been a perfect set for most any game in which nefarious doings might go down in the shadier parts of town. I forgot to take any pictures, naturally enough. That aside, the immediate area would be an ideal location for, eg. games of Cthulhu by Gaslight.

Crash-landing in York
The centre of modern York & its coat of arms
Many readers will be only too aware of the rigours of convention-going and so will readily understand why I was delighted to be able to decompress in the bosom of my cousin’s family in York. Of course, a week in this beautiful old English medieval city was an adventure in itself, so that I needed last week at home to get back to reality!

The geek’s tour
Travelling Man
I’ve been to York several times before, so I already have some sense of direction in the confusing warren of streets and alleys that is the city’s surviving medieval town centre. It wasn’t long therefore before I’d located the most important shop on my local list: Travelling Man. I’ve been here before too, naturally enough, and was pleased to find that it was still thriving in today’s straitened economy. It was graphic novels which caught my eye because I noticed a copy of the Gotham Central Vol.3 TPB. A series I’ve been looking to catch up on for some time, Gotham Central is a police procedural featuring the officers of Gotham City Major Crimes Unit. This was something I just couldn’t resist, and well worth it it was too.

Gotham Central
Intent on comics as I was, I also couldn’t resist a copy of Batman: Dark Victory, a fat TPB by the highly regarded creative team of Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale. This hasn’t exactly been on my ‘must buy’ list, but has long been one of those which I thought I might pick up if I was looking for some more Batman. I’m glad I took the chance; Batman: Dark Victory is the sort of story which teases new depths out of familiar old characters. Just the way the fans like it in other words.

Eclipse Supernova
(via)
I also lucked in bigtime in Travelling Man. Pouncing on a copy of the Eclipse expansion, Supernova, which I'd noticed lying aside just behind the till, I asked how much it would be. The guy in charge had no idea, so I got it for free. I'd missed out on getting this the first time it was printed- there were scalpers just sitting online waiting to get their copies for immediate resale AFAIK, so getting one for free just as it’s been reprinted was a big bonus find!


An old school
model shop
I’ve already mentioned the persistent rumblings of my life-long love affair with miniatures. It was in York that I finally decided to do something about this, setting out to find a classic model shop. I was lucky enough to happen across one essentially by accident: the Monk Bar Model Shop. Inside, this was the traditional corncopia of shelves piled high with kits of all kinds. I knew what I was after: a 1/76th scale plastic kit of some light AFV.
Airfix’s German Reconnaissance Set
Why? Partly because I’ve decided that the best way to revive my hobby skills is to go back to my teenage tankie roots and do some WW2 AFVs. And also because if there’s one genre of TTG I’d play apart from 40K, it’s WW2 tactical skirmish: 1/76th (AKA. 20mm) is a good scale for this, and there are plenty of nice vehicle kits available. I didn’t have to look for too long before I’d made my decision: I bought myself an Airfix WW2 German Reconnaisance set, featuring an Sdkfz 222 AC and a Kubelwagen. I built this kit as a teenager, so it’ll be interesting to give it another go.

GW York
The final shop I visited for my geek-stuff fix wasinevitablythe York GW (another place I’ve been before). I took a notion there and picked up my first Citadel Finecast resin miniature: Njal Stormcaller, the Terminator Runepriest- I really want a break from painting green all the time! Then I went back another day to satisfy the itch that was my curiosity about the mouldline scraping tool in the Citadel Clean-up Kit. I’ve always used emery boards to clean up mouldlines on plastic and resin kits, so I’ve really no idea how useful this tool can be, but I expect to find out sometime; soonish I hope.
Njal Stormcaller, Runepriest
The tourist
Looking down from
the Wheel of York
I did a few normal touristy things while I was in York: I took my second cousin (my cousin’s daughter- more like a niece really) to see Ice Age 4: Continental Drift- which entertained me far more than I’d expected (and my expectations weren’t set to the usual low for the sake of avoiding disappointment). After that we took a ride on the Wheel of York- tame by some standards, but a thrill-a-minute for junior and myself. A few days later we joined dad for a family trip to see Pixar’s latest offering, Brave. The trailers had initially attracted my attention because of the beautiful imagery and lush colours. Having Billy Connolly doing a voice was an added attraction and probably the clincher for yours truly. So when junior expressed her interest in seeing Brave, you can be sure I was keen to make that particular outing.
Meridia: a hero for our times
Wow, what a movie this is! I can’t here write the sort of review a film of the quality of Brave really deserves. Sufficeth then to say that it’s a thrilling movie with a lot of laughs; often touching, occasionally genuinely moving, and that’s it’s up there with The Incredibles as one of the best modern cartoons I’ve seen, ever (and I’ve not seen one that I disliked). Most appealing of all was that the film was gutsy and full of character in a way that is sadly all too often all too lacking in Hollywood blockbusters. See this movie and don’t care if you haven’t got any damn kids!

The geeking tourist
Authentic medieval map
of York
The centre of York is very compact so, with 2 cousins and an uncle living in the city, I spent more time battering about the centre on foot than on any previous visit. As a result I was able to get more of a sense of the wonder that is the medieval town centre I mentioned above. Centred on the streets and alleys going into and just off of the Shambles, this is a veritable cornucopia of delights for players of FRPGs, be they GM or PC.

The Shambles
by night
The streets are narrow- so that even 2-storey buildings loom high, and close in; and many of them look for all the world like authentic period survivors, with their wooden-framed construction. Then there are the street names: delightful period oddities abound, like Goodramgate, Hungate, Jubbergate or Ogleforth, to name just a few from the page linked to just above. On top of all that there is the city wall, which is largely intact and is a feature of so many nooks and crannies you wouldn’t quite believe it. All-in-all then a visit to York is an absolute must for FRPGers who fancy getting a vivid sense of what it must’ve been like to live in the historical prototypes of so many of their games’ settings.

And, as if all that wasn’t already enough, then there’s WFRP.

The dawn of
greatness
York is just one of many cities across England which retain their medieval roots (AFAIK, up here in Scotland our cities- there are only 4, are more industrial; the medieval roots- where they exist, are more confined to our small towns). My point here is twofold. First: this part of the world was the stomping ground of the various people who contributed to the original WFRP way back in 1986. So the oft-praised sense of WFRP’s deep realisation- of the detailed background of the basic features of the fantasy/medieval setting, is a direct consequence of growing up surrounded by the kind of features I enjoyed so much in York.

Moreover- and perhaps more importantly, all of these places will have been hugely influenced by subsequent history, the Industrial Revolution above all. So I don’t think it’s at all fanciful to suggest that this dual character of the local geography was significant in the germination of one of the Warhammer Old World’s unique features and abiding achievements: namely the way in which its medieval society is poised on the verge of a ‘renaissance’, ie. of that quintessential post-medieval gateway into the pre-industrial world.

So York, yeah. Visit York. You won’t be disappointed! ;)

Related@RD/KA!
- My geeking summer #2: True North
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