Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Tanks for the Memory...or Sex, Thighs and Measuring Tape. Life as it was thirty years ago: a Valentines Day special

Matchbox Char B and Airfix Matilda go into action

I have just been hit by a wave of nostalgia for a period three decades ago caused by finding some old stuff at home in a veritable time capsule.

I was back at my mother's house this weekend, looking for some books for my daughter, and picking my way carefully around the loft.  It doesn't have floorboards so you have to leap from beam to beam to ensure that you don't go through the ceiling below, as my father did, memorably, on one occasion. After moving a fold-up bed and a pile of old suitcases (when they have stickers on which say RMS Berengaria you know they are old!) I found two tea chests in a far corner I hadn't reached for years.  You never see tea chests any more but when I was younger, before plastic crates had been invented, everything was stored in tea chests!

Caroline Dell from December 1969

Inside one, buried under a pile of Look and Learn and a few Military Modelling magazines were a heap of old Mayfair magazines from the late sixties and early seventies (which were my father's) and some Men Only magazines from the late seventies and early eighties (which were mine).  An excellent find and all in very good condition.   At the time I prefered the girls from Men Only (hormones being more powerful than intellect at the age of eighteen) but, in retrospect Mayfair was a better magazine with regular, interesting, military-themed articles.

The December 1969 issue carried an article on old pipe tobacco advertisements and I was very taken with this one from 1900 which demonstrates very clearly how those nasty Boers don't like it up'em.  How times have changed.  I can't imagine you could advertise anything now by showing our troops skewering Afghans, for example!

Many of these magazines were actually bought for me by my then girlfriend at college who was what would now be called a lipstick lesbian (although I don't think the term was in use then).  C was into stockings (when all the other girls wore tights), vintage lingerie (decades before burlesque brought it back into fashion), Pre-Raphaelite paintings, Renoir nudes and calligraphy.  She used to write imaginatively erotic letters to me during the holidays in her impeccable script.  I used to do a lot of drawing years ago (I actually won a place at art school but went to university instead) and she was my first nude model.  Also in the same box were all the letters I wrote to my mother from college so I know that it was C who took me along (rather than the other way round, as I thought happened) to join the Oxford University Dungeons and Dragons Society.  We went along regularly every week for a year but I stopped going when she went off with a weedy chap from another college who would go on to be a wine writer (and got sent down for fiddling the cellar system. Heh! heh!).  You were allowed to take individual bottles from the college cellars provided you replaced them with an equivalent standard vintage of the same wine.  Taking a 1970 Bordeaux and replacing it with 1972 (a vintage which damaged the reputation of Bordeaux winemakers for years) was not done.  There was no wine at Dungeons and Dragons as they were all scientists and drank real ale. Indeed, another reason for leaving was that the DM ensured that without A level physics you would never solve any of  the dungeon puzzles he set. 

Fancy a bath, Legatus?  Oh alright, you talked me into it, again!

C was a star lawyer at college.  Every year we had something called principal's collections, which was like a school report but oral.  You had to walk the length of the hall to high table (where you had to stand not sit) whilst your tutors gave an oral report of your perfomance to the principal (not you).  The Chaplain was also there, presumably to lend comfort if you broke down in tears.  Much to my amazement my principal's collection was entirely about, as they put it, my "intense relationship" with C.  Essentially they told me to stop seeing her as I was taking her mind of her work.  I was shocked.  And stunned.  C thought it hilarious and was immensely flattered by the whole thing.  They made the same suggestion to her but she was rather more forthright than I had been in her repudiation of the idea.  Immediately afterwards, and within earshot of the tutors, she suggested we went and had a long bath together instead of her doing her essay, just to spite them.  A girl of great character!  Even though we both went on to other partners during our time at college we continued to "interact" for the whole three years.

Box of delights

All this is relevant because in the other chest, along with some unbuilt Tamiya kits, was an old writing case full of old photographs of, and letters from, ex-girlfriends which, for some reason I kept (maybe because some of the letters were absolutely filthy). In amongst the endless photographs of lady rowers at Oxford (I was official photographer for one of the ladies' colleges - which was as dubious as you might imagine), pictures of my own artwork and photos of ex girlfriends were just two of a wargame I must have done in about Easter 1982 (judging by the other photos in the set).

