Thursday, 23 June 2011

A Confession: The Shop

I was going to post some Corpus Christi musings today, but there are two reasons why I'm not going to: i) it's not Corpus Christi in Leeds diocese until Sunday; ii) I don't have enough musings to go around. Instead, here's another chapter of the story of how I came to Christianity, with particular apologies to my readers, some of whom make up the subject matter of this latest offering.

I must now retrace my steps a little way, because there is one thread which, defying the chronology I have thus far attempted, runs consistently through from early in my second decade to the present day without significantly intersecting with my educational life.

Throughout most of my time at secondary school, the February half term saw me and my parents travel down to a holiday cottage at Riscombe Farm at Exford, a village in that smaller part of Exmoor which lies in Somerset. I still believe that Exmoor, with its bleak tops, precipitous coastline and green valleys, is a patchwork of the most beautiful landscapes England has to offer.

One of the children at the Farm, Sam, the eldest and closest to my own age, was a keen devotee of the science-fiction tabletop war game Warhammer 40,000. On my first visit, I looked at his collection of miniatures, a mixture of Space Marines (futuristic knights-templar) and Tyranids (aliens clearly inspired by the Aliens series of films) and had my curiosity piqued. I knew of a shop which sold the game back in Halifax, and I visited it upon my return home. At my next birthday (my twelfth, if I calculate correctly) I received the starter set for the Warhammer Fantasy Battle, Warhammer 40,000’s fantasy sister game, and began to accumulate miniatures.

I also began to accumulate friends. Wargaming is a first and foremost social activity, and through it I met a number of boys of around my age. Whilst I have fallen out of contact with most of the people I befriended at school, I still see many of those I met in the shop, and some of them are amongst my closest friends.

The shop was above a newsagent’s on Halifax’s Commercial Street. It was modestly proportioned, especially considering the number of boys who congregated there most Saturdays during its zenith. The shop’s layout altered a little over the years I frequented it, but it always had at least two gaming tables set out, and at some times more. On busy days people would queue for a game on one them. The shop was small, it was more than a little down at heel, and over the hot summer holidays it began to smell of overripe teenage boy. I would sometimes arrive at lunchtime, or before, and stay until it closed in the evening, gaming, hanging out and, if my modest means permitted it, adding to my collection.

We were mostly shy and socially awkward, as boys of that age often are, especially the sort who gravitate towards geeky hobbies like wargaming. The manager at the time, Gaz, realised eventually that none of us had properly introduced ourselves. We did not know each other’s names. As a result, he bestowed on us nicknames, some of which have stuck long after we have come to know each other much better. My own nickname, on account of my accent and manner, is Posh.

Here I met Dave, who years later was to become my godfather. He has often mused that people called Dave do not get to have nicknames and indeed he never received one at the shop. In my first flush of irreligious enthusiasm, I found in his Christianity something to be argued over incessantly. I marvelled that someone could seriously believe such things.

Scarf had a very religious upbringing. He was polite and thoughtful, and remains deeply thoughtful and caring; if he is less polite now it is in part because he is forthright in his treatment of subjects upon which forthrightness is often appropriate. He studied politics and has a deep concern for social justice. This concern has lead him, along with several other mutual friends, to be an anarchist. If I disagree with some of his conclusions I have great sympathy for his concerns. Of all my friends he is the funniest and most entertaining, his sense of right informing his satirical tirades and his eloquence imbuing even the most mundane of his stories with great humour.

I knew of Camo first of all from the shop, but became a close friend only when, at about the time I started out on my A-levels, I diversified from wargaming into roleplaying games. As with many others, my experience of roleplaying began with Dungeons and Dragons. Roleplaying is in many ways more involved than wargaming and so we would meet at each others’ houses to play on Sundays. Our sessions generally lasted five hours or so, and we eventually diversified into one or two other systems, particularly Vampire: the Masquerade and Mage: the Ascension. These Sundays continued until I left for university.

For a little while after I left, the shop remained, and I visited it when I was in Halifax. Increasingly, however, our little group moved out into the pubs of Halifax and Leeds, and the shop itself has passed into history, now an empty room above the still-thriving newsagent. We celebrated each others’ eighteenth and twenty-first birthdays in house parties, some of which were raucous enough to live in legend, and made that progression from teenage boys to young men, moving away to universities in Leeds, York, Sheffield and Newcastle but still seeing each other frequently and still meeting up in Halifax when we could. Having once been too shy to properly introduce ourselves, our lives are now intertwined in close and enduring friendship.

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