This then is a rare flashback to the time when most of my gaming was WW2 and was played with my friends Jimbo, Cess and Bean-Kid from school.  This must have been a holiday get-together as we were all at different universities by then.  It was a France 1940 game, as you can see by the Airfix Matilda and the Matchbox Char B and Renault.  Somewhere in the background is a vehicle with a D-Day star but we weren't that bothered about such things.  Indeed we weren't bothered about painting our figures either but these tanks were my handiwork and I still have them up in the loft.

I used to do all my painting and modelling at the little desk I had in my bedroom at home which has long since gone.  I kept all my paints in an old biscuit tin (which amazingly I still keep many of my paints in) in the bottom drawer.  The desk had a lift-up top where I kept my glue, cutting mat, bits box etc.   In the writing box in the loft I found this photo of it.  I used to keep my paintbrushes in the ski-ing-themed (I used to love Ski Sunday!) square pot on the left.  It's nice to find a picture of my original workbench! Somewhat dominating the picture in the forground is another girlfriend from Oxford who was also a C.  In fact I had three girlfriends with the same name during my time at college which was useful as they were being run simultaneously, so no danger of calling them by the wrong name in a moment of passion!  Fortunately, they all went to different colleges.

This C was a first year (and hadn't had a gap year like I had) when I was in my third year which meant that she was four years younger than me, which seemed like a huge amount at the time.  I had a shock when I went to my daughter's school this week as C's name was up on one of the prize winner's boards for winning a scholarship to Oxford, which I hadn't noticed before. How strange to find pictures of her two days later!  She was the first really fit girl I had come across (so to speak) as she was a rower and in the swimming team.  She had thighs like velvet coated steel hawsers and a magnificent posterior.  Being a pacifist English student, the daughter of a clergyman and  much enamoured of Siegfried Sassoon poetry she did not approve of wargaming at all so I wasn't allow to buy soldiers or model tanks when she was around.  This didn't matter to me at the time as she went like a bomb (vicars daughters, eh?)

There was a very good model shop in Oxford, Howes, which is no longer there, sadly, and I bought a whole load of ESCI North African theatre tanks like Valentines and Semoventes for a project that never materialised.  Howes closed in 1996, after more than thirty years on the site, but still exists online and in Kidlington. 

I bought a few Tamiya 1/35 AFV's including this Stug III which I photographed in the snow we had in the winter of 1981/1982.  I've no idea where I got this strange colour scheme from!  It had been mounted on a scenic base at some point, I think. Outside of studying I was doing a lot of drawing, when not entertaining girls (the two often, happily, combined), so never built most of these kits and most are still in the loft I think, although I sold one of the Fiat-Ansaldo tanks for over £25 on ebay a few years ago.  

The lovely J

After I left university I moved on to a girl whose name didn't begin with C but  who I had known at college (where she was someone else's girlfriend).  In fact J was often confused with C (number 1) as they both had long auburn hair.  I was having a very Pre-Raphaelite phase at the time. J was a lovely girl (she still is, as she is the only one of these ladies I still see regularly) who went on to become the first woman in the world to drive a nuclear reactor.  She used to wear white boiler suits at work with fabulously expensive and intricate Italian lingerie underneath.  She worked at a nuclear power station in Somerset and I used to drive down to see her, crossing the battlefield of Sedgemoor as I did so.  I was amazed to see an article in this month's Wargames Illustrated on Sedgemoor where someone had built models of the Westonzoyland and Chedzoy churches I used to drive past on my way to see J.   Since then I have always wanted to game Sedgemoor (especially as it is the battle at the beginning of Captain Blood) but it really is one of those battles where you can't really use the figures for anything else.

V. another very, very passionate girl indeed

After J came V who was situated much closer to home.  We went on a touring holiday in the Loire Valley which engendered a lifelong interest in Loire wines, especially their under-appreciated reds, and another unrequited interest in regional French regiments of the seventeenth century.   There were complications with V in that she was a friend of J and, indeed, both came on this holiday (with another male friend).  I couldn't persuade J to join V and I in the bath in the splendid hotel room we had in Montreuil-Bellay but somehow, oddly, the invitation dissipated any tension. Montreuil-Bellay, we discovered, was the then source of Sainsbury's Rose D'Anjou: V's favourite.  She didn't have the most sophisticated of wine palates (my sister called her a "Niersteiner" - which was a lot better then the other name she had for her) but I adored her and we got perilously close to getting engaged. 

I spent so much time  in extremely athletic physical activity with V that I didn't have time to paint tanks any more.  Anyway, she quite wore me out. She didn't so much go like a bomb as an an asteroid impact. 

My drawing of S.  She's actually got clothes on. Most unusual for one of my drawings!

I moved on to working in the City and found some more lovely girls in my firm including S who I unexpectedly discovered in the jacuzzi at my gym.  Seeing her in her flowery bikini certainly made me see her in a new light compared with her sober suits at work.  She had the most wonderful walk: talk about poetry in motion.  In the City I discovered another good model shop in Middlesex Street and started, for reasons to do with a book I had read, building models of post war US Navy aircraft.  I stopped anything to do with wargaming or non-aviation modelling for over ten years.

In the box with the magazines I also found a very few copies of Military Modelling.  I thought I had got rid of these years ago.  I was pleased to find this one featuring an article on the Sudan!  I tend to remember MM as a large-scale AFV focussed magazine but I was surprised how much wargames content was in it.

Although finding all these splendid magazines, passionate letters and photos of lovely girls was wonderful the real find was at the bottom of the writing box.  It was my old wargaming tape measure which I hadn't seen for thirty years.  This is the one I used when the school wargames club won the trophy at the Model Engineering Exhibition three times running.  I will now replace my nasty B&Q one with this proven battle winning one instead. 

There is an ironic corollory to this.  Although we played as a uniform (literally) team in external events there were two factions in the school wargames club: mine and one led by R.  I never beat R in a game (mainly because he had written the house rules), so I wanted to try something different from WW2.  This did not go down well with R (I think we wanted to have a go at ACW) and he wound up some of the others against us so we went off on our own and started organising our own games out of school (one of which, of course, is illustrated in this post).  After we left school R, who I never liked, started pursuing a girl from the school next door.  They were friends but he wanted to be more.  She regarded him as more like a brother, much to his frustration.  Anyway, I found out, in one of those rambling post-coital conversations that girls insist on having, that of course it was C (the fit girl with the sculpted thighs) who was the object of his unrequited love.  He came to see her at college (from Cambridge which tells you everything you need to know about him) in her first term. When they arranged the visit I wasn't on the scene but when he arrived at her room in college he found C ironing my shirts.  Apparently he nearly had an apoplectic fit when he discovered whose they were.  She insisted on bringing him around to my rooms (I was living out then) as she thought I might like to see an old school friend. I remember him having to be nice to me (through gritted teeth) as he didn't want to upset C.  He was even more upset when she wouldn't go with him to the bus stop to see him off to Fenbog, as she was staying with me that night; as she happily told him.   Ah, revenge!

So, a whole lot of memories in a couple of chests (oh dear now I am thinking about V again -hers was magnificent).  I think I better go and lie down.


  1. What a fantastic post. I really enjoyed reading it. Finding that box is like finding a treasure chest. And you certainly worked your way through a real bevie of beauties!

    Unfortunately most of my old gaming stuff was either lost or sold (I curse myself regularly for selling it). I did find a few old photo's of early games a few years ago but I doubt any others will turn up as I was usually (and still am) the only one taking pictures during a game.

    As for the women in my past, I'm not ashamed to admit I've only had one love in my life (other than gaming) and I ended up marrying her.

  2. An impressive tally of figures!

  3. A fascinating read, with my morning coffee! Thanks for sharing. I think if I offered up a post like this about past ex's, I'd get hung, drawn and quartered by my significant other! ;-). (Not that I was as 'successful' as you during that stage of my life.) You are clearly a brave man!

  4. C, the Vicar's daughter with the impressive physique, was my wife's sister's best friend which I didn't discover for years. I had actually met my wife's sister six years before my wife, I learned in retrospect.

  5. One can only imagine the disasters that would have befell if you'd also offered the wife's sister a back scrub......

    Best read on blogger in I don't know how long... but it makes my life sound so dull in comparison..... :o))

  6. This made me laugh aloud and I can only compare and contrast my rather disasterous love life at uni. It was not for want of trying, just instantly forgettable.

    About the only thing in common is that I have that issue of Mil Mod. That about sums it up.


  7. A delightful reminiscence, that! I really enjoyed reading it, especially the amusing finale!

  8. An amazing read and wonderful journey..You do seem to have go through quite a few ladies..and like me, they all seem to have the same similarities for the most part...
    Hey, we like what we like...

    Good read!